Friday, December 30, 2016

Closing Out the Year 2016

At the end of every year I look forward to the opportunity to begin afresh. This is fairly typical of Americans, and probably of everyone. We like markers to tell us where something ends and something new begins. We like certainty. We like knowing. But the end of December is an arbitrary date, no matter how we justify it. Every culture finds significance in certain parts of the calendar, and we base our thinking on these artificial dates.

The people of Kerala have three New Years to celebrate and use as markers. Everyone in Kerala celebrates New Year's Eve on December 31. But Hindus also celebrate Vishu, which is the beginning of the harvest year and occurs in the month of Medam, which roughly corresponds with April. Everyone in Kerala celebrates Onam, which falls in the month of Chingam, which corresponds roughly with August/September. This lavish holiday celebrates the return of King Bali from the underworld, who visits to see that his people are happy.

I had expected to write a piece on setting and meeting expectations, and perhaps that is still a good idea. I began the year planning on finishing up certain manuscripts and publishing them, either with my regular publisher, Five Star/Gale, Cengage, or on my own. Some of my goals seemed perhaps too ambitious, but all of them were realistic in that I knew they were doable. I could write a certain number of words per day and complete the mss. But that, as it turns out, is not enough. My goals were tied to those of people I'd never heard of. 
I finished a Mellingham mystery, but on the day I sent it in to Five Star, word came down that Five Star was ending its mystery line. The publisher that had brought into the world two Mellingham mysteries and three Anita Ray mysteries, with another under contract, had decided to move on into another line. I wrote about that here, almost exactly a year ago, January 19, 2016.    
Let me say here and now firmly and clearly that I greatly admire and appreciate the decision by Five Star to honor their contracts. Days after I signed my first book contract, with G. K. Hall in 1985, the new owner, Macmillan, sent out notices to dozens (or more) authors that their contracts were being cancelled. And that practice is the norm. You can imagine the uproar. I'm grateful Five Star/Gale, Cengage didn't do the same. They published When Krishna Calls in August, as promised.

As a result of the change in direction at Five Star, two manuscripts sit almost finished (an Anita Ray mystery and an Anita Ray collection of stories). Why? Because there is little future for a series for which most of the rights are held by the author, who has already exercised them. In a few words, there's not much for someone else to buy. I will finish the mss, but there is no deadline to motivate me.

But there's another reason. I think we have to acknowledge when it's time to move on. I loved visiting Joe Silva and Mellingham, and I have always been passionate about India. The Anita Ray mysteries were a way for me to participate in a culture I have loved and studied throughout my life, but the opportunities for that have shrunk, and I am first and foremost a writer. It's time to move on and write something new. 

So why a photograph of a winter wonderland? As people in cold climates know, winter is a season when the earth prepares for spring. The trees may look dead, but they're not. The land may look desolate, but it's not. Beneath the gray and white are colors and new life waiting to burst forth. 

Over the last year and a half I've been working on a new idea. I don't write fast, certainly not like some of my colleagues, but I have committed myself to a new series that won't be a complete surprise to some who know me. (But it certainly will be to others.)

As we close out this year, which has had its share of surprises, ups and downs, and miseries for many, I hope we all find something better in 2017.

Watch this space. More to come in the New Year.

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