What’s that next book about?

By the time you read this, I will have updated the bar widget to the right that tracks progress on my current novel-in-the-making. Instead of a happy, fully-filled stripe of, uh, (burgundy? firebrick? maroon?) some shade of darkish red, there should now be a sad, empty white box where the color needs to go. With luck, I’ll start filling up that progress bar with 1000 words here and 500 words there in the next day or two.

Oh, and this one will be codenamed Project Tennyson. You know, for the ridiculously subtle and indirect yet potentially spoilery reasons. It’s theoretically going to be a middle grade ghost story. Then again, I haven’t written a single word on it yet, so it could very well end a science fiction novel filled with deep space sea turtles, heroic, laser-whip wielding nuns, and sentient salt-water taffy*.

I mean, I hope that’s not how it turns out, because that might create, uh, complications for my agent. So we’ll see.

Of course, all this talk of a new project will invariably leads to questions, the most common of which being, “What’s the new book about?”

That question, in particular, is hard for me.  Which is to say, I want to take said question, smush it into a tiny, irregularly-shaped wad, and blow it through a McDonald’s cannon-straw at the Eternal Chalkboard of Fear and Loathing.

The thing is, there’s almost nothing an otherwise perfectly nice, curious, well-meaning person can ask that will fill me with icy, gut-wrenching dread and insecurity as quickly as that question.

I swear, it’s not you, it’s me. See, on the whole, writers tend [WARNING: MASSIVE GENERALIZATION TO FOLLOW] to be filled with self doubt when it comes to their work.  And, for me, at least, that’s especially true for works-in-progress. I’d imagine that’s because a finished draft can be sent out for reading, feedback, and improvement.  It’s a sturdy, solid thing you can fix, kind of like a ‘68 Dodge.

Something you’re actively making, on the other hand, is a precious, defenseless, mewling baby of a thing that could easily collapse under it’s own weight like a rickety house of cards assembled by an intoxicated hobo with greasy sausage fingers.

On top of that, a work in progress is just that: in progress. You don’t always necessarily know exactly what it might become.  I mean, sure, it could end up that awesome lunch lady-superhero mash-up you’ve got in your head. But the odds are 50-50 you’ll decide that professional competitive eaters will make better heroes in long run, forcing you to ditch the hair nets and oversized serving spoons altogether.

The point is, while you’re writing, you don’t often have a perfect 35-word tagline all ready to go. But when someone asks you what you’re working on, that’s exactly what they want to hear.  Not a book report, a paragraph-long meandering diatribe, or even a cold, dry synopsis, but just a quick pitch that might intrigue them. And when you don’t have that pitch line ready to flow out of your mouth like tequila after your 21st birthday, well, you’ll learn right quick just how a body’s sphincters can snap shut like a Venus Fly trap.

That’s not to say I don’t want you to ask. I do, definitely. I love when people are curious about where I’m putting creative effort. Your interest actually counteracts much of that inherent writerly self-doubt. So by all means, please please please inquire as to what I’m working on now.

Just, you know, don’t take the faraway look coupled with the 10-second Shatnerian pause I give you before starting to mumble something about what’s coming next as evidence that I’m flailing about in a murky pool of my own inevitable failure, desperately circling the drain.

I’m not, I swear. At least, I don’t think I am.

I’m just trying to think of the best way to describe my precious fledgling manuscript without making it sound confused, foolish, or worse, boring.

Because the only thing around here allowed to be confused, foolish, and/or boring is me!