Writing Excuses 8.37: When Fail Happens in Your Career

What do you do when something goes wrong, really wrong, with your career? What happens if it’s your fault? What about if it’s someone else’s fault?

Mary leads by talking about the Glamour in Glass misprint — the first line was omitted in the hardback — and the difference between her private and public reactions to the issue.  She likens this to similar sorts of situations that might happen on stage in live theater, and how those teams are expected to behave.

Dan tells us about the issue in I Am Not a Serial Killer, which gave some readers fits because it was edited in such a way that readers didn’t know there were supernatural elements in the story until chapter 10.

From these and other experiences, we extrapolate some behaviors you can use, and some things to steer clear of.


Write a character who really screws up, and then take them to the moment where they realize they need to apologize.

The Blinding Knife, by Brent Weeks, narrated by Simon Vance.

12 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 8.37: When Fail Happens in Your Career”

  1. Loved the podcast, but also fan-girled when you promoted the Blinding Knife. That is my favorite book from my favorite author, and oddly enough I am currently halfway through re-listening to it on Audible. Woo!

    And for Dan, if you could go back, would you change the editing decision on IANASK?

  2. Personally, I found the ambiguity at the start of _I Am Not a Serial Killer_ made the book just that much better. When I’m reading fiction, I read like a detective (ironically, I generally dislike the Sherlock Holmes style detective novels, since so many of them limit themselves to the stupid sidekick (well, relative to Sherlock Poirot whatever his name happens to be), who fails to notice critical pieces of evidence) – piecing together things from hints. For me, a book without foreshadowing (or, conversely, with heavy-handed foreshadowing), is vastly inferior to one with subtle hints. Being right or wrong about predicting events (even twists that are supposed to be surprising) doesn’t matter – I get the pleasure of being right or the genuine surprise when I reach the wrong conclusion.

    The following paragraph discusses the ambiguity, so SPOILER ALERT:

    Reading from this perspective, the final edit of _I Am Not a Serial Killer_ was pure gold. John Wayne Cleaver refers to the killer as a demon, and does so consistently. Since he’s not religious or …a non-sociopath…. it suggests a literal use of the term, despite the apparent normalcy of the setting – usually dehumanizing serial killers is done on the basis of moral outrage. But while he’s quite clinical about discussing serial killers in historic terms, his concerns about his own psyche make it quite rational for him to deliberately dehumanize a more immediate killer in order to give himself the distance he needs to see serial killers as “them” instead of “us.” And JWC is nothing if not rational through most of the book (aside from his reactions to being cut off from the embalming room and an incident Dan has mentioned several times involving his mother). The treatment of the wounds is similarly vague – the wounds are clearly claw wounds, but are not described in great enough detail to surmise if they are from a big dog (or pet tiger or the like) or if they don’t fit with any existing animal. In the final reveal, when John follows Crowley and the hobo, I had myself thoroughly convinced that the killer was a guy with a particularly nasty pet of some kind, and that he took the parts and left the mysterious oily residue (which could be made by any number of hydrocarbons) all as part of his (and if Criminal Minds did its profiling research properly, the demon would definitely not be a female) ritual. Indeed, the residue could have been the remnants of the removed body part, after it had been burned in some specific way, thus accounting for the size difference corresponding to the missing part’s size.

    I didn’t find the supernatural reveal off-putting at all. I discovered Dan (and Howard, and Mary, and a number of my other favorite authors) through this site, so I knew from the start that Dan might be capable of putting in literal monsters, and I’m more a fan of fantasy than any other genre, so I may have been more accepting of the idea of creatures in fiction than many horror fans are, but, through my interpretation, it was an excellent plot twist. My reaction to the reveal was almost directly comparable to John’s (excepting the bladder control, since the book was far less menacing than the demon that was in the process of ripping its lungs out).

  3. I thought it might also be useful to note that often apologies should lack explanations justifying the original behavior. And, when those justifications are present, they should be kept as concise as possible. This sort of relates to the faux apology the cast mentioned (the “I’m sorry you were offended”), but often people use explanations for their bad behavior to reduce the blame that they are accepting. To give an example, let’s suppose that an author said something incredibly offensive at a con-party. “I am sorry, I should not have said that” is a more powerful apology than “I’m sorry, I should not have said that, I was drunk,” which is in turn a more powerful apology than “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. I had a really bad day, my car was broken into, my dog ran away to the circus, my best friend of 15 years told me that she was a serial killer, thirty seven birds pooped on me while I was walking in from the parking lot, John Scalzi got the award instead of me, I received a petition signed by three-hundred thousand readers asking me to never write again, and I just had to have a drink after all that, and I got drunk.”

    Brevity is the soul of wit, but it’s also the heart of sincerity. When we do wrong, people want a sincere apology, but if we focus instead on the mitigating factors, we’re showing them that we are more concerned with saving face than admitting to wrong doing.

    I have a relative who does this. He’ll rarely apologize, and when he does, you’ll get a short essay along with it explaining why, given the circumstances, it was really unavoidable and he shouldn’t be held accountable for fate. Needless to say, no one ever believes that his apologies are sincere.

  4. I loved IANASK but admittedly, I was extremely thrown when the supernatural element was introduced so late in the game. At first I’ll say I was a little disappointed, just because I was so in the mind set of “I’m reading a mystery novel” and then I had to readjust and realize that it wasn’t a mystery, but a supernatural mystery. That being said, I quickly got used to it and was able to enjoy the book as much as I had been enjoying it before the surprising twist.

  5. dammit Howard… you mentioned Something Positive and I have now spent WAY too long cackling with laughter and searching through their archives.

  6. Great podcast again.

    I think it’s also important to keep in mind that an error made out of laziness or because you let your emotions get the better of you is very different than an error made in earnest, objective-minded effort.

    The result might be the same: an error, but I really believe how you got there can make all the difference: A for effort and all that.

    That being said, I wouldn’t feel too bad or guilty if making an error that is more accidental in nature.

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