Movies and Unicorns

Recently, I was flying back from my cousin’s wedding in Florida. The event took place in a lovely coastal town and my cousin married the man of her dreams. The whole weekend was a nice reminder that there are beautiful humans in this world in a time that, sadly, continues to feel dark and scary.

The flight home from the wedding was long enough to warrant movie selections for the plane’s passengers. As often happens for me, movie-watching trumped sleep, and I gleefully swiped through the surprisingly wide selection of movies offered on the five-hour ride back to the west coast. I chose Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, starring Melissa McCarthy as Lee Isreal. To quote Wikipedia, Lee Isreal is “a frustrated, hard-drinking author who can barely afford to pay her rent or bills in 1990s New York. Desperate for money, Israel soon hatches a scheme to forge letters by famous writers and sell them to bookstores and collectors. When the dealers start to catch on, Lee recruits a dubious friend to help her continue her self-destructive cycle of trickery and deceit.”

The movie was released in December of last year, and I was excited to see McCarthy in a dramatic role. The film was pretty good overall. I enjoyed McCarthy’s dramatic turn, and I thought she played the bitter, downtrodden Isreal wonderfully.

There is a particular scene in the beginning of the movie which I found amusing. Lee attends a party hosted by her publisher. Several writers and artists are in attendance, including Tom Clancy. (Side note: I spent half an hour pouring through the internet to try and find the scene I now speak of because my memory is terrible and I wanted to find the exact dialogue. Alas, I came up empty handed.)

The essence of the scene is this: Lee walks into the living room where Clancy is entertaining a group of people. She overhears part of what he says, which is along the lines of, “I don’t believe in writer’s block. It doesn’t exist for me.” Lee gives a snort and mutters a few choice words in his direction since she is, as viewers quickly learn, suffering from THE worst case of writer’s block ever.

This got me wondering about that whole concept: writer’s block. I couldn’t deny how watching Isreal lash out in a snarky remark fit with my own feelings towards Tom Clancy (or, I suppose, this fictional version of him) in that moment. I was squarely on her side and willingly glared with her at the pompous writer in his turtle neck from across the room.

I’m currently working on my third novel. Well, “working” isn’t the right term. A more accurate description might be “slowly and painfully yanking words one by one from deep within the chasms of my imagination, lining them up in a dark room, and squinting really hard at them until a clunky sentence is formed.”

The struggle, y’all. The struggle.

I’m so curious though. Why is this happening now? I’m two books in to my life as a published author. I thought I’d have a good rhythm to this by now. Sure, there’s that other thing, “life,” which keeps me pretty busy and doesn’t allow adequate time or space to sit down and put pen to paper. But this third book I’m writing is the second part of my trilogy! It uses many of the same characters from the previous book. It’s in the same world! Everything’s familiar! Why is this so hard?

I keep hearing Jamie Kennedy’s Randy shouting in a video store from the movie Scream 2: “There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to create a successful sequel. Number one: the body count is always bigger. Number two: the death scenes are always much more elaborate – more blood, more gore – *carnage candy*. And number three: never, ever, under any circumstances, assume the killer is dead.”

Sure, the story I’m writing now is not technically a sequel, but a continuation of the previous story and part of a trilogy. Nevertheless, I feel the need to take bigger risks with this new novel. Should there be an eviler villain? Massive explosions? Wild new characters? A unicorn?? I don’t know!

As I’ve reminded myself, this book is part of a trilogy. So, there is a plan in place. I’m simply finding it difficult to follow my characters from Point A to Point B.

I’m wondering, have other writers, particularly those who have done sequels, trilogies, or sagas experienced this? What did you do to get back to that happy land of flowing words and vivid imagery? I feel like I can see it, but I have a lot of work ahead of me.

Also, are there any series of books or sequels, as readers, you absolutely loved? What did you love about them? Or, are there any that left you disappointed as the books went on? Do you prefer each book to have a cliff-hanger ending, or a relatively clean-cut ending?

Let me know! In the meantime, I’ll be researching how many unicorns is too many to put into a story.


  1. I don’t believe in writer’s block either. But there are times when what I WANT to write, just won’t come (or comes too slowly). So I write something else. After my first two books in the Shirley Combs/Dr. Mary Watson series, I had the idea, I had the outline, I wrote four chapters, but it was not flowing. So I switched gears and wrote a thriller, Till Darkness Comes. Then I focused on poetry and my first collection Desire Returns for a Visit was published (two more collections coming this year). Right now I’m working on another play. Will I ever return to Shirley and Mary? Don’t know. We’ll see. Meanwhile, this writer just keeps writing. But if you’re under contract to finish that trilogy? Maybe just write that shitty first draft, and see if rewriting comes easier … Whatever the case, you have my best wishes. For today, maybe just write a haiku? xo

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  2. I was all set to write, “Sadly, writer’s block does exist. The struggle is real.” Then I read dehelen’s response and realized that she’s shared a different side of the situation. Yesterday, for what seems like the umpteenth time, I answered a friend’s question about when I expected to have my next novel published by saying, “Who knows?” I’ve been berating myself about my failure to put pen to paper. Fiction eludes me in this age of unbelievable real life. If I understand dehelen’s comment, I should stop beating myself and realize that my once-a-month non-fiction blogs are what I’m writing right now. My writing is not blocked. It’s simply flowing in a different direction.

    Thank you for raising this topic, Sam. And thank you for offering a different take on the subject, dehelen.

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    • “It’s simply flowing in a different direction.”

      I like that, and I’m going to remember that. Thank you!


  3. Yes, Renee! You are writing. Sam and Renee, I am a firm believer in celebrating whatever we do write, even it is is postcards or reminder lists. Acknowledging ourselves doing the best we can do at the moment can help keep us going, whereas fear and frustration can stop us cold. In these unbelievable real life times, we can also take ourselves on artist dates, or walks in nature, or to a different type of art event. Tonight I’m going to see Hannah Gadsby. Today I’ll sew something. And I’ll read, of course!

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    • Thank you for this wonderful perspective! It’s something I needed to “hear” and serves as a helpful reminder to not beat myself up about what I am/am not writing.


  4. Having three books published is no guarantee the fourth will be easier, I’ve found. I’m slogging through book four at glacial speed, and it’s going in fits and sputters. I was asked by my church office (since you are a writer, they said) to redo all of the Sunday bulletin mission inserts. My first thought was to say I was really busy, but what came out was, “Sure!” It turned out to be a really good thing—doing some research, rewriting what was already okay, finding a picture and working out the revised layout. It turned out to be just the thing I needed to rescue my writerly brain from beating me up. I got them done, got some wonderful feedback, and now I can press forward on book four. Still slow going, but with more confidence.

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  5. SAM! It’s normal, what you’re experiencing. I call it burnout, because when it hits, I don’t feel like writing and writing sessions are a struggle and when that happens, I listen to the burnout and give me and the muses a break. That involves not writing for a bit. I’ll read other stuff, go to movies, watch some TV shows I haven’t had a chance to catch up on, go do some fun stuff like conventions or festivals or something.

    Your writer self needs a rest and a recharge, especially when you’re working on a series because you spend so much time with these characters that they become family and seriously, y’all. Most of us are past the age when we want to spend that much time with our families. So give yourself a break from them, do other things that allows your brain to re-charge, then try it again.

    And thanks for the blog!


    • Solid advice. You may be right. I might be forcing myself into a headspace that my “writing self” isn’t ready to be in. I’m so glad I wrote this post, as I was hesitant in putting it out there. But the words of wisdom have been well worth it!


  6. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. Everyone thinks of Radclyffe when you mention series. But I love Ann McMans Jericho series. There are three volumes. A series set in a small town. You feel like you want to move there. Yes, I am willing to wait years for the next book. On audio I have been listening to J D Robb AKA Nora Roberts In Death series for all of my adult life. How she thinks up a new way to present a corpse after all these years is beyond me. Have faith in yourself.

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