Sunday, February 23, 2014

Never Thought I'd See the Day

So, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. I was talking with some friends about the recent weather. One of them mentioned that the forecasters in St. Louis are right more times than anyone else in the region. The conversation drifted to how everyone else had said something different.

A story concept popped into my head.

What if fortune tellers were in the same business as the weathermen? They all come out with their bold claims of what's going to happen and what people should do to avoid disaster in their lives, but each prophecy is wrong.

It made me chuckle.

On to new business.

This morning I was roused at 4 am by a terrible dream. Unable to go back to sleep, I got up and wrote a few lines. The WIP stands at 147 pages as of this morning. By the old-school 250 words per page algorithm, I'm somewhere around 35,000 words. It's probably way off, but I can't get this far without wondering how much I've slogged out. The ink ribbon in my Remington Rand Model 1 is starting to run dry.

At first I wasn't happy. My output was slower over the last week for a variety of reasons. It's the end of February and I was hoping to be much farther along. Most adult contemporary fiction is at least 80,000 words long. By that standard, I'm not even halfway done.

But then I realized something: this isn't a contemporary adult book!

That's right. My protagonist is only 16, so technically it's a YA novel. According to Writer's Digest, the ballpark for this genre opens at about 50,000 words and caps off at 80,000 (Harry Potter and related series notwithstanding; there are exceptions after all).

So, awesome! I'm over the halfway point!

I never thought I'd see the day when I was inadvertently writing a story for younger people. When I  first began my journey I was dead set on writing "serious" books. No kids' stuff. When I began the current WIP, I didn't stop to think about how I would market it. Now I know.

And knowing is half the battle!

I'm having a lot of fun with this story, and the fact that it's YA opens up new possibilities I never thought about. I don't have to make a point to delve into all of the deep, disturbing social issues of the historical period. Since the action takes place in 1894, I could go into gender roles, racism, economic inequality, fallout from the Civil and Indian Wars, etc.

Sure, I've mentioned a few things to help build the setting, but that's about it. After that was established I just told the story. Off the top of my head, I think I've inserted three of the above themes into the novel.

That's when it clicked. I've liberated myself (at least with this project) from talking about all of the "serious" stuff that some adults expect from their fiction. It really is ok to write something for pure entertainment.

It's my hope that when the current WIP is finished, I'll be able to get it accepted by an agent or editor. Maybe it will inspire some young person to enjoy books more. That would make up for all those years I wasted on TV and video games.

This little revelation of mine came after I did something else rather unusual: I took a nap.

Methinks this author should establish a new custom for himself.

Power to the pen!

Monday, February 17, 2014

I Think My Ideas Are Trying to Kill Me

Late again!


Well, maybe it is if you have low enough standards.

For the first time ever, I enjoyed Valentine's Day! This wouldn't have been possible if not for the efforts of my beautiful and insightful girlfriend. There was a great celebration of love, complete with food and chocolates (which counts as food in my world).

I didn't write during the weekend. Now, I have to get back into my routine. I had just finished chapter nine when I left. During my brief hiatus, I acquired something that few authors want while working on a project but can't live without.


When I first began my current WIP, it was all I could stand to devote any time at all to research and outlining. I'll probably have to go back and repeat this once the first draft is done because I feel that the historical setting isn't convincing enough.

On Saturday my girl and I went to a local Barnes and Nobel. A bookstore. You know, those places where they don't have any TVs, iPhones, or computers for sale. Only bundles of printed paper. I looked at the history sections (including fiction, and noticed that the WWI selection was sorely lacking; fine by me, since I'd like to write a novel set during one of those campaigns) and the fantasy/sci-fi sections. I picked them up, flipped through them, noticed the page counts in each one, and even felt their weight.

My brain took its cue and started a-churning.

Me, zeroing in on that ONE idea that WILL BE my next project.

Me, after being exposed to the outside world.

Ya see, a creative mind that's been properly tuned never stops working. New ideas come in all the time. Some don't last. Either you realize it's been done before and you couldn't reasonable put a new spin on it, or you just don't like it. But then there are those that germinate and start growing into something with potential, if properly cultivated.

Aka, brainstorming.

If I'm not actively working on my current WIP, I start thinking about what I'd like to write after that book is completed. Some authors fall into a niche. Stephen King, whether he likes it or not, has forever become known as a writer of scary stories. Jules Vern was a science fiction author. Lee Child does thrillers.

I haven't found that one place in the genre encyclopedia that defines my work. I just write stories. And that's the problem. I can get psyched up about any idea as long as it's the basis for a good story. Sci-fi, fantasy, historical fiction, action/adventure, thriller, military, etc.

Me, after collecting all of my ideas and assuring myself I can make them work.
See those cute little pleading faces? They all cry out, "Pick me! Pick me! Pick me! At least make a file with my name on it!"

One of the rigors of being a disciplined writer is learning how to gather new ideas without losing passion for the current WIP. Eclipse Part II was supposed to be done by now. The traumatic events that happened in January made it impossible for me to get excited about it, for now. And that's ok.

The pitfall is deliberately abandoning a project for the sole reason of chasing another mewing ball of fur that caught your eye, when the one you have now needs your attention. 

When I get overloaded with new ideas, it's usually because I've spent time outside of the genre I'm working in at the moment. If I discover that no one has written a historical fiction novel about a particular thing, I'm probably going to start dwelling on HOW AWESOME I could be if I wrote about that. Either that or I thought I could read a James Michener novel without musing "Hmm, what story could I tell in 1000 pages?"

At this point, I have to stop and give myself a little talk.

"See that stack of papers? That's your current novel. 120 pages. Barely 1/3 of the way to the finish. Remember how excited you were when you started that book? What were you trying to accomplish? You haven't even gotten to the good parts yet, all of those scenes you dreamed up in your head to make the reader's eyes pop out. What you're doing now is like a director telling everyone to get in their places, then walking off to take a phone call, and THEN going out for lunch with your new friend Steve, because he's interesting, right?"

Lots of authors struggle with this routine when they get to the middle of a book. The middle is where things can really grind to a halt. Characters have to undergo more development. Plot has to thicken. Action has to subside and allow breathing room. Foreshadowing. Stuff.

This can all be scientifically explained!

The graph above is truer than the correct answer to a Jeopardy question, especially where books are concerned. Let's look at the process involved with writing just a first draft. 

First, you think of an idea. Then you plot the basic story, character bios, setting, chapter outlines. If it's a fictional world, you build it. If not, you research it. This can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. I have lots of time for this because I don't have a full time job and my school schedule is pretty lenient. 

Then you come up with a working title and sit down to write. 

Assuming that nothing drastic happens to shake up my routine, a first draft can be written in less than 60 days (I have yet to try this theory on a very big book, like 150k words or more). While in-depth plotting and outlining helps, some authors can't maintain that kind of momentum. February 26 will mark the 30 day point for my current WIP (not counting the three day weekend I just had). We'll see if I can get it done in 50.

After the first draft is written, many writers take a break to rest their brains. They do other things besides writing. Brandon Sanderson recommends writing a "trash novel" between serious projects. Once you've put some distance between you and the book, you come back and begin editing. You fix grammar and spelling. Then you have to work on the creative stuff. Do I want this character in the book? Does this scene add anything? What the heck was I thinking when I wrote THAT?

Once you've done enough editing and revising to make the narrative tight and coherent, you send it out to betas (if you have them). It's also a good time to consult an expert on whatever the book includes that is outside public knowledge. Do you portray this or that correctly? Is the dialogue right? Terminology? 

Based on their reaction, you might be able to determine if the book's ready to query to agents (if you don't have one already, like me *sob*). 

Getting the draft to this point can take another six months to a year. Again, IF you have the time. That's not including how long it might take to pitch a novel to agents/editors, get a contract, work with them to tweak the book based on their experience, and finally get it printed and in stores.

And that's what the panic graph illustrates. We love what we do, but recognize that, unless we're already getting paid to do it, we don't have enough time. Each idea for a book represents a large commitment. Brandon Sanderson can churn out a completed book every three years or so because that's all he does. I can't because I'm not a professional, yet. 

Like many things in life, it comes down to balance. Figuring out how to balance your life and your responsibilities is something only you can do through trial and error. I'm fortunate to have enough time to write at least 1000 words a day. Single working parents don't. I haven't been published yet, but this extra time has also afforded me the opportunity to read articles and watch videos by top industry authors on how to be a better writer, and that's time well spent.

Try to enjoy the experience of learning and refining your chosen craft, and enjoy life while you're at it. Someday, you'll be having this talk with another young person who is going through the same panic you did. They'll be glad to hear what you've got to say.

So don't panic. Take care of your kittens. One at at time.

Power to the pen.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


Gah! After a solid week of frozen captivity, the roads are finally good enough to drive on! I can go to church. I can go to the store.

I can...go to school.


Lots of work has been accomplished in the time I was given. I'm over 100 pages into the new book. Woohoo!

I finished my first book of the 2014 yesterday. The Hobbit. It took me longer than I thought. The narrative style and pacing is way different than anything you're likely to see in today's fiction.

My next reading project is Chesapeake by James A. Michener. I'm 50 pages into it. The current chapter follows the tale of Pentequod, an outcast Susquehanna Indian searching for a new life in the wild. Michener, as always, takes great pains to describe the flow of the landscape, but there's one descriptive fact that he has completely left out.

What in the world is Pentequod wearing?

Description is an art form in and of itself. Some authors provide very little, others provide so much that it distracts from the flow of the story and leads the reader to start skipping entire pages. Moby Dick is often cited as one of the worst examples.

Brandon Sanderson often says that you should provide enough description to advance the plot and show the reader that there is a bigger world out there that what you can see through the character's eyes. Makes sense. Doing otherwise would be the infamous "info dump," and we have Wikipedia for that.

Power to the pen!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Identifying a First Edition

Happy Groundhog Day! 

However, I didn't have to listen to a large squirrel via Pennsylvanian translator to know that winter ain't over yet.

Tis a cold Sunday afternoon, with sleet. 

I had a very productive weekend. 62 pages into the book! Not bad for a week's work. If this keeps up, I should be able to have the first draft finished by the end of the month.

While browsing the interwebs for writing-related bits, I came across a video from Abe Books. Not only can you get textbooks for dirt cheap, they also have some very rare and very expensive first editions. Since I like having first editions in my library whenever possible, I thought it would be cool to talk about how you identify one.

Last week I picked up a copy of James A. Michener's Caribbean. I was really excited. Michener hardcovers can fetch between $30-$50 by themselves. Signed or personalized can go for a lot more. 

You might remember this from my post about vintage book covers.

Unfortunately, my copy is a first edition second print. Not quite as valuable, but still a great deal since it only cost me 50¢ and the previous owner took good care of it.

One of the others I got was a title called The Gettin Place by Susan Straight. I'm not familiar with her work, but this story is supposed to be based on two race riots during the 1920s. Since historical/contemporary fiction is something I'd like to write, it should be valuable. 

And it was a first edition first print for 50¢.

Mine doesn't have the annoying green sticker on the front.

Who knows? Maybe one day somebody will find my work on a used book shelf and freak out because it's a first edition. 

And it's only 50¢.

But I gotta write it before any of that can happen.

Power to the pen.