Carving the Ice

The alpha reader responses have come trickling in and I’ve been lapping them up like a thirst-starved desert dweller. Although, I supposed I should really be calling them beta readers as the book had already gone through a couple of drafts before they got their eyes on it. Technically, the only alpha reader was yours truly.

Semantics. Gotta love ’em.

Or don’t.

The responses have been overwhelmingly good which has definitely calmed my blood pressure some. Sending this out was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. No. That’s probably a lie. I have twin babies at home. I’m sure they’re up there too, those adorable monsters.

They’ve all liked the story a great deal, but the readers have pointed out some important but glass-shattering issues that have to be dealt with before I can take Fairfax Cleaners to the next level. It’s always intimidating seeing how much work needs to be done on a project I’d previously assumed to be “almost finished,” but while yes, I’m collecting opinions, it’s important to remember that the readers aren’t wrong. I don’t need to go back and fix every little thing they had issue with, but a few of the more common and glaring examples tend to stand out.

I’m of the mind that it doesn’t matter my intention while writing the work. If I ever have to explain myself for clarity about why something is the way it is, it means I’ve failed as a writer. I’m not going to write to thousands of individuals and answer all of their questions about how I dropped the ball in making something clear. This is a humbling experience. Critique by nature is uncomfortable. No one likes to be judged. But it’s not me, personally, on the pedestal, it’s the story. And even then, no one is saying they don’t like that story. But when someone points out that I had a character say “you can’t go to the police because they bad guys own the police” and then the police NEVER play a role in the story whatsoever … that my friends is a problem.

It’s always interesting to me too what people pick up on. One of my male readers, a close personal friend, found two side characters to be redundant and brought nothing to the story. But when I asked one of my female readers about them, she said, please don’t cut them. They’re definitely needed because they help explain/progress the relationships between many of the other characters. If you ever wanted proof that male and female readers can want different things, there you have it. One was only looking at it from an action perspective, the other was focused on the character growth. Both were right in their way as the scene in question does need work, but I already know how to better integrate it into the overall story that doesn’t involve cutting anyone out. The problem was in my failure to make it abundantly clear in the first place.

This process is also helping me carve the iceberg. You’ve probably heard that backstory and worldbuilding are like an iceberg where only 10% of it ends up in the story, but the author needs to know the other 90% to make the characters believable. While I’ve certainly tried to input what was needed, I probably only ended up putting 7% in and some things that were crystal clear in my mind came out opaque to others.

All that said, I’m invigorated like a shot of adrenaline to keep going forward. My writer sleeves are already rolled up and I’m prepping the surgical gloves to go in elbows deep. I’m waiting to hear back from two more readers – one of which I know is taking incredibly detailed notes – and then its open heart surgery on this beast.

Elusivity

My New Years’ resolution was to blog more consistently.

OK. It wasn’t. But I still want to post more consistently anyway.

Life at the Melnick household has been a bit rough lately. The Missus is super sick. I mean when stuff gets in your chest and ears kind of sick. The babies have also picked up little baby versions of this illness in the form of stuffy noses, sniffles and even more spitting up. Yep. That’s just what babies needed: MORE spitting up. It’s lead to a lot of sleepless nights and me running around trying to make sure everyone else gets as much sleep as they can.

As I type this, I can feel the telltale tickle in the back of my throat. The number at the deli counter just rolled over one digit closer to the matching one on my ticket.

I hope everyone had some happy holidays. In between traveling and illnesses, I’ve been daydreaming about getting back to Fairfax Cleaners and brainstorming for novel #5. I’ve decided that my alpha readers have had over a month now to read the draft and while that’s not a lot of time in this busy time of our lives, it’s been long enough that I can hassle them for an update to at least let me know WHEN they’re finished. I don’t mind waiting around and working on other things as long as I’ve got something out there dangling. But if I’m not fishing, I’m not being productive.

I’m still doing research on the next book and I think I’ve got the plot basically figured out. I’m about ready for the outlining phase. This one’s been a lot quicker than usual since I’m adapting a screenplay awhile ago I wrote into a novel. I’ve basically changed the entire story with the exception of the core concept, but I’ve had this character’s voice in my head for years. Writing in first person – fingers crossed – should alleviate some of those professional pressures that have started to creep in without a pitch-worthy product.

So far, I’ve only been scratching that writing itch through mental exercises. I would love to sit down and fire off a short story or two, but that’s just not my style. I outline too much. Coming up with a plot is the hardest part for me for any book, so you’d think that something smaller would be easier, but it’s the opposite. Usually, I can propose a scenario to myself and ask “what happens next?” OK. “What happens after that?” And follow that story down the natural rabbit hole. But with short fiction, I end up doing so much brainstorming, I’m developing material for a full length novel and I’ve forgotten what it was about the short story that grabbed me in the first place.

I’m hoping to kick that habit. I had a pretty vivid dream the other night that’s still haunting me. I thought it would make a great idea for a romantic comedy at the time so I wrote it down in case I ever wanted to tackle a screenplay pretty far outside my genre as an exercise. Then I massaged it into drama shape for kicks. And now, I’ve basically rebuilt it into a science fiction piece. I like the central concept, but it’s that illusive plot thing that’s tripping me up. I supposed I’ll keep working on it in the hopes that I see an end in sight.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Alpha

It’s been quite a while since my last post. Two four month old babies, too much work and not enough sleep will do that to ya …

Anyway, I’ve finished my latest novel, Fairfax Cleaners, and I’m pretty damned psyched about it. Yes, I know I’m biased, but I think it’s my best work yet. To this extent, I went ahead and made a Facebook post asking for alpha readers.

The responses were overwhelming. I expected my brothers and a couple of close friends of course, but some of the people who “signed” up for the job, I haven’t spoken to since college! The prospect that so many people are reading my work is both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. I sincerely doubt, that all of them are going to give me pats on the back with “it’s so awesome” comments. But that’s kind of the point.

Throughout my time writing these past couple of years, the input of my brothers has been invaluable. Even my mom reading most of my stuff has kept me going, but come one, she’s my mom. She has to say that stuff. If I really want to make this one work and I firmly believe that this is the book that’ll sell, well then I definitely needed some outside opinions.

I’ve always been interested in being part of a writing group. I was in a group as part of a class in college and really enjoyed the feedback and critiquing process. Once in a while, that itch comes back and I look into it, but it seems that if I want to be in something, I need to start that something. Short of a posting a blind ad on Craigslist, I don’t know how to 1. Make this happen and 2. Hope its not answered by whackjobs.

I’m actually going to send a follow up email to everyone today just to see how its going and to ask a couple introductory questions. Out of the 13(?!) people who responded, I doubt they’re all reading it now anyway, but any feedback is appreciated. Actually, the only feedback I’ve received (aside from my mom, of course) was a critique that my protagonist was carrying the wrong gun around. Well, what can I say, the guy was right. See? That’s why I’m doing this.

It’s so weird having people interested in my work. That’s also a point I’m working to get over. To be a commercial author, people kind of have to be, right? I tried to put the book in the hands of a broad spectrum of people, but I know I’m the connecting piece here, so I’m hoping for some diverse viewpoints. That said, there are definitely some in there who I never expected and those are the ones I’m most interested in hearing from again.

It’s hard to concentrate on anything else while this is going on, but I’ve started some initial brainstorming and research for my next project. A great thing about living in a college town and working at a university is the free access to resources. Although, I have reading lists at both the public library and the big one here on campus that include such titles as: Without Conscience and Psychopath Whisperer, so who knows how long that access is going to last!

There and Back Again

Hello, everyone!

I’m back from Florida. After driving back and forth to a wedding in Pennsylvania the other week and then to Florida and back, I am sick to death of being in a car. But it was definitely worth it. At a good clip, it’s a 14 hour drive each way and definitely something that can be done in a day. But with the wife being super pregnant and all, we split up the drive and stayed in a hotel on the way there and the way back again. That said, we pushed ourselves to do most of the driving on the first day so we could get down there on Sunday and make the most of our annual pass before it expired the very next day.

After having an annual pass and visiting about 3-4 times a year for the past couple of years, it was strange to be down there knowing we couldn’t just waltz into a park whenever we wanted to. Not that I had any real desire to wait for the newly refurbished Splash Mountain or anything – although it was pretty freaking hot – but just knowing that I couldn’t even if I did was a little irksome. I’d grown used to the luxury.

It was a great trip though. We stayed at Saratoga Springs due to its proximity to Downtown Disney. Most mornings were spent out by the pool and then we’d stroll over to DTD to do a little shopping or something. The highlight of each day was usually dinner. In the past, dinner was always planned in advance but we usually showed up as sweaty messes like everybody else from spending all day out in the Florida heat, but this time we could slow it down. You know, take a shower. We wined and dined. Well, she couldn’t wine and I scotched but only back in the hotel room.

The trip was bittersweet. Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing time and I’m so happy we went. I’m rested and recharged to do what needs doing, but it also marked the end of an era. Yes we may never get annual passes again, but we’ll also not ever vacation just the two of us again. Next time, we’ll be carting around two little dragons. We’re going from a 3-4 times a year cycle to a maybe we’ll go next year? … Probably wait until they’re older. The drive back was spent discussing the line between when do little kids start to get something out of a vacation versus how much work it now takes Mom and Dad to take them in the first place.

So we’re back and that means it’s time to kick my other work into high gear. I spent most of yesterday swapping cribs out of the nursery and putting together a changing table. I have a lawn that needs mowing too, but I’m upping my word count to make sure the novel is finished by August. Ideally, I’d love to knock it out sometime in July so I can clean up a draft or two and get it in the hands of some alpha readers. That way when I’m not sleeping, I’ll at least rest a little easier knowing that some work was still being done on it.