Couch Potato

I like to be busy. In life and in writing. I need to be actively working on something at all times either writing or editing. I mean, this is my bread and butter if I want to make a career out of writing – I need to make products – but I also see it like this: Throw enough spaghetti at the wall and something will stick, but that won’t happen if you don’t actually make the spaghetti.

I bring this up because I’ve had a minor procedure recently that resulted in a few days off from work and home in bed/on the couch. I’m not allowed to be active. Sure. Why not? What a perfect time to bust out the ultrabook and get some serious editing done without distractions.

Turns out I was wrong. Staying in a seated position was a tad tiring and the siren song of Black Mirror was just too tempting to resist. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Watching Black Mirror, not editing like I should be. I’m giving myself a pass on this one though. Sometimes I guess its good to recharge the batteries. Not that I’m doing that creatively mind you. People, I’ve been a slug. No, that’s not fair to slugs. They’re more active than I’ve been lately. If it wasn’t for my kids taking over the bedroom for a nap and then taking over the living and being too young to watch Black Mirror, I don’t know what I’d become. A puddle of goo? Can bones melt that fast? They won’t stop jumping on daddy, but I suppose its better that than being a complete slob.

That said, I don’t known if I’ve ever been more ready to get back to work in my life. And wear pants. Step one is pants.

All right, so the editing for Land of Sky and Blood – that’s the new official title – is going slow as can be. It’s gonna be a few months yet before I have anything for beta readers to sink their teeth into. I’m already getting anxious so I think I’m gonna get back into the short story game for a bit. Got a couple things brewing in the old brain pan.

In other news, Fairfax Cleaners has dropped to $2.99. That’s less than a comic book my friends. So, if you like an urban fantasy mystery, a mishmash of folklore, and fay who really like to drop the f-bomb then this might be the book for you. Find the details here or click the widget on the side of the page.

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A Good Symposium …

I spent the weekend up in Muncie, IN for the Midwestern Writers Workshop’s Agent Fest. Anyway, it was good way to connect with fellow writers, meet agents, and get some insider information. Thanks to one memorable presentation, I now look at writing my synopses completely differently.

Writing is a pretty solitary experience, so it’s always nice to learn and talk to others doing the same thing as you. Something I really love about writing in general is that the “enemy” so to speak isn’t other authors, its people who don’t read.

I’d encountered such a phenomena in the Scotch whisky industry years ago when I was writing my masters dissertation. The distilleries all sold different products, but on many occasions they joined forces to promote Scotch as a whole and broaden the overall customer base.

So collaborating with other writers whether it’s for a combined sales initiative or just sharing information about the craft or the profession can benefit both parties. For instance, I was waiting for that “How to Write a Good Synopsis” presentation to start and got to talking with my table. I learned all about a couple of programs that scan your prose for redundant phrasing, poor grammar choices, and active/passive voices in far better detail than Word ever could. In return, I think I ended up telling them how Amazon Direct Publishing works. See? We all win.

I’ve gone to enough events over the past 7 or 8 years now having to do with writing that I’ve started to define what type of experience I think I can expect based on the title of the program alone. Keep in mind, these are my definitions. Program creators are free to name their events whatever they wish.

A Conference: Different from a convention. I define a conference as a learning experience where people present ideas. Usually, it’s author to author. A place to go, network, and soak up some good discussions.

A convention: More of a celebration of the craft or a particular genre. More fan/reader presence as well as more booksellers. For an author it’s a good place to meet those fans and meet fellow authors. It might be tough for new authors to find each other though, as they fall someone in the middle.

A workshop: Can involve presentations of some kind, but the big difference is that the author attendee is actively working or practicing a lesson of some kind. To give a shout out to MWW, you can usually find instructions and critiques from some “faculty” authors paired against presentations or lectures about specific topics.

A retreat: A sequestered experience in some out of the way location so an author can focus on his or her writing. Usually it’s run by another writer of some clout who shares their expertise and critique on a much more personal level.

Those might be self-explanatory, but it helps to set the attendee’s expectations. A new writer could still make connections at a convention for instance — hello, Bar Con! — but it’s a much less structured experience.

I like to go to events. I usually come back with a couple new tricks, some contacts, and I always learn something. The price of some of these events can get limiting, but if you’re ever on the fence if you should attend or not, my answer is yes!

Now you just have to whittle down which one that’ll be 🙂

Maybe next time I’ll give you my list of the types of people I usually run into at these things …

Full Stop

I write chronologically by nature. I always start at the beginning and work my way towards to the end. It makes me really uncomfortable to write scenes out of order. I don’t like going into a situation without knowing all the subtle nuances and decisions that got my characters to that point, so whatever I end up writing feels hollow to me. Even those big, shiny set pieces I know are going to be in there and I’m super excited about, I still can’t write them out of order. I’ll get there when I get there.

The only way I can write unconnected scenes is once I’ve finished the manuscript. With the story told, it’s much easier for me to see, “Oh, I’m missing this scene here,” or whatever, and then go back and write it. Doing it that way removes my earlier hang ups and it’s not much of a problem.

I bring all of this up because I ran into a brick wall in my current manuscript. There’s a particular battle that I’ve known about since the outlining phase. A small force has to win against insurmountable odds. I knew it was coming. I knew I should prepare for it. But Past Dan decided I’ll figure it out when I get there.

Past Dan is an idiot.

I have no idea what to do. It’s not exactly writer’s block because I know what needs to happen and the big turning points in the sequence. What I don’t know is how to bring those about in a logical manner. I mean, this rag tag group of heroes has to win, yes, but win in a believable way.

The diligent writer in me knows I won’t be getting my words in for the day while I sit and noodle this one out. That Dan wants me to pick a point after the battle and just continue since I know how it’s going to end anyway. But I just can’t. It feels wrong. I guess I can massage in continuity edits later, but it’s hard to get going. Unless I figure this out soon, I may not have a choice.

It’ll be an interesting exercise for me for sure if I just breeze past this pivotal scene. I know other writers who don’t have the reservations that I do and can write whatever scene they need in whatever order that strikes them. Not me, friends.

So maybe you can help me out. Besides a small group winning against a large one, how does said small group win if they’ve already given up the high ground? Seems impossible, right?

Now I’m mad at Past Dan for two reasons.

  1. Why didn’t he figure this out earlier?
  2. I control the narrative. Why are we even in this mess?

Oh well. Instead of my daily word count, I think it’s off to read some history forums and learn as much as I can about underdog battles. If any of you have any insight or advice, Present Dan is much more receptive than Past Dan. He’s all ears.

Slave to the Narrative

Ever hear about plots being on rails? Or maybe characters being a “slave to the narrative”? Those are both descriptive ways of explaining that the plot is the driving force of the book, overshadowing everything else. Things happen because the plot demands it, not necessarily because it feels natural to do so.

I’ve always known of the concept, but it never hit me as hard as it did now. I’d gotten some good advice from an agent about my manuscript Altered Egos and wanted to implement it into the most recent draft. In the book, my protagonist is a supervillain who’s freed from prison to stop a serial killer. Now there are plenty of things vying for his attention and trying to keep him under someone’s thumb, but I realized that I too fell prey to making him a slave to the plot.

I thought I’d covered my bases pretty well by having him always be scheming for ways out, but then I went back and reread scenes of him running head first into danger. I had to stop and ask myself why. Well, I knew why, because I needed him to blow up that mech or to save that guy for whatever reason. But would my protagonist really do that?

The short answer was yes. He needed to accomplish these tasks to further his own plans. The longer answer was yes, but he’d have reservations. I needed to do a better job of explaining that in the prose. I was missing the entire emotional piece of how he felt about the matter. I just had him moving about like a chess piece. Yeah, he’s an intellectual guy and I had him examining many of these situations from an intellectual angle but I don’t care who you are, if bullets are flying over your head and things are exploding left and right, you’re going to be on the verge of peeing your pants. But none of that was in there.

It made those scenes feel hollow. Here I had a protagonist with a strong character voice, but we never really got into his head. It wasn’t some parlor trick I was going for, it was just weak writing.

I’ve never been one of those authors who say their characters are dictating the story as they go along. I need an outline and I need to move my pieces around from Point A to Point B, but there are times I can do a better job of explaining how my characters feel about those elements. More often than not, readers are enticed by the plot, but they stay for the characters. It’s the emotional connection a reader forms with a protagonist that has a lasting effect, but they can’t form that emotional connection if the character doesn’t actually emote.

Glad I got that advice and caught it when I did.

Just a reminder that my book Fairfax Cleaners is for sale on all major e-retailers. And you can of course get a print on demand version from Amazon.

Fairfax Cleaners is Live

Look what showed up over the weekend?

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It looks good and it feels good too! That cover is snazzy to touch. Anyway, I’m so thrilled with how it turned out that I decided why wait? As of today, Fairfax Cleaners is available everywhere!

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Fairfax-Cleaners-Dan-M…/…/ref=sr_1_2…

Physical Copy: https://www.amazon.com/Fairfax-Cleaners-Dan-M…/…/ref=sr_1_3…

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/fairfax-cleaners

Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/…/1131177773;jsessionid=92E2…

iBooks: https://linkmaker.itunes.apple.com/en-us/details/1459119241…

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/932548

So take your pick! While I’d love for people to purchase the book, of course, I’m looking hard for reviews right now. If you don’t want to invest in a new author – I totally hear ya – contact me anyway and I’ll be more than happy to send you a free version in exchange for an honest review.

Fairfax Cleaners is Self Published!

I did it. I finally did it. I took control of my own writing career and self-published my first book.

It’s been something I’d been thinking about doing for a while now, but couldn’t bring myself to do because I’ve been so captivated by the traditional model. However ever since going through Fairfax Cleaners again for one final overhaul of the manuscript, I knew it would be the perfect candidate.

DanMelnick_FairfaxCleaners_eBookFrontCoverFINAL

Here’s the blurb:

Gus cleans up the bodies, he doesn’t make them. Keep the Hidden City hidden. That’s the job and deal he made with one of the fairy overlords of Chicago. It’s another day dismembering troll, when Gus discovers Maureen hiding out in the back of his van. His boss is hunting humans with tremendous magical potential and Maureen has already gotten away from them once.

Most people who catch the fairy’s interest typically wind up on the other end of Gus’s bone saw.  Gus knows he should turn her in, but can’t bring himself to do it. Even a man who hides the dead has a conscience. So he helps her escape, earning the wrath of the Hidden City: evil fairies, a rampaging werewolf, and a spirit assassin powered by vengeance. And that’s just the start of it. His boss has gone to a lot of trouble finding Maureen the first time and will do anything to get her back. There’s no way he’d both forgive Gus’s betrayal and let them escape the city alive.

It’s got some violence and a whole lot of language — if the cover didn’t tip you off. So if you’re sensitive to that, you now know.

The official launch day is May 7th, but you can preorder it now at the following links:

Kindle

Physical Copy (not available until launch day)

Kobo

Nook

iBooks

Smashwords

I’m definitely looking for reviews, so for those of you who have already read it and would like to talk about your experiences, I’d really appreciate it. If there is anyone out there who would be interested in a free copy in exchange for an honest review, please reach out and I’ll send one your way.

So what this whole process has taught me:

  1. Layouts take so much more work than I realized. I must have fiddled with different versions of the manuscript for hours every day for weeks to get them all in the proper format for the platform.
  2. Microsoft Word is so much more than a “type here” program. There is so much going on behind the curtain if you will, its staggering. Also, I’ve never loved Find and Replace more.
  3. A good cover is worth investing in. Let’s be honest, we really do judge a book by its cover. Or it at least makes us pick it up and give the book a chance. I’m super pleased with what Extended Imagery has cooked up for me.
  4. People read books in a lot of places. Going into this I thought if I hit Amazon and iBooks, I’d cover my bases but I couldn’t be more wrong. There are so many platforms out there. It’s great that people can choose the vehicle that works for them, but it means more work for me to generate reviews
  5. It’s really fun. I didn’t think I would enjoy this behind the scenes process so much, but I really do. I’m already working on the next manuscript I’ll be self-publishing.

Dun Dun Duuuuuuh …

It’s finally here.

The portents had foretold of its inevitable arrival. I knew it was coming, feeling it in the marrow of my bones. It’s been hanging over my head like a dark cloud – nay, a burial shroud – for months …

The dreaded Draft (capital D) 2 …

You may recall my mentioning of this monstrosity a time or two before. This is what I call the draft after the rough draft. Well, duh, but it gets a capital letter because it’s so much more than simple polishing. This is where I take that pile of words and create an actual story out of them. With a 165k word manuscript, it’s quite the pile.

If that wasn’t hard enough, it’s always a rougher go in the beginning. 1. That’s because I’m just starting the editing process and 2. I write chronologically, so the beginning is where I was still figuring things out all those moons ago and hoo boy, does it show. In later revisions, I’m able to mark editing time by how many chapter I can get through. Now, I’ll be pushing through for like an hour and a half and when I check the page count, I’ve gone all of three pages. To say it’s a process is an understatement.

Still, though, it’s a necessary evil. My list of things to fix is four pages long and I can’t implement a single one of them without at least going through this ordeal first. My goal is to have it complete and agent-worthy by mid-July so I’m ready for Gen Con.

It’s gonna be a struggle.

A saving grace, though, is that I’ve had weeks now to think about some of the larger issues plaguing the manuscript. There were plenty of times in that first pass where I bracketed things and kept on going. I’ve since created a document I call my “Worldbuilding Band-Aid” that covers all the little stuff I hadn’t fleshed out before. Between that and my list, I’m creeping along.

At the time of this writing I’m only two chapters in. That’s like 15 pages out of 262, so yeah. Mid-July huh? My hope is that the trend continues and the editing gets a little smoother, a little easier the farther along I get in the manuscript as my writing gets better.

Then I’ll go back and “put more tension in chapter 2” and “add life to the city in chapter 1” like my things to fix list wants me to, but it’s a little hard to do that now as I’m still filling in the blanks, fixing sentences, and figuring out just what the heck Past Dan was thinking.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Ever notice how authors know so many random things about a lot of stuff? That’s because in order to create conceivable worlds, we need to know how those worlds work. That’s where the whole an author only writes 10 percent of the iceberg thing comes from. You need to know so much on the back end in order to write a realistic setting. Learning all that can inform other stories down the line and even if it doesn’t, it makes for a bunch of random facts for the back pocket.

For instance, did you know that after the passing of the Metropolitan Police act in 1829, constables’ uniforms had stiff collars to avoid strangulation as they were definitely not a welcome sight around the city? Because thanks my research for The Red Door, I do.

To help put this in perspective, you’ve probably heard stories about getting lost in Wikipedia or falling down rabbit holes on the internet. One search leads to another leads to another and so on …

Story creation works that way too. Let me give you an example.

I’ve talked a little about this before, but my new story all started because I wanted to do something with a deep sea diver. OK, when did they do hardhat diving with a breath line? Well, the Navy still used the Mark V helmet up through WWII (I had to learn that …).

Well, I don’t want to use that time period, but I like the idea of a soldier, so how about after WWI?

OK. It ended in 1918.

Well, I don’t want it to be RIGHT after, so let’s push it back to 1919.

Great. Where?

Well, my protagonist has seen enough battle. He wants to settle somewhere idyllic for a while. Oh and there needs to be water.

How about the Mediterranean Sea?

That sounds good. Lots of history there. I can base him in Greece.

What was Greece’s role in WWI? How would the react to an American fisherman living there now? If he’s a diver, he’ll need a tender, probably a local, so was this guy in WWI as well? Also, in 1919, Greece was gearing up to fight another war against he Turks and his tender would be involved with national sympathies and …

See what I mean? You make a couple of decisions and the threads just start appearing. Do I need to explain all of this in my own work then? Absolutely no, but I need to understand the interplay and relationships because its all going to inform what I write.

It’s been fun doing the research. I was just reading something about sunken treasure ships which lead me to Egyptian ports which lead me to trade routes and the list goes on.

I may have directed this journey, but remember it all started with me wanting to do something with deep sea diving and it spun out from there.

To me, that’s what makes storytelling so much fun. Yeah, it’s a lot of work putting all these pieces together, but change just one facet and the entire story changes. That’s why, the last time I tried this, I got from the Marianas Trench to spaceships.

The Trail to Self Publishing

Ever since finishing my latest manuscript, I’ve needed something to keep myself busy during the mandatory cool down process. Some of that has been conducting research for the next novel. But most of it has been one final editing pass through a book I wrote a couple of years ago.

I’m definitely the kind of person who thinks trunk novels ought to stay in the trunk, but I’ve had a few that were pretty close to being “a real boy”. And since I made the promise to myself that I wanted to self-publish this year, well I needed something to publish.

I still have a couple of books doing the querying rounds, so they’re not exactly on the table at the moment, leaving me Fairfax Cleaners, my one and only urban fantasy from a couple of years ago.

The pitch:

Gus, a cleaner for the fairy overlords of Chicago, turns against his family by protecting a girl with immense magical potential from being murdered to jump start a ritual to revive a forgotten god.

Those of you already making the connection, I conceived and wrote this book way before I read any Jim Butcher. I like the books, but imagine my frustration, right? Well, I made the choice not to change locales because I used to live in Chicago and I liked the world I’d created. Other than fairies, magic, and Chicago, this book and Dresden have nothing in common so I like to think I’m safe.

Going through it again has been enlightening. I definitely tightened up a lot of the beginning, reworking some troublesome chapters before ultimately cutting another 13,000 words from the whole thing, streamlining it shark-smooth.

I gotta say, I’m thrilled with the final result. I really like this book. It’s the first one where I really cared about structure and I feel like it shows. I’ve got someone doing the cover as I write this and hope to have more information in the next couple of weeks.

Guess it’s time to finally make those KDP and iBook accounts so I can get this party started.

Those of you who’ve blazed this trail before, any advice?

Another One in the Can

I finished manuscript number 7 this morning. I’ve only had one other novel ever reach this length and that was after a whole bunch of revisions. I can’t believe its finally over. I feel both excited and relieved!

I originally thought it would be something like 100,000 words at most. It was pretty clear to me that I was nowhere near close enough on my estimate when I was about 80,000 words in and just then hitting the midpoint. Rather than despair, I pushed on.

It was actually pretty liberating knowing that I’m going to cut at least a third of what I’ve written. At least I’m guessing it’ll be a third. Honestly, I have no idea. I just know there’s some fat in here that needs trimming.

Even though I feel like I’ve accomplished telling the story I wanted to tell, I don’t think I want the book to be this long. It’s ballooning because I’m balancing four different character stories that all intersect, but I know I can pare it down. Cut out all that fat and just streamline the hell out of it.

I remember listening to an interview with Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead and Army of Darkness fame a couple years ago about his Ash Versus the Evil Dead TV series when it was first coming out. The way he described each episode was that they’d filmed for your standard hours’ worth of programming, but then cut them all down to twenty-two minutes. All that boring middle stuff was just gone. That way they never waste the viewer’s time or spend too long on needless downtime.

That’s kind of how I’m approaching this new work. I wrote the words needed and then, like Edward Scissorhands, make something beautiful out of that tangled mess. Well, I hope it’ll be beautiful, but you know what I mean.

My THINGS TO FIX list of changes and edits for draft two is like four pages long, but I wouldn’t let myself touch it until I was finished. Well, now I am. But I’m gonna need to rest on these laurels for a bit and let my mind drift so I can come back with a fresher perspective.

The greatest piece of writing advice I think I ever received was from a GA back in college. She said something along the lines of “Just finish it. Once the story is told, you’re done. You’ve succeeded in writing that story. Finish the work and then go back and make it look good.”

Michael Creighton put it much more elegantly when he said, “Great books aren’t written. They’re re-written.”

So that’s what I did. I kept trucking along, checking things off my outline as I go, knowing full well there’s a whole heap of stuff that needs to be fixed in post. I don’t see any of this as a failure, but a learning exercise. It’s practice for a whole variety of things.

This is my third fantasy manuscript. As a fantasy reader, I thought I wanted to write fantasy, but my first two turned out to be duds. In fact, one of them is my Voldemort of manuscripts – he who shall not be named – and is never talked about. As a newly-realizing science fiction author, I’m stuck with it, though. I had my doubts a third of the way in, but wouldn’t you know it, but the darned thing has grown on me. I think there’s something worth salvaging here.