And Done

Well, I did it! I hit my August deadline and Land of Sky and Blood is currently off with beta readers. I’m always looking for more readers so if Asian-inspired epic fantasy is your thing, I’d love to have you on board.

Wow! What a weight off my shoulders. This was my longest book yet, but it also required the most worldbuilding and character details. I have four main POV characters, so there was a lot to wade through at the end and it’s cleaned up as much as it’s going to be for the time being. It’s time to let it fly.

So what’s next?

There’s a short story I really want to finish. I wrote the first six pages which is essentially the setup and absolutely fell in love with it right before I was getting to the good part. Then I had to put it on hold to finish these edits, so coming back is weirdly intimidating. I have to make sure that lightning didn’t escape the bottle.

After that, it’s beginning work on the Altered Egos sequel. A couple weeks ago I decided that instead of starting a new IP I was going to pour my energies into Altered Egos and subsequent books pretty much going against everything I’ve always said about my writing career. I didn’t want to waste time writing books that no one will read. But that’s because I was thinking of only the traditional model. I’ve really come around to the idea of publishing my own series and so far the world I think best fits this model for me is Altered Egos. That and I’ve been dying to get back to those characters 🙂

I’ve had a lot of fun with Fairfax Cleaners, but before I expand that universe — and I totally plan to, I already know what the next couple of books are going to be — I’d much rather play with my supheroes and villains first. Altered Egos is nearer and dearer to my heart, so my new plan is to write those sequels and then self-publish that series.

The real trick is to fill this time with work.  I don’t do waiting so well, especially when it comes to waiting for beta readers to get back to me. But like a fish or a cat, I guess, I’m putting the shiniest of shiny things in front of me to distract myself as I wait around. If I’m really lucky, I’ll turn those time-killing exercises into some real progress.

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Inspiration

Normally when I’m working on something, I don’t like to read that same genre in fear of cross-contamination. It’s different this time, though. As I’m editing Land of Sky and Blood I only want to read fantasies with an Asian/East-Asian lens. It’s not that I’m hoping to get any of that via osmosis, I think it’s more that I just really like that aesthetic and never really knew how much of it was out there. Now that I’ve tasted it, I want more. Hopefully readers of that material will feel the same way that I do and accept my work as well.

Although, I wouldn’t be mad if one of those books helps me unlock this recurring naming convention problem I’m having. I thought I’d solved it, but I still think its too convoluted and the final effect isn’t quite what I was hoping for. Maybe I’ll get it next draft …

So in light of all that, I thought I’d talk a bit about what I’m currently reading. I realized that topic rarely comes up on my blog which could be odd being a writer and all. I’m maybe 75% through The Prince of Shadow and my ongoing review is that, I don’t hate it? Insert confused face.

Life’s too short for me to keep reading a book I don’t like. I can usually tell if I like a book or not forty pages in. Heck, more like twenty in most cases. But this one … it’s just interesting enough that I think I like the world, but plot-wise kind of boring. Benjamin’s prose is often muddy at times. A whole paragraph will go by and I’ll have to reread it because I’m not sure what he’s trying to say. I also tend to like a protagonist with, you know, agency so a whole book where events are happening too a character and not because of a character are not really my thing. I’m hoping this is just a slow burn and that this is all building up to the end, so who knows?

The beginning of the book must have been more interesting than what I’m reading now to get me this far, otherwise I probably would have dropped it. I’ve also come too far to turn back now. I call that my Wheel of Time Rule. Hooboy. We can talk about that ride later.

Anyway, yeah, so there are some things about The Prince of Shadow that I like and plenty that I don’t. If anything, it’s showing me some new angles to an Asian inspired fantasy world and offers some nice examples of how editing can be your friend, but it’s not what I signed on for.

So yeah, don’t hate it, but already looking forward to the end. I guess it’s part of a trilogy, but at this rate, I don’t have any plans of picking up the other two.

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.

New and Shiny

I took some time off with the family last week for some rest and relaxation. We live in the Midwest, which meant that we had a long drive to Florida each way. With three small kids, there was plenty of time where someone fell asleep in the car which meant it was pretty quiet for a hours at a time (the other hours, not so much …). But it gave me a lot of time at the wheel to do nothing but sit and think.

Without writing anything down, I find it hard to actually work on a story like that. I need to clear out the clutter in my head as I go along. Otherwise, I get stuck in these thought loops where I just sort of revisit the same concept over and over again even when I’ve already decided what to do with it.

So instead of work on anything new, really, I spent a lot of that time getting excited for the next WIP.

As I’m not a working writer — well, I am, but you know what I mean — I always come to the same point with every book. Once it’s written, I can either start something new while working on the edits knowing it’s going to take twice as long to edit the old work or I can double down and try and get finished in half the time. I typically stick to the latter. I want that finished project and don’t like sitting around without something to pitch.

That said, since I couldn’t really work on anything in the car, I got to do a lot of time daydreaming about the next work, which to me is still pretty important even before I sit down and write it. You need to be excited about what you write. I mean, if you aren’t excited by the work, why would your reader be?

So I really did get to rest and relax. Refill the ole tank as it were. I’m giving myself maybe another week off from the last book before I dive back into the dreaded Draft 2, so I’m filling that time with research and word sketches of what my next book could be. It’s  starting to twinkle over there just out of the corner of my eye as it tries to catch my attention and be my next distraction.

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.

Week 3

Still going steady.

Other times I’ve done this, I’ve written in fits and spurts. Three thousand words here, a thousand words there … This time I seem to be trucking along with about two thousand words a day and half that pace on the weekends. That’s pretty good. I’ve got nine days left and twenty-thousand words to go. It’ll happen.

My THINGS TO FIX list is growing especially long. It’s like a friend wearing a Halloween mask. It only looks scary, but ultimately it’s going to make the book better in the end. It’s also going to be a heck of a lot of work. But that’s a still a problem for Future Dan, though the rate I’m going Future Dan is going to be Present Dan pretty soon.

There’s a whole bunch of worldbuilding that needs clarification, but one of the big issues I know I need to fix is my naming conventions. I’ve had this idea for a while now and this manuscript is the first time I’ve got a chance to test it out.

It goes something like this …

Places tend to be permanent so they get very descriptive, albeit dull names. Those mountains are gray, well then they’re the Gray Mountains. Or your city is close to the shore, then you live in Nearshore. They’re supposed to be self-descriptive.

Now people, that’s where it gets interesting. People change. Places don’t. In this world, people are given a name at birth and then earn or are assigned names later by authority figures. These names are usually descriptive of the person’s deed or actions at a certain point in time. So someone might be born with the name Round Like Acorn, then later be named First of Snowfall, and even later earn the name Cheats At Cards. That’s three different names for one person and totally confusing. Especially when you have dozens of characters running around.

So I tried adding some consistency, by making the noun static. That would make my example:

Round Like Acorn

Round Of Snowfall

Round Cheats At Cards

So, even if you don’t remember everything, at least “Round” stays the same and that becomes the character’s name and nickname for the reader. But I’ve already broken my own rule because in “Round like Acorn,” the noun subject is actually the implied “You”. I mean it works, kind of, but it sometimes feels like putting a circle in a square shaped hole when you’re writing something like, “Round kicked off the wall and flipped into the water.” It’s awkward.

If that wasn’t enough, there are noble families in the story who play an important role in the narrative and the world. I also wanted to incorporate them into a person’s name so that as a reader if you’ve never met a character before, one look at his or her name and you’d know what family they belonged to.

It’s funny. Writing it all out like this feels like I’m giving away a secret recipe or something. I’m all right with it though. Last night, I think I finally cracked it. It’ll probably still be confusing, but I’ve simplified some of it and with enough explanations on my part to remind the reader, I hope it actually pulls people into the world instead of kicking them out.

We’ll see, though. Getting it into the hands of some beta readers will be the ultimate test. Gotta hurry up and finish it first before that even happens.

Week 1

Full disclosure, I didn’t give myself that six day handicap after all. I’m a realist. I have three little kids at home so I’m not always going to get time to write on the weekends. So, my personal time frame officially began on Jan 7. And it runs through Feb 6.

Week one of my National Novel Writing Month or – MyNaNoWriMo – is going well. I felt clever writing that, but I’m sure I’m not the first person to use that abbreviation. Also, it’s kind of a pain typing so many alternating capital and lowercase letters. Anyway …

I’ve always like the festive camaraderie surrounding the event, but I think the thing I like most is the data graphs. I mean, I’m going to write anyway, but there’s just something so satisfying about watching that little bar move. Even more so, I love the constant tug of war with myself as I watch my target daily word count fluctuate. Am I going to make it in time? Who knows?! I’m on a wild ride only I care about. And by wild, I mean like put a quarter and ride a pony in the mall kind of wild.

I was prepared to go at it on my own and put all that info into an Excel spreadsheet. That was until I found WriteTrack. Its everything I wanted!

You create your personal goal and set the parameters. I chose fifty thousand words in thirty days, but you can do anything. People struggling in the beginning of the craft can put ten thousand in a month. Whatever. The neat part is not only does it calculate your daily word count so you hit that mark – and update it depending on your progress – but you can assign a weighted value to each day as well. The output looks like a calendar and if I know I need to hit, say, five thousand words today or whatever, I can change the typical value of 100 and crank that sucker up to 1000. It doesn’t actually do anything, but it reminds me to keep on trucking.

In the time I’m not writing, I’m editing some of my other manuscripts. If I’m going to self-publish them after all, they need one final-FINAL read through. I’ve also been fiddling with Altered Egos some more which is still making the querying rounds. I thought it was tight as can be, clocking in at 102 thousand words, but I’ve been able to trim it down to 94K. It’s considerably increased pacing and I found a way to combine two very similar, and now I realize, redundant scenes, into one. I had to kill some darlings, but I’m pretty proud with the outcome so far.

Okay, enough of that, I need to get back to it. Today’s only weighted at 100, but I lost time over the weekend. Gotta get back to it!

Resolute

Hope everyone had some happy holidays! I know I did. I usually get antsy taking too much time off, but I forced myself to slow down this year. A benefit of working at a university is that the place closes around the holidays. We get a few days, but it’s one of those “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here” situations, so you’re encouraged to save up vacation time which meant I’ve had the last two weeks off. Got some great family time and sleep – oh, precious sleep! On top of all that, it gave me time to think long and hard about my writing.

I’ve come to a couple of decisions:

I’m going to self-publish a couple books. I’d wanted – and still do – go the traditional route, but I’m seeing more and more how subjective the industry really is. That isn’t to say I’m giving up on finding an agent or editor. Far from it. I want to self-publish some of my novels that I believe are good, worked really hard on, and absolutely love. There are stories I feel are worth telling and I don’t want them to disappear.

So, I’m going to publish them myself. I’m pretty excited about the prospect and we can talk a lot more about this later as I get further along.

Since the holidays – yes, those same holidays – took me away from NaNoWriMo this year, I’ve decided that January is going to be my personal National Novel Writing Month!

What can I say? I’m a masochist. I missed out on that great love/hate of pushing yourself to hit a huge word count. I can be productive otherwise, but I really want to see if I can do 50,000 words in thirty days again. Okay, so January is actually thirty-one days, but if you want to split hairs here, I haven’t had a chance to get started until today so really we’re talking about 50,000 words in twenty-five days. Does that make you feel better?

My cap needs this feather right now. I also need to finish my current manuscript. Oy vey, this one is ballooning up. Hitting that 50K mark is definitely going to make a dent.

The funny thing is that I don’t consider either of these to be New Year’s Resolutions. I had two weeks off and time to think and came up with them independently. The fact that we had a holiday where people make such evaluations of themselves was a happy coincidence. Again, splitting hairs here, but I’m keeping them distinctive because these aren’t “hey this sounds cool and could still fail because it was made on a whim” decisions, these are lifestyle choices. I’m leveling up again as an author and this is what it’s going to take.

And the third thing I decided was to become more active on social media. How does one decide to become more active you ask? It sounds so structured. But really it’s because my wife is super active, as are many of my friends, and I feel like I’m missing out. I used to post a lot more stuff but I kind of just dropped off over the years.

So bear with me as I get the old Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram machines up and running again. That’ll also most likely be the topic(s) of future posts.

There you have it. Hope the rest of you had some quality rest and relaxation. Did I mention I got to sleep? I had time to think about how to become a better me. Hope you all did as well with or without a holiday prompting you to do so.

Draft 2

This might be a strictly me thing, but there is no aspect I fear so much in all of writing – not even the blank page of a new book – then the beginning of revisions.

Once I finish any manuscript and get to the satisfactory “The End”, I let out an enormous sigh of accomplishment and relief. I did it. The marathon is over. I let myself rest on my laurels for a bit, give myself plenty of pats on the backs, couple more sighs, and allow myself the victory because I know the real work is only just getting started.

As I’m writing, I keep a running list of items that need to be updated, fixed, or changed for the next draft. I so cleverly call this my “THINGS TO FIX” list. It’s in caps so you know it’s important. This list is my new outline of what needs my immediate attention in the early revision stages. Thing is, I can’t even get to that list until I complete what I call Draft 2.

Now all writers have a second draft. Nobody gets it right the first time around. But I’m talking about Draft 2. Capital D. Plenty of writers can just dive back into the guts of his or her story and incorporate the changes outlined in their own THINGS TO FIX list, but not me. I need to go through the whole thing one time, tightening it up along the way, to give the whole book shape in my head. Only then can I go back and put the big changes into Draft 3.

Draft 2 is where all brackets get filled in, word choice is cleaned up, prose isn’t scrubbed so much as shaped. It’s what turns this giant pile of words into a story and it is exhausting. That’s where I confront my failures head on and try and turn them into something worth reading. Let me tell you, it’s a slog. It’s slow going doing all of that fine tuning, but for me it is completely necessary. I need to make the machine before I can go about fixing it.

I always go through the same stages too. The beginning of the manuscript is often the roughest which makes sense since it was the first part of the story written down. I was still finding character and voice and yet to hit my grove. So, naturally, I think my writing is garbage. Cleaning up all the clunky prose doesn’t help my self-esteem. Somewhere in the process, it gets better. Usually, this is when the story is starting to kick into gear. By the end, I’ve settled with the idea that it’s not all that bad. Not great. Maybe not even good. But not as scum-bucket terrible as I thought it was.

But now I have a story and that’s something I can fix. The next pass puts in the big elements. The pass after that cleans it up yet again. Each time I go through the manuscript, I polish it further and further until at some point I’m legitimately happy with it in its entirety. It transforms from a complete mess to something worth reading.

I’m not even close to that stage yet with my current manuscript. I’m maybe three fifths into it. A little slower than expected. I had other projects vying for my attention. But already, judging by what I’m generating day to day and looking at my THINGS TO FIX list, I know this one is going to be a doozy.

At some point I’m going to come out of the fog, blinking like I haven’t see the light of day in years, and be astonished there’s something good – or at least to me it is – in front of me. It takes a while to get there though, and often involves a lot of self-degradation. So celebrate those victories when you have them. But keep going. The light at the end of the tunnel is a finished book to be proud of.

I just have to get through Draft 2 first.