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.

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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.

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 2

The second week of MyNaNoWriMo continues to go well. I’ve slowed down a little thanks to some work commitments, but there’s still time to catch back up. I don’t know if I’d be as optimistic if it wasn’t for WriteTrack. The program continues to impress. I love watching my daily word count goals change based on my current writing habits.

My latest work in progress is in the home stretch now. I just entered the start of the Resolution phase a couple thousand words ago. Meaning, that we’re on our way to the climax, actual resolution, and denouement.

I’m an outliner. I need structure and story beats to know where I’m going. I can trim and edit later, but if I don’t have these sections laid out then I find that my stories just fall apart. So finally getting past Plot Point 2 was a huge deal for me. It was the signal to shift it into the next gear. Plus, the switch came after what ended up being a twenty-one thousand word battle scene. So there’s that. I don’t think of myself as much of an action writer, but this a fantasy leading towards the epic fantasy. If there aren’t battles and combat every once and a while, then it’d be a pretty boring book.

When I’m not writing, I’ve been doing some editing of older manuscripts getting them ready for self-publishing. I’m always astounded when I come back to something that I thought was as good as it was ever going to be and then find a way to make it better. Usually that involves substantial cutting and editing.

Case in point, my latest manuscript – Altered Egos – is still making the querying rounds. It’s a science fiction story clocking in a 105k words. I’d done seven drafts up until that point and thought it finished. Then I had an epiphany late one night as I fought the baby back to sleep. I not only knew how to trim some of the fat, but I realized how I could combine two similar scenes into just one and cut down on the redundancy too. The end result trimmed 11k off the final product and its sitting pretty at 94k now. Further proof that works are never finished, just abandoned as the saying goes.

When it comes to writing, I’m not really all that much of a perfectionist. I want to be happy with the final product, but I don’t agonize over the little things. You’re talking to a guy who used to turn in rough drafts in college because he couldn’t be bothered to go back and read a paper even once. So it’s not like I enjoy doing draft after draft after draft. I go until I feel like the work is finished and then it’s time to move on. Don’t get me wrong, I want to be proud of the result, but I don’t often get  hungup.

Lately I’m learning that as I level up as a writer, that some of my earlier works can still use another pass or two proving that they weren’t actually ready for publication in the first place. That’s okay. Now that I’ve decided to release them, I can clean them up one last time so they’re even better.

The thought of publishing my own work used to make me nervous. I kept thinking that what if I wanted to return to this world or idea someday. If I publish it, then I can never make the 2.0 version to sell to a traditional publisher. But then I realized that I haven’t run out of ideas yet. I’m working on finishing my seventh manuscript and they’re all wildly different from each other. I’ve got ideas for book eight primed on the back burner right now and that’s assuming I don’t end up writing a sequel to one of these soon-to-be self-published works instead. So running out of ideas just isn’t going to happen.

Okay, enough of that. Time to get back to writing.

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.

The Finish Line

The holidays ruined my NaNoWriMo.

I’m only half joking.

Due to travel plans around Thanksgiving to see my wife’s half of the family and then my family coming into town the very next week meant I lost quite a few days being a productive member of my family and not a productive writer. Now, I could have squirreled away somewhere to crank out some words, but we were in Disney World for crying out loud and I couldn’t figure out how to sell to a couple of three year olds why Daddy would rather play on his computer than play with them in freaking Disney World.

I’m not going to hit that fifty-thousand word mark and that’s okay. I write year round, not just November. Sure the challenge of hitting a high word count is fun. So’s the camaraderie during that time period, but truth be told, that stuff happens day in, day out throughout the rest of the year too!

Honestly, the most fun I have with NaNo is inputting all that data and watching a bar graph. Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing the estimated day of completion get earlier and earlier. I don’t need a contest to do that. I can do that with Excel. Okay, so the graph might be an extra step, but I’ll manage.

My only real goal this November was to take a nice sized chunk out of my current manuscript and that’s just what I did. So, mission accomplished.

For those of you who’ve hit that fifty thousand word mark, way to go! I’m proud of you.

Writing isn’t a hobby for me or a contest, it’s a lifestyle, so I’m just going to keep on trucking. I won’t always want to write fifty thousand words a month, but I’d like to give it another shot. Maybe February. Sure, it’s short, but there’s nothing going on in February to pull my focus elsewhere.

I don’t rely on a writing app to track my progress, but for the purposes of the monthly data it’s pretty fun. So, if anyone knows of something similar to the NaNoWriMo input, please let me know in the comments. I’d appreciate it!