Life Update

Has it really been three weeks since my last post? Wow, well I guess I was being lazy that first week after Land of Sky and Blood edits.

Update: My mom liked it. Honestly, I’d be weirded out if she didn’t. She’s an avid reader and always wants whatever I’m working on and the dutiful son I am, I send them her way. It’s like the adult version of putting my artwork on the fridge I guess.

Then the week after, we had some illness in my house so I was taking care of everyone for a while which meant no post.

Now here we are. So what’s up with you?

I’ve been slowly working on my outline for the Altered Egos sequel Partners in Crime. This step is always exciting and daunting because anything can happen. The rails aren’t there yet and I’m still creating from whole cloth. I’m still nailing down good story beats as I take my pages and pages of brainstorming notes and massage them  into something coherent that someone besides my mother would want to read.

When not doing that, I’m avoiding working on that short story that needs finishing, but I’m reading more. I used to read all the time, but being busy at work and at home has unfortunately slowed me down. I know. A writer who doesn’t read. But I do! I promise!

I’m actually reading Dark Hollow the second Charlie Parker book by John Connolly right now. I didn’t really care for the first one – my writer brain couldn’t get past the Matrix code – but my uncle swears by this series and he’s a pretty great guy so what the heck, I’ll give it another shot. I’m glad I did because this second one is much better than the first in my opinion.

My main gripe with the first book, Every Dead Thing, is that after the setup, its basically divided into two acts except Act 1 has nothing to do with the setup promised. It’s kind of a big waste of time. I get now that for the character, that first act is more meaningful but it feels like I was forced to read a backstory before we got to the novel itself. I just couldn’t get past the structure.

Dark Hollow, though, is much more streamlined and personal (which is a weird way to describe it if you’re familiar with the premise) than the first book so I like it a lot more. Also for whatever plot or pacing problems I think Connolly has, my lord, can that man write some metaphors. His stark yet vivid descriptions are awesome. So at the very least, I feel like I’m in writing class once again looking at that Matrix code, but this time I’m studying it to see how its done.

I don’t know what it is about his writing that does this to me so I can’t just fall in and enjoy the narrative – maybe he jumps around too much – but whether I like ’em or hate ’em, I’m finding Connolly’s books to be educational.

So that’s me, what’s going on with you?

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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.

Sooooo Close!

I finished my latest read through of Land of Sky and Blood over the weekend. That’s 561 pages, 163k words, all cleaned up. I still can’t believe it turned out that long. Now all I have to do is rewrite the opening chapter and I’ll be ready to hand it off.

At this point I’m desperate to give it to my beta readers. I thought I’d be cutting things left and right Edward Scissorhands style, but I think I ended up adding to the overall word count! I feel like Cillian Murphy in Sunshine when he’s staring out the spaceship at the sun. I just can’t look at the manuscript anymore. I’m all crispy-skinned and immolated over here and need some outside opinions.

My original goal was to be done by August 1st. I’m giving myself until the end of the week though. Either way, come a week from now, you better be seeing the words: “And it’s sent!” Then maybe I can finally relax.

Keeping the post short and sweet today so I can get back to it. I’ve already pulled myself out of one internet rabbit hole once I started reminiscing about Sunshine — seriously, before me typing that reference, I hadn’t even thought about that movie in like ten years — I can’t afford to fall down another one. That chapter’s not going to rewrite itself!

The Power of Editing

I’m only 410 pages into my 554 page manuscript. This is another polish round, so I’m reading it start to finish and cleaning things up as I find them. It’s faster moving than it was in the beginning, but I’m ready to be finished. The next round I can do some more surgical fixing followed by a line by line polish after that. At this point, I’m ready to get the manuscript in the hands of beta readers. I don’t want make it perfect if the whole thing needs to be reworked. What’s the point?

But all this gets me thinking just how much the story can change as its being edited. I don’t just mean rewriting and cleaning things up either.

So here’s a great example: I have four main POV characters. In the beginning of the book, each character gets his or her own chapter. As these characters come together by the end, the chapters get a bit more muddied as I jump between POVs. Now I can keep them that way because it works thematically — total accident by the way — or I can cut them apart, mixing and matching the whole way through.

Benefit of keeping them as they are: More time in the respective character’s head means more investment from the reader.

Cutting them up: Holds interest longer as more seems to be happening since we’re jumping back and forth. POV changes also create more stopping places for the reader which would be a bad thing if it means putting the book down or a good thing if means people push on for “just one more section”. Who knows?

I feel like I want to cut them up, but I’m on the fence. If you’ve ever read Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities trilogy, I think of those books as the gold standard. Each one has only like nine whole chapters, but those chapters are huge. Lots of section breaks and POV switching. Terry Pratchett wrote that way too. Actually, he wrote without chapters and just broke when he felt it necessary.

However, Stranger Things season 3 is warning me otherwise. In the beginning, I liked the cutting back and forth, but it eventually got annoying because I felt like there wasn’t a lot of overall progress. Right when something good started happening in the story we’d cut away leaving me more frustrated than interested. Now, in my opinion, that season had its own problems later on, but this point still stands.

That’s just a structural thing. Rearranging chapters only changes the presentation of information and not what is being said. Yet it could completely change the feel of the entire book. That’s how important editing can be.

“Great books aren’t written. They’re rewritten.” Michael Creighton said that I find myself coming back to that again and again like a mantra.

Okay, that’s enough from me. I need at least another forty pages done today to keep on schedule. Happy writing and editing, everyone!

Just a reminder that Fairfax Cleaners is still on sale all of July. As much as a dollar on Amazon or as little as totally free on Apple Books!

Crisis on Multiple Dans

I’ve been on vacation that last two weeks with the family. There was plenty of rest and relaxation. Also some stress and aggravation from trying to herd three small children to “HAVE FUN”. And driving. Lots of driving. So many car arguments.

My lowest moments? I transformed into a capital “D” Dad on this trip and had to say dad things like “I’m turning this car around and we’re going home!” and “Now NOBODY gets a movie!”. It’s awful. My kids turned me into a monster. But aside from that, it was a pretty fun trip. We went out east to visit my parents for a week and then drove south to surprise the kiddos with a secret Disney World trip the following week. So it was kind of eventful.

Two weeks away also meant two weeks away from writing. And in those two weeks I received a couple more rejection letters.  You’re never going to make it as a writer if you can’t handle rejection and boy have I gotten some letters over the years, but these two hit kind of hard. They were some final nails in the coffin of a particular work and I was realizing that it just wasn’t going to sell.

So in the midst of the Florida sun and Disney World I was also experiencing an existential crisis of what to do with my career.

I’ve always had this dilemma of striving for traditional publishing versus self-publishing. There are good reasons to go either way. Bad ones and pitfalls too. Even more than that, I’ve written seven novels now over the course of seven years and the last four books I’d say have had somewhat open endings or at least room for a sequel but I’ve never written any followups.

The life cycle of my books tend to go something like this: outlining and writing the first draft takes a couple months. Then polishing and editing takes the second half of the year. Usually while it’s taking me a year to write one book, I spend that entire year pitching and querying the last book. Once the new book is ready, I rotate the old one out, start pitching the new, and start writing something else. Thus the cycle continues.

My way of thinking was why write a sequel to a book that no one will read. Well, a lot of self-publishing thrives on series. Even my own Fairfax Cleaners I’ve envisioned to be a Hidden City series. I was going to hold off and publish those intermittently with other works. At least that was the idea, but down in the Florida sun I’ve come to a new decision. I do want to write a series, but while I love Fairfax Cleaners, Altered Egos is nearer and dearer to my heart. I’m going to finish editing my current manuscript and then I’m just going to dive into the Altered Egos sequel. I’m not going to lean into self-publishing anymore, I’m going all in. I mean, I wanted to write a series anyway so why not? What’s stopping me?

I’ve come full circle on this. I originally get into novel writing because I wanted to write comic books and got tired of convincing other people to draw stories for me. With that notion, if I love something and think its worth reading, well then maybe I should do it myself again and get it out there.

The writing industry is about the market, but the writing art is about passion. And right now I’m passionate about writing about a supervillain protagonist in a world of superheroes so that’s what I’m going to do. If I think these stories are worth reading, then there’s probably a couple people out there like me who’d appreciate them as well.

Head Case

I’d been doing some traveling lately and visiting family which has put me behind on both blogging and writing. Aside from some memories and a boat load of pictures of my kids, I didn’t come back empty handed. My sister-in-law is an awesome photographer who did me a huge favor and snapped me some snazzy head shots.

Headshot for Screens

Nice, Right? I mean just look at that handsome devil.

Okay, all joking aside all credit goes to my sister-in-law who clearly knows what she’s doing. I just sat around and tried not to look like an idiot. Smile more? Less? Serious face? I think I went through the gamut. The old train station also helped. I really like that background!

Anyway, got some time in the sun down south where my kids played with their cousins for a week. Physically, I’m exhausted from traveling — three little kids on airplanes will do that to you — but mentally, I’m all fired up. I’ve got some business stuff to take care of, a short story to finish, and of course editing Draft 2.

Draft 2 has been kicking my butt. It was always going to be rough in the beginning, but I also think it’s because I was trying to cram everything I’d missed in during that second pass. I’ve since come to realize that like anything I’ve ever written, it’s going to be a another dozen or so drafts until I’m finished, so it’s okay to let stuff go for next time. Fix what I catch and streamline those 165k words into a coherent story and then polish, polish, polish while I work out other details. You don’t carve a masterpiece in the second try. You chip away and smooth stuff until one day you’re just finished with it.

Seriously, coming at my problem like that has just freed me. I can’t wait to get through this current pass so I can hone in some more on the next one. Want another metaphor? It’s like zeroing in on a target. I could probably cut down on the overall number of drafts by slowing down, but I’m not sure my work would be as good.

I’d been taking a writing class these past couple months to polish my prose and something I’ve learned is that I like to do that final polishing in little isolated chunks. Take a few “completed” pages at a time and then make them better. I think I was trying to do too much too quickly before. I’m allowing myself the ability to let stuff go, flag it, and catch it later, being more deliberate with my choices. I think it’s going to make me a lot happier in the long run.

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.

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.

[title]

Not to bury the lead here but I think my favorite writing technique is using brackets.

[  ] Those guys.

Writing itself is freeing because we can put whatever we want on the page. But brackets are even more so because they not only hold whatever I can imagine, but often, whatever I can’t!

I use brackets as placeholders.

Every time I’m writing dialog and know a character should be moving right now but I just can’t quite figure it out? [body language].

Every time I write a reference to a tertiary character who I haven’t named yet? [guy’s name].

Every time I’m writing and just can’t quite think of the word? [word].

Brackets are the best! I don’t lose momentum by stopping and thinking about how to fill them. I throw on some brackets to the thought and then come back later – often the time-consuming crushing edit that is draft number two – and buff them all out. The added benefit is that brackets are so distinctive, you can even do a Find and Replace if you’re only using them sparingly or for something specific such as “[guy’s name]”.

Brackets aren’t just good for lazy writing. They’re crucial for worldbuilding especially for science fiction and fantasy.

For instance, in my current manuscript, I’ve decided that only the emperor has an army. Makes sense, okay. Now there are eight houses/clans all in favor that make up the bulk of the kingdom, though. They’ll have some kind of military presence too to fight over border disputes and interhouse issues. I can’t call them armies, but I need to call them something.

So I decided that since the peace in the kingdom is kind of only in name only, they’ll each have their own military of some kind. Eight houses need eight names, though. I have maybe one of them figured out right now. I really don’t want to stop and think about this entire military structure when I’m in the middle of a scene that has nothing to do with it so instead, I put [defense force] or [sergeant] in as placeholders.

I don’t know what the final versions are going to be, but I will definitely build them by the end. When I sat down to do all my worldbuilding and prewriting work, I came up with as much as I thought I needed, but obviously things tend to arise organically. So rather than derail the entire manuscript, brackets come in as Band Aids until I develop some crucial missing worldbuilding.

Why didn’t I do all of that up front you might ask? Short answer is to avoid worldbuilder’s disease otherwise I’d always be building a world and never writing one. Long answer is that I didn’t know I needed them at the time.

These are the kinds of things you’re going to have to deal with in the marathon slog that can be a manuscript. One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever received was just finish it. Finish the project. It’s never right the first time anyway so why kill yourself now? All of that can be fixed in post.