And Now: Editing

Under normal circumstances, I'd never leave a book on the shelf for almost two months after finishing the first draft.  I just wouldn't.

This isn't a work ethic thing; it would drive me nuts thinking about the book and not doing something about it.

The second I finished this most recent novel -- sorry, the title's still a wee bit up in the air -- I wanted to jump into editing.  Like, I was hungry to do it.  But I didn't.

Instead, I moved.

Then it was Christmas.

Then I was on vacation.

Now, some new, silly thing may be happening, but fuck it, I'm done waiting.  So, I've got my manuscript, I've got my laptop, and I've got my pad for jotting down notes.  The desk is clear and the room is mine.

Tonight: editing on the unnamed book begins.

A Brief Update

Okay, July, 2015 to November, 2016.

99,000 words.

First draft . . . done.

Now the real work begins.  Man, that took a long damned time.

Single-Tasking in a Multi-Tasking World

I'm going to come off sounding like an old fart here, but I think people are getting really bad at focusing on one thing at a time.

I think we're getting really bad at single-tasking.

I think we can't help but dig our phones out of our pockets while waiting to cross the street, order dinner, get into an elevator, etc., etc., etc.

And I would like to propose a counter-argument.  I would like to suggest boredom.

Boredom is great.  Boredom is valuable.  Filling every moment of your day with input doesn't leave a lot of room for output.

I set myself some dedicated time very day (well, every night) for nothing but output, but let me tell you: it's still a struggle.  Someday, someone's going to write a great study about the effect of constant stimulus on the human brain and people are going to get all wide-eyed to learn that -- hey -- it's not very good for you.

Well, maybe it is.  I'd bet that Layla will be able to multi-task like a mofo (she kind of already can).  If science worked out a way to de-age me to, say, twenty years old, and keep me that way for a couple hundred years, I bet the "kids" would be able to spot me coming from a mile away.

I'd be so slow by comparison.

But that's okay.  What made me think about this -- well, what made me think about this tonight; single- versus multi-tasking is actually something I think about quite a lot -- was helping get Layla 2.8 to fall asleep tonight.

She doesn't like bedtime.  Woah.  A two-year-old who doesn't want to go to bed.  Stop the presses.

Tonight's bedtime adventure involved me sitting next to her bed, not moving, not leaving, just waiting, being as silent as I could, while she settled in.  "Don't go," she told me, so how could I?

I had about fifteen minutes to just sit there, in the dark, doing almost nothing (Jessy was there, too, and she was doing the lion's share of the work).

So I let my mind wander.

And, as these things happen, I had an idea.

Ask a writer where they get their ideas and, dollars-to-donuts, they'll lie to you.  That's not because we don't like you; it's because people are almost always disappointed with the answer.

Tonight's idea was a doozy.  Sorry, A Doozy.  Yup, caps and all.  I won't go into it yet -- this is the seed of a story that will likely change 900% between now and writing -- but from a practical level, this was a fully-formed story idea that hatched, all on its own, as I sat there in the dark.

I tend to think of things in terms of being a writer.  I don't know how, for instance, an illustrator or a painter might deal with a situation like that.  I imagine they could hold the notion of the idea until they found somewhere to scribble and sketch, but maybe I'm wrong.  I figure actors train themselves to hold onto ideas until they can try them on someone.  Ditto comedians, directors, photographers . . . you get the idea.

As a writer, that fifteen minutes of blank time is very valuable.  It's treasure, especially in our non-stop world.  I make a concerted effort to not check my phone constantly (and often fail) precisely because I try to cultivate a mindscape open to single- and not multi-tasking.  I want to focus on a single thing at a time.

It's easier said than done, let me tell you, but when I pull it off, it's great.  I could probably spend the next few hours brainstorming for the book(s) this idea will turn into.  Yeah.  That's great.  I won't -- I'm knee-deep in something else, plus I like letting new, big ideas sit for a little while before I go hog wild on them.

Is there a point here?  I don't know.  Certainly, it's not my intention to get all preachy, you kids who need to get off my lawn, and I would never, ever, every presume to tell another writer how they should approach their work (right now I'm digging silence, but for the next thing it could be thrash metal or opera or showtunes or white noise), but I also think a little nudge is useful from time to time.

So: leave your phone in the other room.  Turn off your internet.  Give yourself a dark room or a blank page and make that your world for a little while.  If you find something magical there, tell it I said hi.

Abracadabra!

I'm writing a book.

That might seem obvious -- what do I do but write books? -- but sometimes it's nice to, you know, put that down in writing.

I'm writing a book.

I think it's going well.  Certainly I'm enjoying myself, something I'd say is integral to the long process of writing a book.  I mean, if you're not enjoying yourself, why do it?

The money?  Meh.  There are better, easier ways to make a buck.

The story?  Hell yeah.  This is another one that, like The Seven Markets, I had germinating inside me for a long, long, long time, but was never quite able to crack.  Then, one night, I did.

(I used to blog a lot, like every night, when working on something.  I haven't been doing that.  I'd like to try doing it again, so apologies while I get myself back up to speed.)

Finding that thing, that word, that idea, that image, that helps "crack" the story or move forward with the night's work, always makes me feel dumb.  That's because the solution almost always seems very obvious.

You know, in retrospect.

With Markets it was changing the protagonist from a young man to a young woman.  The original story there was very different from what I ended up actually writing.

With this story -- the title is somewhat in question, and I'd hate to refer to it by name and then have the name change, but let's just call it "the 2015 book" -- the "thing" was even simpler.

And once I found it the whole story clicked into place.  Like, in less than a second I went from, boy, I'd love to figure out how to tell that story to, shit, I wish I could type faster.

Now, I don't actually wish I could type faster.  The act of sitting down every night to write is another integral part of storytelling.  Every night I learn different things about my characters, their world, and their stories.  It's only by taking my time and plodding, a word at a time, through their stories, that I find these things out.

That's wonderful.  It's also humbling.  I never realize how much I know about these people until I, well, realize how much I know about them.  One character, for example, has an affection for "old, silly words".  I only learned this when he began using them.  Even cooler: I only learned the words he'd use as he used them.  If I'd tried to make a list it would have been pitiful.  Writing him, however, the frigging words come on their own.

That's magic right there.  It ain't easy and it takes a lot of time, but there's no other word for it but magic.

The Habit of Failing

As much as this blog is about anything, it's about writing.

And, as much as it's about writing, it's about my belief that one of the keys to writing is building the habit of writing.  Which is to say, no matter how much you want to write, no matter how great the stories are inside your head, if you don't tell them -- in this case, writing them down or typing them up -- then you're not writing.

I spent a good number of years doing just that.  Socking away stories and promising myself I'd write tomorrow, or over the weekend.

For the past two years, however, I discovered something new.  I'd finished The Seven Markets, edited it, and published it, mostly just to see if I could do it and how that would feel.  Protip: I could and it felt great.

With Markets in the can -- as they say in the movie biz and do not say, so far as I'm aware, in the writing biz -- I went on to the next thing.  Oh, and my wife had a baby.  I've already written about how that went (babies take a lot of time and headspace), but lately I've been thinking about the new thing I found, trying write and help raise a small person.

Which is to say: calling myself a writer, wanting to write, making the time to write, and just . . . being too tired to string words together into sentences, sentences together into paragraphs, etc., etc.

In other words, I'd built the habit or writing, but without meaning to, I was also building another habit.  The habit of failing.

Pre-Layla, my standard was a thousand words in a night.  Most nights I wrote more, some I wrote less, but the "goal" was a thousand words.

I started off The King's Glamour, and things were rolling nicely.  I was cranking out my thousand words, two thousand words, and everything was great.

Then work got crazy.  Then parenting became less about helping maybe change a diaper and more about, say, rocking the baby to sleep for an hour.  Two hours.  You know the drill.

Suddenly I'd sit down to write at midnight or one in the morning -- remember, the habit of writing was strong, and I was dedicated to at least making a go of it no matter how late the hour -- and decide I should be happy with two hundred words.  One hundred words.  Fifty words.  Some notes about what I wish I'd written, and what I'd promise myself I'd return to write tomorrow night.

And slowly, as these things do, that became my habit.  Suddenly I was happy to get a hundred words.  More, I'd write a hundred words and that would feel like what I expected of myself.  I forged ahead on the book, writing, deleting, writing, deleting (Markets is about 85,000 words and I probably threw out close to 400,000 words by actual count, for instance, including fully one-quarter of the book going from first draft to second draft), telling myself so long as I was writing, I was doing things right.

But I'd built myself a bad, new habit.  I'd gotten used to failing.  Worse, I began expecting to fail.

When I finished the third draft of Glamour, instead of doing my usual thing and sitting on the manuscript for a while, then diving back in to edit it, I decided to jump right into something new.  "Something new" has been going nicely, but early on I discovered I had to unlearn some bad habits.

I couldn't be "good enough" anymore.  I had to kick some ass.

Ass-kicking needed to be the default.  The habit I needed to build now wasn't doing "good enough".  I needed to psych myself up for a thousand words.  Two thousand words.  I had to be hungry again, not satisfied for the scraps from my own table.

Is This Thing On?

I read somewhere that blogging is dead.

People post on Instagram.  They post to Tumblr.  They don't post at all -- what do you need more than Twitter's 140 characters to get your point across, really?

Me?  I took fifteen months off from blogging because, well, because I did.

Herein: excuses.

It took me three months to write the first draft of The Seven Markets.  This was fantastic, at the time, but it was crap for managing internal expectations (let's please ignore the three-to-six months of editing which followed and the probably-ten-years of tossing the story around prior to actually typing it up).

Prior to that I participated in National Novel Writing Months and, three years in a row, knocked out more than 50,000 words in thirty days.

Seems laughable, in retrospect.

All of this is by way of sharing that, for the past, oh, two years, I've been working on the same book.

That book is still not done.

Wait!  It's . . . doneish.  The fourth draft is done, and (hopefully) with it the bulk of the actual writing.  I've still got to take one, last, "big" pass at the book, but from a practical standpoint, the grunt work is done.

Ha.

This book is called The King's Glamour.  It's my follow-up to Markets and it continues Ellie's story beyond that book's pages.

FIRST THING I WANT TO SHARE WITH YOU

Writing a sequel is hard.  Lord, is it hard.  Firstly because, hey, if you did your job the first time, your character's already had an arc, right?  They've undergone some character development and hopefully come out the other end in something resembling a different place.

Now you have to pick them up and give them a new arc.  A satisfying arc.  One that builds on the first one but without invalidating it.  One that shows their continued growth as a person without, you know, just turning it all into mush.

So, that's fun.

Plus, there's the "most interesting story" rule.  That's the one where the story you're telling should be the most interesting story that occurs in a character's life.  If it isn't, what's the damned point in telling the story?

I think I found a good story to tell for Ellie.  I think it continues her arc in a natural fashion (natural for Ellie, at least), and I think it informs nicely on the character and her world.  Ellie's had an interesting life, to date, and the events of this book certainly pile it on.

SECOND THING I WANT TO SHARE WITH YOU

Raising a kid is not easy.  Running a company is not easy.  Both are terribly time-consuming -- and even when you're not actively parenting or actively working, your brain is spending processor cycles fussing over whether your kid will sleep through the night, whether anyone's going to tell you what the hell's going on this week, etc., etc.

In other words: I've been busy the past two years.  Yeah.

But listen: no one cares about your stress, right?  No one wants to hear that you had a rough time.  Everyone's stressed.  Everyone's busy.  So please take it as writ that I'm not asking for sympathy.

This is just me providing context.  For example . . .

My normal goal when working is to knock out 1,000 words in a night.  That's not a hard-and-fast rule, but it's a goal.  It's a reasonable goal, and as I can sort of count on an at least an hour a night, once upon a time it was an achievable goal.

Writing this book, I've been lucky to get a hundred words a night.  No guff.

THIRD THING I WANT TO SHARE WITH YOU

It's better now.

Work is still crazy, but after two years of constant white-noise, the white-noise has sort of become the norm.  Work is crazy, but it's a more manageable crazy.  Or maybe I'm just used to it -- there are bad days, bad nights, bad weeks, but overall, things . . . are.

Being a dad is still the hardest, easiest, most rewarding, most chaotic thing I've ever done.  Right now, for instance, I'm typing this with a video baby monitor next to my MacBook; I'm watching Layla 2.3 thrash a bit in bed, hoping she won't wake up (poor kid had a busy week and she needs the sleep).

The point being, life happened, life continues to happen, but the chaos has become the norm, which means things are . . . normal.

GREAT -- TELL ME WHY I SHOULD CARE

A little more than a year ago, without really mentioning it or making a big fuss, I stopped blogging.  I stopped a bunch of things; I needed the time and the headspace for writing.  But I promised myself that when I finished this draft of Glamour I would get back to it.  Didn't think it would take this long, but what can you do?

A promise is a promise.

There's been stuff I wanted to blog about.  I told myself if I went back to posting nightly word-counts, that might get my numbers up.  I saw at least a dozen movies I would have enjoyed writing about.  I read at least two dozen books I would have loved writing about.

But a promise is a promise.  But now the draft is done.  And I'm going to be blogging again.

For whatever that's worth.

Nominally, I'll be blogging about this book and the next one.  Probably some other stuff, too.  I'll be cross-posting the pertinent, writerish stuff to Write Every Day, a Tumblr page I created for the express purpose of encouraging writers to build the good habit of writing (wait for it) every day.

Because that's what it's all about, at the end of the day.  Because even when the edges of my vision were filled with static this past year and I could barely put two words together, I still sat down every night I could and gave it a shot.  That's the magic there; it might take forever, but so long as you don't quit, eventually you come to the finish line.

Cat Poop and Stephen King

One of the best things about stories is the way their worm their way into our minds and then pop their little heads up at odd moments to surprise us with unexpected visits.

An example: in 2013 I listened to Stephen King's classic novel The Shining.  I listened to it in the car.  I listened to it in the train.  I listened to it at the gym.

I listened to it while changing the cat litter.

I also listened to his follow up, Doctor Sleep in, you know, similar circumstances.

Now, whenever I'm "scooping the poop", I can't help but think of Danny Torrance.

Sad but true.  As if the poor guy didn't have enough stacked up against him, right?

I will spare you an image to go along with this post.  Also, I will refrain from telling you that sometimes our cat -- who is delightful in every way -- likes to leave her poop sticking straight up, almost as if she's claiming the litter box for Spain.

Oops.

Looper, And Why Characters Need to Make Dumb Mistakes

Looper is a movie about time-travel.  In some ways, it's a master-class on science fiction storytelling, and I have some thoughts, both about the movie, and about the deeper implications Looper might have for aspiring writers and the characters they create.

Spoilers below.  Ye be warned.  But first, here's the trailer:

So, the central premise of Looper is that it's the near future, and while time travel hasn't been invented yet, it will be some time in the next thirty years.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, the "Looper" of the movie's title.

What's a looper?

A looper is an assassin.  Basically, criminals from the future send their targets back to the past to be killed.  The "loop" in looper refers to the fact that, at a certain point, to protect the criminal organization, they're going to send your future self back in time for you to kill, thus "closing the loop".  Once your loop is closed, you've got about thirty years to live it up before time catches up to you.

Which is a cool premise for a movie, but really, when you think about it, kind of dumb from a planning standpoint.

Now, the real story of Looper is not that Joe's future self, "Old Joe" is sent back in time, overpowers Joe, and then fights for his life.  That's what the trailer wants you to think.

The real story is that, when the bad guys come to collect Old Joe and send him back in time to be killed, one of them shoots Old Joe's wife.  Old Joe then kills all the criminals and sends himself back in time.  Why?  Because he's got a clue to the true identity -- in the past -- of the Rainmaker, sort of the kingpin of crime in the future, and the guy responsible for all this.  Old Joe figures if he can kill the Rainmaker, he can rewrite time and save his wife.

So, right there: not a great plan.  Great movie, lousy plan.

Old Joe figures the Rainmaker is one of three kids, born on the same day at the same hospital.  So he goes about Sarah Conoring them one by one.  His younger self hooks up with Sara and Cid, one of the three future Rainmakers.  Hilarity ensues, Joe ends up killing himself to save Sara and Cid from Old Joe.

As I wrote above, there are some problems with this.  But the interesting thing is this: the problems are not with the movie, but with the decisions the characters make.  To wit: within the internal logic of the movie, all this makes sense, but the actual use of time travel to kill people -- allegedly the future tech is so good it's impossible to hide bodies -- which is what precipitates the entire story, well, that's really dumb.

Let's see:

  1. If you're the Rainmaker and you've gone to great pains to preserve the truth of your identity and origins, why send people back in time to when you were a vulnerable child?  Why not send them back to, say, the Cretaceous to be squashed by something massive and reptilian?
  2. Or, forget all that.  People always forget that a time machine is also a teleportation device.  Because the planet is constantly spinning and moving through space.  If you traveled a day into the past without moving in space, you'd come out in the cold vacuum of space.
  3. Doesn't that seem like a safer way to kill people?  No middle-men to deal with, none of that.  Just send someone a week or a month or a hundred years into the past.  Easy peasy.
  4. Or, teleport them into the sun.  No body disposal there.

Now, if we're talking story here, of course my points are crap.  Maybe the Rainmaker knows a looper was responsible for making him the man he became, but not which looper, so he set up this whole, intricate system in order to (hopefully) bring about his own creation.  Or something.

But the point -- and the reason I felt compelled to write about this -- is that ultimately it doesn't matter.  The point is that this is how the Rainmaker and his goons have chosen to use time travel to dispose of their enemies.  The point is that, while you or I, sitting in our cushy chair watching the fireworks, might realize, "Hey, there's a better, cleaner, safer way to do this," these are the dumb decisions the characters have chosen to make.

Which can be rough for a writer.

Which is terribly important for a writer.

As a storyteller, I have a roadmap for how the story is supposed to go.  A rough roadmap.  When I'm writing, a lot of that is seeing how my characters react to certain situations.  And while I might know the "best" way out of a particular mess, that doesn't mean that they know that solution, or even that they'd use it.

Sometimes this is for better storytelling.  Much more often, however, it's because doing things this way as opposed to that way, letting my characters tell me how they'd approach a problem, gives a truer resolution than trying to shoehorn things into a neat, tidy, little box.

Characters want.  And their desires will often override common sense.  Or, they'll have a certain way they do things.  Even if that way is dumb, even if they're strolling right past the optimal choice in favor of the dumb, counterproductive choice, if that choice is true, that's the right way to do things.

Makes the story more interesting, too.

The King's Glamour -- Third Draft Whatnow?

And now it's time for a long-overdue update on the writing of The King's Glamour , the follow-up to, and second book in The Seven Markets  series:

After about a year of work and numerous revisions, the book is now . . . 20,000 words long. 

Wait, what?   20,000 words?  Is it just me or is this book getting shorter somehow?

Well, it's not really  20,000 words long.  But that's how far I am into the third draft revision here.  Which is to say, I stopped in my revisions to rejigger some stuff about that far into the story.

Each book a writer writes is different from the one before it.  You learn how to write a book as you're writing it.  Beautiful Handcrafted Animals  is an ongoing process I hope to complete sometime early in 2014.  The Seven Markets was quick and fast, mainly because I'd lived with the story in my head for more than a decade.

The King's Glamour ?  It's been a ride.  Firstly because I never envisioned Markets as anything but a standalone story.  Then I realized I wanted to read more about Ellie.  Then I realized I had a cool idea for her.  And then . . .

Well, now I'm knee-deep in the third draft.  All things going according to plan -- ha ha -- this should be the final "big writing" draft of the project.  Once this is complete, it should be line edits, tweaks, beta readers, and then off to my editor.

Then I can get to work on something else. 

I'll try to write some more about this process.  And I'll keep you updated as things progress.  Fingers crossed, I'm hoping to put Glamour in your hands sometime in the first half of 2014.  I hope y'all enjoy reading it as much as I'm enjoying writing it.

 

Tom Clancy

Tom Clancy died today.  He was 66 years old. 

He might not seem like a likely influence for a writer like me, but I'm here to tell you that he was.  Kind of a big influence, actually. 

First Read

I first read Clancy's The Hunt for Red October flying out to Wisconsin as a college freshman.  I flew out to school alone, with little more than a backpack and a suitcase (I've told many people how I arrived at my dorm without a pillow, believing in some odd way that they'd have pillows for us).

I started reading Red October in the terminal waiting to board.  I read most of the way on the plane -- this was in 1991, and e-books were little more than a twinkle in some science fiction writers' eyes.

I got to my room, realized just how dumb I was, pillow-wise, and after heading down to search for a store where I could buy one, resumed reading. 

This was a hell of a book.  I'd read military thrillers before.  Clive Cussler was big with my father, and he and I would devour Dirk Pitt's adventures, but Tom Clancy was a new one for me.

I sat reading on my unmade bed, leaning against my brand new pillow (which I still have somewhere), and might well have spent my entire first night at school in that fashion if one of my neighbors hadn't come knocking on my door.  There was a party happening in the suite on the corner, would I like to come? 

I didn't give it much thought -- the book would still be there in the morning -- and that party led pretty directly to meeting a good number of people I spent the next four years being friends with. 

And -- listen -- I'm not going to tell you I spent the whole night pining away for that book.  Because I didn't.  And just like that I'd made some new friends, which led to some more new friends.  I finished Red October  a day or two later -- fully engrossed while I was reading it -- but that's not what stuck with me.

It's the first book I read heading out into the world as a burgeoning adult.  That it's a great book is somehow secondary; that book brought me to college. 

Second Read

I picked up Red October again last year.  This was during the editing of The Seven Markets  and I grabbed it for the Kindle, thinking it might be nice to revisit the book.  I might have watched the movie a month or so before; I can't remember exactly.

Here's what I do remember: 

There's a sequence of events in the book where Clancy describes what the Russian sailors, evacuating their submarine, would now go through after being rescued by an American ship.   Their interrogations.  The offers to remain in the US, if they liked.  The hardships they'd face upon returning to the (then) Soviet Union.

Was this detail necessary to the story?  Not in the least.  But the details really stuck with me.  They struck a cord in my mind about another book I'd been tossing around in my head (and which I'm hoping to begin working on in 2014), Painted Ocean.

Ocean is nothing like a book Clancy would have written, but I'll still owe him a debt.  A lot of my main character was created as I considered what those Russian submariners would go through before they found themselves settled and on dry land again.

I can't explain it more than that because, right now, this moment, my main character, Simon Cole, only exists in my head and in the notes I've written about him.  But when I do get to tell his story, some of his DNA is going to come from Tom Clancy, The Hunt for Red October, and that bit he wrote about the Russian sailors and the hardships they would now face.

Thank you, Tom.  Thank you and good sailing. 

Re-Reading Salem's Lot

One of the best reading experiences in my life was re-reading Stephen King's Salem's Lot  several years ago.

Re-reading it, yes. 

SalemsLot.jpeg

The first time I read Salem's Lot , I sort of knew what the story was about.  This is a thing that happens to me -- I suspect it happens to a lot of writers.  I'd passively picked up information on the book, partially from reading articles and interviews, partially from King's book, Danse Macabre , which I'd read earlier that year.  I may have seen the made-for-TV movie; I'm not entirely sure.

That first read, I didn't enjoy the book.  It felt flat for me.  Still, a bad King book is still better than a whole lot of other stuff that's out there, so while it didn't light me up, I wasn't angry at the book or anything. 

A couple years went by. 

I decided to read it again. 

And this time, I forced myself to un-know, to ignore, all the stuff I knew about the story. 

And, ho boy, I loved it.  Salem's Lot  remains one of my favorite books to this day.  it's bot bits of stuff he'd put into other books later on.  Look closely and you can see The Dark Half  in the character Ben Mears.  The shopkeepers, Barlow and Strake will remind you of Leland Gaunt from Needful Things .   I spotted shadows of these and a dozen other books during that read.

 Salem's Lot  was King's second published book.  It was tremendous, for me, seeing all these hints of his work to come as I read.

Also, it's a great book.  By making myself forget the different characters' fates -- who lives, who dies, who's the good guy, who's the bad guy -- I discovered the great book I'd somehow missed on my first pass.

Why am I bringing this up?  Well, I had a nice moment earlier today while considering where I was going to pick up Ellie's adventures tonight.  I realized there was a lot more going on with her story than I'd originally thought.  That's cool.  Second drafts are for fixing things, but then you write the third draft, the fourth, etc., etc. 

Ellie's an interesting character to me because, in The Seven Markets , we never really see the real Ellie.  She spends so much of the book being pulled this way and that, victim of so many exterior stresses, that our image of what sort of woman she is becomes hopelessly muddied.  A lot of the writing of The King's Glamour has been figuring out who my main character is.  I won't say it's a unique problem to have, but it's certainly an interesting one.  I'd have thought that, by the second book, I'd have a pretty good idea who she was.

I didn't.  I still don't. 

But I just learned a whole lot more.  It's stuff that was always there, only I was so busy knowing the stuff I thought I knew I didn't take the time to see the stuff hiding in plain sight. 

New Seven Markets Review

The Seven Markets has been out almost a year, but I still see reviews coming in now and again.  This one falls into the category of "I'm not usually into this  sort of book, but in spite of that . . ."

I get a lot of those. 

The-Seven-Markets---5.5x8.5-Cover-Lo-Res.jpg

It's from Nerdophiles.com.   Their Indie Ebook Roundup #6.  Here's an excerpt: 

But the story that Hoffman spins here is just so unique and fantastic that I just could not put it down. I seriously recommend this book to anyone who likes a good fantasy story and doesn’t mind a little science fiction sneaking in, too.

And, just because I can't resist, here's what came immediately after:

If any book on this list is worth checking out this one is it.

Which is quite nice. 

 

Kill The Wabbit

Writers!  You've been here.  You've lived this.

You're writing a scene.  You know what it's going to be.  You're happy (enough) with it.  Could it be more?  Sure.  But you're content  with what you've got.  Maybe you're planning to come back in the next draft and spice things up a bit.  Add a little fireworks to the mix, that sort of thing.

Then, without meaning to, you start daydreaming about Elmer Fudd.  And you ask yourself, "what would Bugs Bunny do?" 

And, just like that, you've gone from content to awesome

New Site?

Argh.  Yeah.  And it's under construction.  Which is to say, I have to write some stuff and tidy up some stuff and get some (great looking) stuff from my designer. 

Why? 

Well, the old site was broken.  The old designers put it together but their programmers were, to use a nice word, less than competent.  They left a pile of security holes open in WordPress and, when my friend Chris was nice enough to fix them, most of the site's functionality broke. 

What sort of functionality?  Well, the old site still showed The King's Glamour  as coming out in the Spring of 2013.  Nope.  And Beautiful Handcrafted Animals in the Winter of 2013.  Not at all.  

I couldn't change graphics or update, well, pretty much anything but the blog.  So it goes.

So: new site.  This one's hosted, it's not powered by WordPress, which is a fine tool, but it's sort of like browsing the internet on Internet Explorer.  It's what people write hacks and viruses for.  Hopefully this should be more stable.

And, now that we're up and running, and I can write a blog post without having to actually log into the site (and risk an errant backspace deleting my post) I'm hoping to be posting more.  Glamour is rounding home (honest) and then I'm getting into the Animals revisions I've been champing at the bit to do all year.  

Babies take up a lot of time.  I think I might have mentioned that at some point. 

Anyhoo, new site.  I'll be playing around and adding content and such -- books I hope to be working on next year and the year after, for example -- and we'll see just what the site can do.

Welcome (again)! 

 

That's Called a Streak

I wrote a thousand words last night. I wrote a thousand words the night before.

Aaaand, the night before that, if memory serves (the thing about having a five-month-old in the house is time kind of gets fuzzy).

This is a marked improvement over the previous state of affairs.  Which is to say, I was writing, and it was fine, but it was a trickle rather than a flow.  Two hundred words in a night?  That was A-OK.  Two hundred words was a gift.

But this?  Much better.  The two hundred, three hundred word nights, they were fine -- emphasis on the word fine -- but in my lucid moments I couldn't help but do the math.  How much more of this book is there to write?  How long is it going to take at this rate?

Not that there's a rush, of course.  It's always better to be right than to be quick.

But this?  Three thousand words in three nights?  Much better.  I mean, it's actually slow for where I am with The King's Glamour -- at this point in the story I'd typically be cranking out two or three thousand words a night -- a minimum of ten thousand to fifteen thousand words a week.

Why so slow?

Dunno.  I could try and blame the baby, but that's hardly fair.  Layla's a dream; though I will say my arms get exhausted from holding her, carrying her, playing with her.  She is one strong baby.

Work?  Sure, why not?  But I mostly put that stuff out of my mind when I'm writing.

No, I think the blame -- if I'm going to use the word -- is on my head.  Mine and the story I'm writing.

Firstly, sequels are hard.  It's the kind of thing you don't think about.  Shouldn't this be easier?  The characters are all there, right?  You've already been through the ringer with them once.  What could be so bad?

Well, sometimes characters want to do their own stuff.  The Ellie in this book is pretty different from any Ellies we've seen before.  That said, she's still the same person, and integrating the new with the old is tricky business.

The setting, too.  World building is fun, but the world of Fall has been evolving almost constantly as I've been writing this book.  Little things, big things, things which need thinking about.  Which means there have been nights where I've written a paragraph, then realized there was something about Fall I needed to think about.  So I'd write two thousand words of notes, then a second paragraph, then collapse into bed.

A good problem to have, but still: time consuming.

And here's the thing: I'm not doing anything differently.  Oh, I'll turn on Freedom right when I sit down, I'll leave my iPad upstairs, force myself to work instead of that thing I think all writers do called preparing to work.

Still, I'm in the home stretch with this book.  And things could grind to a halt tonight, or tomorrow night, but I feel like I might have finally turned a corner.  The world, she be built.  Ish.  There'll be refinements -- I've been wanting to find out what sort of home one of the characters lives in and what's up with his family for months now -- but it seems like the ground rules are laid, the mysteries are all teased, now it's time to bring everything together.

 

Layla's First Holiday Weekend

This past weekend was, as the title of this post may imply, Layla's first holiday weekend. Well, since Father's Day.  Maybe I should have added on "At Home", but I think it scans better without that.  Can't even edit myself.  So it goes.

Anyway.  It was her first long holiday weekend at home.  Once upon a time, before we had a baby, we'd have spent such a holiday weekend lounging in and by the pool, drinking beer, barbecuing, and visiting with friends.

How'd we spend this long holiday weekend?

Lounging in and by the pool, drinking (somewhat less) beer, barbecuing, and visiting with friends.

So, pretty much business as usual.

I even got a good amount of work on The King's Glamour, and will hopefully move on to Chapter Twelve in the next night or so, though that was more after hours stuff.  Once the girls went to sleep and all that.

Here's something: Layla loves going into the pool.  Oh, she was tentative at first: I dipped her toes into the water and she shot me a concerned look.  I smiled and assured her everything was fine, and -- glunk! -- in she went.  Happy as a clam.  Or an otter.  Or some sort of water-based animal known for being cheery.

She splashes around, kicks her feet, and is constantly trying to dunk her face into the water.  Seriously.  I worked as a lifeguard when I was younger (I should insert a "much" in there, I suppose), and one of the ways we made extra money was to give swimming lessons to kids.  I cannot remember any kid swimming for the first time being so eager to submerge herself as my ridiculous, amazing daughter.

Partly I think it's our not indicating to her that there's anything to be concerned with.  At least some of it's got to be genetics.  I've always been at home on and in the water, and if she gets to enjoy boats and swimming as much as I have during my life, that'd be a grand, glorious thing.

What else?  I burned the bratwurst but they were still tasty.  And writing, which is a great thing.  I had one of those moments, messing around with notes, where one of the supporting character's stories just opened before me like a rose.  This is a person who was never supposed to be as present as they've been, and I already had cool plans for them, but now their story is moving up a notch.  And their interaction with Ellie should be much more interesting for all that, too.

Up above, I wrote this past weekend was "business as usual".  That's a thing parents do so they don't scare their skittish friends and relations away from having kids.  "Sure, we still do all that stuff," you'll say, or try to say.  Sometimes it's even true.

What's the truth?  The truth is this was way better with Layla along for the ride.  Hopping in the pool used to be this relaxing, lazy sort of thing we did.  Now it's exciting and crazy and amazingly fun.  I'm not talking about going down the water slide on your face kind of fun.  It's little things you'd never consider.

Here: I was holding her and splashing around and my face was getting hot.  So I dunked under -- holding her up -- and I could feel her wriggling around up top.  My first thought was she was freaking out, terrified I'd vanished or been gobbled up from below.  That's me bringing my I'm-in-a-swimming-pool-and-what-if-there's-a-shark phobia because imagination.

For Layla, however, it was an adventure!  She was giggling like crazy!  Laughing up a storm!  Exclamation point!

That's what having kids does.  Yeah, there's stuff you might not do for a while -- we haven't been to the movies at all this summer -- but you also see little things in BIG ways now.  Like dunking under water or swinging around splashing.  Seeing that stuff through new eyes forces you to see it new, too.

This blog is about writing, so the lesson should be something like "always try to see the world as if you're seeing it for the first time".  But I think that'd be cheap if I went there, so I won't.

Kid loves the pool.

 

Write Every Day: Stolen Moments

From a purely theoretical sense, I sit down to write every night from ten o'clock to about one in the morning.  "Theoretical" is the most important word in that sentence. What does my writing schedule look like in practice?  Well, it varies.

Some nights I pull myself together and at ten-oh-one I'm in front of the keyboard.  Other nights . . . less so.

Write Every Day

Write Every Day

So I get it.  And I try to do my best.  And I try to be flexible and not get too grumpy when stuff gets in the way of my ten o'clock call.

But sometimes I know I'm not going to be getting any writing done.  Maybe my day-job was particularly rough that day and my mind is wiped.  Maybe I'm feeling under the weather.  Maybe Layla needs me more than I need to be writing -- and let's be clear: at those times, it's not even a contest.

The baby comes first.  Jessy comes first.

Writing is important, but it's a distant second to my family.

It happens.  And when the smoke clears and it's eleven-thirty or midnight, maybe I don't get to write that night.  It's okay -- I believe I've talked about how a big part of this Write Every Day stuff is resolving yourself to the impossibility of it.

Some days you're just not going to get to write.  It happens.  But if writing is the norm and not the exception, well, then you're doing it right.

But there's another answer, too.

As I wrote above, ten o'clock is my writing time.  But it's not my only writing time.  Ten o'clock is my scheduled writing time.  I think that's important, essential even, in building the good habit of writing.  After all, it's only too easy to procrastinate and rationalize and lose another day.

So, while I think it's important to schedule your time, I also think it's important not to be married to your scheduled writing time.  If ten o'clock at night was the only time I could write, if the sun being up kept me from sneaking into my worlds of make believe, I'd be really hamstrung.

Because sometimes I'm not going to be able to write at ten o'clock at night.  I'm just not.  No one is, not really.

So here's what you do: steal moments throughout the day.

Maybe it's ten minutes jotting down an idea you had while waiting for the train.  Maybe it's propping up your iPad and working through some notes or a scene during your morning commute (I have a Bluetooth keyboard for my iPad for just this).  Maybe it's an hour in the afternoon when everything and everyone else seems to have briefly vanished from the world.

The trick is to keep an eye out.  The trick is, again, to make writing your default.  So, if you're traveling and you've got an hour to kill in the hotel room, don't flip through the hotel's crappy cable channels hoping to find something worth watching on. (Protip: you won't.  There's almost never anything on that's better than writing.)

Don't fall into the habit of telling yourself if you can't get a solid three or four hour window to write in it's not worth trying.  It is worth trying.  Even one sentence, if it's the right sentence, is worth the trouble.  Just one word is worth the trouble.  It's always worth the trouble.

Some writers will carry a little notebook around with them wherever they go.  I haven't found this to work for me, less because I'm bad about taking notes and more because -- as previously noted -- I can't actually read my own handwriting.  Doubly so when I'm writing in a hurry about something I'm excited about.

So I keep an iPad with me pretty much 24-7.  Each book I've got active or on the back burner has its own little notebook on my iPad.  The notes sync in realtime to my other devices and desktop.  So if I have an idea for something while I'm out and about, it's waiting for me when I get to my computer.

Whatever you use, however, the point is this: write.  Be ready to write.  Create the habit of stealing those little moments whenever you can.  Maybe it's as simple as falling into daydreaming while waiting for the bus instead of whipping out your phone to check sports scores.  Maybe it's as simple as visualizing where you left off, and asking yourself where you're going next.

So many of the best bits of story have come from moments like that.  I'll thinking I'm getting ready to write a particular type of scene, but then my mind will wander and I'll realize I actually want to write it this way instead.

You might be grabbing a half-hour in the middle of the afternoon.  Or two minutes waiting for a meeting to begin.  The point is not to write off those snippets of time just because they're so small.

The point is to keep yourself open and ready.  It's vital to schedule your writing time -- that's the best way to build up the habit -- but it's just as vital to let the words come to you.

Be on your guard, be alert, and be ready.  Some of your best stuff will sneak up on you.

If you let it.

Clarion Write-a-Thon is Live!

About two weeks ago I posted about the Clarion Write-a-Thon and that I was aiming to use it to goose myself along in finishing up The King's Glamour (while simultaneously using the finishing of Glamour to try and raise some money for the Write-a-Thon). Well, it started yesterday.  Yessir.  I checked my page and saw I've already got a $50.00 donation up . . . which is nice.  Also, I'm going to bust this old friend out:

Because that should be a fun way to keep you updated (though it'd be nice if the site could sort out how to center-justify graphics, no?)

So: click on through to my Write-a-Thon Profile, and make a donation, why don't you?  You can also pledge by the word, but as I warned earlier: I will be meeting and probably exceeding my goal of 20,000 words, about the minimum necessary to finish the second draft of this book; it's entirely possible I'll end up writing 30,000 or 40,000 more words -- so DON'T pledge by the word unless you're prepared to, um, well, discover you're on the hook for a big bunch of money.

Or, hell, pledge by the word.  It's a good cause.  I just don't want you getting your butt kicked at the end of this, you know?

Check Out My Crappy View

I think I mentioned that I was in Madison, Wisconsin last weekend, no? One of the awesome things about our trip was our hotel.  We stayed at the Hilton, Monona Terrace, one of the two hotels suggested by our friends in their wedding invitations.  We wanted a slightly larger room so Layla would have some floor space to play around on, and ended up with an amazing view, from the twelfth floor (there were also at least a dozen amazing restaurants within two or three blocks of the hotel).

I have some pics!

Madison's capital building.

Madison's capital building.

Madison's capitol building's design is heavily based on the capitol in Washington, DC.  If memory serves, city zoning prohibits anyone from building anything within the city taller than the capitol.  When I was in college, every now and again I'd meet someone out at the bars who'd either tried to or planned to attempt to climb that sucker.  Always seemed awfully round to me.

And, just for fun, I decided to mess around with the iPhone's panorama functionality.  Here's the wiiiiiiide view:

Madison's capital building -- panorama.

Madison's capital building -- panorama.

If you check out the upper-right hand corner, you can see Lake Mendota, one of the two lakes which shape Madison, which is on an isthmus of land (also the lake our friends live on).  Funny story: the first time I drew the curtains, I happened to be standing with the capitol building blocked, so all I saw was the street and a couple utility trucks down below.  "Hurm, crappy view," I said.  "Are you nuts?" Jessy said.  Then I stepped around the curtains.  Me = stupid.

Here's a shot out the other window.  Again, using the panorama function to streeeeeetch things out:

Madison's Lake Monona.

Madison's Lake Monona.

Nice, huh?  Madison really is a beautiful place.  A lot of my college friends like to go on about how much the city's changed since we graduated.  I'll agree there's a lot of new stuff, a lot of buildings that have been renovated, a lot of things I don't recognize.  But it was still Madison to me.  Still there, just a little bigger, a little busier, a little shinier than when I was there.

Write Every Day: Automated Vacuum Cleaner Robots

I'm going to sort of skip forward in the narration. I'm going to assume that you, oh intrepid writer looking for a boost, a nudge, a poke, a wiggle, are good with committing to building the good habit of writing.

"I want to write," you say.  "But I don't know what to write."

Okie dokie.  I can help with that too.

Write Every Day Logo

Write Every Day Logo

Maybe you're staring at that blank screen with no idea where to begin.  Maybe you've got a great idea for a story, only you've also got a great idea for another story.  Or twenty another stories.  Which one to write now?  Which idea to go for?

Or maybe it's (shudder) writer's block.  Maybe you're dying to write but you don't have a single good idea to mess around with.

Okay.

Stop it.  Seriously.

Let's take these in reverse order:

WRITER'S BLOCK!

It's sort of like that line from The Usual Suspects: "I don't believe in writer's block, but I'm afraid of it."  Yeah.

Do you have writer's block?  Maybe.  I mean, anyone can get stuck.  It's been my experience, though, that what most folks call writer's block is more like one of those little automated vacuum cleaner robots getting jammed in between the wall, the couch, the coffee table and the edge of the rug.  How'd it get in there?  Doesn't seem possible, but there's no way it's getting out on its own.

So, what do you do?  You go over, you pick it up, and you carry it to another, probably open, area to get back to work.

You see where I'm going with this, right?

If you get stuck -- blocked -- the first thing to do is take Douglas Adams' advice and Don't Panic.  It's going to be okay.

Then look at why you're stuck.  Maybe you've written yourself into a corner.  In my case, it's almost always that I've let the story get away from me.  I had an idea where I wanted the story to go and I was wrong.  I can pound my head on a bit of story, trying to figure out why it's not working.  Almost always the answer is to go back, see if I can spot where things went off the rails, and get things running again.

So: pick yourself up and get a fresh start.

If you're in the middle of something, go back like I just wrote and see if you can spot where things started going pear-shaped.  Un-pear-shape things.  This can be as simple as deleting a scene that -- in retrospect, of course -- not only doesn't work, but seems, tonally, completely different from the book you're writing.  It can be as difficult as -- I'm looking at you, The King's Glamour -- rolling over to the second draft when you're more than 2/3 of the way "done" with the first draft.

Hey, it happens.

Don't be like that little robot, backing up half an inch, then zipping forward into the wall again.  Over and over again.  Pick yourself up, take things from a new perspective, and get back to work.  Might take more than one try -- sometimes those robots just rush right back into the corner -- but give yourself permission to get past it and you just might.

(I realize I'm sort of vastly simplifying the crushing pain of writer's block here, and that for some people it can be a very real and horrible thing.  Therefore, please accept my apologies if taking a fresh look at things doesn't do the trick.)

TOO MANY IDEAS!

This one's easy: pick one.

Any one.  Doesn't matter which one.  Doesn't have to be your big, giant, marketable idea and it doesn't have to be a little, scrawny, whining-in-the-corner-in-pain idea.  Just an idea.  Write about it.  See where it takes you.  Don't worry; you can write about something else when you're done.

I used to have this problem.  Maybe I still do.  As I'm finishing The King's Glamour, I'm also taking notes and outlining for (check this out): The Prince's Revenge, Painted Ocean, Lions Together Are Called a Pride, From Beyond the Grave, Verrazano Narrows,several additional books and stories inwhat I'm tentatively calling The Marketverse, including a follow-up series of books once Ellie's adventures are done(ish), and a good half-dozen short stories.  I'm also organizing notes for my rewrites and revisions on Beautiful Handcrafted Animals, which I wanted to release this spring, but am holding off on because my editor and I had a freaking killer idea for how to make the book a thousand times more awesome.

How do I manage it all?  Easy: I focus on one thing at a time.  Even when I don't want to focus on one thing at a time, I make myself do it.  So, I'll be at the gym thinking about Painted Ocean, and I'll jot down some notes, but when I get home it's all The King's Glamour all the time.  Painted Ocean, your time will come soon enough.

I DON'T KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN!

This one's easy, too: begin at the beginning.

Oh, but finding the beginning?  That's tough.

Here's what I'll do when I'm starting something new, trying to figure out how to begin.  "Something new" being defined as "a new story, a new book, a new chapter, a new section, a new paragraph".

(1) I'll try to start cold.  This works about half of the time.  With The Seven Markets it worked a lot.  With Glamour, less so.  I wish I could tell you there's some rhyme or reason, but there isn't.  Anyway, try to jump in cold.

(2) Try again.

(3) Try a third time.  It's okay.

(4) After three or ten or thirty times, when it just seems like you can't get into the zone, stop.  Open a new document in whatever program you're using (Scrivener is particularly good for this, as you can put all this stuff in one place for safe-keeping).

(5) Start typing.  I'll begin all these documents with "Okay".  It acts as a sort of mnemonic device for me, telling me that's where I'm going.  I'll free associate, I'll take notes, I'll ask myself questions.  "What's the point of this section?"  "Why does this section need to be in the book?"  "Can I do without this section?"  "What's the most important thing that has to happen next?"

(6) Eventually, stuff'll start to happen.  For me -- and I'm sort of an old hat with this technique -- it can be pretty quick.  I'll realize I was going left when I needed to be going right.  I was focusing on the wrong character.  I was so amused by a clever notion I'd caught (beware cleverness in all its forms) that my characters weren't being true to themselves.

(7) Basically, let the right path reveal itself.

And it will.  Well, it should.  I mean, it's possible you're so far down the rabbit hole you need to get a Medivac copter to come in and airlift you to safety.  But even that should become obvious as you're plugging away.

I'll have nights where I'll write a 2,000 word notes document to get one line of text.  Totally worth it.  As a nice ancillary bonus, I'll usually get ten or fifteen other things about the story I wasn't thinking about brought into sharper focus.

REALLY, THAT'S IT?

Well, yeah.  Yes.

The point of Write Every Day is to get you writing every day.  Part of that is to help build the good habit of writing.  Part of that is just to produce.  Part of that is to see the ways regular writing is more than just plugging away, head down, nose to the keyboard, at whatever it is you're writing.

Can you get stuck?  Absolutely.  Should you let yourself stay stuck?  Hell no.

A lot of people (we call them non-writers) believe the hardest part of writing is having a great idea to write about.  "I've got this great idea for a story," they'll say, perhaps offering to hand said great idea off to you, the actual writer.  You do the writing and they'll share the money (ha: money).  How generous.

But ideas aren't your problem, are they?  Ideas you've got.  But how to translate that great or okay or not so great or bleh idea into an actual story?  That's the real trick isn't it?  That's the work.

So: let yourself do the work.  Don't be discouraged if the door onto the page seems jammed shut.  Kick it, hit it, pick the lock, sneak around and check for a back door.  Because it's there.  If you're committed to writing, if you're dedicated to it, it'll be there.  Look hard enough and you'll find it.