Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Done and done.

Made one final big change and I'm done with "Takeover." I'll send it off on Friday morning. I'm going to spot edit over the next two days, just a little clean-up, maybe a bit of description, but basically I'm done.

It "feels" right to me. It's what I wanted.

I've tried not to pander to what I think the editor might want. I've stuck to my vision.

Enough readers suggested that the first half needed a bit more action and motivation, so I tried to supply that without warping the arc of the story.

I also took a suggestion that I take one of the chapters with one of the most colorful characters and where dramatic action happens and make it my "flash-forward" first scene.

I agreed in principle, but it never felt exactly right.

Someone else independently suggested the same character as the opening chapter, but an earlier scene. Still some action, but not quite so dramatic. So that was the final change. It made more sense, doesn't tilt the book so much at the beginning.

So I'm satisfied with the book. It's about as good as I can do.

I've come to recognize that "good" is not the same as "good enough." There are so many other factors involved that it's unknowable. But I'm proud of this book, proud that I took on the challenge. The subject matter was probably a little beyond my reach, but no one else was writing the book.

It's my idea, dammit. I think it had the potential for a literary author to find some real tragedy in the story, but I set out to write a thriller so while I tried my best, I did tip the book toward action, which after all, is what I prefer to read.

Dammit, it's good.

Logical ain't always best.

Well, that was interesting.

As a lark, I rearranged scenes in"Takeover" in the order in which they were written. The chapters fell right into place, a logical progression, much cleaner and more understandable than the current version.

(Which, of course, I kept. I don't make major changes without first saving the best current version. The wonderful thing about digital is that I can attempt experiments like this without ruining what I've already done.)

So you' d think this "cleaner and more understandable" version would be an improvement.

But in fact, it fell very flat. For some mysterious reason there was little life to it.

How can that be? It's the exact same content!

I reaching for "art" here, if you will. (I readily admit I'm probably falling well short.)

I've arrived at the best current version by making artistic choices, chapters that follow each other thematically, if you will, action chapters mixed with character sketches mixed with narrative. I tried idiosyncratic almost experimental points of view. In my own mind, I was trying to duplicate the chaos of real life, where no one knows what the others are doing or thinking but are living in their own worlds, reacting to what's happening around them.

It was done by feel, by a sense of what kept the story intriguing. Subjectively. Artfully, if you will. If it was somewhat awkward, well so's life.

I'd have colorful character statements, followed by a narrative chapter that objectively told what happened, then another colorful character statement, than action, then narrative, then foreshadowing, then narrative, and so on.

Putting them in a logical progressive drained all that away. In this version, for instance, half of the first ten chapters are a character who was purposely created to be the most logical and least colorful character in the book, a character who was meant to be level-headed to carry the narrative.

But he was designed to guide the narrative as a relief from the chaos. A couple of wild scenes, then one of the narrator scenes, then another few colorful scenes, then the narrative, and so on. The narrative scenes lumped together just don't move me.  The wild character scenes lumped together seem too much and without context.

This failure of the logical version is reassuring, somehow. Like I'm on the right track creatively.

This isn't a logical process, it's a creative process. I need to trust my instincts.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Reading my own book.

I don't read my books once I finish writing them.

Strange to say, but I just don't. I mean, I have the whole story in my head, it's part of me by then.

I decided to read "Takeover" from cover to cover. Just read it. No pressure, just enjoy. I have three days so no hurry. No intention of making changes unless they leap out at me.

Got to page 50 and found myself drifting. Sure enough, when I took a close look at the chapter I was reading, realized that the second half of it wasn't necessary. Cut it instantly.

Then took a break.

Will read at least another 35 pages tonight.  Figure I'll take three days to read the whole thing, or about 85 pages per night, maybe a little faster, but I'm not putting any pressure on myself.

Read to page 98. It works. The first fifty pages are still awkward, but also the basis for the entire book. The reader will need to invest, but I don't think it is all that onerous. The character sketches are snappy and interesting, I think, in and of themselves.

It's clear which chapters were new--they needed a little more polishing. Which makes sense. I'm very decisive with editing nowadays. I see something, I just do it, try not to second guess.

I found a few continuity errors, which isn't surprising considering how much I've moved things around, and an amazing number of copy-edit errors, considering how many times this has been edited. Then again, I've been messing with it. Copy errors just always seem to slip through...

Woke up this morning and read the same 98 pages again, this time making changes that I hadn't quite been ready to make last night. (If it struck me wrong twice the same way, it was time to change.)

Tonight I'll try to read another 100 pages or so, then go over them again tomorrow.

Didn't read any further yesterday, instead moved a chapter and inserted the chapter lines. The chapters aren't strictly necessary, but as a reader I think I would appreciate them, as break points, otherwise it's a bit overwhelming.

Adding the new first chapter is a gamble; it's hard to know if it helps or hurts, but ultimately I decided that starting a book with a chapter about the desert dust and mud probably isn't the way to go. So I added one of the more dramatic action chapters to the beginning as a flash-forward.

So today and tomorrow, I read the rest of the book.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Well, I like the book.

So I sat down with the manuscript of "Takeover" and drank a little wine last night.

My biggest insight wasn't about the contents of the book, but how to present it. I need to make an effort to interest the publisher, not--as I am wont to do--just sending it in and saying, "Here it is."

I really need to work on the cover letter and then try to write a good synopsis.

Other than that, I didn't make too many changes to the second draft of the book.

I took a later action scene and inserted at the beginning of the book as a flash-forward. Which then necessitated that I put a timeline in, which I did.  (Previous blog post: I'd already done that in an earlier draft, but in the process of moving chapters around, I'd messed that up. I'll need to go through it one more time to make sure it all tracks.) The event went from being about six weeks long to four weeks, which I think is an improvement, actually. ("Three Days of the Condor" was originally "Six Days of the Condor" heh.)

I added a few details from my trip to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Other than that, I just sort of dipped into the book at random throughout the night and checked the writing, which can always, always, always be improved. I never read a page without finding something to change, but that never ends and it gets to a point where I'm not absolutely sure I'm improving things. Dangerous to keep refining until it smudges the original creative burst.

The book is now 92,000 words and I probably shouldn't make it much longer. I could probably reach 100,000 but that's a bit stiff for a 'beginner' thriller writer.

About that 'thriller' thing. I'm not sure that's what this is. In the first version, the first half was, if I can use this word, a regular novel, but the second half was definitely thriller territory. This new version is much action oriented and the sequence of chapters are much more forward leaning.

It's still a bit "awkward," but I think that's the nature of the book. Reflecting the"reality" aspect of the story.

What I'd say about this book is that it has "substance." I like the characters, the premise, the plot, the writing.

It ran into some criticism, but I'm not sure if that was because it had more problems than some other books I've done or because people, at this point in my career and because I kept asking for it, whether people were more willing to be critical.

Thing is, this is the book I wanted. It turned out really well, in my opinion. Of course, I always wish I was smarter, deeper, and more insightful, more talented, and I believe this book had huge potential if I was a genius, but I am what I am and the book is my book to do, and I think I pulled it off better than I'd ever thought I could.

There aren't any false notes for me. It all rings true, and that's the true test for me. Whether I believe the characters and scenario.

I think the odds are long of it being accepted, but I'm going to try. If it comes back to me, I'll probably set it aside for a time and come back to it again later. There is enough substance to this book that I could probably do that for years.

For the first time, I don't really know what I'm going to write next. I think I'm going to do another "Hart Davis Strawberry Mountain Mystery" like "Deadfall" this one called "Butcher's Cut."

It's a bit silly to write a sequel to an unsold book, but my creative mind doesn't work like that. It wants to write what it wants to write. I like the characters and the setting and the premise so I'm going to take a couple more stabs at it.
Chapter headings.

Because I write stories with multiple character points of view and several storylines and interloping timelines, I'm always tempted to put in chapter headings. It seems like a good idea, designed to orient the reader to time and place and narrator.

But I'm finding in practice it's way too distracting to the story.

I tried to do that with "The Scorching" and "Snaked" and both were better off without the headings.

It did me some good to try, though, because it made me pay attention to what, when, where, and who was happening, and I found inconsistencies that I could clear up.

Now, with "Takeover," the temptation is even greater because the book is epistolary, made up of vignettes from many points of views. Witness statements, depositions, diary entries, etc. etc.

Turns out, putting a heading at the start of each scene makes the book feel really, really cluttered.

So, for instance, I just added a flash-forward action scene to the front of the book, which might be confusing without a timeline, but when I put in,

 "Vanessa Johnson, Deposition taken Oct. 5, Blue Ridge Hospital, John Day Oregon"

And then followed up with the next chapter by putting,

 "Peter Sterns, Diary Entry, Sept. 2, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument"

It made it feel overwhelming already, like OH. MY. GOD...this is homework!  It's also redundant since that information is in the actual scene.

I may have stumbled across a solution, a halfway measure. One of my editors wanted a timeline, so I put the name and the following words, "Events of (the date.)" Somehow, this doesn't look distracting to me, because they are always the same except for the date.

So the first three entries look like this,

Vanessa Johnson, Events of Oct. 5

Peter Sterns, Events of Sept. 2

Joshua Calley, Events of March 10.

And so forth. Sort of blends in, not intrusive, and allows the reader to decipher the timeline if they so chose, or more likely, ignore it.

I'm going with that, and if the publisher (assuming I have a publisher) has a better idea, he will tell me.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Opposite of addicted?

When it came time to imbibe some wine last night, I was too tired.

I'm like the opposite of addicted to alcohol, in that time after time I intend to drink, and then don't.  Too tired, too busy, too much going on the next day.

Anyway, I do feel like getting a little buzzed can give me a slightly different or skewed perspective on my stories, and there are times--rare, but often enough to notice--that I'll get a true insight that is extremely helpful.

Linda is gone for 4 days, so it's a good opportunity to get soused, look over my book, see how it reads. (Linda has had like two drinks in her life and while she doesn't object to my drinking, it seems rude of me.)

Toby and Todd called birthday wishes yesterday and I told Toby my plans and he said, "What, alone?"

"Uh, yeah. You know animal."

So nine o'clock rolled around and I was too damn tired, my eyes hurt from staring at the screen all day, and I said, "Screw it", watched a documentary, and went to bed. Yep, party animal.

Hey, eight hours of sleep.

So today, my goal is to stay off the computer for most of the day to save my poor eyes. Think about what I want to do with the book. Go for my walk, do some errands, and then much earlier in the evening, around dinner time, sit down with my book and a glass of wine.

That's the plan.

Friday, October 13, 2017

I sell books.

There is something about bookstores that inspires grand sweeping sentiment. My eyes roll every time I see it. There's a site called "Shelf Awareness" that has a header every day with one of these great mystical bookstore statements.

I own a bookstore because I like books. I also want to earn a living, have a nice place to hang out, and meet interesting people.

I'm not out to change the world. I'm not out to save your soul. I'm not floating to heaven from the worthiness of my enterprise.

I sell books.