Monday, July 25, 2016

A satisfying ending to a novel is the hardest, or second hardest (an exciting beginning being in contention for hardest), thing to do.

It's even harder when you're trying to conclude a long storyline.

The danger is that it will all be too predictable, or that it will just end, or that it will stretch out past the point of interest. Or too cluttered, or chaotic, or leave too many storylines unresolved.

So I'm pretty happy with the way the ending is shaping up for Tuskers IV. I think it will be a cathartic ending, not too neat, not to messy. I wrote a chapter yesterday that was very satisfying. Nailing a chapter this close to the ending is always a good sign.

There were a lot of characters in the four books, but I believe I've given them all their due, even if it is just a sort of valedictory appearance. 

I have a pretty good feeling about the chapter I'm planning to write today, too.

The last two or three chapters are going to be pretty much nothing but action. So that just takes me blocking out the scenes, figuring out the movements, and so on. I have a pretty good notion of what I want to have happen.

I have three basic "armies" if you will. So the question is--do I have one major battle or two?

If I have a first battle, the problem is that I've made those characters antagonists, who later have to band together to fight the Bigger Bad, which I think is basically impossible if they've been killing each other.

So can I get away with going right to the edge of conflict and then not doing it? Would that disappoint reader expectations?

I think I can get away with it because it will be immediately followed by a very big battle, followed by another scene of conflict.

In other words, a scene with conflict but not actual violence, then a full out battle royal, and then another scene with conflict but not violence, resolving the story.

I think, because it is pretty much coming to an ending, that I can have the one battle, where there is pretty much no doubt about who are the bad guys and who are the good guys.

Then a sort of twist to resolve it all that the reader will accept if I've set it up right.

Getting very close to the end. Haven't made any missteps that I can see right now. Just need to keep making sure each of the last three chapters are brought home in a satisfying way.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hit sixty thousand words yesterday on Tuskers IV, with four chapters to go.

It's not going to be easy to fit this under seventy thousand words, which is my goal. (All the other Tuskers hover around sixty thousand.)

The book will be as long as the story needs. I've learned not to rush it. Take one chapter at a time.

On my walk yesterday, it occurred to me that regardless of the quality of my writing, or whether anyone else likes it, it's still a miracle that a story comes alive. I keep saying, writing is satisfying all by itself. I love how a scene comes together, little ideas that start coalesce, and then a chapter comes together, and from a succession of chapters, a book comes together.

It also occurred to me that a "story" is not a "book." It's more like a house before the cleanup, before the fixtures, before the furnishings and the paint.

Something new is happening in my writing. I've mentioned before that I've learned to wait until I have a number of ideas before I start to write a scene. I then get more ideas as I write the scene. Lately, it seems like after I write the scene, but before I'm done for the day--say on my walk back to the car--I get more ideas, embellishments, or things I left out.

I've learned that assembling, or crafting, a chapter takes one step at a time, but the there comes a point where all the pieces come together.

The biggest thing that has happened to me over the last few years is that I have refined a process that brings out my best effort. The level of talent probably hasn't changed, whatever it is, though I've learned a few tricks.

But the preparation, the mental attitude, the timing, the incubation of ideas, all that continually improves.

The biggest part of that is coaxing my creativity--the subconscious ideas, if you will. I heard a movie director call it "coaxing a shy pet from under the couch." The other day, I heard Stephen King call it "catching a butterfly without crushing it." Same basic idea.

Create the time and setting for that shy creature to come out, develop a soft touch so that you don't crush it.

Friday, July 22, 2016

I tried to watch a panel on publishing on C-span the other day, but could only make it about five minutes in.

The condescending elitism was overwhelming. (Not to mention, all five panelists represented the Big Five. What kind of panel on publishing these days wouldn't include a ebook specialist?)

So this may be an overdrawn analogy, but I've been reading and watching shows about the impressionist art movement of the late 1800's. At the time, if you wanted to make it as an artist you needed to be included in the "Salon," which was a judged competition.

In response, the Impressionists mounted their own exhibition. It was filled with such unknown artists today as Cezanne, Cassatt, Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Sisley, know, slop like that.

The Salon exhibition was filled with such great artists know......uh.......

It seems to me that all gatekeepers eventually turn into group think. Almost by definition, anything that breaks the cultural norms isn't going to make it through the cultural gatekeepers. 

So what's really hitting the audience's button today?

Think of all the movies and TV shows that are made from comics.

I think this is because the comic market is relatively open to new ideas, is not constrained by phony measures of what is literary and what isn't. New and fun and exciting and off the wall are not only not discouraged, but are rewarded. One of the interesting things about comics is that I've always found it somewhat difficult to divide them into genres (other than the obvious Superhero genre, which itself can be split into many types). I think the reason for this is that comics much more often blend genres in interesting ways. Is "Saga" a fantasy? A SF? what is it exactly?

What it is, is good.

When I was growing up, there were books that weren't accepted in the reading lists that are now considered classics. And interestingly enough, a lot of them would technically be considered genre if they hadn't been elevated to classic status. (Drives me nuts--books that are obviously SF or fantasy like 1984 or Brave New World, are lifted out of the genre...) I remember having to ask the teacher permission to write a paper on LOTR's, which wasn't part of the approved curriculum.

I never set out to read classics. In fact, I probably avoided them. I read books that seemed entertaining. But now, when I look at the all-time lists, an amazing number of those books have moved into the pantheon.

Ebooks are open to anyone who wants to write a book, and I'm betting that in a hundred years the same thing is going to happen. The authors who people will remember will have gone outside the Salon, breaking through the culturally ossified standards of the gatekeepers.

Like I said, it's probably an overdrawn analogy. But I do think that the gatekeepers closed the gates just when they should have opened them, that group think among critics and bookstore owners and most especially publishers is endemic.

Thirty-six years ago when I first started at Pegasus Books, what I carried was well outside the mainstream. I haven't changed. The mainstream has moved in my direction, thanks to movies and TV and most of all, thanks to a bunch of great writers who ignored the Salon of the day, and wrote what they wanted and persevered.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

For the first time in a long time I don't have an idea for a new book lined up in advance.

I mean, I want to finish The Last Sombrero, and write more "last hat" books. I wouldn't mind writing some more Deviltree books. I want to finish The Odyssey of Linger Longfellow. The Reluctant Wizard was meant as the first book in a trilogy.

I want to continue with my Virginia Reed series and have a rough idea of where I want it to go next.

But a brand new idea?

Am I worried? Not in the slightest. I still have to finish Tuskers IV, I still have to finish Fires of Allah, and I'll be into the fall before I can even think about writing something new.

Some of my favorite books started off as a lark, and then turned into something. So I don't doubt that something will come up.

I'd like to mix it up a little. I've been trying different genres and techniques, and I'd like to continue doing that.

I've strayed into Thriller territory, and I enjoy writing that. I worry that I don't get technical details right, though. What police procedure is appropriate, what caliber of ammunition, that kind of thing.

Fantasy is always alluring, but I really don't like the world-building, except whatever world building happens in the course of writing.

Horror is a very open genre, and I'm still intrigued by it's possibilities.

I might try a straight historical novel, especially set in the West, most especially in Oregon. I've got an idea for that. In fact, as I'm writing this, I realized that's really where I want to go. Weird. A Western. Heh.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Indie Next lists are bunk.

I tend to order new books for Pegasus Books that I know will sell. That is, there is a track record. Then I try to seed in new books at a measured pace.

Yesterday, I still had a couple of hundred bucks left in my ordering budget for new books, so I checked the USA Today best-seller list and found a couple of books, and I checked the New York Times bestseller list found a couple of books, and the L.A. Times list and found a couple of books.

Still had a little room, so I checked the "Indie Next" list.


One of the things I noticed when I've visited independent bookstores on my trips is that they all have the same stock. The exact same stock.

And it's all these "literary" books, which would be great if I thought they were really "literary." But just because you package a book in a tasteful way, and write about serious subjects, doesn't make it literary.

I can stand back and wait. Out of the 20 recommendations, 1 or 2 are going to make the grade, both in critical reception and in sales. I can wait to see which ones those are.

But, I'm sorry. These seem like boring books to me. They're all about the same tired subjects. Most of them sound and look the same. They seem pretentious and arty and boring.

So I sell the hell out of George R.R. Martin, and Jim Butcher, and Dr. Who, and hundreds of other genre books.

I also sell the hell out of "literary" books that have endured the test of time. "Fahrenheit 451; Catcher in the Rye, Lord of Flies, To Kill A Mockingbird," and on and on.

But these Indie Next Lists hardly ever have genre books. Which to my mind is pretty pretentious all by itself. Not to mention, short-sighted. know...they sell!

I mean, seriously, has no one told them that out of the 20 books they recommend each month that maybe a third of them could be "popular" books.

Not only that, but in the long run, I'm convinced that many more of the genre books will have more of a life in the future than these so called "literary" books.

Not just a life in sales, either, but in critical terms. Because there are some great books being written that aren't about child abuse, or family dysfunction, or career dead-ends, or the holocaust, or mid-life crisis, or discrimination, or...all the retreaded "serious" subjects.

No wonder people don't want to read. Bookstores shouldn't be just PBS or NPR, but should have a few of the entertainment channels too. And I don't mean shunting them into a corner with a limited selection and feeling like you've deigned to do something for the poor saps who like their stories with hooks and fun.

To be clear, I'm not saying you shouldn't carry literary books, but that you shouldn't take on an Ivory Tower persona, a self-important and pretentious attitude. You should strive to be accessible.

But I'm afraid this attitude is so pervasive it isn't going to change, and it is going to limit how many indie bookstores actually succeed.

I'm happy to have the ability to write a coherent plot with a beginning, middle, and an end. I mean, it would be hard to write a book without it.

But sometimes I think I glide into the ending. That is, I've figured it out and I'm filling it in as ordered, and everything is neat and tidy.

And I don't think that's a good thing.

Yesterday, I figured out I have 9 chapters to write. The first three chapters are further development of the different characters in the three camps, the middle three chapters are all of them moving toward each other, and the final three chapters are the climactic battle.

Neat and tidy.

It's got a certain symmetry, the three camps are paralleling each other in a nice way.

If you think of it as architecture, it's like building the three sections of the house, the middle part and two wings. But while for a house, a nice symmetry is what you want; for a story, I wonder if it isn't more interesting to have one of the wings just go flying off into unexpected directions, maybe both wings, maybe the middle too.

It can't be too predictable, but it also can't be non-nonsensical.

I try to have surprises within the architecture, but I'm not sure that completely makes up for it.

Anyway, I'm looking at this wonderfully concise and ordered ending and wondering where I can't mess it up a little.

I read the first new chapter to Linda last night, and that was pretty much her critique (without even knowing my thinking).

I have a nice orderly chapter and she said, "That's nice, dear, but what about...?"

And she reminds me that the characters are in jeopardy and that I've got them talking like they're all hunky dory, and she's completely right and it was obvious, but somehow I missed it.

That's why secondary readers are so important. I'm so lucky with Linda because she manages to be completely supportive, but she also seems to catch when I've gone off track a little.

Another example was my Snaked book. I had a nice neat ending, and Linda reminded me that it seemed a little too pat, so I tried to fix that. But then, when I submitted the book to a publisher, he pointed out that while I had glided into a nice neat ending with the tsunami, but had dropped the snakes.

Well, the snakes are all the way through, but they do take a secondary importance, and I just assumed that the snakes were sort of stranded by the tsunami and that was that.

But he was right that I had not resolved the snakes story line in a satisfactory way. Thankfully, I was able to write 4 brand new chapters (4 out of the last 8, including the last chapter) with snakes and come to a more danger filled and hopefully cathartic ending.

I've always struggled with the idea of having outlines. I've decided they aren't for me. Too much of the story is created as I go along, not by some cold logical design.

Outlines can keep you from writing yourself into a corner. But the danger of having an outline, even if you allow yourself to stray, is that it tends to be too pre-ordained, at least to me. For me, once I've figured out a story, it's almost impossible to change it.

I prefer to remain in the glimmer moment when I'm playing with the possibilities, and it isn't frozen. That's where the fun surprises happen, when a secondary character suddenly takes on life, where the plot suddenly veers in an exciting direction.

But inevitably, when writing a book, the plot comes in full. That's when the danger of painting by numbers come in. It's all arranged, I'm just writing to order.

And I don't really want that.

So the question I'm starting each day with is--where can I fuck this up?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

So the set up is finished, now for the story. Heh.

50,000 words done on Tuskers IV. I'm finally ready to wrap this up. Well, 3 chapters are probably going to be combination of set-up and moving toward the climax.

I'm jumping a couple years ahead, several generations of Tuskers. I really want to nail this last 15 to 20K words, so I'm not writing anything unless I'm really, really feeling it. Hopefully that's not setting me up for blocking, but these are probably the most important words I'll write in a four book series.

I'm kind of excited by it, and out of excitement comes the best writing. So there's that. I'm hoping for some surprises and some twists, though I have the basic architecture figured out, the theme I'm trying to play out.

It's kind of cool to have written a 250,000 word saga. Out of a tiny idea of pigs besieging a friend's house in Arizona.