Sunday, May 28, 2017

The editors at Cohesion have been coaxing me toward more action in "Snaked." More snakes, bigger snakes. They've been right every time.

What it says to me is that a story can always be ramped up. And should be.

I've been looking at "Deadfall Ridge" and wondering if there might be a way to ramp up the action there. Something I can add, without changing the fundamental plot.

And there is the Crazy Ex-Wife. She's an interesting character, plays a pretty big role at the end of the book, and it occurs to me that I've missed at least two opportunities to bring her further into the story. One of the opportunities is early in the book, which would be a good thing. I have an action first chapter, but then nothing but set up for the next 40 pages, and that maybe too long to wait.

If I could find a third chapter for her in the middle of the book, that would be even better. Usually, once I have the idea, I can figure out how to do it.

So I have a few days while I'm waiting for editing, so I think I'll give it a try.

Friday, May 26, 2017

2 big new scenes for "Snaked."

I saved these for last, waiting for inspiration. But nothing much was coming to me. Moving house seems to have removed all my location and timing triggers for creation.

So yesterday, I headed back to Bend and went out to my old stomping grounds. Sure enough, even driving out there I started to get ideas. I stopped at my first station and wrote half a chapter. By the time I finished my usual 4 mile walk, I'd written most of the rest.

I'm going to replicate the situation today. But damned if I can drive 45 minutes one way just to start writing every day. This works to finish this book, but for any new effort I'm going to have to develop new routines.

Who knew routines were so important? I mean, I did--but not how much.

I get so much writing accomplished because I give all my time over to it. Even when I'm not actually writing, I'm making room for it. It's very difficult to write if anything major is going on--like moving house. I couldn't write at all when I was working full-time at Pegasus.

It's a matter giving myself all the time I need and then finding places conducive to the act. I'm making progress, otherwise I might be discouraged. I hope when all the moving hassles are done, I can settle in to new routines.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The better "Snaked" gets the more I want to make it better. That seems to be the dynamic. It felt pretty good to start with, but has unexpectedly improved--and that just makes me want to find more ways to make it even better.

"Snaked" is definitely improving. I can see that. There are a bunch of obvious misses on my part in the first draft. It's not bad, but I dropped opportunities to play up the action. So one by one, I'm fluffing those scenes up and damned if they don't read better.

That plus the pacing being improved by cutting some of the unnecessary stuff.

The main plot points are a plague of poisonous sea snakes, followed by a tsunami. 2/3rd through this rewrite I realize I missed a bet. The tsunami is caused by an earthquake, which I more or less downplay. (I have it happening off scene--in the deep ocean.) But there is no good reason to downplay it that way. So now I'm looking for places to describe the earthquake.

The more changes I make the more continuity and consistency problems are likely to arise. I thought all I needed to do in this rewrite is address each of the comments by AJ one by one, and write the new scenes she asked for.

But now I realize I'm going to need to do a complete revision based on these changes from cover to cover.


But...well, the book which I already thought was good has gotten better, so I don't want to stop now.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A light touch feels like a lazy touch.

I'm working my way through the rewrite of "Snaked."

I look for the easiest solution to every plot problem, while still addressing the problem. I don't think I improve my writing by agonizing over it. But it can feel a little lazy.

What I tell myself is--going over something 3 or 4 times lightly is more beneficial than going over it once in an overbearing way, and probably ends up devoting as much time and energy. But it can feel a little lazy.

I believe the first answer is probably the best answer--except where it isn't. But that's where beta readers and editors help. Telling me where I missed the obvious. But it can feel a little lazy.

Ir may be a little ridiculous to accuse myself of lazy when I put so much time and effort into it. But yeah, I'm intellectually lazy in some ways. Back in college I got a "B" on a paper I had estimated was an "A" and the professor said, "You are so facile with your writing you don't put an effort into it."

But the truth is, I've ruined more books by trying too hard than I have by trying too little.

This isn't a science, but an art. There is craft and there is feel. You can't always reason yourself to a solution. Sometimes it just "feels"right. If I stare too long at words on a page, if I overthink it, I'm likely to make a wrong move. If I go over something too many times, second guess myself too many times, I can lose the "feel" for the book, and I usually can't get it back. After that, I'm trusting that the original story is still there.

But I never know when I'm going to tip over into that, so I tiptoe carefully, trying not to lose my fictional dream by messing with it too much.

When I see other people's representational art, I often like the rough drafts better than the finished product. It feels and looks more pure, not so slick.

Nice excuse for being lazy maybe, I don't know. But I know that I was stumped on rewriting for a long time because I was making it too hard. Now I just look at something and let the words flow (or cut or change) and trust my instincts.

There are times when I have to use my critical brain to think about it. It's much more a part of the process in rewriting, and isn't as fun. But there is still a thrill when I fix something that wasn't working, even if at first, I wasn't sure.

So being put through my paces, holding my feet to the fire, is helpful. As long as it is in a light way that feels a little lazy.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Going backward to catch up.

Worked at the store yesterday, my first full day in a long while.

It was fun and exhausting. The thing I noticed is,we don't seem to be at the forefront of pop culture the way we were a couple of years ago. But we haven't quite receded back to fanboy days either. Still, an awful lot of people profess to be interested in what we're selling but when it comes down to it, really aren't. Tons of compliments about what a "cool"store it is, then no buying. I don't think Muggles know they are Muggles.

Speaking of which, I completely missed a fad this time, one that my "fad" distributor has apparently been hawking. Those "fidget spinners." I was in a 7/11 the other day and some guy was obviously popping into stores looking for them and the clerk was explaining about how they are selling out, and my ears perked up.

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

He explained, and a day later there was an article in a store about how schools were banning the thingies, and that is one of my signs of fadness...these things tend to roll out in a certain way, and the school banning is usually about 1/3rd of the way in. (people popping in the stores to buy up all available is another sign... heh.)

Pretty much too late to jump in.

Anyway, that's the kind of thing I used to be an early adopter of. I'd get them before anyone else, make sure I kept them stock, become known for having them.

I'm not sorry about leaving that rat race behind, frankly. It's a quick boost to sales, but then becomes a hassle quickly, and always a chance you'll get stuck with them at the end.

Sold two of my books without trying very hard. Since I stopped working at the store, they haven't been selling. Nothing like having the author standing there.

There was a note from Enes Smith, a local author of thrillers (he was a police chief in Warm Springs.) He wanted to set up a table in front of my store some weekend.

I called him up, and he was obviously way more savvy about hawking his books than I am. He's going to set up a table in front of Pegasus this Sunday and I'm actually thinking about joining him, just to see what happens.

But I'm also a day behind on my writing because of working, so probably not.

Finally getting window shades at our new house. We've been open to the world, which has been an interesting experience. Not too bad, we're on a quiet street, but a little strange.

I've found new walking paths that are relatively quiet about 15 miles out, the same distance as Bend. Everything closer is unfortunately Yahoo territory.

I'm itching to start writing again, but I have three books-- THREE!!!-- that I have to edit first. I'm having to go backward for awhile to catch up.

Monday, May 22, 2017

I both dread and desire content editing. I'd love to believe my writing is good enough as it is, but I don't know what I don't know. In other words, there comes a time when my own editing isn't enough. Someone can come in from the outside and point out the obvious.

Most people are leery of doing this, even people I pay. Line editing and copy editing they're comfortable with, but telling me my character sucks or the plot isn't believable or I've wasted too much time on a subplot--or any other major change--most people avoid, no matter how often I tell them to let me have it.

I've had friends who've held my feet to the fire. Bren was pretty good about "Led to the Slaughter" and "The Dead Spend No Gold." She was also pretty hard on "Faerylander," to the point where it has never been published. That's the danger in asking for the truth--that I become so discouraged that I never do get around to finishing.

Lara, my main editor, has always been good about the general consistency of the book, but I think she has avoided, "This sucks, do it different" sorts of messages. Which I think was appropriate to what I asked her to do.

Dave has been pretty honest about "Deadfall Ridge."

In every case, it improves the book.

But for most of my books, they were published pretty much the way I wrote them, which of course I love--except for the nagging suspicion that I might have missed something that would have improved them.

If the word of mouth never really takes off, then to my mind, I obviously did miss something.

I've always had this feeling that I've somehow come up a little short.

So the experience with "Snaked" has been interesting. When I wrote the first draft, I thought it was the best thing I'd ever done. I still do, pretty much. But Geoff turned it down because I had dropped the black snakes too much.

Went back and added 4 chapters of black snakes and it was instantly clear to me that the book was improved. Geoff accepted it.

Now, AJ, the editor-in-chief at Cohesion is holding my feet to the fire, and in almost every case, I can see that she's right.

Demanding more a reaction to events (one of my weak spots--something weird happens and my characters don't respond strongly), asking that a character not do a terrible thing, asking that another character be stronger, more snakes! bigger snakes! keeping the tension of the snake plague and tsunami, and so on. All valid critiques which I've tried to address one by one.

And I can see it shaping up.

The one thing I was leery of was changing a subplot, which I thought was the heart of the book. But when I got to the chapter AJ was referring to, it was instantly clear that I had indeed gone on and on to no effect and when I cut it by half, it read much better.

So as painful as this is, I can see the book shaping up to be a better book. I'll send it back to AJ, and she'll let me know if I addressed her concerns, and maybe, just maybe, I should hope she has more, because in the end, the quality of the book is what counts.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

To carry on about editing "Snaked," and to procrastinate a little more from real writing, Dave said this:

Narrative writing is so not like programming.

Clever = convoluted.
Obscure = confusing.
Nuanced = vague and misleading.
All things you do not want your code to be, which in general is: drop-dead-obvious. 

I'm not sure you give enough credit to the analogy, especially in genre, plot-heavy fiction. In other words, you can be both, I think. Streamlining, removing redundancy, condensing, etc. All that helps a book. I think the structure needs to be thought out, even if in a intuitive way.

With your speed of production I wonder if more time spent designing, rough outlining, sampling the story in a broad context might not be a way to test a story before it's written.

With every book, I try. Nowadays, I do tend to have an overall story-arc in mind, a theme, a cast of characters and a locale.

But I seem to find my story by writing it. I can't seem to find it from the outside, as it were. I learn by doing. So for instance with "Deadfall Ridge" I realized that I waited too long to get to the action, that the action must be immediate and never let up. Of course, this is true of all genre fiction, but in thrillers it becomes much more noticeable.

But yeah, "designing, rough outlining" would be a huge help, if I could do it. I try a little harder each time. More thought before I start a book, more thought before each chapter.

I heard someone use the phrase, in describing a book that had a thin plot, "not enough paint to cover the walls."

Nowadays, I try to make sure I have enough paint.