Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Am I obsessive?

Two new versions of the first fifty pages of "Deadfall Ridge" in two days.

Uh, oh. I'm on one of my obsessive quests. (Actually, I also started a third version, but broke it off because I didn't like the tone.)

Both of the new versions are cleaner and clearer than the original, but I'm not sure which one is best. There is no one I can really ask. I mean, really, asking someone to read the same thing three times? I'm going to presume on my friendship with Dave, who's the only writer I know who is as obsessed with the process as I am. If he does it, I'm going to owe him bigtime.

I've decided to give myself a full month before I endeavor to rewrite "Takeover." Time and distance are valuable, and the more time and distance, the better. Two or three months might even be more beneficial, I suppose. That would really take some self-restraint.

I feel like I either need to step up my game, or settle into a comfortable process that creates books at about the quality I've done so far. It's a cost/reward ratio.

The biggest decision I ever made at the store was to choose enjoyment over money. Well, more to the point, I realized I was neither having fun nor making money, but I had some control of the former, not so much over the latter.

So I started getting rid of things that detracted from my enjoyment, even if they made money, as long as the store stayed above the bottomline survival.

It was a bold thing to do, but frankly I would have quit if not for changing my ways.

I'm totally convinced Pegasus Books has survived 35 years because I made that choice.

Well, I have to remember that I want to keep writing, that I want it to be fun, and when I spend too much time obsessing and rewriting and doubting and risking rejection and all that entails, the less I want to write.

Hasn't come to that yet. Working hard on "Snaked" just made it a better book, and that has it's own enjoyment.

But I have to be careful.

Crippling doubt doesn't make for better books, but constantly creating books might.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

So the lesson here, I think, is that I need to take time between drafts, and to make sure the books are as good as I can make them before I send them off. If I have doubts, then hold back.

I'm much better about this than I used to be, but I still have a ways to go.

It took 3 months to see "Deadfall Ridge" clearly. I mean, early on I saw that I probably needed to jettison Chapter 2, but the information kind of went with the rest of the set-up. When I figured out how to get rid of the rest of Hart's motivation story, then Chapter 2 could be sacrificed too.

A perfect example, by the way, of killing your darlings. I really, really like Chapter 2, and feel it works as a short story. I may just do that. Put it out as a short story.

Could I have waited 3 more months? As it turns out, why not? It's not like the publisher is in a hurry.

So I'm going to read through "Deadfall Ridge" today and tomorrow, adjust it to the new beginning, and then...send it off. Maybe if the publisher is on the fence, this will sell it. Maybe he'll just be annoyed, but no harm there because that will mean he'd already rejected it.

I still have a decision to make about the order of chapters. I may move the second Sherm chapter up to be the 3rd chapter over all, and only bring in Hart as the 4th chapter. Since he's the main character, that seems a little strange. But...it would probably make more sense. I've now built up Amanda and Sherm to the extent that it doesn't seem so very out there.

The more I think about it, the better it sounds.

(Yep, that scans. Also throw in a scene of Amanda putting the box in the back of the Jeep, then everything makes sense.)

This new version makes Hart more of a "North by Northwest" Cary Grant-like innocent wondering what the hell's going on. 

Anyway--waiting for clarity is good, and along with it come a willingness to cut and change, which is harder when I've just finished.

I've decided to wait until Oct. 5 before starting on  the rewrite of"Takeover." Give myself a full month away from it. Give myself time to see everyone's input.  Hopefully gain clarity and perspective and the willingness to make changes, to kill my darlings, to be ruthless in pursuit of a good story.

This especially works if I've sent the new version of "Deadfall Ridge" to Gary for his consideration.

In the end, the books will be better for it, no matter what happens on the publishing front.

Deadfall Ridge is fixed....(?)

I think I've fixed "Deadfall Ridge." I was never satisfied with the first 50 pages or so. After that, I thought the book was pretty good.

On my walk, it suddenly popped into my brain that I didn't need a bunch of explanations to set up the plot if I just did one simple thing.

By doing that one simple thing, I cut half of the first 30 pages, or 5000 words. Streamlined it, made it more active, and cleaned up the motivations. Works like a charm.

Of course, I've already sent the book off, but I'm going to send the revised version too since I haven't gotten an official rejection yet. (After 3 months, I figure the publisher is either on the fence or waiting to see "Takeover" before he gives me an answer...or he just doesn' like it.)  He may just ignore this second version too, but it's a better book nevertheless.

I guess I just needed some time and space away from it.

It'll take me a couple days to clean the manuscript up, make it consistent, but the shape is much more pleasing to me now.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Hearing the truth about my writing.

"Takeover" is getting some heavy critique. Which I want. Really I do.

Sometimes the story and the writing come together, like in "Snaked," and the editors help me get the rest of the way there.

But other times I run into roadblocks. 

I usually feel disappointed for a a day or so, and then I mull it over, and then I try to come to terms with it. It reminds me of when I was in group therapy, and something the shrink or a group member would say would strike home and I'd go away upset but by the next meeting, I'd internalized it.

If I'm going to become a better writer, I need to have my weaknesses pointed out. (As long as it's constructive.)  One of the editors came back with a critique that included exactly the same weaknesses I've identified in myself; which is both validating in a strange sense, but also a little discouraging.

I'm aware that I don't always have the characters respond to emotional events, aware that I lack "action tags" and mostly use "dialogue tags."

I usually address this by concentrating on "telling details" in the rewrites. Trying to bring in more character movement and description, more senses than visual, more reaction to important moments. I've also tried harder to add these elements in the first draft.

I've accepted that rewrites are especially important for me. I think I need second-parties to point out where I've fallen short.

I tend to want to get that first draft down, not tarry, then try to go back and dress it up. I purposely try to add 10 to 15% to the second draft. Perforce, this usually addresses at least part of the problem.

"Your strength is in the concept and the buildup to the conclusion, not so much the tiny details."

This too, I agree with, as well as my simple, straight-forward style. (Which I strive for.)

These are problems that can be addressed--that's what rewriting is for.

It's the structural problems that give me fits, and those are much harder to fix. I've found that messing too much with the structure is problematic, and yet...if I don't...the book might not work. Sometimes I just have to accept what I've done and move on.

The problem is, I discover plot by writing, and I tend to meander for a bit before I find the story, and then I have hard time tightening up the meandering. Yes, outlines would be helpful. But I repeat: I discover plot by writing. 

So...going forward.

More attention to "telling details," more reaction to events, more streamlining the early parts of my plots. I've written 35 books, and I still feel sometimes like I'm trying to write my first book.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Starting to get feedback on "Takeover." The person who I was certain would insist on having more action in the first half of the book thought it was "excellent."

Writer's group, and two other readers thought the first half was too slow.

Duncan and Linda like the book the way it is.

But those three votes against can't be ignored.

So I'm not sure what to do.

I do know I don't want to mess up "Takeover" by screwing around with it too much. As I always say, adding and subtracting are fine. Moving things around, not so much.

I think the conflict in the first half of the book is interpersonal rather than "action" thriller type conflict. I'm trying to be realistic, setting up the ending. But I don't know how long I can impose on the reader. 

But I can see how the story might benefit by bringing some of the action up sooner in the book. If I add, say, 3000 words of new story, I can cut 3000 words that maybe aren't working as well.

Bringing up the hostage situation earlier, having one of the characters murdered earlier, both of those might add to the tension long enough to keep people's interest. But this would require changing the plot, moving things around, which is always really really dangerous for me. I mean, I can keep the version I have untouched for now, and test a new version.

Without a doubt, the idea of the FBI trying to attack earlier makes sense (and fits with the "hostage" scenario.) And I also think conflict between the original occupiers and the Nazi's is a good idea.

Bringing in earlier murder as a flashback toward the beginning of the story is more of a judgement call. It would remove some of the mystery, but then...I'm not sure it was much of mystery. That is, it would reveal one of the characters to be a villain, but I think that might be all right if the reader knows but the characters don't. Might create a bit of tension.

My feeling is that the first half of the book needs about 4 beats of action that it doesn't have, and needs about 2 beats of non-action taken out. That's pretty vague, but feels about right.

I didn't really want a situation with this book where I fuck it up by trying to fix it too much.
Without messing with the story. Which I'm not sure is possible.

I'm waiting until all the feedback is in before making any decisions.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

My point...and I do have a point...

I'm pretty proud of myself.

Not only have a written a bunch of books, but they're pretty good, (to me, of course) and I worked hard to make them good. I didn't slack off. I put real effort in. I've learned a very efficient process, allowing my facile approach to be productive, and I've learned from every effort. I now believe I've got the "great" book in me, which will come out if everything happens just right. It means that I just need to keep writing.

The outside world? Incredibly complicated, and not necessarily fair.

The thing I learned forty years ago is still more or less true: "It's luck, timing, and who you know..."

You can pretty much starve to death waiting for those things to happen.

One of the writer's group members was talking about the online group she belongs to where everyone is focused on writing many many words and making money.

Why? What's the point? Really? Where's the pride? What do they really get out of that?

The vast majority won't succeed at being hacks. Not failing as a writer, that's pretty much a given, but failing as a hack. What a waste of energy and life.

How do they feel at night?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

My publisher, Cohesion Press, has a half page ad in the Library Journal, featuring "Snaked" and another of their titles. Pretty cool that they are showing that kind of faith in my book. The magazine has a 100K circulation, and obviously probably reaches most libraries.

If you've read my blog, you'll know I was very impressed by how Cohesion put me through my paces, basically asking for three separate rewrites, improving the book each time. And I'd thought the book was my strongest effort already. Very professional experience.

"Snaked" is due out on September 28. It can be ordered from Ingrams, the largest American wholesaler, though I have yet to see it in Baker & Taylor. (Where I order the majority of my books--I just seem to be able to use their search engine better.) 

The book is being distributed by IPG (Independent Publishers Group), the same as one of my other publishers, but Cohesion seems to be on top of the process so I'm hopeful this time the date earmarked will the the date it actually happens. In theory, IPG has reps who visit bookstores and push their books, though I've not actually seen any evidence of that. Available for order at wholesale rates is a big deal, but no guarantee.

Cohesion has some best-selling authors who have also written some "Sea Monster" books. I'm sort of hoping my book will join them, though I'm not as big a name. I know they got my book out there to be reviewed, and I asked some of my friends to do the same, so I'm hoping for some action there too.

I'm really curious to see what happens.

This is probably my best book, so I'm willing to accept whatever comes.


Linda came with me on my trip to the Ochoco's yesterday. Went for my walk while she stayed behind and read.

I'm pretty tired. I think driving two hours a day for the last four days is a little much just to get my walk in. So it's back to canal walking for awhile (10 miles away).

Did a little writing on "The Wyvern Riders" yesterday, but wasn't focused on it. Writer's group tonight, so will read the next 10 or 12 pages. I figure by the time I turn to the rewrite, I will have read about half of the book to the group. I may turn to the final 50 pages starting today, so they'll have read the beginning and the end.

Writing my fantasy novellas is perfect for that limbo time between rewrites--but it is still kind of distracting. I'm 21K words in, and I'm aiming for 30K so I should finish just about the time I get "Takeover" back from my beta readers.