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.

Dammit.

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.


A comment about the editing of "Snaked" from Dave that I thought I'd address here.

"So, these module swappings (code-speak) are they temporally based? Or character introduction/explanation rearrangements? Or plot flips? Or?

I recently wrote this in which I discover that my purely sequential story plot detracts, rather than adds to a story:
https://anonymole.wordpress.com/2017/05/10/now-vs-then/

Can you give us a glimpse into the reasons what this editor has done to improve your book?"


Many of the swappings are temporally based. This is always confusing either to me or to the reader. I do it intuitively, (as you say, purely sequential story detracts, rather than adds). But when enough readers and editors insist that the sequence doesn't make sense, I bow to their will.

Thing is, so many of these events are happening at the same time, or near in time. I'm more concerned about juggling characters and action/non-action and theme and so on. I've always felt that people can adjust to things being slightly out of temporal order--especially if the book is the book.

In the editing phase, though, people always notice.

Anyway, they're the boss. (Or rather AJ, is. Editor in Chief Amanda Spedding at Cohesion.)

The biggest change comes in the second half of the book. After the first half sets up the danger and mostly concerns the plague of black sea snakes, the second half kicks off with a tsunami. They felt I was letting the momentum fade by the way I placed the chapters.

I point blank asked them to suggest the sequence they thought was right, and thankfully they did. This is one of the hardest things for me--once I've written the book in a certain order, it's all pick-up-sticks after that if I mess with them.

Now that they've suggested an order, I will move them as requested, and then make sure the transitions work.

When I first presented the manuscript last year to Geoff Brown at Cohesion, he liked it, but thought I had dropped the black snakes too much in favor of the tsunami. I agreed and wrote four chapters in the last ten chapters that concerned the snakes.

It very much improved the book, and he accepted it.

In this rewrite, they want even more snakes, including a plot twist that I hadn't thought of but which I think works really well. It will require me writing a couple of new scenes, which doesn't scare me. (I'd rather write new scenes than try to completely rewrite an old scene, frankly.)

I had a subplot that they thought took too much of the book and slowed down the action. This was the change I had the most trouble with, because I thought this subplot was the heart of the book. But you know what? When I got to the chapter they were referring to, damned if they weren't right. I cut the chapter in half and it improves the pacing tremendously.

There was a major character that they thought I had phoned in and who wasn't convincing. Once again, they were right when I looked at it, and I tried to make her a stronger character. Another character who acted out of character, which I changed.

Lots of other suggestions in the course of the manuscript which I am addressing one by one. What seemed overwhelming when they first got back to me now seems much more manageable, now that I've wrapped my brain around it.

As I said, this is really the first time I've had a publisher do "content" editing, and not just copy-editing. (Hell, most of the time, I don't even get line-editing, but then again, I've paid for my own editing, so perhaps the writing is in line.)

The biggest surprise to me about writing these books is that people really don't seem to have trouble with my "writing." Oh, there is passive writing here and there, lots of mistakes and so on, but those things can always be improved, and I'm perfectly willing to accept suggestions. (I find I accept about 95% of line-editing, no matter who does them, because they usually are seeing the obvious.)

What people have trouble with is consistency, story pacing, and plot twists. Or more simply, the story. This is what people review, whether they liked the story or not. Never a mention of the craft.

Craft is taken for granted, I guess. It's the starting point, the bare minimum. They expect competence.

So story it is. Story, story, story.






Saturday, May 20, 2017

All right, I admit it.

When I first got the editing back from Cohesion, I was intimidated by how much they were asking me to change. But, well, what choice did I have?

At first, I looked for ways to finesse the changes, but then hit some parts which require more than that. So I took a deep breath and dove in, hoping I wouldn't wreck the thing.

Came close to wrecking it a couple of times, but came back to the original version and tried again. And I started to see that it was improving the story. Undeniably. And in some ways, the bigger the change, the more it improved the book.

I'm still not sure if the chapter movements are right. That's the kind of overall picture thing that's hard for me to see, but since the smaller changes are improvements, I'm going to go ahead and assume these are improvements too.

The biggest tasks are ahead, but getting the first half nailed down has increased my confidence that I can get it done.

Even if it's starting to feel like a damn job!

Friday, May 19, 2017

What I give up in pleasure, I give to the reader.

Nice of me, huh.

I've been doing nothing but re-writing for a couple of months, which is not my favorite activity. Right now, I need to get "Snaked" done. Cohesion wanted some major changes and I'm trying my best to do them. Haven't really ever had anyone from the outside ask for that before. They've got a stake in me--I've seen the cover to "Snaked" and it's pretty spectacular--so if I make a good faith effort, I'm sure it will work out.

Meanwhile, I have "Deadfall Ridge" out with beta-readers and editors. The first beta reader, who knows his outdoors, was pretty blunt in his criticism--which is good, believe me. I can address most of his criticisms, and a few others I can try to finesse, but I'm not surprised by what he found to be faults.

He really liked the first chapter "Which made me willing to read the rest of the book." The implication that he didn't like the rest. "Too many adverbs and ing words."

So I immediately went to the manuscript and started fooling with it. For one thing, I think I have decided on the final draft to turn it all into 3rd person. I was never completely comfortable with the 1st person. Just didn't feel like I pulled it off.

I'm backing away from the book until I get all the critiques back.

I need to get "Snaked" done first.

Just trying to handle the "Snaked" revisions one at a time. Finding the simplest solutions wherever possible, because I've got two major changes I need to concentrate on.

It's weird--but having someone actually request changes is way more stressful than just realizing myself that changes need to be made. Most of the suggestions are right on--especially for the kind of books Cohesion publishes-- big, action-oriented creature books. My book was probably a little too mellow the first draft. (I've already done one rewrite on their request, which improved the action dramatically.)

In other words, they are helping mold this book into a much more vibrant story.

But I always like my first drafts, you know. That is always the real story to me. Improving the books for others--and I want to be clear here; they ARE improvements--still tends to diminish my pleasure a little.

What I give up in pleasure, I give to the reader. 

***

Writing while moving is pretty much impossible. I knew that. I figured the month was a goner.

What I'm not sure I anticipated is how it would change routines so much. I had particular times, places, and habits at the old house which were all designed to be conducive to writing. None of those routines are here.

I guess I'll have to develop new routines.

There are walking spots close to Redmond, but they are in "yahoo" territory. (The first few miles of "wild" outside any urban area are all beat up to shit. Shotgun shells, trash, tire tracks, and so on. You can walk, but it's like walking in a trash dump.)

So to get to anywhere nice, I have to drive another five to ten minutes, somewhere between 20 to 40 minutes out, which is a third further out than from Bend. But I'm willing to pay that price. Some of the spots I've identified are very nice, and will probably be very conducive to writing.





Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Bought something from Walmart for the first time.

Our new house is about half a mile away.  I destroyed one of the cables to our TV while installing it and made a quick trip.

So I can no longer brag that I've never bought anything from Walmart or Target. Both stores showed up in Central Oregon after I'd already been in business, and I had strong feelings about them.

Anyway, my reaction yesterday was--a huge space full of cheap crap.

Funny thing is, there are perfectly good brands there, but they are dragged down by the acres and acres of junk. The whole thing reeks of cheap.

It's kind of pathetic really. I mean, here I was thinking it was this vicious, smart predator and really it's just this big huge drooling giant. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

The editor from Cohesion emailed me her suggestions and changes for "Snaked."

Whew.

See, this has never really happened before, even back with my mass market fantasies. The publishers usually just take my manuscript and print it, with at most a little copy-editing. I was beginning to wonder if editors really ever did that kind of stuff anymore.

So AJ wants the sequence changed a little, and more snakes, snakes, snakes.

I'm going to try to be easy-going about this. Not make a big deal out of it, but just enter into it with an open mind. Just follow instructions. If I run into anything I disagree with, try to communicate it and find a solution.

I've never had much of a problem accepting word and punctuation changes, but this is the first time that I've ever had to mess with the actual structure of the book (except on my own initiative). Structural changes for me are always dangerous. To me, a book is like a jenga tower--take out one piece or insert one piece and the whole thing can fall apart.

Plus, if I work over the same area too much I begin to lose focus (and enjoyment) of the story.

But all the suggestions AJ has made so far are legitimate and I can see how they'll make the book better, and making the book better is the point, right?

This is probably my best book. Making it better may take it up a notch.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

I found my lost manuscript.

14 years ago when we moved to our house on Williamson Blv. I lost a box with manuscripts in it, including a completed novel, "The Changelings of Ereland." I didn't cry too hard about it. It had never quite passed muster, and I ended up using parts of it in other books. Both "Bloodstone" and "Changelings" missed the mark, somehow.

Now, in this move, the box has magically appeared. I'll look it over, see if there is anything there, but if it is as bad as "Bloodstone," the other book from that era, not much can be done. Still...it's nice to have it, in a sentimental way.

Also found the original version of "Sometimes a Dragon," a book that Linda and I cowrote the first half of in the throes of young love..so it would be interesting to see how that reads. I kind of messed with this book too much, I think. It might be nice to go back to the foundations. It would be very cool if we could publish this by Duncan McGeary and Linda McGeary. (Linda McGeary and Duncan McGeary?)

Typed manuscripts...shudder.

Thing is, I can get all my unfinished books done in a very short time if I set my mind to it. Probably a third the time it would take to write a new book. So I could get all these books out under the D.M. McKinnon pen name.




Monday, May 8, 2017

Orphans of Inspiration

I often say I didn't write for 25 years, but in moving out of the house I've uncovered tons of stories that were started and never finished. Because they were usually inspired--that is they rose up and demanded to be written--they're actually pretty good.

I have absolutely no memory of writing some of them. 

They are orphans, belonging to nothing, with no context.

I'm going to throw them away. They're a trap, trying to get me to go backward instead of forward.

There is always more were they came from; much more. I've got all the faith in the world that I have enough ideas in my head to write forever. No sense trying to resurrect the dead.

I also have a foot high stack of business journals, and I once thought they'd be full of cool ideas to write a book about small business. Then I wrote my book about small business and found the journals were mostly my griping about the same damn things over and over again. Which was their purpose, in a way. I wanted to spare Linda having to hear it, so I vented on paper.

These will probably also be tossed. I've always have this experience with diaries. Reading them later just makes me cringe, not be nostalgic.

I'm ready to write new stuff and have fun.

I'm just at an age where I don't see the point of hanging onto this stuff. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Strange not to be writing. It just allows me to fret more.

But we're in the middle of moving, so no way I can write.

We moved the big stuff over yesterday, thanks to Todd and Toby and our friend Anita and her son an grandson. It went pretty smoothly. Didn't drop anything major. Backing up the big 28' U-Haul I ran over our post box. Ouch. Backing up to the house, I thought I was stopping well short. When I go out it turned out I was a mere foot from the house. Almost a big ouch.

Still a ton of small things to take over. I'm kind of living in both houses right now, especially since the Bend house has WiFi and cable. That will probably be the last thing moved. I'm wanting to put in a full sound system this time, plus be able to hook up the TV to the computer, and I'm hoping my tech wizard friend Aaron can help us there.

Linda has fully embraced the new house. Her pleasure wiggle is transparent. 

Still quirks to work out at the new house. The air-conditioning isn't working, which would have been nice last night.

I don't know. This is going to take some time getting used to it all.

As soon as I've completed the transfer over I want to outline the next "Strawberry Mountain Mystery." Outline may be too grandiose a word for it, but at least fully think through what I want to accomplish.

I thought I had plenty of material for "Deadfall Ridge", but I overestimated how much I could spin out the chase scenes (after awhile, they become one damn thing after another.) I underestimated how much plot I lose by not having other POV characters. And I underestimated how much of the underlying reasons for everything (the McGuffin) needed to be explicated. I just figured the McGuffin was the McGuffin.

So this time I want to be sure I have plenty of raw material before I start building my story. I've got the basic idea for the story; it would be nice to think of a couple of unique twists as well.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

1st person narration.

1st person narration is the easiest to write, but it's the hardest to do well.

In every book I write, I go through one last time and relax the writing a little, putting in little small things that are slightly quirky, all in service to the author's voice. So far, this has almost always been 3rd person narration, so putting a little bit of an "author's voice" into the story helps it.

In 1st person, a voice is even more important. But it can't be the author, it must be the narrator.  In 1st person you want the reader to feel like a real person is talking to them, not an author speaking through a character.

I haven't written enough 1st person really to get the hang of it. I'm still learning.

When I'm writing in 3rd person, I regard that character as someone other than me, with their own personality.  So far, at least, that has been harder for me in a 1st person narrator. No matter how I try to distinguish myself from the character, the very act of saying "I" and "me" makes it feel like it's me that talking. It's hard to focus. The narrator becomes just me and all my messiness. Not distinct, not sharp. Sure the characterizations in 3rd person may be superficial to some extent, they may be "types" but they are distinct. 

Early in the process, Dave Cline, who has been kind enough to read this book as I wrote it, pointed out that my main character wasn't strong, that he was too good to be true, that his motivations didn't quite ring true, that he needed some  character flaws that he was overcoming.

The first time I tried to address this, I more or less did it with a blunt instrument--adding backstory to the narrator. But it slowed the story down and didn't seem convincing.

It's the sentence to sentence "voice" of the narrator that matters. That's want I really have to try to inhabit. But it can't be me, it has to be Hart Davis. So that means I really need to get a sense of him as someone else, with his own voice.

I went through a second time and tried to refine his character, but by adding flaws I sort of made him weak at the same time. The trick is for Hart to be flawed, but not weak. That he needs to have a darkside, but he can't be unsympathetic.

I think each time I've approached the character I've made him more his own man with his own voice, but I don't think I'm quite there yet. So over the next month, while the book is out being edited, I'm going to really attempt to figure out who Hart Davis is, all the way down to his soul, and he has to be different from me.

Then, in the final draft, I want that unfiltered Hart Davis to come through in every line of narration, so that the reader feels as if Hart Davis is actually talking to them. I need to feel that "click" like this is someone else telling the story.

I think all my efforts up to now have gotten me closer. I think I'm almost there.




Sunday, April 30, 2017

"Deadfall Ridge is done."

A full and complete rewrite of "Deadfall Ridge" is done.

I really worked on this, and now I can't really see the story. I have to assume that the original story still works the way I remembered it, and all the rewriting has improved it.

As I've mentioned, I'm not completely confident of the 1st person narration. If I had it to do over again, I'd probably do it as a 3rd person.

Then again, I was hoping to create a main protagonist and supporting characters, a locale, and a tone that I could continue doing. So I did that. If it works, I've got more books I can do this way. If not, I'll try something different.

There is no end of rewriting that can be done. Every single time I open up the file I find something to change. But I believe you can tighten a book too much. There has to be few woolly elements here and there to make it human.

I'm sending this off to some people who are familiar with the wilderness, hopefully to catch any howlers and recommend some telling details.

And I'm getting it edited. I'll give it one more rewrite when all those edits and suggestions come back, and send it off.

If it doesn't work, I'm going to try not to be discouraged. This was a type of book I've never tried before. I think I learned a lot by doing it. I just need to apply those lessons to the next book.



Friday, April 28, 2017

Turns out, buying a house and writing a book are not compatible activities.

I've had to spend two days dealing with paperwork. We closed on the house yesterday. I felt like Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles, signing, signing, signing, signing, signing...

I suspect moving and writing are even less compatible.

Anyway, I've still got three days left to finish the rewrite, which should be plenty of time as long as I don't do anything else.

Anything at all.

(Warning to Linda.)

I've been pretty diligent in my re-write. I cut about 3000 words out of the first 15,000 words. I didn't end up jettisoning the second chapter altogether, but cut it by 60%, saving the best parts.

It's funny, I think I'm making huge changes, but I compared the newest draft with the one before the last one and really it isn't all that different. There just aren't that many things I would change. In fact, a bunch of the changes I thought were improving the book got taken back out. But the point was, I tried, and when it got down on paper it proved not to be better.

I also learned something--or relearned something--in taking out the 3000 words. It was a lot easier doing it on paper, crossing off sections, circling sections and moving them, and so on. A good thing to remember.

I have no idea if "Deadfall Ridge" works as a "thriller." I nearly always have "fantastical" elements--even the two books I wrote without the supernatural; "The Scorching" had fires lighting up the entire West, while "Snaked" had a plague of snakes and a tsunami.

This was a little more local, a little more street level. If nothing else, it was an interesting thing to try. 




Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Killing my darling.

I read the first two chapters of the new re-written "Deadfall Ridge" to writer's group.

They read beautifully, especially the second chapter, which felt like a nice little short story.

And it became clear to me that the second chapter isn't necessary to the book. The events and characters don't advance the main story. There is quite a bit of duplication.

I've kind of suspected this for a while now, but just didn't want to admit it to myself.

There is a single event in the second chapter that needs to be told, and I'll just have to figure out how to get that in.

I just have to hope that the whole thing doesn't fall apart without it. I'll keep a file of the current version just in case, but I'm going to dive in today and either make the second chapter about 2/3rds shorter or eliminate it altogether.

This is a different kind of book, really. I'm learning as I go.

Monday, April 24, 2017

"Deadfall Ridge" re-write--which is basically an edit now that I've filled in, which means, really the fill-ins were part of the re-write--is going faster than I expected. It's very intensive, taking up most of the day.

I should be done on time, May 1. 

It's undeniable that it improves the book. If I can improve the book as much with the last re-write in a month or so, then it might even be readable.

The biggest problem is that I'm afraid the story takes too long for the chase scenes to start. About 20% of the way into the book. Hopefully there is enough tension in those first 50 pages, and hopefully the writing is sharp enough. I develop the background and the characters, and I just have to hope the reader sticks with me.

Everything is improved by good writing.

I was editing someone else's story, and it was so clear what needed to be done, the word choice and all, what to cut, to change, to add. Of course, I'm not always right, but I'm not adverse to making changes, maybe because it wasn't MY story.

I wish sometimes I could do that with my own writing. I can, to some extent. But not so thoroughly.

Drinking used to help me in this--but it doesn't anymore. Not sure why. I may give that a try in a few days, just to see if anything pops out at me.

I think it's because the problems with my manuscript wouldn't be problems if I knew how to do it right. Whereas, the problems in someone else's work is their problem, so I can see it much more clearly.

The only solution to this that I can see is to give my own manuscript more time. If I walk away for a month and do something else, I come back as a different person, with a slightly different perspective.

I think the first 60 pages went so fast because they've been with me the longest, and of course, even though I try not to do any re-writing while doing the first draft, I did go back and make small changes here and there and every time I do that, I also do a bit of editing. 


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Starting the re-write.

I'm about 5 days late on the re-write. Then again, I filled in the story with a bunch of material, wrote 4 new chapters, and more or less did a lot of things that could be considered part of the re-write. From 67,000 words I'm also now over 80,000 words, which was the goal. If I add the usual 10%, it's possible I could reach 90,000 words, which is even better.

I'm going to up the daily re-write goal to 25 pages, from 20 pages, but it will probably still take me a couple days into May.

So I need to go through and make the story flow, then send it off to get edited.

A couple of changes. I'm going to change several names to an Italian origin, since they are "made" members of the mob.

I'm also going to change the name of a prominent landscape feature from "Juniper Ridge" to "Deadfall Ridge."

The title of the book is currently, "Deadfall." But I'm thinking of calling it "Deadfall Ridge."

I'm changing the lava caves to old Chinese gold mines (which has the virtue of being based on the real fact that there were Chinese gold mines in the Strawberry Mountains.)

Other than that, I think it's good to go.

Just have to lock myself into my room and get it done. (This is not the sort of thing I can do on my walk, unfortunately. It's a game of concentration rather than creativity, remembering all the little details of the story. Instead of energizing me, it enervates me. So it's an entirely different process.)

Friday, April 21, 2017

For a few landscape descriptions, I drove 350 miles.

Drove to John Day on Wednesday. Motels were full, but dropped in on the Best Western.

"Any cancellations?"

"Why, yes...five minutes ago."

"What's going on?"

"It's the annual meeting of the Forest Service for the whole West."

I drove up Lone Pine Road as far into the mountains as I could get. Which was much farther than I expected.  Was finally stopped by the snow. Got out and walked and wrote descriptions.

The next day, I drove up Dog Creek Road, and got even farther. I'm driving my little Toyota Solara up these tight, winding, and very steep and rough roads, hearing the occasional bump under the car, and telling myself I'm crazy. But I got very close to the top and walked the rest of the way.

The configuration of the land is such that I think my story is plausible--with a little literary license.

I wrote 1300 words of description. A long walk to a shallow pond. But it was worth it--I also got a sense of the area. The only thing that doesn't work in my story is that there are no lava outcroppings and certainly no lava tube caves. So I've got to change that to basalt rocks, and just make up the caves; literary license again. Pretty much everything else in the book works.

But most of all, it is really beautiful land, awe-inspiring. Peaceful and enriching.

The traffic all the way through Prineville was terrible, but once past Ochoco Lake, it felt like I had the road to myself.

Bend, Redmond, and Prineville are in the middle of a maelstrom. Outside that, it feels like the old central and eastern Oregon I remember. 

I dream of a writing lodge in the Strawberry Mountains. Sigh.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The book moves fast.

Didn't manage to write a chapter yesterday, but did do 1000 words of fill in.

Little by little, I'm adding all those things I've thought about doing. Yesterday, it was the "Beatles" hiker and a chat between Sherm and Hart at the end. And just a bunch of little things.

The book moves fast. Not a lot of fat. I'm trying to decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

I also tried to iron out a timeline and synchronize the two story lines. That required adding a day to Sherm's journey and cutting a day from Hart's. Fortunately, I was able to do that.

It's very possible I'll have 80,000 words before I even begin the re-write. Which means, I don't have to artificially inflate it. But that wasn't what I was planning. It was about adding telling details. So...85,000 words? Something like that.

I have two Sherm chapters to write, then I think I'm done. 

I'll have to compress the re-writing into 11 days instead of 15, so do more like 25 - 30 pages a day. I think I can do that.

Tomorrow I'm making a day trip to John Day to write a couple pages of scenery description. I also want to do a bio of every major character, describing them and their ticks, and then try to play that up in the story.

The framework is there, but there are probably tons of little inconsistencies that can only be smoothed by re-writing. I know it's beneficial to have some distance, but I also need to have the entire story in my head, which I have right now and might not in a month.

So...in a month, after I get it back from my personal editor, I'll have that distance. But right now, since I have it all in my head, I need to go through it again from the beginning.

That final, cold-blooded re-write is very hard, and I've never completely succeeded, but if I was ever going to do it, this might be the time. I may spend a month researching some of my favorite mystery writers, especially George Pellecanos, Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, for how they handle the little bits of business.

I have way too many, "He looked at..."  "She turned..." "He smiled...raised his eyebrows...grunted...shrugged..."

Just really lame stuff which I need to get better at. It's weird since I'm so visual in most ways...just not in expressions.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Filling in the holes.

I've added 3000 words simply by going back and filling in holes. When I write a book, I push forward, hardly ever going backward. In fact, it was Rule #1 when I returned to writing, which I'm only now beginning to loosen up.

In the course of writing, I discover things about the characters and plot that need to be fleshed out. Just the process of going back and doing that will probably add an extra 5000 words before I'm done.

I used to think of a finished first draft as a complete story, that just needed to be burnished. Now I think of it as a framework, where I go back and add things and cut things and move things (slightly, not too much). I'm not trying to make the writing polished, but trying to get the story fleshed out. This needs to be here, that needs to be there. Figuring out the timelines.

The final draft, the editing and copy-editing is when I smooth all that out.

I'm probably going to make a day trip to John Day, to get some landscape description down. I was going to stay for a couple of days, but I don't think that's necessary.

I've written two of the Sherm chapters, and have two more I want to write. Only then can I sit down and do the re-write. So I may go past my May 1 deadline by a couple of days.

It's important I get this right. I have a big publisher willing to look at it, and that's an opening that doesn't come along very often (especially since I don't have an agent.) This editor actually sought me out originally, which I think is pretty rare. I figure the he'll probably give me more than once chance to produce a publishable thriller, but I shouldn't waste my opportunities. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Writing on my day off.

I'd planned to take a couple days break from writing after finishing the first draft of "Bigfoot Ranch."

When I started the book, I'd intended to have two narrators. The main character who would tell his story from a 1st person perspective, and another character--who would drop in every 8 chapters or so-- who would be 3rd person.

Aside from the 3rd person first chapter, the rest of the book was all written from Hart Davis's 1st person perspective. I decided to see if I could write the entire book without bringing in the first chapter 3rd person VP character, Sherm Olsen.

I thought I pulled it off, though I came up 13K words short of the 80K I think I need.

My goal in the rewrite was to add those 13K words, but it seemed kind of intimidating.

I went for my walk without my computer for once, because I had no intention of writing anything. I hadn't gone a hundred paces before Sherm Olsen popped up and said, "Hey, remember me?" and the chapter just started unspooling in my mind. (That is my creative process, a movie screen behind my eyelids.)

Suddenly I had four more chapters in mind.

I came home and wrote the first of the new Sherm Olsen chapters after dinner (not a time I usually write).

So apparently my first draft wasn't done after all. I've got three more Sherm chapters in mind. It will mean I have to compress my re-write into 12 days instead of 15 days, but since the rewrite was going to take more time because of the need for more words, that probably is a wash.

Oh, brain. Make up your mind.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

My thriller "Deadfall" is finished.

I finished the first draft of "Deadfall" (or "Bigfoot Ranch" or "The Last Honest Man" or whatever I end up calling it).

It came to 66K words, which is 14K words short of the minimum length I need. But I usually add between 15% to 20% to a rewrite as I flesh the story out. I concentrate on getting down the story for the first draft, but it always needs a bit of filling out. Telling details. Character development, description.

The filling out improves the book, and also gives me an entry point for rewriting. For a long time, rewriting was a bit of mystery to me. It was always intimidating, partly because I just couldn't figure out how to do it. It was a little like taking apart a beautiful thing, my first creative impulse.

But by embellishing the book, I find I also automatically do the rewriting, so it's a bit of trick that works. 

I still have to write the short epilogue today, and I have several scenes I need to go back and add. Then on to the rewrite.

I find I can do about 20 pages of rewrites a day, usually about 5 pages at a time.  I have to take a break between sessions, because it is mentally exhausting to me. Much harder than writing the book in the first place. Nowhere near as fun, but the improvements are undeniable, so I force myself to do it.

If I didn't have to rewrite or edit or prepare books, God knows how many books I could write. Scary to contemplate...

The book turned out to be typically idiosyncratic and quirky...goofy even. I think I can get away with that when I write my usual fantastical stuff, I'm not sure it will work for a thriller, at least not a thriller I'm trying to sell to a publisher. The bulletproof Bigfoot costume made it all the way to the end of the book, torn and tattered and reeking but still there --almost like it was another character.

Not to seem all pure and all, I don't seem to be able to write anything but what the story demands. That is, I can see it going off course but rather than trying to readjust, I let the story be what it is.

With horror or fantasy, I can just always rely on the werewolves or the Bigfoot or the vampires to add some spice to the story.

Not that it's cheating. I enjoy the genre aspects.

"Thriller" is a genre, but no matter how crazy the plot, it is still somewhat more grounded in reality, and I'm uncertain about my abilities there. I love telling stories, but I've never thought they were "real."

I don't know. This whole writing thing is just something I do. I should probably just give up trying to figure it out, but...that is also something I do.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Time to be sappy.

I stopped in the middle of the trail and just let the endorphins wash over me for a few moments. The warm fuzzies. The overwhelming sense of gratitude for the gift of creativity.

The only thing I can liken it to is falling in love.

Every once in a while I get that high five sense of rightness, the moment when everything clicks and I know the story is complete, that it is right. That fist bump moment, the chop in the air "YES!"

I'm about five chapters from finishing "Bigfoot Ranch" and I've embraced it's goofiness. It isn't what I expected, I'm not sure it's what the publisher expects, but it is what it is supposed to be. I'd purposely held off thinking about the ending until that moment, but as I turned the corner to those last few chapters, I thought of something out of nowhere. Just a tiny little telling detail. Something that probably won't even seem important to anyone reading the book, but it's a detail from which all the rest flows. The little bit of business that unlocks the scene.

And I know I have a book, and all I need to do is sit down and write the ending.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

"Do YOU like the book?" "Yes, yes I do. Thank you for asking."

Was having a long conversation with myself about where my writing is going.

It's sort of dying off where I haven't done any promoting. My self-publishing career is dead in the water. I think the books are just as good, but as far as sales are concerned, it doesn't matter what I think.

I have three books coming out with publishers over the next year--I think. Two of the publishers are new for me.

I'm writing for a publisher a book that I have lots of doubts about. So I was working through that and by accident asked myself the question: "Do YOU like the book?"

And the answer is a most definite: "Yes, yes I do."

I mean, I still have to pop the ending and I'm asking my subconscious to come up with a corker, but even the ending I have so far isn't bad.

In every case where I question the direction of the book, it's been because of some sort of awareness in my head that what I'm doing might not work with the publisher.

But I think it's very, very dangerous to write to other's expectation.

"Do YOU like the book?"

"Yes, yes I do."

I like the characters, the plot, the setting, the writing. I like the measured beginning, the middle alone-part, the quirkiness of the Bulletproof Bigfoot costume being another character in the book.
I like the relationship between Nicole and Hart. I like the McGuffin. I like the premise. I like the somewhat goofy humor (always amazes me that I write that goofy stuff.) All these are somewhat problematic commercially.

So far in my writing I've written what I want to write when I want to write it--and only then have I asked myself where I could place what I've written.

When I was told by the "big-time" agent to write "100 kickass" pages," I tried to write it the way I thought he would want it. I took out a couple of chapters, changed the beginning, and moved chapters around.

He rejected it outright. So I went ahead and wrote it anyway, the way I wanted, restoring the original story, and it was this book that the bigger publisher took.

I know in my business that I decided a long time ago to do what I wanted, instead of always chasing the almighty buck, and build on the small successes because in the end I had to live with the store on a daily basis, and doing it for money only was a recipe for burn-out.

My attitude to writing from the beginning was "Just write it. Don't question it, trust your subconscious, have fun."

So I need to ask that question more often, instead of getting hung up on other things.

"Do YOU like the book?"

"Why, yes. Thank you for asking."

Thursday, April 6, 2017

I think Linda nailed it when she said I didn't seem to have my regular confidence. She saw it before I did.

I've been trying to think why.

I think I made a couple of strategic errors.

1.) This is the first book I've written without some kind of fantastical element. Even the two thrillers I wrote before this had Apocalyptic aspects. This book is written at street level. This may not be so much a strategic error, because I wanted to write a normal thriller--but why do I need to write a normal thriller? I could have added the big Apocalyptic thing without resorting to the supernatural.

2.) The decision to make it first person. This limits my options, unless I play with the formula. (Keep the 1st person protagonist but add 3rd person VP's).  I decided to keep it 1st person all the way through except for the first chapter. I have only one viewpoint character--which constrains what I can write about. This means I barely had enough paint to cover the walls. Remains to be seen whether I do have enough paint. I can probably expand the book in rewriting, at least I  hope so.

I've only written one book and a couple of novellas in 1st person before. They got such a good reaction, I decided to do it again. Now I'm wondering if I shouldn't have stuck to what I know best.

The result is that I have Hart by himself in the woods for like 20 chapters and I'm not sure how interesting that is. It will depend on my author's voice being strong enough. I don't do a lot of interior dialogue and that's a problem if I'm not going to have a lot of exterior dialogue. (Linda points out that I do have a lot of interaction with the bad guys, just not verbal.)

When I brought in Nicole 2/3rs of the way through the book, it was like a breath of fresh air.

Someone to talk to! Yea!

Looking back, I'm wondering if there aren't spots were I could have some dialogue. For instance, instead of finding the hiker dead, have them meet on the trail, have a conversation, and then have the guy run away. We hear a shot, everything plays out.

Jordan takes a shot at him, he hides, they carry on a taunting conversation, that kind of thing. Anything I can do to enliven those chapters.

I'm looking forward to the next 3 or 4 chapters with Nicole. I did a little research on dog tracking, and it gave me a bunch of ideas. I don't know why I don't research more--mostly because I'm not sure what to research until I've written the book. Then I can focus on the type of research I need.

Anyway, I think I pulled it off--barely.

The other thing about this book that is different is that instead of the second draft just fixing up what I've written, a good 25% of the book is going to need to be changed. That will be a challenge, not to ruin what I've already written.

But necessary.

It's a different kind of book than I'm used to--that's why I'm uncertain. But like my previous books, I can only learn by doing. I'm given myself the job of writing 3 thrillers in a row, with Hart Davis as the hero. If none of them catch on, it's back to the drawing board.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

I've gone about as far as I'd mapped out.

"Get off the Harley, Bigfoot." That line has been in my head for weeks.

So now I need to make it all up again. I purposely didn't want to get that far ahead, but now's the time. It is also time to ask the question, that is almost like a mantra to me--the same question I used to ask myself at bedtime for most of my business years.

"What have I done that I shouldn't have--and what haven't I done that I should have?"

I know I want to ramp up the tension again, just as Hart thinks he's making his escape. Instead of seven killer mercenaries after him, the entire apparatus of the state--dogs and helicopters and ORV's and professional trackers, closing the cordon around him little by little.

He now has a companion, a love interest, so that ought to make it interesting, at least to me as a writer.

About 1/3rd the book left, with only the last 4 or 5 chapters figured out. The rest is action--chase and escape. I'm figuring about 8 chapters or so.

I'm actually kind of excited at the opportunity to create again, instead of just writing what I've already figured out. Heh.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Maybe subscribing to the New York Times wasn't such a good idea.

Up to now, I've ignored other books, other writers. Just done my thing. I haven't read any writerly self-help books or paid much attention to what professionals might think.

I just kind of cloistered myself in my own fictional worlds.

So now I'm getting these other writers in my face, unavoidable if I want to read a newspaper from a New York full of creative types. It's enough to make me insecure about my abilities and talents. I tell myself it doesn't matter--just like I tell myself it doesn't matter how many books I sell, or how many good reviews I get, or whether I'm published in the mainstream and carried in the bookstores.

It doesn't matter--but of course it does.



It doesn't matter. I'm just going to keep doing my own thing. Just try to be steady. I write every day, even when I don't want to. I appear to have a strong willpower when it comes to writing. I force myself on my four mile walk on days I don't want to, I force myself to sit down and write at least 1000 words, and little by little, the book gets written.

I'd love to wait around for the wellspring to overspill, to feel inspiration come upon me, to do nothing that isn't purely creative utopia.

But if I did that, I'd produce about three partial stories a year, just like I did for 25 years. Snippets of 10 or 25 or 50 pages at a time, promising starts that go nowhere.

Thing is, once I start writing, the creativity happens anyway--through doing.

The water from the wellspring is the same water, whether it's overfill, or lapping at the edges and can be drunk from a cup, of whether I have to lower a bucket and pull it up. 

I don't really have that many illusions about my talent--I think my estimation has been pretty much borne out by events. I thought there were certain potentials, and those potentials seem to be happening.

Slowly, oh so slowly.

Too bad I couldn't have seen this 25 years ago, but back then I was on a different trajectory. Mostly because I had horrible habits and debilitating doubts. I needed to make a living, and the bookstore was so damn interesting, and Linda and the boys were so important, that I didn't really ever regret it.

I made the right choice.

In fact, I can be a full-time writer now without any pressure because I've already had a career. I have the same creative energy I had when I was 28, but without the time and money constraints.

My habits, my process, are so much better and getting refined all the time.

My attitude is almost the opposite from when I quit--instead of questioning the viability of every idea, my approach is the write anything that comes to me, to never say no, the try to fit it ALL IN.

I've already seen more progress than I expected. My original goal was to finish just one more book, and then to see if I couldn't get it published. I mostly expected to self-publish (though I admit I thought that would have more significant results).

So all the activity that's happened has been somewhat unexpected.

I think that I could get a regular gig going in the mainstream (my own estimation) but it would probably take another 5 years of trying. That would be interesting, but I'm more and more inclined to wonder if that is really what I want to do.

The thing I learned in my business is to do my own thing, as much as possible. To not bend to desires for money or notoriety. To do the modest, satisfying thing.

I probably should apply that to my writing.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Problems with "Bigfoot Ranch":

1.) Taking too long to get to the action scenes. About 13K words in.
2.) The bulletproof Bigfoot costume, which undercuts the "seriousness" of the book.
3.) Introducing the love interest 65% of the way into the book.

Solutions to the problems:

1.) None. I like all these problems. It may be I'm just too idiosyncratic and quirky to write mainstream books. If so, I'll accept it.

In other words, I'm struggling with the intellectual awareness of what I need to do, and the stubborn creative partof me that wants what it wants.

Basically, my solution is to write another book and try harder to stick to the formula.


 I've had "Bigfoot Ranch" mapped out through the first 65% of the book, with a vague concept of how I wanted it to end. As usual, about 20K words in, I figured out the next 30K words.

The latest five or six chapters I already worked out in my mind weeks ago, so was just a matter of putting them down on page.

Though I'm writing these scenes as I imagined them, they don't feel inspired. Basically, the inspiration came when I imagined it. This is just coloring between the lines. It always alarms a little when this happens. It's one of the reasons I don't outline my books. I need the feeling that I might be surprised.

Anyway, I've got three chapters left that I pre-envisioned. After that, it is a blank slate except for the very, very end, for which I have a hazy vision.

At this point in the book, I thought that I'd have to pull the hero out of the wilderness and back to Bend, and that seemed abrupt and wrong, somehow. Yesterday, I figured out that all the elements that made the Bend scenes necessary could brought into the wilderness.  I can bring out the characters I want to join Hart, rather than having Hart go to them.

Much better.

I'm bringing in the love interest at 50K words. I've tried to foreshadow her through a couple of flashback scenes and a couple other references, but I'm well aware that it is late in the book. I figure I have to write about 8 chapters where Hart and Nicole are on the run, with the pursuit being ramped up. (More searchers, helicopters, dogs, etc.) Nicole being another wildnerness guide will know how to escape detection. Something like that.

Then the ending.

I came up with what I thought was a really cool epilogue. Like all really cool postscripts, it's a little silly. Which is what makes them fun.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Linda teared up over a chapter that I thought was a jury-rigged fix.

I'd brought in a love-interest in Chapter 20, just as an experiment. Nicole would actually show up earlier in the book, but the writing just assumed she'd been accompanying him. So the chapter turned out pretty well, and I thought, OK, this can be done. I liked that there was interaction. Plus, it added a good 20% to the word count, which I'm beginning to believe will be needed.

But, as I mentioned yesterday, I decided to write the rest of the book first, without the new character, and see how it turned out.

So yesterday, on  my walk, I took the new character out of Chapter 20. As a trick, I brought in the voice of Hart's son-of-a-bitch father; since Hart is suffering from hypothermia.

I thought it was kind of a temporary fix, and yet...

When I read it, I was amazed how effective it was--and when I finished, I looked up to see that Linda had tears in her eyes. Score!

It just goes to show you never can tell.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

After much agonizing, I've decided to finish the book with a single protagonist, for four reasons.

1.) My rule about not making major plot changes until I'm finished. I may find that I really like the end result, and more often than not, my original instincts are better.

2.) If I start adding the second character halfway through the book, it will necessitate changing the first half the book. Whereas if I decide not to change, I'm free of the necessity.

3.) I have a feeling that adding a character is easier than subtracting a character.

4.) If I decide to add the second protagonist, then it gives me some meaty working material for the rewrite, which I always like.
Adding a new character to join Hart on the run ratchets up the problem with credibility, which is making me consider about how to correct it.

The biggest problem is that while Hart's in the wilderness, I couldn't think of a plausible reason he couldn't just run further into the wilderness and loop around to safetly.

I tried to finesse that a little by having impassible physical barriers in two directions (which aren't there in the real world), corrupt cops in a third direction, and the mercenaries in the fourth direction. It was a bit of stretch, which I tried to ameliorate by having Hart hated by the people of John Day, further closing off that direction.

It was within the realm of fictional license, I figured.

But if I add another character, it means I have to figure out why SHE wouldn't be able to escape.

So with that dilemma, I think I came up with solution. The solution is so satisfying that even if I don't add the second character, I'll use it.

So this exercise is already paying dividends, making me think about the plot holes.

Having problems and coming up with solutions is sometimes the best way to plot. As long as the solution doesn't completely overturn the story and motivations of the characters.



I have to admit that the prospect of having an editor of a major publisher who is already inclined to like my stuff and who is open to considering the book has changed my approach. I'm taking more time than usual, trying to fix things that are "almost good enough." Not that I wasn't trying before, but somehow it's as if someone is looking over my shoulder and I'm anticipating his objections. 



I wrote Chapter 20 as if Nicole, the love interest, had been along with Hart the whole way, and I thought it worked really well. It's clear to me that it can be done.

Dave however thought it mollified the lone-wolf James Bond-ness of the the lead character, which had me third guessing myself.

This morning I went ahead and emailed my publisher and asked the question: lone wolf or love interest along? Figure it gives the editor the information that I'm well into a book, and maybe he'll give me a definitive answer. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Linda freaked me out a little last night.

"I'm not a fan of the wilderness stuff. Maybe the "lone survivor in the wilderness" is a guy thing. I like it more when the characters are interacting."

Here I've been trying to think of ways to extend the wilderness stuff because I felt it was the core of the book.

Have I  made a strategic mistake?

See, I trust Linda's opinion. I think she's almost always right. She tried backing away from it a little this morning, "No, I was just a little confused about what's going on." (That's been a problem too--the locations and times and logistics are always a problem with my books.)

"Honey, you don't do me any favors by backing away now. I need to know what you really think. Otherwise I can't make the necessary changes."

I immediately thought of one solution, which is for Hart to have a companion in the chase scenes. Maybe even a love interest. But I have 30K words written with Hart alone. Can I tack on another character to already written scenes?

Thing is, I think I can. I've done it before. And it seems more and more viable the more I think about it. It's a complication, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It ups the tension. It's not just Hart in danger--he has to think of someone else.  I'll have to be clever, but being clever is what it's all about.

One thing is for sure--it would make the book bigger, and I've been a little concerned about having enough material. So, yeah. I think it's a real possibility. It would also make the book more active--instead of interior dialogue, it would be conversation between two people, which is always more interesting.

But I won't attempt it until I'm finished. Let's see how it plays out first. (Though it will probably be in the back of my mind from now on...)

I'll write the entire book, then create a separate file and play with the addition of a new character. 

Weird though, how much I like the idea--which I never would have thought of on my own.  It will add a week or two to the rewrite, but if makes the book better, then so be it. I always like something new and meaty to add to a second draft, and this would do that.

So...yeah, I'm very enthused right now. But I probably need to finish the book and sleep on it before I do anything.


Monday, March 27, 2017

One reason I'm not so critical of others efforts anymore is because I know that most people are doing their best. Sure, there are lazy and sloppy people, but I don't believe anyone puts out crappy books just to write crappy books.

Willpower alone won't make you a better writer.

Where willpower enters into it, is how much time I'm willing to devote to the process. It takes willpower to clear the calendar, to sit down and start writing, to stick with it, to finish.

For me, it takes more willpower not to settle for that first version, but to take the time and energy to revise it, and even more willpower to do it again. It takes willpower to set it aside long enough to come back to it with fresh eyes. It takes willpower to take the time to send it to others to read. It takes willpower not to accept "good enough."

When I say willpower doesn't make you a better writer, that's not totally true. Because it takes willpower to create the time and atmosphere to do something creative.

I don't think you can be deeper than you are--I mean, you can't know what you can't know. Insights that don't come to you, don't come to you.

But occasionally something burbles to the top, sometimes you may even get an epiphany. Sometimes what emerges on the page is indeed deeper than you are, better than you are. Not often, but the more time you give it, the more often it happens.

Being aware and open to these gifts. If I get a neat turn of phrase, a neat insight, say once a week, then in 24 weeks I'll get more insights than in 8 weeks. So taking longer to write a book is a good thing. (Though there is a limit, a point of diminishing returns.)

I've been reading the New York Times Book Review, and I always get a sinking feeling. I realize that most of the books reviewed there are far better than anything I'll ever be able to do.

Part of it is intent. My intent is to write fast and entertaining books. But even in that realm, I know there are far better writers everywhere I turn.

But there is no point in comparing. I just have to try to make the book I'm currently working on as good as I can. Take the time for it to develop, put some thought and research into it, revise it, expose it to others, try to learn how to get better.

I made a choice early on to write as much as I could. Not to hesitate, but to write every book that came to me, to learn how to be a better writer by doing. A case could be made for working on one book, taking a year to get it just right. I understand that. But I also know I wouldn't be able to do that.

I'm pretty sure the way I'm doing it is best for me. But unlike the old days, work that might not have passed muster with the gatekeepers can now be put up for all the world to see. I've tried hard not to put anything up that wasn't as good as I could do at the time, which means I have quite a few finished works I've never put up at all.

Every book I learn a few new things, I make a few new mistakes. I can hope someday that I'll put all the things I've learned into one story, and cut down on the mistakes.

I believe--I hope-- that is within my capability.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sometimes the amount of time I spend on writing doesn't seem enough.

And yet, I've also learned a light touch is better than being forced.  I mean, I do want to get in at least 1000 words a day, knowing it will probably turn into more. But I don't want to call it "work."

A thousand words is really only about an hour of intermittent typing. Surround that by an hour or so of living in the milieu and maybe another couple of hours of cocooning that creative space, and you're still talking about 4 hours in total.

Could I do more? Probably. I could do two sessions a day, I'm sure. In fact, in the past I've done that. I'm not sure the quality suffered all that much. I did nothing but write for 2 full years, and they were very productive years and I don't regret it at all, but I can't keep up that pace forever.

But even 1000 words a day, done consistently, produces a lot of story. What this type of scheduling allows is for me to do other things.  So the 4 hours a day of actual writing is probably about right.

It just seems a little lazy. Again, it isn't how hard I work, but how smart. I figure that letting my imagination have the first draft is a good thing, even if it seems like I'm getting off lightly.

I've come to terms with re-writing in much the same way. Keeping a light touch, using intuition for changes. Not bearing down, not turning it into mechanics.

So maybe that's why it seems lazy. Because it is such a "click" thing. Here it is, it's evocative or it isn't evocative, but if I think about it critically too much it becomes a mess.

I'm not certain that treating it as "work," laboring over every sentence, will make it better. You can't force insight or poetry or depth. You can come back to it more than once, doing it once over lightly again and again, until it finally takes on a texture.

But it's done with a fine brush, not a paint-roller. It comes through feeling, not thought. The thought leaks through nevertheless, but the more I do this, the more I realize that it all comes from within, it all comes from feel and touch. I can prime that creativity by asking myself intellectual questions, but when it spews out on the page, it's all instinct.

I've learned that too much rewriting doesn't make it better. That there is a time to back off.

I do spend a fair amount of time just daydreaming about the plot, and sometimes something really valuable filters through. Again, it's just a matter of circling back again and again. I try to think about the book when I nap, or shower, or when the house is quiet and I'm just thinking. More often than not, my mind drifts, or I fall asleep, but that's OK-- I wake up and bring myself back to the book, and this may happen a couple hundred times in the course of a few days, and out of all that, I may get only 1 or 2 really good ideas. But those ideas probably would never have come if I hadn't let myself drift that way.

At the end of the day, not working at the store has allowed me to write. I may only actually do the actual typing for a few hours, but I surround it with an atmosphere of creativity. Including this blog, for instance. And talking to myself. "What needs to be done? How can I surprise myself and the reader? What would really intrigue people? Can I get away with that?"

Linda is off at church for a few hours, and I intend to get up after writing this and pace around the house and circle around and around the vague glimmerings of the story, seeing if anything pops up out of nowhere, that one thing that makes me go "YES!!"

May not seem like much, but it all adds up.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

A bit of soul-searching.

I'm having one of those lull periods where nothing much is happening.

As long as I continue quietly writing, it doesn't matter. It is what it is. The main thing is to keep making progress. This is the true test of a writer--that you write without certainty, that you do it in a vacuum, that you do it because you want to. No reward or even feedback for months and months, and minimal reward at the end.

And yet you still do it.

I'll be close to half done with the WIP in the next day or two. I'm pretty sure I can finish a first draft by late April, though it may take a few days longer to go through it quickly and do a bit of touching up before I send it off for editing.

Then I'll go ahead and do something else for awhile, like move into the new house, find new walking spots. Maybe go about publishing "Gargoyle Dreams" and/or "Said the Joker, To the Thief."

I have given up on the latter with Kindle Singles. Really, it's pretty clear I'm not going to get an answer, and every day that passes (17 weeks and counting) merely confirms that. I no longer wake up with the hope...or the fear. I've almost forgotten about it, but not quite--cause here I am writing about it still...blah.

Maybe I'll write a quick story about a Fire-setting Jinn for the cover I paid for. Or finish Mother Sali. I usually don't know until I finish a book what I'm in the mood to do next. 

At some point, theoretically, Gary should be getting back to me about editing the book he bought. Who knows?

What it shows is, when I finish "Deadfall" (the new working title of the WIP) that I'll need to just forget that I ever wrote it. Because bigger publishers have a whole different time frame than I do, years not months.

I could follow up on some of the unfinished business--ask about "Tuskers IV," or ask about "Snaked," or the contract from the new publisher (which was supposed to be headed my way over a month ago.) But I'm a little dispirited about it. Fuck it. These things will happen or they won't, I'm going to go on writing.

Because in the end, that is the only thing I  have ANY control over.

The thing to remember is that there are hundreds of thousands of writers, and tens of millions of books, and how you can stand out in the morass is a real question. It seems impossible. I know that marketing is the key, but I have neither the aptitude nor the appetite to do so, and as long as that is true, nothing is going to happen except by pure luck. I'd be just as likely to hit a powerball win by buying a lottery ticket on the way home every night (actually, MORE likely.)

I put out "Faerie Punk" without any fanfare whatsoever. Fully edited,with a bought cover. It was a test, a sacrificial lamb as to what happens if I just put a book out with nothing more than an announcement. I think  it's a very decent, entertaining book. As good as anything else I've done.

I believe I've sold less than 10 copies.

So why am I spending most of my life writing?

There's no good answer, really. Because sitting at home doing nothing isn't an answer either. At least it gives me purpose. I do enjoy it. I do believe that is a mentally and spiritually nourishing and healthy activity. It's a fun hobby, it's an identity. I'm breaking even on the whole deal, at least as far as expenses are concerned.

Where I'm losing money is by not working at the store, but I was needing to step back from that anyway. I was no longer really helping the store, I was probably hurting it. It makes more sense to have Cameron and others running the store, not only to save my psyche, but also to get the store updated, because I was just losing touch. Burn out was almost inevitable after 37 years of doing it.

So that's been a trade-off.

So the point, I guess, is to keep writing--even if it means I sell 10 copies of a book I worked on for months and which I spent a $1000 producing. Treating it like I would any hobby. Fishing or Hunting or Skiing or Biking or...? Have to buy the gear, right?  It's just a different hobby than most people have.

There is the "familiarity at a distance" of the social media, which I enjoy. I like the other struggling writers, I identify with them. As I said, being a "writer" has become my identity, whether I deserve it or not.

And finally, I actually have had a few encouraging things happen. I've been paid (a little) for a bunch of books by real publishers (small, but real...)  By selling a book to a major publisher, I'm technically in the black as far as expenses. I do believe I'm getting incrementally better. So there is still a chance I could write the "great" book, the "successful book.  So I shouldn't quite give up on the possibility yet.

I just shouldn't depend on it.





Friday, March 24, 2017

I made a bunch of mistakes with my first book back. Ironically, some of them were caused by trying to avoid the mistakes I'd made in my first career.

I gave myself one firm rule. Don't rewrite until the first draft is done. 

The first mistake I made was forcing myself to finish too soon. I wrote about half the book and stalled. After several months, I went on a "writing vacation" to the Geiser Grand Hotel in Baker City. Since I'd spent the money and cleared the time, I pretty much made myself write SOMETHING. The book went off in a wild tangent with which I've had trouble with ever since.

The basic idea that I needed to finish the book was correct. It's possible if I hadn't forced the issue I might never have attempted another book--especially since I'd had several books where I'd gotten several chapters in before stopping.

But the book suddenly had a wildly different tone. I'd started off trying to be snarky, but they have a saying on Broadway; Satire is what closes on Saturday night. It's hard to feel for characters who are being smart-assed all the time. Plus if you're going to pull that off for an entire book, you'd better be pretty good.

I hadn't thought through the motivations of the characters. It's hard to go back and do that.

I knew I was in trouble when I gave it to Martha and she said, "All the characters sound like you."

The idea that I shouldn't rewrite was also more or less correct, but I should have allowed myself a few course corrections.

And though I don't outline a book, it's generally a good idea to try to think it through a little. It so easy to write yourself into a corner, and to go back and try to change is more difficult, frankly, than starting a new book.

At the same time I was forcing the book, I was also worried about length, and looked for ways to add, which also created unnecessary problems.

So ironically, I ended up with a mess of a book that was similar to the same messes I'd made 25 years before. Through a dozen or more rewrites, I've finally gotten "Fairylander" close to where it needs to be. I liked the idea and the story enough to try to do that.

I was really lucky to have stumbled upon writing the "fun" book of "Freedy Filkins." I did this for my own amusement: a cyberpunk Hobbit. It got me in the groove, made me remember how to tell a story. Same with "The Reluctant Wizard."

By the time I attempted "Death of an Immortal" I had a process in place that pretty much worked, and I've followed that process ever since, with a few refinements.

In other words, I had to go through the mistakes to get to the solutions.

But of course, I keep making mistakes. Every book has its own problems.

With "Bigfoot Ranch," I created a couple of dilemmas without meaning to.

The first is: I chose to do it in 1st person. I've avoided first person through most of my writing. For one thing, it feels too easy. For another, it restricts how much knowledge and terrain I can cover. It all has to come from one viewpoint, and that limits the scope of the book somewhat.

I've decided to add a second (3rd person) narrator, which will help, but is still somewhat limiting.

The second problem is that I decided to make it a wilderness "chase" book, which was a great idea. But now that I'm writing it I'm realizing that it will be difficult to sustain an entire book. It just isn't credible to write 35 chapters of escape. I've done about 12 chapters, and I can probably do another 8, but even that is stretching it. Add the 1st person narration and it becomes almost impossible to sustain a full book.

So there will be a transition at some point to another setting. Which I think will work fine.

I'm trying not to worry too much about length. I need 80K words minimum, but I often find myself reaching my word goal without any extra efforts. We'll see what happens. I tend to add between 10 and 15% words in the rewrites, since my problem isn't too much but too little.

I just keep telling myself to write the next chapter and it will all come out fine in the end.




Thursday, March 23, 2017

"Bigfoot Ranch" is developing differently than any other book I've written.

I mean, very book is different. Which makes sense. Writing a book is a complicated process-- there are always going to be things that I've never done before.

In "Bigfoot Ranch," I'm spending a fair amount of time going backward and filling in as I go along. Adding locations, descriptions, even characters. Normally, I'd just take notes and try to remember, which is dangerous.

I had a firm rule when I first started writing again. Never, ever rewrite until the first draft is done.

So I've loosened that rule a little. Now the hard and firm rule is "don't change the plot" until the first draft is done.

I distinguish between "change" and "adding and subtracting." Change means that the rest of the book has to change to adopt it--which is almost always a disaster. But sticking to the overall plot as written but simply adding or subtracting--most often adding--that's OK.

It does tend to dissipate a little forward momentum, though, so I have to be careful. But when the wording and the scene develops in my mind's eye, I think it's dangerous to say, "Come back later."

I've got the plot sort of ironed out for the next few chapters. It looks like I'll get thru about 60% of the way through the book with the chase scenes--when it probably should be more like 80% of the book. But I told myself not to worry about length until I'm done. More often than not, length takes care of itself.

The story feels good to me, and that's the most important motivator.



Sunday, March 19, 2017

Six mercenaries are chasing Hart. I want to winnow them down, one by one, until there are only two left.

So I have to figure out four different wilderness "tricks" to take them out.

I've thought of two so far, which aren't really wilderness tricks, but common sense. The first one is an outdoor trap, but sort of obvious, but what happens after the trap is sprung hopefully isn't.

The second trick isn't really a wilderness trick, but I'm pretty proud of it. It seems to me that it could actually work, (whereas the first trick, as in all such tricks, depends on things happening in just the right way.) It is actually based on things I know about the Strawberry Mountains and the roads up to them.

I hit 20K words yesterday, and the plot is coming along. I've figured out the contents of the box McGuffin, which I thought was rather simple and yet brilliant. I still have to figure out what deep dark secret Hart has, which Dave suggested because Hart seems too good to be true, and I have to agree.

It's just a matter of writing it.

The walk in the woods every day seems to be the trick. I have 7 spots along the way where I can sit and write some words. That's 14 overall, both ways. I mean, if I had to, I could just say--"sit here until you've written 100 words" at each station and at the end of the walk, I'd have 1400 words. Of course, what really happens is that 100 words turns into 300 words and 300 words turn into 500 words. Usually, the chapter is mostly written in the first half of the walk, upon which I can reflect on the way back and burnish and improve.

It takes a little willpower, I don't always want to do it, but if I can just force myself into the car and start the drive out there, all the rest follows.




Saturday, March 18, 2017

So I have a Facebook friend (Dave Cline) who has been providing some pretty good advice about "Bigfoot Ranch."

I'm not sure I can accommodate all the advice, but I'll need to do something close to what he's
suggesting. I think I can continue to write the book as is, because the advice all has to do with the McGuffin and the main character's motivation, which can change without changing the main character's actions, strangely enough.

Meanwhile, it looks like I might not need any super wilderness tricks after all, that some common sense evasions will be enough. I also don't appear to need any special outdoor journalist knowledge, either. I can look up a lot on Google. I'm going to still ask some people in that world to look at the manuscript and see if they have any advice, but if they can't do it, I think I can move forward anyway.

I may not actually spend as much time on the outdoors scenes as I expected anyway. I'd thought the outdoor part would be 2/3rds the book, but it may end up being more like half the book.

I'm guessing that in order to accommodate the McGuffin and motivation problems that I'm going to have to bring in the 3rd person character narration of the opening chapter throughout the book, with his own problems and adventures. I don't want him to be more than, say, 20% of the book, though.

I'm not going to worry about length. It will turn out all right, I'm pretty sure. I can usually find ways to texture in new material if I need to, and it usually actually helps the book.

It's going to be a little bit of a strange mix of humor and thriller. For instance, I have a scene where the main character is on the run, still wearing his Bigfoot costume for warmth because it has started to snow and an innocent hiker stumbles upon him and Hart jumps up and forgets he's wearing the costume and the guy screams and runs off.

Sort of funny and light. But later, Hart finds the guy dead, so not so funny. That sort of back and forth is there throughout the book. I can't help it. The trick is, I'm not trying to be funny. That would be deadly. The humor just sort of happens.

Meanwhile, my daily walk is the magic elixir for creativity. Over the last few days I've been stumped at the house, stumped in the shower, stumped at my desk, stumped napping on the bed, stumped on the drive out.

I start walking and within a quarter mile, the ideas just start flowing.

Which is both cool and scary. Because I'm afraid I've tied my writing process a little too closely to the walking, which isn't always possible.

Then again, I'm glad it's there!


Friday, March 17, 2017

I need wilderness tricks.

I've got my main character on the run in the woods, pursued by six hardened heavily armed mercenaries. So I need some believable things to happen where he manages to winnow them down one by one.

I've thought of traps, fire, rockfalls, flashfloods, bear dens, crossfire, snowfall, and so on, but whatever I do needs to sound believable.

The next half of the books things need to tighten up more and more for the hero, so that he barely survives, and is driven to more and more desperation. Then there needs to be the moment when he turns the tables on them, begins to take them out, for another third of the book, and then the final denoucement.

So far, the wilderness guide thing hasn't been as much of a hurdle as I expected, because its just been normal deer hunting, and I know how to do that.

Basically, everything from here on out is action, action, and more action.

Monday, March 13, 2017

I've noticed an uptick since the last time I mentioned this, so thought I'd give it a wiggle.

If you have Kindle Unlimited or Kindle Owner's Lending Library, you can read a bunch of my books for free--and I still get paid for every page you click!

So you can check me out painlessly.

Freedy Filkins, Fairie Punk, Blood of the Succubus, Burp the Burrow Wight, and I Live Among You, are all self published.

All pretty different kinds of books. 

"Freedy Filkins" is my cyberpunk Hobbit book, pretty light-hearted, fast read.

"Fairie Punk" is urban quest fantasy, my longest book, I thought it had a lot of originality.

"Blood of the Succubus" is sexy horror (fair warning). I do mean sex and horror.

"Burp the Burrow Wight" is a "Short Fable for Tall Children," very light.

"I Live Among You" is modern dark fantasy. Also a fast read, maybe even a little humorous?

I'm probably going to put up more of my finished books up soon because I'm realizing that going forward, I'm more likely to sell new stories to publishers than one's I've already written, strange as that sounds. 

I've allowed myself to be as quirky as I want up to now, but I'm being a little more directed right now (though still quirky, dammit.) 

 Still writing what I want but I'm paying more attention to what might sell.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

"No one goes there anymore. It's too crowded." Yogi Berra.

I've been making this joke about downtown Bend for a few years now, especially when a Bendite tells me, "I don't go downtown if I can help it."

But the aphorism seems less like a joke to me now, and more like some kind of zen wisdom.

Whenever I travel to the west side of Bend, it seems cluttered and crowded. I almost breathe a sigh of relief when I reach the wider open spaces of the east side.

Paying a whole lot more for the privilege of living on the west side always seemed kind of nutty to me. The point is to find a nice place in a nice neighborhood. I guess there is the re-sale value, but if it is a final home, I'm not sure that matters as much.

Meanwhile, Redmond adds another large percentage in what you can buy. Wandering around our new neighborhood in Redmond it just feels slower, calmer, quieter, more small town.

But you know what? As far as making a living goes, there is no comparison. Downtown Bend is the place to be. I'm astounded by the numbers of customers coming in the door these days. I'm guessing a good third of them are either vacationers or newcomers. They are what make the difference between Pegasus Books doing well or not doing well.

Maybe it takes an oldtimer like me to appreciate it. I mean, I remember playing cribbage on the sidewalk with my neighbor and commenting that we could fire a cannon down the middle of the street and not hit anyone.

And that went on for years and years.

When the rents started to shoot up, I had to make a decision. All my neighbors left, but I decided to gut it out and I'm glad I did. The increased rent was covered by the increased business, which is what you would hope for. 

So complaining about traffic or parking seems sort of stupid, you know? I'm of the camp that believes that whatever capacity you create will soon be filled. So if you have an active business or shopping district, it will feel busy and crowded.

I suppose the best of both worlds is the have the business in Bend and the home in Redmond. Anyway, that's the way it's working out.