Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bill Watterson's Kenyon College Commencement address.

Every few years, I re-read Watterson's speech. (Creator of Calvin and Hobbes). It's the best thing I've ever read about the creative life, and I've taken it to heart.

Read it and rejoice--or despair--whatever your inclination.

http://www.graduationwisdom.com/speeches/0025-watterson.htm

Friday, October 20, 2017

One of the stories I tell myself in remembering the history of Pegasus Books is that moment in the early nineties when we were in real trouble. I used to walk by the same corner near my store every morning and think, "if anything bad happens today, we're done." And every day we squeaked by.

I'm pretty sure that 9 out of 10 people would have quit. And it would have probably been a smart decision, at least on the surface.

But I had the deep conviction that I had learned my lessons, that if I didn't have ton of debt hanging over me that I could make the store work.

I was watching a program on PBS about small business at the time. I have two stories about that: the first is an episode where a young man was narrating his thoughts about his business while out fishing on a pond, and the thoughts in his head were exactly what I was thinking: and he had just gone bankrupt. It scared me.

That was the moment I went back to the store and instead of trying to compete with my cut-throat (and self-destructing competitors) I raised my prices to retail and let much of my clientele walk away. But at that moment we stopped bleeding money.

The other episode that had an impact on my thinking was an old gambler cleaning his swimming pool who had made a success of it (not my favorite example in that I think gambling is problematic) but his point was that of all his friends who'd started when he did, all of them had quit and gone on to other things.

But his thinking was; he'd gotten the hard part out of the way, that he'd learned his lessons, and just when it looked like he should quit was the moment he should go forward.

Anyway, to my present occupation: I feel I'm at the same point in my writing. At a moment when there seems to be obstacles, it's probably actually the moment when the hard work has been done and now's the time to move forward.

I recognize the same situation intellectually, but I'm in a different place emotionally. I was in my 40's back then, and it took another decade before the store really got to a profitable place. But I was willing to pay the price back then.

Now I'm 65, and I'm not sure I want to spend a decade trying to just get established. I love writing, and I see the struggle (and it's a worthy struggle and there is nothing wrong with it--in fact, it's probably what needs to happen) but I don't NEED to do that. I'm in a good place in my life, and I really like writing, and as I said earlier, publishing is totally confounding.

The biggest reason I survived in Pegasus Books was because I felt like I NEEDED to survive no matter what, that if I'd have had to work at Walmart my soul would have been crushed, that I was an odd duck that didn't fit in anywhere and couldn't really work with others and especially under bosses I didn't believe in.

I'm a self-directed person, and it frustrates the hell out of me to wait on others to get anything done.

What's wonderful about the current writing world is... you don't have to! You can do your thing. Sure, the difference in how many people read you is enormous, and there is a prestige gap, but neither of those things really have much to do with the actual writing.

So consciously, I think I'm willing to make the opposite choice I made back in the 90's. Not to quit, exactly, but not to struggle.

Just do my thing.

Where to go from here?

I'm between books.

A dangerous place for me.

I always feel confident and engaged when I'm writing. It's only when I'm not writing that doubts creep in. (Well, re-writing is the worse, when I witness the reality versus the dream.)

I'm not sure I've ever gone more than about a week after finishing one project before I've started another. Usually, I already have one lined up.

I do want to finish "The Wyvern Riders" which is on the final stretch. (My "Tales of the Thirteen Principalities" are going to be something I go back to again and again without any concern for publishing...I just enjoy them.)

After that? I'm just not sure. I could start writing anytime, but I'd like to have an idea really grab me. I usually feel compelled to write, so I'm waiting for that feeling to overcome me.

At the same time, I'm wondering if I shouldn't put some thought into it. My approach since I came back to writing has been to be open to all ideas, to say yes to everything, to not let myself talk myself out of anything.

Which is good for motivation, but maybe not so good for progressing. That is, it's been a good thing so far, but I'm not sure it's the smartest thing going forward.

What is it I want?

So I've always had sort of two tracks; what I call the "career" path and what I call the "story" path. The career path is at least being aware of whether something has a possibility of selling. The story path is not giving a damn.

However, while being aware, I haven't chosen what to write based on that. I write what I want to write when I want to write them.

Some of my favorite books are the story path: "Gargoyle Dreams" about a lovelorn gargoyle, "The Last Fedora," a golem coming to life from the love a young boy, "Fairie Punk," a travelogue of American mythology, "I Live Among You," about a serial killer who finds he is actually a hunter of evil, and so on.

Even when I've presented these ideas to publishers, after I've written them, I could tell they had zero interest.

My "career" type books I've always been aware that there might be some interest in them: "Led to the Slaughter: the Donner Party Werewolves" and "Tuskers: the Wild Pig Apocalypse" and so on. Fortunately for me, they weren't written for that reason, they were written because I was genuinely interested.

Anyway, I'm at a point where I either have to step up my efforts to get published or take a step back and just do my thing.

I'm inclined to do my thing. (Always with the possibility that something I write for myself has broader possibilities...)

Some of my best books have come from a lark. The idea of a man besieged by killer pigs started off as a joke story about a friend's garden torn up and his dogs chased by by javilinas, or an article mentioning a black sea snake washing up on the shores of California, thousands of miles from where it should be, or the idiocy of "child slave" colonies on Mars.

This is one of those moments, though, when I'm on the cusp. At a time when I want to step back, it may be the moment I should step forward. Be smart, choose the right project. I could double down.

But looking inside, I realize I don't really want go there.

In a nutshell:

Publishing is confounding and frustrating.

Writing is a joy.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Done and done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dammit, it's good.

Logical ain't always best.

Well, that was interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Reading my own book.

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

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

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




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

Then took a break.

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




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

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

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



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

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



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

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


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


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Well, I like the book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then followed up with the next chapter by putting,

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

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

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

So the first three entries look like this,

Vanessa Johnson, Events of Oct. 5

Peter Sterns, Events of Sept. 2

Joshua Calley, Events of March 10.

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

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

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Opposite of addicted?

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

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

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

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

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

"Uh, yeah. You know me...party animal."

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

Hey, eight hours of sleep.

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

That's the plan.

Friday, October 13, 2017

I sell books.

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

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

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

I sell books.




Friday the 13th is a lucky day.

My dad always said, "Friday the 13th is lucky for the Irish."

I don't where he got that, whether he just made it up, but I've always abided by it.

Linda and I went on our first date on Friday the 13th and that turned out pretty well.

So today is my birthday and I have no fear.

I've spent three days working through the edits and my eyes are sore and I was actually seeing double vision on my walk. When I'm writing, I'm only staring at the screen for a few hours. When I'm rewriting, I'm staring at the screen for most of a day.

I'd hoped to finish last night and start my final go at it tonight, but I couldn't quite manage it.

"Takeover" is my most substantial book, in terms of characterization, plot, and theme. Can't say if it's my best book, but it was a challenge and I'm very happy with the way it turned out.

One of my readers said it was "awkward" in places, and I think that's the right word. But awkward in all the best ways, if that makes any sense. I wanted it to reflect reality (of course it doesn't, but I attempted it) and part of that is seeing the action from multiple viewpoints that don't always jibe--on purpose. Like I said, a more ambitious project that I'm accustomed to trying.

Yesterday on my walk, one of my characters popped up and said, "You're not done with me." It was sparked by something my editor said, about how I'd set up a character to be a certain way but hadn't quite followed through.

I thought up three small sections that totally redeem the character and fit snugly in the existing book.

Makes me wonder. Given enough time and thought, how many more of those kinds of nice improvements could be made?

I have to decide when I've done what I can, and when I might just be overdoing it, and my sense is--other than setting this book aside for another few months and getting more readers and spending months more pondering it, I'm not sure this book needs more work. Heh.

Whatever happens, I'm proud of writing this book.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

“Make your characters want something right away even if it's only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.” 

Kurt Vonnegut.

Conceptually, the first 100 pages of Takeover were exactly what I was after. I wanted the book set in the real world, paralleling real events. I got into the heads of a bunch of different people, character sketches, really, that tell a story. There's some rich potential there, but I realized that I didn't have the chops to really pull of a serious literary work. Or perhaps I didn't have the interest. Or both.

So I turned to thriller plot about halfway through.

But that left the first 100 pages lopsided. Character development, lots of set up for the second half. The second half is all action, but there apparently wasn't enough action in the first half.

What the characters needed was motivation. They needed something they wanted beside to protest. I mean, once they were there, they'd done the protesting and all the remained were the consequences.

So now I'm back putting trying to add to the tension in the first 100 pages. Fortunately, it can be done. Just inserting a few scenes, not overbearing, but changing the tone of the story.



Later: So now that I've done that, I need to go back and slant everything in that direction.

I think I got lucky. It could have proven to be insoluble.

I'm pretty pleased with the solution I crafted. It doesn't contradict anything I've done before, just puts a different spin on them.

It does mean a detailed rewrite, but the book probably needed that anyway.

One more new scene to write and then on to the rewrite.



Finished the last new scene. I've spent three days collating all the different readers and editor suggestions. Start the rewrite tomorrow. Mostly all there.

I like this book. 

I've gotten all the feedback for "Takeover." Now I have to collate it.

It's a long slow process. Will probably take three days, at a guess.

Then a once-over lightly rewrite, adding the descriptive details I got on my trip, making sure the transitions work and the new scenes are covered.

But other than that, I like this book.

I read at writer's group. Only Pam was there, so it was more a matter of reading it aloud to someone and seeing how it sounded to me.

It sounded very smooth. I liked the characterizations and the interactions. It was more than fine.

I think I may have reached a point where I'm writing what I think is good material and have nowhere to send it, no way to get it noticed.

So be it. I know what I accomplished and I'm proud of it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

When you like it and readers don't.

Wrote final scene of "Takeover" and I'm now working on beta reader and editor suggestions. Long and slow and arduous  and most often results in merely incremental improvements, but every little bit helps. Will probably take 3 or 4 days to get this done, then on to the rewrite on Friday. Going to to finish that within about 10 days and then be done.

I like this book. I like the way I did it. I like the characterization, the plot, the writing. It's one of the few times that I've liked a book that others have expressed doubt about. In fact, I like the very parts they didn't like.

I was able to add some stuff to the first half of the book without changing its focus, but I'm not doing more than that. Admittedly, I'm asking for a bit more patience on the part of the reader, but that's what makes the payoff in the end. At least, that's what I think.

Most of the readers thought the first half of the book was slow. I have to take them at their word.

Here's the thing: the setup of the first half and the characterization were built into the very premise.

Now I've always hated it at writer's group when there is a consensus that there is something wrong with a story that can be fixed but the writer says, "But I MEANT to do that. It's on PURPOSE!"

Rarely are these excuses valid. (This isn't usually a case of a huge misunderstood talent but simply lack of experience.)

Most often, it's because the writers aren't willing to kill their darlings. Sometimes you can't convince them they're shooting themselves in the foot. It's hard enough to get accepted, why make it harder? Many are simply beginner mistakes, which because they refuse to change will remain beginner mistakes because that's as far as they'll ever get.

Take the advice and fix it.

Nevertheless, I am using that defense.  I MEANT to do that. It's on PURPOSE!

Anyway, with this book I started off with a certain premise. I'd take a group of characters who I'd try to make as realistic as I can, put them in a realistic situation, have them interact, and out of that would come the plot.

All I knew was that there would be a murder and that a badder group of bad guys would come in so that the hostages and the original occupiers had to band together to survive.

But other than that, I wanted the plot to develop naturalistically.

Here's the thing: you can't be realistic and have a gun fight every ten pages. You can do that in a murder mystery or a thriller, and even though that's what I was what I was calling this book,  I found that the action had to flow from what the characters were doing.

As it happened, it took 100 pages to develop the scenario where the second half of the book was at least feasible.

100 pages of setup and 140 pages of payoff.

I personally feel there is enough going on, enough intrigue and interpersonal conflict, to make it work.

But I can't ignore that a bunch of people don't feel that way.

This is my second attempt at writing a realistic, non-supernatural book. Both The Scorching and Snaked were non-supernatural, but they had some largely fantastical elements. Big Stuff.

Both "Deadfall Ridge" and "Takeover" are more human sized. Mystery and thriller.

What I'm learning is, the for me the supernatural and fantastical elements are a bit of a crutch. I mean, I wasn't using them that way. It's my natural bent. But in trying to write human-sized stories, I'm realizing how easy it was to spice up a story by introducing some fantastical element.

So I'm learning.

But this book was a stretch and that's a good thing and if it's a failure (and as I said, I think it's the best thing I've done) then I think it was a noble effort.

I'm just going to say this right here: I think it's a good book the way it is. I added a couple of action scenes in the first half which I don't think hurt, and I do think the second action scene provides better motivation for the next 50 pages or so, so that was good.

But I'm not going to try to bend the structure more than this.

It's good.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Feeling good about the changes to "Takeover."

I added three new scenes, two of which were action scenes. But even more importantly, I re-framed the motivations by putting the park rangers in danger sooner.

But I also had to move sections around to make the new scenes work, and it's nearly impossible for me to see this objectively. I've asked some people to read the first 75 pages -- again -- to see if I pulled it off.

The new material itself I think is pretty good. I just don't know if it fits properly, or more to the point, whether the surrounding material fits.

I haven't really started the "editing" part of the rewrite yet. This was all structural. I know I want to slant the book in the first half toward more foreshadowing and danger, and I think I can do that with the new structure.

It's so hard to know when you make changes whether you're improving or detracting from the original story. My overall sense it that these are good changes. If there are problems with the first half, they may be in the original concept, which I'm not willing to give up.

I may just have to ask for the readers patience until the plot really kicks in.

Yeah, I know, good luck with that. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Heading for the John Day Fossil Beds.

Taking my long delayed research field trip to the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument.

I fantasize about walking in and saying, "Hey, what would you do if someone came in and took over the place?"

I see the park ranger hitting the panic button.

"Hey, if you don't mind saying, how many people work here and where do you sleep?"

Park ranger backs away, signals to coworkers.

"Do you guys have security measures?"

Cops flood the place.  "Up against the wall, motherfucker!"

"But I'm a WRITER!"


I wrote the book based on my visit a couple of years ago, and while I don't believe it's necessary to be accurate in every detail, it wouldn't hurt to add a few descriptive details and soak up the atmosphere and surroundings.

Walked into the visitor center, notebook in hand, looking for my pen. That turned into an easy entry into the topic of my book. So much for being coy.

The "interpretive ranger" at the counter was friendly at first, but when I explained more about my story she got a little antsy. She turned me over the the "chief paleontologist" who was very chatty. He quickly answered my questions. Probably was, I hadn't thought of enough questions in advance, so I let him talk and tried to learn details that way.

Then they let me wander around with my notebook, drawing maps and diagrams of the place and taking notes.

An extremely fruitful session. Probably won't change much in the book. I'd guessed correctly about a lot, but this nailed down some of the details. It will make a nice grounding to the story. I got some of the correct terminology that should help add to the verisimilitude of the story.

The biggest difference between the book and the actual location was that the interpretive center is surrounded by hills. Not a lot of places to camp. There are some relative flat spots in front of the place, that will have to do. I figure the barricade will be set up in front of the Cant House which is across and diagonal from the center.

Not an unworkable problem.

I decided to visit the Clarno unit of the monument and oh, boy. I didn't realize it would take me an hour and a half out of the way on very, very winding roads. Which wouldn't have been so bad if I'd started the day a couple hours sooner, but the last two hours of the drive were in the dark, so didn't even get to see the wonderful scenery.

Six hours on the road. But what fun. Eastern Oregon really is a marvel. 




Saturday, October 7, 2017

This is deep into the process.

I'm feeling my way on "Takeover." Sort of dipping into the manuscript as things occur to me. Moving about the manuscript, trying to sense where it needs help and what can be left alone.

I did have to move some sections around yesterday, which I really didn't want to do. But I've changed the motivations--which I think are much stronger--and that requires my changing the sequence slightly. It will mean the last rewrite is just making sure the tone is correct all the way through.

But so far, I'm taking a very tentative, light touch to it. Adding stuff only when I'm certain. Making sure I'm good with every change. Letting my subconscious work on it.

I've got two action scenes to write, and that will probably be the easiest part of the whole process. It's the in-between and surrounding material that needs to be adjusted and that's much harder.

I'm not totally sure the second action scene is absolutely necessary. I'm plopping it into a slower section of the story, and it will have one of the stronger character's POV. It won't hurt to write it. It can always be taken back out if it's too much or too out of place.

I'm treating this more as a synthesis of tone and ideas than a flat change, if that makes sense. In a way, it reminds me of the way I used to write term papers. I'd always assemble a bunch of ideas, then just sort of string them together, and then step back and wait for the pattern to emerge. Most often a solution would present itself.

I figure that every time I dip into the story, I'm improving it slightly. Most of all, I'm trying to maintain the original tone and intention. Yes, I want it more exciting. Yes, I want it to pull the reader forward. But I don't want any cheap theatrics or drama or action. I'm still trying the maintain the "real" feel.

The last rewrite will be when I've done all the things I think I need to do, the right pieces in the right places, then sit down to make sure it's all consistent, page by page. That's a more critical, methodical process.

In a way, with this "dipping into the manuscript" I'm trying to retain the original fictional dream, to keep the creative part of the process, and holding back the "critical" parts. I know, in the end, I'll have to do a good old-fashioned mechanical rewrite, but I'm holding off as long as I can stand it.

 LATER: 

Read Linda the changes to "Takeover."

"You're re-framing the motivations," she said.

"Yes! That's it!"

I love it when there is a clarifying phrase. That's exactly what I'm trying to do. I'm putting the characters in danger earlier, basically, which is a huge improvement and changes the whole tone of the first half. Such an easy change, once I realized it. 

The beginning motivation of the main characters is to protest, but that isn't a strong enough motivation to carry the first half of the book. In the second half of the book I put them in danger and that works much better.

But I can put them in danger much earlier in the book, and that's what I'm trying to do. It shines a new light on what everyone in the story is doing. 

Nice.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Afraid I'll muck it up.

Starting the rewrite for "Takeover" today.

I have three new scenes I want to write. Part of me wants to just write them and then look for where to put them. Another part of me thinks I ought to read the book and figure out where to best place them.

Don't be lazy, Duncan.

Rewriting is all mental, man.



All right, cogitated all day and didn't get anywhere. Two of the action scenes would have to take place right after each other, which won't help as much as I thought. Both about 40 pages in.

So I'll have to pick one of them.

The second action scene needs to be shoehorned in at about 80 pages in.  It can be done, if I'm crafty enough.

Rewriting is all about being crafty, man.



Next day: Didn't write anything yesterday. Had some ideas, got a general sense of where the new scenes could fit, but I don't think I nailed it down. I think I don't want to write anything until I've got it nailed down.

Problem is, a bunch of phrases and scenes came to me that I didn't write down and now I'm afraid I might have lost them. I think the trick might be to carry a physical notebook around and write those down when they come to me.

Rewriting is all about being flexible, man.



I just can't get anything going at home. I don't know why. So I may just head out into the woods with a thermos and a sandwich and see what happens.




I've never before had this happen: I'm afraid of the rewrite, not because I don't want to do it but because I'm afraid I'll muck it up. I think this book has great potential, and if I'm really patient and coax out as much of the potential as possible, it could be a really good book.

Rewriting is all about being patient, man.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The feedback I'm getting on "Takeover" is that the second half of the book is terrific, but the first half is a little draggy. (In fact, two different editors mentioned that it's the strength of the second half that reveals the weakness of the first...which is a backhanded compliment if there ever was one.)  So if a person reads the whole book they'll like it, but if they can't get to the second half, they won't. Not good.

I'm really really leery of messing with the structure of the book. I almost always feel like it's two steps forward and three steps back. I could move up a couple of action scenes from later in the book, date them, and then go back to the original structure, but that can be tricky and confusing and dating the entries is sort of clunky.

But the reaction of "meh" to the first half was pretty unanimous, so I need to address that.

I've thought of several additional scenes that I think will spice it up. If I can get away with this, that would be great. I'm not sure, though, that adding more to something that is slow is a solution.

In the course of rewriting I'll see if I can cut small bits, and reinforce some of the motivations. Introduce the danger much sooner in the story. The thing about this book is that each character is in their own head so that stuff can be added and subtracted without inconsistency.

I think it can be done, but I have to be very very careful I don't fuck it up. I need to keep a light touch, I think. Not do anything too drastic.

I do think I probably opened myself up to too much critique. The wider the aperture the more that enters. Mustn't get discouraged.

Most of all remember that my own feelings for the book count the most, even above the selling of the book, strange as that may sound. I like the first half of the book, but I can see spots where it can be improved without taking away from what I like, so I'll do that much and no more.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Pondering the meaning of it all.

I'm sort of speechless.

Don't that make you feel mortal.

I never bought a Tom Petty record even though I liked him a lot. But he was always there as a soundtrack to my life.

Los Vegas--I can't bear to think about it, much less talk about it. My God. 

Writing seems unimportant in some ways, and yet it is at the core of who I am these days. Nothing to be done? I lived through the '60's and somehow this feels worse. At least back then you could believe the pain was leading to some kind of progress.



The rest is boring writing stuff...

I haven't been writing for a couple of weeks now. I feel exposed to the real world and it ain't pretty. I getting ready to dive back into the fictional dream as soon as possible.

But first, I need to finish the rewrite of "Takeover."

Turns out, many of the readers don't like the first half of the book or think it's slow. I had someone in writer's group say, "boring stuff about losers" or something like that. She also literally laughed and continued laughing at a scene that was supposed to be serious.

It took me a week or so to absorb that hit.

I'm going to be a bit stubborn about this book. The goal was to try to make this feel like a real event, and that means I can't go for cheap theatrics. I have a couple of ideas of how to beef up the first half of the book in ways that won't subvert that goal.

Up to now I've accepted almost all criticism of my writing. Most often, I've tried to address it. But I think the more I open myself up, the more likely it is that doubts will eventually overwhelm me. Time to dial that back, I think.

There is time to be willing to accept critique and there is time to go your own way.

I see people at writer's group and elsewhere reject basic criticism of stuff every writer needs to learn. All they're really doing is making it that much harder for themselves. But I've got 35 books behind me and I've absorbed a lot, even if I can't always get there. But it isn't a matter of not trying hard enough.

Premise and story are way more important than I originally thought, and the actual writing is less important.

Actually, I don't think that is strictly true. Writing is what makes the premise and story work, but remains invisible to most readers. Good writing isn't noticed and bad writing is. So the goal is to at least not be bad, and then just try to be as good as you can.

So if premise and story are most important, followed by execution, then it becomes something of a crapshoot whether the premise and story are going to appeal to anyone else. It's also a bit of a gamble that the inspiration will carry all the way through the book. I don't think I've ever got all the way through a book feeling completely inspired.

So the hope is that I'll nail it one day. I've come close a few times, in my own estimation. A few of my books have turned out better than I could have ever expected 7 years ago when I first came back.

Whether anyone will ever notice it is another story.

I've also had the experience over the last couple of books of writing the book I wanted and feeling like I got it right--and finding other people don't like what I've done. That hasn't happened before--for most of the time I've been writing my own estimation of a story matched the general acceptance. I'd have to agree with the ratings of most of my books (though there are been some unfair ones.)

I've also had the repeated experience of writing the book I wanted and not having people be interested in the premise enough to read it. I've accepted that. I'll write what I want when I want.

So I may have hit a glass ceiling to my abilities.

Then again every book is a new thing. 


Monday, September 25, 2017

My God We're Stocked.

This is pure bragging. (Knock Wood.)

But Pegasus Books is stocked to the max.

The question that always put a stab in my heart was "Is this all you got?"

(Well, you can always have more and people are always asking and there are no end of things we could carry, but at least I can give a glance askew.)

For years there wasn't much I could do about it. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is a long and difficult process. I borrowed money a few times and that helped boost the business, until the debt dragged down further growth.

But you just keep pounding away at it, bringing in a little more than you sell, month after month, year after year. You accept 10 or 15% less operational profit in order to build the inventory.

And then you add another product line and the whole thing starts over again.

Eventually, Pegasus Books got so much stuff that the 1000 sq. ft. space was bursting at the seams. And still I kept getting stuff, trying to be more and more ergonomically creative. I looked for product that could be stacked: games and books. I have high ceilings so I have used most of the space over 8 feet high for toys.

In 1984, I started with comics, tried games several times, and used books, did collector cards for many years then dropped them, tried games again, and toys, and the final piece of the puzzle, new books. That seems to be the point where the store became self-sustaining, and the inventory in all the categories became adequate, and now it's just trying to make it better.

Yes, it can be overwhelming when you walk in the door. Yes, there isn't much space for outward display. I figured that we were better off having a product than being able to display it outwardly.

It would be great to display things more prominently, I could probably fill a space five times our size, but then downtown Bend did this unexpected thing.

It became popular.

I drive up to the store on an overcast Tuesday in September and the streets are packed. I mean, I could have only dreamed of that 30 years ago. There is no way I'm leaving if I can help it, which means I have to keep trying to make the space work.

But sometimes I look around the store and I'm dazzled by it.

Very cool and very satisfying.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

"I could make it longer if you like the style. I can change it 'round..."

I've now rewritten the first 50 pages of "Deadfall Ridge" three times. I'm happy with it. I cut 15 pages or 5000 words.

I've edited the next 130 pages to fit the changes, with about 80 pages left to do.

I think it's better. I know I like the main character more. Hart Davis makes more sense. That's pretty important. I think I like him enough to try another book with him as the main character. I have three books sort of in the planning for what I'm calling, "The Strawberry Mountain Mysteries."

"Deadfall Ridge."
"Butcher's Cut."
"Massacre Spring."
 
I believe this is enough of an improvement to send along to the publisher I originally sent it to. They haven't responded in 3 months, so who knows what's going on. But I'll take the chance that maybe they were on the fence and my improvements will tip the balance. Equally plausible is that they didn't like it and why am I bothering them with a rewrite? Heh.

Meanwhile, I'm waiting another 10 days before tackling the rewrite of "Takeover." (Which is a separate stand-alone thriller.) Even the distance I have now, which is roughly 3 weeks, has given me some fresh perspective. I have a general idea of how I can improve the first 100 pages.

"Snaked" is coming out in 4 days!!!!

"Snaked" is a good book, if I do say so myself, probably my most professional. Cohesion is a proactive publisher. I've got my hopes up a little. They've got some great selling sea monster books, but the authors are better known than me, so there's that.

"Tuskers IV" was supposed to come out on August 1. I think it's a very satisfying conclusion to the saga, and I'm pretty pleased with what has become my Magnum opus.  (I've now asked Ragnarok to postpone it for a couple of months to let "Snaked" have the stage to itself. Or it could pop up any day.)

Onward.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Asking for critique is dangerous.

I'll preface this by saying the books I've released are pretty good in my opinion. Some are really good. I didn't release them until I was sure about them.

But, well, a writer can always get better.

Some examples:

1.) Editor mentions a problem in my writing, I ask him to explicate, he provides examples.

SCORE!

"That's exactly what I'm asking for," I tell him.

2.) I send a book to several beta-readers, and most of them think there is a specific problem. I ask the editor who didn't think there was a problem and she says,

"Well, actually, now that you mention it..."

3.) I send a book to another reader, who tells me how great I am in some parts and how stupid I am in others. "You need not to be so lazy when you can be so good."

 "It's not that I'm lazy sometimes and not lazy other times, it's that sometimes the words come...but point taken."

Overall, what I'm saying here, is after a run of getting mostly line-editings and copy-editings, I've started to ask for more structural editing, and somewhat to my surprise, I'm getting tougher critique. I've always had a few readers who were willing to point out problems, and almost all readers will venture opinions, but mostly editors and readers try to be supportive.

Turns out, if you scratch under the surface a little, these criticisms pop up. Or maybe I've just assembled a crew of readers who are willing to be more critical. 

I find myself doubting my abilities at the same time I recognize the problems.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

If I want to get better, I think it's a good thing. If it becomes too much and it discourages me from writing, then not so good. (If I sense this happening, I'll back off.)

Overall, I think the time has come to slow down. Now so much at the writing, because I've got a good pace going there, and I do believe that once in the throes of the fictional dream it's best to stay there, and the biggest lesson I've learned is to finish a book before I start thinking about substantive changes.

But I've also found that the more time that passes between the first draft and the second draft, the fresher it is to me, the more context I have, and the more willing I am to make changes. Sometimes the problems just become very clear and the solutions just present themselves.

For instance, it's been 3 or 4 months since I finished "Deadfall Ridge." I thought I was done with it, but I had some time--not coincidentally because I'm trying to give "Takeover" a breather--and I picked it up and the solution to a problem I'd sensed about the beginning became clear and I  killed my darling second chapter, rearranged the first 50 pages, tightened it up, and damn if it isn't a better book.

I've also recently had the example of "Snaked" where the publisher asked for rewrites or changes 3 times and was probably right in all of them. I couldn't see the problems until they pointed them out, but once I addressed them, I was forced to acknowledge the improvements.

In case you think I'm a wuss about this--most writers I know can't accept critique at all, much less this level. I think I'm pretty good about it, despite my grousing. 

"Faerylander" is probably the biggest example. I've been fiddling with this book for 5 years now, and each time I've come back to it--sometimes after years--I've improved it.

I don't know if this is the best thing to do for a beginning writer--I think actually writing and finishing books and moving on is probably the best training there is. But for someone who has now written 35 books, 15 of which are traditionally published, another 10 indy published (not done yet), I can afford to let time pass between releases.

I have a small "in" with a major publisher for a thriller, and I don't want that door to close (the door is open maybe half an inch, heh) so there is a little time constraint. I'm going to send the new version of "Deadfall Ridge" to him though I'd already sent a draft that was presented as finished.

But I'm going to put off the rewrite to "Takeover" for a few more weeks than I intended. The more time I take, the better. I can finish up "The Wyvern Riders" in the meantime.

I'm getting feedback for "Takeover" and by request the critique is probably more substantial than usual and as unpleasant as that can sometimes, as dangerous to my ego, I think it's a good thing.

For now...





Thursday, September 21, 2017

I'm a bookstore, too.

The Bulletin has a nice article about local independent bookstores this morning.

I feel a little bit uninvited to the party.

Pegasus Books is selling a significant number of books. Not just comics and graphic novels, but what most people would consider regular books. In fact, in August, 30% of our overall sales were books.

But few of the locals seem to know or care. I think even my regulars are blind to it. We are a certain kind of store to them and that appears to be impossible to change.

But it doesn't seem to matter.

See, what happens is that tourists walk in the door and they see lots of good books and oddly enough they think we're a bookstore. If we have books they want, they buy them. So it doesn't matter in a way what the locals think or whether the local paper covers us.

The proof is in the sales, and we've go those. The more attention I spend on new books, the more we sell. We're selling eight times the amount of books as my original goal.  I started off rather haphazard about it but the response was so positive that I expanded and then I expanded again.

All of this while retaining our reputation as a comic book store among the locals. For which I'm thankful. But we've been doing a good job on comics for 37 years now, and adding new books hasn't hurt that effort at all, in fact, it may have helped.

But the books sell only to those who wander into the store.

Why don't I advertise the fact? Because once you gain a certain reputation it is almost impossible to reverse. The Bulletin article is an example of that. No one though to mention us to the reporter. Probably because no one knows, even other bookstores.

The only proof of selling books in my store is that books sell in my store.

I doubt this will ever change, but as long as Pegasus Books is downtown with the thriving tourist trade it may not matter.

I will say that we carry only fiction. What we've got is choice. Classics, and cult books, and quirky books, and just books that seem interesting.

I kind of kick myself for being scared off of books for so many years. Books are so much easier to order and sell than comics are. Comics are considerably more complex and risky. I held off trying books for most of our existence because of the Book Barn. I didn't want to hurt our longterm neighbors. But once I started off with a small selection, I was astounded by how easy they went out the door. 

If I put a copy of Dune, or the Alchemist, or The Princess Bride, or hundreds of other titles out on the bookshelves--they'll go.

I've gotten accounts with both Baker & Taylor and Ingrams, the two largest distributors, and I now make regular orders--but I still haven't been focused on them as much as I could. I'm thinking about rearranging the store to make room for more new books. My guess it that they could be half our sales with a little more effort.

Ah, well. We don't have the "bookstore" aura, but maybe we don't need it.

All we got are books.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Am I obsessive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I have to be careful.

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



Sunday, September 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deadfall Ridge is fixed....(?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Hearing the truth about my writing.

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

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

But other times I run into roadblocks. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So...going forward.

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

Thursday, September 14, 2017

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

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

Duncan and Linda like the book the way it is.

But those three votes against can't be ignored.

So I'm not sure what to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

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

I'm pretty proud of myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do they feel at night?


Tuesday, September 12, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

I'm really curious to see what happens.

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


 

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

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

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

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





Weird waves of nostalgia.

I'm not really retired. I still have Pegasus Books, and I still need to worry about keeping it solvent. I just took a step back to do more writing. It was time to take a step back anyway, Cameron and my other employees are so much fresher, more enthusiastic behind the counter.

I'd thought I'd be more involved in the day to day, but Cameron is doing such a good job that I've been able to let go. I never was a workaholic, though I may have spent 25 years exhibiting all the symptoms. That was because it took everything I had to keep the store alive.

Once the store became self-sustaining, I was able to slack off a little, let it find its way, policies in place, and most importantly, good people minding the store.

I still felt entangled in day to day reality, though, as long as we lived in Bend. I was in a bit of rut, frankly. Moving to Redmond has uprooted my routines, made me establish new ones. It's much quieter here, and the outdoors is closer and more available and varied.

Go to the mountains in Bend and it takes 45 minutes in heavy traffic into the Deschutes National Forest to get anywhere where you might be alone. Or 15 minutes into the desert.

The feeling is night and day from my childhood in Bend. 13,000 people, almost no one when you went into the woods, turning on your brights at night and/or passing cars between Bend and Redmond. Days on the river, wandering the banks from one end of town to the other. Walking down dusty streets on the west side, skipping through empty lots into the west hills which were wild and empty.

Bend is being loved to death.

For the past several years, I've been more than satisfied being a desert rat, but now I've discovered that I'm only 45 minutes away from the Ochoco National Forest. And there is almost no one there. Huge Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs and roads leading into the hills that are alone and quiet.

At the same time, I'm back to writing fantasy. I'm back to having hours in the day where I don't need to do anything.

I'm getting these weird waves of nostalgia, remembering back to my teenage years where the days and months and years seemed endless and I'd spend entire afternoons daydreaming and reading and listening to music and just doing nothing but thinking. That weird kid in the attic reading books.

The way I'm feeling now is much closer to that young kid than to the overworked, over-stressed man who ran Pegasus Books for 25 years. (I'll leave out the "lost" decade between my teens and my thirties when I was stuck in depression and its aftermath...) With the advantage of not worrying about the future and not have strange hormonal surges.

Like I said, it's strange. Unexpected. Delightful.

Knock wood, that it will be like this for awhile. I finally feel confident enough to go ahead and delve into an epic fantasy project. Surprisingly, I feel no need to have it published. I just want to play, to daydream, to let that nostalgic warm feeling wash over me.

I've spent five years testing the publishing world. I think I have a pretty good handle on it, and I'm still open to a "career-like" approach if opportunities arise. I'm also pretty sure I don't want to bang my head on the wall trying to make it happen.

After 35 books, I feel no burning desire to prove to myself I can do it. I've made a little money, had some good reviews.

So from here on out, it's fun only.  Not that it hasn't been fun all along. But there has been the constant distraction and delays of publication versus the actual writing. I will give myself credit for writing what I want to write when I want to write it, but the writing world and the publishing world (which really is the marketing and publicizing world) can't exist in the same place at the same time. Every day I spend on the latter is a day I'm not spending on the former.

So I'll continue my opportunism, for which I've been really lucky so far.

But I'm also going to quit worrying about it.

I'm going to indulge in these weird waves of nostalgia and be grateful for it. 



Monday, September 11, 2017

Weird kid alone in the attic with his books.

I'm having fun with "The Wyvern Riders." It's a bit of a mess because I'm making it up as I go along. I will need to do some sort of reference book for the Thirteen Principalities as the mythos gets more convoluted.

This story has a different story arc than normal. I don't really introduce the villains until 2/3rds of the way in, and they will be a distant threat to the end. I haven't plunged the characters into danger. I haven't done most of the things "those who know how to write" tell me I should do.

Which is fine. I'm only trying to please myself. Frankly, I don't want all the drama. I just want an adventure story.

This is sort of my declaration of independence.

I can see how I'm probably going to settle into this slower pace, this inner pace, this just doing what I want when I want. I can see how it will be both a defeat and a victory, because the defeat was doing what wasn't all that fun, and the victory is not having to do it.

I'm going to create an entire world. By writing it, by doing it. By taking note of what I've done and making sure it fits the rest of the stories. This is very satisfying in a weird, young kid alone in his attic room sort of way.

That weird kid alone in his attic room was where this all came from. In 1964, I didn't know anyone else who read fantasy. In fact, modern fantasy as we know it didn't really exist yet. Tolkien lit the fire and a million fantasy writers were born.

 I sought it out, read everything I could, went backward and forward and sideways and just studied the whole genre, especially its history. When I did start running into other SF or fantasy readers, I realized most of them had no real context, no real awareness of the history.

I got so immersed in it that I burned myself out. I walked away. Every fantasy seemed to same to me, just an endless string of Tolkien knockoffs. Spent 30 years reading everything else, mostly mysteries and thrillers, some SF, non-fiction, historicals, etc.

When I came back to writing, I thought I'd be writing fantasy, but instead found the horror genre was much more open to invention.

I still think that.

But in my heart, my first love is fantasy.

I don't really know if the fantasy of the Thirteen Principalities is standard or strange or something in-between. The point is, it doesn't matter, because I've written so much in the past six years that I can finally just delve into my stories without worrying about it.

Nurturing an entire fictional world is going to be fun. Like I said yesterday, I wanted to live in Middle Earth.

This is even better, really, because it's MY world.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Walked two miles up on winding roads into the Ochoco Mountains. It takes a 45 minute drive to get there, but it isn't wasted, because the drive is beautiful and it gives me time to think.

Then I sit down, with the idea of writing 1000 words, at least, and usually ending up with more than that. Surrounded by groves of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. Quiet, peaceful, solitary. No human sounds, not even airplanes. Chipmunks around every corner, running for cover, fat butts and tail in the air. No mosquitoes or flies. Just about perfect.

I love it.


Wrote a chapter. 1500 words.

It's kind of a goofball story, but I think that's part of the appeal. Letting my fantasy freak flag fly. I don't want to overthink it. I'm also in no hurry. I see a lot of rewriting in my future, if I can ever get around to it. Writing for the fun of it. Just building this world story by story.

It's clear to me that world building isn't my favorite thing, except as it arises in the story. So that means I have to go back to earlier stories and put that information in. I need to write this world down as I go along, so that I have a reference guide.

I need to make it internally consistent.

But I can see myself dwelling in this world for a few years, becoming completely comfortable there. In a way, I'm getting my biggest wish. I always wanted to live in Middle Earth.

Well, I can't do that, but I can live in the Thirteen Principalities. So that's like the next best thing. Maybe even better, when I really think about it.

I've been surprised at how I've written so much stuff based in the real world. I mean, I think I can tell a story and I rather like not having to build a world but using the real world as the background.

But now I think I'm ready to attempt to create a new place, like but unlike any other place. Where anything I want to happen can happen. It's a bit of fairy, really. I get lost there and time passes and the real world takes on a different look.

I'm ready for that. I can delve into that without the necessities of earning a living. I can live in the creative dream and just soak it up. Very strange.

In a way, I think I'm doing what most fantasy authors probably do. Figure it all out and write a novel or a series of novels. Except I'm doing it by writing shorter pieces, discovering more about my world as I go along. As long as I don't publish them there is no canon, nothing that has to be explained or contradicted later. I always expected to spend a few years on my fantasy opus. I just expected to write a trilogy, or something.

Which could still happen once I've worked out all the kinks.

Right now, I don't really have a Big Bad. I have the Mirror God, but the bad to the Mirror God is mankind's own behavior. I think I need something on the other end of the scale. But not your typical Dark Lord sort of thing. Something as unusual as the Mirror God.

The trick, I think, is not to worry about being published. The moment I start thinking that way, it skews my thinking. I like this living in this fantasy world on my own terms.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Not writing for 4 days, sinking ever deeper into despair. What's the use! It's all for nothing! May as well give up!

The only cure for that is to write.

Got in my car and followed the O'Neil highway to the end, knowing it ended up in Prineville, but not sure what path it took. A 20 minute drive to Prineville. Kept going, ended up in the Ochoco's. Alone with the smoke. Actually, the smoke wasn't too bad, so went for my walk.

Picked up my Thirteenth Principality story, "The Wyvern Riders," and it went off in an unexpected direction. (One advantage to coming back to it months later.) Really liked what I wrote, but on the way back home realized that I don't really have a bad guy in this story--or even a real menace.

And you know what? I'm fine with that. I'm exploring this world, having adventures, and these stories are going to be my playground.

In other words, the point of this series is to have fun. To write for my own self. I love fantasy, but I've always had trouble with the idea of writing gargantuan novels, as is normally done.  These shorter stories set in the same world are just the right approach for me. In the end, I may have as many words as some of these huge fantasy novels, but just written in shorter increments.

These are meant to be a series of novellas, set in the same world, with some of the same characters but not always, and in no particular order. So far, they've been about 30K words each, but I've decided if they go less than that or more than that, it's fine. Eventually they will all be collected. I have a vague idea of writing 13 of these stories, but that isn't necessary. 

Each story I write in this world is fleshing it out. I'm realizing that things that happen in the second story will need to be accounted for in the first book, and things happening in the third story will need to be accounted for in the first two books.

In other words, I'm world building by writing, but because I've not published them and thus bound them in concrete, I can continue to build up the backstory as I go along.

Kinda cool.

After years of avoiding shorter pieces, "FREE MARS!" and "Said the Joker, to the Thief" are two of my favorite stories. Whether they are marketable is another story.

I'm sort of trapped by my small success. I need to give each publisher their own space, make sure each book has a debut, and then support. I can't just go throwing stories online.

But someday, when the thread I've been following breaks, I'll be free to just start putting stuff up. 


Monday, September 4, 2017

"Takeover" is finished. First draft, 84,000 words.

I'm giving it a month of rewrites, and then sending it off.

I think it's a good book. It's different than anything I've done. Reality based, if you will. That is, there are few fantastical and or whimsical elements.Yet the subject matter is expansive enough to be interesting in its own right. In fact, I believe it's probably over my head to some extent, deserves more than I can give it, but I'm the one writing it so I'm giving it my best.

Even the non-supernatural books I've written: "Scorched," "Snaked," "Deadfall Ridge," still have strong elements of genre. Disaster movie motifs, whimsical or humorous bits, Hollywood-y action. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

This book is a series of character sketches thrust into a real situation, and then trying hard to get honest reactions and consequences from that initial act. It's amped up from what happened at the Malheur bird refuge occupation; with a murder and a takeover by domestic terrorists added.

I'm sending this to a mainstream publisher, but if he doesn't take it, I'm thinking this might be the book to try and go out and get an agent with.

Or maybe not. I'm not sure I have the gumption.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Another boring process blog.

Five days ago I thought I was 3 chapters and a short epilogue from finishing "Takeover." 4 chapters later, I'm 2 chapters and a short epilogue from finishing.

This is good, I think. I've always had a tendency to rush endings, and this just means that I'm fully fleshing it out. They're relatively short chapters, action oriented. The final chapter is the most important, so that's looming.

I'd hoped to be done by Sept. 1, but obviously, it will take a few extra days. New goal, by Labor Day.


Later:

Wasted a day. A relative visited and we took him out to lunch at Brother Jon's, and had a nice hamburger and the heat was so bad I didn't go for walk and the day went by and nothing.

Watched Narcos, which was great, and Defenders, which was meh.

Going for a walk early this morning while it's still cool, try to get the penultimate chapter written. Push it on through.

As I've mentioned before, I'll probably leave the epilogue until after the rewrite, since it seems to benefit from the extra time on reflecting what it all means. 

I will put this aside for two weeks, come back and rewrite the last 10 chapters first, then go to the beginning of the book and rewrite it all the way through.

I've subtly and not so subtly reminded my big mainstream editor about this several times now, hinted that I can take whatever news he has to give me on "Deadfall Ridge" and tried to entice him with "Takeover" but I've gotten no answers.

I've chosen to believe that no news is good news.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Writer's group didn't love my book last night.

That's it, I quit! (just kidding.)

The criticism was in three parts.

1.) Too many characters.
2.) Moving away from witness statements to actual scenes.
3.) Not enough action.

Thing is, all three are legit critiques, and...I have no intention of changing them. You have to understand--I'm usually willing to change most anything I write. For some reason, this book is different. This book is more personal somehow.

1.) Too many characters. I've done this over my last several books, especially with "The Scorching," "Snaked," and now "Takeover." I see it as a kind of disaster movie ensemble. It keeps it interesting to me and keeps the plot moving.

2.) Moving away from "witness statements" to actual scenes: guilty. I made this conscious choice to move into "plot" at this point in the book. I simply didn't see any way to progress the story without doing so. One of the writer's group people more or less winked at me and said, "Maybe you can get away with it."

The idea of having the witness statement "lead" into a scene doesn't really work, I think. A little too tricky. Most of the statements and the scenes are too interlinked and I'd have to find a way to denote the two techniques and I can't see a way to do it without being intrusive.

So I will indeed be trying to get away with it.

3.) Not enough action. When I made the decision to try to make this as "real" as possible, I more or less precluded the idea of Hollywood action scenes every few chapters. I'd hoped the character development would be enough. I'm not going to change that now.

I suspect if I send this to editors, I'll get pretty much the same criticism, so I'm thinking of skipping that part. Just sending it raw to the publisher. The flaws in this book may be inherent. I think I'm over my head.

It also reads very smoothly. Not as much editing there needed. So...

At the same time, I really like what I've done and feel that is good as it is. I understand that my feelings don't count, it's the readers feelings that count, and I could tell about 12 pages in that the writer's group was bored, and I stopped short of the 16 pages I intended to read. But I wasn't bored, I liked it.

I'm going with this book the way I want it and if that means it doesn't get published, so be it. I think it's a good book the way I wanted to write it. That's really what I ask of myself.

For some reason, I'm being stubborn on this particular book. I think I've got it right.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Never worry about length.

I've learned to never worry about length.

I used to, and I'd sometimes go on tangents, or look for plot complications, to make sure I had sufficient paint to cover the walls. But I've slowly learned that the books almost always end up at the proper size. I suspect my subconscious is constantly making adjustments.

Not worrying about length allows me to go straight for the ending as fast as I can.

"Takeover" has reached 78,000 words, with at least four thousand to go, probably more. I usually add a good 10% in a rewrite, which will almost make the book too  long. I really don't want it to pass 90K words for a thriller. But I'm not going to worry about it.

It will end up being as long as it needs to be.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Last chapter willies.

One chapter left to write, but it's a big one. Lots of action, a lot of head hopping, a lot to wrap up.

I admit, I'm intimidated by the idea. I think the plot has worked up to this point, but none of it works if it isn't brought home hard.

I used to rush the endings. I remember knowing I was doing it but unable to help myself. Stupid. Strange though that I've kind of gone in the opposite direction; slowing down as I near the ending. It isn't that I don't want to finish, it's that I want to really nail it. 

I spent a week on the penultimate chapter because I couldn't figure out a "trigger." I finally realized whose point-of-view it had to be and that helped, and then I realized the approach. I'll need to do the same thing with the last chapter. Feel it strongly before I start writing it. Have the scene completely blocked out before I start.

I suspect there will also be an epilogue of some kind. The thing about epilogues is that they are best written after some time has passed. I change epilogues most often when the story has had time to settle and I realize what really needs to be said to sum it up.

My twilight canals walks have been very inspiring, for some reason. But it also means I have to wait until the end of the day and then hope something happens. I'm going to just think about the last chapter today, not actually try to write it. Go on my twilight walk and if it happens, great, if not...I still have 3 days to finish it.

Four days for one chapter is like 4 times my normal time, but this is probably 4 times more important.

I have the ending more or less in my mind, though not how to get there. I'd love it if a surprise popped up. I purposely held off really thinking about it much in hopes that a twist would emerge. It may still.

Then again, the entire focus on this book has been to be as realistic as I can make it. Therefore the twist would have to be realistic, and twists by their nature aren't.

Except the good ones.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Boring process blog.

For the second day in a row, I went on my twilight canal walk and an entire chapter came to me. I rushed home, went to my room, and wrote it down. And this was the chapter that I'd been stalled at for a full week. I just realized that it needed to start as a conversation between two friends and everything else followed.

Not having my computer with me gives me time to cogitate a little longer. I'm probably losing a few ideas, which is unfortunate, but that might be made up for by the precognition. So I think that makes three strong chapters in a row, after several chapters that I thought were adequate.

The pace feels a little odd. Not so much that it's building to a crescendo as that it just has been a steady pace of inevitability. 

I'm up to 73K words. I figure I have about 2 or 3 chapters left, a couple of them relatively short, and then one long action sequence at the end. A little bit of postscript.

I want to make a trip the the John Day Fossil Beds and soak up the atmosphere, write some descriptions. And then do a little research on guns (a weak spot for me, considering this is meant to be a thriller) and maybe hostage taking procedures. Find another couple of longform articles on Malheur and Bundy ranch, maybe Waco and Ruby Ridge.

Make sure the book is at least 80K words. As always, I need to flesh out the book. I believe it's important to get the plot down, the skeleton of the story, and then go back and explicate it. I keep reading on Facebook of fellow writers who are doing 150K words, which is pretty amazing. I believe this book works at 80K or slightly longer. It would be easy enough to add more, but I don't think it's necessary.

Almost done. I was hoping to be finished by September 1, and I think that will probably happen. But these last chapters are important and I don't want to push them.

I'm kind of not thinking about the last chapter. It will need to be figured out, what each character is doing, who lives, who dies.

Action scenes are easy to do, but hard to do well. So I want to be sure it all works and that it all feels right, and maybe even includes a little pathos.