Sunday, May 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 26, 2017

2 big new scenes for "Snaked."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dammit.

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A light touch feels like a lazy touch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Going backward to catch up.

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

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

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

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

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

Pretty much too late to jump in.

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Monday, May 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

Dave has been pretty honest about "Deadfall Ridge."

In every case, it improves the book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I can see it shaping up.

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

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

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

Narrative writing is so not like programming.


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

In the editing phase, though, people always notice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So story it is. Story, story, story.






Saturday, May 20, 2017

All right, I admit it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 19, 2017

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

Nice of me, huh.

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

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

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

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

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

I need to get "Snaked" done first.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

I guess I'll have to develop new routines.

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

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





Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Bought something from Walmart for the first time.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

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

Whew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, May 13, 2017

I found my lost manuscript.

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

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

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

Typed manuscripts...shudder.

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




Monday, May 8, 2017

Orphans of Inspiration

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

I have absolutely no memory of writing some of them. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

1st person narration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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