Thursday, June 22, 2017

Finally got a contract for a book that had been previously accepted. Supposed to be paid soon, heh. More money than I've made in all my other writing combined, and puts me firmly in the black despite all my lavish and perhaps foolish spending on covers and editing. So that makes me feel like maybe this whole writing thing is working.

Meanwhile, Amanda at Cohesion liked my edits for "Snaked" and has returned the manuscript for a couple more changes. Basically, they liked my Mama Snake additions but wants a little more. I think what I've learned from this is that I tend to underplay the big moments, and also leave out the emotion in the small moments. Hopefully I can apply that to future writing.

She and Geoff also want a "timeline" which is no small task, and I'm not actually sure how to go about it. But, like the last edit, I just need to tackle the problems one at a time.

Meanwhile, wrote the third chapter to Wyvern Riders and I like it. I told myself that I wouldn't let anything keep me from progressing on this story for the next ten days. So despite the importance of the revisions to "Snaked" they need to fit into a workable schedule. I had a good start on "Mother Sali" too, but got waylaid and when I went back to it, I'd lost the thread. I don't want to do that again.

I need this creation process in my life. I enjoy it, it makes me want to keep writing. I don't know what it is. I would compare it to reading, but even more intense. I live in that world for a time and I like it. Editing to make a book better is all well and good but it isn't the same feeling at all.

So even when I'm editing, I think I need to keep the creation part going at the same time. I'm doing this for the fun of it after all.

Money? I've given up so much money by not working at the store that writing can't conceivably ever pay me back for it. So obviously I'm doing it for the love. I do want people to read me, which means making compromises and concessions to publishers, but other than that, I just want to write.

I can't let the frustrations and delays of the publication process pull me too far away from why I'm doing it in the first place.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

I have so much unfinished work.

Recently I showed Dave Cline samples of something I wrote 30 years ago, "Sometimes a Dragon," then immediately followed it up with the first chapter of "Wyvern Riders." Here's what he said: "...as soon as you take the active voice -- your writing just sings. That first paragraph kicked ass. And indeed every one of the passages and interactions were dynamic and engaging. So, yeah, this writing -- in particular -- is truly rock solid, as compared to the "Sometimes a Dragon." There are hints of what the old writing would become and this is it."

That is almost exactly my own estimation. The unpublished works are just not up to current standards: and yet, they really aren't terrible either. So they keep being put on the backburner. Every time I look at them I make a few improvements with the idea that someday they'll finally round into shape.

In moving house, I finally found a box with "The Changelings of Ereland" in it. This was the fifth book I ever wrote. (The fourth, "Bloodstone," was hopelessly bad. Amazing how much I regressed from "Icetowers," which overall was the most solid of my early efforts.) I'll take a look at it sometime, see if there is anything there.

I have to admit, I'm feeling at loose ends right now. Not sure where to go. I'll probably try to finish "Wyvern Riders," but I want to have the right tone. The first two chapters are really good, and I think the third chapter has possibilities.

I need an overall threat, so that's something to think about. Some secret about Danton that Sharmilan hints at, somebody coming after them for reasons that aren't clear. Meanwhile, they go about their adventures, then tying it all together. I have the overall story arc figured out, but not the specifics.

Yesterday was a throwaway day. I'd had two nights of buzzed sleep, too much caffeine basically. I need to go back to my old rules of never drinking coffee after noon, and never soda after dinner. So I felt really shitty after two nights of hardly sleeping and having bad dreams. I didn't want to do anything. I didn't even go for my walk.

But I did read some long-form magazine articles on the Bundy ranch, found all kinds of wonderful details. I want to read some more articles on the Malhuer occupation. Slowly but surely I'm building up some research for my next big effort, "Takeover." This isn't natural for me at all, but I know that it will be incredibly beneficial when I actually start writing.

I've got two manuscripts with publishers that I'm pretty sure they'll want revisions on; and I have "Deadfall Ridge" being considered.

I'm not confident. I think it's a good book, but it falls just a little short somehow. I mean, I think it's ALMOST there and with a little professional help it could be, but whether big-time editors have time or interest in doing that, I don't know. I know that if it gets rejected I'll probably try to rewrite the beginning yet again, dropping the second chapter altogether, and cutting down the third chapter as much as possible, (maybe eliminating it too.) That will put a heavy information dump in the fourth chapter, so I'd have to be really severe in figuring out what could be dispensed with.

The book is ALMOST there. It's killing me.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Scratching my fantasy itch.

I love fantasy. It's my first love, it's in my bones. What you love at 13 years old you love for life.

But I went away from it because I felt it had all been done. I still sort of feel that way. The basic perimeters are the basic perimeters, and those who try to stretch the boundaries usually do it in such a way that it is distracting, calling attention to itself.

Oh, this fantasy is different because the main protagonist is a rotter! Oh, the fantasy is different because it has nothing supernatural, or it's hyper-realistic, or it's got women heroes!

Or maybe I should say--the perimeters have been stretched, but the result is new genres; dark fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk, etc. (And not surprisingly, these are more fun to read.)

Basic fantasy? There is a template, and some do it well and some do it mediocre. But frankly, I got tired of even the well-done fantasy never really surprising me. I went from an insatiable hunger for fantasy through my 20's, to "Oh, another fantasy." Especially since the most successful fantasies seemed to be the most unoriginal, the most dedicated to fan-service.

People kept recommending them. "This one is different, this one is better," but they never seemed to be.

So a few fantasy authors have broken through to me, mostly because of the quality of their writing; George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, and Lois McMasters Bujold (some). Most of the others people talk about leave me cold, and I've sampled almost every one of them.

Anyway, this is a long way to my point, which is, I have the urge to write fantasy every time I sit down. It's what lures me.  

Fortunately, I always seem to stray. At first, I didn't really consider that I was writing "horror" per se, but it became clear after awhile that writing horror was my way of breaking out of the fantasy tropes. Horror seems to be open to anything. Any story I write can be turned to horror with a few adjustments.

But, well, there isn't a huge market for horror, especially among the Big Five publishers. I was told by a big agent that the smaller publishers I'm already being published by are in fact the people who are doing the state-of-art horror, which is both reassuring and somewhat disappointing. Oh, there are a few breakthrough authors, obviously Stephen King and Dean Koontz among others, but there is an overall resistance to horror.

When I got tired of fantasy years ago, I went to reading mysteries/thrillers, and that's what I've been reading for the last 30 years of so. So turning to trying to write thrillers is a natural move. I've never gotten tired of them. The form seems very elastic as to what is possible.

I was a little leery at first of attempting to write them because of the necessity for realistic  procedural details, and that still is a challenge, but the form itself I think I can do.

But every time I sit down to write, my urge to write fantasy is as strong as ever.

I've sort of come up with a solution, at least for me. It runs counter to the trends, so it won't bring me fame or fortune.

The trend in fantasy is to write an unending series of huge books, the more Tolkienish the better. Pretend to be utterly different, but in reality be as close to the model as possible. So as not to offend anyone, I won't mention any names. (Goodkind, Jordan, Hobbes, Fiest, Eddings, Sanderson, Salvetore,  ad naseum.)

Instead, I'm writing a series of novellas, set in the same world, but not otherwise connected. They have a light tone, almost fairy-taleish (again, not done much these days.) But boy do I enjoy writing them. They come out naturally, and I have lots of fun with them.

I'm calling them "Tales of the Thirteen Principalities" and I've worked out the theology and the government structure of the world, and each story expands on the magical elements, and I'm excited to explore the world.

I've written two full novellas so far, as well as the beginnings of two others. I see no reason not to keep doing them.

Yesterday, the itch to write finally overcame me (after about a week of not writing--that seems to be my limit) and I started another 13th Tale called "The Wyvern Riders." It filled me with joy. I can't wait to keep writing it.

When I've done about a half dozen of them, I'm going to start putting them out. I'm going to edit them myself, do covers that don't cost a fortune, and charge a mere .99 for them.

Whether anyone will ever read them doesn't matter. I get to scratch my fantasy itch.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

While I'm waiting to hear about "Deadfall Ridge" I decided to revisit some of my earlier work that I never released.

I wrote "Sometimes a Dragon" 30 years ago. Linda and I worked on it together for a time, so I have very fond memories of it.

It was a mess. I gave it a quick rewrite when I came back, but it still has problems. There is some nice writing there, and I love some of the characters, but there are major problems with the plot. They might be fixable, but it would take as much time and effort as it would to write another brand new book.

Each time I look at it, I try to improve it a little. So maybe someday it will shape up.

Same with my other unreleased books. Most of them are fantasies, which was my early focus. They all have something, but also have problems. Each time I've wrestled with them I've decided my time would be better spent writing something new, applying all the lessons I've learned.

I guess I'm holding out hope for magical epiphanies.



Thursday, June 15, 2017

Musically annotated Beatles.

I'm reading "Tune In," Mark Lewisohn's fantastically detailed biography of the Beatles up to their moment of fame. (Apparently, two more volumes are coming.)

Within a few pages, he started mentioning rock and roll songs that the Beatles were listening to and learning to play. I went to Youtube and started playing each song as they were mentioned. It has enriched the experience immensely, and what a cool resource!

I took several lessons away from this book:

1.) It's often been said that the Beatles learned to play in the crucible of the clubs in Hamburg and Liverpool, but I never realized just how much. They were playing for 6 and 8 hours, day after day after day, year after year, fueled by booze and uppers. They were the bad boys, (especially John), dressed in leathers and misbehaving every chance they got.

2.) Ringo was the more accomplished musician right up to the time the Beatles were beginning to jell. He joined at just the right moment.

3.) The establishment are idiots. It's infamous that Decca (among others) passed on them. What wasn't clear to me was how freaking easy it would have been to sign them up and put a record out. Minimal cost and effort. One guy liked a song of theirs and thought it worth signing them up just for the potential sales of sheet music! Meanwhile the companies were signing lame act after lame act. Once they started passing on the Beatles, it became self-reinforcing.

"Guitar groups are on their way out, Mr. Epstein."

It was probably only because Brian Epstein owned record stores that were important to them that they finally cracked.

Apparently, EMI dumped the Beatles on George Martin's lap as punishment.

4.) Luck and timing. It's so clear that things could have tipped in different directions at any time. They just kept missing the right moment, but ironically, the delay made them wait for the right people; especially Ringo, Brian Epstein, and George Martin.

5.) Genius is inexplicable. Hard work, and intensive immersion in the scene, sure, but the songs they wrote were offhand at first. They didn't think much of their own songs and had to be convinced to play them!

6.) Their personalities and relationships were as tightly honed as their music. They had a comedy act going among themselves which made them impervious to the squares who tried to take them down later. They were so fast on their feet, they took down the squares instead.

In my fifth year of writing, it's encouraging in a way that it took Beatles at least that many years to get good. And then, well, they got a bit better. Heh.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

My editor received "Deadfall Ridge' and says he will read over the next two weeks while traveling.

He says, "Good first chapter!" That's encouraging.

All I really want is a fair hearing, and it appears I'll get one. I don't know if the rest of the book is good enough, but I did my best. Also, he's following up getting the contract to me from the previous book, which I haven't gotten yet.

Was wondering about that.

It's funny, right after I sent the book, the usual doubts hit and I wondered if I should have written beginning different. Continue Sherm Russo's POV from the first chapter (which has gotten good comments) then skip chapter 2, winnow down a couple of other chapters, get to the action a good 10 to 15 pages sooner.

Oh, well. It's time to let Gary look at it and tell me.

If he doesn't take the book, I'm going to try not to be dispirited. This was a learning experience, and I'll take what I did and apply it to another book.

Gary seems to like my writing, so I'm hoping he'll work with me to get it better. He appears to be invested in me as a discovery, at least I hope so.  

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Can you become addicted to writing?

I go through withdrawal if I go a couple of days without writing something. Life starts to feel a little empty. Time's a'wasting. Maybe it's my age--I've got a lot of catching up to do.

I don't want to go off half-cocked, or do I? I started writing a spin-off sequel to "Deadfall Ridge" that I had no idea I was going to write. My only instruction to myself was to make it fast paced and have fun. I'm really not sure if the story is going anywhere.

And I don't know that I care. The writing itself is the medicine I need.

As I become more and more aware that I need to put more work into writing if I'm going to get anywhere, I'm also feeling a sense of rebellion. That's no fun.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Screech...stop that. :)

So the acknowledgment that I need to do more planning, more outlining, more research. My brain understands that. But I don't really want to. (Said in a peeved voice.)

I understood 30 years ago in my previous career that I'm facile enough to write story after story after story--to no effect.

I've allowed myself to do that in my current phase, and I'm not sure it's wrong. Every time I write something, I learn. Every time I write something there is the chance that this one will be a great book.

So...do I do what I think is necessary to improve my chances, or do I just do what I want?

Admittedly, this is pure laziness, but--ironically--boy have I been productive giving into my instincts. For now, I'm just going with the flow. And the flow is being blocked on all sides by the publishing part of it.

So I scoot off to the side and just do my thing while I'm waiting. I have to write something, and it may as well be fun.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

In trying to figure out what to do next, I'm aware that I need to figure out where I stand in the marketplace. If "Snaked" does well, then it would make sense to do another creature book. If Gary takes "Deadfall Ridge" it would make sense to do "Butcher's Cut." If he rejects it, then it would make sense to write "Takeover," a different kind of thriller.

Either way, it probably wouldn't hurt to challenge myself and try "Takeover."

I would call it my first "adult" book, in the sense that I would try to make it more serious, with deeper characterization, well thought out and believable plot, and realistic dialogue.

Can I do that?

The only way to find out is to try. I think it needs to be fully plotted and thought out in advance. I think I need to do character outlines. And I need to think a lot about dialogue.

I need to think about what style I want to do. Right now, I'm inclined toward 3rd person, straightforward with as little adverbs and adjectives as possible. Simple he saids, and she saids. But also try for a little philosophy and some poetic writing.

I want to start with action and keep the tension up, have as many things go wrong as possible right from the start, and then in the second half of the book, make it even worse.

The basic idea of a takeover, followed by a murder, and then a takeover of the takeover by more extreme elements, that all makes sense. That's about as far as I've gotten with the outline. (I wrote some scenes, but they were preliminary and don't start with action, and I'm going to try to avoid that.)

One trick I'd like to try is the read a little prime Ellroy, "The Big Nowhere," for a sense of how the characters talk and interact, before I start writing. Just soak up the tone.

I'm still in the mulling stage, which often only lasts as long as the first scenes coming to me. I'm going to try to forestall that for as long as possible.

This will be a challenging book politically too. I don't want to take sides, but show every side. But that's what makes it so intriguing to me. There's some real meat there.

I've written enough books to know I can do it. Now I think I need to try to up my game a little. What usually happens is that the new book ends up being a Duncan McGeary book that is a lot like my other books with maybe a few new wrinkles.

I figured out the middle of the process first: the writing of the first draft. Got that down to a science. Very effective.

I tackled the last part of the process next, forcing myself to take the time and effort to let the story sit for a time, doing research, and then coming back and doing a thorough rewrite, and then another.

I need to tackle the first part of the process next. Planning and outlining in advance. Researching in advance. Thinking through all the ramifications. This is the hardest thing to do, but I managed to take on the rewriting process, so I figure I can do this too.

I've got lots of writing under my belt. There is no hurry. Do it right.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Pretty awesome cover to "Snaked." I do believe Cohesion Press has some faith in the book and intends to do their best to promote it. (Partly because they can rightly take credit for the end product after putting me through a couple of rigorous rewrites.) It's scheduled to come out 4th Qt. 2017, and I think that means October.

Haven't heard what's going on with Tuskers IV from Ragnarok Press. It's supposed to come out in August, and I haven't heard differently.

So things are happening.

I have a major publisher who said he was ready to look at a thriller from me, so I've attempted "Deadfall Ridge." Don't know if I've hit the mark, but I think I'm close. I'll write another thriller if this one doesn't take, applying what I learned. Meanwhile, I think it's a good book so it will come out one way or the other.

This morning I queried the editor and I'm hoping he'll ask to see it. I'm risking rejection, but if I want to have a publisher, that's the game. If he turns it down, I'll try again. I'm guessing since he expressed interest in my writing("brilliant premise, beautifully written") that I'll have maybe three shots.

The last three books I've written have been a step up in a way. Mostly because of the work I did after I finished the first draft. I'm getting more of a sense of what is required, both in subject matter and technique. My earlier books are good, I think. (It took me so long to say outloud what I really thought, heh.) But they were written totally at my whim, without any attention to their commercial prospects.

Part of me loves the purity of that. Writing what I want when I want. But part of me wants wider readership, and that means being aware of what the market is asking for. It isn't too much of a compromise to do that, I think.

Even my whimsy books were always meant to be readable in a popular way. It was more that the subjects (love-lorn gargoyles, gangster golems, cyber-punk hobbits) weren't going to attract publishers.

To be read by a wider audience, I need either to go through publishers, the bigger the better, or really crack down on self promotion, or just accept that books I put out myself without any promotion aren't going to sell very well. I'm willing to try the first option as long as there are publishers open to me (which is a very fine thread easily broken), but I'm not really willing to do the second option of self-promotions. I hate it and it's self-demeaning as far as I'm concerned.

I'm willing to go to the third option if that ends up happening. Publishing what I want, when I want, to a few readers.

I've already gone way, way beyond my original intent. I'd hoped to finish just one more book, to self-publish it, just to prove I could do it. A few doors opened and I went through them and as long as there is a sliver of daylight coming through those doors, I'll continue. But if they shut, I'm not going to knock on those doors again.

Life is too short, folks.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Snaked


Finished entering the edits on "Deadfall Ridge." This is by far the most polished writing I've ever done.

It's a solid book, fully vetted.

But...

It just seemed to be missing an extra spark. Up to now, I've always been able to put in a bit of the fantastical in my books. Even my previous two thrillers, which didn't have any supernatural elements, did have some big ideas.

I tried to write "Deadfall Ridge" in a much more realistic vein. It works, but it seems to me that it needs just a little more.

My friend Jim Cornelius mentioned that the "outdoor scenes work fine, if a little Hollywood. Nothing wrong with that."

Well, I took his words to heart and decided to go all in. I wrote three "crazy-ex wife" chapters that are almost all Hollywoody action, and two "bad guy" chapters that are also kind of melodramatic.

 The other problem was, I sort of buried the lede.

The McGuffin was always about a certain New York real estate tycoon who runs for high office and is in debt to the Russians. The box that Hart Davis has is proof of those dirty dealings. So I've decided to bring that a little more forward, from the first chapter.

Go big or go home, I figure.

I'll be done in the next couple of days. I need a corker of a synopsis and that is one of the hardest things to do of all.

And I'm not sure my editor will respond to my email. He's been non-responsive to me for a couple of months, which he's done before, and well...I guess I'll just have to wait for him to come around. I've come to realize, it's not me. It's how busy he is.

But if I want a major publisher, I just have to patient.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Wrote 3 crazy ex-wife chapters for Deadfall Ridge.

Amanda's an intriguing character, fun to write.

By writing these chapters, I remove some of the intrigue. On the other hand, these chapters also explain the origin of the McGuffin better than I have so far. On the third hand, I detract from her surprise appearance at the end.

So even though I've written them, I'm undecided about whether to include them. 


I'm working my way through the various edits of the book. Lara does a great job, really thorough, so I use her edits as the base copy. I've got a couple of other people who have edited the manuscript at least partly, and my writer's group comments. Dave Cline's comments are always really insightful. My former pro editor Tim Marquitz did an edit. Linda is partway through one, and she always has really good suggestions.

I'm pulling all the stops out for this book, as far as rewriting and getting as much input as possible. Incremental improvements, maybe, but I'm hoping they all add up to one big improvement.

I don't know if Gary at Kensington is ever going to be ready to read it. I haven't heard back from him for awhile, which seems to be the way it is. But meanwhile, I can keep trying to make the book better.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Sent "Snaked" back to the publisher. Interesting experience. My first 'directed' rewrite.

I have to admit most of AJ''s suggestions were right on. The hardest part was moving the chapters around, but since she gave me instructions on that, it was doable. I don't really have that much trouble cutting things or adding things. But moving things around or changing the basic understructure--that's hard, if not impossible for me to do without losing focus.

Cohesion really wanted more snakes, bigger snakes, and they were probably right to do so. I tried to do as they asked.

I hope they like it. It always seems like I'm making massive changes, but when I'm done, it's pretty much still the same old story. Which is good and bad, I suppose.

Now I'm going to get to work on another rewrite of "Deadfall Ridge," which will probably take a couple of weeks. The publisher who I was going to send this to has been non-responsive, so I'm not sure what's going on. I've learned that is more the editor's way than any reflection on me, heh.

I thought this editor was going to send me back a manuscript to rewrite, which was my next project. I'm worried that I'll start something new and then have to drop it to get on the rewrite. But I also don't want to wait around too long before writing again.

I'm also not sure what to work on next. I think I'll probably try to pick up "Mother Sali" the third "Tales of the Thirteen Principalities." Three novellas add up to one book, whereas two comes up a little short.

I've thought of an idea for the next "creature" book. I seem to be getting better known for these books (Tuskers, Snaked) than my other books, and they are fun to write. This new idea will allow me to set it in Central Oregon, which is always an advantage.

So if I alternate between the "Butcher's Cut," the next Strawberry Mountain Mystery, and the new creature book, that pretty much takes care of the rest of the year.  In both cases I'm hoping to do a bit more outlining than I usually do. I really need to avoid getting halfway through a book before I realize it doesn't work.

I'm at the mercy of the marketplace right now. But that doesn't need to stop me from writing. I just need to act as if what I want to happen is actually happening.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

I predict gridlock downtown.

Years ago, it seemed like a good idea to schedule special events downtown in the summer. Like lots of downtowns, Bend was having trouble. Slowly over the years we recovered.

Meanwhile events continued to be added and extended until now most of the weekends of the summer the streets are closed off.

Not only isn't this necessary anymore, I think it is actively harmful to most businesses. We have no trouble attracting crowds downtown on the weekends. On a normally busy weekend we can do quite well. For a store that for years was off the beaten track, having so much foot traffic is a blessing.

However, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. You want busy, but you don't want gridlock.

I think we are rapidly approaching gridlock. I predict that this summer we will be locked into a situation where there are so many people that regulars will actively avoid the area, that stores won't be able to deal with customers effectively, and we will become an amusement park.

This is my annual futile plea to slow it down.