Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Work Habits.

Feel like I've had a little too much right brain activity and not enough left brain activity. (Yes, I know that whole theory has been somewhat discredited, but it makes for a useful analogy.)

Two rewrites in a row. Lots of thinking about what manuscripts should be tackled next, which should be finished, and where I should send them.

I sat down yesterday and winged out 6000 words on a new story.  A NEW story? WTF?

But that's just it, I needed it. I needed to just let the imagination go, and let it go wherever it wanted.

This isn't always the smartest thing to do, but it still felt good.

So now to totally contradict myself, I also think I need to put more thought into books before I start them. I've depended on my subconscious, and that has been great, but I've also noticed that when I already have a good idea of what I want to write, it comes much smoother.

For instance, with Blood of the Succubus, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and I sat down and did it with minimal trouble. Added 35K words, none of which were misspent. 

Was watching a documentary on the glass blowing Pilchuck school.  "Think before you do," one of the teachers recommended.

Lord knows, I think it would be helpful.

I'm going to try something.  I'm going to buy a notebook, and I'm going to dedicate it to a single book, and I'm going to spend some time everyday just thinking about what I want to do in that book, but not actually start writing it.

Problem is, I only get so far on this process before the words start flowing, and I've learned never to turn down words that flow.

But I'm hoping to train myself to put it off, like I had to train myself years ago not to get caught up in the story when I go to bed at night or at work.  I say to myself, "Good thought, but come back when I'm ready."  Surprisingly, this usually works. Sometimes I make a note, but don't actually write the scene.

But even this is too much right brain thinking. I just sort of want my story-telling to take over for awhile without regard to results.

Meanwhile, my eyes hurt.

I sometimes get up and I can't focus. When I get in the car, everything is blurry.

So I've decided for the sake of my eyesight to do a few things.

First off, limit my online surfing. I know I've tried to do this before, but this eye-hurting thing is a pretty damn good reason to avoid the screen unless I'm actually accomplishing something.

Secondly, no more solitaire. I enjoy it, but I don't need to spend extra hours looking at a screen. Hell, get a deck of cards.

Thirdly, write some of the story in longhand. I like doing this anyway, and sometimes gives me a different flavor, and it's a built-in revision when I transfer it to the computer. Probably saves a little time staring at the screen.

Fourthly, get up every couple hours and do some far-focusing. Get out on the porch and stare at the mountains.

Fifthly, get out of the house and do other things. Go walking, or sorting books at Bookmark, or something. Gardening.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Hit Word-Jumble last night.

I decided to give Blood of the Succubus one last copy-edit while I'm waiting for Lara. Otherwise, I'm done.

Got about 40 pages in before I gave up.

Word-Jumble has taken over.

I had no feels for it. It's just a bunch of words, without meaning.  I mean, I can still catch grammatical errors (mostly typos) but that's about it.  I just have lost the sense of the story.  This always happens to me at some point if I keep on rewriting and rewriting.

So I just have to have faith that the last time I had feels for the story, I was on track.  Which, you know, why wouldn't I be?  So the Word-Jumble isn't a tragedy, it just makes it hard for me to enjoy my own story, but really that probably doesn't matter that much. Once I've finished a book, I never read them again, except to pick them up and sample them at random.

Thing is -- I know the book is better for the extra effort. So...I'm not sorry I did it.

But this is important.  Once Word-Jumble has set in, I must stop rewriting. Rewriting is fine as long as you have the feels.  But a terrible idea without the feels.

I think maybe doing two full rewrites in a row was a little much.  I really need to alternate original with rewrites, to keep it all fresh.

It has me questioning the whole thing, frankly. Yes, I understand that rewrites are important, but if they detract from my enjoyment so much that I don't feel like writing, that doesn't make much sense does it?

It kind of reminds me of the store. Over the years I've dropped things I don't like doing at the store, even if it cost me money.  Oh, not the basic stuff -- I still need to make enough. But a lot of the small annoying things I've just dropped.

Because if I'm not having fun, making a little extra money doesn't matter. What matters for the long run in a business is to avoid burnout, to enjoy what you're doing, so you can continue to bring energy to what you're doing.

So the same thing is true of writing. If I lose the enjoyment, I lose the wellspring from which the creativity flows.

Yeah, when writing becomes onerous, then I'm just subverting myself.

So...Well, I have at least two or three books I want to write the first drafts of, so that's where I'm going from here.

I need to wrap up Tuskers with a fourth book.

I want to write the third Virginia Reed Adventure.

And I have another Golem book in mind.  Plus two or three other smaller projects I'd like to complete.

Only then will I be ready to attempt another rewrite.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Clinching the ending.

I want to bring resonance to the ending of a book. To fulfill reader's expectations or even exceed them. To bring the themes to a conclusion. I want the character arcs completed in a satisfying way.  The plot needs to be tied up.

The ending is what the reader will walk away with, what he or she will remember. If I can create a good feeling at the end, then that's the reward.

Anyway, I've liked the ending to Blood of the Succubus, but last night I wrote a ending line that had me raise both fists in the air and shout "Yes!"

It requires that I go back an add something earlier in the book. I'd thought about doing this scene already, but it wasn't totally, absolutely necessary, so I was still mulling it over.

This one final line clinched the deal. So today I write that scene and then tie it together with the ending line and it should have a nice completed feel to it.

NEXT DAY: Today I went through the writer's group critiques -- (a couple of reams worth of paper).

So the completed book is now 93K words, or about 9K bigger than I handed off to Lara, and 35K longer than the first finished version.

It's scary how much better it is. Because I thought that first version was good. Which makes me wonder about everything I'm doing...

The only thing left to do is go through the 9K red-colored changes and make sure they are copy-edited since Lara won't be seeing them.

It's a real book.  It has heft.  It feels substantial and layered.

But because it was such a heavy rewrite, it's pretty hard for me to judge. I just have to assume that the improvements really are improvements, each and every one.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Where have you gone, Maxwell Perkins?

The most troubling thing about rewrites is that I can't always be sure I'm actually improving the book.  I mean, I may be making it worse. It's a judgment call every time, and I'm bound to get it wrong sometimes. I figure it's a three steps forward, two steps back kind of thing.

Anyway, was asking myself whether I should have added a long scene at the end of the Blood of the Succubus.

"Well, it makes it more interesting." I say outloud.

That pretty much answers the question. (Yeah, it's weird, I talk to myself a lot.)

So I'm struggling to make this book as good as I can. I've not only taken the extra time to do a final rewrite, I've not only had two different editors go over it, one of them more than once, but I've also designated yet another week to do nothing but mull it over and try to come up with improvements.

And yet -- there is always the tendency to say to myself, "Let them fix it."

Them?  The mythical editor.

I've never had one. Not one of my books has really been edited by a publisher, (well, copy-edited, which is nothing to sneeze at) but not edited in the sense of a thoughtful professional saying, "This book would be stronger with this addition or that subtraction."

I don't know if that exists anymore, even with the traditional publishers. Either you present a book that's ready or you don't.

I suppose the big guns get that treatment, but probably not too many others. It makes sense. There are tons of writers. Publishers can just pick the books that are ready, and ignore the rest.

Still, wouldn't it be cool to have a long-term professional to really go through the book and "fix it?" I dream that such an editor could up my game, move me to a higher level.

I swear, I'd probably learn a lot. also maybe a case of "Watch out what you wish for." There are tons of horror stories about intrusive and misguided editors.  So...don't want that.

But a Maxwell Perkins type editor would be educational, you know?

Like I said, it probably doesn't really matter on how I treat my books. I have to make them as good as I can with the assumption that no one is going to fix it.  Another way of putting it is "Good enough isn't good enough." Make it good, period.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Tuskers III is coming out in October, hopefully.

Here's the cover:

Finished final rewrite of Blood of the Succubus.

Finished the rewrite of Blood of the Succubus last night.

It's good, or as good as I can make it.  I still have a few days to fiddle with it, but this is a version I could send off now and be proud of.

I was shooting for 90K words, and it turned out at 90,164.  Weird. I'm never sure if I'm just really good at guessing the ultimate outcome, or I subconsciously tailor the outcome to meet my expectations.

I still have at least six more days planned to work on this, so I'm just going to think on it and try to figure out things that can improve it. I'll dip into it and change words here and there. I don't know, maybe I'll have a terrific idea, but basically it's ready to go.

I don't know what's going to happen to it. It's not porn, but it does have a lot of sex in it.  I don't know how things like that are classified.

When I find no words to change, then I know it's done.

I don't really want to mess with the plot. I think it's done.

Lara is doing an editing job at the same time, so as soon as that gets book, I'll integrate the two versions. (I also have some writer's group suggestions to incorporate.)

The research was interesting, and I did do a few things with it, but mostly I had already gotten most of that right.

Slept on it.

I have six days to burnish this book under my original schedule. So I'm going to think about ways to make it better.

Funny thing is -- it is when book is fully finished that I'm most willing to make changes, because there it is, all done, and I can see it clearly and sometimes only then can I see what will improve it. Before that, everything is messy and in flux and it's a bit harder to see.

I've already decided on two changes at the end that I think will improve the book. Hopefully every day will give me some ideas, and meanwhile I'll dip into the book at random and work on the words.

It's finished, and now all I'm doing is polishing it.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The ending is tough.

I'm having trouble with the ending Blood of the Succubus. It's a bit of a slog. Mostly because I want and need to get it just right.

Fortunately, I got a good head start on the editing, so I have a little extra time to finish.

I'm imposing the "Five-minute rule" which is always a sign that I'm having trouble.

The ending it good, but I always try to see if I can't do something even better. Sometimes I can. Sometimes the answer pops into my head. I still have a couple of days for that to happen, but in the meantime, I'm hacking away at the editing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A day off.

A day off from writing.

Oh, no! What's going to happen?

After working hard and heavy for 5 days on the rewrite of Blood of the Succubus, I finagled a day off tomorrow. (Since I worked the weekend.) I thought it would give me an extra day to finish the rewrite, but I sort of collapsed today and didn't do much of anything.

Stocked up on some goodies, donuts and jerky and wine and chips for the next six days, when I will finish the book once and for all.  Linda is going to see the boys in Portland on Thursday through the weekend so I'm going to just hunker down and concentrate.

She's probably return to my bloated body, covered with donut and potatoe chip crumbs, the computer still open to the last page.

"The End."

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Books overflowing.

Nothing is more humbling than going through the book liquidation lists.

Each of these books represent the dreams and aspirations of writers and publishers. Most of them look pretty solid to me. Maybe not my subject, maybe not my mood -- but you can see why they were published, and as I say, they look more than competent. Many of them actually were successful but there is an excess of them for some reason.

So there's this weird conversation I had in the store this weekend.

Someone asked me how hard it was to get published. "Very hard," I said, and sort of went off on all the reasons. 

And then I said, "Over 400,000 books are being published a year!"

It wasn't until the customer walked out that I realized how contradictory those two statements are. I mean, if 400K books are published a year, how hard can it be, really? The publishers must be looking to fill those slots.

I haven't resolved this contradiction to my own satisfaction yet. Except, that while 400K might seem like one hell of a lot of books, maybe not if there are millions of people trying to write them?  How many of them are self-published?

It's easier than ever before to write a book. The technology makes it much more possible, and much cheaper, so it probably shouldn't be a surprise that so many people are writing books. (I suspect the old way of typing and copying and mailing and waiting and so on, weeded out a lot of potential authors...)

Maybe what I should have said, it's not hard to get published unless you go the traditional route, but it is very, very hard to be noticed. And it is clear to me that getting published by a traditional publisher is no guarantee that you'll be noticed either.

Still, maybe having a book published really isn't that big a deal.  I mean, 400K a year are put out, and obvious a huge number of authors.

As I said, it keeps you humble. It's both intimidating and reassuring that so many books are published, but so few make any impact.
All if it shouldn't matter, I suppose. The writing is what counts.

Monday, September 21, 2015

So what if they're wrong?

One thing I've never been able to shake is my over-reaction to someone telling me that a product exists that doesn't exist.

For one thing, I feel obligated to make sure. So I try to track down the information, which isn't always easy. By the time I've dealt with customers in-between, you know a half-hour has gone by. Often I can't prove anything until the person who has made the assertion has left.

I call these Unicorn products.  As in, "I don't sell Unicorns in my store, but I do sell them online." (Because if I was selling it in the store, I'd actually have to produce it...)

Thing is, the person making the claim is always rock-certain. No doubts.

Most often, I find they are Unicorn products -- they may exist in the ether, as a pre-order type thing, or sometime just an announcement.  Sometimes not even that.

Sometimes, they simply have the title wrong, or the info wrong.

So I ask them, "Are you sure?"

"Absolutely, I read (played, bought, whatever) with it yesterday."

"You held it in your hands?"


Thing is -- they are annoyed with Me because I doubted them.  So getting the fish-eye from someone I know is wrong can be doubly aggravating. It is hard to prove that something that doesn't exist -- doesn't exist, you know? So it sends me up the wall.

It happens a lot with comics, because publishers often say something is out when it hasn't actually reached the comic stores. But at least with comics, everyone gets the product at the same time. Again, it doesn't happen as often as it used to because people seem to be finally getting the fact that just because something is online doesn't mean it actually exists.

Why?  Why don't I just slough it off? What does it matter if they are wrong? People are wrong about a lot of things -- being sloppy about what they think they saw shouldn't be any surprise. (Even if they do waste a little of my time, it does garner me information -- sometimes about the real release date.)

It used to happen a lot more often. People have finally figured out that some product is Unicorn -- usually after sending off their money to get something, and then finding out they have to wait.

But there is always someone...

Sunday, September 20, 2015

What am I worried about?

JOURNAL: 9/20/15.

Worked at Pegasus yesterday, the first time I've worked on Saturday in a long time. Saturday's are different, we get more of a casual visitor type customers, which can sometimes drive me crazy. 

I just tried to go with the flow. There were several surges, as people streamed by leaving whatever big event happened on the street over. Weiner dog races or whatever. Thankfully, it was Oregon St. and not Minnesota St. that was closed this time.

Hundreds of people walking by, looking neither right nor left, headed for their cars.

Later in the afternoon, they started to clump together, as the beer flow began to have an effect, and it got louder and a little more party-like.  Guy playing a saxophone on the corner, the town cross-dresser in front of my store, raising eyebrows. "Oh, he's a fixture around here," I said, shrugging my shoulders.

Took it all in stride.  It is not my thing to hang out and drink and socialize and all that other stuff -- but I've done it a few times in my life, and I can see the appeal when I step out of myself.  But it is not my thing.

So I tried to be broadminded about it. The agoraphobia didn't kick in, I didn't tighten up, even when I closed the store and wound my way through the revelers. 

Meanwhile, I was all worried about my writing career the other day when it suddenly dawned on me, "What are you worried about?"

I'm in an great place, really. I have a thriving business that is still really fun and interesting to me and looks like it has a future, with or without me. I've got the best wife and friend in the world with Linda.  A visitor yesterday said to me, "You are the happiest couple I know." Heh.

Financially we're at least secure, and we have a nice house fully paid for.  We both have our health, minus a few creaks and groans. My writing career is very satisfying, and I've already exceeded my original goals and there still seems to be some trajectory to it.

What am I worried about, right?  (Knock wood as always.)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Inside, not outside.

I think it's time to detach a little from online book stuff. It's more a distraction now, than helpful.

Time to get back to pure writing, without regard to results.

I'll never have another year like I did during the "miracle year." I'm still extremely prolific, but that year was spent alone, with no encouragement except from Linda, and just about writing and nothing but writing.

It's hard, because you do want people to read your books. But knowing whether people are reading or aren't reading doesn't effect the quality of the books.

The book is the only thing that counts.

So anyway, I think maybe I'm going to take a couple steps back.  I find it is the "news" about writing that is most distracting -- what Amazon is up to, what the Big Five are doing, what other authors are doing, and so on and so forth.

I know, I know. People are always saying they are going to break away.  Well, I'm not going to stop my blog and I'm not going to stop checking Facebook. But anything to do with books will probably be passed over.

I know that sounds a little strange, but I've run into that before.  I used to subscribe to the trade publications, and I found that the more I knew, the more likely I was to be discouraged.

So...back to writing. Inside, not outside.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Try to exceed expectations.

Got a good review of Tuskers on Goodreads from someone who has lots of friends and belongs to lots of groups. It added 10 'to reads' in just one day. Don't know if that means anything, but if a word of mouth thing got going, you never know, it could snowball.

Chaos theory at work. Tipping points (which almost never tip...)

Anyway, the reviewer made comments that I've heard fairly often, something along the lines of: "I thought this was going to be silly and pulpy, but it actually was better and more serious than I expected."

Well, I wrote these seriously, strange as that sounds.  I took the premises which other people find 'silly' and tried to create a real stories out of them. "Hyper-intelligent pigs on the rampage." "Donner Party Werewolves."

So the werewolves are interweaved into an otherwise serious historical story that I tried to make feel as real as possible. The Tuskers are seriously dangerous, and I tried to imagine how an isolated community of humans would react to that.

That kind of thing.

Anyway, maybe I've stumbled on a neat trick. Find what other people find intriguing but silly, and then try to write a serious story about it.

Exceed the expectations of the reader.


The one thing I'm doing right is constantly writing.  Good, bad, or indifferent, it produces results and keeps me learning. I'm astonished as anyone to look at the stack of books that's been published in the last year and a half. I'm coming up on 8 new and 3 old books in paperback.

I've more or less gotten the go-ahead for 2 more.

That's not counting all the first drafts I've written, and a few that are further along than that.

I'm hovering over The Last Fedora even though I like it, because I've come to the conclusion that all my books could benefit from one last rewrite.  No hurry to publish it, I guess, as long as I have other books in the pipeline. Gargoyle Dreams and Blood of the Succubus seem like complete books to me, as soon as I'm ready to let them go.


 I'm also thinking that I should write to my strengths.  I love fantasy, but I don't really enjoy world-building.  I love mysteries, but don't like being grounded by police procedures and other real world elements. I do like pulp horror, and I can see continuing to write that.

But my strength seems to be historical. I love pulling real events and blending them into a plot. I love being able to create characters and dialogue that may not work in current storylines, but which are just off enough to work in historicals.

I don't know. It can be hard for a person to see his own strengths and weaknesses, but I'm thinking that I enjoy doing that, so that's probably where I should go.

I really want to write The Darkness You Fear, which is the third 'Virginia Reed Adventure' so as soon as I've finished the Tuskers saga, (I'm thinking it will be four books).

I think I should go there next.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Went nuts for Star Wars toys.

The amount of Star Wars toys I ordered was equal to an entire month of comic orders.

I'm getting the first of them in next week.  The least likely to sell, of course, and the most expensive -- Electronic lightsabers and blasters.

Anyway, ordering that much is pretty nuts.  There are a number of reasons not to do this, and then some dubious good reasons to do it.

Not do it:

1.) Margins suck. A little more than half as much as what I can get on most of my product. Which means I have to sell twice as much to make the same amount of money.

2.) I'll get them late and allocated. We literally were not even offered these toys until the day they were in the chainstores. From past experience, we will probably get only a part of what we ordered, and it won't be the best stuff.

3.) Shelf huggers. Many people don't realize that we don't get to order the toys we want. We order blind cases, and we get whatever assortment they deign to give us.

The price and timing of the toys isn't the biggest problem I face. The biggest advantage the chainstores have is the ability to write off or return "shelf-huggers." These are the toys in the case that are over-produced or no one wants. Sometimes, I swear, we get the leftovers. After the chainstores get their pick, what's left. The last Lord of the Rings case I ordered, I got 6 Gollums out of 12 toys, at a time when no one really wanted them.

It takes only a few toys out of every case not selling to make them unprofitable.

Reasons to do it:

1.) I think everyone is going to underestimate Star Wars. It's going to be the biggest thing ever.  The general rule of thumb I have is that when something is hot, you can't have too much. (The opposite of that is that when something is cold, whatever you have is too much.)

2.) The movie looks good. It looks like they are going about it in the right way. I really thought the Star Trek reboots were enormously entertaining and so I have faith in the director. Besides, as far as selling toys before December 18th, it almost doesn't matter. Toys sell in advance, usually. Though Star Wars has a long shelf life.

3.) Star Wars has an enormously long shelf-life. Forever, frankly.  It took me a couple of years to sell the last batch of lightsabers I got, but I ended up doing it.  Star Wars customers like all things Star Wars, unlike almost any other franchise where the customers are very picky (Star Trek being the most aggravating example...)  There are many more movies to come, so basically it doesn't matter how fast I sell these -- I will sell them eventually.

4.) I adjust the pricing a little on the toys -- charging slightly more for the hot characters. I don't like doing this, but I see no other way.  If you've been looking for Yoda for ages, and you have to pay a little more to get it from me, you'll probably do it.

 It's not so much the money, it's having the good characters in stock long enough to sell the slow characters.

5.) We'll probably be allocated.  This stuff won't come in all at once and it probably won't come in full orders, which means I can probably absorb them.

6.) The biggest and only reason that really counts.  I LOVE STAR WARS!!! 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

So it begins.

Started the final rewrite of Blood of the Succubus, today.

Intended to do 20 pages a day, which seemed like a lot since I managed to only do 15 pages a day of Tuskers III.

First day -- 45 pages, and probably could have done more. Just not that many problems. Has been gone over already, pretty much. So that's encouraging. Will even give me a chance to keep dipping into it if I have a few extra days.

Also not adding as many words as I expected. So I may end up writing a chapter I've been thinking about doing, especially since I seem to have the time.

So when I say, not that many problems, I mean the book flows well. I think it's a good solid story.

But in rewriting, I always lose a little faith in my writing. I mean, it's easier to keep the illusion of a sparkling book if you don't look at it too closely.  So...

I drank some wine the other night and fashioned all kinds of grandiose ways to make the book better, but in the cold light of day, most of them just aren't going to happen.  I'm not sure if it is gilding the lily or polishing a turd. But the book is what the book is and mostly it can be improved by a little careful craftsmanship, but its basic content is what it is.

I'm getting better at it, slowly but surely. I just need to keep working at it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Adding to the word count.

Blood of the Succubus.

My goal is to write a satisfying chunk of a book.  At least 90K words, and 100K words would be even better.

My first drafts -- for some reason -- tend to be around 60K words.  I usually figure out some plot things I want to add which can add another 10 or 20K words.

Still not there.

If I take a 250 page book, and I add 30 words per page on average, I've increased the book by 7500 words. Now this may sound artificial, and it is in a way -- but it also turns out that such a goal helps the book.

It is the intent of the increase that counts. Because those 30 words needs to be "telling detail."

So for instance, say I have the hero running from danger through the woods.  So I might mention a shrub he passes and brushes up against.

The additional "telling detail" might be how the bush's thorns snag his shirt sleeve, tearing it, maybe even cutting into his skin, how he lets out an involuntary cry, how he hears the creature following him zero in on him -- anyway, that kind of thing.

It not only adds words, but adds to the vividness of the story.

When I'm writing the first draft, I'm mostly focused on getting the story down, and I'm in a fictional dream and sometimes the detail is there and sometimes it isn't but I'm not worrying about it.

In the second draft I'm mostly concerned with improving the language, making it more active and clearer, making sure the plot makes sense.

In the final rewrite I can finally concentrate on really fleshing out the story, making sure that there are no dropped threads, and strengthening the threads that are there.

The artificial word goal merely makes me look for the opportunity to improve. There is always an opportunity.  Some pages might have whole paragraphs written in expansion, others only a few words. But I've found that in this final draft, with the goal of fleshing it out, I tend to clarify and sharpen and add telling detail and catch connections that I may not have seen in the first two drafts.

It's very intensive -- I find it takes at least as much time and more energy than a first draft, strangely.  I just have to start at the beginning and go to the end.

Generally I can do about 2 hours of this before my brain rebels. Before I become ineffective. Usually about 5 to 10 pages.

Then I walk away for an hour or so.

Come back and do another 2 hours.

Then take another hour off.

Then do the last 2 hours of rewrites.

That's eight hours, though it usually works out to be more like 10 hours of work because both the writing and breaks can go a little over those limits.

But the end result is so noticeably improved that I've decided to expect to do it to every book.

For perspective, I also need at least a month between the first draft and the second, and at least a week between the second draft and the third, (when I usually do the research, if any).  All of that expands the process even more. 

But there it is. Being a writer.

Writing the first draft is like playing. Everything else is work.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Dead Spend No Gold is in-store.

The Dead Spend No Gold, the sequel to Led to the Slaughter, finally has a physical manifestation and not just a digital one.  It took 8 months for a variety of reasons, but it exists at last.

The cover on Amazon has Bigfoot with green eyes, the cover at the store has blue eyes, which is kinda cool.

Always exciting.

Wonky writing post.

This is a totally wonky post, fair warning for those who are bored by the writing process.

So far I've been trying to improve my method of writing.

I've identified three phases.

1.) Choosing what to write about and preliminary planning.
2.) Writing a first draft.
3.) Re-writing, which may mean one or two more drafts.

1.)  On the first phase, I haven't really chosen what to write.  Nor do I do a lot of preliminary planning. I write whatever my subconscious tells me to write. When the words start flowing, I put up minimal resistance and just start writing.

I'd like to change that, but not too much. I still want to write what I want to write when I want to write it. But it might not hurt to try to think about what might be useful to suggest to my subconscious about what I should write next. I'm happy with the genre I've been writing in, which has been sold as horror, but is a range from dark fantasy to thriller.  So that would be one suggestion. Write something else, fantasy, or S.F. or detective, or whatever.

The other thing to think about is what subjects have some depth to them, lend themselves to deeper themes. So far, I've found just about any subject can be developed that way.

So really, the preliminary planning is more about what happens after my subconscious has taken off. That is, I go with it for as far as it goes, and then when the old subconscious starts to flag, which it usually does within 50 pages or so, that I take a moment about where it's going and how I can get there with enough interesting themes and complexity to deepen the material.

2.) Writing the original draft has been pretty smooth and enjoyable. This has been almost my sole concern for the last four years. Figuring how and when to write. I actually think I have a pretty good handle on this, with a few tweaks.

3.) Revising the book. This is where I've made the biggest changes lately.  I've made the decision that when I'm done, and I like the book, and it's been edited, that I sit down and do a complete rewrite from beginning to end. I've found that I improve the book, technically, even substantively.

At the cost, unfortunately, of removing some of my own enjoyment of the book. But if the book becomes more enjoyable to the reader, then it must be done.  These books, once done, are done with my name on them, and 'good enough' isn't good enough. Not that I was settling earlier.  I was always taking this extra step on every book so far published, but not intentionally but because I was dragged kicking and screaming into it.

So what I've been doing with the last couple of books is just putting the whole process into the schedule and figuring it will have to be done.  I'm actually coming to tolerate the process, if not wholeheartedly love it.

I'm taking a full week off from writing, which seems to be taking forever. Because I'm conscious of it every day. I'm diving in on the full rewrite of Blood of the Succubus on Wednesday, so the next couple of days are all about psyching myself up, storing up that creative energy, making myself eager to do it.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

I am the scruffy edge.

I was telling Linda that I was a little embarrassed by our yards. "I don't want our neighbors to be embarrassed," I said.

We are in the Williamson neighborhood, and people keep very nice yards and gardens here.

So I thought about it, "Well, our particular neighbors aren't quite up to it, either.  We're on the scruffy edge."


Sort of describes my life, I think. Pegasus Books is the scruffy edge of downtown. Probably the one space in the entire area that hasn't had a renovation in 30 years. (If you saw my store, you'd see why, but still...)

My appearance is the scruffy edge. I look like a homeless person right now.  I tell myself that my long scruffy beard is just in the spirit of the Lumber look, that the style has circled back around to me.  Like a stuck clock right twice a day.

My clothes are always a couple years old.  (How this is possible, I don't know.)  I'm driving a 1999 car with only 36K miles on it.  When I inherited it a few years ago, it only had 20K miles on it.  So a really nice older car. Scruffy edge.

My books are pretty scruffy.  Donner Party werewolves and hyper-intelligent pigs on the rampage, and seductive Succubus's and love-lorn gargoyles and mid-life crisis Golems.

I don't think I would have it any other way.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

I bow to no man.

A Review of The White Goddess, by Robert Graves.

I bow to no man in my love of Lord of the Rings.  I was a relatively early reader in the early 60's, (at least, I didn't know anyone who had read the book), and I read it so many times I literally lost count.  I searched in vain for a LOTR's-like followup, and really didn't find any for years. In fact, I started writing Star Axe because I wanted something like that. (I'd like to point out I came up with the title of Star Axe before I ever heard of Star Wars, by the way.)

Anyway, by the time The Silmarillion came along, I'd lost some of my mojo. I couldn't read it. Long lists of strange names, like the Old Testament.

I'm currently reading -- or trying to read -- The White Goddess by Robert Graves. Written in 1948, it is a very dense book.

Now I loved I, Claudius (both the books and the TV show), but this book is more or less unreadable.  I found that if I skimmed it more than read it that I actually came away with more comprehension than if I puzzled over each little bit

Hit a chapter last night that I simply couldn't do.  About an ancient alphabet, it might as well have been cryptology as far I was concerned. I skimmed it fast and kept going.

His argument basically (as I understand it) is that modern culture has buried the old Goddess religions behind science and paternalistic values. That by doing so, we've lost the poetic meaning of myths and of our lives.

What I'm finding as he marshals his arguments are snippets of fascinating legends and lore and the occasional connection between them that makes sense.

But I'm also finding a whole lot of dubious connections between traditions and names of different times and different cultures. He goes way too far.

I'd have to call this "Creative Scholarship," if you will. Fascinating in its own right, but not convincing (to me, at least) in its evidence. I mean, his thesis obviously has some truth to it, but he has more or less assembled facts in a creative way.

What I'm most reminded of is The Illuminati, by Robert Anton Wilson, which is another fascinating exercise in tying random information together in a nice tidy whole. 

I'm still going to try to finish it.

Then, after that, maybe I'll give The Silmarillion a try.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Enforced Not-Writing.

I have such a compulsion to write that when I step away from it I'm amazed. It seems so important, seems so necessary, and then suddenly -- it isn't.

I finished the second draft of Blood of the Succubus, increasing it by 25K words.  I knew that I wanted to give it one last draft, which is my new requirement. It seemed overwhelming to me.

But I was going to give myself a little time off, maybe do a little researching.

So I'm two and half days off from writing, and it becomes so clear to me that all these "requirements" and "one last drafts" and "overwhelming"ness are self-imposed.

Totally in my own head.

But if I didn't have that, I wouldn't do it.

Anyway, even after this short a time, the idea of a new draft isn't quite as daunting.  But I'm still giving myself a full six days off.  Not writing. No matter how much I want to. 

Just step away, fella.

I figure I'll be completely rejuvenated by next Wednesday, and ready to tackle the final goal.

Really, dare I say it, I have a pretty easy life right now. The store is humming right along, and I'm just sort of making sure it's on course, but other than that...I can take time off.

Since I've eliminated almost anything else but writing -- including gardening, movies, books and socializing (not that I ever did much socializing) when I'm not writing, I have nothing but time on my hands. (I've read 14 books this year.  14!!!! Which has to be the lowest number since I was like 7 years old.)

Most of my fellow writers are younger, and still have family and work constraints. But I don't feel too guilty about it.  I put my 30 years into the store, working 60 hour weeks.  I put off writing for 25 years.

I'm due.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Incompetent news stories.

I'm noticing more and more news articles that are badly written.  I noticed it first with online stories, but lately, even the big boys are spilling out poorly edited and constructed stories. I mean, I'm talking New York Times, Washington Post, et al.

The leds are buried, sometimes they aren't even clear. Words that don't belong. And a general lack of structure.

Is this the result of the consolidation of news into cheaper and cheaper venues? Have the big boys cut so much that they aren't any better than the internet? Cause if that happens, what good are they?

Or maybe I'm just noticing it more because I'm doing so much writing myself.  I can tell when it's slapdash and when its been carefully considered, when the writer gives a shit or is just slapping out an assignment.

So for instance, a front page article in the Bulletin this morning. It's written by CQ-Roll Call, entitled, "Outsider Candidates, Any Hope?"

Here's an example of what I consider confusing or vague language:

"With many of the 17 candidates talking about their resumes (talking about their resumes?), these outsiders are showing something different." OK. I get what he's saying, but only because I puzzle it out. But it's such a vague statement as to be useless. It's just taking up space. By the way, "showing" and "talking" are two different things.

Or this: "Both he (Carson) and Trump, leading campaigns that have been embolden by their demeanor, are not dissimilar." I'm not sure I can make sense of that even when I try. I think he's saying, "Though Carson and Trump are exhibit different demeanor, they are not dissimilar."  Or even better, "Though Carson's diffident personality and Trump's brash one have emboldened their campaigns, they are not dissimilar." Something like that, still not very good.

"And, while Trump has drawn criticized (criticism?) for his statements that have been deemed offensive (offensive statements?) -- dissing Mexican immigrants, inflammatory statements about women, and nearing on bullying his opponents...."

That's where I gave up: "...nearing on bullying his opponents..." I can't make any sense of that one. (After more thought, I get it. Trump is nearly bullying his opponents. Or his treatment of his opponent is nearing (verges on) bullying.

This is their job, man.  Give a shit.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Today I finish.

Today I finish the second draft of Blood of the Succubus.

It's going to be about 84K words, a thousand short of my guess. I'm still betting it will be 90K words by the end of the third draft.

I took the Goddess chapters (which tell the origins of the Succubae) to writer's group last night and they were lavish with their praise. Susan called it "high level" writing and other things too generous to say here.  Rather reassuring. Of course, Susan had suggested I write these chapters at the last group...

It feels like a much more layered, textured book than before.

I have to add a couple new characters into the ending chapter, but that shouldn't be too hard.

Then I take a couple days off, and then start researching.  Looking for Goddess elements I can include.  I've got Robert Grave's White Goddess, (which is an impenetrable read but full of poetic passages) and I'm thinking of a couple others.

Then take the rest of the month for a full on rewrite, beginning to end, fleshing out the book and improving it as best I can.

If nothing else, this book will have had the full professional effort.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The book is shaping up.

It's a tangled mess. You're not sure if it works. Things seem out of place.

You dig in, try to put it in some order. You write clarifications, you add here, you cut there.

And then the fog clears and you have a book.

Even though I still have two and half chapters to write, over the last day or two, Blood of the Succubus became a full book, with a beginning and a middle and an end, that made sense, that seems well-written to me.

I mean, I like it.  A lot.

What I have left to write is pretty clear in my head.  They are mostly action scenes and those are the easiest to write. (Or, as I always say, easiest to write, hardest to write well.)

I'm confident this is going to get done, possibly as soon as today, if not tomorrow.  This book will be at least 90 thousands words before it is done, which is full third bigger than most of the books I've been writing.

So then what?

I'm going to give it that extra rewrite I've been talking about. I'm now convinced that the rewrite after the rewrite is totally necessary. It improves the book immensely.

This is a good solid book with some weighty subject matter, a complex plot, lots of characters, that moves forward.

As always, it's the writing I think truly makes a book. Once you have the story -- and for me, the story is often the story -- then it comes down to execution.  I believe I'm a better writer than I was even a year ago, just through constant writing.

I think the writing can always be improved. Almost every run through.

Linda says I'm getting "better and better." She's biased, maybe, but that encouragement is so important, and I'm so lucky she is willing and able to give it.

But for the first time yesterday she mentioned she "missed me" because I'm writing so much.

I'm going to try to finish what's on my plate by the end of the year and then take another look at what I'm doing. As I mentioned a few days ago, I feel burdened by my creativity.  I've got to figure out another way to do it that isn't quite so monomaniacal.

I've had a hell of a run, but I think I can finally let myself believe that I can ease up without losing my creativity.  Just moderate it, put it on more of schedule, allow for other things to happen.

I've written a careers worth of material in the last four years. At least half of it isn't ready for prime-time but the raw material is there. Maybe play with that for awhile.

I'm really proud and grateful for what I've done. I can see the progress. Now I have to figure out a way to integrate other things into my life.

Monday, September 7, 2015

80% rule in writing.

80% of a book's existence is the writing.

20% is everything else: the beta readers, the editing, the dealing with publishers/agents, the book covers, the formatting, the getting up online, the garnering reviews, the publicizing.

That last 20% is responsible for 80% of the problems, the hassles, the stress, the delays.

Up to that point, every decision is in your own hands. You can make snap decisions. If something needs to be done, you can do it.

Suddenly, you're dependent on others, and shit happens.  I mean, sometimes it goes smoothly, but usually there are hiccups, delays, misunderstandings and occasional disagreements.

(Note to Publishers -- you've been great, it's just that it's not all in my hands.)

I could of course just throw my book up online without most of those things. It's possible that might work out -- but pretty improbable.

As you can tell, I love the 80% rule.  It works for just about anything.

I think it's 80% right.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Trapped by my genius.

This is going to sound like a silly complaint.

How do I put it?  I feel trapped by my creative urges.

Around 7:00 last night, after spending 8 hours in front of the computer, I felt like I was in prison.

When did writing become a burden?

Here's the thing -- the creative flow keeps coming.  I darn't turn it down.  After 25 years of getting nowhere, after struggling with ideas after my first 3 books in the 80's, this creative energy is somewhat of miracle.

So I took it and ran with it.

Three years later I'm in an intensive rewrite of a book that I think could be good. I have some time constraints and I have some opportunities.

The opportunities are what I set out to achieve 3 years ago -- so it would be pretty stupid to blow it now.

But this book along with my other "responsibilities" (finished and unfinished books) means that the rest of this year is going to be spent in front of a computer screen. This is the endgame -- or an endgame of sorts. Crazy to slack off now. 

Part of the problem is that I spend as much time in rewriting mode now as I do first draft mode, and rewriting is a chore. 

It has to be done. I've seen enough feedback to know when the rewriting has been noticed and when it hasn't. Basically, it is always noticed, it is always an improvement. It is what makes a book better -- maybe what makes it good.

So there is no fucking choice. So I wrestle with it day after day.

I've never been a terribly outgoing person, but this is a bit much even for me.

I do need to get back to walking in the wilds. This is the one activity that I can do to get out of the house that doesn't disrupt the creative flow, may even enhances it. I burn off some nervous energy, and I refresh the brain.

I need to keep my eye on the prize. The good book. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Carry on, my man, carry on.

I was in an emotionally volatile mood yesterday and I don't know why.  If I had been drinking I would pin it on that.

Got into a fight with Linda over her watching a game show during the day, cut my ties with the CBIA, and had loud animated phone calls with Matt and Cameron where Linda poked her head in and wondered what I was doing. (Harmless, I was just being animated.)

I also wrote one of the best chapters I've ever written.

I felt those weird tingles all over my body that I get when something is really affecting me --  and Linda teared up.  It was all done without being wordy, in fact by being somewhat oblique.

I think I'm getting better as a writer, some of it by getting feedback, but most of it by simply writing so much.

Carry on, my man, carry on.

Making my wife cry again.

I'm a monster.  I try to make Linda cry.

I have a huge advantage as a writer.

Linda listens to each chapter as they emerge. By reading out loud to her I catch mistakes, she catches mistakes, but most of all I can see her reaction.

I trust her judgment completely. So when she says it's great, I've done something good. If she says it's good, I'm probably still OK. If she scrunches her nose and says, it's OK.  Well, probably have a problem

When I write what I hope is an emotional chapter, I'm hoping to get a reaction from her.

I read her what I hoped was a sad chapter last night, and sure enough she teared up.

Success!  I made her cry again! 

I was a little surprised to feel some tingles myself, which is even rarer. In fact, I think it's only happened once before. So that chapter probably works.

Less is more. I did it all obliquely, and therefore it was more successful. A well crafted chapter, by god.

All I ask if for one of those every once in awhile and maybe someday I'll string a whole bunch of them together and maybe one day every chapter in the book will be that way.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Brazilian and the World Cup.

An old customer of mine who I hadn't seen in awhile came in looking for a book and said he was leaving the country.

I mentioned that I'd written a book, ahem, and showed him Led to the Slaughter.

He did the usual, "...hmmm, interesting..." as in Not.

As we're talking a young woman comes in and fixes eyes with me, and moves between us and says, "Are you Duncan?  I've driven here to get a signed copy of your book, which I loved."

"Well thank you!" I say.

"I wanted to tell you that my Brazilian cousin was so hooked by your book that he was reading it during the World Cup!  I'm sending him a copy as a gift."

"Wow," says my friend. "A Brazilian and the World Cup!" He picks up a copy of the book and places it on top of his pile.  "I've always loved the Donner Party," he says.

Sold out of my copies of Led to the Slaughter at the store.  I'm going to have to use my personal copies until I can get some more.  Such troubles...

Thursday, September 3, 2015

All I can ask for.

I've always found writing down on paper the story I've already thought of in my head to be anti-climactic. I want to just wave my hand and have it done already.

I've written five new chapters for Blood of the Succubus.  All of them have come, dare I say it, easy.  I already knew what I wanted them to do.  There are some surprising details and twists while I write, but mostly, you know, they are simply coloring within the lines.

The story exists in my head (and it exists in some extra dimension somewhere -- which is where I'm pulling it from in the first place.)

If writing is pure, then thinking of the story is even purer.  But just as writing the story is different from getting people to read the story, thinking of the story doesn't do me any good unless it is written down.

I know this seems obvious, but the more I write the more I realize that writing has nothing to do with what happens afterwards.

Writing the book is its own thing.  It is the book and nothing but the book.

Really hammering this home is the fact that I'm sitting on complete books. That experience is complete. The story is complete.

But it might as well be a black hole as far as meaning anything, because even though I had the experience of writing it, and even though it exists -- no one will ever know unless I can find a way to get it out where people can find it.

The Internet has changed the equation.  At least now I know if I write a book I can put it someplace where the possibility exists that someone will read it.

The possibility...

I think that is all I can ask for.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Extended length or expanded story?

Just like that, my 58K word novel is 68K words and I feel like I've barely started. Blood of the Succubus.

Linda says it's good, it's great; the best thing I've done since Led to the Slaughter, which was her favorite. 

It certainly is coming easy.  Too easy.  I'm pretty sure an asteroid is going to land on my head, because it is so easy and the universe demands balance.

Went for a walk in the Badlands yesterday. Thought it was going to be cool weather, but halfway through the walk, I realized I'd made a big mistake wearing a black shirt. It was about 80 but felt hotter.

Anyway, made my usual circuit, wrote half a chapter, and came back home.

The whole book with expansions is mapped out.  I just need to sit down each day and write at least one chapter and I'll be done in no time.

What's cool about it is that it doesn't contradict or disrupt the existing story in any way. Hopefully it only enhances it.  The only difficulty so far is trying to decide where the chapters fit best.  I'm making my best guess, but I'll need to read it through when I'm finished to see if it works.

I had a comment that Led to the Slaughter wasn't "long" enough for a mass market book. So I decided to push Blood of the Succubus into 80K words. The bonus is that I think it is improving the book, giving it extra layers of depth.

But last night I looked up Led to the Slaughter and it was 78K words, which I would have thought long enough for mass market.  I think the format -- a larger tradepaperback -- and the font -- Garamond -- made it seem smaller than it was...

Anyway, Blood of the Succubus will be the size it is -- probably around 85K words, I'm guessing now.  I might be able to push that to 90K words by further fleshing out.

Doesn't matter, I suppose. The book has been improved by expanding. Enough so that I'm determined to take the extra time to do that to all my books. But not so much because of the extended length but because of the expanded story.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Creativity is not a limited resource.

What works best for me is to not consider creativity a limited resource.

I get an idea and think, "I can do that."

Then I get started. Sometimes it takes longer than expected, sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's impossible, sometimes it's a false start.

But I never turn down the idea. I never think it's too much work.  I never worry about whether it's commercial or whether it fits anywhere.

I just try to write it. I think I can do it all. I try to do it all.

There is also the idea that if it doesn't work, no harm. I can set it aside, or change it.

There's always more where that came from.

This openness to writing, without filters, has been incredibly productive.

There is an important caveat.  I need to finish most of what I start.

It's probably only possible because of the digital world, with the assumption that if I finish and if it's any good, I can put it out. Nothing blocking me.

So write it.

Flashback city.

I chose a story element for The Blood of the Succubus that probably isn't going to go well with some readers.  I kind of wish I had come up with a different solution, but it's too late now. The "element" will take some convincing since it is so outlandish. The emotional response by the characters has to be believable. So I've been rewriting these chapters a lot.

I have 3 threads, more or less. The first thread is the original plot. The second thread is the introduction of another character, who is a good guy separate from the first characters. The third thread is the Succubae themselves.

In the first draft it was 50/30/20.

The addition of new chapters is going to make it more like 40/30/30, more equal in weight.  I'm hoping the story can maintain it's cohesion.  The main thread still has to carry the forward momentum, since so much of the other parts of the book are flashbacks. I'm thinking it will turn out 60% current, 40% flashback.

That's a heavy use of flashback, but I think I can make them interesting enough and pertinent enough to the story to not be too distracting.

I hope.

I may not know until I've finished the book.  If it doesn't work, I'll pare back the flashback chapters and have a shorter book again.