Sunday, April 30, 2017

"Deadfall Ridge is done."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 28, 2017

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

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

I suspect moving and writing are even less compatible.

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

Anything at all.

(Warning to Linda.)

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Killing my darling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 24, 2017

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

I should be done on time, May 1. 

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

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

Everything is improved by good writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Starting the re-write.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 21, 2017

For a few landscape descriptions, I drove 350 miles.

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

"Any cancellations?"

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

"What's going on?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The book moves fast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The framework is there, but there are probably tons of little inconsistencies that can only be smoothed by re-writing. I know it's beneficial to have some distance, but I also need to have the entire story in my head, which I have right now and might not in a month. a month, after I get it back from my personal editor, I'll have that distance. But right now, since I have it all in my head, I need to go through it again from the beginning.

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

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

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

Filling in the holes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Writing on my day off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly I had four more chapters in mind.

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

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

Oh, brain. Make up your mind.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

My thriller "Deadfall" is finished.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

Time to be sappy.

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Do YOU like the book?"

"Yes, yes I do."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Do YOU like the book?"

"Why, yes. Thank you for asking."

Thursday, April 6, 2017

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

I've been trying to think why.

I think I made a couple of strategic errors.

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

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

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

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

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

Someone to talk to! Yea!

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

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

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

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

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

But necessary.

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 3, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slowly, oh so slowly.

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

I made the right choice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I probably should apply that to my writing.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Problems with "Bigfoot Ranch":

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

Solutions to the problems:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much better.

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

Then the ending.

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