Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Uncanny Valley of plausibility.

The closer to reality I write, the more anything unrealistic stands out.

I started off writing fantasy. The biggest difficulty with writing fantasy is avoiding overused tropes--and they're all overused by now.

Then I started writing horror. It is much easier to write an original storyline in this genre; just about anything can be labeled horror given a few tweaks here and there.

The last three books I've written are thrillers. I originally stayed away from this genre because I realized that I just didn't have the knowledge of police procedures and gun use and all that kind of thing to make it sound believable.

In other words, the more believable the genre, the more you need to be accurate. An Uncanny Valley of plausibility.

(SF is a whole nother hurdle--getting the science right is crucial and not my strong suit as much as I love reading it.)

I recently had the epiphany that all genres are fantasy in one form or another. So that freed me up to finally tackle the subject. But...I'm still finding the believability factor to be a large hurdle.

I've mentioned my tendency for quirkiness--well, in fantasy this is not only not a hindrance, it's a benefit. The more peculiar, the better. Unless, I suppose, you're writing ponderous medieval epic fantasy. (A large percentage of fantasy.)

I'm trying to play this thriller straight. Make it interesting, but not by doing odd little things. It's pretty difficult for me to stick to reality. I always want to throw in stuff that is cute or a little strange.

But I don't want any reader to go, "Wait....what?"

So the problem is this: If I write fantasy, then I have to construct an entire world, when all I really want to do is tell a damn story.

If I write thrillers, the world is already there, but everything has to be researched to make it plausible.

In both cases, it's a lot of work and I'm intellectually lazy. 

Horror is a nice middle ground for me. I can write with a reality background but am allowed to be as quirky as I want to be.

But I've now written so much horror that I want to try other things. Plus I've realized that most people don't take horror seriously. (Even though I think right now it's the most vibrant of genres...)

So I have to research (for thrillers) or I have to world build (for fantasy.)

I still intend to write a fantasy trilogy someday. All this writing I've done is prelude to that. But I'm not ready to tackle it yet.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Going quirky.

Wrote a chapter yesterday and woke up today certain I'd gone off track.

I went quirky.

I have a scene where the main protagonist meets a crime boss. As he approaches the ballroom of an old rundown Victorian house that serves as headquarters, he hears Billy Joel music. Entering the room, there are couples dancing to the music, obvious professionals, with an audience of gangsters. They're paid off and leave and then the scene more or less starts.

Uh, what?

Why did I include the professional dancers? Billy Joel, fine. This is New Jersey. But young people dancing for the pleasure of gangsters? I don't think so.

(Oh, and the Victorian is a faded pink color. Unnecessary quirky detail?)

I tend to do this kind of thing if I don't watch myself. Sometimes the quirk takes over the book. In "Deadfall Ridge" I have the main character wearing a bulletproof Bigfoot costume through most of the book. It becomes a running joke.

It started off as a simple quirk, a prank the hunting guide plays on his clients. But then I made the mistake of keeping it.

So I'm trying not to do that again, unless I plan on making the entire book quirky, in which case I probably should do a lot more of it. It's hard enough to keep plausibility without adding to the problem.

Yes, I've identified thrillers as another form of fantasy. (Reading the last Silva book about the super Israeli spy, Gabriel Allon. Might as well put spandex on him.) But that just means I have to try all the harder to keep verisimilitude wherever and whenever I can.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Big Plot Twist

One more chapter to write of "Shadows over Summer House" where I actually know where I'm going. It is one of the partial chapters I wrote before this version, so I will finally catch up. A little over 50K words, so this is officially a book if I can find an ending. (I'm guessing at least 5K words collated from the previous version and another 5K from a routine rewrite, so more like 60K so far.)

Now, I have to construct a heist, and then a final confrontation. Only vague glimmerings of these.

Somewhere in the middle of the climax I reveal The Big Plot Twist. Then I have to go back and decide how many hints I want to include, to play fair. Or maybe no hints, I'm not sure.

If I write steadily, I'll be done with this version somewhere around mid-March. This will be the longest I've spent on a first draft of a book. I want to give it a good solid rewrite. So that will take me until April before I have an officially completed first draft.

That's assuming that the story keeps flowing. I'm not writing over blocks this time. I'm waiting for inspiration.

Assuming I finish, I'm setting the manuscript aside for a minimum of two months. This is something new, at least on a purposeful basis. But I've learned over the last few books that after a couple of months I tend to come up with substantial improvements. So this time, I'm adding this cooling-off period to the process. Add in the editor time, and a final rewrite and this book will probably take more than six months to complete. Which is way longer than usual.

However, about 2 of those months aren't actually spent writing, so I can turn my attention to other projects during that time. Still, even 4 months is longer than normal for me.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sometimes with plot you just have to leap. You don't know if will work out until you've done it and by then it might be too late to change it.

But you can't always know in advance. I'd rather take chances and come up with something surprising and fresh than stick to what I already know, but it seems like a high percentages of misses to get a few really good turns.

I believe I can write poetically, but I'm afraid to because it is so damn easy to slip into excess. I mean, straightforward language is perfectly fine in most cases, and that's what I've stuck to until now. I've stuck to forthright plots and language that gets the job done.

So I spent the morning rewriting an entire page looking for the poetic version of it, and sure enough I just can't tell if I'm overdoing it. I mean, I like it. It's what I've always thought writing was, but I've always pulled myself away from it because I felt that simplicity was probably better.

A few metaphors and creative license sentences on this page:

  "acid pangs of regret began to eat away my resolve."
 " The answer was a whirlpool I didn’t dare approach."
 " It was as if she was a distant memory, nothing more than a fleeting contentment, a morning on the beach playing in the waves.
 "... my resistance crumbled like an abandoned sandcastle at high tide."
 " Moonlight washed the Victorian in shadowless gray, a discarded painting framed by black skies."
 "At the edge of the beach, waves erupted from the darkness of Devil's Hole, a reminder of the oblivion that awaited a misstep."

That kind of thing.... 

I've decided that since "Shadows over Summer House" is a Gothic hard-boiled romance that if I'm ever going to do this kind of purplish writing, this is the right story. 


Thursday, February 22, 2018

Winter decided to finally arrive, messing up my writing. You see, I get most of my writing done on walks and if I can't walk, I have to fall back on my secondary modes. The bedroom seems to be the best place. Night before last, after dithering all day, I finally closed the door around 6:00. Amazingly, I came out three hours later with a chapter written. A very fast three hours.

Yesterday, went into Bend and didn't get any writing done. Came back after dark and went over to the school track a block away and did 12 circuits. Boring compared to walking out in the woods, but it just shows how far I really walk. After spending half my life thinking I had no willpower, I seemed to have gained an iron will about some things. Writing and walking, at least.

Snow on the ground today, so preparing myself for another session in the bedroom. I don't know why I can't use my office, dammit, that's what it's for!

Again, a wasted day. I did get an idea for a semi-action scene in the middle of all the domesticity. And the answer I came up with will allow me to have a little chapter heading paragraph from diary of a Victorian lady who owned the house.

For some reason I have a knack for these; my brain can come up with a little beginning middle and end in one paragraph. Linda laughed out loud at my first entry and I did think is was a pretty clever last line...

So I got almost a 1000 words done, so I take it back; not a completely wasted day.

I can add these little additions or not and I can write them at random so I'll go ahead.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

I'm up to 42K words on "Shadows over Summer House." The last three chapters have been somewhat domestic, if that is the word. Just people getting together, developing relationships.

I mean how much does it matter what happens to people if you don't get to know them? How much can you care about what happens to them?

I'm still trying to figure out that equation. With this book, I'm spending more time on narrative and relationships, less on action and plot. Probably a bad idea. But the thing is, I like it. I'm enjoying it. So I'm doing it.

I'll put it out in the world and maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. Maybe people will actually like it as much as I do.

I'm trying to think of something more impactful I can place in the middle of these chapters. I may have come up with an answer last night before bed. The answer was pretty obvious when I asked myself the question.

A big problem I'm having with this book are the real-life scenarios. I have half the book concerning longshoremen and a heist, and half the book with a house renovation. Well, I know nothing about longshoremen or house renovations, besides what I see on TV. I'll have to do enough research to make those scenes plausible. I think "plausible" is the most realistic standard I can aspire to.

The most pleasant surprise that I'm actually not having much trouble delaying the Big Twist. I'm pretty sure now that I can hold off the reveal until much later in the book where it will have the most effect.

Essentially, the big reveal happens just as the climactic action takes place.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The sympathetic reader.

My wife is my sympathetic reader. She likes what I write, really truly likes it. She will point out if I've gone too far off track, but mostly she approves.

I don't know what writers do who don't have someone to read to as they're writing. Reading aloud to myself doesn't do it. Having an audience, even if it is one, is enough for me to catch mistakes, to get a sense of the flow.

I do a lot of automatic editing when I read to others. I have it written one way, and it comes out of my mouth another way, and I've yet to find an example of where the way I read it wasn't better than the way I wrote it. I try to catch those; I'll flat stop reading to correct it if I notice no one else is making notations.

What often happens when something isn't clear to others is that the explanation is better than what is actually written. I've often wanted to take down word for word what another writer has explained and hand it over to them and say, "Do that."

At the same time, though, I've decided not to read first drafts to writer's group. I don't want to be influenced until the basic story is down. After that, the more critique the better--as long as it is constructive and my writer's group is mostly constructive unless they get in a feeding frenzy. (Someone points something out and everyone piles on.)

Again though, even if the critique isn't valid, just the simple act of reading aloud to sympathetic readers is immensely helpful to me.

I think it's dangerous to never expose your writing to others. Yes, at first keep it to yourself, but before you let it loose into the world, get some second opinions. You don't have to take those opinions, but it might prepare you for what is likely to happen.

At writer's group there is often a consensus, and again, that consensus is usually correct. That doesn't mean the writer has to bend to their consensus, but it might usually be a good idea. Of course, you have to figure out whether the good is in sync or not. If you see the advice given to others as good, then take their critique of your stuff seriously. If you see them being off base, then take that into account too. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Damn, every book is different.

It's a cliche but true.

It's like I've never written a book before. The process comes out different, the writing seems different, the plot development and characters arrive differently.

I'll be damned if I can make sense of it.

"Shadows Over Summer House" in some ways is very leisurely. I'm not pushing it at all. I even went back and wrote the first 15 chapters from scratch. No hurry. Spending time with the characters, lots of little day to day detail, not worried about Michael Bay-ing it. Letting nothing happen if that's what needs to happen (or not happen.)

It's mostly a love story. Who knew I'd be inclined to write that? But it seems to be showing up more and more in my stories. Then again, I remember the first book where I felt like I was "getting" it: "Freedy Filkins," I had a nice little love story in it and it surprised me how easy and natural it was to write those scenes.

As I've mentioned, I feel like I've rediscovered the joys of narration. This happens and then this happens and yes, I'm telling you but isn't it nice to cover all this territory and not have to jam it into a scene?

This will be my third 1st person POV novel. But this is the first one that has felt totally comfortable. I've gathered so many characters around the protagonist that I don't feel like I have to go off with secondary and tertiary story lines like I usually do. 36K words in and I'm still developing the story, still new characters and situations.

I really want to develop these characters so I'm going to try to put some character interaction chapters where the "action" isn't forefront.

Just looking forward everyday to getting something down, and I want to make sure I don't take any missteps.

Oh, by the way, I wanted to talk about that.

There comes a time in every novel where I feel like I went off track, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot.

Some books I make it all the way through. "Rule of Vampire" for instance was perfect the way it was. I really like "The Last Fedora." "Tuskers IV" was exactly what I hoped for. Most often I can fix a book by dent of effort and rewriting. But I sometimes have elements that didn't quite work and there was no way of knowing in advance and no way to change it.

Well, with this rewrite I now feel like I've made it halfway without going off track, so I'd like to continue that if I could.

Every chapter needs to feel right before I proceed.

At the same time, I'm beginning to think that this book isn't going to be what people want. I mean, I want it, and Linda likes it, and I think if the right people found it they would like it. But I doubt it is the thriller that will open the doors.

But it doesn't matter. It's the book before me and I'm very into it, and that's what counts.

There's another book after this one, and then another, if I'm lucky. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Boring update.

Finally finished the last rewrite chapter. It took me 4 days! It was very hard to write a chapter that I thought had come out all right in the first place. But again, it turned out well.

Final wordage, 36K, which in addition to the original 24K would have made a decent first draft.

So I'm halfway through and from today on, everything will be fresh material. I can't imagine that I'll want to double up on the writing again. There was a good reason to redo the first part, but hopefully I won't go as far astray with the rest of the book.

The weather has been a little cold for sitting and writing on my walks. Not so much the temperature as the wind chill. There always seems to be a pretty heavy wind. I write a little in the car when I arrive at the trailheads, and then a little when I get back. But sitting and freezing and imagining is problematic.

Still, it seems to be the only way to get myself going. I created this process and now I have to live with it. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Strange and tardy ambitions.

When I was a teenager, like all teenagers, I wanted to learn to play the guitar, I wanted to learn a foreign language, I wanted to draw, I wanted to write books, and I had a vague idea of owning a bookstore.

Well, I did the writing and I owned the bookstore.

But here at the ripe old age of 65 I suddenly want to learn German again. I want to play the guitar and sing, if only to myself, and I want to learn to draw, if only crudely.

Just for my own amusement.

Semi-retired is interesting. Suddenly, I'm listening to full albums, albums from my ambitious youth when I thought all things possible. (Right now, listening to Joan Baez in Concert, 1962--when songs like Kumbaya were new and you could sing them without irony...)

I don't feel old at all. I feel like a teenager. I feel like I have time to explore.

When I came back to writing I exploded all over the page. Somewhat to my own surprise. Good lord, what is this?

From the age of 18 to 28 I was struggling just to survive my depression and aftermath. It was bad, I can never forget that. I've been so damn lucky to emerge from that, to thrive even, and the depression has never come back.

It was wonderful to own my own business, but it was hugely stressful and time-consuming. Decades passed in an instant, me going to work everyday, doing the job, just doing the heavy lifting it took to survive the ups and downs.

The store finally became self-sustaining, with the help of a good manager and employees, and so I indulged my passion--my obsession--with writing. Six years later I'm starting to tail off. I'm still writing, but the urgency isn't there.

German? Well, I've been watching German movies and shows on Netflix and there is this constant feeling that I've ALMOST got it. I took a couple of years of German in high school but I remember only a few words and phrases--as least consciously.

Someday I hope that Linda and I can go to Europe and wouldn't it be nice to at least understand a bit of the language? Ein Bisschen?

The drawing. Well, that goes along with my writing. I constantly have ideas that I wish I could cartoon out. Surely, I can learn enough basics to do that?

Guitar? Hell, I'm not talking about much more than learning a few chords and songs in my voice range, which is admittedly limited.

Maybe none of this will happen, but it's interesting that I even have the ambition.

Time is precious and it is taken up by the need to make a living.

Such is life, I guess.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Small encouragements.

Sometimes even small encouragements can keep you going.

Got an email from someone who noticed Tuskers III in the University of Arizona bookstore and thought it was the kind of thing he might like, and did I have any other audio books besides Tuskers I?

So, the fact that it was actually at the bookstore is encouraging, as well as his interest being strong enough to inquire.

I knew that the Tuskers books and Snaked were available for bookstore distribution, but how do you know where they show up? So any reports from the wild are appreciated. (Interesting that it is AZ, because that's where most of the books take place.)

And then I had a friend who pretty much raved about Snaked, about how much she liked it, and I think she was sincere and she obviously had read it. She gave me a nice review.

Anyway, maybe because they come out of nowhere, such small encouragements can keep one going.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Hanging out with my characters longer.

One chapter left to rewrite.

Interesting journey. I'm going to go ahead and write the rest of the book before I try to consolidate the two versions, so I won't really know how well it works until that happens, but my sense is that I've added some depth and texture that wouldn't otherwise be there.

And it certainly helps that the new version is sequentially and tonally correct.

It ended up at 32K words, which replaced 24K words, so already I've done some fleshing out. I figure I'm about halfway through a first draft. Basically, I write sparsely in my first draft, getting the plot down as fast as I can and then going back later and adding description and detail.

This way, I'm doing both.

The unexpected bonus is that I'm spending twice as much time covering the same timespan; that is, I'm hanging out with the characters longer. I don't know if that has had a material effect on my story, but I do like the characters and it can't hurt to get to know them better.

The question I always have to ask myself when I finish a book is--did I work hard enough on it? All things being equal, the one thing I have some real control over is how much time I take to do it. So spending twice as much time is certainly being diligent, and doing it this way keeps the story fresh.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Upping the sex and violence.

I decided since I was implicitly promising both Gothic Romance and Hard Boiled-ness, that I needed to up the sex in one half and the violence in the other half.

"Shadows over Summer House."

The tagline is "A Hard Boiled Gothic Novel."

So I added three sex scenes. They aren't overly explicit, I don't believe, but there is definitely sex involved. Probably still coming up short, but I think it fits the novel as written, so I don't feel like it is pandering.

The violence is just a matter of adding a few more blows, a few more bullets, and maybe a bit more blood. Again, nothing over the top, I don't believe, but just fulfilling the full potential of the scenes.

Spicing it up, so to speak. I can always take them out if I decide it's too much.

But to me it is just another way of adding Crocodiles.

Couldn't face rewriting a previously written chapter from scratch, or the chapter after that, so moved onto a chapter that was fresh.

So the two skipped chapters still have to be rewritten, along with about three partial chapters, probably taking me to somewhere around 34K words before I move into all new territory.

It's gotten harder and harder to do the same thing twice, though every single time I've done it, I've been very happy with the result. So I'm going to force myself this weekend to do the final two complete chapters.

If nothing else it will provide an internal consistency in sequence and tone, instead of me trying to move and change stuff around to fit.

Since I fully intend to raid the first version for pertinent fragments, it'll be good to have a solid framework to hang it on. As I said, this will probably bring the book to about 40K words or so.

And the Twist is still in the future. My goal all along was to hold off the Big Reveal until no sooner than 2/3rds of the way through, preferably 3/4ths of the way through. I think this is now achievable.

Wrote one of the two skipped chapters. It's taking all my willpower to finish this process. These later chapters were more complete and fit the story better. I have to remind myself that continuity wasn't the only reason I was doing this.

Doing the same thing twice from scratch is just a way of more fully imagining the scene, so that when I combine the two versions it will feel more thought out. All it requires is more work, and more work and time is all I can do to try to improve.

The real problem is that story is somewhat pedestrian. I mean, there is a lot of interaction that is somewhat humdrum.

Someone asked what was happening in current WIP and the answers by other writers were dramatic and exotic.

In mine? "The characters are having tea and talking about house renovations--and flirting."

I may be in the wrong business.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

What book got me into reading?

Someone asked that on Facebook. To me that's a little like asking what meal got me into eating. I can't ever remember a time when I didn't want to read, and can barely remember the time before reading.

I have a memory of the family sitting outside our house on 12th St. in Bend. My older brother, Mike, and older sister, Tina, were talking about the books they were reading. I remember yelling, "I want to read!"

Mom turned to me and said, "You're too young, Duncan. You'll learn to read next year in school."

(Hard to imagine a parent doing that today, eh?)

Anyway, I wanted to read so bad that I remember memorizing a book about a big container that held a refrigerator that the kid turns into a fort. How I memorized it by not reading, I can't tell you. Maybe I asked it to be read so many times that I got it all down. Or, more likely, I filled in the blanks.

That might have been the beginning of my creative career.

I inhaled books for the rest of my childhood, hundreds of Scholastic type books that are impossible to remember now. I have memories of a few childhood books like "Rabbit Hill" and the Doctor Doolittle books, but mostly they are a big blur.

I was talking to another book person the other day about how I've been keeping track in a journal since I was about 30 years old of the books I've read and how unwieldy it had become and how I needed to enter it in a program where I could cross-reference titles and authors and dates and how that would be a huge amount of work.

She mentioned Good Reads and how she kept the list there, and how she'd gone into the past and tried to reconstruct the books she'd read.

That doesn't compute. That's impossible.

I have the sense, right or wrong, that I read more before I was 30 than I've read since. Probably much more. I know one year I read some ridiculous amount, dare I say 200? (I was agoraphobic at the time and more or less a shut-in.)

Anyway, there is no way to count the number of books and I don't suppose it is a contest.

Twice in my life I did make the effort to increase my reading. In both cases it was because my writing had taken the place of reading.

The first time was because I couldn't read without seeing all the mechanics of it. I forced my way past that, eventually.

This second time it's probably because my own fictional worlds took the place of books. So once again I'm forcing myself to read more; a book a week, and so far this year I've been managing it. Ironically, I'm trying to be more critical, learn some new tricks, but if the book is working I find myself sinking into it without awareness of technique.

This isn't humble bragging. This is just the way it has always been. Reading has always been like a parallel and separate existence along with my real life and I can't imagine not doing it. When someone says they don't read, I feel sorry for them. Really, like they've just told me they've amputated both feet.

Friday, February 9, 2018

How do you become a better writer than you are?

Experience? Study? Read more? Take a magic pill?

Do you have a level of talent that can't be breached? Are you only so deep? Are you just smart enough to see how you're not smart enough? Do you know when you have insights and you know you're short of them?

Do you read a book and realize that you'll never be that good? Not even close?

Do you keep writing even though you come short of your own expectations every time? Is that vision of the great book you keep having a complete illusion, forever out of reach?

Do you just keep trying, hoping you'll get lucky, that you'll stumble across a magic formula, that you'll put it all together?

Is there a stasis to your talent? It is what it is and nothing you can do can change it? Like a puzzle that you can glimpse the solution of but can't quite get there?

Is this even the point? Is the process enough, the enjoyment of telling a story, of living in an imaginary world?

Who decides if you're a good writer and are they right and does that change over time?

What does becoming a better writer even mean? Who and what can measure quality?

Do other writers have these kinds of thoughts, these doubts?

Am I procrastinating from writing?


Gut check time.

I've written 24K words in the new version to match the 24K words in the original. (Which under normal circumstances 48K would be 2/3rds a first draft of a full book.)

There are somewhere around 5 or 6 chapters left to write to catch up to the timeline of the first draft, so I've obviously fleshed out the second version by at least that much. This is even before combining the two versions which I'm sure will add ten to twenty percent to the total.

But it is really hard to motivate myself each day to write something I've already written. And getting harder. So far, I've managed to do it for 12 days. I need to keep it up for 5 or 6 more days, maybe more.

I shall do it out of general principles. I shall!!

A stupid title I like.

My WIP had the working title of "Gangster Gothic" the first draft. "Hardboiled Gothic" the second draft.

The third draft is going to be titled: "Shadows over Summer House," with the tagline "A Hardboiled Gothic novel."

It literally is half hard-boiled heist story and half Gothic romance, including a big, mysterious Victorian Mansion.

But it is also probably neither. I worry that those who like one genre will be turned off by the other genre.

But it is meshing so well that it is meant to be, I figure.

My hard-boiled stuff is probably silly. I mean, it feels kind of dated even as I write it, but that's the "tone" I'm looking for. Set in current times, but with a fifties hard-boiled feel. Probably not enough blood and gore.

The Gothic romance is probably incredibly tame by today's standards. Probably not enough sex.

But I really like the mix; it isn't awkward at all.

Trying to work out the timing of the coming chapters. For once, it might do me some good to diagram them out a little.

I worry a little that I'm enjoying myself so much that I'm settling into this world a little too much. I never want my pacing to be slow; I don't want to bore people. Then again, I'm enjoying fleshing out things, making the world a little more real, the characters a little more full.

This truly is a fantasy for me. I'm the main narrator to this particular story so in a sense I'm living it. Of course, I'm in no way similar to the protagonist, except in my dreams.

Which is the point.

Someone on Facebook asked what weakness you worry most about in your writing.

I think mine is pacing.

On one hand I want to develop and flesh out my story. On the other hand, the worse crime is to be boring.

I can't account for how people read books, though. I've recommended books that people have come back and said they got bored. If people can be bored by "Snow Crash" or Heinlein juveniles, well, I just have to throw up my hands.

I think there has been a change from when I was a kid.  Younger readers don't seem to have the patience that we had. I don't know. I can't prove it.

But just look at the pacing of movies and TV and figure the same thing is probably happening in writing. Cecil B. DeMille movies are glacial in pacing say, compared to Spielberg, and that's not even going into M. Bay movies (which I loath by the way.)

But I still enjoy a nicely developed spun out story. I truly believe that more development, the bigger the payoff.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Nearby, beautiful, and abandoned.

It was so nice out yesterday that I drove to the Ochoco Mountains. Still too early. I ran into dirty snow and mud--primordial mud. Nowhere really to walk. Eked it out, but very unsatisfying.

Running into more people as the weather turns. Funny, I run into less people in mid-summer. But of course, it can be really hot out there in the high desert during the summer, so maybe I'm the only one willing to sweat.

I'm looking for an impossible place: nearby, beautiful, and abandoned.

If I had a pickup I could venture further into the wilderness, but I only have my Toyota with a front suspension that's giving out because of my rocky wanderings.

22,000 words as of yesterday, which is interesting because the original version only had 24K words in total and I have a long way to go before I catch up to that timeline. I'm guessing I'll get to somewhere around 35K words before I've re-envisioned all the scenes I originally envisioned. By the time I consolidate the two versions, I may be over 40K words, which is wonderful.

I have the main character connecting with some longshoreman Teamsters in a place called Ashton Harbor, (a made up place.) I decided it needed to be a port, but a small one. Did such places exist?

Well, I reasoned that there still had to be ports that didn't take the big container ships, but maybe smaller container ships. There still had to be ports that took in or shipped cargo outside of containers, maybe even ones who specialized in that.

So I went ahead and wrote the scenes.

Then I did the research, figuring I'd have to adjust to reality.

Turns out there are such things as "feeder" ships and "feeder ports," that do indeed deal in smaller container ships, which then go to the big ports. (55 worldwide.)

It turns out 10% of all cargo is still shipped outside of containers.

Which all fit just right with the scene I wrote.

Amazing how often that happens.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Had a long talk with myself.

Why am I writing the same thing twice?

To continue to convince myself that this is right way to go about things. I've basically told myself I need to take twice as long and make twice as much effort on my books because I'm lazy.

I'm intellectually lazy and I'm impatient.

But I've worked out a process that I think avoids the pitfalls of rewriting that I've fallen into in the past, while accentuating the positive parts of my process. It's five years worth of writing experience.

If I was a smarter, deeper, more talented writer I might come up with an insight, or a pithy sentence, or a poetic passage once a day. But maybe I'm only 1/5th as smart, deep, and talented.

So I need to take five days to accomplish the same thing.

That is, if that is possible. It's more than possible that I'm on a plateau of smartness, deepness, and talent, that nothing I can do will get me higher up the mountain.

But it's worth the try.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Narrative is the new frontier.

More thoughts on narrative.

I feel like I've been neglecting narrative, but I can go back to my first book (on this go-around) "Led to the Slaughter" and find a fair amount of narrative. I'm sure all my books have had narrative.

But I do think in my later writing I got to a very scene oriented approach.

What does narrative provide?

It allows for the mundane. For the fact that life is going on. That amidst all the drama and action, normal life continues. But you don't have to detail the mundane in a scene, you can paraphrase the passing of time. This is the reality of most people's lives and if you leave it out completely, in a sense you aren't reflecting the substance of day to day life.

It allows for the author's voice. Narrative is natural for 1st person storytelling especially.  I think "Deadfall Ridge" doesn't have enough of the narrator's voice. Hart is recounting what happened by way of scenes. I should have relaxed a little more there, let him spin out the story.

It allows for information and description. It allows for observation. It allows for pacing.

It allows for perspective. If I show something dramatic happening and just leave it hanging out there, it doesn't stand out the way it should. By talking about it, by bracketing the action or conversation with the weather, the miles traveled by car, the shopping and exploring done by the character, you make the scene stand out all the more. You place it in context.

Monday, February 5, 2018

"Luck, timing, and who you know."

So I've thought about a lot. I've researched it. I've tested the market.

And the conclusion I've come to is: Write for myself.

This doesn't preclude any number of things happening, but it does put the emphasis on the one thing I can control.

When I first started writing I was told getting published was a matter of "luck, timing, and who you know." I didn't want to believe this. I wanted to believe it was a meritocracy. And my initial success seemed to warrant that faith--though, in hindsight, there was a lot of timing involved. (Tower Books was actively seeking Sword & Sorcery.)

Here these many years later, I've come to the conclusion that it comes down to "luck, timing, and who you know." Yes, you need to have merit. But that's only the start of it.

LUCK: Luck for me was reading a tweet about how Books of the Dead was looking at unsolicited manuscripts. (Meritocracy was hanging in there until the editor found a book he liked.)

Luck was hearing out of the blue from a major publisher telling me how much he liked "Led to the Slaughter." Which led to a sale (ghostwritten, but well-paying),which led to the opportunity to try to sell a book under my own name. An opportunity that is frayed but not quite gone.

TIMING: Timing was coming in at the end of the "Golden Age" of indy publishing, when the editor was most enthused. The same thing was true of Ragnarok and Cohesion--both were at their most optimistic. Timing was having the latter two publishers collapse at more or less the same time, bringing it to the attention of other publishers and being able to sell all my books to new venues.

Timing is being an opportunist. Seeing possibilities when they present themselves. I'm very good at this.

WHO YOU KNOW: Having a book with BOTD helped me sell to Ragnarok which helped me sell to Cohesion which helped me sell to my new publishers.

On the other hand, I've always been lousy at gaining allies and mentors. Which is probably why I ended up owning my own business. (Meritocracy at its best.) So trying to do it on my own is pretty tough.

Another part of meritocracy is being able to promote one's books. This takes promotional skill and aggressiveness and I have neither of those things.

So getting published is a mix of all these things and it's complicated. I haven't even talked about traits like persistence and diligence and being prolific.

Luck would be coming up with a Killer Elevator Pitch and following it through with a really well-written book. Timing would be coming out when that idea has the most appeal. Who you know would be getting it in the hands of someone who can do you the most good.

Pretty tall order.

Like I've said. I've thought about it. Ignorance is bliss, and I wish I had some of that. But for me, I'm most comfortable if I can figure out where I stand. I feel like I've got a pretty good feel for it.

But...if I'm writing a book, none of that fucking matters. The only thing that matters is the book itself. This is under my control. This and only this.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Give the writer your trust.

I was checking my Kindle and in the last week I've had two people read all of one page of one of my books.

Really? One page? What can you really tell from one page?

I keep hearing that kind of thing. "Books got to grab me right away or else..."

Well, sure. I get that. But, you know, how about settling into a story? Letting the writer spin it out? It might pay off in the end, you know?

8 chapters, 7 days of rewriting. 14K words.

I figure I'm about halfway through.

I'm checking the original draft for names only. I know that some of the original draft was better than this draft, and some of this draft is better than the original draft. I can combine the two, hopefully. As long as I have nice, strong, sturdy timeline to hang it on.

It's getting harder to keep doing it the farther in I go. It's taking all my willpower not to just use the first draft and say "Good Enough."

The biggest help was at the beginning, where the sequencing had gotten wopsed. But I'm still convinced that the little details I'm adding to the second version are worth the effort. I'm determined to see it through.

The narrative chapters are interesting. I've had two full narrative chapters out of eight, and I've let narrative become a bigger part of the chapters that are told by scenes.

I have no idea if this story will interest anyone else, I'm letting it set the pace, but it interests me.

Still learning the basics.

Or maybe relearning the basics. In both writing and in business.

After 36 books, and a solid six or seven years of writing, I'm still stumbling across the obvious.

It's all well and good to get advice or to read how-to books, but there is that moment when you discover something yourself and it really takes hold. I mean, I shouldn't have to touch the hot stove to know its hot, but apparently I'm one of those people.

After a few years in business, I went up the Small Business Administration and sat with a business adviser and he told me I had a "crude sophistication."

I prefer to think of it as coming to good conclusions the hard way. Learning by trial and error. Thinking for myself.

In fact, in both writing and in business, the common wisdom is often quite wrong, at least the way I do things.

Whenever anyone asks what the most important attribute for being a small business owner is, I see all kinds of suggestions but I never see what I think is the thing that has helped me the most:


Anyway, writing 36 books is certainly learning by doing. I'm probably just slow and dense, I don't know, but I seem to learn something new with every book. Sometimes probably stuff I should have known a long time ago, or even at the beginning.

I will take advice. I will accept criticism. I can be swayed pretty easily (one reason not to show what I'm doing until I'm done with the first draft.)

But I tend not to go out and seek advice. I reached a point where it seemed like what I was reading or hearing wasn't all that helpful. Of course, some of it was good stuff--but some of it was bad stuff and there isn't any real way of knowing until you've done it.

So, right or wrong, I embarked on this new writing career determined to do it my way, to trust my own instincts. I'm constantly picking stuff up along the way, but like I said, I take it all with a grain of salt. It's more reinforcement for what I already know, in most cases. Or something that is such a strong insight that I can't resist.

But the rest I'm learning by doing, and as a result I keep finding the obvious.

Saturday, February 3, 2018


One consequence of writing in scenes is that most of the story is happening right now. I mean, in theory this is a good thing, right?

But I'm finding that by purposely inserting narrative into the latest story that it gives me the option of adding time. That is, I can in a narrative way talk about how the days pass, and where the character goes, and what he's thinking.

It extends the timeline, which makes the story feel a little more grounded in the real world, allows for the action and conversation beats to rise above the narrative.

It also allows more of an author's voice, and I've always felt my author's voice is pretty good. For some reason I got away from it. In the attempt to really visualize the story--and again, that's probably not a bad thing--I stopped using narrative techniques to advance the story.

Narrative is great for transitions, obviously, but it is also possible to flesh the thoughts and actions of the characters. By definition, almost, it is telling not showing. But that isn't always a bad thing, I think. It telegraphs a lot of information that can add texture to the story. It might be a bit of a blunt instrument, but a handy instrument for all that.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Maybe because I've become more conscious of the technique, I'm letting more narrative into this story.  What it seems to do is add more of a time element to the story. That is, days can pass that can be described in a narrative way. It's a different way to pace the book.

Linda is my check on these things, but she also seems to like my stuff most of the time. She likes that it is all sequential from one POV.

"You're writing for yourself, remember?" she said last night.

I'm still forcing myself to write original material. The temptation is still there to say, "The chapter you wrote in the original version was fine, just use that," but even if that is true, the purpose of this rewrite is to flesh it out, to add more detail, and to pick the best wordage from each version.

Weirdly enough, this probably really is a good technique for me. First drafts are the easiest part of writing for me, and I have often wished I could just start over. But because of that I had a rule against it. But now I'm totally comfortable with the idea of writing 1500 to 2000 words a day, and knowing the story already makes it easier.

I'm in a muddier part of the story now, where it might be harder to keep the sequence pristine. But in a way, that's why I'm doing it.