Tuesday, October 30, 2018

I just finished a book. I'm setting it aside for a month to mellow, as is my new procedure.

This is a good time to think about what I'm trying to do.

I can write no end of stories, apparently. And maybe that's what I'll do. I seem to be almost addicted to the process. Life feels a little empty when I'm not writing.

But I'm not sure what I'm accomplishing.

I mean, writing for my own well-being is a worthy goal and in the end maybe all that matters. But there is no way to break through to a wider audience that makes any sense.

I figure if I did all the marketing I could do, the chances of having a good result is maybe 10%. Better than the 0% if I don't do any marketing, but not good enough to spend all the time and effort and social cost.

I've always had the idea that if I wrote a good enough book that word-of-mouth would take off. Well, either I've not written that book, or word-of-mouth isn't going to do the job.

I've had more success than I expected. I've been published (paid) by 10 different publishers in my career. So it's not a fluke.

And if I do say so myself, they are a lot better than I thought I could do when I started.

It has been my decision from the start not to try very hard to break into mainstream publishing, which I think is a snakepit. I was invited in--and sure enough, it didn't go well. Someday I'll tell that story--but I rather thought it was an abusive relationship and who needs that?

I've allowed myself to write what I want when I want. I think this is the right decision. I don't chase the marketplace--in fact, often when I start a book I'm aware it isn't very commercial. I'm also trying to allow myself to experiment.

For instance, this latest book is more about mood and ideas than it is about action. The mood and ideas are hanging on a very lean action plot, which I think is cool. But I'm not sure it works. That's the point--not being sure what works and what doesn't but trying anyway.

So philosophically, I'm not sure what I want to do next.

More practically, I have a series of books that I either didn't quite finish or which need extensive re-writing. So far, as long as there was a new book in the works, I've done that instead. But someday it would be nice to set aside some time to get those other books ready, even if they need to be published under a penname.

But re-writing is actually harder for me than doing a new book, and if these books are weak, the equation has always been--write a new book and try to be better.

But....seeing 10 stories that I liked and which I thought had potential just sitting there is kind of maddening.

I basically want to get drunk, run them through a quick rewrite, and get them out and damn the quality. But...

So anyway, as of this moment I'm probably going to pick up my first book again, Faerylander, and give it one more try. Really try to assert my author's voice, see if I can't make it work.

It's a daunting task.

A lot more daunting than just taking a kernel of an idea and starting a new story.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Eden's Return, done.

So without really meaning to, I've finished another book. This one is more a result of just writing everyday and reaching a conclusion than a goal to write another book, if that makes sense. Just looked for an interesting theme to explore and chipped away at it. It took twice as long as normal and is shorter than usual, but it's a complete story.

Passed 50,000 words on "Eden's Return," which just goes to show that I should never worry about length. By the time I finish the second draft, I'll be beyond 60,000 words, which is fine.

I wanted this story to be shorter.

I have one chapter and the epilogue to go, which I think I can finish today.

There are plenty of concepts to explore here. I don't want the theme to overwhelm the story, but I'd like to add a little depth to it all. Just going to tinker with it, try to find ways to introduce the concepts.

FINISHED: It ended up at 52,400 words. I figure the rewrite will add about 15% as usual, so it may end up close to 70,000 words, which would be great. Anything above 60K would be fine.

Different than what I've done before. I like it, though I think it will need some strong rewriting. I want to delve into philosophy, though I'm not sure how I'm going to do that. That's my intent, at least.

 I'm moving more and more into fantasy and science fiction, rather than horror or thrillers.

Not sure what to do next. I'd intended to rewrite and that's probably what I should do, rather than write another one. But...I never turn down ideas.  

Sunday, October 28, 2018

This book has been different. All books are different, but this one has been really different.

The plot is extraordinarily simple. Small squad of soldiers sent into a forbidden zone who then have to try to get out.

Within that simple plot, I had a theme of the Noble Savage, of innocence lost.

Each part of the plot had some philosophical goals. Each of those goals needed to be manifested by mood and dialogue, both inner and outer. In each section, I waited until I was "feeling" it.

It's this last goal which has been incredibly difficult to do.

For instance, by the end of the books I wanted the two main protagonists to fall in love. I've reached that moment where it needs to be manifested, but there is literally no plot to hang it on. As far as the main male character knows, he's the last survivor. She saves him, nurses him to health, they talk a bunch, they fall in love.

How the hell do you do that?

In the past, if I had two characters fall in love it was through the mechanism of plot and I tried to let it develop naturally. But now they are suddenly thrown together and I have to show them falling in love.

I've got four days to write those scenes and make them believable, then onto the climax, which is short and plot oriented and I think rather satisfying.

I figured out another reason this book is different. The penultimate chapters are contemplative, not action oriented, which is the opposite of normal. The last chapter will be action again, but the fact the book slows down and takes a deep breath at the end--that is different.

Friday, October 26, 2018

2nd draft equal in weight to 1st draft.

I hit 46,500 words on "Eden's Return" today with 5 days left in my writing period. I originally estimated that I'd finish up the first draft at 50,000, but I think it may end up closer to 55,000.

It was planned purposely short. The idea this time was to streamline the pace of the story and get it down. I have some philosophical concepts I'd like to play with and I figured the faster the story, the more weight it will hold.

That's the theory, anyway.

Every book is different. I mean, the process of thinking about today's writing, then going on an hour walk, where I stop every half mile or so and do some writing, then going back home and doing whatever embellishing I need to do--that hasn't changed. It's been very effective for me.

But this time I allowed myself more time between sessions. Basically, I'm spending almost 10 weeks for something that would usually take no more than 5 weeks. Mostly because I wanted each section to be natural, without being forced, so I decided I'd wait for inspiration.

I'm purposely leaving a lot for the second draft, whereas I usually try to get as much of the final book as I can in the first draft. In other words, I'm giving equal weight to the second draft. 

I'm focused on the theme of this story more than anything. But the plot and characters need to naturally expose the theme, not be forced into convolutions.

This book has lots of potential if I can figure out how to bring some depth to it. I'm not sure if I have that depth. I've never been particularly subtle. If I have something to say, I just say it. I certainly have always  relied on straightforward storytelling, and this time I'm being a bit more ambiguous.

Because the concepts I'm playing with are by their nature ambiguous.

Really great writing would have the philosophical concepts embodied by the language and actions of the characters.

I don't think I'm quite up to that, but I'm trying.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The lottery and magical thinking.

I just bought a ticket to each of the three ongoing lotteries. I went to one of those "cafes" which specialize in gambling, because it was nearest to my house. There was a guy standing there playing Keno, another lady who was buying fifty dollars worth of scratch-offs.

I bought the two big lottos, and Keno guy said, "What, are you going to skip the million dollar one?"

I laughed and said, "You're right. That would be better anyway. Giving away a billion dollars would be too much trouble."

Earlier, I'd posted on Facebook: "Here's how lazy I am. A billion is too complicated. A million would do just fine."

Of course, I know there is a near zero chance. But I'd always wonder. (What difference a billion makes, I don't know. There are million dollar prizes all the time and they don't entice me. My rational brain knows the odds.)

I'm as susceptible to magical thinking as the next guy. Maybe more so. I think it goes along with the creative imagination.

I read an author once who advised against "daydreaming," contending it was useless. I couldn't disagree more. Daydreaming fueled my early writing. My first book got published, which only reinforced my daydreaming. Of course, the reality played out differently. Not much money or fame came from that book or the next two books, but by then I was fully hooked on the fictional dream.

I kept on daydreaming despite being fully aware that it was nothing more than wishful thinking.

At the age of 32 or so, I dismissed my magical thinking and got serious about my future. I chose to buy Pegasus Books and try to make a living that way, because I saw what a crapshoot writing was. I was convinced that it didn't matter how good the book I wrote was--it was a gamble. Someone early on said to me that success in writing was due to "luck, timing, and who you know."

And after writing for five years, I was pretty much convinced it was true. Plus, I had this nagging suspicion that I was "almost" good enough. I told myself the world didn't need any more books, and that was also true.

Over the next 25 years, I'd get the creative urge once in a while, which was usually banished by some financial crisis or another. Those financial crisis's never stopped.

Anyway, I came back to writing with no intention of going for the brass ring. Oh, I wanted people read me. I hoped they would like what I wrote. But I knew I was going to write because I wanted to write. It was a challenge to myself, one that I've fully enjoyed.

I'm still susceptible to daydreaming, but I don't take it seriously.

Surprise, surprise, I didn't win. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Well and truly stuck.

I'm stuck at 38,000 words with "Eden's Return."

This is rare for me. It's happened a couple of times before, but in both cases I was aware of the problem and was just trying to figure out a solution. This time I'm not sure what is wrong.

Went on my walk yesterday fully expecting to break through, but managed only about 500 words. By the time I got home I realized that I'd have to throw the whole scene out.

I'm not going to push this. I'm going to try to tease out the proper solution. Give my subconscious time to come up with it.

I was telling Linda I was stuck, and then I said, "I want the story to go like this..."

I detailed the rest of the plot, and she chuckled and said, "I LIKE it!"

So there it is. I've cut the Gordian Knot.

But the problem hasn't been the plot. That I've had pretty firmly in mind. That and the themes. It's the "filler" that I'm having trouble with. All those little details that make up a story. I've always been able to come up with stuff, but right now I'm having trouble visualizing scenes.

So I'm not sure if I'm "unstuck" or not.

I can just push forward with the bare bones of the plot as a placeholder and come back in a month to try to fill in, but I'd prefer to have a nicely fleshed out story to start with.

I'm going to give it a few days to see if the words start flowing.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Form before content.

I think I've know what's slowing me down with "Eden's Return" and why it's so hard to get a handle on it:

I figured out the theme and where I wanted the plot to go and then tried to fill in. That is--I figured out the form before I figured out the content. I know what I want the characters to talk about, but until the last few days I couldn't think of a way to make it seem natural.

So now I've created a couple of new characters (or adapting existing characters, actually) that I will focus on, so that will possibly work. Though the motivations for the discussions may have to be worked out.

I have two themes I want to explore and research more and see if I can't beef up the content of the story a little.

1.) The Noble Savage. This was the original conception and it still holds. I need one of the characters to be an intellectual type, who can expound on the concept.

2.) The Garden of Eden and the loss of innocence. I'm adding a religious character who can spout some Bible verses.

I think I'll probably just riff on the themes--the philosophical content--and write them down, and then figure out which character says them and where. I don't know if this will work. I don't know if it will be lifeless, or will fit into the story. But I think I can probably pull it off. This is more of a crafting of a work with some intellectual ideas, tacked onto a purely action story.

Which I think is a good thing. The purely action story is just having the characters try to survive. The dialogue is basically, "Watch out!'' "Run!" that kind of thing. So it certainly could exist on that level alone and be fine. But I'd like to have some content that deepens the interactions a little more.

So for example--I've killed off more than half the characters, but the two main characters have only interacted up to now in a distant way. I need to draw them closer together. So I'm going back to the chapter I wrote yesterday and putting in a meeting with the two.

Now why is the girl helping them? Gratitude?--I haven't had them do anything for her. Just natural kindness?--well this works better because I make her a pure innocent. Curiosity?--definitely this. Loneliness?--this is probably closest to the mark, so I need to establish that.

But none of this seems quite right--or all of them.

Anyway, what I know is that I like the plot, the theme, and the main characters, which is pretty much the basis for a good book. I can fix the writing, I think.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

"Eden's Return" is coming slowly, but I'm determined to finish it this month. I can't have another incomplete story after abandoning "Castle LaMagie" and "The Wyvern Riders." In fact, when I'm done,  the next job is to finish those two stories as well.

Now that I'm 35K words into the story, I'm realizing I need certain characters to make the story work. Fortunately, I have a squad of 12 soldiers, so I can just adapt a couple of them to the necessary plot points.

Even when I don't do much writing on my walks, I'm figuring out the plot. I think I have a satisfactory ending now.  Maybe a little too on point, but there it is. If you're going to write about Eden, you probably can't be too subtle. 

I can't seem to suss all this out in advance. Fortunately, this time a least, it's just a matter of insertions to get the job done, instead of rearranging. I've had to completely rewrite the beginnings of both "Shadows Over Summer House" and "Fateplay." It actually was all right in the end, but I'd prefer not to have to do that.

So at least half of the quality of "Eden's Return" is going to have to come from the rewrite. This percentage seems to be varying for each book, anywhere from getting 50% right to 90% right.

I'm going to muddle through on these three stories, but the next time I start a new story, it's back to the old process which worked so well. I experimented with a slower pace and it didn't work.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Busybody that I am.

Sometimes it seems to me that I can see clearly what others should do, in both writing and in storefronts.

I can walk into a store and figure out a dozen ways to improve it instantly, without a huge amount of investment, just by reorganizing.

I can read a story and instantly figure out a dozen ways to clean it up, sharpen it, and make it much better.

Or so I tell myself. (I hereby formally recognize the caveat that I might be wrong.)  

Can I do anything about it? Hell, no. In fact, I have to be careful not to say much at all. People don't appreciate it. Either I couch it in such a diplomatic way that they pay no attention, or I try hard to convince them, which repels them.

Even in writer's group, which is more or less set up for this purpose, I have to be very careful and selective with what I say, and with the knowledge that they probably won't take my advice anyway.

So here's the thing: what if there are people out there who can do the same thing for me--both in my writing and my storefront? How would I accept it or reject it?

I think I have a rare turn of mind, frankly. Analyzing constantly. Cutting to the quick. So the truth is there probably aren't that many people who can do it. And those who can, are constrained by the same problems of diplomacy as I am. But most of all--everyone is busy with their own stuff, you know? Including me--so that if anyone actually did take me up on my offer, I'd probably find myself over my head rather quickly.

It drives me nuts sometimes. Especially in bookstores. "Just do this," I want to say. "Try it!" I want to go in and start cleaning and organizing and straightening. I want to pull books from the back and highlight them, and take other books and file them differently.

In writing, I want to take a red pen and slash and burn.

Last week at writer's group, I took one paragraph of a story and had my way with it. The story itself is very interesting and fun but the writer is a little addicted to modifiers and adverbs, so I went through that one long paragraph and cut them all, then read the result to her.

To me, the whole paragraph was vastly improved. She nodded her head as if she understood, but I never know whether they actually change things.

Obviously, it's much, much harder to see my own failings, in both business and in writing. I don't know what I don't know.

It's just that there are things I know, and I can see how some of those things could help others, and I have to just watch as they--in my opinion--do it wrong. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Give me my SF and Fantasy straight, man. Don't dilute it.

I want to like Doctor Who, really I do. I want to like Terry Pratchett, really I do. I want to like Douglas Adams, really I do.

It would make things so much easier.

The humor escapes me. I mean, I love the bon mots of Buffy and Firefly, the Marvel movies, and so on.

But when it comes to straight SF or Fantasy the quirkiness pulls me right out of the story.

Linda and I watched the first episode of the new Doctor Who. I noticed that Linda was chuckling throughout the show but it got nary a chuckle out of me. It seems very light, not much to invest in. I mean, I've seen snippets of Doctor Who, such as the Van Gogh story, that were powerful, but when I watch the show itself I'm just sort of not interested.

Linda has shows she watches, and I have shows I watch, and I have shows that she watches with me, and she has shows I watch with her, and then there are shows that we both love.

Lodge 49 was a show that Linda watched because I was watching it. But by the end, she was fully into it.

"How can you not be?" I said. "It's kind and gentle and down-to-earth, just like you are."

I mean, talk about quirky--but I loved it.

So I can't explain my resistance to humorous SF and Fantasy. I 'm not altogether consistent--I loved Good Omens, for instance, which is Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. But mostly, I'm turned off by it.

Give me my SF and Fantasy straight, man. Don't dilute it. 
The overall story mystique of "Eden's Return" has me in its grips. But the story itself--I'm struggling. Oh, I could write it. I have the basic framework in mind, but it wouldn't be remarkable in any way. It would be predictable and pedestrian.

The idea deserves better than that.

I'm trying to coax the inspiration out. I'll spend a couple of hours each day just hoping that a single thread of original thought will come to me. I've spent several days with nothing coming. I'm hoping for something a little more.

I basically have two story threads--one is reality based, a struggle for survival, the crew being picked off one by one. I mean, the reader would know by now that that is happening, so the only suspense is how exactly they get picked off and who, if anyone, is going to survive.

Even that, I'd like to bring something surprising to, but that may not be possible. This is more a matter of crafting the action, making it interesting and evocative.

The other storyline is more mystical and strange--and that's the part I want to fly. So far, I've had an "imaginary" friend, who is a manifestation of the Refuge, or Mother Nature, or whatever force created the Stasis.

So that was satisfying, and I'll be able to bring Artemis back when I want to.

The second mystical thing to happen is that Shani astro-projects, sees what is happening to the soldiers. That was also satisfying.

So far I don't think I've missed anything, but it is coming slowly, and I want to continue to have that feeling that I haven't missed anything. The moment I'm not satisfied is the moment I stop and try to coax out something different.

I haven't always done this. I've continued to write stories at a certain pace, and sometimes plot lines develop that I'm not completely satisfied with, but which fits the needs of the story and so I've gone with them.

I'm not going to do that anymore. Each choice needs to be one I feel comfortable with.

It is taking a lot longer--waiting for inspiration--but I have the time. I've written so many stories by now that I no longer fear being stuck. Something will happen, and I'll wait for it to happen.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

More luck than planning.

I like the plot of "Eden's Return"--such as it is. It's very simple. More thematic in structure than twisty.

The simple is hard.

I have two viewpoint characters and I'm alternating chapters between them. My guess is that part one will come in at about 50K words. If there is a satisfying climax, that may be the whole book, allowing for a second book. If not, I'll need to continue and just make it a longer book.

50K means that it will end up around 60K because my rewrites always add about 15% to the total. 60K is more like the length of the books I wrote when I started out. When I thought I might be writing for the mainstream, I pushed myself into the +80K territory, and ended up with several books +100K, culminating in "Fateplay" which was 120K. 

It's been slow going, which is fine as long as I can keep my focus. My focus comes from really feeling like I've got the right action. So I've been inching my way, making sure I feel good about where each scene is going.

The writing is kind of clunky. This isn't one of those books where the first draft is close. But I've become resigned to the process of rewriting, of doing thorough second drafts. I think I'm even starting to like it, kinda, slightly, at least the results.

I'm purposely slowing down from the pell-mell pace I was going at for several years.

It's weird how I constantly feel like I'm just learning enough that maybe this time I can write that book that will have everything. Because that's what it takes. Everything you have, all the brains and emotions and experience you have.

The luck factor even in creation is much bigger than I'd have ever thought. That is, you need a good premise but you can't always tell what a good premise is until you write it, and then the process needs to work out, where you can really focus, then the plot has to go in the right direction, which doesn't always happen, and then you need a couple of characters to take over the book, and a surprise twist that you yourself didn't see coming, and then...well, like I said, everything has to come together and that seems more like luck than planning.

One thing is for sure--I need to have a fictional dream in my life or it feels empty, so not writing is simply not an option.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

This has been slow going with "Eden's Return." I feel like there is a real book here, and that I haven't taken any missteps, but to go forward I need a couple of dramatic turn of events.

First of all, I need for Shani to manifest some of her powers. How, what, and why? I also need to continue to explore her spiritual side.

Secondly, I'm pretty relentlessly killing off the squad, one by one, and the reader by now must know that is happening. So how do I keep that fresh?

So those are the two problems. Normally, if I tease at these kinds of problems for awhile, the answers come to me. But not this time. I think maybe because I want the solutions to really elevate the book. I could easily come up with something, but I don't want to settle for anything but that "Wow" feeling I get when I think an idea is special.

So I'm going to continue to worry it, tease it, twist it and ponder it, and hopefully, the right turn of events will pop into my mind, full-blown and magnificent. Heh.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Metaphors need not apply.

One of the frustrations of my earlier writing efforts was people warning me away from genre mixing. I couldn't see any reason why romance and fantasy didn't go together for instance. If only I'd listened to my own instincts.

The other frustration was my efforts at SF and Fantasy were almost always knocked down because I didn't explain everything.

The current story, which is called "Eden's Return" has a lot of logistical things I'm not trying to explain, events that don't necessarily have a neat solution. (As you might guess from the title, there is a lot of symbolism going on.)

I've created a scenario where a bubble has formed over the Pacific Northwest and all the humans have been kicked out and nothing man-made can cross. It is pure nature inside, without mankind's interference.

I'm not explaining the how and the why of it.

There is a current member of my writer's group who is very concrete minded. She keeps asking, "Where are they? What are they doing? Why this? Why that?"

Metaphors need not apply.

I'm going forward. I know the story needs to have internal consistency, but that doesn't mean everything has to be nailed down. To me the story makes an intuitive sense and by the end, I'm sure I'll know more and can go back and maybe do a little explaining.

But dammit, if I want to put in a few anachronisms, I will.

 Go with the flow...or don't.