Category: writing

A New Approach to Writing

I’m over 30,000 words into my next book project now, and I’ve been taking a different approach this time through compared to almost all of my other efforts. This time, it’s mainly due to necessity. This book is the first of a planned trilogy that’s much more epic in scope than anything I’ve done to date. Because of that, it was necessary for me to come at the writing from a different angle. In many ways, that’s exciting to me. I don’t like writing things I’ve already written before. I like challenging myself and growing.

Most times when I sit down to write a book these days, I begin with a very broad idea of what happens in mind. Generally speaking, I’ll know where the book starts and where I want it to end, and then I make up the stuff in the middle as I go along. That’s always been the part that keeps me interested. In the past, it’s felt like if I already know exactly what’s going to happen in the book, there’s no need to actually write the book in the first place. The discovery process is a huge draw for me.

For this book, however, I wanted to have multiple viewpoints. (Something I haven’t tried since my . . . third book, I think it was. Weaver of Dreams.) I wanted those viewpoints to intersect, with different information available to different characters at different times, which allows the reader to know things the characters do not, and leads to more interesting interactions. One of the best experiences I’ve had as a consumer of stories came in one of the later Game of Thrones television episodes, where you’ve got characters you know and root for on both sides of a battle, and (due to the nature of Game of Thrones and how often characters would die on the show) you have no idea who might live and who might die. You might even have your favorite characters kill each other.

I found it riveting, and I wanted to bring that same sort of explosiveness to my writing. But how?

When I tried to write the book, it just wasn’t working. I couldn’t wrap my head around all the different things that had to happen, especially when they had to be coordinated in time and place. So in the end, I turned to writing a detailed outline. A chapter-by-chapter rundown of what happens when. Whose viewpoint it’s from, and what the basic events of that chapter would be. Even then, at such a macro level, it was tricky to get all the pieces to fit together the right way. Each character needed their own arc, and it all needed to mesh together. After longer than I’d like, I was done with the outline.

But I had no idea how things would work from there. Would I be bored, now that I’d plotted it all out?

Interestingly (to me, at least), that hasn’t been my experience at all. The great thing I’ve found about this approach is that I can really focus on each chapter at a time. Since each chapter only has four or five sentences describing what happens in it, I begin writing each with a brainstorming session. What details are missing from the plot? How about characterization? Where’s it happening? I flesh it all out and think of the chapter as a whole, and then I can dive in and begin writing it. In other words, there’s enough discovery left for me to do feel engaged, but I have the big picture down enough to know where the chapter fits in with the rest of the story. I’ve been churning through the chapters one after another, and each time I sit down to write, I know where I’m heading. It’s incredibly refreshing.

Of course, it’s also been a bit eye-opening. In 32,000 words, I’m through with . . . 6 chapters of text. I’ve also written 10,000 words of brainstorming back material to come up with that text. I have 41 chapters to go. If I continue writing at this general rate (5,333 words/chapter), then the final book will be . . . 250,000 words long. That’s over twice as long as my longest book I’ve written so far. About five times as long as some of the books I’ve finished. That’s a whole lotta book.

Then again, I’ve got plenty of books in the pipeline. Some getting sent out to editors, some we’re following up on. I’ve got the first draft of the Steampunk book (Codenamed SILVERADO) waiting for a revision at some point. In other words, I’ve got time. And so far, this feels like it’s working well. I’m having a good time, and for me right now, that’s all I can ask for.

Hopefully it keeps going this smoothly the whole time. At this rate, I’ll be done with the first draft 48 weeks from now. September 2020. We’ll see if that ends up being the case.

Wish me luck!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Writing Update: August 2019

It’s been a while since I checked in to update you all about my various writing endeavors. People often ask if I’m still writing, and the answer is always yes. I’ve got many different projects in the fire in one way or another. Here’s a breakdown of everything I’ve written or am working on writing:

  • Book One: Into the Elevator. Some fun stuff in this adventure about a girl transported to a fantasy realm, but it’s still a first book. I haven’t even reread it in years. Might be amusing to do so at some point, but . . . not likely there’s much here worth salvaging.
  • Book Two: Blood Countess. My one and only experiment writing a book with a partner. It was intended to bounce back and forth between medieval and present day Slovakia, with real-life evil noble Countess Bathory as the link between them. I wrote my half. The other half never really came together. Interestingly, one of the villains was a Vodnik in this one. No chance this ever gets submitted anywhere.
  • Book Three: Weaver of Dreams. The first book I ever submitted anywhere. A parallel world fantasy I still like the idea of, where our world is mirrored in a world of dreams. Good enough to catch the interest of my agent, though not good enough to convince him to represent me. Maybe I’ll revisit some ideas at some point. Shelved for now.
  • Book Four: Buttersby. Published! I actually wrote what’s essentially a trilogy for this one, though only the first book was published as Cavern of Babel. Still the world’s only alpaca fantasy, I believe. Available as an eBook over at Amazon, or you can get it by being a Patron for even one month over at my Patreon page.
  • Book Five: Adventures of Barboy. A comic fantasy about a plucky young man who has to save his city from a horde of zombies. Rewritten later (see Book Eight). Shelved.
  • Book Six: Vodnik. Published! Print copy available here. YA contemporary fantasy about a boy who moves to Slovakia and discovers he can see and interact with creatures from Slovak folklore. Some of them want to kill him . . . Would still love to write a sequel someday, but that day is unlikely to ever overlap with our current timeline.
  • Book Seven: Ichabod. An adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, jammed together with Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo. The whole thing is available for my Patrons, but that’s as close to real publication as this is likely to get.
  • Book Eight: Pawn of the Dead. A rewrite of Book Five, but set as a contemporary fantasy. Interestingly, it takes place at my own high school. A fun book, but I’m not sure it will ever do anything. Maybe I should reread it sometime to be sure. It’s currently being posted in chapter increments for my Patrons.
  • Book Nine: Tarnhelm. A YA teen noir fantasy. Revised and submitted to editors. It caught some attention at the time, but never enough to seal the deal. These days after the #metoo movement, the protagonist has some issues that might make publication even more problematic. It would need some serious revision to make it work, I worry. Shelved for now.
  • Book Ten: Get Cupid. I worked on this one a long time, and in the end, it went nowhere. YA contemporary fantasy about a group of teens who set out to rob a Vegas casino. Harry Potter meets Oceans Eleven. Rewritten in Book Twelve.
  • Book Eleven: The Memory Thief. Published! “Something Wicked This Way Comes” meets Pixar’s “Inside Out.” Available as an eBook or in Print. Buy it today!
  • Book Twelve: Our Lady of Questionable Morals. I loved the concept of Get Cupid, and I just couldn’t let it go, so I gave it another shot, moving it from Vegas to a private school and increasing the con man aspects. Revised and submitted to editors. Got some attention, but never enough. Shelved for now, though I wish it might still see print one day.
  • Book Thirteen: The Book Binder’s Curse. I wrote this one in a month for NaNoWriMo. An adaptation of Peter Pan that I had a lot of fun with, but which my agents . . . didn’t appreciate. 🙂 Shelved.
  • Book Fourteen: Magic at 30,000 Feet. Snakes on a Plane meets Hunger Games and Harry Potter. I just finished a third draft, and it’s getting sent out to editors soon. Cross your fingers.
  • Book Fifteen: Utopia. My only science fiction novel. Part Clockwork Orange, part Fury Road, part Star Trek, with mice. I love this book, and I have high hopes for it. It’s complete and should go out to editors soon. Again, wish me luck.
  • Book Sixteen: A sequel to The Memory Thief. I almost accidentally typed the title. It’s revised and pretty much ready for publication, but it’s waiting on the big screen adaptation of The Memory Thief, which puts this squarely in one of the lower circles of Development Hell. This is a great book. I hope you get to read it some day.
  • Book Seventeen: Murder Castle. A historical mystery/suspense set in Chicago in the 1890s. A girl’s sister goes missing, and she travels out to Chicago to find her, eventually going undercover as a maid in the same hotel where her sister was last seen. A hotel where many of the maids have gone missing before. Currently on submission with editors.
  • Book Eighteen: Codename Silverado. A steampunk western fantasy. I’ve finished most of the first draft, but I’m leaving it be for a while so I can reread it and finish it off in a while. I want to get a fresh read on things.

So what am I up to now? I’m actually trying to hammer out the plot for book one of what I’d love to see as a trilogy, though I’m intentionally making it so that Book One could stand alone. Game of Thrones meets Harry Potter, but with more sex. (Just kidding. I mean “less sex.”) It’s been fun for now as a plotting exercise, but I haven’t written a single word of it yet. I need to get the plot down and then send it to my agent to get his take on it before I do anything with it.

And that brings you up to speed with my current life as a writer. A number of things in the pipeline, but nothing solid yet. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

The Appeal of Suspense

I’m not really a horror fan of any real sort. I mean, there are plenty of scary movies that I’ve enjoyed, if you can use the word. Getting purposefully scared isn’t really the way I like to pass my time on a typical day, and I’m certainly no fan of gore fests. I typically relate too much to the people on the screen or in the novel for me to take any real pleasure in seeing them put through inventive ways to inflict pain.

But suspense, on the other hand . . .

Suspense is one of the things that keeps me reading or watching, regardless of the medium or the subject. If I get invested in the outcome of something, then I can blaze through just about anything in my quest to Find Out What Happens.

As I’ve thought about it, I’ve come to think that’s really what I get out of watching sports. You pick a team. You root for that team. And then you see if your team wins or not. In a boring game, the outcome is never really in question. One team runs away with the game, and there’s no real pleasure to be derived from watching, unless you’re a big fan of the team that’s doing the stomping. But in a really close game, suddenly the outcome is very much up for debate. And there’s no way of knowing what that outcome will be. Watching a close game, live, at the home team’s stadium, is one of the most suspenseful experiences I can think of. And when the home team pulls it off? That’s a sense of euphoria that’s hard to capture.

In many ways, I think live sports aces out books and movies in terms of the raw power of suspense, and I’ve thought some about why this is. In the end, I’ve concluded that it’s typically because books and movies follow established norms, more or less. Yes, sometimes there’ll be an example that deviates from it, but for the most part, we know the main character isn’t going to die. We know it’s likely to have a happy ending of one sort or another. And so the suspense we feel in reading or watching isn’t from “will they lose or won’t they” but rather from “how in the world can they still win?” In many ways, a book or a movie is like a roller coaster. They give the semblance of action and suspense, but they’re ultimately on rails, and they’re not going to deviate from the track. (At least, they’d better not . . .)

Which is one of the reasons I’ve liked Game of Thrones over the years, both in print and on TV. Because Martin kills off his characters–big, important characters–you can never really be sure what the outcome of the “game” in question would be. And because he writes complex characters, with no 100% “good” or “bad” sides, you get to see both sides at work. One of my favorite experiences watching television was seeing the episode where the Lannister wagon train is attacked. I had favorite characters on both sides, and I genuinely worried that any of them might die. It was intense, and I’ve never forgotten it.

I think it would be possible to do more of what Martin attempted, if it was done correctly. For Game of Thrones, it works because, Martin had plotted things out extensively ahead of time, so the story he’s telling is masked by the tropes of the story we think we’re going to get. We think it’s going to be about Ned overcoming insurmountable odds, but Ned doesn’t turn out to be a major character. (Surprise!)

The risk, of course, is alienating your readers and making them hate you. I read books to be enthralled and ultimately satisfied. When the characters I’m rooting for end up dying, it’s like going to a close football game and having your team lose at the last second. Nobody likes that. (I don’t think.) But the reward is a much more intense, explosive experience with the characters who do end up actually mattering.

One of these days, I’d like to try that, as an author. Anyone know of any good examples of books or movies that have pulled it off besides Game of Thrones?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Writing Update: May 2019

It’s been a while since I updated you all on where I am with my writing these days. Maybe I should do that more often, judging by how often I’m asked in person if I’m still writing. (The answer is always the same: I am always writing.)

Right now I’m 68,000 words into my eighteenth novel (codenamed SILVERADO for now, as I continue to search for a good title). Ultimately I’d guess it’ll be around 85,000 words for this draft, so that means I have a month or so worth of writing to go before it’s finished, but I’m well past the tricky parts now, so there’s no question of whether or not I’ll finish it. (I have started and not finished 7 novels for a variety of reasons. Typically it’s that I run out of enthusiasm for the book before I’m a third of the way into it. If I can’t maintain excitement for a project through the early stages, it’s pretty much doomed.) SILVERADO is a steampunk western with a splash of horror. There’s some cool world building I’ve done in it, but I know I’m going to have to go back and revise it to bring all that world building to the surface. That’s okay. I’m getting the structure in place now, and I’ll enhance it in later drafts.

MURDER CASTLE (my YA historical mystery) is out with editors right now. It would be lovely if I had great news to share about it, but I don’t. Yet.

DIE HARD ON THE POLAR EXPRESS (my fluke picture book) came oh-so-close to getting published, but fell just short of the finish line. I’m a little hopeful we give it another shot in October or November before I totally close the door on it, but it’s still long odds.

MAGIC AT 30,000 FEET (my YA action fantasy) is almost going out to editors for a long-awaited second round. The first time we sent it out, we had a lot of near misses, many of them noting a conflict in it where it felt Middle Grade at times and Young Adult at others. It took me way too long to figure out a fix for this, but with some steady nudging from my agent, I finally got there. He’s given the revision the green light, and we’ll see if the switches do the trick.

MEMORY THIEF PART 2 is still with my publisher. Still waiting for movement on the film adaptation of MEMORY THIEF. It’s pretty much finished and ready whenever that happens, but it’s out of my hands for now, as frustrating as that is to admit. I continue to hope, but it was supposed to be published in August 2018, which clearly didn’t happen. I have no new news to share, other than to say it’s all still in development.

UTOPIA is mostly finished. Still waiting to hear back from my agent on final edits before we send it out, but I’m not in a huge rush, since I’ve got other things that are going out already. I’m hoping this one goes out over the summer sometime. YA dystopian with one of the strangest, strongest voices I’ve written.

Other than that, the only other books I’ve finished are ones that are in hibernation mode for now. TARNHELM would likely need a serious revision to ever see the light of day, as it’s got some problematic #metoo elements in it that read very differently eight years after I wrote it. OUR LADY OF QUESTIONABLE MORALS I still feel bad about. I love this book. Maybe I can bring it back at some point for another shot? I’m just not sure what I’d do to it.

Of course, you can read the completed books I already have published: VODNIK, THE MEMORY THIEF, and CAVERN OF BABEL. (You can read CAVERN right now by joining my Patreon for a grand total of $1. You can also check out the full text of my unpublished novel, ICHABOD, and I’m now putting up the entirety of PAWN OF THE DEAD there as well.)

What will I work on next? After UTOPIA is out the door and I’m letting SILVERADO simmer, I’m kicking around the idea for something much more complex. It’s still in the very early stages, but I’d like to try something a bit grander in scale than what I’ve done so far. I’m always trying to keep things fresh, and the idea is really appealing. We’ll see where it leads.

Anyway, thanks for reading and for your support. Here’s hoping there’s some more great news to share at some point later on in 2019.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Voice Makes All the Difference

I just finished reading two very different books, back to back. The first one (which shall remain nameless), received multiple starred reviews and ended up on a number of “best books” for the year it was published. Middle grade/YA fantasy. The author has won multiple big name awards. The book has great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

I had to fight to get through it, honestly. In the end, I gave it a 3/10. It wasn’t the plot. I liked the plot and found it intriguing. I also liked the magic system and the characters just fine. Better than fine, in many cases. But I had to force myself to keep reading, and that’s never the recipe for success.

After I slogged through it, I wondered to myself what made the book such a chore for me to read. In the end, I decided it was the voice. I kept getting kicked out of the story because the voice was too stilted for me. The focus in many places was on style and word choice over actually telling a story.

That feels odd to write, coming from a person who’s studied literature and once wanted to be an English professor. But it’s true, and I realized it when I read the next book: The Lost Boys, by Orson Scott Card.

It’s the tale of a Latter-day Saint couple who are dealing with many very ordinary problems: difficulties at home, at work, in a new area, and with their family. It’s got fantastical elements, but they’re very much in the background. It takes place in the 80s, and much of what was written about Latter-day Saint culture in the book was disappointing to me, not because it was wrong, but because it was right. It was a very unflattering view of the religion, in the same way the mirror and the lighting in a Macy’s changing room doesn’t do much for my self esteem.

And yet I blazed through the book, even though I didn’t care for the characters all the time, and even though often the plot seemed far more focused on nosing around through the religion than into what was actually happening in the story. I gave it a 7/10. Not stunning, but a good, solid read. (And an interesting look into how some people approach my religion, both the good and the bad side of it. There were parts I wanted to applaud, and other times I wanted to cringe. And interestingly, they weren’t always caused the different people.)

In a vacuum, if you described both books to me, I would have guessed I’d like the MG fantasy much more. But the reality was much, much different, which led to this blog post.

For me, my ideal book is one where I forget I’m reading. Where the pages turn themselves and I’m lost in the middle of a story. Every time something bumps up to jostle me out of that zone, it’s a missed opportunity. This doesn’t mean that I’ll only read books that make me lose myself, but what I get back for that price had better be worth it.

This isn’t to say that books that focus more on language or the way things are said are bad, or that what I like is better than what other people like. But it doesn’t explain a fair bit why people can have such widely disparate opinions about books. We’re all looking for something different.

Scott Card’s voice is (for me) extremely readable. He could probably write about the dictionary and I’d still be turning the pages, just because I like the way he communicates that information into my brain. In the end, I think of it this way: which would I prefer? The world’s most boring man telling me the world’s most interesting story, or the world’s best storyteller telling me the world’s most boring story?

You’d think they’d amount to the same thing, but I think you’d be wrong . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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