Category: writing

Revision Complete!

Yesterday I finished the sixth draft of THE PERFECT PLACE TO DIE. There was much rejoicing. It wasn’t a huge revision in the grand scheme of things, but it came at a very difficult time. Between the kids’ school starting back up, the university getting in gear again, the puppy, and general anxiety, it’s a tough time to force yourself to get creative. But I did, and I’m happy with how it turned out. (Now here’s hoping my editor is also happy . . .)

Of course, I also realize that when I say “wasn’t a huge revision,” it might mean different things to me than it means to you. For me, a revision is something much more than checking for spelling errors and internal consistencies in the book. (Such as, “Does a character’s description remain constant?”) No, an actual revision is going through making real changes to the text itself.

For this revision, there were a number of things I set out to tackle. First, my editor had read through the whole manuscript and had some great suggestions about what needed to happen. The first third of the book dragged too much, so it needed to be slimmed down. (I cut it by almost a fifth.) The climax was over too abruptly. (I extended it by about 40%.) Some of the characters didn’t appear often enough. Some areas needed more tension. In all, I probably trimmed about 7,500 words (out of 75,000) and added back in around the same amount I cut. (The final length did drop by a few hundred words.)

Once I’d read her suggestions, I read through the book myself again, looking for ideas on how to execute her suggested edits, as well as checking for things that still didn’t sit right with me. It’s always super helpful to be reading with a purpose. I get to the point on a book that I can’t take it any farther on my own. I’ve made it as good as I can without feedback. Once I have feedback, I can almost always see what I was missing before.

(It reminds me in many ways of the days when I was still searching for an agent. I’d send off a manuscript, confident it was perfect. I’d get back feedback and suddenly see all its flaws. This isn’t to say that a book always has those flaws. Sometimes I’m trying to do something that appeals to some people and not to others. You can’t just give up on your vision because someone doesn’t think it’s great. Sometimes you need to stick to your guns. A lot of the trick is knowing when to do that.)

Anyway. Glad to have the revision done and be that much closer to sharing it with you all!

And in other good news, Ferris didn’t just keep his cage poop free last night, he went to bed at 10 and didn’t get up until we got him at 6am. That’s a huge win in my book. If we can keep that up, things are looking rosy!

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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

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update on my various writing projects. No time like the present, right? Writing during social distancing was difficult for me. Not because it was trickier to write, but because it was a rough patch mentally. It’s hard to push through and get creative when I’m stressed about other things. That isn’t to say I didn’t write. I did, but there was more wheel spinning involved than I would have liked.

However, I feel like I’m getting back in gear now that I’m returning to my normal work routine. (Though things at work are still far from normal . . .) Getting up, getting writing done, making progress on various projects. It’s been tremendously helpful to have a writing group again. They’ve already given feedback on SILVERADO, and I think that story has a lot of promise when I find time to go back to finishing it.

That’s the strangest things these days. Back when I was starting out writing, I preferred to have a book and work on it to completion. Now, other projects keep cropping up that always seem to interrupt what I’m writing. For example, at the moment I have XXXXX books in some stage of the drafting process:

  • MURDER CASTLE–Remember people! I have an actual book coming out next year. It’s been retitled to THE PERFECT PLACE TO DIE, as the thought was that MURDER CASTLE might present itself as a fantasy book to readers, and this is very much more a thriller with horror undertones. I got my edit letter back on the book a couple of weeks ago, so this is where the bulk of my writing attention is going at the moment. I took the time to reread the entire novel. (I rarely reread my own work after I’ve revised it too much.) I hadn’t worked on this since November 2018, so I was able to really look at it with fresh eyes this time. It was great to see how strong the book is, and I’m excited about the changes my editor made. I think it’s going to be a really great read, and I’m excited to share it with you next summer.
  • SILVERADO–My steampunk alternate history has been placed on the back burner for now. Not because I don’t like it, but because there are other more immediate projects that take precedence. As I said, my writing group has finished it, and they had some great suggestions. It’s a fun book, and I hope to return to it. The first draft is mostly finished, although I never wrote the climax, and when I return to it, I’m going to have to rework what I’ve got before I can move forward. I consider the first draft complete. The next time I work on it, it’ll be the second draft, or maybe draft 1.5. I was 90,000 words in when I stopped
  • HOUSE OF COWARDS–My epic YA fantasy has also been set aside for the time being. I was around 73,000 words into it, which is actually a huge problem. At that rate, the whole book would have been 250,000 words. That’s incredibly enormous for adult works, let alone YA. And it’s the first book in a trilogy? Yeah. I liked a ton of what I was doing, but I’m going to have to reassess it.
  • MAGIC AT 30,000 FEET–My writing group is reading through this right now, and I’m thinking about editing it to make it more of an adult fantasy instead of YA. Which will be strange, as it started out Middle Grade and has just kept shifting older. We’ll see where it goes. I’m not actively writing it at the moment. Just wanted to get the feedback from the group.
  • NEW ORLEANS–The project I set aside for THE PERFECT PLACE TO DIE is where my focus will return as soon as I’ve got the revision done. This is the second book I’ll be publishing with Sourcebooks. At least, that’s the plan. I was around 24,000 words into the draft, but I’d identified some problems already that needed to be fixed. (The biggest one being that I switched who the main character was.) It’ll be the 19th book I’ve finished.

So there you have it. When I take a look at it from a wide angle, it all looks quite industrious. It’s amazing what you can get done by plodding along at 1,000 words a day. Yay for small goals leading to big goals.

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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.

Plots that Annoy Me: Picaresque

I came to a realization last night while watching some Netflix. (Show of the moment? Money Heist, which I enjoy a lot of, but there are some aspects that bug me which will become clear as you read this post.) There’s a whole vein of storytelling that’s becoming more and more difficult for me to actually enjoy. I’m not saying I totally hate the trope and will never watch or read anything like it, but if a story’s going to pull it off, it’s going to take some very heavy lifting.

I’m talking about the picaresque. Actually just one slice of it, really. I have nothing against first person or realism or satire or criminal behavior by the protagonist. But the “series of events” bugs the living daylights out of me, especially when jammed together with the “little or no character development.”

This is one of the reasons I gave up on House so easily. It was a formula, and they were going to follow that formula again and again and again. This is clearly a successful pattern to follow, especially with serialized television. Matlock or Perry Mason, CSI or Law & Order, pick your poison. Back in the days of reruns, this was a perfect setup for a television show. Establish the characters, and have people come back week after week for the characters doing the same thing as last week, and it doesn’t really matter what happened last week. There’s a new mystery, and you solve that mystery.

For me to want to stick with something like that longer than an episode or two? It’s going to take some awesome storytelling. Some fantastic characters or some intriguing plots or a twist I haven’t seen.

I don’t mean to dismiss a whole swathe of pop culture. I really enjoy murder mysteries, and I’ve watched more than my fair share of Law & Order episodes. Sometimes they scratch an itch that just needs scratching. But what I really dislike is when a story pretends to be something else, but at its core, it’s just serialized fiction. When a story promises character development and sweeping plot developments, and it gives me layer on layer of the same. Me no likey.

What exacerbates the problem is when those series of adventures become too obvious. The skeleton of the plot seems to just unravel, and I no longer really care about who’s doing what, since nothing seems to matter. Some new adventure will always pop up. Money Heist has a favorite trick: point guns at people. It feels like every episode, somebody’s pointing a gun at somebody else. Often multiple people are pointing guns at each other at the same time. This is supposed to increase tension, but they’ve done it so often, the trick’s worn thin. Nobody ever actually gets shot. (Well, once or twice, but very rarely.) It’s just a thing the writers like to do to show just how serious things have gotten.

Not a fan.

In books, this all plays out more or less the same. The hero goes through a series of trials, but none of them really seem to matter. You don’t know what’s coming up next, and so they can’t really plan for anything. It begins to feel like they’re succeeding not because they’re particularly good at what they do, but that they’re lucky. Problems arise due to bad luck. They disappear due to good lucky. In the end, I just stop caring.

If it were up to me (and when I’m writing, it thankfully is), I would prefer stories that have stakes that matter. Where the audience and the protagonist are aware of the challenges they’re going to be facing. Sure, some of it’s up in the air, but they can at least think of a plan to overcome the odds. It can then turn out even worse than they’d planned, but they can then use the smarts and experiences they’ve experienced up to that point to throw a new, meaningful plan together and win the day. The past is connected to the present and the future in a tangible way, and the things we’ve read before feel like they pay off later on in the novel.

Am I asking too much?

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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.

What I Forgot about Writing Groups

I’ve now had my second meeting of my new online writing group, and I can’t say enough about what a great experience it’s been. I thought I remembered the perks of being in a writing group, but that memory had gotten hazier than I’d realized over the years. What, exactly, has it done for me?

First of all, there’s the value of immediate feedback. Being able to hear from other authors about a specific bit of prose I’ve written highlights all sorts of things that I wouldn’t have noticed on my own. Some of this should have been obvious to me, but it wasn’t. (Because I forgot, and because I’m dense.) Everyone has their own worldview, and it’s difficult to look outside that view, because it defines who you are. In many ways, you can’t know you’re missing something, because you don’t even know there’s an area you might be missing.

When you’re writing a novel, you get very involved with the plot and the characters. Sometimes you don’t even realize there’s a huge glaring error on the page, because you’ve been working with it so long you no longer see it as an error. Having someone else read it, notice it, and then having a group of people confirm it in one fell swoop is lovely.

I also gain a lot by reading other people’s writing with an eye focused on what I liked, what I didn’t like, and why. That’s different from how I read most fiction. I consume it instead of reading it critically. (Why? Because I don’t enjoy it as much when I’m reading with a critical eye. And I read for enjoyment, most of the time.) In the conversations that follow a critique, I get to see how many evaluations stacked up against other people’s. That doesn’t mean I’m wrong or right, or that they are, but it gives me multiple data points to evaluate things on. That’s helpful.

Some things are very specific helps. The book I’m workshopping right now is SILVERADO (codename for now), the YA steampunk alternate history fantasy that I’ve been tinkering with for quite some time. I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how the world works and how the magic system operates, but that’s not something I typically handle. Most of my writing has been urban fantasy, where so many of the details are the same as the regular world. Only the magic has changed. In this book, the magic has permeated the entire society, so I was trying to play that out, even though I’ve never done it before.

One of my writing group members, however, writes epic fantasies. Fantasies that very much deal in sprawling worlds and magic systems. So to have him be able to look at how I’m introducing my world and magic system and give some pointers is invaluable. (Pro tip: I was introducing it all too fast.)

That same concept applies to tons of other things. My viewpoint character this time is a girl. I am not a girl. Someone in my writing group is. Do you think it might help to have a female perspective? (Duh.) I’ve never lived in San Francisco, where my book begins. Someone in my group has. Again: helpful.

And beyond all of that, just the experience of talking to other writers again is wonderful. Hearing how they deal with different challenges. Hearing what the word on the street is about different genres and agents and target audiences.

All. Helpful.

Worth some time out of my schedule? Undoubtedly. Here’s hoping it continues for months and years to come.

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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.

Back in the Writing Group Saddle Again

I’ve been in a number of writing groups over the years. For a long time, it was the main way I made myself feel like a writer. Eventually, my hectic schedule managed to elbow writing group out of my life, and it’s been about four and a half years since that happened. In the intervening time, I haven’t really found a good mechanism for getting feedback on a regular basis. When I was out in Utah in January, I was talking to some authorly friends about it, and I decided to give it another whirl.

The current plan is to meet via Google Hangouts (or something like it) once a week. There will be 4-5 of us total, and submissions are capped at 5,000 words each. That means each week I’ll have up to 20,000 words to read and critique, which will certainly be an added item on my To Do list, but in return, I’ll get 5,000 words of my writing critiqued. Yay for that.

Better yet, the plan is to have our meetings during the day. Lunchtime here on the east coast. One of the biggest drawbacks of my last online writing group was that we typically didn’t start our meetings until around 9pm my time. (As I remember? I could be wrong on the exact start time . . .) We had members from Utah to Maine, and so it had to be late enough for people to get home from work in Utah and get kids squared away before we began. With this new writing group, we still span the country, but a good number of the members (all but me? not sure on that one) are full time writers. And if there’s one thing full time writers have going for them, it’s flexibility of schedule. So they’re all able to meet in the morning in Utah/Idaho, so that we can meet at lunch for me.

How am I going to carve out time to do this? Well, I already spend time each weekday jogging in place. (Yes, I’m still doing that.) I’ve actually been known to mute myself during phone conferences so that I can jog in place during them as well. Usually I’ll watch movies, tv shows, or Magic: The Gathering videos while I jog and eat my lunch. On Wednesdays I’ll just jog and offer writing critiques. In other words, my hope is that all I’ll be “giving up” for this is the time I’ll spend reading the submissions. And since I’ll count that toward my yearly goal of a book per week, even that won’t really be giving up time. The whole endeavor shouldn’t make an impact on my overall busy level.

In theory.

But even if it does, in practice I think it’s worth it. My approach to writing right now is to write a first draft of a novel and then shelve it for 6 months, at which point I drag it out, reread it, and give it a second draft. The only person’s input I typically receive on it is my own. From there, I send it off to my agent, and we bounce it back and forth for a while. My hope is that with some good critiques from a writing group, this will show a marked improvement in the process. Plus, writing is often a solitary process. It’s good to be able to hear from other writers. Double plus, I’m already a fan of two of the writers in my group, meaning I read their stuff anyway, and I really respect their skill level. (Even if one of them already admitted that they liked Parasite. I’m trying not to hold that against them . . .)

All-in-all, I’m pretty excited for the new adventure. 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.

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