Category: writing

Ramping Up the Writing

I’ve written already about how much my writing slipped in the fall last year. It was for a variety of reasons, but I tried to give myself the leeway to have that slow time and not beat myself up about it too much. For the most part, I was successful.

However, it also means that I’m not as far into my current novel as I would like to be. That’s not really going to fly for me right now, so I’m pretty set on getting caught up with this book. If there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s having a deadline constantly looming over me that I feel like I’m not going to make. Not that I have a hard deadline on this just yet, but I’m treating it as if I did, for reasons that will become clear later. (Besides, it’s totally in my normal MO to make up deadlines only I care about.)

What this means is that I’m shooting for 2,000 words a day (4,000 words if I’m revising). That’s . . . a lot of words, especially with all the other things I’ve got going on. (And especially when two months ago, I felt like I couldn’t get any words done at all each day.) I’ve only done it for this week so far, but it’s actually gone better than I expected it to. For the longest time, I’ve had my goal at 1,000 words a day. I had always noticed that the second 500 words went faster than the first 500, but I also thought by 1,000 words, I was pretty much out of things to say.

Judging from these first few days, that 1,000 word wall was largely only in my mind. Actually, it feels like writing (for me) is most difficult at the beginning each day, but by the time I get through those first 500 words, the hard part’s done. I’ve got momentum going, and I can plow through the next 1,500 without too much trouble. It’s taking me around an hour and a half, give or take.

If you’re not a writer, that probably sounds like a lot, and honestly, it is. 2,000 words is what many full-time writers shoot for. Stephen King, Brandon Sanderson, and others all cite that as their goal, give or take, and those are some (very) prolific authors. I’m not saying my writing is up to King or Sanderson levels (they have way more books under their belt than I do, which makes a real difference), but I do feel like I’m getting better at the craft as a whole. This would/will be very good news if/when I can get more book contracts. So far, I’ve been shooting for a book a year. Two books a year would be fantastic . . .

In any case, I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself just yet. There are plenty of people who started a marathon and thought, “This running thing really is much easier than I figured,” only to end up gasping three miles later. We’ll see how this goes for now. All I really need to do is keep it up for a few weeks, and I won’t just have recovered the lost words I didn’t get in the fall, but I’ll be ahead of the game.

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 this DON’T GO TO SLEEP Amazon link. It 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 Progress

I’ll be honest, the last three and a half months have been very rough for me, from a writing perspective. All through COVID, I was able to keep on soldiering forward. 1,000 words a day. It helped that I had a very definite deadline I was working toward for some of it, and that I was well into writing and revising Don’t Go to Sleep. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to churn through my words, whatever else might be happening in my life.

But that project ended, and I faced the dreaded What Do I Write Next phase of an author’s life. It took me some time, but it helped that I knew the general genre of what I was going to work on. (More historical thrillers!) I picked one and got to plotting. I was still working toward something definite, and all was right with the world.

But then the wheels started to fall off the bus.

Between the stress around home renovations and gearing up for Tomas leaving, and then the disruption of my family heading off to Europe, I cruised into my vacation running on fumes. When I got back, I was out of practice and had a bunch of work to do to catch up on everything else. Then the bathroom renovation picked up and Tomas was actually leaving and yada yada yada . . .

Writing has been tough.

I know it’s easy to just say “go easy on yourself,” and I’ve tried to, but I’ve been writing so long, it feels like an integral part of who I am. Struggling with it hits me in a way not much else does. That said, it isn’t that I haven’t been writing at all. I took the time to go through everything I’d written for my current project, revising it and bringing it all to a certain level of consistency. That was roughly 45,000 words, so it’s far from nothing, but it still felt like a real cop out, because many days I’d just sit down and work on it for 20 minutes or so and call it a day.

The good news is that it finally feels like I’m getting close to the other side of all this Stuff I’ve Been Going Through. The house is getting clean and decluttered bit by bit. The bathroom is finished. Tomas is off. And so the last few days, I’ve been able to sit down and actually get 1,000 words of new material done, even on days when I’ve felt exhausted. I still had enough in the tank to write.

I expect it to be a bit rocky still from time to time, because I don’t think this is something you just magically are done with, but as I look at my trajectory, I’m very encouraged. I want to get back to the point where I feel like my life is under control again. I like to have everything at a certain level of order, including my To Do list. When I wait to long to wrangle it into shape, things go poorly . . .

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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 this DON’T GO TO SLEEP Amazon link. It 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 Closest One of My Books has Come to Banning

I didn’t really think any of my books would ever pop up on a “don’t let this in a library” list. Sure, some of them can get a wee bit bloody, but there’s much (much) more extreme stuff out there. My books have pretty much no sex. Little in the way of language. What would be there for someone to really dig in and object to?

So imagine my surprise when I heard from a librarian yesterday that The Perfect Place to Die had popped up on the “don’t order this” radar. The librarian had submitted a book order a month and a half ago, and they were waiting for it to be approved, something that’s typically just a rubber stamp. But they kept waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And so they finally asked what was the hold up, and they were told it had been denied because one of the books on it had been flagged by the financial office and the superintendent because of “questions of appropriateness.”

The first book on the list had been The Perfect Place to Die (right where it belongs on all book lists, of course), and based on the title alone, the whole list was stopped because the muckety mucks assumed the librarian was buying books about suicide.

Look. I get the fact that folks in the administration might be busy, and that they want to do what’s right for the students in their schools. But I also know that right now administrations across the country are facing extra scrutiny because of these pushes by organized groups to second guess every title in a library. A push aided by “helpful” lists of books that these organizations have compiled that contain “inappropriate” material. I’ve written about my feelings on the subject before, and they have only grown stronger.

I make it a point not to review things I haven’t personally read or watched. I realize that without that personal experience, I have no leg to stand on to say whether a piece of art is good, bad, evil, or whatever. The thought that so many people would turn over their opinions to some other organization and simply parrot back whatever that organization told them to object to is aggravating. If there are specific books parents or children have had issues with, then those specific parents or children can object to those specific books. But this catch all approach isn’t just lazy, it’s wrong. It allows a few individuals to have far too much influence on what’s “good” and “acceptable,” opening up the whole process to politics and backroom shenanigans. But I’ll get off that soapbox before I’m on it for too long again.

What I really wanted to do was just show how silly and shortsighted this approach is. If you haven’t read The Perfect Place to Die, it’s an historical thriller. It takes place in Chicago in 1893, and it’s about a girl who is very much trying to stay alive. It has absolutely nothing to do with suicide, despite the fact that there’s a Japanese forest with the nickname “the perfect place to die” because people go there to commit suicide. (Something I only know because I came across it while googling my book. Though if you google the phrase right now, the first result that mentions that forest is number 8. Everything else is about my book.)

I don’t know if the muckety mucks just saw a title about death and figured it must be about suicide, or if they googled the title, or what. I do know they most definitely didn’t take the time to even check for two seconds about what the book is actually about. They just decided to hold up the entire order and then question everything else that was on it.

All because of a title. No parents had even objected yet.

When I was out at the Texas Library Association conference, one of the questions on the panel was how I would feel if one of my books got banned. My response? “Bring it.” Banning books generally makes them much, much more popular. It brings free publicity and attention to those books. And so getting my book banned would almost definitely only help my career.

But if you’re going to ban my book, I always kind of assumed you’d . . . you know . . . read it first.

In any case, thanks for proving my point, muckety mucks. And thanks to the librarian for sticking to their guns and speaking up for me. They shouldn’t have had to, but they did just the same. Because librarians are awesome.

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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 this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It 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.

Good News: Earning Out Your Advance

When you sell a book as an author, you sell it for an “advance against royalties.” You also negotiate a certain percentage of each book’s cover price that will be your royalty rate; for each book sold, you’ll get that amount of money. So if your book sells for $10, and your royalty rate is 10%, every book sold gets you $1. Yay! However, you don’t actually see any of this money until that advance you got is “earned out.” It’s not a signing bonus. It’s the amount of money the publisher thinks you’ll likely make for your royalties on the book. (I’m oversimplifying here.) So until that money’s paid back, you don’t see any royalties at all. (You got paid for those up front. That’s a good thing. It means that even if the book doesn’t sell anything, you still got money. Though if the book doesn’t sell anything, you have other problems as an author . . . )

So if you ever actually see a royalty check as an author, it’s a very good thing. It means that your book at bare minimum is doing better than your publisher cautiously thought it would. It also means that you’ll periodically get checks in the mail for various amounts of money, depending on sales. When you’re a librarian first and an author second, extra money in the mail is a wonderful surprise. When you’re an author first and foremost, you’re often relying on those checks in the mail to be able to feed and clothe yourself and your family. (My favorite surprise money so far has been Chinese royalty payments for The Memory Thief, which have come a couple of times now. The book’s been plenty popular in China.)

When I sold The Perfect Place to Die, it was a two book deal. That means my publisher bought that book and a book I hadn’t written yet. They paid one advance for both of them combined. I wouldn’t see royalties for either book until all that money was “paid back.”

So I was extremely pleased when after the first six months (you get royalty checks twice a year), I got an actual royalty payment on The Perfect Place to Die. This means that I earned out my advance for both books right off the bat. This also means that from here on out, every copy of either of those books that sells, makes me money. Also, it hopefully means my publisher is happy with how the books are doing, which makes it more likely that they’ll want to buy more of my books in the future.

In any case, these days it can sometimes feel like good news only comes along every so often, so I’m celebrating every chance I get. Thanks to all you readers out there! Today’s celebration couldn’t have happened without you.

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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 this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It 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.

Finding a Voice

I’m well into writing my twentieth novel at this point, and it (naturally) feels a fair bit different than it did back when I was writing my first. It feels particularly strange at times because almost all of those 20 novels are in first person point of view. (Only 2 are in third person, and those are my second and fourth. Since then it’s been non-stop first person all the time.)

Back when I was on my third or fourth first person novel, I remember being particularly worried that all of my narrators were going to sound the same. I have a default writing style I fall back on when I’m writing first person, and so almost all of them generally begin the same way. And even now, I still usually get to some point early on in the writing of a new book when I take a look at what I’ve written and just start to worry if it’s just going to sound the same as one of my previous books.

For me, some of the trouble comes from there being so many different things to keep in mind with a first draft. Yes, I have a lot more practice writing them now than I did before, but that also means I’m that much more aware of how many levels of attention a good final draft needs. You need to make sure there are enough sensory details for the book to feel real. You need to make sure the main plot line is advancing at a steady pace. You need to keep the different subplots moving as well. You need all of your characters to sound and feel different. No good cheating and just making your main character unique and all of your side characters cookie cutter.

So when I’m writing that first draft, it’s really easy to focus on a few of those and only realize later on that you’ve been completely ignoring some of the others. That’s when I have to remind myself that this is a process, and it’s going to take time to get a handle on all of the different aspects of the book.

When it comes to finding the voice of my main character, that comes in stages as well. It’s not that I start writing without any idea who my characters are at all, but rather that I *think* I know, only to discover how little I actually know them after all. (Again, everything I’m writing about here is what I’ve found about how the process works for me. I fully expect other writers to read this and think I’m way off.)

It’s not enough for me to know the back story of my viewpoint character. Who their parents are and the name of their best friend. What they like to eat for dinner and where they had their first kiss. I’m not one of those authors who fills out a big long questionnaire about my characters before I write them. (Though I’ve tried it. I’ve tried just about everything.) What really works for me instead is to get to the point that I see how they would view the world differently because of who they are. Sure, that might have something to do with their favorite food, but probably only if food plays a really big role in their life. If they’re a chef, say, or if they have specific allergies they always have to be on the lookout for.

For Etta, much of her life came from her sheltered upbringing on a small farm, so her view of Chicago in THE PERFECT PLACE TO DIE was skewed by how overwhelming everything felt. For Gianna (the main character coming up in DON’T GO TO SLEEP), she grew up in New Orleans, so instead of being overwhelmed by the city, she loves how alive and vibrant it is. She loves jazz, and so a lot of the way she thinks about the world comes through music.

To really make a voice shine through in a book, it’s important to take the time to ask how that character would view a place or a person or a conflict differently because of who they are and how they act. Then you look for ways to incorporate that into the actual prose.

It’s easy to assume we all look at things the same, but once you start thinking about things in this light, you see how quickly those viewpoints really diverge. Of course, that doesn’t just help you write a better point of view. It helps you understand how and why so many people can have such different views of the world, and why so many people can have such different views and opinions than you do.

And now, back to the first draft . . .

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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 this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It 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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