Category: writing

Writing Update

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update on how my various writing projects. It feels like I’ve had so many balls in the air for so long, but strangely at the moment I’m in a bit of a lull between many different projects. Here’s a rundown:

  • MEMORY THIEF 2: The latest draft is still with my editors. I know they generally liked it, but they’re waiting on giving more specific feedback as the screenplay for MEMORY THIEF is worked on. The original August 2018 publication date has been pushed back to at least fall 2018, but (more realistically) probably Spring 2019 or so. It’s not entirely in my hands. But the delay is for good reasons (the potential film adaptation) and not for bad reasons (backing out of the project). The draft is done and close to ready for  publication. Just waiting on a green light for me to be able to share more with you all.
  • UTOPIA: A second draft is complete at with my agent as of a week ago. In the second draft, I worked on fleshing out the setting more, as well as adding a bit more grounding so that the main character’s voice isn’t completely confusing. I really love this book, and I hope my agent does too.
  • MURDER CASTLE: This has been with my agent since December. I’ve heard a bit back from him, generally positive, but I don’t have an editorial letter to work through just yet. Hopefully soon.
  • INCIDENT AT OAK CREEK: A short story I wrote that’s now with an editor and with my agent (to see if he thinks I could turn it into a full book). I thought it was a lot of fun (kung fu Mormon steampunk alternative history is always fun, right?), but we’ll see what others think.
  • MAGIC AT 30,000 FEET: We had shopped this around with editors, and it got a lot of positive feedback. But we also consistently heard some hesitancy due to its audience. It was a Middle Grade novel in some aspects, and a YA novel in others. So I tried revising it to be more YA. My agent wasn’t crazy about the revision. I have a couple of other ideas out to him that I might try to revise, but I’m not even sure I’ll go back to work on them. We’ll see what he says.
  • OUR LADY OF QUESTIONABLE MORALS: Submitted to many editors. Heard back from many. Like TARNHELM before it, I think this book is just going to chill for a while. I love it, it got good responses from editors, but no actual takers. My agents have said it’s generally a decent idea to sit on these books until I’ve got a few more published books under my belt, at which point it becomes easier to sell them. I’m all for doing the things my agents suggest I do.

And because people still occasionally ask me:

  • VODNIK 2: I’ve had a couple of conversations with my editor about the potential for a sequel. The first book was certainly well received, but it didn’t perform as well from a sales-perspective. I would happily write another book, but I just don’t think that’s in the cards for the foreseeable future, alas.

Which leaves me in my current state, where I don’t really have a project I’m working on. I have several revisions right around the corner, so I don’t want to dive into a completely new book, but the revisions aren’t here yet, so . . .

I’m waiting.

Good things on the horizon, I hope. In really good news, I got my first real live royalty check yesterday, for THE MEMORY THIEF. That means the book is officially successful in my mind, which is a great feeling. Here’s hoping there’s many more royalty checks to come.

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. Plus, did I mention the sweet perks like exclusive access to unpublished books, works in progress, and Skype visits? 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.

An Update on the Future of the Blog

I just have a minute or two today to write, but I wanted to let you all know how the blog is looking these days. As you’ll recall, I began to question whether what I was writing each day was a good use of my time. To put that to the test, I created a Patreon page, trying to see if I could get 10 people to commit to donating $1/month. If I could get to that level, I’d take it as sign enough that I should keep at it.

So far, I’ve had 6 people pledge a total of $8/month, so I’m 4/5 of the way to my goal. Honestly, the most surprising thing to me has been the people who have donated. I thought it would be mostly personal friends or family members, but instead it’s been people at my work or in the community. I’m humbled to accept their support, and so grateful for their generosity.

I look at some of my author friends’ Patreons. Some are bringing in thousands of dollars each month. I know $10 isn’t a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a sign to me, and it means a whole lot.

I’m planning on making my Patreon page into something more. I hope to use it to post special, exclusive content, as well as peeks into works in progress and books that ended up being set aside. I’ve written 17 novels, after all, and only 8 of those are still at some point in the submission process. I’ve got plenty of material to share, some good, some just a good example of what not to do. I’m planning on making tiers to my Patreon, giving different content to different levels of supporters.

But I’ll say this. Anyone who’s an official supporter as of the end of March is going into a special “Founders” section. They’ll always have access to all the tiers at whatever rate they choose to pay. As long as they remain Patrons, they’re there. And I will thank them personally in each and every novel I publish, as long as they remain supporters. I’m not kidding when I say how impressed I am by their generosity, and I hope that will pay it back at least a little. If you’re still interested in supporting me, the page is ready and willing to take donations.

In the meantime, I’m also adding back a small bit of advertising to the site. Just a simple link to THE MEMORY THIEF on Amazon. You’ll see it over there on the right of the page now. That takes you to Amazon’s site, and while you’re there on that visit, anything you buy will send a portion (about 2-4% of the price) to me. It’s kind of a “Finder’s Fee” incentive program Amazon uses. So if you’re going to buy something on Amazon anyway, and you’d like to support the page and me as an author, you can click that link first and do it without paying a dime.

The one trick is that I need to have three people use that in the next three months. After that, I’ll have to reapply for it. If three people use it before then, then I’m good to go, I think. So if you’re buying something from Amazon, please consider using that link to get there.

In any case, thanks to all for reading and for your comments and support. They’re all much appreciated!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking to get to $10/month to justify the amount of time I spend on this blog. I’m at $8/month so far. Read this post for more information. Or click here to go to Patreon and sign up. It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on 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.

Novels vs. Short Stories

Each year at Christmas, I make a family newsletter that I mail out to my siblings and parents. Most of it is a series of (hopefully) amusing fake news stories based around funny pictures the family took over the last year, but the centerpiece has always been a short story I write just for the newsletter. And so each year, when Thanksgiving rolls around, I begin to wonder what in the world I’ll write about this year.

The thing is, I don’t do short fiction. I wrote some short stories in college, sure. But when it comes time to write a narrative, I almost always end up writing a novel. I’ve done it too much. Sort of like how Fezzik in the Princess Bride has trouble with the Man in Black. I’m used to one form, and switching to a different one can throw me for a loop.

But what is it exactly that makes the process so different? I thought I might take a moment and pick that apart some.

Speed is a huge factor. With a novel, there’s all this open space and time that you can develop characters and conflicts. A short story is so tightly packed, it’s hard for me to get the momentum I need for it to take off. I start with a central idea. (This year’s was “What if Hell was being forced to listen to the same Christmas song over and over and over, for eternity?) And that seems like an amusing enough idea, but as soon as I start to examine it for narrative, I start asking questions. How is that implemented? Who picks the song? What else is Hell like? And that’s not even addressing the characters in the story, their backgrounds, etc.

By the time I have the story up and running, I’m already out of space.

Conflicts in a short story also tend to be different than conflicts in a novel. For one thing, there’s generally just one. I’m no good at sticking to just one conflict. The thing is, in a novel, I want to start off by creating conflicts. Lots of them. I want to introduce multiple areas of tension, and so I have a lot of practice doing that. Making things worse. Taking a single idea and riffing on it. I have little experience taking one idea and just staying laser focused on that one idea.

But probably the biggest problem I have with short fiction is that I don’t read it. I don’t have a lot of experience dealing with it, seeing where other people succeed and where they fail. And that lack of experience really shows.

Of course, on the flip side, I now have ten complete short stories, all on a Christmas theme. So maybe I’m slowly building up expertise in one single, very narrow sub-slice of short fiction: the holiday story.

Anyway. This year’s is now done, and I’m quite happy with how it turned out. Maybe I should turn them all into a short story collection sometime. A thought for the future. In the meantime, I’m out of time for today. Thanks for reading, and catch you tomorrow!

Writing Gruesome Scenes

I’m at the climax of MURDER CASTLE at the moment, writing my way through the final scenes of the book. It’s an interesting position to be in, because usually at this point, I find myself just blazing through the word count each day. I know what needs to happen. I know how the characters behave and react. All I have to do is sit back and let it happen.

And that’s the case with this scene, but it’s not writing nearly as easily as it usually does. I would worry that’s a symptom that I’m not happy with the climax and that I need to revise it, but in this case, I think it has more to do with the actual content of the climax. The main character is now in probably the worst situation I’ve ever thrown a protagonist into. This is a book about a serial killer who brutally murdered dozens of women in the late 1800s. When your main character is a woman who’s trying to take that killer down, I don’t think it should come as much of a shock that at some point in the course of the novel, things aren’t going to go too peachy for her.

And that’s really hard for me to write. It forces me to think in ways I don’t really want to think. I have a hard time telling if I’m dwelling unnecessarily on details, or if I’m zooming through it all too quickly. Difficult scenes can take a long time to write, so they naturally feel like they’re just lasting longer than they ought to. Ironically, those same scenes can be some of the fastest to read, so readers might feel like they were over too soon.

Ideally, I want the tension to rise and rise and rise. I want to cram plenty of suspense into this, and that takes pages. So I just tuck my head down and barrel through the descriptions, putting myself into my main character’s shoes and trying to see things through her eyes. Which, like I said, isn’t a fun thing to think about when you’re sick in bed day after day.

The book is solid, though. I think I’ll have to go back through and add in some more details that bring characters to life, but the actual actions of the book feel good to me after this first pass through. I’m really hoping my main character lives to see the end of this, but at the moment, I’m not sure how likely that is. I know what I want to happen, but sometimes once you’re in a scene, you realize that what you wanted to happen as an author . . . just can’t happen. You’d figure you have all the control in the world over your book, but it doesn’t feel that way. Not if you’re doing it right.

Your characters have abilities. Strengths and weaknesses. For Etta (the main character in MURDER CASTLE) to get through this alive, she’s going to have to dig deep. She’s got real nerve, though. I think she’s got a fair shot.

And now, back to the grisly details . . .

Short Story: Three Winters

After my post yesterday  on Professor Thayer’s passing and the writing I did for his class, I thought it would be interesting to put up one of my short stories from that semester. This is probably the best one, if that says anything. I wrote it back in the winter of 2001.

Presented now for your reading pleasure:

Three Winters

I sat down but had to tap my foot. Where were they? I glanced at my watch again. 21:19–three minutes later than the last time I had looked. Nineteen minutes late. I sat back in the overstuffed chair and tried to appear relaxed. My fingers started a quick staccato on the chair arm as I tuned back into the conversation around me.

“I dunno, Anderson. Do ya think they’ll schaff it?”

“They’ll be fine. There’s no way they would’ve missed the 9:10.”

One time they had forgotten I was at school. I called home, but Dad was asleep. He said later he hadn’t heard the phone. Mom was out doing errands. It had been three hours before she got my message and came to pick me up. Why did I keep thinking about that?

“Hey–Christensen. Christensen! Man are you spaced or what! For someone who fought bein’ trunky, you sure did die fast.”

I shook my head and didn’t answer. I got back up and went to the window but didn’t look out. My socks swished on the carpet. New ones, bought for today. No holes. I checked my reflection again in the mirror. Dad would comment on my suit. I hadn’t dry cleaned it once the whole two years. What was the point? The lining was worn out from my backpack, and the wool was beginning to fray at the edges.

Elder Habicht always said it had to do with which clothes you wore less. At home, Sunday clothes were special; in the field, P-day clothes were taken care of. Folded up neatly, ready for the next week. Dad wouldn’t understand. Or would he? He had been there–he had done it, too.

I felt my hair over, going through the motions. I had smeared a thick glob of gel in that morning. My comp always called it a helmet, but I didn’t like to worry about it getting messed up.

Things had been different before my mission, of course. Classic rock and T-shirts, late nights and mornings that were almost afternoons. Older and wiser now, I reminded myself. I thrust my wrist free of my white shirt again. 21:23. I started roaming. President Johnson’s apartment had high ceilings and cushy blue carpet. My eyes paused on a picture of the Freiberg temple and a Leipzig Travel Book. I flipped through them for a moment and then went back to the window. No one would call it a gorgeous city–nothing to compare to Paris or London or Salzburg. Leipzig gawked up at the sky in muted grays and browns and blacks as small cars made of compressed cardboard swerved on the streets below. I’d ridden a Trabi every week to church in Schwarzenberg; the scent of bad gasoline and a cramped back seat weren’t easy to forget. It was a joke that they even had seat belts in that death trap. The stupidity of Communism. Bruder Brummel had been waiting at the train station that first night, eager to help the two Elders up to their apartment.

“So Elder Christensen, wo kommen Sie her?”

“Uh… Entschuldigung? I didn’t quite–I mean–Ich habe nicht…” I had looked over at my trainer in desperation, still too new to even remember his name. The snow fell softly over the train station, quickly covering the marks of the passing train as its taillights disappeared in the dark. My last link to anything resembling home. Above us a yellow streetlight bathed the scene in sepia.

My trainer looked at Bruder Brummel in a knowing way, who smiled in return.

“Ach! You are Golden. Ich habe völlig davon vergessen. Welcome to the Erzgebirge!” He jerked his green knit hat down over his ears and signaled for me to follow. The next thing I knew I was in his Trabi, rumbling through the late night up a hill to Communist housing–Neubau. Purple lights gaped down from windows filled with plants and the shifting light of televisions. It had taken five months to understand the thick Erzgebirgisch accents, five months in which the snow had gradually turned into budding leaves and fields of yellow flowers.

Outside a Straβenbahn interrupted my memory, electrical lines sparking furiously as if in imitation of the lightning the night before. Breaking my train of thought. Winter was in the air, and the cold would soon attack the city in force. Already a few areas of the mission had had their first snow. Magdeburg. Cottbus. Eisenach. I listened to the pedestrians walking by underneath the window.

“Ja, es ist mir schon ziemlich kalt. Es wird ein schlecter Winter sein. Sag mal…”

No Englisch. 21:27.

“Come on, Christensen. They’ll be here sooner or später, and waiting up here’s not gonna hilf much. How about we go and grab some Essen?” SYL, mission-style. I had fought it for the first quarter of my mission, but finally resigned myself to the choice between Speak-Your-Language snob or German pidgin.

“You guys go ahead. Sister Johnson is up here still, and there’s a few more things I still gotta erledigen.” I kept pacing once they were gone. I had paced at school that day, too. How do you sleep through five phone calls? My quarters ran out, or I would have kept trying. Forget it. College had been better, hadn’t it? I’d been independent then, hadn’t I?

I thought I’d be independent once I got to Gotha. Third city, DL, Golden Trainer. I’d be in charge. The mission would be smooth sailing from there on out. Four months with a difficult companion, three baptisms, two bike wrecks and one thrashed suit had shown me otherwise. You couldn’t be independent on a mission; it wasn’t your job. Winter had descended and the bikes had been replaced with Bahn cards and missed trains. But with it came a contentment–a satisfaction. I remembered one evening, walking home through a light snow from a late appointment. Elder Jones had been anxious for warmth–I let him walk ahead. He was furious. The purple lights in the windows were comforting by then, and I knew that in a year I would have to let them go. I didn’t know what to think about that, and let myself be enjoy the crunch of the snow underneath my shoes. Jones tapped his foot at the end of the corner; I took my time.

I shook my head back to the now. Here I was ready to face winter, and I was being released. My eyes roamed the apartment, lingering on the dining table in the other room even as my ears pricked toward the window for a trace of English. I strode to the door, opened it, and took the wrought-iron elevator down to the office. With a creak the downstairs door opened, carrying with it the sound of eating Elders. I closed the door and looked around the dimly lit apartment. Light shone into the hallway from the kitchen, and it was there that the office Elders had gathered for their nightly ritual. I stepped over oversized suitcases and walked in.

“Hey! Here he is now! Mr. Big Cheese himself!” With a chorus of greetings, they each resumed their socializing. I tried to talk with them, but they already were focused on events I would have no part of. They had a tomorrow; I had a homecoming. Finally Elder Anderson signaled me into the other room.

“So what’s up?”

“Not much. They’re a half-hour late.”

“Don’t worry about it. They’ll komm schon. Enjoy your last few minutes as a full-blooded Elder.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Hey–what’s the matter with you? What’s got into you?”

“Nothing.”

“Right. You’ve thrown up about five times today. Something’s up. Sag mal.”

“No–I mean it. Nothing. I have nothing to look forward to. I’m gonna go home and sit around for three and a half months and then fly off to school. Nothing.”

“Sounds like a whole lotta something to me.”

“Something like a bad decision is what.”

“Huh?”

“I should’ve verlängert. Then at least I’d only have had two months to blow.”

“Come on, man. It won’t be that bad.”

“Leicht gesagt. You’ve got five months left.”

“Well, how about the Büro. You got any suggestions on what I should work on?”

We talked shop for the next while, and Elder Anderson left me to my thoughts. 21:43. After three hours, I’d been pretty steamed. Said some things better left unsaid. Hadn’t I? I shook my head. Memories of the mission were clear as a seven o’clock study session, but anything before the MTC got hazy and wobbly. Some memories you never forget, though. They’re branded in your mind. I’d never forget that experience. I don’t think I wanted to know why. But I was no longer Ben–I was Elder Christensen. Right? That was who I wanted to be. And couldn’t. The doorbell rang, and I got up to answer it out of habit. Then thought again. I stayed in the room, turning off the lights.

Elder Anderson open the main door and through it cut the voice of my father. Release in a sentence. My jumbled thoughts and scattered emotions clicked together at once. Home. I walked to the door and went to meet my family.

There was everything such a reunion should have. Dad commented on how much older I looked, Mom cried, and my brother went on and on about video games. In a blur everything whisked to the car, an expensive Mercedes Benz rental–the wonders of Capitalism–and we were off to the hotel. I squirmed on the leather seats and stared at the seat belt before I put it on.

“Why don’t we go out to dinner?” 22:31. Already past bedtime. What bedtime?

“Sure, why not?”

I looked around the restaurant, curious to see the German waiters bustling back and forth just like their counterparts in America always had. I didn’t have to Contact them. My family went to the menus, asking for help with translation. Rotkohl, Rouladen, Klöβe, Getränke. Orders were placed, and everyone started talking at once.

“So, son. Have you heard much about what’s happening at home?”

“Uh… No, Dad. Not wirklich.”

“What was that?”

“Give him a break, Joe. Tell us all about Leipzig, Ben. Where should we go sightseeing tomorrow?”

“Well, I–uh–I hadn’t really thought about it that much. What with things at the Bür–“

“See, Mary. He hasn’t thought about it. That’s what I told you, isn’t it? Missionaries just keep their heads in the–Now Ben.” At this my father’s face hardened. “I know that you’ve had a good mission. Of course you have–that’s how we raised you! But we’ve got to get you back into the swing of things pronto. You got me? Pronto. You’ve got a lot ahead of you.” A low chuckle. “Boy, do I wish I was back in your shoes. Picking a major, choosing a career–hey, what am I saying? Choosing a wife, right? You’ve got to find a good summer job, right?” His sales pitch stopped, and it took me a moment to realize a response was expected–required.

“Well–yeah. Sure,” and as an afterthought forced out through unfamiliar lips, “Dad.”

“That’s my boy! We raise ’em right, don’t we, Mary?” Mary just kept her mouth closed in a worried grimace as she glanced uneasily between me and my father. “That’s what I say. Well, don’t you worry a bit, Ben, cause I’ve got it all worked out for you. You start the day after we get back in Dan Stuart’s department–down in shipping. It’s a bit of grunt work, but it’ll be fine. Gotta get rid of some of that fat you’ve got stored up there. You’ll have to get a car, of course. That’ll mean car payments and a loan–build credit.”

He went on, but I had stopped listening. Car payments? A loan? Menschenskinder… A wife? I gazed out the window in the direction of the office, my sight now blurred by the falling snow.

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