Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Teasers

In my ongoing campaign to fund my independent publishing project (which can be found on Kickstarter, by the way), I thought a little taste of the novel would whet appetites and give you all a glimpse, not just of the novel but also my writing. Following is Chapter 1 (a sort of prologue) of the book:

Chapter One

By the time May Thompson locked the door it was too late. What happened to Jenny Wade had already happened. Brian, her youngest, was in way over his head with Mr. Barnes. And there was a lot more coming that no locked door was ever going to keep out. But you couldn’t blame her for trying.

That evening, early in the summer of 1974, the heat of the day had settled in the house like another member of the Thompson family, hanging out in the den with Brian as he stared at the television, too boiled to even notice what was on. Was the heat, dry and stagnant, that kept most folks indoors that day, which lead to the the rapid fire spread of the news of what happened to Jenny, once word got out. Not as palpable as wet heat which drapes on you like an extra layer of skin that won’t sink in or molt off, dry heat harbors a sharpness in its touch, pin needles that scratch at your prickled flesh but never seem to release the blood roiling beneath.

At the slam of the door, Brian called out “Leave the door open, Mama. Let the air circulate.”

Brian shifted in his father’s leather chair in search of any spot cooled by the box fan set up in front of him. He watched his mother pass by, heading into the kitchen. “Mama!” He called, but she didn’t respond.

Lazily, Brian trudged into the living room and opened the door again. May Thompson’s children did that on occasion, defied her, tested the boundaries she held on them. Her two oldest children had already learned this and it seemed Brian was catching on as well. But that night, May would not be defied. She returned to the living room, to where her youngest son stood in the doorway, enjoying the insignificant breeze that had shimmied its way through the neighborhood, across the yard, up the porch and through the screen door. May stepped around Brian, moving him backward a pace or two. She peered out into the hazy twilight as if expecting to find something or someone lurking out there then slammed the door shut again. A brief moment passed as she fumbled with the lock. Her fingers, tangled with emotions Brian didn’t understand, worried the deadbolt once then twice until it found its long forgotten home. She then turned to him with challenge in her eyes and her stance. Brian, wholly intent on reopening the door, intent on meeting her challenge with his own, stopped when he felt, rather than saw the tremble of her body. This was not her usual scared-mouse tremble, the kind a lot of beat women get that flutters just under the skin, keeping them alert to any physical shifts that might be occurring around them; no, this emanated from a permanent point inside her, a bone-deep tremble. Even though Brian had been doing things with Mr. Barnes for the past week or so that had him thinking he was a grown-up, just like his mother, at that moment, he felt like a little boy again.

His mother didn’t tell Brian anything that night. Of course she wouldn’t; she still saw him as a child, her child, the baby of the family to be protected and shielded by her and any door she could find to lock. So in silence, she went to bed, not a word, leaving him there at the door, wondering if she’d locked them in or locked something out.  


Saturday, September 7, 2013

And We’re Back…with a Vengeance!

Yes, I’ve been woefully remiss in keeping up the blog so let’s do a bit of a recap to catch us all up:

  1. The book did not sell (not that this should come as a surprise because if it had sold to a publisher, you would have HEARD about it by now). 
  2. A great bit of wallowing was had by all (well, mainly just me). 
  3. Post wallowing, a large amount of doubt settled in for a nice long harboring (every word I wrote, maybe still write, is second-guessed, thrice-guessed, etc. to the point that progress has been non-existent). 
  4. New works-in-progress (see previous entry) were cast out into the streets in their various states of undress to fend for themselves. 
  5. A bout of depression ensued. 
  6. Meds were adjusted.
  7. I said “Fuck it!” to the traditional publishing world!
Which brings us to this post. I am back, full of the piss and vinegar of yore, ready to take the literary world by storm.

How, you ask?

There was a time when I felt that self-publishing was admitting defeat. Of course, I, like so many others, equated it with “vanity” publishing. To some extent it still is, though the world of self-publishing, which I prefer to call independent publishing, has changed drastically in the past few years. The digital age has altered the publishing landscape, some for the bad, some for the good but altered it none the less.

  • Bad: Traditional publishing has faltered. They are no longer the arbiters of what is happening in the literary world. Sure they still have cachet and signing with one of the big houses is still a coop and a sought-after prize but they are also dwindling in scope. They are running a bit scared. They don’t take risks like they used to. Before they take on a book (or an author) they want to know that it comes in such pristine condition that it’s practically ready to print as well as coming to them with a built-in audience. They just don’t have the budgets for editors and marketing, not like they used to, so they need to know that they will recoup their monies and more. While they may have always sought that next great blockbuster that will be on every bookshelf in the world (think The Da Vinci Code), they also took chances on smaller books, those works of Literary Fiction that defy classification, that have no “true” home in the bookstores because they don’t focus on a genre formula (and therefore don’t have a built-in audience) but on characters and writing. The works like To Kill a Mockingbird or The Virgin Suicides take a lot more convincing to be snapped up by traditional publishers.
  • Good: As traditional publishing falters, the digital publishing industry has allowed writers to skip the middleman all together and produce their works to sell directly to the public. Companies like Smashwords and BookBaby make it even easier (for a price, of course). A writer can simple convert their book into an e-book format and upload directly to the Amazon Kindle site or to Barnes & Noble Nook site or any other number of e-book selling sites. They can design their own covers and set their own prices. They become the author and publisher in one. They also need to become the marketer too, which is difficult and time consuming, but it might actually be more than you would get if you signed to a traditional publisher these days. 
Unfortunately, another component of the ‘bad’ is the fact that a lot of these authors cum independent publishers don’t take the time or expend the money to put their works through the stringent editing process that the traditional publishing companies do (or at least used to when they had the money) to elevate their works to the next, professional level. Consequently, a good portion of the novels being produced is sub par and perpetuates the “vanity” stereotype of self-publishing: that anyone can publish anything. There are no guards on duty in this lawless world; no editorial Nazis with their blood-red pens slashing at your manuscript, like a mad plastic surgeon creating a masterpiece, until it is perfected.

Of course, there are writers who know their limitations, their weaknesses and seek out those who can help. I am one of those writers. I think I’m a good writer (my daily affirmation calendar would tell me to say: I AM a good writer). I can create good, well-developed characters. I can even create a good plot line and tell a decent story. What I can’t do is edit my own work. I get so mired in it that I can’t truly see the good and the bad. I know I need someone unbiased who will show no mercy and tell me like it is. I’m a big boy, I can take it if I know it’s for the good of the whole.

It’s been every exciting investigating the world and possibilities of independent publishing. There’s a great sense of control, a sense of casting off the chains of the rules of traditional publishing and just focusing on the work, the words on the page, the way that I feel they were meant to be read. No worrying if the ending is too dower. No worrying if the subject matter is too dark and therefore unsellable. No worrying about word count to bulk it up to constitute “a novel” rather than a novella. The book can be a long (or short) as it needs to be to tell the story properly and succinctly and fully.

Needless to say, my enthusiasm is renewed, my energy refilled. I am once again excited about writing, not just this novel but once again engaging my other works in progress. I’m once again feeling the dream beat inside me, pulsing through my veins as surely as my blood does. I once again call myself a writer and I am glad to be back.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Back at the Drawing Board

First, let me apologize for the lack of blogging. It's amazing how life can get in the way of actually living. After a few bobbles in my personal job market, I have landed at a good company that, while excellent for making mortgage, hasn't been conducive to keeping up with my writing projects. Almost seven months into this new job, I've finally started finding ways to carve out some much needed "free" time to work on what truly matters to me: the writing.

And speaking of my writing, as the title of this entry states, I have gone back to my first novel. It's been a year and a half since my agent started selling the book, sending it out to publishing houses and while there have been some hits, though not on target, there have been mostly misses. The majority of publishers have stated that the story is good but the writing isn't quite strong enough. Well, that hurt. Funnily enough, I always thought I was a lousy storyteller and the strength of my writing would pull me through that detriment. Always interesting when you learn the opposite of what you thought you know, especially when it pertains to yourself or your perception of yourself.

After careful consideration (and too many reference to the weak writing), I decided to rework the novel, to strengthen the writing and make the book more viable to future publishers. I worked on fleshing out the characters and their back stories. I worked on the multiple grammar issues (though that might be a loosing battle! What can I say, I like a run-on sentence.). I worked on clarification and exposition. And the novel grew from 70k words to almost 87k. Quite the growth spurt. All this time I thought the characters were done but apparently they weren't.

Eagerly I sent the refinished manuscript to my agent. And waited 3 excruciating weeks until she returned from vacation before she responded. Of course, I thought there would be nothing but praise. Of course, I had deluded myself. She had sent it to one of her readers and together they sent me back to the drawing board. Oh, there was praise. My agent loves the book. Loves my voice. Loves the story and the characters. But...it's just not there yet.

With the addition of 17k words, some portions of the book started to lag. The reader, to whom she had sent the book, thought there were too many characters. Sure she understood that they added to the authenticity of the small town world I had created but she felt that they troubled the waters too much. There were too many names to remember and, since some only appeared once in the book, they just cluttered her brain and detracted from the main story lines and characters.

And then there was the narrator's POV. It becomes clear at the end of the book why the narrator tells the story as he does but until then it might not make sense. As the writer, who knows what's happening at all times and why it is happening, you can "forget" to see your book, your story, your techniques from the outside view. After both the reader remarked that the narrator knew things he shouldn't have known, I could see how the POV was unrealistic (at least until the reader got to the ending). It wasn't the first time I had heard that observation. But to clarify in the beginning feels like it will lessen the ending which makes me apprehensive to do so, but,I suppose clarification (and less frustration) is more important than revelation, especially if there is the possibility that the reader will abandon the book before reaching the end.

So, I have begun the editing process yet again. I am approaching this editing process like a reader. I must be judicious with my cuts. It's not easy but it must be done. The reader stated that this "project should definitely be pursued." She loved the book. She loved the writing. She loved the story and the way I told it. Because of the small town feel of the book and the mysteries involved, she likened it to In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, one of my favorite books of all time. When my agent and I spoke the other day, she said she could see that but stated that the book has always reminded her more of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, another of my favorite books. She believes this could be another book in that vein, with the accompanying phenomenon, which sounds fantastic but, truly, I just want to get published.

So I am back at the drawing board and will return as often as needed to get my novel the bookshelf. It's just what a writer does. And I am a writer.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

WIPs

Hot on the heels of the "moving on" post I thought I'd offer an update on my Works in Progress. While I haven't been as diligent in my writing as I would like, I have been working on multiple projects.

WIP 1
Is actually my 2nd novel (The Reclamation of Karel Benekov) which I've written about here before. I'm just over 67,000 words along with the last 1/4 of the book to go. I'm anticipating a final word count in the 90s. I have to admit that I'm not thrilled with the structure of the novel, too linear in progression, which slows down the pace dramatically, but this is still the first draft so there will not be any starting over until I have finished getting the "story" out at least. I'm hoping I can get the structure right more quickly than I did with the 1st novel, which took upwards of 6 or 7 completely different attempts before finding the one that truly told the story properly. I feel that I have a better handle on this book (experience does help) and a better understanding of the main character, so I should be able to hit it right sooner rather than later.

WIP 2
3rd novel (The Last Messiah). This is another book I'm working on, though not as diligently as the other one. The story actually came from my partner, Carlos. He wasn't too interested in my 1st book. Literary Fiction bores him, which is fine. I know it's not for everyone. He's very much into the paranormal writing genre as is the rest of the world, it seems. One night in bed he inform me that in order for me to actually sell books I need to write something more interesting and, yes, trendy. He proceeded to tell me his idea of the coming of the "Last Messiah." While paranormal writing isn't quite the type of book I like the story intrigued me enough for me to start tinkering with it. I have a "thing" about religion, a fascination that borders on obsession and I thought: "what the hell, give it a shot." I'm only about 11,000 words into (it requires quite a bit of research into religion and how to write police procedurals (oh, it starts out as your run of the mill police procedural and then turns paranormal)) but I actually like it very much and it's a nice change of pace from when I get bored with writing the other book.

WIP 3
Stage Play (Pinched). Quite a few years ago, I read a non-fiction book entitled Sex-Crime Panic: A Journey to the Paranoid Heart of the 1950s by Neil Miller, which told of a post-child murder panic that took hold of parts of Iowa back in the 1950s. As the police couldn't find the actual murderer, or murderers, of two children, they sought to appease public fears by rounding up "sexual deviates", which mainly consisted of homosexuals. A group of these men were committed to the mental hospital for an indefinite period of time in hopes that the state could cure them.

I've always thought this would make an interesting (and still timely) stage play, so I'm working on an adaptation.

WIP 4
Screenplay (Immortality, Inc.). Okay, I've had this in the works for years (at least 10) and think I should just freaking write the damned thing! Again, this is for Carlos as it deals with vampires. At first I thought it would be a book but it's just so terribly visual that I decided to switch it to a movie instead. I've actually got most, if not all, of the research done on this, complete with character bios (full histories! I started this back when I still did such things) and a point-by-point plot outline so now it's just a matter of writing it. I just started revisiting this project in the past couple of days so I'm going to try to stoke the embers here and see what happens.

And that's it. That's what I'm working on, here and there, keeping myself entrenched in the world of words and continuing to move forward. I think I'm like a lot of writers who keep a few projects going at the same time in order to keep the mind active and the writing interesting. Often, if I only concentrate on one piece of writing, it starts to bore me and then the writing becomes stale. If I switch back and forth, especially if the projects vary widely in genre and style, the writing stays fresh and lively.

I'll try to get some more in depth posts regarding each project here in the near future.

To Let Go Is to Move On

It appears that there comes a point in this publishing process when one has to turn to that old Alcoholics Anonymous catch-phrase "Let Go and Let God" in order to move forward. I am at that point.

We are fast approaching the 1 year mark of my manuscript being "out there" in search of a home. My agent, Jennifer DeChiara, began sending it out in January of this year. As reported, we came close with one publisher but the book was deemed to adult for the Young Adult market. Since then: nothing. Not a freaking nibble. Oh, they're still tossing around the niceties: "good writer"; "interesting story"; "good character development"; and the like but ultimately they all have passed. I'm not even sure how many rejections I've had now as Jennifer has decided to shield me from them, for which I am thankful as there are just so many knocks my fragile writer's ego can take.

Each month, like broken clock work (I can never hold out a full month), I email Jennifer asking for updates. Each month the same report: "nothing yet, but I'm still trying." God love her tenacity!

And each month another dagger in the ole heart area.

Well, I think it's time to "Let Go and Let God." It's time to leave it in the hands of fate, put my head down and keep working on new projects. No more monthly updates, just let it lie and if by chance someone finally picks it up for publication and I get that call from Jennifer, well great. But if it doesn't happen then it doesn't matter because I've moved on. I've realized that I, and my writing, are entierly too tethered to the outcome of this novel. I have tied my self-worth to its publication and that's not good. I have to realize that even if the book doesn't get published that doesn't mean I'm not a good, or even great, writer. Just means that I have to continue getting my work out there so that someone will realize it. It's like casting a net instead of just one fishing line.

These are the lessons each writer must learn, I suppose.

So it's settled. One last update (what? you thought I would be able to quit cold turkey?) and then it's on its own. Time to move on fully and happily and whole-heartily, with confidence that my writing will be heard one day.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Why I Write

Often, in my travels (or is it travails?) as a writer I have had the opportunity to speak with other writers, unpublished like myself, and the subject of being published almost always comes up. Occasionally, the other writer will make a statement along the lines of: "Well, I don't care if I ever get published because I write for myself."

"Pardon me?" I want to say, "but what's the point in that?"

For me writing is many things: a must because I simply can't stop doing it; fun, especially in the first few drafts; painful as I tend to base most of my writing on my own personal emotional landscape; and hard, damned hard, with each word being a wrestling match of thesaurus versus my vision to make sure I have the most perfect choice. Writing for me is tough and difficult and sometimes not enjoyable and, above all, work. And if I'm going to go through all that, well, to quote the lyrics of "Dance Ten, Looks Three" from A Chorus Line: "...dancing for my own enjoyment? That ain't it, kid! That ain't it kid!"

I want to be published. I want to be read. I want to have my voice heard. I have things that I want to say, commentaries I want to make upon life and the world around me. But if there is no one to hear/read them, then I might as well just sit in my apartment talking the wall, rambling like a madman because that's what "writing for myself" is comparable to, no?

Writing for me is collaborative: like dancing or having sex, it's best done with two people (or more, depending). When I'm writing, I'm writing for an audience, for readers who, in their need to understand the story I am telling and believe the actions of the characters within the story, drive me to be clear and concise in my writing. Because I write for others, I am a better writer.

In my younger days, when I first started writing, I wrote just to write, which was a form of writing for myself, I suppose. The results were less than coherent, mostly ramblings with multiple digressions that were painful to read. Very much like diary entries with no discernible plot or character development...or, ultimately, purpose. I remember reading for a writing group during this period. The piece, "The Daddyslayer," was stunning in its heavy-handedness, its cacophony of ideas and images that were nothing short of verbal vomit, a purging of my "soul" that included an unseen villain (The Daddy), a trapped victim (nameless, of course) who lived in a village of unknown origin, setting and time period, who sets out on a journey to find a mythological being called "The Daddyslayer": "he'll rid you of that Daddy, once and for all, he will," says a stranger in a tavern where our young hero has found himself along his quest. He eventually meets the Daddyslayer, after a dramatic encounter with a pack of wolves (still not sure why they were in the story) where he begins a rigorous training because, of course, HE is the Daddyslayer! All this in only 5 pages! All I remember from the crowd of faces in the writing group was the stunned silence, then the hemming and hawing before someone, mercifully jumped into the fray. "Well, that was intense." And not in a good way, I was to find out. Other words tossed about: obvious, heavy-handed, over-wrought and lacking focus. "Who is your audience?" someone asked. Well, I had never thought of that, which was painfully obvious. At that moment in my writing dream, I had never thought beyond the end of my pen (yes, my pen as this was pre-PC days).

I realized that I didn't have an audience in mind. I simply purged myself onto the paper, a sort of bloodletting that proved uncomfortable and painful to the reader, if they could make themselves even read the huge blocks of type set before them. It was then that I began to study the craft of writing, the art of writing for someone else.

Some may say that writing for "someone else" will harness the raw, organic flow of our thoughts and emotions, but it doesn't have to. My raw emotions, my thoughts and ideas about the world and the people who inhabit it, are the clay from which I sculpt. The first draft of any project is where I dump my raw materials out on the table to see what I have to work with. Usually by the end a shape will form, dull and lifeless, maybe monstrous and unable to communicate properly to anyone other than myself, sort of a Frankenstein creature at best. But it is a shape none-the-less. It is during the revising process that the shape truly takes on life and breath (hopefully) and becomes a full-fledged entity that can interact with others. I like to think of myself as 'enry 'iggins molding 'is Eliza Doolittle.

The point is: I have to write for an audience in order to write well and coherently. And I have to write with the hope of being published, and with the idea that I am going to pursue that hope by sending my work out there into the cold, mean world of agents and editors, otherwise I will need to drive myself to the nearest sanitarium for a lifetime membership and start babbling to the first white, padded wall I can find.

But that's just me.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Adaptation

The adaptability of the mind endlessly fascinates me. Here's the situation:

About a month ago, I am staying up way past my bedtime. I'm having a bit of scotch as I am wont to do on occasion--Johnnie Walker Black on the rocks, if you don't mind. I'm tired. Maybe I'm a bit tipsy. I doze. My glass, lovely Baccarat rocks glass that makes even the most harsh of scotches taste divine, tilts and spills onto and into my laptop. I wake, mutter "oh shit," clean up as best I can and go to bed. Next morning I do a thorough cleaning of the keyboard and assess the damage: the "s" key has perished in the flood. Not too horrible, considering.

I don't have the money to replace my laptop and it's silly to do so for a dead "s": so for the past month or so, I've been typing (emails, Facebook and Twitter status updates, WIPs, this posting) without having an active "s" key.

At first I set about to live an entirely "s"-less life. For the following few days after the death of "s", I did just that and I must say the exercise was a fascinating writing experiment. One has to truly manipulate one's vocabulary to write "s"-free. If you don't believe me, try it. Live "s"-less for one day (or "t"-less, "p"-less, "h"-less) and see how much ingenuity you will have to have to simply post a Twitter update (that's only 140 characters, relatively easy one would think but don't be fooled!). Pick any letter and try to live without it!

Definitely exercises the brain, which is great for a writerly exercise but difficult for an everyday existence.

So now I do a lot of copying and pasting for each and every "s" occurrence. I use the keyboard shortcut of Ctrl+V for the pasting and let me tell you, my mind has adapted to this necessity so deftly that I am amazed at the agility of the brain. Even when I'm at another computer, every time I come to an "s" in a word my left pinkie automatically stretches out for the Ctrl key. I don't even have to think about it anymore, it's that natural, and after such a short period. I'm truly amazed. Granted, occasionally I need a capital "s" and that takes extra steps (usually I simply search one out in a past writing sample or off a website page) and then I forget that I've copied that particular form of "s" and I'll paSte a capital "s" in the middle of a word. A little frustrating but nothing too diabolical. It's all just about adjusting.

For me it's a perfect allegory for life: one must always be adaptable in order to continue moving forward.

That and mind your Ps, Qs, Ss, and above all, your scotch!