Thursday, March 1, 2007

MySpace Blogs from Dec. 11 2006-Feb. 24 2007

Monday, Dec. 11, 2006 7:42PM

Well, I've been MIA as far as MySpace is concerned for the past two months. Anybody miss me? It's been a rough couple of months, to be honest. I finished my revisions and sent them to my agent, but when I went back and read over them myself, I realized something. I didn't like the book anymore! The flow was all chopped to pieces, the book had gained 25 pages, and it just didn't feel right to me. I MUCH preferred the original version. Don't get me wrong, I liked the plot threads I added to flesh out one of the characters, and I believe the major scened that I added was well done. It just didn't feel right as a whole anymore. I'd killed all the magic in my story.

So, I arranged a conference call with my agent, and was gratified (and marginally horrified) to hear that she felt exactly the same way. We discussed the problem in depth, and she gave me some tips and ideas to try. I'm not happy with some of her ideas, and very happy with others. For one thing, she wants me to remove a plot thread that I think is very important, and very dramatic, something that was planned from the first inkling I had for the book. But she had some excellent insight for me into where the flow had been corrupted, and how to get it back without losing the new scenes. So I'll give it a shot.

Anyway, on a personal note, still out of work, still not that hot to find a job, but starting to feel the need. I guess I'm going to have to really pick up the pace soon and find some way to make some money before my unemployment runs out.

Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2007 1:37 AM

So I've been pretty lazy about keeping up my blog lately, and for those of you who enjoy reading it, I'm sorry about that. Things have been very busy for me in some ways the past few months, and very un-busy (ie, boring) in others.

My last blog tells you about the revisions I did on my first novel, and how much I hated them when I read them over. Well, I spent the entire month of December working on the problem (after spending all of November doing the revisions in the first place), and I finally got it to a point where I loved the story again. And, what's more important, I figured out what it was that was keeping me from revising well in the first place. I'm going to explain it here, because it really illustrates how finicky a person's mind can be when doing this kind of thing.

When I wrote this novel, my main characters were Eric (me) and Hal (my son). The novel was written specifically for my son, about my son, and as such is very close to my heart. However, one of the suggested (read: demanded) changes that not only my agent, but the editor at Sourcebooks, came up with was a name change for the two main characters. You see, my first name is Eric, and my middle name is Hal. Therefore, according to my agent and verified by the editor that almost bought the book, no agent will buy it if those two character names are set in stone. I had to be willing to change the names. So my son and I discussed it, and we picked new names for our characters. Ryan (me) and Wes (my son).
And then, I began the process of revising. And as I've already mentioned, it was hard, and the finished product was... less than pleasing.

Why, you ask? Because I don't care about Ryan and Wes. Not even a little bit. In my mind, the heroes of the book were Eric and Hal. Ryan and Wes were just these guys that got tossed in at the last minute.

So, why does that matter? The characters are the same. Their personalities didn't change, nor did their actions throughout the book. And yet I found it incredibly difficult to write dialogue, actions, emotions, anything at all for Ryan and Wes, and still make it believable.

My solution was simple, in the end. I changed Ryan and Wes back to Eric and Hal. I then worked on revising my revisions, and lo and behold, it all came together. I was able to see the flaws in the story's flow and pacing, and the emotions of the characters began to jump out at me again. I was finally able to feel my story. So I made my revisions, read through the book a few times to make sure everything worked, and then did a find and replace (ain't word processors great?) and changed the names to Ryan and Wes. Sent the book off to my agent, who sent back a very short list of easily managed typo corrections, and bam! It was finished.

It's strange how something so tiny can make such a huge difference in my ability to write a story, but there it is. After I figured all this out, I went back and looked over the work I'd done on book 2 and realized a lot of it wasn't going as well as I wanted, either. I tossed out 2/3 of what I'd written, changed the names to Eric and Hal, and started writing again. And after a month, I'm 40,000 words into what I plan on being an 80,000-90,000 word sequel.

So let that be a lesson to all the other hopefuls out there, like me. If you're stumbling, look closely. There may be something as simple as a name holding you back from having a solid connection with your characters. And no matter whether you KNOW it's something that has to be changed if it's ever going to get published, do what you have to do to make the story work for you. You can always go back and change it after you've got the story down the way you want it.

Thursday, Feb. 6, 2007 11:47AM

OK, last night I posted a blog detailing one of the big problems I had with revising my first novel. But I almost forgot to mention something funny that happened as a result of all the name changing back and forth that I did!

There exist several copies of my first book that I printed up for family as Christmas presents. It was a rush job, thrown together at the last minute. And the only finished version of the story I had ready at the time was the original first draft, before I'd done any of those major revisions. Problem is, the only copy of it I could find had the names Ryan and Wes that I'd used find and replace to change, and I wanted them to read it with the names Eric and Hal. No biggie, right? I just did the old find replace again, match case, match whole words, and Wes becomes Hal, Ryan becomes Eric, and I'm finished.

Except that the first time I'd changed the names, I had made a slight mistake. I didn't match case, and I didn't match whole words when I replaced Hal with Wes. So after I had these printed up, my brother's reading the book, and he calls me up on the phone to ask... what's a wesl?

Umm... excuse me?

In the book, suddenly this castle that the heroes spend some time in has a Great Wesl. He thought maybe it was a word he was unfamiliar with. It took me a few minutes to figure out where I'd screwed up. The castle has a great HALL. Hal had been replaced with Wes in that word. And in fact, in several places throughout the book when a character happens to be walking down a hallway, it's a wesl.

And it's not just hall that took a hit. There are several more lines that come out ridiculously funny because of this exact mistake. Another is a spot where several characters pass through a guard station. As they approach, the guard says, "West and identify yourself!" instead of halt.

So after everything I said last night about doing whatever you have to do to make sure you can write your story, I have to add this caveat: BE CAREFUL! If you write something a certain way intending to change it for the final version, especially with something like the find and replace function in your word processor, do it with extreme caution. Those mistakes don't exist in the copies I sent to my agent, thank god, but they very easily could have. And they pull you out of the story when they appear. And if an editor is reading your book, considering it for publication, the last thing you want is for something, anything at all, to pull them out of the story.

Thursday, Feb. 8, 2007 3:35PM

I'm at a serious standstill. You see, as I mentioned before, I threw away a lot of the text I'd written previously for my second book. I then went back to outline and started fleshing some things out, and am now back past the point where I tossed so much out before.

However, there was a major subplot that was supposed to come in right about where I am in the writing. I've been working on it for the past few days, and it's just NOT WORKING. Not just that I can't get the ideas I had onto paper, but the subplot itself doesn't work with how I see the final draft of the book. So I've tossed it out, too.

Unfortunately, that leaves me with a HUGE void right in the middle of my novel. I could move on and go with the stuff that IS working, but then I don't have enough material for over, say, 60K words, and the book feels incomplete. So I'm wracking my brain with how to expand earlier sections, or expand what I've got left to write, OR come up something to replace what I got rid of. And ya' know what? I got nothin'.

So, for the first time since I got back into writing heavily almost a year ago, I'm blocked. It's going to take some serious slogging to get past this. So what I'm going to do is write the end, and then work toward the point where I'm stalled.

This is my last post for the week, most likely. I need to spend the next few days re-vamping my outline and working backwards to bring it all together. Once I get past this, I'll post some (hopefully) insightful comments about my methods for defeating the evil monster known as writer's block!

Saturday, Feb. 10, 2007 9:22PM

Writer's block is no match for me! And I'll tell you what, when I get past it, I REALLY get past it. I've always been a fast writer, averaging around two to four thousand words a day when I'm on a decent groove. But it all came to me last night, and I sat down and worked out the final points of my outline, bringing everything together and working out all the details. I sat down today, and wrote pretty much solid from 10AM to 9:30 at night, breaking only for a couple of meals, and I'm blasting through it. I've put together a solid 8,000 words, and have the rest of my novel mapped out from here to the end. If I can keep this groove (and I'm not stopping now, just taking a break to post this blog), I'll have a finished first draft of an 80,000 word novel by the end of the week.

Now, that's not to say I'll be finished, not by any means. First draft means just that. I'll then print out a copy of the book and pore through it for grammatical errors, misspellings, poor word choices, etc. I'll also read for content and make sure the story flows the way I want it to. Then I'll pass the book off to my faithful proofreaders (sister, brother, son, and sister) and start cracking the whip to get them to give me marked up pages ASAP. Once I've gone through their notes and made any changes they might suggest that seem relevant, it'll be off to my agent to have her read through and give me a professional opinion. If all goes well, she should have my final draft in her hands by the end of the month. And assuming she gets her suggestions back to me within a week or so, and assuming the editing goes better than it did in my last novel, she should be able to start adding the second book to her pitches shortly after that.

Wish me luck, everyone!

Friday, Feb. 16, 2007 10:12 PM

Finished! Finito! QED! 30!
The first draft of The Gatehouse, Book 2: The Door to Justice is finished!
One draft down, five or ten to go! I just finished typing the last word earlier tonight, printed it out, and I've spent the last couple of hours poring over it with a fine toothed comb and a red pen. I'm about a third of the way through the first once-over, and have made some notes, but there's not much in the first half of the book that I think will need to be changed. There's some stuff in the last half that will need some tweaking, but that's to be expected. I just hope I don't end up screwing up and adding too much length to the book.

In other words, I'm pushing it on word count again. See, I made a mistake on the first book, I think I mentioned it in an earlier blog. Not really a mistake, I guess, since I only used the number of words I needed to to tell the story I wanted. I ended up, after all my revisions, with a 114,000 word novel, down from the original 125,000 words. (That's MS Word's tally. Figuring it up like publishers often do, 250 words a page at 12 point courier font, it comes closer to 150,000 words.) This for a book that's aiming at middle grade readers. That means it's kind of long. My agent assures me that if a publisher likes the book, it won't matter how long it is, and my earlier close call backs her up. But it still makes me nervous about my chances.

Well, here I am finishing up book two, which I had planned to be around 80,000 words. And I came pretty close to that mark. 75,000 words by Microsoft's tally, almost 90,000 by the standard industry tally. But I feel like there were some passages that might have been rushed at the end, and need to be expanded. I also feel like there's a character in there that will really appeal to the target audience, but he doesn't get enough face time. So I need to add a few scenes. If I expand all the things I felt were rushed, AND add more scenes for this character, I may end up pushing the 100K mark again. That's something I want to avoid. I don't want the publishers who see these two books together to get the idea that I'm a "wordy" author. Although apparently I am.

Anyway, I'm not really all that concerned or obsessing about it. I've already looked at the idea of splitting book one in half. It reads really well that way, with a complete story in each half of the book, and comes out at exactly the word length for my target. My agent isn't very receptive to that idea; she says that publishers will want to see the entire story, plot, and subplot resolved in one book, since I'm an unproven, unpublished author. But if it comes down to it, I can make book one easily turn into two separate books, the perfect length, and make them read like they were always meant to be that way. They almost do that now. I just need to watch my word count for book two, and not let myself get carried away.

So, anyway, my next step is to finish marking up my manuscript, and then hand it over to a couple of proofreaders and see what they make of it. I'll be cracking the whip to get them to finish within the next week, and then it's time to send it off to my agent for her opinion. I'm very excited about the process of finishing this up. It'll look very good for me if my agent can say to potential publishers, "Oh, yeah, he's finished the first two books in the series already, and is redy to start on the third."

So, wish me luck! I hope to have some news to report on the submission front very soon!

Sunday, Feb. 18, 2007 8:35PM

Anybody have any job leads for an out of work computer techncian/wannabe writer?

I'm only moderately serious. It's getting along about the time where I need to find work. Only about 7 weeks of unemployment left.

On a positive note, I just sent my resume in on a job listing here in the town where I live. It's a PC tech support job, and I meet the qualifications exactly. It's through a temp agency, but it's a temp to perm job, and it pays right at what I used to make. Plus, it's only a couple of miles from my home. Wish me luck!

OK, I'm going to repeat a question I sent out in my bulletin. I'm searching for a graphic artist that wants to add to his or her portfolio and do me a favor at the same time. I'm looking to get the Gatehouse website off the ground, and I need some good artwork for it. And I admit, I'm completely inept when it comes to creating the kind of artwork I want. I can't pay for the work, obviously, but I am hoping to find someone who likes the subject matter (fantasy, magic, dragons) enough to find the project enticing. What I want is someone to illustrate three or four scenes from my novel, and allow me the right to put them up on the website. The artist would, of course, keep all rights to the work... all I want is to be allowed to decorate the Gatehouse homepage with them for the time being. Full credit will be given to the artist. I know, I know, I'm asking a lot, but hey, I figured it couldn't hurt to take a shot.

Thursday, Feb. 22, 11:19PM

My son brought something to my attention after reading my second book. He pointed out that neither of my books have chapter titles, and that's something he likes to see. I never really paid much attention to it when reading, but I thought it over and figured it might be fun to try and boil down the many things that happen in a chapter to a few memorable words.

As I've done at every step of the whole writing process, I turned to the Internet's huge online writing support community for help. However, unlike my attempts to find remedies for writer's block or tips on tightening prose, I found the Internet to be completely dry when it comes to helpful hints on naming your chapters. I may not have been using the right search methods, but I came up empty.

Not to be deterred, I decided to come up with my own guidelines for naming the chapters of my novels. I came up with the following important factors that a chapter title must have:
1. The title must have something to do with the events that occur within the chapter.
2. The title must have the same emotional feel as the events in the chapter. For instance, if your focus in the chapter is very serious or deep, don't go with a humorous chapter title or vice versa. If you have both serious aspects and humorous aspects to a chapter, then I guess your title should be seriously humorous.
3. The title must be simple and easy to read. Under no circumstances should a title be a full sentence. Unless, of course, a full sentence suits the chapter better, or a complicated obscure quote catches your fancy and fits.
4. The title must entice the reader to want to know how it relates. The last thing I want is for the reader to look at the chapter title, read the chapter, and go, "What the...?" Unless, of course, that's the effect I'm going for.
5. The title doesn't necessarily have to relate to the main event in the chapter. You are often better served by focusing on a lesser event. Then again, a chapter titled "Where's the beef?" in which the heroes fight a tremendous, pages-long battle with the villain, but are later served chicken for dinner when they asked for roast beef... well, that would just be silly.

Okay, so my guidelines kind of suck. I was flying solo here!
And so, without further adieu, the tables of contents for my first two novels!

The Gatehouse
Book 1: The Door to Canellin
Chapter 1: Enter the Hero
Chapter 2: Amazing Discoveries
Chapter 3: Of Wizards and Doorways
Chapter 4: A Father's Anger
Chapter 5: Finding the Words
Chapter 6: The Hero's Resolve
Chapter 7: The Great Stone Caper
Chapter 8: Riding the Maelstrom
Chapter 9: A New Addition
Chapter 10: The Dragon's Thrall
Chapter 11: Long Arm of the Law
Chapter 12: Jailbreak
Chapter 13: Getting Reacquainted
Chapter 14: The Villain Strikes
Chapter 15: The Crystal Cavern
Chapter 16: The Prodigal Son
Chapter 17: Dragon's Ascent
Chapter 18: Homecoming

Book 2: The Door to Justice
Chapter 1: All in the Family
Chapter 2: Recent History Lessons
Chapter 3: Reunions
Chapter 4: A Wolf in the Fold
Chapter 5: Trading Places
Chapter 6: Memories
Chapter 7: An Unexpected Ally
Chapter 8: Debacle
Chapter 9: The Best Laid Plans
Chapter 10: Reckless Behavior (or Incorrigible Behavior)
Chapter 11: Growing Suspicions (or Suspicions Confirmed) (or Atrocities) (or Confirming Suspicions)
Chapter 12: Daring Rescues
Chapter 13: Duplicity
Chapter 14: A Death in the Family
Chapter 15: Little Demons and Giant Robots
Chapter 16: Fallen Heroes

Well, what do you think? Make you want to read the books?

Saturday, Feb. 24, 2007 11:39PM

Evolution of a series
Sometimes, new ideas intrude on your plans, and you just have to explore them. These ideas sometimes turn out to be crap, but sometimes they turn out to be too tempting to let go of.

And that happened to me tonight. I had planned out The Gatehouse series at five books, with the possibility for more down the road. But I had a brainstorm today, which led to a re-evaluation tonight. The Gatehouse is almost designed to cross genre. The first book is a semi-epic fantasy in a sword and sorcery world. The second book is a superhero romp with plenty of action, humor, and a cast of... lots and lots. Then the third, fourth, and fifth books were intended to go into the larger aspects of the story and culminate in a back-to-the-beginning finale. However, in doing that, I've only explored two of the possible genre available to me. The more I thought about it, the more that seemed to be a waste. What about horror? What about sci-fi? What about fantasy in a modern setting? What about supernatural thrillers, ghost stories, or any of the multitude of other settings available?

And then my brainstorm linked itself to one that I'd had earlier this week. A minor (VERY minor) character from the first book had the potential to become a recurring villain, but there was no way to fit it into the 5-book plan I'd had. But why was I so set on this 5-book plan? Or even a 6, or 7-book plan? There are hundreds, thousands of possibilities that can be explored. Why set everythig in stone so soon?

So book three, four, and five have now, in my mind, become books third to last, second to last, and last, because there are too many possibilities in between that I may decide to explore in the future. Book three, the new book three, will be a gothic horror novel with lots of magic, monsters, and danger. Book four may or may not be a sci-fi novel, I haven't decided yet. And book five, well, I am now refusing to allow myself to plan that far ahead. Book five may be the previous book three, or I may decide to explore another genre. Who knows? Stories evolve as you write them. So do novels, no matter how much you outline. So why not series as well?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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I've been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

Thumbs up, and keep it going!