New Releases List

Monday, February 20, 2012

One Man to Beat!

Moments of glory come so rarely in this business, where the typical day is a quiet struggle against a blank screen, that I hope you'll indulge me a little horn tooting. The first three books of my Thomas & Mercer releases of The Righteous go out tomorrow and I saw this little screen at Amazon that gives me hope that it will be a successful launch.

But who is that guy keeping me from hogging the spotlight? :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bring Out Yer Dead!

Cat Carlisle asked an excellent question in the comments of the previous post:

Also, could I ask if you've ever tried rewriting any of those unfinished stories? For the past couple of years I've been rewriting the same three stories. Thought I did complete one of them, it wasn't to my satisfaction so I've found myself trying to write it again and again. Have you ever had any luck finishing or restarting an old story, or have you found that it's better to just let it die and move on to something new?

The answer is no. I have three novel chunks from the 90s, the only surviving copies of which are on a 5 1/4 inch floppy somewhere. I have 100,000 words of the third book of The Dark Citadel, but I wrote the first two parts with numerous rewrites as I tried to figure out what to do and rereading the third part I've decided it's not very good and too dark for the tone of the series. I think I'll start over with book #3, completely reimagining it from the ground up.

I also have a rough draft of an early thriller called Night of the Wolf, but it's not as good as the stuff I have out there. There's a completed dark fantasy novel called Still Waters that was the first decent thing I ever wrote, but I still don't think it's as good as my published novels, so I'll let that die as well. There are two early science fiction novels that were complete enough to go out for queries (to a deafening silence) and they are in the 5 1/4 inch floppy category mentioned above.

The one exception is the book I mentioned in the previous post's comments about the book that I almost finished, but didn't. I was suffering depression at the time, as well as a complete collapse in faith in my writing, and so I let it die. Going back to read the book, I think it's pretty good. The book is a middle grade fantasy novel called Moonland, and I'd dust it off and do something with it except that it's most similar to The Kingdom of the Bears, which has only sold a few hundred copies, even though I think it's a well-written, engaging fantasy novel. I'm not sure the work is justified.

So why don't I revisit these earlier novels. Most of them are pretty bad, but some are built around solid ideas. It was my execution that was faulty. And not just faulty, I wrote the books with a smaller tool set that I currently possess. I feel a little like a builder who has acquired a lot with a small, aging house on it. I could remodel, but at some point the results would be better, and even easier if I just knocked the darn thing down and started with an empty lot.

Also, when enough time has passed, I read my books as if they were written by a stranger. And a stranger's book, no matter how good, is not your own. You want to write something fresh and new. The fun part of writing for me is the discovery of the story. Those stories have already been discovered.

Between less fun and more work, I'll let the dead rest in peace.

Monday, February 13, 2012

How to Eat an Elephant

In my early years as a writer I left a trail of half-finished manuscripts, bleeding, wounded outlines, and novels that stormed out of the gate only to collapse thirty or forty thousand words into the game. Of my first eleven novels attempted, I only finished two of them. I am now operating on a string of nine straight novels started and completed. I wrote and finished most of these on spec, with the only contract the one wherein I had agreed to write to the best of my ability.

The difference between then and now? Then I sat down to write a novel. Today I sit down to write my daily quota of words. As the question goes, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

This is my technique. I start with a date. Mostly recently it was February 1. About four or five weeks before that date I set a commitment to start the first draft of a new novel. I then spend 10-30 minutes a day up to that point working on brainstorms. At the minimum, I need to know my opening, my ending, and a major set piece in the middle. I need to know my villain and my hero, and I like to flesh out my major and minor characters. This will all change in the writing, but if I have a rough structure, I can grope my way along in the dark from day to day.

When zero hour arrives, I write every day until the first draft is finished. I write if I'm sick, if it's my birthday, if I'm on vacation or if it's Christmas. I know from sad experience that if I take a day off, that day can easily become two and then a week and then there's a good chance the book will die. It doesn't matter how close I am to the end. In 2004 I wrote 75,000 words of an 80,000 word book and then stopped for some inexplicable reason. I've never returned to it. In 1999 I write 100,000 words of an epic fantasy novel. Again, dead in the water.

My goal is typically a minimum of 1,000 words and most days I only hit 1,000 - 1,200 words. It's a struggle each and every day, especially for the first few hundred pages, and I hit my minimum with a feeling of relief. In short, I'm not some superhuman writer who writes fifteen, twenty pages in a day. In writing more than 2,000,000 words of fiction, I've exceeded 4,000 words in a day no more than five or six times.

Lately, since I'm doing this as my regular job, I try to write at least 1,500 words per day for most projects. My current book is part of a writing challenge and I've been writing 2,000 words per day since the first of February, but again, only barely hitting that most days. Even so, it's the 13th and I'm at 28,000 words, which is a third of the novel. It adds up in a hurry.

I log my work every day. I also use mental tricks. I set timers, I use Freedom, which is a program that blocks me from the web for a certain period of time. I try to write at the same time every day (morning) to train myself.

When I finish, I let the book sit a couple of weeks and then get back to work. I generally add a few scenes (and so shoot for 5,000 - 8,000 less in the first draft than I expect to have when the book is done) and I'll delete a bit as well. As the years go by my first drafts are much better at having the same rough shape as the final version, even if individual scenes may be hacked and maimed in the process. It generally takes an equal period of time to brainstorm and edit as it does to write the first draft, so I usually finish a book about six months after I start. I'm trying to nudge that closer to five months these days.

Here is a typical example of how I log my progress. Note how disciplined I am, but also how I rarely shoot ahead with big word counts. Note also the day I knew I was going to be hiking the mountains with my son and so I cheated and doubled up the previous day, pretending that the PM was the following day so that I could stay on schedule. Note also that I sometimes went back to early chapters and wrote in missing scenes, so I wasn't 100% in order with my log.


Chapter One
05/04 – 0,400
05/05 – 1,200
05/06 – 2,000
Chapter Two
05/06 – 1,300
05/07 – 2,700
Chapter Three
05/08 – 1,800
05/09 – 3,300 (8,000)
Chapter Four
05/10 – 1,400
05/11 – 3,100
Chapter Five
05/11 – 0,300
05/12 – 2,500
05/13 – 3,100
Chapter Six
05/13 – 0,800
05/14 – 1,500 (15,700)
Chapter Seven
05/14 – 0,400
05/15 – 1,500
05/16 – 2,900
05/17 – 3,900
Chapter Eight
05/18 – 1,400
05/19 – 2,400
Chapter Nine
05/20 – 0,800
05/21 – 1,800
05/22 – 3,300 (25,300)
Chapter Ten
05/23 – 1,400
05/24 – 2,600
05/25 – 3,500
06/14 – 4,900
Chapter Eleven
05/26 – 2,100
05/27 – 3,300
Chapter Twelve
05/28 – 1,100
05/29 – 2,800
05/30 – 3,300 (36,800)
Chapter Thirteen
05/30 – 1,200
05/31 – 2,600
06/01 – 3,100
Chapter Fourteen
06/01 – 1,100
06/02 – 2,200
Chapter Fifteen
06/03 – 1,500
06/04 – 2,700
06/05 – 3,400
Chapter Sixteen
06/06 – 1,200
06/07 – 2,500
06/08 – 2,700 (48,200)
Chapter Seventeen
06/08 – 0,900
06/09 – 2,600
Chapter Eighteen
06/10 – 1,700
06/13 – 3,500
Chapter Nineteen
06/11 – 2,300
06/12 – 4,000
06/15 – 4,600 (58,900)
Chapter Twenty
06/12 – 0,200
06/15 – 1,500
06/16 – 2,700
06/17 – 4,000 (really pm 6/16 because of LT Hike)
06/18 – 4,500 (63,400)
Chapter Twenty-One
06/18 – 0,700
06/19 – 1,800
06/20 – 3,200
Chapter Twenty-Two
06/20 – 0,100
06/21 – 1,500
06/22 – 2,300
Chapter Twenty-Three
06/22 – 1,800
06/23 – 2,900
Chapter Twenty-Four
06/23 – 2,700
06/24 – 4,100 (75,900)
Chapter Twenty-Five
06/24 – 2,900 (78,700)

I wary of giving one size fits all advice about how to write, but this is a technique that works for me and might be helpful to others who need to accomplish a large task without any hard deadlines.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Blessed and the Damned

I turned in The Blessed and the Damned to my editor on Friday. There wasn't a day in the past five months that I wasn't working on the book, from brainstorming to first draft to rewrites. I'd hoped to finish in four months as I would like to write three different novels this year, but I'm not sure I can manage.

Having said that, the February writing challenge is going well. I started from nothing (well, to be fair, from notes) on January 31 and now I have 25,000 words of first draft material. If I can keep up this pace I can finish the first draft by the middle of March. I will then be on track to deliver the book by the end of May.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Day Four of the Writing Challenge

They say nothing focuses the attention like a noose around one's neck. The writing challenge is serving that purpose so far. I warmed up on the 31st with a few hundred words, since the opening pages of a new book are so tough. In spite of that, today was the first day that I really felt the words flowing and the first where I didn't reach my goal of 2,000 and immediately stop writing. I only wrote another two hundred words after hitting my minimum, but that was a good sign. 8,900 words so far of book #4, Destroying Angel.

And in other news, I received my contributor copies yesterday from Thomas & Mercer for the first three books of the series. Only a couple more weeks until the release. Having the print copies in hand makes this seem very real.