Moving Targets

Quick updates on the writing and submitting fronts.

  1. I’d originally hoped to complete It Begins by January 15th. I’d begun it on November first. Writing had progressed to the point that I really thought I had a chance to finish it by the end of 2019. Now, though, I think it’s more realistic to believe that I’ll finish it by the end of January. Fingers crossed.
  2. More dismaying, I had a target of three hundred pages for the first draft. I’m on page 292, and I can see that it’ll be more than three hundred pages. I’m hopeful that I’ll finish it with less than three hundred fifty pages. I can then edit it down.
  3. I responded to the agents who requested more material on the last novel, April Showers 1921. After I finished editing it in October, I’d submitted it to agents. I’ve had some response but, knowing how long it is before one says yes or no, I decided to submit to more agents. I kicked it out to ten more. I have good feelings about several of the agents, but I tend to be an optimist.

Those are the main things. For background, the completion target of January 15th was simply a spur of the moment decision, a whim to provide focus, grab my attention, and stimulate my discipline. It seems to be working.

The page count was a more practical matter. I tend to write long books (or books that turn into a series of books). April Showers 1921 is six hundred pages and one hundred eighty thousand words. Incomplete States, the series that I completed at the end of 2018, is five novels and four hundred twenty-eight thousand words. I felt like I needed to write something smaller.

It was another excellent day of writing like crazy. Let me give credit to the muses; I couldn’t do it without them.

About the only detail that marred it was that I had to work at a counter in the coffee shop, sitting on a stool. I don’t like sitting on stools. Nothing personal against stools, but I can’t get comfortable on them. Due to that, I ended up standing for most of the writing session. Now my dogs are barking (an expression that I’ve always enjoyed).

Time to call it a day. One, there are other things to do. Two, the coffee cup is empty. Three, I’m very hungry.

One More Time

I was frothing with surprise and delight for a while today.

The morning’s email brought interest from three agents. They wanted to see more material from April Showers 1921, a surprise. I thought that all interest from the first round of submissions had died (accomplished in October, 2019). I was regrouping for another round of submissions.

I also thought how odd it was that these agent things happen in clumps. But then, I submit in clumps, and the agents describe similar processes and response times. It shouldn’t be a surprise when they respond in clumps.

What WAS a surprise was an agent expressing interest in Four on Kyrios, the first novel of the Incomplete States series (five books). I submitted to her in February, 2019, ten months ago.

(A pause to consider that I’d finished writing a five novel series last year (Incomplete States, 430,000 words), and then wrote a novel earlier this year (April Showers 1921, 180,000 words), and now I’m finishing a third book (To Begin, 73,000 words so far). And yes, that does please me. Plodding along at about five pages a day does start adding up. Especially when I remember that Incomplete States and all of its support documents (side stories, character, planet, and cultural histories, etc) added up to one million words.)

Although it’s exciting to receive the emails from the agents, after reflecting, I thought, well, I’ll do my writing session today, and then try to respond to these agents tonight. I wasn’t being contrary or sabotaging myself, but in thinking through where I was and who I am, I enjoy the writing process, I’m enjoying writing the current novel, and I have momentum. (The muses are being friendly and I don’t want to alienate them.) So, although my goal is to find publication for those previously written novels, writing the current novel entices me more.

It’s a curious sensation. Yeah, I seek publication beyond the self-publishing of the four novels that I’ve already done. The agent interest is validation, in one sense; someone is interested! In another sense, I shrug; I’ve always written for myself, creating mysteries and logic problems for me to solve, building and expanding worlds in my mind, and discovering characters who emerge as people to me.

I’m also a tinge jaded, reconciling myself, yeah, you’ve been shown interest by agents and editors before, and it’s come to naught. (Really, are you so cynical, Michael?)

Yes, I am. More than cynicism, in the course of writing novels and following a quest to be a better thinker, story-teller, and writer, I’ve fallen out of concern about what others think about my writing. I can argue that some of that is self-preservation (and perhaps a tincture of imposter syndrome). See, if I don’t get excited, then I’ll be less dejected if the agents decline my project. That’s the theory.

It’s also short-sighted; being in a bubble of my own thinking, reading, writing, and criticism means that I don’t receive feedback that could help me grow.

Yes, true.

So, being cynical, jaded, short-sighted, and dubious, writing, with all of its challenges and frustrations, is more immediately rewarding and satisfying. Solving these self-made issues generates a sweet dopamine infusion. Perhaps that’s the lesson — and warning — that I should really find in my response today: I’m a writing addict, looking for a quick fix.

Today’s news does want me to treat myself to a scone or muffin. Comfort food, I believe, to help cope; the potential for advancing also carries the angst and burden of failure. Have something to eat, right? It’s a humorous pattern.

Yet, again…there was that time when I came across a woman reading my novel at a Starbucks here in my town, a cool experience. I’ve received feedback from readers about how my they’ve enjoyed something I’ve written, which was a powerful jolt to the ego. Multiple those intangible rewards by the potential that being published on a larger scale could bring.

Also in passing, though, I do enjoy reading my own work. It’s fun to read what I’ve written, and it often surprises me. I understand what that says about my process and being in the tube. What was originally conceived and written (in my methodology) frequently evolves under editing, revising, refinement, and polishing. I write to know what I think, and I rewrite to clarify it and deal with loopholes in my thinking (and plotting and problem solving).

As a final piece, of course; this is me, today. Me, tomorrow, or yesterday — or even later today — might respond differently. Moods (and the hopes and expectations related to them) are dynamic. Hence, I needed to write all of this out just to think about it, a prelude, perhaps, to discovering how I feel.

Well, it’s all thinking fodder. Got my coffee. Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.

Got to feed that addiction, you know?

 

 

The Next Book

I’m working on two novels right now. One is an “official” novel, destined for publication. The other novel is the unofficial, not-to-be published parallel story to that novel.

Coming to that point has been an interesting process. My normal process generally has several documents. First, of course, is the beta document. This is expected to become the book. Another document is about brainstorming and epiphanies. A third is a bible of terms, characters, settings, relationships, and major milestones and turning points. Fourth are snapshots. These include expanding thinking about characters, relationships, settings, historic references, just a handy guide to easily find information. I’ll often add notes about why something was decided, and where it’s included in the novel.

Last of my many documents is the deleted scene compilation. These are chapters that didn’t work, wrong turns, if you will. Sometimes they’re overcome by new concept or plot developments. Sometimes they’re deemed redundant, or they’re telling about something that I already showed. Sometimes they’re the original chapter that I wrote, which was then edited and revised. I keep them for just-in-case needs.

Why so many? I don’t know. This is what my process evolved to be. It works for me. That’s the critical component.

To this mix of documents, I’ve added the parallel story. It originally began as the deleted scenes document. I found it added a mystique, an intriguing veneer to the true novel to explore what’s happened in parallel and then have the original novel react to it.

I don’t work on the parallel novel much. It’s not meant to be a final document. Scenes are not deeply fleshed out, but are taken far enough to enable my understanding of what happened that will affect the novel in progress. Characters are sharply defined, because their thinking, decisions, and actions affect the real novel.

This is all part of the organic writing process, what some call pantsing instead of outlining. In looking at total word counts for all these documents, I estimated that I write two and half words of background and thinking material for every word in the novel. The beta draft of April Showers 1921 is forty-four thousand words. The others total about one hundred ten thousand words when added together.

That aligns with my last project’s results. Incomplete States is a series of five novels that total four hundred eighteen thousand in their latest draft. The supporting documents are just over a million words together.

Got my coffee. Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.

April Showers 1921

I wrote about a new novel that came to me in a dream the other night (“Spinning Up”). One unmentioned aspect was the newly conceived novel’s cover. I saw it in the dream. The cover felt and looked so real and substantial to me that I was nonplussed. The title, April Showers 1921, was embossed gold letters on a silver cover. It seemed so real that I looked up the title to determine if that book already existed. Without surprise, I found songs, books, and short stories called April Showers, but none had the 1921 addition, and none featured silver and gold covers. I seem safe with it.

I’ve worked on April Showers 1921 some since dreaming about it, fleshing out characters, setting, and writing some scenes, but I didn’t throw myself into it. After two days of that, I wondered, why not? I realized that indecision caused by my greatest weakness, over-analysis, was paralyzing me once again.

It’s a familiar scenario. I overthink something. That drains my resources, and I stop making progress until I resolve what I’m overthinking.

Naturally, this paralysis is all founded on a writing issue, specifically — this time — finding an agent for the Incomplete States series. I think I’ve identified several potential agents. I narrowed my search to one lucky agent. I’ve written a synopsis and query letter. That’s where I stopped.

The Incomplete States series employs several styles. In terms of recent books, it reminds me of Cloud Atlas. My series science-fiction infused, but its mostly literary, except the first novel has a science-fiction military noir feel to it. Fantasy flares strong in another book, while yet another has the sensibility of historic fiction.

Yes, I enjoy genre B&B – bending and blending – whether I’m reading or writing it.

On a side note, the great and all-knowing Internet says, don’t mention any of the rest of the series when seeking representation and publication of the first book.

For grins, I hunted down the rejection records for successful writers. I’ve followed this path before, so it’s very familiar to me.

J.K. Rowling. Her Harry Potter series was rejected twelve times, you know. Dr. Suess was rejected twenty-seven times before he found a publisher willing to take a chance on his Cat in the Hat book. The author of  The Martian, Andy Weir, had given up on being published, but kept writing and self-published. When The Martian found success, publishers came running. Kathryn Stockett, The Help, was rejected over sixty times. Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time, had twenty-six rejections. Catch-22, Joseph Heller, twenty-two rejections. Twenty for William Goldberg, The Lord of the Flies. Carrie, by Stephen King, was rejected thirty times. Pretty amazing was that Still Alice, by Lisa Genova, experienced over one hundred rejections. After she self-published and had success, publishers came calling, and her novel was made into a movie starring Julianne Moore, who won an Oscar for her performance.

There was also Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita, over five times, and Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, rejected one hundred twenty-one times.

Reading about these rejections is invigorating and inspiring. You gotta have hope, optimism, belief, and determination. You gotta keep writing for the love of writing.

Writing about my paralysis cleared matters up and broke the log jam. (I now have a featured image of logs floating through my mind.) I’m ready to submit. (Ha, ha, I love how that can have multiple meanings.) All they can do is say no, right?

The day is full of promise. I got my coffee. Time to submit, and then write and edit like crazy, at least one more time.

Summing It Up

I finished editing and revising An Undying Quest. I didn’t think I’d finish it in 2018 but by ignoring time and doing nothing else, I did, without rushing or being hasty.

The ending satisfied me. I think the five books are sufficient for the Incomplete States series.

I want to write The Final Time. Coming to me as a collateral concept to Incomplete States as I finished writing the first five books, I wanted to explore it, and began writing it. I understand that urge — I write to think, and it was a tantalizing concept, so I wanted to know what I think about it and how it develops– but I now know that the series itself doesn’t need it. I can write it later as a sequel, if I want to do that.

So many collateral stories, tangents and sequels can be written from this series and explored. Because, like other writers have discovered, and I discovered for myself, we take a slice of existence and ideas, explore and populate them, and decide where we begin and end the story, but it’s all bit arbitrary. It’s something that comes to intellectually and emotionally satisfy the urge that prompted me to write it, that now satisfies me as a reader as I finish editing it.

So, I’m done. I have a first draft of the five books of the series. In the rosy afterglow of writing, editing, and revising the books, I feel satisfied with where I’ve gone and where I landed.

Other steps are required for publication, like proper editing. As other writers know, this glorious mess is probably still a bit of a mess. I’ll address them on another day. For now, I’ll relax and rejoice about what I’ve done and what I have.

As a favorite writer’s character once said, “Goodbye and hello, as always.”

That pretty well sums it up.

Rough Diamonds

I’d hoped to have finished editing An Undying Quest, the fifth novel in the Incomplete States series by yesterday. Only two chapters, forty pages remained three days ago.

Issues were encountered. The chapters suffered from being the last ones written. As the final chapters, they’d not been polished, edited, and revised as the others had. They were raw, beta chapters. They needed work.

Among the issues encountered were a brief POV change and a few matters of grammar and punctuation. Dialogue needed tidying, but most critically, details were needed.

I love reading details in novels. I think they often add immense value. That’s how I tend to write, then. Not in the beta draft, though.

In writing’s first rush, I capture scenes and action, coloring in broad, fast strokes. It’s an intense rush. They’re here, they’re there, they did this, and then that, which resulted in this, but unexpectedly —

The writing is bang, bang, bang, bang. Even when they’re action scenes, more is required after that first rush to help the scenes breath and flow together. Sometimes changes are required to adjust to the characters’ past, and sometimes continuity matters exist.

I instantly realized that I’d not polished the chapters. The difference was clear because the reading cadence was mildly askew. That realization tempered my approach. I read both chapters completely before doing anything except fixing the most basic errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar. Everything else was left untouched until I knew the entire picture. After reading them, I’d established strong ideas about what to addressed, and then began reading, revising, and editing the chapter again.

So, An Undying Quest isn’t fini yet. I’d hoped to complete it by Christmas, and then by the end of the year. That may still happen today. I won’t rush it. I don’t want to be hasty or lazy. Number one, I enjoy the process. Number two, I don’t want to sabotage myself for such a silly, random idea as a self-imposed deadline.

Time to edit and write like crazy, at least one more time in 2018.

Still Having A Ball

Forty pages remain to edit in the Incomplete States series’ fifth novel, An Undying Quest. I’m still grinning with enjoyment as I’m reading and editing.

Just forty pages, I think. I should finish tomorrow. Then I begin writing the sixth book, The Final Time, with full-time energy and focus. I’m looking forward to it, because as I’ve been working on it on the side while editing, new, exciting, interesting ideas occur to me. The series gains complexity and textures as novels one through five progress, and what’s shaping up in book six spins my head.

I look forward to people reading the series. I know several friends and fans who will absolutely love the series. I can imagine them reading them and laughing as they realize what’s going on. I can imagine the final pause of thought after they close the last book. That ending is gaining substance in my mind, but there’s so much to write to get there. Each of the first five books have their intense chapters, but what I feel rising in the sixth book is such an intensity that my body feels like it’s thrumming like a guy wire in the wind as I contemplate it.

I caution myself, well, you might just be crazy. True enough, but WTH, I’m happy in my craziness, at least for today. It might be different tomorrow.

Deep breath. The coffee is gone, the fog is gone, the sun is out, and I’m ravenous. Time to stop editing and writing like crazy, at least one more time.

A Reminder

I was down yesterday when I began my writing and editing session. I’m still editing Book Five in the Incomplete States series, An Undying Quest. Halfway through it, I was bummed about what I was reading. I thought, man, I have some work ahead of me to fix these issues.

I didn’t feel like addressing those issues, so I made notes, and continued editing, working on subsequent chapters. When I did, I discovered that those chapters addressed the holes and plot issues, and fixed them.

I was friggin’ astonished. Thinking back to then, I remembering writing and arranging the chapters. I hadn’t realized I’d done this. By that, I mean, I knew that the story went sideways at that point. I knew it as a deliberate choice. I didn’t appreciate how sideways it went. I do remember thinking hard about it, recalling Part One of The Sound and the Fury (Faulkner, 1929), a book that I strongly admire. Back when I first read that novel in sixth grade, I remember gritting my teeth and thinking, “WTF? This is crazy.” Finishing Part One was challenging. But everything is illuminated (sorry,  Foer) with the subsequent parts. So I thought, be brave. Do it.

Now, after editing it, once I grit my teeth through the doubted chapters, the rest are magically explained. It comes together.

It’s not the first time I’ve done something like this. A friend, after reading one of my novels, said that he’d created a list of questions about things that bothered and confused him, then he said, “I was amazed because you brought it all together.” I loved that feedback.

So, I’m hanging with it as written. We’ll see if it makes publication, or what changes come about from outside feedback.

Meanwhile, it’s a powerful reminder that when editing, go through the whole damn manuscript before addressing any major changes. I specifically decided to edit the entire series before having any of them edited or read by another because the series is organic. Events opening in the first chapters of the first book are resumed in subsequent chapters and books. Changing one means hunting down and addressing those changes in other chapters and books. It has multiple points of views and storylines. It’s a complicated exploration. Events and decisions are rarely fully explained, as I like inviting readers to take the information and conceive the answers.

The series was originally conceived as a single, fat novel. I felt breaking it apart into eras of growing awareness and development lends itself to telling the story. I was also aware of my wife and her friends’ complaints about holding up large books to read, yes, even in this era of digital publishing.

Time to write and edit like crazy, at least one more time.

 

Laughing All the Way

I found myself laughing as I edited today, because I was dealing with the holes.

Still editing Book Five, An Undying Quest, of the Incomplete States series, I have half of the novel edited. The thing about the holes and the society that use them is that I hadn’t planned these holes. The holes in discussion are worm holes, but small, controlled to some degree, such as the way that we control water by channeling and funneling it, and managing levels and temperatures, etc., that are located in a cavern on another planet. The people use the holes to travel to other places, and sometimes to other times, and, if they’re brave enough, to visit the dead.

As noted, they were completely spontaneous when I was writing that section, and created a history and structure on the go. Reading, editing, and revising it today, this society’s depths, history, and complexities surprised me. There’s a sense in reading it that it’s historic fiction, and that you have some sense of what’s meant by the terms and relationships because that’s your history.

I quite enjoyed reading it. Will it work for others? Maybe, maybe not. I think it was James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon) who said something like, “Tell the story, and let the reader catch up, if they can.” That’s what I’m employing in this instance.

I must admit, one aspect of the holes was inspired by a scene from Field of Dreams (1989), when Terence Mann (James Early Jones) accepts the invitation from Shoeless Joe (Ray Liotta) to enter the corn. Love that scene.

Done writing and editing like crazy for another day. Off to join the real people, the real world, and the real sunshine.

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