04 Aug

State of the Revision: Week 1 of 13(?)

I’ve chugged so much instant “cappuccino,” I’m sweating artificial flavor. I’ve been trying to get away from the chemical diet, but sometimes I weary of the labor of healthy food preparation and want something I can just stir and swallow. And pizza rolls. A crappy diet has added two hours to my day. Thank you for coming to my time-management TED talk.

I finished the week’s revision with two extra days worth of work completed. I try not to get too excited because the early scenes were more thoroughly developed than what comes later, so of course they’re more easily revised than something I’ll have to rewrite from scratch, but I can see the evolution and feel good about where it’s going. When you’ve written all the way to the end and go back to revise the beginning, you find all these little ways to set up and foreshadow what comes later, and it makes the whole story hold itself together better and gives it resonance. Four days and 6,600 words in, I’m as positive as I ever get. I will drag this confidence kicking and screaming into Week 2 and crush the next 7,700 words (at minimum to stay on schedule).

I felt artistic and roughed up a cover. It will be tweaked a bit before publication, but probably not so much that anyone but me will notice the difference. Keeping it super basic, commensurate with my graphic design skills. It’s parked on the Books page, if anybody’s interested.

Part of the worldbuilding in my secret future writing endeavor is based on a discussion about pie — specifically, removing a slice and shifting the remaining pieces to hide the theft. Once I came up with that analogy, almost everything else fell into place in one of the rare “oh, right, THIS ORGASMIC SENSATION OF BLAZING GENIUS is why I continue to torture myself with the rest of this miserable writing gig” moments. I feel pretty good about that note pile growing off on the side, too. It’s always nice to have a project to look forward to instead of dread.

28 Jul

Status report

We have a first draft, sugar people!

Rough draft word count of 47,470

It’s a few thousand words short of my original estimate, but that was overinflated by the level of polish on the initial chapters compared to the roughness of what came after. (I always tell myself THIS TIME I’ll clean up the rough draft as I go so there’s not as much work to do later, and I always give up on that idea by chapter two.) The ~47,000 words I ended up with will double to a good length once I expand all the [describe thing] and [insert action here] and shorthand fragments to actual sentences. And let us not forgot [sneak into arena, evading guards], which I’m sure will be an amazing scene once the night-shift elves write it for me.

I had the perfect title for a related book I was going to write after this one and wanted this book to have a coordinating title to show the relationship, but now that there’s a -112% chance I’ll write the other book, I need a better title for this one that stands on its own. I have two variations on a possibility. Here’s hoping something amazing emerges during revision.

I’ve looked at stock photos for cover art and perhaps found a headless guy sturdy enough to represent Phin without being off-puttingly massive. (Let me clarify: a headless guy sturdy enough without being off-puttingly massive who’s not grabbing his crotch or doing something weird with his arms. There were plenty of bodies that would have been fine, but cripes, what are they thinking with those poses.) I might need to buy a font to dress things up because I’m not getting more artistic than mantitty. The nonexistent budget this time won’t extend to a cover artist.

I doubt I’ll bother publishing a paperback version. They don’t sell well. I might just do a proof copy to complete my own collection and never push the listing through.

The next phase of my “writing career” is dancing around my feet like a circus poodle begging for attention. I’m excited about the ideas, but that’s not unusual — ideas are fun; putting one word after another in a sensible and entertaining fashion is a drag. Bets have been placed that the hard part will be easier when I’m writing the kind of stories that are more in my wheelhouse, but none of the gamblers truly grasps the degree of my wordfinding struggles. It can take me hours to work out a blog comment. Trust me, I’m never going to whiz through a novel, no matter how stoked I am about the daggers, dragons, deception, and damnation.

Now I get to escape the computer for a while (my carpal tunnels rejoice…) and get my hands inky tearing this mess apart word by word.

Printed rough draft, spiral notebook, and pen holding the laptop closed

16 Jun

Someone Asked: ETA on the next book

Q: You said [alarming thing], and now I’m worried there might not even be a next book. Will there be, and if so, when can we expect it?

A: I’m currently 23,000 words into the rough draft of another contemporary. Judging by the position of the Act I/II break, I guesstimate the full rough draft will run about 56,000 words, so I’m pretty well into it and committed. (Full sentences are a rare sight in my rough drafts, so 56,000 will easily become a standard 100,000-word novel after revision.) If the guesstimate is close and if I maintain current production speed (either of which might not be the case), I might be finished with the rough draft before the end of July. If revisions went fabulously well after that (which they might not), a late 2018 release might be doable in November or December. That’s a lot of ifs and mights, but there is definitely one more book coming.

After that? Depends. I’m sick about how badly Silent Song tanked on release. 1/12 the preorders of 10KH and 2% of the month-one revenue and downhill from there is… not sustainable as a business. If only the people who gave 10KH a 5-star rating on Goodreads had bought it during the first two weeks at the discount price, it wouldn’t have been a good release, but I wouldn’t be thinking about pulling the plug right now. Sadly for me, the interest just isn’t there, even among readers who have historically liked my writing. If something doesn’t change dramatically by the end of the year, I’m done with contemporary romance and probably self-publishing in general. Despite the scar tissue from the last time traditional publishing burned me, it’s looking like the best bad option at this point. I’ve already reached out to a former agent to see if he or anyone at his agency might be interested in a side project that as of now is only in the outline stage, and if anyone wants to nibble, I’ll be devoting myself to that. Since trad pub deadlines are bruising, I won’t have time to dick around with no-reward contemporary romance as a hobby, even in the unlikely event I felt masochistic.

So… good news/bad news. I’m going to finish this current book regardless of whether anyone wants to read it, but after that, I’m not going to continue sinking time and money into books I can’t sell. The market has spoken, it’s currently telling me to fuck off, and I’m not betting the few pennies left in my self-publishing account that the market’s affections toward me will improve in the next six months. It is welcome to make me eat those words, but I’m planning for the future like that’s an impossibility.

This isn’t a “poor me, save me” whine. I’m well aware that there are things I could do to improve the situation but won’t for various reasons. I’ve known for 20 years publishing is not a kind, supportive mother, and every year she punches a little harder, so this is not a devastating surprise to me. I’m going to be just fine because I duck and weave like I’ve been dodging hits since birth. I’m just making it known, as a courtesy, what can probably be expected from the future, based on current unfavorable data.

08 May

Someone Asked: Post-Release Edition

From the mailbag:

Q1: Did you learn anything while writing this book?

A1: It’s too soon to call it “learned,” but I did have a realization in the postproduction period (too late to apply to this book, but maybe next time).

In real life, I over-explain as much as possible, hoping to be thorough and eliminate followup questions. I’m an anxious introvert, so I script and rehearse that explanation until I think I’ve got every angle covered, and then I blank and panic if asked something off-script (including challenging questions like “What’s your name?”). Therefore, my goal is to answer every question before there’s a need to ask it.

My last two books have been between 130,000 and 140,000 words. For comparison purposes, average length for standalone romance used to be 100,000, and it seems to be trending down toward 80,000 recently as production speed gets prioritized. So 130,000 is quite lengthy, and that’s after cutting a whole subplot and leaving out 20 scenes I loved but couldn’t squeeze into the story’s timeline. Keeping it to a mere 130,000 was restraint—I could easily have gone an extra 50,000.

I’ve always known much over 100,000 words is too long, but my realization (which I will tell you now that I’ve OVER-EXPLAINED!) is that I overwrite because of that real-life tendency. If there’s a tangent in a story, I am compelled to go down it and explore every nook and cranny so you know I didn’t overlook anything and I WAS THOROUGH, so there’s no need to question me about what lies down that path.

The problem is that most of those tangents don’t serve the story, only my neuroses. A better use of my time would be finding ways to eliminate those tangents so there’s nothing about which to say “Hey, you overlooked this and weren’t THOROUGH,” thus freeing us all to concentrate on the important parts of the story.

I’ve already gotten myself into a “Gah! This is 50 pounds of plot in a 5-pound bag!” situation with my current plot-storming, but I have to remind myself this is the exploratory phase, when tangents are possibilities, not pitfalls. The point of plotting is to arrive at focus for the writing portion of the program, and until the map is drawn with nice, clean lines connecting the milestones along the best route, I’m allowed to roam far and wide in search of hidden treasure.

Q2: Whatcha writing next?

A2: I’m still deep in the “maybe this is a stupid idea and I shouldn’t pursue it” woods, so I don’t want to tell you something that might no longer be true by tomorrow.

While banging ideas together, a major character-defining event in the heroine’s backstory (which was the entire reason she popped into my mind) has broken off and gotten tossed, and without that backstory event, a subplot I’d already mapped all the way through no longer applies and has to go, and a family relationship affected by that event and the theme I planned to use based on that relationship no longer apply, which makes the story I thought I would be writing yesterday unrecognizable today. Something better will come from the changes (ideas that break the first time you handle them are too flimsy to see the light of day and need to be replaced with stronger material), but at this stage, the story could turn into almost anything. It would be misleading to tell you much before I even arrive at an outline that makes sense.

This is why I advocate outlining/plotting/whatever you want to call forethought in the writing process. Every idea seems great in isolation, but the instant you start putting them together, they don’t fit in the designated spots, they break, they’re ugly, and you’ve got a huge mess. Nobody likes abandoning a story they’ve put tens of thousands of words into, but forging ahead with that mess like nobody’s going to notice it’s a mess is doing a disservice to all parties involved. Forethought tells you up front, before you put weeks or months of writing into a doomed project, what’s absolutely not going to work so you can replace the weak parts with sturdy ones.

You’re unlikely to foresee every little stumbling block that will come up during the writing process, but they’ll be little stumbling blocks you can cope with rather than huge, story-breaking problems, all of which were slain during the planning phase.

Q3: Do you do anything to celebrate finishing a book?

A3: Usually, being able to move on is its own reward (I often liken getting out of a book to getting out of a bad relationship—he’ll never get a comeuppance for doing me wrong and I’ll never get back a dime of the money he “borrowed,” so I’m only hurting myself by dwelling on it), but this book was such a grueling experience, I got a writing ring to commemorate not quitting a thousand times.

Turtle Ring, allegedly diamonds.

Yes, those are turtles. Because I’m slow, get it? I’m also quite comfortable in the safety of my shell, and I’m hard on the outside and squishy inside, so I am basically a turtle.

I have a question. WHEN DID MY HANDS GET SO SHRIVELLY? The one time that camera takes a half-clear photo, it has to be of my elephantine skin.

You might even say my pachy-dermis. *ba-dum-TISH*

(I’m not sorry. If I were a fairy tale princess, my heart would go to the suitor with the best terrible puns—the Kryptonite of word nerds. And turtles.)

If you want to know anything else, deposit questions in the comments.

02 Apr

My Writing Manifesto

(The Book is with The Editor, so I’m twiddling my thumbs and don’t know what to do with myself for the first time since 2016. What better way to pass the time than by publishing a manifesto?)

Several years ago, I had a publishing experience that was so wretched, I said, “Fuck it. I hate writing. I quit.” I did quit, but I slowly came to realize what I hate is publishing. In fact, I love writing, I’m miserable without it, and breaking up was a dreadful mistake. But before we got back together, I insisted on setting some boundaries defining who I am and who I want to be (and don’t want to be) as a writer, as well as matters on which I will never again compromise. Sometimes I add to this writing manifesto, but mostly I simply review its message to keep me focused and on course.

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