A Moment of Reflection

It has been a long time since I added a post here.  This is not because I haven’t been writing, but because I have been incredibly focused on writing.  For over a year, all my energy and efforts  have focused on completing the second complete draft of the first book in Gods Among Men, At The Lady’s Behest Comes…

At the beginning of October I finished the second draft.  This completed a wrenching experience in which I rewrote much of the book from scratch.  Some scenes I rewrote multiple times.  I edited every page, ever paragraph, multiple times. 

Along the way, my editing skill grew immensely.  Enough that since finishing the second draft last month, I performed a complete edit on every chapter, scene, page, paragraph, and sentence.  I managed to cut over third of pages from the second draft, removing over 200 pages (over 70,000 words) from the novel.  Essentially, in one month I completed a third draft.  

I feel proud of the first novel’s current state and consider it complete, for the moment.  (More on that further down the page.)  All chapters are available for download at http://gods-among-men.com/blog/books/book1.  I invite anyone interested to read what is there. 

What’s Next?

It is going to be hard to get At The Lady’s Behest Comes…published.  It is long for a first novel (over 150,000 words, whereas most first novels are around 80,000 words) and it ends on some major cliff-hangers.  But it is a good story with strong characters, and I have faith that eventually I’ll see it in print.

I have contracted a professional editor to review the novel and provide feedback on what I must do to make the work more presentable and palatable to agents and publishers.  I expect that his suggestions will prompt further changes, and possibly more rewrites.  I use to dread rewrites; now I accept them as challenges that improve my skills as a writer. 

And In The Meantime?

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short.  Last year during NaNoWriMo I wrote much of the second book, …Demiurge, Unbound,…

I’m late getting started this year, already almost 5000 words behind where I should be.  I plan to focus on writing a hodgepodge of scenes I need for the second and third books.  This will help me flesh out a variety of characters and scenarios better.  I’m hopeful  that by focusing on scenes I’ve thought about for years I’ll rapidly make up the lost time.

By the end of November, I expect to receive some feedback from the editor I hired.  December and January will probably be devoted to incorporating his suggestions and comments.

After which I will look for an agent.  I expect the process of getting an agent and publisher to dominate much on my non-writing/non-work time next year.

And With Regards to Writing Next Year?

My goal for writing next year is to finish my partial first draft of the second book and begin the process of editing it.  As chapters reach the “presentable” stage I’ll post them on my website, http://gods-among-men.com.  

It would be overly optimistic to expect to finish an edited version of the second book by the end of next year.  I think it likely that I will finish a rough first draft and have final edits of many chapters by then.

And I keep toying with posting MP3 readings of the first book on my website.  I think it would be fun to do, but also quite time consuming.  I’ll likely keep bouncing this idea around in my head and never get around to actually doing it.  But I might well try a few chapters and see what happens.

And Your Blogs?

The blogs served an important function for a time.  They forced me to write regularly and focus my thoughts.  Maintaining them like I did helped push me to write often enough that I developed good work habits.  I expect I’ll focus my future writing efforts on my story, and blog infrequently at best.

That said, I sometimes look back over old posts and find what I wrote there interesting snapshots of where I was at that time.  There is value in putting random thoughts in permanent form, insight to be gained from reviewing previous ramblings.  Perhaps I’ll make an effort to add post more regularly, but I doubt it.

Until next time, have fun and party down.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Talk About Things To Come

I’ve been swamped lately, which is why I’ve fallen behind on this blog.  Given the rush with which Christmas is approaching  (and bringing assorted guests) I suspect this will be my last post before the end of the year.  After that I think my schedule will settle into a new normal that will make it easier for me to focus on writing in general and keeping up with this blog in specific.

As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel room in Atlanta as part of an unplanned trip.  Unplanned,  but surprisingly beneficial in that it gave me a chance to plow through a pile of emails that became unmanageable some time ago.  Which led to me exploring the multitude of other blogs I discovered thanks to FeedBlitz and Jane Friedman.

FeedBlitz Is Not One Of Santa’s Reindeers

FeedBlitz is a service I discovered while setting up my new website, http://www.Gods-Among-Men.com.  It lets people sign up to receive email updates from blogs and newsletters.  I added a FeedBlitz email signup box on my website, then used FeedBlitz to signed up to receive Jane’s blog, There Are No Rules, which she writes for Writer’s Digest.

Some of Jane’s posts contain links to other blogs.  A treasure trove of information from a broad swath of writers, editors, agents, publishers, and so forth.  Simply skimming over all these blogs is a daunting task.  As I went from blog to blog, reading what professionals were posting about, I began to have better understanding of the direction I wanted to take with this blog, and with the one I am going to be doing for Gods-Among-Men.Com.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In the coming new year I am going to focus first upon what others are posting about.  I plan to state the positions I agree with, and argue against those that I don’t.  I will discuss how the comments and thoughts on these sites are affecting my own growth as a writer, and my understanding of the profession which calls to me. 

I shall also strive for more brevity.  I know I have a tendency to be verbose, which can be tolerated to a certain degree in novels.  But blog post should be short and to the point.

And with that thought, I shall close today’s blog by wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Crazy Kwanza, and a Blessed New Year.   I’ll be back in 2010 with a host of topics to post about.  Hang onto your seats; the party is just getting started.

To Post, Or Not To Post: That is the Question

Last time I dithered about whether or not I should post parts of my story, Gods Among Men, on a blog.  Either this one or another one devoted solely to my story.  I concluded by asking for other people’s opinions. 

Since no one was forthcoming with their opinions, I cornered various people, shot them with tranquilizer darts, and then water-boarded them until they were willing to say anything to make me stop.  Naturally, I took what they said as honest advice freely given.

I was able to determine that either A) no one cares if I post parts of my story on this blog or on another one, or B) people are deathly afraid of me and will say whatever they think I want to hear.  In either case, no one specifically objected to me posting parts of my story on this blog, but neither did they encourage me to do so.

One person did, however, raise a substantive point about whether it was a good idea for me to be posting my story online at all.  There are two good reason I can think of to be wary of doing so: 1) running afoul of copyright laws, and 2) ticking off potential publishers.

The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All The Lawyers

Copyright laws protect the creator/owner of content, such as the text of a book.  If someone tries to steal, copy, plagiarize, or otherwise appropriate material that is not theirs, the owner of the copyright can sue the dirty rotten thief with fair odds of winning the case.

So what would it take to ensure my story is covered by copyright laws?  It would appear that I need do nothing at all.  Apparently, creating an original work is, by itself, sufficient to have it covered by national and international copyright laws.  You don’t even have to put up a notice saying the work is copyrighted.  All you need is reasonable evidence that you are the creator of the work.

Enforcing the copyright, however, is another matter.  Enforcement means being paranoid, sending letters to those who violated the copyright, and paying lawyers when your copyright is infringed. 

All this assumes someone would be interested enough in my story to bother stealing it.  At this stage, I think that is the least of my worries.

Don’t Anger Those Who Buy Ink By The Barrel

Ticking-Off off traditional publishers is a different matter.  It is entirely possible that posting a substantial amount of my story in a blog would make traditional publishers extremely reluctant to work with me.

How likely is it that would happen?  How the heck should I know?  I’m an amateur writer, I don’t really know how professional publishing works. 

Perhaps posting the bulk of Gods Among Men online wouldn’t be a big deal to some publishers.  Or if I actually gained a sizeable following it might be considered proof that there is a market for my story, which would increase my odds of being published 

But it is entirely possible that it would convince most publishers that I am not worth spending time and money on.  That I am an amateur writer with no serious intention of transitioning into a professional author.

I feel it is important here to emphasize the difference between writer and author, a distinction I have written about before

In brief a writer has a need to put a story down in words, but may not desire to share that work with anyone else.  For a writer it may be sufficient to express their imagination just for their own enjoyment. 

But an author craves an audience.  Is in not sufficient for an author to tell their story to themselves; they desire, even need, others to experience the story with them.

Neither author nor writer is better than the other.  But it is important to decide which you wish to be.  This decision establishes your ultimate goal, determines the choices you must make to achieve that goal, and establishes the compromises you must be willing to consider.

So Tell Me What You Want, What You Really Really Want

I want to be an author.  It is not sufficient for me to write my story and be the only one who reads it.  I do not crave adulation, but I do feel the need to share with others the world I see so clearly in my imagination.

That said, I have talked with professional writers and editors on occasion.  Based on the little I have learned from those conversations, I already know my odds of being published are not good.   

Publishers rarely accept new novels that are over 80,000 words long, or roughly 300 pages.

In addition, publishers like new novels to be self-contained.  That is, they want the novel to tell a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end.  It’s fine, even desirable, to leave room for later novels to pick up where the first leaves off.  That’s how series of novels starring recurring characters come about.  But the publisher wants proof that there is an audience for the first novel before they risk investing in later novels by the same author or in the same series.

Care to Play A Game of Chance

I don’t blame publishers for adopting that attitude.  New authors are unproven quantities, as are new novels.  The cost of printing and promoting new books is extremely expensive.  Taking on an untried author who proposes writing a lengthy series of  long books is taking a riverboat gamble with a lot of money on the table.

And that is what I would be presenting to to them. 

Currently the first book in Gods Among Men is 231,000 words long, more than 700 pages.   As I edit the various chapters the length will shrink, but I cannot imagine this first novel ever being close to their desired 80,000 word limit.   I expect the later novels will be of similar length.  Gods Among Men will take seven books to tell in its entirety, which means I must write approximately 5000 pages, or about 1.5 million words.

Moreover, the first book in the series, At the Lady’s Behest comes…, ends not on one cliffhanger, but on several.  Potential publishers would likely want me to radically change how it ends, and that is not possible without destroying the overall arc of the story I want to tell.

This is not to say it is impossible for me to have Gods Among Men published, merely that the odds are seriously stacked against me. 

I would have better odds of success if I were to write several self-contained novels first, establish myself as a professional writer, then try to have my epic published.  

Of course that plan requires years of effort, with no guarantee of success.  There is no reason to believe that I would be published if I wrote self-contained stories. Nor is there reason to expect those other works would sell well enough to establish me as a reliable writer in the eyes of publishers.  In the end, such efforts might well be wasted time.  Time that I could have spent crafting the story I actually care about.

Put Your Money Down and Roll the Dice

Which brings me back to the idea of posting my story online.  It is another riverboat gamble, but this time the risks are on me. 

Do I post Gods Among Men online so that a small number of people might read it?  Doing so risks alienating publishers, possibly restricting me to only those people who know of my work by word of mouth.

Or do I avoid publishing online and try to beat the odds?  Dare I hope that Gods Among Men is picked up by a publisher that would provide me with a much wider audience?  Doing so carries the distinct possibility that no one would ever read my story.

To Post, Or Not To Post: That is the Question

And since the decision does not need to made immediately, the safest course of action is to make no decision.  Which brings to mind a quote from Hamlet, part of the famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy in Act three, scene one.   Hamlet refers to what lies beyond death as “the undiscovered country”, but you can just as well take his words to be about the future.

The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

Or in simpler words, the fear of unknown future consequences can stifle the ability to make a decision in the here and now.  Indecision leads to delay and dithering, until the moment is lost and the consequences of inaction are upon us.

I am prone to introspection, to analyzing a situation over and over.  But I am also capable of quick, even radical decisions made with little evidence or thought of consequence.  Decisions not made based on logic or reason, but made based on spur of the moment gut instinct.  I am (metaphorically) capable of leaping off a cliff without knowing what lies below, trusting on good luck to provide a safe landing.

For the moment I shall wait, postpone making a final decision, but I will not wait long.  I will set my course of action soon.  Perhaps not this week or the next, but likely by the end of the years.  I will, of course keep those interested in the outcome informed. 

If anyone has advice or insight they care to share on this matter, please feel free to voice your opinion.  I am genuinely interested in hearing what others think about what I should do, especially the reasons you may have for or against me posting my story online.

Until next time, take care and have fun.

Dithering in Space and Time

I have been delaying writing my next post, not because of a lack of subjects but because a lack of time has intersected with my propensity to dither. 

Time is Not on My Side

I have previously written about a few of the distractions I am currently coping with.  There are others as well, various personal commitments that individually don’t require significant amounts of time, but which collectively drain away the minutes and hours of the day.

Even poor writing requires time and effort.  Lately I find that when free time bubbles to the surface of my schedule the idea of settling in front of computer to spend hours writing seems to require more effort than I can summon.  It is easy to say, “Not today, maybe tomorrow.”  And tomorrow becomes the day after, and the day after that, then next week, then next month.  Once I managed to let the days go by one at a time for so long that two years passed without me writing a word on my story. 

My self-imposed requirement that I maintain my blogging efforts has forced me to return to the keyboard.  To stare into the unforgiving white page and cover it with words.  It isn’t fiction writing, it doesn’t directly advance my efforts to tell the story that dominates so much of my mind.  But it is writing, and the effort alone counts for something.  Only so many days are allowed to go by before I must express a thought or emotion, describe an event, or simply write something and publish it to the world.

NaNoWriMo Is Not Something Mork Said

This is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo.  (No, I have no idea why they went with that terrible abbreviation.) The idea is that you are suppose to dedicate yourself to writing 50,000 words in the month of November.  This equates to about 175 pages of prose.  Given my tendency to verbosity, that is a long chapter for me.  I exaggerate, though not as much as those unfamiliar with my writing might think.  One of my chapters qualifies as a self-contained novella.

The point of NaNoWriMo is to write as fast as you can.  To pour words onto the page with abandon.  To not worry about whether you use the right words or write characters consistently or believably or any of the other issues that can slow writing to a crawl.   To just type as fast as your fingers will allow.

To break my logjam, I decided to throw my hat into the NaNoWriMo ring and begin work on the second book in my Gods Among Men series, …Demiurge, Unbound,….  The first book, At the Lady’s Behest Comes…, is written, though much of it is still terrible.  (No, this is not false modesty, just an honest appraisal of the vast bulk of the novel that has not been properly edited.)

My reasoning when I started was that, while I have plenty of ideas and requirements  for …Demiurge, Unbound,…  precious little of it has actually been written down.  If I were to generate 50,000 words on that novel in a short period of time then at least I would have something that I could edit and improve on later.  Plus, I thought the effort would help me practice  pantzing character interactions, something I had been planning to do anyway.

So How’s That Working Out For You?

I think it is safe to say I will not achieve the stated goal of 175 pages by the end of the month.  Ignoring the fact that I started late, the truth of the matter is I have too little time.   My slow typing speed alone is enough to prevent me from putting 50,000 words on the page in the remaining time.  With dedication and effort I might reach 20,000 words, but even that seems unlikely to me.  Still, it is a goal worth trying for.

In the process of writing on …Demiurge, Unbound,…, I was struck by a thought.  It was a glancing blow which, no doubt, will heal in a few days, or perhaps a few weeks.  In the meantime, the aftereffects of this thought bothers me enough that I continue to pick at it in my mind.   If I am not careful it will leave a scar.

The thought was simple enough: Why limit myself to the end of the month?

I want to be clear here.  I am not trying to break the idea behind NaNoWriMo.  (Seriously, whoever came up with that abbreviation needs to avoid both writing and marketing as their chosen profession.)  I am seeking to expand the idea and incorporate it into my writing methodology. 

A Time to Edit, And A Time to Write

I have been struggling for some time to discover how best to tell my story.  To call it a “work of a lifetime” is is not quite correct.  At the rate I am currently churning out finished pages it will take considerably more years to finish writing Gods Among Men than I likely have left to live. 

I am faced with the clear fact that I must write faster or Gods Among Men will never be complete, meaning actually written down.  I don’t think it ever shall  be complete in the sense that I will be fully satisfied with my telling of the story, but it is possible for me to write the story arc in its entirety from beginning to end.  To construct a first draft that expresses the plot, describes the characters and their relationships to each other, and reveals the world that consumes so much of my waking thoughts.

I want to go beyond arbitrary deadlines (50,000 words by the end of the month, so many words each day, etc…)  and avoid the bog of infinite editing.  I want to bring the phase of endless planning to its long overdue end and find a structure that forces me to move the story forward at a steady pace.  A way to whittle down the mountain of complex plot and characters and construct a draft that has all the elements required to tell the story, even if it is not told particularly well.  I want a structure that forces me to write and removes the excuses that allow me to dither and delay putting words on paper.

Oops, There Goes Another Rubber Tree Plant

To that end, I am going to perform an experiment pulling together several threads of thought that I have been toying with for some time now.

In essence, I am considering broadening my idea for writing character vignettes.  Instead of limiting myself to out of context scenes, which I was having great difficultly doing, I would instead spend time each week crafting a first draft of Gods Among Men.  To write as quickly as possible and tell my story from beginning to end.   I would not edit any of the new material at this time, just strictly focus on the flow of the story and the character interactions.

To keep myself honest, I would regularly post what I have written.  Perhaps not every word; I reserve the right to keep the worst tripe safely hidden until I can replace it with something better.  Still, if once or twice a week I am required to post something then by incremental steps I will make concrete what currently exists solely in my overactive imagination. 

This also allows me the opportunity to practice the various skills in which I am less than adequate at the moment, most notably character interactions.  Also, it would let me write my mythology out as part of the story in which it fits.  To weave the relevant details into the dialogue and descriptions in a way that hopefully would be both clear and natural.

I would continue to edit my existing chapters as well, polishing that text until it is of acceptable and perhaps even publishable quality.  But, while I am improving on what exists, I also need to create new material that completes the story arc the existing work begins.

I have Issues. Yeah, I Know, You’re Shocked 

There are two questions which I must resolve before I begin this effort. 

The first question is whether this blog is the proper place for this material, or should I start a separate blog dedicated to posting my fiction, à la Kathryn’s blog about her story, Moonlit

As originally constituted, this blog was about writing in general and the efforts of the Magic City Writers’ Group.  I am the most prolific of the posters on this blog, but I am not the only person contributing to it.  And, while I have often indulged myself by posting material relevant only to me and my story, the effort I am proposing may be inappropriate for this site.  Which raises the question that perhaps I should move all of my story specific material to my own private blog.   But doing so would require a fair amount of effort, and would mean that I would have to maintain two blogs instead of one.  In a word, yuck. 

The second question concerns the content of what I post.   Namely, should I also post completed or recently edited sections from the first book, or constrain myself to just new material as it it written.  My purpose is to create a complete first draft of the whole story, which would suggest posting only new material. 

But the new material would be confusing to those who have not read the earlier material, which includes everybody other than me.  (The writers’ group has read only the early chapters, and even Kathryn has not read the last several chapters.)  In addition, the blog (whether this one or a new one) shall over time become a reference source for me.  A place I can go to find scenes and other materials that I have stored with tags to make them easier to find.  These facts suggest that I should include the older material for the sake of completeness.

No doubt I shall dither and dally over this a bit more before making my final decisions.  I am interested in the opinions of others on these questions.

Until next time, have fun.

When Last We Met…

On Sunday October 19, 2009, the Magic City Writers met and ruthlessly savaged my second chapter, …Awakens The Outer Circle…, leaving me a broken shell of a man (again). 

But first, lets talk about the food. 

Let’s Torture Alex by Mentioning What We Ate

The food, as always, was excellent. 

Kathryn baked fresh pumpkin bread (with a hint of orange flavor) and banana nut bread, both served with apple butter.  She also baked tandoori chicken, made with various herbs suspended in Greek yogurt and drenched over juicy chicken breasts.   

Nicole also displayed impressive culinary skills by improvising a tasty recipe for curry fried rice with stir-fry veggies on the spot. 

Needless to say, we were all well sated by the end of the meeting.  And best of all there were leftovers for me and Kathryn to dine on for the next couple of days.

And Now Back to the Savaging

With regards to the reviews of my new and improved chapter two of Gods Among Men, I am saddened to report they were mixed.   The chapter is substantially improved over last time, and some parts are quite good.  Unfortunately, only some parts are quite good.  This is not to call the rest rubbish, merely not good enough.

My most serious problem is structural.   The climax of the chapter requires an ambiguous point of view that is hard to get right.  There are multiple characters interacting in a way that creates two sequence of events happening at the same time.  I switch back and forth between different character’s perspective several times.  My intention is to help the reader understand what is happening and how the characters are affecting each other.   However, the switch between the different points of view, as written, is disconcerting and disrupts the reader’s ability to become absorbed in the scene. 

The group had few suggestions on how to resolve this point of view problem, and there was no consensus on the right solution.  None of the proposed solutions felt satisfactory to me.  I fear I may have to be satisfied with minimizing this problem rather than eliminating it.  My best hope at the moment is that once other problems in the chapter are fixed this point of view problem will not be as important as it is now. 

Another prominent criticism was that my secondary characters don’t feel real enough to maintain the readers suspension of disbelief.  Essentially, the group felt that I was forcing the characters to act as I wanted them to act and say what I wanted said, as opposed to the characters doing or saying what a real person would. 

This problem with the secondary characters is addressable by fixing certain key interactions.  As I reflected on this criticism, however, I concluded this problem was indicative of a weakness in my overall approach to writing. 

Houston, We Have A Problem

The first time I submitted any of my initial chapters, the group complained my characterizations were all over the place and unrealistic.  I fixed the main characters and the secondary were still problematic.  I fixed the secondary characters and tertiary characters continued to have similar problems. 

I am, by nature, a plotter, which means I first came up with the major concepts for Gods Among Men and from those concepts determined the details that must occur.  From there I extracted broad themes and formulated a complex tale, complete with an in-depth mythology of its own.  Then I focused on descriptions of settings and other such imagery.  It is characterization that I let linger until the very end. 

Given the type of tale I am trying to tell, I think  focusing upon plot and mythology to a certain degree is warranted.  But the result is that my skills for describing people in a realistic fashion is wanting. 

Perhaps this is an advantage of the “pantzer” style of writing.  If you focus only upon the situation at the moment and your characters’ reactions and interactions, with no thought as to where the story is going, perhaps you get truer characterizations.  I don’t know for certain that this is true, but it is worth considering.

How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?

Practice is what makes perfect, and practice requires a consistent devotion of effort over a long period of time. 

I must practice writing characterizations, focus on each character and discover their individual voice.  Learn to describe  them in ways that captures their mood and emotions in an honest fashion.  I must discover the words they would use, the sentences they would say, and the actions they would take.

I have considered using blogging as a solution to this problem.  My reasoning is thus:  A fixed schedule is the best way to ensure that effort is maintained.  I intend to keep putting up new blog posts, preferably twice a week.  (Though lately it has been closer to once a week.)  Since I always need something to write about I could use some of my time blogging to write small scenes and out of context conversations.  Vignettes from my world that I may or may not keep.   Posting these experiments on the blog also has the advantage of organizing them with attached tags I can use for looking them up again later.

I am still in my waffling stage on this idea.  It might work, or it might be a total waste of time.  The main point here is that I am searching for ways to improve my ability to write realistic characters.   Suggestions are welcome.

The Remains of The Day

After eating and editing, we sat around for a long time talking about various subjects.  Then we went upstairs to watch/listen to the RiffTrax for the movie Daredevil

A RiffTrax is an audio file of snarky comments that you play alongside a movie.  The worse the movie, the better the RiffTrax that goes with it.  Given how truly putrid Daredevil is, the RiffTrax for it was absolutely hysterical.

After the movie/RiffTrax, Lindy had to go to work.  Nicole, Kathryn, and I finished off the evening by watching episodes of the new Battlestar Gallactica.   I personally believe this series is the best science fiction show of the last decade, and one of the best and most daring television shows of all-time.

That concludes the summary of our latest meeting.  Kathryn is set to submit her first draft of the third chapter of her story, MoonlitShe will be mailing out copies of that chapter to the group in a few days.   Our next meeting will be on November 1st, again at my house.  As always I shall try to describe what happens in an interesting or at least entertaining way.

Until next time, have fun and party down.