Saturday, December 27, 2014

My Writing Process: Major Plot Overhauls

If you follow my blog regularly, you may know that I'm working on my third Shalan book. If you follow it really closely, you may recall, a long time ago, while I was working on the rough draft for Kisses and Lies, the second, yet-to-be-released book, that I found that I had to overhaul an entire chapter when I realized (based on a dream) that it was all wrong. It introduced a main character, but did it clumsily and, well, all wrong. She wasn't the person I meant her to be in the first iteration, so I had to go back and just completely re-write the entire chapter. I think it made the character real and sympathetic, whereas before she had been flat and not really very nice. 

The reason I bring this up is that I recently wrote a pivotal chapter in the new manuscript. I won't give anything away, but it's a life-altering event, immediately followed by another life-altering event. When I got finished, it just didn't feel right for some reason. I had no idea why, so I quit writing for a bit in order to stew on it. A couple days later, it finally hit me--there were two problems. One, the first major event took place too early in the plot and before another foundational event had taken place. And two, the second life-altering event took place so soon after the first one that it lets Harry and Dee off the hook way too easily. It protects them from having to grieve the loss of a loved one.

So instead of having to overhaul a chapter, this time I find I'm in the midst of overhauling the entire plotline. Instead of the first crisis happening a third of the way through, I'm working to make it appear in the back half and then give them a little time to wrestle with their sorrow before saving the day, so to speak.

When your check engine light comes on. You can get it checked right away and fix what may be a minor problem or you can figure it'll take care of itself and have a huge expense down the road. Similarly,I probably could have kept going and the plot would've limped along, but I feel like it would have been deeply unsatisfying to write and even more so to read. So I'm glad I stopped writing when something started nagging at me instead of plowing on with the story as it was.

Too bad my word processor doesn't have "Check For Plot Holes" light. I guess if it did, there'd be more successful novelists in the world.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Just Keep Moving Forward

Was up half the night sick again, so I hope this makes sense. If not, just pretend it's surrealism. 
I called and talked to the proprietor of a local bookstore, J & M's Used Bookstore. He was a gracious young man who said that, unfortunately, his store was not large enough to host a book signing. I saw he was completely sincere when I walked in later that evening--the place is crammed full of books of every shape and description. I can't believe I'd never been there before. I will definitely be going back regularly. But he did agree to look at my book and carry it if he felt it was a real, serious book and not just some piece of junk published from pure vanity. Interestingly enough, when I walked in to deliver the book, the owner was talking to a lady who turned out to my cousin Nancy. She spoke on my behalf about how much she really loved my book. The owner decided that was good enough for him. So I'll be delivering some books to him to sell in his store. I'm in my first bookstore!

As I said last week, sales have slowed among the people I know, but now I'm starting to hear from students and friends that friends of friends are slowly starting to hear and buy. And I'm up to four 5-star reviews on Amazon (though one is, well, interesting). I'm in a bookstore now and I'm excited to say that the place he showed me that it will be displayed is right inside the door. And the Wood County Library's director asked me to email him dates for doing a signing there.

As an independent author, I didn't expect to sell in the thousands in the first two months. I'm really pretty happy with where I am at this point. And I feel like I'm moving forward. It's slow progress, but progress nonetheless. As long as I keep moving forward, it doesn't matter how fast it is. I would like to add an advantage to the list I wrote last week. Publishing on my own without an agent and/or publishing house, I don't have any sense of pressure to succeed quickly. If it takes months or even years to really catch on, I don't have to worry about my agent or publisher dropping me. I'll stick with me no matter what. :)

I usually end with a link to Amazon, I'll end with a plug for J & M's Used Bookstore. It really is a cool little place that's spread out among what I think used to be three small shops. They support local authors and it just feels like a good old fashioned local bookstore. There's even a comfy chair for reading. It's located at 1215 Blizzard Drive. If you're coming from northside, go past the Kroger shopping plaza and start up the hill like you're going to South High School. It's halfway up that hill on your left. Go take a look!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Ups and Downs of Self-Publishing

My book launched about a month and a half ago. My initial response to that is rather cliché: where did the time go? It really does only feel like a couple weeks at most. But that's not unique. Time really does keep slipping away, at an ever increasing rate as I age. But this seems like an appropriate time to think about the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing.

I would have to say the biggest advantage is that I keep more of the money from every sale. The publisher, CreateSpace, keeps their share and that's it. I get the rest. No sharing with an agent. I know from reading other blogs that the author's share per book is much lower for agented writers.

The other advantage is that I have control over everything. No one is arguing with me over the cover of the book. No one is telling me I need to change the ending or hurry up and get pages in to meet a deadline. I have complete autonomy over the creative process and if the book succeeds, it's because the book as I envisioned it is well-received.

But there are drawbacks, obviously, and each is connected with an advantage. The first is that, while I keep a larger percentage per book, I have to imagine that an agent would have helped me sell more books by now. My numbers have been decent considering I've done it without outside help (though I have had mad assistance from Maria "Pepper" Delgado). I'm happy with exceeding 120 books sold in just six weeks, but I am now reaching saturation among family and friends and face the challenge of reaching beyond them without the connections afforded me by a professional representative. I was hoping more folks who had read and enjoyed it would review it for me, but that's just not happening, so I need to find some way to reach out to the public and that's on me.

The other disadvantage is that having autonomy is two-edged sword. While I have read a lot of good detective fiction, as well as fiction in general, and know what I like, the problem is that I only know what I like. Agents and publisher know what many, many people are likely to enjoy, so they could help me mold my work to reach a wider audience. While I think what I'm putting out there is good and I have a sense that people like it, having a professional opinion would be helpful.

All in all, I'm happy with the situation as it is. Would I consider an offer from an agent? Yes. But I wouldn't automatically leap on it. If they threw enough money at me I'd have to think about it, but it would have to be a good bit to pass up knowing that if I made it, it was because I really was a good enough writer and I worked hard enough at it to sell my books. And that would be a really good feeling.

But to all you agents out there--I'm listening.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Special Broken Back Edition (Excerpt from KISSES AND LIES)

I'm sitting at home on a heating pad--yes, I'm alternating it with ice. It just happens to be heat's turn. But I thought that since I had a rare free day forced upon me, I'd give a little preview to those of you who've already read Harsh Prey. Here's an excerpt from the second Shalan adventure, Kisses and Lies, which comes out early next summer.

A cop had co-founded Tim Horton’s, so it seemed appropriate to get doughnuts and coffee from there. And besides, it was the only doughnut shop downtown. Of course, it didn't hurt that everything they served tasted like little bites of Paradise mixed with love. I pulled into the lot and went in the dining room. I guess I could have gone through the drive-through, but I never trusted the selection of something as important as doughnuts to a stranger.
A dozen doughnuts in hand, along with two large coffees—black for me, cream and two sugars for Otis—I headed back to my office, which was about a block from the City Building. But before I got there, I happened to check my rear-view mirror and spied my friend in the white van. I decided it was time to say hello, so instead of going on to the city building, I parked in my building, gathered up my goodies and pretended to walk toward the City Building. Since he was so incompetent at tailing, I hoped he’d not be much of a threat, but taking reckless chances is what makes the population at the old detectives home so sparse. So I dropped the coffee and doughnuts on the front porch of a house a half a block down, crossed the street in the middle of the block, casually walked back to the van, and tapped on the driver’s window with the end of my gun barrel. It was a snub nosed 38, a summer weight piece that fit nicely under a windbreaker and didn’t make me feel like it was going to pull my pants down when worn with a belt holster. Granted, it was less intimidating than my other gun, a Dirty Harry commemorative .44 magnum, but since I wasn't likely to need to fell a grizzly that day, I had gone with restraint.
The driver was obviously startled, as he nearly hit his head on the van’s ceiling, spilling his coffee down his shirt and onto his pants. The coffee appeared to be pretty hot based on the pained grimace on his face. I was hoping my charming smile would help ease the pain. It didn't seem to work, though.
“What—what the—?” was all he could sputter as he opened the window.
“Hey!” I practically shouted, turning up the wattage on the smile while touching the end of the barrel of my gun to the tip of his nose. “How are you? You spill your coffee?”
“Would you get that gun outta my face?!”
“This gun?” I asked as I pulled back the hammer. His eyes got wide and I could swear the coffee stain in his lap got a little bigger.
“What—who are you?”
I'm the guy you've been following. Very badly, I might add. The more cogent question is who are you?”
“Sorry. I’ll try to use smaller words. WHO. ARE. YOU?”
“I asked you first pal.” I had to give it to him. He was rallying.        
“Yes, true enough. On the other, hand, I'm holding the gun. Who are you and why are you following me or do we see if a .38 Special makes it all the way through the back of your skull.”
“Who says I'm following you?”
“You were here when I came out of my office this morning, left when I did, appeared again when I returned, had coffee at Tim Horton’s with me, and just pulled back up. That’s way too much being where I am to be a coincidence. Oh, sorry. Is coincidence too big a word? I know you're following me and you know you’re following me. Now—why and who?”
“I’m not—“
I jerked the gun to the left and fired a round into his passenger seat. It sounded like a bomb going off in the enclosed space. The stain in his lap definitely got bigger this time.
“I don’t know his name, I swear!” He shook his head to try to dislodge the cotton from his ears.
“Won’t be your seat next time.”
“Didn’t tell me his name! God as my witness!”
“How did he contact you?”
“Met me at a bar I go to a lot. Said he heard about me from a friend of a friend. Paid me five large just to follow you around for a while and tell him where you went and who you met up with. Said to look for a busty blonde bimbo too. His words not mine.”
“She’s not a bimbo and five thousand dollars just for following me around?”
“No, five hundred. Large is thousand?”
I rolled my eyes. “Why are all the thugs around here so stupid?” He actually looked like he was thinking about that until I poked him in the temple with my gun. “Okay, focus. Did he say to do something if you saw me with the blonde?”
“Nope. Just follow and report.”
“Report how?”
“I meet him tonight at 10:00 in the same bar.”
“What bar?”
“Why am I not surprised?” Sugars was a bar on Seventh Street that infamously advertised, “Fabric-Free Entertainment.”
“Hey, they make good spaghetti and have you ever had their coffee?”
“I’ll be in the parking lot. Find an excuse to get him out there.”
“Your problem. Now blow. If I see you again before tonight, I’m not responsible. ”
“What about my seat?”

He apparently didn’t. He got the engine started and was screeching up the street almost before I could get my arm out of his window. I waited a minute to make sure he was gone and went to retrieve my coffee and doughnuts. It was with great relief that I found them undisturbed. I wouldn’t want to kill anyone over a maple frosted cream fill. I would do it, but I wouldn’t want to. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

My Writing Process: Semi-Random Thoughts

This is an early morning post. I agreed to help judge a speech and debate tournament at my school, something I enjoy doing. But I'm typing at 6:11am with only two sips of coffee in me, so I hope this post makes sense. I don't have anything to say about my process this morning that I feel like would make up an entire post, so I thought I would toss out a few shorter thoughts.

First, I don't seem capable of writing without dream sequences. I've had at least one in each of the three books about Harry and Dee. The one that just happened in the third one was probably the most overtly not-just-a-dream-but-being-communicated-to-through-your-dreams of all of them, though Dee says in the second one that someone came to her in a dream and told her something. That only half counts because she told Harry, so it was kind of like it was offstage.

Second, and this was really driven home to me this week, is that I am definitely a pantser and I like it. I learned that term from a blog by another writer. There are plotters, who have a complete outline of the entire book before they ever write it. Some even go so far as to storyboard. On the other end of the spectrum are pantsers, or people who fly by the seat of their pants. That's me. I have an overarching story arc and that's it. I know where I'm starting and, in general, where I'm ending, but the rest is completely unplanned. In Kisses and Lies (coming out next summer), I planned it a little more than Harsh Prey and book 3, but only because of the nature of it. I had two independent storylines that had to be knit together at some point, but even that became pretty organic. They came together when they wanted to.

I said this concept really hit home this week. Here's what I'm talking about. Confession time: sometimes when my students are taking tests or writing essays, I sneak in some writing time. Does that make me evil? Probably. Will I continue to do it? Assuredly. But this week, as my kids toiled away on a practice AP essay, I pulled up book 3. After reviewing the work I'd done a couple days ago, I started a new scene in which Harry is sitting at Dee's bedside in the hospital. I won't reveal more of the plotline, but, without Harry or me knowing it, Harry falls asleep and talks to someone he loves. I say it was without me knowing it because I never had any intention of having a dream sequence, which goes back to my first point, so I guess this post isn't as random as I thought. Even as a blogger I'm a pantser. But back to my point--as I wrote the scene, it was so emotionally moving to me and so surprising, that I found a tear leaking from my eye.

Now let me stop and make something clear. I'm not trying to imply that I'm such a good writer that I can even move myself to tears. I am probably the only person who will ever cry at that scene. What I'm trying to say is that part of the joy of writing like I do is that sometimes what happens in the story is just as much of a fun surprise to me as it ever could be for the reader. These characters have become so real to me that they've taken on a life of their own and pretty much do what they want. I'm just the vessel by which their stories reach the page.

As I read that, it makes me think I may be a little nuts. But I'm pretty sure I'm okay with that.

PS--I would be remiss if I didn't mention the launch party for Harsh Prey. It was beyond my greatest hopes! There was a nice crowd there, made up of a lot of people I really love. It was the perfect way to launch my first book--surrounded by folks I know support and love me. And I sold every copy I had to sell! Here's a link to my webpage, where you'll find pics from the event. And, of course, here's a link to Amazon, where you can purchase Harsh Prey.