Friday, November 30, 2007
The stats as of today:
-43,750 estimated words.
-51,516 actual words.
-Eight and a half fully-revised-and-expanded chapters (141.5 pages total).
-175 pages in all.
Nine years have passed since the Dead ended civilization, leaving only tiny splinter societies behind. Darrell Williams, a black doctor in a rural white town, is one of the few survivors in a countryside of roving monsters and encroaching wilderness. When his house is stormed by his undead neighbors, he escapes with his daughter, Lela, to find asylum with refugees in an abandoned electronics factory.
Yet something about the post-civilization world is changing. The uneasy equilibrium between the survivors and their supernatural tormentors is suddenly lost. The Dead are becoming erratic and aggressive, and seem to have a particular interest in Darrell’s family. Four-year-old Lela discovers clues to the twisted logic that drives them -- but then she disappears. Darrell is left to search for answers and his daughter with only the help of strangers in a hostile, ruined world.
Nothing is simple with hooks, is it?
Nine years have passed since the Dead ended civilization. Darrell Williams was once a respected black doctor in a rural white town, but now he is one of the few survivors in a countryside of roving monsters and encroaching wilderness. When his house is stormed by his undead neighbors, he escapes with his daughter, Lela, to find asylum with refugees in an electronics factory many miles downriver.
Yet something about the world has changed. The normally-predictable Dead are suddenly erratic and aggressive, and seem to have an unusual interest in Darrell’s family. Four-year-old Lela discovers clues to the twisted logic that drives them -- but then she disappears. Darrell is left to search for answers and his daughter with only the help of strangers in a hostile, ruined world.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Nine years have passed since the Dead ended civilization. The few remaining survivors huddle in isolated towns that have been refit to repel the nightmare creatures prowling the countryside. Darrell Williams was once a respected black doctor in a rural white town, but now he is haunted by the memory of his wife, Mary, slumped against the furniture store window where she was inexplicably murdered by transients. He will never forget how the undead rage transformed her as she rose to kill the family she had cherished only moments before.
One quiet morning his house is stormed by his neighbors, all of whom apparently perished during the night in a fire that his four-year-old daughter, Lela, glimpsed in her dreams. The two find asylum with refugees in an electronics factory many miles downriver, but the Dead are escalating out of control there, too. As the creatures become unusually erratic and aggressive, little Lela discovers clues to the twisted logic that drives them -- but then she disappears. Darrell is left to search for answers and his daughter with only the help of strangers in a hostile, ruined world.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
In other news, the holidays take up a lot of time. Actual events are only part of it -- then there's the shopping, planning, etc. And trying to get all my day-job work done before the end of the year, to make sure everyone is happy before I take off a week and a half around Christmas.
Oh, and I came up with a new title for ALDEN RIDGE. I've been searching for a more evocative one for months, struggling with many dimensions of the story/themes, etc. No luck. Then, after yesterday's post at Pub Rants about titles, I finally had the idea to look through proverbs and idioms from various other cultures to see if that sparked anything. Turns out I found a Chinese one that sparked a great title! But right now I'm sitting on it, waiting a few days (or possibly weeks or longer) to make sure this title sticks with me before I go announcing it to the world. So for now, in public, the book is still ALDEN RIDGE. But I'm very excited about the new title (now I've probably hyped it to the point that you'll be disappointed when I do "unveil" it).
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Happy Holidays, everyone!
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Also, I passed 50K actual words today. All right!
The stats as of today:
-42,750 estimated words.
-50,394 actual words.
-Eight and a half fully-revised-and-expanded chapters (138 pages total).
-171 pages in all.
Monday, November 19, 2007
The latter half of the novel is becoming increasingly concrete in my mind, which really helps to alleviate my worries of getting lost after my current solid plot threads run out. I'm really starting to get a full sense of this entire book, to the point that I think I won't ever completely run out of material before I reach the end. If that happens, that will be a first for me.
The stats as of today:
-42,000 estimated words.
-49,334 actual words.
-Eight and a portion fully-revised-and-expanded chapters (134 pages total).
-168pages in all.
However, I do have a less depressing theory about why at least some of the people in the 17-22 age bracket are reading less. I'm 24 myself, and I can tell you that I probably almost fit into those poor statistics (when it came to pleasure reading) during the 17-22 age bracket -- as did most of the other book lovers that my wife and I knew.
Now, all of us were certainly reading plenty of textbooks, newspaper/journal articles, and nonfiction works related to our careers (programming/computer work, in my case), but pleasure reading was a rare thing.
This is because the pressure on juniors and seniors in high school is higher now than it ever was, and most of us were taking 5 or 6 college-level classes that kept us busy. Plus all the various extracurriculars -- sports, music, clubs, etc -- that the modern teenager is involved in. College is also a very busy time for most, either because of all the intense socializing and such that many subscribe to, or (in my and my wife's case) all the extracurriculars. We both were working through college, not because we had to in order to make ends meet, but because we didn't want to erode all our savings while in college, and because we each had opportunities to jump-start our careers in a major way during that time period. The year after college is also very busy, often even traumatic, for most students as their social life disappears (if they were that sort) and they start job-hunting (in a very tight market at this point -- competition isn't just fierce in the publishing industry).
What my wife and I are now seeing, with all our friends having been out of college for a year or two, is that everyone is reading a lot more again. We recommend books to our friends and vice-versa, we talk about what we like, and some of our friends even formed an impromptu monthly book club as way to keep in touch.
If you look at what all of our reading habits are now, we're probably in the top to upper-middle percentages (depending on what else the individual has going on in a given month), whereas we were all in the lower percentages just a few years before. And these are all people who grew up reading in the top percentages, all of whom participated in "Battle of the Books" competitions and other reading programs as a kid, and most of whom write short stories, poetry, or novels.
I don't pretend to know what everyone in the world is doing, and certainly the lack of literacy in many people I know is a little bit shocking. However, statistics can be misleading, and I think the notion that the current generations won't have any/many readers is a false one. I think certain societal conditions make reading difficult even for those who love reading during the late teens and early twenties -- but before long, those who love it will resurface on the other side.
I suppose we'll see if I'm right in about 10 years, when we see the statistics for the late-twenties crowd. At worst, I would be willing to bet serious money that many people rediscover their love of reading when they have kids, and start reading to them. Hopefully that then leads to other kinds of reading for the adults themselves.
I finished my very first novel back in 2001, when the market was a bit different and there was a LOT less information available on the Internet for aspiring writers. I subscribed to Writer's Digest, but even that didn't help much at the time, for whatever reason. At any rate, I decided that I didn't want to be paying somebody else 15% of my income for the rest of my life, so I tried sending my novel directly to publishers -- one at a time, since they didn't accept simultaneous submissions. At any rate, I didn't hear back from the first one for fourteen months, so I sent out the next submission to a second publisher. I never heard back from them, either, and I assumed that was just it.
I wish that I had known to submit to agents, back then! I also wish I had realized all the many services provided by agents. I think that a lot of truly-green aspiring authors just don't get that agents are actually a valuable asset to their career, rather than the imagined money drain that some seem to think they are (or even just an extra step -- why go through two steps when I can just approach the publisher?).
I finished my second book in 2006 (I took four years off after my first silent failure, largely because I was going through school, starting my day-job career, getting married, etc, at the time). This time there was loads more information on the Internet, but I still jumped the gun on my first query. I found a big-name agent who represented a crazy number of authors I love, and I decided to send him, and only him, a query to start. Worst of all, his agency had a policy of not responding to queries (e-queries only there) if not interested.
So after a month I had nothing back from him, and that was a bit demoralizing. Fortunately I had spent that time doing more research, and I built up a better list to query. I also learned just how bad that first query letter was -- I included something like four or five flags that said I was a newbie. I've blogged at length about the whole process I went through before, so I won't repeat all that here, but suffice it to say there is a lot to learn, and it's hard to learn who to believe on the Internet without a LOT of reading. And even those sources that are reputable give seemingly conflicting advice at times -- sometimes it's not clear when they are speaking for themselves, or "the industry as a whole" (which is hard to do).
I wish that somebody had told me about all that complexity, so that I would have had the proper expectation of doing the research necessary to make myself comfortable with the whole process -- and so that I wouldn't have shot myself in the foot quite so many times. Plus, I wish I had known more of the expectations of pacing, etc, for a modern debut -- something I learned a whole lot about from Anne's blog, actually. Though several agents remarked on the ingenuity of my premise for my second book, those that did respond in a personal manner felt the pacing was too slow. I presume that all those that sent back form letters, or didn't respond at all, probably agreed.
Because, you see, I was sending sample pages (30 at first, and later 10 once I wised up) with every query. That meant that I never got a single request for partial, not that I'm certain I would have otherwise. Not having sent so many pages with each query also would have meant I might have saved $100+ in postage, incidentally.
I wish I had known how to format a manuscript properly (just double-spaced isn't enough), and that I had known how to do a proper title page. It would have been such a big help if I had been a lot better at writing query letters, since so much is riding on that. Writing effectively in a condensed format was not a skill I had at all until fairly recently (this speaks to the source of the overwriting in my second book).
All of this, plus the various issues of novelcraft that I learned or still am learning, is all what I would have liked to have known. If you read writing books from the early or mid 90's, the authors tend to make light of the whole process, and that makes the modern commonality of bland rejection hurt that much more. I think that, previously, new authors started with a smaller audience and worked their way up (or petered out). It seems like most now-famous writers of a certain longevity in the industry have a number of obscure titles under their belt from the start of their career. Not so much anymore, eh? Now it's sink or swim from the get-go, and all the "on the job" training that writers used to receive is now self-study homework that must be learned from trade magazines, conferences, and (reliable) Internet sources.
None of that ever would have occurred to me when I was just starting out. There's no way to tell everything to someone with no concept of the industry in just one sitting, so the best thing would be just to get the general idea of what the issues are, and how much work is involved. Back when I was starting, my ego was overlarge and had not yet been trampled down to a respectable size by the process, so I probably wouldn't have believed someone who told me.
What's the solution? I'm not really sure. But this industry sure is a lot more Darwinian than ever before, I notice. That's kind of demoralizing in some senses, but in another sense I'll be that much more proud when I DO make it -- because it's never been harder.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
The stats as of today:
-41,750 estimated words.
-48,855 actual words.
-Eight and a portion fully-revised-and-expanded chapters (133 pages total).
-167 pages in all.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
The stats as of today:
-40,250 estimated words.
-47,067 actual words.
-Eight and a portion fully-revised-and-expanded chapters (127 pages total).
-161 pages in all.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Many thanks to Dwight's Writing Manifesto for mentioning this post in passing (that's another pretty cool blog on writing you should check out, by the way).
The stats as of today:
-39,500 estimated words.
-46,097 actual words.
-Eight fully-revised-and-expanded chapters (124 pages total).
-158 pages in all.
Monday, November 12, 2007
I saw this post about Paul Potts over at Pub Rants, of all places. I mean, you don't generally expect to read about an operatic singer on a literary agent's blog. It's a bit surprising that I'd link to this, because I'm not a fan of American Idol (at all), and this is basically a clip from the British version. But it's a pretty cool story how this guy got his start.
Man. Makes me worry about how productive this holiday season can possibly be for my writing. Seems like there is always something new coming up these days. If writing was a full-time job, it would be no problem, but with so much of my time already obligated elsewhere, it does create pressure. At least I don't have kids yet -- I am in awe of those writers who somehow become published while working and raising kids.
At any rate, to increase my odds of coming even remotely close to my writing goals, I've made several resolutions. First, I'm cutting out television time. I'm not sure how this happened, but somehow in the last year I started watching a lot of TV. For about seven years in recent history I didn't watch any at all, so I don't know what happened there. I don't really even enjoy most TV shows that much, but it seemed like such a nice, mindless retreat after a hard day of designing software and programming and such. It became my habit to treat TV like some sort of recharging device, to let my mind idle and rest between getting off work and sitting down to write.
The thing is, after two hours of TV in the early evening (yes, sad, I know) I was usually just as tired as I was before I started, and frankly TV isn't very inspirational when it comes to writing (ahem). Plus if there was anything else I wanted/needed to do that evening, like household chores, errands, exercise, pleasure reading, or just spending time with my wife, that was going to cut into my writing time. Ick! It was making me feel like I was under very great pressure to do writing in all my spare time, but like I had very little spare time at all.
Somehow it didn't occur to me to just cut out the TV time until this weekend. Instead of TV, I did all those other things I wanted to do. If I was too tired to do any of that, well, I'd just let myself fall asleep for a brief nap, and wake up feeling really recharged. It's amazing what even just fifteen or thirty minutes of sleep can do for your body. So far so good on this approach, even though I haven't been using it for long -- I certainly don't miss the TV, anyway, and I doubt that will become an issue again. It's like when I became addicted to morning caffeine (like so many Americans) without realizing it: after about four years I saw what had happened, and I was able to quickly cut out the caffeine and haven't looked back (though now that I'm thoroughly detoxed I'm once again able to enjoy an occasional sweet tea or mocha latte). Sometimes these bad habits, many of which current society frankly encourages, just sneak up on you.
My hope is that, even with all the extra personal time commitments I'm going to have during the coming holiday season, I'll be able to maintain a good writing pace (and my sanity) by having cut out the "dead weight" of my daily schedule. Hopefully there should be plenty of time for merrymaking, relaxing/recharging, as well as writing during this schedule. And maybe I'll be able to accomplish some other things, like some art that I have in mind, and some new code for my uncle's robot, without cutting into that writing time.
You know, becoming a novelist really requires a level of commitment like no other career I can think of. Although, becoming an editor or an agent is close.
The stats as of today:
-38,750 estimated words.
-45,025 actual words.
-Seven and a portion fully-revised-and-expanded chapters (120 pages total).
-155 pages in all.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Friday, November 9, 2007
Each of the cosmic rays studied had energy in excess of 57 billion billion electron volts, about the energy of a nicely hit tennis ball. By comparison, the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, near Geneva, will accelerate protons to a mere 7 trillion electron bolts [sic] when it turns on next summer.
“Such energies are so extreme that they could arise in only the most violent places in the universe,” the authors of the report wrote.
Okay, so a "nicely hit tennis ball" has 57 billion billion electron volts of energy in it, but the world's largest particle accelerator only produces 7 trillion electron volts? Apparently the energy found in cosmic rays can only originate from black holes or the tennis court -- "the most violent places in the universe."
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Since this has been an ongoing minor issue, I've finally bit the bullet and set up an online store from which people can order prints of my work. Certainly you're still free to look at my art in my online gallery, which has pretty high-res images (compared to what most artists would put up if they hoped to sell their work), and that's not something I plan to change -- I'm not going to lower the quality of my online offering in hopes of making a few bucks on prints.
If you enjoy my work and want to make a contribution to my computer art software fund (haha), feel free to stop by the store. Or if you just really like a piece and want a print for your home, office, or a friend, you'll be hard-pressed to do as high a quality printing as these.
But no pressure! I'm really not out to get rich off these. If you want to use my art on your website or something like that (non-commercially), I'm still generally happy to grant rights to those who ask.
PS - If there's a piece that you really want that isn't in the store, let me know and I'll see what I can do. I just have too many pieces to be able to put them all online.
Monday, November 5, 2007
Amazingly, though, it's been about three weeks since I've actively worked on new content. I've got things well planned out for the next four or five chapters, however, so I'm hoping to make up for lost time this month. It would be nice if I can actually exceed my goal of reaching 172 pages (which seems reasonable), but I suppose that remains to be seen. There are plenty of real-life events that could still get in the way, but I'll try to keep that from happening.
The stats as of today:
-37,750 estimated words.
-43,926 actual words.
-Seven fully-revised-and-expanded chapters (116.5 pages total).
-Eleven completed chapters in all (151 pages).
Friday, November 2, 2007
The stats as of today:
-36,750 estimated words.
-43,059 actual words.
-Six-and-three-quarters fully-revised-and-expanded chapters (112 pages total).
-Eleven completed chapters in all (147 pages).
No, it's more than that. I'm learning how to recognize good writing, and how to tell when I'm not creating it versus when I am. I'm learning how to let go of the little passages that I love, but which just don't fit; how to maintain pacing to keep the reader's interest without sacrificing characterization; how to weave scenery description effortlessly into the action; how to reveal emotion and character by truly showing, rather than telling. I'm learning how to be a professional author.
It's funny, because a lot of that was stuff I already did intuitively. But when you work based on your intuition alone, your craft controls you, rather than the other way around. So when things aren't working (which inevitably will happen to every writer many times in every book), the purely-intuitive writer is going to be at a loss as to how to fix things. Not to say that this writer won't eventually figure it out through experimentation, reflection, or the help of mentors or peers -- just to say that it will either take more time and frustration than it should, or take that outside influence.
And that's a big thing for the aspiring writer -- outside influence. Those of us who are trying to become published (and who don't simply subscribe to ars artis gratia) are all looking for positive reinforcement. We want our friends, family, critique partners, and other first readers to love it. We want every agent we approach to offer to sign us, and for all the publishers to get into an intense bidding war and lavish a huge marketing budget on us. We want Hollywood to have such strong interest that we can dictate the terms to the point that we retain some level of artistic oversight, and we want to be on the NYT bestseller list and to get as many awards as Cormac McCarthy. While we're still aspiring, we can imagine that it will all happen for us on our first try.
When the first really hard rejection hits, it can be difficult not to feel like hanging it up. The really hardheaded among us, the career writers, don't feel like those dreams are gone after a rejection, just like we've been temporarily set back. The thought of quitting is there in our darkest moments, however, and it's tempting in many ways, but not really an option. Sure, maybe we could say that we quit for a few years -- maybe we could even think we had quit during that time. But sooner or later, we know we'll come back to it.
So we sit back down and write some more, but now it's with significantly less confidence, with significantly more hesitation. If we've gotten professional feedback from someone in the industry, we treat it as gospel -- to the point of harm at times. If we're told we're too wordy, our next book is severely underwritten. If we're told our pacing is too slow, our next book is a bit too fast. But these knee-jerk reactions are the sort of thing that can be fixed with careful editing and revision, fortunately, so the careful writer (who has thoughtful, competent, patient critique partners) might go on to good success with that second book. But at the same time, it becomes a lot easier to see why the average writer completes three manuscripts that don't sell before they come up with one that finally does.
Somewhere in this whole process, we have to start to learn to stand on our own. We have to start realizing that the recognition of the industry, or the reactions of our critique partners, or what anyone else thinks, is less important than what we know. We finally have some feeling for what is good and what isn't, and the comments of others only augment that knowledge, rather than always superseding it. This isn't to say that we become arrogant, or that we no longer listen, just that we become a semi-experienced member of the industry in our own right, and no longer feel the newbie's constant need to do whatever someone with a few credentials says. We become discerning, and listen to some people in the industry, and not to others. We form our own informed opinions. And when we do sign with an agent, and then with a publisher, hopefully we're in a position to act like a real novelist should: like an informed, courteous, open-minded professional with a spine.
Of course, there are those who shortcut this whole process, and find success more easily than most of us. But I wonder who is better off: the writer who suffers in ignominy for years, building discipline and knowledge before joining the ranks of the published author; or the writer who produces a publishable work on talent alone, and who goes into the industry without knowledge, experience, or a real appreciation for how valuable their new profession should be to them?
I'm not speaking of anyone in particular here. I actually don't know any writers who fit the second description. Everyone I've heard of had to work their way into the industry over many years, and essentially took the first path. Even novelists with famous parents, like Joe Hill (Stephen King's son). Yet this second path is the goal of so many aspiring writers, and so many of us seem to feel a little bit like failures when it doesn't happen. Not being an overnight success doesn't make you a failure: it might just make you more likely to be a sustainable success when you do make it.
When you're still on the upward slope, however, sometimes that's hard to believe. That's all a part of learning to stand on your own, without needing the overt support of someone in authority. I'm not completely there yet, but I'm a lot closer than I once was. Here's wishing the best in this regard for the rest of you, too. Here's hoping that we all have the endurance that this profession requires.
This one actually was something my sister first showed me a couple of years ago, but I didn't have a blog back then. Maybe you've seen it, but I still find it hilarious:
Great haystacks my destiny...
Thursday, November 1, 2007
The stats as of today:
-37,750 estimated words.
-44,782 actual words.
-Six-and-a-half fully-revised-and-expanded chapters (112 pages total).
-Eleven completed chapters in all (151 pages).