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Whence to Where

I recently tweeted something I thought was a tad clever: “People ask where you get your ideas. It’s not where they come from, it’s where they go that counts.” That’s why it’s ironic that I know where this post came from, but I have no idea where it’s going. But then, no one knows where the story is going when they start.

It’s true that some authors see the ending first, but this presumes that the story won’t take over and write itself. And the ending in itself is not “where the story goes.” That concept encompasses the entire structure, from beginning to end, and perhaps most importantly, the middle.

“What’s that?” you say. “The middle?” And I say, “Yes, the middle.” And there’s a reason I say that (aside from the fact that this is the middle part of this post). It’s simple: Beginnings are tough, but you can start anywhere. Endings are formed by everything that has gone before. Middles, on the other hand, have to carry the beginning and the ending. They have to connect them. They have to be interesting and further the plot without resolving it (or they become endings). They are the most vulnerable to wandering aimlessly. Parallels to middle children are left to the reader’s imagination and experience.

So how do you know where an idea is going to go? That, unfortunately, is not a question anyone can answer completely. Most ideas go nowhere. Every writer has a notebook full of ideas that will never leave that notebook. As for the others, where they go and how the writer determines that, depends on the writer. I favor an organic approach, where each part is like an ending in that it is dictated by what went before. This results in a linear narrative. Other writers may favor a less straightforward approach. To each his own.

Hey, what do you know? Here we are at the ending. And you know, it really doesn’t matter how we got here. It only matters that the journey is complete.

Tomorrow, we start again.

#SFWApro

 

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The Invisible City on Sale

I have decided to make The Invisible City, first volume in The Stolen Future trilogy, available at a great discount: free. (You can find it here and here.) That is 120,000 words of swashbuckling planetary romance, suitable for all ages, for the price of clicking a button.

Several years ago, I found an old manuscript in an attic. It told the story of my several-times-removed uncle Charles Clee, a lieutenant serving on the front lines in France in World War I. In escaping an enemy ambush, he finds himself an unwitting traveler–through time. Catapulted 800,000 years into the future, he discovers a very different Earth, where an alien race dominates humankind, the mutated products of 800 millennia of scientific experiments roam the landscape, and strange and dangerous sights await the unwary traveler.

Struggling to survive, Clee learns that a time machine may exist which could send him back to his own era, where he represents the only hope of rescue for the men of his command. But to do so would mean abandoning the people of the future, for whom he may represent their only chance for freedom.

Rescue the past, or save the future? Either way, he will lose.

 

It’s late, I’m tired, I probably should leave this until tomorrow, but it’s not been a good day writing-wise, so I’d like to go to bed knowing I accomplished something. I’ll try to be coherent.

My last book (The Scent of Death), I wrote up as “The Experiment,” a mostly-weekly rundown of how well I had kept to my 8,000 (later 6,000) word schedule. Now I’m working on Son of the Experiment (The Killing Scar), and it’s not going nearly so well. After seven days, I have close to 5700 words. (It is, again, ironic that under my old system this would have been considered quite satisfactory.) And the words are all right; I have no problem with them; the characters are behaving themselves. Although it took time, I have the major plot points worked out, and the settings, and all that. But it’s been slow, and I’ve been slow to realize why.

The problem, I now understand, is that I’ve been trying to go too fast. Not that I can’t put out 1500 words a day (I wrote 1900 last night), but I’ve put the cart before the horse. The whole basis of my new system is outlining–and I kinda sorta forgot to do enough outlining.

I thought that because I only outlined the last book up through the first dozen chapters and wrote the rest with a vaguer sort of guidance, I could write a whole book that way. Turns out I can’t. You see, as long as you know where you’re headed, the closer you get to the end of the book, the easier it is to write. In the case of The Scent of Death, I was able to apply that principle to the last 40,000 words (and the last 10,000 flew by). But that still means I wrote 20,000 words from a pretty detailed outline, a luxury I haven’t given myself this time.

Last night’s 1900 words came in the form of a prologue–that I wrote after I was 3000 words into the book. If you’re writing a huge prologue after you’ve started the book, something’s wrong with your schedule. It means, most obviously, that you began your book in the wrong place. And if you start in the wrong place, you cannot end in the right place.

So I’m going back to the outline. (I feel better about the whole process already.) I’ll outline the first quarter-to-half of the book, maybe more if it is working. Then I’ll be able to jump into the real writing with a sense of confidence. Yep, I’m rarin’ to go now!

After I get a good night’s sleep. I don’t want my characters yawning in the middle of their dialogue.

#SFWApro

The Scent of Death, the second in the Adventures of Captain Swashbuckle, is live today here and here. Fresh from their deadly trip to the Amazon, the crew find themselves trapped in a web of intrigue and murder that stretches from the halls of Washington, D.C. to the steppes of Mongolia! Hot on the trail of a missing diplomat, hounded by spies from the Japanese Imperial Army, and dodging assassins on two continents, they must solve not only the mystery of the kidnapped ambassador, but of an ancient weapon that kills without a trace–and may claim them as its next victims!

Plus, the first book in the series, The Choking Rain, is on sale in September at the bargain price of $1.99. When an invisible killer terrorizes the streets of Los Angeles, an ex-fighter pilot tries to get to the bottom of the plot, only to end up its latest victim! Can four ordinary people, following in his murdered footsteps, stop an international conspiracy to bring the United States to its knees as a prelude to war?

 

A friend pointed me to an article the other day regarding the latest generation of teenagers and their addiction to their cell phones and tablets. According to this author’s research, the more time they spend staring at their screens, the unhappier they are. Now I am not a teenager, and I don’t have any teen-aged children, so normally this would be of little import to me. But it got me thinking about something else I’d seen lately, not about kids, but about the time spent starting at a screen–in this case, as an indie author.

As I’ve said, I’ve spent more than a little time researching the subject of self-publishing and making it as an independent author. I’ve read a lot of postings and articles by people who make a very good living (six figures annually) doing that. Naturally, the “how” is important to me.

One author I read recently opined that the absolute minimum for success is to put out four novels per year. I’m assuming these aren’t 200,000-word door-stoppers, but that’s still a lot output, a minimum of a quarter-million words. (Right now, I’m aiming for 180,000 words; we’ll see how it goes.) And that means a lot of time spent writing. (These are people who make their living writing; you’d think they have no day job, but apparently some do. Wow.)

I have seen postings saying that to achieve this milestone, you have to work all the time. You are writing or you are promoting or you are researching your audience and how to reach more of them. You do not watch TV, go to the movies, and although some have children, I don’t know when they found the opportunity.

I’m sorry, there are things I’m not willing to give up. Granted, I watch a lot less TV than I used to (something has to go), but I have a wife, and friends, and hobbies, and I will not surrender them. I won’t spend my life staring at a screen.

When I was in high school, I took a class that was supposed to provide life lessons for after you graduated. (Yeah, it was pretty laid back, and no, grading was not tough.) One of our exercises one day was to write an essay naming people we thought were “successful.” I came up with a few obvious folks, wrote about them, and turned it in. Nothing ground-breaking, except that I can still remember thinking that “success” is personal. It’s not making the most money, or fame, it’s being able to do what you want to do. (Maybe I learned more in that class than I thought.) He who dies with the most books doesn’t necessarily win.

Well, what I want to do is not sit in my freezing garret every day for the rest of my life, spinning stories, if it means sacrificing what I find makes life worth living. If I can find a way to write four novels a year and not lose it all, then great. (I may; writing three a year would have been unthinkable as far back as 2016, but I’ve already written one this summer and just started my second.)

I’d love to make six figures with my writing. I’d love to shower my wife with vacations to make up for all the time she’s allowed me to leave her for the company of my fictional friends. But if I spend my whole life writing, then she’s going to spending those vacations alone…

…and I don’t think that’s the point.

#SFWApro

 

 

 

 

To go along with the The Scent of Death (available for pre-order now at Amazon and Smashwords, hint, hint), I ordered a new cover for book no. 1 in the series, The Choking Rain (on sale through September). Although the cover has been uploaded, those sites have not yet posted it, so here, for the first time ever, in a Graffiti on the Walls of Time exclusive, is the new cover for The Choking Rain.

cover

 

Believe in Miracles

Lately, life has developed a way of grabbing me by the scruff of the neck, shaking me around, and saying, “Things don’t always work out the way you think! You’re not always right! Stop analyzing and just believe!”

Now, I’m not talking about a religious conversion here, but a couple of things have happened lately that jerked my head around ninety degrees. In short, I don’t know everything.

As you all know, prior to very recently, the fastest I’d ever written a book was just over a year. Most had taken longer (although in some cases there were extrinsic circumstances that slowed me down). But a few months ago, I decided to see if I could write a book more quickly, using outlining and a strict daily word requirement. Part of the reason I hadn’t been fast before was because I used 500 words as a benchmark, 1000 words if I was feeling ambitious. But I knew I could do better, because I had done so before, albeit in short stretches.

And I wrote a 57,000-word novel in 55 days. It still sounds weird when I write it. But it told me that I could do things I never thought I could do.

Then, in a completely unrelated episode, last night I attended a football game. It was hot and muggy; it rained. It was one of the ugliest games I ever saw. We had minimal offense; we had virtually no effective defense. People were leaving the stands in droves. I was ready to leave. As the third quarter wound down, UCLA was losing 44-10.

We won.

In the greatest comeback in school history, we scored five consecutive touchdowns, including one in the last minute. No one would have given a plugged nickel for our chances, except apparently the players. They believed.

If I can write a book in under two months, if the Bruins can come back from a 34-point deficit in twenty minutes, how can you not believe that the impossible is merely the unlikely with good PR?

In the past month, I have both done and seen things that I would have sworn were impossible. But they happened. From now on, when my reasoning brain tells me that this is a brutal business, that success may never in my grasp, that making it as an author is practically impossible…

I’m going to say, “Yeah? That’s your opinion. Me? I’ve seen miracles.”

#SFWApro