Monday, September 22, 2008

Goodbye Puppy

A bit of bad news to report. Nikolai, our beagle, died tonight. He's been having some serious pain in his back left leg for several weeks now. We've been increasing the dosage of pain meds over the past week or two, but it just hasn't had any effect. It turns out he had bone cancer, which according to the doctor is one of the excruciatingly painful forms of cancer for dogs. Tonight he couldn't stand up, couldn't lay down, couldn't poop -- he was just in agony. We took him to a veterinary emergency room about 11:30 tonight and the doctors said there just wasn't anything more they could do for him -- he was already on the maximum dose and it wasn't having any effect at all. They brought him back to me, and he didn't even wag his tail or lift his head up to see me because he was hurting so bad, so I knew it was time. He died at 12:45 AM. I held him and told him everyone loved him right up until the end.

He was 14, so he had a good long run with us. He's been with us a long time, a lot longer than anyone thought he would (especially since he was a purebred, which don't live as long -- he was also the runt of the litter). He was a very good boy, the world's smartest beagle. We're going to tell the girls in the morning and will call my son tomorrow afternoon.


Monday, September 01, 2008

The End (again)

Yesterday I finished the second draft of my novel -- much rejoicing! This is the first version to be a functionally complete story, the first that can actually be read. It has the new 1945 storyline intertwined with the main storyline, with both arcs reaching climax at the same point. I was able to draw parallels throughout the book between the two arcs, and as a result, I think the book is much deeper and richer than it would be otherwise.

What I don't know at this point is whether the writing is any good!

Now, normally, I know when I've been writing well. I can re-read a turn of phrase and say to myself, "Damn, that's pretty good!" But with this latest revision, I'm way too close to it to even know. I was focused on getting the plot written and the characters illustrated through the text. As a result, while the book is probably okay, it's almost certainly not at the "breakout level" of fiction that it must be before it can go out. Sending out a publishable, but not breakout book can kill your career. If you don't get the sell-through on this first book, you probably will not sell a second one. "Good enough" is actually worse than not publishing at all!

So, even if the book reads fairly well now (and I have no idea if it does), it's nowhere near done. On the plus side, I now have a complete manuscript that I can start applying Maass' Breakout Novel Workbook exercises to -- which long-time readers of this blog may recall is what convinced me to start writing a novel in the first place! At any rate, I loaded the draft onto my wife's Sony Reader so that she can be the first reader. I also printed out a paperback-sized version and used the "perfect binding" techniques I saw on the web to make a print version of the book. It's pretty neat to see it actually looking like a novel! I gave this to a very good friend of ours, though I'm not sure this particular genre will be her cup of tea. I'll be very curious to see what they think.

So now I'm going to have to get some distance from the book so I can see where I need to go from here. I'm going to start brainstorming the plot for the next one, then in a month or two I'll come back to the current story. I may play around with some of Don Maass' exercises as well -- that should help both this book and the next one.

Good progress!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Status Report

I noticed that a few people actually check this blog periodically, so maybe there's a passing interest out there in what I'm doing. Just an update, then: I am working on the second revision of the book now. I've finished Act II and am starting the last Act today. A few days after I finished the first draft, we went to Payson to spend the weekend with my wife's mother at their cabin. I was sitting down for breakfast, and my wife noticed I had an odd look on my face.

"Thinking about your book?" she asks.


"Got a new idea for it?"


"Is it going to be a lot of work?"


And sure enough, it is. But I can already see the end result is worth it. Basically I've added in a second storyline set in 1945 around the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, in World War II. It's told from the point of view of the protagonist's wife, Elisia, whose funeral in 2007 starts off the main storyline. The result is that we not only get to know Elisia, we also get to learn about Farmer (the protagonist) from her point of view. I'm drawing strong parallels between the storylines. In fact, the answer to the mystery of the main plotline will actually have its roots in the 1945 plotline. Both plotlines will climax at the same point, even though they take place 62 years apart -- the solution echoes across the two time periods. Pretty neat, assuming I'm pulling it off correctly. So far, so good, though.

Obviously that means I have to write the second storyline, so I'm doing that as part of the revision process. All of the continuity problems mentioned in my previous post have been resolved as well, so that's a relief. I'm really enjoying writing about Elisia and letting the reader get to know her directly rather than just through Farmer's memories of her.

In other news, I've been in contact with an agent from Donald Maass' agency, which is hands-down my first choice for representation. He critiqued my query letter for me and gave me a few suggestions. He said the final version was "first-rate" and definitely ready to go. One of his notes after the plot hook paragraph was "Wow! I want to read this one!", so that is certainly encouraging. He also encouraged me to query him "for real" when the book is ready. I expect that will be a couple of months, though, in which time he may have completely forgotten who I am. Ah well. I had planned to have this next draft ready for initial critique by the end of the week, but both kids are violently ill right now, so I'm not going to make that goal (and the semester starts next week). Hopefully I'll only be a week or so late, though. We'll see.

I'm really stoked about the agent's response, though. Landing any agent at Don Maass would simply be the best possible thing that could happen to me professionally, but I like Stephen personall,y as well. I feel like we could work together very easily. And as long-time readers of this blog know, Don Maass' philosophy towards writing almost exactly matches my own in any event.

I'll post more when this draft is in a form that I might actually show to someone...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The End

I just wanted to share that tonight I reached those two magical words, "The End", in my modern fantasy novel, The Farmer Takes a Life. My goal was to reach 80,000 words during the month (I actually started on 16 May); the final total came in at 81,696 words, or about 460 manuscript pages. It took me 28 days to get the first draft done.

I still need to fix one major plot hole. I decided that for best dramatic effect, I needed to move a scene from the beginning of Act II to the end of Act II. Unfortunately, an item which appears for the first time in and is critical for the moved scene also needs to appear in the (now) earlier scene. I'm not sure how I'm going to fix that, but I made the decision not to slow down writing the first draft to figure it out. I think it was probably the right choice.

I also think I will expand a couple of chapters that focus on the protagonist's friends when they are separated -- they could use the character development. As long as I keep it under 100,000 words total, I should be okay. The story is good, but the writing is, as I believe Nora Roberts put it, words vomited onto the page. That will get fixed in the months to come. I'll be using WriteWay ( for the revision process -- great for moving scenes around and organizing research.

Some statistics and advice for those who might be interested:

  • I usually wrote between 3000 and 4000 words (15 to 20 pages) a day.
  • I wrote every day, including weekends, except for taking my birthday (the 30th) off, and the two days I had a 102 fever from food poisoning (and I managed to write 1200 words each day even then).
  • I usually spent between 3 and 4 hours to reach my 3000-word goal each day.
  • I took a five or ten minute break every 500 words. This was very, very important -- otherwise I would have been too fatigued to write the next day.
  • If you are writing in the present day, get a copy of The Writer's Guide to Places, by Prues and Heffron. It saved me from having to get up to research locations on the Net. I'll still need to do research to flesh it out, but I didn't have to interrupt the writing of the first draft.
  • Get an AlphaSmart Neo ( Seriously. It's the best writing investment you'll ever make. You can write anywhere and in short snatches. It doesn't require booting up orshutting down, no need to save, and it's always ready when you've goteven five minutes to spare.
  • The computer is far too much of a distraction for me. I had to stay away when writing, hence the Neo was absolute godsend.
  • Most of my writing was done between 10 AM and 3 PM, though as mentioned, I found I could write pretty much anytime with the Neo.

It's a good feeling to finally have the whole story down on paper. I'm going to be taking a course in writing a query letter from Gotham Writers' Workshop that is supposedly going to be taught by an agent. One of the agents who sometimes teaches the course is actually the very agent who is first on my list, so it's a good opportunity. I've got a long way to go before I'm ready to send anything out, though.

I do, however, have a marketing plan for the novel. The book just screams for bumper stickers and t-shirts. There are some way-cool sayings that kept popping into my head as I was writing. It'd be fun to see those around town! I have also reserved a domain name,, which will serve as the home page for the series.

Much rejoicing!