Boy, Interrupted

I set ambitious writing goals for this year.

Goal 1: Finish the first draft of BENEATH A SUNDERED SKY (150,000 words)

Goal 2: Finish the first draft of WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR? (15,000 words)

Goal 3: Finish the third (first final) draft of PRINCE OF CATS (50,000 words)

Goal 4: Rewrite BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE (150,000 words)

All in all, I set goals to deal with the largest word count I've ever attempted in a single year. (Granted, some of it had been touched before so maybe that should have a .75 modifier to the word count in terms of difficulty. I can't say for sure.) I didn't set these goals with a "let's see how much of this I can do" mindset. I set goals I expect to achieve. Thus I expected to achieve all four goals.

So why am I obviously leading up to the fact that I'm not going to achieve all four goals? Because it's March and I'm already sick FOR THE THIRD TIME THIS YEAR! I'm not one of those people that get sick every decade. I have a crappy immune system. January and I are not friends. I get sick in January almost every year. Then again at the end of autumn or around there when the weather is turning and my allergies are kicking my ass and everyone has forgotten how to cover their mouths for some reason.

The fact that I've already been sick three times this year is not a good sign. It certainly hasn't made writing easier. It took a bit to get back up to speed after the first time I got sick. Then, after the second time I got sick, I realized everything I had written between those illnesses was absolute shit and needed to be deleted. I not only wasted a month of writing time, I wasted the paltry 20,000 words I wrote in that month (which is half of what I usually write in a month, in case you're wondering).

Beginning the year with SUNDERED SKY and seeing how easily the setting fell onto the page, I didn't think it unrealistic at all to finish it in three months. Add a couple weeks to switch gears and finish CROOKED DOOR and I had thought to have points one and two scratched off by April. I thought maybe to add goals 1.1 and 2.1, revising a second draft over the summer for each of those stories.

It's March 8th and I'm at 50,000 words of goal one. At this pace, I'll finish the book by September! Horror! What a wasted year that would be. I don't expect that to be the issue, obviously. Once I'm well, the word count pace will increase, but damn it's hard to feel that way when I'm on illness number three and I can only manage enough mental capacity to realize I'm sucking it hard this year.

How's your progress coming? Hopefully better than mine.

That question is for everyone, but especially Nate. Everyone stare at Nate and remind him he should not be reading this journal entry. He should be writing his novel. Now. Go. Shoo. Be creative.


What what? Two posts in a week? That's crazy! The Mayans were right! Run for your lives!

...wait, never mind, that last post was on Friday, so this is technically a new week. Move along. Nothing to see here.

I used to post much more frequently. Technically I'm supposed to be past my busy time of year and have more time for posting, but my editors turned over content two months late. Don't worry. In educational publishing, that's early. But it leaves me two weeks to do the work for which I should have seven. Huzzah!

I am typing this out, though, because I've been noticing a lot of blog-fading going on without much explanation as to why. I see a lot of apologies when they post, which I was doing as well. After awhile that gets tiring. I get it. You're sorry. But if you can't post five times a week like you used to, then post once a week and announce there is a change. Better that then apologizing every week when you only post once.


Anyway, I've been posting here less. It has nothing to do with you guys. You're great. I like having you here, and conversing with you in the comments. It's because I didn't make it where I wanted to make it in 2011. I'm getting tired of blogging about writing. We all start there, because that's what we have in common, but so much of the conversation on the industry has turned vitriolic, that I don't feel like participating in that any more.

And really, I wanted to talk about other things, exciting things, new things that you can't get on other blogs. I wanted to talk about my writing. Specifically that I had signed with an agent, that we had gone on submission, that I was going to have a book coming out, and so many of the other things that I deal with on a professional level as a project manager in educational publishing but not as a writer in trade publishing.

This isn't a writing blog. Hell, it's not a blog at all, as I so often say. It's a journal. I want to talk about things that are happening, but right now, the same things are happening that happened last year. I have an agent looking at my work. I'm waiting patiently. I'm writing new things. Washing, Rinse, Repeat. I feel like I'm just blowing hot air until I can deliver on what I say I'm going to do. I am going to sign with an agent. I am going to get a book deal. I am going to accomplish my goals. And when I start another new manuscript, it gets hard to come here and tell you how excited I am.

Incidentally, I'm really excited about my current works in progress. What's Behind the Crooked Door is unlike anything I've written before. Beneath a Sundered Sky is the story I've wanted to write since I was five. That really jazzes a person up. Things are awesome! They could be awesomer [ahem, unnamed agent reading my stuff right now]. I hope eventually they will be awesomest [I'm a winner! Really! Pick me!]. But until then, I'll make do with awesome.

I hope my lack of posting does not reflect poorly on what I have to say.

My people, they have but one bunghole

Extra extra extra tired today. Thus I talk to anyone and everyone to keep myself awake. This does not lead to quality work, but does lead to some fun creativity. Follow this thought process:

I'm talking to my friend Michelle. She says she needs to go eat lunch before she passes out. I keep talking because if I don't I'LL pass out. Eventually I hit a lull and tell her to go eat a burrito


Burrito makes me think of burro.


Burro is a fun word. It makes me think of a really long trilled R. Burrrrrrrrro


Trilled Rs make me think of Roberto. Flicking that R right at the beginning.


Roberto morphs into Boberto


I am changing the name of the main character in WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR? from Brian to Rob just so I can have a character call him Boberto.

This name is awesome. Envy Boberto. He gets all the chicks.

POV to the FACE!

Elizabeth Poole was talking about having double first person in her current WIP. Meaning, she has two main characters and each of them narrate their part of the story from a first-person POV. I warned against this as a style that required IMMENSE precision. If you do not perfectly nail this kind of writing, it's a disaster. There is no "average" double first person. You get it or you don't.

So of course, I then start wondering if there is anything I could write as double-first person. Certainly THE RED SOCK SOCIETY will have two main characters, Klara and Otwald. Could I do that?

I went over all my stories and no, no there's nothing I'm writing or have queued that would benefit from this POV structure. (If I were writing an enhanced ebook, it would be an interesting experience to change font and color to denote a change in character POV, but that's a ways off and I still don't have anything that would benefit.)

I don't write in first person POV. Ever. It's the most overused POV in the industry, in my opinion. Which made me wonder, can I write it? I can't think of any story I have that would be better for being in first person, but is that because I think it's inferior to third person? Maybe I should try and see if I can hack it.

So, I decided to use the manuscript that is going to be so out there anyway, first person can't screw it up WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR? Having written that little bit yesterday, I think it'll actually be better in tone in first person.

And that's when my mind dropped the gauntlet. You want to try something hard? You want to break out of the mold and try something radical? You can't do double-first person but you can...

WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR? begins as a first person POV and shifts (in such a way that the reader understands the shift) to second person POV. Second person POV is a recipe for failure, but I'm going to work it like Sarah Palin at a Tea Party rally.

I'm even contemplating an illusory choose-your-own ending, but that will take a LOT of work in the composition department for what I have in mind. We'll see if this makes for a super awesome story or just a gimmick. I don't do gimmicks, so if it's a distraction, it gets the boot. But if it works, hot damn this is going to be fun.


This story began as a ponderance. I thought of it from time to time. It sat in my brain like a seed. Will it sprout or will it just lay there? It sprouted a little, but I doubted enough to make a story out of it. My wife then asked me what I was talking about and gave the seed enough water to sprout. She demanded I write the story, you see. And I tend to try and write stories when they are asked for. I've always been that way and I'm not sure why it is.

This story also makes me think of a comment Hannah Mosk said on Twitter. She felt the phase should not be "Write what you know" but "Write what you've read." She felt that reading on a subject was just as good as experiencing something firsthand. This is a complicated argument to respond to because she's right and wrong at the same time.

"Write what you know" is not "Write what you've experienced" or we wouldn't have a lot of books written in a year. It means to know your subject. Know it, don't just wing it or half-ass it. Reading enough books, like she suggests, will give you the information you need to write on the subject. At the same time, a first-hand experience will always trump whatever you've read. Mork from Ork describes it best in "Good Will Hunting." You can read a book on the Sistine Chapel, but it won't compare to the experience of standing there and smelling the air. You can write about your experience at the Sistine Chapel or you can about how someone else wrote about his experience at the Sistine Chapel. It has a generational dilution effect. At some point, it will become a stereotype or a cliche and not an experience at all.

The reason why I went on that rather long tangent is because WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR? is a fairy tale noir set in Brooklyn. I've never been to Brooklyn. And while I can try to translate what I've seen from other media (movies, TV, books), it will not be the same as if I went to Brooklyn (to which I'll have to arrange a trip next year). Seeing things first hand will make it a thousand times more real than if I just try to paint what I've seen in other people's paintings.

And with that, an excerpt from WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR? Same caveats as before (caveats I make with every excerpt--I post first drafts. I like comments, but don't freak out on the quality of the writing).


I went to a bar; I sat at the bar,
I met a woman named violet.
I bought us drinks; we drank our drinks,
Then we had sex most violent

I said farewell; I did not fare well,
I had no idea what else was in store.
I stumbled out; I passed right out,
Then awoke at the crooked door.


“Knock it off, Tommy.” I waved my hand back and forth, trying to smack the four-year-old away. I should never have given my sister a key. More importantly, I should ever have showed my nephew where I kept all my Nerf weapons.

“Tommy!” My voice cracked. I couldn't remember the last time I had that much to drink. Well, yes I could, now that I thought about it. My first year after college. I fell down the stairs and met that Greek girl. God that had been a good time.

Violet's passionate screams slapped me harder than Tommy and my makeshift Nerf broadsword. Slapped me right in the crotch. The audio came with blessed video, and I saw her clear as day. Rich brown skin, long black hair, curves to die for, breasts to kill with. She sat on top of me and rocked as hard as she could.

“Tommy, go to mommy,” I said. Better get the kid out of here before he got an impromptu lesson on anatomy. Yes, it's supposed to get hard like that. Yes, that's as big as it gets.

I was wet. Wet all over. Not an, 'I got so drunk I pissed myself,' which I have thankfully avoided to date. More a 'You're lying in the gutter and a crazy homeless guy is peeing on you.'

My eyes shot open. This wasn't my bedroom. This wasn't my apartment. This was an alley. This was the gutter. I really was lying in the gutter.

“Oh motherfucker!” I shooed the dog away. Too late. My pants were soaked. I could already smell it. I gagged on the overwhelming scent of urine. I breathed through my mouth until I was certain I wouldn't vomit.

Not that there was any guarantee. My head still pounded. I'm not what one calls a big drinker. I'm a social drinker to be sure, two-fingered Scotch on the rocks or a pomegranate martini.

Hey, don't judge. That shit is delicious.

I'm thirty-five years old, and this is my first hangover. If I could, I'd pull off my head and leave it on a shelf until this passed. How do people do this kind of thing every weekend? Why do people do this kind of thing every weekend? I didn't understand it in college, and I don't understand it now.

My roommates used to compete to see who had gotten the more drunk that particular weekend. My roommates were fucking stupid. This was nothing short of masochism. Might as well wear a studded leather thong and put a ball gag in my mouth.

“Good god,” I muttered as I stood up. I had to admit that was the best sex I had had in—ever. If getting drunk and waking up in the gutter while a dog peed on you was the price, it was a price happily paid. I would never have agreed to that beforehand, but hindsight was 20/20...

Well, right now, more like 20/80. Where the hell was I?

The alley was dark, just before dawn dark. There were no street lamps and nothing came from the end of the alley or from the windows above. There must have been a blackout. I looked around for sparks shooting from a transformer. Why the fuck I thought I'd find the transformer in that alley, I had no idea, and it wasn't like I could have fixed the thing even if it was there. I just wanted a definite explanation as to why everything was dark. When you can't remember how you got somewhere, even the most basic hard fact is reassuring.

A cloud passed away, and the full moon came out. It was huge. I don't think I had ever seen the moon that big. After making sure no one was around to see, I reached up and tried to grab it. Nope, still out of reach.

There was a door in front of me. I stood maybe three feet away from the side of a nondescript building. It could be any New York building. There wasn't a lot of diversity in this part of Brooklyn.

Wind Sprints

I wrote the first draft of THE TRIAD SOCIETY. I didn't like it. It wasn't bad necessarily. It just wasn't the story I set out to write. The story I had planned was this huge intricate intrigue that spanned the politics of the university, the city, the kingdom! And in the end, a meeting made at the beginning of the book would afford the hero an opportunity to make his case and win the day.

In the first draft, he fills out the paperwork for the meeting and then it's never mentioned again. The story took a MASSIVE left turn and finished in half the word count I originally expected. After what I felt was the success of WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING (in terms of story even though I never landed an agent), finishing THE TRIAD SOCIETY with such a mediocre offering really brought me down.

So, I broke my routine. Normally, when I finish a manuscript first draft, I will take a few weeks off and read a book or three. Then I'll go back and revise. This time, I read a couple books, but then I started work on JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. I usually start a new manuscript while the previous ms is with beta readers. I'll then stop and revise for the third draft. This means I'm only about 12,000 words into a manuscript.

Instead, I wrote 32,000 words before even starting on the second draft. What happened, though, was THE TRIAD SOCIETY went from mediocre to solid. I still like WANTED's story more, but Liz tells me that she likes TTS better. After struggling to find my rhythm and pacing, I wrote another 25,000 words on JH before revising TTS again.

So now we're done with TTS and it's ready to go to agents in its awesome state. The longer break, I think, saved an average manuscript from remaining average. HOWEVER, it's also affected the newer manuscript in a negative fashion. It's hard to bounce between voices, especially when one is a bureaucratic fantasy and the other is an anarchic sci-fi. It's even harder to do it twice!

If writing is sunshine, revising is sunshine bent through a magnifying glass that burns the ant in the driveway. It's a complete immersion in a manuscript where you question every word choice, sentence structure, and plot point. You can't just revise an entire manuscript and then go back to another manuscript that's 2/3 finished. At least, I can't.

So once again, I find myself without momentum on JH. Maybe I really should stop and try something else for awhile. In addition to breaking the rules, it feels shitting to stop working on a manuscript that is 30,000 words from the end. What I really need is a jumpstart. I'm not having trouble writing JH. I know what comes next. But the motivation is gone. I feel like I should still be working on TTS or even (in total violation of the rules), it's sequel THE RED SOCK SOCIETY.

That is when I thought of a new exercise. Wind sprints. Run, stop, run, stop. Get your heartbeat up before basketball practice where you'll have to run up and down the court and Joe is a chubby little kid and sucks at running, so he needs all the warmup he can get.

I have a number of stories on deck: THE SEVENTH SACRIFICE, WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR?, THE RED SOCK SOCIETY, and THE HOUSE ON SANDWICH NOTCH LANE. Plenty of things to dabble in. And dabbling is exactly what we're going to do. I'm going to write the first chapter on all or some of these but not commit to writing any of them. Basically, I'm doing writing wind sprints. I need to get my writing heart rate up so finishing JH doesn't seem so laborious. And, it lets me create some new things with new voices and just revel in creativity for creativity's sake.

Two posts following this one will have chapter 1 of 7Sac and CROOKED. I may post more later if the need arises or I may hop back into JH and finish that thing off.

Testing Your Mettle

One WIP at a time. There's a reason I have that rule, a very important reason. When you're writing your novel and things get hard, your imagination is your worst enemy. When people talk about ideas of how to get inspired, they're ignoring a greater problem: only writing when you're inspired. You need to be able to write even if you're not inspired. There are going to be entire chapters that don't thrill you. You just have to slog through. If you only write when you're inspired, you'll finish a tiny fraction of your proposed manuscripts.

Things were kind of tight on Thursday and Friday for my WIP. So what happened over the weekend? I had ideas for THE RED SOCK SOCIETY, THE SEVENTH SACRIFICE, and WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR? I was incredibly creative on every project except the one that needs my attention.

Why? Because inspiration is easy. If I write to inspiration, I'll die with a thousand half-finished novels. No, I need to pocket those other mss for when their time comes and buckle down on the one that has 50,000 words and needs another 50k so it can be complete. I want to finish this thing so I can start work on one of those others and finish that one and so on.

It is the substance of a writer that he can write. Period. Not write when the mood strikes him or when it's easy. You understand your craft and you can take it to the appropriate conclusion. New ideas are like will-o-wisps. It's easy to get lured off by the exciting and easy, but when you've sated your writing enthusiasm on this new wellspring, you find yourself standing in the middle of a swamp, sinking in the mire of incomplete work.

Focus. Prove your mettle. Finish what you started. There will be time for the next work when you're done with this one.

A Ponderance: What do you think is back there?

My good online friend and beta reader, LurkerWithout works nights at a hotel. Having held this job myself, I understand his psychological pain. To pass the time, he will occasionally doodle and share those doodles with the masses. (That's you and me, in case you were wondering just who was amassed.) Today's offering is worth reposting, both for its humor, but in particular the fourth panel:

I love the angle of the door and the streaks that give it texture and make me feel like I'm looking at a door that's really there and really weird. But it's the question! The question demands an answer and my brain just starts turning.

What is behind the crooked door?

Is it a crooked world? Is it a world filled with optical illusions where everything is level, but based on its craft, everyone walks slanted in an attempt to maintain their balance? Or is it metaphorical? Is the world on that side the same as ours but crooked? Half-way between this world and the bizarro world, where everything seems normal until the twelve-foot tall white rabbit comes out of his pawn shop and beats the shit out of you because you were looking through the window too long. Don't fuck with the white rabbit. If you're looking you're buying else move along.

So move along you do, walking down a street like any other you might walk in New York at night, feeling dirtier than it really is because the air is stagnant and filled with exhaust. You turn in an alley because that's what one does when he feels like he's being followed and no matter where you go, you always feel like you're being followed inside the crooked door. That's where you meet Tommy the Rat, but he's not a squealer. Bobby the Hamster is, but Bobby the Hamster is Tommy's bitch and the hamster doesn't do anything without the rat's say so (unless you can get Bobby alone and buy him an orange soda, but since you don't have the peach pits to pay up, how are you going to get an orange soda?).

All you have is cloth money (as dollars are cloth not paper, so we really need to change that phrase) and that doesn't get you very far here. You need yourself some peach pits or people will think you're a chump.

Maybe you can turn a trick or two, but the corners are already full of fellas and their pimp looks like she can kick your ass. It doesn't much anyway cause the fellas are as broke as you. No one wants humans anymore. There's nothing finer than the foxes uptown. They don't have pimps. They have services with phone lines and operators. An hour with a fox costs more pits than you could make in a year turning tricks down on the corner, so just give that up and see if you can't pick up some day labor down by the docks.

When does the sun rise here?