Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Writing

He stands on white sand, the beach of beginning, the place where many have come and stood, and they stared out at that sea, at that journey that for now is placid and calm, a sun-drenched sail across waveless waters, their destination within reach; but he knows it is not so; he knows there are sunken ships just beyond the clear waters, watery graves among the jutting rocks, the waves that rise and threaten, the danger, the confusion, when the compass is spinning, the map is wrong, gone, destroyed; he knows what swims out there in the night, the stars sparkle on raging waters, but below is the beast, the destroyer who would drag him down to the dark, the darkness, the empty black below the world where words are never seen and they are buried, where stories have rotted; he should turn around and walk back to safety, to the place where morning comes without an alarm and he has only to travel from A to B, he does not have to create A or B or worry about C and Z, not in this place where he is a drone, because there is a path there already; he is not in danger of sinking because he is not sailing there, not creating there, he is like everyone else--but he won't turn back because he is also empty there, he is full of dreams that become nothing, he is incomplete . . . he pulls the boat into the water, he raises the sail, he makes for the horizon; he will face the waves, the darkness, the beast below, he will reach the end of the world, he will write this story, he will be a scribe for this tale, because he must, because there is beauty at the other end, there is a journey complete--now he goes, he parts the water, he sails, sails, writes.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Brits Have All The Fun

I'm reading the new book from one of my favorite writers: THE SKIN MAP by Stephen R. Lawhead. I'm loving it for many reasons. The story is pushing the limits of high concept ideas. The characters are funny, likeable, a joy to read. There is danger, mystery, and pubs.
While all this is good and swell, what's really charming me is the british accent of the book. I don't know how they get away with it, but the Brits seem to be able to break writing "rules" that us Americans have to follow under penalty of death, or worse, rejection.

Adverbs, for instance. Nearly every single "how to write" book out there tells you to chop adverbs from your writing as though they were cancerous growths. That doesn't stop Lawhead or Neil Gaiman from using them happily, excitedly, thickly.

Also, apparently Brits don't have to spell things correctly. They can have a character analyse a full-colour catalogue that features a centre-spread advertisement about the theatre, and their editors won't even blink an eye.

British people sound cool.

The BBC produces awesome television.
Finally: tea. Tea with breakfast, tea with lunch, tea with dinner--oh, and don't forget tea time. Drinking tea makes us Americans feel important, comfortable, and sophisticated. Brits drink tea because they like it. They already feel comfortable about their important sophistication.

Oh!--I hear the teapot singing. I best be off. Till next time, chap!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ideas

So yesterday I sent off the first fifty pages of my "chick lit thriller" to my agent. I have no idea what she is going to think. Will she love it? Hate it? Tell me I have no business trying to write first-person female characters?

Who knows.

While I wait for her response, I was contemplating what I should work on. I could just plunge ahead and write the rest of the book, but if she suggests any major changes to the characters or plot, I'd rather implement those now instead of have to change everything later.

I was contemplating, and then the thing happened that every writer lives for: A NEW BOOK IDEA!

These can come out of nowhere. They usually hit like a pummel stone brick between the eyes. BAM! You can't stop thinking about it. It consumes you. My wife and I spent at least an hour talking about the story, fleshing out the characters and the plot. I can't get it out of my head.

I must write it.

These are some images, whether I actually saw them or whether they were in my head, that helped spark and form this new book idea:



         

 The only way to free myself of these images is to write them. So off I go!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

More Likeable


When creating a character in a novel, authors will often give the character a hard time to make him or her more likeable to the reader. We sympathize with somebody getting a flat tire, dropping their wallet into the sewer, or having their refrigerator die and all of their food go bad. 

It's important to make characters likeable in a novel as quickly as possible. You want your reader to truly care about them so when they are in danger later in the story, the reader isn't rooting for them to get shot. 

It's hard to enjoy reading about someone who is depressed, whiny, negative, obnoxious, rude, smelly, and otherwise unpleasant. We deal with those sort of people every day. We might be those people. When we pick up a book, we want to read about someone who has genuine problems but is trying so hard to do their best in spite of them. That makes a hero. That's what we like.

Last night, my family and I were all tired from a long day and ready to settle in for a relaxing evening. Suddenly, we heard the sound of spraying water in the bathroom. Come to find out, a pipe in the wall had cracked and the floor was quickly becoming a lake.

I cut into the wall, cut out the broken piece of pipe, and glued in a new one. Then I stayed up until eleven to let it dry and make sure everything worked. Thankfully, it did.

So today I'm a more likeable character. Somebody out there in a different dimension is reading the novel of my life, and they like me a little more.

Tell yourself that the next time you burn your hair with the curling iron, your washing machine stops working, you run out of gas, or your checkbook bounces. You're a more likeable character now! Happy you!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rated

Here's an interesting question: Why don't books have content ratings?

Everyone is aware of content ratings for movies. We know what PG means, PG-13, R and so forth. We accept this when it comes to movies. Can you imagine what it would be like without this rating system?
Video games have a similar rating system. They range from E for Everyone to M for Mature, and even to AO for Adult Only. Like movies, the games are not only rated, but the content is made note of: Language, Blood, Violence, etc. Many a parent has relied on this system to pick out appropriate games for their kids, and many a sixteen-year-old has moaned over not being able to purchase the latest mature rated Halo game.
Even music has a Content Advisory rating for the really naughty stuff--though, sadly, this has become something of a mark of status for some artists.

So we come to books. Why isn't there a content rating system for books? Should there be?

Here's my thoughts on both of those questions.

It would be very sticky business to give a book a specific rating, such as PG-13, because of the simple fact that so much of a novel's content depends on the reader's imagination. Also, there is a substantial group of people who seem to think that kids should be encouraged to read anything they like in order to broaden their horizons. These people and others would certainly cry foul if the latest popular young adult novel earned a PG-13 rating claiming it questionable for children under the age of thirteen.

Should there be a rating system? I don't think we could or even should implement a strict system to books. There is simply too many gray areas in literature to say that certain descriptions of violence or sensuality are of a level too extreme for a certain age. A writer could mention a women's a low cut blouse and for Reader #1 that doesn't show a thing, but for Reader #2, the book just became a Zack Snyder movie.

Instead, I think it would be appropriate for books to have a brief content description. Perhaps this could be on the inside of the cover somewhere--just a few lines that mention the potentially offensive material in the book. Maybe the book has "Some Language" or perhaps it contains "Strong Language" or maybe it is written by a certain Mr. King and contains "Lots And Lots And Lots Of Not Very Nice Words".

I, for one, would be in favor a simple system like this. I also think parents would appreciate being able to flip open a cover and see that the book their eight-year-old wants to read contains Violence, Language, Sexual Content, And Pervasive Boogers Throughout.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Write a Woman Like a Man

It’s official: I’ve lost my mind. I’m going through my day thinking, How would I feel about this situation as a woman? I’m not confused about my gender—oh no siree. So what's happening to me?


I’m writing a book told from the first-person viewpoint of a woman.
I’ve written female characters before, but never like this. I’m totally in this gal’s head. A few days ago, I wrote this sentence:

I don’t hate pink or prada—I am a woman, after all—but there comes a point when too much is too much.

And this little charmer of a paragraph:

I tried to shake it off. I had to assume that it was simply a combination of lack of sleep, the lingering head cold, the tilting of the earth. Growing up, whenever I did something out of the ordinary, my brother would always say I was PMSing. I hated that.
Here’s what scares me: so far, this has all come easily to me. Eight years ago, I wouldn’t have had a clue. Now that I’ve been blessed with seven years of marriage, I have at least a fraction of an idea about how women think.

With this novel, I’m not trying to write like a woman. I’m trying to write like a man, but it just so happens that my character is a female. I think I’m finding a balance that both men and women readers would enjoy. That’s my goal anyway.

I want women who like chick lit and women’s fiction to pick this up and love every moment. At the same time, I want men who can’t get enough James Patterson or Dean Koontz to carry this with them on their business trip and stay up too late tearing through the pages.
I’ll tell you all more about the book later. Maybe I’ll post some chapters when they are ready.

Who knows—maybe this will be the book that lands a deal and rockets me to bestseller stardom! Maybe I’ll look back at this in ten years and laugh at my naiveté.

Maybe I’ll finally realize that God made me a man for a good reason, and I shouldn’t spend so much time thinking about lipstick.

Maybe.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Shorter is Better!

I just don't have time anymore. No time for sleeping, no time for eating, no time for reading, no time for writing blogs. But I make time. I have to. I would never get any writing done if I didn't. 
My writing time is six AM to eight AM. If that alarm blares and I hit snooze, I don't get to write. Plain and simple. It's up to me. It's my fault if I don't get anything done.

I get up and write because I love it. I would like it to become my career someday, and I know if that's going to happen, it's going to take work. So I work at it. It ain't always a picnic, but it's a journey, an adventure. A quest. I'm cool with that.

I'm talking about time because I'm not the only one who doesn't have any. You're a busy gal/guy, and you're thinking, "If James doesn't get to the point soon, I'm going to have stop reading this and get back to work. Or maybe I'll go play Farmville."

I hear ya.

You ever pick a novel and start reading and get twenty pages into it and wonder if the chapter is ever going to end? Is it just me, or do long chapters feel more like work than enjoyment?

In my opinion, short chapters are the wave of the future. James Patterson has obviously picked up on this--you'd be hard pressed to find a new Patterson novel with a chapter more than five pages long. 
Whether we admit it or not, our culture is suffering from OCD. We're impatient. We're fidgeters. We want it and we WANT IT NOW!

Short chapters deliver that. They give you a chance to save your spot and put the book down--but wait! If you read only five more pages, you'll be to the next chapter and then--hey, look, the chapter after that is only three pages!
Some people might say that short chapters break up the mood. Some people are wrong. Some people don't have toddlers at home.

I'm a short chapter guy. I like to read short chapters, I like to write them. I'm not ashamed.

What do you like?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Video Blog

This is the first of hopefully many video blogs that I will be making. I'd love to hear your feedback. Also, if you have any questions for me relating to writing, reading--anything really--post them here, or on the facebook page, or just send me an email. I'll compile them and answer them in an upcoming video blog.
Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The End As I Know It

This is up for debate. I might be wrong about this. It would be the third time in my life that I was wrong. The first was that incident with the hair dryer and the cat. The second was that deal about the pickle and the microwave.

This might be the third.

What is the most important part of a novel? The beginning. The plot. The characters. The theme.

No, no, no, no.

It's the end. Don't believe me? Scroll down to the end of this blog. Go ahead. Right now. Scroll away.
Did you do it? What did you find? An unsatisfying, awful ending. Boy, doesn't that make you want to spend another five minutes reading through this blog?

I've been thinking about this lately as I'm putting together proposals for two of my projects. Edits are completed on Book #3, and it is currently in the very qualified hands of my wife for one final read through before it goes back to my agent. Meanwhile, I'm trying to convince an editor that they should risk it all to publish this thing. I have only a few pages to do so. In those pages is something called a synopsis.

A synopsis is a simple thing, really. It's the entire book crammed into three to five pages. This is so the editor knows what's going to happen, so they know you aren't going to get all Space Odyssey 2001 on them.
Writers worry themselves to death over these things. It's painful to read a single sentence that comprises fifty pages of your novel.

But what about the passion! What about that witty line in there! If the editor only reads the synopsis, they will never see how brilliant I am! It isn't fair!

The ending is hardest, just like it is in the full-length novel. My third book is complex and packed with symbolism. I think the ending is quite powerful. How to convey that in thirty seconds or less? No matter what I do, it's going to look flat in comparison.

Such is life.
And so, to defend my theory about the importance of The End. . . . When reading a novel, there is one destination: the last page. The end is the echo that stays with you. When you see that book on the shelf, you will remember what happened in those last few pages, because those are the words most fresh in your mind.

Endings are tricky business. Do you sum up everything? Do you dare write the tragic death of a main character? Do you wait until the very last moment to pull out a massive twist?

There are so many ways to do an ending right, and many more to do it wrong.

I'm thinking about endings, and as I prepare to dive into Novel #5, I'm also thinking about beginnings. Being a writer, your mind is always starting something that you will one day be forced to end. It's bitter, it's sweet, it's all confusing and beautiful, I suppose.

Maybe I'm wrong. I'm still trying to understand this great big world of words, trying to see what makes readers tick, trying to tell stories that entertain but offer something more.

Well, this I know is true. I'm not happy with a novel if . . .

THE END IS UNSATISFYING AND AWFUL!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

So Sorry


Dear Big Name New York Publisher,

Thank you for you recent offer to publish my book, The Novel. After careful consideration, I'm going to have to pass.

Your offered advance of one million dollars, while certainly generous, is a clear example of your inability to discern quality fiction. While I agree that The Novel does have certain merits, it is in no way worthy of such a large sum.

I am quite frankly disturbed that you would go so far as to call The Novel “The best thing to come across my desk in years.” If this is truly the case, I would wonder if you have been checking your mail, and if you even have a desk at all.

Furthermore, you go on in your five-page letter to express your excitement over the wide appeal of The Novel. I can see how you would think that women and men could enjoy the book equally, but teenagers and children as well? Did you even read the manuscript?

I was shocked to read the line, “We think you as a writer have the potential to be the next great American novelist.” It becomes more and more clear that you did not take the time to clearly examine The Novel or myself.

Lastly, and most offensively, you had the audacity to send a copy of The Novel to Stephen King, who—you claim—gave it this endorsement: “Never before have I been so taken by a book as I was by The Novel. Mark my words, this will be the classic of our times, perhaps the greatest book written this century, or ever. I am in awe.” Obviously you paid Mr. King a great deal of money to compose such lies.

Your offer to publish The Novel is rejected in light of clear disregard for quality fiction, your pie-in-sky predictions about the book and about me, and your juvenile use of subterfuge to influence the reading public.

I wish you the best as a publisher, and might suggest that you take more time in the future to properly consider submissions that come your way.

Sincerely,

Wanna Be Published

Monday, June 28, 2010

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH FUTURE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR TRAVIS THRASHER

Recently I had the privilege to sit down with the future Travis Thrasher and ask him some questions about his career. He talked about life as a bestselling author, addressed some rumors, and hinted at what’s to come.

JAW: Mr. Thrasher, it’s great to see you. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to sit down and chat with me.

TT: No problem, James. I still remember the days when I did book tours and nobody showed up at the bookstores. It’s nice to drive cross country and hit twenty stores and meet all my fans.

JAW: You certainly have quite the following these days. I think it’s safe to say that your career really took off when the second book in your Solitary Tales series hit the New York Times Bestseller list. The movie based on the first book in the series is in production now, and book four, which doesn’t release for another three months, is already climbing the bestseller charts. Tell us about the inspiration for this series, and your reaction to the overwhelming response.

TT: That's wild how a book unreleased can climb the bestseller charts, but so much has changed in the world since the Great Oil Leak and man stepping foot on Mars. Yes, things all seemed to come together with The Solitary Tales. It seems I've killed off so many main characters that one has to wonder if Chris himself might be dead. Or undead. The irony is that this bestselling series was the result of a booksigning that I was supposed to take part of, but when I arrived at the bookstore another author happened to be signing (true story). So I went next door to a Mexican restaurant and sat outside in the sun wondering why some things in publishing had to be so difficult. As I ate chips and salsa, the idea for The Solitary Tales came to me. I wrote it in my trusty journal, never realizing what would happen.

JAW: Ah yes, your trusty journal. We'll come back to that in a moment. I hope you bought a jar of that salsa to eat whenever you need inspiration. Now, let's set this controversy to rest: Is Chris dead?

TT: Definitely not dead. But everything changed in book three (as it did in books one and two). So we'll see. And as everybody knows, I have no problem killing off my lead character. Or those around him.

JAW: I still remember how shocked I felt when you killed off Chris's pet ferret at the end of book three. Unbelievable. In regards to the movie, we know that J.J. Abrams is directing, but information on the cast still seems to be under wraps. Any names you can tell us?

TT: I'm sorry to say there will be a high body count for the animals in book four. But of course that was inevitable.

The leads are still being kept under wraps, but the Irishman is going to be played by Nick Nolte. Aunt Helen by Helena Bonham Carter. That's all I can tell you without getting in trouble.

JAW: One of your earlier books, The Second Thief, came out as a movie last year. Were you happy with how Christopher Nolan brought your story to the big screen?

TT: I loved how Nolan took a short story, in a sense, and made it into something completely different. Same story but much deeper. Loved how it served as a nice bookend to Inception. Of course, between the two is that little Batman blockbuster . . .

JAW: Earlier you mentioned your trusty journal. A while back, there was a lot of press about this. As I understand it, your journal with all of your story ideas went missing. It later showed up on Ebay and was going for a hefty price tag, but something happened to the person who was selling it. The press said that Dennis Scott simply went missing and that the police retrieved your journal for you. Other sources have come out and said that there was foul play involved. It's been said that you had something to do with Mr. Scott's disappearance. Can you tell us what really happened?

TT: I guess the only thing I can say about that is this: was there ever really a Dennis Scott in the first place? I stay out of the marketing and promo stuff these days, but it sounds like a pretty good publicity stunt that an author would pull. But you know me—I got off Facebook and Twitter back in 2011. I'd never do anything like that.

JAW: You are hugely successful with a massive following. How is writing different for you now that you are so popular?

TT: Success is a funny thing. I remember when I was stressed out about how many "fans" I had on Facebook. Now I don't even pay attention to any of that. Back in those days, I wondered how long I could keep it up—writing full-time and supporting a family. So not having to worry about that is such a blessing. But there are downsides, of course. I can tell some stories but all I'll say is this: you have to be careful who you trust.

JAW: Before I let you go, take a moment and peek into the future. Where do you want to be in five years? Is there a story you've been dying to tell that you haven't been able to yet? What does the future hold for Travis Thrasher?

TT: I remember that around 2010, I made a pretty big transition in my writing. Most people probably didn't even notice, but it was a big picture thing for me. For the first ten years after I was published, I spent a lot of time experimenting with voice and style and technique. Not just to do this but as a way of figuring out what worked and what didn't work for me. So much of what I wrote was biographical in nature, and featured characters who seemed to avoid going on their mythical journeys.

The books I'm doing now (my W&L series, The Solitary Tales, even the stories under my pseudonym) are more about heroes taking journeys. I'm working more on the STORY than on style. Of course, I still can't help myself at times, but that's where I'm at now.

I've been tinkering around with my Bull Road, which I call my Prince of Tides. One day I hope that will be released. There's also a book about the other side of my family down south, my father's father who served in World War 2. I see those as sweeping, literary novels, dense and hopefully beautiful. By then I'll have gotten all these other stories off my chest.

But by then, who knows what other ideas will come to mind.

JAW: We can’t wait to read them all. Thank you again for your time, and best of luck.

Special thanks to the current Travis Thrasher for setting up this interview with his future self.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Black and White and Red All Over

So Book #4 is in the hands of my agent. I celebrated by patting myself on the back, then dived back into the thick of it. I'd like to say I'm already half way done with Book #5. I'd like to have started Book #5. I'd like to know what Book #5 is.

The reality is that I'm actually back into Book #3. As soon as I sent Book #3 off to my agent, I started working on #4. When I received the notes back for #3, I was well into #4 and just plowed ahead and finished it.

Now I get to address the corrections for #3.

Confused yet?

Here's the blunt of it: I'm editing Book #3. Editing is fun. Sort of like sharpening a stick and jabbing it into your eyeball.

The biggest challenge is going to be chopping out over 10,000 words of the book. Currently it is bursting the seams at 107,000K. It would be ideal to bring it down to something between 80K and 90K. I'm not sure that's going to happen, but I'm going to do my darndest to get it under 100K.

You know, you pour yourself into every word you write. Every scene, every moment. It's all you.

Then you have to kill it.

Off with his head!

Oh yeah, big books get published all the time. Much bigger than 107,000 words. But I'm not JK Rowling or Stephen King. I don't have ten bazillion readers willing to pay forty bucks for my next boat anchor. I'm the new kid on the block.

Publishers are looking at me and coming up with every reason they can to not publish me. They see 107,000K and the finance department is going crazy with their calculators. It's going to cost this much to produce that book, and it would cost this much if the book was shorter, and this is the new kid on the block, and we don't even know if anybody is going to buy a single copy, and we could really use a new coffee maker downstairs, and don't forget that I haven't gone on vacation for three years.

Off with his head!

Where do you start when you have to shave 10K off your baby? I'm not one for writing fluff to begin with, so it's not like I can go in and cut all the adverbs and mile long descriptions of the sunset--there aren't any to cut.

Sigh.

This is the life of a writer. You create a baby. You have to pull out the meat cleaver and make him shorter so somebody will love him.

Isn't that disgusting?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What Makes us Different

We are writers.

We are a little strange.

You said something to me last year, something about your crazy aunt with a pet iguana, and I remembered it. I made her a character in my book.

You have to be careful around us. We listen even when it looks like we aren't. Most times it looks like we aren't. That's because our minds are elsewhere.

Our minds are here and there, and there is where we are creating. We are telling stories when we are driving, walking, sleeping, talking.

I am looking at you with a smile, not because I think you are funny, but because I just snagged a bit of dialogue from our conversation.

That is how rude we are. We aren't listening to you. We are mining you for potential.

You could make a good character for our stories. We need a dastardly villain. You have nice teeth, but in our story, your teeth are yellow and rotten.

We might kill you.

You could be our hero. You are crying because life is hard, so hard, so very hard and you can't take it anymore. But you take it. That makes you strong. That moves us.

We are moved by so many things, but when you are strong, we are affected deep down inside. Resolution, under dogs triumphing in the face of stinky adversity, these things tickle us. We want to giggle and cry because you will be our hero, you are our hero, we are writing your story right now in our heads.

We might kill everyone you love. But you will be strong. You will survive.

Or you will sacrifice yourself for all and be remembered forever.

We will be good to you.

Do you see that person across the street? That poor fellow with bad hair? He is in our story too. We just put him there. He will get hit by a bus. Early in the plot. He is walking then SMACK! He is scattered.

We are morbid, sometimes.

But it is important, his death, I mean. He was not who he seemed. He seemed like a bozo with bad hair. But he is more. We don't know who he is. Not yet. We will find out. We won't forget him either.

We see curtains and think they would work. Our hero might drive that vehicle. This song should be playing in the background. That woman is wearing high heels and sweatpants, I'll have to put her in there somewhere. The donut shop has a funny saying on its sign today--got to remember that one.

It's everywhere. We call it fodder. You are fodder. Everything is fodder. We take it all in, we chew it all up. Some we swallow, we keep, we use, most we spit out.

I apologize for us. We can't hardly help it.

We are writers.

We are a little strange.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Menique

Pick up a recent novel by Dean Koontz and you're likely to find one or all of these things: the plant bougainvillea, a character who likes to mix cinnamon into their coffee, poetry or mention of a poet, a Ford Explorer or Expedition, the word "undulating", and of course . . . a dog.

Name any prolific author you'd like, and they are bound to have a number of things that always seem to pop up in their novels. Diet Coke, bands from the eighties, the word "beat". They all have something.

I'm coining a phrase for these things: Meniques. They are unique phrases, things or places that these authors find interesting or important for whatever reason. Is something unique if you use it in all of your novels? It is if you are the only one who uses it. That's when it becomes a menique object.

Now there is a difference between a menique and a rut. Frequent use of the word "very" is a rut.

The very heavy man sat on the couch, feeling very exhausted and very ready for a foot rub; if only he had a very lovely wife to give him a foot rub, but he didn't, because he was very ugly and smelled of something very unpleasant: body odor.

That is a very bad sentence, even without the verys.

I've noticed that I have started to develop some meniques. Since I was married and have become a father (three times!), every book I've written features a main character who is or was married and has children. I have written a thriller in which the main character is on the run but must first grab some diapers and his son's Elmo doll. One of my characters laments the fact that his growing daughter has stopped calling him "Daddy" and now refers to him as "Dad".

If I weren't a married man with children, I don't imagine that I would be writing these kinds of characters. I wonder if this will change as I change. Will all of my characters start wearing brown courdery jackets, develop a sudden fetish for jogging three miles a day, suffer from migraines, eat two handfuls of spinach and a clove of garlic for lunch, count their gray hairs, and wonder how they are going to survive until their thirtieth birthday?

By the way, that's not an accurate description of me. I don't have any gray hairs.

I laugh when I come across meniques in books. Maybe you've never noticed them before. Start looking for them in novels from your favorite writers. They're all over the place. They are a little glimpse into the life of the person on the other side of the words.

Is it any surprise that Dean Koontz has bougainvillea plants in his yard, mixes cinnamon into his coffee, enjoys poetry, drives a Ford Explorer, likes to undulate, and of course . . . has a dog? I don't think so. I'd also wager a bet that Mike Dellosso likes Diet Coke, Travis Thrasher listens to bands from the eighties, and Ted Dekker is beat from writing six books a year.

The secrets are in the meniques.

I do not have gray hair.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Plotting and Plodding

Before I get under way with this week's post, I feel there is some explaining I need to do. The fellow who infiltrated my blog last week, a chap by the name of Timothy West, is a real character from one of my abandoned projects. I did write 50,000 words of his book and then leave it.

I usually know if a story is working while I'm writing it. I look forward to getting back to it, the story is always buzzing in my mind, and I'm constantly thinking of the next scene, the next twist, the next big thing that's going to happen.

With the Timothy West book, this wasn't the case. It was odd, because I had planned a whole trilogy with this guy. I was really excited to dive in.

Sorry, Tim. Maybe another time. If it's any consolation, you would have found and rescued your wife in the end. Please accept my sincerest apologies for creating you and abandoning you. Go and finish your story as you see fit.

With the arrival of little Noah into our Ark of animals, I find myself with less time to work on writing. SURPRISE!
I know things will get back to some semblance of normal, and I'll be cracking open my eyelids at Six AM to sneak away for a few hours of pecking at the keyboard, but until then, I've been writing a lot in my head.

I'm formulating a new book idea, a very cool idea, an idea that has turned into a trilogy. I don't think this will be another Timothy West tragedy. In fact, I don't have time to write another bomb, so I'll make sure I've worked out all the major problems before I even get started.

Future Project: Lots of plotting.

Current Project: Lots of plodding.

I feel like an R2 unit with a bad motivator when it comes to my current project. The book is done, it is actually close to being ready to ship off my to agent. I just can't create enough time to sit down and finish up the last edits.
I'm thinking I need a can of NOSLEEP from the future. Maybe my future self can send me some, along with a couple completed manuscripts.

Ah, life. It's wonderful. Kids are wonderful. They can be little monsters, but then, what else should I expect?--they are my offspring.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Unfinished

Since James is too busy, what with the birth of his third child, to sit down and write a blog this week, I will be stepping in. My name is Timothy West. I was created November second, 2009. I am a character in one of James's books.

I am unfinished.

You might expect this to be a diatribe against James Andrew Wilson: the heartless, ruthless, careless man who created me, told half of my story, then left me to die. I will do my best to refrain from calling him any bad name that he doesn't deserve.

When James decided to push "save" on my file and cram me into the bowels of his hard drive, never to be seen again, I had a knife sticking out of my back. My wife was just taken by a man who called himself Jack Smiley. Jack had come to our world through a magic box that appeared in my basement. The box could transport somebody to hundreds of different worlds. Jack took my wife because she was beautiful (she is beautiful, I will find her) and then stabbed me in the back with a steak knife and left me bleeding on my kitchen floor.
In his great wisdom, James decided that my plot wasn't working and left me there fighting for my life. With 50,000 words of my story told, and 50,000 to go, HE ABANDONED ME!

I do not hate him. I loath him, despise me, wish that his fingers would fall off in his sleep so that he could never write again. But then I don't, because I need him to write again.

Do you know what it is like to live an unfinished story? If I stand in front a mirror, I can see that the lower half of my face is missing. Searching the pages of my story, I have discovered that my jaw is missing because James never described it.

There are rooms in my house with nothing but blank white walls. My pantry is empty except for the Top Ramen noodles mentioned in chapter twenty-two. I am in constant pain because that is last thing he described me feeling. Hot, penetrating pain from the knife blade protruding out of my back.

This is no way to live. Unfinished. It is not fair.

And yet, I have not crossed the gap between fiction and reality only to write hateful things (true things, all of them true) about Mr. Wilson, here for the world to see. No, his lack of character will soon reveal itself. Instead, I have come to you with a plea. Convince James to pick up my story again. My poor wife is gone, taken by a maniacal man from another world. I have discovered that he intends to make her his bride.

I have to find her!

He has taken her through the box in my basement to one of the hundreds of different worlds. But I know that I will never find it, because James hasn't written his world yet! Even if I did know the coordinates, I would arrive there to find nothing but emptiness.

Help! I beg you to convince James to finish my story. Force him if you must. Torture that no good for nothing, wretched, awful--

I'm afraid there are not words to describe him. He is a very bad man. You would do well not to trust him.

I place my hopes in you, dear readers of this blog. Help me find my wife. Help me get this knife out of my back.

Help me be finished.

Counting on you,

Timothy West

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Noah

Life. It is too beautiful to describe.

Our child was sleeping with us in the bed yesterday morning, still inside of his mother, safe from the unknown world.

The dawn. The day.

Heaven watched and breathed life.

Our child took his first breath. So small and fragile. This is life.

Our child was sleeping with us in the bed last night, between his mother and father, safe from the unknown world, now in the comfort of those who love him.

Welcome to the world, Noah.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Interview With Bestselling Novelist James Andrew Wilson Part Two

This week we continue our interview with my future self: bestselling novelist James Andrew Wilson.
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JAW: And then the miracle happened. The miracle that made you better.

James: Someday I'm going to write an autobiography, and nobody is going to believe what I'm about to tell you. But it's true. Every bit of it is true. I was paralyzed from the neck down. Never going to walk again. Then something happened that healed me and gave me back my hope.

JAW: It was a letter, wasn't it?

James: A text message, actually. Now I wasn't into texting like everybody else back then. Any time I received a text on my phone, I figured it was spam and deleted it. Since I couldn't move my hands, my wife kept busy checking emails and messages and that sort of thing. She saw the text message and showed me the phone. This is what it said:

YOU MUST GIVE IT UP

At the time, I figured it was a text from God, telling me to give up writing. We checked to see who the text came from. Surprise! It was from some guy called James Andrew Wilson.

JAW: From me? I don't like to text either.

James: (Laughs) See, this where things get a little nutty. You didn't send it, I didn't send it, but we both will send it. The future future James Andrew Wilson sent me a text telling me that I had to give it up.

Of course, at the time, I didn't know that it was a text from the future. I figured it was some sort of joke. Probably my brother, or Jake Chism, maybe Travis Thrasher. He's a nut, sometimes.

JAW: I can see any of those guys pulling something like that. So what did the text mean? What did you have to give up?

James: I said, "That's weird," and had my wife delete the message. Five minutes later another one came through. This time it said:

IF YOU WANT IT BACK

Again, it was from James Andrew Wilson. I was starting to get a little perturbed at this fellow. I had my wife send him a text message: Give up what if I want what back?

Then the reply:

GIVE UP EVERYTHING IF YOU WANT EVERYTHING BACK

Clearly this guy wasn't firing on all cylinders. I tried to forget about it. A stupid prank. Nothing was coming back. How could I give up everything?

JAW: What made you believe that the messages were true?

James: The guy kept sending me the messages! I finally shut off the phone. Then he sent me emails. I blocked him. Then letters in the mail. It just wouldn't stop. And it was the same message over and over: GIVE UP EVERYTHING IF YOU WANT EVERYTHING BACK.

Life was hard enough without this bozo taunting me with this false promise. It didn't even make sense. How could giving up everything give me everything? Real lame.

JAW: Wasn't it your son who said something that finally changed your mind?

James: Josiah was six at the time. He didn't know about the messages. We were putting him to bed, tucking him in. I was there in my wheelchair, watching my wife hug him. I felt sick. I just wanted to cry all the time.

I told him goodnight, and then I'll never forget what he said. He looked at me with his big blue eyes. Sweet, innocent voice. "You have to give everything up if you want it back, Daddy."


JAW: Creepy.

James: Yeah, just a little! I asked him where he heard that. He said the angel told him. I asked him what angel. The angel who lives on the roof, he said. He said it was the angel who pushed me off the roof.

JAW: What?

James: I was going to put in a replacement request for a new guardian angel.

So my son tells me this crazy story, and I'm not sure what to think about it. The next day, another letter in the mail. It says, YOUR SON IS TELLING THE TRUTH.

Okay, I thought. If this is a prank, it is a really, really good one. So I realized it couldn't be my brother, or Jake, or Travis. Great guys, but they aren't this good.

JAW: It was real. The messages, the angel pushing you, all of it. What did you do?

James: Had a little panic attack. The publishing house was getting ready to print copies of my first novel. They expected it to be a huge success. I was one of the most anticipated debut authors that year.

I called up my agent and told her it had to stop. They couldn't take the book to print. They couldn't take any of the books to print. I have to give it up.

She politely told me that I was an imbecile. This would ruin my career, I was throwing away my lifelong dream based on some cryptic text messages.

I insisted. We got the publisher to stop the printing. I had to return the advance. Feelings were hurt all around. Relationships were destroyed. I had just dropped a nuclear bomb on my future as an author.

JAW: But then, the healing came.

James: I was out in the backyard, watching the sunset. I was crying. I couldn't move from the shoulders down. I was never going to be an author. What could I do? How was I going to support my family? How could I live like this?

JAW: The angel spoke to you.

James: I told you nobody would believe this.

I heard this booming voice come from the roof behind me. I mean, it was so powerful, I would have jumped five feet off the ground if I wasn't paralyzed.

The voice said, "Now you can have it back. Never take it for granted."

I felt something surge through my body. I could move my hands. My feet. My legs. I could walk again.

I turned around and looked up at the roof to try and see my angel but--

JAW: He was gone.

James: Actually, I saw him. He looked just like Charlton Heston.

JAW: Seriously?

James: Nah, I'm kidding. I didn't see a thing. But I was healed. My body was back to normal.

I knew that I could never publish any of the books I'd written. That was hard because I had five finished novels at that time. I'd poured my heart and soul into these things. I had to put them away and start over.

JAW: How did the publishing world respond to your miraculous return?

James: They all abandoned me, except for my agent. She might have thought I was insane, and rightly so, but she stayed with me. I called her and told her that I was healed. We discussed a new project, one I just knew I had to write.

JAW: That was going to be your debut novel, right?

James: That's right. I wrote No Memories Attached in three weeks. Ten hour days. It completely consumed me. I had to get it out.

JAW: No Memories Attached went on to become a worldwide bestseller, and won a Pulitzer.

James: Yeah. I was given everything. Just like the messages said. I gave it all up and then it all came back.

But you know, looking back, I see now that I wasn't yet ready to be published. I was still young and naive. A starry eyed kid with a crazy imagination.

JAW: I know how you felt.

James: (Laughs) Yeah I bet you do.

JAW:It's been almost seven years since the release of No Memories Attached, you've risen to the top of numerous bestseller lists, you're read all around the world, what does the future hold for James Andrew Wilson?

James: There's no way to know the future. I'm living proof of that. I had my life and my career planned and then I was pushed off the roof by an angel and paralyzed from the neck down. You just don't plan for that sort of thing.

So I take it one day, one moment at a time. I will continue to write. I have to. I've got the twitch.

I am starting to work a new novel. I can't say too much at this point, except that this is going to be the best thing I've ever written.

JAW: That's what you said about your last five books.

James: And it was true every time! But there's something special about this one. I mean, if I die and I'm only remembered for one book, it will be this one.

JAW: Can't you give us at least a hint?

James: Okay. Here you go. It's a story about the beginning, the end, and all that happens between. (Laughs) Don't worry, you'll know all about it in another seven years.

JAW: I can't wait. James, it's been a pleasure talking with you. Thanks for sharing your incredible story.

James: Likewise. And the story isn't over yet. In fact, for you, it's just beginning.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Interview With Bestselling Novelist James Andrew Wilson


I recently sat down with my future self to discuss my career as a bestselling novelist. James shared his incredible story and offered some tantalizing hints about future projects.
--------------------------------------------
JAW: Thanks for joining me.

James: My pleasure. It's nice to see you again.

JAW: So here we are just two weeks away from the release of your latest novel, The Last Woman on Earth. How excited are you about this book?

James: Well, let me tell you. This is the best book I've ever written. I know I said that about my last novel, Five Years Tomorrow, but this one is better.

Here's the premise. The entire earth's population has been wiped out. Gone. Dead. Game Over. But two people have survived. One is Ransom Whitfield, a man who was just recently awarded the man of the year award by Time Magazine. He's a handsome movie star, a millionaire, a man who has it all.

The other survivor is a woman by the name of Sheila Mugwall. She is a burn victim. Half of her face is scared from the flames. You would cringe at the sight of her.

Ransom and Sheila meet up. They are the only people left on earth. The most handsome man alive meets the most ugly woman he's ever seen. She's the last woman on earth. Will they fall in love? Or will mankind be lost forever?

JAW: Wow. That sounds pretty interesting.

James: It's an idea I've had for a long time. It's going to blow people away. There's never been a book like this before.

JAW: I can't imagine there has. Now, you're incredibly successful, a #1 New York Times bestseller, you've been published in over twenty different languages. When you sit down to write, do you feel any pressure knowing that literally millions of people will be reading your next book?

James: Let me tell you something. You're a young writer, not yet published, so you don't know what it's like to really have people read your work. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing that my stories will be read all around the world.

JAW: So no pressure?

James: I'm not saying that I don't get a little panicky sometimes. I mean, who doesn't? But I know that I'm supposed to write, you know? If I didn't write, I'd just be stupid. I mean, I'd probably sit in the corner and just twitch or something.

JAW: I see that your hand is twitching now.

James: Yeah. That started shortly after I finished writing my fourth novel. It's my writer's twitch. My hand is always trying to write. I can't stop it.

JAW: Sounds frustrating.

James: You learn to live with it.

JAW: Take us back for a moment. Tell us how you made your big break.

James: Yeah, sure. So my agent, this sweet little gal, she had come to her wits end trying to sell my books. Nobody was buying these things. We got all sorts of nice rejections, but no deals. So I finally called her and said, "Look, this isn't going to happen. We should accept the fact that nobody is going to buy my work."

She told me that she would try one more time. She would take my strongest novel--I'd written four of them at this time--and she would send it to the last editor she knew.

I said, "Okay. Whatever. Why not?"

A week later: ring, ring. Guess what? It's my agent. She tells me she sold the book.

JAW: You were happy?
James: I almost peed my pants. Then she tells me that she not only sold one book, but the publisher wants to buy all four of my completed novels and sign me on for three more books.

JAW: That was huge.

James: It was bigger than huge. It was a dream come true. Better than winning American Idol. I literally floated off the ground I was so happy.

JAW: But then something bad happened.

James: I fell off my house and broke my back. I was paralyzed from the neck down. Couldn't even move my pinky.

JAW: What was going through your head?

James: A lot of bad words. Actually, I thought this couldn't be possible. I finally get published and will be able to write full time and now I can't even move my fingers. I ate a lot of fattening foods. Through a straw. I was depressed.

It was bad. Really bad.

JAW: You thought about killing yourself.

James: No, that's not true. I never thought about killing myself. That would be too easy. I wasn't going to give up. I was going to figure this out.

JAW: Your wife wrote your next book while you dictated it.

James: Yep. She's the greatest woman in the world. I really don't deserve her. She was so patient. We'd stay up late at night and she'd write and I'd talk. It took forever. When we finally finished the book, I didn't think I could ever do it again.

JAW: And then the miracle happened. The miracle that made you better.

James: Someday I'm going to write an autobiography, and nobody is going to believe what I'm about to tell you. But it's true. Every bit of it is true. I was paralyzed from the neck down. Never going to walk again. Then something happened that healed me and gave me back my hope.

--------------------------------------------

Tune in next week to hear James's amazing story of healing and to get a tantalizing hint about his upcoming project.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How Long?

There are a lot of factors that determine how long it takes to write a novel. How fast do you write, how long or short is the book going to be, how strong is your coffee, do you have any toddlers at home?

According to my research, most novels fall anywhere between 80,000 and 120,000 words, probably a good average being around 90,000. That makes about a 350 page book, depending on font size, margins, etc.

Remember back in grade school when you had to write a two-hundred word paper? Yikes!

My mom teaches fourth grade at a little private school. I've gone into her class a couple times to talk about writing. One time I brought in a printed draft of my second novel. I pulled out this huge ream of paper (485 printed sheets, double spaced, one sided). The book was just over 100,000 words.

"Whoa! That's huge!"

"So," I said, hefting the pages, "how many words do you think are in this book?"

Hands flew up. "Three thousand! One thousand and twelve. Ten thousand!" The kids laughed. Who is this dork who thinks it's ten thousand words? Nobody could ever write ten thousand words.

I wrote the guesses on the board then wrote the actual amount beneath them and circled all those zeros.

The dork smiled.

Writing a novel is something that only insane people should attempt. If you are not insane and you do attempt to write a novel, you should be warned that should you finish the novel, you will become insane.

So let's say you are a fast writer. You can type forty words a minute. Hey, how hard can this be? I'll be done writing this thing in under fifty hours. That's like one work week. No big deal.

If you think this, then at least you have the first requirement to writing a novel: You are insane.

Forty words a minute quickly diminishes to twelve a minute when you write that first page and then . . . uh . . . then something big and important happened here and, uh, and I think maybe I need to do some more outlining or something.

Second requirement to writing a novel: Ridiculous imagination.

I'm not talking about simple daydreaming. That might get you fifty pages through a novel, a cool 10,000 words. But you have to be insane, and full of ridiculous ideas to go all the way. You have to be willing to take your characters way off the deep end, into the uncharted and then beyond.

Can you imaging flying? Is it easy to envision man-eating aliens roaming your city? Do you create weird/humorous back stories about random people you see on the street? Good. You might have what it takes.

Third requirement: Ruthlessness.

You have to be brutal. If you manage to create strong, likable characters, you have to be able to put them through the worst possible scenario imaginable.

"But I like Sally too much to do that to her."

"Too bad. The story will be much stronger if her dog is run over by a truck."

"But she loves that dog!"

"Exactly. That's why it needs to be run over."

"You're sick."

And Sally had a dog and she loved that dog and nothing ever happened and she lived happily ever after with her dog and nobody cared.

There are more requirements to writing a novel, but we'll stick with these three for now.

You're insane, you have a ridiculous imagination, you are ruthless, and you've read half a dozen books about how to write a novel, and you've subscribed to Writer's Digest, and you've read thirty bestselling novels in the genre you want to write, and you are willing to close your door to the rest of the world and take a long, lonely journey of heartache and joy, and pour out all of your blood and your tears and risk carpal tunnel to tell a story that might never get published.

Good.

So . . . how long will it take you?

Let's suppose that you are like me. You have been thinking about a book idea for months, maybe years. Over that time, you have tweaked the plot in your head, you have added and taken away characters, you have a good idea how it will start, the half way twist, and the big ending. You sit down and write a three to five page synopsis of the story. This will take you about a week, considering that you also have a life and a job and a family and you have to sleep.

With synopsis in hand, you will start a schedule of going to bed at 10:30 PM and waking up at 6:00 AM. While the rest of the house sleeps, you will sneak away to your office and begin the journey. After a week or two, you will fall into the groove of the story and start pounding out about 1000 words an hour. Your goal will be 2000 words a day. Some days you will get more, some days less.

By 9:00 AM your writing time is finished and the house is awake and you are needed elsewhere.

If all goes well, you will have a completed first draft in your hands in three or four months. It will look huge. Almost 500 pages of copy paper. You will have written that. You will smile and feel like a king.

You will then let your spouse or your trusted "First-Reader" look at the book. This is the first time you have shared it with anyone. You will be tempted to watch them read every page. They will mark it with a red pen. You will ask them what they thought about certain scenes. You will go crazy waiting for them to get to the end.

Since they love you, they will read the book in less than a week. They will tell you that it is great, wonderful, amazing . . . but there are some things that need to be changed.

"What!? But it's perfect! I edited it! I wrote it!"

Then you will come back to reality, see that they are right, and dive into the second draft. There is no way to say how long this draft will take you. You may have to do like I did for my third novel and rewrite nearly 50,000 words of the 100,000 word book. That will hurt.

Or it may be that you actually did do a fine job and the second draft edits will only take you two weeks. Who knows. It's always different.

After that, you will send it to your agent. She will read it as soon as she can. She is very busy and you aren't her only client. In the meantime, you should start writing something else.

Your agent will send you some notes when she is done. "It's great, it's wonderful, it's amazing . . . but there are some things that need to be changed."

You will come back to reality, you will take her suggestions, you will rework it again.

When you are happy with it, when your spouse is happy with it, when your agent is happy with it, she will start to shop it around.

Yes! Finally! The world will see your genius!

In the meantime, you should start writing something else.

By this time, you will have invested approximately six months of your life into this project. You will be exhausted, exhilarated, and likely a little shaky from too much coffee and not enough sleep.

You will check your email and phone messages every day to see if you agent tried to contact you to tell you about the big book deal she's landed for you.

In the meantime, you should start writing something else.

Then, one day, FINALLY, your agent will call, and you will almost drop the phone in excitement, and your agent will say--

I'm not sure what she'll say. I let you know when that happens.

In the meantime . . . well, you know.