My to-do list is dwindling down to just 43 projects left (plus a couple my wife is trying to sneak in) and the weather in Ohio in January pretty much sucks, so I’ve finally gotten back to writing. Last week I tried working on Zero Sum, the next Mike Locke book, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I made some progress, and recognized a few things that weren’t working, but I didn’t feel like I was getting back into the groove. Today I started back on My Life As Death, and things just started flowing. Something about this story and these characters just comes naturally to me, and I’m very thankful for it. With the projects I still have left, and some up-coming travel I have scheduled for my freelance design business, I am not sure how much writing time I will have, but with great writing sessions like this I should continue to make progress. The book is already about 75% done, so with any luck I should be able to get it finished by summer.
Today I had an early appointment at the car dealership to have my wife’s car worked on. The car only has 50K miles, so I wasn’t happy about it, but it was covered under the warranty and the wait gave me a chance to do a little writing. I haven’t worked on Zero Sum for a while, and it’s been sitting at about 90-95% done, so I really wanted to make some progress on it. Unfortunately, as I read the last bit I’d written, I realized that it really needed some work. The story is good, but I’ve decided that “good” is no longer good enough for me.
When I first started writing it was strictly for myself. I had characters and stories floating around my head and I wanted to write a novel to entertain myself, so I wrote Dark Genesis of Daniel James. By the time I wrote The Consciousness Puzzle, I had already published Dark Genesis and it had been downloaded a couple thousand times, so I knew people might actually read my stories, but I continued to write TCP for myself. I figured The Daniel James Saga would give me the best chance for commercial success so I didn’t really take the Mike Locke books seriously; they were just fun genre stories so “good” was my quality target. But as I said, good is no longer good enough.
As I sat in the dealership waiting room, I thought about the the various scenes and plot points in Zero Sum. About half of them are great and I can’t wait for people to read them; about half are average. While I think the book would be a fun read for just about anyone, I also think that the book overall would be completely forgettable. So I started dissecting those week plot points to determine how to make them stronger; how to use them to keep the story (and subsequently the reader) moving forward. In a very short time I came up with a number a changes that would make Zero Sum a much better story. Unfortunately, that means rewriting; a lot of rewriting.
Normally I try to stick with Robert Heinlein’s rule# 3) You must not rewrite unless to editorial demand but I also keep in mind Dean Wesley Smith’s thoughts on the matter. Dean believes in a distinction between rewriting and redrafting. What I have planned for Zero Sum is more of a redraft than a rewrite. I’m tossing out large parts of the story and rewriting from the creative side of my brain now that I know where the story is going. I really don’t like the idea of “loosing” 25,000 words but it will definitely strengthen the story and take it from “good to “great” so it will be worth it.
One of the great things about having a 3D printer is the ability to feel like you’re accomplishing something while you’re really just procrastinating. Load a file, hit print, and then you’re making something without actually doing anything. One of my favorite things to print are these linklings. They print well, print quickly, and you really can never have too many.
Another way to successfully procrastinate is to play around with the 15-or so linklings you’ve just printed. I kind of made it a challenge to see how many linklings I can balance on top of a single one. So far I’ve done a total of 16, in various poses. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve come up with when I should have been writing.
How do you prefer to procrastinate?
My recipe posts have been getting a lot of attention recently but I want to be clear that this will not be turning into a food site. This is a writing site and the recipe posts are practice for my eventual cook book, tentatively titled “Recipes to Make While Drinking a Beer”. I like the title, even though I haven’t actually been drinking any beer while cooking (or really while doing anything else) lately. I have an obstacle course race coming up in a couple months and I’m just now starting to prepare for it.
My fitness training has cut into my writing time a little, but I’m also spending a lot more time on contracted design work. That, plus a couple new grand kids being born and a wife recovery from surgery means that I’ve not gotten a whole lot of writing done the past couple weeks. But I’m getting a routine worked out, and have several hours dedicated to writing today, so I hope to get back on track. My Life As Death continues to surprise me every time I sit down to work on it so I can’t wait to see where it goes. And Zero Sum is so close to being done that I get antsy any time I think about it. I can’t wait to share these books with all of you, so continue to check back here for updates; I’ll be needing beta readers real soon.
I tend to do a lot of great thinking (at least for me) while driving. I don’t know if this is really a good thing, but I enjoy it and I’ve not wrecked because of it (yet). I’ve come up with a lot of interesting story ideas this way, and when I do, I tend to add them to a running list of ideas that will probably never see the light of day. Not because the ideas aren’t good, but because I only have a finite number of years on this earth and I’m not the most prolific writer, so I’ll probably never even get through half of the ideas I’ve already come up with. But I like having these thoughts, and even if I don’t usually share them with anyone else, I find them intriguing and occasionally useful. Sometimes I add bits and pieces of them to other stories I’m working on.
While I don’t usually share my random thoughts, especially ones that I would like to eventually use for a book, this one was very intriguing and I could see it being used in a hundred different ways, so I decided to do a post on it, just to give you insight into how my mind works.
The whole idea started with just a simple thought: everyone sees the world through their own senses, their own experiences, so in a way everyone is secluded in their own reality. It turns out that I’m not the first person (Imagine That!) to have this idea (see Reality Tunnel) but that was the initial thought that got the possibilities racing through my mind. The idea I liked the most was that each of our reality tunnels is being created by an individual A.I. which is linked to all the other A.I.s controlling all the other reality tunnels. The purpose of the A.I.s is to
move us in certain directions and direct us towards certain goals which have been determined by a master program to be the best for everyone. There are two problems with this arrangement though; our reality tunnels must intersect with other reality tunnels and regardless of the reality we experience, we have free will.
This idea opened up so many questions which could lead to a great story such as: Who created the A.I.? What if the master program A.I. starts to break down? Can we, as individuals influence or even get control of our reality tunnel? What happens if our reality tunnel merges with another and there are inconsistencies/errors? Could this explain the Mandela effect?
Seriously, if you don’t know what the Mandela effect is, google it. There are so many great examples, but the name comes from a commonly held memory of Nelson Mandela dying in the ‘80’s. I don’t have many memories as a kid in the ‘80’s but I vividly recall reading about Mandela’s death in one of those elementary-school age magazines the teachers made us read when they needed some quiet time. It turns out he actually died at the end of 2013.
There are quite a few other examples too such as “The Berenstein Bears” are actually named “the Berenstain Bears”, the Monopoly man doesn’t really have a monocle, and Sinbad never played a genie in a movie called Shazaam, though I swear he did (see more examples here). I like incorporating real-world details into my books and I could see using these like a trail for the protagonist to follow. I don’t know if any of this will eventually make it into a book, but I love the mind exercises and I hope you enjoyed a brief look into my thought process.
I’ve talked a little before about my latest work-in-progress My Life As Death, but I wanted to go a little more in-depth about it. The idea for the book is basically this:
On the eve of his senior year, almost-eighteen year old Nathaniel (Nate to his friends) gets into a drunken accident, totaling his car and ending his life, or so he thought. In the darkness of death, a face appears and offers him a deal; agree to become a Grim Reaper (yes, there’s more than one Grim Reaper), send 10 well deserving souls to the afterlife and he will get to finish out the life he was meant to live. Fail to reap all 10, and Nate will forever be a servant of death.
Now Nate’s not a homicidal maniac; to the contrary, he actually doesn’t like the idea of having to kill anyone, but he’s guaranteed to only have to reap the truly evil, the murderers, rapists and child molesters. How could anyone have a problem with getting rid of those people? Right? Upon touching the guilty party, Nate will even see their evil deed and know the punishment is deserved. Then he just has to decide how they’ll die. But not everything is as simple as it seems, especially when everyone has secrets.
I don’t know exactly why the plot intrigued me so much, but the idea of trying to get through high-school and deal with being a part-time agent of death wouldn’t go away. And it might not just be the plot itself, but the characters that kept me going back to it. I put a bit of myself, my friends and my experiences into each of my books, but this one seems to have a lot more of me in it. While writing this book I tend to listen to more of the songs from my teenage years than normal. I reminisce a lot more than I ever have. I’m only about a third of the way through the book, but I already feel so drawn into it that it’s hard to focus on any of my other works-in-progress. But that’s a really good thing, because this is going to be the first book I try to get a traditional publishing contract with so the sooner it’s done, the better.
And just incase anyone is wondering about the graphic at the top of this post – no, that is not indicative of what the book cover will look like. I have several different ideas for the cover, but I’m nowhere close to deciding what it should be. But I think the skull graphic does share the same feeling as the book. It’s a little dark and creepy, a little cute and funny. And I think that’s a good way to describe the book.
There are some interesting articles over at The Passive Voice (specifically this one and this one) dealing with ghost writing and plagiarism, and I was kind of surprised by the scope of the situation. I mean, from a business perspective, hiring ghost writers makes sense, I guess. James Patterson is well known for “working with” other authors to crank out books at a ridiculous pace and it seems to pay off very well for him, so why wouldn’t other “authors” use the same system? Well, I can only speak for myself, but I have several reasons why I couldn’t use ghost writers that go beyond the fear of plagiarism.
I really don’t think I could use a ghost writer, even if I wanted, because most of the time I don’t know what is going to happen in any of my stories. I tried writing a plot outline for The Dark Genesis of Daniel James, but it took way too much time, and I ended up deviating from it so completely that it was pointless. Now, instead of trying to plot out anything, I just listen to the characters as they develop and let them tell me what’s going to happen.
I also couldn’t use a ghost writer because James Patterson uses one. I like James Patterson’s books; I’m not as fond of the ones written “with” other writers. They don’t have the same feeling, the same voice. Just because he came up with the story outline doesn’t mean it’s a James Patterson book. I don’t want people feeling the same way about any of my books. If someone doesn’t like one of my books, that’s fine but I want it to be my work and my voice they’re reacting to, not someone else’s.
And lastly, I couldn’t use a ghost writer because, and I can’t stress this enough, I like to write. No one forces me to write, I choose to write because I enjoy it! This is what I want to be doing. When I sit down at the computer, I get to be the first to discover what is going to happen to my characters. It’s exciting to find out where the story is going and how the characters are developing. Why would I want to pay someone else to take that away from me?