Why You May Want to Second-Think NaNoWriMo

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National Novel Writing Month is coming up again and, as always, my thoughts about it are generally split as to whether or not this is a good thing. In some ways, NaNo reflects my personal beliefs about how books should be written. But in many more ways, I fear that, ultimately, NaNo may not just be a bad idea, I think it could actually do harm to participants’ craft.

On the surface, NaNo would appear to be an awesome opportunity for writers to get inspired, and push out more words than they normally would. I love their system of “virtual” rewards (Audible does the same thing, and I can contest personally that it works. Before I managed to achieve every single reward available, I listened to far more audiobooks than I do now). All this is great. I think the people behind NaNo have extremely good intentions and I love the professionalism, structure, and sense of community they’ve managed to wrap around something that is so abstract and, for the most part, a very solitary and lonely job. That’s the one thing about writing. Normally, there are no cheerleaders. No coaches. Not even a guaranteed blue ribbon (or any color ribbon) at the end of the race. Even worse, for the most part, any community of supporters you do find, don’t really understand the writing process enough to offer the sort of encouragement that a writer (especially in their early years) needs. They just don't get it. To most people, at least in my experience, writing is a very esoteric process, completely foreign to most other crafts.vEven other writers can fall short in this regard. They are too busy struggling with their own work or they will offer advice full of good intentions, not knowing it's bad advice coming from their own lack of experience. And of course, there are some that simply won't acknowledge or will negatively acknowledge others' success out of vanity or jealousy. Whatever. That doesn’t matter. My point here is, in this regard, NaNo rocks (there are a few other places where a burgeoning writer can find that kind of support, too, and I will get to that in a moment.

So yeah, NaNo is full of all that chocolatey goodness. So what’s the problem?

The problem lies in NaNo’s mission statement. To quote directly from their homepage: “Write a novel in a month!” And, from their FAQ: “You win NaNoWriMo by writing 50,000 words of your novel between November 1 and November 30.”

This is fine and dandy if you are an accomplished novelist. If you’ve already got two or three novels under your belt, then I would completely advise you to throw yourself at NaNo if that’s what you want to do. Problem is, if you’ve already got two or three novels done, you probably don’t need Nano. I don’t have any figures to back this up, but I am willing to bet that by far the majority of entrants haven’t completed a novel before in their life.

Why is this bad?

First there is a flaw in the entire premise. Unless you are writing a YA novel, 50,000 words is not going to give you a book. At least probably not one that is publishable. The word counts that publishers are looking for when it comes to novels (especially for first-time authors), generally ranges from 70,000 to 120,000, with fantasies claiming the high range, mysteries and mainstream the mid to lower range and science fiction right across the board. So let’s be clear about this. Even if you “win” NaNo, you probably won’t have written a novel.

Not only that, 50,000 words in a month is hard. In fact, if you look at the map of word counts across the map that NaNo have posted on their site, it becomes clear that by far the majority of participants don’t even make half their targeted account.

So what?

If you go into something publicly announcing you’re "going to pump out 50,000 words in thirty days and write a novel" and then wind up with, say, 20,000 words and no finished novel in sight, you will become nothing but discouraged. And I’ll tell you right now, the biggest thing early writers struggle against is discouragement. Becoming a good writer, in my experience, requires a lot of patience and tenacity. For me, the drive to continue throughout those early tenuous years, was through experiencing one small win at a time. You need to feel you are accomplishing something to push forward. The “I’m a failure” feeling that constantly plagues even well-established writers is so prevalent in the industry that the last thing it needs is another source.

“Okay," you say, "but I am thinking about this differently. I am thinking I will participate in NaNo, use all their support systems, and come away with a good start on a book that I will finish in the months following.”

Not a bad stance if you can do it. Problem is, even if you manage to make those 50,000 words, you're still really barely halfway through your book (most books, at least). Congratulations! You wrote half a book in thirty days. Except I have to be honest with you, that first half? It’s a cakewalk compared to the second half. I’ve written twenty-two novels now in about fifteen years. I don’t say this to impress you or to brag, simply to illustrate that I have credentials to back up what I’m saying. Winning NaNo is going to put you right in a place many authors know well. It even has a name, "The Muddle in the Middle."vIt’s a bad place, probably the toughest to handle. I still continually struggle with even after having written so many books. I have developed ways of tackling it and I always eventually manage to push through, but if you’re a beginner writer or even if this is your second or third book, you may not have what’s needed to just slam your way through to the end.

Again, I have no hard evidence to back this up, but I am betting that NaNo is probably responsible for many, many half-finished manuscripts now lying dead in drawers or on hard drives today, left untouched since their word count was posted on that thirtieth day.

In this way, NaNo teaches you bad habits.

The only way to get good at anything is to practice. In this regard, writing as many words as possible and aiming for 50,000 in one month is a good thing. Every word you write is a practice word until it’s published, and that’s fine. Practice is great. And I certainly am not trying to dissuade you from doing something that will result in you throwing down words at astronomical speeds. Problem is, that’s not all you’re practicing with NaNo. The big thing NaNo is teaching you is how to write the first half of a book. When, what you really need to practice if you’re trying to be a successful writer is how to start and finish a book. Finishing is important. I try to finish everything I start. It's in finishing where you really learn how to be not just a good author, but a great one.

Before I go any further, let me explain something. On the surface, NaNo and I share one basic philosophy: your first draft should be written fast. As fast as possible. I don’t care if you’re a planner or a pantser or even a penguin (I just made that last one up as a joke, don’t go off Googling what a penguin is when it comes to writing ), writing fast works really well for so many reasons, there's a psychological advantage to it, there are creative reasons for it, there are continuity issues around it, but the main thing it does is that it keeps the right side of your brain (the creative, imaginative side of dreams) running fast enough to avoid being tackled by the “internal editor” sitting at the desk in the left side of the brain. I've heard that ninety-five percent of would-be writers fail to ever finish a novel. It’s that guy, that editor, who's responsible for this. He throws up roadblocks. Questions every word. Tells you they are terrible. Tells you that you are terrible. Don't let him. Keep him back as far away as possible. To do that, write fast, write sloppily, write everything you can and finish your book as quickly as you can. Then, once it’s done, throw it in a drawer for at least three weeks before you go back and second-draft it. That's when you can let the internal editor catch up for a while.

So if not NaNo, then what?

The reason for this post came from a conversation I had yesterday with a good writer friend of mine. They’ve written a few short stories and want to write a novel. “I think I’m going to do NaNo,” they said. And I replied with basically everything I just said.

Then I replied with: “There is a way to replicate the Nano experience in, what I would consider, a much healthier manner.” Now when I say “healthier,” I mean, less likely to teach you bad habits or discourage you. And the way to do it is to run your own little NaNo.

Let me explain.

First off, 50,000 words in one month is a crazy number to expect from any writer. That extends outward to 600,000 words in one year. I am a very prolific writer. I used to track all my words. For two years running, my count managed to hit the million mark. But I was completely insane (still am, just in different ways 🙂 ). Nowadays, as a traditionally published professional writer, I probably hit between 200,000 – 300,000 words in a year (I stopped keeping track after that second million a year mark). So even with all my experience, I would probably struggle to “win” NaNo even if I tried.

If you’re really dedicated to writing and have the tenacity and perseverance needed to finish a novel, I think a much better target count would be 30,000 words a month for three months. This would result in a final novel of around 90,000 words. Even if you fall short by 10,000, you’re still totally within the range of a publishable book.

But what about all the support and cheerleading and rewards that NaNo supplies? How am I going to do this for three months without a life preserver?

You don’t. Here’s what you do. You set up a fan page dedicated for the next three months. It’s basically your contract with yourself, your “I’m publicly promising that I will follow this regiment for the next ninety days” declaration. Post this on the page. Make it sticky. It’s always at the top.

Then you ask maybe a dozen of your closest and most trusted social media friends to like the page and ask if they’ll check it regularly for the length of your personal mission. You don’t need many, ten is great. Even five. The point is that you are promising something not only to yourself, but also doing it publicly. Between issues of pride and wanting to avoid embarrassment, this public declaration will be an extreme asset to your progress. I once used this exact tactic to lose one hundred pounds in six months. When I started, I told everyone I knew what I was planning to do and what my end result would be. They all said I was crazy and wouldn’t make it. In the end, they turned out to be right. I didn’t lose a hundred pounds when that sixth month came to an end, I’d only lost ninety-eight. I missed by two. I thought about cutting off my hand to make up for coming up short but decided I was fine with ninety-eight. Super fine, to be honest.

At first, during those six months, my drive came from everyone around me telling me I was crazy and there was no way I could do it. I wanted to prove them all wrong. By the third month mark, when I was down sixty pounds, things changed. Now I was driven by all of them telling me how amazing I looked and how astounded they were. They started rooting for, So when you pick people you’re going to let access your page, make sure they are the sort of people who care, either negatively or positively, about your writing. You want to make sure you pick people who will come and check your posts often.

This is because you’re not only going to post word counts, but every word you write. Either daily or weekly, throw up a couple thousand words at a time. Encourage feedback (but do not act on it until your second draft—just sock it away somewhere for the time being) and regularly tell them that you’re grateful for their support and how it’s helping you push forward.

I’m sure some of you just rolled your eyes thinking, “I can’t publish my book on Facebook, it will completely mess up any chances of publishing it after I’m done.”

This would be true if you were publishing to the world. I wouldn’t do this on your main Facebook page. This is why I say use a Fan Page. You might even want to make it private. Invite a dozen people and make them you’re cheering squad. Make sure they’re okay reading through the short passages you post during your progress. Most people don’t mind reading small excerpts, but when you ask someone to read your final 90,000 word book, you will find a lot more resistance.

So why is this important?

Because, these people, unknowingly, aren’t just your pep squad. They’re also automatically becoming your beta readers. When you are done, they will have read every word of your book. Even if you make substantial changes in second draft, they have seen enough to review your work on Amazon or Goodreads or whatever once it comes out. And your first ten reviews are incredibly important to the future of your book, and this is especially true if you’re an Indy writer.

So, that’s it in a nutshell. Just run your own little NaNo, only yours will be more a Personal Novel Writing Quarter Year contest instead. So, welcome to PeNoWriQuYe. I know, it’s harder to say, but I think it is a far better approach.

Oh, and earlier I mentioned other places to find support and forums and stuff like that to talk to other writers and get support and encouragement. I don’t know a lot of these sort of places, although I’m sure they exist, but one that immediately pops to my mind is Writer’s Village University. I’ve had a lot of experience at WVU and find all the people there incredibly positive and supportive. It’s run by a guy named Bob Hembree who may be, not only the smartest man I’ve ever virtually met, but one of the nicest, too.

If you do decide doing PeNoWriQuYe, send me an invitation to your page. I’d love to be one of your fans.

 

Michael out.

How to be a Great Writer and Why That Still Doesn’t Matter

Quill and ink for copyedit pagesSomeone from a Facebook writing group I'm in asked if anyone else was overwhelmed by the sheer number of writers out there today. And, it's a valid question because never in the history of this world, has so many people decided they can write. And it's not a bad thing. People need to express themselves. I'm sure for some people (like my daughter) just having things like social networks and blogs have helped them find catharsis. Because writing does that, especially before you get to the point where it becomes a "business." And somehow, the fact that others might be reading it seems to make it more attractive to these people. I think that's a lot of the reason we're seeing so many writers today. It's not just because they know they can self-publish if New York shuns them, and it's definitely not for the money (it's really hard to make decent money writing--I have four traditionally published novels and I may have to siphon gas out of the neighbor's car at midnight if I want to go visit my girlfriend). So yeah, we're not sitting back in the penthouse suite of the Four Seasons sipping mimosa and sketching out plot ideas. Nobody's in this for the money. You'd be better off working as a McDonald's crew chief.

I also think a lot of people aren't overwhelmed because they really don't think in the back of their mind that they're going to ever acheive the status of "professional writer." They're shooting for maybe a couple of short story sales, or they want to finish the novel they've been working on for three years, and self-publish it—maybe even publish it for free. They just want to express themselves and hopefully gain a little self-esteem boost in the process by finding those handful of readers who come back with something like, "You know? That's a good book. You're a smart guy. I don't know how you did that." I think that's the real golden ticket in the Wonka bar for the vast majority.

So, how does this work with the people that do really want to make it? Those who really want to become mid-list or (if you're like me and already managed to do that) have their eyes set on the NY Times bestseller list?

Well, if that's case, everything I've said up until now is good news, because it means the playing field isn't nearly as massive as it looks from the bleachers. There's a lot of fireworks in the sky, but once they've done their short-lived explosions, the darkness once again settles over and you can see the stars. There aren't as many stars and they aren't as bright, but they'll certainly glow a lot longer. And, for the most part, they're stable.

So what does it take to stand out and be a star?

Tenacity. That's pretty much all there is to it. The difference between a mediocre writer and a good writer is probably 200,000 words of finished prose. To most new writers, that sounds like a huge mountain to climb—especially the "finished" part. I do 200,000 words of finished prose—these days—probably every six to eight months. I don't think like a beginner writer anymore; I think like a professional. And I finish pretty much everything I start.

"So, 200,000 words will make me a good writer?" you ask. "That doesn't sound bad. I can do that."

I agree, you probably can. It's just a matter of pushing through and ignoring that little voice that tries to tell you everything you're writing is crap. Don't listen to him. Even if he's right (and he probably is. If this is your first 200,000 words, don't expect to sell whatever it is you're writing. It probably is crap. But after that, you'll be good.

Only problem: Good isn't good enough.

Sure the playing field suddenly got smaller, but there's still a helluva lot football helmets out there and the marching band just appeared. And their dubious of anyone with a stack of double-spaced paper in their hands.

If you want to be a real, honest to goodness, professional writer, you need to be great. Two things really, really improved my writing dramatically, almost overnight. One was the day I emotionally disinvested myself from my work. I have my mentors, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith to thank for this. At the time, it wasn't a pleasant experience. They basically beat it out of me with a stick, but sometimes that's what it takes. You are not your writing and your writing—even, I bet if you're Stephen King—is not always going to be good. So get over it. Not every day will be a Hemingway Day. Some days are going to just be shitty crappy writing days. But don't not write. You need those days. They are your practice days. And the whole point of practice is to refine yours skills and make your mistakes when they don't really matter. Once you no longer have an emotional stake in your writing, suddenly every time someone tells you there's something wrong in your manuscript or you have a feeling something in your plot has misfired, your reaction will be: "Cool. How do i fix this? How do I make this great?" Until you detach, you won't have these thoughts. You'll have that little voice saying, "Told you so. You suck." And then another one coming right on its heels: "No, wait! Fuck him. He has no clue what he's talking about. He's stupid." Before I detached emotionally from my writing, a lot of very stupid people critiqued my manuscripts. Ha ha.

But why is it, for the most part, we never seem to know the difference between our shiny work and our shitty work? Well, more good news. We do. Eventually. It just takes some time for that ability to reveal itself. This is the second thing that rocketed the quality of my writing to a higher place almost overnight: when I finally learned how to objectively judge my own work and sort out the good stuff from the bad. I should add a clarification: no matter how long you write and how many words you crank out, you'll never be able to do this with 100% accuracy, but you can get close. I'm around 90%. Sometimes, I'll be writing like a tsunami, thinking, Christ, James Joyce has nothing on me, only to give it to someone to read and get back a bland "meh" reaction (which is the worst!!). Those times, usually, once I've had a day or so away from the work and a half dozen beer, I'll look at it with fresh eyes and realize I had been caught up with the passion of writing and it had completely destroyed my ability to see the proverbial forest for the trees. It really is "meh." But it's all good. It was practice. I practiced. You have to practice. I also don't ever throw anything away, so who knows? One day, something might come out of that trip to Boretown.

But the real thing that's going to turn you from a good writer into a great writer? More of that tenacity. Probably you'll need to put down another 800,000 words before you'll be truly great. And by then, you'll know how good you are and suddenly all that inner doubt dims (not completely, it's never, ever gone for good. And usually manages to rear its head at the worst possible times). Once you hit this level, you won't even show your writing to people nearly as much as you used to because you no longer need the affirmations. You'll simply know you're great. You'll give your stuff to actual readers because you truly want good feedback.

Reach that point, and you're in the top 2% of all writers out there. So... where's your agent? Where's your big publishing contract? Where's my mansion and super model wife?

Here's where the story gets a little bleak. The simple fact is, talent is not all it takes. History is full of talented writers who went to their graves before anyone saw them shine. Many were suicides. Don't let this be you. New York is fickle. Agents are fickle. The entire industry has had a humongous boot to its nuts and everybody's suddenly gun shy. I quit my "real" job in 2002. It took me ten years to find an agent. During that time, I wrote 16 novels and sent out not a single query letter. I also wrote around 75 short stories, which I did send out to magazines and places like that. I achieved minimal success with those. My biggest success with shorts has always been in contests. But, once I got a NY agent, she managed to sell some of my books within two years to a NY publisher. They then went on to contract me for two more books (not from my back list). These four books are the ones you guys know of as my "Alvin" series.

You may never get an agent. You may never get a publishing contract. These are simple facts of life. If you keep trying, you have a better chance, but you also have a better chance of it all throwing you into a dark depression of futility and frustration. Sometimes the pink dragon can't be caught. Not because he's fast or agile, simply because he doesn't exist. Again, get over it. There is no other way.

My last traditionally published book came out July of this year. I have a few in the pipeline that are still coming out in mass market paperback (Close to the Broken Hearted will be out this January). Due to circumstances I have nobody but myself to point blame at, I am not sure if I will ever traditionally publish another novel. I hope I do. But it doesn't matter. I can't stop writing. I'm way past stopping. So I am self-publishing my newest book, The Rose Garden Arena Incident (A serial thriller in seven parts. I'm not kidding myself, though. I know I'll be lucky if I manage to sell a thousand copies. my other books? The ones Kensington put out? Twenty thousand. I think they printed fifty-five thousand paperbacks when Dream with Little Angels was released again just this past April. I'll never see numbers like this doing things on my own. I simply don't have the money to throw upwards of—I don't know how much they spent for each book, $50,000? $75,000?—into marketing. I also don't have the infrastructure put in place to do it. To sell a lot of books, you need to go through booksellers that have a paradigm in place to get books into the hands of readers. I really don't. Hocking ebooks on Amazon along with maybe the odd Createspace trade paperback will never allow you to compete with dedicated marketing departments and distributors and all the interconnections that come with a brick and mortar publishing house. They have employees. I have a dog.

On the other hand, there's always that slight chance my self-pubbed books might go crazy. I mean, it has happened. It's just far and away not part of the belly part of the bell curve. Those stories (and there are probably less than twenty) lie out in the crazy, lunatic fringe.

But I'm okay with that. For me, writing has never been about the money. I write because I have to write. If I didn't, I don't think I'd ever have gone through those ten years waiting to find an agent while writing sixteen novels. I wrote those books to entertain myself. I wrote them because not writing is impossible for me. It's not like this all the time. Some days, there's nothing there. Nada. Not a word. Other days, it's like someone has taken my soul and lit it afire and the only way to douse that fire is to hammer down 12,000 words. I've had 25,000 word days. I once had a 36,000 word day/night stretch. But then I'll go two weeks with nothing. I don't freak out when this happens, although I certainly used to. But I've learned that, eventually, the fire guys in my stomach will return. Until that time, I focus on my family who really don't see nearly enough of me.

I guess my point is this: don't get discouraged by all the other writers out there. And don't ever compare your "career" to someone else's. And make sure you why you're writing and that it's not for the money or success or the women. Especially not the women. The thing that you have to remember is that very few "writers" actually write. They like to talk about writing. Oh Christ, for days on end. And they love starting novels or NNARAMO or wtf it's called (I hate NANARAMO. I think it's one of the worst things that ever happened to the craft). Out of all of those writers, less than five percent manage to ever finish a novel. And it drops to two percent if you've managed to get through more than one. That just wiped out a lot of the rabble. And, seriously, until you get at least two hundred thousand words under your belt, you're a terrible writer. So that requires a level of commitment not everyone's willing to give.

Let me leave with something a little brighter than where this has gone:
Follow your bliss. Eventually, the money should come after you. That's what I believe. But you have to be determined. There are periods even now when I think back to how much time I just hunched over my laptop instead of being with my kids (I wrote a million words a year, two years running--that's just stupid), and I shake my head. Was it all even worth it? I don't know. I bet they don't think so. To be clear, I don't write nearly that many words these days. Maybe a quarter of that. But it still bothers me how much time I've spent on what some people would consider a "hobby." 🙂

Anyway, that' it. If you've read this far, I salute you 🙂

Michael out.

Sticks & Stones — The Draft that Never Ends

sticks_and_stones (Small)

Some of you know about this. Oth­ers may not.

For the past year, I have been work­ing on the fourth Alv­in, Alaba­ma book, called STICKS AND STONES. in a way, it kind of resem­bles A THORN AMONG THE LILIES a bit. It’s about a seri­al killer called The Stick­man who was active fif­teen years before the sto­ry opens—before detec­tive Leah Teal was ever even a part of the Alv­in Police force.

Here’s a quick lit­tle syn­op­sis:

The case was head­ed up by Leah’s dad­dy, Joe Fowler, the then detec­tive of the Alv­in Police. Fowler became the pub­lic face of the entire Stick­man task­force and, as he did with all his cas­es, he took this one per­son­al­ly. After some time, it even got more per­son­al as The Stick­man kicked things up a notch.

The MO was strange but very con­sis­tent.

The nine vic­tims whose lives were tak­en by The Stick­man showed no pat­tern. Black and white, male and female, they were all between the ages of twen­ty-three and forty-five. Their bod­ies, all found around Alv­in between the years of 1973 and 1974, were always “pre­sent­ed” to the police a pecu­liar way. They were hogtied back­wards, so their chest and abdomen stuck out rather grue­some­ly and their ankles and wrists were all bound togeth­er behind them. Each one was shirt­less when dis­cov­ered. At the scene, the vic­tim was found with a wood­en stake dri­ven through his or her chest into the ground, or tree root, or what­ev­er worked. At the end of the stake was attached a piece of paper, and on that paper was a draw­ing of a stick­man in black, felt mark­er. In the cas­es where the vic­tims were wom­en, the stick­man had one line of hair on its head, end­ing at her ears with lit­tle tips, and two cir­cles drawn on the chest, denot­ing breasts.

But the stake wasn’t what killed them.

Each vic­tim dis­ap­peared any­where from a hand­ful of days to hours before their bod­ies turned up. Dur­ing that time foren­sics spec­u­lat­ed they were kept bound and shirt­less until The Stick­man killed them with a .38 Spe­cial round to the back of their skull. So the shot was what took their lives, not the stake. The vic­tims were dead before ever get­ting to the place their bod­ies turned up.

Fowler didn’t find evi­dence again­st Stork until after vic­tim nine&$8212;a year and a half after the first vic­tim was found. When Fowler had enough for a war­rant, police kicked his house. Stork wasn’t there, but they did find the mur­der weapon ver­i­fied by foren­sics from the two slugs the med­ical exam­in­er hap­pened to find lodged in the skulls of two vic­tims.

After his house was raid­ed Stork went into hid­ing.

A mon­th lat­er, based on an anony­mous tip, police were led to an aban­doned shot­gun shack where Har­ry Stork was holed up. He doesn’t give up and the sit­u­a­tion evolves into a Mex­i­can stand­off: Stork again­st Fowler. Stork wouldn’t drop his gun, so Fowler did the only thing he could do. He shot Stork. This par­tic­u­lar shot sparked some con­tro­ver­sy.

Claim­ing he was aim­ing for the man’s gun arm, Fowler said he must’ve over­com­pen­sat­ed slight­ly. Because, instead of hit­ting Stork’s arm, Fowler shot a round right into his heart, killing Har­ry Stork instant­ly. They’d only been thir­ty feet apart when it hap­pened.

Some peo­ple talked about Joe Fowler being a pret­ty damn good shot and won­dered where his inten­tions real­ly were. But, The Stick­man killings came to an end, so nobody took the issue any fur­ther. Joe Fowler became a hero. News­pa­pers all around the state had him on their cov­ers. He was The Man Who Saved Alv­in.

Except, Fowler nev­er let the case go. Some­thing about it nev­er gave him clo­sure. Even after leav­ing the force a few years lat­er to spend his remain­ing days at home with his fam­i­ly, that Stick­man case wouldn’t leave him alone.

He died of can­cer even­tu­al­ly, but not before putting his daugh­ter Leah on the Alv­in Police force.

The sto­ry opens fif­teen years lat­er and Leah Teal’s pa has been in the ground for ten of them. She is still detec­tive of Alv­in and a dis­turbing thing hap­pens.

After all the­se years a new body turns up on the bank of Lee­land Swamp in north­west­ern Alv­in. But it’s not just that there’s a dead body in her town that con­cerns Leah. It’s the way that body looks when police find her.

Shirt­less, and back­ward­ly hogtied, Abilene Williams is found staked to the moor on the edge of that swamp, and on that stake was attached a pic­ture of a female Stick­man. Cause of death is deter­mined to be a nine mil­lime­ter round to the back of the head before being brought to the swamp. The MO match­es the orig­i­nal Stick­man killings per­fect­ly. Only thing dif­fer­ent is the gun, but of course the orig­i­nal gun’s still in evi­dence.

It all sends chills through Leah just think­ing about it. She’d already lived the orig­i­nal Stick­man mur­ders vic­ar­i­ous­ly through her pa fif­teen years ago for the whole year and a half it took him to solve it.

Now it’s Leah’s turn to tack­le the Stick­man. Except it can’t be the real Stick­man. Her pa shot that one. He’s dead and the dead don’t come back.

Or do they?

The Stick­man case was her pa’s lega­cy. Some con­sid­er it the high point in his long career as a cop. Could it be that way back then some­how he’d shot the wrong guy? Leah doesn’t even con­sid­er that idea. She wouldn’t be able to deal with find­ing out her pa had been wrong.

So it’s up to Leah to uncov­er the truth and hope­ful­ly man­age to do so before this new Stick­man takes any more lives. Only trou­ble is, find­ing the truth may involve her destroy­ing the lega­cy of a man she respect­ed more than any oth­er she’s ever known in this world.

This book has been an ardu­ous strug­gle for me (but a work of love, of course). It is twice as thick as all the oth­er books have been. They’ve all fal­l­en between 85,000 and 100,000 words. As of yes­ter­day, STICKS crossed the 180,000 word mark. It’s sit­ting at 715 man­u­script pages and I still have an entire scene to fin­ish before I com­plete my third draft. And I have cut a lot. I don’t think there’s much left that can be tak­en out, so hope­ful­ly every­one likes long books. When I hit 115,000 words I asked my edi­tor if I should be con­cerned. His respon­se: “Go as big as you want.” I don’t think he expect­ed this. I don’t think I expect­ed this.

I wish I could explain why it’s so big. It’s got a huge, com­plex plot that real­ly has some nice pay­offs in the end. Many dra­mat­ic ques­tions are raised in the book that, once things start get­ting fig­ured out, they all fall into place like domi­noes dur­ing the res­o­lu­tion. Until then, the ques­tions all seem to con­tra­dict each oth­er.

I’ve got eight per­cent more of the book to get through before draft three is done. Draft four will be my pol­ish draft. I’ve nev­er been this much up again­st a dead­line. It’s scary.

I think it’s a solid book and quite pos­si­bly not just the best Alv­in book to date, but the best nov­el I’ve ever writ­ten. There’s some sur­pris­ing twists, and one that I don’t think any­body will see com­ing.

Any­way, that’s the end of my sta­tus update.

One more, sort of unre­lat­ed thing. Most of you have heard me go on about Sto­ry Bibles and how inde­spen­si­ble they are, espe­cial­ly when writ­ing a series. My bible con­tains all sorts of char­ac­ter infor­ma­tion and details, places in my mytho­log­i­cal town of Alv­in, along with their address­es, mul­ti­ple maps of the town, demo­graph­ics, lit­er­al­ly any­thing I make up for one of the books has to be record­ed so I stay con­sis­tent if I ref­er­ence it in future books. So far, every knew book has added to my town because I need­ed new places for things to hap­pen, and my pop­u­la­tion keeps grow­ing.

Any­way, until now, I’d used a very cave-man way of stor­ing this info. It’s writ­ten across mul­ti­ple doc­u­ments in a fold­er on my com­put­er called Alv­in Bible and I print them all out and have them in a binder that is near to burst­ing. Because I can’t quick­ly search or cross-ref­er­ence any­thing, using it is cum­ber­some.

So, to revamp my tech­nol­o­gy, I have begun set­ting up Alv­in­Wiki, a wiki that will have every­thing it that cur­rent­ly resides in my Bible. Well, here’s some good news if you’re a fan of my books. I’m going to make this wiki pub­licly acces­si­ble from my web­site so any­one can look at the infor­ma­tion. In fact, I will appre­ci­ate it if astute read­ers hap­pen to pick up on details facts or any­thing I may have missed while going through the books. Also, it would look nice if I had some­thing to place as a pic­ture for the major char­ac­ters (who will all have their own page). So if any of you fans are art­sy at all, pop me an email and may­be you can provide some art for it.

Because I’m still active­ly third draft­ing it will be a while before the wiki con­tains enough info to both­er with putting it live. Oh, and anoth­er thing it will con­tain will be mul­ti­ple maps of the town that allow you to zoom in for a more detailed view. Not quite like Google maps, but I’ll see what I can do.

That about wraps it up for this post. Nice to be back in the sad­dle. Feel like I haven’t blogged for years.

Michael Out.

When Can You Break POV Rules?

dragonfly

I had a recent discussion with a colleague about the pros and cons of writing from third-person point of view vs. omniscient point of view. His book has one storyline from first person POV and the rest are from omniscient, but not true omniscient because he doesn't really go into any character's heads.

The reason, I think, writing from POV works (and it doesn't matter if it's first person point of view or close third person point of view, there really is no difference) is that by seeing the world through a particular character's eyes, you get to not only build on the characterization of that character you also get to feel much closer to your characters. There are some cases where you have to fudge POV if you're using it though. Let me give you an example (and this is something you see in Tolkien a lot.

"Do you think they saw us?" said Gus as he ran around the corner and ducked under some tangled foliage.

"No, they're too busy looking for men on horseback."

"How long should we wait until continuing on?" Gus's heart pounded like a wet bag being thrown against his ribs. He
should never have left home. Home was safe. Home was somewhere you never had a chance of dying.

"Just give them ten minutes or so."

"How about we give them a day or so?" Gus asked, hopefully.

"You undervalue your abilities, my friend. Okay, that's long enough. They are on steeds, we are merely on foot. Let's go."

Gus swallowed and followed Matrix through the woods. He was too scared to put up any sort of fight. Besides, the encounter with the werenerves had him so on edge he was ready to pee his pants.

What neither man saw, however, was the image in the shadowy darkness squatted behind them, watching them slowly get up and follow the horse tracks still fresh in the mud.

Now that stays in Gus's POV right until the end where it HAS to come out for one line. I think this is acceptable. The rule about POV was made because it immediately makes an amateur's writing instantly better, but rules are made to be broken. I think in a case like this, you gain a lot by breaking the POV.

Just my two cents on the matter.

Let me know your thoughts.

Michael out.

Writing Character Biographies

Close to the Broken Hearted 500

As most of you know, I am a huge fan of keep­ing “sto­ry bibles” for my book. This first came along when my first pro­fes­sion­al­ly pub­lished sto­ry Dream with Lit­tle Angels turned into a series (I’m on book four). With­out hav­ing a bible, the sto­ry would’ve been impos­si­ble to con­tin­ue. It takes place in the myth­i­cal town of Alv­in Alaba­ma which I have doc­u­ment­ed to the hilt (com­plete with fold out maps, etc), and vir­tu­al­ly every store and house that has ever been men­tioned in any of the books is in there.

Also, the char­ac­ters are all there. Even the insignif­i­cant ones. If I named some­one in pass­ing and sim­ply said, “she was a pret­ty black girl with a round face and wore her hair in a pony tail,” it’s in the bible.

My friend John Pitts does much the same thing, although he uses Excel spread­sheets to track every­thing. I tried that, but found I got lost in all the lit­tle box­es. It might work for you, though. I prefer to have a big binder with every­thing marked off with page sep­a­ra­tors and all the impor­tant stuff in alpha­bet­i­cal order.

Part of my “bible” is sam­ple dia­logue of any impor­tant char­ac­ter so I don’t for­get their voice. It’s easy enough to go back through the books and look, but I find it even eas­ier just to pull out my trusty three ring binder and flip to that page. My bios aren’t huge­ly long, but they do list any details I’ve added to the char­ac­ters over the years, and for my prin­ci­pal char­ac­ters, that is start­ing to pile up. I have all their birth­days, astrol­o­gy signs, what they got for Christ­mas every year, etc.

I was lucky. I kept a bible from the begin­ning even though I nev­er expect­ed Dream with Lit­tle Angels to be kick­ing off a series of (at least) four books (that I’m con­tract­ed for). Hope­ful­ly, it will con­tin­ue going for more.

I’m also hop­ing to add anoth­er series to my plate, as I am a fair­ly fast writer and, even hav­ing tossed my first attempt at book 3 (A Thorn in the Lilies), have just hand­ed in the rough draft of ver­sion 2 to my agent. It is so much bet­ter. I actu­al­ly feel good about this one 🙂

Michael out.