After three months, and my first Beta Reader's stamp of approval, I can finally say with some certainty that my fourth novel is finished. Finito, completo. Sure, I'll have to make some small editorial fixes, but the design, layout, plot, story, everything, is ready for others to read. Considering how my first trilogy took me seven years to pull together, I thought it'd be interesting to push myself to come up with a concept, map it out, write it, and edit it for publication in under three months. And by gum, I have! Here's how:
I'M ALWAYS LEARNING ABOUT THE ART OF STORYTELLING
One would never know, but I based my four main characters in my new book off of Jungian Archetypes. I'm fascinated with how stories tick. I love reading about the hero journey, about dramatic structures and archetypes. I believe that writing is sort of like alchemy. There are bits that work together, and always have, due to some very elemental workings of the mind and literature. It's a separate study, surely, and if a writer relies too much on formula their work is repetitious and boring, but like they say, once you know the rules, then you can break them.
I PONDERED THE PLOT FOR WEEKS
On the bus, on the beach, when there was downtime at work. Anytime I could iron out wrinkles in my idea, or add new ones to it, I would. Everything I read, every movie I watched, every interaction I watched, I tried to look for ideas to weave into my story. I knew where I was headed, that I wanted something in a science-fiction vein, and that giant dinosaur-like animals would be fun, but at the beginning, it's all I had. By slowly building the story up everyday in my head, I was able to work out the general plot. I know a lot of people like taking extensive notes, but I find that when I do that I commit to "lesser" ideas. I figure, if I don't remember it, it wasn't worth remembering and doesn't belong in my super-memorable story (ha).
I OUTLINED ONCE I WAS READY
Some people swear against it, but after my meandering experience with Slate Ahn and the Books of Knowledge, I wanted to try something different. Without an outline, my first trilogy was an exercise in making ends meet, meaning that coming up with new plot for that story was really difficult. It made for a lot of bending over backwards to make characters, places, and plot points stick together. It was fun, like a collage almost, but it was trying. Coming back to chapters I hadn't seen for years certainly made the process difficult. Working on The Vanished Colony with an outline, I found writing to be much easier. I wrote out a small synopsis of what was to happen in each chapter, and drew a little map to illustrate it. I still let the characters dictate how scenes played out, but knowing where the whole thing was headed kept my storytelling concise and clear. And there weren't a bunch of loose ends to tie up!
WRITE EVERY DAY
That old chestnut. It's hard sometimes, but it really works. For me, it didn't have to be the same time everyday. I would warm up by writing an installment of one of my serials for my blog, and then finish a whole chapter of the book, no matter what. Well, to be honest, some days I felt like I was pulling teeth, and I knew my writing was less than effervescent, and so I just stopped when it came to staring dumbly at my computer screen. This was rare, though. Most days, I drank my coffee and wrote, no matter what. It worked for me, despite some days feeling less-than-clever, because of the most important step, the next:
IT'S ALL IN THE EDITING
My book was finished, save for the last chapter, when I started to edit it. Twenty-three days after put the first word down. I left the last chapter open, because I wanted to see how I felt about it after going back through the whole story. And then I worked at ten pages a day, correcting grammatical errors. All the way through the book I spell-checked and re-wrote, sometimes whole pages, often just sentences a chapter. And then after the first edit I went back through again, chapter-by-chapter, to make sure the flow of the chapters was right, and to add flourishes. This second time, I cut out the superfluous chunks, those ideas and themes I had already dealt with in a more satisfying way in other sections of the book. And then I gave it to my Beta-Reader, who continued to make edits and gave me recommendations and suggestions. Thankfully, she didn't think the whole thing had to be re-written.
And so here I am, with my next book done. And it's pretty neat! I can't believe it myself, really. The new novel is a little shorter than my others, but I'm still happy with it. This technique has produced a very fleet, fast-moving, economical novel. And my Beta Reader said she likes it better than my first three books, which took me forever! So go figure.
What does this all mean? Am I going to try to write my next book in one and a half months? No way. In fact, I plan on taking longer, as it's going to be a much longer work, and I want a different feel to it. More ponderous. Maybe some people can do ponderous quickly, but not me. Besides, when all is said and done, I think I enjoyed writing my other books more. Living with the ideas for years, thinking about the characters for as long, growing with them. I'm not trying to crank out work for a deadline, or even a publisher. I self-publish, so I can take as long as I want. Hopefully I'll have twenty books by the time I'm fifty. And maybe one of them will be good enough to submit to a publishing house, if those exist then. Neat thing about authors is that they have their whole life to build an audience. I'm in no hurry. I just love writing and sharing.
We'll see, though. Maybe now that I've revved up my writing engine, I'll not be able to slow it back down!
THE VANISHED COLONY is out in early September.
Last time, our man Bull Mayday had just seen his nemesis' head blown off by his new gal Mary Myers. Now that his adversary is gone, and he's got the loot, will he quit his life of crime? And will his 3-legged dog Marv ever get dinner?
Well, like I said at the beginning of this story, I wouldn't have chosen a life of crime for myself. But I didn't really have to. It chose me.
As Mary and I sat on the porch of my sister's cabin, along the southern edge of Jaidour where things stay a bit more rural, the sun flashed bright red to signal preparation for its daily trip under the horizon. We had ditched our loot under a rock in a cave earlier that day, just in case anyone showed up looking for it, and so now we had time to breathe, and think.
"So, how's it feel?" Mary asked me. "To be a real criminal now, to be hiding out?"
"Well, the stash of loot feels good, that's for sure," I told her. "Especially once we get it out from that cave. But as for my criminality... I'm thinking it was just a one-time deal."
"Really? You think you can get away that easy?" Mary asked me, laughing as she sucked down an ice-cold beer in two gulps. "It's not like that, Bull. You've got a name in the criminal underground now. And all those folks you met, that were supposed to be part of the plan, they're going to come looking for us and for that dough."
"Oh," I said, my shoulders falling down the back of my rocking chair. "Hadn't thought of that."
"Well you should have," Mary said. "If we're going to be a team now, you're going to have to be a lot quicker, see?"
"Oh, of course," I said, as I knocked over my bottle of beer. While I could work to be quicker, I could never be any less clumsy. That's what Marv is for. He hopped over and started to suck up the beer like a wiry little vacuum.
"He's kind of a funny little dog, Marv," Mary said.
"Watch it," I told her. "That's my best friend in the world there you're talking about."
"Hey, I understand," Mary told me. "I love dogs. In fact, before we split town, we'll have to pick up mine."
"You've got a dog, too?" I asked. "What kind?"
"Snarlingwulf," she answered. "Named Bites." Of course she had a snarlingwulf. Named Bites.
"Well. Little Marv and Bites monster are going to make a pretty silly pair, don't you think?" I asked.
"Kinda like you and me?" Mary said, cracking open another beer. I mean, she was right. Mary Myers was an absolute knock-out. A ten out of five. And me? I was a bony little magazine editor. But hell, I would never have imagined I'd be able to harpoon my way out into an airship and stick it up, either, so maybe hooking up with a bombshell wasn't outside of my capability either. Who'd have known, two weeks ago, that I had it in me? Maybe Marv. He's a pretty keen pup.
"Sure," I said, trying to sound tough. Maybe if I played the part long enough, I'd become it. The power of practice, right? Though, one time I tried to start running, and that didn't last very long. Didn't pay as well, either. So maybe I'd have a chance this time. "What's that about leaving town, by the way?" I asked, realizing what Mary had said a while back.
"We're going to have to lay low, for a while. Let the police simmer down, let Mary the Malcontent and Benny Two-Tone get wrapped up in something else."
"Oh," I said. "Of course. Where will we go?"
"Where've you always wanted to?" Mary asked, with that sex-kitten look that always drove me wild.
"Well... I've always wanted to go to the Virvi," I answered.
"Tropical drinks and raw fish?" Mary asked. "Sounds good to me!"
We didn't do too much more talking the rest of that afternoon, believe me, though there were indeed many heated exchanges. That Mary Myers, I tell ya... What a gal. She could have been the one. Still might be, if I could ever trust her again.
Why can't I, you ask? Well, that's a story for another time. And the guards are calling for us. Time for dinner. As long as you're my cell mate, we'll have plenty of time for stories, won't we?
THE END... FOR NOW!
Unlucky thug Bull Mayday has just found out his girl Mary Myers is league with Gaunt, the shifty police-criminal who organized the heist that had Bull playing the part of the patsy. Though there are more coppers on him than bees on honey right now, and Mary and Gaunt have him from the other side, he might still be able to squeeze out from between this rock and hard place...
What could I do about Mary anyways? I certainly didn't have any time for self-pity. So Mary turned coat. Big surprise. I suppose there's no honor among thieves, anyway. Even big, brashy, beautiful ones like her. Too bad, I was thinking. We could have had something special.
"Freeze!" one of the cops screamed at me. What was I gonna do, fly away?
I threw up my arms. "Don't shoot!" I cried.
"Quickshots down!" Gaunt ordered as he came around the front of the bus. "Officers, quickshots down!" he ordered again, when some of the men ignored him the first time.
"With all due respect, sir, this isn't your place to call the shots," another police chief said to Gaunt, striding up to him with thumbs in belt like a desperado.
"I've waited and plotted for too long to have you ruin it now, Verlander!" Gaunt cried, and then he blasted the chief twice with his quickshot, right in the chest.
Now, before that, the whole 'life as a criminal' thing was all fun. I mean, old Bull's death had been gruesome, but he was kind of a monster. He sort of deserved it. But this police chief? Dead on account of my heist? My wanting to play tough-guy? That was just too heavy, I tell ya. It was all getting way too heavy.
Before any of the other officers had a chance to stop him, Gaunt fired off nine more shots, succinctly and deftly taking them all down to the pavements like blue dominoes.
The crowd began to scream and flee, cars drove up into stores and onto the curb to get away: total chaos. Two men from the crowd tried to be heroes and charged Gaunt. They were disposed of just as quickly. As for my sorry hide, I managed to make it to the curb before the bastard caught me trying to escape.
"Wait right there!" Gaunt screamed at me. He fired, and somehow, thankfully, missed. His bullet bounced off the street light next to my ear with a deafening clang.
I fell down and began to crawl, and cry, like a baby. God, I didn't want to die. I would have taken back everything I'd ever done wrong in my life just then, for a chance at salvation. Every piece of candy I'd stolen, every hour I'd slacked off at work and gotten paid for. Every grape I'd eaten without paying for at the grocery store. I just didn't want to go out like a bum.
"I don't have the money, Gaunt," I said. "It's in the bus... The bags... Take them, I don't want it. Take it and go, please!"
"It's not about the money, now, you little jerk," he said, creeping closer to tower over me like an angel of death, with his quickshot drawn on my sweaty forehead. "You've got to die so that they all think you killed these fine officers, Bull. Daat. Sorry son of bitch. Or whatever you want to be called by your executor. Last words?"
I wasn't going to honor him by giving him a caption for his memory of my death. I tried to stand up, but Gaunt kicked my legs out from under me. The concrete tore my hands up as I fell down again. It didn't hurt, though. I was going to die anyways. I really thought that was it.
"I'll see you in h-," Gaunt started to say, but as I stared at his mouth, watching what I thought were going to be the last words I ever heard get spoken, the strangest thing happened: Gaunt's head exploded.
As the brains and blood rained down onto me, I wasn't so much horrified as surprised. You just don't expect to see that, a head exploding. And then, when his twitching body fell after a second or two, I saw Mary standing behind, her quickshot barrel a chimney.
"Mary!" I cried. "Mary, why'd you do it?"
"Because," she said, coming over to help me up, "like I said before, I think you're my kind of fella. Now let's get the loot and get out of here!"
"And not on public transit this time!" I added.
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