Progress Report: October 2014

This is just a brief update for that handful of people who might be wondering about my writing progress, since I’ve been quiet lately.

Book 1 (Peer Through Time):

I spent much of the year revising it after an initial round of professional editing and some beta-reader feedback. It’s now back with the editor and I expect to call it complete by the end of 2014 or early 2015, at which time it will finally make its debut. Meanwhile, I’ve been studying self-publishing and have decided that’s the way I want to go. This is not a rejection of traditional publishing—I hope to ultimately become a hybrid author, with some projects published traditionally and others via the DIY route—but for my first book, I’ve concluded it’s more important for me to have the final say on cover design, editing, and the publishing timeline than I would have with a big publisher, even if it means having less visibility.

Book 2 (working title – Gravity’s Loop):

I wrote 50,000 words of it—about half a novel—during National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo, in November 2013. I had no day job at the time, which is the only reason I was able to produce so much. Approximately one-quarter of this writing was worth saving and revising. I spent months drafting different plot ideas, running out of ideas and nearly abandoning it. One day, seemingly out of nowhere, the entire plot appeared in my head, so I sat down at the keyboard and summarized it as fast as I could.  Since then, the ideas keep coming faster than I can write. Over the past few months I’ve re-shaped and re-plotted it, and now Draft #1 is nearing the midpoint.

Book 3 (actually the first book I wrote, but set aside, so – Book 0?):

It’s in the hospital. It’s not dead. A few more surgeries and it will be ready for eventual release. But the surgeon is too busy with other things right now, so on the waiting list it remains.

Other projects:

The decision to self-publish is basically a decision to start a company—to become an entrepreneur. This was an incredibly daunting idea at first, but once I dove in, I found it to be not only a means to an end, but an end in itself. I wrote a separate article on this, which will tentatively be published as part of an anthology on the writing and publishing process with other indie authors. More on that to follow in the months to come.

This will be my final blog on this particular website. After that, everything will shift over to my own website.


On becoming a writer: update – October 2013

Several weeks ago, I quit my job in order to write full-time. This is a temporary arrangement. I’m living off some meager savings, borrowing against my own future for this very scary experiment. My partner’s income doesn’t cover our expenses, but the emotional support provided is at least as—if not more—important.

I do not have any paid writing gigs, nor do I suffer from the delusion that my writing will provide financial support any time in the near future. For a man of no faith—in the religious sense of the word—I’ve taken a huge leap of faith.

My first novel—a science-fiction tale of time travel and murder—took me 19 years just to write the first draft. I wrote only when inspiration hit me, taking months or years off at a time, and there was little story planning involved. It was then that I began studying the craft of writing, specifically novel-writing. The biggest eye-opener? Successful novelists don’t wait for their muse to come to them—they treat their writing like a job, pushing through even when they don’t feel like it, and allowing themselves to write badly, with the idea that they will later be able to turn it into something coherent and intriguing.

My second novel—a sequel, picking up 20 years after the first one ends—was drafted in 10 months. I had transformed myself from a “pantser” (as in, writing by the seat of your pants, with little strategy) into a “planner.”  I had the major plot points of my story mapped out, so all I had to do was bridge the gaps in between.  Once the first draft was complete, I began what would become the first five months of revisions.

Half-way through this revision period, I could no longer deny the thought that kept creeping into my head, louder and more persistent each time: This is what I want to do. I was so sick of sitting down early in the morning—or late in the evening, or on the weekend—planning to write for an hour or two, only to get interrupted by incoming work.

My job in electronic data management was rarely bounded by the typical workday of 9 to 6. My clients were attorneys, searching for information relevant to whatever upcoming lawsuit we were working on. Usually it was patent infringement—they stole my stuff—and my job was to sift out all the garbage among millions of electronic documents, so that the attorneys and paralegals would have a smaller mountain of potentially relevant documents to examine.  

I was working for, and with, workaholics. They often worked until midnight, started up again before sunrise, and had little reverence for the restoration that a Saturday or Sunday off might provide. That our clients were all over the globe was another factor: if it was the middle of the day to them, then we should be working, no matter where we were located, and whether or not we had personal lives to attend to. It’s Sunday and you’re in the park with your kids? Who cares? We’ve got a client call scheduled—last-minute, of course—so get on it.

I don’t have kids, but witnessing others suffer this type of treatment was getting me down. Way, way down. I know there are much worse stories—horror stories—of how some employees are treated, but telling myself “you could have it worse” wasn’t doing much to improve my attitude.  I just wanted to write my book, and—just as important—to know when I would have time to write it. Ten minutes here, fifteen minutes there—some authors do write like that, and out of necessity I will likely have to do so in the future, but I wanted to know what it would be like to be able to schedule that time myself. Would I stick to it? Could I possibly be disciplined enough to crank out at least twice as much writing as I had while working a more-than-full-time job? Would it be worth it?

No, I haven’t spent as much time devoted to writing as I had imagined I would. But yes, I’ve been disciplined enough to have made a big difference in where I am now vs. where I would be if I’d still been working that job.

After two weeks of freedom, I had revised the second half of my novel. I had completed in two weeks what had previously taken me two and a half months to accomplish. Not a bad improvement—I was liking these numbers. Over the next several weeks, I went through another round of revisions, wrote a synopsis, rounded up some “beta readers,” and hired an editor to do some substantive (not just copy) editing.

Now that my second, more polished, novel was in the hands of others, I figuratively dusted off the manuscript of my first novel and started planning a complete structural overhaul. I would keep the basic storyline the same, but aside from laying out the general idea and introducing characters, my manuscript was a mess. It contained long passages of characters’ thoughts, without any scenes moving the story forward. There were pages and pages without conflict. There were three protagonists and it was unclear exactly whose story I was telling.

The remedy was not easy to come by. I brainstormed, coming up with ridiculous ideas that no one will ever read. I couldn’t make it work. I had quit my job for nothing. At times, I was stressed and despondent and ashamed—but at least I had time to keep at it.

I kept trying different ideas of how to make the story work—how to make it more compelling, how to take the idea of it in my head and turn that into a reality. What finally kick-started the re-write was fairly simple in retrospect: I switched the point of view of two characters, so that the one written in first-person (originally written in third-person) was now my main protagonist. Secrets that had been kept until the middle of the book were now laid bare right up front, forcing me to come up with new secrets, new twists in the storyline to keep it interesting and moving forward.

Within three weeks, I had reached the one-quarter mark. Three weeks after that, I was halfway done with the first draft of my major re-write. I had done in six weeks what had previously taken me over a decade. It wasn’t purely self-discipline that got me there—I had, little by little, begun immersing myself in the writing life.

I’m not a joiner. It is a major effort to get myself to participate in social activities where I don’t already know someone. But they say you have to find a writing group. Well, you don’t have to—but so many authors have credited their writing groups, at least partially, for their stories’ improvements. It makes perfect sense. I would do it.

So I forced myself to join a writing group—it was a no pressure, come one time if you want, stay as long as you want sort of deal—and it wasn’t terrible. But it wasn’t great. It was, as they say … meh. I did get some writing done that day, in addition to discovering that a café I usually pass by has some great sandwiches and friendly service. And it’s a quiet café where a lot of people come to write. So maybe I did get something out of trying to find a writing group. I’ll keep trying.

The third week of October brought LitQuake, San Francisco’s annual literary festival. There are multiple gatherings throughout the week, many consisting of authors reading excerpts of their work. I went to a few of these events and started seeing some of the same faces in attendance.  One author, when asked about inspiration, said that NaNoWriMo was very inspirational.

National Novel Writing Month—NaNoWriMo—occurs each November. It’s a community of writers whose goal is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. It’s quantity over quality, with the idea of fixing it up later. That many words would normally take me several months, but I’m committing myself to the challenge for NaNoWriMo. You’re supposed to start with a brand new book, so I’ll set books 1 and 2 aside and start on book 3, which will complete my trilogy.

So by the end of November, I should have: (a) the first half of my book 1 revision drafted; (b) feedback to start what will hopefully be my final revisions on book 2; and (c) the first half of my book 3 drafted.  

Looking back, that’s a lot accomplished in a short amount of time. I couldn’t have done it while still tied to the demands of my former job. I certainly don’t advocate quitting one’s job to follow one’s dream—”don’t quit your day job” is a common warning among authors—and yet that’s exactly what I did. I wish I could travel to the future for a few moments, like some of my characters do, and see what’s become of my future self.

In a way, there is a method for predicting the future, one that we all possess: you create it yourself. You lay out a plan, saying “first I’ll do this, which will lead to that,” etc. You may not have the timeline down, and you have to be flexible, but as the saying goes, the best way to predict the future is to create it.

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

Thanks to Kristi Belcamino for tagging me in in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop, in which an author answers set interview questions and then tags more people to do the same.

What is the working title of your book?

Peer through Time

 Where did the idea come from for the book?

Time travel stories have long been my favorite. I loved the TV show “Lost” but I was disappointed that not all the intriguing questions were answered by the end. My story has nothing to do with being lost on an island, but it does broach what I hope are intriguing questions, all of which will be answered.

What genre does your book fall under?

Science Fiction/Speculative Fiction

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

My mind resisted this question at first, but once I dug in, it was not only fun but a great exercise in unleashing character-development creativity. If Lindsay Lohan ever gets her shit together (a big if), I’d love it if she could call upon all that emotional baggage—and early talent and likeability—to portray our protagonist, Carmela. But realistically, Emma Stone would be a better choice, and Cissy Spacek could be the older version of Carmela.

Since Justin ages only slightly, the Franco brothers, Dave and James, might be a good fit.

 What is the synopsis of your book?

Carmela Akronfleck wants to return to her own time.  Twenty years ago, at age eight, she was unwittingly displaced from the year 2002 to 2059, unable to return.  Her new therapist thinks she’s delusional, but Carmela believes she will soon embark on a one-way trip to the past.

 While experimenting with quantum virtual wormholes, Carmela and her colleague Justin vanish from the laboratory at Wakeup Technologies. Carmela finds herself alone in the year 1934, with no sign of Justin. Now she must learn to live without the technology she’s come to rely on, hoping she can stay long enough to be reunited with her biological parents.

In the year 2079, Carmela’s adoptive mother, Margaret, feigns surprise about her daughter’s disappearance.  Although she knew the day might come, her grief is genuine–and it intensifies when some of Margaret’s acquaintances suffer unexplained fatalities.  She seeks help from the same therapist who was treating Carmela and two of the victims.

Back in the early twentieth century, Carmela makes a discovery that leads her to believe her adoptive mother is in danger. But she has no way of getting a message to Margaret across time–unless she can figure out how to travel through it again. If she succeeds in finding a way, Carmela will have to choose between reuniting with her natural parents and saving the woman she now calls Mom.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Hopefully by an agency, though I will consider self-publishing.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

It took 7 months to get halfway through, but I’m increasing my daily word quota, so I plan to finish the first draft within 11-12 months from the time I started.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The non-fiction writings of futurist Ray Kurzweil and physicist Paul Davies have been very inspirational in terms of the ideas I want to cover. As for stellar models of fiction, the writings of science-fiction author Robert J Sawyer and cross-genre author Dean Koontz have played a large role. And for story structure and plotting, I kneel before the shrine of James Scott Bell and Larry Brooks, who were brought to my attention by my writer-friend (and childhood classmate – sort of a peer through time, get it?) Kristi Belcamino.

Kurzweil has been especially inspiring because he believes the future of humans and our machines will not be “us vs. them” as found in much futuristic speculative fiction. Rather, we will merge with our technology so that they are us, we are them—this is already happening today, so I’m simply extrapolating it into the future. Despite all the harmony I predict, there’s still plenty of tension and evil doings. This is a fiction story, after all.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

While time travel is part of the story’s foundation, there’s also a murder mystery; some soap-opera-like character connections and family histories; and an indication that our technological advances will reveal an optimistic future for humankind.

On Wednesday, Feb. 20th, please visit my writer friend, Kai Venice, as he writes about his Next Big Thing.