Crooked by Austin Grossman

Another strong portrayal of a villain from Grossman.

Avoids the trap of completely rehabilitating Nixon. He’s sympathetic without being likable, and interesting to follow without the reader always cheering them on.

Loses steam in the second half. There’s plot lines that go nowhere, scenes that could have been cut without changing anything, and the climax happens completely off-screen, with no buildup or release of tension.

Still, I learned a few things about writing:

  • Delivering most of your plot via dialog — so long as you’re not data dumping — can be a great way to keep the story moving.
  • The best villains think they’re the hero.
  • Restricting your book to one POV can be too confining. Multiple POV can let you explore other aspects of your world, which you might need if your story takes place somewhere very different.

Going for the Goal

My wife’s in Arkansas for the next few weeks, visiting her mother for her annual pay-off-the-guilt-from-moving-to-California visit.

Normally, this is a time I tell myself I’m going to get a lot of writing done, hermit-in-the-woods style, but instead end up staring at the keyboard, trying to dig up inspiration.

So this time, I’m setting goals. Daily, weekly, and monthly goals:

  • Final-pass edit one chapter in the first novel every day.
  • Write a draft of a new short story every week.
  • Critique two stories submitted to litreactor (the online writer’s workshop) every week.
  • Find a new agent to query every week.
  • Polish and submit a new story to a new market every month.

I’ve decided to go with submitting the first novel to agents. However, I’ve also joined Publisher’s Marketplace, so I can be selective about which agents I query. Less of a shotgun approach, and more of a laser.

I’m hoping the explicit, bite-sized goals will keep me focused. Who knows? They might become new habits.

Altered Carbon by Richard K Morgan

A 1990s trenchcoats-and-mirrorshades action film published in the 21st century with 1950s gender roles. An odd, frustrating, throwback of a book.

Three things it taught me about writing:

  • Be careful when porting an old genre to a new skin. Bringing along the social mores along with the other elements will make your book feel dated from the start.
  • Taking an otherwise-competent character and pushing them out of their element is a great way to both explore a new world and make it challenging for them.
  • In sci-fi, it’s not enough that the names of things — computers, cars, etc — change. Our relationship with them needs to change, too, or it’s just window dressing.

Best Book Forward?

At the Writer’s Coffeehouse this weekend, another writer asked what they should do when they have four novels, all finished, each in a different genre, that they want to pitch to agents. Should they target each book’s query to a different agent? Should they mention they have other novels when querying one of them?

The answer — which surprised me — was no to both.

Don’t mention the other novels when first querying. Save that for later, if they want to talk more.

And instead of sending out queries based on the book, pick the agents you’d like to represent you, and send them the book you think has the greatest commercial potential.

Agents will want to represent everything you have. But by querying with the book that will likely sell the best, it’ll be easier for them to imagine selling your book to a publisher, which will increase your chances of convincing them to represent you.

So now I’m confronted with the question: have I been editing the wrong book?

A frustrating question to have, when I’m only one editing pass away from being totally done. And I’ve already written the synopsis. And the query letter. And have agents picked out.

But maybe I’d be querying the wrong book? Of the three, I think my most recent one’s the strongest draft. The second one’s the best story, though, and my beta readers’ favorite. The first one is, of course, the only one that’s actually done, in the sense of being a final draft.

So which one do I query with?

The End is Near

Novel edits are coming along faster than I thought. Might actually get them all done by the end of the month 🙂

It’s weird to see the novel being reshaped under my editing scalpel. I can feel the book getting better, little by little: its characters more consistent, the world more fully realized, the pacing tighter.

I’m remembering my plans for a follow-on book, and looking forward to writing it. Can editing a novel make you excited to write the sequel?

Cranking Through

Managed to whittle the list of editing passes from twelve to twenty and now back to thirteen.

Which means I didn’t finish them by the end of March, like I wanted.

I *did* finish the biggest of the changes, though: giving each chapter to either the male or the female protagonist, swapping evenly between the two, and filling out her narrative arc so that her storyline has equal weight.

The changes I have left are much smaller: revising character appearances, adding touches to scene descriptions, and making sure everything is consistent.

Still, I’m setting weekly goals, aiming for three editing passes done each week. At that rate, I’ll be finished with the edits in early May :/

Much later than I’d like, but I tell myself that’s better than not doing them, or worse yet, continuing to tweak and edit for a year or more.

Everyone Gets a Pass

My original plan for editing the first novel turned out to be…rather naive.

I thought it would be enough to fix the female protagonist’s plotline, then make a few description tweaks, and be done.

Instead, I’m looking at making a dozen or more editing passes over the novel, each one picking out a thing to fix and make consistent through the book.

I’ve had to change character appearances, character names, city names, backstory, world history…nearly every element needs to be tweaked one way or another to line up better with what I think the novel should be.

So I’m keeping a running list of things to fix as I go, jotting them down as I find them. That way I can focus on just one editing task at a time, getting one thing right all the way through the book before going back to the beginning and starting on the next fix.

My goal was to have these edits done by the end of the month (for a total of three months of editing), so I could spend the next three months editing my second novel. But we’re a third of the way through March, and, well…my list keeps growing.

Still, I’ll push on. I’m finding I still like this novel, still like the characters. I want to do them justice, give them the best book I can. So I’ll keep working through the list, till the list is done.

The Man Who Knew Too Much by G K Chesterton

A series of confusing, racist, Anti-Semitic stories. None of the characters are admirable. The mysteries are mostly atmosphere followed by “as you know” mansplaining. The only memorable characters are the ones he gives over to racist caricature.

Taught me several things not to do:

  • Don’t lean on description over plot. A thin mystery is a boring mystery, no matter how you dress it up in thick descriptions.
  • Don’t hold your characters in contempt. If you don’t like writing about them, why would anyone want to read about them?
  • Don’t assume that insisting two characters are friends is enough for the audience. If they’re friends, readers should be able to tell without being told. If no one can tell, then, maybe they’re not friends after all?

The Just City by Jo Walton

Inspiring. I could not imagine daring to try to write dialog for Greek gods and long-dead philosophers, but she did, and does it brilliantly.

Made me miss my days as a philosophy major, and that’s a good thing.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • Long explanations of things are ok, but only after the reader has come to know the characters, and care about them.
  • Switching first-person narrators is fine, so long as you keep the number of them down and clearly label each chapter so we know which character is speaking.
  • Sense of place can come through not just by food and clothing, but architecture and leisure activities as well.

Editing as Worldbuilding

We’re here! Made it into San Diego last week, despite freezing rain (Flagstaff), gusty winds (most of New Mexico), and fog (Cuyamaca Mountains).

No, we’re not unpacked yet. Yes, I unpacked the books first 🙂

So, back to work. And also back to writing.

I’ve decided to do another editing pass on the first novel. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about writing in just the last few months, and I’d like to apply what I’ve learned to it, see if it makes it better.

I’d also like to go back and fill in a lot of the worldbuilding details I left vague in the first two drafts. Flesh out character backgrounds, city histories, etc. I don’t want to add a huge info-dump to the book, but I do want to make sure everything holds together better, the various pieces of book matching up to make a more powerful whole.

And after thinking through the plot more, I’m really not satisfied with the way I’ve handled the female protagonist. That’s part of why I need to flesh out the character backgrounds, specifically hers. I realized her character arc is muted, a victim of me being unsure who I wanted to be the protagonist in the first draft.

She deserves better, so I’m going to pull out her conflicts and struggles into its own storyline, an independent path to follow while she also contributes to the central plot. I think it’ll make the book stronger, and the ending more compelling.

Some of these changes will be dialog or description tweaks. Some of this will probably end up being major surgery. But I’ve got to try.

Wish me luck.