Being an indie author, I am used to creating my own deadlines and publication dates and going as fast, or slow, as I like. If I push out a publication date a month, the only person who cares is yours truly.
So, when Ambassador International was eager to publish much earlier than previous expected, I had two options, protest or get on board for the ride.
The question of whether to be a stick in the mud or go with the flow wasn’t even really a question. When I signed with my publisher, I knew it would be a journey not set at my own pace, and the benefits of having professionals in charge was refreshing rather than intimidating.
Since I wrote the first draft of Chasing Deception in the late ‘90s (and finally shared it with the world 15 years later), I have learned that ceding independence can often mean greater opportunity and exposure. I may like the process of writing books, but I also need to market them and others are better at that than I.
Therefore, as you can see, Fool’s Luck is moving ahead at full steam. By the time it releases in July, I will have learned much more about publishing and you will have a much better product than if I had done it all myself.
And that’s the benefit of going with the flow, even if you are an independent spirit like me.
When I began my writing career, stories came to me one at a time. I would write a novel, wait a year or so, get inspired and write another one. Everything was neat and orderly.
Now that I am getting my feet wet as a scribe for the screen as well as the page, I have found my writing life requires a bit more multitasking.
On the day I wrote this post, I finished edits on the latest draft of my novel for my publisher, then I read through a full draft of the screenplay my writing partner and I are working on. Later, I sent my manuscript to a novelist a lot more accomplished than I am for a potential review.
All this does not take into account the zero draft of a screenplay that I am working through in my spare time and the novel idea for which I have a prologue, outline and some research completed.
Some might compare this to juggling balls or spinning plates, but I tend to liken it to being an air traffic controller. I have several different projects that are varying distances from the runway that is a release date. Which “plane” gets my attention to and in what order is critical. The question is not which project do I want to work on, but which one needs my immediate focus and which ones can be left in a holding pattern.
Because, in the end, I need to get each plane on the ground as smoothly as possible so that the passengers (readers/viewers in this extended metaphor) want to fly with us again.
I remember when I first read The Hunger Games, I liked almost everything: the action, the dystopian world-building, the character development.
What I didn’t enjoy was the use of first person, present tense point of view. It seemed silly to me.
Well, guess what? Several years later, I find myself employing the same POV as Suzanne Collins, and many YA authors who followed her, for my suspense novel.
I suppose that makes me the silly one.
Actually, I realized that the immediacy that both the writer and the reader feel when “I” am telling the story is powerful. You are able to get inside the head of the protagonist and follow him or her on a compelling journey in which all other distractions are cast by the wayside.
When I wrote Fool’s Luck, I would sit for hours on end, banging away on the keyboard as I tried to capture the words flooding out of my head. I lost track of time and external reality as the story itself became the world I was living in.
I only hope by using the first person (and the present tense in the first and last chapters) that readers will get as lost in the story as I did.
Writer Anne Lamott is famous for talking about the importance of writing a “crappy” first draft (well, her language is a little more colorful, but you get the idea). She argues it’s better to finish the whole tale than get lost in the weeds and stall out before the end zone (I think I mixed at least three metaphors there, which may well be a record for me).
With a few exceptions, I am a linear writer who relies on a general outline to guide my creative process.
The problem is, after writing four books, I tend to think my first draft is good to go with only a little polishing. I forget that after draft one, the most important step in my process is a thorough critique by my wife, a fellow writer who takes no prisoners when it comes to poor storytelling or clichéd writing.
On my latest project, I thought my draft was sufficient to send to some well-connected friends for possible dust jacket reviews. Then I realized one problem: my work was still a diamond very much in the rough. It needed a lot of tender loving critiquing to be ready for even my closest friends.
So, swallowing my pride, I had to ask they trash can the flawed draft while I made some necessary repairs.
My first writing career was in journalism where speed was the name of the game as we wrote the first draft of history. In composing novels, I am learning there is plenty of time for a second go around.
The COVID-19 pandemic and safer-at-home orders gave many of us a chance to work on a project we normally wouldn’t have time to complete. Personally, I took the opportunity to finish my current novel, a fictional memoir of a schoolteacher who wins the lottery and decides to run for president.
Considering the current global struggles with a pandemic and systemic racial injustice, you would think this would be perfect “ripped-from-the-headlines” material for my book.
These are vital issues for us to grapple with as a global community to be sure, but there are three key reasons I won’t be doing so in my novel.
The first of which centers on the fact I am seeking traditional publication for this book, meaning it could be a year or two (or more) before it hits the shelves. Will these issues have the same resonance then as they do now? It’s impossible to tell.
Second, to embrace these new issues means I would need to reject my original narrative, which was complex and nuanced already. I’m sure there is a great story out there about a president dealing with such issues in his/her first or last year in office, for example, but that’s someone else’s tale to tell, not mine.
Third, is is hard to tell such sensational stories without looking making your work look like a cheap and insensitive imitation of real events. That's the last thing I would ever want to do.
For now, this is my story to share. Hopefully it will make headlines of its own.
When creatives speak of being inspired by the Muses, one envisions the gentle whisper in the ear to add a stroke on a canvas or a phrase in a sentence. Perhaps that’s how it works for my fellow artists, but not with me (at least not on my latest project).
Normally, I’m the guy who sits down for a month and pounds out a manuscript. Solitude and focus are my primary needs, with food and water being a distant second (Maybe Henry David Thoreau was on to something in Walden).
For my latest book, the Muses don’t seem to want to whisper their ideas while proffering a grape or two. I get the characters from my book waking me up at 5 a.m. to start dictating their story. A professional writer would get up and start writing. Then again, a professional writer doesn’t have to get up in an hour to go to a job to pay the bills.
Those of us who are independent artists for whom art does not fuel our income, creating our works come in between work and chores and family and sleep. As much as I want, I can’t go to my boss and say I need to take the next week off to write a novel that may, or may not, make back the money I put into it.
So, in response to this challenge, I write what I can remember when I get the chance. In the end, hopefully most of the perceived brilliance will make it to the page.
Living in the suburbs of Los Angeles, everywhere you go seems to be the back drop for one movie/TV show or another and when you teach at San Dimas High School, the cult classic Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is often the topic of conversation with outsiders. For example, I just spent a week grading AP exams with teachers from around the country and when I said where I was from, most of them could quote the movie’s most famous line.
So, with the third Bill & Ted's movie coming out in 2020, and with our principal being really cool about inviting Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves to the real San Dimas High School, I suggested about a month ago that we make an intentionally campy commercial extending the invitation.
Well, I was reminded of the old adage than when you suggest an idea you usually are volunteering for the project. Undaunted, I wrote a first draft of the 3-minute screenplay and worked on polishing the script with a new teacher who was my former student of mine and not even born when the film came out.
Our awesome video teacher was on board and so were a bunch of teachers and students who jumped at the chance to be in this video. We had a lot of fun and even the local media liked it.
More importantly, in the midst of writing (and rewriting) my first screenplay, I discovered how important it is to work on a little side project now and then to keep the creative juices flowing.
Now let’s see if we can get these famous “alumni” to return to campus!
That would be most excellent!
While I made the leap to streaming TV last year, my wife and I still watch some shows that have a traditional 24-episode arc.
Recently we watched two season finales of series we have enjoyed for years. Both of them used the plot twist of bringing back old characters who had been written off years earlier. One show did so in a believable fashion that stayed true to the character and her motivations, but the second attempt was much less successful (in my eyes at least). The latter featured a storyline about a couple who rode off into the proverbial sunset after years and years of romantic tension but when we checked in with them today, their (and our) hopes and dreams had been dashed on the harsh rocks of reality.
While the technique worked (it wasn’t like they had been abducted by aliens and just returned to Earth to save the hero), it was so unfulfilling that I have taken to choosing the “reunion” never happened. I simply erased it from my mental hard drive and reverted back to the previous version of the story.
I admit this is a radical step for TV show fan and perhaps a rude one for a fellow writer with nowhere near as much experience. But I was reminded of a valuable lesson: writing is not merely an art but a responsibility.
It is easy to introduce more and more complex twists and turns in your narrative. The problem is we can just as easily forget we write for an audience of more than just ourselves. A series of movies or a long-running TV show has developed a loyal following and, as have we learned from the Game of Thrones ending (well, others learned, as I am apparently one of a dozen Americans who is not a GoT fan), pleasing, or at least respecting, the audience is the number-one goal of a writer.
Let’s just hope I get it right with my own script. Thankfully, I have a fellow scribe much better at the craft to keep me on the straight and narrow.
As we speak, I am doing something most novelists only dream about: I am working with a friend to convert one of my novels into a screenplay. Of course, like one might expect, visions of being on the set while famous people bring your words to life danced through my head (and, rather foolishly, I was already pondering the opening lines to the Academy Award speech I will never give).
I quickly wrote a first draft that closely matched the book, but condensed the key elements like a fine balsamic reduction. I was rather pleased with how easy the process was. Beaming like a proud parent, I sent it off to my screenwriter friend who wanted to partner with me. He took a quick look at it and quickly informed me that, while I was a good writer of books, stories on the screen just are not told the same way. It’s all about the visuals and the pacing is much different.
So, what we have set out to do is create a story inspired by my original work. What I thought was going to be like puppy undergoing a bit of primping to be ready for a dog show has become like a caterpillar being transformed into a butterfly. The core elements are the same, but they are displayed in radically different ways.
I am learning how to write all over again and, when I watch a TV show or movie, I am seeing with new eyes and listening with new ears. My critiques are more nuanced, but I also see the things writers and directors do well and I appreciate their genius more than ever before.
So, while I might grumble like J.R.R. Tolkien’s ghost when Peter Jackson took a bit of cinematic license with the Lord of the Rings series, I must admit that the movies were fairly popular and works of cinematic splendor.
I also need to keep in mind books and movies are two separate entities. I have a family member who loves A Prayer for Owen Meany, but does not like the film adaptation Simon Birch at all. I, on the other hand, rather disliked the book but absolutely adore the film.
While it may be hard, it’s important to remember the caterpillar of the written word and the butterfly of the moving picture are both beautiful in their own ways.
I recently read John Grisham’s latest, The Reckoning, a fascinating tale whose content and format are a departure from his norm. I wasn’t quite sure how to review the book and, when I went to read the comments of others, I realized I wasn’t alone.
Those who are fans of John Grisham are addicted to the formula that won him such popularity: a young, idealistic lawyer goes up against impossible odds, beats the bad guys and (often) gets the love interest in the end. Most of his career has been based on this winning strategy.
In his latest book, which uses an unexplained murder case as bookends for a harrowing tale about the Bataan Death March, Grisham gives readers a Gothic tale, murkier and more ambiguous than his normal fare. This has irked his readers, but I think that’s a bit unfair from the point of view of the writer.
Growing up I read The Hardy Boys, while girls my age may have read Nancy Drew. These were formulaic serials in which variation and maturation were strictly forbidden. In the modern era, authors like Clive Cussler and Sue Grafton have done much the same (though Grafton, who passed in 2017, explored a bit more growth with her protagonist Kinsey Millhone).
But what happens when writers want to grow and expand beyond what they have done before or even (Perish the thought!) write in a different genre? Well, they have to get a bit creative. Famed horror writer Stephen King created the pen name Richard Bachman, while more recently, best-selling Christian author Davis Bunn as adopted the persona of Thomas Locke to produce general market titles in a dizzying variety of genres.
These writers, and many others who have assumed noms de plume to express their creative range, have done so because they yearned to defy the expectations placed upon them.
As for my thoughts on The Reckoning, I will agree that while the book is not a good “John Grisham novel”, it is a good novel by John Grisham.
The fact I have to make this distinction saddens me.
I've been writing stories and taking photos since I was old enough to hold a pencil and stand behind a tripod.