April Fools & Merry Christmas

For months now I have been telling people my book was done. I believed it was done. After all, I was at 75,000 words and a first time YA novelist in the scifi/fantasy genre typically shouldn’t go above 80,000. So, I found a passable ending and stopped the first book of three. The end.

April fools! No it’s not!

I was never happy with this forced ending. No one who’s read it was happy with it. But what’s a first time author to do? I had no more words.

Except I do!

You see, my editor had cut 15,000 words, and it finally dawned on me that I had more room for a better ending! It will make this book stand alone, which is awesome! It also brings this book closer to my original vision for it.

I am excited to be back to writing, and can’t wait to see the result. It’s always fun to find out what happens next. Despite the fact that I have to sometimes drag myself to my chair as if I’m a kid being told to take a nap, just like that napping kid, once I’m doing it, it’s the best thing ever. Wish I could spend every day this way.

So that’s my April Fools. Now Christmas.

It seemed like it had been years since I had gotten a cold, but this year, they all caught up to me. So far I’ve had two doozies, with this last one being the worst. Perhaps it falls into the flu category, not sure. It hit on Wednesday night and it wasn’t until today, the following Monday, that I feel human again. Because of that, my Christmas was spent alone in front of either a book or the TV. I had said I wanted a quiet Christmas at home this year. Be careful what you wish for.

Despite this sad state of affairs, I actually had a really great Christmas present in the form an of an email from my editor. He told me there is a literary agency lined up to read my book when it’s ready. I was stunned and excited. Of course this doesn’t really mean anything. They might read it and politely tell me to take a flying leap, at which point I can tell them that I already have.

Still, knowing I have a toe wedged in the door, gave me a huge boost on what was at moments feeling like a woe-is-me Christmas morning. It’s no surprise really that I’m feeling better today. This should really push me to finish. The brass ring is in sight. My arm is reaching. I can almost feel the slick metal in my hands… almost…

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Adapting and Evolving

Writing my first book turned out to be easier than I had expected. You so often hear about the agonies of writer’s block, and hours spent staring at the ceiling, looking for inspiration. I did not experience that. Sometimes I didn’t feel inspired to write, but I always had words to put on the page.

That stems from the fact that despite it being my first book, this is not my first time at the rodeo. I’ve been writing for most of my life and learning along the way. One book that made a huge difference was The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I never made it through the book, but I made it far enough to benefit. One exercise has you write three pages of stream-of-consciousness every morning. It might be, “There is nothing in my brain. Oh, I need eggs. Shoot, I don’t have time to go to the grocery store. I can wait. Look at that cute guying walking his dog.” It really didn’t matter what you wrote, you were to just write. That exercise teaches you one main thing. Your words aren’t that precious. They flow constantly in a never-ending stream. Just put them on paper, they can always be fixed later.

As a writer, that was eye-opening. I had agonized over words in the past, and often stopped writing because I couldn’t find the right ones. No more! My method became to spit it out the best you can and fix it later.

The other book that helped me was On Writing by Stephen King. With 25 years of writing screenplays, I had become a slave of the outline. When you have to cram an entire story into just two hours, getting all the beats right is not only difficult, but crucial. It’s like doing a Rubik’s cube. But, for me, the outline took all the joy out of writing.

Stephen King taught me to let go of the outline and let the story tell itself. Don’t worry about where it’s going. Don’t worry about structure. Just let the story unwind. Let it sit, then when you come back to read it, you will see obvious themes. Rewrite everything to those themes and voila… you have a really good, well-crafted story. Now working in novels, and not tightly structured screenplays, I can more easily follow his advice.

Cameron and King were the foundation of the easy flow of my first book. It was great, but the editing process showed me the cracks in my foundation.

With book one I did not edit. I didn’t want to slow down the flow. However, when I got to the end of a 75,000 word novel, I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of editing needed. I didn’t know where to start. I was too impatient to get it to an agent and publisher and couldn’t seem to take the time I needed to really evaluate and fix the manuscript… especially since my “just dump it on the page” method left a lot to be fixed. Thankfully I have a miracle worker of an editor who did all my heavy lifting for me this time around.

Last weekend, with the major editing behind me on book one, it felt like it was time to turn my mind to book two. I sat down and started to let the story flow again. Oh, what joy! Much to my surprise, I discovered that once again, my process is adapting and evolving. In the past it was common to write 2000 words a day. This time around, 1000 words seems to be the mark to hit. Now, I actually catch myself writing in the passive voice. I see where a verb could be more active. Or dialog can have more impact. I stop, consider my sentence, and rework it. My editor had warned me about this, but so far I don’t feel like it’s a problem. It slows me down, yes, but it doesn’t stop the flow. In some ways, it makes it far more enjoyable. Like savoring the scene instead of racing to put it down.

And this time I will set aside some time each writing day to go back and edit the previous day’s work. That way when I get to the end, I won’t be quite so overwhelmed. My first draft will be a much more polished, ready-to-publish, work.

Everything in life is a process. Just because you’re good at something today doesn’t mean you can’t be better at it if you adapt and evolve. Even this old dog is learning a few new tricks.

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Just the Facts, Ma’am

It’s been far too long since I’ve written. Truth be told, I have not had the heart to write. On one hand, writing seems pointless. On the other, a message that would help young people be more immune to fear mongering is desperately needed. And today, in light of that, I actually started working on book two. It felt great!

One of the many things people have been talking about since the election is the proliferation of fake news and its effect on the vote. I knew for years that networks like Fox skewed the news to their viewpoint, but up until recently I had been unaware that people were actually sitting out there creating false stories just to rake in clicks and advertising dollars. It makes me sick to think someone is using their writing talent this way.

For ages I’ve been one of those annoying people who sometimes comments publicly, and sometimes sends private email message, to people who post false stories. Usually the posts weren’t political, but were something that Snopes had long ago debunked, like “Watch the wing of this plane fall off, and the guy lands anyway!” Any time I saw something questionable on Facebook, I did a quick search on Snopes.com to verify it. It just became habit and it constantly amazed me that people didn’t do it themselves. Sometimes they’d even post, “I don’t know if this is true or not, but look at this!” It took seconds to check, and yet few people did it.

That trend continued during this election. People were passing around stories that with just a few quick searches could have easily been proved false. Yet they never did it, and these stories burrowed into people’s psyches and changed the outcome of the election. For instance, if you think an FBI agent involved with the Clinton email scandal was found dead in a murder/suicide, you have fallen for a fake story. If you think that in 2013, Clinton told Goldman Sachs bigwigs: “I would like to see people like Donald Trump run for office. They’re honest, and can’t be bought”, then you have fallen for a fake story.

Checking the validity of a story is so easy. For years the place I always went to research political stories was Politifact.com. It was known as a non-partisan fact checking site and I found it extremely reliable. Imagine my surprise when I heard a Trump supporter claim it was a liberal propaganda site, and that if you wanted the truth, you had to go deep into underground news. That’s where you got reliable facts.

So, rather than assume this was a right-wing nut job, I did a little research. I looked up Politifact.com to see who actually runs the site. It’s owned by the Tampa Bay Times. Aha! It’s that biased liberal media! So that Trump supporter was right!!! Or was he? Who runs the Times and Politifact? A man by the name of Paul Tash, who has an extensive journalistic background covering national politics. A little more digging on Paul Tash’s political affiliation shows that according to voter records he has been a registered Republican since 1984. Hmmm. Unless this man knew in 1984 that someday he would be in charge of a independent fact-checking organization and wanted to go into hiding more than 30 years ago so as to sway the country to his point of view, I think it’s safe to say that Politifact is not a liberal propaganda site.

A few quick searches and I knew the truth. Why was that so hard for the Trump supporter to do?

The truth is, when the facts didn’t support a Trump supporter’s world view, they went in search of sources that did – deep underground. It didn’t matter that those facts were fake. They felt good. They felt truthy. Politifact listed Trump’s statements as only being true 5% of the time, while Clinton was listed as the most truthful of the candidates. That fact didn’t sit well with me when I was supporting Bernie, but I accepted it. But since it didn’t line up with a Trumpy’s world view that The Donald told it like it is, while Hillary was crooked, therefore Politifact must be a liberal propaganda machine.

I found a few fake stories aimed at liberal as well. Several friends posted the meme from a 1998 People interview, where Donald Trump supposedly said: “if I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.” I wanted to believe that. Oh, I wanted to believe it so bad. But a quick search on that one proved it to be false, so I didn’t post or share it. Fake news story writers have admitted in interviews that they didn’t get much traction with liberal fake stories, because within a few comments somebody would debunk it.

That’s not to say there will be political peace and harmony if we start believing the same facts. Facts are just facts, and they can be interpreted differently. For instance, it’s a fact that red states generally take more money from the federal government than they pay to it, and blue states generally pay more into the federal government than they take from it. Democrats would say that’s because their states are run better. Republicans might say that’s because they have less natural resources and more poverty in their states.

You can interpret those facts through whatever set of lenses you want so it wouldn’t be smooth sailing, but at least we’d be starting with the same set of facts. Right now it’s pretty much impossible for Democrats and Republicans to have a rational conversation. We live in two completely different worlds made up of two completely different set of facts.

Please, whenever you see a story online, take a moment or two to evaluate it. What site did it come from? Look into who’s behind that site. Search the internet to see if other sources are also reporting the story. Make sure they’re not just repeating the first story. Compare how it’s being reported if you do find two sources. Are there facts listed in the story/meme that can be checked independently. Look up the name of the author. What qualifications do they have to cover the story? Use Snopes. Use Politifact. Use your brain. Admit when you might have something wrong. We only make good decisions when we are informed. Don’t be a part of the problem.

As the old saying goes, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they’re not entitled to their own set of facts. Until that gets fixed, this country is in trouble.

I am hopeful that future posts will focus more on the process of getting published.

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