Getting it right and completing the work

your name taki erasing

As much as I would LOVE to release Meet the Lidwells! right now at this very moment, I’m still not entirely happy with a few things related to it.

The cover, for instance.  I’m still not happy with it. I’ve thought through a few layouts, played with a few in Photoshop, and I’m still not happy with it.  To be brutally honest, at the moment it looks like the original cover of Jonathan Franzen’s Purity, which I so mercilessly tore apart upon its release.  And the last thing I want to do is make it look like I’m saying …but hey, if *I* make a cover like that, it’s art!  Come on, Jonc. Face the facts.  That ain’t how it’ll work out.

Thankfully, during one of those nights where I’m lying in bed after lights out, thinking about my writing when I really should be trying to get to sleep, I realized where I was going wrong, and came up with an excellent alternative that I’m quite certain I can pull off.  Which means that sometime within the next week or so, I can start working on the improvements.

As you can see in this outtake I did a few months ago, my original idea had some merit, but it also looked like I threw it together in about five minutes.  It looked too sparse, too unfinished.  I need to do more with it, but I wasn’t sure what.  The piece that needed to stay was the image of the six silhouettes; it’s an important plot point in the first third of the book, as it’s the cover of their debut album.

The error I made was that someone looking at the cover without looking at the book wouldn’t know that.  I realized this was the same exact issue the original Purity cover had — I learned much later that the woman’s image is in reference to a passport photo.  Having never read the book, I would not have known that if someone hadn’t told me.

This meant that I had to figure out how to get the point across that these silhouettes are something important.  And that late evening, I realized that it didn’t have to be an album cover, per se.  In the book, that ‘iconic’ image of the Lidwell kids didn’t originate as their album cover, but as a flyer for their first shows.

Which gave me an altogether different canvas to work with.

SO!  This means that I have some more work to do in creating this cover, but I know exactly what I can do with it, and how.  And even better, I can once again pull it off on my own!  Self-publishing FTW!

*

I’m telling you all this, because this is how a writer, especially a self-publishing one, should think about their product.  There will definitely be times where you get stuck on certain parts of your project, where you can’t quite figure out how to fix it.  You’ll waste time trying all sorts of things that won’t work.  The temptation to say ‘screw it’ and call it done can be quite high sometimes.  Or worse, you’ll talk yourself into believing that your half-assed attempt will be understood by everyone else as a brilliant move.  You’ll be getting close to your self-imposed deadline, or even fly past it, and want to kludge something just to get it out there.  I’ve hit these roadblocks plenty of times.

Thankfully, my stubborn will kept me from taking that route.  As long as I kept telling myself there was a better way to do this and that I just had to figure it out, I was fine with releasing it a little later than usual.  All I had to do was work through this roadblock.  And I’m happy I finally did!

Writing Econo

The great 80s punk band Minutemen from San Pedro, CA had a wonderful motto: “we jam econo.”  Tight playing, minimalist lyrics, dispensing with frivolous musical wankery.  Economical writing, playing and touring, in other words. Their songs rarely hit the two minute mark; many were even under the one minute mark.  [Despite the brevity of their songs, they state their name was actually making fun of the 60s rightwing fringe group of the same name.]

I wrote Meet the Lidwells with the same idea in mind; after the sprawl of the trilogy, I wanted to ‘write econo’ — dispense with as much subplotting as I could, tighter writing, constantly pushing the story along.  As of this post, I’m writing the last chapter of the first draft.  It looks like I may even complete the novel within the next week or so.

I started it on 28 April (not including a few weeks’ worth of outlining on index cards, as well as outtakes on 750 Words), and if I end it by the end of October, that’ll be exactly six months.  Its word count is around 75k, and by the time I revise it, it’ll probably be just a little higher.  If I play my cards right I might even be able to have it up on Smashwords and Amazon by the end of the year.

Those are new records for me, I think.

As I’ve said before, one of the reasons I wanted to try writing econo is to see if I could do it.  And if that worked out, then maybe I could continue with it.  I love writing sprawling genre fiction, don’t get me wrong…just that sprawl doesn’t always work with some of my ideas.  [Another reason of course was that after working on the trilogy for so damn long, I wanted to work on shorter, quicker projects where I could turn it around in a year or less.]  Sure, I did waste some time in between with distraction and procrastination, but still…six months ain’t bad at all.

I still have to revise Meet the Lidwells once I’m done with it, but at this point I’m thrilled that I was able to pull this off as quickly and as smoothly as I have.

 

Current Status: Almost There

sw almost there
TFW you’re writing Act III of your novel.

As I may have mentioned earlier, I’ve just started Act III of Meet the Lidwells.  This of course means that it’s that point of the story where I start bringing all the plot threads together, winding up the tale I’ve been telling, and wrapping everything up at the end.

Having either written novels piecemeal over the course of a long spread of time (thanks to homework, social life, or other priorities), or working on the same project for years on end (the trilogy), it feels quite strange to be completing a novel in roughly a half a year.  I’m not used to this speed.  There’s also the fact that this is a relatively short novel for me — I’m currently at 55k, and I’m expecting the finished project to be around 70k.

Still, there’s something to be said about reaching the home stretch. I felt this when I picked up The Balance of Light again in 2009-10 to finish it off.  It’s exciting to be wrapping up a story, my writer brain going at a hundred miles an hour as it tries to weave everything together into a coherent ending for me to write, and balancing that with the knowledge that I need to make that ending smooth and well-paced.  No rushing to the last page here, kids.  Even if I know exactly how to finish it, I have to make sure I don’t make a chaotic mad dash to get there.

My original deadline was going to be mid-September (I had a general deadline, not a specific one), and it looks like it might be more like late October, given that I still need to revise it, clean it up, and get it ready for uploading.  I’m fine with that; my ultimate goal here was to write something fast and light — a complete opposite to the trilogy, to be honest — to see if I could do it, and to see if it was something I could be proud of.

So far, so good.  I’m almost there.

Meet the Lidwells: Cover Outtake

Meet the Lidwells Cover B

Keep in mind, yes — this is definitely an outtake.  Not that bad for a first try, though.  I know I’ve got some more work to do on it.  The main focus this time out was for me to figure out the placement of the six main characters and make it look like an album cover.  [In the story, this is actually what the cover of their debut record looks like.]  I have a slightly adjusted version of the six silhouettes so they’re spaced out a lot better and can provide the title as well.  I think I’m going to redo it by putting the image and main title enclosed in a square box to further push that image, and have the bottom segment in black, with the text in white.  I’m still playing around with the fonts as well.

[Keep in mind, I still have the last third of the book to write, but I’ve had this cover idea in my head almost from the beginning.  I’m still hoping to have this one out by late fall, depending on when it get finished and revised.]

What do you think? 🙂

Balancing

Goats-balancing-on-sheet
….yeah, I’m not sure either.

If I’ve learned anything over the last week, it’s that the downside to coming up with a secondary project to play around with while working on Meet the Lidwells is the temptation to fall prey to the “ooh shiny!” of the newer project, leaving the original one undone.  I love the apartment complex idea at the moment, and I’m quite sure it’s because I’m still in the world-building phase of that one.  Two daily-words entries and I’ve already come up with some neat ideas that I’d like to play with.

BUT!  I really need to focus on my other story!  The one that’s been on my mind over the last few years.  The one I can FINALLY devote my time to.  The last thing I need right now is another distraction!

So how to handle this sort of thing?  All writers fall prey to it sooner or later…the rogue new idea that tempts you and won’t leave you alone, and you know damn well that if you don’t write it down RIGHT NOW it’ll be lost forever.  Often to the detriment of any other deadlines you might be working on at that moment.

Well…I’ve learned that there’s got to be a bit of balance.  From past experience, the worst thing I can do with a completely new idea is to try to create an entire novel out of it.  I definitely don’t have the whole story and its universe in my head at that point.  The end result will be a lot of making stuff up as I go along, thus needing a hell of a lot of revision on the back end.  It’s one of the reasons the trilogy project took so damn long.

I wrote outtakes of Meet the Lidwells via my daily practice words, and I knew that wasn’t going to be the final version.   And I wrote it while I was rewriting and revising the trilogy, so I put just enough into it to keep it alive until it came time for it to be my main project.

I’m doing the same with this new story idea.  Right now I’m looking at it from a workshop level, throwing stuff at it to see what works.  Coming up with characters, names, settings, and other background details that I can reference a little later.  And I’m sure sometime within the next few months I might even draw a layout of the main setting, maybe even some of the characters.  Bits will change along the way.  It’s all up in the air right now, malleable.

And that’s just for fun, at the moment.

The heavy work is on Lidwells, and that’s where it’ll remain until it’s done.  That’s my evening writing work, the stuff I’ll treat more seriously.  Attending to details, focusing on the feel of the story in my head, contemplating what needs work and what needs excision.  And besides…this one has a deadline that I don’t want to break.  If I have to put New Shiny Idea aside to devote more time to Lidwells to get it done on time, so be it.

Finding that balance is a bit of crazy work, but I believe I can get it done.

 

Not always on schedule, but at least consistent

fma running
credit where it’s due: Full Metal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa

Oh hey!  I’d completely forgotten to write up a WtBt entry yesterday!  Sorry about that, folks.  Here you go.  Sometimes the weekend gets the best of me.

Or in this case, A. and I binged on the Star Wars movies this weekend, watching the original three and following it up with The Force Awakens (which we still hadn’t gotten around to watching).  We also bought Rogue One at the mall this weekend so we’re all good to go with that series for the moment.  [Not including the prequels — that’ll be for another time.]

I’ll be honest, I’m not used to taking days off from writing.  I get a nagging in the back of my brain that I shouldn’t be wasting time doing frivolous things when I should be working on a project.  It usually goes away with a good movie or television series (British TV is really good at that for me).  But it’s worth it, especially as I have to remind myself to watch and read new things that could give me insights on my own work.

In other news, I’ve been keeping busy with Meet the Lidwells, and I’m glad to report that the word count has been consistent.  I’ve been hitting between 500 and 1000 words a night, which is alright by me.  That’s my normal average on first drafts, so I’m happy with that.   And as first drafts go, this one’s going fine so far.  Room for improvement, but I’ll let myself worry about that on the first once-over later on.  To tie in with the music metaphors here, I’m laying down Take 1, where I’ll hit a few bum notes and flub a few of the verses, but at least I’ll know what to fix when it’s time for overdubs and mixing. 🙂

Meanwhile, it’s finally dawned on me that BayCon will be in a few weeks!!  It’s probably time for me to prepare myself for that considering.

Here’s my schedule for the con…if you happen to be there, stop by and say hi!

World building techniques and approaches
Saturday 11:30 – 13:00, Synergy 4 (San Mateo Marriott)
Specifically focused on pointers for attendees to attempt rather than history of what panelists did with X.
Panelists: Margaret McGaffey Fisk (M), Kevin Andrew Murphy, Ms. Jennifer L. Carson, Jon Chaisson, Katharine Kerr

Cover Me
Monday 10:00 – 11:30, Convene 1 (San Mateo Marriott)
How to put a good cover on your book.
Panelists: Ms. Jennifer L. Carson (M), Mr. Ezra Barany, Jon Chaisson, Daniel Dociu

You Want to Build Your Own Language?
Monday 13:00 – 14:30, Inspire 1 (San Mateo Marriott)
An intro course on how to build a language.
Panelists: Jon Chaisson, Kai MacTane (M), Juliette Wade

 

In the meantime, back to the mundy Day Job with the hopes that I can sneak in some Daily Words later on when things quiet down!

On Outlining: The Discography…?

anime piano

I’ve complained about outlining before, both here and elsewhere…even in high school I disliked outlining, if only because I knew even then that I was a pantser writer and that whatever outline I created would be thrown out within the first couple of pages.  It always felt like a waste of time.  So previously here, I talked about swallowing my pride and stubbornness (and working against my long-ingrained pantsing style) and giving Meet the Lidwells! a solid outline.  It’s working out well so far, I think.

Especially since I came to the conclusion that in order for me to have a solid story, I needed to give it a solid backbone.  And considering this story is about a band, what would be more solid a backbone than said band’s discography?

If you think about it, a band’s discography does tell an interesting story.  Take the Beatles, for instance.  From the prologue-worthy “Love Me Do” to the first peak point at “She Loves You” to the end of Act I with A Hard Day’s Night; the conflict of fame versus creative evolution in Act II (with plot peaks of Rubber Soul and Revolver) and climaxing at Sgt Pepper; the conflict of creative outlet versus personal evolution with The Beatles and the recording of Let It Be, climaxing with the creative peak of Abbey Road.  And finishing the story with a bittersweet denouement; the band breaking up but their legacy lasting far into the future.  [Hell, they even have a song called “The End” that works as a closing epigraph.]  It’s no wonder they have so many books written about them.

Read any music biography and you’ll see similar backbones.  Each band or performer has their own life story with climaxes and low points, successes and failures.  These are actually great books to read if you want to learn this sort of storytelling.  [Off the top of my head and looking at my nearby bookshelf, I would definitely suggest reading Johnny Marr’s Set the Boy Free, Bob Mould’s See a Little Light, or Carter Alan’s Radio Free Boston: The Rise and Fall of WBCN for a taste of a rock bio with a lot of plot peaks and valleys.  Those are but three of the numerous books out there; next time you’re at the local bookstore, take a peek at their music section and take your pick.]

These are also good books for how to tell a story in a format other than straight prose.  The current popular style of rock bio seems to be in the form of an ‘in their own words’ text; most if not all the dialogue is from recorded interviews, but without the interviewer’s words or point of view.  The flow of the story is usually chronological, from the band’s creation to their demise (or alternately to their present iteration); it behaves almost exactly like fiction does.  The only difference is how the story is presented.

Starting fresh

20170326_134449 (2)

In contrast to the previous post, where you got to see all the paperwork and whatnot that I accumulated during the writing of the trilogy, the above is pretty much everything I have for my new project, Meet the Lidwells!   A print out of the very rough draft I wrote two years ago using 750 Words, and a pile of index cards that I’ll be using to outline the next draft.

That’s it.  Well, okay, there’s a few MS Word files of an incomplete outline and a rewrite I wasn’t happy with, and an mp3 playlist I’m slowly building, but other than that…that’s all I have.

I’ve got a nifty idea for a cover in my head (which I’m hoping I can pull off, as I’m not sure if I’m able to do it in Photoshop).  I already know what the format’s going to be.  And if all works out, this will be one of my fastest project turnarounds ever.

But yeah.  Starting fresh.

I’m looking forward to it.