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!

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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!

Post-Thanksgiving Haze

Luffy eating
This may have been me yesterday.

D’OH!  I seem to have completely forgotten to write and schedule a post for today.  It’s been such a weird week that it completely slipped my mind.  And being that it’s (hopefully) going to be a quiet day here at the Day Job, hopefully I can take care of other things that slipped my mind and/or didn’t have time for.

Such as making some headway on the Apartment Complex story outline.  I finished the initial revision run-through for Meet the Lidwells just the other day, and I’m letting it simmer for a few days before I go through it one more time…so this is the perfect time to kickstart that next project.  [I do need to futz with the MtL cover some more, but I think I’ll do that on the weekend when I have more time and space to breathe.  I know what I want, I’m just having a hell of a time trying not to make it look like it’s a craptacular botch job finished in five minutes on Photoshop.]

I’m hoping things quiet down on the Day Job from here on in so I can a) relax a bit, and b) sneak in some writing work if needed.  Things usually do start winding down post-Thanksgiving (with one last short burst in late December), so this is when I get to unwind and not have to stress out about all that much.  And I am so looking forward to that!

Writing the End

the end

The beginnings of my novels and stories usually get the most revision, mainly due to the fact that there’s a bit of flailing involved.  I’m still trying to figure out the voice and the focus of the story, so there’s going to be a lot of dead-ends and extraneous filler that gets cut out, once I find my footing.

The endings, on the other hand, can go either way.  Usually I know exactly where I want to stop; it’s just a matter of laying out how I’m going to get there.  It’s a balancing game at that point…I don’t want to rush it, nor do I want to pad it out with unnecessary rambling.

I’ve made all kinds of errors in my years of learning how to write stories. I’ve written corny cliffhangers, implausible wrap-ups, unimportant ‘where are they now’ passages, and everything in between.  [I can proudly say I have yet to write an ‘…and then he woke up, and it was all a dream” ending.  Even I have my standards!]  I usually spend as much time focusing on nailing the end as I do nailing the most important climactic scenes that come before it.  I want to do it just right.  Or right enough, where it can be fine-tuned in revision.

With Meet the Lidwells — I’m currently writing the last chapter at this time, and I should be done most likely this week or next — the ending has definitely been a tough one.  As this is a story written in the format of a music biography, I can’t give it a nice poetic ending, or a roll-credits ending.  Those books tend to resolve themselves in a slightly different way.  The focus characters go on with their lives and careers, so this ending has to be more of an emotional closure.  That part of their lives is over now, and they’ve moved on.  And that’s been a hell of a tough one to capture just right.

I’m not looking to nail the ending perfectly, at least not right now.  But when revision comes along, hopefully I’ll be able to do it justice.

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.

 

Let’s Try That Again, Shall We?

high fidelity bruce

Best Laid Plans were once again thwarted, and I’m pretty sure it was because they weren’t Best Laid after all.  I seem to have forgotten to take into account vacation days off, busy Day Job days, and other events.  But that’s okay!  I’m back, we have nothing of import on the schedule for the next few weeks — in fact, I have today off and other than going around the corner to go see Napping Princess at the 4-Star, I have the entire day to get caught up on things.  Sounds good to me!

[Update: My movie plan was not so much thwarted but delayed today.  As you may have heard, there are currently some nasty wildfires burning north of us, and late last night much smoke drifted our way.  This caused me to barely get any sleep, so I wasn’t really up to seeing a film today.  Perhaps next weekend if it’s still there!]

One good thing that’s come out of this sort of thing is that I no longer feel like a failure.  Sure, the frustration of going past deadline and not hitting my goals as quickly as I’d like is still there, but Everything Is Not Ruined Forever.  Just gotta get up, brush myself off, and start again.

I’m nearing the end of the first draft of Meet the Lidwells and I hope to get it done by the end of this month, at which time I’ll start revisions.  I’m not sure how long that’ll be, but hopefully I can give it a quick turnaround (there won’t be nearly as much triage as I had with the trilogy) and get it out by the end of the year.  Here’s to hoping!

Onward and upward.  Only way to go!

On Writing ‘Regular’ (non-genre) Fiction

snoopy short and to the point

I’ve been writing genre fiction — that is, some kind of science fiction, fantasy, or one of its many mutations — so consistently and for so long that writing non-genre fiction (or as I’ve been calling it, “regular fiction”, no snarky meaning intended) feels a bit weird to me.

This is the issue I’ve been having with writing Meet the Lidwells over the last few months.  It’s still a made-up world that I’m writing about, but I’m trying not to confuse ‘bad writing’ with ‘a style I’m not used to’.  I don’t think MtL is a bad piece of work, even at this rough draft level.  It’s just that my creative brain keeps complaining that there’s no epicness or high drama going on.

But this is not a Michael Bay action film.  This isn’t the novel for that.  It’s a simple story about a family of musicians.  Their epic moments are about topping the charts, going on tour, and recording a new album.  Their high drama is having to deal with family to such a close extent both in private and public life.

To be honest, this is exactly one of the many reasons I chose to write this novel.  After finishing off the epic drama of the Bridgetown trilogy, I wanted — no, I needed to dial it back.  I wanted to make sure I could still write a story with a much lower volume, so to speak.  I needed to know I could write a story that resonated on a personal level rather than on a visceral one.  And lastly, I needed to know I could write something short and concise, perhaps closer to 70k words rather than the 100k-plus of the trilogy books.

So far I think I’ve pulled it off.  In fact, in the process I’ve figured out how I can write further non-genre novels, if I choose to.  My reading habits have definitely helped me figure most of it out, as has the daily practice words.  Will I write more non-genre in the future?  I’m pretty sure I will, given the subject and inclination.  It’s already affected my SFF writing style in positive ways, to be honest.  It’s the kind of ongoing metamorphosis that I believe is not only healthy but vital.

Once I’m finished with MtL, I’ll be jumping into the Secret Next Project (aka the Apartment Complex story), so it’ll be back to genre…and now I’m curious to see how MtL‘s style affects that one.  We shall see…!

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? 🙂

Point of View

jupiter io pov
Timelapse of Jupiter from Io’s POV, December 2013.  Credit: user ‘bubbleweed’ on Reddit

Recently I’ve hit a few tough patches in Meet the Lidwells, where it just feels like I’ve slowed to a crawl and the story’s not going anywhere.  I know what story I need to tell, but for some reason it’s been like slogging through mud trying to get there.  I know this is a problem because when I as an author feel the sluggishness, I know my readers will feel the same thing.  And I don’t want to do that.

So in this instance, I decided that maybe someone else’s point of view would be worth investigating.  Instead of the kids in the band talking through their attempts on a comeback album after taking a much-needed hiatus, I realized that it might be a bit more interesting to tell this struggle from their manager’s point of view.

Why?  I felt their story would be more interesting.  The kids in the band have mostly grown up (the youngest is now 16 and the others are in or approaching their 20s), and from their view, they’re just hoping that the Big Comeback will work out.  On the other hand, their manager has the thankless job of Making That Happen.  Once I got started on that, everything was smooth sailing again.

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Over the years, changing the POV when I’m stuck has definitely helped when I’m stuck.  More often than not a different witness to the story will bring in a fresh take on the situation, maybe even create some needed conflict in the process by going against what the main characters want and expect.  Even if I end up not using it, or rewriting it again from someone else’s point of view, at least I’ve managed to get myself out of that sluggish spot and back on track.

For me, it’s yet another way to work outside expectations.  Forcing myself to think about something from a different angle almost always produces sometimes helpful but always interesting results.