Requiem for a Trunked Novel

Years ago, long before I was remotely capable of competent prose and I was still beholden to worn-out tropes in my characters and plots, I wrote a novel.

That novel was called Bostonia – The Secret History of the City on the Hill. It was an urban fantasy tale that tapped a lot of bizarre little tidbits of life in Massachusetts, past and present to bring to life a world in which supernatural creatures and magic existed, more or less out in the open. It has so much going for it. It had solid characters, cool concepts, a personality that would speak strongly to anyone who grew up in and around Boston, and a character who remains to this day one of my favorite villains I’ve ever created.

I also learned a lot while writing it. Not about the craft so much as the process. I punched out the first act easily and thought I’d finish the book in the course of a few months, even though I was writing part-time (very part-time; I was still working at the newspaper full-time so my personal writing time was limited).

And then I hit the middle of the book and had no idea where it needed to go.

That’s not entirely accurate; I knew where it ultimately had to go, but I didn’t know how to get it there. I wasn’t sure how to connect the dots I’d set up in the first act with the dots waiting for me in the third, and I stalled out. I thought I might never finish it, and worse, I thought it was a sign this whole fiction writing thing was another dead-end dream.

And then I happened across Neil Gaiman’s blog, and at the time (2007 or so?) he was discussing his progress on writing The Graveyard Book — specifically, he was discussing what a pain in the ass it was to write the middle of a story and how he struggles to get through second acts.

That was a revelation. Here was this writer who I absolutely idolized admitting he had the exact same problem I was having — and that it was completely normal. Reading through other entries, I realized that writing was not the formulaic, one-size-fits-all exercise I thought it was, that everyone had their own methodology and idiosyncrasies and hang-ups and it was okay to have them.

While that was encouraging, it didn’t help me with my block. Bostonia sat untouched for months.

And then one day, I got back to work on it. The middle was still a pain to write, but I wrote it. I finished it in 2012. And I was happy with it. And then I got to the third act, which I powered through. And I got test-reader feedback, and I revised the book, and I went through the process of shopping it to agents and publishers, and after a round of rejections, I put it aside to work on other projects — namely Action Figures — intending to one day re-visit it, polish it up a little, and finally release it.

It’s time to admit this book will likely never see the light of day.

Every so often I think about pulling it out and doing a fresh draft. There are a LOT of problems with Bostonia that are a result of my skill level at the time, problems I could correct with a lot of re-writing — as in, I don’t go in and make changes in the existing manuscript, I trash the whole thing and start writing it all over again from scratch, using the previous iteration as nothing but a loose guide so I don’t subconsciously recreate the flaws I’d be trying to correct.

The thought of doing that is intimidating, but that’s not why I’m thinking it might be time to admit it’s never going to happen.

I have two series going right now. One of them isn’t going to be finished for four years at the very least. I have an urban fantasy trilogy idea I’ve been dying to start working on. I have a horror novel concept I want to tackle. I have plenty of existing and new projects keeping me going. The notion of putting them on hold so I can try to recreate an old story simply does not appeal to me.

It’s time to, as writers say, formally “trunk” Bostonia.

It saddens me to do so. I put literally years of work into that novel. I love the things I got right. I learned so much from writing it. But I have other things to do.

The day may come when I decide it’s time to look at it again and give it another chance. I just don’t see that day coming anytime soon.

The Year In Review, The Year In Preview

Long story short, this happened in 2013:AF Cover

This is my first novel to see the light of day. The concept has been kicking around my brain for years, and I tried a few different approaches to making the story work, and last year the project finally came together. Attempts to see it published through traditional avenues failed, so I turned to self-publishing. Action Figures made its debut on in September, and I’ve sold 58 copies since then — 42 softcovers, 16 e-books via Kindle.

Not a staggering number, sure, but I’m certainly not unhappy with it. It gives me plenty of incentive to keep going, something I haven’t had in a while. Book two is nearing the end of its current round of editing, and as soon as my last three test readers weigh in, I can do a final round of edits, then ship it off to my editor for her review. Action Figures – Issue Two: Black Magic Women should be out in March.

What happens after that? Well, a third book is in the works, but the question is: will it be Action Figures – Issue Three, or something else? I have an urban fantasy novel (Bostonia) and a comedy-fantasy novel (Strongarm & Lightfoot) ready to go (after final editing), and it would be nice to diversify a little, try to capture a different audience.

Either way, two releases in one year will depend on finances, since paying for cover art is all on me, and I only have so much money to invest at any given time (no, I will not resort to Kickstarter. I have issues with crowd-funding), but the will to keep putting out fresh material is there, and it’s strong.

Back In The Saddle Again!

Hey, look! Two cowboy metaphors in as many posts!

Saturday turned out to be a “working holiday” for me. My wife and her family took off to do some clothes shopping in advance of my sister-in-law’s upcoming wedding, and since I had no desire to spend my day bored out of my skull (on the first Saturday of the Christmas shopping season, no less) I took off to get some long-overdue work done.

My office-away-from-home for the day was a neat little place called Cocoon, a coffee shop that had giant peanut butter cookies and excellent coffee (which I drank WAY to much of, thanks in part to a clerk who kept giving me free refills…she might have been flirting with me by way of free coffee).  I sat down with my caffeine and sugar, fired up the laptop, and cracked open the 2013 Writer’s Market Guide.

Over the course of six hours, I sent out a half-dozen queries to agents for all three of my novels, highlighted several more possible recipients, and made final edits on about 60 or so pages of Bostonia. I haven’t even touched the publishers section of the guide, but I plan to take care of that this weekend.

I’m still smarting from last month’s rejection of Action Figures, and it took a while to right myself from that defeat, but things are moving forward once again. I don’t think I’ll meet my goal of getting something major sold in 2012, so I guess it’s time to think optimistically about 2013.

Getting Back On The Horse

All right, the faire is over for the season, I’ve had a week off to relax and recharge, so now it’s time to get back at it.
I’m returning to Bostonia to give the manuscript a (hopefully) final polish before sending it to the agent who, alas, ultimately rejected Action Figures. The big hurdle, of all things, is writing a damn synopsis, a process I HATE because cramming a 120,000-word novel down to a one-page overview forces me to strip out everything that makes the story good…you know, pesky little things like theme, characterization, dialog, subplots, etc.

My wife’s at a wedding Saturday so I plan to spend the day cranking away on the synopsis. I’d like to have it done by the end of the day, but we’ll see how the Muses are treating me.

Action Figures – Progress Report #13

Number 13, huh? That’s a little ironic considering how this process ended.

Long story short, the agent is not interested. More accurately, she’s not interested anymore.

Her initial enthusiasm for the story and for the main character diminished somewhere during the second half of my manuscript — the one, I must note, she asked me to expand in length, but that’s ultimately neither here nor there, I suppose.

She didn’t explain exactly what cause her interest to waiver in the second half, so I have no idea how to fix it. Besides, I personally don’t think it needs “fixing.” My first attempt at expanding the story sucked hard and yeah, THAT needed fixing, but what I came up with on the second go-round I felt was a strong continuation of the plot and themes and character arcs.

I’ve asked her for further input so I might yet still salvage the project, but I’m not holding out hope. I sense that this project, at least with this agent, is dead.

So, step one was to spend a day moping. Done, but I’ll tell you, this one still hurts, a lot. Rejection is bad enough, but rejection when you’re close enough to success to taste it stings like a motherfucker.

Step two was to take the agent up on her offer to pitch something else. I mentioned Bostonia and Strongarm & Lightfoot – Adventurers for Hire, so we’ll see if either of those gets a nibble.

Step three: grab the latest edition of the writer’s market guide and start anew.

Failure Is Always An Option

Over the weekend I finished off the sixth (and hopefully penultimate) draft of Bostonia, but perhaps more importantly, I sent out five queries for Action Figures.

This most recent batch of queries was my first batch of 2012 (and my first to publishers, since the agents weren’t biting), and it took me until this weekend to psyche myself up to pull the trigger. I’d entertain the notion every few days and then completely lose my nerve and waste time playing Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion until I got bleary-eyed (yeah, I’m only just now playing Oblivion. No, I’m not playing Skyrim yet. Oblivion was only $20, so back off).

I know that in order to move the ol’ career forward I need to throw out query letters, but I suffer from that classic gripping fear that haunts all artists: fear of failure. It’s a bizarre logical paradox, the fear of failure. It convinces you that you’re somehow better off not trying; try and you might well fail, but in not trying, you avoid failure.

Except that totally isn’t true; by not trying, you’re simply skipping right to the failure result. Either way, you haven’t sold anything or moved your career forward, one way is just more efficient than the other — no agonizing in the interim.

Which is how I expect to spend the next several days, because with Bostonia done for now, I’ve got no projects awaiting my attention.

Hello, Oblivion.

Bostonia: An Update

Warning: this probably won’t be terribly interesting to most of you.

I took advantage of this past three-day weekend to get some work done on what I hope will be my last major revision to Bostonia, and so far I’ve succeeded in trimming about 800 words off its 123,000 (+/-) word count.

I know, 800 words doesn’t seem like a lot in-context, but it’s meaningful in another way.

One of my bad writing habits is over-writing; I spend a little too much time driving home a point that doesn’t need to be spelled out in such detail. Sometimes I spent a bit too much time establishing a setting when I should have been progressing the plot or characters, but more often my sin was making sure the reader always knew exactly what was on a character’s mind each and every time he spoke.

As I opined in a previous post about the “rules of writing,” I don’t agree with the philosophy that the only verb used on conjunction with dialog is “said.” I think other verbs can be used to convey mood without, as Elmore Leonard said, being intrusive. However, in Bostonia I noticed that I had this unfortunate tendency to overload dialog descriptors beyond just a simple colorful verb. I referred to the speaking character’s thoughts in the moment, facial expressions, reactions by other characters…I went overboard, a lot and frequently, and that’s amateurish writing.

So part of the weeding-out process is finding those instances and removing the offending text, and I’m betting such surgical removals have accounted for at least half of the 800 words I’ve jettisoned thus far — and I’m only about a third of the way through this draft.

This is not to say I’m strip-mining the manuscript to bring the word count down to a more manageable level, but I wouldn’t mind getting it down to at least 120,000 words. I wouldn’t want anyone reading this book to have the same reaction I had to, say, Dan Simmons’ The Terror, which had an awesome concept and was, for the first half of the book, gripping and atmospheric, but by the middle of the novel I spent a lot of time thinking, “Hurry up already!” Simmons could have lost 100 pages to improve the pacing and it would not have compromised the story.