Rabbit Holes

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m prone to falling into rabbit holes while I’m working on a project.

When I was actively making animated films, I’d take a break in the middle and spend a day looking for the right music, or working on an animated title sequence. With the Night and Day Series, breaks usually involve firing up iClone –  build a nice 3D scene, save a screenshot, do the cover in Photoshop, spine (for the paperback) and the blurb on the back.

This weekend’s rabbit hole involved the first three books in the series.

After finishing up Chapter Six of Blood for Blood Friday night, I did some skimming of various writing forums as I often do, mentally mocking people for their stupid questions (“I really want to write but I don’t have any ideas. Can somebody help me?”)

I came upon a few threads talking about moving the print copies of people’s books from CreateSpace to Amazon. I’d been vaguely aware that Amazon had started offering their own printing for  physical books about a year ago. It had seemed interesting enough, but since CreateSpace had worked fine for those few readers who wanted a physical book, it wasn’t a high priority –  I sell 20 ebooks for every one paperback.

But people were talking about how easy the process was to move from one to the other, and how happy they were with the Amazon printed copies, so I decided to give it a whirl. Did Night and Day first, a few clicks, and it was done. Saturday morning I went ahead and did the same with Bleeding Sky and Bandit’s Moon.

Then…

Saturday morning, after getting the two books moved over, I decided to do a little more forum browsing before I got into Chapter Seven. Saw people talking about an amazing program called Vellum. It’s basically just a book formatter, but as I’ve discussed in the past (like here and here), formatting can easily kill a couple of days or more. Vellum does it in minutes, for both Kindle and paperback, and includes a lot of nice formatting stuff (like drop caps and little graphic flourishes) and handles all headers, footers, page numbering, and that kind of thing as well.

So, hey, let’s take a look.

Oooops, it’s Mac only. But it looks so good….

Because my brain is mostly mush, my first step is to see how much it would cost to pick up a used Mac laptop. Then I’m looking at new Mac Minis. But then, because there are some solid particles in the mush of my brain, I realize that I used to run a Mac virtual machine on my computer (basically a fully-functional Mac in a window on my Windows desktop) and still have the files. So I get a new copy of VMWare Player and try to load the old virtual machine. Too old. Won’t even load in the new version of the player. And then I realize it’s too old for Vellum, too.

So, off to find a more recent version of MacOS, hopefully in virtual machine format, and I find one. High Sierra, the latest version (until they release a new version this year). Load it up, and after some fiddling, get the virtual machine working.

Then I throw Vellum on there. Vellum requires Microsoft Word .docx files for import. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been using WordPerfect for 30 years, prefer it to Word, and though I have Word as part of an Office 365 subscription (primarily for Outlook and OneNote), I almost never use it.

Let’s convert the WordPerfect file of the entire Night and Day to Word. Oooops, the new version of WordPerfect, released a month or so ago, doesn’t have Word conversion yet, because Microsoft discontinued their Word conversion package that other companies use. Fine, I’ll load the WordPerfect doc into Word, do the conversion there.

It sucks.

All kinds of problems with the converted text, that would take me hours to fix manually. So after playing with it a good long while, I decide to try exporting to rich text format (to strip out the WordPerfect stuff) and then import that into Word. And there we go.

So last night, I did Night and Day and got it uploaded –  new Kindle and paperback versions. Today I did Bleeding Sky and Bandit’s Moon. The more I use Vellum, the faster it is, since I know exactly what to do to get what I want. I think Bandit’s Moon took me less than an hour, from conversion to moving files from PC to virtual Max to finished product.

All of the newly-formatted books are up on Amazon now, and should be live in the next 24 hours or so. I’ve already checked out the Kindle versions on both the computer and tablet, and they look great. Later this week, I’m going to order a couple of paperback copies of each book (having given away my copies) and check out both the Amazon printing and the Vellum formatting.

And tomorrow morning, I can get back to Chapter Seven of Blood for Blood.

Hidden in Plain Sight

I didn’t spend the weekend writing, like the good little writer boy that I aspire to be.

Instead I spent it reading and thinking about the first draft of a friend’s novel that I had a chance to look at. I won’t say I was “honored” to look at it, since the truth is that reading anybody’s first drafts (my own definitely included) can only be considered an honor if you’re also “honored” to have Mistress Helga take a paddle to your bare ass after a hard day at work, so you can “unwind”. First drafts can hurt, and not in a good way.

This isn’t something I regularly do. I don’t hang with writers. I don’t belong to writing groups. Other people’s writing process interests me. The result of that process, especially in its raw, first-draft form, not so much.

First, as I think I’ve mentioned, I almost never read fiction when I’m writing. Some possibly-foolish concern about cross-contamination, stylistically or in terms of plotting or characterization. Like most, if not all writers, my style and way of telling my stories are a result of years of reading and writing and reading some more. Absorbing bits of style, ways plots are developed, how characters can be made real to a reader. Mostly on a subconscious level, though occasionally it’s been “I like the way she did that – I’ll have do something similar sometime”. But once I’m actually pounding out the words, I want to concentrate exclusively on my own voice, not somebody else’s. So I read non-fiction.

Second, as I’ve also mentioned, I don’t believe everyone has a novel in them. They may have enough words to create something approximating novel length, but often the story is ill-advised, the plotting is dismal, the characters wooden cliches that barely have enough buoyancy to float. I don’t want to read that. And I dread the inevitable “what did you think?” that follows. Because it puts me in that moral gray area – do I say “Yeah, it was good” or do I tell the truth? And the only lying I like to do is making up stories and telling them in book form. Unless I’m fairly sure that the writer has the skill to have, perhaps, “issues” that can be pointed out and discussed (rather than telling the writer “delete it and start again” or asking “do you have any hobbies that you’re good at?”) I decline the “opportunity” to read early-draft work. Or, for the most part, even later-draft work.

In this case, I’ve read other stuff from this writer, over the years, so I know he can write. He can tell a story. He can write realistic characters and have the words coming out of their mouths sound like actual speech. Also his style is radically different from my own, and not one that I’d want to emulate, so I’m not apt to be “contaminated” by it. Which is not to in any way say that there’s anything wrong with his style. It’s just not appealing to me as a writer. As a reader, I’m fine with it.

And when I read somebody else’s material, I try my damnedest to read it as a reader, not a writer. Give five writers the same plot synopsis and put them to work, you’re going to have five different versions. Written different ways, focused on different aspects of the story, with different characters moving the story along. If he summed up his plot in a paragraph and said, “Write it your way” it would be very different. So I have to suppress that. I have to say “This is what it is, and it needs to be read based on what he wrote, not as I would have written it.”

For a writer, that can be difficult.

Even moreso when as a reader you get to a point where the story becomes unsatisfying and as a writer you see all the elements already in place to turn that around.

In this case, it was in the ending portion the book. Which is, as I’ve found myself, often a minefield that you have to get across to bring the story home.

Endings are hard. Maybe they’re easier if you plot the whole damn thing, chapter and verse, from beginning to end, ahead of time. Or if you write to a template, whether it’s something like the Hero’s Journey or an “act” structure, where certain things happen at certain points in the story, because readers “expect” it. I don’t write that way, because for me, if the story doesn’t roll out organically, it ain’t a story worth telling.

So getting the ending right is hard. In Bleeding Sky, I was two-thirds of the way through the book and I knew I was adrift. I knew where I needed to end up, but there was no satisfying path to follow. It took some hard thought and reflection. And then I saw it. I saw what was there all along, what was, as I’ve said, “really going on” – who was who, how they connected, and what it meant. A little retrofitting of a couple of scenes in the book and it all fell together.

In Bandit’s Moon, I actually cheated a bit, in my own mind. I knew the last chapter was going to be episodic, so I went ahead and wrote the last scene. It gave me a target, and helped me through the events that made up the last chapter.

In the first draft I was reading over the weekend, the ending portion is also episodic. But the episodes weren’t especially strong. Some blah-blah-blah, something happens, some more blah-blah-blah, something else happens. There was no compelling thread to it, something to make me, as a reader, want to find out what’s going on, what happens next.

But as a writer, I saw all the elements already there, in place, to construct a compelling thread, to give a reader something to follow along with, to even get some questions answered, as the book moved to its conclusion.

As writers, we sometimes miss things in our own pieces. Things we’ve put there but left unconnected to the whole of the story. They’re there, they’re clearly visible, but they’re hidden from us. Because we’ve got other ideas, or we’re anxious to move on, or because of the peculiar tunnelvision that keeps our eyes so focused on what’s ahead that we miss the scenery on either side as we pass.

And as loathe as I am to put on my writer hat when I’m supposed to be a reader, I pointed out this different direction to him. It’ll be interesting to see what he does with it.

For me, it’s time to get back to Blood for Blood. It isn’t going to write itself…

Bon Voyage, Bandit’s Moon

Now get out of here! Beat feet! Scram!

Every book I write goes through three stages.

Stage One is the beginning, those first 5–10 chapters. I’m completely and totally focused on the book, from when I open my eyes in the morning to when sleep snatches me away from consciousness. If I’m not sitting here, writing, I’m thinking about it. What happens next? How do I introduce this character? Is that a better way to transition to the next chapter? Dialogue between characters going back and forth in my head, morphing as new things occur to me.

Stage Two is the middle sections. I’m on a roll, but I’m not 100% sure how to get from here to the ending. The doubts creep in. Do I have enough story to actually get to the end? Is it too linear? Is it not linear enough? As well as thinking about what I’m writing, I also start thinking about the next book at this point. It’s still a 90/10 split, with 90% of my focus on the book in progress. But I’m starting to mentally work out plot points, new characters, the return of series characters.

Then there’s Stage Three. The last third/quarter of the book. I can see the end rushing toward me. I can jot down the last 6–7–8 chapters, with one sentence on what will happen in each. And I’m, at thought point, thinking a lot more about the next book. A 70/30 split, with 70% of my mind on the book that’s next. I’m not exactly on autopilot with the work in progress, but I know what’s going to happen, and when, so I don’t have to give it a ton of thought. I just have to get the words down.

And in Stage Three, I begin to resent the book on writing. Because if I could just finish the damn thing, I could move on to something new, something different, something I’m actually excited about.

That’s where I’ve been with Bandit’s Moon for the past few weeks….actually for much of February. Over it. Anxious to finish, get it out, and move on to Blood for Blood.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Bandit’s Moon. In the final readthrough over the weekend, I was able to appreciate how it holds together, what it brings to the Night and Day series table. It’s a bit darker than the first two books, and there are attitudes in it that I personally find repugnant. It’s also a bit more introspective, from Welles’s perspective, since he’s on the express elevator to Hell, and is going to have to do something that throws into question his own self-image. Such is character evolution. Sometimes they have to learn something about themselves, even if it’s not something that makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside.

But at this point, I’m ON FIRE to start Blood for Blood. So much so that I may actually start Chapter One today, while I’m doing my weekly backup and laundry. I’m done with Bandit’s Moon. It’s out, nothing more for me to do with it, no more to think about.

And it couldn’t happen soon enough.

By the way, the first teaser for Blood for Blood is in the back of Bandit’s Moon, but since you probably haven’t gotten there yet, I’ll share it with you.

It seemed like an easy assignment. Three or four nights, pretending
to be a vampire’s human fiancé. Not a normal kind of job for private
investigator Charlie Welles, but there were worse ways to earn his
pay.

Dinner with the parents. Light conversation. Things are fine until
Welles realizes that not everything is what he believes it to be. And
then the bullets start to fly and the bodies start to fall.

An easy assignment. The hard part for Welles will be surviving to see
the end of it.

It’s going to be a fun book to write. As I told somebody, the early parts are almost romantic-comedy-ish. But I don’t write rom-coms, and as I say in the teaser, not everything is what Welles believes it to be…

Countdown

Everything is done. Bandit’s Moon has been gone through a final time. The files are uploaded and in place to go live tomorrow/Wednesday.

Right now, Night and Day is in a Kindle Countdown promotion. You can pick up a copy for $.99 until Thursday morning or somewhere thereabouts. After that it goes to $1.99, and then back to $2.99 at the end of the week.

Watch this space tomorrow (wherever you watch it from…) for a chance to pick up all of the Night and Day series books for the usual price of one, give or take a few cents.

Tom Castle…White Courtesy Phone…

So back in January, I was talking about unfired guns – characters that appeared, but didn’t seem to have an important function in the book.

One of them in Night and Day was a fella named Tom Castle. The sum total of what the reader sees and learns of Tom Castle is:

The last of the early morning regulars came in a few minutes later. Age somewhere between forty and seventy. Graying, unkempt shoulder-length hair. Tall and thin, almost skeletal. Empty eyes.

As usual, Hanritty served him two slices of dry toast and a cup of black coffee. If the past was any indication, he’d sip his coffee, eat his toast, toss some money on the counter, and leave, never saying a word.

After I got friendly with Hanritty, I asked him about the guy.

“Tom Castle,” Hanritty told me. “Got tapped during the war, maybe after in a camp.” Hanritty paused and looked away. “Tapped pretty hard. Physically he’s okay. But his mind is just . . . someplace else.” Hanritty paused again. “Probably someplace better.”

A blank slate. And as I said, I’d initially thought to bring him in as a source of information about an internment camp later in the story, but went another way.

I’m so smart.

Because if I’d used Tom Castle for that, he would have been an in-and-out character. Maybe mentioned, briefly, in some future book in the series, but his moment in the sun would have come and gone.

Last night, as I lay in bed waiting for Mr. Sandman to finish up down the street and sledgehammer me into sleep, I was thinking about Blood for Blood. Cause hey, the only thing I could think about with Bandit’s Moon would be margins, span code, force new page commands, etc. – once it’s written, it’s all about the formatting for publication and boy, is that uninteresting.

So I was running the soon-to-start Blood for Blood through my mind. As I’ve mentioned, I have the beginning down pat – probably the first five chapters or so. Then something needs to happen, that kicks the story into a whole ‘nother direction.

I know what needs to happen – I just didn’t have a real reason for it to happen. And as I think I’ve said, I really don’t like the “I’m the writer! If I say this happens, it happens! Logic? Bah!” kind of thing. Yeah, everything that happens in any fiction I write does so because I want, or need, it to. But it also needs to be credible, based on the characters, or situation, or whatever. Yes, the reader may not immediately know why it’s credible, but there better be some answers down the road.

Anyway, I have this “something” that needs to happen, and I’m going through different ways of making it sensible that it does happen. And then I think of Tom Castle.

Above you see everything that Welles knows (and therefore, the reader knows) about Castle. What if it’s not true? What if Tom Castle isn’t some poor old geezer who got a little too much blood withdrawn by a vampire? What if Hanritty…was…lying?

I’m lying there in bed, and I was so excited by the possibilities that were pouring out of my imagination that I almost got out of bed, fired up the computer, and started putting it all down. But I didn’t. Mr. Sandman likes to keep to a schedule and if I’m not ready when he’s ready, it might be a while till he makes it here again. So I filed it in my mental filing cabinet, and Mr. Sandman had another satisfied customer a little later.

But I’m still excited about it. And anxious to get rolling on Blood for Blood.

First, though, I need to get Bandit’s Moon out the door – finished up the Kindle and paperback formatting in about five hours today. Paperback version is being reviewed, Kindle version needs that final readthrough I mentioned, to fix any little typos I spot (which I’ll then fix in the paperback version and resubmit). By Monday evening, it should be done done, and by Thursday, I’ll be primed to start writing Blood for Blood.

Oh…and to answer those questions I asked a few paragraphs back? No, what you and Welles know about Tom Castle is not true. He’s not some poor geezer who’s down a few pints too many. And Hanritty is a liar. But for a good reason. And because he’s on the side of the angels, he gets a first name in Blood for Blood.

Ed.