The Evolution of A First Novel

I recently posted a five-part series in this blog about how I write, included in which are references to my upcoming novel, Your Truth is Out There. It recently occurred to me, however, that the overall evolution of the book itself might be of interest to some.

The initial idea for the story came to me one day while stuck in traffic. I was actually way in the back of a long line of cars, all waiting for our turn at a stop light. It was one of those infuriatingly short lights that only allowed a few cars through at a time before turning red again. You know the ones I mean. 

Being the sci-fi geek I am, after about the third or fourth cycle of the "long red-quick green-basic yellow-back to long red again," where I'd barely made it half-way to the front of the line, I began daydreaming about how nice it would be to have a flying car instead of being anchored to the ground, gravity's eternal prisoner. With a flying car, I could simply lift off, fly over this mess and proceed on to my destination—no muss, no fuss. Of course, my next thought was that if I had a flying car, everyone else would probably also have one, as well. (Regardless of what my mom has always told me, I do realize I'm not THAT special!) That put me back in the same dilemma. If everyone had flying cars, the same traffic problems would still exist, just 50 feet off the ground. Ultimately this train of thought led me to outer space (as many trains within my mind often lead) and to wonder what it would be like out there, where there are no roads—particularly in the parts inhabited by the vast galactic civilization everyone knows exists (but nobody talks about) and that commutes between planets like we do from the 'burbs to our jobs.

With that as my backdrop, I devised my initial incident which has one if my protagonists, an accountant named Gsefx (pronounced "Zef"), stuck in traffic on his way to work, ultimately leading to his being late (again), and getting fired for it. I allowed this idea roll around in my head for awhile, adding more characters and plot details until I had the makings of what I believed to be a pretty decent little short story. 

Short until I began writing it, that is.

I worked on it, off and on for quite some time, through job changes, moves and other life-changing events. By the time I finally "finished," more than five years had passed, and my "short" story had become a 19,000 word novella. Not knowing what else to do with it, I packed it up (after proofing & editing it numerous times, of course), and shipped it off to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, dreaming of overnight success and instant stardom. After all, who would be able to resist such an incredible story, right?

There are many things I appreciate about The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Its editor, Gordon Van Gelder, and his team do a tremendous job of putting out a unique selection of entertaining stories every other month—an increasingly difficult task as the world of publishing (and reader habits) continues to change. As a potential contributor to the magazine, however, one of the things I appreciate most about it, is its fast turnaround time. They don't sit on submissions for months on end, keeping the author on pins and needles (while also keeping them from submitting their story elsewhere).

I received my rejection letter from them in less than a week.

Now, as weird as it may sound, I was actually quite pleased to receive that letter. It symbolized several things for me. As my very first rejection letter, it meant I'd actually submitted something, which in turn, meant I'd actually finished something. Something I believed worthy of letting someone in a position of authority (an editor) read and judge. That was a big step in and of itself. Beyond that, however, I did some additional research on the magazine's web site and user forums, and found that the editor actually had three different rejection letters that he sent out: one which meant the story was so bad, he could barely get through the title, another, which meant he starter reading the story, but couldn't get through the whole thing, and the third, which meant he read it, and may have even liked it somewhat, but that the story just wasn't right for the magazine. I received the third version, which, for a first-time submission, was a tremendous boost of confidence—even if it did come in the form of a rejection letter. 

More than a boost of confidence, it was inspirational. Someone I didn't know, who was also a recognized authority on science fiction had read my story all the way through, and even though he wasn't going to print it, he...well, he made it all the way through. That was enough for me. Perhaps I could do this after all...

...later, after I write some other stories first. 

Yes, my little story that had turned into a novella, that had then turned into an inspirational rejection went almost, but not quite directly, into the dreaded bottom drawer, where it stayed for quite some time. It wasn't that I'd lost faith in it, or that the rejection letter, inspirational though it was had got to me, it was simply that after all I'd put into it, I was tired of the story and I didn't know what else to do with it. So I put it away. And wrote some others. I wrote some good stories. I wrote some mediocre stories. I even wrote a couple of real stinkers (which I'd just as soon forget), but in every case, I learned, and continued to write. 

Eventually, the time came when the characters from the (untitled) space novella began calling to me again, asking when I was going to come back to them. Coincidentally, this was also about the same time I discovered the availability of self-publishing on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I dove back into the story, making several rounds of edits before self-publishing on the aforementioned platforms in January 2013, under the title "Rockin' Across the Galaxy." Success is a relative term that must be defined by each individual, based on their own expectations at their particular point in their career. From a commercial standpoint, "Rockin'" was by no means successful. I don't know exactly how many copies I sold, but I'm sure it was less than 50. (I did have a few "free" weekends, which generated several hundred downloads, but no revenue.) However, from a critical perspective, it was a tremendous success. Even removing the glowing reviews by my friends and family, I received several positive reviews by others who had no connection to me whatsoever (and therefore no reason to overly kind). This was another tremendous self-confidence boosting experience. The one major criticism that was nearly unanimous was that my ending was a cliffhanger that was way too abrupt. Everyone wanted to know what happened next. Though the cliffhanger ending was unintentional on my part, I took it as a good sign that people were invested enough in the story and characters to want to know what happened next.

So, I began working on the sequel. As I did, it became more and more clear to me that I needed to remove  "Rockin'" from sales and integrate it into the new book, reworking some parts to make a stronger overall piece. Now, as I work through my second round of edits, and toward a late spring/early summer release, I feel the whole thing coming together so well, I couldn't be more excited about launching this book. I do think those who enjoy character driven sci-fi adventure will really enjoy it.

And to think it all began while stuck in traffic!

My Road To Fiction

I am a writer.

I can say that with bold confidence, even though my first novel has yet to be released (it's currently scheduled for a late spring launch). I was a writer long before I ever began working on this, my first-ever, novel. You see, when I say I am a writer, I mean that writing is an intrinsic part of who I am, as much as my eyes, nose and goatee are an intrinsic part of my face. (My wife has never seen me without my goatee, and I intend to keep it that way!) I enjoy stringing words together, so that they form interesting (or at least complete) sentences, and compiling those sentences into engaging, somewhat coherent, thoughts.

Writing is one of those simple things in life, that brings me great joy. It's not quite on par with strolling hand-in-hand with my wife along the beach, or having dinner with my daughter and her family, or watching my grandkids do...well, almost anything, but it's close. When the writing clicks, it's very close.

I particularly enjoy taking a difficult or complicated subject and using my linguistic skills to explain it in a way that is clear and easy to understand for everyone, particularly the layman, who may not be trained in that particular subject.

It's good that I enjoy that type of writing, since it is a significant part of what I do in my regular job—you know, the one that makes it possible for me to do...well pretty much everything else in my life. I work in Communications, and as such I write (or have written) all kinds of documents, from press releases and annual reports to CEO speeches and news stories for employee intranets. I've also written a couple if magazine articles, and been compensated for them, but that's more of an on-the-side, thing.

Over the past several years, just for fun, I've been working on honing my fiction writing skills. It's more than just for fun, really. It's the kind of writing I've always wanted to do. It's the kind of writing I've always felt like I was meant to do. It's also the kind of writing that comes the least naturally to me. I don't know why, but the non-fiction, business and journalistic styles of writing have always seemed to come the easiest, and yet, as much as I enjoy writing in those styles, I've never shaken the feeling that I NEED to be writing fiction of some sort, preferably science fiction. Perhaps because that's what I most enjoy reading. Perhaps that's also why the journey of writing my current novel has been such an enjoyable experience for me. Even though it's my first full-length novel, and learning the "how-to" parts of it have sometimes been embarrassingly difficult, it's been (and continues to be) an amazing learning experience. Writing fiction is so different from the other writing I do in my daily work—different, not just in terms of content (which is obvious), but also in the process. In writing for work, for example, I edit along the way. The projects are short, as are the deadlines, and the drafts have to be pretty tight the first time around. The last thing I want to do is send my CEO a draft of a letter to review, that is written on his behalf, and that's a complete mess. So "first drafts" are really as close to final as I can get before I ever send them up for review.

My fiction stories, on the other hand, have a much different process (please see my previous "How I Write" series of blogs). To actually write a complete novel, I had to learn a new way to write. I had to learn to write straight through, without editing along the way. Continually editing, as I do with my "business" writing, is a recipe for disaster when it comes to writing, and completing, a fiction story.

So now, as I go through the final stages of editing and preparation for publishing, I eagerly anticipate the prize that awaits me. Once my novel is released to the world, I'll be able to add the title of "fiction writer," to my resume, a prize I'll hold dearer than most can imagine.

How I Write - Part 5: Editing, Rewriting & Beta Readers, Oh My!




In case you can't tell, editing is far from my favorite thing. Further evidence of this comes from the fact that it took just ten months to write a 95,000 word complete first draft, while it's taken nearly eight months to complete my first full round of edits.

Not that I'm complaining. Editing is an important, and necessary part of the process. It's just that I haven't really achieved that nirvana-like state in my process where things click along smoothly, like they do when I'm writing new material. I think one of the issues is that, with my smartphone and my text editing app, I can write new material anytime (I started this blog, for example, while in the dentist's chair waiting for a crown to finish baking). However, the only way editing really works for me is to print out what's already been written, get my pen (color of ink doesn't matter) and mark it up as I read it. I've tried editing on-screen and it just doesn't seem to work—I tend to skip over mistakes and sections that need reworking without even realizing I've missed them. So, editing for me, as I'm guessing it is for others, is less about the joy of creation and more about the nine-to-five, intensive labor of shaping that first draft into a salable (or at least somewhat coherent) story. In any case, here is my process thus far.

Upon completing my first draft, my first editing task was to...wait for it...take a break.

Yes, that's right, as much as I wanted to dive right in and get cracking with the editing and rewriting, what I really needed more than anything was a little bit of distance. First, to celebrate the accomplishment of finishing the first draft just a bit before digging into the drudgery of the editing process. But more importantly, the distance gave me some much-needed clarity toward my story and the characters involved. Clarity that made it easier to delete the things that weren't right, and add in new things that were. Things that I might have missed had I dove into editing straight away.

Step two in my editing process was to take each chapter in turn, starting at the very beginning, and work through the entire book. As I mentioned before, I did this with pen and paper, as opposed to attempting any type of electronic editing. I also had decided along the way that "Your Truth is Out There" would be a combination of my original novella, "Rockin' Across the Galaxy" and the new material I had written as a continuation of that story. This meant I had to re-edit the novella to match the new material, as well as write a considerable amount of new work to bridge the two documents into one continuous narrative. As you might imagine, this has been a long process, made longer by the limited amount of time I have during a typical week to work on it.

A couple of notes about editing this way that has made my process easier. As noted in a previous blog, I've written and saved each chapter in it's own individual file. This has been extremely beneficial while editing, as I have found it necessary to reorder several chapters, and having each chapter in it's own separate document made rearranging them a snap. The second note, is that I've found it much easier when editing a hard-copy print, to do so when the copy is double-spaced. Clearly, that's a personal preference, but it works well for me.

Since I have just recently finished "step two," the rest of this blog will discuss my planned next steps in the editing process before releasing my story out into the world.

As I write this, I'm sitting at my printer, printing version 2.0 of "Your Truth is Out There." Once printed, I will read it aloud to my wife. This will accomplish two things: first, hearing the words as I say them out loud is a great way to catch mistakes, poor phrasing and other things that can doom what might otherwise be a good story; things that I might easily miss when reading silently to myself while editing. Second, my wife is an excellent beta reader. She is kind, loving and more importantly, brutally honest. If something doesn't work, she's not afraid to say so. She knows how important this is to me, and how important it is that this work is the best it can be. Sharing this goal with me, she is willing to assist me by not simply smiling and saying "that's nice, dear," but instead offer a real, valuable critique of my work. Finding individuals who will offer you real, honest feedback (and you accepting that feedback for what it's meant to be) is vitally important if you want your work to be its very best.

After making any edits that come from reading it aloud to my wife/beta reader/listener, I will then send version "3.0" off to my editor. I can't give too much advice about hiring an outside editor, as this will be the first time I've done so, however, I do believe it's important and necessary. Having someone skilled in the technical aspects of language and grammar, who also hasn't seen your work before and has no emotional ties to you can be extremely helpful. They can find any plot holes or other story problems, along with any technical issues that you may have missed. I do think it's important to shop around and find an editor that you will feel comfortable working with, while also being within your budget.

After the editor, comes the beta readers. This may be out of order, as I've read that you should have your beta readers read it before sending it to your editor, but I think it important that my beta readers get something that is as close to final as I can provide them, even if that means another full round of editing and proofing after the betas have finished.

After I've finished incorporating the input received from my betas, and had it proofed again, it will be time to add in the book cover (which I will cover in a separate blog when I get to that point), any front matter and other extras, and then...PUBLISH!

How I Write - Part 4: What Are You Waiting For? Start Writing & DON'T Look Back

This is the fourth part in my "How I Write" series, which, it should be noted, deals strictly with my personal fiction writing. My regular, full-time job as a communications professional includes a significant amount of non-fiction writing (business, journalistic, etc.), and the process is significantly different.

Before diving into part 4, let's recap: in Part 1, I had my epiphany, which is also my initial incident. I then fleshed out the epiphany/initial incident into a workable storyline in Part 2. Then, last week in Part 3, I figured out who my characters were—most of them, at least—which leads me now to the fun part: the part where I get busy writing and bringing the story to life.

If you're at all like me (and from what I've heard, a lot of new writers are), you love to edit as you go, believing that if you perfect each paragraph now, it will save time later. That may sound good in theory, but when put into practice, it simply dosen't work. The big fallacy here, for me at least, is that I spend all of my time editing what I've already written and never make any (or very little) actual progress furthering the story. Eventually, this cycle of continuously editing the same bit of writing over and over becomes tedious enough that I lose interest, and the story goes into the dreaded "bottom drawer" never to be seen or heard from again. Not a particularly productive process. Over the years, I've read advice from more than one successful author, recommending the completion of a full first draft before going back to do ANY editing. Great advice, but did I heed it? Nope. Not even a little. When it came right down to it, I couldn't seem to break my edit-as-you-go habit, which consequently meant my writing went nowhere.

So, how did I get from being hopelessly stuck in an unproductive writing cycle to where I'm at now—which is making final edits to my completed novel (before I turn it over to my editor)?

In the end, it was my amazing wife who gets (most of) the credit for helping propel me past my most unproductive habit. Through a combination of constant encouragement and tough love, she impressed upon me the need to always "write forward" without looking back, until I'd completed that entire first draft. 

While my wife gets most of the credit, I must mention two other things that made a world of difference in my ability to write a first draft straight through to the end without looking back: first is a method I began of writing each chapter in its own separate document file. This way, once a chapter is "done," I don't look at it again until it's time to rewrite/edit the entire book. Proceeding in this manner, one chapter at a time, finishing it, then setting it aside in favor of the next chapter, I was able to complete my "first" first draft—a roughly 95,000 word sci-fi action-adventure novel—in about ten months. Secondly, I have to give credit to my friends and cohorts in my writing group. Their regular encouragement, challenges and overall camaraderie helped push me forward and continues to do so today. If you're not part of a writer's group, I encourage you to join one—or start your own, which is what I did. (One suggestion I would make regarding writer's groups, however, is that you should esure, that your writing goals coincide with those of the group and that your personality fits in with the others in the group. If you're not finding the group to be helpful and supportive for you, then you may need to find a different group.)

One concern I often hear voiced by new writers about not editing along the way is what to do when things in the story, and/or about the characters, change along the way (which they inevitably will). Shouldn't you go back and correct the earlier parts of the story that are affected by these changes? I know this is of concern to many, because it was a concern I had as well. My story changed quite significantly as I wrote it—so much so that instead of being a stand alone novel, it turned into what will eventually become a three-volume series. The answer, however, or at least my answer is an unqualified NO! DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES GO BACK AND EDIT ANY PREVIOUS CHAPTERS UNTIL THE FIRST DRAFT IS COMPLETE. 

But why?

For the same reason you closed those chapters in the first place: you will be tempted to begin editing them. You'll see a sentence that isn't quite up to snuff, and then another, and pretty soon you're going back over everything, doing a total rewrite, and in the process losing any momentum you had built up toward finishing your first draft. I'll say it again: DO NOT GO BACK! Take notes, if you feel you must, but don't overdo it on those, either. Don't do anything that takes away from your momentum as you work to complete that first draft. I didn't bother taking notes as I wrote my first draft, mainly because as I continued to write, and my story became more and more complete, things continued to evolve and change at too rapid a pace. Not just the story, but the characters, as well (including a couple of pretty interesting surprises). Some things changed so much that any notes I might have made early on, would have themselves needed to be edited significantly. Rather than go down that unproductive road of constant editing, I decided to focus on finishing the first draft instead, and leave all of the things that needed fixing for the rewrite/editing stage (which is the next topic, and the stage I'm currently in with my novel).

Proceeding in this manner has, on one hand, made the overall editing/rewriting process a larger task. On the other hand, however, because I waited until the first draft was complete, I have been able to attack all of the edits, armed with a full understanding of how the entire story will unfold. So, even though there may be more edits to make than if I "edited as I went," I have, (1) been able to complete a full first draft (which in and of itself is an amazing feeling), and (2) have that full draft to work from while making my edits. To me that's a win all the way around.

There's one additional note about my actual writing process I'd like to make. Like most people, my daily schedule isn't conducive to a "pre-planned" set time to write. It just isn't realistic for me to say "I'm going to write for one hour every night/morning" and stick to it. I've tried, and it just doesn't work that way for me. Yet, over the course of about ten months, I managed to write a complete 95,000 word first draft. I wrote most of those words a few sentences at a time, using a simple text-editing app on my smart phone. Rather than wait for the moment in my life when I would have the time to write, which became more and more obvious would never come, I decided to write what I could, when I could. While waiting for the coffee to brew, I'd write a few sentences. While waiting for a file to print, I'd write a few more. While waiting at the doctor's office, or in line at the DMV or wherever I had a few minutes to spare, I'd write a few sentences. These sentences turned into rough drafts of chapters, which I'd then convert to Word docs for further editing and "finalizing" (as much as a chapter in a first draft can actually be finalized). Once finalized, I was done with that chapter until the rest of the first draft was finished. It may not sound like the most exciting way of writing a book, but it worked perfectly for me. (And yes, even a few sentences at a time, it was actually rather exciting!)

Due to the holiday season, and the fact that I'm still involved in the editing process, the next part in this series, How I Write - Part 5: Editing, Rewriting and When to Step Back & Turn Your Story Over to Your Editor, will not be published until the first part of January '15.

Thanks for reading & Happy Holidays!!

How I Write - Part 3: Figuring Out My Characters

Before we dive into Part 3, let's recap a bit first. In Part 1, I had my epiphany, which also equated to my initial incident. Then, in Part 2, I fleshed out various storylines and found the one that felt right for me to pursue. So now it's time to get to it and start writing, right?

Not so fast, cowboy (or cowgirl, as the case may be)! The real success of any story lies less in the story itself, than in the characters who bring that story to life. A story's characters must live, breathe and evoke real emotional responses from the reader, or nobody will care about the action taking place in the story. The reader must genuinely love, or at least identify with, the protagonist. They must despise (or at least really dislike) the antagonist. And they must have equally real feelings toward each and every one of the other characters, no matter how large or small a part they may play. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the supporting characters are as important as the leads, if not more so. These vital characters are often called upon to run interference for the leads, allowing them to do all the hero/villian type stuff that's written into their contracts. How the audience feels about these secondary characters will also reflect how they feel about the leads and the overall book.

So, to get started in the character development phase, my first step is to identify the leads. Who is the story about? Who is my protagonist? Is there just one, or is it more of an ensemble cast? For instance, my current novel, Your Truth is Out There, began as a "buddy" story with two main protagonists. As the story began to take shape, however, several other characters emerged with larger roles, turning my "buddy" book into a an ensemble team story.

Close on the heels of the protangonists is my antagonist. Who is he/she/it? Again, is there more than one, or are there several characters who would like to see my protagonist(s) fail (or worse). Who are the supporting characters on both sides? Wives, husbands, friends, co-workers, henchmen, gas station attendants, etc.

Once I've identified everyone (more or less), it's time to figure out who each of these characters really are—in as exact a manner as I can get. This is where I think my process may differ from a lot of other writers, in that I don't spend a lot of time making detailed profiles, resumes and/or other documents about each character. Instead, I keep it rather simple. I may jot a few notes down, regarding basic superficialities, like height, weight, sex, skin, hair and eye color, (and since my current novel includes non-terrestrials, what planet they're from, how many arms, eyes and legs, etc.), but generally, I like to keep it pretty simple. I find that my time is better spent ruminating on the character, rather than preparing a lot of physical notes about them. I want to get to know them in my head and in my heart, so that I have an emotional connection with them—one I hope will transfer on to the reader.

Now, let me be clear, I'm not saying that those who make detailed notes aren't making that same emotional connection—I believe they absolutely are—I'm simply saying there are different ways to approach characterization, and we each need to choose what works for us. Writing background information doesn't work for me—I have to write them into the situations they're going to face within the story and see how they react. It may not be the best method, it's just the best method for me.

Working with characters in this kind of "free-flowing" way has some disadvantages, for sure. Sometimes, I don't get it right the first time, especially when I first begin working with a new character, and that means rewriting. Sometimes, the character becomes inconsistent, which also means rewriting. Both of those instances usually happen because I've not taken enough time to simply sit, think and get to know the character well enough prior to writing about them. Sometimes it happens just because that's the way the process works—I have to get it wrong first, in order to get it right. In the end, I don't think it takes any more or less time and effort than if I took a different path, it's simply my way of getting there.

In spite of the occasional rewriting, however, there is one huge advantage I've found to writing characters in without too much background work. In at least two cases, I've stumbled upon relatively minor characters who really had little or no other purpose than to fill out a scene, who suddenly became major characters. In one case in particular (one of my antagonist's minions), he actually looked at me, winked, and told me, in no uncertain terms, that he was far from the minion I originally thought him to be. I don't think that would have happened if I'd structured my scenes and characters out in greater detail before writing them, which would have been sad, because, to me at least, that's when the writing gets really fun!

Be sure to come back next week for How I Write - Part 4: What Are You Waiting For? Start Writing - And DON'T Look Back. 

The Shell Collector, by Hugh Howey

As I get older, I realize more and more just how much I don't know — about so many things. Things that I was so certain of in my arrogant, ignorant youth now seem much less clear to me as I examine them through the (thicker) lenses of...well, let's just say "upper middle age."

One thing I do know for certain, however, is how to recognize quality writing. I think it's something I've gotten better at as I've tried to sharpen my own writing skills. So I can say with great confidence that Hugh Howey is a superb writer. This isn't breaking news. Anyone who has ever read any of his works (and there are many—the man writes and sells a lot of books) knows this to be true. Anyone who hasn't read his work before, and decides to give Howey's work a try, will immediately realize the validity of my claim and see for themselves his colossal talent.

Regardless of genre, Howey seems to genuinely understand how to lay down words in such a way that, when the journey is over, the reader feels as if they've just experienced something a little bit magical. Perhaps they have. To date, I've read three of his books, a post-apocalyptic thriller (Wool), a children's story (Misty, the Proud Cloud) and now this, The Shell Collector. "Shell" is a novel that doesn't quite fit as neatly into one particular category as his other works, but is likely to be considered more of a romance novel than anything else. No matter what category or genre one puts it into, however, Howey knocks "Shell" out of the park with seeming ease. He introduces us to unforgettable characters, living in a vividly portrayed world that is at once familiar, yet very different and weaves a story that even the most cynical of us can relate to (or perhaps especially the most cynical of us).

It begins with a reporter named Maya Walsh, an "everywoman" reporter for the New York Times, whose series of scathing exposés about the richest and most powerful man in the world, Ness Wilde, and his family going back to his great-grandfather. Once printed, these articles will finally bring the villainous clan who literally ruined the world, to justice.

Or at least that's Maya's plan.

That plan is interrupted by a couple of things. First by the FBI, who are after Wilde for reasons of their own, and second, by Ness Wilde himself, a man who has more to lose than Maya could ever dream possible. I won't say much more about the story, for fear of giving too much away, but suffice to say that Maya and Ness spend a significant amount of time together, and learn a lot more about one another, and themselves, than either of them bargained for.

The Shell Collector is a wonderful story that grabs you immediately with warm, real characters and an intriguing storyline. The story is written in first-person, present tense, from Maya's perspective and is very well-paced—meaning it doesn't reveal too much, too quickly, but neither does it drag. Maya relays her story, her worries, fears, suspicions and insecurities in a manner that's both real and revealing, allowing us, the reader, an opportunity to not just simply ride along for the journey, but to experience the emotions for ourselves, and if we so choose, to follow Maya's lead and embark on a little self-examination journey of our own.

The Shell Collector is scheduled to be released on December 14 in both paperback and e-book (Kindle) formats, but is available for pre-order now through Amazon at the link below. I highly recommend any of Mr. Howey's books, The Shell Collector being no exception. Get your copy today!

Order The Shell Collector on Amazon

How I Write - Part 2: Fleshing Out the Epiphany

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't.” ― Mark Twain

In part one, I discussed the concept of "having an epiphany" as the beginning of my writing process. In part two, I take my epiphany, which also (usually) equates to my initial incident, evaluate it carefully, then try to uncover as many of the potential outcomes that might grow from that incident to determine if any of those possibilities will lead into viable story options. If so, I then determine which of those possibilities are the best and/or are most appropriate for me as a storyteller. 

But what determines whether a story option is viable or not? I think each individual has to determine that for themselves, but I would start with the premise that everything has to be—or at least feel—believable. That doesn't mean it has to actually be real. As noted, my story is very much science fiction (space ships, aliens, etc.), however, within the universe I'm creating, the characters must feel true to themselves, and their actions and activities must be in accordance with what seems plausible within their reality.

For example, if I were writing a story where telekinetic abilities had never been introduced or even discussed as a possibility, and then one of the characters suddenly displays telekinetic powers, without any introduction or plausible explanation, it wouldn't feel right—it wouldn't feel "real". It would seem as if I decided to throw the telekinesis in as an afterthought, or as an easy way to solve a difficult problem. Readers won't buy it. I know I wouldn't.

So what do I do if, as I'm writing my story, I find there is a need for a character with telekinetic powers? My best course of action is to go back and find a proper place within the story to begin introducing the idea, so when the actual display of those powers first arises, it fits naturally within the universe I've created. That can often mean a lot of extra editing and/or rewriting. I've had to do this in my current book, Your Truth is Out There—not using telekinesis in particular, but other additions to the story that were necessary, but hadn't been previously introduced. It was a significant amount of extra work, the end result was worth the effort.

This same concept can and should be applied to the overall storyline possibilities as well. If the overall concept is too unbelievable, it should perhaps be reconsidered, or at least thought through further, so that the story can be presented in a way the reader will be able to relate to.

Aside from making your story "feel" believable, it also has to be contain something that resonates within me in order for me to go forward, otherwise, I'll lose interest way too quickly. Whether it's the actual storyline I find intriguing, or the individual characters who play it out, there has to be some kind of passion driving the writing. If I don't feel it, not only will I lose interest, the reader will too. 

Speaking of characters, once I've explored and chosen the storyline I'm going to follow (loosely follow, I might add-but I'm getting ahead of myself), then it's time to move on to Part Three: Figuring Out Who My Characters Are. See you next week!

How I Write — Part 1: Have An Epiphany

I've read various blog posts lately from different authors about the processes they go through as they take their book from initial idea to finished novel. In each case, I have found their processes to be detailed and thorough—truly exceptional in every one, except for one minor detail—they would never work for me. But that's okay, I've found a process of my own, and I'm quite certain it wouldn't (and won't) work for many, if not most. That being said, I'm still going to share my process here, as there may be a trick or two that someone may find helpful. The key is to ultimately find a process that works for you, as an individual, which will enable you to take that idea out of your head and put it in a form that the whole world will be able to enjoy. Here's mine.

Step 1. Have an epiphany. Yeah, sure, just like that, right? Well...yes, kinda. Think about it for a minute and chances are, you already have some idea of what you want to write about. At the bare minimum you likely at least know whether it's fiction, non-fiction and/or what sub-genre/category your writing will fit into.

You at least know you want to write. Right?

From there, having an epiphany about your material is really as simple as opening your mind to the possibilities—all of them. For example, my current book started when I was stuck in traffic one day and off-handedly thought, I sure wish I had a flying car right about now so that I could rise above everyone and fly to my destination. A ridiculously silly thought, I know, but rather than toss that thought into my mental wastebasket, I let it roll around for a while, which then led to other observations:

1. "As much as I'd love a flying car, I'm clearly not all that special, which means that if I had a flying car, everyone else would too, and we'd all be stuck in the same traffic jam, just 50 feet off the ground." 

2. "Of course, there's more open space up there, so we could fit more maybe there wouldn't be a jam after all." 

3. "Then again, this all this land on the ground used to be wide open at one point in time, and even today there are plenty of wide open spaces, but we still drive on designated roads, I guess because that's what we're supposed to do." 

4. "So, even if we all had flying cars, we'd probably all have to filter into some kind of air/roadway system, just to keep us all in line."

5. " we apply this logic to outer space, I guess the same principles would apply. So, in the vast alien civilization that surely resides somewhere deep "out there," their ships must be required to use interstellar highways, right? Or are they allowed to fly anywhere they want to with the hope that no two will ever collide?"

This train of thought, quickly led to my epiphany, which translated into the initial incident for one of my protagonists—a non-terrestrial who is stuck in traffic on his way to work from his home planet to the main "business district" planet, and is subsequently fired for being late.

As you can see, there's nothing miraculous about the epiphany stage. It really is nothing more than allowing your mind to wander freely, while not discounting any possibilities, no matter how ridiculous or silly they may seem at the time.

In the next part, Step Two: Fleshing Out the Epiphany. I will discuss how I determine if there is really a story there, or if it's just a great idea with nowhere to go.

An Excerpt From "Your Truth is Out There"

As you can tell from the date of my last posting, it's been a while since my last blog post. This is because I have been focusing my efforts on editing the first volume in my "Find Your Truth" series, "Your Truth is Out There." Even so, I've had to delay the release date a couple of times, mainly for reasons that have little to do with the book itself. I'm expecting to release the book sometime in the first quarter of 2015.

In the meantime, here's a short excerpt. Comments welcome!


In the back of his mind, it had always been one of Alcorn's greatest fears that someone would endanger his family, that they would attempt to use them to compromise his position, particularly as he climbed higher in rank. He had just always assumed the coward behind such an act would actually be from somewhere on planet Earth.


She had always been his greatest strength. Whenever he needed someone to turn to, to lean on, or more often than not, someone to stand up to him and tell him when he was wrong, she was the one who was always there for him. She was the strength behind, and within, the four stars on his shoulders.

Now, in this critical moment, he would not allow her to become his weakness—for her sake, not for his. She would never be able to bear it, knowing that she caused his downfall, even if it were beyond her control, as it was now. No, for her sake, he couldn't back down, nor let his guard down, not even for a second. But there was someone else to think about. He and Janny weren't the only family members involved.

"General, may I have a word with you?" It was Lhvunsa. He was so deep in his thoughts, he hadn't heard her approach.

"Of course," he said, as she took the seat next to him, "what's on your mind?"

"Reconciliation, General, reconciliation between you and your son."

Alcorn looked at Lhvunsa, then looked away.

"Yeah, after what you said back at Ricnor's headquarters, I kinda thought that might be the case. You wanna hear something funny, I've been thinking about it too."

"That's wonderful," said Lhvunsa, "so you'll talk to Theo, then?"

"I didn't say that."

Alcorn sighed. It was the sigh of a man carrying a heavy load, one that he'd carried for far too long a time, but couldn't yet put down. He looked back at Lhvunsa, even though the sight of her expectations pained him even more.

"There's too much you don't understand, Lhvunsa. I've caused too much pain and resentment in Theo for one conversation to magically make it all better."

"You're wrong about that General," said the green-skinned beauty. "I may not understand everything, but I do know that much."

Alcorn shook his head.

"You may be right, but even so, it wouldn't matter. Janny's kidnapping is my fault. Whether it was Ricnor or someone on Earth, it was bound to happen at some point and when it did, it was always going to be my fault. But that's not the worst of it. What I have to do next is, and it's something Theo will never forgive me for. It's better he think badly of me now, then to think well of me, possibly even forgive me and then have it all ripped away."

Lhvunsa nodded her head slowly, then without a word, stood up and started to walk away. Alcorn turned back to his thoughts and so didn't notice when she turned right back around and was now standing right next to him. She bent over and spoke into his ear in a voice as quiet as it was scornful.

"You may be right about some things, General," she said, "but here's something you don't know. Something you can't know, and that's what it feels like to have Ricnor squeezing you so tight with one arm that you can barely breath, while he's holding that spike of his at your throat with the other. All the while, using you to threaten the people you love into doing things they otherwise wouldn't do. That's what your Janny is feeling right now, General. That's what I know."

Alcorn turned around to look at the striking female, whose face was inches from his own. Her face a frozen glare, daring him to challenge her. Physically, she looked nothing like the woman he loved, but he clearly recognized his wife in the scolding he'd just received. He also recognized when he was on the wrong side of a losing argument.

"Oh for love of God," he said, "sit down before you make a scene and Theo sees you."

"If you think that's making a scene," said Lhvunsa, "you have no idea what I'm capable of, General."

"Of that I have no doubt," said Alcorn, his face a full-on frown. He looked away for a moment, then turned back to Lhvunsa, this time examining her much more closely, as if he were trying to analyze her, right down to her DNA.

"What in the name of the Gods, are you looking at?" she asked, even more irritation in her voice.

"I'm trying to figure out whether or not you're really a non-terrestrial," said Alcorn, "because you sound an awful lot like a certain Earth woman I'm married to."

Lhvunsa didn't flinch, nor even hesitate.

"I don't care what you think of me, General, nor do I care about all that has gone on between you and Theo. What I do care about is what your wife is going to see and feel when we show up to face Ricnor. Will she see a father and son divided or united? As someone who has been where she is now, I promise you, it will make all of the difference." She stood up, as if to leave, but looked at him with eyes that pierced straight to his soul. "Now, go and talk to you son."

"Is that an order, ma'am?"

"General, I'm not sure whether or not you noticed just how good my English is..."

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I have," said Alcorn, "but what does that have to do with anything?"

"In order to properly speak a language one must understand the culture in which it's spoken. To that end, I've studied your culture as well as your language, and in so doing, I found that when a woman gives a man a directive, such as I've just given you, there are only two words that are considered to be an acceptable answer."

"I'm all ears," said the General.

"I believe the response you're looking for General, is 'Yes, dear.'"

Alcorn laughed out loud in spite of himself and the horrific situation he and his family were in.

He stood up and bowed deeply to the lady with three arms and green skin who, despite their obvious physical differences, still somehow reminded him of his beloved Janny.

"Yes, dear," he said, with a smile.

As Lhvunsa made her way back to her husband's side, Alcorn straightened back up and watched, catching Gsefx watching him. Alcorn could feel and sense the empathy radiating from the gaze of the being he'd given his allegiance to, empathy that could only come from a being who knew exactly what he was going through, because Gsefx had experienced it himself. Alcorn silently nodded his acknowledgement, then turned to find his son.

Almost Like Starting Over...But Not Quite

"I'm done!" I said, in a voice full of bravado, conviction and more than a little self-satisfaction. "I've completed the first draft of my novel, now all I have to do is the rewrite, then some minor proofing, and it will be ready to go!"

Ah yes, the excitement of finishing that first draft. It was an amazing feeling, and so worth celebrating. I would encourage anyone who is currently working on a first draft (especially a first draft of a first novel), to take a moment and truly savor the accomplishment once you make it to the end. You have, in fact, completed the telling of a complex story, with real, living, breathing characters, from start to finish and there is no other feeling quite like it. Except, I imagine, finishing the rewrite and fully prepping the book for publication, but that's a blog for another time...

Fast forward a couple weeks. The excitement has subsided a bit as I'm staring the rewrite square in the face. Don't get me wrong, I'm still quite pleased with the accomplishment of finishing the first draft and I'm confident that much of it, particularly the last half will remain largely intact--but the beginning...oh my, that's a completely different matter. In fact, it's almost like starting over...almost. Let me be clear, I'm not complaining. I am, in fact, still quite excited about the prospect of finishing and publishing my first complete novel. I am also, one-hundred-and-ten-percent sold on the process of writing a complete first draft, without looking back, before ever considering a rewrite. I have learned so much more about my characters, my story and even future stories by writing straight through than I ever would have if I'd have tried to go back and "fix" things along the way. Now, as I begin the rewriting process, I have, as one fellow author told me via Twitter, a "roadmap" to my complete story. Even so, the task is daunting, particularly in light of the limited amount of time I have available to devote to it.

One of the things that simplified the writing of the first draft for me was/is my mobile devices (iphone/ipad) and a wonderful text editing app called iAWriter. This combo gave me the flexibility to write a significant portion of my first draft a paragraph or two at a time, whenever I had a few moments and a reasonable idea of what I wanted to say. Once a chapter was completed via iAWriter, I'd transfer it over to Word for a more thorough editing job. Unfortunately, I'm not sure the rewrite is going to be that easily accomplished, as I'll really need to work from the final Word files, or more than likely the printed hard copies first, making the edits by hand, then loading them into the Word files. To do that, I'll need quite a bit more than a just a few moments at a time and a reasonable idea of what I want to say.


Oh my, that certainly sounded like I was complaining didn't it? Perhaps I should quit my whining and get to work. I'll try to drop in and update you all on my progress along the way - I'm still aiming for a late summer release. Keep your fingers crossed!