Hey all! As the numbers weren’t justifying the expense, I’ve decided to pull the plug on offering Beast as a free novella when you sign up for my newsletter. If you read it, terrific! Thanks very much. If you haven’t, I have some tentative plans to release a collection of short stories and novellas, maybe in time for Halloween. We’ll see! But you’ll get a chance to read it in one form or another soon.
My friend and fellow writer Kris Butler and I were online earlier discussing some of the less believable injuries from our novels, and it led me to thinking about the things, in retrospect, I’d change about my writing so far. This is going to deal heavily in spoilers in certain areas so consider yourself warned, you spoiler-phobes.
The Ghost at His Back – The Butcher Dilemma
I’ve stated elsewhere that the original draft of GAHB was wildly different. with a politician for a villain with a shrine to the Blight in his basement. One element that bled through to the GAHB’s final draft was basically the hunt for that politician, except it became the Butcher the heroes searched for. In the first draft, the heroes were able to easily find him because a) they saw a rising tower of souls trapped at his house and b) the guy kidnapped Garrett and an FBI character to sacrifice them to the Blight.
The Butcher became something far less crazy – he’s just what his name implies, save that he butchers people, not animals. Except in simplifying him, I also stripped him of the means by which the heroes could find him. Enter Monica Ames, who comes over to the heroes’ house, and in the absolute worst chapter I’ve written and probably will ever write, she helps them deduce who the Butcher is by having Garrett pretend to be the people in the conversations to “help her be in the moment,” or some such bullshit.
It’s godawful. I admit that. In retrospect, this simply could have been fixed with a slip-up by having Murphy listen to the Butcher stutter his way through a conversation, then later have the Butcher stutter when Murphy’s around Jamie Finson, Sr. and listening in on his conversations.
Ugh. You have no idea how much I hate that chapter.
Shifting Furies: I Gave You a Rib!
Garrett has his ribs broken. Days or weeks later, he’s making love to Brianna. That’s really, really dumb. At least in later drafts I make note of it hurting and make the timeline more ambiguous, but in early published drafts, this is wildly stupid.
For All the Sins of Man: Sometimes You Don’t Understand What the Hard Writing Choice Is
MASSIVE SPOILERS AHOY!
So. Rowen dying was a mistake. A huge one. Having Garrett and Brianna try to take care of her and maybe failing or maybe succeeding would have made for a much better angle for future books, but instead, I killed her off. I’m hesitant to label her death a fridging, but it does provide an impetus to Sloan that otherwise would have taken another hundred or so pages. More on fridging in a few.
Also, re: For All the Sins, I wish I had taken the time to draw out that ending. I think the tornadoes are an important enough event that the falling action of that novel really could have gone on another twenty pages or so. Read it now and the timelines are jumbled and confused.
Bone Carvers: Torture
This one is GROSS and it is highly recommended you not read it. No. Seriously. Don’t.
Brianna – or one of them, anyways – is dropped into a pool of bodily excretions and left to die. This torture, called scaphism, is one of the most disgusting, horrifying ways to die I’ve ever come across, a perfect tool for the sick freaks of Hamber to end the love of the series. Garrett loses his mind, seeks vengeance, and before he crosses a line, all is revealed to him but he’s still broken by that image of Brianna’s ruined body covered in flies, shit, piss, and all manner of other disgusting things.
But see, there’s a difference between me knowing what Garrett is seeing and the synapses in his brain shutting down and the reader knowing what the heck is going on. There are plenty of hints, and in a later published draft I did lengthen the scene in which Garrett finds Brianna’s corpse, but I think I should have made it slightly clearer what had gone on. I also think there should have been one more scene of her in the tub before she dies, describing what she’s going through, but that might have been overkill.
Band of Fallen Princes: Lack of Definition
A reader left a review pretty early on for Band that resonated with me because it asked, “But what is it the Band of Princes actually do?” This is another case of me knowing something and failing to deliver that knowledge properly to the reader. The implication was supposed to be that the Band of Princes largely made its money through the high-end coke, heroin, and pharmaceuticals trade, as well as high-priced prostitution, except that’s very rarely mentioned. In fact, there’s no idea of how large their organization is, or what kind of force they wield in the Flats. It’s not a big deal on the surface and honestly this is probably the least of the changes I’d make to my books, but it’s still something to learn from.
Also, anyone who has ever ridden an elevator anywhere knows how stupid the elevator is at the end of the proper novel. In retrospect, I probably should have just said they killed the power to it.
Smyle: Fridging and Killing All Your Gays
Fridging, for those who don’t know, is killing off or detaining characters in such a way that it drives the protagonist to action. Now that’s not entirely what’s going on in Smyle. The deaths that occur are fine, by and large. I’m okay with those. But what I’d really like to go back and change somehow is the “killing all your gays” trope I unleashed on Monica and Sloan. And anyone who’s read the books knows I don’t actually kill them, but they are tortured and raped at the hands of the villains as a means to break the protagonist and draw out Murphy in the process. But that easily could have been done without Monica or Sloan getting involved. In fact, by dropping them from the plot entirely, the whole novel could have been a leaner, meaner affair, with more cat and mouse between Smyle and the Sparrowhawk.
The thing is, though, I actually needed Sloan to get her mojo back for Plague of Life. Having her get her powers back in this book and then disappearing would have been bizarre, so probably the smart route would be to have her and Monica investigating the city while Garrett and his friends are hiding in the Ranch. All I can do now is learn from that mistake and try to do better in the future.
Plague of Life: Nothing. Now:
Again, MASSIVE spoilers ahead.
The first publication of Plague of Life was dreadful. It’s not an excuse but I was in a dire amount of pain, so much so that I would suffer diastolic heart failure a month or two after this was published. The book was a mess of emo and angry, and though I wanted it to be a hopeful examination of what it meant to know there is a life beyond this one when you’re going through pure living hell on Earth, it missed that point by a country mile.
Flash forward to the republication. I added in a snappier opening, with a man getting killed by the Tamawo (who really did need more of a part in the novel), I changed Rick the Prick’s role entirely and made him quite possibly one of the more intriguing minor characters of the series, at least in my opinion, and I ditched Brianna’s pointless meandering to center more on the emotions and events from other people’s perspectives. I also changed a few minor details about the ending, specifically Stephanie’s flash-forward, which became less cynical and more hopeful. I also changed the way Daniel and Garrett’s story ended, with the conversation between Garrett and Grunty getting ditched entirely in favor of a reception scene between Garrett, Brianna, Daniel, and Isabela. I think it’s a far better ending.
That whole book is something I really, really love as a whole, actually. I know not everyone likes the direction I took with it, or the fact that the villains are essentially a joke. But I wanted Brianna, Sloan, and Monica (and to a much lesser extent, Tom) to win a fight so completely that it seemed effortless. They deserved it. They needed it. And in the context of saving a child, I don’t think there’s anything more satisfying than the idea of three women not fucking around and just getting it done. Writing about Sloan smashing the Tamawo’s heads in with logs and boulders left me, no joke, actually tingling. Here was my character finally allowed to be the complete badass she was, and Brianna breezily gutting the other two satisfies my soul.
Adamanta: Whoops, I Accidentally Duplicated a Movie’s Scene
If you haven’t read them, I wrote a few parts to a multi-author thing called Adamanta, a sci-fi actioner in space pitting humans against some damn dirty bugs. One of the novellas features a scene where a ship captain sacrifices herself by jumping her ship into light speed and ramming into an alien vessel.
Sound familiar? Yeah. I had no clue it happens in Star Wars: Whichever the Middle New One’s Name Is. And it’s certainly not a new idea either. We’ve seen it in war movies and other science fiction, but I thought I was actually being quite clever with that. Turns out I was (unwittingly) borrowing the trope.
How could it be changed? Simple. A suicide run of a different sorts. The ship still has its guns operational, and darts out ahead of the heroes’ ship to make one last desperate run, dropping not just all their ammunition on the alien ship but their life vessels and anything that might make a dent. Easy to see in retrospect, but sometimes writers just don’t know that they’re writing a trope. It happens.
Forever and Farewell: That Last (Real) Chapter Should Have Been Two
Again, MASSIVE spoilers ahead.
So, at the end of Forever and Farewell, Aubrey has left Lauren behind and split for Oregon so that Daddy Winslow won’t unleash the horrific sex tape her teenage boyfriend made of her as he abused and used her. With the whole town reluctantly backing Daddy Winslow now as he consolidates his power for one last town hall meeting before he gains control over the county commissioners, Lauren decides to stand up to him and deliver if not a scorching speech then at least a damning one, knowing full well that her sex tape is going to be revealed to the public. This agoraphobic woman, who at the start of the novel can barely go outside without facing down very real terror, has become the town of Fairwell’s one true hope for salvation.
Here’s where the problems happen with that chapter. Keep in mind, I love that ending. It just needed more to it.
Technically, Lauren isn’t the only one fighting against Daddy Winslow. Milo is running for the county seat and has reluctantly taken on Daddy and his surrogate, a deputy in the sheriff’s office. But the surrogate undergoes a change of heart, unfortunately one that plays mostly off the page, and winds up confessing everything to the town hall, making it unnecessary for Lauren to have to tell off Daddy Winslow and have the truth revealed about her horrific past. Except she chooses to anyways, a wildly courageous choice, and faces down the indignity of him revealing she was in a sex tape only to find the town supporting her through it and yelling Daddy Winslow out of the room as he’s arrested.
All that is great! Except for that one bit – the surrogate’s guilt needed to be played out more on the page. And all of this scene takes place months after Aubrey and Lauren have broken up. Why didn’t I stick in another chapter detailing the surrogate deciding to man up, perhaps revealing he’d made some tapes or something of his boss blackmailing him and strongarming others? Why not show Lauren breaking after Aubrey leaves only to rebuild herself with no one else’s help? Because… well… I don’t know, actually
A Shot at Us: Nic, or the Case of a Writer Liking a Character Too Much to Give Him a Turd Moment
Okay, Garrett sleeping with Brianna after his broken ribs was bad, but this might give it a run for its money. In order to make Nic, an established dealer and best friend of the protagonist in A Shot at Us, seem like less of a bad guy, instead of getting arrested for dealing, he turns himself into the police AT HIS HOME like they’re a taxi service so that I can more easily give him a winning, pleasant character arc later. Nic should have been busted. That’s a fact. The way it comes across right now is hammy and stupid.
I also think constantly about that tornado chapter, but I don’t think I’d change it. It gives it some of “my” flavor and I like the idea too much of this couple in Rankin Flats struggling to make it to change it to another city.
Fundamental Obsession: A Problem with Timelines
This one’s fairly straightforward. The timelines on Fundamental Obsession sometimes don’t jive or don’t come across easily to the page. I don’t know if it actually comes across as a mistake on the page or not. I’m too close to the novel to analyze it. But there are, at least in my head, several questions about when people move in with each other, how they can afford a house at a young age, et cetera, et cetera. Nothing is really glaring, especially if these young ones have parents with money, but still, a stronger timeline outside of the novel would have helped tremendously.
Whew, that’s it. Have you read any significant glaring errors from any writer (not just my dumb butt) lately? Writers, anything you’d change in your own books?
There’s this look I get from people time to time when I go out. It’s not just a look, as in mild curiosity, but The Look, something wholly unique to those of us with truly messed-up bodies. It’s the Look that says, “Oh God, how weird is this guy? What do I have to deal with here?”
I get it most frequently from single mothers. That’s not exactly a demographic I deal with on a regular basis, but I do see them from time to time in stores, at the spa where I swim, or walking down the street, as you do. And in their case, it’s understandable, you know? They have a lot to deal with just from regular dudes, so a guy like me must seem like DEFCON-5 levels of weird. Still, it sucks that we live in a world where, when I make a comment about some cool baby-floater thingie without getting close or trying to be threatening, young mothers feel the need to push away and give me The Look.
But they’re not the only ones. Restaurant servers are next on the list, and almost every time, it comes with a certain degree of exasperation when they realize I’m blind to boot. It’s a double-whammy of great feelings. There’s a restaurant here in town where I walk in and immediately feel like a bug pinned to the wall. The Look seems to come with some great internal debate, like, “Ugh, can this homely looking guy actually pay?” Well, yeah, I can. You have no reason to suspect my money isn’t good just because I’m frigging weird looking.
That’s not all, though. It’s impossible to get many people to take me seriously, and when someone busts out The Look, I know I’m about to either be treated like a child or like I’m subhuman. At least I can anticipate it. That’s nice. Clerks can be the worst at that. Ask them to help find something, and out comes The Look, like I’m hatching some master scheme to rob the grocery store of its Butterfingers and Triscuits. I stepped foot into my old office recently needing a map copied and got The Look from a few different angles as I tried to explain what I needed. Try to strike up a conversation with a random person? There’s the Look.
There’s no real point to this post. It’s not something that’s going to change an d I can’t expect it to. There will always be people like me in society, who want to be normal and that’s an impossibility thanks to genetics and bad luck. But… just do me one favor. Try not to be the one giving The Look, okay?
I’m going to talk about some stuff that’s going to sound like I’m cutting myself down, but I think this is important, especially if you’re considering writing.
At a vendor sale in Clancy, Montana the other day, an older gentleman stopped by, not so much interested in my books as he was talking about his own desire to collect his memoirs of his time as a soldier abroad and as a coroner. It sounded like he was off on the right foot – he was writing down memories as short stories, and wasn’t entirely sure if he should progress forward with putting them all together as a full-length nonfiction book. I assured him it’s worth the effort, as you do, and he looked me in the eyes and asked me the hardest question I couldn’t actually answer without crushing his spirit.
“How do you know people are going to be interested?”
What I told him was sort of the truth – you can’t know unless you take a gamble, same with anything else in life that’s risky. The fact is, you don’t. And in all honesty, people probably never will be. The cold but honest truth is no matter how talented we are, no matter how great our stories might be, people are probably not going to pick up our books and read them.
It’s impossible to make people sit down and start your novel, and making them isn’t the point anyways. No one owes you a read, and that’s a hard pill to swallow. People will support you in every way they can, but unless they’re actually willing to pick up the book and read it, their words and gestures are empty. And it will shock and continually depress you the people you think would give your books a shot but will let them gather dust, if they bother picking them up at all. Now blow that up to the hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of people who might stumble across your book in one way or another – and these people don’t even know you, so how likely are they to give YOUR book a chance? You cannot count on success, big or small.
Let me be perfectly frank with you. Only this year have I averaged ten sales per month and enough page reads through Kindle Unlimited that I’m now making a solid three digits every payday from Amazon. That’s three years after I first published The Ghost at His Back. Three years, and I get maybe – MAYBE – five sales on it per month. My romance novels are such an abject failure that I’ll likely never see a financial return on them. Forever and Farewell mostly sells at craft fairs on paperback, and has seen roughly forty lifetime sales. A Shot at Us, the best thing I’ve written, has seen maybe eight sales total. Fundamental Obsession, my soul ripped out and laid across two hundred and eighty pages in a love letter to my friends? It’s seen about two sales. Two. For a book I spent months on.
I say this not to get your pity or more sales. I say this because you have to know what you’re getting into. I am actively pursuing more genre fiction, because if I have a shot at this long term, that’s where I’ll be making my money. I can’t stop because I don’t have a choice in the matter. Pretty soon I’ll be hitting the point when my income will start to affect my Social Security, and I either need to ramp up the sales exponentially or give up. The latter’s not an option. I have too much I want to do to roll back over again for another six years.
So if you’re going to get into writing, go into it knowing you’re going to get your ass kicked. You’re going to put in an ungodly amount of work for people to shrug and smile and say, “Good job!” without actually giving a shit as to what you actually wrote. You’re going to put hundreds or thousands of dollars into projects that may never leave the ground. But at the end of the day, you’ll look in a mirror and be able to say you took your shot. And everything else aside, that’s all you can do with your life, really. Take your chance. If you fail, try again.
With all that said, should you write? Absolutely. Without question. There’s a joyousness to a good writing day that’s damn near indescribable, and finishing your tenth novel is just as amazing as finishing your first. But understand coming into it you are owed nothing and success is absolutely not a guarantee. There are no shortcuts. No quick fixes. There’s no secret formula except word of mouth that ensures your success. Maybe you have connections in the industry that can change that, but if you do, odds are you’re not going to need to the advice of an indie writer playing the game for quarters. Just be aware of what this business will cost you, literally and metaphorically and write for reasons other than whether or not people will like your books. Write for yourself, for the joy of creating, for the moment and the conclusion alike. Do that, and no matter if you succeed or fail, you’ll be happy.
And as an aside? I’ll take a thousand failed, unread Fundamental Obsessions over doing nothing again with my life.
Heya folks! My newest novel Fundamental Obsession is available now. A story about friendship, guilt, loss, and healing, it’s a complex novel with a feel-good romance at its core. If you enjoyed my previous novels Forever and Farewell and A Shot at Us, I think you’ll find a lot to love here.
Give it a look here on Amazon! It’s just $4.99 on Kindle, or free through Kindle Unlimited. Paperback versions won’t be available for some time yet, but I’m hopeful I’ll have them done by July-ish.
Friday, I finished the first draft of Fundamental Obsession, my passion project of 2019. It’s a quiet, low-key story about the death of a man driven to obsession over a pen-and-paper role-playing game, and the people left in his wake after he passes away in a terrible car wreck. As his ex-wife and his best friend try to fight their feelings of guilt over each having given up on their friend, a decade-long attraction might finally unite them again.
Okay, I really need to work on that elevator pitch, but I’m tired. In any case, I jumped into edits today and will bring it to you very soon on Kindle. Looking forward to seeing what people think of it.
I promised myself back when Forever and Farewell was released in 2017 that I’d allow myself one passion project a year. For 2018, that was A Shot at Us, my little take on It’s a Wonderful Life (and yes, it did launch in 2019, but it was finished in 2018). For 2019, I had such a strong idea a couple weeks ago that I had to pursue it immediately. It’s the sort of story that grabs a writer’s mind and doesn’t want to let go.
That novel is going to be titled Fundamental Obsession. I right now I think of it as completing an odd trilogy of sorts together with Forever and Farewell and A Shot at Us. If Forever and Farewell is the heart, A Shot at Us the soul, then Fundamental Obsession largely deals with the mind. I don’t want to reveal too much yet, but the basic idea will be that a friend’s well-meaning obsession with an obscure game brings together and eventually tears apart his friendships and relationships. His death in a car accident brings together his ex-wife and his former best friends for the first time in years, and they learn to deal with their grief and self-loathing by rediscovering their friendship.
It is a bit different than those other two in that the romantic elements might not be as up front as Forever or A Shot. But I think readers who liked those novels will like this one. Or at least I certainly hope you do. In any case, writing it is a slow endeavor. It requires a different mindset than I’ve done before, and in that regard, finding each character’s voice has proven to be slow and challenging, but ultimately rewarding. Look for it sometime in the next few months, hopefully.