New Year, Same Process

It’s been three years since I’ve sold a manuscript. Not that I haven’t been writing them, trust me. I’ve actually written multiple drafts of three books, none of which have gone anywhere, yet. I am hoping that 2018 ushers in change on this front.

This is a post I haven’t wanted to write, but have known I should write. It’s difficult to admit one’s failures and, at least in my mind, I’ve been failing spectacularly for years. Fortunately, I am intelligent enough to know that I’m still okay, that failures do not equal Failure. But some days are easier than others when it comes to squaring up to this idea.

These three years of toil without tangible results have been interesting. I went from being positive about bouncing back to being incredibly humbled by my inability to do so. And yet, I’ve gone on school visits, have attended conferences and signings, all for my previous work and about the craft of writing. Those have all been bittersweet. Because how can I talk about writing, when I have published, but am not currently being published? It’s not as if I’ve produced some juggernaut best-seller, and can therefore, rest on my laurels and say, “Well, I did that.”

Far from it. I have consistently tried to push myself in terms of content and style. I demand more of my storytelling every time I approach a new draft or a revision. If I’m being honest , I’m working harder than I ever have. This is the way it should be. Craftsman know their craft, and can complete the simple steps, simply, but to achieve great status, they must also produce great pieces. I have the audacity to believe that I can and will produce great pieces. Therefore, the toil continues.

In the back of my mind, I know that this is how it is. I’ve read countless posts from other authors about their failed attempts (I think Sarah Dessen has somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 manuscripts that flopped). But because I have only enough time to write one or two books per year, when I flop, the setback is significant.

I do have hope hope for 2018, though. Last week I turned in a revised draft of my WIP, which I believe has a TON of potential. My agent has already read and loved another manuscript of mine, but that work is taking a backseat to this aforementioned WIP. Additionally, I will now return to a project I started this fall, one that is, hands-down, the most fun I have written. I’m sure it will be a disaster and will need to be revised in a multitude of ways, but that is the process.

For anyone out there reading this with an eye towards how publishing works, this is it. I am much more the norm than the outlier. In fact, I’m pretty damn lucky to be in the position I’m in–to have an agent who is still willing to work with me and nurture my talent, even when I’m stalled out.

It may be entirely cliched, but writing is like life: just because what you did the first time worked, doesn’t mean your second attempt will (or third or fourth or fifth). That’s just something that has to be accepted, and which is why I believe a lot of people get started in writing, but cannot see it through. The demands are extreme and the objectives ever-changing. Like I said, just like life.

I promise to return with updates when I have them. Otherwise, know that Monday through Friday, I’m at this desk from 4 am- 6 am, hoping to turn coffee into readable fiction. As always, thank you for reading my work, and for anticipating whatever’s next.

On writing about the Subject and not the Story

I’m currently reading Stephen King’s classic, On Writing, for like the twentieth time. If you’ve never read it, and even if you have no writerly aspirations, do so. If you ever want to write for a living, then definitely read it, along with Writing Down the Bones and Bird by Bird and Writing 21st Century Fiction.

Through re-reading King’s advice, I realized what I did wrong with my failed manuscript. I wrote about the subject matter of the story and not the story itself. That may seem like semantics, but the approach in storytelling matters. Instead of spending time with my characters, I asked my characters to spend time focusing on things I wanted them to discuss. Classic mistake.

The characters always guide.  They do what they want based on who they are as people and what motivations drive them. This makes them real, human, flawed, worth reading about.

This was not a pleasurable epiphany, but one I’m glad I had. And I bring it up because I believe in our current climate this type of scenario may happen with other writers and creative individuals. We are so infuriated with our current environment, we want to do something about it with the tools we have, words. But regardless of the skill set of the person wielding any tool, the approach is still everything.

If a carpenter built  “about a house” instead of actually building one, I’m not sure the results would be desirable. Same with writing. It’s perfectly fine to have a mental sense of what the story is about, but that’s only because of the action that’s taking place, the emotions on the page, the push and pull of characters as they move through this life they’re living.

I know you know this. I know I know this, but a little reminder can’t hurt.

And while I’m realizing things and making changes, I’ve also decided to put my YouTube channel to use. I have my book trailers there, but I also think it would be a great benefit to librarians trying to book talk my work, or to any reader who is researching who I am, to have a face with the name and stories. Therefore, I’m thinking of posting on Fridays, and for the next few weeks will cover my books, one at a time. After that, I’m open to any suggestions.

So, if you want to see where I write or what my outlines look like, or what books have most influenced my career, or how I get my inspiration, let me know. Do so here, via my email contact, or leave notes on my YouTube channel.

Additionally, there’s still time to win a copy of Look Past over at Goodreads, but make sure you enter before the clock runs out today.

In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying the change of the season and the beginning of new things in your life, be them old things remembered, or new avenues to travel 😉

The trouble with completing a novel

cropped-woods.jpg

My next novel is complete. I finished edits over the phone with my editor yesterday afternoon. It didn’t hit me then that I was done, but it did later in the evening, and I feel a bit lost at this point.

And no, the woods above aren’t a metaphor for how I feel 🙂 Much of the novel, Look Past, takes place in the woods, and it’s scary as hell. Yet, after having spent close to three years working on this story, I am kind of terrified by how it will be received. But first, here’s the catalog copy for the novel, for those of you who have no idea what Look Past is about:

Mary is dead—murdered in a brutal way. Avery, a transgender boy who loved Mary but who was shunned by Mary’s very strict Reverend father, can’t sit on the sidelines while the police, including his own uncle, handle the case. Therefore, his interest in forensics takes over and he goes to the crime scene. Avery’s investigating puts him in harm’s way, as the authorities are on edge, trying to decipher who the killer is, and have no time for the outcast teen. Avery must, like the rest of the town, wait for the police to do their job.

However, following Mary’s funeral, Avery receives the first in a series of disturbing texts that can only have come from the killer, revealing that Avery is now a target, dead-center in the continuing manhunt and investigation. With the entire town caught in the grip of fear and uncertainty, Avery is torn between finding the killer and protecting himself.

Soon, though, even hiding and hoping is taken from Avery. The killer, in a disturbing cat and mouse game, toys with Avery’s heart and his identity. If Avery plays along, can he bring Mary’s murderer to justice? Or will sacrificing himself be the ultimate betrayal?

With his characteristic honesty and gift for creating page-turning plots, author Eric Devine explores the depths one must go, in order to see past the superficial and to find the truth.

Gripping, right? And intense. At this point, these are facets of my writing that should be expected. But here’s the thing, I’ve never written a murder mystery before. I have read a ton since I was a child, but trust me, there’s a vast difference in having read one and having written one. Yet, I’ve pulled it off. It wasn’t easy, but with help, I figured it out.

Also, I’m not transgender. To me, I don’t find an issue with that. Like with the murder mystery aspect, for the gender disparity, I read a lot, and researched, and I interviewed people. I did the work. As an author, I believe that creativity is paramount to experience. To paraphrase Atticus from To Kill A Mockingbird, I should be able to climb into someone else’s skin and walk around in it. That’s the job. To be at a slight distance, objectively, from the world, but to feel, subjectively, everything.

And yet the landscape of social media and the ways YA is often picked apart for what it is, for what it lacks, and how the author is a manifestation of both, can be disturbing.

Possibly this is why my emotions are mixed. I love that Avery’s story is going to be out in the world. I love that a really good murder mystery is going to unfold. I love that perspectives are going to be challenged. Yet, it’s like raising a child for the past three years and having to let him go, only to then wait for people to bash him and my parenting skills. Good times.

Again, though, that’s the job. The words are complete. The story is finished. Soon I’ll receive a cover image, and by spring advanced reader copies will be available. It’s exciting, and terrifying, much like the story. Which I believe is a fair tribute to a little piece of my life, the years I have spent, which will now, morph into a new life in readers’ hands.

 

I’m not here

I have a challenge for you. Go tell a story. For six hours straight. Feel free to pause as needed to collect your thoughts on how you want to phrase your tale. But commit to those six hours of storytelling. Now, do this for five days a week, for two months.

This is exactly what I did last summer (and what countless full-time authors do every day). When I returned from my vacation in July, I set to work, and by Labor Day had finished the first draft. That story is what I am currently working on, currently retelling for hours on end, tweaking, altering, deleting and staring some Portions over. I am trying desperately to finish up, and you might wonder what the rush is. There isn’t one, except for the fact that because of this story, I’m not here.

I began revising in June, but school was still in, and I had consulting work, and so it was very part-time. I knew the summer was around the corner.

My school year finished and I began revising more heavily. My wife was away for five days, and so the work was still light, two to three hours, tops. But once she returned and my daughters went to camp for the morning, the revision cranked up.

And now, with most likely the rest of this week and the next to go, full bore, I’m lost. Not in the story. No, that’s the only place I can actually see. I’m useless everywhere else.

My parents were over last night, asking questions about trips we have planned and other topics I should have ready answers to. Nothing. It’s as if they were speaking about someone else’s life.

I have a project list for the summer that’s virtually untouched, because I have little energy for anything else. *Disclaimer* I also hope my wife reads this post and takes pity, hence that last admission. She probably won’t.

This isn’t complaint, but commentary. I am amazed at the energy-draining quality of this project. And it’s not that the story is a mess and I have extensive work to do. It’s as good and as bad as my previous drafts. What I believe it boils down to is focus. I am at the point of no return, where nothing else matters besides the story. Not food, not sleep, not health. Just sitting and writing.

Delilah Dawson, author extraordinaire, recently wrote a post, “On Writing: WE’RE CLOSED.” It resonated with me on so many levels, even the showering. Go on, read it. She nails it.

Therefore, if you see me, or another author you know working like this, stuffed into an office, losing it slowly, be gentle. Speak clearly and directly, but don’t be offended if the glaze of storytelling doesn’t leave the eyes. We’re elsewhere.

And when we do return, there’ll be another story to consider.

The Agreement

This picture was taken on Tap Out‘s Book Birthday, 9/11. It is far and away, the most viewed picture of me, ever. Facebook tells me so. There’s more to this picture, though, than just me mugging with my novel, grinning ear-to-ear. You see, most days I’m not smiling like this. I’m downright serious. It has nothing to do with being surly (although some might argue otherwise, and win). It has to do with the agreement I entered when I decided to be a writer. It’s a similar pact for anyone who’s pursuing something with no guarantees, say opening a business or working toward a degree or trying to successfully raise a child. We all agree to the following:

  • We will work hard, if not tirelessly toward our goal.
  • We will not complain, because we chose this; we could have picked otherwise.
  • We accept that we may fail, and, indeed will fail, many times along the way.
  • We understand that no one owes us anything.

Therefore, the time spent in pursuit may not be filled with a pictorial catalog of grins and laughter. More likely there will be an earnestness, a borderline hostility. This is not an excuse. I do not feel it’s all right to be a jerk just because you’re out to prove something. Nor is this a stereotype. I can guarantee that there are writers and doctoral candidates and mothers to quintuplets who smile all the live-long day. I just have never met one. I think they may be as rare as unicorns.

However, when the goal is achieved, be prepared for a bit of mania. I haven’t yet touched down from the high I’ve felt since Tap Out was released. There have been wonderful reviews and an outpouring of support from my colleagues and family and friends. Bookstores are selling out of Tap Out and having to restock because of the high demand. Seriously? I did this? I wrote a book that well?

It’s hard to imagine when you’re in it that you’ll ever reach this point. But for all of you at whatever stage, think of that grin. Imagine that’s you next to your novel or at your office door or watching your child off to school. The agreement is the way it is because it forces the best out of us.

That picture up there proves it.

Time to Till

The summer is when I get the bulk of my writing done. As a teacher it’s very tempting to sit out by my pool on a daily basis and watch the clouds pass overhead. Or sleep in and behave as if I’m retired. But I keep a very similar schedule as the rest of the year. I’m up early, albeit an hour later–6 am, and at the computer for as  long as possible. Usually that’s until I need to leave for work. Over the summer it’s however long the stamina lasts. Some days it’s a couple hours. Others, I’ve got to remind myself to eat.

I love this time and I hate this time. The pressure is truly on because if I don’t establish my next idea, if I don’t solidify a solid premise that I want to spend the next few months with…well, I’ve missed my window. It’s not that I can’t or don’t write well during the school year, it’s just that the time and consideration a new project takes is considerable. The hours I need are now. I cannot be wasteful.

I’ve been fortunate. Most of my seeds have come during June and July. Some as late as August. That’s not coincidence, though. Because as I’m working during the year, I’m also writing shorter pieces, taking notes about what my students are concerned with, overall just paying attention to the landscape I visit every day.

Now, with school finishing next week, I’m off to ALA and then some family time. But I’m already turning my starter stories in my palm, looking for the best. I’m outlining and thinking about hooks and hoping I have the germ of another sweet idea.

It’s time to plant, so that come fall I’ll know that the harvest with be bountiful.

For my other teacher/writers out there, happy sowing.

Kirkus Review

I did not know much about Kirkus Reviews until last week when my editor Lisa Cheng forwarded their review of Tap Out. Which was followed immediately by another email from my agent, Kate McKean.

The emails came as I was driving to a speaking engagement at a local high school that uses my first novel, This Side of Normal, in their Biology curriculum. I was mentally running through the presentation when my phone chimed. When it chirped a second time I got nervous, pulled over and read.

Befuddlement swept over me. Kirkus didn’t ring any bells. Well, maybe one. I recently started following Kirkus MacGowan, on Twitter and thought for a moment that both of the industry connections in my life were emailing about him. I don’t know, maybe he was going to blurb Tap Out? I was excited. And then I read the review.

Now, I can’t reprint it in its entirety. For those of you with subscriptions, to Kirkus, the online version is up today. The print version will be out on May 15. However, I can give you one absolutely fantastic line, the very last of the review:

This is bound to have huge appeal to kids whose lives are being mirrored, and it may prompt luckier readers to take some positive action. 

Okay, so I quickly realized that this wasn’t about Mr. MacGowan and that some reviewing had occurred that I was not aware of. In the same moment, I was elated. This seemed awesome, but I still didn’t know who or what Kirkus was. And now I was running late for my speaking engagement.

I made it on time, delivered an inspiring presentation, then hung around and spoke with teachers and parents. When I returned to my van I dashed a quick text to my wife, explaining as best I could that I had some good news. She didn’t know who Kirkus was, either.

I Googled Kirkus immediately upon arriving home and became enlightened–They are, in their words, “The World’s Toughest Book Critics” (and after reading some reviews I tend to agree). I had no idea that Tap Out  was being reviewed by any critics, let alone such a stalwart of the industry. I guess this is the way things go, but I’m such a noob it’s embarrassing.

Regardless, I’m ecstatic for the review and appreciative to Lisa and Running Press for having the faith to submit Tap Out there.

I hope this is the beginning of the swirl of good vibes for Tap Out. It certainly feels that way, especially sinceCalifornia is on the horizon. But more on that next time…