Brummie Con Update

I’ve kept to my schedule of 400 words a day and I’m sooo close to being done with the zero draft of The Brummie Con: Sunken City Capers Book 4 I can practically feel it (even if I can’t see the precise ending yet). I’m siting at 64k (which makes this one longer than The Solid State Shuffle and Leverage) and I’m right in the middle of the climax. I should only need another 2-3k after this to wrap it all up and set up book 5.

The problem is, I’m a panster. I work without an outline on this series, trusting my subconscious brain during drafting and then my conscious brain when editing. The climax of book 4 is where everything is finally tied together, the “ah-ha” moment if you will. So naturally, I have to figure that out. I have the overall forest to guide me, but now it’s time to fill in the individual trees. I’ve temporarily switched to brainstorming mode to work out the fine detail structure. But once that’s done, I expect to start drafting again and wrap up very quickly.

I sincerely hope to write next time that the zero draft is done and I’m in the throes of editing. Of course, we have that whole house moving thing happening so we’ll see how that impacts my writing time.

Reading Goals Update

While packing hasn’t quite consumed my life yet, it has begun. My house looks like a staging area for a packing store with all the boxes, packing tape, bubble wrap and wrapping paper. And the boxes have started to pile up. And up. And up. Apparently, I have a lot of books. I knew this academically, but to pack them up is quite another. It also took me longer than you’d think because I kept thumbing through them and setting several aside (“oh, I have to keep special track of track of that one!”).

I recently surpassed my fiction reading goal of ten books this year. Technically, I’ve ready eleven so far, and I suspect I’ll get to fifteen or twenty this year. The next book on my fiction list is The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. I’ve read it before, but I’m planning on rereading it and breaking it down as I do to understand the character arcs. The Way of Kings is a behemoth of a book and the process of breaking it down is going to slow me down, so I think it’s going to take several months, but we’ll see.

I’m on target on my nonfiction reading goal. I’ve read five nonfiction books so far, and I’m in the process of reading book number six: Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland. This is another book I’m reading slowly and taking notes on, with obvious intent to then apply it to The Way of Kings.

So even in the midst of all the business and drafting Sunken City Capers Book 4, I’m still managing to find time to read, and that makes me happy.

Book 4 Title Reveal

Since I strategically skipped the last scheduled blog post so I could have more writing time to make progress on book 4, I thought I’d make it up by revealing the title: The Brummie Con: Sunken City Capers Book 4! (The exclamation point is because I’m excited, not a part of the title 😉 ).

Due to the buying of a new home, selling ours, I’ve set myself on an aggressive schedule (400 words per day) to get the first draft done before moving consumes my life. And the new schedule is working! I should have the first draft done in another two weeks or so.

The last time I wrote, I was still in an editing phase about layering in a missing element. That is done, and I’m back to drafting (finally). I’m currently at 54k words out of a target of 60k (so 90% done by that metric!). But I have sneaking suspicion the book is going to run over 60k, and will be closer to 65k. I’m about to start the final sequence, and I think I’m going to need more than 6k, for the climatic sequence and then wrap it up.

Still no definitive release date, but it’s looking to be late summer now. Ah, well. This book was harder to write than the others for various reasons—I’ve been writing it seven months now (the horror!). But it’s almost done!

Sunken City Capers Book 4 Update

Well, I didn’t think I’d get this blog post up today–I couldn’t find the power cord for my laptop. My wife and I decided to upend our lives and buy a new home and sell ours. Even though we chose to do this to ourselves, the whole process is stressful and trying to keep the house picked up and ready to show all the time means things going missing–like laptop power cords. At any rate, I found it.

Book 4 continues to go slow, but at least it continues to go. Buying and selling a home has obviously cut into my writing time, but at least for right now I think the rush of all that initial activity has damped down. The story itself has started to gel. I wrote last time that I found out what the middle of the book was lacking and that I needed to layer it in–I’m still in the process of layering that in, but once that’s done I actually expect the drafting to pick up speed and to be done pretty quickly with the book. I anticipate being done drafting by May 14. But it’s too early to say when a release date will be, I have to finish the draft first, then line up the cover, so hopefully end of June or maybe July.

I am really excited about layering in the missing element, I think it’s going to make writing the rest of the story fast and easy. We’ll see!


General Status Update

Book 4 continues to kick my butt. By my tracking, I haven’t written new words on it since February 8th. I have been editing and brainstorming, but the fact that new words haven’t been produced in over a month  really makes it feel like this sucker has stalled. I got so listless that I broke out a favorite writing craft book this past week and have just been gorging myself on that and it seems to have worked. I think I figured out what my middle was missing and how that will tighten the novel and propel me into the third act. I need to edit the middle to layer in the missing awesome sauce, but after that (one or two more weeks) I’m confident I’ll be drafting again.

My reading as slowed down, but I think that’s just because I shifted to reading nonfiction and my current book Heaven by Randy Alcorn is a bit of a behemoth of a book. It’s good and pretty interesting, but I find it repetitive which makes it hard to get through at times. I’m more of an executive summary kind of guy, tell me what I need to know, in the optimal number of words, no more, no less. So repetition tends to grate on me, both written form and verbal.

My watching of Breaking Bad on the other hand has accelerated rather rapidly. My wife and I were watching one show a week together starting last fall as a form of a stay-in date night on a week day. At that rate it was taking a loooong time to get through it, with plenty of weeks missed due to travel schedules. Eventually, my wife declared she couldn’t take the tension in the show anymore and I was free to watch at will. So now I actually look forward to working out every morning as I get to watch an episode a day. At that rate I think I have about another month before I need to find something else to watch on the treadmill.

Progress on Writing Goals

It’s March already! At the start of the year, I outlined my (modest) writing targets here. Writing Sunken City Capers Book 4 is kicking my butt at the moment, but I’m currently killing it on my reading target. My reading target for the year was 10 fiction and 10 nonfiction books. I’ve currently read 8 fiction books and 2 nonfiction books.

My favorite books so far:

  • The Green Mile by Stephen King (man that guy can write)
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (more on that below)
  • Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

I highly recommend each of these books. The Green Mile is a good read for its storytelling and voice, but what really appealed to me about is it’s high level of writing craft. There’s a joy to watching a master work, humbling and inspiring at the same time. There were several parts I reread to try and understand how he did what he did.

I think I’m late to the party on Ready Player One. It’s just an awesome fun read chocked full of 80’s references. I was born in the early 80’s so I get a number of references and the I know the feel  of the decade, but I missed quite a few references too. It’s also a standalone novel which is nice. And I inhaled it in six days while I was super busy at work (this may or may not be related to the slow progress on book 4).

I enjoyed Out the Silent Planet more than I thought I would, so much so, that I checkout out the second book from my local library. It’s written as a milieu story, which generally aren’t my favorite to read, and the writing style is definitely dated (still beautifully and expertly written though), but it ended in such an interesting way that I didn’t see coming that I want to read at least the second book to see how it develops.

So progress made on the writing targets! And I’m a much happier writer having started to read again.

Goodbye Old Friend

Not much writing got done these past two weeks—one part not sure how to bridge gap between the second and third acts, nine parts work and family stress. Watson, our beloved basset hound of ten years, was diagnosed two years ago with long words I can never remember, but it can be summed up with that one insidious word: cancer. He made it longer than anyone thought, but this past Thursday February 16, 2017 was long enough.

At first, Watson was an idea, a fulfillment of that most innocent of childhood dreams: the desire for a companion that loves you for you without the ability to speak and cause hurt. But as many fulfilled dreams do, idealizations quickly gave way to reality.

We picked Watson up as a 12 week old puppy in the summer of 2007 after completing graduate school at Penn State. We had him all of 2-3 days before we bundled him up and drove cross country with him from New York (where we had been staying with my parents) all the way to Texas. He used to be small enough to sit on my lap while my wife was driving. I’d hold his oversized paws and he’d sit erect and alert like a giant misplaced hood ornament. The nights in hotels were not restful.

Once in Texas, we quickly settled into life and we’re inseparable. We played, went for walks, trained, destroyed things. There were many items scarified to Watson’s puppyhood: drywall (really), wife’s sweater, my glasses, at least two television remotes, books, an entire couch,  and several items I’m sure I’m missing.

He never really did take to that training thing unless he decided it was in his best interest–stubborn that one. And shrewd when food was involved. He loved to put his front paws up on the dishwasher to lick the plates and runoff when I was loading it. Since this was not a desirable behavior I opted for a “creative” solution and put hot sauce on one of the plates. Watson licked the entire plate clean except for that dab of hot sauce. I should’ve known better when one of his favorite activities was to shove that beautiful nose of his deep into shoes and inhale as deeply as he could. Oh, and an unattended water glass was always suspect forever after.

Despite his stubbornness we learned the rhythms of each other, and he learned the rules of the house. He even learned to ring a bell by the back door when he wanted to go out. Of course, he took his training a step further and learned to ring it more than once when he didn’t get the level of service he felt was commensurate with his standard of living, 4 a.m. be damned.

He was our first kid and we doted on him, planned playdates, found restaurants and businesses that allowed dogs. He had the softest fur you ever felt—perfect for cuddling. It was super soft even at the end.

By the time our first daughter was born, Watson was already middle aged and moving slower. White was starting to show around his eyes. He slept more. But he loved those girls. In particular, he loved the thrown food—he would come running from wherever he was in the house when it was time for the girls to eat. This was the opposite when one of the girls was pitching a fit. Then he would meander out of the room in a slow swaying walk to find a quieter place to nap—I envied him greatly in those moments.

Then the lump on his throat came. Surgery. Diagnosis. Shock. They gave him months to live. He lived two more years. Stubborn that one. And a damn good dog. Goodbye old friend. No doubt you’ve already retrained the angels on how best to scratch your belly.

Sunken City Capers Book 4 Progress

Progress on book 4 had been humming along nicely up until I hit a wall near the end of December. No worries though, I’ve faced walls before and knew how to climb over it: BIC. Butt. In. Chair. Just sit down and write through it. So that’s what I did, trusting in the process.

Well … the process let me down this time. I plowed ahead, somewhat listlessly, and eventually found myself writing terrible, forced dialog. It was awful. I think I may have even wrote “This is awful,” in there in digust. I had gone astray. My characters weren’t acting like themselves, they had no agency in the plot, they were just kinda there and it wasn’t clear where the plot was going. It was boring. Boring to read, boring to write. I had to stop, go back and figure out where things had stopped working.

I’ve had that happen before, where I’ve had to stop, back up, and start over. But usually I lose a couple hundred words when I do that, not entire chapters. This time I ended up tossing close to 4000 words.  Poof. Gone. It was a bit discouraging to be honest. At my current writing speed that’s 7-10 days worth of work.  And I didn’t just lose one week due to this snafu. I ended up spending two weeks brainstorming the plot, writing character profiles, working on setting. In short, figuring out where this book needs to go.

I figured it out, not the whole thing though—that’d be too easy. But enough to start writing again. I estimate I’m about 64% of the way through the zero draft, a bit behind schedule, but the effort to get back on track has been well worth it. Plus, I think I found the title for book 4 from having to back up and figure a way out.


2017 Writerly Targets

I have decided 2017 is a recalibration year. Other than that, I don’t have a long series of targets this year. Here are the targets I’ve settled on:

  • Finish and publish Sunken City Capers Book 4
  • Read at least 10 fiction books.
  • Read at least 10 nonfiction books.

That’s it.

Really the focus is on rediscovering my love of reading. I didn’t read much in 2016, or 2015 for that matter, and that made me unhappy. I like to read. A kind of side bonus is that reading also benefits writing. I’ve already read one fiction book and one nonfiction book this year and have my nose in two more. And I’m really excited about the next book on my list so that’s help motivating me to read even faster.

Writing Sunken City Capers Book 4 shouldn’t take me much longer. I’m a little more than halfway through and I have a reasonably clear direction to go in. My current target is a May or June publication date if my writing speed holds and external scheduling is favorable. As for the second half of the year, I’m going to wait until then to get a better read on the situation before making any decisions about what to write next.

So all in all, a pretty relaxed year—which, after 2016, is just the way I want it.

2016 Lessons Learned

Before I list my next year’s goals, I find it more helpful  to write out what the previous year taught me in addition to just listing out how I did trying to meet the previous year’s goals.

First important lesson I learned: daisy-chaining writing sessions together increases writing speed. What I mean by that is, if I have three equal-time writing sessions in a day, the second session will produce more words than the first and the third will produce more words than the second. Like riding a motorcycle the faster and more I wrote the easier it became.

Second thing I learned: self-care is Important with a capital “I”. I love writing. Love. It. But when I make it my sole focus at the exclusion of other important things like quiet time in the morning reading scripture/praying, physical exercise, or opting to stay home to get more words in than spend time with my young children, bad things happen. Like ulcers and gastritis, and so much more stress than is worth it. Writing wasn’t the sole reason for the ulcers, and I would never opt to go through that again, but it helped repriortize my life for the better.

Third thing I learned: rapid-release didn’t work for me. There’s no self-publishing strategy that guarantees success, but there are a number of things that suggest tipping the odds in your favor. One of those is a rapid release schedule, where books in a series are released every 3-4 weeks. I write moderately fast, but not that fast—so I wrote the first three novels of the Sunken City Capers series over 18 months and then released them one a month to try and capitalize on the perks of rapid release. I’m still digesting what happened, and the numbers are still rolling in so it’s still too early to come to any definitive conclusions, but the momentum I hoped for never materialized. On a poor/fair/good/great/unicorn scale, I’d rate the Sunken City Capers series launch a “good,” but I had been hoping for a “great” brought about by the rapid-release magic.

Fourth thing I learned: no video games + not really reading = an unhappy writer. This ties into the self-care lesson. The whole reason I ever wanted to write in the first place was because I Ioved to read and have really enjoyed the narrative direction the video games have taken in the last 5-10 years. It’s important to recharge your creative batteries by consuming new stories for pleasure. It also helps with that whole stress thing.

So those are the lessons learned in 2016. As you might imagine, they will directly influence the goals for 2017, which I will write about next time!