Monday, January 29, 2018

So, you want to write a novel, eh?

Writing is a labor of love. It must be. Otherwise, I wouldn't do it.

 F. Paul Wilson. Author of: The Keep and Repairman Jack Series
Although I have not achieved the audience of writers like F. Paul Wilson or recently passed and respected Jack Ketchum, I still receive many queries from people who are considering entering the world of writing. This tells me that for all my labors, I have achieved a place in the writing community. Of course, this comes without the benefit of movie deals and F.U. cash. I can live with that, although I could use some of that F.U. money.  Regardless, I keep writing because I know someone somewhere is reading my stuff.

And that is why I do this.

The late Jack Ketchum. Author of Right to Life
For me, writing a book usually takes about two years. This is balanced against a day job, writing and selling short stories and spending time with my family. To date, I’ve written three full-length novels, two published and one in the pre-publication stage. I also have another manuscript that is about 1/3 of the way into its first draft.

The process of writing a book is a disciplined labor-intensive exercise. For me, the fun part is always the first draft and certainly the best part of the process. This is where you as a writer are an audience to the story you are creating. It is shiny and new, like a movie unfolding before you, and there are so many avenues you can take. After the first draft is complete, that’s where the real work starts, and, for lack of a better phrase, it is where you start fine tuning your story. From plot holes, character development, grammar, timeline, flow, and on and on…

John Farris. Author of The Fury.
John Farris the author of THE FURY and WHEN MICHAEL CALLS said, “I don’t like rewrites, and I don’t do drafts.” Farris is an extremely successful writer, one who never does book tours and who has had his work adapted not only to screen but has also stepped behind the camera as a film director. The thing is, we can’t all be John Farris or Stephen King or Robert R. McCammon. 

Every writer goes about their work a different way. So, when I’m asked questions like, “Where do I start?” or “How hard is it to find a publisher?” And “How do I promote my work?”, the answer is almost always the same. I get asked a bunch of other questions, but I’ll leave it to these three because they seem to be the most repetitive. 

Where do I start? If you want to write, the best place is to start at the beginning. I know that sounds like a cop out, but that’s it. If you have an idea for a story or a novel, you really have two ways to approach it. Write an outline or write the story. 

Me personally, I’m not an outline guy. Writing is already an enormous job, so the idea of outlining a project before writing it is foreign to me. That is not to say drafting is a bad thing, many writers are very successful when it comes to this approach. An outline can be a useful tool when you are writing a story with a shifting timeline. I just like to fly by the seat of my pants, or maybe I’m too lazy to add that to the laundry list of things to do. 

You’ve gotta figure that out for yourself and what works best for you. 

How hard is it to find a publisher? 

Well, if you’re looking to sign on with one of the big ones, that’s a very tall order when you’re an unknown. The big ones, like, Viking, Penguin, and Random House won’t even look at your work without an agent to represent you, and that leads you to the next issue. Finding an agent. Finding an agent is as tricky as finding a publisher. An agent is your salesman, so you’ve gotta find someone that has credentials in the publishing world, who not only supports in your work but has the ear of the publishing companies. 

So, the answer to that question, “It’s hard.” 

Discouraged? Welcome to the club. 

The problem is, people try to put the horse before the cart. They want the international bestseller, the F.U. money, the movie deals, but they are naïve to the fact that writers like Stephen King faced a world of rejection before they got that big break. All writers go through this. King tossed his breakout novel, CARRIE, in the
Stephen King started out just like everyone else. His success was not overnight.
garbage, which was later retrieved by his wife, Tabitha. Before this, King wrote scores of short stories to put a little money in his pocket while he worked two jobs. One as a substitute teacher, the other at an industrial laundry. 

He was discouraged, but he didn’t give up. 

So, if you want to write a book, perhaps you need to first try your hand at writing some short works and attempt publishing with smaller publishers. There are small web-based magazines who pay for shorts and small press publishers who publish anthologies that will review submissions from newcomers to the craft. This is also an excellent way to hone your skills and build a reputation. Heck, you can even make a few bucks. With every story you publish, your portfolio will grow, and along the way, you’ll learn something. 

Promoting yourself. Again, I go back to the horse before the buggy.

Whatever your project, short story, novella, or novel, write the bloody thing first. If there was a sure-fire plan to make someone an international sensation, I’d already been sitting on a beach with a cold drink in one hand and a book in the other. 

So, if you really want to write, get on with it.

And good luck. 

M.J. Preston is the author of 
Soon to be published 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Patti's Kill-List

It’s finished!

Well, not entirely, but I was able to type THE END on my novel, Highwayman, and put it aside for a much-needed rest. Writing is a labor of love and hate for me. I don’t write fast, and I balance my writing between life and work, moving at a pace that might remind some of Aesop’s, Tortoise and the Hare. Just the same, I do it, because I hold out the hope that someone might sit back and enjoy my writing. 

That’s the payoff. 
The more readers, the better. Because writers are closet performers. We want your attention, we just want to do it from a remote location, away from the possibility of flying beer bottles and hissing crowds.

Back in 2015 over a beer in a New Hampshire pub, I was sitting across from my friend, Philip Perron, each seated behind a tall cold beer, waiting on a pastrami sandwich to arrive. We were sitting outside on a patio, the sun shining down on us and the conversation was about writing. I was telling him about a manuscript I’d started, that it was a police procedural thriller and that I was about 80 pages into the first draft. I think I also said I felt confident that the story would be my next novel. The working title: 4.

Philip said, “You should write a throwaway.”

“Throwaway,” I asked. “I’m not getting you.”

“Write a short novella related to your new project and give it away for free. It might spur interest in your new novel.” Philip and I were interrupted then, by the server who set a salad in front of us. Something with green apples in it.  “Something between 60 and 100 pages. You could give it away electronically.”

The wheels began turning inside my head. “Okay, I’ll give it some thought.”

About a month later, I typed the words:

The time was 1:00 am, Wednesday night, and the bar was dead.

And that was where the journey began.

The throwaway was initially titled: Lance. The premise was to write a story from the perspective of the antagonist from my Novel: 4. An antagonist who is destined to be a sociopathic monster. The fear was that people might like the sociopath, but I didn’t want to people to identify with someone who takes pleasure in killing. Besides, that idea has been adopted by authors like Jeff Lindsay with his series of books dedicated to Dexter Morgan.  What I wanted the reader to see was an individual who does horrible things, what his thought processes are and how he endeavors only to get worse. So, I set out to write the novella, Lance, which eventually was renamed Highwayman and I finished the first draft in the fall of 2016.

Well, sort of finished it.

A friend of mine, a fellow scribe named Jake Anfinson, beta-read Highwayman and he thought that the ending was sort of anti-climatic. The difficulty, of course, is that a prequel is almost always destined to be anti-climatic because in most cases you already know what the outcome is going to be. Case in point, the prequel to John Carpenter’s THE THING already tells us what happened to the Norwegians Camp in Antarctica. We already know it isn’t going to bode well for the Norwegians because they’re all dead in the opening to John Carpenter’s cult classic.

So, the Novella, which was around 140 pages, was set aside while I pondered what to do with it. Or rather, how to fix it and as a result, the novel it was written to introduce also stalled.

While I deliberated, I set out to do some other writing. Mostly short stories and I focused on my art and my photography.

But still, my mind kept coming back to Highwayman.

What to do? What to do?

After about six months, I realized that Highwayman felt wrong because it wasn’t a novella. It wasn’t meant to be compressed into 140 pages, it was a novel trapped inside a novella, and if I ever wanted to get it to print, I would have to rewrite it.

So, that is what I set out to do.

This time, I enlisted the help of a constant reader named, Patti Holycross, who is a transcriber from Florida. Patti had offered in the past to be a beta-reader. I sent her a message and asked her if she was still interested and she said, “Yes.” Maybe even, “Absolutely!” but that could be just an ego induced memory.

I informed Patti that my process would be to send her a chapter every week and she could go through it and give me feedback. I would be tearing the book down and rewriting it, and she agreed. What I got from Patti, wasn’t just a beta-reader, but a research assistant and a fact checker and the inspiration to carry on.

We got to work. Back and forth every week. Her favorite saying, “Back at ya.” When she sent me back a chapter with track changes and comments. But she also kept me in line with dates and times and [cough cough] body counts. Out of this was born a document called: Patti's Kill List. I can’t tell you enough, how helpful she has been, and as with most people in the writing community, she did this for nothing except the love of the story.

Beta-readers are a selfless bunch who should be showered with respect.

Thank you, Jake Anfinson and Patti Holycross. Thank you so much.

So, the story is done. There is some fact checking and a bit more blood on the pages to contend with, but after a little hiatus, I am going go back over it and smooth it out. Then I will be writing a synopsis which I intend to send to a publisher down south. We will see where that takes me. Once I find a home for this new book, I will get down to work on its companion.

Anyway, I’ve gone on long enough.

Nothing else to report.

MJ Preston