Blatherings

Unnamed (Book 3), Writing Tips

Book 3: Beta Time!

Book three. Is. Done.

Well.

Let’s caveat that.

It’s done enough. Enough that I need to put it in someone else’s hands and step away and breathe and focus. Enough that at this point, I’d be going in and tweaking and finetuning and adding details and subtracting paragraphs and not wholesale stripping out and rewriting chapters – which is what I spent most of May and all of June doing.

There’s a plot and events proceed (mostly) logically and it all comes together and actually ends, instead of dropping unexpectedly off a cliff. It’s not perfect, not by any long shot or under any fancy filter, but that’s good. It shouldn’t be perfect. If my betas do their jobs well – and they will – then I might still have some structural work to do. And better to do that and clean it up before the finetuning.

It’s a bit like building a body from scratch. You’ve gotta build the skeleton first, bone by bone by bone, and that’s your rough draft. And then you shove in the guts and veins and layer that all with muscles. That’s your second draft, the one that actually looks alive and might even function – it just wouldn’t be pretty.

At that point, you could begin putting the skin on and adding hair and all those little details that will turn your attempt at playing God into something less unsightly (you don’t want your story oozing on the freshly scrubbed lab tiles, do you?), or you could have someone look at it and make sure all the organs are properly connected and the veins go where they should.

Sometimes you’re so up-to-your-elbows in guts and organs that you don’t realize you’ve attached this ligament to that joint when it should really be attached to this joint or maybe you mixed up your orders for organs again and you’ve got a sheep’s heart instead of a human’s. How much easier it’ll be to fix if you haven’t already put the skin on and ratcheted up the lightning rods!

…okay I admit this metaphor got a bit out of hand.

But putting this gooey, skinless experiment of a book into my betas’ hands is scary. It requires a lot of trust. Trust in myself, that I know my process and I know what I’m doing. Trust in my betas, that they can see past the gore to the underlying logic and story. That they are willing to dive deep with me, get a little messy, and laugh the entire time. That they won’t just hold their noses and go “ew.”

Because we’re still a long way from done done.

But this is as far as I can make it on my own.

Pre-pub

How to Care for Your Debut Author

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Congratulations on your new debut author! Given the proper care, these creatures will make a wonderful addition to your family. They are generally quiet, complacent, and 120 proof, but while they may appear hardy on the outside, with frequent gruff vocalizations such as “no really, I’m fine,” “these aren’t tears; I have allergies,” and “I just have to meet this deadline,” you must be vigilant that they aren’t hollowed out by constant anxiety.

But don’t worry! To preserve the wellbeing of your debut author so that they not only survive the transition into your home and their new life, but also flourish and thrive and become a name you can drop to get into fancy places, just follow these five easy steps.

Step One: Water Daily
Try leaving a bowl of water out for your author. If you notice that the water level remains unchanged, remind your author that dehydration can lead to headaches, dizziness, death, or worse – a missed deadline.

Step Two: Feed regularly.
Be sure to include lots of greens in your author’s daily meals. If your author is a millennial, you can count avocados as a green. In a pinch, many brands of mint chocolate chip ice cream are also green.

But be warned: do not mix the avocados with the ice cream.

Step Three: Encourage photosynthesis.
An author will naturally shy away from sunlight, but it is in their best interest – and health! – for them to go outside daily. Try taking them for a walk, but be sure to keep them on a leash lest they start daydreaming and wander into traffic.

Step Four: Give general encouragement.
Picture a pristine lake, bordered by dogwood on one side, a meadow on the other. The surface of the lake is as clear and still as glass. Beneath that surface is a fish, dreaming of another life: a bigger lake, with more room to swim and grow, more fish friends like itself, and a publishing deal.

Now picture that fish dropped into the ocean. Rest assured that this was a euryhaline fish and therefore will not perish from the sudden change in salinity. The fish has everything it dreamed for: a bigger lake, lots of room to swim and grow, and millions of fishy friends.

But it’s also, understandably, a tad bit overwhelmed. Out of its depths. Feeling a bit like a fish out of water. Except, well, in water. Because we’re talking about the ocean. Ahem.

The potential for growth is nigh limitless, the possibilities unbounded, but at the same time, the chance for extreme anxiety is astronomical. The learning curve to survive the ocean is quite steep and while the fish is yet floundering, Here There be Sharks.

A few kind words can mean a lot during this time.

Step Five: Be patient.
Becoming a debut author is tectonic: it’s a process of many infinitesimal, invisible changes that eventually converge to create a new continent. You may have known your debut author since Before, and they have been many things along the way, and they are still those many things. But to the outside, they are now – as suddenly and irrevocably as a volcano – an Author.

This clash of creeping vs abrupt change creates a dissonance (not-so-)fondly called Imposter Syndrome. The debut author still feels in their bones that they are the fish in the pond, and that they don’t deserve to be in the ocean, that at any moment, someone will swoop in with a net muttering about “mix-ups” and “the wrong forms” and deposit them back in the pond.

They’ll continue to act like they’re in a pond and it will take them some time to accept that the ocean is theirs to thrive in and explore. They may swim about, first one way, then the other, as they try to understand their new home. They will need to learn, understand, and process, before they can accept.

A part of them will always be in that pond.

So be patient. When they cry about seemingly inconsequential things, give them a tissue and an ear – preferably attached. Likewise, when they can’t stop talking about something exciting that happened months ago, take them for a walk.

Your debut author may do strange things, like pee on the carpet, cling to the walls, or email you fourteen cover comps at 3am demanding your detailed opinion ASAP. Breathe deep and remember that this, too, is part of the way they’re processing the change. And maybe ask them to help clean up the pee. I mean really.

Bonus: Take care of yourself.
Your debut author is surprisingly resilient; despite what they may claim and occasionally deeply feel, they will likely survive living in the ocean. And they will need you for the long run. So remember to take care of yourself as well.

Set boundaries as needed. Be clear about what you are willing or not willing to discuss with your author. Because if you’re not careful, they may chew up hours of your time discussing the emotional depth and cultural resonance of particular fonts.

You may find yourself affected in unexpected ways. Feel free to talk to your debut author – or don’t. Whatever your choice, remember that your feelings are just as real and just as valid, and you deserve to be heard.

If you follow these easy steps, you, too, can have a happy and healthy debut author in your home or life, which will bring you years of delight, entertainment, and – of course – books.

[Pre-ordering their book will also soothe your debut author’s soul.]

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Pre-pub, The Perfect Assassin (Book 1)

From the Debut Trenches: Galleys/ARCs

ARCs enjoying tea

Galleys/ARCs: WHAT THEY ARE

ARC stands for Advanced Reading Copy, and galleys are a variation on that theme. They’re an early print of the book with the post copy-edits but not-yet-finalized text and marketing verbiage all over because they’re, well, marketing tools. This is why sometimes they have a title and sometimes they don’t. Mine displays the tagline in lieu of the title, but the rest of the imagery is very much the cover.

ARCs go out to reviewers, booksellers, librarians, and anyone else in the publishing industry who might be interested to drum up buzz and pre-orders in the months before the One True Publication Date (TM). The author gets a few to do with as they wish – give to friends, drop off in the lobbies of prominent media establishments, scam into the hands of a beloved celebrity, build a (very) small fortress, bury in the backyard, etc.

Galleys originally weren’t due in for another two weeks, but my editor posted that they’d arrived on Tuesday and then next thing I knew, I had a tracking number for my share. I spent most of Friday on the porch, enjoying the randomly beautiful weather, and definitely not just waiting for the delivery truck.

Then the box did arrive and I promptly… sat five feet away from it, getting up the courage to open it. My wife had to talk me into opening it, using the very reasonable logic that the longer I let it sit, the more scary it would become. And that, reader, is one out of the many many reasons I married her.

So I opened them and kinda poked at them and then continued to sit at least five feet away, screwing up my courage. I’m not even entirely sure where the fear was coming from, except that this was a thing that I had created and now other people were reading it. And Amastan is on the cover and it’s a very strange feeling to see something plucked wholesale from your brain and just… out there. For other people to see. And I’ll always have a little guilt and shame tied up in this whole process, like there’s something innately wrong about wanting to share this thing I created and love with other people.

Then my wife brought out some wine and after a glass or two, I was able to pick one up. Thumb through. Read a bit.

And that’s when I finally realized: this is a book.

I’ve had inklings of that feeling ever since the copy edits stage, but seeing the words on the screen and seeing them in print, in a book, are entirely different things. The ARCs are still aways from the Final Form, but this is the first time I’ve looked at words I’ve read a hundred times, fretted over, smoothed over, deleted, and rewritten, and been able to turn off the editing part of my brain and accept them as Canon.

My characters are real and other people will read them and experience them in ways separate from me, ways I will have no control over and if that isn’t terrifying…

Well.

Now I have to send these babies out into the wider world and I have a few ideas for just how to do that, one of which involves screaming, and the other, more viable idea involves giveaways. So watch this space because that is gonna happen.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Pre-pub, The Perfect Assassin (Book 1), Writing

From the Debut Trenches: Page Proofs

Well what do we have here.

No really. What do we have here? Gorgeously formatted pages with words on them that look vaguely familiar, like maybe… *squints*

OH GOD THEY’RE MY WORDS

Excuse me for a moment while I flail.

*flails*

Ahem.

Those beautifully-formatted words are from page one of the Perfect Assassin‘s page proofs.

Page proofs are all the words in the book laid out as they will be printed, which is why they look all Fancy and Real. Somebody has already gone through, page by page by page and line by line by line, and made sure everything is lined up just right and that there aren’t any pages with a single word/line on them or there aren’t any single lines/words just
hanging out.*

My job is to find any lingering errors, be they missing words, misplaced words, or misspelled words. My job is to make sure any changes made during copy edits made it into this version. My job is NOT to change sentences / paragraphs / entire chapters. If I attempt to anyway, I am 100% certain my editor will personally fly all the way to Michigan, find my house, and swat my hand.

Because at this point, this book has already been through rewrites, revisions, edits, copy edits, and countless eyes – including my own – that have checked and double-checked every word and phrase. One must just be able to let things go at some point, right?

Thankfully, after spending a week with these pages, I’m still not feeling the urge to carve them up wholesale. In fact, I wasn’t even tempted to pluck out entire paragraphs. I allowed myself a few changes for flow, a few changes for clarification, and a few changes for plot reasons, and then there was that final leech that hadn’t been changed to leach.

Seriously, I can’t be the only one who didn’t realize there was a difference.

Yet more than a few times I had introduced the practice of using blood-sucking leeches into a dry, sub-Saharanesque desert instead of simply leaching something away. Welp. Apparently I’m still learning English after all these years.

The changes were/are minimal at this point, so really I just got to take a moment and read the story all the way through. It’d been long enough, and looked different enough, that I could almost pretend to be a reader, almost see it as someone outside my head might.

And if the fact that I’ve read this ad nauseam and still get caught up in the second half is any indicator… maybe this book will do all right out there in the world.

Wow guys. Guys. Less than a year guys. Guys.

It’s hard to believe that this time last year I was still hacking through rewrites, uncertain if I’d ever make it work. And now, a year after I sent this thing to betas with so many apologies for how rough and choppy it still was, it’s in the final polishing stages and is very close to becoming real.

You’d think this would make me feel better about how choppy and rough book 3 is right now.

You’d be wrong.

So I’m going to allow myself a few days in the sun and air with the pretty and complete before diving back into the messy darkness of rewrites.

…preeetttyy

*These are called widows and orphans.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy

It’s Okay If You Don’t Read My Book

No. Really. It is.

I hereby give you – yes you, whether you’re friend, family, acquaintance, long-lost relative, stalker, enemy, punching partner, writing buddy, cashier at Publix – permission not to read my book.

Really. Truly. It’s okay. I’ll still love you.

Books are strange, wholly subjective and personal experiences. I don’t have a single friend who 100% loves every book that I do, or 100% hates every book that I loathe. In fact, it’s a good reading buddy whose tastes match up even 50% of the time. I loved Perdido Street Station and was bored to tears by Jane Austen, and yet I could name more than a dozen people who would legit fight me on both counts.

I’d win, of course. But. Well. That’s not the point.

The point is this: you don’t have to read my books. If you do read them, you are in no way obligated to pretend you liked them. If you do like them, you don’t have to feel obligated to read or like subsequent books I write. It’s okay. Really!

And it’s also absolutely okay if you do like them. But it is definitely Not Necessary.

But Kai, Figurative You says – let’s be optimistic for a second. Maybe I’ll like them! How do I know if these books are for me??

That’s a good question, Figurative Person! Maybe you will. In fact, you might enjoy the Chronicles of Ghadid trilogy if you:

– Like fun, fast fantasy
– Are bored with medievalesque settings
– Are looking for/not repulsed by non-hetero romance
– Don’t mind a bit of magic
– Accept that sand will, in fact, get everywhere
– Find pleasure in awkward flirting scenes
– Enjoy having your heart ripped from your chest
– Eschew cliffhangers
– Really want a cup of tea right now
– Love reading about characters making Terrible Decisions
– Are a history dork
– Really like assassins and necromancy and undead camels
– Want to write coffeeshop AU fanfic for a story where the characters never get a break
– Have a pulse
– Don’t have a pulse (we don’t discriminate here)
– Any combination of the above
– None of the above

But really, it’s hard to know without reading it, right? So here’s me hoping you’ll choose to read it and end up loving it, but here’s your Get Out of Reading Your Friend/Family Member/Random Acquaintance’s Book card, no questions asked.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Draft Zero, Unnamed (Book 3), Writing

Juggling Plots

I wrapped up this draft of book three last week and then dove straight into edits for book two and today page proofs for book one arrived.

My work is never done. Which is good since it’s, you know, my work.

I’m still reeling from finishing that draft – it’s a mixed bag of awful and bad and maybe, just maybe, all right -but thankfully the other two books are in a state much closer to Done and therefore can help ground me and remind me that I can, in fact, write. And that awful first (ish) drafts are just a part of the process.

I’ve been asked a few times how I juggle three books with three distinct plots and three entirely different characters and somehow keep them straight.

The short answer is: I don’t.

The longer answer:

It’s not the plot or the characters that make it difficult to switch between the books. It’s the emotional arcs and weight of each. I really have to take a day or two and just sort of… sit with it to get back into the right frame of mind. It helps that I’ve built a distinct soundtrack for each of the books, with specific songs for specific sections. Putting on the song I need for the section I’m writing/editing/revising/what-have-you makes that transition a heckuva lot easier. Also, you know, going for a long walk.

But for sure, I’ve started writing one book only to find myself typing out the name of the MC from another. It takes a little bit of time before I can sink into another project. Which is why I try to minimize how much I switch around, and (probably) why I’ve been having a harder-than-usual time for book three. I started that beast back in July, while I was waiting for my edits on one, and then dropped it to do said edits, and then picked it up again only to drop it again to do edits for two. Now I’ve been sitting on a second round of book two edits just so I can finish this draft.

And this draft is done. So. Time to put on some music and switch again!

*

Here’s current progress on Book Three, working title The Unconquered City, the story of an assassin turned monster hunter who’s really sick of people threatening her city. Now with more! rain, rain, and rain.

Project: Book Three, Draft 0.5

Deadline: August

Current word count: 74,209 / 74,209 words.

 

What’s next?: A few weeks to finish book 2 edits, write a synopsis, read through page proofs – and then on to the next draft.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Draft Zero, Pre-pub, Unnamed (Book 3), Writing

What I Wish I Knew, Now

Ice on witch hazel blossoms

A common theme among blog posts by debuts, post debut, is the What I Wish I’d Known post. These are inevitably helpful in pointing out all the gaps in one’s knowledge, the I-didn’t-know-what-I-didn’t-knows.

But I call rubbish. I am impatient as a toddler and I don’t wanna wait until after my debut to know what I didn’t not know (huh?). I wanna know now. So here’s a list of the things I (currently) really wanna know, ’cause that’s how I role.

 

10 Things I Wish I Knew, Now

1. Will I actually be able to smash this wreck of a first draft into shape by August?

2. Is there a secret way into my publisher’s internal system so I can know exactly what’s going on with my book at any given time, including how long it’s sat languishing in Carol’s inbox? CAROL*?

3. At least tell me my pub date, Carol.

4. What kind of cupcakes do you like, Carol? Oh no reason. Just, you know… wondering.

5. When will this snow end??

6. How does this book end????

7. What is number seven? Does Carol know?

8. At what point does the sheer terror become outweighed by the excitement?

9. How different is terror from excitement, really? I mean, physiologically speaking both release adrenaline, increasing heart rate and perspiration and breathing, dilating the pupils and – OMG THEY’RE THE SAME THING.

10. …will the next thing I write be anywhere near as fun as this?

*

Here’s current progress on Book Three, working title The Unconquered City, the story of an assassin turned monster hunter who’s really sick of people threatening her city. Now with more! impressive amounts of steam, heart-to-heart chats, and bonding over corpses.

Project: Book Three, Draft 0.5

Deadline: August

Current word count: 70,024 / 80000 words. 87% of the way there

 

Days of spring: *sobbing*

Days left to finish this draft: 7

Days until I start the next project: 7

* If, in fact, there is a Carol at my publisher, I’m certain she is the Best and not easily bribed by any flavor of cupcakes, even if they’re red velvet with proper buttercream and they just happened to appear on her desk Thursday morning. 

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Draft Zero, Unnamed (Book 3), Writing, Writing Tips

Here We Go, Here We Go, Here We Go Again


Small human helping me plan for my deadlines.

I took a brief tour down memory/blog lane and huh – looks like just about this time last year, I was also struggling with the last 1/4 of my WIP and worried to death that I wouldn’t be able to make it work and my betas were going to hate it and everything was awful. Of course now, that WIP is The Perfect Assassin and I think much more fondly of it, but. Well.

There are certain elements of the writing/rewriting/revising process that you begin to anticipate after enough times around this delightfully slow and yet somehow also nauseatingly fast merry-go-round.

For instance, I know that at some point, I will love my story. The words will be easy. The scenes beautiful. I’ll itch to share it and every song I listen to will remind me of it and help create new scenes, fresh backstory, deeper emotions.

That point usually occurs about one week before I actually start writing the story. Sometimes it lasts a full two weeks into it.

Then the rollercoaster begins. The ecstatic, newly-in-love feeling fades. The writing is still fun, but it’s a Thing to be Done. It’s not a grind, not yet. There are still flashes of OMGWOW when bits and pieces of plot start to come together, when characters surprise you, when you briefly think you’re a secret genius.

And then, right about 3/4 or 5/6 of the way into your first (and second [and third]) draft, you realize you’re a fraud. There’s absolutely no way to save this mess of a story. Why even bother finishing it? You know it’s gone all wrong and you should probably just find a nice place in the woods to dig a hole real deep and drop it in. You know what, why not go ahead and drop your whole laptop in?

Then go home and take up beekeeping because wow, who decided to let you become a writer?

But as you try to remember if you even have a shovel – or maybe you should borrow your neighbor’s – I’ll tell you a secret:

You’re almost done. Keep going.

This is a part of the process. We all hit this bump. Fledgling writers often don’t complete a single story because they hit this murky awful point and don’t know that it just means they have to double down, that they’re almost through the worst of it. Heck, I wrote and rewrote (and rewrote [and rewrote]) the same fanfic for years and years and even now it stands uncompleted, only a chapter or two left to go. And it will never be completed.

But this story will be, and not just because I have a deadline. Actually, no: because of a deadline. I’ve been setting myself personal deadlines for years, well before I signed with an agent or snagged a publisher.

Keep going. Finish what you started, even if it means pulling teeth the entire way. Even if you just summarize what you think should happen. Even if you reach a point where you truly can’t go any further without reworking the whole plot and you type out “rocks fall, everyone dies.”

Because this, too, is a part of the process. And you have to get through it to have any chance of reaching the next part of the process.

Then when you’re here again, around mile 22 of 26, you’ll grimace but remember and know you’ve pushed through this before. And you will again.

And again.

And again.

*

Here’s current progress on Book Three, working title The Unconquered City, the story of an assassin turned monster hunter who’s really sick of people threatening her city. Now with more! conflagrations, omnipresent doom, and bittersweet homecomings.

Project: Book Three, Draft 0.5

Deadline: August

Current word count: 60,025 / 80000 words. 75% of the way there

 

Days of spring: 0

Snow: Why

Screams into the void: Yes

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Draft Zero, Life, Unnamed (Book 3), Writing

Hello Twitter, My Old Friend

I just finished a six week hiatus from Twitter. Or at least an attempted hiatus. To be honest, I dipped my toe in a few times with the excuse of checking DM’s only to get swept up into reading a few tweets before realizing what I was doing. But my slip-ups only reaffirmed my need for a break. Twitter is designed to be highly addictive and I clearly wasn’t immune.

Being away has given me a new perspective on Twitter and – hopefully – a new way to approach the site. My FOMO was pretty high those first few days (*coughs*weeks) but in the end, I didn’t miss as much as I’d expected. I still heard all the news and was able to celebrate some acquaintances accomplishments. If anything, being off Twitter helped me have a healthier relationship with the news, as often I’d learn about Things What Had Happened somewhat after the fact and therefore had a chance to understand the whole of it, instead of getting everyone’s instant, kneejerk reactions.

But I don’t want to drop Twitter entirely. It is useful in keeping in touch with a number of far-flung friends, and while I read my news on actual news websites now, a lot of publishing news happens on Twitter, so it’s a good idea to keep the ear to the bird, if you will.

To keep that bird from nibbling my ear and distracting me from writing, though, I’m going to set a few rules for myself.

One: as many news-related terms as possible are gonna be muted. I rode that rollercoaster all last year and it’s time to get off because I’m tired of the motion sickness.

Two: I’ve installed a new blocking app that will only let me on Twitter at certain times. No more endless scrolling.

Three: I will engage more than I post.

And four: if I have a thought that is more than a tweet, it will be a blog post, not a thread. There’s something to be said for the lost art of blogging and I aim to keep this space alive as much as possible.

Of course all that also means that if you catch me breaking any of those rules feel free to publicly shame me. 😉

*

Here’s current progress on Book Three, working title The Unconquered City, the story of an assassin turned monster hunter who’s really sick of people threatening her city. Now with more! necromancy, large bodies of water, and sudden, yet inevitable betrayals.

Project: Book Three, Draft 0.5

Deadline: August

Current word count: 50,017 out of 80,000

Cats scritched: Two

Cadbury eggs consumed: One

Toddlers chased screeching around the house: Yes

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Draft Zero, Unnamed (Book 3), Writing, Writing Tips

Worldbuilding: Layers of Paint

Photo by Alice Achterhof on Unsplash

For the longest time I labored under the impression that most writers sat down and spent a few weeks building their world(s) and then they were done. This notion was fueled by the way a lot of writers talk about worldbuilding, especially when it comes down to the details: you gotta know this, you gotta know that, you gotta take this into account, you gotta cast your stars across the sky and meticulously describe their patterns and spill sand across your deserts and account for every grain – all of which was implied necessary to have in place before you could begin crating the story itself.

There are certainly writers out there who do exactly that, and do it successfully. But in my experience, worldbuilding is less a single act of creation and more a continuous layering of paint.

Side note: check out the world’s largest ball of paint. At the heart of that beast is a single baseball. The rest is layers upon layers (upon layers [upon layers {upon layers}]) of paint.

You have to start with something, yes. A canvas of some shape for your paint, be it actual canvas or a baseball or a soccer ball or perhaps, a moped. But then you start writing, and that’s where the layers come in.

Layer upon layer upon layer, you build your world. Each draft another layer, each revision another layer, each edit another layer, until you’re dabbing paint here and there and that original baseball or moped is so buried as to be invisible and it looks as if you’d planned the story that way all along.

But looks are deceptive and it’s easy to gaze upon others’ finished works and pretend they’d been that way all along. Yet I can all but guarantee there’s a sports object somewhere under those layers that doesn’t look much like the end product.

Case in point, I was still tweaking minor worldbuilding details as I read through my copy edits for Book 1 and am still adding to the world in book 3. It could easily be never ending. Thank goodness for deadlines, amiright?

*

Here’s current progress on Book Three, working title The Unconquered City, the story of an assassin turned monster hunter who’s really sick of people threatening her city. Now with more! magic fights, adoring crowds, and messy laboratories.

Project: Book Three, Draft 0.5

Deadline: August

Current word count: 41,216 / 80000 words. 51% of the way there

 

Cups of tea: 3

Cups of tea, IRL: 23

Sunny days: All of them

Sunny days, IRL: 1