First draft of new book – Done!

Working Title and Mock Cover of New Book

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, and it feels so good.  Moments ago, I typed those two words every writer yearns to type once they start a new manuscript.  What words?  These words.  THE END!  I just finished the first draft of a new book.  It doesn’t matter that this draft probably doesn’t amount to more than a very, very detailed 67,000 word outline. 

In other words, there is still a lot of work to do, but the story has a beginning, middle and end, and it’s fully equiped with subplots and deeply flawed characters and dialogue galore.  It’s fleshed out.  I just have to make sure the the skeleton is intact.

Pardon me while I celebrate!

On writing without a message… or what The Takers is really about

What is the message?

What is the message?

At a very early stage in my writing career, I came to the conclusion that I am not a message kind of writer. I don’t have the writing gene that allows me to write a story with a message without coming off as preachy. In The Takers, I set out to write a book about a boy who wakes up to discover he is responsible for the end of the world. That’s it. I didn’t have any other agenda when I typed out the pages of the book every day for 9 weeks.

The book started with a question I asked myself, “What if? What if a young boy wakes up to discover he is responsible for the end of the world?” That “What if” question is not unique to me. Virtually every story starts with the same question. From that question other questions formed organically. How did it happen? Why did it happen? Who is the boy? As I started answering these questions, the story started to form. I wrote without judging myself or the characters or the plot and various subplots.

After I finished writing, I started editing and rewrites. At that point, I realized there were messages in the book. The book (and the entire series) is about the power of forgiveness and redemption (not in a biblical sense). Oz, the main character in the book, has done some horrible things in his life that actually lead to the end of the world. He is faced with the internal question “Am I a good kid who occasionally does bad things or a bad kid who occasionally does good things?” Ultimately, he is a good kid who has done some regrettable things. The end of the world presents him with the opportunity to set things right.

That was not my intention when I started writing. It just happened. There are a lot of talented writers out there who can write with a specific message without bogging down the story with a lot of clunky exposition. I am not one of those writers. For me, the “What if” question is simply a riddle I’m researching and trying to figure out. If messages come from that (and they most likely will), it’s a bonus result I welcome.

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On Being Offensive

Just say it!

Just say it!

I am offensive. I have to be. I’m a writer. This is something I struggled with for a long time because in my non-writery life I’m a nice, if not downright decent guy. I’m the kind of guy who leaves a note on someone’s windshield if my car door opens too wide and might have possibly dinged their door. I hold doors open for people. I say “Bless you” to perfect strangers when they sneeze.

But when it comes to storytelling, I have to leave myself at the door when I write because the characters and the story are far more important than my desire not to offend people. One need only to take a look at the first line of my young adult horror/scifi novel, The Takers, to see how truly offensive I can be. That line is: “We killed the retarded boy.” It is stark and plainly spoken. In short, it evokes emotion, and that is my job as a writer. I have had people tell me they loved the first line, and I’ve had people tell me they were deeply troubled by the first line, so much so that they almost stopped reading. I’m happy with both reactions. If I tried to write a non-offensive version of the line it wouldn’t have the same power. Don’t believe me? Try this on for size. “We took the life of the boy with Down syndrome.” Is it as effective? I don’t think so. It’s too wishy-washy, too sanitized. For me, the best writing is dirty and gritty and unapologetic. At the risk of sounding corny, a writer has to transcend sentiment in order to tell a story. The emotion of a story comes from the characters and the setting not the author.

When you start thinking about how a plot or character or phrase may offend the reader, you’re dead in the water as a writer. You’re story arc will be a flat line. Your characters will be one dimensional with no growth, and conflict will basically be absent from your story. Don’t contrive offensiveness. That’s as ineffective as not being offensive at all. Be offensive because the story calls for it. It’s scary to do at times, but you have to muster up the courage and do it because your story will be better for it.

You will take your share of slings and arrows. I certainly have. To quote a mother in Oklahoma: I cannot believe that these were in the teen section. Gross, Gore, Evil, Blood, Guts……….I’m so full of regret that I had ever bought these. Actually, I love her review. She clearly didn’t read the books because the story is actually a tale of good vs. evil, where good struggles but ultimately prevails, but she had a real emotional, visceral reaction. As a writer, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Writers, offend with impunity… well there will be punity but try not to let it get to you.

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Working on Edits… Here’s Eric Idle On Writing With the Monty Python Cast

Busy doing edits today.  I need to keep my nose down, and my mind sharp which means very little online activity today.  To keep you entertained and informed, here’s a clip of Eric Idle talking about writing with the different members of Monty Python.  Enjoy!

The Deal – A Reality Show for Writers

This week on the deal writers read prose at a nudist colony.

"This week on The Deal writers pitch their books to 4th graders."

I am floating this idea out on the interweb ether knowing full well that someone will take it and run with it. Writers are made for reality TV shows. We’re quirky, defensive, insecure, opinionated, and flat out weird in most cases. The airwaves are just begging for a show featuring 12 writers living in a house vying for a lucrative publishing deal. Can you imagine the number of train wreck moments that will be captured on tape? I know it’s sadistic, and I should be flogged for suggesting such a thing. Writers are my people after all, but I can’t help myself. It would be immensely watchable.

Writers would be chosen for their writing samples, their interview, and their marketability. Take that last qualification, and apply whatever meaning you wish; looks, personality, sense of style etc. The tasks would include completing edits on deadline, building a social network, readings, making pitches, how they handle themselves doing interviews, getting blurbs from well-known authors, typing pages on an actual typewriter etc. The winner will be chosen by the online community and a panel of three judges. At the end of the process, a six-figure contract with one of the major publishers awaits the winner. The Judges? They would be as follows:

Judith Regan

Stephen King

John Ridley (No relation to me)

Your host would be anyone but Ryan Seacrest. The guy’s got like four jobs and he’s annoying on all of them. Personally, I think the perfect choice would be Ira Glass. He’s smart, funny, and people would take the show seriously if he were involved.

Why do I think people would watch it? Well besides the reasons I gave in the first paragraph, the NEA did a study recently that revealed a whopping 81% of Americans think they have a book inside of them. They all think they can do it, and I’m betting they would watch a group of writers be put through the wringer, living vicariously through the contestants, all the while thinking, “I could do better than them.” It’s perfect reality show fodder.