Today’s special guest blogger is the very talented J. Gunnar Grey, the author of Deal with the Devil. Enjoy!
The story of the monster manuscript, or maybe my husband’s got the right idea
For writers, books can be strange places. Those who can stay outside the story while drafting the manuscript have my envy. But I’m one who works best by immersing myself in the plotline and characters, living the story and experiencing the themes. Otherwise the prose tends to be stale, and where’s the fun in that?
Deal with the Devil began with an idea for a World War II no-win scenario and a character, who I named Major Hans-Joachim Faust. He and I spent about a year on courteous speaking terms, getting to know each other and sorting through various possibilities, before I began writing the rough draft. But after four or five chapters, which bear practically no resemblance to the finished book, the writing stuttered to a halt. This book wanted to be more than a relatively simple murder mystery. It, and Faust, wanted to make a statement, and they gave me no choice in that matter. Nor much clue as to what said statement entailed.
Back to square one. This time I started out by drafting a four-page outline. Then I added a bit. Then a bit more. Subplots happened, characters expanded their roles, and I had a blast. By the time the outline was complete, it numbered 48 single-spaced pages. I’d never successfully worked with an outline before but I was game, so the four of us–outline, Faust, novel in progress, and me–started writing again.
(By the way, writers, have you ever tried to describe those voices in your head to a non-writer? First time I tried explaining them to my husband, who’s actually a pretty creative guy, I thought he was going to force-feed me anti-psychotics. And he doesn’t like prescription medications.)
Everybody was happy, so I spent the next year tapping away on the rough draft, finishing a new chapter every few days. (Before you get too impressed, understand that some chapters in Deal are really short.) But about two-thirds of the way through the outline, I realized I was stuffing pages into a second three-inch binder. The book was getting long. Some quick calculations added up to 140,000 words, altogether too long for a publisher to take a chance on an unknown writer in the mystery genre, and I hadn’t wrapped up either plotline.
Yep, you got it. I panicked. I figured I had to slice the book’s length. I went looking for ways to shorten this monster manuscript. But nobody cooperated, not the book, the outline, nor Faust, who can be particularly stubborn when he thinks he’s right. The argument lasted for six months. They won. None of the subplots, and only a few extraneous chapters, could be cut without gutting the storyline. It was that tightly entwined.
So I finished the rough draft and sent it to the world’s greatest critique partners, Melanie Card (romantic fantasy and UF) and Alexa Grave (SF/F/horror). Mel suggested one subplot should go and so could one character’s point of view; she’s very professional and rather cold-blooded about these things. Alexa highlighted every unnecessary (in her opinion) word in the book; note that she and I have equally good but entirely opposite methods of stringing words together.
But neither solution worked for me, which certainly was no fault of theirs, and it’s possible such a pathway would have resulted in a better book. Instead, I trimmed some fat, polished the remainder, and reluctantly put the book aside. Perhaps I could break it out, not as a first novel, but as a third or fourth one. As a historical mystery, the final length at 157,000 words was just doable for a writer with a few notches on the e-reader.
But every story I tried to write for the next year froze. The characters refused to play with me and the plotlines stank. Deal haunted me. The outline was sated, but neither the story nor Faust would let me go. They wanted to be read. At their prodding, I wrote a query and synopsis for a nice epublisher I’d met on Facebook, Stephanie Taylor of Astraea Press, and fell on my keyboard when she accepted it–the first publisher who saw the monster manuscript.
Oh, and her solution? Publish the book in two halves, as a two-part serial novel with a cliffhanger ending between halves, rather than a two-book series of standalone novels. I’d never thought of it. And if Faust doesn’t quit grinning in that smug manner, I’ll give him an even harder time in the sequel.
If you would like to contribute a guest blog post to my site, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’d like to feature guest bloggers on my site on a regular basis. I love the advice fellow authors give, and I love reading about their struggles and all they’ve overcome to achieve their dreams. I find their stories inspiring.
Recently, I began chatting with Justin Scro, a fellow author and screenwriter, as well as musician, and all around cool guy. The other day I asked him if he’d be interested in writing up a guest blog post for my site. Little did I know, he was going to write a lengthy missive to the tune of 3,900+ words, but that’s okay. I found his entire piece fun to read, as I hope all of you will too. Because of its length, I’ll be spacing the post out over the next few days, so I hope you’ll come back each day and read the next section.
Without further ado, here you go.
The 809 Walden Court
25 miles outside of Chicago
As I near 31, I have my own fully funded online video production company set to launch (November 15th, Slow Graffiti represent!), my Roxy Music meets Nirvana indie band Camera (of ten years) is set to release our debut LP, my four fiction novels are selling like warm cakes on Amazon, my podcast has more listeners than I would imagine (like, 86, but that’s a lot to me!), and the amazing Jinan Hamood just found me and asked to represent my screenwriting work…
One year ago, as I neared 30 none of things seemed possible.
This is my dramatic, over italicized trailer for…
The Hewlitt-Packard Laptop of Destiny
The Rant That Drowned Chicago
This is a freakin’ Dickensian tale if there’s ever been one. Poor whittle old me, saddled with a pure grip on the human condition and privy nothing more. I have to use the word ‘poor’ up there because while I have never been homeless or gone hungry, I am and have been lower middle class my entire life. I try not to be a class warrior, but it is very important to understand how I had to make mountains out of every molehill I came across in order to create opportunity, not just find it or ‘look into it’.
Here we go.
Blah, blah, blah…I started writing around the time you learn how to use pencils, loved to draw but horrible at it, always a big fan of movies and music, and then I turned five. From five it became stand-up comedy, acting, wanting to work with kids, and baseball.
Then, around the arrival of both Reservoir Dogs and Nirvana’s Nevermind my world was blown. I was between eleven and twelve years old but I wanted to become a film director and a musician immediately. That’s where you get the mixture right here:
I wasn’t kidding! During the part that I’m wearing the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s BloodSugarSexMajik tee shirt I am guaranteed-dilly 11 years old. I didn’t put that clip up to try and get hits or to show how shameless and cool I am. I put that thing up there to show that I was, I am, and I always will be. That’s right. I’m like pure gangsta philosopher. The only two books I could buy into as a jaded ass youth were Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim (just because Irvine Welsh of Trainspotting fame was quoted on the front and I liked the movie they made out of his book I didn’t read…a real culture vulture!).
*It is at this point that I would like to apologize for being a parenthetical nightmare (I blog like I talk. My novels only glean the best of this style of madness, I assure you!).
** I would also like to point out that we are currently mid-digression from me taking you through my creative life as quickly as possible. When you read the word: BANANA, we will resume.
Many years later and a full life’s education (bumming in Europe, a few true loves, playing the brightest venues in Chicago, living on my own, Billy Zane…), this is the exact same house where I lived only a few days ago.
Why did I take you through all of that before even sticking in the tip of my story? To let you know you can trust me. Capice?
(Please stop by tomorrow to read the second part of Justin’s post.)
*If you’re interested in writing a guest blog post for my site, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com or via Twitter @NicoleLIreland. I look forward to hearing from you.