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.
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