Monday, January 25, 2010

Preparing for Alex Van Helsing #1 paperback, churning away on AVH2 ruff

Just a few updates here.

Every evening lately has been taken up with writing, hammering away on the rough draft of Alex Van Helsing #2. Today we have a rough draft of about 54,000 words, shorter than I'd prefer. I've printed it out and gone through by hand, so the next step is to enter these edits in and have what is essentially a cleaner rough draft.

Orson Scott Card, in one of his writing books (I can't recall which one and I don't want to guess, because right now all my books are in boxes) said that the writing process requires the writer to engage in a kind of constant double-think, simultaneously "this is going great!" with "that's terrible, you should hang it all up now!"

A rough draft can paralyze, or at least it can paralyze me. You can do all the outlining you want, but even a very detailed outline still isn't the work, and it still won't tell you whether the outline is right or not. The outline can say, "Sam takes a bad guy's place at a card table and wins every hand, getting him access to a secret meeting," but when you get to the scene, suddenly: How do I write this? Do I describe the whole game? Reference it, keeping the game offscreen? Which would be more exciting and not embarrassing? Should it be tennis instead?

Paralyze, was the word. So for me, a big part of the Orson Scott Card positive side is just the sheer audacity of not giving up.

Meanwhile, remember, the actual work goes on. Harper sent me the jacket copy for the paperback edition of Alex Van Helsing #1. Bear in mind that the hardback edition won't be out until May and heck if I know what sounds good. I said it was all fine.

The jacket includes one of those "about the author" things that no one ever reads. I mean, seriously, does anyone care where I live, and whether I live alone, or with a cat, or with a boisterous family of me, my lawyer, two little girls and two dogs (which I do?) . My editor-- who has a knack for elegant brevity-- keeps it to about a sentence. Nice!

The first draft of this book is due in less than a week.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Progress-- and process-- on Alex Van Helsing #2

The Book seems to take up all my time, even when I'm not writing it.

The book at hand is Alex Van Helsing #2. If that sounds strange because there isn't any Alex Van Helsing #1 out, that's because the lead time on these things is so long. by the time #1 comes out in May, #2 should, if we're lucky, be completely in the can.

In the can-- done, save for a few edits-- by May of 2010, for a release in May of 2011. First draft is due February 1.

So, whatever the inspiration, whatever the story, whatever compelling need to write, in this case there is something very concrete moving the task of writing along, a delivery described in a few short words: "a manuscript of about 50,000 words on February 1."

I'll spare you the story, the actual story, because how could anyone care, not having read the first one. Anyway, what I wanted to talk about was the nuts and bolts.

50,000 words, that's a short book, the length of Fleming's Casino Royale, which was a typical length for spy novels in the 50s. Think of that: I cannot conceive of a 300,000-word "Stephen King's Casino Royale." Spy novels are lean and mean, the plot has to chug-chug-chug, and at the same time, you'll lose control of it, lose it completely, if you allow your characters to fall away or get lost. Why? Because even a short book with no interesting characters is impossibly dull. So, 50,000 words is a short book, but it it's still a book.

I started writing the book, according to my notes, on the second week of November. Until then I was engaged in story jawboning with my editor, which is a strange process where I pitch ideas, make arguments, we try to pick the best direction and flesh it out a little. I put together an outline, knowing that there's a good chance the final result will deviate. But for me, the basic skeleton needs to be there. Stuff you'd like to see happen, stuff to avoid.

It took too long to get started, though. Thanksgiving, a trip to Disney World, and Chapter 1 wasn't complete until November 27. A chapter in this case is usually 1200-2000 words. In general that's about equal to what I can do in an evening.

I write in the evenings. I work a day job and have the two worlds so separated that I have separate everything-- separate PC, separate phone, separate paper. End of the day I come home, dinner, read with the girls, and then, in the full swing of a book, generally I go out to write. Some people have a home office, and I will soon, but the house as currently laid out does not, so I write at a University nearby (I'm an alum, so the security guards never kick me out of the empty classrooms where I plug in.)

If you could do 1000 words a night, in a month you'd have 30,000 words, meaning you'd have a 50,000 word rough draft in about two months. Actually, using the +10% rule, your first draft should be 55,000 words. So basically two months. But in my case, I often take nights off-- birthday parties, whatever. So three months is about what it will take. And in this case, has taken.

Now we are on the cusp, 47,000 words, still looking at a major plot section, the finale, a big rousing number that could very well stretch all the way to the end and beyond. After that it's still not a rough draft, because I've got a checklist of scenes I call "pick-ups," insertions that you realize as you write that you forgot-- certain information, people showing up, introducing a setting earlier. When pick-ups are done, it's a rough. Now, no one ever shows off a rough. No one will see it but me. But still, it's a big deal for me, a crest before the roller coaster falls again.

I think we will have a rough by Sunday night.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Books consulted while writing Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising

For your enjoyment, here's a list I put together of books I consulted while writing Alex Van Helsing #1-- the main purpose of gathering this list was so I could create a decent acknowledgements page, but the side-effect is a peak into the ingredients of one novel. I don't think I left anything out. Enjoy!