This week was a fairly awesome one, as fiction went. I’ve already written about a near acceptance of one of my favorite pieces, but when I announced the sale of my new novel Homefront last week to Resurrection House, I started a brand new chapter (so to speak) in my professional career.
I also promised to use this website to document my creative process, so here goes.
When last we left our hero, I’d just signed a document with descriptions of both a dollar amount and a date on it. The first of these reality check items came into my possession on Monday, and I left it on my desk for about 24 hours to would inspire me.
And my reality check, I mean it was a real check. With a signature and everything!
There’s something about seeing your name on a check with a few zeroes that makes the entire process a bit more real. Now before anyone gets really excited, there weren’t that many zeroes, but there were enough for a writer with my track record and publication history.
First novels are always tricky to place in the marketplace. You have to have an editor who really believes in what you’re trying to do, and is willing to take a chance on an unknown author with an unknown product. Luckily for me, I’ve worked with the amazing Mark Teppo on another project, and we’ve been trying to find the right story for me to write for a couple months.
It bears mentioning that Homefront was not the first book I pitched to Resurrection House. That one crashed and burned, and of my Alpha readers all but one has had very critical things to say, and three editors have taken a pass. I don’t think I need to tell you that that one’s going in the shoebox for a while, possibly for quite some time. but m ore on that later)
After our now in-famous barroom pitch, I dashed off just over 12,000 words that I thought really defined the book I wanted to write, with a couple hundred more outlining the next few chapters.
I tend to work like this a lot, using broad-strokes blocking passages as temporary chapters. Sometimes, I feel it is more important to get the essence of what I’m thinking down on “paper” rather than the actual words themselves. There are days when I’ve written almost 40 pages of these “stage instructions,” which can sometimes be more trouble than it’s worth. Because since I’ve already thought the story through in my notes, there’s a temptation to consider it “done” and move on to something else.
I am purposefully not working too far ahead in Homefront, but until Monday I had a pretty solid idea of how the first 30K words or so would play out. Then I spent half a day staring at my name on a check, and wrote a 1500 word chapter that kicked that plan right in the jimmy. I had an epiphany so grand that the rest of the book started falling into place. I could see my characters standing on hillsides, listening to them having conversations I wasn’t yet ready to write. I could feel their failures in my soul, and their successes sung in my heart.
(For those following along at home, the manuscript now stood at 13,500 words and change. Not a bad start, but by any rational count I was less than 1/6 of the way through my first draft.)
But because I am me, and because this chapter really did change the story, I cleaned it up a bit, saved it into a separate document, and dashed it off to Mark with a note. Because I’d just added something completely new to a project he’d paid me for, a new subplot which will substantially complicate the book. And Mark being Mark, he fired off a reply as soon as he got it, promising to take a look at the chapter that night.
Here’s what I found in my inbox the next morning. And before you read this, you should know that before I checked my mail, I’d already written 6 pages of blocking that day. You should also understand that Mark and I are grown-ups, and tend to use certain phrases in our conversations.
I don’t know (all the) context, but what I read here was full of chewy good stuff. Certainly seems like you ripped the roof off a bunch of underlying conspiracies and ‘BLEEP them before they BLEEP us’ mindsets, which is always good as far as I’m concerned.
If this hasn’t completely derailed you and it makes you tingly, I think you’re on the right track.
I’m so ashamed you had to read that. I mean, “tingly.” What were we thinking?
Those 6 pages of chewy good stuff have dominated my working hours over the last four days, and brought us to my ending wordcount for the week of nearly 26,000 words. That number is a bit smaller than I thought it would be, because a lot of those words are sprinkled through the chapters I’d already written. Making sure I got the chewy good stuff in the right places is hard work, and after an intense morning writing session I sometimes need to take a few hours off to let the ol’ brain realize what it just did.
And if you’re using the math above as a measure, you should know that I don’t consider myself 1/3 done with the book yet. That milestone is 5 chapters away from where I am now, but thanks to today’s blocking I know most of what’s going to happen in those too. Some chapters are more complex than others. Some might in fact already be written in the blocking, save for some dialog tags and clever punctuation. But one of those chapters is going to be a monster, and so far it has only one line written down.
Here it is, for your chewy good stuff enjoyment.
Captain Martin adjusts to his changed situation
See you kids next week.