Ripped Pages Strewn Across My Floor

I’ve been working on Book 3 (which isn’t really the third book of any series, nor is it the third book I will have written, but Book 3 works fine for a title for now) for a little over a month now. Like all projects that hook me, the beginning of the work rushed by and flowed out of my fingers like the creamy center of a Cadbury Egg (they have creamy centers, right? It’s been a while since I had one).

Then, like all projects that hook me, things slowed down. I had a conversation with myself that went something like this.

“Oh, so now that you’ve created a world, you expect to have a fully-conceived story to put in it? Complete with three-dimensional characters, plot twists, some sort of theme, and lots of your usual silliness?”

“Uhm… yes?”

“Right. I’ll get back to you.”

I sat back, looked at my fledgling baby, poked it, prodded it, and came up with a complete story idea. I wrote some notes on a Google Doc and dove back in.

Then I had a cool idea, so I had to go back and add it and that changed some things so I needed to go back again and fix them and then I changed some other things and had to go back to the start to make sure I set them up and then… well then the notes on my Google Doc didn’t make any sense.

I forged ahead, as writers with an inflated sense of ability are wont to do. Things bogged down. Like, trying to walk through a vat of kindergarten paste while wearing Uggs. I went from 1,500 or 2,000 words a day to 300 or 400. The next day I’d go back and rewrite 200 of those 400 and call it a day.

The project stalled.

I cried. I wailed. I berated fate. I watched some TV. And inspiration came to me–though not from watching TV, that was a total waste of time.

I got out on old, blank notebook. A nice one with slightly-thick paper. I opened up to a blank page and wrote the concept for one scene I knew I wanted in the book. Then I ripped the page out of the notebook and placed it on the floor. I wrote another scene concept on another blank page. Ripped it out. Set it down.

Rinse, repeat.

Soon enough, I had about eight pieces of paper on my floor. I arranged them in chronological order. I saw where there were holes and forced myself to write something on a new page, rip it out, and use it to fill the hole. I got interested in the very end of the book, and wrote a number of pages and ripped them all out, placing them in order. Saw another hole, wrote a new page. Got an idea, wrote a new page, set it down to replace an earlier page I’d ripped out. Crumbled up the earlier page–I wouldn’t be using it.

When my family finally came home (what, you think I’d be able to litter the living room floor with scraps of paper if they were around?) they found me sitting criss-cross applesauce on the living room rug surrounded by a large semi-circle of torn pages.

It is a testament to their ability to excuse and overlook (as well as a testament to my habits in general) that they did not strap me into a straight jacket then and there and have me hauled away.

Luckily for me, I had pretty much finished my task. Around me were 26 pages torn from a notebook (remember, a nice one) that told the story of Book 3 from where I was currently stuck all the way to the end. I’d gone and outlined my novel. And I liked it. Some of it made me giggle. Some of those giggles weren’t the deranged giggles of a mad man.

So today I impart upon The Next Bit of the the journey of Book 3, this time armed with 26 ripped pieces of nice-ish paper to guide my way.

And you thought writing was boring.

Bright Red Herrings in Flashing Neon

Happy New Year!

I hope the coming year brings you wonderful things and multiple viewings of The Force Awakens.

I finished reading a book yesterday. This in and of itself is news because it means the book was good enough to keep my attention the entire way through, which is not always easy. The book is The Screaming Staircase, the first book in Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. series. I really enjoyed the world he set up, and his prose was smooth and kept me turning pages, so I recommend it to anyone looking for a fun, supernatural middle grade yarn.

And now I’m going to go all negative on it.

Not that it’s bad, because it isn’t (see my recommendation above). But it commits a fatal flaw that would have had me toss the book aside if Stroud wasn’t as good a writer as he is.

SPOILER ALERT

Bruce Willis was dead the whole time.

I always wanted to say that. 🙂

OK, in all seriousness, here’s my beef.

Stroud gives us a mystery. A whodunnit. It is not the central plot of the book, but it is a large element. He then gives us a suspect–a horrible man who was the last known to see the victim alive. There is no direct evidence implicating this man, but our characters very quickly decide it has to be him. He’s just so evil, it must be him. So he’s arrested.

The fact that he’s a red herring is so ridiculously obvious, my four-year-old cat could have picked it up. In fact, she did. She was on my lap while I read the book, and when the new guy showed up, she jumped off my lap and threw up a hairball.  He’s not a Red Herring, he’s a (title of post alert) Bright Red Herring in Flashing Neon. With big yellow arrows pointing to him and a dancing penguin tap-dancing ‘red herring’ in Morse code on the page.

Then another character shows up out of the blue with a too-good-to-be-true offer for the characters. While there is no mention of any connection to the murder, anyone with a pulse (and many without one, this is a supernatural story about ghosts after all) notices that the new guy has all the necessary factors that would connect him with the murder. He’s the right age. He’s a guy.

That’s pretty much all you need.

So here I am, three-fifths of the way through the book, and I suddenly know the big twist awaiting me at the end. I try to tell myself that maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Stroud, who is a good writer, is throwing me a left hook after a fake right-handed slam to the gut. Maybe I’ll get to the end and be all ‘Wow! I didn’t see that coming! Brilliant! Woo hoo!’

Nope.

I get to the end (enjoy the the read the entire time) and the reveal lays out for me like a kitty hoping for a back rub. And it’s exactly what I thought. And I’m bummed.

Did knowing the twist dim my enjoyment of the book? Yes, though only a bit. I’m still planning on reading the second book of the series, because the world is really cool and the characters are fun to follow. But Stroud’s a good author. Why, then, did he telegraph his twist?

One of his problems is a lack of suspects. In the immortal film, Throw Mama From the Train, Billy Crystal explains to Danny DeVito that DeVito’s book doesn’t work because it’s called “Murder at My Friend Larry’s” and there are only two characters, one of whom dies half-way through.

By creating such an obvious red herring, Stroud leaves us wondering who the real killer might be. Since the murder happened 50 years ago, we know it has to be someone old enough to have been alive 50 years ago. At the time of the red herring, there is literally no other character old enough to have committed the murder. And then we suddenly, out-of-the-blue, meet an older character.

It’s not hard to connect the dots.

My upcoming novel Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (have you pre-ordered your copy yet?) doesn’t really have a ‘gotcha!’ twist in it, but my second book, the untitled (for now) book being published in 2017, does. I spent a lot of time with my reveal, working backwards, making sure it wasn’t obvious. Leaving tantalizing hints that are not too obvious, but also making sure there are other plausible suspects. I had my advanced readers let me know if they thought it was either too obvious or too ‘swooped in at the last minute with something new so there is no way anyone cold have possibly guessed.’ In the end, I feel fairly confident that my twist will be truly twisty.

Why didn’t Stroud take the same precautions?

Writing twists is a time-honored task for a writer, an opportunity placed in our hands that we must care for and nurture. It is not to be attempted by hacks (not that Stroud is a hack, I just think he got lazy).

So if you’re out there writing a story and you’re considering using a red herring, know that you do at your own peril. Red herrings can be tasty, but if you don’t de-bone them properly, you’ll end up choking, rupturing your esophagus, and frothing up a spout of blood.

That’s never pretty.

Being Rejected

I got a very nice rejection email today.

I submitted a short story of mine entitled “Ascension” to be published in an upcoming anthology. They held the story for quite a while, then just yesterday I receive a lovely, personal email stating in part:

“Our apologies that it took so long for us to reply to you—we had far more submissions than we ever hoped, and yours stood out in a sea of worthwhile pieces. Thus we held onto your story until the editorial team was absolutely convinced of our choices. Alas, “Ascension” still wasn’t quite right for the collection. We loved, loved, loved this story, and we hope very much to see more from you when we reopen for submissions.”

How do you get upset with that? (Well, aside from, you know… being rejected and all.)

As a publisher myself (you’ve purchased your copy of Legends of Sleepy Hollow already, right?), I know how uncomfortable rejections can be. People have sent their baby to you and they are on pins and needles, hoping and praying that you’ll like their work and validate their existence. But sometimes…. well… their work is just…. so…. bad!

A lot of places just send out a form letter.

“Dear Author. Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, it’s not what we’re looking for right now. Best of luck in the future. The Publisher.”

And that’s fine. It lets the author know that their work was read by a computer program that sifted through the grammar and vocabulary to see if it was even worth passing on to the human overlords. And it wasn’t. Sucks to be you.

Others get really desperate, and you can smell the guilt oozing off the page.

“Dear Wonderful Writer. Thank you so very much for allowing us to read your marvelous story. We wanted to like it, we really did. And we tried. Because it’s really good. Honest. If it were a perfect world we’d totally publish it. But, well, you know… with the whole Syria crisis… and climate change… it’s not a perfect world. Please don’t hate us. We feel really bad having to say no (and by the way, we’re saying no, hope you understand) and wish there was something we could do. But our hands are tied. It’s not our fault. And it’s not your fault, because you’re a great writer. It just didn’t work out between us. Please don’t go off binge-drinking or anything, OK? Send us an email every now and then to let us know you’re OK? Please? Sincerely, The Publisher.”

That way, you know your story has been read by someone with very low self-esteem who really needs a hug right about now.

Me, I tried to be constructive in my rejections. I told myself before I started that I’d send some sort of personal note when rejecting a story. It’s the least I could do. Having been on the other side, I knew how important it was to at least feel like my work had been read.

For the first few rejections I made, I held to this. Complimenting them on the parts of their story I liked, making suggestions or explaining what it was about the story that didn’t work for me. But the submissions kept coming in. And coming in. And coming in. And some of these stories were just plain awful. I mean come on, people! I wouldn’t have submitted some of those things to my third-grade teacher, let alone a professional (as far as they knew) literary outlet. It’s cliche to say people should use spell-checker but… come on! Use spell-checker for Christ’s sake! You don’t even have to do anything! Do you have a bunch of words in your story underlined with squiggly red lines? That means they could very well be spelled wrong! Open your friggin’ eyes!

There were a number of times I really, really, really wanted to send this rejection email.

“Dear Person How Pounded a Keyboard Randomly With Their Meaty Fingers. Are you kidding? This is a joke, right? You’re not seriously hoping I’ll print this garbage, are you? Did you even read it yourself? I tried, because that’s sort of my job, but I couldn’t get past the first fifteen or so words without vomiting all over my computer. Look, I’ll be blunt. You suck. The story sucks, yes, but more than that, you suck. If you honestly think this story is the best you can do, you should not be writing. Anything. Not fiction. Not non-fiction. Not a grocery list. I would go into detail on what was wrong with your story, but I have a life. And you, quite obviously, don’t. Best of luck with the whole ‘breathing’ thing. I’m guessing it might not come naturally for you. Oh, and just in case you haven’t picked up the hint, I’m rejecting your story. I’m rejecting you. Because you suck. Sincerely, The Publisher.”

But I didn’t. Instead, I generally sent something like this.

“Dear Author. Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, it’s not what we’re looking for right now. Best of luck in the future. The Publisher.”

All of this is simply my way of acknowledging the very nice people who rejected my story in such a kind, humane way. They did it the right way. Probably better than I would have been able to do.

Ironically, I’d already marked down that the story was rejected by them last month, and submitted it elsewhere. Huh.

 

War Against the Wall-Eye Not Going Well

Comrades!

These are difficult times, indeed. Our major offensive against the Wall-Eye has failed, and our forces are in retreat. The brave men and women gave their all, but they were simply no match for the diabolical cunning of these cruel, merciless creatures.

The assault began when the 5th Regiment, made up mostly of out-of-work circus performers, rounded Bulbous Bluff. These 23 men, women, and monkeys hefted their pitchforks and rolled-up Yo-Yos and stepped past the big rock that looks like Gilbert Gottfried ready for anything.

But what they encountered was not anything. It was something. Something horrible. Hundreds of ravenous Wall-Eye launched a counter offensive, leaping into mouths hanging open in shock, and burrowing their way through our soldiers’ soft, fleshy bodies. The bluff was awash in blood before an organized retreat could be called for, and only seven of our men and women (none of the monkey’s made it) survived.

Not content to obliterate the Fighting Fifth, the Wall-Eye pressed their advance, forcing us to abandon Glassy Glade, Mellow Meadow, Oddly-Shaped Oasis, and about a third of Trenton, New Jersey. We apologize to the civilians abandoned in this time of chaos, and hope your new overlords butcher you all swiftly in the name of common decency.

All humans should know that this is but a single battle. Or rather, a bunch of battles all sort of connected. It is not the war. We will prevail in our struggle. If only because our opponents do not have opposable thumbs.

Remain vigilant!

walleye2

One of the foul demons an instant before it bit the head off of little Jimmy Skateboard–mullet and all.

Dr. Fell available for Pre-Order!

The happy, glorious day has arrived!

My debut novel from Crown Books for Young Readers, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com.

Pre-order your copy today!

Obviously, this is very exciting, and I’ll have more information in the future. For now, feast your eyes on the awesome cover!

drfell

 

http://www.amazon.com/Fell-Playground-Doom-David-Neilsen/dp/0399568395

http://www.amazon.com/Fell-Playground-Doom-David-Neilsen/dp/0399568395

A First Draft is Born

Last night, somewhere between Yonkers and Spuyten Duyvil on the Hudson River Line, I finished my first draft of Book #2.

I had already finished a rough draft a couple of weeks ago, and had been going through the manuscript line by line, word by word, cutting, fixing, making things fit, attempting to establish some continuity in the story, etc. And now, viola! A First Draft!

The manuscript is out to my steadfast early readers who, I am sure, will come back with all sorts of things wrong with it. That is their job–to ruin my day. I do not blame them, nor do I spend a lot of time at my altar burning entrails and cursing their names to the Elder Gods who will one day rise to wreak vengeance upon them. Honestly.

Having completed the draft, I now feel…. antsy. To start another story. So last night, somewhere between Spuyten Duyvil and Yonkers (going the other direction), I opened a blank page and pounded out a concept that got me all tingly and excited. Not that I don’t love Book #2 (though I am still searching for the right title, obviously), but I need to set it aside for a moment and wait for the feedback to come in before I swiftly create Draft #2. At which point I will send Book #2 (in Draft #2 form) to Awesome Agent and Excellent Editor and hope they like it. But I need something to occupy my creative time as I sit and wait. And wait. And burn entrails.

***

A treat! For you! No, really!

Last night, I preformed in RadioTheatre’s production of Fright Night in New York City. As the company is named RadioTheatre, and the style of live theater is quite audio-heavy, these shows lend themselves quite well to audio recordings.

So here’s a link to the audio from one of last night’s stories, Edgar Allan Poe’s “Berenice.” The recording features me as the main character and fellow RadioTheatre performer Cory Boughton as ‘Carter.’

The story is a little over 15 minutes long. So sit back, relax, pull down the shades, and enjoy Berenice.

I’m Having a Book Baby!

On August 9, 2016, my debut novel “Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom” will be published by Crown Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House.

That date is exactly 9 months from… yesterday. So I’ve got 9 months to go. Which seemed like a fine reason to bring up some sort of pregnancy metaphor, particularly since–much like when I was 9 months from the birth of my actual children–my work is already done.

I’ve seen the ARC (Advance Reader Copies). I’ve edited the version of the manuscript that is actually in the ARC. I’ve signed off on the art (not like I had a whole lot to do with it, but they let me pretend, which was nice).

Now the countdown begins (actually, the countdown started back when they bought the book, which was at about 16 months from publication, but I couldn’t think of any good 16-month countdown metaphors). For me, this means a lot of pacing back and forth and asking my wife if it’s August 9 yet. Although there are other milestones to be hit.

1) It will, soon I’m told, be available for pre-order. How cool is that? Though why anyone would pre-order a debut novel (except for, like, my Mom) is beyond me, but ya never know. Actually, I doubt my Mom will pre-order my book, because she’s probably expecting me to just give her a copy. Moms are like that.

1a) Cover reveal. Once the book is available for pre-order, I am allowed to reveal the cover art and get you all excited. Both of you. I think this is probably more exiting for established authors who have… what are those things called… oh yeah. Fans.

2) Audio recording. This is big for me because as an actor, and particularly a voice actor, I’m kinda-sorta hoping they’ll hire me to read my book. This happens, I’m told, in the Spring. So I’ve some time to kill before I find out.

3) Reviews start coming in. I don’t know when this happens, exactly. The ARCs are already out to some folks, and copies will go out to more at some point. And then we have to hope the people bother to read the book and review it, as many won’t. Still, that will be a big step.

There’s more. And it’s all so exciting. But I don’t want to give everything away in a single post. So come back soon and often to see what else goes into publishing a novel.

Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom – Coming August 9, 2016!

Rough Draft Complete!

Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance!

I have just now, like 30 seconds ago, finished the completed rough (so very, very rough) draft of my second book. Well, third book written, second to be published. Unless someone swoops in and wants to publish my first book before this third book is put out as my second.

Everyone with me still?

Now comes the fun part- cutting. I write Middle Grade horror/suspense. My first book (second to be written, but first to be published when it comes out in August) was just over 44,000 words long. I was asked to bring this one in at right around the same length. Early on, I asked if I could stretch that. So they hesitantly said 50,000 words. About a week ago, I notified my agent that it was going to come in under 70,000. He said something along the lines of “It sure as heck better!”

Final word count? 70,684.

So I’m close. That said, this is the roughest of rough drafts. I will go through it and I will nip and tuck and there will be some cruel and unusual punishments taken out on frivolent words. Then I have to get it out to my readers, and then get it back and make more edits, then get it to my agent, then get it back and make more edits, and then finally get it to the publisher. All by December 1.

Piece of cake. Just ignore any loud, booming sounds heard coming from my home for the month of November. They are more likely than not simply me pounding my head against the wall.

T-Minus One Week To Halloween

Halloween is kind of a big thing for me.

As a storyteller, October is my busiest month, and I am booked solid for most of the month. Some of my bookings for October occur months in advance, and my calendar fills up very quickly. I imagine it is the same for many storytellers in the area. For whatever reason, people are more open to hearing stories in October.

I’m sort of saying this as a public service announcement. You see, I am getting more and more inquiries asking if I can come perform at people’s Halloween parties the closer we get to Halloween. I got another one today. On October 25.

I’ve sort of, kind of, been booked for Oct 31 since, like, August.

So if any of you out there are thinking about getting a storyteller on Halloween itself (which is a great idea and I whole-heartedly endorse it), don’t wait until the week before Halloween to book your entertainment. The only storytellers available by then will be twitchy, wart-covered drunks named Blurty Blurt-Blurt. And he’s really bad. Trust me.