The Start of Something Big

On New Year’s Eve, just last year, I finished my first novel.

I’m going to pause to let that sink in and give your mind time to swirl around with all the ideas of what that could potentially mean.

Now I’m going to tell you how it went and what I’m looking at ahead of me, and at the end we’ll see if your head is still running down the midway of the Imagination Fair, or if it’s fallen asleep on its desk in the Study Hall of Reality.

Much like anybody who’s got a novel inside of them, I’ve always had a novel inside of me.  Well, lots of them I suppose, but there was one that I’d actually wanted to write for quite a long time now.  Ever since I met my wife really, as it was such a asskickingly romantic tale that it needed told.

Well, I’d run through some outlines a few times, bandying about ideas like those wet strands of spaghetti that you fling against the splashback tiles to see if it’s done, but I’d never actually sat down and written anything.  I had plenty to go with, but nothing having gone.

Then, through the magic of Facebook, I reconnected with a good friend of mine from my earliest career job, Scott.  Good ol’ Scooterberry humbly and aw-shucksy walked me through how he started a cool coding 3D-CAD software company, sold it to Google who then made Sketch-Up out of it, made a little girl named Audrey and is writing novels.

Well, one novel anyway.  One that he reckons he didn’t have the juice to get done until somebody smacked him in the face with their glove and challenged him to a duel.  Well, a race really.  And he probably wrote a few novels worth of short stories and LARP (powernerd gaming) characters.  He also designed the shit out of many websites and somehow casually created an entire Content Management System in his spare time (4 years before other web companies started marketing theirs).

So he’s a little bit brilliant, and he’s still my friend.  Go figure.  We used to spend hours, HOURS, playing foosball at a crappy old table in our old web employer’s offices before the Fall of the Dot Coms.  We used to trade insults and compliments that were frequently interchangeable and typically consisted of some manner of description of intercourse.

I begged and pleaded and Scotty sent me a copy of his novel.  It was awesome.  I mentioned I wanted to write one too.  He called me a “pussy” if I didn’t.  Well, he actually said something along the lines of “Join me!  We’ll race to write 50,000 words by the end of November, and if you don’t make at least 6,000 words a week, you’re a pussy!”

How could I resist?  So, I roped in the doc-in-law, Scotty grabbed two of his mates, and we were off.  Sort of like NaNoWriMo, except 2 months instead of 1.

The first bit was GREAT, with everybody throwing around character bios and story outlines, and giving each other feedback on what’s probably going to work and how we hope the other novels will end.

Then somebody’s busy with house renovations.  Then somebody else has to fly to Antarctica because they’re the only geologist that can save the penguins or some shit.  Then inspiration sits in the hot tub while the rest of us are cleaning up after the party.

Bit of a bummer.  But we plugged on.  After about 5 weeks, I think I was the only one to never miss my word counts.  Just for fun, I did 3,000 words one week to see if I got called a “pussy”.  I didn’t’.  Heh.

End of November hit, and nobody really had anything other than Scotty, who had taken much of that time to revise the novel he’d already written.  Well, unbeknownst to the rest of the crew, knownst only to wife really, I had set a goal to finish my novel by the end of the year.  December hit, and I was still writing.

My style changed as I went along, particularly after a friend, a published friend, told me I was good at dialogue.  Over the moon, I started writing more dialogue.  I don’t know about you, but 6,000 words a week is a LOT, particularly when you’re doing things other than writing.  When December hit, I went at my own pace, sometimes only 1,500 words in a week, but I was writing for the story, not for the word count.

Then the story changed on me.  It got longer and the ending was different.  My character developed into something that I hadn’t outlined and his relationships went even more in-depth.  It was great.  It was the kind of fun that I can only describe as “soul fulfilling”.

My soul was happy.  I was writing and writing and my soul was doing great.

And I was getting there.  But then the year was ending.  The kids were all staying at grandparents and I’d taken the week off for work, so I had sat down to write.  And write.  And wife cheered me on, and we were even a bit lax in our social commitments, just so I could write.

Well, I did it.  On New Year’s Eve, I finished.

And I haven’t even really started yet.  Uffda.

Stay tuned.  I shall be blogging here about where this process takes me.

Wish me luck.

Writing Books is hard, who knew?

In recent years I’ve found that my life is more passionate and fulfilling when I’ve got a project or two going on.  I don’t mean making a spice rack or cleaning out the back shed, though those are certainly up there, I mean creative pursuits.

Sometimes it’s a website, where I’ve put all of the neat SEO Analytics Tools that I’ve built in one spot, or a website that’s a blog comprised of web people making the web a better place.  Sometimes it’s learning how to make a cowboy hat, and other times it’s a new pair of medieval boots, that I’ve medievally made to wear in a medievally way.

So about the time that we were cleaning up the all the fallout from the Huge Storm in March, a buddy of mine and I had reconnected via Stalkbook, and he’d mentioned that he was actively doing that thing that he and I had talked about, writing books.  He’d worked on a few and finally had one that he was trying to get published.  I’ll mention at this point that I thought this meant "getting published" so I was instantly famous.

He talked about how hard it is to get yourself motivated to write, and how he’d been challenged to a Weekly Word Goal by another writer and in two months he’d cranked out this book.  He mentioned challenging me and I said I’d give it a shot, and then Life went goofy for another few months before he wrote again in September and we agreed to a start of October 1st, finishing the end of November.  50,000 words, about 6,000 a week, and invite other people in so we can shame each other weekly if we miss our mark.  I got my brother-in-law, Doc Sam, in on it, and lo-and-behold that sardonic, sarcastic, Dr. House-tastic medieval nerd is really talented.

We’ve been writing and emailing each other our results for weeks now, and have actually picked up a legitimately published novelist into the fold, which ups the ante a bit, as he’s shooting for 80,000 for just the month of November.  If he wasn’t Mormon, I’d tell him what huge nuts he has.  Heh, I’m kidding… I already did.

So, I’m pleased to say that I’m ~31,000 words into my first novel.  I’m writing fiction, though it’s a relatively idealised version of the story that brought me to Australia, with some creative license (I’ve made the hero much better-looking).  Sometimes I sit down and find it hard to concentrate through the spate of network television and children arguing over which Ben 10 alien is stronger, but other times, when it’s quiet, I sit and crank out 3,000 words like it’s nothing.

Like I did tonight, only almost all of them were in an email to my writing friend, who had recently sent me another copy of his novel, revision number 21, in which he’d changed some things quite drastically.  I’d written him previously screaming and threatening him because he’d killed one of my favourite characters.  I didn’t go all "Misery" on him, but I’m willing to bet that his ankles are sweating.  Heh, mostly I just told him about what it was like to read and what I want when I read murder-mysteries and stuff.  And then it occurred to me.

This Book Writing gig is hard.  Really hard.  21 revisions is a lot.  I mean, I’m looking at my novel ("my novel" don’t I sound pretentious!) and thinking 2 or 3 is going to do it, but I’ve been reading blogs and talking to the other dudes in this group, and they revise, and revise, and send out Query Letters to Literary Agents and wait… and wait…

And WAIT.

It’s a hugely involved process and I’m really looking forward to getting that First Big Step out of the way and writing the damn book.  Who knew there was all this extra work?!?

But you know what?  I’m doing it.  Just like all the other creative pursuits that I plunk out of my brain every few months, this one feels big.  I’m pretty excited.

Wish me luck.

Writing Stories

There’s a curious thing that happens when one is confronted with the intimidating and foreboding task of writing a novel. The first thing I thought of was that it would be a great way to tell a great story. But then I couldn’t think of any stories that would take over 50,000 words to tell. Of course, The Story is the only one that I figured I’d put to paper, for it’s a good one, but then you get into that whole changing the names to protect the innocent thing, and the question of how much truth do you want “out there” about your own relatively recent history is there too.

A couple of years ago, when I decided that I wanted to be a writer, I came up with some snatches of my “history” and decided to just be writing those. Stories about my hat, my middle child secretly decimating tomatoes and getting busted, my office job and the train rides to and fro, and any manner of stories from my childhood all came streaming out in a series of Word Documents that I cleverly formatted with a blue background and white text, because I knew it was easier on the eyes while reading the words off a screen (back in the days of the CRT screens particularly).

Then, in my mind’s meanderings across numerous lined pieces of paper, I sketched out even more stories that I thought were worthy of telling, something that I could put in real form, and then it hit me. So I wrote down what hit me, “Tell Stories – Lots of ’em! > Get a bunch of the good ones together > Make them into a book!” and then I grabbed the nearest clean piece of paper, one of my business cards, and wrote on the back “Write Something”. This became my mantra.

Of course, over the years things can make this task falter a bit here and there. And by “a bit” I mean my whole life sometimes decides to go up and down and sideways, like a dog shaking the shit out of a chewtoy. I won’t write out the laundry list of things, but suffice to say I didn’t always have “it” to sit down and Write Something. But I always wanted to.

Then a friend of mine, an old friend who used to be a co-worker and is probably one of my more favourite people on the planet (of which there are fewer than 50… maybe 75, so if you factor in people like my High School Chemistry teacher, my mother, my wife and John Mayer that’s really saying something), wrote me an email not long after his wife found me on Facebook. He’d always been into writing, usually creative powernerd stuff like role-playing games and sci-fi whimsicalations, but in recent years he’d written a book. He happily told me about a writing buddy that had challenged him to knock out a novel in 2 months. They picked a start date and an end date and taunted and shit-talked each other mercilessly until they’d finished.

And just like that, he’d put in some hard work meeting the weekly deadlines, sometimes NOT meeting them I’m sure which no doubt invoked the wrath of his buddy and repeated use of the word “pussy”. But he had a novel. An original work, something to be proud of, and something he could get published. Recently it has been explained to me that this is really only about one-third of the work ahead, for there is the revisions, oh the endless revisions! And then there’s finding a Literary Agent, and then they have to try and find somebody to publish it, it’s really all quite exhausting.

But, he’s doing it, and that’s something not a lot of people can say, though many, MANY want to. He also mentioned that he thought I was a good writer and that we should take up the same challenge so he could knock out another book. While I couldn’t’ remember him ever reading anything of mine, flattery will get you everywhere and I got excited. A few months passed, and more of Life’s Shit happens to me, but not long after he emailed me again and said that he really means it and we should get writing. Bolstered and energised by someone else’s energy, I said “Fuck yeah!” and we got on it. He invited in his crew and I brought in my sarcastically sardonic and disproportionately talented brother-in-law, the Doc.

And now we’re all doing it. Granted some of the Writing Boys have faltered and decided that Life Shit is winning for this round, but they’re still trying. The Doc is even making me proud by taking the somewhat random character creations that he’s used to, having only written for Live-Action Role-Playing games previously (what IS it with me and powernerds?), and weaving them together into a somewhat cohesive story. My old friend is writing something that’s still sci-fi-tastic, but I’m very much enjoying just because he’s quite captivating and writes different people extremely well. His first book is a teenage girl and a middle-aged carny that solve murders, and it’s EXCELLENT, so I’m really looking forward to when he’s published and making a mint so that I can scab beers off him at writer’s conferences.

Me? I’m writing a variation on the Love Story that brought me to Australia. It’s fiction, which was easier, and it’s idealised, which is more romantic, and it’s not really The Love Story so much as it’s a story about a boy whose got a unique take on a life in which things happen. He’s got stories, this boy, and I’m telling them one chunk at a time. The 6,000-Word Goal by midnight every Monday is great because I can tell a story in 1 or 2 thousand words and then I only have to tell 2 to 5 stories before that week is done.

The best part about telling stories is that you can weave in enough personal history so as to keep relevant to the overall plot, but you can use different stories to give a “feel” to the flow of the book. If it’s been too funny for too long, then something serious or sad can be put in, and vice versa. The character development and plotline can be sprinkled into just about any story that I’m telling, and there’s always good ones to tell.

Think about it, if you look back over the past month of your life, I bet you’ve got at least 5 stories in there that are worth telling. The time you went to the grocery store and the lady with the 5 kids all under 6 years old was walking around with her tit hanging out. Or the time you were at your mother-in-law’s 60th birthday party and the only cakes were made by two of the manliest men there and how much the crusty old gals liked that fact. Or how you answered the door to the electrician wearing a pirate hat, and how he told you all about “hurling” in his native Ireland in an accent that made you feel heart-giddy for a Guiness and more stories.

See, lots of stories happen to us. Well, they happen to me anyway, and I’ve started writing them down. And I’m taking the good ones, and I’m making a book out of them.

And in the mean time, I’m going to post some of the other stories that I’ve written, just for documentation’s sake, and to gather input and feedback and good-feelings and butt-strokings from randoms so that I can get a feel for what yet another book should be about.