Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Long and Short of it

For 13 years I've been slowly but surely shaping my writing. Along the way I thought to read how the experts have done it. I gorged on How-to writing books and built myself a nice collection of them. I spent time analyzing the construction of a short story and a novel. Within each book there was a general consensus about how long it takes from the process of the first draft to actually being published. So here's what I've gathered:

Average time it takes to write a book:

3 months to 10 years - Thomas Harris takes his books ten years at a time. J.A. Konrath has said on his blog that he can complete a book in a month. Aprilynne Pike finished her first book during her pregnancy. Charles Bukowski finished a book within a month. These are the rare exceptions to this rule.

Average time to edit a book -

2 months to 2 years

Average time to hear a response from a publisher:

3 weeks to 9 months

Average time it takes to release your book:

2 months to 1 year

That's the long and short of it. But in my opinion, write a good book of what you know, file it away for two weeks to a month, edit it, polish it, then send it out. There should be no good reason why it takes you 10 years to write a book.

Mr. Dead Eyes took me 6 years to write.

Wearing Donnie Torr took me 2 years.

For What It's Worth took me a little over 9 months to write.

So as the years go on, I've trimmed down the amount of time it takes to shape a story. Writing doesn't mean you have to obsess on every single detail and fervently consider every single word. Being meticulous like that will just stall you. Just heed Hemingway's advice: All you have to do is write one true sentence.

Then another.

Then another...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Writer Walks

Lately I've been experimenting with diets. I can tell you right now, that is not healthy. Instead of doing hard work I'm always looking for shortcuts when it comes to me trying to stay fit. Take yesterday, for example. I tried doing a ten day juice fast. Yep, just like in the one in Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead by Joe Cross. I was all set and ready to go. We got a juicer, several bags of fruits and vegetables and two containers.

On my last day of solid food I had Jambalaya and one cup of coffee ice cream.

The morning of, instead of a bagel or cereal, I chugged a full glass of vegetable juice. Everything was going great until 10am when I was at work. I started getting a massive headache, it was hard for me to focus and I was starting to get dizzy. The drive home was extremely long. By the time I settled in at home, I was bogged down, woozy, exhausted and on the brink of throwing up from just juice and no solids.

In the end, I cracked. I had water and some crackers and when my strength was up I had mac and cheese. Lasted 23 hours without solid food.

I think from now on I have to stick to taking better care of myself and not depend so much on shortcuts. From now on I think I should incorporate more salads and a juice every other day. Plus some Power90 exercises.

But I didn't want the weekend to pass without me doing something health driven. So when my father-in-law asked if I wanted to join an event in downtown Chicago, I jumped at the chance. It was a Feed America to defeat hunger thing.

Can you taste the irony?

Now, having fully emersed myself in hunger the day prior, I now know the seriousness of the situation. I got up by 6am and we got there by 8:30am. It was packed, there were people everywhere. It was a brisk 3 mile walk. Every person who registered counted as a donation to a food bank depository. If I remember correctly, for every person who signed up, that's 7 pounds of food donated.

We had a great view, talked to a couple of people and felt good. It was great knowing you can participate in something that's part of the big picture.

Afterwards, my father-in-law took my to lunch. I decided to be smart for once and order a wedge salad instead of my traditional burger. We chatted about exercise gimmicks, such as the shake-weight and the vibrating belt machine, comics, the pros and cons of remakes, reboots and DC and Marvel, and had a great time.

Basically, I no lika da juice.

Occasionally, yes, juice is fine. But not for the whole day. But at least I tried it out.

I feel way healthier than I did yesterday.

And who knows, maybe a short story will come out of this. Until then, I pull my chair back to the desk, open up the laptop and start typing away, throwing myself back into the writing.

Here's some footage of the walk.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Killer Instinct

A couple of days ago I finished reading Killer Instinct, the 400th book I've read in my life. I'm sure there are some that I have missed. And believe me, they drive me crazy, but I feel driven to read as many books as possible. To do that, I've cataloged the books I've read at Goodreads.

Now I was ready to move on to corporate thrillers.

So, Killer Instinct. How do I feel about it?


I've never really read Joe Finder until a couple of months ago. Usually I read Brad Meltzer for my conspiracy thriller fix. Joe Finder, however, has been needling me for a while. One of his books, Company Man, has been sitting on my book shelf for a while. Its my wife's copy. She told me one of her aunts suggested him. She stopped halfway through. "What's the matter?" I asked. "You didn't like it?"

"No," she said, "nothing like that. It was just so...suspenseful. I couldn't handle the stress."

Not such a bad blurb, huh Joe Finder?

And with that tidbit, I decided to dive right in. Not into Company Man, mind you, but a Nick Heller book called Vanished. It was really good. A great kickoff to an intriguing series. The author says that he's written the books, 2 so far, in a way where you could start anywhere in the series and not be lost.

Now, with Killer Instinct we have a unique good guy named Jason Stedman. He's an every man who hasn't been given his due. His wife is pressuring him to step up in the company, but that's hard to do when his boss loathes him. The story starts when Jason has some car trouble and is towed by an ex-military man, Kurt Semco, who bonds with Jason on the ride home. This Kurt guy has had it rough. He hasn't had a good job since a dishonorable discharge landed on his record. Jason decides to put in a good word to his company's security director and just like that, Kurt is working again. However, things go sour when Jason realizes that Kurt didn't tell him the whole story. It seems that Kurt is too good of a friend, sabotaging Jason's colleagues to boost his friend up in the company.

It's filled with a lot of surprise moments but also has some I could spot right away. Surprisingly, this didn't take away from the flow of the story. As with any villain in a story, I'm always hooked to see what happens at the end. The ending was a shock but I got over it.

So far, that's two great books from Joseph Finder. Have to hand it to him, he knows and loves what he's doing and it shows in his writing.

Maybe I'll give that Company Man a try now...

Monday, June 11, 2012

Drop Dead Healthy

When I first sat down to read this book on my kindle, I had a clear idea of how committed this writer really is to experimentation and research. I’ve read The Know-it-all and The Year of Living biblically and enjoyed them both. This author has the perfect balance of facts and humor that I’ve ever read.

Not only does he plunge himself into the subjects he tackles but he does so for months or even years, reading every book on the subject he intends to document.

So when I heard that he was completing his, what he calls, “Mind, Body and Soul Trilogy”, I had to buy it right away. Chances are I will read it again.

Since this is a non-fiction book, I decided to review it in three ways: entertainment, interesting and what I’ve learned.

Is it entertaining?

Yes, extremely. I marveled at the wealth of facts he’s unearthed on health myths and just how far some people will go to remain healthy. Some fanatics are so into their own health clicks that they don’t even know they are causing more harm than good. Like his other books, there were times when I had to put the book down because I had to walk off a laugh-out-loud moment. My wife thought I was crazy. I was so immersed and interested in knowing these healthy weirdoes. I laughed at the fact that there are people out there in public parks running around like cavemen thinking that doing so is the pinnacle of healthy living. I doubled over in a giggle fit finding out that the writer hurt his shoulder kayaking on the Wii console, or through his misadventures during a Laugh-Yoga class, or finding out that cursing alleviates stubbed toe pain. Yes, the laughs are not on every single page but there were more than enough to keep me reading.

Is it interesting?

I would say so. I was particularly surprised at just how many Health habits aren’t good for you. There are people addicted to exercising or never getting sick. There are people obsessed with Whole Foods when really you will still find sugar around every corner and the only thing getting slimmer is your own wallet. As for the diets, he’s tried them all. He even covered the South Beach Diet which I was on at one point. Yes it made me slim down slightly but I felt miserable the whole time.

What I’ve learned?

Since reading this book, I’ve become a firm believer in Chewdism. While I won’t spend a full minute chewing my food, I do find myself slowing down and chewing my food more. I know that chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is good for your heart. I’ve become more health conscious, joining weight watchers to track my meals and doing Power90 exercises (35 minutes on weekdays) and feeling good about it. Whenever I can, I get up and walk around. I’m actually interested in buying a pedometer to measure how many steps I take in a regular work day. I used to be part Hypochondriac and part OCD but now I’m actively taking steps to limit those stray thoughts and feeling less worrisome about it. I now make a list of things I know I should not have: No Soda, No Ice Cream, No Burritos. In short, this book motivated me to get fit quick.

As for the people who try to knock this one man’s efforts, I would say that they should know that it isn’t really all that healthy leaving a bad review to a well-researched, two-year invested, delightful escape into one subject that is so easy to laugh about. I mean, come on, the guy wrote this entire book while on a treadmill, that’s commitment right there.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tales From My Desk #4

This afternoon, after making a donut run for my wife, I decided to just sit back and chillax. We watched some Parks and Recreation for a bit and I read some.

My wife suggested we do something today, maybe head to a bookstore.

I was up and out of my seat before she could even react.

"Yes!" I said as I busied myself with sandals and gathering my keys and wallet.

We were out the door.

We visited a Barnes and Noble in Bolingbrook and I noticed several books. As I walked around I was reminded of authors who were discovered and told my wife of a few of them.

Justin Halpern, the breakout author of 2010, just came out with a new book called I Suck At Girls. His first book originated from quotes from his dad which he would put up on Twitter. An agent contacted him and he was well on his way.

Jen Lancaster, author of Bitter is The New Black, was discovered while she was writing a blog chronicling her struggles with trying to find a new job. I recently listened to her first book and liked it a lot.

I combed the literature, mystery and memoir section. But in the end, I settled on P.S. Your Cat is Dead.

When we got back home, I started re-reading bits of J.A. Konrath's book: A Newbie's Guide To Self-Publishing. If you have the chance, check it out. It's one of the best guides I've found. Right up there with On Writing and Zen in The Art of Writing.

On the writing front, I haven't been doing much creating.

Just editing.

But now I'm finally done. I just have one or two more tweaks to go and the book will be complete. At the beginning it was around 60,000 words but now it has been trimmed to a proper 56, 259. It's easy for me to see that I had 3,741 words of fat. It wasn't easy but it was needed.

Funny, I started writing this collection fresh off the heels of my first one back in 2009. Happy to say that my writing has changed a lot from then to now. I've becoming hyper-aware of the mistakes I've made along the way, compiling a list of lessons I've learned.

- Don't use the word "had" so much. People hate that.
- Don't pull any punches, people will notice.
- Show, don't tell.
- Run-on sentences are acceptable some of the time but not if it stalls the action.
- It's okay if you divert from the outline. That makes it even better!
- Commas, sometimes, well, y'know, get in the way of, well, a story and stalls it. So knock it off.
- Don't try to be clever or poetic with your prose. Let it evolve naturally.

Meanwhile, I've been debating whether I should make a list of every project I'm working on and their word count to see which one needs more love and which ones can wait. Last I checked, my next short story collection is hovering around 27,000 words. I have five books that are at forty pages each as well.

Pretty soon I'll have to get to reviewing some books like I promised.

And I haven't even started Mr. Dead Eyes 2.

But we'll see. Just have to keep on truckin'.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tales From My Desk #3

Once, just a few short months ago, I had a dream I was sitting in a parked car in an abandoned parking lot outside of a supermarket. It was nighttime. I was in the passenger seat, eyeing the driver as he thumbed threw a hefty stack of papers. In the dream, I recognized the man to be Richard Matheson. He was considering the pages with a cryptic glare. Meticulously he'd finish another paper and hand them to me.

When he finally arrived at the end of this, maybe 200 page book, he nodded and set the paper down in his lap.

"So," I remember saying, "Is it good? Should I continue?"

He turned to me then and said, "Yes, it's very good. I think you should publish it."

In a snap, the dream ended.

Since then, I've been feverishly compiling my ideas, making lists, really getting down to work. I feel very upset that Ray Bradbury, a very good writer, has passed. I feel more upset by this than I did when J.D. Salinger passed for some reason. It could be that he was born in Illinois. Maybe that's why it struck so close to home.

The night before, Venus passed the sun. These two pivotal events conjure up so many images in my mind. Often this sparks the ideas or concepts I wish to work on.


Every day, Ray Bradbury would go to his desk and start a word list, similar to the one above. Then he would try to craft stories around those words. Did you know that?

Recently, I finished his book Zen in The Art Of Writing. It was very profound. A classic. I have a feeling that's the last how-to book on writing that I'll ever need.

I guess I'm not surprised that he had written every single day of his life since he was ten years old.

Why not? He loved to do it.

To him, breathing life into words was not a was a privilege. One that he had the opportunity to practice for 91 years.

Now, as I sit at my desk, I pay tribute to those who have sat down like I have, fumbled at the words like I have, walked away from it and then come crawling back to it like I have.

I think Gene Wilder said it best:

"We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams."

Meanwhile, I'm still swamped.

I just sent a CD of a voice demo to a talent agency here in Chicago. Soon, I'll send to the other three.

On the writing front, I'm nine pages away from completing the final edits.

I'm jazzed to get back into writing some more novellas and hopefully tackle that next novel.

One of my friends wants me to collaborate with him. That's exciting.

As for inspiration? That will come later.

The important thing is to write.

Write now.