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Book Review: Kings of the Wyld

Last week, I posted about my nascent querying process. I made reference to Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames as one of my two “comp titles,” because every proper query must include two titles that your book is exactly the same as, but different from. It’s The Cat in the Hat mixed with Debbie Does Dallas.

Sorry, that wasn’t a very good comp. They have to be modern titles, you see. Other than that, the pairing works perfectly. Like Bordeaux and Kraft Dinner.

I struggled with my comp titles throughout most of the first two drafts of my work-in-progress. Part Star Wars, part Game of Thrones. Except it’s neither sci-fi nor epic fantasy. Oh, and set in the real world.

Can’t imagine why it took three drafts to figure out what the hell I was doing. 

I always had an idea for what I wanted to do with it, but when the words hit the page, I couldn’t make them go that way. 

Then I read Kings of the Wyld. Wow.

Forget comp title. This bad boy opened up my world as to what was possible in genre writing. I finally figured out how to fix that major ho-hum in my WIP. Turns out it was what I always wanted to do with it, but Kings of the Wyld finally gave me permission. 

Wait, is that why we’re supposed to find current books to comp? 

So consider this my book review, my book report a year or two late. And a desperate attempt to milk one more post outta that damned Work-In-Process.

Anything to avoid querying, amirite?

Kings of the Wyld and its sequel start with a simple premise that deconstructs an underlying trope of epic fantasy. You know that rough-and-tumble group of adventurers who put their differences aside and origins together to “band together” and save the princess/town/kingdom from the wizard/dragon/demon? Well, they’re basically rock stars. What if they were actually rock stars?

That’s the premise of the series: adventurers act like your standard classic rock band. The front man tunes his axe while the wizard in the background twirls his twin daggers a la drumsticks. The “band” at the core of this book, named Saga, goes through bards like Spinal Tap does drummers. They don’t even remember how certain ones died.

The trios and quartets and quintets go on tours, traveling from city to city to defeat the monsters, then sticking around long enough for the sex and booze before moving on to the next town booked by their agent. 

At least that’s how it used to be. But like our real rock gods, the members of Saga have aged. Retired, even. Nowadays, from their perspective, these glam-rock noobs stage arena shows predicated on flash instead of substance. They even use makeup! Imagine Duane Allmann showing up at a Twisted Sister concert. Or even better, Backstreet Boys.

Except there are manticores and walking trees and shit. 

The inciting incident occurs when one of the old dudes’ daughter joined a band of her own and now needs help. What more do you want from your epic fantasy than an opening salvo of, “Let’s get the band back together.”

So part swords and sorcerers, part music appreciation, with a healthy dose of us old farts adjusting to the fact that we can’t do what we once could. Of course, we have wisdom now, but is the increase in that attribute enough to counteract the loss of strength, dexterity, and constitution all at once?

Ugh, my constitution used to be so strong. The worst part about my school reopening is retraining my bladder and bowels. Ninetyminutes between pees, six hours without pooping.

Sorry, TMI? Well the good news is you probably won’t see that being discussed in Kings of the Wyld. It often toed the line, it often hinted it might go full camp, but it never does. Every time I thought they were going to abandon the fantasy element for the rock motif, it always steered back. 

One part that stuck out was a battle of the bands with one of these newfangled boy bands. The lead up felt about 70% Led Zeppelin vs. NKOTB” and maybe 30% “Roll a d20.” They went to a bar the night before, met fans of the new band, heard all the rumors of their own demise. Some of the patrons didn’t remember Saga, while others told rumors about the old band a la Ozzy Osborne. Pretty much nobody believes they are who they say they are until they damn near burn the place down. 

Do you think David Lee Roth has similar stories from, say, the mid-nineties?

When they show up at the arena for the Battle of the Bands, however, a griffin breaks free from its chain and almost kills everyone. All of a sudden, it’s standard sword-and-sorcery, battle-the-monster type stuff. The band works together like an experienced group of adventurers and save the day, all the while creating a new generation of fans. Even those young whippersnapper adventurers learned a thing or two about how shit was dealt with back in the day, when the circumstance presaged the pomp.

That’s what I meant by always choosing the straight path when given the option. Eames constantly approached the line between campy and serious, but he never crossed it. In fact, as the book went on, once the premise was laid, he didn’t lean into it as much. The second half of the book was maybe eighty to ninety percent something you’d read from Brandon Sanderson or Geroge R.R. Martin, although not quite as wordy. He’d established the premise, he’d hooked us onto the characters, now he was telling their story.

Aas I was reading it, I was continuously surprised at how dense it was. A lot of the fantasy I’ve read the last few years are in the vein of Critical Failures or NPCs, two series that don’t take themselves seriously enough to notice there was supposed to be a line between comedy and prose. They’re quick, fun reads. I kept expecting Kings of the Wyld to take on that pacing, but it didn’t. Two equally gratifying “fixes” to the glut of epic fantasy out there.

So how does this all play into my work-in-progress? I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s intended to be part alternative history, part low fantasy. It was intended to be more of the fomer than the latter, but as I wrote it, it felt more fantasy than history. Writing a “Middle Ages that never ended” lends itself to e Olde Tyme Language. I wanted to sprinkle in a bunch of modern references. The flash fiction from which it was born featured Zip-Lock bags, and while there were a handful of real-life people, as all proper alternative histories must, they were buried in the background. I was afraid to feature them.

As I was writing, the naive POV character trying to make sense of the world took over. When he’s knee deep in profound questions about the nature of feudalism and “the world is not what it seems” seems like a bad time to drop in a “Where’s the Beef?” 

Or maybe that’s the PERFECT time to drop in a “Where’s the Beef!” That’s what Kings of the Wyld taught me. Instead of toning down the tongue-in-cheek, I could lean into it and still not let it take over the narrative.

These toungue-in-cheek moments were always part of the plan, rarely in the execution. Among the first “scenes” that popped into my head, in fact one of the phrases in the original flash fiction, was turning the Prince lyric into olde tyme speeche: “Let us feast, frivol. Let us party like ’tis nineteen hundred ninety-and-nine.” 

But every time it came to dropping one of those into the writing, I got scared. The book must take itself seriously!

Except maybe it doesn’t.

I dabbed my foot into this Brave New World with a campy Spice Girls reference that I’d planned but shied away from. When I sent the first batch to a couple of beta readers, out of 10,000 words of introduction, with at least three bona fide characters to connect with and a myriad of worldbuilding mysteries, what was the one response that everyone had? “I really liked the Spice Girls part.”

Great. The only part they glommed onto was the throw-in that had little to do with the plot. Why should I bother writing the other 90,000 words if I could’ve just gone Spice Girls for 500 pages.

Except, of course, the Spice Girls only works as an accoutrement. Christmas ornaments only work if they’ve got a tree to hang on. 

Nicholas Eames did a great job of toeing that line. I knew when he was being funny and when he was being serious. At least, by the end I did. Early on, I thought there must be some jokes I was missing, and that feeling continued as he phased away from the rock references. In the second half, they became rarer as the conflict and the characters we’ve come to care about took over the plot. I find myself following a similar pattern. The first few drop-ins are lengthier, more developed. They need to hook the reader. In the later chapters they’re only there as a reminder. By then, the reader needs to care about the characters.

That’s what brought me to Kings of the Wyld. If it was reviewed as “old adventurers are forced to fight again when a daughter is in trouble,” I wouldn’t have sought it out. But “In a world where they are treated like rock gods, four retired adventurers decide it’s time to ‘get the band back together!’? Hell yeah! So if my book becomes known for the Spice Girls and nothing else… shit, I’d LOVE for my book to be known for something. Anything.

To be fair, I still worry when I drop in 1990s vernacular. Will the agent/editor/publisher/reader realize that a wee peasant lass dropping an, “As if!” is intentional, and not just the markings of a writer who doesn’t understand that modern parlances shall not grace Medieval literature. Not that “as if” is modern parlance, but you know what I mean. I’ve read far too many “period pieces” only to find myself diving for a dictionary to verify my assumption that that word didn’t exist until 100 years later. Sorry, your Civil War soldier isn’t worried that his life is going into a “tailspin” forty years before the first airplane.

But you gotta take some risks if you want to stick out of the slush pile, to say nothing of the thousands of published works that also found their own way out of it. 

The good news is I now know it can be done.

But it must be done well.

Shit. 

#amquerying (almost)

On this Easter Monday, perhaps I should chat about the Book Eternal.

No, I’m not talking about the bible. I’m talking about my Work-in-Progess that started somewhere in the Obama administration, and is still sitting in about twelve different files, four different versions, on my laptop.

Kinda feels like it’s been around since Roman times. All it’s missing is some divine inspiration.

When I first referenced this work-in-progress, it was a flash fiction I wrote that started a black hole of my brain. The following week, I posted the first draft of the scene in the book that correlated to that initial idea nugget. It was still in EXTREMELY first-draft mode. Not that I understood the difference between first and later drafts back then. I still don’t.

If I ever get an agent, and that agent okays me posting some of my content for free, maybe I’ll pair those with the “final draft.”

Is there such a thing as a final draft?

I’m currently on chapter five of my third work-in-progress (fourth, if you count my first aborted attempt at “autobiographical fiction”). I know it’s a normal reaction, opining how shitty it is compared to the one that’s on its third draft. When left brain takes over, I remember how often that first WIP felt like a smoking pile of dung-heap. All the characters were boring, but especially the main one. The action was plodding and predictable, the writing full of clichés and prone to use five words when two will do. 

Even worse, I think to myself, is that this new book is horribly dry compared to my lightning-in-the-bottle first book, and that first book hasn’t even been accepted by a literary agent, much less sold to a publisher.

Of course, I haven’t actually shopped it to any agents. I’ve heard that helps?

Damn you, publishing world! Why can’t you crawl into my computer whilst I sleep and see the brilliance that I’ve written? Maybe I should ask the dude I send a bitcoin to every month for the alleged pictures he took of me doing certain things on a webcam also get me place my book into a “to be published” folder at Simon & Schuster. Or Simon & Garfunkel. I’m not too particular.

Am I the only one who does this? One time, a writing podcast was reviewing ways to make progressions feel earned, character-driven instead of plot-derived. I’m looking at you, “How I Met Your Mother” finale. Yes, I’m still bitter.

While listening to the podcast, I thought to myself, might’ve even spoken aloud to the empty car, “I fucking did that! Why the hell aren’t I published yet?” Then I remembered I hadn’t actually finished writing the novel. It was still sitting at 60,000 words where I left it when I gave up on it six months earlier. Because it was boring and predictable and full of cliches. 

Damn you, publishing world! Why can’t you crawl into my computer whilst I sleep and finish my manuscript. Maybe I should get my friendly neighborhood hacker on that. Google keeps telling me all my passwords are hacked. All I have to do is make my passwords 100,000 words long and…

Anything to avoid working on that query letter.

I just spent a weekend delving into the querying process, and let me just say that rabbit hole is deeeeeeeeep! I’m talking Fantastic Mr. Fox level, needing a tractor to sift through all the bullshit that rabbit holed through.

My first foray came via Pitch Wars, a made-for-Twitter event where you condense your life’s work, your magnum opus, down to two-hundred-forty characters. Well, you need to throw a bunch of hashtags in, so it’s really more like two-hundred. I thought I had it down pat, at least until I saw it on my phone screen. Yikes! So I re-wrote it, and again, and again. You’re allowed to tweet your pitch three times in a day. My three pitches were as distant from each other as can be while describing the same book. Unfortunately, none garnered a like from agents, so I can’t figure out which one “worked.”

Next up: the query letter. The good news  could use more than thirty words. The bad news was I now had to introduce myself as well as the book. I had to greet the agent like she’s a real-live human being and not a simulacrum, a Twitter bot searching for a specific keyword.

And don’t forget that hook. Like my students do, with a rhetorical question. 

“Have you ever been king of France?” they often inquire. “Looking for a way to control the nobles, all the while owning a plot of land precisely twelve miles from the center of Paris?”

“Why no,” I respond, cursing English teachers for providing only one rhetorical crutch. “What an oddly specific question to ask of a position that hasn’t existed for a hundred and fifty years. Does one often respond yes to such a quandary?”

But what the hell. If a history teacher reading thirty essays gets tired of that hook, I doubt literary agents who get thousands of unsolicited drivel will mind.

“Dear agent,
Have you ever poured five fucking years into a hot pile of garbage and have finally whittled that steaming feces into something your mom describes as ‘better than what you wrote in third grade’?”

Hold on, I need to go check all those manuscript requests flooding my inbox.

I read plenty of how-tos and don’t-dos over the years, so I knew what to expect. I subscribe to Query Shark where we all laugh at atrocious query letters. I follow writers at varying stages of their career, listen to podcasts. I figured I had it dialed.

Until I sat down to write it, at which point I promptly became a third-grader learning to write for the first time. 

In a foreign language.

Seriously, I’ve written over a million words and now all of a sudden, I’ve lost all ability to communicate via written word. Stephen King says that once I pass a million, I’m a real writer. Do I have to write an extra million in business-letter format?

It shouldn’t be this difficult. All you have to do is be sincere, but not drab. Stick out from the slush pile, but don’t say anything outlandish. Follow the formula, but don’t be formulaic. Opaque much?

It doesn’t help that most of the “sample” query letters start with phrases like, “I’ve written seven previous best-sellers” or “I have 25,000 social media followers” or “You asked me for my manuscript at that one writing conference.” If I’d written a bunch of best-sellers, I probably wouldn’t be looking for an agent. And writing conferences haven’t existed for a year.

Ironically, I did write up a little “elevator pitch” for my book back when I was about halfway done. On its own, it kinda pops. Intrigue, a basic establishment of plot and character, a couple of non-rhetorical questions to whet one’s appetite. Yet when I drop it into the second paragraph of a query letter, I’m all of a sudden second-guessing myself. It’s too focused on the worldbuilding, the MacGuffin that sets my 90k words apart from all those other batches of 90k words. 

The query gods say I should focus more on the character, less on the setting. Also, it should read like the back of a book. But most of the book covers I’ve read focus more on inciting incident than on character. The characters are what keeps us in the book, but isn’t the setting what draws us in the first place? Star Wars starts with an imperial cruiser, not whiney Luke.

So let’s see if I got this straight. Introduce the character and the setting and the MacGuffin and the inciting incident. Plus the major plot progressions and other conflicts and themes. Maybe throw in the character’s social security number and mother’s date of birth. All in a sentence and a half. Got it!

With that out of the way, it’s time to find what lucky agent gets my speed dating salvo.

Holy shit! There are quite a few of them thar agents.

Time to pare this down. They suggest looking up the agents of books you liked. Or the books you’re going to use as comp titles. Because we all must have comp titles, published in the last five minutes because after you get your agent, it’ll still be seven decades before the book finds an editor and another three centuries before the traditional publishing houses will put it on the shelf. So you need to prove your book has a market right now. 

Fine. Kings of the Wyld is one of the books I’m comping. It came out in 2017, two years after I started writing my book, and its sequel came out last year. Zeitgeisty enough. Unfortunately, Nicholas Eames is Canadian, as is his agent and agency. Plus they’re not taking submissions. Maybe not the best place to start.

So I went to the “Manuscript Wish List” website to search for agents who liked Kings of the Wyld. Found two. Unfortunately, one of them cited the multi-character viewpoint as her main takeaway. Well shit, that’s not why I’m comping it. Come back next week to see why I’m comping Kings of the Wyld. My first book review in a while and yet another post milked out of the WIP That Will Not Die.

My other comp title is Ready Player One. It shouldn’t surprise that most agents who liked that book are looking for Sci-Fi, not alternative history. Strike two.

What about the agent that actually represented Ready Player One? She’s unavailable, unattainable. She left her old agency to start her own agency, but is taking no new clients. In addition to Ernest Cline, who got a seven-figure advance for his second book to say nothing of movie rights, she has one other huge client, which I imagine is enough for both workload and income.

That’s the problem with querying comp titles and “authors I like.” Those who come to mind are successful, and many an agent retire upon capturing their white whales. Let’s do a rundown of authors who’ve inspired me.

Check Wendig and Delilah Dawson have the same agent. She’s closed to queries.

Kevin Hearne has a private, part-timish agent who only represents him.

I’m not gonna bother looking at Stephen King’s agent. If I were his agent, I would spend all my time updating the lock on the safe that contains my four-leaf-clover-embossed, golden-rabbit-foot horseshoe. Except for the one day a month I get another 2,000-page best-seller from my one and only client.

Harry Turtledove is a prolific alternative history writer, and his agent is, at least in theory, taking queries. But after a gander at his rep list, ain’t no fucking way. There are like fifty names on there, some of which are whipper-snapper upstarts like Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Terry Goodkind, and Johnnie Cohcran. Yes, that Johnnie Cochran. 

On a positive, half those guys are dead, so I won’t have to worry about a huge influx of new material from this guy’s other clients. But sheesh. I doubt he’s devoting his time to explain publishing nuances to some wide-eyed noob.

I guess what I’m looking for is the sweet spot in the middle. A magical agent who has some, but not too many, successful clients. Whose authors I admire, but who I can write as well as. 

Once I find that agent, all I need to do is come up with a pithy sentence that tells him or her that I’m the perfect reincarnation of their best clients, totally worth the time they’d spend reading through my drivel, and that fits perfectly into the publishing world of today, being exactly like countless other books on the bestseller list no more than three weeks ago. But it’s also completely original!

Or I could spend the next few hours adding more agents to my spreadsheet and wait for the hackers to do their work.

Maybe Shakespeare’s agent is available.

Finished Book Two

I just won NaNoWriMo! Woo-hoo!

Unfortunately, it was NaNoWriMo 2018. Do they still have badges for that? 

Whatever. For only the second time in my life, I finished a novel last week.

Writing, that is. If I only finished reading the second novel of my life at the age of 46, I doubt I’d be trumpeting quite so loudly.

Although sometimes, when looking at the drivel I put onto a page, one might presume I’ve never actually learned how to comprehend the English language anywhere beyond “See Jane barf. See Dick dick.”

I could barely contain my giggling in the background while listening to Daughter’s first grade class work on their vocab. “Don’t let the cat <Blank> you.” “Theo and Jana <Blanked> the sandwich.” And my personal favorite, “I decided to <Blank> to the finish line.”

(The answers were scratch, split, and sprint, you sicko!)

In my mind, Book Number One took five years to write, but I never bothered looking at the stats. It turns out I was overshooting. Or undershooting, depending on what one defines as “writing.” 

According to Microsoft Word, I began Book Number One on April 1, 2014. I thought it was a NaNoWriMo novel, but that start date implies it was Camp, not NaNo proper. Not that it makes a difference. I’ve never won any NaNo, whether April or July or November. While I could probably shit out 50,000 words in a month, I wouldn’t consider it “Novel Writing.” Nor would it be be a complete novel.

My daughter, by the way, was born one month later, in May of 2014. If I couldn’t finish a book in a month with no child and Wife mostly immobile, it’s safe to say it ain’t ever happening. One November, I had a student teacher, which necessitated me to  vacate my classroom and sit in the staff room with my laptop every day. It also gave me two fewer class periods to prep and grade. I still didn’t “Win” that NaNo.

To be fair, Book One wasn’t really my first attempt. I started a hot pile of puke for NaNoWriMo in 2013, a “semi-autobiographical” retelling of my trip to Mardi Gras as a wee lad. I say “semi” because said trip happened in 2000, thirteen years earlier, and I can barely remember what I taught yesterday. I was also rip-roaring drunk a substantial portion of Mardi Gras, so even if I’d woken up every morning and written down what happened the night before, it would’ve been half-accurate at best. One morning I awoke with my jaw hurting like hell. A day or two later I remembered taking a punch to the chin while trying to break up a fight. Whether or not I broke up said fight remains a mystery twenty years later.

So yeah, that “book” made it to somewhere in the 30-40,000 word and shall grow no more. NaNoWriMo might consider that 80% of a full book, but it ain’t. Not that any of my books are likely to see the light of day, but that one shouldn’t even grace my computer screen. There’s a reason weed journals aren’t on the New York Times bestseller lists, because none of our lives are quite so hilarious as we are led to believe. 

Still, it was probably a good first attempt. Write what you know, they say. If I was ever going to push anything beyond 5,000 words or so, it probably helped that I didn’t need to plot things out, or get to know my characters. Who knows, maybe I’ll salvage some of it for blog posts some February. After all, “embellished life stories” might as well be the subtitle here.

According to Microsoft, I “finished” Book One on June 8, 2017. So not five years. More like three and some change. But it still isn’t really finished, and it’s now been six-and-a-half years. If I split the difference on those two, it’s five years, give or take.

I remember writing the last line of that book. It was a “planned” book, as opposed to a “pantsed” book, but in reality it ended up being very little like the plan. The character that was supposed to die at the end of Act II lived until the end of Act III, while at least two characters who were supposed to survive the book didn’t make it that far. One because he swapped places with the “planned” Act II death, and another because I got tired of typing all the apostrophes in his accent.

But I knew the tentpoles of the plot. I always knew what major plot point I had to get to, and the next one after that. As such, that final line was pre-ordained for three years. I might not have enunciated it in the planning stage, but by the time I was 10K words in or so, I knew precisely how it would end. The month leading up to it was both exciting and scary. I remember the feeling that June afternoon, sitting in a pub while waiting for Wife and Daughter to meet me at a baseball game, as I wrote paragraphs leading up to it.

Is this it?

One more paragraph.

Is this it?

Nah, make him go around the bend, and then…

Is this it?

Holy shit, I just finished a book.

Now what?

I guess I’ll start Book Two.

To be clear, Book Two isn’t a sequel to Book One. I’ve heard that’s a big-time no-no. Because when the editor tells me not to kill off Character One, make it Character Two instead, that’ll make Character Two’s super-important arc in Book Four super awkward. Not saying you can’t teach an old zombie new tricks, but it requires a fair amount of backtracking. During a NaNo write-in, I once met somebody who was writing the SEVENTH book in an unpublished series. Man, I hope he never has to go back and edit book one. I’m guessing some character motivations have changed in the interceding six tomes. At least I hope so.

One of my characters changed quite a bit during this book. I know that because I wanted the last chapter to mirror an earlier chapter, so I did a bit of side-by-side writing. Wow, did I really start out the character that way? He’s always been crass, but by the end of the book he’s more crude jokester. On the re-read, he’s kind of a dick early on. He also seemed to have a son in Chapter Four, but it’s a daughter by the end. I’m not sure what her name is. I kept writing [Daughter] in the final chapters, certain that I named her at some point, and when I find said name, I’ll fill it back in. This might be the problem with taking six month breaks from writing throughout the course of the book.

Sorry, let’s double back to the statistics. Book Number Two’s file was created on October 10, 2018, but I don’t think I actually started writing it then. That sounds like prime “NaNo Prep” range. The first page still has a little preview blurb, again only covering the start of the book. So I can safely assume I didn’t start the novel proper until November 1, 2018. Oh, maybe October 31, because I’ve been known to fudge a little. If it’s past 9:00 PM in California, it’s already the next day on the east coast. Heck, 4:00 PM nets me midnight GMT. It’s not like I use the extra couple hours to push me across the finish line. I promise, if I ever start at 4:00 on 10/31, I will not accept a win after 4:00 on 11/30.

Regardless of whether I started on 10/10 or 10/31 or 11/1, the fact that I finished it in November of 2020 puts it at just about a two-year novel. Not quite half of my first one, but in that range. Maybe by the time I get to book five, I can cut it to a year. I’ll still never figure out how Michael Connelly and Lee Child (pre-retirement) can churn out 17 or so books per year. It takes me longer to read their books than it takes them to write them.

Writing the ending of Book Two was a lot less cathartic than Book One. I’m sure part of it is the law of diminishing returns. After all, Book One wasn’t only a 3.5-year journey, it was a 40+ year one. Finishing any book would’ve fired off endorphins. With Book Two, it’s a matter of been there, done that. And considering that Book One is still in the editing process, experience tells me that getting to the end is little more than a checkpoint. I feel sorry for Stephen King. Does he get any joy out of finishing a book?

On the other hand, he’s a multi-millionaire who gets a movie deal every time he has a bowel movement, so maybe I should hold off on my pity. It’s like when Billy Joel says he would’ve liked to have been a history teacher. I’m a history teacher, Billy. Wanna switch? 

I also wonder if my lackluster finish stems from the fact that this book was “pantsed,” not planned. I had a couple characters and an opening scene in mind when I started. Instead of wasting another six months creating a plot I wouldn’t follow anyway, I decided to just write that opening scene and see where it ended up. Turns out it ended up at a whorehouse.

As such, the final scene has probably only been in my head for a couple months. I had a vague idea of how the characters were going to get out of their final snafu, but I wasn’t entirely sure how they would get into it. And I sure as shit had no idea of what to do afterward. Y’know, you gotta have the requisite cool-down, level-up scene after the big blowout. I know we all think in terms of “Hans Gruber falls from Nakatomi Plaza, fade to black,” but the consumer wants to see some bullshit hug-it-out scene between John McClain and Al Powell.

The final line? I thought it up a week or so ago. Not convinced it’ll make it past the first rewrite. Instead of that bronze ring I’m getting closer to each time the 500-words-a-day carousel comes back around, it felt more like the decision point after my second beer. Do I add a little bit more or call it a night here? In the end, I decided to avoid the headache waiting for me tomorrow morning if I dragged the scene out any more.

So now what? 

Unlike with Book One, where I let it sit for a year, I think I’m going to do the second pass soon. Make the drapes match the carpet. No wait, sorry. Wrong euphemism. What I meant was “check the pubes for hair dye.” Nope. Still not it. 

Make the ass match the face! That’s it! Turn that son into a daughter, maybe finally discover her name. Decide whether I want to keep the character an asshole to make his growth more astute or maybe take a little off the edge at the beginning so readers don’t hate him before they find out his daughter’s name. I also remember some stuff I wanted to switch around at the beginning. I killed off one character earlier than I should have (again, unplanned, but I found myself liking her way better than the main characters, and I thought my readers might, too, so off with her head!). Turns out her death ended up having a major effect on the main characters. Who woulda thunk that when it popped in my head one day?

Then I’ll wait. It seems like the third draft is where the magic happens. Book One started at 127,000 words. After pass two, I got it down to just over 100,000. I was doing a small amount of ass-fitting-the-face, but also cutting large swaths of inner dialogue that, while necessary for my writing process, added little to the reading process. Then I found a couple of beta readers. Well, I found 7-10 people who said beta reading sounded fun, but only two ever responded to the opening 10K I gave them. So yeah, we’ll call that a couple beta readers. I’m hoping the others didn’t get around to it. If they read it and it was too horrible to enunciate, then I might be progressing on faulty logic.

Originally, I didn’t consider this pass a third draft. I was just cleaning up those first 10K words for the beta readers. I was planning to dump the extra 90,000 words on them all at once, with caveats that I would “clean it up” later. So if I used nicer verbs in the first batch, assume they’ll make it into draft three. Or, hell, if y’all like the shitty words, then maybe next time I’ll query the diarrhea first draft and pretend it’s stream of consciousness. 

Besides, I logicked, I’m going to make changes after their feedback anyway, right? 

Except the first beta reader to get back to me said he’d be fine getting it in more 10,000-word dribs and drabs. Less daunting for him that way. So then I figured I’d “clean up” batch two. Less daunting for me that way, too.

I also wanted to play around with a way to freshen up the book that I was bored with after 227,000 words over six years. Right before sending it off, I threw in  a couple of changes I’d been thinking about, some tongue-in-cheek references to add levity and to make it substantially less derivative. Both respondents liked it, so I’ve continued adding them to the new batches.

I’m now starting my sixth “batch,” finishing up Act II. I originally named this file “2.2,” it’s pretty obvious that it’s destined for “3.0” status once I put all the batches back together. 

Draft one is putting shit down on a piece of paper. Draft two, I’ve been told, is making those words less shitty. At least for my first book, I’m finding the third draft is where I’m actually focusing on writing some good words. It’s on pace to be around 80,000 words, which seems like a good spot for a novel with a little bit of world-building. Even better that the net -20,000 words is more like -25,000 less crap plus an extra 10,000 words of those added accoutrements. 

Who woulda guessed, after cutting close to 30K from first to second, I still had more than 20K to cut. First pass, I focused on cutting full paragraphs. Second pass is taking “He decided it was time to go around the corner” to “He rounded the corner.” Can that reduce the manuscript by 20%? Turns out it can.

Book Two stands “complete” at 110K. I’m a little worried that if it goes through a similar culling process, it’ll be down to 60K or so, which ain’t much of nothin’. But I feel like I need to add some to the first half while chopping the second half. When I was still figuring everything out, I didn’t have as much to say. Once I figured out what made the characters tick, I had to explain what made the characters tick.

So I’m a little in between right now. Finishing the last few beta batches of Book One while working on the reorganization, large swath cuts of Book Two. It won’t be easy since they’re drastically different. I occasionally ran into this problem over the past month. Book One is a fantasy/historical fiction, a hero’s journey with a studious main character. Book Two is set in modern-day Vegas with one main character obsessed with sports while the asshole is likely to bust out a Golden Girls reference at any given time. Did I mention Book Two took a detour to a whorehouse? Not an easy transition from that to a heroic stand of cavaliers in chainmail.

I wrote Book Two in the present tense. Not sure why, but it seemed to fit. One goes to a whorehouse, one has not gone to a whorehouse.

So yeah, maybe I spend the next couple weeks finishing the beta batches, then do the ass-and-face pass?

More importantly, when do I start Book Three? And which book shall that be? I’ve had a few ideas bumping around, one of which started out before Book Two was even a thought. Since I went serious then funny, maybe I’ll head back to a “Very Special Episode” again.

It would also send me back on the “Planned” road. I haven’t written word #1, but I’ve known where and how the final scene will go. I might even have the final line picked out. It’s the first line that’s proven to be a right asshole.

And I could totally fuck future me up by starting Book Three this week. When I post about finishing it in 2024 or so, watch how confused I am – December 1? WTF? Did I finish a NaNoWriMo and decide to keep the mojo going? 

Never mind. I’ll KNOW that wasn’t the case.