Probably not die, but pre-order anyway. A final proof of Ficta Fabula, the magazine carrying my first published short story, arrived this morning. I’m on page 63. The best page. My writing’s been illustrated. And I got paid. Serious business.
There’s no specific date as yet, but I’m assured it’ll release “very soon”. There are thirteen other stories in the issue, so I’m sure you’ll get value for you six Canadian dollars. You can buy it here: http://www.pagesofstories.com/preorder.html
I finished the fourth draft of the book today. It’s now ready for beta reading. Looking forward to getting some feedback.
The publication of Mouse has been delayed a little as it’s in the first issue of a relaunch, but it should be ready soon.
The Next Book is shaping up, and there’s no question now about what I’m going to write next. There’s more than 10,000 words of notes in the can and I have a full spec. I was a little concerned about my passion for the project, but no longer. Two more passes on The Ooning and it’s full steam ahead while I start the agent search.
I sold a story. Canadian magazine Ficta Fabula will publish Mouse in July. This is my first acceptance. Someone will give me money for my fiction. I’m extremely happy.
The Ooning’s rattling along. I’ve completed a third draft and finished all the rewriting I planned after reading the second version, some 15,000 words in the last month. There were other areas I’d noted for extension, but I need to recap; I found myself staring at brief character sections with dumb-brain, unsure of what I was supposed to be doing. I’ll rework the final bits (they really are “bits” now) on the next edit. Either way, the worst of the revision’s complete. The last draft will be about 60,000 words.
With the structure completely overworked, draft three should be a near-final shape. I’m finding this stage stressful. I’m building the final vision, and I can’t help thinking I’m about to fuck the entire thing up. Confidence is paramount, tricky when it’s your first time out. I can format it however I wish. I deliberately wrote The Ooning in a modular style so it’d be easy to reconfigure everything, an admirable plan with the unfortunate side effect of affording a terrifying array of options. Indecision’s a disease, I suppose. It’ll be a relief to get some feedback, positive or not, just to see whether any of it actually makes any sense to anyone.
Wobbles aside, selling Mouse has enlightened every aspect of my fiction writing. It’s validation of skill and a great relief. Everything I’ve had published up to now has either been tech-related or an opinion piece. This is different. Now I know I’m not wasting my time. Fiona took a photo of me in the middle of my happy-clappy freak-out. Don’t think I’ll post it.
I’ll write a note when I know for definite when the magazine’s releasing.
I was supposed to go back into Ooning editing on March 12, but I decided to leave it the full, King-recommended six weeks. I’ll start again tomorrow. You just know, I think, whether or not you’re ready to move onto a new draft, and I definitely wasn’t. I’m glad I waited. I’ve put three short stories in the can since I last looked at The Ooning, and I feel refreshed and excited at getting started again. I was still tired two weeks ago.
The stories I wrote in the break were Chicken, which I published here, The Thaw and Mouse. The View From Here has already rejected The Thaw, so it’s gone elsewhere. I submitted Mouse to another magazine this morning. Fingers crossed.
The Ooning is far from complete. It’s too short and I need to plug some serious holes in the structure (I think: I won’t know exactly what needs doing until I start reading it tomorrow). I’m hoping it’s going to pan out something like this:
- Draft 3: This next edit should complete the book’s skeleton and roughly nail the content. This is going to be a bunch of work. There’s still a fair amount of copy to write here.
- Draft 4: After that, I’ll do a copy edit to clean up any especially rough parts in preparation for beta testing. I don’t envisage this being particularly time-consuming.
- Beta reading: I have friends and acquaintances who’ve said they’ll read it at this stage. I’m a lucky man: they’re all professional writers.
- Draft 5: At this point I’ll consume feedback from the beta and make any necessary changes. By the end of this edit the book should be complete in terms of content and structure before querying.
- Draft 6: A deep copy edit. This is the “voice” edit, the point of which is to make the language sparkle (or whatever it’s supposed to do) and prepare the manuscript for agents. If the “darkest hour before the dawn” maxim has any truth in writing (any writing, not just novels), it’s here. I won’t do another run-through after this unless there’s some interest.
There’s a way to go, obviously. I have no idea if the process above is “right” as this will be the first book I’ve taken to true completion, but it seems a solid enough plan. I doubt I’ll pay to have it edited by a freelancer, but never say never. I’m sure the beta will tell me if something’s seriously wrong.
I can now see the end of the project and I’m already looking forward. I did do some structural work on the next book in this gap, but quickly lost interest and just started writing other stuff. I’m in something of a quandary over where to go next once The Ooning’s complete. The book I have specced is certainly there, but there’s going to be some soul-searching before I make the final commitment to move ahead. I have faith in it as a concept, but there’s another idea I find more exciting right now. I won’t know until I know, I suppose. One thing’s for sure: everything I’m learning with The Ooning, all the planning and structural work, will benefit the next book. I can’t see how it could possibly be as painful again in terms of process.
Before that, though, I have a novel to finish. And that, in itself, is a beautiful thing.
Hope you enjoyed Chicken. Writing short stories is a great way of passing the time before I get back into editing the Ooning, which I’m not allowed to touch until March 12. You’re supposed to try to completely forget the ups and downs of your draft before you retackle, and I’m finally starting to feel it slip away. Writing other stuff helps.
I’ve got time to complete another small piece before I start the Ooning’s third draft, and I’m going to try to sell this one. Not entirely sure what the subject matter’s going to be as yet, but the words are coming easily at the moment so I’m going to take advantage and just see what happens. I doubt it’ll be along the lines of Chicken or the Chair, though. Can’t see short story collections have too much time for serial death fiction.
That said, today was a good example of how you shouldn’t be scared of your content. I was concerned at the severity of Chicken, but after speaking to a few people about it I remembered I’m hardly the first person in the world to write about killing people. Publish and be damned. Just hopefully not too damned.
I finished the second draft of the Ooning today. It came in at nearly 53,000 words. While the length is too short (it’s roughly equatable to the previous draft), the structure’s complete. Slotting in more chapters should be simple as it’s been rewritten in a modular style. The focus of this stage was to block the book’s elements to a near-final point, and I’m confident I’ve achieved that.
Reaching a milestone like this is double-edged. I’m relieved it’s here, but I’m tired of the project and keen to end it, a wearying feeling when there’s still such a long way to go. But positivity is important with large pieces, and this is a final point of two complete drafts and the culmination of a lot of work. It’s a good place.
I’m aiming to get the manuscript ready for beta readers before the end of May. I’m going to leave it alone for four weeks, then do two or three complete edits before external reading and whatever changes result from that. Around twenty percent of the first draft was repurposed for this version just to get the form straightened out, and I want to rewrite the old parts. The extra sections will need to total at least another 10,000 words, so there’s still 20,000 words of writing to complete, and almost certainly more. I want it finished before autumn. Then I’ll start looking for an agent.
My writing time over the next month will be spent on the next book. The preliminary work’s well underway and I need to start shading in colour. There’s theme and plot and over 6,000 words of sketches. What I have so far is structurally fluid and far more relevant to my current personal position. It’s exciting. Being at the baby stage with a book again is right for now.
But today belongs to the Ooning. Happy birthday, flower. Hopefully it’s your last.
I’ve written a third of the next Ooning draft (some 25,000 words), so it won’t be finished this year. I’m very confident of this version being vastly superior to the previous. I don’t care if nothing comes of it in terms of publication. It’s an exercise in completion at this point. I’ve started scoping out editors-for-hire, and I’ll get it into its best possible state before moving on. Ideas for the next book are coagulating.
I’ve yet to fully decide, but I doubt I’ll release The Ooning to Kindle as planned. If agents aren’t interested then I should take the hint. Muddying my future with a sub-standard release would be stupid. In hindsight, the notion of self-publishing was birthed by the annoyance of the last nearly-deal becoming a not-deal. If agents are interested but there’s a problem with the content, I’ll make a judgement. My approach to the process is definitely more robust now, but as a concept I’d never put The Ooning into production again. It’s too “young”. But if there’s encouraging noise from the beta and anything beyond stock rejections from agencies then I may put it out. We’ll see.
That’s my wife holding the axe.
I doubt Meredith could have been happier when I handed over her first penknife. All I could see were beaming teeth. I told her to be careful with it, and she promised. She’s a big girl. She’s six. I showed her how to break it apart so she could use it to eat – it’s a complete, fold-away cutlery set – and she tried the spoon on an aluminium plate of canned lentils and sausage I’d heated on a gas burner. We were hoping to see bats as the light dropped, as they usually feed over the river at dusk, but the water was so clogged with deadfall on the bend next to our camp I assume it would have been impossible to fly. I set up the bivouac, and after the meal we washed the dishes in the Vézère. Meredith made me jump around like a rabbit on the stones next to the river, something she found hysterically funny. Eventually we just sat and watched the summer water flow around the faces in the boulders. After we lay down, the trees blackened so deeply that we couldn’t see our fingers, or our feet, or the trunks on which I’d tied the ridgeline.
Meredith has been giving me sleepless nights recently. I’m losing my daughter, as every father loses every daughter, and the realisation that her toddlerish world of surreal imagination is being chipped away by time is making me increasingly sentimental. I’d announced I was taking Meredith to sleep rough in the woods with me one evening over dinner, much to my wife’s weariment, and the girl was thrilled. I’d never done any such thing before, obviously, so went on a trial run alone to practice setting up the camp, see how much water to take and use a compass. I decided I was going to give Meredith her first knife. I could see the shift in her, and I was determined to make our memories. I took her down a gradient so steep we would have been in serious trouble if one of us had fallen, well out of range of any mobile mast and not expected to appear until the following morning, but she lolloped spider on the roots and rocks, bright fear bonding us as we hunted the bank for a flat spot to sleep. Then we played and ate and explored and slept. I took a picture of Meredith in her sleeping bag. I kept a four-inch tactical folding knife in my fist for the entire night, and always ensured I could feel her next to me.
She’s starting CP next week. This is the first year of “proper” school in France, the year in which children get homework and do real classes. Primaire’s finished. She can speak fluent French and read in English. She can count to 100 and write her name. She knows the difference between a cep and a fly agaric. She can ride a horse.
She has her own penknife.
It occurred to me just how quickly she was changing when I read Through the Looking Glass with her over this summer holiday. At the very end of the book is a poem which has nothing to do with the text itself. Dodgson always claimed that Alice wasn’t based on a real person, but he knew a young family of three children – Lorina, Edith and Alice Liddell – he clearly references in the verses. He talks about “a boat, beneath a sunny sky” in July, and “children three that nestle near” to hear his story. But “long has paled that sunny sky: echoes fade and memories die: autumn frosts have slain July.”
The children are “dreaming as the summers die.” When I read it to Meredith I stroked her head and she looked at me as though she could see nothing else. I’m watching the leaves of her total innocence wither, and it’s so painful I sometimes wish I could hide her with me in the woods forever. But I can’t. And I have to let go of the rabbit by the river and the shining face in the trees. I have to let go of my beautiful little girl, and accepting it is truly breaking my heart.
My boys will be next. They’re starting school together next week, and I can already see the doubt in their expressions, the knowledge that they’re going to have to be brave, away from their parents and alone for the first time. But they’re excited about coming with me to the woods when they’re bigger, and about owning their own knives and torches. As they get older, I’ll teach the three of them to trap, fish, build fires and find their own way. I’ll make our memories while I’m still here, and I’ll show them that there are bats over the water and faces in the rocks, that magic doesn’t have to evaporate with the summer of childhood. I’m not sure I could live with myself if I didn’t try.
I love to toast,
I love to toast.
Toast’s when I like bread the most.
There’s nothing better
When you’re a host,
Than to give your guests
Some lovely toast.
I haven’t started rewriting the Ooning yet. Actually, that’s not true. I’ve done a good deal of work on it, but I’ve managed to avoid putting down any of the second draft by doing other things. I’m now happy with it from a plot perspective. I think. A friend recommended I read Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris. She’d heard it gave out good advice for struggling first-timers, and so it does. It’s short, but does an enlightening job of walking you through the most common traps associated with getting your book to completion. It affirmed I was right to rewrite from scratch. It wasn’t finished. It’s barely started, in fact.
- Get yourself a Goodreads account. I’ve mentioned this before, but it really is a great site. Everything about it encourages you to read. Reading’s good. Do this.
- Buy a Kindle. Anecdotally I’m sure you’ve heard friends say they started reading more when they bought one. It’s true. I got one for Fiona a few Christmases ago, and she uses it a lot. I bought a Kindle Touch recently and I can’t put it down. Instant books and dictionary, an amazing screen, one-handed reading (handy for Fifty Shades of Grey) and never having to worry about carting heavy books around again make Kindle essential for any reader or writer. Why don’t you have one? I finished Matterhorn on it a few days ago (it’s a 600-page book with none of the annoyances of 600-page books) and now I’m reading a Palahniuk on paper. It’s a great novel, but going back to springy, shadowed, curvy pages feels odd. It’s digital for me.