How Not to Write a Book if You’re Manic

My usual way of writing a book is to think out the blot in my head and then write it down, editing as I go. That way I have the skeleton of the story already to roll. Then as I write down what I’m thinking I go back and catch as many errors as I can.

That’s how I wrote my first two novels, Terror’s Identity and Emily’s Ride to Courage. The process took several years each, but I had pretty clean copy to send to the publisher. Keep in mind that nobody’s perfect and errors do slip in.

As I was writing those books, I had my critique partners look at each chapter and give me ways to improve the story. Since my husband and I moved half way through the writing time, I not only had my Maryland critique group help me, but then my North Carolina group weighed in. Thanks to them all.

Also, while I was writing the stories, I did the research to make sure the stories rang true. What? You didn’t realize that fiction authors have to do research? With my first published novel, Terror’s Identity, I had the main character move from very-high-scale Lake Forest, Illinois, to not-even-close-to-high-scale Dundalk, Maryland, because I follow the old adage of get your main character into trouble and then make the trouble worse. I also had to research whether the U.S. Secret Service had anything to do with investigating terrorists groups in our country. Fortunately, one of my neighbors worked in the Secret Service and was very helpful.

For Emily’s Ride to Courage I had to research more than I already knew about horses; easier, in a way, because we were living on our horse farm and I have studied about horse almost my whole life. Still, I had to make sure I had the medical parts correct. (Thank goodness for a friendly vet.) I also had to research American medical services being provided by Army personnel in Afghanistan where Emily’s mother goes missing.

Now on to how I wrote my third novel, Earthquakes. In November of 2018 I decided to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November as part of that year’s NaNoWriMo contest. Not something a manic person should ever do. Especially someone like me who likes to edit as she goes. But I put my editing aside and plowed ahead, writing 50,235 words by November 26th. (Good thing my handsome devil knows how to cook and is very supportive of my writing endeavors.)

Then I took a couple of days to bask in the glow of having accomplished my goal and to get my heart rate down to normal. Plus getting some much-needed sleep.

The next challenge was to see how much of the story made sense, where I needed to do research. Since the story takes place in 1942 Hollywood, CA, and though I was indeed alive and living there, I was only a bit older than one year. The people in my birth family couldn’t be of much help, being either dead or extremely forgetful, I had to go to history books and the internet. I also unearthed the family photo albums.

Thanks for reading. Please let me know what you think. Sarah

Then my critique groups and said Handsome Devil, told me what was working and what wasn’t. When it was done and people had given feedback, I sent the manuscript off to my favorite editor, Teresa Crumpton of AuthorSpark. She’s never steered me wrong and is a font of advice and information.

Fast forward to October 2019 and I sent the manuscript to a small indie publishing house that promptly turned me down. In part, they turned me down because I hadn’t edited the book as carefully as I should have. Though they kindly said it was too intense for their house.

Then I sent it to Jera Publishing and they expertly formatted the story for publication and designed a dynamite cover. But the editor there has the patience of Job, since she has cheerfully made the changes I found each time I looked at the manuscript and hasn’t charged me a dime more. Even when the manuscript was sent to IngramSpark for printing, I found more errors. Now I think I’ve caught them all and the book will be a physical presence in hard copy and eBook formats on January 30th. But I will never write a book that way again. It’s best for me to plod along correcting as I go, so I’ll go back to plodding and keep the manic part at rest.

It’s a Dark and Stormy Night…

     Writing the perfect opening is hard work. I’m reading a spy novel at moment because that’s the only way to learn a genre. I’m not a big fan of the author’s style of writing, but this is not the first book I’ve read that uses this format.

     The book is Rules of Vengeance by Christopher Reich (2009, Doubleday/Random House, ISBN 978-0-385-52407-0) and is the second in a series about a doctor named Jonathon Ransom, who actually isn’t spy, but his wife is.     

     Anyway, the opening scene is a news announcement on Reuters news service of a car bomb explosion, then the action centers on Jonathon Ransom for a couple of pages.

     And then the reader goes to Chapter 1, which describes in great detail an exclusive apartment building in a ritzy part of London, where the reader follows the intrigue of an intruder into one of the apartments. The owner of the apartment is murdered by intruder and then the detective who investigates what is considered a routine suicide determines is actually a murder.

     Then we jump back to Jonathon and along the way get a detailed description of the workings of a ultra-secret spy organization in the U.S. In my view, there are a great many details that could have been left out, making this a much tighter and compelling read.

    But I’ll continue to read so that I can understand what sells in this genre and how not to fall victim to this style of writing.

    In the meantime, I have to figure out what’s going to work for my young adult spy/murder/romance historical fiction book set in 1942. At the moment, the title is EARTHQUAKES because it’s set in Los Angeles and my Jonathon has nightmares about the devastation an earthquake can cause. But also because of the metaphorical earthquakes Jonathon is experiencing in his young life.

     The family has just learned their maternal grandfather died on Corregidor, Philippines and their father is now missing. Both men are Marine Corps officers and Naval Academy graduates. There’s one earthquake.

    Earthquake number 2 is finding their next-door neighbor stabbed to death in his house. Plus, people keep breaking into Jonathon’s house to find some secret message.

    I’ve tried several openings, such as having Jonathon wake up one morning from yet another earthquake nightmare and have to rush to get ready for school. First, though, he’s feel pressure to calm down the daily fight between his older brother and their mother about why he should or should not quit college to enlist in the military to save America from the invaders.   

    My editor says that publishers reject stories that start with dreams or with the protagonist waking up.

    Also, I shouldn’t start with the first word being a sound. In this case “whump,” because his brother is pounding on the kitchen table below Jonathon’s bedroom.

     One of my critique group women wants me to have a real earthquake described in the first page or two, but that’s not what I want. I want to focus on the metaphorical aspect.

     At the moment I’m stuck, but I’ll keep mulling it over in my head and it will come to me. In the meantime, I’ll working on making the rest of the novel perfect. Or as close as possible.

     I think the first paragraphs in my other two novels are good and compelling set ups. Terror’s Identity starts out with:

                        At sixteen, guys are supposed to tough, right? But when Mom

pounds of the stairs to our bedrooms shouting, “Aidan! Maya! This is it! We’re leaving…now,” tough is not what I feel.

     My second novel, a middle-grade horse book, Emily’s Ride to Courage, starts out with:

                        Usually, the sweet scent of just-mowed grass and the

                        growl of a tractor cutting a hay field perks me right

                        up. Not this time. This time I only feel dread.

I hope those make you want to read further. Thanks for reading. And, as usual, I’d love to hear from you. Sarah