Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Commercial IDEA KILLER or NURTURER? Which Are You?

I sat across the table from my writer friend Joe Konrath and said, “I’m going to put a disease-spreading monster aboard the Titanic to explain why Captain Edward Smith sent his ship to a two and half mile down grave in the North Atlantic in1912.”

“Fantastic hair-brained notion, man! Do it!”

“Came of research, asking questions, most notably, ‘Why’d Smith, with six messages coming over the marvelous new invention of the wireless warning of ice ahead, go to bed with these notices in his pocket?’“

To answer the question, a seasoned novelist, knows which answers need be discarded as a bore and a snore such as when Konrath excuses Capt. Smith with, “Perhaps the poor man wasn’t feeling well, just had a bad day… wasn’t thinking straight.”

“—Or he was bribed to do so by the competitor Cunard Ship Line always sabotaging The White Star Line.”

“—Or since it was his last voyage, the poor man became depressed about retirement.”

Discarded all these ideas for putting a monster on board—the most outrageous and the most dramatic or commercial answer to the brainstorming session.

Below is a list of possible replies Joe might’ve made had he been an IDEA KILLER:

10. Get a Committee to look into it...

9. Gotta be kidding...

8. You're already overextended.

7. You'll never find time!

6. You can't REALLY mean that...

5. Who's gonna believe it?

4. It’s stupid, silly, foolish, illogical, slanderous.

3. Tried it before; it doesn't work.

2. 'They' will never buy it, man!

1. Ahhh…doesn't GRAB me.

No idea is born in perfection. Give an idea a home; give it a chance to grow. Live with it for awhile before you turn it out. What was once just an inkling of an idea for me is now over 80,000 words of 'novel retelling' of the Legend.

Robert W. Walker
author Children of Salem & 50 other titles

Monday, April 19, 2010

Titanic Ramblings - *novel at 275 pgs! or 71,175 wds

You're not gonig to believe this. I am having so much fun writing Curse of the Titanic that I can't waste to get back to it, and that's when you know you're on the right track. I suspect Elmore Leonard, Dean Koontz, Mary Shelley, Michael Crichton, Tess Gerritsen and well you name it would agree. If your having fun with it....keep doing it. That was the advice science fiction author of many years ago, Clifford Simac said to me word for word. Koontz once advised me to "slow down, son...you don't do your best work till you turn fifty anyway!"

Well I never did slow down but I do feel I am writing at my personal best these days.  My City for Ransom trilogy I felt was my best stuff...then I yanked out a manuscript that had been gathering dust and rewrote it for like the fortieth time...my magnum opus -- Children of Salem...felt it was my best work to date.  Now am working on this novel with its Titanic breadth and feel it is my best work to date....

I guess I need to believe that with each book I am improving and doing my best work, wouldn't you say?  Frankly, I think every author at whatever level he or she is working in terms of skill and experience is working at his level best. This is why, as an editor, I can always find something good to say about any manuscript (well almost).

Did you know I have a tendency to ramble? I also like to use my own work as examples here and in my Dead On Writing book from Wordclay and Kindle, paper and ebook respectively. Critics--well two reviewers who read and put the book to use loved it beyond words, while a third reviewers detested it beyond words. It is all subjective but if the guy didn't like it then why not just return it for the 1.99 it sells for; why harp on what he thinks is wrong with the book? In some demented way it seems a lot of amateur reviewers get a real kick out of kicking an author, a psychological feeling of superiority. And he thinks I like the sound of my own voice (well I had better to create a voice, a consistent voice for each of novel one writes.

In point of fact VOICE is the single most definitive element that defines one's style; we soak up stylve via the authorial voice.  Bear with me, as we write and rewrite we aim for more and more CONSITENCY of VOICE. We want a voice that does not break with the bond established, a subtle bond between the narrative flow and the reader's ear.  I like to think what I am searching for in a narrative voice for a given novel is the authorial voice...the authentic voice for this story. Authentication of sound of the bell you want the story to ring. It has a lot to do with the noise maker you choose--or if you will, the character of your narrator.  For instance imagine big James Mitchener relating a dark Noir tale; switch over now to a Fess Parker (Davey Crockett) telling a story, change gears and imagine a tale told by a one-eyed Troll. What will be the center line or consistent level of each speaker's voice? Once a young writer discovers this truth, she can excel and indeed fly.

I swear it is the chief secret of all secrets writers don't know how to keep secret and shouldn't. I began writing in the voice of Mark Twain, a little novel I shaped via research and imitation of Twain entitled Daniel & The Wrongway Railroad. I did another YA years later, Gideon & The Siege of Vicksburg for which I had to find another voice.  I chose the voice of historian Shelby Foote but at the time did not know it (seeped in subtlely). So whaat VOICE are you fishing around for?

Now about Curse of the Titanic, I am extremely excited as it is going along quite smoothly; I have both stories rolling well, and the Past Story is in one consistent voice, and the Future Story is in another voice but both are consisted for the authorial control both exhibit. I think that is what I mean...but that is part of it too....finding the right authorial even stentorian voice for the story you wish to tell. The range is endless but as with all writing how do you know what you want until you SEE what you write...then reread, then rewrite, then more reading it over again and rewriting further (more) and extending your command over the voice and your flexibility with this too oft described nebulous matter.

It's not so mysterious as some make it out to be, not really. But it is hugely important and all else hinges on it. You find the voice and you can plug into it anytime anywhere with ease like falling into an alpha state.

Ransom's story in 1912 is told in my most compelling voice with an intent toward finding mystery, intrigue, cliffhanger endings--all told in a controlled manner and taking as much advantage of the speech of the times as I can, remembering that Dialogue Lines belong not to the narrator but to the characters.  Dave Buckland's 2020 story is told in the most compelling voice with an intent toward mystery, intrigue, cliffhanger endings (or ditto) -- all told in a separate but equal controlled manner while taking advantage of speech patterns of today and tomorrow, remembering that Dialogue Lines belong to the characters, not the narrator.

When I wrote my first novel it was carefully controlled in another manner, point of view--ONE single point of view -- Daniel's. This is a lot easier to control than multiple POV but I worked up to multiple through single. Today I challenge myself with duo stories going on at once and my challenge is to make the reader want to get back to whichever story he is not in at the moment! I personally never want to write the same book twice, not even in a series, so I find ways to challenge myself and my writing fingers.

It is true -- Curse of the Titanic is at page 275 and that means just over 71,000 words, which is super. I am bearing down on 300 pages. Most of my books come in at or around 400 but this one is moving so fast toward a conclusion in both parallel stories that I think I will be ending it somewhere around 350 pgs. Besides if I am to make my goal of a good, solid rough draft by mid-May, I want to bring it to an end as well. But I don't want to rush it or make it feel rushed or abruptly ended. If I do that some critic or reviewer will nail me for it. If need by the deadline will be extended before the book is rushed. Stay tuned. I am soon going to be asking certain people interested to READ and comment and edit if they like--fix me! Let me know if you'd be interested in being among the first to put eyes on the Titanic...or rather the Curse of the Titanic - a novel that asks the question if Michael Crichton were aboard the Titanic what then?

Hope to see you on Facebook, Twitter, and around the net
Till next time--

Saturday, April 10, 2010

20,000 Words and a Monster = Contract?

56,290 words at 225 pgs. is where Curse of the Titanic presently sits, and what with my goal of achieving a worthwhile rough draft of the entire ship-less-than-shape manuscript within 3 months of beginning....after losing 75 pgs., I kinda backed off that...freaked out a bit. But it looks like things have taken a new turn and the book is flowing well, and while I still need approximately 20,000 more pages at very least, I do believe I can make the three month goal thing happen. Even though self imposed, a deadline is a deadline, and an elephant never forgets....

I began the blog and the book simultaneously in mid-February, so mid-May would be three months, and since soon my classes will be no more as college classes let out soon, I will have more full days to work on the MS.  Once an editor challenged me when I called her up and insisted she tell me why she turned down a "perfectly good mystery" I had sent her. She had bought two books before from me and I felt this one I was calling Darkness Falls was much better than the previous titles. She fired back at me, "It's a mystery, and we are up to our eyeballs in mysteries."

Then what do you need, I replied. She said horror...Stephen King stuff...looking for the next Stephen King *everyone expected him to one day kill himself on that Harley he drove from Maine to New York to see his publisher.

"And one more reason I had to turn it down," Jane added, "it's 60,000 words, and we are now doing 80,000 word novels."

"Well all right," I said, getting somewhere, "you give me a contract, and I will give you a monster and 20,000 more words and turn it into a King-a-thon!"

She hesitated only a second and said, "Deal. You've got it. I need it in three months."

Since it was already written to 60,000, I had no doubt I could finish it in plenty of time. Point of the story is never say no to an editor and learn to beat deadlines, even self imposed ones. Sad to say that in today's climate, there are damn few editors who can singlehandledly offer you a deal over the phone as Jane did for Dorchester in those days. Today almost every such decision is made by committee, and what is it they say about committee decisions? A camel is a horse created by committee.

But back to Titanic, yes it is flowing well now, cruising in fact. There are some items I have to do a bit more research on, seek out and destroy the X marks the spots moments in the story where I placed in a capital X for a fact I will need to run down like precise numbers. This method allows me to stay on target and in the story mindset, right brain alpha wave moment and save the left brain stuff for another time.

I would like to say something about the rhythm of the rewrite; by this, I mean it is useful and healthy to go back and back again in a parobala fashion, going back to page one and starting your rewrite all over again even though not finished and facing a deadline.  Why? Because of loose ends and missing items and details like the tooth taken from the beast by one of the miners in early scenes, and minor dies and we never see who gets the saber tooth in his pocket ever again because Professor Walker forgot about the damn thing!  But not on rewrite as it strikes me between the eyes I must have it crop up in both the later autopsy scene and in the future story as well!  It is a clue to the past on the one hand, and a clue to the monster and the disease it carries on the other.

With so much going on, such a complex canvasse of characters at play and on stage and so much going on such details as a tooth taken as a trophy can easily be forgotten and later overlooked but NOT on careful rewrite. So I have restored the item to its previous importance now. Worth the rewrite just to catch this one oversight.

I trust everyone is OK with my title selection, but if you are up for a Title Fight, let us have at it. I love a good natured fight and if you can defend a title better than I can defend my choice then bring it on as they say.

Rewrite is great for tighteing and making dialogue work better too, and if you do not read aloud anything else during your rewrite (I do much of it aloud in my head), you really should read dialogue aloud to make it sound like speech.  Be sure to also have each character speak differently than all others, and work on each having his own world view (often subtle and part of the pistache of building the character).  See my Psych 101 for Authors and Their Characters posted at http://www.acmeauthorslink.blogspot.com/  or at the writers corner at http://www.speakwithoutinterruption.com/

And don't be shy - leave me word on comments here!

Rob Walker

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Progress on Titanic title & Title Decision on the title fights

Sorry it has taken me a while to get back with a decision on the title for the Tiantic book, but life has a way of getting in the way of writing and blogging and such.... However, I have not been idle as now the book has been pushed along to over 210 pages and up around 45,000 words!  So since the book was begun in mid-Feb and I have till mid-May to complete the rough draft in the promised 3 months...I believe I still have a chance at making that self-torturous deadline.  Maybe. 

As a book builds, for me it builds momentum, a thing some of us authors refer to as a "forward moving dynamo" but in this case running two stories concurrently, I need TWO forward moving dynamos...and each time the past story begins to snore, I have to do something to wake it up or shake it up! And same with the future story!

At any rate, I am enjoying both stories equally so far, and I feel good about how each is falling into place (both stories) and how each plays into the other; the ebb and flow of each story being told with chapters alternating (an early decision for form, shape similar to Fried Green Tomatoes). This choice on shape has created a distinct flavor that as it grows inspires me to greater challenges still. It is working well for the novel thus far and a cool kind of rhythmn -- a rock and roll, if you will, is the result. I am happy with the way it is going, which is always a good thing! Hate it when a story doesn't begin to tell itself.

Now time for the title selection.  First let us list again the titles as they came in and then below that the selection and winner. Those rejected were rejected for a variety of reasons, sound and sense, covering the thrust of the book or failing to, pointing away from the point, too oblique, etc. but THANKS a million for your suggestions one and all.  Here are those marked off the list:

Ransom Aboard

Ship for Ransom (Ship of Fools is already taken)

Titanic for Ransom

Death for Ransom

Hull Hell

Blown Ballist (sorry my friend, but I think this is funny)

Sea of Corpses

--from which I extrapolated - Sea of Shoes (just kiddin' of course)

--from which I extrapolated - Sea of Sacrifice and Sea of Ice

Raising the Dead

Dead at Sea


--from which I extrapolated GhostShip

Pestilence Aboard (need an exterminator?)

Pestilence Passage

Pestilence Passenger

Pestilence Watch

Plauge Watch

*special suggestion - do as Prince does, no title, a Symbol only

Violins Played, Death Danced

--Deah Dances to Violins maybe?

-- Violins & Violence

Splinters of Fate

--Shards of Fate maybe?

Curse to Forever

Curse of the Titanic

Karmic Voyage (after all J.P. Morgan was aboard)

Escape Titanic

YES, the only title without a strike-through is CURSE of THE TITANIC
which I feel covers both the 'horror' aspect of the tale and the Titanic aspect, covering both time periods in a sense, past and future.  Somewhat like Curse of the Bambino, it seems most commercial and covers all the bases in four words. I liked many of the suggestions offered, but I did not feel they illuminated enough of what the story means to convey.  I actually loved Escape Titanic and Shards of Fate for instance, but as some book pros have informed me many times over, it might just be too confusing or oblique.

Now the winner is a bit of a problem as it is all in the family what with this being my 33 year old son's suggestion, and Stephen does all my covers, and he really feels that this cover could kick butt in terms of fonts & graphics, and the kid doess wonders with graphics. So I gotta go with Curse of the Titanic, but hey, I intend to run another contest - one in which I intend to give away a copy of DEAD ON -- Promise.  I feel ambivalent about how this worked out, but honestly, I think it is the best of the best titles for this novel.  If you agree or even if you disagree or are upset with me, do let me hear about it, so I can offer some sort of restitution for all the time and energy you put into the contest.  Honestly, it was not RIGGED; it just fell out this way.

Rob Walker
catch my Psych 101 for Writers and Their Characters at the Writer's Corner at http://www.speakwithoutinterruption.com/  Pavlov's Dog is alive and well there!