I have taken up my friend and colleague, Michael Hiebert, on his invitation to do a blog swap. My blog, Titles and Titillation, will appear on his Blogzone and his on my blog. Michael is a prolific writer in various genres, and in my opinion, writes some of the best dialogue in modern fiction. His Alvin, Alabama mysteries are published by Kensington Press of New York and I highly recommend them. Michael has a remarkable understanding of the art and structure of writing and wrote a textbook, Journeys Under the Moon, for the online course he teaches. For more from Michael Hiebert, check out his website. Here’s his blog.
LOST WITHOUT A MAP
First, I want to thank Garth for the opportunity to post on his blog. I don’t write nearly as many blog posts as I’d like to, but if you decide after reading this you’d like to read more, check out the Blogzone on my site www.michaelhiebert.com. When I post, I tend to post mostly on the craft of writing, but I also have articles up there on philosophy, religion, and a whole bunch of stuff that probably doesn’t even make sense to anyone but me 🙂
Writing is a weird occupation. I don’t think there’s anything else really like it. Once you’re contracted to write novels–especially if you have a series, like I do–you find yourself working on a book that won’t see a bookshelf for a year and a half. In fact, a week ago the third book in my Alvin, Alabama mystery series came out, a book called A Thorn Among the Lilies.
Now, you probably think having a new novel released is cause for great celebration and, sure, the first time it happened it was. But these days, things are different. Instead of being happy that Thorn has finally seen the light of day, I am reminded that I have an approaching deadline and find myself feeling overwhelmed beneath trying to scribble out the current book I’m writing–the fourth in the series–this one called Sticks and Stones. Right now I’m scrambling because I feel like I’m going to miss my deadline. To make matters worse, whenever I try to talk about it with anyone, their first question is always, “Oh, really? When’s your deadline?”
And that’s when I know I’m about to get the, “I must be talking to a cat or some similar small-brained animal. Maybe it’s hungry?” look. Because my deadline? It’s the middle of October.
Yes. I know. Right now, it’s barely July. But time has a way of slipping through my fingers, and this book has been particularly painstaking to craft. Let me tell you why.
It’s a Question of Time
The first book in the series, Dream with Little Angels came in at about 85,000 words, which is probably a little light. The second, Close to the Broken Hearted was 95,000 words, if I remember correctly–almost exactly the size you really want a book to be (anywhere between 80,000-100,000 is pretty good. Unless you’re writing fantasy, in which case you can throw in an extra hundred pages and nobody’s gonna even notice. Fantasy fans are like the marathon readers of the book world). The third book in my series that was just released last week came in around the same size as Close.
Now we come to book four, my current focus. How big is it? you may ask. Well, as of last night, it breached the 150,000 word count and I still have a minimum of two chapters left to hammer out. As well, I have a list of ninety-one items that need to be addressed (in most cases, I put a pay off into the climax and I’m still missing the setup for it earlier on), so odds are it’s going to grow even larger. My editor already gave me carte blanc to go any size I want, providing the book is good (which I think it will be if I can ever manage to wrestle the thing to the ground), but I don’t think even he was picturing a tome twice the size of my first in the series.
Of course, I will need to make two clean up passes on it once I have all the information squished inside its pages, but, to be perfectly honest, my “clean ups” have a tendency to add words. I’m starting to think I should throw in a couple of dwarfs, an elf, and a grey-haired wizard and just pass it off as fantasy. Is anyone actually going to sit through a six hundred and fifty page literary mystery novel? I really don’t know. I don’t want it to be this thick, it just sort of wrote itself this way. The plot is extremely complex, and so unwieldy at this particular point in time that I am unable to hold the whole thing in my head all at once. I’m dead serious (hence my ninety-one item list of things not to forget).
I’m trying to pull off a lot with this story. There are three entirely different themes running through it, and the subplots all reflect the main plot and come back and tie together and… here’s a bit of a tease for any of you out there who follow the series… I kill off a major character.
Yep, I do. And just in case anyone wants to send me hate mail because of it, it was my editor’s idea. Not mine. It’s too tough to pull the trigger when it comes to your darlings.
One thing’s for sure. Sticks and Stones is either going to turn out like mush and be absolutely horrible, or I’ll be gunning for the New York Times Bestseller list. One or the other. Right now, I am so close to the forest that I cannot make out either of those trees on the other side.
Anyway, this post has turned into more of a whine session, something that isn’t that unusual for me. Again, if you want to hear more whine sessions or read about my take on the craft of writing and many other subjects, be sure to check out my blog. Otherwise, thanks Garth. Sorry this didn’t turn out to be Hemingway.
That’s about it for now. I have to get back to adding thousands and thousands of more words to my book.