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Category: editing

Literary Limbo & A New Story

As this challenging year draws to a close, I’ve found myself in a sort of literary limbo. I completed five (count ’em – FIVE!) drafts of the new novel Laughingstock. However, due to a variety of personal reasons, both good and bad, I was a little late out of the gate arranging for some pre-publication services: cover design and editing.

For the cover design, I wanted to go with Stuart Bache’s Books Covered, who did a good job on the redesign of the cover of Fester after I started having trouble with Amazon Ads’ protectors of morality and righteousness. However, I should have reached out earlier, since Stuart’s shop is backlogged and won’t be able to start on the cover design until January.

Then there was the matter of editing. I really wanted to go with the editor I’d worked with on Fester, as she was a pro – and a hardcase, who twisted my arm to make changes that I originally didn’t want to make, but ultimately made the book better. Unfortunately, she is no longer doing freelance editing, as it wasn’t paying the bills (at least that’s what she told ne – maybe she just didn’t want to deal with me again). I reached out to the editor who had done Jackrabbit and Powwows, but she basically ghosted me.

I ended up going back on Reedsy and casting about for a new editor. I ultimately decided on a UK-based editor, after making it clear that I did not spell “color” with “u.” I sent her the manuscript nearly three weeks ago now, and haven’t heard a peep from her since. Perhaps it’s because that the MS has been polished to exquisite perfection over the course of five drafts and needs little work and is totally self-explanatory (I’d sure like to think so.) More likely, British editors perhaps don’t do as much hand-holding as American ones, and will just edit the bejesus out of the MS, and return it in bestseller-list shape (I’d sure like to think so). Anyway, the final payment is due next week, so I imagine I’ll hear something by then.

In the meantime, I’ve got some time on my hands now that I’m in literary limbo with Laughingstock. If I was really motivated and forward -thinking, I would be planning my sales campaign for the new book. However, as we’ve already established, I’m no good at sales and hate it.

I’m not a salesentity, that’s for sure – I style myself a writer. So I’m taking this time to work on a fun project that I’ve been wanting to do for a bit, and not worry about making it marketable or commercial. Writing for self-amusement, in other words.

Ever since I wrote the “short” story Reset, I’d thought there were possibilities for a sequel – or perhaps several. Reset was based on a very strange dream in which I was back in junior high school, but with all of my adult experiences and memories. I don’t usually remember my dreams, but this one was so freaky that it stuck with me for days, and persisted in my memory until I actually started writing it down. It ended on a cliff-hanger, which basically provided me with an open door to do something else fun with it.

So I did. In the new story, called Dungeon & Dragon, the protagonist, Scott Gray, wakes up (or comes to) in an entirely different and even weirder place. As the title implies, it is a swords and sorcery fantasy world. And that’s just the start! Next story, Scott could wind up on a spaceship, or in the Wild West, or the Golden Age of Rome. Sky’s the limit, y’all!

Since the point of this is to have fun, I’ve decided to post the sections as a write and revise them. Of course, reader input is welcome. Might as well make this a group effort. So check out Dungeon & Dragon, and have fun!


Fester
Fester – makes a great holiday gift!https://www.amazon.com/dp/1733269940

Intelligence – Artificial and Otherwise

So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure

How amazingly unlikely is your birth

And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space

‘Cause there’s bugger-all down here on Earth!

Monty Python, “Galaxy Song”

Hola, amigos! I know it’s been a long time since I’ve rapped with ya, but I’ve been busy reading old editorials from The Onion.

No, actually, I’ve been busy doing things other than writing, alas. April was a bit of a mess, having to make a short-notice cross-country trip to deal with family issues, then getting the RSV virus, which pretty much laid me out for two solid weeks. No fun.

I had honestly thought that I’d been done with the third draft of my new novel, Laughingstock, at this point. Unfortunately, it’s not to be – at least not yet. I know there may be literally dozens of fans out there clamoring to read this. I can’t blame them, as it is shaping up to be pretty good. There are still a few rough patches that need to be smoothed over, but what I can’t take care of in Draft 3, surely the editor will be able to address.

Which brings me to another issue that is delaying the moving forward of the project – I can’t really afford to hire an editor right now, nor shell out for the cover art. It’s a drag, and I hope that I’ll be able to do so in the immediate future. However, one of the unfortunate truths of indie authordom is that the author has to pay for these up-front costs out of pocket, as well as ongoing advertising costs, etc. This is not a business for those looking to get rich quickly.

There are those who would have you believe otherwise. A lot of jibber-jabber in that direction nowadays revolves around artificial intelligence (AI). AI platforms such as BlowHard and SplatGTH have been featured on a daily basis since the end of last year. Most of these platforms are language-based or art-based, and I know a lot of writers and artists who have been having a blast playing with them.

I’m not one of them.

I’m taking a very cautious wait-and-see approach to Artificial Intelligence. Any technology that made Stephen Hawking nervous should be approached with extreme caution, I think. Seeing how much of a shit-show social media turned out to be, I think I’ll just keep my distance for a while. Maybe that makes me a Luddite – I really don’t care. I turned 55 a few months ago. I feel that gives me the right to be cranky and suspicious of new stuff. ‘Scuse me – I gotta go holler at some kids to get off my damn lawn!

Okay, I will admit that I can think of at least one area where I would be willing to entertain the use of AI in my writing process: proofreading. I did not have my manuscripts professionally proofread previously, and I came to regret it. For Fester, I just did it myself. In restrospect, this was silly. Sure, I caught some typos, but certainly not all of them. It’s not going to happen when you read the same 100,000 word MS over and over again. You’re too familiar with the words, and your eyes just sorta slide off of them.

The trouble is that professional proofreading can be expensive – usually a penny a word. That’s a cool grand for a 100K word MS. This was more than my editor charged! So I’m conflicted. On one hand, I’m leery of sinking more money into a project that I will most likely never make back. On the other hand, I’d hate to be contributing to literary people losing income due to the Rise of the Machines. On the third hand, I sure as hell don’t want to try proofreading my own novel again.

It’s a bit of a quandary, fer sure. However, given that I have yet to finish writing the thing, it’s all hypothetical, at least for now. So I’ll just quit bitching and leave you with a little treat: Stephen Hawking singing the Galaxy Song. Enjoy!


The Brick

Second draft of LAUGHINGSTOCK

I’m not a fast writer. I have a full-time job, and I’m also pretty lazy. I’d love to be able to crank out two or three full-length novels a year, but that may not be in the offing anytime soon. Consequently, it’s always an amazing feeling when I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for a project I’ve been working on for a long time. I’ve finally reached that point with my latest novel.

The novel is called Laughingstock. It’s about two comedians who grew up together and began doing standup as a duo while in high school. The family of one of the teens moves out of state (to Fester!), but they continue to pursue their comedy careers. Chuck Marshall ends up as a successful standup in L.A., who manages to grab the brass ring and gets his own network TV show. His pal, Wilbert “Duckie” Dunne, manages to escape from Fester, but languishes in a comedy backwater, working crummy jobs and appearing at small venues in the Pacific Northwest. When Chuck disappears at the height of his success, Duckie goes out in search of his childhood friend. Along the way, he encounters a secret comedians’ retreat, a deceased comedy legend who isn’t as dead as everyone thinks, and the sinister machinations of the head of the Wolff TV Network.

I was about three-quarters of the way through the second draft when I realized, “Hey, this might actually be a story that people would enjoy reading.” It was a good feeling. That feeling was tempered somewhat by the final word count: 165,000 words, which was about a 50% increase from the first draft.

I nominally like to aim for a word count of 90,000 words for a completed novel MS. For Fester, I settled for 110,000 – I’ll probably end up landing around there for Laughingstock as well. That’s the problem with “pantsing,” which is my preferred method of writing. Since I usually start with a premise, a handful of characters and a very general notion of the direction I want the story to go, I always end up with huge manuscripts that then need to be brutally pruned to something readable. It’s fun, however, to kind of wind up the characters and just observe what they do. A lot of the time they end up doing or saying things that I had no notion of them doing or saying. It can be kind of spooky, honestly – but also fun, like a Jaycees haunted house.

Now I have a 592-page brick of a manuscript that I need to cut nearly in half to be workable. I thought about just removing all of the even-numbered chapters, and pushing it as an “experimental” story form, but that would probably only appeal to MFA students who do a lot of hippie drugs. Instead, I will now break out a red pen and proceed to “murder my darlings.” The best approach is to treat the whole project like I’m having to pay by the word for having the thing printed. Given that Amazon is my primary sales conduit, this isn’t that far from the truth.

So off I go with a brand new red pen and a ruthless gleam in my eye to get this next novel out in the world. Wish me luck.


LoNoWriMo

I’m sitting here enjoying watching an early December snowfall in Portland – and fervently hoping that it ends and melts by tomorrow!

As I mentioned in my last post, I sorta punted on November’s National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to produce 50K words of a novel during the 30 days of November. This works out to 1,667 words per day. This is not an easy task, at least not for me. I know some professional writers who can crank out three or four thousand words a day without breaking a sweat, but for me this sort of output is aspirational.

Last year, I participated in NaNoWriMo in a limited fashion, with a goal of 15K words for the month, or 500 a day. This wasn’t too odious, so I wanted to double the goal for this year. However, my schedule (and inherent laziness) didn’t allow me to participate last month, which was disappointing. I had really wanted to get 30,000 words further down the road in the second draft of my new MS, a novel called Laughingstock.

In order to make up for this deficit, I’m declaring December to be Local Novel Writing Month, or LoNoWriMo. In this case, the locality is limited to my writing space upstairs, or – if it’s snowing – the kitchen table, so I can look out over the backyard. The goal is to have 30K words by the New Year.

So far, so good. In fact, it’s only the 4th, but I’ve got 5,000 words down, so I’m slightly ahead of the game. If I can keep up this pace, I might be in a position to do the full monty of 50,000 words for next November’s NaNoWriMo. First things, first, though – onward to the New Year!


Time for Some Fall Cleaning

Fester
All new Fester cover

Fall came late to Portland, but when it finally appeared it hit like a ton of bricks. Cold, wet, windy bricks. After a summer of amazing authorial indolence, I’m finally get up off of my keister and getting some things squared away.

New Book Cover

First, I have a new cover for Fester. I was conflicted about replacing the original, as I really liked it. My good friend Ken Huey did a superlative job on the cover. He gave me exactly what I asked for. The problem was that I didn’t really know what I should be asking for.

Fester
Original Fester cover

Right out of the gate, it was attracting flak along the lines of “you’d better hope than no lawyers from Warner/DC see that cover.” Apparently some felt that one of the figures on the cover resembled a character owned by a litigious multimedia conglomerate.

I shrugged that off, but the real hassles began when I started advertising on Amazon. The Amazon Ads content moderators felt that the cover was “gory,” for reasons I couldn’t discern and they wouldn’t explain. So, I yanked the ads and saved my advertising pennies to pay pro cover designer Stuart Bache to come up with a new design. I’m pleased with the new cover, even though I’ll miss the old one.

(And if you have a copy with the original cover, encase it in Mylar immediately and buy yourself a copy with the new cover. The original is sure to be a collector’s item in some alternate universes.)

New Novel Manuscript

I’m still moving ahead on the second draft of Laughingstock. I hoped to kick it into overdrive during NaNoWriMo this month, but alas it was not to be. First, a cross-country trip took the wind out of my sails right at the beginning of the month. Then, the ructions surrounding the cover redesign took up a lot of time that I otherwise could have spent writing. Finally, I’m a lazy bastard with dozens of excuses for doing other things when I could or should be writing.

So, what I will try to do is to have my own mini-NaNoWriMo in December. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to produce 50,000 words in a month. I know that that’s still a steep order, but I think I can crank out at least 30,000 words during December. I think it’s possible to do 1,000 words a day. Currently, I am re-writing the second act of the story arc, so those 30K words are going to have to be original stuff. Absolutely doable!

New Social Media

Given the poop-show that Twitter has become, what with the invasion of billionaire buttheads whose daddies didn’t love them, I’ve decided to bail on Twitter entirely. It is unlikely that many people will be upset or even notice. Seeing as how the plat form was little more than a timesuck (just like all social media), I doubt I’m going to miss it.

Instead, I will now be not-really-doing-much-posting to Instagram instead. The URL there is instagram.com/crawfordsmithauthor/

Keeping with the theme of moving away from the Sweet Weasel Words “brand” (shudder), and sticking to my own name, I will also shift to a new FB page: facebook.com/CrawfordSmithAuthor. I will continue posting on the SWW page for now, but intend to phase that out entirely by the end of the year.

Everybody have a great Thanksgiving, and I will be back soon with an update on all these marvelous doings!

Take A Penny, Leave A Penny

You know how it works…

Hola amigos, I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, so I’m going to do so right now, even though I have nothing much to say. To make it more interesting, I’m going to post in the style of the “Bullpen Bulletins” pages from early 80’s Marvel Comics, which I read assiduously right up until I got my learner’s permit.

ITEM! – The work on the second draft of Laughingstock has finally gathered a head of steam. I’ve collated and rewritten some of the chapters that will remain intact, which are of the comedian-protagonists early days of standup whilst in high school. I’m now on to material that will have to be heavily rewritten or composed for the first time. I’ve been doing a lot of research on how TV series are made for the second act of the novel.

ITEM! – I’m seriously considering reworking the cover of Fester to make it more marketable. Ken Huey’s original cover was fabulous, and he provided exactly what I asked for. However, at that point, I really didn’t know what I should be asking for. After a multi-pronged battle with Amazon’s advertising department over whether the cover image is “violent,” I finally gave up on advertising. Since then, I’ve decided to experiment to see if a different cover will make it easier to sell and keep those creeps from Amazon Ads off my back.

ITEM! – One of the reasons for this move towards a new cover was the fact that last month, I received a royalty payment from Amazon of one U.S. penny ($0.01). Of course, this is terribly embarrassing to admit, but since I figure that just about the same number of people read this blog as buy my books, I’m not in any danger om embarrassing myself in front of anyone who doesn’t already know how embarrassing I already am. Or something.

ITEM!NaNoWriMo starts next month, and I couldn’t be more confused as to what I am going to do with it. A while back, I thought I could try the full 50,000 words in a month challenge. I had a decent outline for a sequel to Fester, and I thought I could use that as a springboard for the 1,667 words a day that would be needed to get the Full Meal Deal for the event. That is not going to happen, at least this year. I intend to plow on with Laughingstock, and perhaps try to write or edit 1,000 words a day for the month of November.

As for the full NaNoWriMo challenge – well, maybe next year.

Time to Drop the Pantsing?

Hola, amigos! I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, but things have been muy loco here at Sweet Weasel Words.

First, I’ve been spending the last several months posting a serialized version of a novella, called For They Shall Hurt. It’s a chilling story of friendship, misplaced faith and murder. It was an interesting process, although not without criticism. Some readers didn’t like to have to wait a week to read the next chapter. I like to think that I was imitating other authors who serialized their stories. For example, Stephen King’s The Green Mile was originally published in six serial volumes in 1996. In turn, King references Charles Dickens’ novels, many of which were serially published in magazines or as standalone “chapbooks.”

This is where any resemblance between Your Humble Author and the likes of King and Dickens ends. My decision to publish FTSH in serial form had more to do with the feedback I received from my writers’ group. I actually finished the first draft earlier this year, but I didn’t post the chapters until I had received feedback from my writing peeps at each week’s meeting.

Now that the novella is complete, I’ve turned my efforts to my next novel manuscript, tentatively titled Laughingstock. Right now, the MS is topping 115K words, which is about 25,000 more than I’d like to have for the final product. Also, I still haven’t finished the first draft; another 10,000 words is not out of the question.

In a previous post, I discussed the difference between “plotting” and “pantsing” in story construction. I am absolutely a pantser, and have really been pantsing the hell out of this story. Especially as the story approaches its conclusion, I’ve basically been driving all of the characters to the same place and seeing what the heck they end up doing. Now, I think I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can see a clear path to the end of the story.

The question for me is whether I should try to plot or outline that path that I can see through the haze, or just keep pantsing to the end. Doing the former would most likely speed up the writing process, which is a good thing. On the other hand, pantsing has gotten me this far, and I am loathe to abandon it now; similar to the way some baseball players don’t like to change their socks when they’re on a winning streak. (NOTE: I change my socks nearly every day.)

So I guess I’m not going to drop my pantsing for now, seeing as how I’m in the home stretch. I hope to be able to give a definitive report on this approach shortly.


A “Pantsing” Impasse

Partial manuscript for Laughingstock

Back in November, I took part (in a limited fashion) in National Novel Writing Month. It was a great experience, and I met with a lot of really cool local authors. I’ve been writing with the same small group for (egad!) 13 years now, and it was great to broaden my local writing network.

One of the many things I learned was that there are two different approaches to writing fiction: “plotting” and “pantsing.” Plotting involves meticulously outlining the story, developing characters’ backstories and motivations, etc. Pantsing – as in “flying by the seat of your pants” – means just sitting down and writing with little or no planning.

I’ve done both. For Jackrabbit, I did a fair amount of plotting, as most of the story (at least the first 2/3rds) was based on historical events. I wanted to get those events right, as I knew that with historical fiction, readers could be especially particular about getting the facts just so. Also, I wanted to soak up as many factual details as I could, as it would inform the tone and story I was trying to establish with the parts of the book that were purely the products of my imagination. I did a lot of research and developed a detailed outline before I started writing the manuscript.

With Fester, it was the exact opposite: I just started writing. It was an interesting process, and it took the characters and the story in unexpected directions. A lot of times I’d sit down to write and thing, “What are these weirdos going to do now?” I really didn’t know the specifics until I was actually writing the scene and the results could sometimes be surprising. Bolly Bollinger ended up being a much more interesting character than I’d initially thought. I’m certain there’s a place for him in the proposed sequel.

I’ve been working on a new novel, working title Laughingstock. It’s about two comedians who grew up together and started performing stand-up as a team. Their lives diverge, and one goes on to comedy fame while the other remains in the stand-up doldrums. At the height of his success, the famous comic suddenly disappears, and his old friend goes in search of him, encountering all manner of ill shit.

I’ve been totally pantsing this story too, but I’ve run into a bottleneck with the antagonist characters. I was able to consistently crank out chapters during NaNoWriMo, but as the New Year turned, it began getting harder and harder. It finally got to the point where I was afraid I’d be writing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over – and then I’d go after Shelley Duvall with an axe. And that poor woman had enough of a time of it from Stanley Kubrick.

To cut Shelley a break, I decided to shift gears, and started working on a short story I’d had kicking around in the attic for a few years. I’m taking a step back from Laughingstock, to let some of the ideas ferment. I’m also going to apply some plotting framework to the pantsing story. I definitely need to work out the timeline better, as I have been taking a lot of liberties with timing and the order of events. I think that will help shake loose some of the antagonist characters – particularly the sociopath studio head and the psychopath director.

I’d really like to have a second draft of this novel done by year’s end. At the very least, I look to have a new short story ready to go. And if all else fails, I can get busy on a sequel to Reset.


New Deal Year

Well, 2022 kinda looks like it’s gonna bite pretty hard; here’s to a hoping for a repeat of 2015 – a much more propitious year!

Happy New Year, and here’s to hoping for a speedy recovery from the holiday season and maybe a glimmer of hope in the new year. This is a time of reflection and aspiration, where we look back at the mistakes of the past year, and look forward to the mistakes of the upcoming one.

As the Primary Scribe of Sweet Weasel Words, there were many things to celebrate in 2021. Well, by “many,” I mean two: publication of Powwows and the publication of Fester. Being a sole-prop APE (author, publisher, entrepreneur), every new title is an adventure and a learning experience.

Powwows was originally a story line from the monster first draft (~150K words) of Fester that was excised to bring the manuscript down to a tolerable size. I still liked the story quite a bit, so I hit on the idea of editing Powwows as a separate novella that would be released a few months prior to act as an “appetizer” by introducing the reader to the built world of Fester, Pennsylvania and make them eager to read the full-length novel.

In theory.

In practice, I suspect I used up all of the goodwill in my friends-and-family fan base with Powwows. I got a fairly decent response from the gang about the ~18K word novella, but when the 90K word Fester hit the shelves, the response was, to coin a word, sub-monktastic. The attitude seemed to be “Oh, Christ, he’s published another one?” Plus, college football season was just starting up, so there was very little time for people to bother reading something I had spent 13 years crafting. OK, well “writing” might be a better word than “crafting,” but still…

So, take that as an object lesson: be careful of how you time your publications, so as to avoid reader burnout.

Looking ahead, what is in store for 2022? Or 2015? Well, I’m about 50K words into a draft of a novel called Laughingstock. It’s about two stand-up comics who get started in show business together as teenagers. As they grow apart, one experiences success in the laugh business while one continues to toil in small-time comedy backwater. As the successful one reaches the apogee of his success, he suddenly disappears. His friend embarks on a quest to find his friend – and take on the sinister Wolff Network.

I’m still not sure where the story is going to go, but I did get in the habit during National Novel Writing Month of seat-of-the-pants writing, which often takes the story in amazing and unexpected directions. I’d like to get the first draft of Laughingstock finished before mid-year.

Waiting in the wings is a sequel to Fester. During a trip to the unusual and interesting town of Astoria, Oregon, I came upon a fascinating story that would serve as a framework for a sequel. I came back from that trip with a 75% complete outline for the story. I was quite eager to get started on it when I returned from Astoria, but decided instead to forge ahead with the Laughingstock MS. I think this will allow the Astoria story to age on the shelf, as it were – and make for a more compelling story when I get down to writing it.

It’s been an interesting 2021; it promises to be an equally interesting 2022. That’s why I’m looking forward to 2015. Have a great year!


Fester Cover Reveal!

Here it is kids! At long last, the final cover for Fester, with a major tip of the hat to fabulous artist and all-around nice guy, Ken Huey. It’s been really cool to see the artwork as it progressed through the design process, and to share the WIP images with you. Now, here’s the final, finished product:

Fester cover

RELEASE UPDATE: I’m still gunning for a June 30 release, although that may slip a bit due to unforeseen circumstances and my own personal idiocy. I’m waiting for Proof #3 to come back from Amazon KDP (shh, don’t tell the local bookshops) for what I sincerely hope will be a final polish. I hope to have some sample chapters up on the Fester page soon.