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Category: whining

Following the Threads

After a bit of a rocky start to the summer, I am moving forward more briskly with my sequel to Fester. The working title is Fall, although that is almost certain to change eventually. I had hoped that this story would be an easier one to write because I had somewhat of an outline.

The outline came from a series of local newspaper articles from Astoria, Oregon. It chronicled the final downfall of a once-prominent local family called the Flavels. And the end of their story was so weird, it seemed straight out of Fester. In fact, Astoria has some geographical similarities to my mental picture of Fester – save the three-mile-wide river mouth and the Pacific Ocean. I’ll save the story of the Flavels for another time, though.

I’m about 50 pages into the manuscript, which isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but it is enough to give me a broad view of how the story is progressing. And I’m not particularly surprised to discover that the vaunted Flavel narrative is not the watertight outline I’d originally (and unrealistically) expected, but more of a loose framework.

I guess that is to be expected of an inveterate pantser. To Hades with the outline; we pantsers are allergic to them. However, what I do have, 50 pages in, is a number of narrative threads that will weave themselves together in ways I can’t predict and may not even want. Even better, I have a number of characters in interesting situations that have yet to reveal themselves. This is the best part of being a pantser: winding up the characters and observing what they do.

Seriously, I frequently have no conscious intention about a characters actions. I just watch and report. It’s like having a movie projector that only works when I hammer on the keyboard. Entertaining as hell, and also a little spooky sometimes.

Here’s how things are shaping up right now. Normally, I would be hesitant to give too much of the narrative away this early in the process. However, since this is the Shitty First Draft, what’s going on now may have absolutely no resemblance to the final product, so what the hell. Here are the threads that have manifested themselves so far:

  • Martin Prieboy has now been the Chief Constable of Fester for nearly twenty years. He has just lost his spouse to cancer, and finds himself bonding with a police informant.
  • Billy Snyder served several years in the state pen for his part in the events in Fester. Now he lives in the boondocks outside of town, where he sells military antiques – and plots revenge.
  • The land once known as the Wizard’s Woods has been developed into a mall. However, in 2014, malls aren’t doing too well, and Harold Todd, the mall’s owner, is starting to get worried about its financial viability. And there are some strange things going on at the mall after hours…
  • Michael “Bolly” Bollinger has successfully taken over his father’s automotive repair shop. His landlord, the Schmidt family, is once again hiking the rent on the shop, making Bolly concerned about his financial future.

What happens next? OK. I’ve got a pretty good idea what Bolly’s going to do now, and maybe some ideas about the mall, but that’s it. The rest will reveal itself as I pound the keyboard. That’s part of the fun of being an indie writer. That and the money. Woo-hoo!


Coming Soon (Sorta) and Other Miscellany

ITEM! It’s official! Work has begun on the sequel to Fester. Granted, it’s not a lot of work, and there is no title as of yet. As I am a pantser when it comes to writing, I don’t even have a clear idea of exactly what’s going to happen. There are a number of things I can share of which I am fairly certain:

  • The timeline of the new story is set 20 years after Fester, which puts it around 2014.
  • Martin Prieboy is still Chief Constable of Fester, but is struggling with the recent loss of his spouse.
  • Billy Snyder is out of prison and living in a secluded house in the hills, where he spends his time plotting revenge.
  • Michael “Bolly” Bollinger has taken over his dad’s automotive repair shop and is a respected local businessman -but his business is in trouble.
  • The Schmidt family now teeters on the brink of destruction, their huge mansion looming over the town of Fester like something really, really symbolic.
  • Cynthia Hoegenbloeven is still running around somewhere with the remnants of the money she ran off with. Presumably she has now gotten some clothes.

There are other characters who we probably won’t see: the Plummer family moved out of town shortly after the events of Fester, and haven’t been heard from, ditto Janie Simpson. Roscoe Dirkschneider has died in prison, and Randall “Cowboy Bob” Warnke never recovered from his injuries sustained at the hands of the parishioners of Calvary Lutheran. Of course, the Top Hat families are still around, although most of the characters from Fester have gone to that Great Country Club in the Sky.

That’s what I’ve got for now. I’ll keep you posted as the story develops, although it usually takes me several years to actually write, edit and publish these books. You patience will be rewarded.

ITEM! In the course of marketing Laughingstock, I had the fortune to encounter a new book promo site called Shepherd. It’s a fascinating premise: authors are asked to list their five favorite books related to a theme of their choosing – which is presumably related to one of their own books. Then they write a short review of those books.

The theme I chose was “hilarious high weirdness,” which is a fairly regular theme in my writing. This allowed my literary eclecticism to really stretch – it was a great deal of fun! Here are the books I chose:

  • Wilt by Tom Sharpe
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
  • The Book of the SubGenius by the SubGenius Foundation
  • Noir by Christopher Moore
  • The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien

My reviews can be found at THIS LINK. Give the page – and the whole site – a good going-over – it’s a lot of fun!

ITEM! There will be an eBook promo for Fester, starting this Wednesday, June 5, running through Sunday, June 9. For this time, the eBook version of Fester will be available for a measly $0.99. Of course, it’s still too early to promote the sequel (coming Summer 2027 if I really work at it), but I wanted to take another run at the Amazon Bestseller ranking as I did with Laughingstock. I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that these promos are the best way to get people to read what I’ve written, and that investing heavily in advertising profits nobody but the advertising platform. We’ll see how it goes!

We’re (Almost) Number 1!

I almost called this post “We’re Number 2!” but decided that the wording was a little too ambiguous. I want to tell you of my adventures with a run at bestseller status.

Keep in mind that I’m referring to Amazon bestseller status. This is quite different from, say, New York Times bestseller status. To put it into an athletic context, getting your book on the NYT bestseller list is like winning a gold medal in the Olympics. Getting a book on the Amazon bestseller list is like beating a marginally athletic second-grader in a foot race. Sure, you might not make it, but it wouldn’t be that hard to achieve.

In retrospect, the second-grader gave me a run for the money.

The NYT has ten slots for fiction in its bestseller list, which is updated weekly. Amazon literally has thousands of slots – or categories – under which a book might be considered a bestseller, and these results are updated hourly. For Amazon Kindle, there are several thousand categories of fiction, and with updates 24 times a day, there are close to 100,000 opportunities to make a bestseller list every single day.

Of course, choosing a category is key to success here. One needs to choose a category that doesn’t have a lot of competition. However, the category also has to be relevant to the content of the book. If you list a book under a completely inappropriate category to boost your ranking, the Amazon Police will be banging on your door soon enough, or so it is said. However, I found an appropriate category (you get to choose three) called Humorous Dark Comedy that was a great fit for Laughingstock, and low-competition.

Back when Fester came out, I’d gotten my mitts on a document called the “Bestseller Launch Blueprint.” I was rushed at the time, and didn’t have the time or inclination to follow through on the instructions, which seemed a little hokey to me at the time.

After Fester was published, I spent a fair amount of time and effort attempting to promote the book, with not a lot to show for it. As Laughingstock was ramping up for publication. I had a little more time and a little more inclination to see what came of applying this formula.

The formula itself is pretty simple: wait a few weeks after publication, then drop the price of the eBook to $0.99 and advertise the hell out of it. There are a number of websites and services that have subscribers who are on the prod for cheap-as-free eBooks, and they will gallantly allow authors to pay to advertise their book specials. The 800-pound gorilla of these services is BookBub, which has a huge subscriber base and is definitely an important outlet for indie authors looking to get the word out about their books.

So I went all-in on BookBub and a number of other similar services, and scheduled an advertising blitz for two weeks after the book was published. I had followed all the steps in the Blueprint, and was ready to see what would happen.

Damned if it didn’t work! Sales shot up immediately, and it wasn’t long before Laughingstock had cracked the top ten in the Humorous Dark Comedy category. I was pretty chuffed when the book first landed at #7, although I was still several slots behind a book of Great Memes of 2023, by a “Mr. DANK DANK.”

In a day I had climbed even higher, and on the afternoon of the second day, I had reached #2 in the category. “Suck it, Mr. DANK DANK,” I told the wall. Surely, I would soon crack the number one spot and brag my ass off.

Then I took a look at the book occupying the #1 slot, and knew I was boned. The book was called Shorts, by Caimh McDonnell. A closer look showed that the book had been published on the same day I had launched my ad blitz. Further, a quick look at Goodreads indicated that Mr. McDonnell had upwards of thirty titles, each of which had thousands of 4- and 5-star ratings. There’s no way I could compete with a brand-new book from this author. The guy absolutely dominates the Humorous Dark fiction category for Kindle: of the top 50 books in that category, McDonnell’s books currently occupy 12 of those slots. (Mr. DANK DANK’s meme book is #50; Laughingstock is #129. DAMN YOU MR. DANK DANK!)

Well, it was a good run, and my takeaway is to check your competition’s publishing schedule before starting your launch This overall worked out well in that I sold more copies of Laughingstock in a week than I did for Fester in the three years since it was published! I will wait a month or two and try the same Formula with Fester to see if I can claim the top spot.

I think I can still claim bragging rights. I’ve a friend in publishing who considers making the Top 10 good enough to put “Amazon bestseller” on the resume. Plus, I had this little recognition of being the #1 New Release in Comedy. For about an hour, true – but I’ll take it! It’s a dog-eat-dog world in indie publishing, and you have to grab whatever accolades you can.


Countdown to Publication

Counting down now – just seven days until the release of Laughingstock. For once, I’m not spending the weekend re-reading a hard-copy proof, so I thought I’d give a quick update/preview.

For the last four weeks, I’d been following pretty much the same routine: receive a copy of the proof from KDP on Friday, spend Friday night, all of Saturday and Sunday morning reviewing the MS for issues, and entering the changes on Sunday afternoon. This would allow just enough time to order a new proof in time for it to arrive the following Friday.

Most of the changes were for clarity: avoiding repeated words or finding more elegant ways of expressing ideas. However, I did (and continue to) find plenty of typos. This chafed my ass worse than snowpants with the seat cut out, since I paid both an editor and a proofreader to review the text. They both totally phoned it in, and I will not be working with either again. The kicker is that the editor I’d really wanted to work with originally contacted me several weeks ago to let me know that she was freelancing again. So it goes…

I’ve been trying to front-load my promotional efforts more than I have in the past. I’ve been trying to get some advance readers to generate early reviews. I’ve used the traditional method of pestering friends, family members and my not-particularly-extensive email list to read and review Advance Reader Copies (ARCs).

I’ve also been using a service called BookSirens. This is a service that provides ARCs to readers for free, with the notion that they will leave reviews for the books they have read. It’s free for the readers, and fairly reasonable for authors. Setup fee is $10, and for each reader who downloads a copy, the author is charged $2. So, for $20 you could end up getting 10 reviews. Compare that to sending out hard copies and badgering your friends and family to actually read it and provide a review. So, far, I’ve gotten three four-star or higher reviews. A pretty good deal, overall.

I’m also getting ready for an Amazon advertising blitz – provided I have any money left over after the tax bill is due. I’m brushing off the painfully-won knowledge of this incredibly complex advertising platform to boost sales as soon as it’s available. Which, by the way, it will be on

Sunday, March 31 – Laughingstock Release Date!

I’m also thinking about a promotional “launch” a few weeks after the official publication date. I’ll be running promos on BookBub at least, and maybe one or two other platforms. (PRO TIP: I’ll be dropping the price of the Laughingstock ebook to $0.99 for about a week starting ~April 15.)

I’m sure there will be other frantic, last-minute, chicken-with-its-head-cut-off activity in the next week as well. I’ll be sure to let you know all about it soon! In the meantime, I’ve still tried to keep producing words with my serial Dungeon & Dragon – be sure to check it out.


Goin’ APE Over a New Title Release

Getting closer to the publication date for Laughingstock – March 31, so mark your calendars! At this point, I figured I had it knocked – the manuscript had been edited and proofread, the cover design approved, all the big pieces. I figured that by now, everything would be hunky-dory.

Nope.

For starters, I keep finding issues in the text. The photo above are the corrections for the seventh proof version. Granted that most of those post-its and flags are for minor “this could read better” tweaks, but there are typos as well. Some of them might have gone in after the proofreader had finished reviewing – but then again, they might not. As for the “this could read better” items, well, isn’t that what an editor is supposed to do?

Ah well, so be it. I guess there’s a vein of perfectionism in anyone who is creative. Even if they’re really lazy like me.

Another reason for my crabbiness is that (picayune edits aside), I am done with the fun part of being an APE, and now have to deal with the less pleasant aspects of self-publishing.

“APE” describes the three main roles that a self-published author has: author, publisher and entrepreneur. The author part is what it’s all about. It’s fun. It’s why we’re in it in the first place. The magic of world-creation, the joy of creating a character and seeing them do things you had no idea they were capable of – that’s cool. You write something that you think is cool and that you want to share with other people, in the hope that they can find enjoyment in it, too.

But before that can happen, you have to engage in the P and the E parts of the APE.

The publishing bit is complicated but formulaic. Once you’ve figured out the mechanics of the process, it’s relatively straightforward. At least I think so, but I have a technical education and so complicated (but repeatable) mechanisms aren’t too difficult for me. I can see how this would drive other people bonkers, though.

What really grabs me by the boo-boo is the E – entrepreneurship. In other words, SALES. I’ve bitched about this before, and will undoubtedly do so at great length after the 31st. I’m certain that there are people who despise the publishing aspect who are relatively OK with the sales schmoozing. (Note I don’t say they like it. I’ve never met a self-published author who really likes the sales part.)

As far as sales schmoozing goes, I’m terrible at it. I’m a self-important jerk with no patience. Here’s how a typical exchange goes (at least in my mind):

ME: I think you would benefit from this product or service, and should consider purchasing it.

POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: Well, I don’t know…

ME: Well screw you, ya blithering idiot!

So, no, not really good at sales – my SubGenius forbears would be disappointed. So be it. I’m going to have to suck it up and try it again. I’ve already started greasing the skids with advertising to be ready to roll when the 31st rolls around.

But enough of that for now – I have Proof #8 to review!


Now For the Real Fun!

I’ve gotten to the real fun part of Laughingstock – the one where someone else gets to do the work, and I can simply criticize and/or suggest improvements. I’m talking, or course, about COVER DESIGN.

Sure, it’s fun creating worlds out of my fevered imagination and bringing them to life. Not quite so fun revising and revising and REVISING, so that by this time, I’m glad to unwind at least a little. Of course, still apprehensive that the cover will not adequately pique potential readers’ interest, regardless of what I think. Then there’s the possibility of running into issues with Amazon Ads, as happened with Fester.

I’m going with the cover artist who bailed me out with the Fester problem – Stuart Bache. Stuart’s a consummate professional and a lot of fun to work with, so this is always a fun part of producing a book. We’re still in the preliminary stages, but I’ve already got some concepts to share. Here we go!

Concept 1

I like this concept, as it definitely hits the stand-up trope with the stool and the mic stand. At first, I was a little put off by the way the title is broken onto two lines, but the longer I’ve thought about it, the more it works with the content of the book.

Concept 2

Currently not as enthused with this concept, although that could change. The tragedy/comedy masks are compelling. It’s good comedy is dominant, but the tragedy mask is kind f a downer. Of course, there is tragedy in the story – I’m just not sure if I want to give it equal time on the cover. Bonus points for having the title on one line, though.

I’m looking forward to developing the design with Stuart. Right now, I’m leaning towards Concept 1, as it better conveys the stand-up comedy theme better than the masks.


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

Wind ‘Em Up & Watch ‘Em Go to Unexpected Places

Hello friends! I’m enjoying what has so far been a very pleasant summer in Portland. I’m closing in on completing the third draft of a new novel, called Laughingstock. I hope to have it published by the end of the year.

Laughingstock is about two comedy nerds, Chuck and Duckie, who as teenagers psych each other up to actually try performing as a comedy duo. After some miscues, they find that that they’re enjoy it and are good at it. Just as their nascent career is starting to take off, Duckie’s family moves (to Fester, Pennsylvania, of all the awful places). As with so many long-distance relationships, they grow apart. They continue to pursue their careers separately, with varying success. Chuck makes the move to Los Angeles, where his star rises quickly and he lands his own network comedy show. Duckie, meanwhile, languishes in the comedy backwater of Portland, grabbing whatever gigs he can manage and paying the bills with dull third-shift jobs.

Just as Chuck’s show takes off, he abruptly disappears. Duckie undertakes a search to locate his old friend. His wild search involves many strange people and circumstances, including the legacy of Mickey Gross, a legendary comedian who supposedly died of cancer five years prior. Duckie’s search leads him to a remote island in Bristish Columbia, where he discovers a strange comedy secret that has been concealed for decades.

Compelling stuff, eh, kids? I sure hope so, and I’m having a lot of fun writing it. (Which is almost entirely the point; I sure ain’t in this for the money!) I’d really hoped to be done with Draft 3 earlier this spring, but it sure didn’t work out that way. However, just when I think I’m approaching closure, one of the characters goes off the rails and I have to figure out how to incorporate their unexpected behavior.

I’ve spoke before about my “pantsing” approach to writing: the flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach to storytelling, as opposed to “plotting,” where most of the action is plotted out before Word 1 is written. I’m just too impatient to be a plotter; it’s pantsing all the way for this guy.

Which is a lot of fun, but not conducive to speedy writing. For example, in Laughingstock, Duckie meets the estranged daughter of Mickey Gross, and they unexpectedly fall into a torrid love affair. Honestly, I did not see this coming. Of course, it provided an excuse to write some steamy sex scenes, and diluted the “sausage party” vibe that comes from writing about male-dominated activities like stand-up comedy. (As a comedy nerd myself, I’m gratified to see more women rising to prominence in this field.) Good things come from pantsing.

Similarly, in Fester, Paul Plummer was originally meant to be a minor character who would sort of fade into the background after the first act. Instead, he ended up being on of the main characters of the novel. It was fun to sort of conceive of these characters and then set them loose to see what happens. I’ll also do this deliberately if I get a little stuck. For example, Laughingstock has a network executive named Don Bundy. I wasn’t sure what Don was all about, so just to find out, I wrote a scene showing what Don does in the evening when he goes home from work. It turns out that Don is a lot creepier than I’d originally thought. The scene was excised from the second draft as it didn’t really move the story along, but it provided invaluable insight into Don’s character which was very useful for the rest of the story.

So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. The novel is progressing slowly – not because of authorial laziness (well, not entirely) – but because these darned characters act like they have minds of their own! Onward!


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.