Hey S, how’s your novel coming along?

Oh, I’m so glad you asked!

Well, this has been a pretty crazy week at work.  You know, at the real job?  The job that actually puts groceries in the refrigerator?  We’re playing musical offices this summer.  We used to have this one building, and my office was outside in a trailer.  Then they built a new building about a year ago and added the old building to the new building to make one building.  I moved into the old part of the building.  Now, they’ve done some remodeling and decided to put this office here and that office there and… I’m one of those offices.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it was just one desk full of stuff, but I had to move my absentee co-workers junk too and then there is the ton of computer crap that has to move.  Probably ten different computer systems, plus all the networking, and it has just been kicking my ass.  I’ve got stuff piled all over the place and one of my co-workers remarked that it looked like the latest episode of Hoarders.

Nevertheless, I have been doing some writing.  Yesterday I got contacted by one of the Vice Presidents of the company asking me for my input on a particular project.  Me.  Talking to a VP.  A VP who used to be a 2-star general.  I was a bit shocked by that, I have to say.

I know I’m a pretty smart and capable guy, but I wasn’t really aware that the upper echelons of management thought I was Our Man in Bumfuck Who Can Answer Those Questions.  Rather heady stuff considering I used to be nothing but an enlisted puke back in the day.  So I spent the better part of a day crafting an email to the HMFIC.  Got to put the skills to work and not look like a stumblebum.

So there’s two perfectly good reasons why the First Novel hasn’t moved forward.  Not good enough for you?  Alright then, how about if I tell you I’ve been spending a lot of time on Scribophile?  In case you haven’t been there, it’s a site where authors (and the other Next Great Novelists) can go to discuss writing and most importantly put their own work up for critique.  However, before you put your own stuff up, you’ve got to earn some karma points by offering your own critiques of other people’s work.  So you have to give before you can take.  It’s a great system and the people are all very helpful.  The first chapter of To The Skies is garbage and they were kind enough to tell me so in a way that made me look forward to thoroughly rewriting it.  In other words, they offered some very helpful and constructive criticism.

So I actually have been working on the First Novel, even though the word count hasn’t gone up any.  But I pledge to you, my loyal First Fans (there will be many thousands of fans who will come later, once TTS hits the NYT bestseller list, but you will have been my First Fans), that this week I will at least get Chapter 12 complete and have some notes put down for where I want Chapter 13 to go.

So get off my butt already!

I’m doing it wrong!

So, in order to fulfill my destiny as the Next Great Novelist, I’m reading all sort of posts here on WordPress (and elsewhere) about writing and publishing.  That’s because I’m the Next Great Novelist, but certainly not the first one.  And apparently, I’m doing it all wrong.

I rather naively think that the First Novel will just flow smoothly from a vague concept to a great novel.  One edit will be enough to fix the very few spelling errors.  The first agent I contact will fall all over himself, eager to get me into print.  Publishing houses will beat a path to my door and throw money at me.  A major Hollywood studio will send a private jet and put me up for six months, all expenses paid, while we film the blockbuster movie with top name stars.

And then I read all these stories about *real* writers who write novel after novel.  Their stuff is elegant, polished, and professional.  They do character studies, write outlines, make summaries, plot story arcs, put stickies on whiteboards… and they’ve got years of rejection letters stuffed in their file cabinets.  Who the fuck am *I* to think I will write one stupid neophyte novel and suddenly be rich and famous?

Well, I don’t care.  I’m going to write the First Novel they way I want to write it.  I don’t care if it sucks.  I don’t care if I’m not doing it right.  I just feel like writing and I want to write my story.  Once I get it finished, I *will* make a good effort at getting it published, and maybe do the right steps so that I too can fill a drawer full of rejection letters.  But for now, I’m just writing my story and I will not let myself worry about the rest of the process.

The Teaser

I decided to post the first chapter of the First Novel.  The title, To The Skies, didn’t really feel like a good fit at first, but it has grown on me.  It comes from when I was a little boy and my father would ask me, “How much do you love your Daddy?”  I would reply, “Way up to the sky!”  So the title has some personal meaning, but may not be all that great of a title for the First Novel.  Got to start with something, I suppose.

The chapter introduces the two protagonists, Emily and Alistair (although I think the version I just posted uses an older spelling that I’ve since changed).  They’re going on a trip from New York to California in the astoundingly short time span of just 48 hours.  This, and a few other clues, serve to establish the time frame of the story.  Astute New Yorkers may observe that the Waldorf Astoria is not on 34th Street.  The original hotel certainly was, however, the first part of which went up when William Waldorf Astor replaced his father’s mansion with a hotel he called the Waldorf.  It was built right next door to his aunt’s house, with whom he did not have the most polite familial relations.  This did not sit well with her.  When William’s cousin, John Jacob Astor IV (who famously perished on the Titanic), persuaded his mother to move, he then built the Astoria hotel right next to the Waldorf.  They soon became one and the combined name became the symbol of opulence in New York during the Gilded Age.

At the time of our story, however, the old hotel is being demolished to make way for a “modern” structure.  Emily, of course, has no idea what the structure will be, so neither do we.  Once again the astute New Yorkers will recognize the location and the famous landmark skyscraper which now occupies the site:  The Empire State Building.

This one brief scene highlights a theme which recurs throughout the story.  The last gasps of the Gilded Age and the furious indulgences of the post-war Roaring Twenties are about to become history as the nation plunges into the Great Depression.  We’re poised on the cliff.  The readers will see it coming; the characters do not.

The Pragmatic Dreamer

In my dreams, I’m a famous and best selling author.  I’ve had a dozen or so novels made into major Hollywood blockbusters.  I have a half a dozen homes, a collection of vintage automobiles, and I travel halfway around the planet on the slightest whim, just to have lunch at that fabulous little cafe in Dbrovnk.

That’s the dreamy part.  The pragmatic part is that I live in an ordinary home and have a (semi) ordinary day job that pays the bills.  I am The Next Great Novelist, but to realize that destiny I must put forth the effort it requires to attain that lofty goal.  In order to sell the First Novel, I must first finish writing it.  That’s where the pragmatism slaps the dream down and tells it to take a number.

This morning, as part of my daily avoidance mechanism for writing the First Novel, I visited this blog.  And by this blog, I mean that I didn’t actually start doing any writing, but instead wasted a bit of time browsing other blogs.  I’ve also perused a few websites in the past that explain how to publish the First Novel (and the rest of them).

My friend, whom I’ll affectionately call “Chainsaw,” for reasons that he will understand, has published a couple of his books already.  Published used to mean a huge display of flashy hardcover novels occupying front and center at every bookstore in the county.  That might have been how it worked back in the 1900s, but this is the 2000s and we do it a bit differently these days.  Published, in Chainsaw’s case, means he uploaded his file to Amazon, filled out a few online forms, and clicked a couple of buttons.  Dun Da Dun!  Published.

I can see that a lot of writers here in Blogspace publish their works for free.  I understand the process of marketing.  It’s all about making your name into a brand, selling your product, gaining recognition.  It’s work.  If it was easy, we’d all be living in Malibu/South of France/Tahiti.

I’m not young anymore – which is perhaps why I tend to be the Grumpy Curmudgeion often – and I find myself holding onto some traditional concepts.  I’d really like the First Novel to get published in the traditional manner.  I know, because I learned all about it in fifteen minutes on the internet, that it is a daunting challenge and that for every great breakthrrough new author who makes it onto the New York Times bestseller list with his first novel, there are thousands and thousands of authors who worked just as hard, produced books that are just as good, and for whatever reason – perhaps just plain old chance – are still doing their day jobs and dreaming of the day when they too can join the ranks of the wealthy and famous authors.

There are a lot of things that will need to happen before my dream can resove itself into reality.  I have rather a long list, but the first item is obvious.  Before I can begin the efforts to get the First Novel published, I must finish writing it.