Still here…

Thought I’d disappeared? No. Actually, it’s all part of the process. The draft was finished, I’d tweaked, fussed, worried, cursed and fussed a bit more over it until my brain cells had switched themselves off in rebellion, and then came another hard thing to do. I had to leave it alone and stop picking at it!

If you really want to be able to look at your work critically, you need not only to get objective and honest feedback from people your trust, you need to get some distance from it too. That means forgetting about it for a reasonable amount of time. So that’s what I did.

I didn’t touch the thing for about two or three months, and then, a couple of weeks ago I read the whole thing again with the benefit of a relatively fresh couple of eyes. The result is that you notice some of those niggling plot flaws and typos that escaped your attention before. Now, there are bound to be a few errors hiding behind some of the paragraphs and lurking between the dashes and dots somewhere, but I reckon I’ve uncovered and fixed most of them.

And with that all done, it’s finally ready.
Keep your fingers crossed folks, and wish me luck – the submission is IN!

I’ve sent a query letter outlining what the book’s about, a full synopsis (these are hideous things to write because you have to cram 120,000 words into about 5000!), and the first 10,000 words of the novel.

Now it’s the waiting game – there are no guarantees – only bitten fingernails as you wait for the publisher’s (or agent’s) opinion of your baby!

I’ll probably expound on the process of query letters and the synopsis on a later date, but for now, think kindly thoughts for my manuscript as it undergoes consideration…

The process of Stranger Will: from done, to done, to really done, to seriously done, to “I’ve got to write another one?!”

This is a guest post by Caleb J Ross as part of his Stranger Will Tour for Strange blog tour. He will be guest-posting beginning with the release of his novel Stranger Will in March 2011 to the release of his second novel, I Didn’t Mean to Be Kevin and novella, As a Machine and Parts, in November 2011. If you have connections to a lit blog of any type, professional journal or personal site, please contact him. To be a groupie and follow this tour, subscribe to the Caleb J Ross blog RSS feed. Follow him on Twitter: Friend him on Facebook:

As a writer, I genuinely appreciate Simon’s transparency here at The Write Place. Novel writing, if anything, is a constantly questioned process. From the simple fanboy questions of “where do you get your ideas” to the tricks-and-tips questions about how to get a novel published, the affirmation of mystery never stops. One thing a lot of beginning writers don’t accept is that there truly are as many appropriate responses to these questions as there are writers willing to answer them. The process from conception to publication (and then on to promotion and career strategizing, which are all-too-neglected factors of the equation) is rarely repeated from one writer to the next. There is no degree program on becoming a professional novelist. There are no tutorials. There is no work-study program. Being a novelist is wading through an unmapped feces trench; no one can really guide you through it, and only you know how much it can stink. As you can probably tell by that terrible metaphor, I am still in the process of becoming a true professional novelist.

For my novel, Stranger Will, the process was fairly straightforward, I think. This being my first published novel (to be followed by my second in November), I don’t have much of a frame of reference other than a close association with many, many writers who have been through this process.

  1. Stranger Will is finished. Well, what I thought at the time was finished. More on the flexibility of the term “finished” below.
  2. Sent queries to many, many agents and publishers. Received some feedback, a few requests for full manuscripts, but was never offered a contract.
  3. Put Stranger Will on hold while I wrote two other novels. Forgetting Stranger Will was surprisingly easier than one might think. I was at a time in my life where I had more ideas than I knew what to do with, so abandoning the first novel in favor of the second and third was pretty easy, actually.
  4. I learned about the necessity for a platform. At the time (this was back in 2004 or so), blogging wasn’t as common as it is now, so building a platform simply wasn’t as easy (not that it is easy now). I wrote stories for a lot of online lit magazines. I joined a few online writing forums. I wrote reviews and conducted interviews for various online and print magazines. Basically, the way I built a platform was to first establish credibility within the writing community and later leverage those relationships to extend credibility to the reading community. I don’t think these steps can be reversed; it would be hard to build credibility with readers if you don’t yet have anything for them to read.
  5. Cried for a few months because I finally realized what a piece of garbage my Stranger Will manuscript was at the time. Think of all those agents and publishers I already exhausted with that early draft. IMPORTANT: DON’T SUBMIT YOUR MANUSCRIPT UNTIL IT IS TRULY FINISHED. There are a finite number of agents and publishers out there, and none of them will re-read something they already passed on, no matter how much you insist it has been revised.
  6. Rewrote Stranger Will from page one (during this time, I was querying agents and publishers for my other manuscripts).
  7. Got a short story chapbook, Charactered Pieces, published (OW Press). I recognize this publication as both a product of my extensive platform building (I met the editor who published the chapbook while doing editorial work at Outsider Writers Collective) and as an extension of my platform. Charactered Pieces, in my mind, was mostly a way to get some attention for Stranger Will.
  8. Whored the goddamn ovaries out of Charactered Pieces. For an incomplete collection of my promotional efforts, go to the Charactered Pieces Blog Tour page at my website.
  9. Celebrated wildly as my friend and fellow writer, Richard Thomas, landed a book deal through start-up press Otherworld Publications. Shortly thereafter, I celebrated again as Nik Korpon also managed a deal. Both of these people I met through my earlier platform building (at writing forums). This is important, because a few months later…
  10. I got a book deal for Stranger Will from the same publisher.

Total time from conception to publication: about 10 years. Now, that may sound pathetic, but keep in mind that also during that time I wrote three other novels, two novellas, many short stories, reviews and interviews galore, and continued to build my platform. Maybe one day I’ll be “author” enough to only have to write books.

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Where did I put my fat lady?

That’s right, the fat lady is not singing. I don’t even know where she’s hiding! I think it’s because she knows her voice isn’t going to be needed for a little while longer yet. Gaia’s Engine is not finished. By this time I thought I’d have sent my first three chapters and the synopsis off to Medallion Press, and be biting my nails down while they made a decision about whether they want to see the full manuscript. But that’s not the case.

Yes, I did complete the final draft a few weeks ago, but that’s not the end of the process. Here’s what I do after that…

I’m still getting feedback from other writers at WriteClub, but there are other people that need to see the novel too. It’s always good to have two or three people read your book in its entirety. People you can trust to give you honest and constructive feedback. They say you should never do this with friends and family. However critical they try to be of your work, it’s very difficult for them not to hold back. Nobody likes to offend people, especially people they like. But I always break that rule, and I’m glad I do, because the best critic of my work has always been Ruth (my wife, for those of you who don’t know). And she came up trumps this time too.

I did what I always do with a new novel – I got the full manuscript printed up as a private print job so that anyone reading it feels like they’ve got a real book in their hands. I find it helps get a really fresh perspective on the novel. Somehow, it’s easy to pick up mistakes. Anyway, I did that, read through it myself, found a load more typo mistakes and some continuity errors, but all in all, I was pretty proud of what I’d written. So I gave it to Ruth. asked for her to read it with a critical eye. The result? Boy do I need to make changes.

Basically, without giving you spoilers, I’ve got to…

Rewrite one of the characters (she’s a terrible cliche), add five more scenes, cut two, seriously alter four others and fix a couple of plot holes. Major work, but the good news is that the novel will be so much stronger as a result. And it might not end there. I’ll need a couple more eyes on it first before I feel confident enough to submit. I’ll update again when I’ve made a bit more progress.

Still plugging away

I spent the last week scrutinizing the various chapters of my draft for errors, plotholes and various other niggles, but I’m still editing away. I have decided to integrate my “Covenant of Gaia” Scriptures into Tyler’s prayer journal. It’ll make the novel slightly bigger, but I think the different voices will add another layer of richness to it. Plus it makes more sense of his thoughts on paper.

So I’m busy finishing that off at the moment. I spent this morning perfecting the back story and completing the historical timeline so that I can have a clear picture of what needs to go in my fake Scriptures. Once that’s done (I anticipate another week), I’ll have a completed draft. I’ll still have some feedback coming in from my WriteClub critiquers, but the novel is looking in much better shape now and I think that in a couple of weeks I’ll be in a position to print up a private copy to give it one more look over. That’s when a few select friends will get to read it so that I can hear some more overall opinions, and whilst that’s going on, I’ll be submitting the first three chapters and the synopsis for submission to Medallion Press. So, nearly there.

First draft is complete!

Hurrah! It took me a couple of weeks longer than planned, but the first draft is now complete. I originally planned for 90,000 words, but I’ve ended up with a little over 101,000 (which is why it took me a bit longer). The work isn’t finished yet though. All I’ve done is moved from one phase of writing a novel to the next. I’ve done the fun bit, now I have the hard work to do. This is where I have to take a good hard look at what I’ve written, cut out all the crap bits, make the good bits even better, make sure I’ve kept the characters consistent, filled in all the plot holes, squished the typos, booted out all the bad habits, stuck a broom up my backside and swept out the garage. Yes, this is the hard bit – the editing. I’ll be blogging that process as well, but essentially, that’s what I have to start doing from now…

Anyways, to celebrate the fact that the longest bit is done and I have a workable story – I’m posting 10 youtube clips you might enjoy. They all have some sort of vague link to the novel ranging from hilarious to downright creepy. There’s at least one many have seen before, but it’s worth posting anyway (you’ll know it when you see it). So… be entertained.

1) I remember watching this on TV and couldn’t stop laughing. It’s cruel, I know, but the guy with the glasses – the look on his face is priceless.

The Grim Reaper – Just for Laughs

2) If you’ve ever watched Most Haunted, you might find this one amusing. Derek had this one coming…

Derek is possessed by… well, you\’ll see

3) The pepper’s ghost effect. This is an amazing, and very easy trick to pull off. Take a look at the first clip to see just how incredible and real it looks (there’s no cgi or camera trickery), then look at the second clip which is a tutorial using a scaled down version to explain how it’s done.

The Ghost at the piano

How it\’s done

4) This’ll scare the cheeses out of you (if you haven’t seen it already)

Ghost caught on film

5) And the link from that one’s pretty good too. Quite creepy.

Creepy girl in mirror

6) Great tune…

Ghosts N Stuff

7) The art of Zdzislaw Beksinski. Inspiring but dead creepy.

The art of Zdzislaw Beksinski

8) This tells you a bit about “cold reading”. It’s a conversation between Derren brown and Richard Dawkins.

Cold Reading

9) A scientific look at the soul – does it really exist?

Do we have a soul?

10) Oooooo – salad fingers is so disturbing!

Salad Fingers


What time is it?

Getting closer to the end of the draft now, but I still have at least 30,000 words to go which takes me to some time in March for completion.

I’ve come to a temporary halt in the writing for the moment, though, because I need to sort out the timeline. Every so often there’s a reference to what day it is or what one of the characters will be doing at the weekend or how long it might take for someone to get something done. Up until now I haven’t given that much serious thought; the important thing was to press on with the draft, but now, as things start knitting together, I have to be sure the timings are right. That means I’ve had to pick one of the important events in the story’s timeline and and work out exactly what date everything else happens, so that there aren’t any problems with continuity. So far, I’ve found out that a fairly significant chunk of things happen on firework night! Could be interesting and (unless I decide to change it) to work all the bon fires and fireworks into the narrative.

But I’ve also slowed down writing these last few days because I’ve been on a course at work (all this VB database stuff is turning my brains into cottage cheese), so a lot of my creative energy us sapped at the moment. Oh, and now the firs few bits of the draft have been posted up at Write Club (a private writers’ workshop) the critiques have started coming in. Favourable and very useful so far and issues have been raised that are worth sharing on here too.

More on that in a few days.

Could this be the creepiest ever music vid?

Despite the lure of StarCraft 2, cigars and Christmas guzzling (yes, I started early), I’ve still been plugging away at Gaia’s Engine. I’m almost 60,000 words in (two thirds complete). It’s around about this stage that I’m feeling the pull to look a little more closely at my early chapters though, which will slow my progress. Because the first few chapters will posted at WriteClub for review soon, I need to slip some more stuff in at an earlier stage of the draft, tidy things up and change some details.

One of the details I’m changing is the descriptions of the ghosts. I wanted to push a really creepy look for my apparitions, and as I strolled around my back garden puffing away at a miniature cigar (this is where I get my inspiration much of the time), it hit me. Many moons back I remember watching a music video while jogging away on the treadmill at the gym. It gave me the right willies (not the treadmill, the video), but those images always stuck with me (particularly 38 seconds in – spooky!) Check out those weird faces and you’ll see the look I’m aiming for. Maybe not so exaggerated, but you’ll catch my drift. What vid am I talking about?

Remember Sound Garden? Black hole sun?

Creep factor 10 – go watch it. It’s weird. Enjoy.

Black Hole Sun

WC2011 begins

In a previous post I mentioned that the place I needed to be to get my work critiqued is WriteClub, and I made a start with that earlier in the year, but eventually held back so that I could get a head start before getting fresh perspectives on the novel in 2011. Well, 2011 isn’t quite here yet, but WC2011 is. The doors have closed to the public and all the novelists are in, accounted for and wringing their hands with excitement to get started. And get started they have.

Each author gets placed in a list and they have to critique the two authors above and below them. Well, not the authors – their novels. The groups have now been assigned, so I now know who my four are, but I don’t yet know what to expect. Two of them are new to WC, but already, I’m starting to see these are both talented peeps, so the feedback, I’m sure, will be top notch and very useful. So far that seems to be right. I’ve already posted an updated prologue and within a day I got some very useful feedback. The other two, I know already, and again, I’m looking forward to some pucker commenting – they’ve already helped me a great deal.

As for my progress, this may well slow down over the next few days – I have a day job (I wish it was writing!) and that day job has me back in student mode. I’m learning about database coding (no, don’t roll your eyes, I’m sad enough to find it interesting, okay? Oh, all right, I suppose that does deserve an eye roll), so my head is getting packed solid with numbers for the next week. And me brain can’t be doin’ wiv numbers and letters all the same time. No biggy though, I’m more than 50,000 words in and still hoping for an early March completion of the first draft.

Half way there…

I just sneaked over the 45,000 word mark today, so the first draft is half complete.

On another issue, if you posted something up here and it got deleted, or you registered and now can’t get in, please let me know. I was getting a huge amount of spam and so ended up deleting a tonne of stuff. If your comment was in there, I’m sorry! It’s all fixed now though, anyone posting just needs to enter that little validation sum so that the site know you’re a genuine poster and not one of those nasty little cyberbots creeping around the net.

The diary of Tyler Penrose

There’s been another new development on the format of the novel in the last couple of weeks.

It ocurred to me as I was starting to write a perticularly poignant scene for the hero, that for the side of the story involving his fall from faith, I need to draw the reader much closer to him. Usually I’d do this by using first-person perspective, but it didn’t feel right to write the whole novel in that style. The solution came like a blindingly obvious flash of lightning – show exerts from Tyler’s prayer diary as the story progresses. This will enable me to show, in great detail, how a person can move from a seemingly unshakable faith to atheism.

The first three entries are done, and it was surprisingly easy to write (probably because I’m drawing heavily from personal experience).

Each entry will take on a specific format based on the way many Christians organise their prayer times. First, Tyler will write down notable experiences of his day (this will help to summarise parts of the plot I want the reader to take note of). Secondly, he’ll list all the things he wants to pray about. Thirdly, there will be a Scripture reading (this will be an exert from the Covenant of Gaia that I’ve been writing too). And lastly he’ll write down everything he thinks God has told him as he prayed.

Everything’s going very well at the moment and I’m really enjoying the process. I have a suspicion the book might end up a little larger than the 90,000 word count I’ve been aiming for though. We’ll see.