Saturday, 26 May 2012

Boundless Sea: A Novel Written in Two Months

Having completed the third novel in my series in sixty days, I thought I would share a few brief notes from the frustrating yet rewarding experience. This is less about the content of the novel itself and more about its physical and emotional toll.

Day 1: Way ahead of the game. I made so many notes while writing Fathoms of Forgiveness that this is going to be super easy. I'll keep going so I don't lose momentum. I love these characters, and I can't wait to be living with them again!

Day 4: Still haven't recovered from the last book. My character is acting like everything is fine, but she can't stay this strong forever. She needs to fall apart. I originally intended for her to never show any weakness, but she's been through so much. I'm falling apart just witnessing her pain.

Day 6: I'm stuck. I need a change of scenery and city--maybe I'll write better at my mom's.

Day 8: For heaven's sake! There has been hardly any feedback on the second book after all that work. I can't stop refreshing and waiting for reviews. I need to market this thing. I'll just spend a little time and a lot of money marketing before I get back to work...

Day 10: My birthday! Nothing I'd rather do than spend all day writing. Writing, writing, wait-- phone call? From a friend who hasn't called me in months? Damn. Looks like I'm going out for my birthday. It's just one day... I'll start writing again tomorrow.

Day 12: Okay, back to my house. I can't stay in one place for too long or I get antsy.

Day 14: I'm stuck. I'm completely stuck on this story. I've hit a wall... how can I smash through it? The only way is headfirst.

Day 16: I'm broke. I spent all my money on marketing. Driving to the casino. Won lots of cash. Back to writing.

Day 18: I need carbs. I'm going to eat 5 bowls of rice and that will make me magically write better. And maybe I'll watch an episode of Supernatural.

Day 21: So many people are bugging me to work on my fanfiction. Well, I did say about two months, and it has been about two months. I suppose I should update that... but I just hope it won't get me out of the Sacred Breath series mode.

Day 28: Wow, well that's finally over... a whole week wasted. 20K words that weren't even for the book I'm trying to complete. That chapter was the steamiest thing I have ever written. I never want to write a sex scene again. How do erotica writers do it? How do you get anything done when you have to stop writing every ten minutes to take a shower? Don't their bodies react to this material? They must not be single. Anyway, back to Book #3...

Day 30: Dammit. It's so hard to get back into the rhythm. I shouldn't have paused to do something else. Leaping back and forth from one fictional world to another is too difficult. It's hard enough leaping back and forth between the real world and the story!

Day 34: Title doesn't feel right. I think I'm going to change the working title from Submarine Superpower to Boundless Sea. My readers agree. It's done.

Day 36: My back is killing me. I am going to need to visit a chiropractor after I finish this book.

Day 38: Sick of being at my house. Driving to mom's; maybe the juices will flow better there.

Day 45: Everyone is recommending this "5 hour energy" drink. Does it work? Conclusion: Disgusting. Exponentially increases the need to pee. Four different tests, all with negative results. After the final test, I fell asleep one hour after consuming the beverage. This is bogus. It was, however, effective in getting me to do a few dozen push ups.

Day 47: My mom's apartment is so tiny and I cannot deal with this horrible single bed! Driving back to my house. The drive itself is relaxing.

Day 48: I need meat. Meat will magically help me keep writing. And maybe an episode of Smash to help me relax.

Day 50: Screw my spine. I should move to a desk and chair, but I like having a blanket over my legs and pillows all around me. I think I'm more productive writing in this position. I'm 24, my back will fix itself.

Day 52: Maybe I can live on chocolate. Is chocolate the answer? Lemonade?

Day 54: Can I feed off energy from music? I'm going to put this Linkin Park CD on repeat as I write. Conclusion: Wow, music really is an all-natural booster. Best results so far!

Day 55: Final stretch. Here it is. Time to focus. Fuck the world. Fuck eating, fuck sleeping, and fuck breathing. I'm going to go hardcore and just write. I don't exist outside of the story. I am the characters, and I don't need any form of human sustenance. I eat when they eat, I sleep when they sleep, I bathe when they bathe.

Day 56: I really need a bath. My characters live underwater, so they don't need to bathe as much as I do. Brief break.

Day 57: I should be editing by now. But instead I'm still writing. I'm not going to finish in time at this rate, but I have to keep going. Why do I keep falling asleep so early? Sleeping for a full eight hours? I don't need this much sleep. I need to pretend I'm in university and this is due in the morning. I would do it if I had to do it. Why can't I be disciplined?

Day 58: The pressure is on. I'm writing 10K words in a day, and I've already had three people read and edit up to the latest completed chapter. I'm so close to the end, I just have to push it, push it, push it...

Day 59: I'm living on turkey-bacon club sandwiches from Tim Horton's and coffee. This seems to be working. One sandwich fuels me for five hours, along with the appropriate music for each chapter... I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.

Day 60: Super-mega-extreme writing marathon. 40 hours nonstop. So much coffee I feel nauseous. I have two friends staying up all night with me on the internet and cheering me on, and reading the updates as I write them. Cecilia is being slave-driver strict and demanding updates from me every half an hour. Melody is being sweet and encouraging, and helping me make decisions about the story. I need this combination of strictness and sweetness.
I'm even managing to make edits between chapters. This is crazy. This is inhuman.

Melody says my writing is better now that I'm exhausted. How is that possible? All of these scenes were mostly outlined and heavily noted, but I imagine my prose is much less complex and symbolic now that I am in a zombie-like state. It's direct and to the point. Bare-bones-essential writing, since I am too dead to do anything else.

Finished. Unconscious.

Waking up after a 3 hour power nap, I go directly back to editing. I edit, and edit, and edit some more. Time to add the complex and symbolic prose I could not manage earlier! I fix up the ending perfectly, then send it to a few readers for their feedback.

It's good. Tearful and emotional responses. =) My work here is done!

Now to edit a few more times and begin formatting for Kindle and Print before I start marketing...

And repeat.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Writer Craziness: How Ants Inspired my Fight Scenes

Many people ask about my writing process, so here is a bit of insight into the eerie way my mind works.

I found ants in my house. Ants may be common enough, but since I bought my house these are the first critters I've come upon, and they unleashed murderous rage in me. You know the feeling, right? "This is my territory. Begone, unclean fiends!"

Anyway, when I first discovered the ants in my master ensuite bathroom, I watched them with bafflement for a few minutes to see where they came from and where they were going. Scouting. Reconnaissance. An important element of any battle.

Mental Note #1: In my current novel I forgot to have my general character delegate recon before going in full-force with her attack. 

Before long, I grew rather impatient with watching, and grabbed the nearest implement (a piece of tissue, in this instance) and began slaughtering. The first kill was emotionally the hardest. I didn't press hard enough with my Kleenex-axe and I saw the insect writhing and thrashing its little legs about in pain. I felt guilt and remorse as I watched, transfixed.

Mental Note #2: It's impossible for a person to kill without contemplating death. Especially if it's the first time, or the first time in a while. I should have my character (spoiler) who's killing for the first time really feel it. Dwell on that for a bit.

This tiny ant was a real live creature. I was killing something alive. I thought about it for a moment, and felt how innocent and undeserving it was before I swung my double-edged, er, I mean double-ply weapon and thoroughly crushed the creature. Then, came the tiny rush of adrenaline and excitement.

Mental Note #3: Killing gives a sense of power. It's addictive. Once you get the first one out of the way, the next several kills are exhilarating. 

So, laughing hysterically, I used my tissue to kill several of the ant's brothers and comrades, a bit more viciously this time. Yes, I enjoyed it. Yes, I grew skilled enough through practice to kill in once swift cottony blow. Then eventually, I tossed the tissue in the trash and began using my bare hands. I could feel the insects crunching under my knuckles. This renewed the sense that I was really killing something, the physical contact. Getting a little dirty. Up close and personal.

Mental Note #4: Fighting at long-range with a rifle, shuriken, or javelin is obviously much less personal than being engaged in hand to hand, and feeling the warm skin of the other person underneath every blow. 

Then, having cleared out the offending insects, I went back to writing and eventually fell asleep. Upon waking up from my nap, I was horrified to see that the ants had gained ground. Yes, they had pushed their front steadily forward during my period of vulnerability and were now crawling around in my master bedroom! Enraged, I grabbed my heavy-duty vacuum cleaner and sucked them all up rapidly and fiercely. It was satisfying. Way better than tissue.

Mental Note #5: The type of weapon used is essential to establishing the mood of the fight and the emotions of the warrior.

And yet more came. Recognizing that my killing spree was futile considering my estimations of the numbers of this tiny army emerging from beneath my baseboard, I contemplated a long-term solution. More and more ants emerged in waves, and the more I killed, the more they sent. It was time for strategy. It was time to call my mom.

Mental Note #6: Meetings with council members and other military officials before taking drastic action. Risks and sacrifices must be considered and measured against the potential size of the threat.

I marched through the grocery store with determination on my face, and my hair flowing behind me, and my heels clinking, and I asked an associate boldly, "Where do you keep your ant traps?"

"In the housewares aisle. I think."

Upon finding the trove of weaponry, I smiled maniacally as I chose two different ant-traps and a spray. It was overkill, sure. But what if ants appeared in another section of the house? I needed to take preventative measures.

Mental Note #7: Effective strategical planning includes several different options to be prepared on all fronts. 

I spent the $15 on advanced weaponry, scoffing at my prior naive, desperate use of tissue-paper. Returning to my house, I ripped open the ant traps and placed them strategically around the hole from which the ants were emerging and along their general projected path of foraging. Namely, I placed some on either side of my door to stop them from entering my bedroom, and to force them back and "hold the line."

Mental Note #8: Location and terrain of both defensive and offensive posts are essential to understand and describe. My characters have to sound like they've not only read the Art of War, but developed their own signature strategies from experience. 

After the two types of ant-traps were deployed like explosive mines, and my special spray was kept secreted away in case of emergency. (Always have a last resort!) I nodded to myself in satisfaction.

Now we wait.

I confess it was difficult to watch the little ants slowly carrying the poison back to their little hole. It would have been so much easier just to crush them. I have so many other things nearby which I could use to crush them, like alcohol bottles, clock radios, hairbrushes, and even a hammer. It would be fun. But alas, I must stick to the strategy.

Mental Note #9: The vengeful whims of one person cannot sabotage the safety of the whole nation. Rebellious and rogue warriors must be disciplined by their general. 

I must allow the ants to carry my special poison home to their queen. There, she will die along with all of their hopes and dreams of conquest, and then they will all hopefully die in massive numbers. My country will be preserved. This is all I can do for now with respect to defense, and I must return to writing and my other affairs. But of course, my other affairs have been affected by this war. My writing has been inspired and tainted by my first-hand experience in battle, and my sleep will be fitful-- I will be keeping one eye open.

Mental Note #10: Do not neglect the political aspects of the war, and all the side effects that the struggles will have on civilian life in the Adlivun. The country is like a body-- you can't harm one part of it without affecting all the others. The parts are all connected. The people are all connected. Describe and establish an atmosphere of tension, fear, and anger. Certain people will be unified by the conflict and thrive on it, and others will be alienated and destroyed. 

I am not sure whether I will be successful in my fight against the ants since it is my first springtime in this house, but I am optimistic. I was renting a basement apartment in a pretty section of downtown Toronto last year around this time when I was similarly attacked by thousands of flying ants with wings that oozed forth from the laundry room floor. I went nuts, Wikipedia-ing them and jumping on them, and since they were flying, I gained ample exercise from kicking the laundry room walls to crush them. My current enemies seem much less powerful and skilled, and I believe they are unprepared to deal with an enemy such as the likes of me. Nevertheless, I will not underestimate them.

Mental Note #11: Historical evidence suggests optimism is acceptable. The nation must be filled with a sense of hope no matter how bleak the situation. And even if victory seems imminent, the nation must be cautious and prudent. 

In conclusion, if you're a reader, you may raise your eyebrows, laugh at me, and consider me crazy.

If you're a writer, you needn't go to extreme lengths for research. You don't have to kill people to know what it feels like-- just kill something small in your garden, and extrapolate. You don't need to fight a massive war to understand what it's like to save the world. Just spend some time by yourself doing silly exercises like this. Go and destroy a colony of ants or better yet, a hive of bees. Do it with a sense of purpose. Technically, you're killing a queen, and tons of civilians and warriors. They might be small, but they are real, living creatures. There might be a small degree of danger, especially if you're allergic to bees. You'll feel it. You'll think about it.

Extrapolate from anything. Cheers!

P.S. If I find an ant on my bed, there will be hell to pay. I'm getting out my butane lighter and having me a fiery massacre.