Monday, May 30, 2011

Writing on a Deadline

This week we're sharing a story about our first manuscript. Unlike many of the other authors on the team, almost everything I've written is out for consumer consumption right now. I've talked about rejection with my first MS, getting an agent, why I write, what character I most relate to... so I worry I won't be able to share anything new regarding my first full-length manuscript.

Instead, I've decided to talk about some of the challenges I've run into on my current one, The Hunt, which is due to release the end of June. A lot of writers fall into the passion of writing and I see many who tend to jump to the next project before their current one is polished and out the door for sale to readers.

After I edited my first MS several times, and not knowing any better, I did the same. I joined the NaNoWriMo frenzy in November 2009 and began the second book in my series. Lots of roadblocks came up -- I received notice that month my first full MS, Vampire Vacation, was proceeding to the next round in a national contest and had to drop out of NaNo to edit it one more time before handing it in.

That contest proved to be the single biggest thing I'd experienced so far in my new career. Sure, I'd grown a thick skin, or so I thought, from the various peers who hated my work, but that contest taught me more. While we all like to think the writing community is supportive, try going up against some seriously seasoned writers as a newbie and you'll find the claws can emerge pretty quickly.

While the experience taught me a lot, it also got me off track with my second book. My treatment for Lyme was only through the first pass of antibiotics and I had a serious relapse of symptoms late December '09 that lasted into mid-January when I finally got on some new meds. The seriousness of my illness was finally hitting me and by early February I had a picc line installed in my arm for IV antibiotics to be administered daily.

The last day I took those meds in early March will forever stand out in my mind because our nephew, Eric, came to visit us. He was fascinated by the tubes in my arm and thought the 'whole bag of medicine' idea in my fridge was cool. Eric stayed an extra day and I pushed off the first meeting with my agent to sign a contract so the family could hang out together longer.

Next, the whirlwind and excitement of having an agent set in. I had to write out a full detailed synopsis of The Hunt, polish the first five chapters on that MS to the best of my abilities, write loose story lines for books three and four, edit the first book again, submit a marketing plan -- the works! It was exciting and my agent was sure the book would sell quickly. Heck, her foreign market counter part loved it as well.

The end of April brings tragedy to our family. Eric, the twenty-one year old who just finished a tour in Iraq, dies in a motorcycle accident. Six in the evening, perfectly sober... the truck just didn't see him. I won't go into the heartbreak, I'm sure anyone who has lost a young family member can understand. It was an extremely difficult time of all of us.

The weeks trickle by and I realize I've got to get myself back on track work-wise. I'd discussed writing a character based on my nephew with him when he visited us. He was excited about being portrayed as a werewolf and indulged me rambling on about it while we drank beers together on his last visit. There was no doubt this book would be dedicated to him, but could I write the hard parts I'd planned with Eric in them?

Meeting his best friend, Pat, at the funeral got the wheels turning in my brain. I wanted to include him in the story so that a part of Pat would live on in the pages where I immortalized my nephew. Sure, the character isn't Eric, and we all know that, but I thought of him every time I worked on the story and tried my best to weave small parts of him in.

I wrote more in the summer of 2010 but the chapters were becoming harder and harder to write. The biggest challenge was the multiple points of view. Why do it that way if it was so hard? Well, I knew Vivian really well by the end of the first book, and so did the readers. I wanted them to get to know the other players in the story and see what motivated them.

Writing a third person book, which is where a reader often sees multiple POV switches, is not in me. I don't like to read them as much anymore and I find no matter how good the writing, I forever feel apart from the characters. Perfecting each first person voice in the initial seven chapters took longer than I expected. Switching the story and how it's viewed through each plot point was also challenging. The story is told in a progressive fashion, with no character in the book ever going back over the same scene again.

Breathing life into Rafe, Asa, Joanna, Drew, Paul, and Jon felt incredible. As the story evolved so did each of them. I began to see what motivated them and how it molded them as characters within the story.

Rafe is revealed to be a bit of a manipulator as well, often directing his wife's volatile actions behind the scenes. Asa is driven by a sense of honor and misses the family who thinks he's dead. Joanna turns out to be a little crazy from Vivian's occupation in the first book and Drew fleshes out to be a man healing from loss and hoping for love. Paul wants nothing more than to adjust to his new existence and it was fun to write his trials and tribulations as a new vampire. Jon turned out to be something more. His passion, loyalty and dedication to Vivian come through in every painful scene. 

Each character spoke to me, wanting to have importance within the evolving plot.

Unfortunately, as I worked more, I was pulled in different directions. Setting up the paid subscription blog, Everything Erotic, on Kindle was time consuming. Switching gears to write erotica, learning how to make covers, and producing ebooks occupied every working hour of the week. My pesky health problems reared their ugly heads again in the fall and I was sent to another specialist. This one focused only on Lyme and was I in for some surprises.

Eight months of the most intensive therapy yet followed. Thirty pills a day, eight liquids, three powders... my life quickly became one of managing my care. Every time a round of the bacteria died off I'd get a relapse of symptoms (toxins released in your system when they die). It was like an insane roller coaster ride you can't get off no matter how much you beg, cry and plead.

The erotica writing took center stage when I was able to produce words because I had deadlines on new fiction every month. Managing a growing company, dealing with writers and traversing the pitfalls of worldwide distribution took more than just the hours my kids were at school. Combine work with the weekly 3-5 hour IV infusion treatments, monthly doctor visits, new tests every two weeks and increasing medical costs and you wonder when does a body write?

I wasn't working on The Hunt, but I was writing. I managed to publish two erotica novellas and start on a short story collection (which I have to say, is much harder than I thought. I'm wordy, as this post can attest to).

The months tick by and before I know it spring is almost here. I'm not quite halfway done with The Hunt and yet I've told everyone it will come out in June. The biggest hurdle I'm facing when this realization hits is serious memory issues. I find working on the long detailed plot and extensive story arcs to be almost impossible. Every day I go back over my work, edit previous passages and re-read my outline to immerse myself in the story again.

But it doesn't stick. I'm so exhausted by the time I get to the point of writing new words I can't think. Literally, I read over stuff and can't remember writing it. It was kind of funny actually. I'd read a passage thinking "oh, this is a good part" without ever recall having typed it initially.

Thankfully, my health starts to even out by early April and I'm feeling better for the first time in years. I joke with my peers, who've only known me when I'm sick, that I'll be back to normal soon and ready to take over the world.*follow with evil laughter*

The deadline is steadily growing closer and I finally start to write on the unfinished MS. I won't lie and say the story flowed onto the pages like water and it was a dream come true. I worked my ass off trying to keep my mind focused and the story clear. I had good days and bad days. I self-edited and revised more than I wrote each day. It helped to keep the plot front and center in my mind and allowed me to slip into a character's "voice" for each point of view more easily.

In some ways, this is the hardest book I've ever written. The one year anniversary of Eric's death was only a month ago and about that time I was struggling to write the scene where he and Asa meet in the book for the first time. I'd planned it all along... but I'd planned it when Eric was still alive. Breathing life into his character now was very hard.

A reader (who liked V V very much) asked me recently, "Is The Hunt better than V V?" And to be honest, it threw me for a loop. I hadn't thought of the second book having to be better, I thought of it as a continuation of the world I'd created with characters I'd come to love. 

Is the plot intricate and twisting? No, not really. Maybe at times, sure. For the most part it's a bit of a romp, just like the first one, but with more depth to it. Does it top what I've done before? Well, that will ultimately be up to the reader to decide.

I can say this book means more to me. It's taken me longer and the journey has been difficult. Not because the story needed a ton of revising or changing and I couldn't get the pieces to "fit", that's never been my problem. But my personal journey while creating this story had such highs and lows I can't imagine ever repeating it (nor do I want to).

I hope with all my heart that in the end I'll have crafted a story readers find worthy of their time. As always, I'm grateful beyond mere words can express that they took a chance on an unknown and gave me something to focus on while recovering. Without all of you I have no idea where I'd be on the path to getting better. But I can tell you it'd be a lot more lonely of a journey.


I'm running a unique pre-launch promo contest. I plan to give away ten signed and numbered copies of The Hunt (numbers 3-12, 'cause I'm giving my brother the first two). They will be mailed to winners one week prior to the book going up for sale, which is slotted right now for June 30th, 2011.

Here is how you enter:  You comment on any blog I do for the next three weeks. I will notify readers when I post on my Facebook business page, and I will Tweet about it. Each comment counts as one entry (only one entry per post, but you can comment more if you'd like). The comments must be made within the first 48 hours of the post going live, and I will post a "closing" comment when the entries for that day are closed.

All entries will be tossed into a drawing, and the participants with more entries have a higher chance of winning. BONUS!! Every entrant who comments on at least six blog posts and does not win a signed print copy will receive a free ecopy when the book goes up for sale.Let the games begin!!


  1. Courageous is about all I can say. I did have a joke about a kolostomy bag but I'll flush that one away in light of what I've just read.

    Oh, what interesting lives some of us lead behind the scenes. I had medical problems growing up that altered my life and I've been told the same ones will pop up should I be blessed enough to make it to my senior years, but I know I'll be lucky compared to your trials and tribulations.

    How you continue to write is almost beyond me (I say "almost" as I know that writing can be therapeutic).

    Again, my condolences with Eric.

    As for your writing, I know "The Hunt" will be better than "Vampire Vacation." All good writers grow and learn with each successive book. By the fourth book, you'll be as polished as the other famous C.J. -- Cherryh.

    Hang in there. It will get better.

    P.S.: By the way, our next topic on "Head hopping" should be fascinating where you're concerned.

  2. Thanks, Greg. I never thought of my writing as therapeutic, but I think you nailed it. Rather than needing an outlet to pour out my fears and worries, writing and publishing became something bigger then "me" to focus on. Which turned out to be exactly what I needed!

    Thanks again for the confidence boost on The Hunt. I think with the recent skyrocketing sales on V V I've become really nervous the story won't be as well received. But in the end, you can't please everyone no matter how hard you try; all you can do is your best and let it go.

    Thanks for being my friend, Greg. You Rock. Wishing you well for your senior years - may the way you take care of yourself now be what you need to stay strong in future decades (and if it isn't then change what you're doing ;-), I like you too much for you to go dying on me.

  3. CJ, you are truly an inspiration. Congratz on all your success and may you enjoy much more of it!


  4. This post indicates a close in the comments regarding the contest. But it looks like that doesn't matter too much since it's just us! ;-)