Friday, May 26, 2017

The process of Parallax

The novels of Halcyone Space

One of the questions I'm frequently asked by writers and non-writers alike is what does my process look like.

So I thought I'd do a quick overview, using PARALLAX as an example. The way I do this is by no means the only way or the best way; it's what I've settled on after writing more than a million words of fiction over the past 13 years. As always, YMMV. (Your Mileage May Vary)

July 2016:  Begin drafting during a week long retreat at a friend's summer home in Vermont.

This is the phase where I take a cheap Staples brand single subject spiral bound notebook and start brainstorming. Since this is book 4 of an ongoing series, it also means creating a document that outlines who knows what when at the end of book 3. It also includes reviewing the private wiki I have for my series bible.

August - December 2016 : Focus on drafting the story, including the goal of 1,000 words a day, for an average of 5,000 words a week. In any given week, I may not reach this goal, but I complete an approximate 100,000 word draft in 5 months.

December 2016 : After a 2 week hiatus after completing the draft, return to the story and complete a rough outline of the 4 quartiles of the book( This step is roughly based on Larry Brooks' Story Engineering and is particularly helpful in assessing the pacing of the story) as well as a chapter by chapter precis of each separate storyline. (Ro & Nomi, Barre, Micah & Dev, Jem & Gutierrez)

Because this book contains 4 storylines that must intersect, it is a more complex task than in other of my novels. I used a large white board. Across the top were the characters, down the side were the days, so I could see at a glance where everyone was at any given point in time as the story moved forward.
Initial 'alpha' read feedback received from several intrepid readers. First revision completed incorporating their story-level (big picture) feedback.

January 2017 : The completed 1st revision is sent to a cadre of beta readers, some who have read all of the series to this point, others for whom this is their first story in the series. This is a deliberate strategy because I want each story to be able to stand alone as well as work well together.
At this point, I solicited a back cover blurb from a writer in my genre.

February 2017 : Beta feedback comes in. It is read, assessed, and correlated. What I look for is patterns and consistency. If more than 1 reader has feedback on the same issue, it's flagged to review. If a single reader has a strong piece of feedback, it's flagged for review. Other issues - especially ones where it's what one reader has an issue with, but another notes it's what they love - are typically looked at as individual taste.
Several readers give me fairly substantiate critical feedback which requires careful assessment and consideration. I make changes to the story as a result.
March 2017 : As a result of the beta feedback, the 2nd revision is completed. After another few week hiatus, I print the manuscript out and do a 3rd revision.
Cover artist provides the initial draft of what will by month's end become the final cover.
Draft manuscript is sent (marked as such) to the author who agreed to read in order to provide a blurb.

April 2017 : Manuscript is sent to the editor. Continuity edits, copyedits, and proofing is done. The manuscript is returned.

May 2017 :  Editor's edits/suggestions are reviewed, considered, and incorporated in what is now the 4th and final revision. The manuscript enters the production phase.
Front and back matter is generated, beta readers are contacted for permission to thank them in the acknowledgments.
eBook formatting is done (using Sigil, an epub editor), print typography is done. Both take about 20 - 25 hours inclusive, as I have created templates and an efficient workflow for both.
Cover typography is created to echo the look/feel of the other books in the series. Files uploaded to CreateSpace and physical proof ordered. 
June 2017 : Publication. Final novel is approximately 110,000 words. During multiple revisions, approximately 15,000 words were excised, 25,000 words written/rewritten.

As the author/publisher, I:
write the draft
revise the draft
code the ebook
format the print book
give notes to the cover artist

I outsource:
the editing
cover art
cover typography/design

The key is to know your strengths and play to them. Hire what you are not comfortable and skilled in doing. Set a schedule if that helps you keep on track. Having been through this process multiple times now, I can reasonably and reliably hit this production schedule.

If you are working with an external publisher or publishing multiple books a year, your timeline will look different.

Feel free to ask me anything about the process, or describe how yours is either similar or different.



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Monday, May 22, 2017

For my parents on what would have been their 62nd anniversary

Hanford and Bea, circa 2007

Today would have been my parents 62nd wedding anniversary.

They married later in life than their peers: in 1955, they were both over 30, my mother considered an 'old maid' for her generation.

It wasn't until the end of my father's life that he opened up to me about his biggest regret: that he felt he was never able to make my mother happy. There was a core of sadness in her that nothing could fill. Not financial security, not material things, not experiences, and not even what she claimed to be her heart's desire: a second child.

My mother was unable to successfully carry a child to term after my older sister was born. After years of miscarriages, they turned to adoption, which in the late 1950s and early 1960s was a difficult and often secretive enterprise. They had been turned down by many agencies for being too old to be adoptive parents. (Remember, this was a very different time.)

My father told me the day he realized he couldn't make my mother happy was the day he flew home from California after they adopted me as a 5 day old infant: Even that didn't change her.

She died several years before my father did, after years of encroaching dementia. He was her main caregiver through that time and kept her safe in their home with the same devotion he applied to trying to make her happy their whole lives.

In a series of very frank discussions my father and I had in his last months, I hope I was able to show him that no one can make another person happy. That he had not failed as a partner. That she did love him and that her inability to be happy was a deep wound she must have carried her whole life.

I hope he was able to forgive himself for not being able to do the impossible.

I think of them both today, with deep gratitude for their love and support as well as a bittersweet sorrow for the sadness they both carried.


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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Reality of a writing life

I have a friend who is struggling with the distance between where he'd hoped he'd be in his career and where his career stands.

We've had a lengthy email conversation and I thought I'd pick up on some of the points and show them here.

This is my experience and I have some sense from other personal stories that it's not atypical.

2004-2005 Wings of Winter 150K mess. Trunked.
2005-2006 MindBlind Urban fantasy/thriller. Trunked.
2006-2007 House of Many Doors
YA ghost story. The book that landed me an agent from queries. Agent unable to sell.

I still believe it’s a salable project, on hold for the present time.
2007-2008 Heal Thyself Alternate world fantasy.

Agent uninterested.

Revised in 2012. Got a revise & resubmit from Angry Robot, but was dealing with personal/family matters and focused on writing Derelict by then.

Was revised and resubmitted in 2016, rejected by Angry Robot in 2016.

May be unsalvageable.Trunked.
2008-2009 The Between
YA Fantasy

Agent came close with several really encouraging rejections with major publishers.

Chose to self-publish in 2012 while still agented to see if I could gain some traction/audience to entice a publisher with a different project.

Sold approx 500 copies, 1500 free downloads.
2009-2010 Future Tense
YA Urban Fantasy.

Agent declined to shop.

Self published in 2014.

Sold approx 350 copies, 600 free downloads.
2011-2012 Ghost Story
YA horror/thriller.

First draft only, never revised.
2012 Derelict (Halcyone Space series)
SF/Space Opera

Agent submitted, but unenthusiastically. We parted ways in 2013.

Self published in 2014.

Sold approx 13,000 copies to date.
2013-2014 Time and Tithe
YA Fantasy

Sequel to The Between.

Self published in 2015

Sold under 100 copies, under 300 free downloads

2014-2105 Ithaka Rising (Halcyone Space series)
SF/Space Opera

Self published in 2015

Sold over 2,000 copies.
2015-2016 Dreadnought and Shuttle (Halcyone Space series)
SF/ Space Opera

Self-published in 2016

Sold approx 1,500 copies.
2016-2017 Parallax (Halcyone Space series)
SF/Space Opera

To be published in June of 2017
2017 Vito Nonce Project
Cyberpunk thriller

In process

The novels listed here represent well over a million words of fiction, written over the course of 13 years.

I have still yet to earn in a year of writing and publishing what I earned working as a physical therapist, even in the years in which I worked part time around the needs of parenting.

By many metrics, I am a success. (One of the first indie members of SFWA, strong reviews in Publisher's Weekly, invitations to SF&F cons.) But I am unable to support myself on my creative earnings, much less pay for health care or support a family.

My gross cumulative earnings since 2012 from my writing are $45,000, unevenly distributed across the years, with my most successful year being 2014. That's 5 1/2 years of income. Do the math: it's not a very lucrative business.

I am able to focus on writing because I needed to leave my physical therapy practice for reasons relating to family and care-giving, not because I had any illusions of quitting my day job to make it big in publishing. It has continued to be possible for me to write because our family can be comfortable on one income - my husband's.

If I didn't have his income to rely on, I would likely be working as a physical therapist and writing around the demands of my working and family lives. It continues to surprise me that I don't produce significantly more now than I did when I was working 30 hours a week and had school age children. In fact my first five novels were written while I was still in PT practice.

I don't think enough writers share enough real data about writing and publishing. Feel free to ask me any clarifying questions you might have.



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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Poetry is everywhere

A few days ago, I was helping a friend move from the bottom floor to the top in a 2 family house. We had the doors open between the two apartments so we didn't need to set down boxes to open/close doors on every trip.

On a water break, we heard a strange noise from the upstairs and when we went to investigate, found this poor grackle trying to get out through the closed windows. 

Despite being released back outside he returned twice more.  This morning, I sat down to do my free-write pages, and this emerged.

For Bliss

When something gets inside, beats its wings
against the window of your room, you must
trap it, hold it with firm hands close to your chest.
No matter your heart drums a hummingbird's
tattoo, cup the frantic wings gently. Don't squeeze.
The creature needs to know panic
means the false clarity of glass. Don't think
like a captor: this is not your prisoner. The security
of your hands is not a cage, but a promise. Walk
toward the open sky. Use a lullaby voice. Sing
if you must. It's all right to be afraid. You are both
afraid. Once you have crossed the threshold
let your hands open like a pair of wings. Wait.
There will be a brush of feathers. A flash
of iridescent green catches your eye. The wind
strokes your hair and face like a lover, whispers
in your ear all the secret words for flight.

LJ Cohen
April 29, 2017


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