Continuing The Pursuit of Writing

I am currently working on Part II of my third book, Alive. So far, I am only a few thousand words in, making sure to write at least 500 words a day. By September the complete Alive story should be completed. What I don’t know, is if I’ll have an agent by September.

I’ve sent out queries to ten agents, some of which have already rejected it (evidenced by the lack of response after their stated response deadline). If I manage to get interest from any of these agents I will finally be able to take my first actionable step towards a career as a writer, editing and polishing Alive into a finished product. Which would likely be followed by Alive: Part II, and then Elseworld. There is no guarantee that the books will sell well, but we’ll cross that bridge if/when we get to it.

Even if I do get an agent, it could be 18 months to 5 years before my book is published. In the meantime, I need to take other steps towards crafting a career as a writer. My current tech support role has helped to develop many skills, but I wouldn’t say writing is one of them. I have been thinking of where I want to be in ten years, a self-employed author and blogger, and I know that I need to take more action towards making that happen. Even if I can’t support myself completely with creative writing, I want to find a career that lets me embrace my interest completely and complements it. Journalism is one of the biggest contenders but it is a very tough field to get into, especially for the topics I wish to write about, entertainment and race. Aside from a career as a journalist I am also pursuing other jobs with magazines and newspapers, trying to streamline my job hunt and find work that I find stimulating and rewarding.

As Mark Manson points out, all work will require sacrifice, and all work will be unenjoyable sometimes. The question is what type of unenjoyable experiences are you willing to put up with for your career?

“If you want to be a professional artist, but you aren’t willing to see your work rejected hundreds, if not thousands of times, then you’re done before you start.”

I have had my work rejected hundreds, if not thousands of times. I am still writing and still trying to get published. I am willing to receive constructive criticism, and fine tune and edit over and over again. The peers who have read Elseworld complimented me for the imagery, which is something that was lacking in previous drafts according to an agent. I applied the negative feedback I received and was able to create something better, ultimately enjoying the experience and remaining grateful for it.

I believe that the struggles of trying to be an author are something I can tolerate. I’m sure I will be tested more as time passes. If I do get an agent, their criticism will undoubtedly be more severe than anything else I’ve received. If I can satisfy the agents, then I will have to deal with the editors at the publishing house. I may be forced to debate about certain changes to the book; ones that they view as more marketable. Those are debates that I look forward to having.

Alive: Complete

Alive began with one poem I posted to the site. That poem then grew into a series of poems as I fleshed out the concept and began brainstorming for a novel.

After completing Alive: Part V I committed to writing a novel. The time period changed, and many details of the plot were altered, but the basic premise remained. I have always loved werewolf stories and I was excited about writing my own.

Like the poems, I originally began the book with my character as a captive. Although I brainstorm when I write, I usually only do a general one to generate basic plot elements e.g.

  1. Mason will be in prison
  2.  Mason will be transported to second prison
  3.  Mason will escape from the second prison

I find that I can fall victim to procrastination if I spend too much time thinking about where the story will go, instead of writing. I am not saying this is the correct process for writing. After all, it did lead to numerous rewrites of my first book, Elseworld. I learned from that process and made sure to take some more time flesh out my character’s general arc prior to typing the first word.

I began writing, using the poems as a springboard for the other ideas and concepts I wanted to explore in the book. The first fifty pages originally focused on Mason as a captive in prison, where he spent his days discovering and honing the abilities that his curse bestowed on him. These pages helped me to flesh out my own werewolf mythos and develop my character’s backstory, but I also realized that they would create a slow start for the reader. One of the few pieces of advice any literary agent gave me about Elseworld is that it opens slowly.

To remedy my slow opening, I cut some parts completely, and re-inserted some as flashbacks. As a result, the word count is a relatively short 75,00 words. I know that a second part will follow, and I was tempted to try to cram both parts into one book. However, I know the word count would then take the book closer to the 150,000 range, which will make it a very tough sell as a first time author. I am hoping a word count that is short of the 80,000-100,000 range doesn’t hinder me too much. I could add more to the story simply to pad it out, then I could end up with parts that are clunky and add nothing to the story. As I edited Alive, I came across paragraphs or sentences that I cut, sacrificing length for fluidity.

If an agent advises that they want something fleshed out, I am more than willing to take criticism and adjust the work. However, this assumes I will get an agent. Numerous edits and resubmissions of Elseworld got me nowhere, which is why I am now committed to championing Alive, with the hope that I can get it published and then use that success to also retry with Elseworld.

I have been advised to get professional editing for my work and after my continuous rejections with Elseworld, I am eager to get impartial feedback. I have been caught in the trap of thinking of the feedback family or friends give as being truly impartial. My only issue now is that professional editing will cost thousands of dollars and I can’t afford to do it now. However, I don’t want to get impatient and send my work to one agent after another, quickly getting rejected by all of them and being back to square one.

For the moment, I wish to try and try with a few agents; less than ten.  If one is interested, I will work with them to make Alive better. One of my favourite YouTubers said he doesn’t have dreams, because the word “dream” implies the task isn’t possible. A “goal” is tangible, actionable. If not, I wait until I can get professional editing. There is still a lot of uncertainty ahead but I want to keep trying to pursue my biggest goal. As one of my former teachers said, “There is no rush in this game.”

 

 

 

Alive-Third Book Completed

I am happy to announce that I completed a rough draft of Alive on thursday. I will be returning to the story to add, cut, delete, edit etc and have a polished version ready by July at the latest. Once I have an edited version, I will then look into editing services that can give me impartial advice on the book. Then I will pursue an agent. However, I wish to take a break from it for a week so I can return to it with fresh eyes.

Alive follows Mason, a young black man in a medieval society who is bitten by a werewolf. After surviving an attempt on his life, Mason meets Ayda, the woman who bit him. Ayda offers him a sanctuary in a society that rejects their kind, but informs him that she plans to use their power to eliminate the people who discriminate against them. Torn between his conscience and a desire for vengeance, Mason must confront a society that wants him dead and a woman who wants to use him to wage war.

I am especially proud of this book since it began with one poem that I posted to this blog. I built on that on poem with others and was able to craft a full novel from it. It has demonstrated the value of blogging and the creative benefits that it can bring.  I am also debating doing a second part, since the ending to this first book is open ended.

Once Alive is completed, I want to begin working on a novel for Hazard.

Alive

The idea for my second novel started with a poem from December 2015. I am currently 70,000 words into my werewolf tale. Alive revolves around a recently bitten human who becomes part of a black supremacist plot led by Ayda, the woman who bit him. The book is not an endorsement of black supremacy, it is only a tale using that vehicle to ask questions about identity and belonging.

The protagonist, Mason, is a man who has always felt like an outsider among his own people or others. Although he harbours resentment for the lighter-skinned people who hamper his rights, he is hesitant to take part in violence against them. His choice is taken from him when the other werewolves on his island, initiate a war with the island’s army. The first book focuses on their conflict with the island, while also exploring Mason’s conflict with the new black community that becomes his home. The second book will focus on the power struggle within the community and Mason’s attempt to prevent Ayda’s planned genocide.

As the story progresses, I now realize that this tale will need at least two parts. I am hoping to have part one wrapped up by March. The book begins with an origin story, but I will either be deleting those sections, changing them to flashbacks, or saving them for part II.

 

Resolution

New Year, New Me,

Or so I always say,

I have numerous resolutions for the year,

But New Year’s Eve reminded me of one of them,

Surrounded by friends,

Forgetting all of my troubles until I came across a single woman,

Then my mind shifted to other thoughts,

Thoughts shared by other friends,

Who held the woman’s interest better,

Happiness slowly evaporated,

Bitterness and self-doubt came in to take its place,

While everyone else kept enjoying themselves,

I spent too much time reflecting on my friend’s good fortune,

And reflecting on all my past failures,

I came across as miserable,

Pathetic even,

Which only hindered my appeal even further,

I find myself caught in this cycle too often,

Letting any perceived rejection drown out all the things I have to celebrate,

With a new year,

I want to work on being the master of my own happiness.

Looking to 2017

Happy New Year to all my readers and followers.

This year has been a rough one in a sense but there are some things to celebrate.

This year marked the continuation of my desire to blog regularly, with a goal of posting at least three times a week. I have been able to maintain that output for the most part, amidst working full time, writing books, exercising, job-hunting and learning how to play the guitar.

I finished a novella and started working on my second novel. I am currently 40,000 words into Alive, and have now committed to writing 1000 words a day. I may not be writing today but the limit will be in place from here on out. Hopefully I should be done a rough draft by March, or April at the latest.

I am attempting to make a career switch to teaching, and will be doing a guest lecture for a college class in February. The time I need to prepare for this may cut into my writing but I want to do my best not to make excuses and commit to writing everyday.

I have been able to grow my social media presence, as well as the presence for comicommand. I am hoping that this can result in more visits to the site as the new year progresses. One issue with my social media, specifically the @moviegrapevine instagram, is that I cover a wide array of topics. I have noticed that engagement and followers seem to drop off when I drift from a focus on comics. Posts on politics, movies, tv etc. all seem to suffer and alienate followers who only want a certain kind of content. The same trend applies to the site. The posts with the most views, judging by Google Analytics, are ones on popular topics such as The Walking Dead. I like discussing shows too but I don’t want to have to limit what I discuss for more views. I want people to be able to engage with more than one type of subject matter.

Moving forward, I will have to see if I can continue to build my base of readers. This year marked the first time that a reader commented on one of my posts, showing that there are some people who are enjoying the content and engaging with it. Either way, I can’t blog just for them. Writing helps to stretch mental muscles, and blogging is a key part of that exercise. I can’t just be someone who wants to become a published writer: I have to truly be a writer, creating content everyday, whether it is writing 1000 words of a book, blogging or posting poetry pieces to @wmoviegrapevine. Some days, I’ll do all three.

Writing full-time is a distant goal at this point but I know that it is a goal, not a dream. I have given up on the idea of being published next year, or the year after. Like a former teacher told me “there is no rush in this game”.

Stretching Writing Muscles

As I continue working on Alive, I’ve tried to keep a set deadline for its completion. Like my previous books, I set my original goal as one page per day. A typical novel’s length is 60,000-100,000 words and I figured that Alive would be at least 80,000 words. One page is typically about 300 words. That would mean the book would take at least 266 days to write, plus the time I would need to edit it before I can start submitting it to literary agents.

A friend told me about National Novel Writing Month, which challenges writers to write 1,000 words a day. Although I didn’t officially compete, I set the goal of 1,000 words a day for myself and this allowed me to craft the first 15,000 words of my book in a relatively short period of time. I read an article by James Altucher where he says that trying to hit a new daily limit is like stretching a muscle. I stretched the muscle to 1000, but then fell back on 500. With simple math this means that writing the book will likely take twice as long.

However, I also don’t want to fall into the trap of writing only to hit a word limit. This could lead to rushed plot developments or poor dialogue that I have to spend a lot of time editing anyway. I finished my first rough draft of Elseworld pretty quickly but then had to spend plenty of time editing dialogue, plot holes, removing characters and completely rewriting the book from start to finish. Elseworld was a great learning experience but I also don’t want to use it as an excuse to stick to 500 words a day.

As I write Alive, I brainstorm the next few pages of the book. This allows me to have a clear idea of where I am going with the next 1000 words to hopefully avoid time consuming rewrites later in the process. I’m currently at 30,000 words and if I can commit to 1000 words a day I can have a rough draft completed by April. Alive feels like it will be longer than Elseworld, and I am predicting the rough draft will hit 100,000 words, which will need to be trimmed. The main areas I will trim will likely be the first thirty pages.

In some ways, Alive is a superhero story, about a regular person being bestowed with superhuman abilities. The origin story might be taking up too much time. The one time I got any personalized feedback from an agent, they advised that they were worried the story started too slow. Alive has a slower start, so I think it is a good idea to cut it down for the final draft. I don’t want to remove all of the content but I will likely reformat it into condensed flashbacks. Until then, I want to keep taking it 1000 words at a time.

Five Pages of Alive

I’ve reached 29,000 words for my third book, Alive, and am excited about where this story is going. The five pages below, along with the previous two excerpts, account for the first fifteen pages.

*************

Chapter Two

 

Mason awoke to the sound of the door opening again. He sat up, with his vision still blurry with sleep. The last thing he remembered was lying in bed counting.

William walked in, followed by the same two guards. He ignored them as he rushed to the foot of Abel’s bed.

“How are you feeling?” William said.

Mason was getting sick of the routine, but tried to sound polite as he responded.

“I’m fine.”

“Any nausea, fever?” William said.

It seemed like Mason’s suspicions about being injected with diseased blood was right.

“No,” Mason responded.

“Great. Mind if I just check something?”

“Not at all.”

William moved in closer, and the guards followed suite. He pulled white gloves from his robe and put them on.

“I want to check your glands. Can you please tilt your head back?” William said.

Mason lifted his head slightly, with his line of sight now dominated by the wall above the doorway. He tensed as he felt cold leather on his skin, prodding below his jaw and searching for signs of swelling. William applied light pressure to the two sides of Mason’s neck, before moving his fingers to Mason’s jaw.

William’s face then appeared in front of Mason’s, separated by a few inches. Prisoners didn’t deserve personal space. William’s eyes met Mason’s, apparently scanning them for any irregularities. Mason had all the information he needed.

“You injected me with saracin.” Mason said. It wasn’t a question.

William’s hands left Mason’s face.

He moved back to the doorway and removed his gloves.

“If you really are trying to look out for me there’s no point lying to me now.” Mason said.

“Leave us,” William said, as he turned to the guards.

“Can’t do that sir.” The guard to his left said.

“I wasn’t asking. Either you leave or your wife might find out about the rash you got from someone else.”

The guard on the right laughed, but tried to convert it to a cough midway through. He opened the door and quickly stepped out, holding it slightly open for his partner.

His partner was still rooted to the spot. It was as if William had reached into his soul and stolen his pride and confidence. His chest and shoulders seemed to shrink inside his uniform, retreating away from the fabric to dwell in obscurity.

“You can’t do that…it’s supposed to be between us.” His face reminded Mason of a child that awoke to a wet bed.

“You’re right. Tell the council what I did and I’m sure they’ll relieve me of my duties.” William said.

The guard’s mouth was still ajar as he left the room and closed the door.

“I’m not supposed to tell you. The council didn’t think you’d be smart enough to figure out what was going on, but I give you more credit than they do.” William said. For once, his voice lacked the enthusiasm of a child playing with his favourite toy.

“Like I expected, seems like your body is able to resist diseases. Symptoms normally show by now, but we’ll have to wait for three more days to be sure.”

“What if I end up dying from this? The key to longer life would be gone.” Mason said, his tone made it clear what he thought of the council’s plan. As Mason thought of it, he wasn’t even sure that the council was the one who suggested the idea. Maybe William pushed for it. Mason didn’t want to ask him though. That line of questioning would only make him more defensive, and give Mason fewer answers in the long run.

“I was only willing to test this since you survived that attack. I remember seeing your wounds crusted with soil, probably straight from the wolf’s claws. I tried to remove as much as I could, but between that and the injuries I was sure it was only a matter of time until we had to bury you. The soil and the wolf’s saliva didn’t kill you, so I thought that there must be a good chance you would survive this. I couldn’t be certain but you have to understand that it was a necessary risk. I’m sorry if I come across as cold at times, but I hope you can also appreciate the situation I am in. The council didn’t want you dead, but I don’t like the plans that they have for you. I have to convince them that everything I am doing is for the good of the village and that it has nothing to do with my relationship with you. I am hoping that my tests can steer them in another direction. I know this village hasn’t been good to you, but I need you to trust me.”

It was exactly what Mason wanted to hear, which made him skeptical. William already demonstrated that he was willing to use his knowledge of other people against them. He may have used his knowledge for Mason’s good that time, but it was a weapon that could be used against him too. Mason had confided in William a lot over the past twenty years, in one hospital visit after another. Whether he had been beaten by children from school or by soldiers, he grew to see William as someone he could share anything with. It seemed like William truly was listening all that time, but there was a chance he wasn’t a friend trying to help out. Maybe William was just using his opportunity to put his reservoir of information to use.

“It’s hard for me to really trust anyone right now. I don’t have a choice remember?” Mason said.

“I know, and I’m sorry about that. We have a few weeks until the next full moon and if you can just work with me until then, I think I may be able to work out something that doesn’t lead to life-long imprisonment or death for you. Working with me is truly in your best interest. If you don’t have a choice of trusting me, at least make the decision to work towards your own freedom.”

“I feel like I’ve been fighting for freedom my whole life. This is just more of the same.” Mason’s anger spoke first, but now he needed to temper it with obedience.

“But I do appreciate what you’re doing for me. My mom was right about you. You’re one of the few people I can depend on. Thank you.”

“That means a lot Mason. She was a great woman and I want to do right by her. I’ll check on you tonight.” William’s words exuded nothing but pity, and the same could be said for his smile. That worried Mason more than the imprisonment itself or the tests he had to put up with. If William was confident in his ability to free Mason then he should have sounded more hopeful. William was enjoying the study of Mason, but he was still a soldier fighting a losing battle. His speech to Mason was that of a king trying to comfort his people before their enemy killed them. Mason already hated having his freedom in someone else’s hands. This development just made it clear that he couldn’t bide his time any longer.

By the time the next full moon came the government would have their plans for him solidified and freedom would no longer be an option. Mason tried to remember details of the first attack. Any images he could remember came back to him like paintings from a fevered dream. He could remember running through a field under the moonlight. The flowers arranged neatly along the side made him think that it must be Clark’s Market. Mason knew the market well, and what stood out to him was how fast he moved along its aisles. His peripheral vision was limited and he could remember crossing hundreds of feet in seconds. His vision was a mass of different hues of gray. The field beneath him was supposed to be green, but Mason could only make out green accents among the grey. It was the same for the roses, red accents among a field of gray. His colours were diminished but Mason remembered his other senses being so much stronger.

Mason could make out the scent of different animals scurrying around him. He couldn’t identify what they were by smell alone, but he could trace their movements even though he couldn’t see them. Sound added another layer, giving him the rhythm of the animals’ steps. There were over ten different sets of footprints all around him but Mason was somehow able to pinpoint where each one was coming from. There was an urge to find the animals, consume them. With that urge, the memories came to an end.

Reality returned, and imprisonment returned along with it. The lantern’s dim light, orange brick walls, the cold of his cell, the returning hunger; those were the sensations Mason’s sense could bring him now. If Mason didn’t act this is how he would spend his prolonged life. His power would be in the hands of people who never truly wanted him to be free. After what this village did to his mother, Mason refused to let them succeed in breaking him.

Mason realized he didn’t even know if he needed a full moon to transform again. All the folklore told him that was a condition of the curse, but the folklore never mentioned that the cursed is immune to diseases. The most popular tales came from a time when medicine was far less understood, so maybe that is why it was never accounted for. Either way, the omission was demonstrated that mythology wasn’t a manual for Mason’s life. He tried to transform before, focusing on his memories, but nothing ever resulted form these attempts.

Mason also wondered exactly what the council had planned at this point. They might be looking into a serum they could give to their soldiers, but that was likely a longer-term plan. Mason wasn’t a doctor but he was sure that successfully creating that would take months, if not years. The soldiers would need to be tested and monitored just like Mason was before the council would be willing to give the serum to their entire army.

The council was well aware that a full moon was coming up, so they either had to kill Mason before then or hope they could contain him when he transformed. Mason couldn’t recall how powerful he was in his other form. He heard that he attacked Mr. Faraday’s livestock, which was normally protected by a ten-foot tall steel fence. Apparently, the fence was flattened, compressed into the earth, when Mr. Faraday found it in the morning. Even if that was true, it would be tougher to break down a brick wall. Mason could probably tear the door down, but he likely wouldn’t fit through it. The door could barely accommodate one person with their arms spread open. Mason didn’t trust the hyperbolic accounts of supposed “eyewitnesses” but William said that footprints found at sites of the attack make it clear that the cursed form was much larger than a man. Mason could attest to that at well. He knew he passed in and out of consciousness after his attack. Its paws were bigger than his head, and nearly broke his arms as they pinned him down. Its body blocked out the sky above him, and in his frightened state he could only focus on the head hovering above him. The red eyes stood out the most. They were small in comparison to the head they were housed in, a head that appeared bigger due to the creature’s bared teeth. White daggers, and red orbs, standing out amidst a field of black fur. The eyes almost looked like they glowed in contrast to the darkness all around them.

Their colour indicated something primal, dangerous. Despite that, they held a strange allure. As Mason peered into them, they seemed to shut out everything around them. Mason’s eyes stayed rooted to them. Even as he felt his body being torn apart, even as his blood splashed in front of him and stained the ground all around him. He remembered that he didn’t register any pain until the wolf’s gaze left his.

Alive-Work In Progress

I have previously shared the first five pages of my third book, Alive, which was in turn inspired by my poetry series. I originally committed to writing one page a day, then I bumped the number to 1000. I was consistently writing 1000 words for a few weeks, but I am now aiming for 500. There are days when I do more, but 500 is a new minimum that allows me to write at least twice as much as I used to. I’m currently at 22,000 words, and as I continue writing I realize the final product could be near 100,000 words. Typical novel length is anywhere from 60,000-100,000, but for a new author agents will be wary of anything over 90,000.

When I was querying agents about my first book, Elseworld, one of the few agents who agreed to review the book said it started too slow. Correction, she was worried that the editors of the big publishing houses would think it starts too slow. The opening of Elseworld was much improved from my original draft, which made me more resistant to altering it again. However, I realized I needed to put my pride aside and accept constructive criticism. That need becomes more clear as I continue writing Alive. The book takes place in a fictional medieval world where the main character, Mason, is bitten by a werewolf. As a black man in this society, Mason’s subjugation continues when he is used as a weapon to attack Alexandria, a village that is systematically annexing others.

After his attack on Alexandria, Mason meets another werewolf, who wants to use their power to eliminate the people who have oppressed them. The book begins after the character’s first werewolf transformation, and he is now imprisoned in his village. As I near page 70, the main character has not transformed for the second time yet. It is clear that the book probably does start too slow in this case.

The first portion of the book has detailed Mason’s time in prison. I didn’t spend the time on mundane details, but I have developed his relationship with an older father figure and chronicled the development of Mason’s new abilities, such as a healing factor and enhanced senses. Prison serves as a sort of library, where Mason has the quiet and the time to experiment and strengthen his new body. Although I enjoyed writing this part of the story, I have to realize that these developments may not be as interesting for prospective readers or might be too dull if consumed in one long stretch.  I am not going back to rewrite at the moment. I figure I will finish it, and then edit the beginning as necessary. I’ll likely just be cutting the opening fifty pages or so and inserting them throughout the book as brief flashbacks. This way, I can begin with a part of the book that editors will hopefully deem more exciting. It’s just one of the small changes that I hope can contribute to finally getting an agent, and then getting published.

Stay True

As I continue writing Alive, I get closer to approaching the most controversial part of the story. When I started writing the novel, I knew I wanted to create a werewolf set in a medieval fictional society with a black protagonist. I knew I wanted him to live on an island with warring villages, where one village was systematically annexing all the others.

More brainstorming led to a more fleshed out story, and I realized I wanted the protagonist to meet another werewolf on the island; a black woman who wanted to use their gift to eliminate the people who oppressed them. Like Elseworld, a story of interplanetary slavery, the book doesn’t shy away from exploring discrimination.

I remember presenting Elseworld year to a literary agent at the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York. I was able to successfully pitch the book to four agents, although this ultimately didn’t get me anywhere. One agent honestly didn’t seem that intrigued by the idea after I described it, but she also said she didn’t want to represent a terrorism story. At the time, I was interning a few blocks away from The World Trade Center and it clicked to me that maybe my subject matter could be one of the reasons I am having a harder time getting an agent. I never truly considered this since there are so many recent films and books that explore the topic. However, being a nobody always makes it tougher to sell something.

As I get ready to explore black supremacy in Alive, I start to wonder if those two words might scare any agent away from my work. My problem is that I am writing the story I want, not just a story I want to sell. Maybe it will come at a cost, but a part of me believes that I will still be able to see my work published someday.