Got my words on Dead Man’s Party — that was the fun, interesting, easy part.
We did a site update over at HollysWritingClasses.com that was overall just buttery smooth. But I did not have “Test Downloads” in my list of post-update checking, and downloads were not, therefore, tested.
And guess what was broken?
Dan fixed them quickly and beautifully, but in the meantime, between the time we identified the presence of a problem and the time he fixed them, I stressed out all over the place.
And there was just a ton of not-fun email.
And I’m just now getting to the FUN email, which is folks getting me their answers on my search for the identification of the genre I actually write…
Which is NOT Space Opera.
And while research has turned up some amazing gems, and while I had the coolest idea for the next stuff I want to to write (after I wrap Dead Man’s Party, The Wishbone Conspiracy, and The Emerald Sun), I’m still not even the littlest bit solid on how I can get my existing books re-classified and in front of the readers who will actually like them.
Should be an interesting week. I could totally give Monday Drama a miss, though.
This is going to sound pretty strange, but I have recently discovered that I have no clue what it is about my fiction that readers like…
And I’m a lot less certain I understand what kind of fiction I write than I was up until yesterday.
Here’s where I discovered how little I actually know about my own fiction. My daughter and I did a podcast episode on Writing to Market VS. Selling Out, in which I humorously described how I have managed to spend a thirty-plus year writing career (so far) not realizing I was a genre contrarian, and that being a genre contrarian was making it really difficult for me to connect with my readers.
Followed by the discussion in the private podcast forum… (If you’re interested, create a free account, then go here… Episode 37: Writing to Market VS Selling Out – Discussion )… in which one reader mentioned that she didn’t a lot of my books because she had a hard time with the horror.
Here’s the quote (with her name redacted) and my posted response:
MEMBER said: Personally there are many of Holly’s books I don’t read because I don’t read Horror.
MY reply to her: Here’s the thing that stopped me cold in reading your post.
I thought, “I’ve never written horror…”
Followed by thinking through what’s in my Cadence Drake novels — genetically engineered vampires and the piles of dead with which they decorated their spaceships. And thought… Oh. I just thought of it as kind of dark science fiction, though certainly not the darkest I’ve ever read.
And then thought, How did I miss the fact that my first SF novel has horror in it…
And then I remembered where I got my worldview.
Going hunting and fishing with my father from the time I was six, helping my father clean our kills, helping my mother cook them, enjoying eating them. I am not squeamish, a fact that served me well in my first career as a nurse.
Alaska in the children’s home when I was nine, where one boy ran away, fleeing out onto the tundra. He was never found. In the part of Alaska where we lived, the population density was about .0001 people per square mile. There were thousands of square miles of uninhabited tundra in all directions from us, rivers and lakes and sinkholes.
Being grabbed from behind and felt up by a perv at a Costa Rican bus stop when I was late-fourteen, turning and attacking him — in six-inch platform high heels with my umbrella held like a sword, filled with crazy blood rage, chasing him with the absolute intent of killing him when I caught him — with zero chance of catching him.
Guatemala in 1975/76 during its civil war, seeing boys my age (I was fifteen when we lived there) being marched into the back of a truck at gunpoint — the method by which the Guatemalan army conscripted soldiers. Round them up, shove them into a truck, shoot the ones who try to escape. (I did not see anyone get shot the day I was watching that truck, those soldiers, and those kids, and trying to understand what was going on.)
Guatemala again, walking with my family past the ruins of a magnificent old cathedral near the mission where we lived. It had collapsed in an earthquake maybe a hundred years earlier. The front was decorated with a long line of head-high freshly blood-stained bullet holes.
The emergency room where I walked in to work one morning and found both of our code rooms stacked with bodies after a drunk who’d been driving all his MANY friends home in the back of his pickup truck hit a tree at — best guess from the sheriff — eighty miles an hour.
Two young kids — 8 and 10 years old — who we coded for over an hour after a tragic accident that had happened while they were playing outside. Neither survived. They were their divorced parents’ only children.
And a long, long list of other real-life horrors and tragedies in Alaska, Costa Rica, Guatemala as a kid, and then in the ER, in the ICU, in Med-Surg.
And then even when I was writing full-time, discovering by returning some of my mother’s things to her house (about a mile from mine) after a falling out that my parents and sister no longer lived there… that they had moved away without saying goodbye or telling us they were going, or even where they were going. And having my then-nine-year-old kid try to kill himself because he thought the shitty thing they did was his fault….
And. And. And. There’s so much more. But here’s my point…
I see horror as “supernatural clowns pulling kids down gutter drains, and haunted cars eating people.”
In my mind, I never wrote a word of horror. I just translated what I’d seen in the real world into realistic but well-disguised background for my fiction. And even when Becky and I were doing this episode, I did not include horror in my description of what I’d written in Hunting the Corrigan’s Blood, because I didn’t think it had any horror in it.
And now I’m wondering if any of my other books have horror in them.
None of us see the world the same way, and my default setting is a combination of “Survive to Operate” and “don’t look away, don’t excuse, and don’t forget.” My world view is broad, real-world, and dark.
Nonetheless, I bounce out of bed every morning thrilled to be alive because I get to write fiction and nonfiction, get to be with my guys, get to talk to my other kids (a lot of days, anyway), get to play with my goofy cat…
And the odds of me having to do CPR on someone or intubate someone or watch someone I fought like hell to save die anyway, or live through my own or anyone else’s real-world horror are — on any given day — pretty low. Especially compared to what those odds used to be.
But from the responses to this episode, I have discovered that I do not understand my own fiction or its contents as well as I thought I did. So I’m going to be sending out a tiny questionnaire to the readers on my list, asking them to show me what they love about my fiction, and why, and what they hate (or avoid), and why.
I need to see how people who consider themselves my readers interpret what I do — because none of us see the world the same way, and I’m guessing the way I see it is pretty strange even for a science fiction/fantasy/suspense writer. (And accidental committer of horror.)
===== So… reader of mine…
If you’re still reading, here’s what I would greatly appreciate from you: The answers (in as much detail as you wish to give) to three questions.
Just cut and paste the following questions into a REPLY to this post, and tell me…
- What do you specifically love about what you find in my fiction, and why — and what genre(s) would you call the parts you like?
- What do you try to avoid in my fiction, and why — and what genre(s) would you call the parts you avoid?
- What ONE other writer do you read who gives you what you love most about my fiction without giving you what you try to avoid in my fiction? (With a link to your favorite book by that reader if you’re willing to recommend him or her.)
I’ve got some studying, and thinking, and rethinking to do, and if you’re willing to help me figure out what I need to do to make my fiction better for YOU, I’m grateful. If you got this far, thank you for reading this very long email. And if you’re willing to answer those three questions for me, I’ll use the email linked to your reply to send you a personal download link to a story of mine that fits what you like and avoids what you hate.
With the acknowledgement that in some cases, I might have to write that story first. So you may not get your link immediately.
Was not the smoothest start I ever had, considering I was at the desk and writing at 8:45 AM, and it’s now 11:30 and I just finished my words.
I got a little distracted listening to Disturb’s latest album, Evolution, which has some damn compelling lyrics. It’s utterly loopable — I can just put the whole thing on replay and let it run. What it isn’t, however, is background music. I keep stopping to hear the words, to think about the songs.
So I had to turn it off and just write in silence.
Today, Cady decided to do the dumb thing that will probably get her killed because… well, she has a lot of reasons, all of them compelling to her, none of them reasonable for all definitions of that word that do not include “this will probably get me killed.”
So… fun writing once I got into a groove.
Today went well.
Seriously, and it was a nice change.
Becky and I ran to a ten-minute timer, and in about two hours I got 2016 words — and I like them.
And I thought it would be fun to capture this morning’s starting words and ending words as screen shots, and let you see what was on them if you’re so inclined.
With the reminder that this is first draft, and that first draft is the chaos that a writer revises into a real story.
And with a side note that I utterly ignored my planned scene (written out in the right sidebar) in favor of something much better that occurred to me by asking a right question eight paragraphs down. (Not shown.)
But I love the way this story is coming together, even though I can pretty much count on it being a book that once again gets a small readership, and will probably not pay me for writing it.
It is, however, a delight to write, and I get to ask one question that kept me awake a lot of nights.
DISCLAIMER: May contain bugs, which WILL change in revision, and for which I do not need any notice of typos or other errors, because first draft is not the place where you deal with those) Noted because I see a bug in the first screenshot.
How does a multiverse work?
Screenshot One — In this image, the words on the screen are from last Friday (so not counted)… but influenced the two-thousand-plus words that follow. Click the image for the bigger picture.
And Screenshot Two — in which I got an ending to this scene that I really like. Again, click the image for the bigger picture.
Today was much rougher than it should have been. I got in early, got started, and the words just inched out. But at the point where Cady and Badger ended up face to face (in a fashion that is the core conflict of this novel), everything all of a sudden flowed like melting butter.
It was tough to write — I got a little choked up and teary-eyed, kept writing, got through the scene.
I love what I’m getting, but hate what’s happening.
The result, however, was a good chapter, and 2001 words for the day.
Got pretty decent words today on The Wishbone Conspiracy. 2027 new words, taking me to a total of 23,873 words in the novel.
I mostly like what I got, though I had a bit of a hard start.
And that’s what I want to talk about today.
The “Write on three different novels each week” experiment worked very well. Until it didn’t.
I was writing first draft of Dead Man’s Party on Mondays, first draft of Moon & Sun: The Emerald Sun on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and first draft of Cadence Drake: The Wishbone Conspiracy on Thursdays and Fridays.
Getting 1515 words or better on Mondays, about 1500 words on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 2000-ish words on Thursdays and Fridays.
It required a big mental shift, and rolling through three very different projects back to back to back started taking a toll on me.
I kept going… but then I started research in improving the marketing I’ve done — or in many cases haven’t done — on my work, and current methods of increasing Amazon sales, and experimenting with copywriting and cover design and split testing and…
Along with writing the three novels, and writing a new lesson every week in my new How to Write a Novel class, and answering student questions, and working with Dan on getting the final pieces of the HollysWritingClasses.com website out of beta, plus spending time with my family…
Well, the fiction broke down just a little. And I hit what I have come to recognize as the “trying to do too much at once” wall.
Dead Man’s Party has to stay. It’s my demonstration novel for How to Write a Novel.
My writing on The Wishbone Conspiracy is still running smoothly.
But the writing on The Emerald Sun hit a wall.
This is a book I need to be able to throw myself into exclusively: to NOT be writing other fiction at the same time. It has a specific voice and some specific worldbuilding and a place it’s going that is very different from other things I write. It has a deep world that I have not been writing in recently, characters who have become strangers to me, and both Tuesday and yesterday, my mind simply balked. Refused to work on Emerald Sun.
Was real damn happy to offer up copywriting, cover design, threw ideas at me for both The Wishbone Conspiracy and Dead Man’s Party.
But it dug in its heels on what was supposed to have been the work of the day.
Had all my fiction crashed on me, I would be taking a different approach than the one I’m taking starting today, but two of three books — the one with NO previous worldbuilding, and the one with a ton of worldbuilding, but in which I’ve been writing regularly for the last eight or so years — are still fine.
So now I enter Phase Two of the experiment.
This is pretty simple. Monday will still be Dead Man’s Party, and still 1515 words or thereabouts each week, followed by working on HTWAN, answering questions in the forum, doing the help desk tickets that require me, working with my moderators, working with Dan on the site, answering emails, and other daily task.
With Dead Man’s Party, I have to have this amount, and JUST this amount, for my class and to make sure I’m applying the material from the various lessons as I write. So I can’t just write ahead and be done with this particular novel. Each chapter has to be written along with each lesson.
Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I’m going to be shooting for 2000 words per day on The Wishbone Conspiracy.
That will give me six-thousand first-draft words on that book each week.
I currently have 23,873 words total, and with a 90,000-word target for completion of the first draft, need another 66,000 words (rounded) to hit my target.
So some book math. At 6000 words per week, I’ll have the first draft finished in about eleven weeks. Figure I’ll have it done around May 17th.
This is nobody’s fastest pace on a novel ever, and if it were the only thing I was doing, I could get it done a lot faster. But it isn’t, and what I’m looking for at this point is…
SUSTAINABLE FICTION CREATION.
A system that I can put into action and stick with, that will allow me to maintain my nonfiction work while creating regular publishable new fiction.
Those of you who didn’t get sidetracked by the book math are going, “WAIT A MINUTE!!! What about Tuesday?”
Tuesday, my first two to three hours will be focused on marketing my current backlist and learning how to do a better job of launching my front list.
It will also give me a clean break between Fiction Project One and Fiction Project Two.
And it will carry me to the completion of Fiction Project One AND Fiction Project Two at about the point where I also have the class How to Write a Novel completed in the Splinters version.
At that point, I’ll have two finished novels in need of revision, editing, covers, marketing, bug hunting, launching, and publication.
And at that point, I’ll figure out what happens next. I’ll probably dive all the way into The Emerald Sun at that point.
And look at possible new writing classes or workshops I could create.
But as always…
This plan is subject to revision as I experiment and figure out new definitions for what I want to accomplish, and new ways to accomplish my objectives.
No big secret that I’m working hard on making my fiction a full-time paying gig again — my objective is to earn 50% of my income from fiction, with the other 50% coming from my writing classes.
Fiction has been shoved over in a corner for years, because, well — writing good nonfiction is about a million times easier than writing good fiction, and in general it pays a lot better for significantly less work. And at the point where my writing site broke, it was getting the nonfiction up and running again that kept us from ending up living under a bridge.
And, honestly, after being taken in by that con artist John Locke, I had any hope of making a living writing fiction crushed out of me for a long time — everything that including both “indie publishing” and “earn a living doing it” looked like a scam.
But writing fiction is the dream job I love — sitting by myself in a room talking to invisible people on a page, watching them do things I don’t expect, finding better conflicts, bigger stories — and writing about what matters to me in THIS world that translates into my worlds.
I did it for free every spare minute I got for seven years before I sold anything. Did it as a commercial novelist working fiction as my full-time paying job for seventeen years. Throwing in all the years when I’ve been an indie doing fiction at least part time, I’m now over thirty years in on this — and it is STILL work I love.
When you find WORK. You. LOVE…. you do not ignore that. It’s rare. It’s astonishing.
I’m writing hard again. Fiction is what bounces me out of bed every morning. Knowing that I’m writing the stories I love, and that they will not be destroyed by bad editors or cancelled by ordering-to-the-net publishing idiocy matters to me.
Knowing that if I can get my work in front of a broader readership, what I’m writing has a chance to matter more — to me because it will help pay the bills, but to MY perfect readers, who can find something in fiction that they love, that matters to them as well — that’s what MAKES this the dream job.
I know how to write fiction. I’m good at it, and a good number of my students are making REAL money writing fiction after taking my classes.
They learned the “write good fiction” part from me.
Learning how to bring in serious money as indies? No.
That’s the part I’m learning from them.
And here are the books and here is the software they have pointed me to that I am fighting with and fighting through in order to make fiction a business, while STILL keeping it MY fiction. Good fiction.
1. Mastering Amazon Descriptions: An Author’s Guide: Copywriting for Authors
2. Mastering Amazon Ads: An Author’s Guide
3. Rapid Release: How to Write & Publish Fast For Profit
4. How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis: A Step-by-Step System for Enticing New Readers, Selling More Fiction, and Making Your Books Sound Good
5. Become a Successful Indie Author: Work Toward Your Writing Dream
6. KDP Rocket
None of these are affiliate links. They’re just links to books I’m reading and software I’m using.
I do NOT yet have numbers to prove any of this will work for me. I can prove (using KDP Rocket) that my folks are earning what they say they are. That the writers of the books above (and the maker of the software), are earning what they say they are.
So this time, I can see that there is a path that leads from where I am to where I’m going. I am going to find my way down that path.
You’re going to be seeing more split tests on this site. NOT just cover art. Sometimes cover copy. Sometimes blurbs.
If you’ll help me out by participating in the split testing (just click whatever you like best), I’ll be grateful.
The only data I’m gathering is clicks. Nothing personal, nothing identifiable, nothing that will track you across the web and show you damned advertising.
I’m simply learning the split-testing process to figure out how to write better cover copy and blurbs, and how to build better covers.
Whether you’re a reader or a writer, thank you for reading this, and thank you for your help in clicking to let me know what you like.
I got 879 words today — not the 1500 I’d planned.
But Genna found herself at the end of the world, and it took me a while to figure out how to get that part of the scene right.
The dragon and his many voices has rejoined the party, and the cat had a terrible scare.
I love what I got.
It simply took me much more time than I’d hoped to get it.
Tomorrow, maybe I’ll be able to make better progress.
This morning I rolled into work pretty sure I knew what I was going to do.
And hit my novel of the day, Dead Man’s Party, with a sort of “Have not had my coffee yet, but I’ll get this anyway” focus.
Read my short description of the chapter I’d scheduled to write, and realized several weeks’ distance from my provisional outline, and a week away from the actual book, that I’d managed to misidentify the right ending for the novel as Chapter 22 out of thirty-something planned chapters.
Putting your ending into the book before the book ends means that everything else is going to be a let-down — anticlimactic, and kind of lame.
NOT the experience you ever want your reader to have.
THIS meant I had to drag the placeholder for that chapter to its proper space at the end of the novel (thanks, Scrivener, for ease of repair). And then I had to move a previously-planned chapter into the empty space that hole created, and come up with an interesting conflict for that location and that character than I had not yet considered.
Since I’m doing videos all my chapters of Dead Man’s Party, I captured the whole struggle with chapter 22, including brainstorming the idea I needed to show the character dealing with a problem I had not previously addresses, and also managed to capture the fact that when I stopped writing for the day, I thought I’d missed writing the chapter ending.
When I was doing the print versions for my students and putting the pieces together for the How to Write a Novel class for which I’m creating this novel, I realized I would only need one line to finish the chapter.
I’ll do that next week, though. Because while I know it’s enable with one line, I haven’t yet thought up the right line. By the time this has had a week to perk, I’ll be able to throw in a nice twist.
Today I wrote 1622 words — only needed 1515.
And in spite of the fact that getting started felt like having my brain sanded — I swear I could smell plastic burning when I was scrambling to fix the problems I’d created by misidentifying my ending and having to come up with a better conflict for my main character — by the time I finished, I liked what I got on the novel this week.
Yesterday, a couple things went wrong.
First, the writing dragged because I didn’t know where the novel was going. I made it up to 21,843 words — so it wasn’t a complete wreck. But it was not that flowing, flying race against the timer that is so fun.
Second, I chose to get sidetracked figuring out some Amazon ads for Hunting the Corrigan’s Blood.
I did not trip. I did not fall. I made a shitty choice knowing it was a shitty choice, and spent writing time doing non-writing things, and then berated myself for the choice.
Not productive — except it pointed out to me that I absolutely have to have a Provisional Outline to stay on track with this novel.
And in starting to put that together, I found exactly where the story broke yesterday — I was focusing so much on the second conspiracy Cady and friends discovered that I forgot to follow up with the first one.
I’m only thirteen chapters into the thirty-seven I need to outline to get the book into writeable range for “short, tight chapters and 70,000 words”, but with the story summary written (the story summary is what I WANT to write, though not necessarily what I’ll end up with), and with my focus on weaving the two conspiracies and “Newsletter Guy” into the plot, this is coming together in an interesting fashion.
I’ll get back to countable words on Wishbone next Thursday.
Today I’m building the foundation that will make getting them easier.
Added at 12:39 PM — it took me hours, but I got the outline built, and I like where it goes.
I know parts of it will change when I’m writing, but for the moment at least I have figured out specific things I need to accomplish in each chapter — and if I can beat those things with better ideas as I’m getting my words, that’s all to the good.