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Archive for December, 2012

Another round of book surgery complete

After finishing the outline for book 4 last weekend, the stress over my son’s sudden surgery and his ongoing recovery (plus day job stuff) I’m surprised and pleased to realize I am ready for the next stage in this arduous and painful process that is separating a single novel into two.

It’s not unlike separating conjoined twins, as my friends have assured me.  This part goes to book 4, that part gets evaluated for book 5 or the trash heap if it just needs to go away.

Finally, after months of hard work, I’ve finally put the puzzle pieces that are the individual chapters I will keep, in their new pecking order, with associated notes on what to do to those chapters to bring book 4 to a coherent, entertaining and thought-provoking whole.

Now it’s time to write.  Book 4 stands at just under 45K words written with some chapters in need of repair, some good as is, and 45 yet to be written.  My plan is to start from the beginning now that the chapters are all lined up, and read and tweak until I get to a new scene, then I’ll start drafting fresh there.

As an exercise, I find it immensely fascinating the lengths I went (subconsciously) in the original draft to tie these two stories together.  There is/was some truly amazing acrobatics to get the first plot intertwined with the second plot and pretend that they were really one book.  Of course, at 70k written I knew I had a train wreck on my hands and it took several months of hand-wringing to finally understand what my subconscious had known since summer.

The writerly mind is a murky place, but in the end, if given enough credence and light, even us justifiers and head-in-the-sand types will find what is wrong with the book and figure out a way to fix it.

One of the key lessons I’m trying to absorb here the gift of not beating myself up over this.  I tell you, it’s been a rough slog for me, filled with passive aggressive abandonment of the manuscript, sleepless nights lamenting the fact I may not be worthy of publishing another book, or just the self-loathing that comes when you feel like a failure.

Of course those types of feelings are not positive in any fashion, other than to serve as life lessons on what not to do next time.  I’ve been down this road that I’m positive many other authors have been down before me.  I’m aware I’ll likely be down a similar road in the future, but now I can recognize the symptoms, understand the emotion and find  my way through the wilderness with less heartache and angst.  At least, that’s what I’m telling myself this morning.

Yes, I wanted to be done already.  Hell, I wanted to be done in May, but this is where I am and learning to live with the situation as it is on the ground and finding ways to work forward from there is a hard thing to accept, at least for me.

I love these characters too much not to do my very best, so while it may take me a while longer to wrap this book, I know it will be the best I can make it.

And on the up side, I have 35K of book 5 already written and a majority of that outline completed already from the first round.  I’ll tackle that next while my first readers take a shot at the completed manuscript for book 4 (soon I hope).

I’m optimistic this  morning.  Even though Christmas is a melancholy time for me, it does fill me with hope for our species.  Not the religious aspect, particularly, but the general good will and kindness I see outwardly displayed that is often missing during other times of the year.

So, I’m running with my optimism and digging into this novel with gusto.  Now that I can see a path forward I find the angst is melting away, and the excitement for a new beginning is taking hold.

The happiest of holidays to all my friends, fans and family.  I wish you the best of times, good company and peace of mind.

 

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More Important Things

I spend a considerable portion of my life worrying about details and schedules, deliverables and final project statuses.  There are deadlines and reviews, day jobbery and a myriad of social and professional obligations that drive me through my life.  Some of these things are value added, some not.   There are things I do out of social obligation that I don’t want to do, and things I’d like to do, but can’t get to them because of other priorities.

I find we frequently put our needs below the needs of others.  The way we prioritize our lives is frequently not what’s best for our health: physical or mental.  But we do what we think are the right things, or what we perceive is required of us to meet some unrealistic goal, some untenable position, some desperate and unyielding ideal that is beyond our reach on our best days.  There will always be more work, one more #1 priority, one more deadline that is both urgent and frankly frivolous in the grand scheme of the universe.

I struggle with this a lot lately.  Oh, I need to pay my mortgage and feed my family, those are not negotiable.  But to do this, I expend most of my energy in pursuit of a career that I’m good at, but offers fewer and fewer rewards.  I find myself on the edge of burn out and struggle with finding meaning in the trivialities I must pursue in the hope of a decent paycheck, good health insurance and (honestly) a bit of personal satisfaction.  This last has waned in recent years, alas.

But, these things do not align to my greatest desire, my fondest wish and my most burning passion — my writing.  Pursuing the day jobbery is a necessary evil, but given my druthers, I would be a full-time writer.  I know many who feel the same.

So, in my life, I muddle along, doing what must be done and then, out of the blue, something happens that sets all of it on its collective ear.

This week we met a major milestone at work.  It felt good to get back on track for a change.  This just happened to coincide with the release of The Hobbit.  My 22 year old son who is home from college, was supposed to take my 15 year old daughter, but he bailed late Thursday afternoon because his hip was hurting.

Knowing I could somehow manage on very little sleep (again) I agreed to take her.  Of the many things in her life, my daughter is more apt to remember her father taking her to the midnight showing of a favorite movie.  I had everything to gain here.

At 11:30pm, as we sat in the theater getting ready for the movie to start, I got a text from my wife.  She was taking our son to the hospital.  The pain in his hip had gotten to a eight or nine out of ten, and was the most pain he’s ever experienced.  We were going to leave the theater, but she said to just stay for the movie and that she’d text me when she learned something concrete.

We got home at 3:15 am from the movie and went straight to bed.  My daughter got up at 6:45am to go to school and I slept a bit longer, getting up for  my 9am meeting which I could do from home.

In the meantime, Kathy had come home at 4:30am.  They admitted Patrick for the pain, and were going to do X-Rays, ultrasound and eventually a long needle into the hip to draw out fluid.  Sure enough, he had an infection, but no bone damage or anything.

I spent an hour working the next day and dropped the rest of my meetings at the insistence of my awesome manager.  “Go deal with your son,” she said to me over IM.  “Family is more important.”

She was right, of course.  I got to the hospital at 11am.  The doctor finally came by at 2pm and explained that the culture was definitely infection and that they’d be doing surgery that night at 8pm.  We waited with him all day, and through the surgery, finally going home at 11:30 pm, after he was successfully awake from the anesthesia and back in a room.

Saturday I got up at 9am, went over to the doctor for a blood draw (for me) and then over to the hospital.  I sat with Patrick all day.  We talked, laughed, read our books in the quiet moments, listening to Jazz and just spent a long quiet afternoon being in each other’s company.

They came and got him up and walking, which was good to watch.  Then we just sat until my wife and his girlfriend showed up at dinner time.  Kathy and I went out to dinner, so he and his girlfriend could have some space.

It was a peaceful and wonderful day.  Nothing else mattered.  Work didn’t matter, book reviews, pending contracts, unknown career path or even thoughts of an unknown future faded to those quiet moments with my son.

I can still remember back twenty-two years ago holding him on my chest as we both tried to sleep in the middle of the night when he was a wee bairn.  I remember the way he smelled as I held him, and the way he breathed in his sleep.

Now here he was, a grown man.  Six-eight with a wild shock of hair, a beard and a laugh that makes my heart hurt.  I love him beyond reckoning and here he was, glad for my company and happy to just sit together and share the best bits of the books we were reading, or discussing physics puzzles around the best ways to defend yourself during the Zombie Apocalypse.

This was my son, the budding engineer, the nerd who loves Firefly, Lord of the Rings, Rush and Fleetwood Mac.  Here is the young man who I raised (with the help of my wife and my friends, of course) and he was on the mend, danger passed,  on his way to a full recovery.

And the world spun on.

And in those moments I found the truth, the joy and the more important things.  I just wish I could keep that feeling, that surety of what is right and pursue that.  But I need a paycheck, and this novel isn’t writing itself.

But he will be fine.  And that’s the most important thing.

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Learning new stories

An acquaintance of mine recently talked to me about the stories we tell ourselves and the power they contain.  Her supposition was that sometimes the stories we use to describe our world — past, present and future — are frequently not the stories we need to be paying attention to.

It’s a powerful thought.  I’ve spent weeks contemplating her position and it has me wondering about who we are as a species and how the narratives in our lives help drive us to act and feel.

I have this one story in my personal tool kit about emotional survival.  It goes way back to my childhood.  I can remember it quite vividly.  I learned in the third grade that if you are different, than people will make fun of you.  Over the years, this was honed and polished by other voices, other moments of betrayal and miscommunication to the point that I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to personal attacks.  This is a good thing.  I’ve learned that I am not what other people think of me.  Instead I’m who I think I am and other’s perceptions are not always valid or welcome.

This helps me in those times where people say rude things, or I find a less than pleasant review about one of my books.  I know how to take it for what it is and ignore it 99% of the time.

It’s that 1% that screws you, though.  It’s this core story that haunts my quieter, more fragile moments.  This is the story I have to unwind.  These particular stories, buried in the bedrock of my psyche, are rooted in the emotions and reactions of an eight year old.  Those were not the brightest of days, let me tell you.  My father died in a car accident when I was two years old.  My mother raised me and my two younger brothers with all the strength and cunning that she could muster.  But we were poor.  We lived on the edge of homelessness and starvation far too frequently.  In school I was always a shy kid who desperately wanted friends, and who knew that the best way to get along was to go along.

Fortunately we had good friends and family who would enter our lives when the times were darkest an bring moments of light and hope.  I carried these crystals of good and right in my secret places to use in those moments of darkness (like Sam in Cirith Ungol holding the Phail of Galadriel).

I learned to step back from those who wanted to manipulate others and create their own cult of personality.  Even in elementary school, there are those children who prey on the others whether physically or emotionally.  I learned that you couldn’t trust all of them and you had to rely on yourself and a few cultivated compatriots.  Trust your own sense of right or wrong.  Trust you own sense of good and bad.  Protect yourself from pain.

Fast forward a nearly four decades and here I sit with my resolution and empathy for humanity as a whole.  The days roll on and my optimism ebbs and flows.  There are days where the stories in my head push me forward to success.   Other times, I find myself withdrawing, looking for the safe place, picking out who to avoid and which voices mean me harm.

The thing is, those skills, those memories of an eight year old are misguided.  They are a story that brings me doubt and fear.  The hard part is to determine which stories to listen to, which ones to reevaluate and which ones to discard.

This is a long and winding road.  These stories, these rituals and beliefs we’ve built in our lives have kept us safe, helped make the world livable and explained the way things are.  Looking back, when one of these core beliefs come into the clear light of day, I am surprised and a little dismayed.  For decades I’ve let one incident, one person, one memory be the catalyst for all future (from that moment) events that were similar enough to trigger the protections, and strange enough to hide the obvious connections.

It’s these stories that we must examine and tease apart for the truth at the core so we can tell the difference between that and the misconceptions, the fear and the illogical connections.

This isn’t only related to negative feelings, sadness or fear.  There is irrational optimism there as well.  Like that moment when you wake up on Christmas eve with that slim hope that maybe Santa is real and that if you just believed enough, things will be wonderful.

This form of magical thinking comes in many flavors, not all are healthy.  I know people who believe they can change their partners into being better people if they just love them enough.  Or those who believe that some ancient energy/spirit/being will rescue them from their dull and drab existences and take them to a mythical promise land.  We are a species who desperately search for answers, and when faced with a dearth of knowledge, will fill the void with our wildest and often most misguided stories.  The night is long, dark and cold.  Too many of us fill the night with monsters who hunt us while we desperately hide long enough to see the new dawn.

It’s the rational mind that most often falls victim to this pattern matching and assumption that drives our fears and our irrational exuberances.   It is our responsibility as sentient, caring people to challenge our assumptions, question our earliest stories and find the truth buried in the layers of survival instincts.

We owe it to ourselves, our children, and our tribe to find a way to face the dark and the light with hope and reality.  The eight year olds will need to learn a new story — for all our sakes.

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Tinking the novel

My wife is as knitter.  She started as a kid, but really didn’t do anything with it until 4-5 years ago.  That’s when she started doing advanced things like socks and sweaters.  She knits most nights while half watching television and misses it the nights she doesn’t do it.  She also goes to a regular knitting group on Thursday nights and takes classes and such when she’s trying to learn something new.

Sounds exactly like my writing career, only I’ve been really pursuing a writing career for over a decade.  Before that I played at it, waiting for the muse, lamenting that no one was looking at the few stories I’d managed to put together, not thinking about the long learning curve required to get good at damn near anything.

I like her knitting as a metaphor.  There are times where she’ll tell me she found an error, skipped a row, dropped a stitch, or something else that will make her nuts if she doesn’t go back and fix it.

So she’ll tear out row after row of knitting, sometimes days and weeks worth of work,  just to fix a small error that half the time, no one would even notice.  Of course, she’d notice, and that’s the point.  She calls this Tinking, something she picked up from her knitting group.  (tink is knit backward, get it?)

I strive to put that type of dedication into my writing.  There are days where I see errors but don’t want to fix them, it would take too much work.  I struggle and delay, get into a tailspin and fumble along  until I finally bite the bullet and fix what I’ve always known is not working.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big believer in finishing the draft, noting the mistakes and fixing it later.  But what I do is deny the mistakes and hope they will go away.  Not a good pattern so far.

See, I almost always know there is something wrong with my writing.  I may not always pinpoint the flaw, and rarely know what to do to it right away, but that niggling feeling will grow in the back of my brain and eat at me until I do something about it.

This is where I am now, have been for a while, thank you very much.  I knew this novel was in trouble, but I couldn’t identify why or what kind of trouble exactly.  Last month I figured it out.  I was writing two novels.  The first half was one plot, the second half another.  Oh, I’d somehow melded the two together in a crude, spot-weld sort of fashion, but really they only worked together at all in outline.  Once I started drafting the huge mismatch became oh, so apparent.

I let the book sit for a long time, almost two months — July and August.  Then I started reading it from scratch trying to determine what the problem was.  I knew where the novel was going to end up, so anything I saw that didn’t drive to that end, I flagged to be removed.  Sometimes I take bunny trails and they need to be pared back.

But as September rolled into October, I realized that while I had 70k written on a book that should end up between 90k – 100k, I had thirty-five scenes left to write which by my reckoning, would be another 52k.  See a problem with the math?

Then there was the problem that half of the scenes I’d written were flagged to be deleted to make the story leaner.  That was very strange.

By the time November fell on me with a sodden thud, I’d realized that I was writing two books.  Imagine my horror.  Instead of being nearly finished with one book, I was less than half way finished with two.

I started to panic and spent a week or so floundering around.  But I pulled it together and started tinking this book.  I thought of my awesome wife and how she would just hunker down and do the hard work.  Losing all that work was part of the game.  No one said this stuff was easy.  Oh, sometimes the words flow like water, clear and tasty, and other times they ooze like that sludge in the bottom of the coffee pot that was left on overnight.

There really is nothing to do but move forward.  As my good buddy, Ken Scoles said, “Dude, you’re having twins.”  Which is, of course, hilarious coming from a man who has 3 year old twins.  It’s a good thing.  I’m a book ahead when I finish this triage.  The second of the two is much more fully rendered.  I have 35 more chapters of outline that will wrap that book up very succinctly.  The opening is weak and needs to be fleshed out, but mostly I know where I’m going.  Unfortunately, the first of the two was only half way outlined to start with, and the sequence is all wrong.

This weekend I have completed the outline for the first of my twin books.  They are really and truly two completely different stories.  I can’t make the mistake of treating them like first part and second part of the same story line.  Of course, they’ll be related as  they are continuation of my Sarah Beauhall series.  But each will have to be a complete and fully rendered story unto itself.

I have a very good feeling about it for what ends up being book four in the series.  And the joy is, I’m almost half way done writing it.  Some cosmetic surgery to smooth out the rough edges — really minor stuff.  Then filling in the new scenes.  It’s getting exciting again.  Instead of this daunting and undefined task, I’m working toward a plan to finish both books in short order.

And, honestly, it will be awesome to wrap both of these in close proximity.

Besides that’s just more Sarah for everybody.  What’s not to love?

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Uruz

The wild ox; strength and power.

Ansuz

Creativity; words, music, and art.

Othala

The troll cross; wealth and prosperity.

Sowilo

The sun; energy, honor, guidance.

Fehu

Personally earned or lucky wealth and prosperity.

Jera

The harvest; patience and promise.

Raidho

The chariot; journey and travel.

Note: This is not the real book cover.