DAVID NEES

Creating new worlds, one story at a time

Tag: writing

Musician’s Muse

I’ve had a Dan Stone novel in my head for a while but I’ve had to set up the character, and frankly, I didn’t think I had the skill to write the story a year and a half ago. I think I’m ready to try, but only after finishing my Mexico story. In this new story, Dan falls in love with a musician.  I’m interested in the unlikely pairing of a man of action, ostensibly without much in the way of artistic sensitivities, with a world-class artist.  And, further, how he becomes her muse.

Over the past year or more, as my mind had rambled over this theme, I found myself remembering an obscure book I had read years ago about the Spanish art of flamenco.  Now flamenco is often thought of as a form of guitar playing or aggressive tap dancing with much rhythmic clapping.  There are those elements, to be sure, but flamenco is really about the singer and the song.

Deep in the back streets of Grenada, Spain, you can find dark clubs, where you can hear the raw, gypsy-inspired flamenco.  It’s all about the songs; songs of raw emotion where the singer unabashedly shows his or her pain.  The songs are about a lost love, the love of a city or culture now gone, the singer torn from his or her home and roots.  The songs speak about pain and heartbreak being a part of life; a part one cannot escape.  If one has life, one has pain; there is no avoiding it.  You can let the pain eat you or you can force it through you and out into song.  In song you can let out the raw emotions, unashamed, unapologetic and, so, for a moment, shed your pain by sharing it with others.

The guitarist plays in an extravagant style that mimics the raw expression of the singer.  It provides a suitable fill and accompaniment for the rough-edged singing.  The dancing and clapping, sometimes done by the singer, provide the cadence and rhythm to the singer’s emotional expressions.

The best flamenco is found in the bars and clubs filled with small audiences.  The singer does not send out all that emotion, that crying out for what has been lost, that pain, into the vacuum that can often be found in a large concert hall.  The singer is communicating to his or her audience, looking to connect, to draw the audience into their pathos.  “You understand my pain.  Let me tell you more about my broken heart.  I see it in you. I want you feel it like I do.”  The singer connects.  The audience experiences the catharsis the singer goes through.  Everyone absorbs the sadness, the tragedy felt through the song and all go home washed in that experience.  I wonder whether or not the best flamenco singers could perform without an audience.

So, in my new story (still in my head), the protagonist finds he is touched by the artistry of this world-class musician.  This connection he experiences starts to feedback to her and she finds herself opening up her art to become more expressive.  She wants to touch him (her immediate audience).  He becomes her muse, and out of this synergy her music and a love story grows.

The musician in my story is like the flamenco singer without the rawness of expression.  Interestingly, I heard of a famous pianist (from Argentina) who retired from concert performances and would only play small recitals.  After some years of performing in large concert halls, she found them to be too sterile, too draining.  The smaller venues gave her the feedback loop she needed as an artist, the connection to the audience that fed her artistic expression instead of draining it.  Maybe the artist needs the audience.  Maybe the audience completes the loop of creativity and enriches both parties. Yes, I understand many artists would create even if no one listened to or looked at their work. But in the performance arts—music, dance, acting—the audience is perhaps a critical part of the creative process.

That’s what I’m going for as part of my story.  It should be fun to write and bring an interesting interlude to the middle of all the thriller action.  Let me know what you think.

PIcure is from a youtube video by Eli Ramirez. You can find the video here.

Genre Switching (not Gender Switching)

Genre switching; That’s not gender switching, but something more literary than physical. It’s what I’m going to attempt. Since I started writing I’ve had a desire to write in the “thriller” genre. As fate would have it, my first novel was inspired by a post apocalyptic story, so I began there. Post apocalypse (PA) stories have a certain freedom to them. You can create whatever type of world you want to put your protagonist into, but they do require you to build that world.

A thriller on the other hand exists within the framework of a known world. Admittedly it’s not a world in which most normal people exist. Thrillers are what they are because the characters experience life events far outside of normal; that’s why we read them.

But there are similarities:   both types of work have lots of action, a protagonist who must overcome challenges, and generally an antagonist to defeat. There can be fantastical situations to overcome (high tech dangers stopping short of science fiction) which can be taken further in PA literature.

My challenge, and it’s a bit scary, is that my readers have come to me through their interest in post apocalyptic or dystopian literature. Now I’m going to offer them something different. Will this fall flat? Who knows? But it is a concern to me as I approach publishing.

I take comfort that my first novel, Jason’s Tale, started from nowhere; I was non-existent on Amazon before publishing the story. However, it rose to reach #1 in both PA and dystopian genres. So I hope my first thriller, Payback, can be successful as well; (maybe not that successful as there are some real super stars in this genre). You can order the ebook as a “pre-order” on Amazon. When it is published in August, you’ll be sent the book automatically.

At least I now have a group of readers who know I exist and my hope is that many of them will follow me to this new novel. I’m working hard to make the writing my best. While I’ve read some PA novels that were not well written but did well in sales ranking, ButI firmly believe quality forms the basis of all successful writing in the long term.

Grunt work; that’s what I’m now I’m engaged in. The novel is written and has had one edit pass. But three trusted beta readers have commented that while most of the story is prime-time quality (yea!), the first part needs work. After the opening chapter, which they think is good, the story gets a bit lost in the “back story” that explains how the first chapter could have happened. It goes on for about fifty pages.

Structure/restructure: The work now is about structure, or restructure. This is not as creative as the original writing but has to be done carefully. A story becomes interlocked in many ways, so to take it apart one has to be very careful in order to not result in a chopped up narrative that doesn’t flow easily. Big time writers probably have staffs to work on issues like these. The rest of us have to figure it out for ourselves. That can actually be a good thing, providing lessons along the way. It’s just a bit daunting and different from the writing part. Luckily my issues are at the front where things are not strongly interlocked.

My first pass at this resulted in shaving the story around the edges. I took out a scene in the look-back part that I didn’t like and streamlined some others. I cut out five pages of the back story, but I’m not sure I’m there. The only thing to do is try another version with more serious chopping. First I’m going to read through what I changed to see if anything else jumps out at me. Waiting for the obvious solution to show up, but what the hell do I do if it doesn’t?

Oh, well, I’ve got a couple of weeks to solve this in order to still meet my August deadline. More to come on the polishing work. This is going to be good. A writer friend of mine says he can’t do a critical read because he gets so into the story he’s just turning pages without stopping; music to an author’s ears. Check out the book Here and set up your pre-order; coming soon in August!

Sequel Update

Off to the Editor

I sent the manuscript off to an editor last week.  He’ll take over 100 hours to go through it.  It’s a very particular skill set and the author is definitely not the one to edit their own work. I’m sure I’ll need a hug and words of encouragement after I go through his edits, but that’s what editors are supposed to do, find the holes, the misused words, the plot kinks, awkward dialogue and expose them.  It’s my job to suck it up, so to speak, and fix them.  You, the reader, get a better story, which I hope everyone will appreciate.

All successful writers have editors whether traditional or self published, so why shouldn’t I? Jason’s Tale was beta read by thoughtful friends and self edited by me dozens of times. That process took a long time. A professional editor can shorten the time to publish, getting to the heart of a story’s issues. By investing in an editor, I think I’ll save months to publication. I want to get this sequel out this fall as promised all summer.  That said, I think beta readers are still a good step for me to take before sending my work off to an editor.

Will I have a long term relationship with this editor?  Who knows?  Some writers do.  Like any relationship, one has to take time to see how it develops.  Does the editor like reading my work?  That’s important; if they don’t like the story lines or writing style, it’s harder for them to edit.  Will I like the changes he imposes/suggests?  Sometimes an editor may want the author to go in a different direction than the writer wants to go, or to not take “license” with the rules of grammar where the writer thinks they are justified for the effect…think The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.

Publish date?

My editor will take three passes at the story, after each of my rewrites.  We’re looking at about a month to complete it all, so I’m shooting for mid-November.  Of course when I get his markup back, I’ll be “head down” and hard working to get the manuscript turned around and back to him.  He said the first pass would take over 100 hours, as I said above, the second pass, maybe 30 hours and the third pass less than 10.  Hopefully all will go as expected.

New Thriller Novel

I’m still going to try to fit this in and publish it before year’s end.  It sets up a protagonist, Daniel (Dan) Stone, who becomes a black ops assassin for the CIA.  This first novel, tentatively titled Retribution, tells the story of how Dan loses everything and winds up with the CIA.  Most of the action takes place in Brooklyn, with some pretty colorful characters.  I like it and I think you will as well.

Audio Book

The audio book of After the Fall: Jason’s Tale is on schedule for mid-November as well.  Gabriel Zacchai has completed the narration and now he has to do the editing.  Check out his website; he lives in Maine, is a folk singer, tattoo artist, story teller and dad along with being a narrator; a very interesting guy.

Novel Revision and Sequel Update

Just finished revising After the Fall: Jason’s Tale; a friend read the book and she has a natural gift for proofreading. She uncovered about 15 small proofing errors which I corrected over Memorial Day weekend. I smoothed out a few other passages along the way and toned down one scene.  It was important as a driver for subsequent action in the story, but I didn’t need to be so graphic; that was a distraction to the overall story. I also made some revisions in my references to the smell of the battlefield; for those detail oriented readers.  If you haven’t read it yet, the story is even more improved.  If you have, you can recommend it to others knowing I’ve improved it and smoothed it out.  The revised version is available now as an ebook and the paperback will be available in two days.  You can go to here to order.  And if you like it, write a short review; reader reviews are very important.

Speaking of the proofreading challenges, my experience convinces me of what brain researchers tell us. Our brains are programmed (wired) to fill in “blanks”. We can see partial shapes and identify them, partial words, partial sentences are part of that phenomenon as well. It must have an evolutionary use, such as helping us to quickly assemble a picture of our surroundings with incomplete input. I can read over a passage multiple times and not see a missing word…or a word misspelled, because my brain fills in the blank or corrects the error.

I’m going to hire a proofreading professional for the sequel. I spend too much time on the task and it still is incomplete when I’m done. Speaking of the sequel, I feel the hot breath of public demand. That’s good, but I don’t want to rush something into print. I’m not being smug or pretentious when I say that my readers deserve my best efforts. The work an author produces goes out there for the whole world to read (hopefully), so, in a way, we are exposing ourselves. That is something new to me. But it is not just my pride that makes me want to present only my best, it’s my respect for the readers; you deserve my best efforts if I am to ask that you spend your time with what I’ve written.

I have read bad books, as we all have, especially in this era of self-publishing. The reader purchases a book on an act of faith and I want the reader to feel a sense of satisfaction when they finish a novel of mine. I hope to write many more and want the readers enjoy and appreciate the fruits of my labors, even if I don’t get a new novel out every three months.

I’m a little over half way through the sequel (by word count), but am reworking the beginning once more (third time now). I woke up around 2:30 am last Saturday with a new slant to the story, one which allows me to get Catherine into the narrative sooner (the working title is “Catherine’s Tale” after all). It shouldn’t negate what has been written, so all the previous work is not lost.

None of this is said as an excuse for not getting the work done. I’m showing up every day so inspiration can find me working. I will do my best to make the wait worth it.

Getting There

t has taken a lot of work and a lot of time to get to the point of publishing a professional novel. Along the way I wrote a second full length novel (in the process of polishing) and started a sequel to this first one.

There was a lot to learn; it was like drinking from a fireplug at times. For those contemplating writing, I’d like to recommend some resources that helped me along my journey. The first one (and the first one I came across), is a site called Author! Author! published by Anne Mini. The site is not active at the moment, but it was filled with an enormous quantity of blogs sharing her wisdom about writing and publishing. From the site I learned how to format a manuscript for submission to agents; something I did faithfully to no avail before turning to the self-publishing route. Her most important advice was to print out my manuscript, and read it aloud, word for word. That is the best advice I can offer any beginning writer. It was amazing to me how many typos, missing words, bad syntax and artificial dialogue I rooted out by following her advice. In the end I did that three times with my manuscript.

To try to get out of the trap of being a member of the big “UN”; “unpublished” and “un-agented” (a whole other blog discussion in itself), I turned to some on-line journals to try to get published. Most of them don’t pay any money, but that wasn’t my purpose. I’m thankful for the following journals for accepting my work; excerpts from After the Fall: Jason’s Tale as well as a short story I wrote:

Even though most of these on-line journals don’t pay, they have some pretty high standards. If you can meet them, you’re getting close to publishing standards.

Below are some of the other sites that were helpful. The list is not exhaustive as there are many routes to knowledge in this arena, but I’d like to publicly acknowledge some that I found helpful.

  • Duotrope; this is a site that I used to query on-line journals in my initial search to be published.
  • AgentQuery.com and AgentQueryConnect.com; the first helps you search the thousands of agents to, hopefully, find one. The second is a community of budding writers all sharing what they’ve learned in their journey. It’s very helpful for a newbie. They are evolving to focus more and more on self-publishing as the trend grows.
  • Ellen Brock, a professional editor produces some informative videos on YouTube that I found helpful.
  • Hugh Howey, the author of “Wool” is the inspiration for all self-published writers. He is very knowledgeable and convincing on the economics of being your own publisher.
  • J.A. Konrath is a prolific self-published author who also writes convincingly about the benefits of being your own boss. Often acerbic but always entertaining.
  • Pikko’s House; Crystal Watanabe offers professional editing/proofreading services. I hired her to do a “beta” read of my novel which helped a lot. It would have been even more helpful to have hired her earlier in the process…but what did I know? I was still trying to figure it all out.

There’s a ton of proof readers, editors out there catering to the self-publishing market. I haven’t used any of them so I can’t recommend them, even though I’ve visited their websites. My guess is that the prolific and successful self-published authors use copy editors, proof readers and cover page designers to help them produce their work which helps them spend more time in creative writing. I hope to get to that stage…it’s a process.

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