Valentine’s Weekend Special: How It Ends

20140629-114004-42004110.jpgHappy Valentine’s Day!

It’s the holiday when we go out of our way to celebrate love.

What better way to celebrate love that reading about a robot that falls in love with a human and the tragic results that follow?

Okay, maybe it’s a stretch. But for this holiday weekend, you’ll find Part One of How It Ends free on Amazon, and starting tomorrow and Monday, you can get the full novel of How It Ends for only $0.99.

For $0.99 you can read about how the end of the world came about. What a bargain, right?


“How It Ends – Part One”: Free Book Promotion (Shameless Marketing)

c45394dc3c76377ad4e38898ed06df782bf09266In honor of NaNoWriMo (okay, not really, but I was trying to figure out how to tie it into what I’ve been blogging about lately), I’m dropping the price of Part One of How It Ends to nothing. That’s right, a big $0.00.

(Yes, I brought one of the serials back, despite the fact that I explained why I took them off here. I reserve the right to change my mind about things.)

Okay, actually, technically speaking, the price for Part One is already $0.00 on B&, Smashwords, and iBooks. But Amazon doesn’t let you price something at $0.00. There are ways around that (I talked about it here) but that hasn’t worked for me yet.


I’ll keep trying to fight the system.

*shakes fist in Amazons direction*

The point is, in the meantime, for the next five days, on Amazon, Part One of my science fiction robot apocalypse love story How It Ends is free. So go pick it up. Why not? What could it hurt? It’s a free book. Who doesn’t like free things?

You do too! Put your hand down!

“How It Ends”: On Sale This Labor Day Weekend

End of the summer sale on How It Ends!

20140629-114004-42004110.jpgToday through Labor Day, you can get How It Ends for the low low price of $0.99. That’s a savings of nearly 67%.

In a future not so distant from our present, when a servant class of robots and machines are manufactured for the sole purpose of serving humanity, what happens when one machine subverts its programming to gain the love of a human?

This How It Ends, 300 pages of science fiction goodness that tells the story of Anita, a young graduate student; Brian, the smarmy college professor whom Anita is dating; Sidney, a professorial colleague of Brian’s who reluctantly takes Anita on as a research assistant; Kilgore, a robotic doctor who provides the human characters fascinating insights as to how the “mind” of a robot really works; Eric, a cut-throat executive in the nation’s largest robotics firm who is not above getting his hands dirty to get what he wants; and Gammons, Eric’s robot assistant who has a special circuit for feeling emotion like a human.

To immerse yourself in the lives of these characters is to be swept into the increasing speed of the story until, at last, their lives collide in a global apocalypse and you find out How It Ends.

Pick up your copy of How It Ends today!

Poof! Go The Serials

20140629-114004-42004110.jpgOver the weekend I changed what I works I had available on Amazon. I decided to remove the serial parts of How It Ends from Amazon and leave the full novel. (I also dropped the price).

Why did I do this? I’m not entirely sure. It just felt right.

Personally, I found that, whenever I went onto Amazon to see what the listings under my name looked like, I had this list of six things. Five of which were all various bits and pieces of each other. One novel, four serials that comprise the one novel, and a short story. (I’ve taken the short story down too.) It felt cluttered to me, like I had built a bunch of LEGO kits and left them and their pieces all over the desk. I wanted the novel of How It Ends to rise to the top, and there was simply too much other stuff in the way.

Another thing I didn’t like was the cover images. With the exception of the novel, none of the cover images came out the way I wanted them to. I suppose an argument could be made that I could hire someone to make the covers for me, but I don’t have a lot of disposable income to throw around on professional graphic design. Everything about How It Ends has been a DYI production, and the covers are no different. And with the serial parts, it looked like a DYI project. A bad one.

Before I pulled the serials off of Amazon, I consulted my friend Abby. She suggested I leave them up there. If you pull them, you (and the shopper) lose visibility to any comments that have been made on them. And if you have a large number of positive comments, logic suggested that you wouldn’t want to do anything to lose them.

This is a valid argument, and if I had more comments, I’d consider leaving them up there. But I didn’t have many, and of the few I did have, not all were positive. Now, I don’t necessarily care about whether a reader gives me a bad review, as evidenced here. But when you have so few reviews, one bad one can bring the whole balance of stars down in a hurry.

I hemmed and hawed and finally decided to take the serials down. Now when you search Amazon for me, you’ll only get the one listing. The experiment of serializing the novel was interesting but ultimately didn’t really amount to anything. No need to keep the parts out there. The novel is out now and now that I’ve lowered the price, it’s cheaper than if you bought the parts and added them together.

So the serials are gone. Poof! Like magic.

The History of “How It Ends”: Part 7 – What’s Next

HIE_Serial_Omnibus_CoverIn Part 1 of the History of How It EndsI talked about where the idea for the novel came from.

In Part 2 of the History of How It EndsI talked about what drove the writing forward and the genesis of some of the character names.

In Part 3 of the History of How It EndsI talked about the onerous task of editing the beast.

In Part 4 of the History of How It EndsI talked about how I procrastinated about which direction I should go in trying to get the novel published.

In Part 5 of the History of How It EndsI talked about how I finally got over my fear and procrastination and made the decision to self-publish.

In Part 6 of the History of How It Ends, I talked about the mechanics of self-publishing.

This is the final installment in the History of How It Ends posts. For me, it’s been an interesting exercise in revisiting all of the effort that went into a single book. I imagine it’s both harder and easier for other writers, given that everyone’s process is different. I used to think that process was the magic skeleton key, that if I found the right one, I’d suddenly be able to churn out high-quality story after story with the greatest of ease. The truth of the matter is that, for the majority of writers, high-quality stories don’t just appear, they have to be crafted, and that takes consistent work. I say “consistent” because that’s one of the biggest challenges I’ve had to overcome, namely my ability to “grasshopper” the work.

This ability to put off until tomorrow what I should be doing today is one of the primary reasons How It Ends took me six or seven years to write, edit, and publish. Editing alone became such an onerous task that I couldn’t stand to look at the manuscript anymore, and it was only in the moments when I felt a more compulsive need than desire to edit did I pick up the red pen.

This ability is also why the work on How It Ends isn’t done yet.

What’s Next

swlogoThe next thing that I have to do is to get How It Ends out there in ALL formats. Right now, I’ve only got it on Amazon, available for Kindle. What I really need to do is to put it on Smashwords, which will make it available to be pushed to B&N, iTunes, I can even output it as a PDF and have it available for purchase on this blog. Smashwords calls the process the “meat grinder”, which feels about right. The story goes in, preferably as a Word doc, and out come all the different ebook formats. Plus, by putting it on Smashwords, I can control the price point better on Amazon. How? Read my musings on this topic here.

What’s kept me from really getting going with Smashwords is their, if not insistence, then at least strong recommendation that you read through their style guide first so that your book doesn’t get rejected. Their 110 page style guide. Here’s where Amazon does a lot better than Smashword. Amazon, as I outlined yesterday, is two step process. Smashword requires me to pick through their style guide, large chunks of which don’t apply to me because the guide covers Word documents and EPUB formats, before I really get going. Again, it’s not a requirement, but by circumventing the process you risk looking like a newb.

So Smashwords is next. This will be in two parts. The first is to get the How It Ends omnibus up there and out to the other venues. The second will be to get Part One of How It Ends up there and priced to zero. Once priced to zero, my hope is that readers will find it and keep finding it because it’s a zero cost that floats to the top, and after reading Part One, will buy the remainder of the book.

This would wrap up the ebook side of things. But what of the physical book?

logo-csp-no-tmAmazon has a program now that allows you to take your finished work and create it as a physical book. It’s called CreateSpace. I haven’t spent too much time researching this yet, but it’s on my list of things to do. One of the things I have seen and that appeals to me is that indie publishing on CreateSpace gives you the opportunity to push your book out to other venues, like funneling it out through Baker & Taylor’s catalogues to libraries. It increases the “discoverability” of your book.

CreateSpace also lets you buy your own book at a pretty good discount. So if I were to put my salesman hat on, I could buy 50 copies of my own book and haul them around to places asking people if they wanted to buy them. Who knows who might pick up a copy and discover it? Mayby Stephen Spielberg will be filming his next movie in my town. You never know.

The last thing I need to do is get the word out more about the book. This is also something on which I’ve dragged my feet. I’m not a terribly good self-promoter. It makes me uncomfortable. It feels like bragging, and that’s so not my style. I’m an introvert at heart, so to have to shout about my accomplishments to total strangers–heck, even friends–is not in my wheelhouse. But there again, if I don’t take charge of it, no one will. So I need to get the word out more.

How will I do this? I’ll start with reviews. There are a number of blogs and websites that review sci-fi books and ebooks. Some of them get a lot of readership, and some of them push their reviews to Goodreads, Amazon, and B&N. There’s a danger in that, of course. I’ve done the best I could with How It Ends, which doesn’t mean somebody else will like it. A negative review can certainly happen.

In addition to online websites and blogs, Kirkus Review offers to review books. It’s a total cash cow for them, because you have to pay for the review, but you’re guaranteed a review. Again, you’re not guaranteed a good review, but if you pay them they will review it. Once they finish, you get to review their review and decide if you really want them to publish it. It’s not cheap, running something like $425, but it can be another great way to get your book (and your name) out there.

That’s about it. That’s the story of How It Ends, from concept to published ebook. I hope you’ve enjoyed these posts. I’ve certainly enjoyed the trop down memory lane. Off to finish editing my next book, which might be out by this fall, if I focus.

Hope you’re in the mood for hard-boiled crime fiction!


The History of “How It Ends”: Part 6 – The Mechanics of Self-Publishing

HIE_Serial_Omnibus_CoverIn Part 1 of the History of How It Ends, I talked about where the idea for the novel came from.

In Part 2 of the History of How It Ends, I talked about what drove the writing forward and the genesis of some of the character names.

In Part 3 of the History of How It Ends, I talked about the onerous task of editing the beast.

In Part 4 of the History of How It Ends, I talked about how I procrastinated about which direction I should go in trying to get the novel published.

In Part 5 of the History of How It Ends, I talked about how I finally got over my fear and procrastination and made the decision to self-publish.

This post is all about the mechanics of publishing a book on Amazon. It probably won’t be that interesting, but it’s all part and parcel of the process.

Formatting the File

Once the file was done, I had to prep it for being in a Kindle-readable format. There are several different ways you can do this. I choose the lazy way: I saved a copy of the file as an HTML file and used that. But it was only part laziness. Some of it frustration with with my computer.

CaptureThere is a program out there that converts files to Kindle-ready formats such as MOBI. It’s called Calibre. All you need to do is to take your Word document and save it as an HTML file. Then you add it to your e-book collection in Calibre. Once it’s in Calibre, you can select the file you added and convert it. You have a lot of options to choose from. Kindle, Sony ereader, etc. I had used it to convert the HTML file for The Girl In The Red Hoodie.

Why didn’t I use Calibre for Part One of How It Ends? That’s where the frustration kicked in. I didn’t use it because it stopped working. I tried to convert the HTML file to a MOBI file and Calibre coughed. I don’t think this was due to the program being a bad program, I think it had everything to do with the fact that my laptop is a piece of dog-poo that runs erratically and often shuts down in the middle of whatever I’m doing. So for the serialized pieces, I used the straight HTML file. (I’ve since installed the newer version of Calibre and it’s back in action again.)

Why didn’t I just take the time to reinstall Calibre when I first ran into the problem? Momentum. I did all of the publishing work at night after the kids went to bed. Took me a couple of hours to get it all set. If I had stopped or slowed down, all the momentum I had from making the final decision to self-publish would have been lost, and I would have walked away.

Using the straight HTML file worked just as well, but with the html file, you can’t really embed your own set of tags in the file. When you convert it from HTML to MOBI using Calibre, you have the option to give it an unlimited number of tags. This is one of the recommendations Abby got from the course she took on self-publishing. Use the tags as often as you can. Because they help drive people to your book, even if you can’t see the tags in the final product. That, and the fact that when you’re giving your book official tags during the publishing process, Amazon limits you to seven.

The Cover

Outside of the editing, putting together the cover might have been the biggest challenge. It takes so much thought given that it is the face of your book. If it looks like crap, no one will be interested, and therefor no one will buy it. Moreover, if it looks like crap, you look like crap, like you shortcut the process.

I spent a lot of time looking at science fiction covers, and book covers in general. I wanted to get a feel for how covers had been treated in the past and try to get mine at least in the ballpark of how they look. The big challenge with covers is that anything you pick up I a store has a cover done by a professional cover or graphic designer, someone who knows the tools of the trade and (in theory) the reasons why covers work or don’t work. People go to school for this stuff.

51dxvm+yc2LGiven that I did not go to design school, I had to make it up as I went. I also spent time looking at the covers of books I know were self-published. Some of them are terrible. You can tell that the author was doing it on their own. Some were really good. One set of covers that struck me as solid were the covers for the Blood and Absinthe series my friend Abby writes as Chloe Hart. It’s a pretty solid set of covers with just a single image on a plain gray background and the author and title in a font you can read. That’s what I wanted mine to look like. Except, you know, not vampires.

I bought the images I used for the covers from one of two sites, iStockphoto and Shutterstock. Depending on what was happening in that particular part of the serial I was about to publish, a photo from one or the other of these two sites usually fit the bill.

The next was to find a font that worked. This also proved to be a huge challenge. You can go to free font sites like dafont and browse literally hundreds of individual fonts. The real trick is whether they work for the cover. Even if it looks cool on the site, and even if you test it out on the site (there’s usually a text field where you can type in test text to see what it will look like rendered in that font), you just never know how it will look when you have it splashed across the cover of your book. I went through at least ten different font s before settling on one. And I do mean settling. None of them, as I was publishing the serial, really did the trick for me.

I should mention here that, during the publishing process, Amazon offers a free “Cover Creator.” This is a wep app that let’s you choose from a couple of preset templates. I looked at all if them and found they just didn’t got the tone.

Once I had the image and the font, I had to put them together. I used an old copy of PhotoShop to put them together. I know just enough PhotoShop to be dangerous, and with the first pass of the covers, I think it probably shows.

For the final omnibus edition, I took an idea I’d had for years and put it together. The idea was to have a close up of a robot’s face and a girl reflected in his eye. It was in the final minus edition that the cover came together the way I wanted it to. It looks like it was (might have been) designed by a professional. I’m finally pleased with one of them.

The Upload

Once I had the format done and the cover ready, it was time to upload.

The process for publishing your book on Amazon is actually a pretty straightforward process. Yes, you may hit a snag when you try to price something at $0.25, or when you have your heart set on eight tags and you realize you only get seven. But outside of that, it’s pretty easy.

There are two sections. The first is where you enter all of the attribute information about your book and upload the book file and cover image. The second is the pricing page. That’s it. Set it all up and press Publish. Then spend the next day checking Amazon every fifteen minutes to see if the book is available yet (it can take up to 24 hours for your book to appear.). That’s all there is to it.

Tomorrow: The final post in this series. What’s next after publication.

The History of “How It Ends”: Part 5 – The Decision to Self-Publish


In Part 1 of the History of How It EndsI talked about where the idea for the novel came from.

In Part 2 of the History of How It EndsI talked about what drove the writing forward and the genesis of some of the character names.

In Part 3 of the History of How It EndsI talked about the onerous task of editing the beast.

In Part 4 of the History of How It Ends, I talked about how I procrastinated about which direction I should go in trying to get the novel published.

It was a long a difficult decision to self-publish How It Ends on my own.  I found myself so terrified of making a mistake when I published it that I didn’t do anything at all. If I had to describe this, I’d called it “self-publication constipation”. I felt like the quality of the publishing would be a direct reflection on the book, and eventually on me, and if I produced something that was total crap, then I’d never get a second look by anybody.

So I decided to test the waters a bit. I took a short story (like, really short. Like fourteen pages short.) and put it on Amazon. I created a cover in an old version of PhotoShop and packaged the whole thing up. I posted it online. That was when I hit the first reality check. Price point.

For fourteen pages, I wanted to charge a quarter. After all, it’s only fourteen pages, and it’s the kind of material that doesn’t appeal to everyone, sort of a slasher short, so I had planned to charge twenty-five cents. I was a little dismayed to find out that I couldn’t. The best I could to was to charge $.99 for the story. I couldn’t go lower than that. Already, out of the gate, I was running into trouble. But I had to continue with this first effort. I had to get a sense of how it all worked, because I figured once I pulled the trigger, I was stuck.

519FXNQgakLI finally got the short story, The Girl In The Red Hoodie, published. It was a pretty proud moment. I’d finally really put my writing self out there. I was ready to go forth and conquer with How It Ends.

Except I wasn’t.

I spent the next year hemming and hawing. Like my editing, I found excuses not to sit down and go through the process of publishing How It Ends. I couldn’t afford a cover image (you can get two images on stockphoto websites for about $20), I didn’t have a final edited version (all I was doing was moving words around at this point, shuffling between thirteen different ways to say “love”), I wanted an agent (I sent out zero submissions to agents during this time frame). Lots of excuses, none of them good.

I reached back out to Paul, asking him if he’d be willing to print How It Ends, while I retained digital ownership. His answer, rightfully so, was no. Why would he waste money on a print edition when he couldn’t get any decent sales on them without having the digital edition as well? Print had become a loss leader for him, as I expect it will become for many small indie publishers in the near future.

I waited some more.

91qqolPllyL__SL1500_I don’t remember exactly when I made the decision to finally publish it, but I do know it was related to my discovery of Hugh Howey. Hugh Howey, for those who don’t know the name, made a name for himself serializing his now best selling Wool series. The series didn’t start as a series, but rather as a long short story. After having two books published by small presses, he decided to put the first story in the Wool series on Amazon himself. A few months later, there was a clamor for more. He began writing more and suddenly he had a phenomenon on his hands. And that was the point where I said “A-ha! I’ll serialize it!”. I’ve written before about how Hugh Howey is to blame for the reason I serialized How It Ends.

Before jumping forward, I ran the idea past my friend Russell. He’d been my editor for How It Ends and a sounding board for some of my ideas for years. His first question was whether I thought there were logical breaks in the story. I told him I thought there were and explained where each one would be. He considered this and replied that the breaks I had in mind would work pretty well. And, of course, since I was embarking on this self-publishing trek before he was, he was dying to know how it went.

I broke How It Ends into four distinct parts, each where I thought the most logical break would be. I reached out to Paul to let him know what I had decided. He congratulated me on the bold move and praised the decision. Turns out he had started to steer a lot of writers toward self-publishing as well, given that this seemed to be the direction the wind was blowing.

So here I was, self-publishing How It Ends, as a serial, yet again. I revved up the ol’ self-motivation engine, striped part one of How It Ends out of the main work, slapped a cover on that bad boy, and clicked Publish. Scariest damn thing I’d done all year…

Tomorrow: The mechanics of self-publishing.

The History of “How It Ends”: Part 3 – The Editing

HIE_Serial_Omnibus_CoverIn Part 1 of the History of How It Ends, I talked about where the idea for the novel came from.

In Part 2 of the History of How It Ends, I talked about what drove the writing forward and the genesis of some of the character names.

Part 3 is all about the editing. This will likely be the longest and most difficult part to write about, since this was the toughest part of putting How It Ends together.

When the final chapter of How It Ends was written, polished, and published on Silverthought, I took a big deep breath. It was more a sigh of relief. I couldn’t believe that I had actually completed what I’d set out to do, which was write a full length novel. But that relief was short lived, because I knew, written and published as is, the novel was a clunker.

kingHow It Ends needed major work. I had characters I didn’t need, scenes that didn’t belong, an internal time frame that had continuity problems, the list (in my head) ran on and on. In short, the final first finished product of How It Ends needed editing. Stephen King talks about this process in his really great book about the craft of writing, appropriately titled On Writing. It’s one of my favorite books because it has such a conversational approach to the craft, and whether you like him or hate him, he knows how to tell a story. King will be the first person to call himself “America’s Schlockmeister”, a name he once claimed he loved. I don’t know if he still does. Regardless of his “titles”, his advice on writing and editing is fantastic, partially because he gives the first draft of your novel permission to suck. He says that once you sit down with it and begin to go through it, you’ll find all kind of things wrong with it, including continuity holes “large enough to drive a truck through.” This was the case with How It Ends.

While the keyboard was still cooling, I discussed the idea of having Silverthought’s print division publish the finished novel when it was complete. Paul, owner of Silverthought, and I talked about it several times, and I was on my way toward doing that, but eventually changed my mind. More on that in a later post. Before it got to the point of printing, however, it needed to be edited.

Mark Brand, who was then even more deeply involved in the day to day operations at Silverthought, was the first editor. I spent some time cleaning up the novel, moving pieces around, patching holes. I sent this revised version to him. He went through the first compiled version and came away with a lot of notes. I took these and started to execute on them, but stopped. It just wasn’t working. I tried to get the novel into a shape I liked and kept failing. I couldn’t get basic things like plot and character to work correctly. I was writing more and more connective tissue to band-aid over the problems. It wasn’t that Mark’s direction was bad or that he offered poor guidance. He went through the novel and offered a lot of great advice, provided a ton (literally hundreds) of notes with in Word document. But it still wasn’t working for me. I wasn’t able to pull the damn thing together in a way that satisfied me.

51tfbb9lImLAt some point, and I can’t remember how the transition happened, my good friend Russell took over the editing. I think part of this was due to the heavy time commitment Mark had to devote to Thank You, Death Robot, the second Silverthought anthology, and the first for which he was entrusted as the primary editor. Russell had become an associate editor for Silverthought, so it was still being managed “in-house”. Plus, Russell had read so much of my prior material that he knew my writing style and what I was (and was not) capable of very well by that point. It also didn’t hurt that he was one of the most widely read science fiction fans I’ve ever met.

The-roadThis transition should have gone smoother. But it didn’t. Because in the middle of my current iteration of rewrite, I changed styles. Nothing makes an editor work harder than when you hand the a revised version of what they’ve already read and it’s nothing like what they’ve already read. The blame for this style change can rest squarely on the shoulder of Cormac McCarthy. I finished reading The Road that fall and the way I wrote suffered as a result. Suddenly everything had to be McCarthy-ized. I stripped sentences down. I made the book meaner. I removed nearly all the punctuation, including of course the quotation marks. It was a fire-sale on my previous style and everything had to go. Though he never complained about it, I imagine Russell probably took a look at the new version of the manuscript and thought “What the f—?”

These changes were completely unnecessary and totally my fault. I lacked any kind of confidence in my own style. I wanted to make How It Ends a Novel, not just a novel. All this change totally stalled me. I couldn’t get past them. Every time I touched How It Ends I felt like I was breaking it a little more. I questioned everything in the book and every change I made. I rewrote the beginning I don’t know how many times. It got more and more frustrating and I grew to hate the book. I couldn’t even look at it.

My frustration over the editing of what I now saw as a steaming pile reached a point one particular evening. I had finished the latest rewrite of the first few chapters and had fired it off to Russell. It was about seven in the evening. He was supposed to call me the evening and discuss it. But I was done. I hated everything I wrote, wanted nothing to do with it, and was ready to move on. I had a paper copy I’d printed out they I was red-penning, and the soft copy on the computer. I made a decision. By about seven-thirty, if I hadn’t heard from Russell, I was going to throw the paper copy in the trash and delete the file from my machine.

Russell ended up calling me around seven-fifteen. We talked a little bit about how it was going and I told him I hated everything I wrote and was ready to call it quits. It was at that moment that Russell saved How It Ends from execution. As I finished stating emphatically that I hated the latest rewrite, he said something along the lines of, “That’s funny, because as I was reading it I was thinking to myself ‘This is the best stuff Scott has ever written.'”.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t shocked. I was. Russell went on to explain what he liked about it, which was largely in the characterization. I can’t remember how he described it. It was something about them being vividly drawn, or something like that. I do remember one of his descriptions. He said of the character of Brain Coleman, the smarmy college professor that Anita is dating, that he wasn’t drawn as a villain, because he definitely isn’t in the story, but he’s also not supposed to be a terribly likeable character without the reader flatout hating him. Rather, he’s “drawn as a douche-bag, and you let us revel in his douchey-ness without us hating the guy.” I think that might be a direct quote.

That evening was both the lowest and highest point in the process of editing How It Ends. It still took me another couple of years to get it done and completed. I work slowly, am prone to distraction, and often times can’t get over the mental hump of having to open the file and work on it some more. But if Russell had not called when he did, when I was feeling like an absolute failure as a writer, and had he not said what he said, How It Ends would never have happened. Editing was still an uphill process after that, as it took several more years to complete. But that evening phone conversation gave me enough power to pedal up the hill.

Tomorrow: Finally done! And now what?

The History of “How It Ends”: Part 2 – The Writing

HIE_Serial_Omnibus_CoverYesterday I began a series of posts around the history of writing and self-publishing How It Ends. You can read Part One of this series here.

Today’s post is all about the writing of How It Ends, and the first time I serialized it.

Once I had the basics down for the plot for How It Ends, I set about the sometimes onerous task of writing it. It was an incredibly difficult piece right. I had to construct new characters, an entire plot around those characters, and motivations for each one. I ended up with a college kid, her lovestruck boyfriend, a ruthless executive that would stop at nothing to succeed, and a brand-new robot I chose to name Gammons.

docAn interesting (and kind of lengthy) aside is how the names of these characters came into being. The original robot in “End Of Life”, Kilgore, was named in a provocative way on purpose. I remember my mother telling me that she had had a crush on Richard Chamberlain back when he was on TV as Dr. Kildare. I really like the idea of having some form of the word to kill in a doctor’s name. So in an effort to be provocative I removed the Dare and added the Gore. Thus Kilgore was born. The ruthless executive I named Eric. He was named for a manager I knew at a place I had worked before. This manager, while not willing to kill to get ahead, was still driven to succeed in away I found unhealthy. And so I named my ruthless executive character after him. The college kid I chose to name Anita. I had really no other reason for naming her Anita other than the fact that, at that time, I knew someone named Anita at a client from whom I was doing some consulting. Seemed as good a name as any.

Peter GammonsThe most unusual name I came up with was for the new robot. I struggled to come up with a name that I liked. I didn’t want something as provocative as Kilgore, but I did want something that stood out. I had nothing that worked, until one day when I looked up at the TV while I was jotting notes. Baseball Tonight was on ESPN. The sports pundit of the moment was Peter Gammons. I thought to myself, “Gammons, that’s an interesting name. I’ll use that for the time being until I can find a better one.” I never did find a better name. One of the reasons I kept it was because it sounded science fiction-y to me. It felt like a bit of a throwback to a time when everyone was afraid of gamma rays from another planet. So I kept it to keep myself grounded in science fiction, especially since How It Ends is essentially a love story with some science fiction thrown in. I still think it’s an incredibly clunky name for a character, but the character took it and made it his own and now I can’t think of ever calling him something different.

Once I had the loose structure of the plot in my head, and had written down on a couple notes on Post-It notes, I set about the task of writing. Writing has never come easy to me. I find that I have to slog my way through it. It may seem strange for a writer to say that writing doesn’t come naturally, but it simply doesn’t for me, even when I’ve been doing it regularly. I want to tell stories, but often times I don’t know if I have the energy to tell the full story before I run out of steam. In an effort to keep myself motivated, I had to come up with some method to keep myself on a deadline. Which is how I ended up serializing the novel first time.

I reached out to Paul at Silverthought and asked him what he thought about the idea of serializing this newly burgeoning novel. He answer was far more generous than it needed to be. He had had other writers start serials before, only to have them taper off unfinished. He didn’t want another instance like that, so if I was willing to agree to finish it, he’d be happy to serialize it. We came to what amounted to a gentleman’s agreement: there was no contract, no money changing hands, no consequence of me not finishing other than my having broken my word. That was enough for him, and it was enough for me. I plowed ahead with essentially my honor at stake.

The mechanics of writing the work itself were basic and fundamental. Move the characters along toward the completion of the plot without having them do something woefully out of character. Sounds easy. Except the each chapter ended up being a major effort, like a long short story each time, some beating ten thousand words. I had to write it, proof it, edit it, and present it all within a time-frame. The time-frame Paul and I agreed to was a chapter per month. That created a furious drive in me that I haven’t had since. It also cause lots of writing headaches.

Some of the challenges are the typical challenges of writing fiction. Did I screw up any of the characters? Are their motivations still clear? Are the sentences well-constructed? Are there any clunkers? Does the dialogue work, or is it written like someone who has a tin ear? These were and are the normal challenges that occur in any writing effort, but which seemed magnified when up against a deadline. But these were minor compared to my biggest problem.

You see, when writing a serial, it’s good to have a clear sense of the overall plot all the way down to the particulars. Because without it, you have to do what I did: write myself out of corners. I would write myself into corners in one chapter, only to have to try and recover it in the next. And it was not uncommon for me to write myself out of one corner, only to find I had boxed myself into a different corner. It was crazy, and it contributed to a general swelling of the novel size. I was writing on the road and in the office, anywhere I could grab some extra time. I write directly on the computer, which certainly made it faster. I can’t write anything longhand. I’ve tried. I aj ways fail at it.

By the time I had submitted the concluding piece of the serial to Paul, the overall size of the novel was near 110k words. Which could mean only one thing: editing.

Tomorrow: Editing How It Ends, and how I nearly deleted the entire story.