The Follower

The Follower

Photo credit: bloodybee

The next novel I wrote was called The Follower.

Unlike my first two efforts, which were geared toward middle-schoolers (ages 9 to 12), this one was aimed at young adults.

Teenagers, in other words.

I tried to incorporate all of the advice Jennie, the literary agent, had given me for Walking Distance and The Bridge, particularly: 1. Let the main character — in this case, the strong and resourceful Libby — drive the story, and; 2. Keep asking and answering the question, “And then what?”

I have never worked harder on a novel than I did on The Follower. I wrote it at a Caribou Coffee shop, sitting day after day at the long table by the front windows, alternately staring into space and typing, if not madly, then methodically.

As I wrote, I pantomimed the characters’ body language. I didn’t want to say how they felt. I wanted to show how they felt by describing their voices, mannerisms and movements.

For example, during a pivotal scene, Libby kisses the cheek of this geeky guy she has a love-hate relationship with. The guy’s name is Matt, and I searched for a simile that would show the significance of that kiss. So as I sat at the long table, I lowered my head and began kissing the back of my right hand.

Eventually, I got it. The kiss sounded like a small lock springing open!

With my first two novels, my main character, Rachel, was modeled after my daughter Mara, and her nemesis and ultimate ally, Kyle, was modeled after her big brother Max.

I used those novels to explore Mara and Max’s complicated, real-life relationship.

With The Follower, Libby was mostly modeled after me, and I used the novel to explore my complicated, real-life relationship with my adopted parents.

Which is why Libby’s family is absent and Matt’s is cruel.

I also tried to imagine what the world was like for my son, who is on the autistic spectrum and is fiercely intelligent. How would he react when the less-than-logical concept of love was on the line?

I thought Jennie would adore The Follower because, in addition to taking her aforementioned advice, the novel didn’t focus on family, as did Walking Distance and The Bridge, but solely on the main character, who emerges from a physical and metaphorical forest fire knowing her true worth.

In July of 2009, I sent Jennie the manuscript.

Then I waited.

To be continued . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magical Moments #1

This is my Instagram friend Joe Pequerrucho. I love his card magic. Here he’s doing a trick that involves, among other things, a type of card control called a shift. Watch that ace!

Where Ideas Come From

Where Ideas Come From

Photo credit: Javair Mansell

We were going somewhere — the library, I think — though why we were driving is a mystery. The library was within easy walking distance of our house, so we must’ve been going somewhere else after that.

The point is, we were driving, and it’s a good thing we were, because had we been walking, we would’ve taken a different route, and I would’ve missed seeing her.

I say her, but I don’t know if what I saw was female. I don’t even know if what I saw was human.

The, um, humanoid I saw standing on the corner of Reisterstown Road and Walker Avenue was wrapped head to toe in rags.

Shiny black marble eyes peered out from between the rags encircling its misshapen head, and those eyes seemed to follow me as I turned the car onto Walker.

Picture a mummy wrapped not in yards of linen, but miles of it, such that its girth rivaled a tree trunk.

“Did you guys see that?!” I asked my family.

My daughter Mara said she had. Her fearful expression in the rearview mirrored my own perfectly.

So maybe I hadn’t hallucinated, unless hallucinations were contagious. Were they?

Did I mention it was a bright and sunny day? It was. Did I mention that ours is a small town, without a convention center or major hotel? It is. So the thing Mara and I saw wasn’t some cosplay character gone astray, and it wasn’t a costumed sign waver for a fabric store. Our town doesn’t have a fabric store.

That night, after we got back from wherever we’d been, Mara and I speculated on what we’d seen.

We decided it was a monster.

My imagination took it from there. The monster would dwell in the non-visible spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. It would become visible when summoned by human desire.

Have you ever wondered where writers get their ideas?

Yeah, me neither.

But were you to wonder, I’d say that thing I saw on the corner of Reisterstown Road and Walker Avenue is what gave me the idea for my next novel, the one I would write after I let go of The Bridge.

It would be a novel of firsts for me: first horror novel, first young-adult novel, and first novel with a cruelly dysfunctional family.

Jennie, the literary agent who wanted a singularly character-driven novel, was going to love it!

To be continued . . .

 

 

Let’s Recap!

Let's Recap!

Photo credit: Darren Wilkin

What’s that you say? You just stumbled on my blog and would like to follow along, but you’re a busy person and don’t have time to start at the beginning? This handy recap will get you up to speed quickly!

  • Kicked off my blog in early December 2016 with the post Two Things, in which I introduced myself and attempted to explain why the world needs another blog.
  • Launch Now took us to Thanksgiving 2015, the day I launched my Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the self-publication of my middle school-grade thriller Do Over.
  • My Kickstarter gets fully funded. I faint from Overwhelmed-ness!
  • No Plot? No Problem! took us to March 2007. The post paid homage to the book that changed my life, and concluded with me meeting the woman who changed my life.
  • The woman’s name is Jennie. She’s a literary agent. Our life-changing conversation lasted Fifteen Minutes.
  • In Funny Bones, I fretted over faux pas before sending Jennie the manuscript of my first middle school-grade novel, Walking Distance. She didn’t love it.
  • I shared Jennie’s feedback, and alluded to The Important Thing I Missed in my writing and in my life.
  •  My Bittersweet Summer was the first of a three-part, boy-loses-best-friend-but-gets-the-girl-of-his-dreams story. It seemed like a non-sequitur, but trust me, it’s not.
  • If you’re wondering what I sound like, you can hear me tell the story of My Bittersweet Summer before a live audience here.
  • In The Choice, it’s 2007 again, and I had to decide whether to rework Walking Distance or let it go and write another novel.
  • Life is all about Holding On and Letting Go. My first novel represented a golden time in my life when I homeschooled my two kids, but in the end I decided to let it go.
  • I wrote my next middle-school novel, The Bridge, and sent it to Jennie. Half a year later, she sent me her feedback.
  • Jennie’s feedback was candid and encouraging, but unbeknownst to her, it felt like a censure of my role as a father. I would Hear No Evil!

New content is added each Sunday, with periodic postings on Wednesdays. Thank you, Dear Reader, for following along! 🙂

Hear No Evil

FullSizeRender

Photo credit: Naomi Frost

She said my main character, Rachel, needed to drive the story. Her parents, her brother, the other characters, they could “set her up” to discover the clues that would solve the mystery, but they couldn’t be the ones to discover the clues, and they sure as shit couldn’t be the ones to solve the mystery.

In other words, Jennie, the literary agent, was reiterating what she’d said in her feedback to my first novel, Walking Distance.

It was Rachel’s story. Let her tell it.

With Walking Distance, Jennie had made that point after making three others: the novel was too long, it was occasionally boring, and certain aspects of its resolution were ambiguous and consequently dissatisfying.

I’d worked hard on The Bridge to address those first three points — and apparently I’d done it, because she hadn’t brought them up — but I’d done next to nothing to address the fourth.

That’s because I’d written what I knew.

And what I’d known was that my two real kids, Max and Mara, would never know the lack of love and support I’d felt as a kid. They would never feel alone.

And neither would my two fictional kids.

I’d asked Max and Mara to pick the names for their fictional counterparts. Max picked Kyle. My wife Amy picked Ava. I’d picked David.

But make no mistake: the family in Walking Distance and The Bridge, it was us.

So when Jennie said my main character had to do things for herself, I told myself Jennie didn’t get it.

We were a family!

We loved each other!

We helped each other!

We would never let each other go it alone!

Jennie said publishers wanted character driven stories — character singular, not plural.

I said Jennie didn’t get it.

If life is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, as I believe, then my kids, both real and fictional, would never have to tell a story about being by themselves.

They would always have me.

And more importantly, I would always have them.

When Jennie said my dad character had to back off, she was telling me I had back off.

Just like that teacher in Max’s elementary school, who once suggested to me that maybe, just maybe, I was smothering my son.

She hadn’t gotten it, either.

Because I write what I know.

And sometimes, to protect myself, I avoid writing what I’m afraid to know.

To be continued . . .

The Bridge

The Bridge

Photo credit: Patty Keys

The next novel I wrote was called The Bridge.

It was also a middle-grade novel, meaning its target readership was nine- to twelve-year-olds, and it featured the same cast of characters from my first novel, Walking Distance, including the main protagonist and her antagonistic older brother.

For The Bridge, I took to heart all the advice Jennie, the literary agent, had given me for Walking Distance: keep the writing tight and relevant, and avoid ambiguous resolutions.

As for her advice to keep the length of MG novels to about 150 pages, I didn’t know what to do about that. As far I was concerned, a story should be as long as it takes to be told.

But I figured if I took her first two pieces of advice, chances were the third would fall into place of its own accord.

Like Walking Distance, The Bridge drew heavily on my life as a stay-at-home, homeschooling dad of two, as well as on that of my family.

The title referred to an aging, one-lane bridge near our home that underwent a yearlong renovation. In the story, the rebuilding of the bridge was sabotaged, so that when the new travel surface was laid atop the decking, it collapsed onto the railroad tracks below, gravely injuring one of the construction workers.

Of course, my main character, Rachel, not only figured out how the bridge was sabotaged, with help from a lost dog, but she also revealed the identity of the saboteur after a tense scene involving a thunderstorm and a thundering train.

The novel also featured sibling rivalry, paranormal activity, a death curse, Rachel’s budding awareness of womanhood, and algebra.

I loved The Bridge. It was both mystery and metaphor. It had everything I liked in a book, and it seemed to have everything Jennie wanted. It was also sixty pages shorter than my previous novel.

I couldn’t wait to submit it to her!

Which I did in late January of 2008.

Then I waited.

February went by. Then March. Then April.

Had I been the defendant in a court-room drama, and Jennie the jury, I would’ve been steeling myself for a death sentence. But I wasn’t, so I didn’t.

Because I’m a pretty optimistic guy.

Then June went by.

Finally, in late July, Jennie finished reading The Bridge and emailed me her feedback.

This is what she said.

To be continued . . .

 

 

 

 

Holding On and Letting Go

letting-go
Photo credit: Brooke Shaden

My son Max has never been an overly emotional kid — in the twenty-six years he’s been alive, he’s told me he loves me only once, when we thought I was dying — so when, at age nine, he burst into tears on our way home from summer vacation, my wife and I were understandably alarmed.

Turned out Max was sad about going back to school. No, not sad. He was despondent.

His tears, which he reserves for only the most grievous of physical and emotional injuries, were what convinced me to homeschool him and his then five-year-old sister.

That first year of homeschooling, I had absolutely no idea of what I was doing. My curriculum, for lack of a better word, centered on the Seattle’s Best coffeeshop that had opened within walking distance of our house.

Each week day, rain or shine, we’d walk to that coffeeshop. We’d eat chocolate-chip muffins and discuss what I’d read aloud from the day’s newspaper (saving the comics for last, of course). Then we’d play a game or two. Then I’d re-stuff my satchel with all of Max’s Lego Bionicles and Mara’s baby dolls and we’d make our way back home.

One day, the manager at Seattle’s Best, Julie, who had become our friend, said she’d found evidence of someone living in the coffeeshop’s basement.

You know how, in horror novels, the haunted house is almost always built on the burial mound of a vengeful people? Well, the coffeeshop had been situated in a space formerly occupied by a once-venerated restaurant whose basement had been its kitchen.

Julie gave us a tour of the basement. It was a creepy ass maze of dim passageways and large and small rooms.

That basement, and the thought of who, or what, was living in it, gave me the idea for what would become my first novel, Walking Distance.

So in 2007, when the literary agent suggested I set aside that novel and start a new one, she didn’t know it represented the story of three people who were learning to learn in a new way: about themselves, about each other, and about a world that changed forever on September 11th.

That chaotic year of 2001, we learned how to hold on and to let go.

Which is really what life is all about, isn’t it?

So I thought about the agent’s suggestion.

And then I let go.

To be continued . . .

 

 

The Choice

choices.jpg

Photo credit: Kyle Pearce

Cut a hundred pages — the woman’s crazy!

The novel was only two-hundred-and-fifty pages to begin with. If I cut a hundred pages, I’d lose forty percent of the story.

I mean, I got what the agent was going for: a leaner, meaner novel that would appeal to middle school-grade readers.

But come on! A hundred pages?

If your doctor told you to lose a hundred pounds, sure, you’d be leaner and meaner, but not in a way that would endear you to other human beings.

The agent’s name was Jennie. I met her at a writers’ conference. She’d read the first ten pages of my first novel, Walking Distance, and on the basis of those pages, she offered to read the entire manuscript.

It took her five months, and her feedback was explicit: my novel was too long, it was mired in minutia in places, and its ending wasn’t completely clear.

Oh, and the dad character had to play a much smaller part.

After reading Jennie’s feedback, I immediately went through the five stages of literary rejection: anger, anger, anger, anger and anger.

I raged around the house for a couple of days. muttering to myself. Then, slowly, I cooled down.

I reread her email again, only this time I focused on the positives. She liked my writing style, my sense of humor, and she said she saw promise.

She didn’t offer to represent me, but she did offer me a choice: I could rewrite my novel and resubmit to her, or I could put it aside and write another novel.

Charles “Chub” Fuller came to mind. He’s the main character of William Goldman’s novel The Color of Light, and like me, he’s a writer who’s trying to make something of himself. Chub writes a story and, seeking feedback, gives it to his friend, Stanley ‘Two-Brew’ Kitchel.

Two-Brew, an aspiring editor, thinks the story shows promise. His feedback is comprised of four words: “On to the next.”

I read The Color of Light in 1984, when I was 22 and just awakening to the dream of becoming a published author. I remember thinking Two-Brew’s feedback was harsh.

Chub poured his heart and soul in his story! How could Two-Brew be so cavalier?!

And how could Jennie? How could she even suggest me putting aside something that represented two years of my life?

I raged a little more. Then I made my choice.

To be continued . . .