October Recap

What a busy month! My sister-in-law was in town for some work training and brought her kids (who stayed at the farm) so we had multiple visits with them while they were here. Plus Thanksgiving for two sides of the family, a family brunch for my son’s birthday, and a school-friend party for my son’s birthday. I worked the federal election (which meant 3 evenings of training plus a 16 hour day). The kids had 3 no-school days this month. And of course, Halloween.

Phew.

I managed just over 60,000 words this month (making it the fourth month I’ve topped 50k in 30 or 31 days, plus June where I knocked out 100k in 30 days for a double Nano). My annual total to date is 474,000.

I’ll be slowing down now until the end of the year, taking lots of days off for sales, birthdays, and the holidays. My goal is to write 1500 words every available day until December 19th. That will put me over my annual goal with enough to spare to cover sick days or surprise commitments.

I’ve also started a program with Strongest Families to help me learn to deal with my daughter’s outbursts better. That should wrap up early in the new year. It’s a distance thing (online and phone) so it’s not physically taxing but it is emotionally powerful. Lots of digging. Lots of reflection.

Only 2 months to go. Whatever happens, 2019 will be my most productive year to date (as I just topped my 2018 annual total!)

Writing Collabs

I see this a lot in writing groups: “I’m looking for someone to co-write a book with me” or “Anyone want to collab on a project?” or more general questions about sharing experiences with collaborative writing and how to make it work.

I can answer those more general questions.

First of all, when you are cowriting, you need an idea that appeals to both writers in a genre both writers are familiar with and comfortable in, or at least a genre one writing is familiar with and the other is willing to explore. You need to be on the same page (no pun intended) regarding the plot and overall direction of the book.

When I was cowriting, I was a teenager. My best friend and I were creating a massive fantasy world together with complex magical systems and a large ensemble cast. It was self-insertion, big time, with the main characters being based on she and I, and the majority of the cast based on our friends in some way. It was something fun that we worked on during lunch and on the weekends. She was the inventor, she came up with cool scenes and plot twists and world-building facts. I was the archiver, I kept track of the information and blended it into a coherent story and a stable world. She was also the artist, drawing pictures of characters, scenes, and the map.

It worked for us. Until we graduated and life got in the way and she handed it all over to me.

I haven’t done any further collaborations (and I will explain why later in this post) but I did work for many years as a ghostwriter and some of the tips are the same. Like, a good contract makes a good friend. Even if you are working with a friend or family member whom you trust (unless it’s your spouse, but even then …) have a contract laying out who will do what, how decisions will be made when you disagree, the approximate timeline for each draft, how often you need to check in with each other about the project, the credit/payment split for after its published (no, really, settle that before you put even a single word on the paper, not after its written and ready to be published), who owns the rights to what, how much of it you can share publicly, and what will happen if one of the other backs out of the project. Both of you need to sign it and have physical copies of it.

Be open and honest about what you want to do, what you feel your strengths and abilities are, and what you expect the other person to do. Too often, people are asking for collaborators when they really want ghostwriters. The difference? Collaborators are both active participants in the worldbuilding, writing, and editing process – maybe in different ways, maybe not in perfectly equal proportions, but they are both involved every step of the way, and they receive equal or near equal credit for the work. Ghostwriters receive an outline or summary from a client and do 100% of the writing and self-editing phases, sometimes they even do part of the outlining phase too. Someone who knows they want a ghostwriter generally offers a lump sum in exchange for full rights. Someone who is trying to disguise a ghostwriting contract as a collaboration will say “I’ll come up with the idea, you write it, and we’ll split the profits 50/50”. If you’re going to do all the work, get paid up front and let them do what they want with it, or do your own thing and keep all the money – only agree to a royalty split if they’ll agree to a fair labour split.

Collabs are difficult things. You are taking two authors with different ideas, different experiences, and different writing styles, and trying to create a single book. Back in high school, the style part wasn’t too big a deal – we were still trying to find our creative voices so we were experimenting together, exploring possibilities and variations until we found what we wanted. But we had a lot of long, sometimes tense, conversations about how to blend our ideas. Dragons were vetoed, she didn’t want full-size dragons in this series. Since it started as her idea and I was invited in, I had to let that one go. We argued about types and levels of powers for different characters, about how they would react in different situations, about the outcome of different story arcs …

When you write, you get attached to characters, to snippets of dialogue, to scenes, and you don’t want to cut them in the editing process. That’s where the saying “kill your darlings” comes in. For the most part we approached these problems logically, picking the solution that made the most sense for the story as a whole, but sometimes it was hard. I’d have an idea and it would hurt that she didn’t see the genius of it. And I’m sure my reluctance or refusal to consider some of her ideas stung her as well.

This leads me into why I haven’t done a collab since then, or the biggest reason anyway (I also have no time to deal with that level of project right now). I don’t trust anyone enough to work with them on a writing collaboration.

It comes down to trust. Trust that they will hold to the contract. Trust that they won’t dismiss your ideas and then steal them for another project. Trust that they won’t walk away partway through. Trust that they will listen to you with an open mind and keep disagreements civil and logical.

I don’t understand how complete strangers on Facebook can jump into a writing collaboration project together. I just … how do you know if you like the other person’s ideas? Or their writing style? Or the level of graphic content they want to include (violent or sexual, too much or too little)? You don’t know.

Do these people asking strangers if they want to co-write hold job interviews to find the right person? Do they settle for the best of the bunch or do they hold out for the right person? Is it like hiring a secretary or finding a spouse?

Writing is a deeply personal thing for me, even when I’m writing fiction. I throw myself into it. It is a passion. If I’m going to work with someone, it has to be someone I can trust with those deep secrets, those hopes and dreams, those vulnerabilities and fears.

To be honest, I do miss those long walks while Steph and I talked about Zoedar, brainstorming and creating together. And I think, when my kids are grown and my husband is retired, and my life doesn’t revolve around keeping small things alive and bills paid and food on the table anymore, maybe I will find someone who will take long walks with me, someone who wants to take on the vast process of co-writing a book or a series. Until them, I’m going to knuckle under and get through the mountain of projects waiting to be tackled.

And I wish all the co-writing teams out there the very best of luck and success.

The McCallister Series – Review

Full disclosure time! I signed up to review the four books in the McCallister Series through Silver Dagger Book Tours. They provided me with Kindle copies of each of the books in exchange for my honest review on my blog, on Goodreads, and on Amazon.

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The McCallister Series is a 4-book mystery series by Canadian author, L.V. Gaudet.  She also writes under the pen name Vivian Munnoch. She has 7 books published as L.V. Gaudet and 2 as Vivian Munnoch.

The McCallister Series focuses on a serial killer in a small, semi-rural city. She writes in a way that allows you to see inside the killer’s head without revealing his identity until the end of book 1.

 

McAllister 1 - Where the Bodies Are_372x600Where the Bodies Are – The McAllister Series Book 1

This book begins with a body in an alley but the girl isn’t dead. Jane Doe is kept in a medical coma in the hospital while police work to find her identity – and stop the steadily rising body count.

L.V. Gaudet writes several scenes from an unknown POV – the killer’s. Referred to only as “he” or “the man”, we get to see inside his head without discovering his identity – we get to watch his mental deterioration and see what is driving him.

The pressure really starts to build when Jane Doe goes missing from the hospital and the police find a massive burial site with bodies dating back generations.

 

McAllister 2 - The McAllister Farm_377x600The McAllister Farm – The McAllister Series Book 2

Book 2 takes place almost a full generation before book 1 – but to avoid spoilers I strongly suggest reading book 1 first.

The McAllisters live on a small farm on the edge of a small but growing town. They keep to themselves. William McAllister, the father, goes out of town often on business trips.

This book takes us into the mind of the man who one day creates a serial killer when he’s still an impressionable boy and examines the circumstances around his childhood and early adulthood. This book answers a lot of the backstory questions from book 1.

McAllister 3 - Hunting Michael Underwood_373x600Hunting Michael Underwood – The McAllister Series Book 3

Michael Underwood was introduced in book 1. He is a police officer, and he was working undercover as an orderly at the hospital where Jane Doe was being cared for. It was his job to keep an eye on her in case the killer returned.

Now, both Jane Doe and Michael Underwood are missing and it’s up to Jim McNelly, the detective working the serial killer case in book 1, and Lawrence Hawkworth, a newspaper reporter, to track down both missing people. Both men are convinced there’s more going on, things they aren’t seeing. They have one man in custody, but there are too many questions unanswered yet.

McAllister 4 - Killing David McAllister_391x600Killing David McAllister – The McAllister Series Book 4

In the series finale, L.V. Gaudet wraps up multiple loose ends over multiple story arcs. What becomes of David and Jason McAllister? What about the rest of their family? What is Jane Doe’s fate (I don’t want to post spoilers here so I won’t refer to her by name)? Will justice be served and in what form, or will the killer escape to disappear and become someone new?

The clock is ticking and always there is the fear of another body.

 

 

REVIEW

I have individual reviews of each book posted to Goodreads. I’ve given each book 4 out of 5 stars.

My main reason for the 4 star rating was the simple, often repetitive language of the books. The pacing, story, and mystery were all great, but I found often a word was used twice in a sentence (and not words like ‘the’ or ‘a’), or twice in consecutive sentences.

I found the author’s habit of writing each chapter from a different 3 person POV made it hard to connect to the characters. The chapters were short – you never got to spend enough time with any character to build rapport, and a few times, you were with a POV character only once through the book. I felt I didn’t know anything about the police office, Jim McNelly, or his assistant, the undercover officer, Michael Underwood, or the nurse caring for Jane Doe.

Book 2 was better for character building because it focused less on twisting the reader through a mystery and more on the development of the characters.

Book 3 returned to the POV shifting, but now that I knew more backstory and now that I was further in the series I was able to pick up a little more about the characters.

The series is written in the present tense, which made things interesting. I’m not used to that. It wasn’t bad – she writes it consistently and avoids the major pitfalls of that style choice. I just found that because I’m not used to third person present tense it was difficult to slip into.

Overall I would recommend this series to anyone who enjoys a dark mystery. There are some gruesome descriptions of dead bodies throughout so I wouldn’t categorize this as a cozy mystery.

 

Thank you to Silver Dagger Book Tours for arranging this review tour and providing the pictures and needed files.

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Long-Term Writing

I started writing my debut novel in May of 2014. By November I was publishing it (keep in mind that this wasn’t the first novel I wrote, just the first novel I published). Pieces took me less than a year to write. Both were just under 70k,

The Rose Garden took me 4 years two write 5 books, and that was with a MAJOR plot-driven road-block while writing book 2. They ranged from 64k-95k. The Underground took me 3 years to write 8 books of 20-32k each.

But Zoedar? I started the Zoedavian Chronicles with my best friend when we were 15 or 16 – half a lifetime ago. I’m 32. I’ve literally been working on this series for half of my life.

Why? Since May of 2014 I have written and published 19 books and 3 short stories. Why is it taking me 15+ years to write a 4 book series?

Well, book 1 of The Zoedavian Chronicles is roughly 83k, longer than all but 2 of the previous books I wrote. Book 2 is roughly 97k, equal in length to the longest of the previous books I wrote. Book 3 is shaping up to be 130k – longer than any single book I’ve written, nearly as long as the ENTIRE Underground series combined.

The 5 book Rose Garden Series is approximately 382k combined. This 4 books series looks like it will be at least 410k. So yeah, length plays a huge roll in how long this is taking.

Also, 410k? At 15 years old? There was no way I could have finished a project that large at that age and had it be any good. (Trust me on this. I wrote a MASSIVE vampire project in high school and it’s not salvageable – believe me, I tried).

The biggest reason this project took me so long? I wasn’t ready. I keep telling writers to write crap, and I mean it. That garbaged vampire series taught me A LOT about writing. But I knew in the back of my mind that I was writing crap, I was writing practice pieces, and THIS project called to me, I knew it was special, I knew it held potential.

And I knew I didn’t yet have the ability to write it.

I tried a few times over the years, starting it, outlining it, refining it, revising it. I made so many changes as I learned more about history, religion, cultures outside of my own, and how writing fiction ties into politics. I’d play with it awhile and then put it aside. I’d make some changes to the outlining or the world-building and then put it aside.

Then I started both Rose Garden and The Underground and I knew I had to finish those series completely before I started any other large-scale projects. Even though, by that time, I was itching to start on this for real.

I’ve gone further with this project than I ever have before. I’m still making changes, with the help of a talented, dedicated, and thoughtful beta reader. I still add to the worldbuilding. I still doubt if I’m ready to really tell this story. But now is the time. I feel good about this. It’s coming together.

Writing a book or a series that takes FOREVER is a unique challenge. You have to stay motivated to work on a single project for a lot longer. You have to resist the urge to eternally edit/revise and never finish writing. You have to be strict about cutting everything that isn’t necessary because over the years I have fallen in love with countless facts and fun bits that don’t further the story. They will find a place somewhere, but not here, not now. And you have to be willing to let go of things that no longer work, like beloved character names or plot twists. And you can’t give in to the urge to rush through it. I’ve been working on this a long time, I am not going to ruin it now by rushing things.

 

A Long Time Coming

Way back in high school (okay, I’m not that old but it was half a lifetime ago) I met this girl and somehow, even with me being a complete dufus and so socially awkward it was past laughable, we became best friends.

She started this story with her two best friends from middle school who she didn’t see anymore, sort of as a way to keep them all together. She added me to it and eventually, the other two were dropped.

We started putting real work into it, instead of just “wouldn’t it be cool if we were princesses from another planet!” We created a map (she drew it, I did the labelling), a language, cultures, races, magical systems, and an entire history. We worked on it so much that she’d dream about it at night. She’d tell me the dreams and I’d record them, compiling them and blending them to create a consistent story line.

We tried a comic adaptation but that didn’t work out.

We started work on a novel but the story shifted too much.

And then we graduated.

I kept tinkering with the world and the story and we’d meet up every few months to chat about it and hash things out. I got married and had kids. She got an awesome career. And at some point, our world was put on a shelf.

Until now.

With her permission, I took it down, dusted it off, and started cleaning up the mess of storylines and versions and adaptations we’d created.

I’m now working on book 3 in the series that we always dreamed of writing. And you can learn all about it here.

The world is called Thelara. The series is called The Zoedavian Chronicles. And her name was Steph. I wish I could see more of her but kids, work, books, friends … life has gotten in the way. But I hope, someday soon, she and I will be getting together for drinks to celebrate the publication of the story we once dreamed of writing.

September Recap

The kids went back to school this month and with that comes routine. I have a set time to wake up, set jobs to do at set times, and a large chunk of a quiet day to write with no kids underfoot. I do have to chase the cat around but that’s life.

Oh yeah. Got a new cat. He’s a white and silver tabby, about 5 months old. We named him Zephyr.

Now that the important news is out of the way …

In other news, our dog has been with us a year. She’s down to a healthy weight now and she’s affectionate and energetic. We’re still working on the listening skills but as a 6 year old rescue, well, there’s only so much we’ll be able to do, I think.

There was a black belt test on the 28th. I wasn’t testing (I don’t get to test again until April) but I attended to help with setup and show support. That night was the Award Dinner for our academy. It was a nice excuse to get fancied up and have a nice meal. I was selected for the Role Model of the Year award, which comes as a delightful surprise.

Nothing Everything Nothing, my first novel, was rereleased as a 2nd edition, with a new cover, a new forward, some minor edits, and some bonus content. The last three books in the Underground series have been released (Turncoats, Sunlight, and Cheyanne and Other Tales from Underground). All 4 are available on Amazon as paperbacks and ebooks.

One show this month with the Lorette Family Fun Days, sold 1 book. Probably won’t do it next year.

Writing. I got back to writing this month. I finished Zoedar book 2 and sent it to the beta reader and started on Zoedar book 3.

Let me tell you a bit about the creation process of this series. It’s been my back burner series for a long time. I’ve written scenes and ideas and scrapped them and written others and none of it was ever thrown out. I had a 108k manuscript written, it was supposed to be book 1. When I sat down to work on this project for real, I decided to add a whole bunch to the beginning and rearrange the existing timeline, creating an all-new book 1 (which used some material from the old manuscript) with book 2 being the bulk of the old manuscript. Which is why those books went so fast.

Book 3 is all new territory. I’ve never gotten this far on this project before. I had outlines and timelines and a map of how the war unfolds, but I hadn’t written any of this down yet. My typing speed is great, it’s the actual creating process that takes the most amount of time. Most of writing a book is staring at the screen trying to figure out what word comes next. When the muse is kind and the words come easily, then daily word counts are no problem.

Because I was so far behind after taking August off to edit, I wanted to push myself this month. I’m now at a point where I should be able to finish on time without having to write several hours on holidays.

Oh, I also did a little more work on my memoirs. Those are coming along slowly and I’m going to be rearranging them in the new year.

September Word Count Total: 69550

Zoedar Book 2 finished word count: 94450 (did 11k of that in September)

Zoedar Book 3 end of month word count: 54003

Zoedar Book 3 projected completion date: end of October at a final word count of 110k+