The Longevity Thesis Book Video

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Value of a Good Critique

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to someone very special, J.D. Williams, who is listed on the acknowledgments page of The Longevity Thesis as Antronos' godfather. He is the author of several manuscripts, including Remote Eyes, The Thulean Vanguard (my favorite), and Ten Spirits, and is currently shopping around for just the right publisher.

As strange as it may seem, J.D. and I have never met, not face to face anyway. We are both former members of the online Critter's Group, which introduced us to each other, and fatefully placed the first nascent chapters of The Longevity Thesis into J.D.'s hands.

Back then, the novel was called The Divine Prerogative, and it was dreck. Drivel. Doggiedoo. A complete waste of pixels and hard drive space. Despite this, J.D. plowed through the entire manuscript, more than once and suggested some very radical changes, which I am very glad I made, since it undeniably whipped the manuscript into shape. After J.D. was done, I no longer cringed when I read my own writing, but rather felt a profound satisfaction that the story was finally as it was meant to be.

J.D. recommended that I delete two entire plot threads and about half the characters. He also suggested one very significant change that drastically altered the novel and snapped it into focus: the amalgamation of two characters, Opalena and Ranull, into one. Opalena was initially pure, cardboard-cut-out evil and Ranull was fluffy saccharine sweetness. The result was a much more well rounded, believable character who ended up being far more integral to the story than ever intended. He wouldn't let me get away with a single hanging plot element, and constantly reminded me to watch my horrific propensity to indulgently add several unnecessary and ineloquent adverbs/adjectives. (Does that last sentence bring back memories, J.D.?) These, he told me, were "Vampire Adjectives". They break into your home, mess up your cupboards and eat all your potato chips. Not to mention leach the meaning from your sentences. It was not until these changes were made that I could even begin to see what needed to be done to shape what was until then only a series of events, into an actual novel.

The moral of the story is, when you get walloped over the head with a good critique, don't resist it. The result is definitely worth the pain.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Was The Longevity Thesis Inspired or Constructed?

I've been asked a few times where the inspiration for The Longevity Thesis came from, and since I'm from an academic background, it seems natural that I may have derived my stories from the workplace. I was even asked once if the mistakes that the character Opalena makes were from my own personal experience. I was a bit startled by that one, since as much as I love her, she's really made some doozies. I suppose I should be flattered that I wrote Opalena realistically enough that such an impression would have been made, however, I can assure everyone that I've never been in as deep as she gets in the novel.

I suppose the background for the story ended up being at a University simply because I have practically have lived at one since the late 80's, and it seemed the most natural thing for me. Jait had to be a prince, because what kind of fantasy novel doesn't have a prince in it, and Vernus ended up being an old professor, because I was always impressed by the confidence and power old professors always seemed to have -- and no, I don't think all old professors are evil.

That brings us to Antronos, the fellow in the lower right-hand corner of my blog. Where did he come from? Well, sometimes things just pop into my head, fully formed. In my twenties, I used to have entire poems show up in my mind, and all I had to do was write them down. Antronos was like that, except when I first imagined him, he was bald, had dark green eyes, and way more scales than he does in the novel. I've softened his image somewhat. I was very glad he showed up, however, since he has become the "glue" for the story, which initially was a disjointed series of scenes in which Jait just gets himself into more and more trouble without any hope of redemption. There were also other characters, performing acts essential to the plot, who seemed to have no reasonable justification for interacting with each other until Antronos came along.

In hindsight, it now seems obvious to me that the original unconnected scenes were written as stress relief, or simple expressions of grief or rage that I scribbled down to keep myself sane as I struggled to keep my head above water with my classes. Since it would have been completely boring to write an angst-filled diatribe on the horrors of failing calculus exams, it was much more satisfying to create completely fabricated scenes in which the emotions were real, but not the events. Then at least I could get the burning feelings off my chest, and if I wanted to, I could knock about a few characters here and there if I thought they deserved it, and then get on with my day.

After joining the Critters group, I shortly realised that disorganized tripe would never be tolerated in novel form, and used the storyboarding technique described in Crawford Kilian's book to get the basic events arranged in logical order. I tried to make sure each event had a cause and a consequence. From there, the storyboard was converted into a grid, with the point-of-view characters across the top, and the chapters down the side. Story threads were colour coded and interwoven, and ultimately dealt with one by one at the end of the book. It seemed to work quite nicely, and I think I will use this method again for my other books.

It seems now that I'm older, the creativity isn't as spontaneous, and my characters are much more deliberately formed, as is my prose. I wonder if that's because the physiology of my brain has changed as I've grown up, or if my muse got fed up with my obsessive editing and has left me for more pliable clients. I hope not. The Longevity Thesis turned out to be a pretty crazy ride, and I'd like to keep the momentum going!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Here It Comes . . .

<--Mum and her tree.

In about five months, The Longevity Thesis will be printed, and long at last, that nagging question that has been bouncing around in my head ever since I seriously started writing the novel is about to be answered: What's my Mum going to say?

Mum has an aversion for fantasy novels, she has never seen the appeal of Star Trek, and she certainly would never have any use for anything of the horror genre. I don't think she has even picked up a Stephen King book, unless it was to move it aside to get to the Jean Plaidy novels. Hope flared briefly when she used to watch the X-Files, but after a few seasons, she just slept through it, while waiting for the news.

I've been reading over an editing copy of The Longevity Thesis, checking it for basic content and flow of story. I'm realizing, that when you just read it, not view it as a structured entity that must have precisely interwoven plot elements and character development sequences, it's kinda gross. During the developmental stages of the writing, one of the readers in my critiquing group sent me an irate email to tell me that she was so upset with how I had treated one of the characters that she threw the manuscript across the room and would not pick it up again. It's fair to say that the novel would fall under the category of "dark fantasy". It certainly isn't a fairy tale. Murder scenes, when you stop looking at them as "crucial to the plot" are still murder scenes, with all the blood and gore and . . . oh boy, here it comes.

Mum hasn't read it yet, and the reason for that is, I know she's going to start asking me things like, "Jey, aren't you happy? Is there something bothering you? Didn't you think you had a nice childhood?" My protests that the gory stuff is all just to make the story work will do absolutely nothing to alleviate her fears that I'm headed down a dark and horrifying path to pseudomacularschizophrenialdentulocariitis. Or something along those lines.

I didn't really worry about my Mum's opinion while I was writing, that all seemed in the distant future. Now that the publication date is looming, my subconsciousness is preparing itself for the inevitable barrage of maternal disappointment I know I'm going to have to face.

Hmm. My Dad likes Dean Koontz. "Hey, Dad! Why don't you read it first?"

Sunday, April 8, 2007

What happens AFTER you've written the book?

**Note: An updated perspectives entry can be found here.**

After putting so much effort into transforming a nascent story line into a workable plot, then developing the characters and having to either coax or threaten them into following said plot, it seemed almost insurmountable to then repeatedly rewrite the novel in workshop after workshop until it was polished to shiny perfection. As a first time fiction author, I had read many articles and book chapters on how I should not expect any publisher to look at my manuscript without it being as close to perfection as humanly possible. In comparison, shopping around for a publisher seemed easy, as I was lucky enough to attract the attention of Dragon Moon Press on my third try. I was prepared to go for at least ten rounds in this arena as well, since this was what all my previous reading had led me to believe. Well thank goodness for Gwen Gades!

I've also read that first time novels rarely find a huge readership, and a new author would be lucky to sell a thousand copies or so, most likely not getting much recognition until he or she has written at least three books. This notion was underscored by the comment made by R. Scott Bakker at Con-Version 22 last year. When he was contacted by the convention organizers to appear as a guest author, his response was, "Are you sure you have the right R. Scott Bakker?" He did have three published novels at the time.

So here I am, nervously waiting for my precious baby, The Longevity Thesis, to be printed this September. Seeing it posted on was really a shock to the system. All of a sudden it's real, and every particle in my being wants to race up the incredibly steep learning curve of book promotion. I'm ready to go, but where do I run?

Looking around, I see that another Dragon Moon author, Scott Sigler, is really making waves. At the time I'm writing this entry, his book Ancestor, which just came out on April 1st, has an Sales Rank of #1,506, and is sold out. Dragon Moon is scrambling to print more copies by mid-May. Obviously, I think I've found myself a role model here. Investigating how Mr. Sigler does what he does has left me staggering and feeling overwhelmed. He has built up a huge fan base through podcasting, handing out freebies and blogging, not to mention continuing to be a prolific fiction writer. This was all before he had the novel out. Until last week, I didn't know the difference between a plog and a blog, and had to clumsily wade my way through it. My notion of podcasting was limited to the explanation given by the "Ask a Ninja" series on YouTube.

Ask A Ninja: What is Podcasting?

Clearly, I've got a lot of work ahead of me, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. I can finally say, this is my world.