Life Imitating Art

Scary days, people.

I’m listening to Year One by Nora Roberts and although it’s a fantasy novel set in a post-apocalyptic America, it’s hard to ignore the setup, which begins with a super virus that wipes out two thirds of the world.

This is obviously not the same as the Coronavirus, which at this point in time is a danger to some and a nuisance to most, but the temperature sure feels dystopian at the moment.

The shelves are empty at Trader Joe’s. My friend told me that she was walking through Costco and a customer stole toilet paper out of another patron’s shopping cart. Straight retail victimized her. And the victim in this case was a sweet old lady. I haven’t seen a bottle of hand sanitizer in weeks. And several restaurants have closed in my neighborhood.

This shit’s for real.

Our president, of course, called the Coronavirus a Democratic hoax less than a week ago and now he’s declared it a national emergency. There aren’t enough face-palms.

We’re either all overreacting or under-reacting. (And why the fuck is overreacting a compound word and under-reacting hyphenated?) I hope it’s the former. I do. Because in that scenario, this is just the flu, as so many have argued, and it will fade to memory by summer.

What worries me is the other possibility. That feels like the beginning of a post-apocalyptic novel. Or a zombie movie. Both start with a virus or an infection that nobody takes seriously, and neither end well.

What strikes me is that our real-world behavior–our collective shrug in the face of a pandemic–mirrors the dumb, willful ignorance on display in your average zombie movie. Italy is in the middle of a health crisis. Doctors are warning us to wash our hands, to stay inside, to do everything we can to stop the spread of this highly infectious virus. And what’re we doing? Going to the local mall, the movies, and Disneyland. Doing whatever the hell we feel like, basically. With a level of arrogance typically reserved for the gods.

If another author had written this opening, I’d have thought it lazy storytelling. But here we are. And it seems we really are that goddamned stupid.

My kids’ schools have closed down for five weeks. I’m tempted to grab my bug-out bag and hit the woods with family in tow. (I don’t actually have a solid bug-out bag, and I can barely glamp, let alone survive in the woods.) So that’s as far as that plan goes.

No point to this post. Just letting the fingers get a few things off the chest. Stay safe out there.

Sophistication 2

So it’s not going to be called that, obviously, but yes, a sequel to Sophistication is planned.

A few notes. 1) The first book is a self-contained fiction that can be enjoyed on its own, so please enjoy it. 2) That being true, there’s more adventure to be had for many of the characters, hence the second book. 3) And yet there will be a necessary wait for the next chapter.

More on that last bit. I’m wrapping up Degenerate now. Then I have another book planned for 2020. It may be called The Deep, Dark, Down and it may be called Dust and Fury. I haven’t decided which story I’m going to write just yet. After I write this next thing–whatever it is–I’m coming back to the expanding universe (literally) of Sophistication.

SPOILERS ARE NOW COMING.

SPOILERS ABOUT SOPHISTICATION AND SOPHISTICATION 2 BELOW.

DO NOT SCROLL THIS PAGE IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY READ SOPHISTICATION.

The Sophistication series is a space opera, people. This was always the intention. And the first book was just the setup.

If you read it, you know a lot more about the so-called Cloaks and Miyuki, Kevin and Carl, and you probably have a lot of questions about alien artifacts and advanced technology and prophecies and alternate dimensions and a whole bunch of other shit. The first book gets you to these questions and if I’ve done a decent job, maybe you had a little fun along the way. The second book, and possibly the third if the story requires it, begins to explore the answers.

Miyuki, Kevin and Carl know there’s something out there on that fucking moon, as Bone Foot herself put it. They think they know how to get it. But will they actually go through with it? And what, if anything, will some of their enemies have to say about it? Lots to cover. Lots. But before we get there, two other stories need to be told.

I’m sorry. I am.

While you wait, a small compensation–some new artwork of Bone Foot taking a knee.

Degenerate Update

We’re close, people. Just hit full-novel word count and feeling the groove. Lots of fun parts to write still, but the key word here is fun. A lot of the hard stuff is in the rearview.

I’m not gonna finish this book in December. January is within reach. February seems a certainty unless I’ve really miscalculated how many words I’m going to need for the final stretch. (This has happened before, so I’m not ruling it out. I thought Sophistication would be wrapped in 90,000 words and it took me 130,000 to get there.)

Still, I have some small measure of confidence in my ability to finish up soonish. Already started to spin up talks about the audiobook version. Will reach out shortly to my go-to copy editor. And I’ve got a list of about 10 agents / publishers with whom I’ve developed something of a rapport over the last couple years, all of whom will get the manuscript.

I’ve come so close to representation and publishing deals with my first two books that I could taste it. Would be lovely if the third time is the charm. But if not, no big. I ultimately write books because I fucking love writing books. Everything else is gravy.

More soon.

It’s Brew Time

Epiphany: I’m never going to finish this book unless I take drastic measures.

Related epiphany: Sadly, neither marathon TV nor video games will help me finish this book.

Answer: The triumphant return of cold brew coffee. Well, that and writing between the hours of 10pm and 4am while highly, borderline-illegally caffeinated.

Update: I just drank two cold brews.

NanoWriMo and The Devil!

PSA: It’s National Novel Writing Month.

If you’ve no idea what the hell I’m talking about, this really is a thing. Authors descend upon the internet every November and try to write 50,000-word manuscripts over the course of the month.

I don’t know why the goal is 50,000 words because–as far as I can tell, anyway–these are too short to be novels. But whatever gets those words flowing, I say.

Simultaneously, it’s become clear to me that this is the Devil’s work.

One, because only Beelzebub himself could hatch a scheme to challenge notoriously lazy writers to break the bonds of their habitual lackadaisicalness.

Two, because the proof is clear as day in the math. If you divide 50,000 words by 30 days, you get the number 1666.66666667. True story. And this is the mark of the Beast, people! He’s out there laughing at us, pointing, mocking our efforts to write 1,666 words a day. Rubbing it in our collective faces!

My version of NanoWriMo is a little easier. I’m only doing 40,000 words these next 30 days as I finally wrap Degenerate. What’s 40,000 divided by 30, you ask? 1333.33333333. Which means ya done lost, Lucifer. Not today you don’t, so keep moving.

I’m not actively engaged in the official shenanigans of NanoWriMo, but I’m watching from a distance and allowing its inspiration to shine down upon me. All of this to say, end of the month, this book is finished. And then begins the super fun, highly recommended process of trying to sell it. It’s a process right up there with ripping off an infected toenail on the overall enjoyability scale.

About Degenerate. I’ve come to a decision about the storyline, but first I need to provide a little context. When I wrote my debut novel, Dead Weight, and then Sophistication after it, I constantly had to ask myself, are you sure you want to really go for it? Which is to say, throw away any semblance of traditional narratives and really swing for the fences with something weird and out there. With Dead Weight, I pulled back. Tried to stay grounded. Attempted to operate within the accepted norms of traditional post-apocalyptic science-fiction. With Sophistication, I didn’t give a shit. I wrote whatever my fingers told me to write, and the resulting storyline was at times a bizarro-fest. I’m cool with that. I hit the crossroads with Degenerate about 10,000 words ago and decided on pure insanity. So here it comes.

Funny Negative Reviews

I used to shake my head at authors who said they valued negative reviews as much as positive ones. Always felt disingenuous to me. But now I get it. Usually, anyway.

Okay, first, some negative reviews are just idiotic and that’s always going to be the case. For example, people so pissed off that Sophistication is too profane or violent that they actually lowered their review scores based on those two measurements alone.

Welp, sorry guys–you really should’ve read the description, which literally says it’s both of those things. Look:

Step into a near-future America overrun by competing tech giants and widespread social decay in this raunchy, violent, hilarious and disturbing science-fiction thriller. 

See the words I bolded? That means there’s going to be blood and f-bombs. Not sure what else to tell ya.

Anyway, as I’ve noted, most readers have liked my first two books. That’s awesome. It’s incredibly satisfying to read positive reviews from readers who not only understood, but also appreciated something I had planned and hoped would jump off the page.

Sometimes, though, a critical review will point out something really insightful. A while ago, a customer review of Dead Weight noted very accurately that my knowledge of firearms is, shall we say, subpar. And yes, that shit is true. True to the maximum. I love being called out for genuine mistakes. The good part about the digital age is that if I really care enough, I can go back and edit tweaks back into the original work, re-publish, and then pretend as though I got it right from the start. (Joking, kinda.)

But occasionally negative reviews come from so far out of left field that I’m left scratching my head or even giggling. This is one such example, and it’s spectacular:

Author’s note: Name and parts of review blurred to keep the anonymity of the customer and also to avoid any spoilers for folks who haven’t read Sophistication.

All right, so never mind that this person clearly voted for Trump. Whatever. Sure, the man’s a proven pathological liar and conman, but I respect your idiotic decision even though it’s probably based on fear and hate. Good for you. And the WOKE stuff (in all caps) isn’t a bad way to attack a book that supposedly falls on the wrong side of your political beliefs. I lolzed a few times at the comments.

But then we get to the end where video game journalists are apparently automatically “Social Justice Warriors” and “a group even worse than journalists in general.”

Mike, you hate the free press? Do you also hate democracy? Candy and rainbows? Love?

Just Saying Hello

Okay, I admit it: I’ve neglected my blog for the last couple days.

Or months.

But that’s because I’m doing the more important work of writing books. Oh, and, you know, tending to my day job, and my family, and approximately one-hundred trillion errands my wife throws at me on any given day.

Degenerate is making steady progress. Not as steady as I’d like, and certainly not as steady as I promised in previous posts, but steady enough. It’s more than halfway done now, which is pretty good considering all the procrastination surrounding the words. Characters have come alive. Story is kicking and thrashing hard. I’m at the point where I can turn my brain off and let my fingers lead, which is just the best.

There’s just one narrative string that remains elusive. I need to think on it a little more. But almost there.

Is it going to be ready for you to read on September 15, as this little blog promises? I think the chances look pretty good. (Disclaimer: Never believe me. Second disclaimer: But seriously, maybe.)

I have in the past posted early excerpts or revealed simple plot points from my books here, but I’m going to resist the temptation this time. This also goes for how I share with friends and family. Typically I make–or rather, force, really–my trusted colleagues read excerpts I’m either particularly proud of or especially iffy on. I do this with the overzealousness of a needy author, which no doubt annoys my latest targets. With Degenerate, however, I’ve shared almost nothing, and I prefer it this way. Those closest to me will get to experience it new like everyone else. And then they can go on Amazon and rip it apart like a normal reader. (JKJKJK, Dead Weight and Sophistication have been well reviewed thankfully. But I do have some doozy negative reviews, too, which I’ll share in a follow-up post.)

Degenerate Covers

Third book is cooking. One of these will be the official cover when it debuts later this year. Or, I might choose one for the print version, another for the digital. Or, one for the readable formats and another for the audiobook. So many choices. Who knows?

Copy is placeholder for the most part. Mason’s last name, for example, isn’t Alexander, as originally envisioned, but Kowalsky.

Re: Discipline (& Other Random Things)

I lead a weekly writers group in San Mateo, which is something I would recommend for any established or aspiring author. Yes, because you can read your latest chapters and receive insightful feedback from folks with different perspectives. But also because it forces you to get off your ass and write so that you’re not that jackass who shows up empty-handed.

I’ve been that jackass. It’s not fun.

Common theme of this-here blog is that I lack any sense of discipline when it comes to writing books. One month, I’m cranking every night. The next three, it’s Anthem and Umbrella Academy time. But a writing group keeps me accountable. I want to bring at least 10 pages every week.

Degenerate sits at 25,000 words after about three or four weeks of writing. For comparison, my two previous books fall between 100,000 and 130,000 words. Mark your calendars. It’s February 24 now and I’m shooting to be done at the end of June. That really ought to be enough time for almost any semi-dedicated writer, but please see above.

The book is taking shape now. I like these characters for all of their faults. And two nights ago, I downed one of these caffeine-drowned things at 11pm:

 

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The result was five hours–yes, until 4am–of writing in which I authored the raunchiest, dumbest, greatest scene in any of my books to date. Thanks, Lucky Jack.

Point being, Degenerate is a full blown thing with an atmosphere all its own, and once again my kids cannot go near it with a ten-foot pole. The story is racing along by my standards and I’m staying optimistic about the completion date.

Milestones

My wife frequently observes that I mark long-distance road trips by landmarks. She’s right, of course. We travel back and forth between LA and SF quite a bit, and I know that Kettleman City, Coalinga, the Grapevine, and the 580 highway are all milestones that make the trip a little easier for me.

Same rule applies to writing. 25,000 words is the first milestone. 50,000 the next. 75,000 the third. And anything after that is the final stretch. At least for my books, which tend to consistently weigh in at about 350-500 pages. (I suppose Stephen King’s 1000-page novels require very different milestones.) So anyway, working my way toward the halfway point. Will keep you posted.

Writing Getaways

Okay, this is where I complain that if I didn’t have a full-time job and a big old family, I could knock out a book every two months. As we established earlier, that’s not entirely true, of course–I always find ways to procrastinate. But on those rare occasions when I hole up somewhere to meet some book deadline, I do regularly knock out 5,000 words a day. If you’re doing the math, those numbers suggest I could write a 400-plus-page book in 20 days. I would die from exhaustion first, mind you, but it’s possible.

And yet it isn’t given the job and the family. So every so often, I take a little trip, barricade myself, and try to hit 15 or 20,000 words in a few days. Buddy of mine just bought a new place in Reno and invited me to come up and make the most of it. I’m thinking late March I’ll take the lovely train ride up–it’s through the snowy mountains–and see if I can’t accelerate progress of Degenerate.