Collecting The Vampire Novella

June was a busy month for me as a writer. I had finished the rough draft of my first novel in the first half of the month. I finished my vampire novella after two years of on-and-off work, wrote four new short stories, and tossed everything into a short story collection at the second half of the month.

The vampire novella was my first attempt to write something longer than 3,000 words. I struggled for the first year to make the story coherent but it didn’t go anywhere. Before I started writing my first novel, I made a serious effort to get the novella into shape with the eighth draft coming in at ~120 pages and ~23,000 words. After spending a year writing 665 pages and 120,495 for my first novel that I wrote straight through without looking back (my first reader confirmed that the rough draft is a sprawling mess), I knew how to finish editing the novella.

For a marathon two weeks, I edited two more drafts. The tenth draft came in at 97 pages and 20,000 words. I had to trimmed back to reach that particular word count. There are approximately a half dozen print publications where I can submit a story of that length. If those markets won’t accept the story, then I will find an ebook publisher since that length is a popular size. (I’m still somewhat old fashioned about wanting to physically handle the manuscript and see my work in print.) I learned more about editing in the last two weeks then I have in the last three years.

With the completion of the novella, my short story collection was also completed since the novella represents second half of the book. Since I had time to kill between finishing this and starting the rough draft of my second novel, I had a creative burst to write four more stories of various lengths over the weekend. The collection has 27 short stories and one novella (251 pages and 47,550 words), representing three years of hard work.

A short story collection is like the bastard child of the publishing industry. If a bestselling author has a collection, no problem. But if a new author is trying to shop a collection, forget about it. That’s probably because the graduates of the literary writing programs are too busy shopping around their collection while floundering around to write their first novel. Since I didn’t graduate from a writing program, I’m not morally obligated to flog my collection around the marketplace. With only three stories published or slated for publication, I want to get more of my stories published first before the collection is published.

The purpose of my collection is to define a writing milestone I can look back on, and something I can give to an agent if I get contacted before I go agent hunting next year with my finished first and second novels.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.

Review – A Drifting Life

A new graphic novel by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, “A Drifting Life,” is a semi-fictional autobiography of the post-World War 2 Japanese manga scene, and perhaps the thickest (856 pages) I have ever read. Bracketed between the end of World War II in 1945 and the Peace Treaty in 1960, this story is about Hiroshi Katsumi learning to become a manga artist, his early work in the magazine contests, working for a single publisher with shady business practices, working with other artists and multiple publishers as a collective of independent artists, misadventures with women, and a political awakening that redefines a young man. At times brutally honest, startling and revealing about the human condition, this book is a masterpiece.

Most artists internalized their fears regarding their work. Although Hiroshi has his doubts from time to time, all his fears were externalized by his older brother, Okimasa. They both aspired to be manga artists but the younger brother was more prolific and constantly refining his work more than his older brother, creating a tension between the two that range from mild verbal sparring to outright abuse. Hiroshi is constantly escaping to get away from his older brother by being a substitute basketball player at high school, working on his manga at his aunt’s place under the roar of American bombers flying out of the airport, or watching what would later become classic movies from America (Shane, Snow White, and Dumbo) and Japan (Seven Samurai and Godzilla) that would influenced his work. He later moves to Tokyo to live with other manga artists and find better business opportunities.

What I admired the most about Hiroshi is his willingness to keep working from project to project to create a critical body of work that enabled him to advance to the next level of his career. We see a steady progression from shorter lengths (four-panel on postcards) to telling longer stories (32-pages) to creating full-length books (128-pages), struggling and mastering each level along the way. He experimented with different techniques for storytelling and visual presentations from classic literature, hard-boiled detective mysteries, and movies to keep the stories fresh and interesting, and learned how to manage the business side with different artists, projects, and publishers. Being an artist is hard work. This book that took ten years to make clearly demonstrates that.

If you’re an aspiring manga artist or writer, and want to know how to successfully manage your career, this book is a must read.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.

Then Suddenly The Book Is Done

I spent all day yesterday entering the remaining hand written pages of my finished rough draft for my first novel into the computer. A second chance to clean up some passages, straighten out a few dead ends, add notes for the next draft, and discover what some of my minor characters been holding back from me.

The finished manuscript weighed in as a heavyweight at 665-page (double spaced) and 120,495 words. I printed out the remaining pages for my first reader and my reading copy (which should be the editing copy), and the whole thing as a short version (single-spaced printed on both side that should be the reading copy). After glancing at the earlier chapters and cringing from the horrible writing, I packed everything away to forget about this story for the next three months.

After all that I have done for the last year, I felt empty inside. I didn’t want to write today’s blog post or finish writing a new short story. I didn’t want to watch the new Top Chef Masters that aired this week. I didn’t want to do any kind of writing at all this weekend.

I pulled “Journal Of A Novel: The East of Eden Letters” by John Steinbeck from my bookshelf. I read about 80% of this book in 2007 when I was still playing around with the idea of writing a novel, and lost interest because I decided not to write a novel at the time. I finished reading this book last night, and found my answer to my emptiness in Steinbeck’s own words: “Then suddenly the book is done. It is a kind of death.”

I am in mourning. I am mourning for my finished rough draft. I am mourning with the knowledge that I must leave my story in a box for three months to have the emotional clarity for editing the next draft. I am mourning when everything suddenly got so good.

Never mind that I found the heart and soul of my story in the next-to-last paragraph of the last chapter that ties a significant minor character to a point of view (POV) character in a meaningful way. Or that an underdeveloped minor character made a major confession in the Epilogue that reveals not only the true nature of his character, but this also ties the various plot lines in a way that stuns the other characters, and that the minor character who is deeply impacted by all this declares her forgiveness for him. Or distilling the entire story into a single paragraph in a query letter that I’m a year away from sending out to agents and/or publishers reveals that I have written a coming of age story.

All that waits for the next draft. Until then I must mourn for now and move on.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.

One Year, One Week & 700 Pages Later

One year, one week, and 700 pages later, the rough draft of my first novel is finished. I was crying when I wrote the final scene. When I started out so long ago to write a novel based on my misadventures as a video game tester at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crises) for six years, I had the first chapter in hand, a broad outline divided into seven parts with seven chapters each, and the final scene in mind. Between the first and last chapters, the middle turned out to be a journey not only for my characters but for myself as a writer.

The rough draft was a sprawling mess. I wrote only the events concerning the main viewpoint characters, leaving out the secondary storylines and minor characters. My inspiration was the “Genshiken” manga series by Shimoku Kio, where a group of college students are bound together by their love of anime/cosplay/manga/video games (the Japanese slang term is otaku) and their relationships with each other in their club room. (Video game testers are not that much different when working 80 hours a week in the same room.) There’s no overriding story arc because each story was serialized in a magazine before being published in book form; when read together in all nine volumes, a common story emerges. The novels I enjoy the most are often a series of little stories woven together into one fabric.

Two-thirds of the draft was composed behind the steering wheel of my car while taking my hour-long lunch breaks at work. I wrote one to five pages a day for five days a week during that time. When I got laid off from work four months ago, I had to readjust to writing in my home office. Using the typewriter and scanning my pages into the computer, my page count was two to eight pages a day and my chapters went from 16 pages to ten pages (those longer chapters will probably split up in the next draft). I wrote 38 pages in longhand during the past weekend’s writing marathon to finish the rough draft. Writing a few pages a day really does add up in time.

Now that’s the rough draft is done, what’s next?

I still have 75 pages of handwritten and typed manuscript to enter into the e-file, print out the last pages for my first reader and my own reading copy (orange paper to discourage editing with a red pen), pack everything away, and forget about this story for the next three months. When September 6th comes around, I’ll read the whole thing, make notes, tear it apart to create a detailed outline, and write a new draft. I’m planning to write two drafts in the next year before I start looking for an agent.

Meanwhile, I still have 20 short stories circulating in the slush piles, a new political short story to finish writing, a vampire novella to edit before finishing my short story collection, and developing the outlines for my next two novels that will be 400 pages each. When I’m editing a new draft of my first novel, I’ll be writing the rough draft for either my second or third novel. Being a busy writer means keeping the pipeline full.

In the final words of my viewpoint characters: “What a year!”

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.

Chasing The MacGuffin

I had a pleasant surprise this afternoon when I received an email from a magazine editor informing me that my short story, “The World’s Best Coffee,” got accepted for publication in The MacGuffin (Fall 2009).

The hard part was restraining myself from stripping down to my undies and run around the neighborhood like Homer Simpson. Something my brother did one year when he got drunk from ten tequila shots on his birthday, and, being the president of the homeowner association, the neighbors recognized him in his undies, and he hid in the hallway closet when the cops showed up. After the euphoria wore off, I started looking at the details of this submission.

With two dozen short stories written during the last three years circulating in the slush piles, it’s difficult to remember what’s what and where’s where. After reviewing the story and checking the submission tracking spreadsheet, I realized something that I didn’t know until today: I wrote a MacGuffin story that I submitted to a magazine that specializes in MacGuffin stories.

Well, d’oh!

A MacGuffin is the object in a mystery story that everyone wants but isn’t what everything thinks it is. “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett is a classic example. My short story about a cup of coffee stolen by a guy being chased by the woman who ordered the coffee throughout the shopping center, and, after drinking the coffee, he discovers that the woman has his wallet that fallen out at the coffee shop. When the woman hands over the wallet to the police officer and she sees the man, she points him out as the owner of the wallet and the creep who stole her coffee.

In short, the story was never really about the coffee.

This short story was like many of the short stories that I have written was inspired by a real life situation. I had ordered a medium mocha with whip cream at Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Santana Row one weekend morning. After waiting a few minutes, my order was ready. A guy stepped in front of me, picked up my mocha, and ran out the door before anyone could react. There’s nothing you can do about a stolen coffee in a crowded store and shopping center. Who in their right mind would file a police report over a stolen cup of coffee? After the store made another cup of mocha for me, I started thinking about the obvious question that came to my writer’s mind: “What would happen if someone did follow the guy out the store in pursuit of the stolen coffee?”

The basic scenario came together when I went over to the bookstore to look around while drinking my replacement mocha. I wrote out the basic scenario on a notepad when I got back to the car. The notepad later became a 1,000-word short story. The Macguffin was the fifth magazine where I submitted the story. I ended up writing the perfect story for the perfect magazine without ever thinking about either one.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.