The Open Road – When Inspiration Hits

Anyone who has written a trilogy knows it is considerably harder to finish the final book than to conclude a one-off novel. This is simply because one needs to tie up all loose ends from three novels. I have done this twice, at the end of the first Wycaan Master trilogy and then at the end of the second.

When my mother passed away last year and then when I visited my father earlier this month, I found myself with plenty of time on the plane and in the UK to write. This luxury is something I have never experienced as I usually weave my writing time around an intense job and a desire to be an active father and husband. On each trip I wrote almost 50,000 words in 14 days, much of it at the aptly named apartment where my Dad lives.

Kingfisher Court, Bournemouth

This month, as the plane wheels touched ground, I concluded a big scene that left me two-thirds of the way through the final Kingfisher novel, a medieval fantasy trilogy I have worked on since finishing the Wycaan Master series. What lay before me was the build up to a climactic ending that necessitates bringing multiple characters together from different parts of the land, enabling them to finish their subplots, and get to the scene of the climax.

And I had no idea how I was going to do this.

But I have faith in the process. Knowing I would not have concentrated writing time until the summer, I decided to put it on the back burner and return to editing and finding an agent for Book 1.

Then I drove from San Francisco to Portland (about 10 hours) through beautiful scenery of mountains, rivers, and forests, listening to soccer podcasts and enjoying Mrs. Elfwriter’s company.

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Deep in an Oregon forest, she put on a playlist that included many symphonic rock songs I write to (Nightwish, Epica, Within Temptation, Tarja). Abruptly a musical track of bagpipes, The Gael by Dougie MacLean performed by Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, filled the car (one of Mrs. Elfwriter’s choices, I might add) and the entire final scene entered my mind with incredible clarity.

Now here’s the problem: we were driving on the Interstate 5, in the middle of nowhere with a 6pm deadline to be in Portland. How could I get this down on paper? I was literally squirming with excitement as I drove.

I couldn’t dictate to Mrs. Elfwriter, it would spoil the possibility that she might one day read the books. Whipping out my iPad while driving…well we won’t go there. I had once downloaded an app (Quick Voice?) but had no idea how to use it and this didn’t solve having said passenger.

What resolved the problem was one of Oregon’s wonderful rest stops, often situated in a forest or overlooking a vista. Best part (okay, 2nd best part since knowing the conclusion to your novel and trilogy tops everything) is that the final two hours of the drive passed unnoticed, fatigue totally forgotten.
Last scene from Kf3 driving from Portland 1Have you ever had an experience where you have an intense creative experience at such an inopportune moment? Wanna share?

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books.

More ahttp://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

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Churning Out Novels

I thought I wrote fast. I tell people I can write a 100,000 word novel – a first draft – in four months, writing for an hour before work, an hour or two later in the day, and a few solid hours on the weekend. I only thought this was fast because people told me so. Other writers spent a year, two or more, to get similar output.

So I was a little surprised when I started to follow a podcast by three authors, all in the sci-fi and fantasy world. These three, along with the different guests they interview each week, publish 4-6 books a year, often keeping different series’ and even different genres going.

So I did some digging. There are many writers out there who are churning out a 50-80K novel each month … and I mean from Chapter 1 through The End and into editing (I assume), book cover design, and placements.

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Wow!

I am emotionally exhausted when I finish a novel and only once (between Books 5 and 6) did I have any desire to continue straight into writing the next of the series. Editing, sure. Marketing, okay. But the idea of churning out another 100K?

I am trying to work out what it takes to do this and, as I listened more to these authors, and even got to question a couple, I think I get it.

1. Outsourcing – these people do nothing for the production process. Everything is outsourced and they do not play a part in the process. This makes total sense except when there is no investment in the process, when the author really doesn’t care about the end product. As one author said: “My book covers are more or less the same. Only the title and book number changes. The cover artist knows what to do.”

2. Editing – when my editor returns a manuscript, there are changes suggested in almost every paragraph. I am expected to go through these comments and decide what to do. True, I accept 95% of the suggestions, but sometimes the editor writes that a scene is not clear, a conversation does not make sense, or a description is repetitive. In this case, I need to rewrite. Sometimes, the editor suggests I delete something. If I am attached to what is written, I might rewrite it much shorter or insert elsewhere (oops – don’t tell my editor!).

images-63. Strict genre adherence – in order that some writers can keep pace with production, they keep the plot tight and similar – the same highs and lows. The protagonist acts as he (usually a he) is expected, the bad guy too, and often the women are…well, behaving in what is expected of women in that genre. Now there is nothing wrong here. If it ain’t broke, why fix? Who needs a bad guy you sympathize with, a woman who kicks the crap out of someone or simply  falls in love with the bad guy and not the hero? Real life is already too complicated. There are no twists in the plot and I expect that somewhere there is a story arc written that is faithfully adhered to. No time to spend experimenting. Take no risks with the loyal readership.

4. Investment in the characters – this is something I find hard to understand. I have never understood how people can write a stand-alone novel, and walk away. I feel so close to all my characters – I worry about them, fear for them, get angry when they screw up (and especially when they have the audacity to blame me). Long after the novel is finished, I think about them, and yes, I mourn the ones I kill off.

Now there is nothing wrong with any of this. There are people who write for the art and people who write for the royalty check and that is just fine. Most of us are somewhere in between. If the quality of the book is enough for the reader to enjoy, to read effortlessly and then crave the author’s next book, then what’s wrong with that? If the genre is popular just the way it is, then this is what the reader wants. And if it sells and so do the rest of the author’s work, then that is a clear sign that what they do is right and recognized by the most important views – the readership.

But sometimes it is tough to accept. In seeking the highest standard of writing, I agonize over a scene, word choice, how a character develops. Sure I can write a first draft in four months, but it takes longer to edit, rewrite, consider feedback, and feel once the book is published, that I have done my absolute best.

I’m trying not to be critical, but the book churn must have its limitations. And, in the end, a book exists forever. If the market is swamped by mediocrity, how will the special books get noticed? Will a generation get turned off novels because they just aren’t as gripping as a video game, a You Tube clip, or an on-demand TV binge?

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And I can’t help but wonder: what does George R.R. Martin think about this?

EXCITING NEWS: Tourmaline Books are offering At The Walls of Galbrieth for FREE during the month of March though Smashwords (good for all ebook platforms). Feel free to gift it to a young person (or not so young) who might benefit from a story of hope and friendship. 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).