Childhood Release in Four Days

Wow. I’m amazed, relieved, and in a way saddened that Childhood is coming out in four days. I decided this blog post was going to be free form writing, or, in other words, writing without thinking, or a stream of consciousness, with no editing. There’s a reason for that which will hopefully become apparent.

I should be happy about this date. After all, while Childhood is only a novelette (about 11,000 words but honestly I forgot the exact count), it is still a professionally produced product. Besides the writing, which I’d like to say is professional as I have a few novels and other works under my belt, the editing was top notch (thanks, Darling Axe) and the cover conveys the simplicity of childhood with the hint of issues in the future (the rip in the sky, a nice add from Diane Turpin Designs).

I’m going to go on a tangent for a second about the editing. Michelle from The Darling Axe was excellent, and not just from an editing standpoint. I felt like that after working with her I’d taken a couple of graduate courses in fiction writing. She challenged me to do better. I’m a type-A personality, and I can’t deny a good challenge. Her influence will be reflected in all of my future works, regardless of whether I ever work with her again (but I hope to).

georgeI’m anxious. A dozen or so readers will be reviewing Childhood and posting their thoughts starting February 11th as part of the Celebrate Lit blog tour. I participated in a similar tour for my last novel, Leaving Darkness, and none of the reviews were negative, but not all were five stars either (I think it averaged out to four out of five, which isn’t bad, especially for a self-published work by a relatively unknown author). What if they hate it? Geez, I’m starting to sound like Marty McFly’s dad. It’ll be good, no matter what they say.

Sad. I’m sad because I had hoped to have Fatherhood completed by now. Childhood is the prequel to Fatherhood, a full-length (~80,000 words) novel about abortion from the father’s point of view. Yes, a heavy subject. I pounded out 50,000 words for the NaNoWriMo November challenge (yay me), then stalled. I “lost that loving feeling” for writing temporarily. That’s not a bad thing. Writing is my retirement career, and I’m laying the foundation for it now. My daytime job as principal for a small but successful information security consulting firm takes precedence. I’m only 52; more than a few years from retiring.

“Slow down, you crazy child, you’re so ambitious for a juvenile” – words from Billy Joel (43 years ago – wow) that I heeded. Fatherhood would come in its time when it’s right. and it’s time is God’s time, because my writing is God-inspired. After Leaving Darkness, which I was called to write based on my experiences with a Christian support group, I prayed about what I would write next. The call came about three months later.

Abortion? Really? I thought depression was a heavy topic. My first reaction? No.

Saying no to God is never a good idea.

I’ve had a personal experience with abortion but that neither is an impetus nor a major influence in the story. That personal experience somewhat influenced my first novel, Forgiveness. For Fatherhood, as I seem to do with all of my main characters, I create, then immerse myself in their lives. I almost become them, not the other way.

Writing is a journey. If I have learned anything with my limited experience with Fatherhood, it is to not sacrifice the joy of the journey for the pressure of creating something in an artificial time frame. It will come when it’s ready. A time for everything. My time for returning to Fatherhood is probably a month or two out. Now it’s all about Childhood. Here’s hoping for favorable reviews, but one-star reviews won’t deter me at all. In fact, being the type-A I am, it would spur me to lick my wounds, then do better.

Image from Back to the Future, 1985

A Novel Second Chance

I pulled Temptations of the Innocent today.

What that means is I have cancelled the sale of my second novel. My first, Forgiveness, was well received, enough to encourage me to write the follow up, actually a prequel. Forgiveness, in various forms, took more than twenty years from the initial keystrokes on my college 486 computer in 1993 to self-publishing the novel in 2014. Temptations took less than two years.Front Cover Build 7

In retrospect, three years later, Temptations is riddled with faults. I can attribute the missteps to  lack of experience. The missteps include:

  • A misinformed title. Not only does it not convey the link to Forgiveness, it, in retrospect, almost sounds creepy. The “innocent” part of the title deals with the purity of child souls whose lives ended at a young age but are given a second chance at life. Hence they are innocent as adults and prone to temptation. Did you get that from the title, or something else? Yes, I thought so.
  • A crappy cover. Temptations tells a complex story of a fallen then redeemed priest, a fallen and not redeemed bishop, evil in human form, the inability to deflect temptation when ill-prepared for the battle, a Soviet infiltration of the Catholic Church…and more.  I wanted the cover (image above) to convey some of those elements. I’m not a graphic designer, and the self-designed cover shows that. I remember thinking that I’m tired of designing the cover; I’m done, and I need to just finish the project. Awful decision.
  • Head-hopping. In reading the first three scenes of the novel, I introduce some subtle yet significant to me point-of-view violations, a sure sign of an amateur author.
  • Lack of professional editing. Both Forgiveness and Temptation were pure solo projects. I leveraged AutoCrit for copy editing, but I never involved a development editor. I learned my lesson when creating my third novel, Leaving Darkness, as the process of working with a development editor was well worth the cost.
  • Complexity. This is a complex story. I may have been able to tell it better.

I never promoted Temptations and rarely displayed it at book events. I was never happy these past three years with the finished product, and pondered pulling it for at least a year before doing so this afternoon (though it will take time to be reflected on Amazon, etc.).

But I’m not abandoning the story. I have begun the process of review and re-edit, focusing on point-of-view, complexity, and probably softening some dialogue. I plan to change the cover and the title. Within a few months, I will relaunch the tale with a new title, likely Before Forgiveness unless I change my mind.

The lesson? Don’t rush creativity, don’t be afraid to face errors, and don’t throw away what likely is a great work that just needs a bit more polishing.

Now, what to do with the remaining paper copies of  Temptation in my basement? Several decades from now, after I’ve passed, someone will find them in an abandoned storage locker. It will be the literary find of the decade, rarely seen early work from one of the most influential authors of the first half of the 21st century. To whomever finds this windfall, please use your newfound financial gain to help others.

 

 

My NaNoWriMo Experience

For those unfamiliar with the term, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, a “fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing” according to the NaNoWriMo website. I had heard of it before but had ignored primarily because whenever November had come around in years past was when I was in a writing lull. Capture

This year, I opted to participate for a few reasons. First, I was reminded of it from an email from IngramSpark, a service I’ve used to self-publish several of my works. IngramSpark had a promo to waive title setup fees by using a NaNoWriMo promo code, even if the work wasn’t produced during NaNoWriMo. I happened to have finished all of the pre-production for my novelette Childhood, so the timing was great. But the reminder also caused me to check out the NaNoWriMo site.

Second, I was gearing up to write Fatherhood, the full-length follow up to Childhood (which serves as a reader magnet to introduce the characters). Why not see if I could write 50,000 in a month?

A couple of caveats: I’m not endorsing the NaNoWriMo site – I used it to track my progress, nothing more, nothing less. I do plan to learn more of their mission but, honestly, writing 50,000 words in a month doesn’t leave much time for any other discretion time activities.

Also, I technically did not start at zero words. I had completed about 8,500 while I was working on Childhood this spring. However, because of changes to Childhood during the development editing process, I needed to rework those first six chapters, plus my outline. That’s reflected in the graph above; once I finished that (nine days in), I started to track.

As you can see, I made it, but not without a few significant pushes. I took a couple of days off from work around week three to write, completing over 5,000 each day. That helped to put me at a manageable but still difficult 2,800 or so per day pace to finish, which I stayed on consistently until the end. The last day was a Saturday, so I knew I could spend more time writing, and therefore took a break Friday. I knew at that time I’d make it.

A few lessons learned:

  • Having an outline was critical to success. I was determined not to write fluff. While this is obviously the first draft and will require much editing and revisions, the plot stayed on point because of the outline.
  • It became easier to write more. I got into a groove, a regular cadence of crafting a scene (typically 600-900 words), taking a break, then repeating until the goal was met.

This has also primed me to finish the novel draft this year. My previous novels have landed right around 80,000 words. With 30,000 to go, I launched another challenge for myself beginning December 2nd (I took the first off) – 1,000 words per day. Thus far, writing 1,000 per day has been relatively easy. I just completed one scene of 723 words and will complete the rest (part of the next scene) shortly after posting this.

Bottom line, for me NaNoWriMo helped kickstart my project. If all goes well, I will have completed an 80,000-word novel in two months, though in reality, it took ten months to prepare, including writing the novelette.

Childhood Release Date

I’m happy to announce that Childhood will be released by SCP February 10, 2020. The next day kicks off a 14-day blog and review tour with CelebrateLit.

scott-webb-167099-unsplashKatie lived a lonely childhood, her after school time filled with responsibilities to her father and special needs brother. Her chores prevented her from experiencing the carefree life her peers, including Joey, her neighbor and secret crush, lived. She began running to impress Joey, then discovered track as a possible way out of the small town of Nortonville, Tennessee. But as the promise of a college scholarship drew her closer to the escape she had dreamed about since childhood, she wondered why she didn’t feel better. What was missing?

Childhood is the novelette prequel to Fatherhood, a full-length novel about abortion from the father’s point of view. Fatherhood is targeted for release in 2021.

Photo scott-webb-167099-unsplash.jpg from Unsplash

Childhood Cover Reveal and Offer

The cover is complete for Childhood the novelette prequel to my upcoming novel, FatherhoodChildhood follows young Katie Whetley’s quest  to find her place in life as she grows up in the small West Tennessee town of Maynard. Childhood will be released later this year.

The good news is that you can get a free eBook copy of Childhood before it’s released! If you have enjoyed one of my previous novels (Forgiveness, Leaving Darkness) and write a review on either GoodReads or Amazon, I will send you the eBook file once completed. Just email me (greg.schaffer@secondchancebook.org) a link to the review and I will add you to the list. As always, I appreciate your support!

From a Certain Point of View

In Return of the Jedi, Luke confronts Obi-Wan about not revealing Darth Vader as his father. Obi-Wan responds with what I can only call thin logic that he didn’t lie when he told Luke that Vader killed Anakin, that it was the truth – from a certain point of view.

scott-eckersley-irtWpLLwRX4-unsplashPoint of view, or POV, in a manuscript describes from what character the scene is experienced. The reader is “in the head” of the POV character – what the character sees, the reader sees. Changing POV within a scene, or even a chapter, can confuse the reader by removing the perspective anchor. Referred to as “head-hopping,” maintaining what I refer to as “POV discipline” is a basic skill novelists need to master.

However, the perspective is a part of the equation. While working with an editor on the manuscript for Childhood, a novelette to introduce the main characters and situations of my upcoming novel Fatherhood, two recent revelations have revealed that perhaps I’m not as skilled in POV as I thought, and that POV can be a powerful yet subtle story-telling device.

The first example was a simple dialogue tag – “Dad said.” I, apparently mistakenly, have always avoided using Dad and Mom and other similar dialogue tags because they’re not names, defaulting to “her father” and so on. My editor made the change to Dad. I am fortunate to be working with an excellent editor. There has to be a correct reason for the change, and it tied to POV. In this scene the character POV is the daughter of the man who spoke. “Dad” is the daughter’s name for her father, therefore is appropriate (and conveys a feeling of family). “Her father” is rather stuffy. Point taken.

The second example is more subtle. My editor replaced “egg innards” with “slimy egg.” That bothered me at first, as I liked the description “egg innards.” Enter POV again though. The story is told through a young girl’s eyes, not a 52-year old man’s. While I may lob “egg innards” in casual conversation, she, as a twelve-year-old, probably not.

Can you see the connection? Going beyond POV discipline and using POV to inject aspects about the POV’s character is a powerful tool I honestly had never considered before. Editing is often tedious work, but this revelation has energized the process for me. I feel that a certain “tunnel vision” point of view has been lifted.

Photo by Scott Eckersley on Unsplash

Tackling Abortion

A dismembered arm, a torso, a head – all bloodied, lifeless, gone.

Joseph Barbetti turned away from the image, magnified a hundredfold so anyone within the bounds of the ellipse in front of the Nashville courthouse could see the grossness, and suppressed the urge to retch. He acknowledged their right to protest and agreed with their position on abortion.

But why did they have to do it like this, in your face with shock and awe, and first thing in the morning?

The is the first draft opening of my novel-in-progress, Fatherhood, revised this morning. The original opening was more benign, with main character Joseph Barbetti slamming a gym bag against a locker in frustration at the edge of losing his job, anxious to relieve the tension with an early morning five-mile run.

This book is neither about job loss or running. It’s about abortion.

greg-rakozy-38802-unsplashI have to begin it there, and with “shock and awe,” because the taking of a human life is too serious an offense in my opinion to introduce on page seventeen. It needs to be up front, in your face.

I’m not a father, nor have I endured the abortion of my offspring. Yet for as long as I can remember I have not understood why this is such an issue. In my eyes, it’s murder, whether inside or outside the womb. I don’t think you need to be a father to see that. From my perspective, abortion for convenience is wrong.

I know many others have a differing opinion, and I respect that. I only ask for the same.

Abortion in cases of incest, rape or when the mother’s health is in danger is a much more nuanced topic. I never have, and never will, walk in those shoes. For that, I don’t have the answer, only that love and compassion is needed.

I don’t intend Fatherhood to be a black-or-white look at abortion. Like Leaving Darkness, my novel about depression, I hope to create (I’m only about 2,300 words into what I’ve planned as an 80,000 work novel) a story that someone may read and gain a different perspective on a difficult situation. Not just the mothers, but the fathers as well. Hence the title – I’m writing from the father’s perspective.

It’s a difficult road in front of me, one I don’t relish, but this is what God called me to do, and I plan to respond with a work filled with compassion on all sides. I’d appreciate prayers that I’m able to find the right words that will reach the right people.

A first draft of a novel is full of mistakes, not usually found until the second draft process. I found perhaps the biggest one today before the end of Chapter One. We don’t need to bury abortion, we need to discuss it. Millions of lives – unborn children, mothers, fathers – are at stake.

Childhood, the novelette prequel to Fatherhood, available free this summer. Sign up for your copy at http://eepurl.com/gk67iD

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

 

 

 

Writing to Serve

IMG_7540I took this selfie before rehearsal for the second of five Easter services at my church. This is my fourth year singing in the church choir. We are a worship choir, not a performance one, meaning we focus on our church’s goal to help people become more fully devoted followers of Jesus of Nazareth.

That’s not to say, though, that we don’t strive for excellence – we do. Several weeks of rehearsals one night a week together and listening to MP3s and studying our written parts during lunch, in the evenings, or whenever we can find time is necessary to create the worship atmosphere we strive for. Every church is different, I know. Then there are the pre-service rehearsals, a full set before the first (Friday) and second (Saturday), then a warm up Sunday. This picture is as we’re getting set to begin the Saturday full set run through.

Christian fiction writing is similar in the desire for both service and excellence. For me, my writing mission mirrors the church mission, to help people become more fully devoted followers of Jesus. Of course I also strive for excellence. When we, a group of 80 or so mostly (or solely) amateurs in the choir sing together, we sound professional because we want that excellence, not for ourselves but for those in the seats.

I want my writing to launch to that same level of excellence for the same reason, to benefit the readers. It’s a long, arduous process to conceptualize, write, and market a book. I admit I’m not the best at the latter but am learning. I have to, because I genuinely believe my story can help others, but only if I can get it in the right readers’ hands. To that end, I continue to strive for excellence, not for me, but for them, and Him.

Leaving Darkness, about leaving depression through faith, is available at major online retailers.

Photo by Greg Schaffer

 

The Balance of Power

Yesterday I saw a tweet in the #writingcommunity that asked about abandoned writing concepts. I do have one that has sort of haunted me for 30-plus years. Maybe haunted isn’t the right word, but I feel as if I haven’t finished something. I touched on it last month, a novel titled The Balance of Power. That was my most significant abandoned writing concept, one I may return to.

As I have several projects in various stages (a novelette nearing completion, a novel that pc7rRgyRiI have just begun, and a relaunch of possibly two titles), taking on another project now would be foolhardy. Yet I am drawn to find the scraps of loose leaf and spiral notebook paper that comprised this improbable tale of a Soviet takeover of the United States. I think I know why, as well. The Balance of Power was my first complete manuscript.

I never tried to find a publisher or an agent for the manuscript for a few reasons. First, I didn’t want to go through the hassle of typing it up, though I did try a few times. Once was using a product called Electric Desk, a very early word processing (and I think spreadsheet) software package. Even if I could find those files and the original software (on 5.25 floppies), they would be useless. I have no way to read the ancient media (not that I have any confidence that after 30-plus years the data would still be intact on floppies).

Bur what I do have are the original penned scenes. Many hours of labor when I was in my mid-teens still exists beneath my house in some basement box, abandoned.

Maybe it’s time to revisit it.

I don’t know what the quality of the writing is – my expectations are low. But what I do know is that, for my personal history, The Balance of Power represents a milestone in my writing career, though I could not have recognized it at the time. For that reason, and for me, alone, I think I need to return to that manuscript. It has been on my mind for the last month, and the tweet just confirmed that I have become interested in revisiting the past. A crappy, unsophisticated story? Probably. But it’s mine. Perhaps, in today’s world of self-publishing ease, I shall fulfill my 16-year-old self’s dream and publish The Balance of Power. No one may read it, but it will be there for all to see – as the Greg of 35 years ago dreamed about.

Hammer and Sickle image from http://clipart-library.com/sickle-and-star.html

Plotter or Pantser

If you’ve been writing for some time the chances are high that you’ve heard of the terms Plotters and Pantsers or at least understand what both are even if you didn’t know there was a word for it. This post at The Write Practice explains both concisely.daniel-mccullough-146145-unsplash

I’d classify myself as primarily Plotter with some Pantser elements, although I’ve approached novel writing in a variety of ways. I had a general idea of the plot for my first novel and constructed around that plan.

My second novel all I started with was the end, as it was a prequel to the first novel. A great example is Rogue One to Star Wars: A New Hope. The writers of Rogue One had the exact ending in mind (even to the point that its last scene immediately precedes the first scene in A New Hope) but had to create most of the entire backstory. For me, that was Pantser in reverse, and a methodology I will not return to. I posted about the process and lessons learned in late 2016.

My third novel, Leaving Darkness, I meticulously planned out every chapter by  first roughing out the three acts, then dividing each act by two and repeating until I had 24 chapter synopses. While the end result was not exactly 24 chapters as I opted to separate POVs per chapter after mapping out the story, I stayed reasonably true to the outline. I wrote about this process that served me well two years ago.

For my WIP, with the working title of Fatherhood, I’m blending the two much like my first novel creation process but with a much greater experience base and many more tools available. I sketched out the three acts – I think that, for me, is an absolutely necessary process, and have completed the first chapter (in addition to a 10,000-word, five-chapter prologue that I intend to release for free as promotional material at the proper time).

Thus, at this point, I have the story framed and the main characters defined. Each act I’m approaching with a heavy dose of Pantser. I enjoy the freedom to create new character and scenes that fit the moment without being constrained by a detailed outline, all while keeping within the guardrails of the plot (yes, that’s a cliche but I like it and besides this is a blog post not a novel).

I’ve concluded that the best process is whatever works best for you is appropriate, but it’s worth dabbling in both styles with different mixtures of Plotter and Pantser to find what is an individual’s best combination. I’ve also allowed myself to be flexible and change that recipe as I desire. After all, writing is supposed to be fun, right?

Leaving Darkness is available at https://www.amazon.com/Leaving-Darkness-Greg-Schaffer/dp/1973644118/

Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash