Ten Years of Books
Books. One of the casualties for me in this business is that reading has become a chore. Most of the time. I don’t read what I want to read, I read what I should.
And yet, I’ve gotten to read some great books in the past ten years. Topping off the list is definitely Robert Hough’s The Final Confession of Mabel Stark. It’s the fictionalized biography of a real life female lion tamer who worked the circus back in the 20’s and 30’s. How did I stumble upon such a wonderful book? I used to read all the books of the people who went to writer’s conferences. So I was introduced to this book, Jodi Thomas (who writes books you want to live in), and others.
Some were great! Warren Hammond’s KOP series is amazing. Jeanne C. Stein knows how to write fights scenes better than anyone in her Anna Strong Chronicles, and Mario Acevedo uses a blender of hilarity in his Felix Gomez books. Kendall Grey took Mario’s blender, filled it full of heavy metal and pornography, and used it for her Hardrock Harlots series, which are the pornography of rage. No one under eighteen admitted.
On a completely different note from Kendall Grey’s Killer Buzz Float, I read Jerry Spinelli, Maniac McGee and Stargirl. Loved ‘em. I finished Stephen King’s The Dark Tower books. My favorite! I finally read all of ERB’s Tarzan books. Um, yeah. They helped me sleep.
So yes, I read books I never would’ve picked up because me being a writer means me being a reader, and sometimes the “should” is a good thing. I’ve read more in the past ten years than I would’ve if I had kept on TV.
And sometimes I rebel. I have a big thick omnibus of the works of Richard Brautigan. Brautigan doesn’t really write novels, he writes Brautigans, kind of poetry, kind of not, not a lot of story, but so beautiful.
I snuck away and read Atlas Shrugged, which was naughty of me. It’s long. It’s iffy. It says the same thing over and over again. But I loved it.
Dude, I read Lonesome Dove! Dang, skippy. One of my favorite books ever, in the history of ever.
I was asked to blurb a book, and though I’m always a little skeptical, I read Dead, Yet Dying by B.K. Brain. I was electrified! Hells yeah, I’ll put my name on that book!
I went back and read some of the great literature I’d missed. I read John Updike’s Rabbit series. Awesome. I read the short stories of John Cheever. Even more awesome. I read Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn and that was the most awesomest!
And to get more books in me, I joined Audible and I listen to books. I listened to FIGHT CLUB. Best book ever. I listened to A Confederacy of Dunces. Best book ever. I listened to Ready Player One. Best book ever, but only because of the 2112 reference.
So yeah, I’ve experienced some great literature in the past years.
But I wanted to talk about some of the books I wrote. A little hidden bibliography.
So let’s recap. I started my first novel in spring of 1994. The Dream of the Archer (150K words). I basically finished it by the time I got married in spring of 1997. I then launched my epic sci-fi fantasy trilogy, The Gospel of the Severed Earth (500K words) made up of three books: Everywhere, Everything, Everyone. I finished that roughly in 2004.
So by 2002, I had four novels and I’d written about 650,000 words. Written and revised, revised, and revised. I didn’t query. I didn’t tell anyone. Only Steve Jankowksi, Peter Chittum, Don Bauman, and Becky Hodgkins knew. And my wife.
I’d been writing for eight years.
Then I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I’d been worried I didn’t have a genre, and after reading more of J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece, I decided I’d write books for the younger audience. Yes. I could write across genres. I would call them all Young Adult or Middle Grade. I’d make it, baby! I’d make it!
I wrote The Storybook, The Turner Brothers, and Eli Kane. It was long. It had a long title. It was a portal fantasy. It was the very clichéd portal fantasy where my characters go into a book. I’d like to think I did some creative things there, but as it turned out, 100K words for a quick little middle grade fantasy was, um, not going to cut it.
I was on a roll. I wrote Summer’s Exile, which is kind of mystery, kind of romance, and kind of middle grade, but not really. It’s a hot mess. Also 100K. I didn’t worry about word count. Books had to be long, right?
In 2005 my second daughter was born, and the nights were endless. Sleep was a lost thing. My first daughter, born in 2002 didn’t sleep, but God wouldn’t do it to us twice, right? He did. While not sleeping ever, I wrote Into the Dream on the Eyelash Shut, which I later re-titled Broken Dreams and Wicked Things because my first daughter talked about broken dreams. It was too good not to use. I was getting faster. This one was only 85K as a word count. That book was about a football star in middle school who gets in a car accident. His little brother dies and he’s paralyzed from the waist down. In a fit of despair, he finds a magic book which takes him to the dream world of Nyx. So, yeah, portal fantasy.
So by January of 2006, I had 650,000 +100,000+100,000+85,000 for a grand total of 935,000 words of books written, revised, revised again. Henry Miller said that a writer had to write a million words before he could sign his/her own name. I was short by 65,000 words. Dammit!
I thought my best, polished book was The Storybook, the Turner Brothers, and Eli Kane, wow, long title, and I took it to the Big Sur Writing Workshop. Laura Rennert explained to me the foibles of my first chapter. It didn’t go well. And my story had five endings. I like endings. I like endings a lot. I like lots of endings.
So, what was I to do? I’d written seven books, but all of them needed to be crafted. I needed to learn how to tell a story. So I took a break from writing and read Robert McKee’s Story and started practicing on short stories. I then read Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and that taught me how to outline.
Then? I wrote down four ideas and took them to the Evergreen II critique group. We all decided on the top two. Which turned into my suicide book and my grandma book. I hate titles. So I just called them that.
2006-2008 ___ LONG LIVE THE SUICIDE KING – This was the first book on the list my critique group and I agreed upon. And this if the first book I wrote after studying craft. I started reading YA so I could get the voice, and I wrote a draft full of the f-word and how “real” teenagers talked. I had a ton of pop culture references. I sent it out and yeah, got close to a contract with an agent, but in the end, they said no. I always get so close, and I always get so no. I’m learning to be grateful for that. At this stage, a traditional contract might just slow me down. I’m in this to write books. The idea came to me while I was walking to my gym and I passed a yappy dog racing up and down a chain-link fence. They say to write what you know. I know about suicide. Between the yappy dog and my own dark thoughts, the story came to me. I finished it in about 2008. Yeah, the traditional publishing world did slow me down, but back then, well, it was the only game in town.
2007-2008 __ THE SEPTEMBER KING – So I was watching The Lord of the Rings movies, and I wanted to write a mini-epic. The Artemis Fowl series was pitched as Die Hard with fairies, so I wanted to write The Lord of the Rings in your own backyard. It’s a portal series, kind of, where a group of teens are shrunk in size and a mystic realm appears in a mean old lady’s backyard. Denizens of the realm only live for two nights. My tagline is – Would you trade a lifetime of boring days for only two magical nights?
2008-2009 __ ELIZABETH’S MIDNIGHT – This was the second book on the list. Poor Jan Gurney liked my grandma book more than the suicide book, but Diane and I outvoted her. My family in 2008 did a house exchange with a family living outside of Rennes, France, in Brittany, also known as Bretagne. We tourned Saint-Malo and all the medieval cities. It was magical. But the idea for my grandma book actually came in spring of 2006, at the Big Sur Writing Workshop. It was there that I learned the middle grade/young adult market is full of fantasy books. So I had to do something different. I did something different all right. Uh huh. But I love Elizabeth’s Midnight. It was original titled Ladies in Waiting, but I like the new title much better.
2008-2009 __ FLUNG – I tried to start writing books two at a time, one in the morning and one at night when the kids went to bed. So I wrote a book about a kid who teleports, but he has no control and he doesn’t know why. He just appears across the world. It’s kind of a convoluted story, and I have setting issues, and it needs some work. I tried to query, but didn’t have much luck. My first chapter is an alone and thinking chapter. So, yeah, didn’t quite work.
2008-2010 __ THE FOUR KINGDOMS (The Winter Princess, The Spring Princess, The Summer Princess, The Autumn Princess) – So while I wasn’t having any luck with traditional publishing, I decided I’d write books for my daughters. So I wrote a story about four girls from another world who don’t know they are magical princesses until trouble finds them. My eldest illustrated them. I never wanted to try and get them published because they became sacred and I didn’t want to have some editor messing with a story and characters my daughters loved. All four books top out at about 65K I think. They are short. Total chapter books. And our family loves them. Maybe someday. Maybe.
2009-2010 __ THE MAGIC ADDICTS: NO DELIVERANCE – In 2009, our family did a house exchange with a family in Hamburg, and I had this idea of a bunch of teens who were addicted to magic. They go around the world collecting spell components, casting spells, and studying, which involves sitting alone and thinking about the worst things you’ve ever done. You collect up all your resentments and that powers your spells. It’s kind of a convoluted story. Ha. It runs short, so I’d have to add a bunch of words, but at this stage, it’s so back burner, it’s like rice about to burn.
2009-2010 __ ASIYA SIMPKINS AND THE THOUGHSTEALERS – Another book I wrote for my daughter, it’s not really a book, more like a novella, but still, I thought I’d include it. It’s about a girl living in a haunted house, basically, and ghostlike creatures plague her. The thoughtstealers are drawn to people’s idea-chests. Idea-chests are an item you own that you love and it houses your thoughts. If you lose your idea-chest, you lose your soul. My daughter and I came up with the idea and I wrote it. It’s rough. It’s short. It’s, um, not very good. But you know, it was fun to write.
2010-2012 __ THE NEVER PRAYER – So it was at an ACT IV where I talked with an agent who suggested I write an angel book. Angels were going to be the next big thing. So I sat down and banged out an angel book, but mine was going to be different. It was going to be darker and edgier. I called it paranormal romance, but it wasn’t. It was total paranormal thriller with romantic components. Every time I read it I cry. It’s so tragic and beautiful.
2011-2012 __ THE SWEET REVENGE OF THE BAG SNATCHER – This book idea came from a football player’s name. Crabtree. I loved the name. And I wanted to write a kind of classic mystery/horror story about a gang of kids in a small town in the 1970s who open a business finding things for people. But their first client might be the demon terrorizing their town. I don’t like the title, and I don’t like the name of their business, H.A.G., or Hexton’s Acquisitions Group, so I’m thinking about calling it the C.I.A., Crabtree’s Investigations and Acquisitions. Yeah, I like that much better. I wrote it for my daughters. They hated it! I made some changes. They still hated it! But I waited and bam, they love it. It’s for older elementary/middle school. I love it. Not shopped. Yet. It’s my next one to shop around.
2012-2013 __ SPARKED – So before I talk about my epic series, well, I wanted to talk about this book. In December of 2012, I watched all five Twilight movies. I was moved. I sang Christina Perri “Thousand Years.” I was tired of writing weird books that the publishing industry didn’t like. I wanted to write something vanilla, marketable, a pure YA sci-fi romance. Er, yeah, a pure one of those. Instead of vampires or werewolves, I decided I’d do androids. Twilight with androids. Twilight meets Blade Runner. Yes. I wrote it quick, while we were house-sitting in Gratz, Austria. I got the best rejection of my life. An agent at a big literary agency said that the voice was perfect, the structure was classic, but it was too genre. It wouldn’t stick out. Perfect. It is such a victory. I’ll eventually publish this book, as is, but I have a couple of other publishers looking at it. I think the pure vanilla-ness of it baffles them. One publisher who rejected said half the people LOVED it! And half the people HATED it! With no consensus, they rejected me.
2012-2013 __ SASS MCQUEEN AND THE KUNG-FU PRINCESS – it was time to write a book for my youngest daughter, who can be a handful and a harsh critic. We were watching a lot of iCarly at the time, and my daughter loved Sam. I thought, what if I divided up Sam into two characters, one with a mouth and one with fists of fury? And what if I wrote it as this over-the-top Adam Sandler movie type of story? Bam. I’m going to be Indie publishing this one because I don’t want to wait. No. Not waiting anymore. We have a cover. Bree Ervin edited, and really, it’s a love letter to my daughter’s school, which is as good or better than Hogwarts. I want to give this to them before we leave it because it truly is a magical place. My wife and I would go to open houses there and get teary because our lives would’ve been so different if we’d gone to a school like that. And no, the name of the school is Poopenkitten Elementary.
2013-2014 __ BLACK BELLE – So my youngest daughter wanted me to write a werehorse story, but there had to be romance and kissing. So I wrote a quick novella about a girl who moves to a ranch. She meets the town bully. She falls in love with the bully’s boyfriend. A mysterious friend helps her. She discovers a mighty horse who also helps her. SPOILER! And yeah, the mysterious friend is the mighty horse! My oldest daughter hated it! My youngest? We finished and there were tears on her face. And she gulped and said, “That is the best book I’ve ever read.” Bam. And if that is not enough for me, well, shame on me. Jen Greyson, I thought of you while writing about this book. I don’t know if it will ever see the light of day, but it was fun to write. But come on, Black Belle? As in Black Beauty?
2014-2015 __ IN TOO DEEP – I grew up watching The Young and the Restless and All My Children. I love romances. I love rom-com movies and yeah, so what? I’m still a man, though my first penname isn’t going to broadcast that. At this stage, I’m going to be making my debut with Andrea K. Stein as Taylor Stone. Stein & Stone romances. Andrea and I are co-writing a romance series. We are going to Indie Pub. And this might be the only place where I’ll publicly say I am Taylor Stone! Maybe. The first book is about a disgraced celebrity chef accused of poisoning people and a sea captain who keeps losing million-dollar yachts on an ill-fated pleasure cruise. What is the last thing you want when trying to save your career? You don’t want to fall in love.
2010-2016 __ THE JUNIPER WARS (Dandelion Iron, Killdeer Winds, Thorn Sisters, Bindweed Highway) – I was biking, listening to 16 Horsepower and thinking about old Kung-Fu movies where brothers end up fighting each other. And I wanted to write a sci-fi/western. And I wanted it to be epic! I was never going to write it until I watched Joss Whedon’s Firefly. I wept through every episode. This is what I wanted to write. These are the books of my heart. If I’m going to make a stand, if I’m going to pour every cent, every bit of energy I have into a project, it’s this one. So help me God.
So at this stage, these are all the books I’ve written. Some are longer than others.
The Dream of the Archer
The Gospel of the Severed Earth (Everywhere, Everything, Everyone)
The Storybook, the Turner Brothers, and Eli Kane
Broken Dreams and Wicked Things
The September King
Long Live the Suicide King
The Four Kingdoms
The Magic Addicts: No Deliverance
Asiya Simpkins and the Thoughtstealers
The Never Prayer
The Sweet Revenge of the Bag Snatcher
Sass McQueen and the Kung-Fu Princess
In Too Deep (as Taylor Stone)
THE JUNIPER WARS (Dandelion Iron, Killdeer Winds, Thorn Sisters, Bindweed Highway)
That’s a total of twenty-five books.
Not bad for a start. Not bad at all.
I feel so lucky to have been given the room and motivation in my life to write these books and to love these characters.
This is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. For a guy like me, this is how I should be spending my minutes.
End of blog post here.
It was a good ending. It hit all the right notes.
But I wanna talk about the abandoned projects.
Abandoned projects? Well, not, I won’t say abandoned. I will say that it’s gonna be a while until I circle around to them.
HARD CANDY EYESHADOW – This is my gay YA paranormal romance epic. A suicidal cowboy poet, a self-destructive gay teen, and a wiccan priestess who is also a recovering drug addict have a kind of love triangle. With a ghost. Confused? You won’t be. After this week’s episode of Soap. This was number three on the list that I created in 2006 with my critique group.
THE BLOOD OF THE SEVEN – It’s Hogwarts for teen drug addicts. Seven struggling teenagers are invited to a magic school but the principal has a secret reason for drawing them all together. Forbidden love.
ONE LAST WEDNESDAY – A geeky teen guitarist in a lame progressive rock band trio is told he has a rare heart condition that has gone undiagnosed. He has 54,000 heartbeats left. That’s twelve hours if your heart rate is seventy-five beats per minute. He has twelve hours to find love, come to grips with his parents, and for one last epic gig. One last Wednesday. I wanna write it from the perspective of a forty-year old music critique who did an award-winning article on the teenager.
Wow. Only three lost projects.
Hmm. Only three.
Not bad, son. Not bad at all.