writing

State of my Writing

I’ve been less productive than I’d like, but I figured I’d post a bit about where I stand with my current projects, if only to give myself some accountability.

A Spark Extinguished – The sequel to A Spark Ignites has a first draft, which I’d written years ago, but it just wasn’t working. I set it aside for a while, and it was only recently that I figured out how to make it work. It’ll require rewriting half the book, and it will be less conventional than the first book, but it can work. I plan on getting back to it sometime in 2021, probably in the latter half.

Untitled Jewish Fantasy Novel – I have a solid outline and wrote and rewrote the first chapter several times, but I still can’t figure out how I want the story to be told. I put it off to the side for an indefinite amount of time, until I figure it out. Maybe once I finish The New Avalon Chronicles.

The New Avalon Chronicles – A fun Animorphs inspired YA SFF series with zombies and werewolves and secret agents. The first book is done– I’ve written twenty drafts, might give it a once over before publishing. Initially I’d hoped to have it traditionally published, but while numerous agents showed interest, they all ultimately passed. The most common reason I heard was that they would not be able to sell it in the current market, and I’d written a book that would’ve fit in with the market a decade or two ago. So self-publishing it is. Anyway, the series is intended to be a total of five books, the second of which is in middle of the third draft, but will need at least two more to be presentable. The third book already has a detailed eleven page outline, and the last two have decent five page outlines. I plan on publishing the first book early next year, and the second book within three or four months from the first book. Still considering whether or not to try out commissioning an audiobook. I’d be expensive, so if I do, it’d be just for the first one, and I’d see how it does.

I have a handful of other projects in various states, but nothing as far along as what I have above. Well, there are two other books I outlined recently, but I doubt I’ll have time to work on them before finishing the projects mentioned above. Things can change though.

Am I Allowed to Write This?

(Yeah, I know this is controversial. Please hear me out and read the post in its entirety before passing judgment. Thanks.)

There’s been a recent trend in publishing lately, which can be summed up in the phrase “Stay in your lane.” Essentially, ‘if you did not have these experiences, if you do not share the same skin color as your character, then you are not allowed to write that character.’ That seems severely limiting if you ask me, but it is what it is. Who are the gatekeepers who enforce this rule? Agents? Editors? Publishers? Twitter? All of the above? I don’t know. I get the intention behind it, and as far as intentions go, it’s a good one. Noble, even. I just don’t know if the policy as a blanket rule is a good one.

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I recently wrote a draft of a novel that I now realize I’ll probably never be able to traditionally publish if publish at all. The main character of this novel is black, which for the most part doesn’t factor into the plot (its a fun, sci-fi werewolf story), but there is one scene where the main character gets into a fight with her (white) boyfriend for physically beating up another kid in their school who had called her a racial slur. She’s of the opinion that physical violence isn’t justified except to respond to physical violence or to protect oneself, and he disagrees.

Before I continue, here’s a little background on myself. I am Jewish. My grandparents were literal slaves in Auschwitz, my aunt was murdered by Nazis as an infant, just for being born Jewish. As an obviously recognizable Orthodox Jew (yarmulke and everything) I’ve faced my fair share of anti-semitism. Folks have thrown pennies at me or yelled, “Kike,” as they drove by, among many other incidents. This one time, a guy on the train yelled, “Jew-maggot,” at me, then proceeded to go on a tirade about how I’m personally murdering blacks and Palestinians. And in all this, I never responded, never raised a fist. Oh, I was angry, but I didn’t think violence would do anything but make the situation worse. Then, there was this other time, when I was a teenager, I ran into a distant relative, and as we were catching up, a girl walked by. My distant relative immediately started sexually harassing her (verbally, but it was some pretty vile stuff). Before I’d even realized what has happened, I’d decked him, knocking him to the ground with a punch to the face. I don’t think that was the right thing to do, and I probably could’ve defused the situation with words, but I did what I did. I think I find it easier to take the non-violent approach when it concerns me being attacked, but when it concerns another group, I have a harder time doing so.

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I used these incidents came out in my manuscript. You can’t say it isn’t about my own experiences, because it is, albeit not exactly. I am not black (nor am I a woman), so I suppose my entire manuscript will forever remain a file on my computer. Because I don’t match up EXACTLY  with the character I’m writing about. Because my experience doesn’t match up EXACTLY with the character I’m writing about. (I’m also not a werewolf, though apparently, that doesn’t seem to be much of an issue.) Because Twitter or whoever decided I’m not allowed to write about it.

I have a story to tell.

But you’ll never read it.

Update and Distractions

On top of turning 30 this week, I finished the first draft of another manuscript. I’ll probably do another pass over the next week or so, then put it to the side and outline another book, before jumping back into a manuscript I’d started a few months ago. I feel like I have too many plates spinning, and I’m on a time crunch. I’m writing them for my kids, but my daughter will be the right age in just eight years or so. That sounds like enough time, but it doesn’t feel like it. I have in my head six different books that I’d like to be finished by then before I can focus on the older-skewing ideas, but I don’t know if I’ll be fast enough to meet the deadline.

I really need to watch less TV.

Messages in Writing: Put Down the Hammer

I’m a big sci fi guy. I used to love Doctor Who, although lately I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it. Meanwhile, I recently binged my way through The Orville, which I loved. Both shows are written by writers with similar politics, trying to explore political and philosophical issues through the lens of sci fi (as good sci fi generally does). So why was it that I enjoyed The Orville while being turned off by the recent season of Doctor Who?

The major difference between the two shows is how they explore their subjects. The Orville will raise an issue, explore it from both sides, tell you what each character thinks, and leave it to you to come to your own conclusions. It lets you think. Doctor Who on the other hand (I’ve noticed this with Supergirl as well) will show an issue, demonize anyone who holds an idea different from the writer/main character, hits you over the head with their ‘answer,’ telling you exactly what you should think. Even if you agree with everything they’re saying, its still patronizing.

The Orville is sci fi. Doctor Who is propaganda.

This realization made me realize what I hated about one of my shelved manuscripts. It was pushing a message, where my answer was the ONLY answer. And it just sucked. Rule of thumb, tell a good story before telling a good message, and second, don’t tell folks what they should think (or at least don’t make it so obvious), and instead let them come to the conclusion on their own. If you’re a talented enough writer, they’ll end up exactly where you want them anyway.

I’m Done Writing

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Yeah, I’ll admit the title is misleading. No, I’m not done with writing in it’s entirety, but I am done with this book. After thirteen drafts, its about as polished as I can make it. And I’ve got other half-completed manuscripts that need my attention. It feels weird, after having spent so long with something to put it aside. I’ve heard that art is never really finished, just abandoned, and the older I’ve gotten, the more true that seems to be. Can my manuscript be better?

Probably. But in its current state its as good as I can make it, as the writer I am today. I’ve very proud of it, and I’m querying it around. But the revision period is over. Perhaps if I get an agent, I’ll return to it again.

On another note, while I had previously spoke of the virtues of self-publishing, I now find myself perusing the traditional route. What changed, you may ask? I find myself with more patience ever since I became a father. I have time to query, to wait. This isn’t a race. And if in a few years I find myself still without an agent and a virtual stack of completed manuscripts on my hard drive, then I’ll probably dive into the self-publishing pool. But for now, I have time. For now, I wait.

Do Research!

My wife was watching Riverdale the other day, and I caught bits and pieces of it. Basically, Archie was being tried for murder. Now, ignoring how this is a ludicrous adaptation of the source material, lets look at what was actually going on. Archie was being tried for first degree murder and first degree murder only. That means that there had to have been mens rea, or for the layman, malice aforethought. It needs to be proven that it was premeditated. First degree murder is notoriously the hardest charge to prove, which is why they usually also consider a second degree murder or voluntary manslaughter. But not here! Without any motive (or weapon!) the prosecution still pushed for first degree murder only. Basically, the prosecutor is the worst lawyer ever, and a sever waste of taxpayer money.

Then, despite being on trial for willful premeditated murder, the court lets Archie out for an extended weekend while the trial is going on. NO JUDGE WOULD EVER ALLOW SOMEONE TO POST BAIL FOR MURDER ONE (at the very least, make him use a tracker or something).

The jury comes back stuck at 6-6. Now with such a split, any prosecutor would not try the case again (maybe if there were one or two jurors leaning the other way, but not HALF OF THEM!), but this one says that she’s going to try the case again.

Yeah, I’m a lawyer, but you don’t have to be a lawyer to pick up on how ridiculous all this is. And all of this could’ve easily been fixed with some tweaks, provided that the writer actually did some research. It’s not like you have to go to the library to look this stuff up anymore. We have the internet now. All it takes is a click.

So please, when you’re writing in an area that you don’t have intimate knowledge of, please do some research. Even a cursory glance at a Wikipedia page will keep you from looking like an idiot.

Yet Another Update

Just checking in. Things have been slow-going, though not for bad reasons. Two weeks ago my son was born, so that along with my daughter has been keeping me busy. Writing hasn’t fallen by the wayside though, at least not completely. I’m in middle of the sixth draft of my book, and this one is going to be a heavy rewrite. The story is still mostly the same, but I realized that the book would be easier to sell as a YA book than as an Upper Middle Grade book, so I’m rewriting the book to age it up somewhat. Due to this shift, the sequel to that book, which I’m still in middle of, has obviously been pushed off to the side until I lock the first book down.

I’ll do my best to keep you guys apprised from here on out.

Dealing with Death in Life and Fiction

Death is common in fiction, just as it is common in life. It is the highest of stakes, even though ever character, just like you and everyone you know, will end up dead eventually. Different people react to death, or even the possibility of death, in different ways. Fear is the most common emotion associated with it, but it isn’t one that everyone experiences.

Until my child was born, I never feared for my own death. I did, however, fear the deaths of others. There’s an elderly British man in his eighties who I was fairly close with about eight years ago. We met while I was spending a year abroad, and often had philosophical discussions. Over time, we’d fallen out of touch. Yet whenever I feel the desire to call him and find out what he’s up to, I hesitate. I’m scared I’ll find out that he’s not around anymore, and as long as I don’t call, as long as I don’t know his status, I can tell myself that he’s probably still alive.

Because death is a universal experience, it is bound to come up in your writing at some point. When it does, try to remember that not everyone has the same reaction, and not everyone faces death the same way.

I remember my grandmother, a holocaust survivor, telling me that after the murder of her family, she no longer wanted to live. She was jealous of people that didn’t wake up in the morning. When she finally did pass away, I think she viewed it as a relief. Death was something she welcomed. My father realized this, and yes, he mourned her loss, but at the same time he found a sense of peace, knowing that her suffering on this world was finally over.

There’s a book, A Brush With Death : An Artist in the Death Camps, by Morris Wyszogrod (or Moshe, as he was called by his friends). The book recounts the author’s experiences in the Holocaust, and actually bears a few similarities to Yossel, something I pointed out to author Joe Kubert when I had the opportunity to meet him, a year before his death. Of course, Moshe Wyszogrod isn’t around anymore either. Few survivors are. But what makes his book unique isn’t just that it is an account of death and horror, recorded as experienced by someone who faced it day in and day out for years, but rather because of a few paragraphs written here and there, throughout the book. The author mentions a friend of his, who he met in the Warsaw Ghetto, entered into the concentration camps with, and eventually was separated from as the war went on, only to be reunited in America with years later: Mayer Lachman. My grandfather didn’t talk much about his experience in the Holocaust (or talk much at all, for that matter), so a decent amount of what I know about his experiences come from that book. There were of course some things left out, such as his wife and daughter, who never made it. My uncle once asked him what he did when he found out his wife and daughter were killed. He shrugged and said, “I went back to work.” Because mourning would mean death for him as well. Instead her persevered, and lived long enough to see his great-great-grandchild. Not long ago he was watching some great-grandchildren run around in his son’s backyard. “They didn’t win,” he said with a smile.

Mayer Lachman passed away exactly one year ago, at the age of one hundred and five. A sick child who doctors didn’t think would live beyond his first year had lived through two world wars. The anniversary of a loved one’s passing is a time to reflect on life, and celebrate their legacy. I suppose that’s why I’m writing this.

You Made a Mistake

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Obviously, before putting out a book, a writer will do everything within his or her power to make sure the product is as flawless as possible. That’s why its always a little embarrassing to be told that someone found an error in your book.

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However embarrassing it is, I find myself grateful to those who bother to let me know. Honestly, constructive criticism and being told how you can make your book better is far more useful than praise . As a writer, I want to put out the best book I can. But as a human, I’m prone to mistakes, and when it comes to my own writing, I can often be blind to it. So when something is pointed out to me that should be fixed, be it a typo, a factual error regarding the city layout, or a suggestion regarding possible stylistic improvements, I try to fix it as soon as I’m able. And what is amazing about digital and print on demand is that these errors can be fixed almost instantaneously.

Every writer wants to improve, but we can’t learn from our mistakes if we aren’t aware of them. Slight embarrassment is a small price to pay to put out a better book.

Marketing Failures

A little while ago, I offered a short story ebook for free to anyone signing up for my mailing list. No one signed up. Not one person. I didn’t understand. I had people who view the post and even the mailing list page. Heck, the post that I announced I was giving away a free short story had numerous likes, yet no one signed up to the mailing list. Not a single person. Every time I would check to see if anyone signed up, there would be a this feeling in my stomach over overwhelming dread. And for good reason.

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Failing is horrifying. It reminded me of when I used to make animated shorts. I would spend months animating a little 4-7 minute animation, and I was lucky if I could get 50 views after a couple of months. What’s worst of all is seeing horrendous books and youtube videos that are way worse than mine, yet get more views or sell better. But every time, I lift myself up. And her I am again. Last week I released my first novel. Will it sell? I don’t know. It hasn’t been selling as well as I’d hoped up until now. I do have other marketing plans though, which I have not yet put into effect. Additionally, I’m still working on the second book, and they say the more books in your backlog, the better the series as a whole does. Here’s hoping there’s some truth to that. Unlike the mailing list idea, I’m not ready to write my book off as a failure. Not yet. But regardless, my failures will not define me, and I genuinely believe that with enough work and effort, I can make A Spark Ignites a success. I’m putting myself out there. Because I’m a creator, and that’s what creative people do. Failures be damned.

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Description:  Matt was just a regular teenager, dealing with homework, hormones, high school drama, and an obnoxious older brother. He found his life complicated, but it was nothing he couldn’t handle. Then, when Spark, the city’s greatest superhero unexpectedly dies, Matt finds himself in possession of the hero’s costume and gadgets, with a note asking him to carry on the legacy. Finding himself unable to refuse, he reluctantly begins his superhero career, hoping he can live up to the name of his predecessor. Not knowing the first thing about being a superhero, Matt soon finds himself overwhelmed. Will he find himself in an early grave, just like his hero?

Meanwhile, an aging supervillain, the Inventor, creates a powerful device capable of killing thousands. An elaborate plan is put in motion that could lead to the destruction of everything Matt holds dear. Will he be able to figure out the how to stop him in time? And when evidence arises which indicates that Spark’s death may not be the accident everyone believes it is, Matt finds himself consumed with trying to uncover the truth. Will he be able to get to the bottom of this mystery? And if so, will he be able to handle the dark reality behind it?

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