Writing the Second Draft

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First Draft

On June 7, 2016, I wrote a post here on The Boomerang where I announced that I had finished the first draft of the third version of an adult fantasy novel that I started writing in 2001.

Now I can make a second announcement:

I have finished the second draft of the third version of the adult fantasy novel that I started writing in 2001.

I started revising on June 14.

I worked on the novel six days a week. Some days for only a couple of hours. Other days the whole eight hours. It all depended on the amount of changes that needed to be made as well as my own state of mind on that particular day.

I write in long-hand in a lined Barnes & Noble refill journal, using a Ballograf mechanical pencil and 0.5 HB leads.

I type my long-hand manuscript in a Word document using Courier 12 points double-spaced. This way, my digital copy also becomes yet another opportunity for revisions.

I backup all my files on a physical external hard drive .

The first draft was approximately 131,000 words long.

The second draft is approximately 98,000 words long.

I made no adjustments to the narrative. I only cut out scenes that didn’t drive the story forward.

I added a new beginning to the novel’s second part.

It took me approximately six weeks to finish the second draft. I clicked on Save for the final time on July 29.

So what am I doing right now?

I have started the querying process and I’m trying to master the art of the synopsis.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

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First Draft

In November 2001 I started writing an epic fantasy novel for adults. I spent the following years writing this tome on and off. I even sent it out to professional freelance editors. I participated in public readings. After revising the story I shopped it around to different publishers and in my naive and uneducated fervor I broke every rule there is when you submit a manuscript.

Of course the book didn’t get picked up. Partly because I didn’t understand the publishing industry, mostly because it just wasn’t any good. However, one of the rejection letters stated that even though they didn’t publish exactly this kind of fantasy, the world I had created was a compelling one, in particular the names of the characters appealed to them. (Probably because it was a fantasy novel with not an apostrophe in sight…)

This letter stayed with me when I put the novel to the side and instead focused on writing a dissertation in medieval history. The years as a graduate student are some of the toughest in my life. It literally was five years of blood, sweat, and tears.

Would I do it again? Hell no.

Would I have those years undone? Hell no to that too.

Why? Because those years gave me thicker skin, they taught me how to write, they taught me how to get published, they taught me how to research a book, and they taught me how to bring a book project to completion within a reasonable amount of time no matter what came at me while I was writing.

And as I neared the end of my graduate studies and as the defense of the dissertation was behind me, this fantasy epic reared its head again. I remember sitting in an office at a university where I was filling in for another teacher and I had a couple of hours to kill before I had to leave for the train.

The office was quiet. It was as if sound had ceased to exist.

And I began to write.

And I didn’t stop until I had finished a completely new version, using the first novel I wrote all those years ago as backstory.

This time around I was able to determine on my own that this wasn’t any good. I didn’t need to hire a professional editor or insult publishers to understand that I still wasn’t ready.

So I put it aside again. I worked on getting some kind of traction in the new place to where I had moved. I started freelance writing, I published research articles, I started teaching college history part time, I started tweeting, blogging, and I started to write short stories to hone my craft. I shopped those stories around. I got rejected but I also got enough encouragement from editors to know that, just like with my very first novel, I was on to something.

And then one day–in July 2015–the novel came back to me. And again, I wrote a completely new version, this time based on the second novel as well as the first novel.

I started working on this version in earnest in October 2015.

On May 23, 2016, I finished the first draft of the third version of the epic fantasy novel for adults that I began writing in November 2001. Two days ago I printed it.

GetInline

First Draft. Large font, double-spaced, 20k words too many.

So, will anyone want to publish it? I don’t know. What matters to me at this stage is that I finished it and it works.

However, when the time comes to shop this novel around, I think I might stand a better chance if I let this be the title:

The Girl Who Went in Search of Her Dad.

Even though the girl is actually a 25-year-old woman and the search for her father is only part of the story.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Seven Reasons the Mechanical Pencil is a Writer’s Best Friend

On April 23, 2015 I published the following post on Quirk Books’ blog where I declared my love for the mechanical pencil. Enjoy!

Seven Reasons the Mechanical Pencil is a Writer’s Best Friend

The year 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of Charles R. Keeran’s U.S. patent for the Ever-Sharp pencil, also known as the modern mechanical pencil. Combined with Tokuji Hayakawa’s Japanese patent from 1920 for the pencil’s metal core, Keeran’s invention paved the way for the mechanical pencils we use today.

I have been using mechanical pencils my entire writing life. If you ask me, the mechanical pencil is a writing tool superior to any other. Therefore, in celebration of the anniversary of Keeran’s patent, here are seven reasons why I believe the mechanical pencil is a writer’s best friend…

If you’d like to read the rest of the post, please click here.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Book Riot

In May this year I became a Contributor to Book Riot. Book Riot is a blog that writes about books, books, and—I don’t know if I mentioned it already—books. For me this is a great thing that has happened. I love books and I have been a reader and follower of Book Riot and their other Contributors for quite a while. Book Riot does a great job and I’m honored to be part of their team.

Whenever I publish a post on Book Riot that is suitable for The Boomerang, I will write about it here and post a link so that you can read it too.

In the meantime, you are welcome to check out my

Book Riot Contributor’s Page

Book Riot Author’s Page

Enjoy!

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Hwaet! The Thousand-Year History of the Audiobook

Hwaet.
Arguably the most famous word in English literature, hwaet is the first word in the eight-century poem Beowulf. The actual meaning of the word is up for debate, but regardless of which side you choose, the word is some kind of exclamation to indicate the initiation of the telling of a story. Hwaet is there because Beowulf was meant to be heard.

In a recent psychological study, published in Frontiers of Psychology and discussed by Rachel Smalter Hall on Book Riot, it is stated that listening to literature is the least efficient way of learning, compared to reading silently to yourself or reading out loud. According to the authors of the study this would have consequences for people living in the twenty-first century now that technological advances have changed the way we consume literature, from reading silently to listening to audiobooks.

It would appear then, that the human mind is not wired to absorb information by way of listening. What the authors seem to have overlooked is the historical perspective of the audiobook. Throughout history, literature was meant to be heard, not read.

Why did people listen to literature, rather than read it themselves?
There are several answers to this question.

It was a matter of literacy.
A population where almost 100% of adults are literate is a late phenomenon in human history. For example, during the early Middle Ages, those who were literate were mainly men and women belonging to the Church or a monastic order. Priests, monks and nuns were more likely to be able to read and write than a king or a queen. Later on, literacy spread among the social classes with the expansion of education and increased social mobility. Still, most people could not read. And those who could read did not necessarily know how to write. And among those who could both read and write, as in the case of merchants, many knew only how to write numbers and not letters. Moreover, there was a difference between sexes—men were more likely to know how to read and write than women.

All Saints North Street fönster 3
An example of women who were literate. Margaret Blackburn reading from a prayer book (c. 1420). The Blackburns were a prominent merchant family in York.
Church of All Saints North Street,York, England.
Photo: EH Kern.

It was a matter of availability.
Not until the introduction of the printing press during the fifteenth century did books become available on a wider scale in Europe. Before the printing press, books were copied by hand on parchment. Those who copied books were mainly monks who spent much of their time creating beautifully crafted illuminated manuscripts.

Royal 10. E. IV, f. 3v K043854
Pages from the manuscript Royal 10E IV, France late 13th century.
Source: Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, British Library.

It was a matter of cost.
Because books were written by hand and decorated to become like pieces of art, owning books was something mainly for those who had money to spend. This continued to be the case even after the breakthrough of printing in the seventeenth century.

CT22372a
Initial letter in Leviticus/ויקרא‎, Vayikra/Wayikra, France, 1277–1286.
Source: Additional 11639, Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, British Library.

Literature continued to be read out loud well into modern times. Charles Dickens gained popularity from publishing his stories as serials that people read out loud to each other since not everybody could afford to buy a copy themselves. Charles Darwin wanted his novels read out loud to him rather than reading them himself. As late as the 1920s, professional reciters went on tour, reading literary works to the public.

In her Book Riot article, Rachel Smalter Hall questions how the results of the study were measured. Supposedly, the participants listened to a text but were quizzed on it in writing. Hall points out that this method could result in a misrepresentation of what the participants have learned since different parts of the brain are involved when listening or reading.

Hall’s doubts regarding the results fall in line with medical and linguistic research on reading. Medical research has shown that reading is a cognitive skill that needs to be learned and practiced, similar to playing an instrument. Linguistic research has shown that when reading a complicated text silently, our mouths and tongues move as if we are reading out loud.

Listening to literature is not a phenomenon brought on by technological advances in the near-past but an activity that has engaged human beings through thousands of years. If humans are less likely to learn from listening than from reading, I’m surprised that we have made any progress.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Sources:
Rachel Smalter Hall “Are Audiobooks Worse than Real Books? Let’s Ask Science”
Sousa et al (2013) “The Way We Encounter Reading Material Influences How Frequently We Mind Wander,” Frontiers of Psychology.
The Independent “Listen! Beowulf Opening Line Misinterpreted for Two Hundred Years”
Medievalists.net “The Status of hwaet in Old English”
Modern Psykologi “Vad var det jag sa? Martin Ingvar om den svenska skolkrisen”

Neil Gaiman. Descendant of Monty Python and Stephen King

Writer Neil Gaiman always seems to be in the headlines. If it isn’t because he invited Jonathan Ross to host the Hugo Awards, it’s because he might be adapting Sandman into a movie or because he has grown a beard. In other words, Gaiman is enormously popular. And rightly so. He is a very talented writer. But as we all know, it takes more than just talent to become a success.

Why, then, are people so fascinated with Neil Gaiman?
I believe it is because his writing fits in with two other things people can’t get enough of — Monty Python and Stephen King.

The British comedy group Monty Python made its debut in 1969 with the first episode of the BBC comedy TV series Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The Circus stayed on the air until 1974, after which the group went on to film classic movies such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life Of Brian and The Meaning of Life. Not long ago, the group announced a number of reunions shows. All of them sold out in minutes.

The impact of Monty Python on comedy and popular culture can’t be overstated. The absurd sense of humor and the mix of low-brow and high-brow have even coined a new word, “Pythonesque.”

What Gaiman shares with Python is the juxtaposition of the absurd and the mundane as if the pairing is perfectly normal. For example, where Python in The Holy Grail let the Knights of the Round Table charge the filming location of a historical documentary, in the short story Chivalry, Gaiman has one of the Knights knock on the door of a lonely widow who happened to buy the Holy Grail in the Oxfam shop down the block. This type of story telling can also be found in Gaiman’s novels, for example in Anansi Boys, where it is perfectly normal that the trickster and spider god would have two kids.

Anansi Boys brings us to what Gaiman shares with Stephen King. Arguably the most popular horror writer of all time, King tells many of his stories from the point of view of a child, even when that child has become an adult. King uses this point of view most notably in the novella Stand By Me and the novels It and The Shining, as well as most recently in the latter’s sequel, Doctor Sleep. Apart from Anansi Boys, Gaiman uses the point of view of the child, as well as the child as an adult, for example, in Coraline, The Absolute Death and, most recently, in The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

One more thing that Gaiman shares with King, and which makes them into the compelling storytellers they are, is that they know when to end a story. Both Gaiman and King draw you in with a narrative that ends the moment just before all hell breaks loose. Instead of reading the story’s conclusion, you stare at the last sentence while in your head images of the end play out followed by a rumble and crash as the world you just immersed yourself in mercilessly comes tumbling down. This writing strategy is deployed by Gaiman in the short story The Price, about a cat that protects a family from evil. King uses this strategy in one of his novels written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, Thinner. Never before has a slice of pie been as frightening.

There are writings by Gaiman where these influences come together, most notably in Good Omens, although that could have something to do with the fact that he had a co-writer in Terry Pratchett. In Good Omens an angel and a demon live undercover among humans as owners of an antique shop which is open on appointment only.

I believe that Neil Gaiman is as popular as he is because he is a talented writer who merges the absurd with the mundane, innocence with loss of innocence, while having complete control over his own storytelling.

And because he looks like a rock star.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

What the Dickens! Poetic License in Historical Fiction

How accurate does an author need to be when writing historical fiction? This is a question I have wrestled with for quite sometime, on Twitter and here on The Boomerang. This third installation in my ongoing discussion on history and historical fiction came about after reading Peter Damien’s book review of Lynn Cullen’s Mrs. Poe on Book Riot.

VirginiaPoe
Water color painting of Virginia Poe (1822–1847)
Source: Midnightdreary, Wikimedia Commons

The novel Mrs. Poe is a story about Edgar Allan Poe’s wife, Virginia, and the relationship between her husband and one of his admirers, a poet named Frances Osgood. Damien’s review of the book is a positive one. However, he does a double-take when Cullen lets Poe discuss Charles Dickens.

According to Cullen’s portrayal of Poe, he is not impressed by the writings of Dickens, even sneering at his portrayal of England’s less fortunate classes. Damien, who is obsessed by Dickens, notes here that Poe, too, was obsessed by this author. In other words, Cullen has given Poe opinions that contradict Edgar Allan Poe. As a consequence of this, Damien understandably begins to question the accuracy of the entire novel.

3a52078r  Charles_Dickens_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_13103
Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849)                  Charles Dickens (1812–1870)
Source: Library of Congress                    Source: Tagishsimon, Wikimedia Commons

Here lies the crux of historical fiction. The genre is called historical fiction. In other words, what you read is made up. However, the genre is called historical fiction. This means that what you read also has a basis in events that once took place.

As I stated in the blog post Living Vicariously Through Ichabod Crane, historical fiction is necessary to make historical research accessible to the general public. Historical research needs to be made sexy and historical fiction is a nifty way to do it. To make the story work some poetic license is needed or there would be little difference between fiction and research and the value of entertainment would be accordingly.

The problem with historical fiction is how an author can use poetic license and still call it historical fiction?

My answer to this question is that as long as the author does not change important facts or the essence of a character, poetic license can be applied quite freely.

The problem with Cullen giving Poe a negative view of Dickens is that in so doing she makes the fictional character of Edgar Allan Poe contradict the essence of the historical character of Edgar Allan Poe. This is where historical fiction leaves history behind and just becomes fiction.

According to Damien, the scene where Poe discusses Dickens is a minor one. But, as the saying goes, The Devil is in the details.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Previous posts on the topic of the relationship between history and historical fiction are
Living Vicariously Through Ichabod Crane
Five Reasons Why You Should Get a PhD and not an MFA