Writing Life #2

Welcome back to Writing Life!

So, last week I talked a little bit about what writing means to me. Now I want to introduce y’all to my current writing world, the projects that obsess me from morning ’til night…and often into my dreams. (Seriously. I had a dream a couple of weeks ago in which I visited a crime scene. It was both amazing and scary how detailed my subconscious decided to be on that one…)

I am — as of typing this — working on four books at once. You can see a little bit about each of them on my In Progress page, but I’m going to talk about them more here. This is sort of an introduction to each project, since these will be the main topics of each week’s Writing Life for the foreseeable future. I will be working on all four of these projects for the rest of 2010, though not always to the degree described below.

“The Monster” (a.k.a. “The Book That Will Kill Me”): I will probably be talking about this book quite a bit without actually talking about it. Let me explain: This book is a pet project of mine. Of all the projects I’ll be discussing, it is the only one not under contract. I’m writing it because I’ve wanted to write it for years and years and years, and I feel like now is the time to do so. My agent nicknamed it “The Monster” because, well, it’s a long, complicated, strange mess of a novel. I re-dubbed it “The Book That Will Kill Me” because, well, it’s a long, complicated, strange mess of a novel that is getting longer, more complicated, and stranger every time I sit down to work on it. I’m not going to tell you what it’s about, mainly ’cause “what it’s about” is, well, long, etc. I’m not going to tell you the title or anything, really. That’s my prerogative. Just know that it’s a big part of my life right now and that every time I think I have it figured out, a new wrinkle or twist shows up. The damn thing is a literary hydra. I’ve set myself a personal deadline of July 1 to finish the first draft of it, and I think I’ll make it. Just so you know: The original, unedited draft of Boy Toy weighed in at well over 600 pages, more than 130,000 words. The Book That Will Kill Me is currently longer than that and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. I would not be surprised if it ended up in the neighborhood of 200,000 words.

“The Graphic Novel”: Not giving out the title yet; not saying what it’s about, other than that it’s a young adult romance with…metaphysical overtones, shall we say? The amazing Colleen Doran is drawing it, a fact which never fails to give me warm fuzzies. I wrote the script in December of 2009/January of 2010 and it came in at around 110 pages. (That’s 110 comic book pages, not 110 script pages. The script was actually sort of short — 80-ish pages.) Originally, I was trying to keep it to 100 pages or less, in deference to Colleen’s schedule, but there were some scenes and moments that were getting short shrift, to the detriment of the story. After much fretting and stressing over what to cut so that I could allow those scenes to breathe, I was defeated, so I called Colleen and timidly inquired as to whether or not it would destroy her if I were to add a page or two to the original count. As you can see, I went beyond a page or two, but Colleen was fine with that. (In fact, some of it was at her suggestion. When I told her I thought we needed a brief flashback, she agreed, but when I said it would only be a page long, she balked, saying, “That sounds more important than just a page.” It ended up being three pages.) For the graphic novel, the main bulk of my work is done, thank God, and my responsibilities right now turn more towards answering questions Colleen has when something isn’t clear in my script. As we get into summer, though, I’ll also be looking at her pages to make sure everything I need on the page is actually on the page; I may also be tweaking my original dialogue depending on the final pages. So even though the writing aspect of the graphic novel is done with, I still have work to do on it, and that work will continue at least through the fall.

I Hunt Killers (Book 1): This is the story of Jasper “Jazz” Dent, the son of the world’s most notorious serial killer. Jazz uses the skills learned at his father’s knee to hunt a serial killer operating in his own hometown, but the whole time, Jazz is also struggling with his own desires, his almost-overwhelming urge to follow in his father’s footsteps and begin his own killing career. Nature and nurture both have their hooks in Jazz, and both of them drive him towards murder. Can he overcome them both? My publisher refers to this series as “Dexter meetsSilence of the Lambs for teens,” but I’ve been thinking of it more as “Encyclopedia Brown on crystal meth.” Because that’s how my mind works. Right now, I’m in the early stages of the actual writing on this book, doing maybe 1,000 words a day or so. I spent close to three months researching it, studying serial killer pathology, forensic science, etc. I probably went a little overboard, but I feel like I’ve given myself a good grounding in the subject area so that I can “fake it with authority,” which is my standard when writing about something that actually exists. (If you wanted to read about a REAL serial killer and REAL forensics, you wouldn’t be reading a novel, right?) To sell Killers to a publisher, I wrote a three-page outline of the first book as well as a few sample chapters. I warned the publisher that I would probably make changes once I sat down to do the actual writing, and you know what? I’m as good as my threat — as soon as I sat down to do the actual work, I came up with a whole mess of fun plot turns and character bits that never existed anywhere near my original proposal. So the book I turn in will still be the same thematically and tonally as the one I promised, but there will be lots of new, fun elements that no one expected — even me!

Oh, and hey — when I worked on the graphic novel I had a little fun on Twitter, tweeting some random, out-of-context facts about the book as I worked on it each day. I plan to do the same with Killers, for a little while at least, so if you’re not already following me on Twitter, do so in order to get in on the fun.

Archvillain: The Mad Mask:
 This is the second volume in the middle-grade Archvillain series (the first bookcomes out in October — read it!), and I am having so much fun that it ought to be illegal. Archvillain is the story of Kyle Camden — super-powered super-genius and twelve-year-old prankster — and his neverending quest to rid the world of Mighty Mike, his town’s too-perfect superhero. In this book, Kyle teams up with The Mad Mask, a pretentious villain smarter even than Kyle, and the two of them vow to both destroy Mighty Mike and also enact The Mad Mask’s evil agenda. I had so much fun writing this book! The whole thing just fell out of me in about six weeks from start to finish. It’s with my editor right now, so while it doesn’t impact my daily schedule, revision suggestions for it could come literally any day now, adding to my daily workload. And hey — there’s a thirdArchvillain book in my near future, too. I’m not 100% sure when I’ll start writing it yet. I originally had a certain deadline, but the publisher shuffled some things and hasn’t given me a new deadline yet. So there might be FIFTH book on the schedule this year!

Speaking of that daily workload: right now, my typical day goes a little bit like this: Wake up. Eat breakfast. Check e-mail. Fire up Freedom for Mac and kill the Internet for a few hours so that I can work on The Book That Will Kill Me. Eat lunch and check for new e-mails. Re-fire Freedom, consign the Internet to oblivion, and work on I Hunt Killers for a couple of hours. Final e-mail check, then eat dinner, then collapse on the sofa with a book (either research or pleasure reading, depending on how exhausted I am). Ta-da! Now, being tossed into the mix on any random day are things like writing this blog, fielding questions/requests from various publisher folk (I have three publishers now, with my books all in various stages, so any day can bring any sort of question or issue), and answering graphic novel questions from Colleen (such as, “Barry, panel 7 doesn’t work at all — can I re-do it my way?” to which I always answer “Yes!” with a follow-up of “Thank you for saving my ass, Colleen!”).

Additionally, projects already out of my hands sometimes require my attention, as when — today — my editor on the first Archvillain book contacted me to ask a quick question as the book is being looked over one last time.

Whew! So, those are the current projects and where they stand. Now, each week when you read Writing Life, you’ll know what I’m talking about if I say something like, “Did 3,000 words on The Monster and realized that, in doing so, I’ve made it necessary to add 10,000 words later. This thing really WILL kill me…”

Questions? Comments? Dire predictions? That comment box isn’t down there for aesthetics, people! See you next week!

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