Introducing Macintosh… Sort of.

Every now and then, I stumble upon something on the internet that just makes me sit back and do my best Neo “Whoa.”

In case you thought that Steve Jobs slowly grew into the hype-meister supreme we all know today, check out this video from the Fall of 1983, as Jobs introduces the legendary Apple “1984” commercial that ran on TV once1 — during the Super Bowl — and yet still managed to grab the advertising world by the throat and shake it viciously.

Realize that — at this point in time — almost no one knew what the Macintosh was. No one had played with one yet. And yet… Listen to that applause. Listen to that excitement. For a product no one has seen yet.

Almost thirty years later, he’s still doing it. It really is amazing to watch.

And by the way: Jobs, in this video, is only 28 years old…

  1. Technically, it aired twice: The first time was in the wee hours of the morning in late December 1983 on an obscure channel in Idaho so that it would qualify for that year’s advertising awards. But no one really saw that airing!

Writing Life #6: Self-Editing

Today I’m going to blather a little bit about editing. Not the sort of editing that comes when your editor says, “Hey! Fix this!” but rather the kind that comes when you look at your own work and say, “Hey! Fix this!”

A few months ago, I was on a five-author panel at Books, Inc. in San Francisco as part of Not Your Mother’s Book Club. Someone from the audience asked a question about what percentage of our first drafts actually ended up getting published. Most people gave very low numbers, but I blurted out “97%,” receiving a stinging high-five from Andrew Smith and angry glares from everyone else on the panel.

That 97% was an off-the-cuff answer and more than a little hyperbolic, in retrospect. My point was that a hell of a lot of what I put into my first drafts ends up in print. Is it always as high as 97%? Well, no. Of course not. In my first book, I added a little and took out a little on the advice of my editor and agent. In Boy Toy, of course, I cut a lot of material, but of what remained, I didn’t change a whole heck of a lot. Hero-Type changed the most from first draft to publication, but you know what? I think every word of that first draft ended up in print. The liminal (interstitial, if you prefer) drafts were almost all additions to what already existed, doubling the size of the original manuscript. But nothing really came out of it.

Wolverine: Worst Day Ever and Goth Girl Rising are the two ringers here. In both cases, that 97% figure holds up pretty well.

Why am I talking about this? Well, because I recently had an epiphany: The two projects currently occupying most of my time are going to need heavy, extensive self-editing.

There are a couple of reasons for all of the heavy lifting that I anticipate. For “The Monster,” well…it’s a monster! It’s a big, strange, ugly, unwieldy, complicated beast of a book (wow, you really want to read it now, don’t you? </sarcasm>), so it’s going to need a lot of going-over and fixing. There are whole stretches in the yet-to-be-finished first draft where I just wrote something like “GO ON FOR A LITTLE WHILE ABOUT [REDACTED] HERE.” I wasn’t ready to write that bit yet, so I put it off. Plus there are all kinds of strange little niggling textual bits that aren’t just right yet, things I need to have line up between the beginning and end of the book, but I won’t know how to line them up until I get to the end. So once I finish the first draft, I have to go back and re-jigger the beginning to get everything in place.

In terms of I Hunt Killers: Hey, this is my first book with a plot! Well, I’m joking, of course — all of my books have had plots, but they haven’t been terribly complicated. They haven’t had crazy twists and turns that keep you guessing. The characterization was where I put my twists and turns. In I Hunt Killers, the characterization is just as important, but since it’s a thriller, I’m going to have to go back through the book very carefully and remove anything that obstructs or obfuscates the plot.

I guess I should make sure I add here that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with all that self-editing, and I don’t have any sort of complex about it. I’ve just been fortunate that — so far — I haven’t published books wherein I’ve needed to use that particular tool to a great degree. Now I have two of them. That’s all. There’s no value judgment being made here.

I am also not saying editors aren’t important, either. Some people might be thinking, “If you have books where so much of the first draft goes through unchanged, what’s the point of an editor?” Well, let me tell you something: Even if every book of mine had a 97% through-rate, I would still say that that 3% is incredibly important. One thing I’ve learned is that changing a paragraph here or a sentence there is a small bit of labor over the course of a novel, but it can — and usually does — have an enormous and disproportionate impact on the story as a whole.

Of course, the magic lies in knowing WHICH paragraph or sentence to change, doesn’t it? And that’s where self-editing and a good editor are worth more than diamonds.

See y’all next week!

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Writing Life #5

Welcome back to Writing Life!

One of the best things about the Writing Life is the people you meet.

This past weekend, I spent Friday and Saturday in Rochester, NY for the fifth annual Teen Book Festival. I wrote about my first time at TBF on MySpace (remember MySpace?), so I’m linking that original entry here. This year’s event was just like that…only a million times more awesome. Twenty-six authors. Literally thousands of kids and parents. It was a madhouse. A hot, crowded, glorious madhouse.

I got to hang out with a crew of amazing volunteers from the Rochester area, especially my four “handlers,” the teens who stuck with me all day and made sure I had water, strawberry sorbet, and lunch. So, here’s a shout-out to Vikki, Claire, Richie, and Frances. You guys rock.

I got to spend time with the aforementioned authors, some of whom were old pals of mine (such as Robin Brande, Coe Booth, Terry Trueman, Holly Black), some of whom were new aquaintances I am so fortunate to have made (such as Lisa McMann, Amy King, Laurie Halse Anderson). Writing — as I have said before — is a very solitary way to make a living, so these opportunities to be out among the public, to meet the people who read the books we write and to have “water cooler time” with our fellow authors is so important. Rochester is the very best opportunity for precisely that. When I wrote that original MySpace article about TBF, I said that I hoped there would be TBF-like events all across the country, and three years later, I’m happy to report that I’ve attended a number of them, though TBF remains the gold standard. Truly wonderful.

I also spent Sunday in Oswego, NY, where I spoke and signed books at the river’s end bookstore, a delightful independent bookstore that hosted me during my last TBF as well. When the event was over and the store closed, owner Bill and I sat with cups of hot tea and talked publishing for over an hour — past, present, and possible futures. He’s inspired me to organize some of my scattered thoughts on the future of publishing, so you can look forward to a rambling blog from me in the near term about how I think publishing should evolve.

As to the writing itself: Not much to report since last I wrote in this space. With the weekend’s travel and a much-needed day to recuperate, I’ve been away from the keyboard more than I usually like. I’ll be getting back into the swing of it today, though. And while I traveled, a number of solutions to some problems in both The Monster and I Hunt Killers occurred to me, so my brain was working, even though my fingers have been idle.

But that idle time ends…now!

See you next week. 🙂

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Barry’s Blogger Book Bonus Continues to Continue!

Yes, there are still books available for Barry’s Blogger Book Bonus! The BBBB continues until my stash of books is depleted…and the Box o’ Books stashed under my kitchen table is not yet bare!

If you’re a blogger, check out the details to see how you can get a free signed book to give away on your blog: Barry’s Book Blogger Bonus page.

Writing Life #4

Welcome back to Writing Life!

I have very little to talk about this week. I was under the weather for a little while last week, so I haven’t been as productive as I would like. I suppose I shouldn’t worry about that — after all, I’m not currently under the gun on any of my deadlines. In fact, my soonest contractual deadline is somewhere around Thanksgiving.

But note I said “contractual.” I’ve imposed some deadlines on myself that are much closer than Thanksgiving.

Why would I do this to myself? Why would I add stress to my life?

Are you at all familiar with the Bob Dylan lyric, “To live outside the law, you must be honest?” I love that bit. (I first encountered it as a kid in an ad for the Batman and the Outsiders comic book.) It basically means that if you’re going to be lawless, the only way to survive is to adhere to your own set of rules, even though no one is compelling you to do so.

Well, in my case, “To write four books in one year, you must be honest (with yourself).”

Given the sheer number of words I need to write this year, I can’t afford to let the publishers’ deadlines guide me. I need to get certain projects finished far in advance or it’ll come back to bite me in the ass later in the year. For example, the first book of I Hunt Killers isn’t due to my editor until late in the fall, but I have given myself a personal deadline of finishing it earlier than that. This is so that the Killers deadline won’t end up conflicting with anything else.

It is also so that I have some built-in float to my schedule. Let’s say something disastrous happened with my graphic novel, which is currently being drawn. Suddenly, I lose a month working on Killers because I’m working on the emergency graphic novel situation. Well, if I’m already two months ahead on Killers, then even with that unanticipated hiccup in my schedule, I’ll still be all right. But if I’m working on Killers exactly to schedule and that month disaster still happens… Yuck. I’d be screwed.

So my rule of thumb these days is: No matter when it’s due, work on it NOW. Which means working on Killers(due, as I said, in late fall) along with some other projects.

I’ve found that I actually enjoy working on more than one project at a time. I have a friend working on a series and she’s waiting to hear from her editor about the first book. Since she hasn’t gotten feedback on the first book yet, she’s hesitant to start the second one. I asked her if she has something else she could work on instead. “I considered it,” she said, “but I want to focus on one thing at a time. And right now that means this series.”

I understand and respect that position. But for me, working on two projects at once (sometimes three!) means that I’m constantly stretching new and different muscles. Believe me, there are no two books on the planet more different than I Hunt Killers and The Monster. Yet every morning I write a big chunk of words for one and then in the afternoon I work on the other. It’s really helped me avoid burning out on either one — just when I get to the point that I can’t abide putting down another word in one, the other one is there. And it’s all fresh and new different and fun, and suddenly I don’t mind pounding the keyboard a little more. It’s like getting to the finish line…and suddenly the caffeine afterburners kick in and you’re ready to run another marathon.

Quick status update for those who are interested in such things: The Monster surpassed 150,000 words the other day. I had something of a crisis of faith at that point because I realized that I’d hit a point in the book where I had to make a decision about how to proceed. I could, it occurred to me, take the story in a certain direction that would add even MORE bulk to it. The worst part of this realization was knowing that adding all this new material would make a lot of sense and not seem extraneous.

But you know what? It’s already 150,000 friggin’ words! And I still have a ways to go before I can sleep. The new material would work just fine, but the book will be no worse for NOT having it. So I decided not to go in that direction. (Future bookstore employees are grateful that the cartons of this book will now be that much lighter.)

I actually have very few decisions left in The Monster. I mapped out the endgame years ago and I only have one or two smallish choices to make before I get there. I would like to say that it’ll be strange to get to a point where I’m not working on this book (after all, I’ve been working on it for a VERY long time), but the fact of the matter is that even once the first draft is done, I’ll still have a lot of work to do on it. I’m going to be living in his book for a long, long time.

As to Killers: It’s still early days and I’m still feeling my way around. I have the plot all figured out (though a very cool twist occurred to me the other day and I’m going to figure out how to jam it in, come hell or high water!), but I’m still groping around for the voice of the characters. That’s fine. It usually takes me 20,000 or so words before I get the feel for the characters, at which point I plow through to the end, then resculpt those early words as needed. (The only exception I can think of is Goth Girl Rising, where I slid into her voice on page one…but then again, I had already written Kyra before, so that’s probably cheating.)

If you live in upstate New York or will be traveling there this weekend, be sure to check out my Travel Calendarfor two events thereabouts this weekend. It would be great to meet you!

OK, that’s it for this week. As usual, the comment form below feels awfully lonely without your words in it. Please — take pity on a hapless comment form!