I Used to Be Old; Now I’m Young

Recently, I had cause to delve into my past. More specifically, into a folder on my hard drive containing a couple dozen short stories I’ve written over the years, the vast majority of which have never been published. These stories go back a long ways — to my freshman year of college, in a few instances.

One thing that I found sort of odd was the amount of time I spent on stories about people older than I was. For example, most of the college-era stories were written in my freshman and sophomore years (by junior year, I was working on a comic books series and a a novel, so there isn’t much short fiction from those years). I was 18 or 19, then, but the stories are about:

  • a guy in his late twenties who has been left at the altar
  • a guy in his late twenties/early thirties contemplating marriage (hmm… theme?)
  • a guy in his late forties struggling to make ends meet and dealing with the death of an infant son
  • a guy in his forties dealing with repeated lifetime traumas

Teens have a tendency to think/write primarily about themselves…so I’m not sure exactly what was happening in my head that made me think I should write about people older than me, going through things I had never experienced. (This, perhaps, is why those short stories never went anywhere other than that folder on my hard drive!)

Of course, the truly odd aspect of this little trip down memory lane was reading later, post-college stories, and seeing glimmers of the YA career I would someday have: Stories about adults that primarily dealt in flashbacks to the teen years. Stories about college freshmen. Even a story I now tongue-in-cheekily refer to as “Girl Toy.” (Seriously. It has child abuse and baseball in it. What the hell, Barry?)

Anyway, it’s just interesting (to me and probably no one else) to see that as my skills matured, my target audience (and area of primary interest) got younger. I even have an entire novel I wrote about ten years ago in which the characters are allegedly in their mid-twenties…but anyone reading it can tell that these guys are really teens.

Now that I am a doddering old man, I have plenty of life experiences to draw on, and I could tell plenty of tales about guys going through all of those things I enumerated above…and more. Yet, I have no interest in doing so. The older I get and the more I see, the more I am drawn to telling stories about and for kids.

I don’t know what that means about me, if it means anything at all. But, hell, it makes me happy. 🙂

Rules for Writing Multiple Books at Once

I make no secret of the fact that I am working on many projects at once. I’ve been doing so for more than a year now, and I honestly don’t see myself stopping this behavior any time soon. I had a meeting with my agent recently, during which I laid out a bunch of books I’d like to write, thinking she would say, “Pick two and run with them.” Instead, to my delight, she said, “How soon can you get started on all of them?”

Since I’ve sorta, kinda documented online my ongoing quest to write a metric ton of prose, I am sometimes approached by people in the real world about it. The other night, I was at a launch party for a friend’s new novel and I ended up in a clutch of fellow authors. As usually happens when you put authors together, the question went around, “What are you working on right now?” And when I ran down my list, the next question was, “How do you do all of that?”

For me, the immediate answer is, “Well, I just do.” But when I was put on the spot like that, I had a sudden burst of insight and I realized that I do have some systems in place that help keep me on an even keel as I do all of this stuff. At first, I had three rules, but then I added a fourth. Since then, I’ve thought about it and added a fifth.

So, if you’re at all interested in Uncle Barry’s Formula for Writing Multiple Books at Once…read on!

  1. Your projects must all be vastly different from each other: If you’re working on more than one book at a time, it’s deadly to have them be similar. Look at it this way — say you’re writing a dystopian novel. And at the same time, you’re working on another dystopian novel…but it’s just a different kind of dystopia. Well, I think you see the problem. When you get burned out on one, the other one is no safe haven. They’re different books, but they’re too similar. They use the same psychic muscles. Make your projects distinct from one another and each one will act as a sort of safety valve for the others. Bored with that thriller you’re working on? Skip over to the romantic comedy for a little while!
  2. Always be at a different stage on each project: Again, this is about overworking muscles. Starting a book uses a different set of mental abilities than editing one or cruising to the end of one or researching one. So stagger your projects. At the beginning of 2010, I was revising my graphic novel script. At the same time, though, I was deep into the first draft of The Book That Will Kill Me. And I was researching I Hunt Killers. Later in the year, I was halfway through the first draft of Killers when I started writing the second Archvillain. Simultaneously, I was overseeing Colleen’s art on the graphic novel and headed toward the end of a draft of The Book That Will Kill Me. Once again, each book acted as a pressure release for all the others. No matter what I was working on, it was different and varied from what I had just been working on earlier that day or week.
  3. Turn everything in early: This is a tough one for many authors, who have difficulty meeting their deadlines already. But I swear to you, it matters. When you have so many projects on your plate, it’s inevitable that two or more deadlines are going to overlap or conflict. This means that if you slip on one deadline, you’ll put multiple projects in jeopardy. And if you think being in the weeds on one book is bad, try it on many! In order to keep yourself honest and to prevent a total meltdown, turn in everything early. Set your own deadlines that are well in advance of the official ones and follow your deadlines, no one else’s.
  4. Let no one else dictate your schedule: Closely linked to #4, obviously. But it’s important enough to call out on its own. In addition to not letting anyone else dictate a deadline to you, you also can’t allow anyone else’s whims to stall you in developing a project. Here’s an example: Say you have just turned a new book to your editor. You have another project you’d like to get started on, but your editor has told you that she will get back to you on the first book in a couple of weeks. You think to yourself, “Well, I won’t make much progress on the new project in just a couple of weeks, so I’ll wait to hear from my editor and THEN I’ll start on the new one.” No! Odds are, it will take longer than a couple of weeks for your editor to get back to you. And even if it IS just a couple of weeks, that’s still time you’re wasting, time when you could make at least some progress on the new project. So plunge into the new project and let your editor get back to you whenever she can.
  5. Be flexible: When I work on multiple projects, I tell myself, “OK, by this point in time, I need to have made X amount of progress on these three projects.” And so on. I manage to stick to that pretty well. But writing a bunch of books at once isn’t the easiest thing in the world, so you need to be flexible. Allow yourself to spend an extra few days on something if you’re really feeling it. Give yourself a week off to play Xbox if you’re starting to feel dangerously loopy. If you work on comedy in the morning and drama in the afternoon, switch it up every now and then in order to give yourself a break. Flexibility will keep you from cracking up entirely.

So, there you have it: Five Rules for Writing Multiple Books at Once. What are you waiting for?

Houston Public Library Webinar

If you missed my webinar hosted by the Houston Public Library (and shame on you if you did!), but still want to witness a full hour of yours truly blathering on and on about everything from censorship to first kisses to movies of my books, check it out right here:

AletheaKontis.com ARCHVILLAIN Interview

Alethea Kontis — a self-described “genre chick, fairy princess, geek,” interviews me about ARCHVILLAIN, asking such crucial questions as “Who are your top 5 heroes?” and “Why do 95% of superheroes have girlfriends with red hair?”

Then 13-year-old Ariell gets into the questioning and things really take off!

Check out the interview.

Join Me for an Online Seminar!

This Friday, I’ll be giving an online seminar through the auspices of the Houston Public Library…but you don’t have to be in Houston or even in a library to take part. Thanks to that magical gadget called “the Internet,” you can participate anywhere there’s a computer.

Basically, I’ll give a little talk and then I’ll open the floor to questions. So if you’ve ever wanted to ask me something in person (well, as “in person” as online video gets!), then here’s your chance!

The seminar begins at 5:30pm Eastern time on Friday, October 15. You can watch the seminar at this link:http://www.houstonlibrary.org/teen-read-month.

Bring your questions, and log on!