Here we are again, discussing my ineptitude. Again, the following comments are just from two chapters of the book, but give a good look into what helps me make my writing better.

I think there’s a missing word or two in the first sentence. Lee, since Micah sees Seth and not just an indentation in the foliage – a great image by the way – I’m not sure how to edit this. Since your narrator isn’t omniscient and mostly sticks to Micah’s point of view, I don’t think you can say, for example, that John reacted to seeing a dead limb spinning through the air, and instead would have to say something like Micah imagining the sight of a log twirling through the air towards the mine. So, should you say that the man was surprised by what must have been an indentation in the foliage, etc?
Also, I do like your second sentence here (“Micah wondered later….”); that’s a nice way of fitting in what Micah saw and what the rest would see with the benefit of hindsight.

I like the way the para reads – and the image it leaves us with – without this last sentence.

Can you do the sentence without the although? It seems to have more impact that way.

Lee, I really like the action here. I know I’ve mentioned I’m not particularly fond of “battle” scenes, but you, again, made this easy to read, easy to understand, without merely being technical.

Nicely done.

I would like my non-existent readers to pay close attention to the last comment. Aside from a few corrected typos, this was the only significant remark of the second of the two chapters in this set and it shows another key element to finding someone who will help you edit your work. The process is not about giving someone the opportunity to beat you up and tell you how awful your writing is. If you have a reader who does this, they do not need to read for you anymore. A writer’s ego is fragile enough from our own inner insecurities without adding someone else’s on top of them. A good reader should also tell you when you’re doing well. If anything, this is more important than helping you correct your errors because it is this, that occasional word of encouragement, that really keeps you going during the process. After all, you are editing because your work is not perfect and now, as these comments roll in from various sources, you really see how not perfect the whole thing is. The only way some of us can continue to write is because we have received support from outside ourselves telling us that it is worthwhile. No writer worth his or her salt can survive on ego alone.

So, editing continues and will continue for the foreseeable future. I’m hoping to have the whole thing done and ready to go in three or four weeks so I can start submitting to agents. My query letter is starting to come together as well and I’ve even written a few tentative words on the historical fiction novel, even though I’m not sure that what I’m going to throw myself into next.

I was planning to travel north to Kentucky to visit my family this weekend, but thanks to the ice storm that has made the area around my old hometown look like a scene from March of the Penguins I’ll probably be postponing the trip for a few weeks. Despite that fair amount of suckage, I’ll at least be able to work on my edits and, maybe, my query letter.

Here’s some footage from CNN of my hometown:

Embedded video from CNN Video

So, it looks like I’ll have to wait three weeks or so before I make it up there. Maybe it’ll be warmer and less icy then.

Thankfully, I’m home from an unplanned overnight stay at home of the day job, another captive of the brutal ice storm that raged through the middle of the country over the past couple of days. I was also stranded without my laptop, which made things even worse and which also made it impossible to write anything on here for no one to read.

The one upside to the storm, however, was the uncommon display of how nature, like certain women I know, can be beautiful and cruel at the same time. While it kept me from returning home and sleeping in my own bed last night, the storm created a gorgeous glaze over everything that, when the sun came out today, looked like glass covering the trees and fences. It was a glaze the fine people at Krispy Kreme would envy, even as it tore off a substantial branch from a tree overhanging our parking lot at work. I watched it plummet and land in a cloud of powdery snow and was thankful that no cars were passing under at that moment. I’d probably still be doing the paperwork on that one.

Anyway, I’m home and have the next four days off. During those days, I have a serious decision to make, one that will define much of my work for the coming year. I have two ideas in mind for which novel to take on next. One is a historical fiction set in America in the late 19th century. The other is a dark urban fantasy set in the here and now. I see pros and cons for writing both and, by Sunday evening, I want to have started whichever one I choose.

The historical fiction is the clearest in my mind. I have been seeing this story for a long time and I know this one wants to be written more than anything else on my docket. I hear the characters very clearly and know several of the scenes they will have to endure to reach the end of their journey. The main problem, though, is that I’m not sure if I’m good enough yet to tell this tale. I’ve seen a lot of problems with my writing in Gifts of the Hirakee that really make me question whether I have the command of the writing to tell this story they way I want it to be told. I’m not looking to match the great literary figures of our time, of course, but I do want a certain level of refinement that I’ve not had before and I don’t know if I can pull it off without just sounding ridiculous.

The other story, the urban fantasy, is less problematic in that it feels easier. It is less of a departure from what I’ve written before and, therefore, is the more comfortable project. I see this story fairly well, but not as well as the historical and I certainly do not hear the characters here as well as I do in the other. The story seems like it would be marketable, even in this sluggish economy, but the idea behind it isn’t as powerful.

So, the question is this: which story do I write? Do I take a chance on the more challenging work outside my comfort zone and risk writing myself to a dead end? Do I build upon what I know and what I have learned and go with the urban fantasy?

I will gladly listen to any feedback on this topic until my decision is made, so if anyone out there is actually reading this, feel free to comment and help me with this choice.

In other news, my wounded thumb is healing nicely, although it looks like I will have a nice scar across the pad that will make all my old fingerprint files (at least for that thumb) mostly obsolete. This healing could not come at a better time as I now have a full twelve chapters to reread and edit this weekend, although several of those chapters are at the beginning of part two in the book and not very long. The initial comments from my readers are that part two is much stronger than part one, so I’ll also be looking back to determine what I can do to bring part one up to the wonderfully picky standards (see my posts of ‘Sample Editorial Comments’) of my readers.

That’s about it for right now. I’m glad to be home and looking forward to a few days of editing and sleeping, even with a planned road trip to Kentucky with my son thrown in the mix. Maybe I’ll make the five-year old drive so I can keep editing.

We are in the path of a serious ice storm, so I must get home while I can. I also have about ten chapters to edit now, thanks to my super reader coming through with eight today alone. Thanks for making me feel further behind that I already am. On top of this, I have major work going on at the day job that is draining me of everything but frustration.

That said, congrats to Neil Gaiman, winner of this year’s Newberry Medal for The Graveyard Book. I’ve read a couple of Gaiman’s works and he is one of the best out there, so the award is justly given. I keep trying to write like him, but it doesn’t seem to be working that well. Maybe I can shoot for somebody a little less talented and work my way up from there.

Here are some more examples of my shameful lapses. Enjoy!

Since this is from Micah’s perspective, the phrase is not needed.

I like this sentence but wonder if there’s a better place later on to say this. Again, I think the reader can sense this in just the dialogue.

As is, it lays out too simply what the reader should be able to understand themselves. Can it be changed just a little?

I’m still having a problem with Lone Eagle’s voice. I can’t hear him saying phrases like, “In the meantime” or even “besides”, and instead of, “I think you know who it is,” I hear him simply saying, “You know who it is.” I’m curious to see how you edit this.

I don’t think you need this since you already state that Micah thought about this question before answering.

I think you can condense this para. It seems too much detail/info for something relatively inconsequential.

Lee, I’ve previously mentioned that there are sections of your writing that seem flawless. They read so smooth & natural that I couldn’t imagine putting the words together in any other way to say what you need them to. In the two sections I put in brackets above, I feel the opposite – like the sentences are forced and not as natural as your usual writing. I think it may simply be that you added too much information (A comment I’ve made previously) or that you’re kinda repeating yourself in order to ensure that the reader understands what you’re trying to say. I’m not exactly sure how I’d edit it, but I think, for example, in the last para, I’d keep the idea of Micah feeling remorse at the loss of their friendship & the last sentence as is, but maybe cut back on whether they accepted his apology and how he did not feel like he wronged them.

You don’t need this. Trust that you’ve made it clear that Micah is very quick to get hot and that he has to expend effort to suppress it; you don’t need to over highlight this.

That’s all from two chapters of the book. In looking through the comments, I’m seeing certain trends that indicate a wondrous thing for me–I’m overwriting. I’ve always been one to underdescribe what’s going on and then have to go back and add detail later. Now, it seems my writing has evolved, or devolved, to where I’m front-loading more detail than I actually need.

Having other people read your work before you submit is the ideal way to catch this kind of mistake before it goes public. It does take a certain willingness to swallow your pride and make tough decisions regarding your work (“Kill your darlings,” said Hemingway) that you may or may not totally agree with. Still, if your readers find a problem with your writing, there is a reason for it and your job, now that you are not composing fresh material for this piece, is to find that reason and get it fixed. It’s as if the readers are x-ray technicians looking at the bones of your work to figure out what’s wrong before you, the surgeon, goes into fix the damage. Thankfully, the only scars it leaves are those on our egos.

More tomorrow. Perhaps.

I’ve seen a few of my Facebook friends posting lists of 25 random facts about themselves that others may or may not know. I liked this idea, so I thought I’d do one so as to contribute to the overall understanding of who I am. Unfortunately, who I am is very strange and potentially unstable, so it probably wasn’t such a good idea, after all.

Still, here’s what I wrote . . . and it’s all 100% true:

1. I have written three full novels and have come very close to gaining representation from a literary agent (I’m still waiting on a couple of them reading my manuscript).
2. The novel I wrote last year involved a man dying of cancer who befriends a vampire who is squatting in the abandoned house behind his–immortal meets imminently mortal.
3. I have a new novel currently in the editorial stage.
4. I have a dear friend in Buffalo, New York, who helps me edit my writing. I’ve never met her and we’ve talked on the phone once. Aside from that, we only communicate through regular emails.
5. I’ve written a short story about Russian Roulette as a spectator sport.
6. I met my wife at Nerd Camp (aka the Kentucky Governor’s Scholar Program).
7. I am have served on the Statewide Selection Committee of said Nerd Camp for six years now and review nearly 2000 applications from all over Kentucky every March.
8. I was at my wife’s first wedding, but I wasn’t the groom.
9. I have four children–three girls and a boy–the oldest being thirteen and the youngest (the boy) being five.
10. I majored in Psychology in college and, although I work in retail management, I still provide counseling services for one client, even when he doesn’t listen to me.
11. After playing baseball in high school, I switched over to play tennis in college and still play when ever I can. I am pretty good too, despite being a bit pudgy these days.
12. I have worked for Wal-Mart, OfficeMax, Toys-R-Us, Dollar General, Shoe Carnival, and Walgreens.
13. I once slammed an armed robber to the floor and helped hold him down by sitting on top of him until the police arrived. He is now serving 18-20 years in prison for the offense.
14. I once busted a shoplifter while wearing a Santa Clause suit, even going so far as to pin her against a counter when she got belligerent. When I saw a little boy standing nearby, I explained that “she’d been naughty.”
15. I’ve torn rotator cuffs in both shoulders.
16. I’ve been really, really drunk one time. That was enough.
17. I like Elton John more than any other straight guy you know.
18. I started writing after picking up Stephen King’s book “On Writing” on cd while driving home from a job in St. Louis. I’ve listened to that book approximately 200 times.
19. I’ve moved 21 times since birth, including the time I moved from an upstairs apartment to a downstairs apartment in the same building.
20. All the music from my last wedding was from “Phantom of the Opera” and I picked it out.
21. I’m a huge fan of the show Dark Shadows, which most people my age and younger have never heard of.
22. I’ve never been to Florida.
23. My wife is 4’11”; my oldest daughter is 5’6″.
24. My favorite movie of all time is “Army of Darkness” starring Bruce Campbell (“Gimme some sugar, baby!”)
25. I keep a blog that I am not updating sorta regularly–http://leesmiley.livejournal.com

Well, I’d write more, but the people in the white coats are coming to get me. I hope they brought the right size straight jacket this time.

For Christmas, my father-in-law sent us a spectacular set of kitchen knives. Something we very much needed. There is much cooking in our household (my wife is a culinary genius) and no kitchen is really complete without a wicked set of knives.

The problem with new, wicked sets of knives, however, is that they have not yet learned to recognize food from thumbs.

While preparing to dissect a chunk of sharp cheddar with our shiny new cheese knife, I accidentally let the blade slip as I was picking up the small cutting board. Instead of peeling off a delectable bit of fermented curd, I cut an inch-long gash in the tip of my thumb that now throbs as though my heart is just below the wound instead of the bone I so neatly struck with the blade. Furthering my suspicion that my heart relocated without my permission, the cut bled for nearly an hour despite steady pressure.

Still, I couldn’t help but think, “Man, these are good damn knives! Look how cleanly it cut through the skin and how long it took before my thumb felt like it was on fire!”

And speaking of fermented curd, I continue to cover my writing laziness with more Monty Python . . . .

I came home from work late last night and found my wife watching the Sally Field classic, Sybil. For anyone not familiar with this flick, it details the mostly true story of a young woman in New York suffering from multiple personality disorder, a disease that leads her along a path of fear and danger, both from the outside world and from herself, as a doctor struggles to understand and help her. You hear jokes about people having multiple personalities all the time, but a true case such as Sybil’s is exceedingly rare and offers a fascinating look into a world most of us cannot comprehend.

Still, as I sat watching the movie, part of me did understand, the part that writes the stories. Being a writer, in a much more benign sense, requires you to assume multiple personalities–your main characters, your supporting cast, etc.–that, at its best, completely immerses you into another mind, another set of perception often completely different from our own as we sit in our desk chairs or on our sofas. That we make this choice to go inside someone else’s head, to become someone else for a time, voluntarily says something vital about our necessity to write. The one thing nearly we would sacrifice last if asked to do so is our identity, our sense of who and what we are. As writers, though, we can only find success by doing just this, by giving up our own thoughts for those of another as they pour from our minds, down through our hands, and onto the page.

I do realize that Sybil’s (and, by proxy, every other true sufferer of the disorder) case is a much more frightening thing than writing a novel and do not wish to make that comparison at all. Instead, I find it fascinating that something so incomprehensible to us in our sane, reasonable minds is exactly what leads us to success as we are composing. We engage in controlled insanity, temporary displacement of our identities, to accomplish even the basest scene of dialogue or narration. We give up control of ourselves in order to control lives that do not even exist beyond the pages of our work. Just as Sybil confronts long periods of missing time, so do we as we compose. A scene that lasts only a few seconds in the story may take hours to complete. I cannot even count the times I’ve finished my daily writing and been shocked by how much time I’ve spent wandering the realms of unreality. Just as Sybil hears the voices of those sharing her body, we hear the voices of our characters, their dialogue sounding as real to our ears as that of a family member in the next room. I often get caught by my employees at work, mouthing pieces of dialogue under my breath, working out the exact cadence and word choice before I even start to compose. No wonder they think I’m a little off.

So, if you haven’t seen Sybil, I strongly recommend it. Sally Field does an amazing job as the tormented title character and some scenes and images (like the green kitchen) stay with you long after the movie has ended. Also, like all great movies, it reflects aspects of life that we often don’t see until we are, like I was last night, confronted head on by the underlying connections of truth and fiction, both of which are closer together than we often think.

Here are a few more of the editorial comments I’ve received on Gifts of the Hirakee. Again, if you have problems with this sort of feedback to your writing, you should reconsider how much you want to do it:

A very minor thing: This has more of a feel of being a description of what they are doing than what they are thinking. For example, though they are worried about Seth sneaking up on them, I’m sure John has at least one egotistical thought about how awesome he & his team are.

.” Again, maybe add a specific thought that Mindy or Brandon had, perhaps even Lauren expressing concern that Mindy is back to talking to animals again.

tendril The Repetition Police here. You used this word several times in previous chapters in reference to the campfire. It doesn’t work as well her, so I recommend it be replaced.

I really enjoyed this chapter, and loved the ending. During the second read, I added the more nit-picky suggestions – it really is a good chapter, and as I told you before, you do action well, and though I don’t care for action I was able to visualize the battle easily.

I LOVED this chapter. It is filled with those elements in your writing that I enjoy so much (for example, the description of the old park), and the interaction between Micah and Lauren (and Lauren’s beau) was perfect. I particularly liked how the question he wrote on the paper mirrored the question he remembered Lauren asking at the end of the previous chapter.

Trust that you’ve done a good enough job developing the characters that the reader knows this already.

Minor Point: There isn’t a fence in your description of the field in the previous chapter.

I deleted this mainly because you’ve already made several similar references (please don’t make me find them).

I edited out the first phrase because the reader gets that already, the second phrase because I’m not sure it is a necessary detail here – you can include it in the previous page when he comes home and takes off his wet clothes. Here, I feel that it reads better if you change the pace of the narrative so that it matches Micah’s urgent rush to Lauren’s. The laundry room detail (as the not picking up the cup, etc) just slows it down. What I put in parenthesis can be deleted as well.

I really think the reader can figure this out themselves.

Lee, I don’t particularly like this para. I don’t think you need most of what’s in it.

I am being extraordinarily picky here (even for me), but I don’t know much about dog prints – is a large dog print a lot smaller than an adult boot print?

WAIT – didn’t you say earlier that his mom wouldn’t be home for hours and his dad was at the store? How much time passed between glancing Lance in Lauren room and this?

I deleted the first sentence since his by his action we can assume that he was trying to reduce glare. For the same reason, you really don’t need the phrase in brackets.

Not crazy about this sentence. And I’m wondering if after everything that happened that day – the ups & downs of battle with the corresponding flow of adrenalin, he would think in such complete sentences.

But kinda like the way I thought you used too much “stage directions” in the first chapter, I think you use too much detail in this chapter. I know it is weird that I say this, because I think you have a good eye for detail and that you have a wonderful knack for describing things. But, for example, in the section above, the details you include don’t seem necessary.

The other reason I did a lot of strikethroughs is when I thought you told the reader too much, what we should be able to infer.

Well, there you go–three chapters of shameful fail on my part. More will follow as I get it and make the changes.