(Article originally written for Fangtastic Books)
Novels are hard. If you’ve ever tried to write one, you don’t need me to tell you that. If you’ve never tried to write one, just imagine falling out of an airplane at night and somewhere between the plane and the ground is a parachute. Oh, and there’s about a thousand backpacks along the way with nothing in them. That’s page one.
The trick is to figure out a writing process that makes this as painless as possible. The trap is that there’s as many processes as there are writers. And every single one of them is right.
Without a process, what happens is you spend all day thinking about writing – thinking while you read, thinking while you watch just one more episode of Alf, thinking while you eat more ice cream than any human should consume in a week. Then the day’s over and the night of self-flagellation begins.
Oh, and once you find the process that works for you on this project, there’s no guaranty it will work at all on the next project. Did I mention that?
In any case, here’s the process, more or less, that I currently use:
The first thing I do is go to bed the night before at a decent time. This is so when my alarm goes off at 6AM I won’t say silly things like “Blergh con muh-shuff” and an arm won’t come swinging from the other side of the bed with deadly accuracy.
I dodge the cats and all the furniture they’ve moved around in the night and stumble to my coffee maker. I have a Keurig, because it means I’ll only have to wait a maximum of 30 seconds for my elixir of life. Then I stumble down to my desk in the basement.
I’ll spend a few minutes checking emails, facebook, twitter and checking the rankings of my books on a couple sites. After some swearing and headshaking, I’ll open whatever I’m working on in Word and read over what I wrote the day before. This isn’t for editing, but to remind me what the hell I’m currently writing.
I should note that the program I open might not be Word. I have a habit of trying other programs ( Scrivener, distraction-free editors, etc.) at the beginning of projects, but eventually I give in and just transfer everything over to Word. I don’t really have an explanation, it’s just what I do.
In any case, I’m usually doing some actual work by about 7AM. I wear headphones and find some playlist on Spotify to listen to since that’s when other people start bumbling around over my head. This isn’t a really productive time for me, but it’s necessary so when I get to the next session all the air bubbles have been squeezed out of my brake lines.
Somewhere in the next hour or so I’ll stop and either get some breakfast (usually a fruit/spinach smoothie) or just get some more coffee.
Then it’s back to my desk. I’ll write until I hit my day’s quota, at least. My normal quota is 2,000 words. If I’m feeling the mojo, I’ll keep going for a while. Quota or not, I’ll usually stop around 11:30. If the words are flowing, it usually takes me about two and a half hours to get my 2,000 words. This is all new stuff. The grunty work or errands come in the afternoon.
When I’m done my morning, I’ll try to hit the treadmill or workout for a while. Then I’ll have some lunch and shower.
The afternoon is admin, promotion and planning. I’ll do stuff like work on my website, maybe schedule some guest blogs, podcasts, etc. I’ll do some reading, outlines, proposals and such, if I need to. This is when I do most of my non-personal social networking, emails, etc. Sometimes I track my writing and sometimes I don’t. (I need to work on that.) If I’m in a tracking cycle, I’ll make some notes about the work I got done that day. Usually in a spreadsheet or just in a notebook.
Depending on the day and when I’m done all this, I’ll start thinking about dinner or I’ll take a nap. Whether I write at night or not depends on what my fiancé’s schedule is like (she’s active in local theatre, plays guitar and paints, but works during the day as an Optician, so the night is the only time she gets to a lot of that stuff).
Weekends are mostly free-for-all’s, but there’ll usually be some writing and promotion work in there amongst going bowling or pillaging.
And somehow with that mess I get the first draft of a new book done about every four months. Sometimes I don’t even set it on fire and throw it in the neighbor’s yard.
“What is the meaning of life, Mikawa?”
Maggie eased up behind Jonathan and whispered. “What are you doing?”
Jonathan ignored her. He took the machine gun off his shoulder and handed it to her, then he walked around the other side of the tub. He found it curious that Mikawa hadn’t answered yet. All the other answers had come very fast.
“What is the meaning of life, Mikawa? Answer the question.”
“To live forever.”
When I was still in the planning stage of The Tomorrow Heist, sketching out my characters, I knew I wanted to have an A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) character. But that was about all I knew. It didn’t have a personality and, at the planning stage, didn’t even have a name. The entire character sketch consisted of two words: disembodied voice.
It wasn’t going to come into play until well into the novel, so I had time to think about it. As I wrote – and thought about it – I considered the A.I. characters in other works that I liked. First and foremost, of course, was the epitome of A.I. characters for me – and probably the first one I ever read – the HAL 9000 from Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL has been listed as one of the top villains of all time, despite being a computer. HAL spoke softly and emotionlessly, but always with an underlying neediness. While I liked HAL’s quiet malevolence, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.
Similar to HAL, and from around the same time period, was the Nomad space probe from the Star Trek episode Memory Alpha. I liked the human elements of this one: the way it was confused, needy and how it revered Kirk as its father. And like HAL, there was an underlying malevolence – a significant price to pay for disappointing that need.
As I continued thinking about it, I thought about the computer from the movie WarGames. The WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) was a super computer of the time, but humanized by having the persona of Dr. Falken’s late son Joshua overlaid on all that intelligence and power. Joshua was naïve, confused and, by the way it stalked David once he logged in as Falken, needy for a father figure; reminiscent of Nomad and even HAL, to a degree.
The thing I found interesting about all these is that they were humanized and, basically, looking for love/approval. They were childlike and, usually, confused, but underneath it all they were deadly and like a programmed soldier, they would stay on point to their mission’s final goal, no matter what. They were looking for someone to be a role model and to teach them how to be more human.
I loved that aspect of it, and within the context of The Tomorrow Heist, it allowed me to flesh out not only what my A.I. was, but who they were. And, arbitrarily more important, what the price everyone would pay for disappointing them.
Based on this, I realized that for me they weren’t villains; they were victims. And once I realized that, I knew who my A.I. character was and what it wanted. Just like any normal character in a story. And Mickey was born.
If you haven’t heard me say it, yet, I am extremely honored to have been short-listed for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in the Mystery category.
The final results will be announced July 7th, just as I’m flying to Thrillerfest X. While it doesn’t really matter if I’m selected or not, it sure would make shopping in New York more fun! 😉
The 15 best new Canadian books have been selected from three categories: Literary Fiction, Genre Fiction (Mystery), and Non-Fiction
More than 140 entries were received from 40 different traditional publishers, as well as from more than 45 self-published authors.The shortlist, selected by Kobo’s team of booksellers and taking into consideration book completion rates, customer ratings and reviews, comprises five books in each genre. The shortlist will now move on to the final selection process, led by top Canadian authors: Charlotte Gray for Non-Fiction, Miriam Toews for Literary Fiction, and Ian Hamilton for Genre Fiction (Mystery), with winners announced on July 7.
- Know the Night: A Memoir of Survival in the Small Hours by Maria Mutch – Knopf Canada
- Irresponsible Government: The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada by Brent Rathgeber – Dundurn
- Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story by Robyn Doolittle – Penguin Canada
- They Left Us Everything: A Memoir by Plum Johnson – Penguin Canada
- Laughing All the Way to the Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz – HarperCollins Canada
- Based on a True Story by Elizabeth Renzetti – House of Anansi Press
- Family Business by Renny deGroot – Self-Published
- For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu – HarperCollins Canada
- Fire In The Unnameable Country by Ghalib Islam – Penguin Canada
- Circus by Claire Battershill – McClelland & Stewart
- A Quiet Kill: A Forsyth and Hay Mystery by Janet Brons – Touchwood Editions
- The Monarch: A Thriller by Jack Soren – HarperCollins
- Cipher by John Jantunen – ECW Press
- A Siege of Bitterns: A Birder Murder Mystery by Steve Burrows – Dundurn
- Last of the Independents: Vancouver Noir by Sam Wiebe – Dundurn
Eligibility: The award is eligible to Canadian residents who have published debut books during the 2014 calendar year in the categories of Literary Fiction, Genre Fiction (Mystery this year; a different genre will be highlighted each year), or Non-Fiction. All submitted books must be available at Kobo.com.
For more details: www.kobo.com/emergingwriter
ABOUT THE AUTHOR JUDGES
Charlotte Gray – Author Judge – Kobo Emerging Writer Prize – Non-Fiction
“How do we make sense of the world? The best non-fiction combines the craft of great story-telling with the moral imperative of telling larger truths. In my own work, I try to lift history off the page so that my readers can see it, feel it, understand it. I look forward to exploring the work of emerging writers who engage their readers with great stories, written with style and integrity.” – Charlotte Gray
Charlotte Gray is author of nine acclaimed books of literary non-fiction. Born in Sheffield, England, she came to Canada in 1979 and worked as a political commentator, book reviewer and magazine columnist before she turned to biography and popular history.
Charlotte’s most recent book is The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and The Trial that Shocked a Country. It won the Toronto Book Award and the Toronto Heritage Book Award, and was long-listed for the B.C. Non-fiction Award, and shortlisted for the Charles Taylor Award, the Ottawa Award for Non-Fiction and the Evergreen Award. An adaptation of her 2010 bestseller Gold Diggers, Striking It Rich in the Klondike was broadcast as a television miniseries on the US Discovery Channel, under the title Klondike. Her previous seven books, which include Reluctant Genius, Sisters in the Wilderness, Flint & Feather, and A Museum Called Canada, were all bestsellers.
Charlotte appears regularly on radio and television as a political and cultural commentator. She was a celebrity panelist, championing Jane Urquhart’s novel Away, in CBC Radio’s annual battle of the books, Canada Reads. In 2004 she was the advocate for Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, for the CBC series: The Greatest Canadian. She has been a judge for several of Canada’s most prestigious literary prizes, including the Giller Prize for Fiction, the Charles Taylor Prize for Non-fiction and the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. In 2014, she was short-listed as “Author of the Year” by the Canadian Booksellers Association.
An Adjunct Research Professor in the Department of History at Carleton University, Charlotte is the 2003 Recipient of the Pierre Berton Award for distinguished achievement in popularizing Canadian history. She is former chair of the board of Canada’s National History Society, and sits on the boards of the Ottawa International Authors Festival, the Art Canada Institute/Institut de l’Art Canadien, and the Sir Winston Churchill Society of Ottawa. Charlotte is a member of the Order of Canada and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
Charlotte lives in Ottawa with her husband George Anderson, and has three sons.
Miriam Toews – Author Judge – Kobo Emerging Writer Prize – Literary Fiction
“The writing life is one long, never-ending search for narrative. Well, it’s not even a conscious searching. It happens even while you’re busy buying groceries and when you’re fast asleep. It’s a curse. A writer is always, always searching, even against her will, against all her better instincts, for the thread of a story. This award is in essence a search for the successfully afflicted.” – Miriam Toews
Miriam Toews is the author of five previous bestselling novels: Summer of My Amazing Luck, A Boy of Good Breeding, A Complicated Kindness (Canada Reads 2006, Canada Reads Canadian Bestseller of the Decade 2010), The Flying Troutmans, and Irma Voth, and one work of non-fiction, Swing Low: A Life. She is a winner of the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the Libris
Award for Fiction Book of the Year, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Writers Trust Marian Engel/Timothy Findley Award. Her most recent novel, All My Puny Sorrows, won the Rogers Writers Trust Fiction Prize, was a Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist. She lives in Toronto.
Ian Hamilton – Author Judge – Kobo Emerging Writer Prize – Fiction (Mystery)
“I am really honoured to be a judge of the very first Kobo Emerging Writer Prize contest. There are a lot of talented and hard-working writers who haven’t had the kind of luck I’ve had in finding a great agent and publisher. It is exciting to think that – along with Charlotte and Miriam in their categories -I have the opportunity to help introduce Canadians to a deserving author.” – Ian Hamilton
Ian Hamilton is the author of the wildly popular and bestselling Ava Lee novels, which will be adapted for television by CBC. The first book in the series, The Water Rat of Wanchai, was the winner of multiple awards including the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel, a Toronto StarTop 5 Fiction Book of the Year, and a Quill & Quire Top 5 Fiction Book of the Year. The Disciple of Las Vegas was a finalist for the Barry Award for Best Original Trade Paperback, and The Wild Beasts of Wuhan was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Mystery. Most recently, The Two Sisters of Borneo was an instant Canadian bestseller and, in July 2014, BBC included Ian Hamilton on their list of “crime writer[s] to read now.”
About Rakuten Kobo Inc.
Rakuten Kobo Inc. is one of the world’s fastest-growing eReading services offering more than 4-million eBooks and magazines to millions of customers in 190 countries. Believing that consumers should have the freedom to read any book on any device, Kobo provides consumers with a choice when reading. Kobo offers an eReader for everyone with a wide variety of E Ink eReaders and Google-Certified Android tablets to suit any Reader’s style including the award-winning Kobo Touch™, Kobo Mini, Kobo Glo, Kobo Aura, Kobo Aura H2O, Kobo Aura HD, Kobo Arc, Kobo Arc 7, Kobo Arc 7HD, Kobo Arc 10HD – and the newly launched Kobo Glo HD. Along with the company’s free top-ranking eReading apps for Apple®, BlackBerry®, Android®, and Windows®, Kobo ensures the next great read is just a page-turn away. Headquartered in Toronto and owned by Tokyo-based Rakuten, Kobo eReaders can be found in major retail chains around the world. For more information, visit www.kobo.com.
Rakuten Kobo Inc.
Senior PR Manager
416.977.8737 x 3587
Paperback on sale January 6th!
Win free ebooks and signed bookmarks!
Stop by tonight at 8:30 on facebook to say hello! There’ll be presents and wise-cracking…fa-la-la-la-la.
I was featured this week on the NaNoWriMo blog. THE MONARCH was started during a NaNo a few years ago. For more details, check out the whole article.
All this week I’m participating in an author roundtable discussion over on ITW’s Thriller Roundtable. The topic this week: “Is fear the most common emotion in thrillers?” Drop by and see what the minds that are trying to thrill you really think. And me, of course.
And don’t forget that THE MONARCH debuted today! The ebook is currently available all over. The paperback comes out Jan. 6th, for all you wonderful luddites. (That would include me, of course.) But feel free to pre-order it. I won’t mind. Really. I mean it.
Happy release day!