Lest you think that veteran (i.e., experienced, tempered, refined—don’t say old!) writers are immune to beginning writer mistakes, all I can say is, think again. It’s confession time here in the Star Rigger foundries, where we labor 24/7 converting raw words into story for our ravenous audience. I’m going to share some revealing facts.
My editor, in the course of a long email full of editorial suggestions, helpfully provided me with a list of words and phrases I used too often. Now, all writers have verbal tics—that is to say words and expressions that they use habitually, without even noticing. Turns out, I have my fair share. And with my editor’s list in hand, I used the Find functions in Scrivener and Word to, er, find them and see if I could root some out. Turns out I could—by deleting, by using other words, by recrafting sentences (usually making them stronger in the process). Here’s part of the list, followed by the number of times I used the expression initially (in the 268,000-word book), and then the number after I’d gone through and cleaned things up:
indeed 50 / 14
very 323 / 96
draw(n, ing) 68 / 28
drew 89 / 29
further 76 / 27
farther 31 / 43 (some furthers got corrected to farthers)
clench(ed) 27 / 7
knot(ted) 25 / 9
. And 546 / 209
Did I really use “very” that many times?? Turns out I did. Usually in phrases like “very much want to…” And the last one, in case it’s not clear, is sentences starting with “And”—not unlike this one. Sometimes that’s a very—um, an effective usage. Other times, it’s just lazy habit. I still haven’t gone through and looked for excessive em-dashes—or ellipses… but I will.
I spent literally days of the most tedious editing imaginable doing this. But it was necessary, and you will all be happier for it when you read the story, though if I did my job right, you will never notice.
Most of this happened when I was in Florida helping my brother. I was intending on my flight home to sprinkle all the deleted very’s and And’s and clenched fists out the window as bread crumbs for the birds and the fish below; but alas, I did not get a window seat. I’ll sell them to you for cheap.
Now that I have The Reefs of Time revised to the point that I can send it to my publisher, the time has come to face the question of whether I have written one book or two. At 268,000 words, it is the length of two substantial novels. Before I get into the marketing and art questions, I’d like to ask you readers: Which would you rather see? One big, honking book at a higher price (and probably with small print in the paper version), or two reasonably priced and sized volumes with a cliffhanger and probably a year’s wait between the two?
Do you have a preference? Sound off in comments. The question is open to the floor!
For comparison, the standard length of an SF novel used to be, oh, 60-90,000 words. But it’s grown over the years. Here are rough word counts of some of my other novels:
On the other hand, GRRM’s A Game of Thrones is 284-298,000 words, depending on whom you quote.
The Chaos Chronicles was originally supposed to be a long story arc told over a series of short-to-medium novels, each of them pretty self-contained and written quickly (hrrm). By the time I wrote Sunborn, that plan was reeling toward the open window. With Reefs, well…
From a publishing perspective, there are many good reasons to split the book, and, hell, maybe earn some money on the project. From a storytelling perspective, it would be a sea change for the series—a single story, broken in two. Not unlike many TV programs nowadays. Or, um, the Avengers movies. In books, think Connie Willis’s Blackout and All Clear.
Drum roll, please! The End Times have arrived! The End Times! The End of waiting for me to finish The Reefs of Time.
Yes, I have reached the end! The Reefs of Time is substantially DONE. That’s right—I’ve finished the major rewrite of the 268,000 word manuscript! Most of those words, I now believe, are the right words, and in the right order. That works out to about 1327 manuscript pages in Courier New, with two spaces after many periods, and one space after others, because habits die hard.
Ten years in the works, this novel has been through the fermenter, the extractor, the refractors, the distillers, the boilers, the oven, and aged in camphor-wood in the cellar. Here’s what the manuscript looks like, with its tired but happy progenitor.
[CUE “cheers” and more “cheers,” and maybe a few “huzzahs”!]
“But wait!” you say. “Is that some kind of weasel wording, ‘substantially done’? What are you trying to pull here?”
Really, I’m not trying to pull anything. Over the next week or so, I’ll be cleaning up some edits I’ve made notes to myself about, and responding to final suggestions from my stalwart (if annoyingly discerning) writing group. And then off it goes to the editor.
The editor will edit, and I’ll do a polish pass over the whole thing as I respond to his editorial suggestions. And after that? Why, you get to read it! At last, at long last!
This is only going to run for a couple of days, so look sharp! As Bookbub readers already know, I’ve marked down The Chaos Chronicles, Books 1-3, to the ridiculously low price of $1.99 in all major ebook stores! That’s three full novels in collector-quality DRM-free ebook binding for less than the price of a decent chocolate bar!
Neptune Crossing, Strange Attractors, and The Infinite Sea, all in one volume. It would make a terrific Christmas, Hanukah, or Solstice present for that e-reading loved one!
(This omni edition is regularly $8.99, which is already a supersaver price for what we all hope will soon come to the screen as an HBO miniseries! Or maybe SyFy.com! Or Netflix Original! Or Amazon Prime! Or one of those, for goodness’ sake. Come on, all you producers hungry for new material. What are you waiting for? Make an offer!)
This really will end soon, so don’t wait. And please, if you like it, consider posting an unbiased review at Amazon, or Goodreads, or any of the other stores! You have no idea how important those reviews can be. Thanks in advance!
Call this my White Sunday sale. (Get it: White? Snow? Clever, no?)
Update: I’m happy to say that this sale is going very well! Thanks to everyone who bought a copy or passed on the word!
With my completion of a challenging rewrite of Chapter 65, “To the Death,” I have updated my progress bar on the rewrite of The Reefs of Time. I am now 91% of the way to completion. Let’s hear it! Thank you; you’re a wonderful audience! I’m a little startled, though, to see that the total length of the book, in double-spaced manuscript pages, has grown to 1299! Yow. That’s one big stack of paper!
This is what happens, sometimes, when I am rewriting, and cutting and trimming, and trying to make it all tighter, leaner, and clearer. Because sometimes rewriting for clarity means you need to add detail and texture, or even new scenes—not because you want to compete with Stephen King or George Martin for length, but because sometimes that’s what the story needs to make the action clearer, the motivations more palpable, the inner logic sounder, or the emotions more powerful.
It’s unnerving, because all this time I’ve been rewriting (years!) I’ve been aiming to make the book leaner and tighter (tight buns and abs!) and thus—I was hoping—shorter. And in fact, I’ve cut a lot from these pages. Lots and lots–zzzzzt, gone! Despite those cuts, the book has grown from 968 manuscript pages in the first draft, to 1299 pages in the second, or from roughly 223,000 words to 262,000 words.
By comparison, Sunborn is 144,000 words. The Infinity Link is 180,000 words. Eternity’s End is 224,000 words. Those were all pretty big books. So I guess this one is honking big.
So, what, am I failing at my job? No, I hope not. Because you know what, I’m starting to think this might be a really good book. Perhaps you’re not supposed to say that about your own book. But if at some point, you don’t start to feel that kind of burn, you may be in the wrong profession—or at the very least, you’re not having enough fun. I wasn’t so sure what I had when I finished the first draft, because I was aware of many, many thorny issues marked “Fix this in rewrite.” Usually when I add that notation, it means I have no friggin’ idea how to fix it, whatever “it” is. It just means I know there’s a problem.
And the solutions come slowly, and sometimes involve days of circling the delinquent chapter, trying to find the pivot point that will make the plot work, or the character spring to life. Often it involves asking What is this chapter here for? What happens that makes it important? This can be a troubling time in the life of any chapter’s rewrite. Because sometimes it seems to call into question the entire book. If this chapter doesn’t make sense, none of it makes sense, and I’ve just wasted ten years of work.
But slowly or not, the solutions do come if you just keep at it. And as I’ve ironed out one problem after another, after another, and another, I’ve found myself developing an attitude about this book. A remarkably positive attitude!
I’m feeling it particularly after finishing this chapter, currently numbered 65—in which, by the way, someone we care about dies. My problems in rewriting it weren’t about the death itself, but about the events leading up to the death. They just didn’t make sense, even to me. I’ll reveal here that parts of this book get pretty cosmic and space-time reality-stretchy—a favorite theme of mine—and this chapter is one of the most like that. It’s a kind of narrative I really enjoy when it’s well done, and groan miserably over when it’s not. A couple of weeks ago, I was doing a lot of groaning. But then, bit by bit (or Bird by Bird, for you Anne Lamott readers), I found my way through it. I think I sorted out why it wasn’t working and reshaped it so that now it does. And I think it carries a pretty good punch, or at least it does for me. I guess I’ll know more when my writing group has looked at it.
It occurs to me as I write this that NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) has just kicked into gear. Go, all you writing-heads, write those stories! And if it doesn’t feel like it’s coming out right the first time, just remember, rewriting is most of the fun! That’s where the gold starts shining through.
Can you keep a secret? No—what are you doing?? Didn’t I just say, keep a secret? For God’s sake, don’t share this with anyone! No, stop!
(This is Bizzaro-Jeff. Regular-Jeff is off drinking himself senseless for the holiday or watching reruns of “Spock’s Brain” or I-don’t-know-what. Asleep at the switch, whatever he’s doing. So, I’m having a little fun at his expense…)
You know his book, Neptune Crossing? I just made it free again—everywhere!—and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t noticed! [Cackle—hee-hee—!] Oh, sorry about the drool; I do that sometimes when I get excited.
You know what this means? If you download the Kindle version? You know that audiobook he’s always yammering about, the one narrated by Stefan Rudnicki, who he claims won a Grammy, whatever that is? Well, if you “buy” the Kindle copy, you can get the $24 audiobook for frickin’ $2.99! Do you believe that? $2.99! That’s like, practically, nothing. Oh, they’re going to take a bath on this one, after you all run out and buy it. I can’t wait to hear them shriek!
Go! Do it! Now! (But remember—don’t frickin’ tell anyone, and don’t share this post! Now, what’d I just say??? And especially don’t tell D/u/f/u/s/-/J/e/f/f/ Regular-Jeff.)
Rewriting is sometimes joyous, but usually it’s a finicky and ornery-making process. You never know what chapters are going to give you the most trouble. I recently finished some fairly heavy reworking of a series of chapters in my will-I-ever-get-this-finished novel, The Reefs of Time. One sequence of scenes was fairly ordinary, in the sense that they involved people meeting and talking. I mean, yes, they came from several worlds; and yes, they were meeting to discuss an interplanetary war; and, well yeah, the elephant in the room was a much more alarming threat from the outside. And if you press me on it, this scene took place on a planet elsewhere in the galaxy, and in the future, and with characters representing several different sentient species. But leaving all that aside, and the fates of worlds hanging in the balance, it was a pretty standard meet-and-talk-and-argue situation. Should be pretty straightforward to get this one right, right?
Maybe not. While the first draft was pretty ragged, I thought a thorough rewrite from beginning to end would bring it into line. And if not that, then another pass would surely do it. I was not entirely correct. My writing group tells me it’s still not there yet, though to be sure, they’re not in total agreement on what works and what doesn’t. Do I need a scientist in there? hints one member. Hmm, maybe I do. But what’s this about a certain character placing too much trust on the basis of an ancestral connection? asks another member. That’s not what I meant at all! wails the author. So… more work to do.
The last chapter of this batch was another kettle of fish. Different subplot, very different tone and feel. This one’s cosmic, involving among other things, quantum entangled time travel over a scale of a billion years, and there’s a lot of stuff in it that’s really hard to convey in a few sentences, or at all. There’s a whiff of scientific truthiness about it, but it’s pushing the envelope pretty hard. And it’s personal, emotionally fraught for the characters. My first draft bordered on gibberish. Craig, in my group, had commented with kind restraint, “I don’t follow this at all.” Rich had muttered something about his head exploding. So what am I supposed to do with this?
Picking it up again to rewrite, I hovered on the edge of despair. It didn’t make sense even to me. How was I supposed to make it make sense to the reader? It’s a crucial chapter; I can’t make it go away. I pondered, poked, sighed, put on different music, got more coffee, ate too much chocolate. And then one little gear clicked into place in my head, a reminder of something about quantum mechanics that’s so basic my dog could have pointed it out to me. (Why didn’t he? If he tells you, let me know. He’s saying nothing to me.) It was really just a Schrödinger’s Cat kind of thing. (Ah, a cat thing. That must be why he didn’t tell me.) It was small, but it was just enough to give me a toehold. And from there I climbed and scrabbled and felt my way, like Frodo and Sam in the Emyn Muil. And I was a little rushed, printing it out at the last minute for my group meeting. Is this going to work at all?
And you know what they said? “This is great!” “This moves right along.” “It makes sense to me.” Are you kidding me? Is that what they thought? Are you kidding me? It really works?
(This continues the story of my journey to an audiobook of Neptune Crossing, begun in yesterday’s post. If you haven’t already read that, start there.)
After several failed attempts at putting The Chaos Chronicles into audio via podcast, I was metaphorically trapped and rudderless in the great clouds of Jupiter. I gave it a rest for a while.
My focus returned to writing. Audiobooks took second place to ebooks. I joined Book View Café, a marvelous cooperative publishing venture of several dozen veteran authors, including some highly respected SF writers. It was a smart move. I was doing my ebooks in community now, not just on my own.
And suddenly a path broke open in Jupiter’s clouds! In a remarkable breakthrough, a resourceful BVC member got us a distribution deal with Audible: We had a first-rate list of books, and they would make audiobooks of pretty much everything we offered them! They took my two short story collections, which was all I could offer at the time. I didn’t have the rights to my remaining books. I wondered if I could get just the unused audiobook rights back. I asked. And asked again. For two years.
I was never told no, just that so and so was away, or on leave, or… silence. Finally, one day, word came through: They weren’t just reverting the audiobook rights of certain books; they were reverting all rights. The books were mine again, to do with as I pleased. Good-bye, Jupiter! BVC and Audible, here we come!
This is going to be great!
And perhaps it would have been—if it hadn’t come two weeks too late. Audible had changed their policy. They would not be adding these books to their list. Nooooo! We were free of Jupiter, but on a slingshot trajectory into the endless void.
My only option seemed to be to pay a narrator and do the book myself. But I didn’t have the time or money. I grew ever more discouraged, as all the planets we knew dwindled in our viewer.
And then… something unexpected twinkled on the scanner: Skyboat Media, Stefan Rudnicki’s recording company. I already knew and loved Stefan’s work narrating other books. His voice is deep and resonant, with the gravitas and character of James Earl Jones. His name would have been at the top of my request list. But there was no way I could afford to hire him and make an audiobook on my own dime.
Eventually, I set aside my discouragement and sent Stefan an email: Would you be interested in looking at a couple of my books and telling me what you think? To my delight, he got back to me right away. He was interested. I sent him some ebooks. And a week later, I had his answer: He loved Neptune Crossing and wanted to narrate it. I could hear the enthusiasm in his voice. Further, he was offering a publication deal, with a modest advance and distribution through Blackstone Audio, a giant in the field. It would be in Audible and iTunes, as well—and all with one of my favorite narrators lending his voice to the story!
Did I mention that Stefan is a Grammy and Hugo winner for his narrations?
I did not have to think for longer than it took to pinch myself. The deal was struck, and soon Stefan was at work recording. And now the audiobook of Neptune Crossing is finished, and is live in all the major places where audiobooks are sold!
And you know what? This time, it is great!
If you like audiobooks, I hope you’ll give it a try. If you’ve never tried an audiobook before, I can’t think of a better place to start. If this goes well, the rest of the series will likely follow!
Today marks launch day for the audiobook of Neptune Crossing! Narrated by the Grammy-winning Stefan Rudnicki! I feel as if I’ve just discovered a planet. Or maybe traveled to one. It’s been a long journey—and I often thought there would be no audiobook at all.
Neptune Crossing is one of my best known works, and the beginning of my most ambitious series, The Chaos Chronicles. But a thousand years or so ago, when I first sold the Chaos series to Tor Books, audiobooks were the furthest thing from my mind. They had not reached anything like the popularity they enjoy today, and Audible, iTunes, and library downloads were just a futurist’s dream. Only top-selling books got the audio treatment, and while I had my appreciative and loyal audience, I simply did not fit that profile.
Time passed, and publishing changed. Indie-publishing happened. I started creating ebooks of my older titles, breathing new life into books long out of print. And I discovered audiobooks myself. What’s this? You can download audiobooks from the library? I loaded up my trusty Zune and started listening to books while I walked the dog. What a discovery! But why weren’t my books available?
I cast about for ideas. Some of my colleagues—Jim Kelly, for example—were building their audiences through podcast readings of their own work. I could do that, couldn’t I? I thought I was a pretty good reader. Okay, I had no studio, limited experience, and only a cheap computer mic. But I gave it a shot. I recorded the prologue to the forthcoming Sunborn.
This is going to be great!
And that’s when I discovered just how frigging hard and time consuming it was to get an audio recording right. I’d thought to release the whole of Sunborn chapter by chapter, podcast style. But halfway through the first chapter, I realized it wasn’t going to work—not if I wanted to do anything else in life, such as finish the next book. So, with deep regret, I pulled the plug on that idea. (However, my reading of the Sunborn prologue eventually got turned into a video for an arts festival, and you can view it on my videos page. I think it’s pretty cool.)
Once again, I was left in the wilderness, with no clear road to audio for the Chaos books. Or, to pursue the planetary metaphor, I was adrift in the asteroid belt, thrusters sputtering. My agent eventually sold some of my other titles to Audible. But I didn’t have the rights to The Chaos Chronicles.
None of this went unnoticed by my wife Allysen, who had worked in TV production. In 2011, she decided it was time to step up. We found inspiration in Bruce Coville’s Full Cast Audio, whose productions we had been enjoying as family entertainment. We would start at the beginning and create a full-cast amateur podcast of Neptune Crossing, to put online for free, using local talent! In our suburb of Boston, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a writer, artist, or actor. We put out the call. And people came forth—people with talent and enthusiasm, and willingness to help. One of them, Bob Kuhn, even had book narration experience.
This is going to be great!
We bought a decent recorder, borrowed a bunch of sound curtains, and turned our living room into a Saturday afternoon recording studio. Allysen directed, and I took the part of Bandicut. Sam played the quarx, Peter and John each took several characters, as did Judy, Lisa, and Allysen. Bob laid down the narration track. Others came in for shorter parts. We got most of the book in the can, as raw recording. We began logging takes.
And then… Allysen got a new job, a demanding one. Someone else’s work schedule changed, making Saturdays a problem. We were running ourselves ragged. It was taking a toll on my writing. I undertook the sound editing… and rediscovered just how time consuming that job was. Finally we called a hiatus. I had a book to write! Allysen needed to focus on her new job. The hiatus stretched. It was maybe a year before we realized that this project, too, was something we could not finish, not now, not without killing ourselves. We’d gotten out of the asteroid belt, only to be trapped, adrift and blind, in the clouds of Jupiter.
Or Stefan Rudnicki’s interview with me. Skyboat Media has just posted a conversation I had via Skype with Stefan Rudnicki, the narrator of the forthcoming audiobook of Neptune Crossing. Stefan asks me some questions about how I wrote the book, and how I write in general, and I did my best to answer.
Technical glitches prevented this from being a video interview, but I probably look better in your imagination, anyway!