Ironing Shirts & Writing Novels. What’s the Difference?

I bought a new shirt. It came in a box cause that’s how shirt’s are made these days, right?

It didn’t fit. I sent it back. Didn’t even need a box cause that’s how shipping is done these days, right?

I ordered another shirt. It fit great. I liked it. But it was cottony and wrinkly and I couldn’t go out into public looking like a wrinkled grape. Cause that’s how people think these days, right?

But I decided that the only way to iron out these difficulties was to, indeed, pull out my iron. So I plugged it in and heated it up. I pressed one side smooth only to realize I creased the underside because, obviously, I don’t know how to iron properly.

But I tried anyways, and one ironed-out crease led to two more creases which needed ironing out. It could have been frustrating if I would have been paying attention. But I keep looking at my shirt and thinking how nice it will be when it’s finished. Being ironed out. Which I certainly didn’t know how to do.

But being me, that never stopped me, the not knowing how to do something, that is.

So I pressed on.

And little by little my shirt started to look smooth. Those darn little collars were a beast. And around the buttons were a pain. And I still couldn’t figure out how to reach all those little shoulder spots without creating a new crease underneath. I mean, why does the fabric flip on top of each other like an unwieldy plot hole?

I worked and I learned and by the end of the my ironing session, I was satisfied with the end product and placed it aside. Not carefully, mind you. No, that would have been the smart move. I placed it aside in a clump until I realized I created new wrinkles. Clumping does that.

I put it back on the board and fixed those, and, with a stroke of luck and genius, I hung it on a door knob. Brilliant. No more wrinkles.

Later that morning, I put on my shirt. It wasn’t perfect. There were still some visible wrinkles, but I thought I looked good, and I was proud of the effort. I could have just thrown it on right out of the box, but I took my time and did it the right way–the best I knew how. Next time, my ironing will be much better, even if my shirt arrives in a box.

As I reflected on my ironing experience, I thought, isn’t this exactly the same as writing a novel?

Yes, yes, it is because there are only two ways to do things in this world: you either learn through experience how to best to iron-out all those unsightly creases in your plot line, or you just throw it on right out of the box and pretend everything you do is automatically amazing.

Writers, plug in your irons.

Penang. It’s official. The setting of my new novel.

I’ve been contemplating using Penang in one of my novels for years. I lived there from 2006-2017, so I got to know the place well. But for some reason, I don’t like to write about places where I currently live. So two years after the fact, my first Malaysian-based novel is happening. It’s a curious little novel for me – an unexpected one for many reasons. Once I finished my trilogy, I had fully expected to write a alternative history novel about the Vietnam War of which I have already written the first chapter. I will get back to it at some point. But, as ideas often do, the muse paid no attention to my intentions and planted in me a seed for a completely different story. A story of music, of teenagers, and an old man. No, don’t worry, nothing like the old man of my trilogy series. (insert chuckle)

Since the story centers around four teens, it is, in a way, my first YA novel, and I’m a little excited about that. Nervous, also. My protagonists have mainly been older adults in most of my stories, so hitting up the teen years is a little challenging. Thankfully, I work in a profession where I deal with teens on a daily basis, so that helps.

It’s natural for me to use exotic settings for my stories because I’ve been fortunate enough to live in many exotic places. So it just comes out from experience. I hope I can do Penang justice. Long way to go on this one, and I will definitely keep you posted. But here’s an overview of the main settings of my novels so far.

  1. Beauty Rising – northern Vietnam & Pennsylvania
  2. The Recluse Storyteller – nondescript USA and several other settings like Vietnam, and time settings like the USA of the 1800s
  3. The Reach of the Banyan Tree – Vietnam  (1945 & 2000)
  4. A Love Story for a Nation – a fictitious nation
  5. Which Half David – the fictitious nation of Sulu in Southeast Asia
  6. 7. 8. The Forgotten Child Trilogy – Manhattan, Scotland, Romania, Cambodia, South Pacific, Rwanda, and nearly out of this world

9. TITLE STILL UNDER WRAPS – PENANG, MALAYSIA

In future posts, I’ll revisit what makes Penang so great! And, by the way, I miss it.

 

Summer Writing & Smiles

Summer Writing & Smiles

I smiled today. It was nearly involuntary. It emanated like a ray of light piercing through a small hole. That smile was summer.

I’m finishing up my second year of living in Saudi Arabia and a whole two-month writing bonanza stares me in the face. Oh sure, there’ll be family and barbecues and fresh berries and cherries. There will be baseball games and fireworks and long bike rides through the forest. And there will be writing.

Summer is when I become a ‘full-time’ writer. It’s when my brain can focus for long periods of time on items I’ve been itching to get at for an indefinite amount of time.  It begins in five days.

I’ve accomplished a lot this past school year. I’ve produced two original shows which I wrote, and I’m very happy with how they turned out. I finished the editing and publishing process for book three of my trilogy. I’ve written four or five short plays. A couple of which have already been produced. A couple more will be part of next year shows. I’ve even made some series in-roads into my 9th novel — some 10,000+ words already on its way.

So as I sit on my back deck, sipping a cold beverage, with my laptop in front of me, I’m smiling at what I hope to be able to accomplish this summer.

Finish novel #9 – It’s my first novel set in Malaysia. It is also looking like my first YA novel with four of the five main characters being teenagers.  This novel premise wasn’t even on my radar until about 6 weeks ago when a curious phrase popped through my mind. That’s how novels germinate for me. Usually a phrase, followed by an image, which grows into an idea worthy of long-format writing.  Then I develop the characters and let the story loose to see where it will go. This one is flowing, so I hope a good month of steady writing will produce a solid first draft.  Maybe by mid-July? Let’s see.

Start novel #10 – Actually, I already have. This idea I’ve been playing with for over a year and a half. I even wrote the first chapter already and I know where it’s going. But it requires a little research, so it will take some more time. I hope to have a solid start to this novel by the end of August. How about half-written? Nice goal.

Play-writing – I never discount play-writing because that’s the form that comes the most naturally to me. I have a show I wrote last year called Crazy Love, but I want to add one or two more pieces to it, so when the muse strikes, I set aside my novels for the afternoon.

Excited for summer? I hope you are at least half-excited as I am, and if you are, you’re plenty excited.

Setting: Real or Fictitious?

Choosing a setting for a novel isn’t always an easy task.  A writer friend advised me once to chose a fictitious setting for one of my novels, and she was absolutely right. In that case. The advantages of choosing a fictitious setting are many. Such as:

  1. The writer can make it look and feel however he or she wants.
  2.  There are no preconceived notions in a made-up setting.
  3.  It encourages the reader to use their imaginations much more to create the landscapes and sights and sounds of the locale.
  4. No one can say you got it wrong! Let’s face it, if you use a real location and aren’t really specific about it, mistakes can be made. Readers don’t like to read something incorrect about their hometown. I know, I’ve heard from one before when I misspelled a city’s name. Oops. Yes, embarrassing!

On the flip side, real setting can:

  1. Ground a story in historical details which might be crucial to the point you are trying to make.
  2. Enables the readers to readily identify with a scene. For example, if you put your story in Manhattan, everyone can easily imagine what it looks like even if they haven’t been there.
  3. Readers can be attracted to storylines which take place in their backyard or their home country.

As you might imagine, there’s no right or wrong answer about picking a setting. You just need to determine if a real location will make the story more effective or not.  My novels about Vietnam – The Reach of the Banyan Tree  & Beauty Rising absolutely depend upon the stories taking place in Vietnam. They are strongly mixed with history and real places and people that putting them in a fictitious setting would completely defeat their purpose and water them down to nothing.

However, my novel A Love Story for a Nation is set in an unnamed country. I did this on purpose as the story centers around one man’s struggle for freedom in a country under a dictatorship. These common themes can be seen in many countries around the world and it did not need to be specified. I remember one of my reviewers was confused at first because she couldn’t figure out where the story took place until she commented that it could have taken place anywhere. Yes, that’s the point.

In my other novel Which Half David I was playing a lot off of my southeast Asian experiences in creating a diverse culture that was a mix of many of the places I had lived and visited. So I decided to create a brand new island nation that would be a cross-section of those places. I think it worked well. I’ve seen this also in one of my favorite novels The Ugly American by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick. It’s setting is the country of Sarkhan which is a mix of Thailand and Vietnam. The history of Sarkhan mimicked the post-WWII Vietnam history but the language and culture of Sarkhan was closer to that of Thailand.

As I’m starting writing my next novel – first two chapters finished – this topic has reared its head again because I still haven’t decided how to set this novel. I think it will end up being set in Malaysia. I’m still weighing the pros and cons.

So, think it through and get it right! Then commit to the setting with all you got.

The Best I Could Is No Longer The Best I Can

May this always be true: The best I could do is no longer the best I can do.

If this is true, it means improvement is happening. And that’s what we want, isn’t it? Growth?

I’m not the same writer I was five years ago. Honestly, that’s a very good thing.  When I was starting out as a newly published independent author, I made mistakes. A lot of mistakes. I’m still prone to mistakes today, but, boy, things were kind of rough back in the day, which makes me feel very appreciative of all those positive reviews these strangers left on what was not my best work.

There’s a reason I’m rambling on about writing growth. I have been meaning to start re-promoting one of my favorite novels, which I published in 2014 – The Reach of the Banyan Tree.  It was my third and longest novel at the time – a multi-generational, historical romance novel mixed with war, adventure, and contemporary intrigue. I’ve always loved the story behind this novel. It covered all my old stomping grounds from my ten years living in Vietnam.

Finally, I was ready to start re-promoting it, but something happened. I started reading through the beginning of this novel and, honestly, I cringed. No, I didn’t really write like that back then, did I?

I read more and sighed deeply with one simple realization: I did not want to promote this book if it’s going to make readers think that that’s the way I currently write. I didn’t want to give that impression because there were many problems with the way my prose flowed in 2013. So I had a decision to make: keep as is and no longer promote it or do a complete re-edit and revision.

Yep, what you know what I chose.  Over the last two weeks I did a thorough read and re-edit – getting rid of all those narrative issues and those needlessly wordy sentences. Oh, and those adverbs. There was more, but you get the picture.

Once the ebook was reformatted, then came the paperback. I came to realize that I didn’t even know what a drop-cap was back in 2013 when I was putting this together. So you know what I had done? I used some sort of anchored text box to make drop caps at the beginning of each chapter. They looked terrible.

The final re-edit isn’t perfect. I didn’t have unlimited time, but I’m much happier with the result, and I am now happy to start re-promoting it.

This whole process gives me hope that the best of my writing is yet to come. It’s exciting for me to see what’s brewing in the mind which will one day be a whole host of new stories. Let’s hope they are crisper than ever before.

The First Ever Massive Trilogy Read-Through

I had just finished the second revision of book 3 of my brand new trilogy.

So what was next?

Revision three, of course.  But then I paused and thought for a moment. I knew what I needed to do, but I was reluctant. It would be too time-consuming. It would stop the flow of my revision work. No, don’t make me!

What was it? It was to read the entire trilogy from first to last page. I would become the first person to read the entire trilogy, which makes sense since I wrote it.

I told myself I needed to do it. I rolled my eyes and thought of any other way to get around it. But I knew if I wanted to present the very best overarching story possible that I needed to delve back into the ENTIRE story.

So that’s what I’m doing.

I just finished reading book 1: A Man Too Old for a Place Too Far, and you know what? I enjoyed it. After just finishing the storyline of the entire trilogy, it was fun to revisit the genesis of everything. There were definitely some details along the way which I had forgotten, but I was pleased with the story’s consistency.

I think I’m on the right track, and that makes me happy.

It can be painful to read one’s own work. Tedious, actually. But it’s so important, and I usually end up surprising myself thinking “Hey, how did I think of that? If I wrote this paragraph today, I don’t think it would have been as good.”

On the other hand I also run into these thoughts: “I don’t really like this sentence anymore. How about a simple edit?”

Re-reading is crucial to jog one’s memory of the myriad of character and plot details which absolutely must mesh.

But do it. Hold your nose if you have to, but keep re-reading your own work. It will be well worth it.

If you haven’t read book 1, please check it out. It’s a story I’m really happy with, and it’s only $1.89 on Amazon. Permanently.  Thanks for the support!

Link to Amazon. Only $1.89 on Kindle.

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After 2+ plus years, the story is finished.

Just wanted to share briefly what is making me so happy today: my first trilogy – my first series of any kind – is finished.

This afternoon I capped off the story with as neat and tidy ending that I could muster. The story of Frick, Bee, Ash, Rachany, Ruthy, Haddock, Hatty, Ulrich, and Monroe is finished, and I’m very happy with how it turned out.

In a different post, I’m going to chronicle what I learned about writing by taking on this project, but I couldn’t let my happiness remain inside.

It’s done!

I know. I know. I have months of revision ahead of me.

But who cares?

There were days in the past when I couldn’t see how the ending I wanted was going to connect with what I had already written.

And then, little by little, it worked.

It didn’t hurt that for the past nine days, I’ve had nothing to do but WRITE! It’s been awesome since I was able to crank out the final 25,000 words.

The result is this a 200,000 plus word trilogy.

Book 3 of THE FORGOTTEN CHILD TRILOGY – A Parting in the Sky

To celebrate: here’s the first mock-up of the cover.

Coming 2019!

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