The Random Way a Story Comes to Me

Yellow House

Years ago when the kids were little I’d sit in the school parking lot waiting for the final bell. Across the street sat an old house. I remember it was nothing special. An old VW Bug sat out front. The house a faded yellow with a sort of 1950’s vibe to it.

One day I saw a person walk inside. Seconds later I saw the same person walk out wearing something completely different. Immediately an idea struck: Did the house have something to do with that? If so, what else can it do?

Looking back it was probably a different person that I saw, or maybe the house was a little weird. Regardless of which a story was born.

 

A Second Glance 

It’s easy for stories to come alive when observing normal things. Sometimes all it takes is being in the right place at the right time, a curious mind and an interesting setting.

On the other hand, I’ve discovered it helps to be in a certain mood. That’s when things can really change. 

Whatever it is, the key is to recognize when it’s happening and pounce on it the moment it does. I use to make the fatal mistake of promising myself I would write about it later. Never again. The writing part of all this has to be now while the story is fresh and real.

 

A familiar feeling

Every now and then while I’m stumbling around carrying on with my day it will happen. I’ve been at this long enough where I can trust my instincts and recognize those feelings.

As for you, if a certain emotion causes you to stare at something a little longer then you should, put on the breaks and investigate. Something might have happened that may never happen again. If so, grab a notebook, a receipt or the back of your hand and write it down.

You may be on the verge of something amazing and if it is, the last thing you want is to lose it.

Haunted Yellow House

 

I use to fear the first draft

First Draft 1

There was a time when I had this grand illusion of creating the perfect novel. Come to think of it, it wasn’t exactly an illusion or particularly grand.

Perfection was a stone cold fact.

But something happened in those early days. It became known as the introduction to the first draft. 

 

Cue scary music

The more I thought about the first draft the scarier it became. In fact it was so scary I didn’t want to do anything. It became clear that the first draft would show the world my weakness. A sloppy sentence, a dreary paragraph and lets not forget the laughable (not funny laughable) dialog. I won’t be able to carry a tune in this town.

Who the hell wants that?

But something changed when I wrote Dempsey’s Grill. The story won me over. The characters felt like friends and before I knew it, this fear thing I kept running away from seemed kind of silly.

The turning point came when I asked myself if I was willing to put in the work to create the story I was trying to find. There was a time when the answer was no but something changed. Who knows, maybe I was growing up.

 

Pockets of Gold

I am a third of the way in the first draft of book two. Saving Iris is the name and I hope the title sticks. I’m already finding pieces of gold here and there. Unfortunately some of it is fools gold.

There are places where I cringe and other places where I nod and smile. I’m slowly peeling away the layers to the people and places I’m trying to see.

Instead of dreading the first draft I find myself looking forward to it. The characters are changing direction asking me to follow. The story is growing, but most of all, I don’t mind the stumbles and face plants.

A little comedy is good for the soul.

The first draft is a time where the writer and the story get to know each other. The hits and misses are all forgiven while the home runs are always embraced.

So push away that fear. Enjoy the first draft and embrace all the good things you’re about to explore.

First Draft

My interview with my first editor, Jo Pemmant

When I wrote the first draft of Dempsey’s Grill I was under the illusion that the first draft was the only draft. Yes, I was one of those. But as time passed I realized there might be a chance that I could be wrong. 

Maybe, just maybe, my epic adventure could do without a word or two. Probably not, but just in case, maybe I should call someone and see what they think.

That someone my was dear friend Jo and the adventure we took from this first draft until the very end was a story all of its own.

Jo, take it away:

Jo 2

The final word count was around 84,000. Can you remember the word count from draft one? 

     The first draft you sent me, fresh off the tips of your fingers and, I suspect, sometimes fresh out of your churning brain, was about 102,180 words, not including the chapter headers. (Thank you Google Docs for that information). 

Between that first draft and submission of the finished story to the editor, a lot of words got cut out. Some scenes/ideas absolutely needed to be chopped. Others, I really loved and I miss not having them in the final book, but at the same time, I realize they maybe weren’t vital to the framework of the characters and their stories. 

As I’m reading the book now, I get little ghostly nudges of a scene that used to be there. Sometimes I’m sad about that, but then other times I think ‘good call, Molly and Steve, that one needed to go’. 

 

After you committed did you ask yourself, ‘What have I gotten myself into’?  

     When you asked me to edit for you, I was just starting a new ‘part-time’ job. I was guaranteed a minimum of 20 hours at that job, so I thought ‘Sweet! I’ll be able to really dedicate myself to helping Bryan get this thing going!’. 

Things weren’t quite as I’d been led to believe they’d be, though. I was working 8-10 hours a day, 5-6 days a week, then coming home to edit for about 4-6 hours a day. That might seem overwhelming, but I was so jazzed about both jobs that I truly had some endless energy in the beginning. 

After a bit, things settled into a manageable routine and I had to learn to put the brakes on once in a while and take some time for myself occasionally, which you insisted on. Yes, there were times I thought ‘Ugh, what am I doing? 

Did I bite off more than I can chew?” but that was because I felt like I was going to fail and let you down. I didn’t know if I was being thorough enough in looking for spelling errors, proper timeline construction, sentence and paragraph structure, etc. But, I enjoyed the creative process with you, giving feedback on how I was reading situations or when you’d be stumbling with getting an idea across in a scene and we’d brainstorm. 

I liked being the cheerleader when you had down swings in creative energy and I liked reigning you in when your mind took a wild leap into a storm of ‘what if’, ‘should I’, ‘how about this’, and helping you keep things on track. I think I often said “That’s great, I love it, but it doesn’t fit here. Save that for another story”. 

I cherished every moment of what I’d gotten myself into!

 

When we worked through that first draft what was your biggest challenge?

    Letting go of my discomfort with correcting or criticizing. I wasn’t just watching for spelling errors or punctuation. That’s easy. Unfortunately, I found myself in a situation where I was expected not only to find those types of mistakes, but also to find flaws in a line or a scene or a character, any of which might need to be filled in, eliminated, or just modified a bit, in order to feed the story the best it could and, on top of that, I had to communicate my criticisms to the very person who created those mistakes and flaws. 

That was way outside my comfort zone. I was pretty timid at first. Would you be mad at me? Would I hurt your feelings? Would you never speak to me again? 

Then, I had the realization that this was exactly what you’d asked me to do and I thought, ‘well, if he gets mad at me for correcting his writing or telling him something sucks, he’s not going to get very far when he starts trying to sell a book to an editor who can be hyper-selective because there’s always another writer waiting to submit their story’. 

Essentially, I could just stay quiet, simply correct spellings and go along with anything and everything you had written, or I could do whatever I needed to in order to help you produce a final manuscript that was as perfect and flawless as I/we could manage. 

 

Were you able to see what I was trying to do or did it take time?

Jo 1

     It took time. About a quarter of the way into the book, I emailed a bunch of questions about some things that were going on and your answer was, ‘Hang in there. Wait until the story ends. Let’s talk about it when it’s all over. Afterwards, you might see what I was doing’. 

Needless to say, I didn’t have to wait completely to the end for all of it. You had some great surprises in there. If you remember, I didn’t have internet at the time that we started this project. You’d email me a few chapters at a time to edit. I would take my laptop to Starbucks on a Saturday, upload and send the chapters I’d edited to you and download the new chapters that you’d sent me. 

Occasionally, a chapter would end and I’d realize there wasn’t another page to turn and I’d curse you for leaving me hanging until the next weekend. So frustrating!

 

This is the first and only book you ever edited and it went on to become published. I know your schedule is full but someday I’d like to see you do this again. Any chance of that happening?

     This is the first book I’ve edited that’s become published, yes. I also edited the rough draft of your second book, Saving Iris, which I absolutely loved and, to be honest, I thought it would sell before Dempsey’s Grill. 

I’m not at all miffed for being wrong, though. I respect that you felt Saving Iris needs more cleaning up before you try submitting it to a publisher and I’m super stoked to see how much better it will be when you finish it. 

I have high hopes for that book. I’ve also read through a few chapters of brainstorming you’ve done for a third story that I have faith will come back to you when it’s ready to be written. 

And yes, I absolutely want to continue editing! Watching characters, scenes and plots evolve from an idea to a full-blown alternate world in my mind while also helping to make that world clear and concise to other readers is so gratifying. 

 

Do you find yourself editing when you read?

     Oh, goodness. There’s no way I can try to lie my way out of this and say no without my family laughing me out of the county. The little ticker across the bottom of the tv screen during the news? A restaurant menu? Newspaper article? If something is in written form, it is subject to sub-conscious proof-reading. 

I don’t do it on purpose! It just jumps out at me. I can shake off some of it but, I hate to say, I often roll my eyes and shudder thinking ‘someone spent thousands of dollars to put that ad in all these magazines/on tv/on that billboard, and no one could be bothered to check the spelling?!’. Grrr. It’s definitely one of my peeves. 

 

 

Thank you, Jo!!!!!

Jo 3