This summer, when the tourists milled through the streets of Belgrade Lakes, I was one of them. I rode up there on my brother’s boat and got some ice cream at Day’s store and tried some pizza from the guy who had a tent set up in one of the driveways. There was a lot more foot traffic there compared to when I was a kid. They have a farmer’s market on Sunday and more places where you can wander up and grab something to eat. Forty years ago, it was pretty much Day’s or nothing, and Day’s was more about knick-knacks than food.

To my surprise, the downtown (known as The Lakes) was a lot like my description from Accidental Evil. I populated the streets with a few locals and a bunch of summer tourists and imagined bustling commerce. I suppose that I was merely extrapolating on the apparent trend. Still, it was neat to see The Lakes match my imaginary version.

In a few weeks, the last of the tourists will be gone and forgotten, for now. Residents will get on with the serious business of squeezing the last warm weather out of fall and then enduring the coming cold.

Today, up at my brother’s house, I saw one of the older locals for the first time in years. He has never read my book, Migrators, and that’s probably a good thing. I took some liberties in that book with descriptions of him and his family. I changed the names, of course, but it wouldn’t take a lot of sleuthing to make the connection. In fact, his friend *had* read Migrators, and he *had* made the connection.

His friend asked me, “You’re the author, right?”
I told him yes, and then before I could think it through, I said, “In fact, Buster is in one of my books.”
“Oh, I know,” the friend said.
I wonder what he told Buster about that book. I didn’t want to bring it up, but I hope that nobody took offense. None was intended.
Most of my friends realize that they will eventually end up in one of my books. They seem to have a pretty good humor about it when I kill them off. Although one of my friends sounded a little hurt when he realized that I had made him into a mouse and then given him a heart attack.

I’m glad that I got the chance to live up in that area, but I’m also glad I moved away. I think it might be a little easier to write about Belgrade from forty minutes away.

I haven't been sleeping well, and I'm starting to suspect that I'm doing it on purpose. I've changed where I sleep five times this year already, and I'm probably going to do it again. Systematically, I'm moving through this old farmhouse, making sure that none of the rooms feels like my own bedroom.

I suppose that I'm trying to find a way to live in this new version of the world. I'm no longer caring for a gigantic epileptic dog—that's the most abrupt change this year—but I'm also trying to resolve who I am in terms of my career. I can't remember when I quit my last job. Was it three years ago? Four? How long was I supposed to keep going with writing before I took a step back to assess my progress? I can't remember that either. With all the writing I've been doing, I should have written down a precise plan with deadlines.

Then again, I'm not sure it would make a difference. I can't really envision any other future. I'm no longer writing these books just because I want to. I feel like I must write them. It's not some overdeveloped sense of importance. These stories are compelling to me. It may or may not be obvious to readers, but these stories mean something to me. If I stopped now, I'm not sure how I would cope with that loss.

Lately, watching movies, I'm really jealous of how quick and immediate that medium is. Viewers can be drawn in with the first few frames and hooked by the score before a character even appears on screen. That's my goal—I want to make a book so compelling that someone turns it into a movie. There's too much to learn for me to attempt it myself. Someone else is going to have to step in. To that end, one of my stories is going to be a stage production in October. That's exciting.

Maybe tonight I will shove my bed into the corner, under the sloping ceiling. With pillows along the beam, it could be a cozy place to hide. Perhaps that will be a safe enough place to get a good night's sleep.

If you're looking to sign up for the Mailing List, just click here or look on the bottom left of the home page. If you sign up, the next time I release a book, I'll give you a free Kindle copy of it. I only send out email when I have a new book to tell you about, so you won't get hammered with tons of email if you join.

Instinct 3d stack smallI have yet to find a balance. I write at least 2,000 words a day, but that's not enough. At the end of that session, I rarely feel like I've done enough to propel my career. Most of the time, I'm also working to rewrite, edit, or format an older piece of work. A lot of times, I'll come back to that work at the end of the day. This year, I've been constantly engaged in trying to get a new book out. If I were a more established author, I'm sure I would be concerned about oversaturating the market. But, because my audience is still growing, I feel it's okay to put out a book every couple of months.

This year, I've put out Migrators, Skillful Death, and Instinct. Technically, Migrators was available the last week of 2013, but I still count it as a 2014 book. I've got two more up my sleeve for the coming months. Perhaps that's too many, but I'm trying to earn a living. I tell myself that at some point in the future I will take my time and be a little more thoughtful with my work. I'm not sure if that's true. Sure, I think that the quality of my books could be improved if I allotted more time for each, but it's really difficult to sell a novel if I'm not willing to let anyone look at it. And if I'm not selling any novels, it's really difficult to justify sitting here writing them. There's only so much time I can justify spending before I need to earn some money on the effort.

With all that in mind, I've spent September writing 3,000 words a day on my latest project. I'm still spending less than four hours a day on new work, so it's not exactly back-breaking labor. Like I said, I have yet to find a balance. Some people don't like my books, but I'm pretty convinced that they wouldn't like them if I spent twice as long on each. They're just not for everyone.

I started writing for several reasons, but mostly because it's difficult to find the kind of fiction that I really wanted to read. I think I'm getting better at telling these stories, and I'm certain that the act of putting together a novel gets easier each time. I hope to find a balance. I hope to find confidence that I'm doing enough each day, and that the quality of my work reaches and maintains an acceptable plateau. For the life of me, I can't imagine how I will ever measure my writing against those goals.

Bruno-confused-smallForgive me, I know it has been forever since I've written a blog post. I've been working on publishing Migrators, and trying to sell Migrators, and failing to sell Migrators. It was the first book I put out in paperback, which was a fun learning experience. I need to sell about twenty times more paper copies before that learning experience turns a profit, so it's a good thing it was fun.

The book I'm writing now is long. It's also quite long (at least in terms of length, of which it has much). The plot is full of holes, the concepts drift and evolve, and it has so many characters that I have to keep paging back to remember who's talking. This may end up being one of those books that goes into deep storage for awhile until I can get a fresh perspective on it. I wouldn't call it a waste of time, because I'm building new skills, but I wouldn't call it the most productive period of my writing career.

The book I'm currently editing used to be in the same boat. It's also a long book, and it's also a book which doesn't precisely fit my genre. It was a tough book to write, but now that I'm reading it again, I'm glad I spent that time. Maybe I'll eventually look back on my current book with the same fondness. Who knows.

The book I'm editing had a working title of Constantine. I haven't settled on the final title yet. I have a couple more rewrites to do, but I hope to put it out by the end of April. For Constantine I learned about lots of fun things:

        • Tanning animal skins and furs
        • Carriage axles of the 19th century
        • Midwifery
        • Self-mummification
        • Card tricks
        • Personality disorders
        • Tibetan naming conventions
        • Sky burials
        • Early trade routes of the Indian ocean
        • and much, much more

Some say you should write about what you know. Others say you should write about what interests you. I guess I lean towards the latter. Regardless of what I'm writing, I refuse to think of it as a job. I'm steadfast in my insistance that I don't have a job. As me what I do, and I'll tell you I'm a writer. Ask me about my job, and I'll tell you I don't have one. I really don't. For me, writing is entertainment. Sometimes I struggle with what's going to happen next, but it's always fascinating to me in the end. One of the characters will do or say something I don't expect and then the whole day is brightened. 

This was a good break, thank you. I didn't really say anything, but I think I gave things time to settle. I'm back to working on the long, long, long book that I might never do anything with. After that, I'll get back to Constantine, which used to be the long, long, long book that I planned to never publish. It should be out at the end of April.

By the way, the picture is my dog Bruno. He's clearly confused by some question. Look for him in my Twitter feed.

I was getting a guest room ready for this weekend (I'm expecting company) and I ran across my grandmother's diary. It's from 1920 when she was 10. It's not very long.

 

Charlotte G. Smith

185 North St.

Salem, Mass

 

Pickering School -- Grade VII

age 10 yrs

 

1920

June 24th - School closed. Left Miss Pickering's room to go into Miss Mullin's room (7th Grade).

June 25th - Went down to Gerries house in the morning, and Gerrie came up to my house in the afternoon.

June 26th - Went to camp and got a white * because I got 16 points.

June 27th - Went to ride with Barbara Symonds and her mother. Had a blow-out but finally got to Long Beach where the Hugards were. Went in wading and came home.

June 28th - Barbara Poor came in the morning and played with me. In the afternoon I had a shampoo and I went up to her house.

June 29th - Rested all day and in the evening went to the Strawberry Festival at the Ropes's house. They had a pageant which I was in. The name was "Christmas in Japan."

June 30th - Rested in the morning and in the afternoon mother and I went up to Barbara Poor's house.

July 1st - Went to the Baby Hospital and gave $7. The money was from the play our club gave. The play was the "Precious Pickle." We got $10 on it and $7 we gave to the Baby Hospital. When we got there we gave the money to Miss Gill. We saw all the babies and then went to Marian Roope's housewhere we had a party. After the party we played games and came home.

July 2nd - Went down town in the afternoon and in the evening went to Deveaux Beach to see Eleanor Barnett (Barbara and I went).

July 3rd - It rained very hard all day but in the afternoon Father and I went down town and back in the automobile.

July 4th - July 4th is on Sunday this year so it will be celebrated on Monday. In the morning I went over to Beverly in the automobile to see Uncle Frank. We brought him home with us and in the afternoon we went over to Beverly again to the Parker's. We took them for a ride and had a blow-out but got home safely.

July 5th - The 4th is celebrated to-day. Had fireworks in the morning and in the afternoon went to ride with Aunt Molly Fiske. Had our supper over to the Willows and when we came home in the evening we had some more fireworks.

July 6th - Stayed home and rested all day. Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Lyman came in the afternoon.

July 7th - Rested in the morning and in the afternoon went over to Beverly to see Aunt Gracey. Afterward we went to the Larcom's where we had supper and went to ride in the automobile.

July 8th - Rested all day and in the evening went up to the garden with father.

July 9th - Went down town in the morning and in the afternoon I rested. In the evening I went up to the garden with father.

July 10th - Rested in the morning and in the afternoon went to ride in the automobile. In the evening I went up to my grass house and played in it.

July 11th - Went to West Roxbury in the automobile with Father, Mother and Mr. Miles. Mr. Miles stopped in Cambridge while we kept on going to West Roxbury. When we got there Aunt Betsy, Aunt Carrie, Aunt Sarah and Ethel and Arthur Cederstrom were there. We had dinner and started home about half-past four. We stopped in Cambridge for Mr. Miles and Helen and came home. Mr. Miles drove the car part of the way. When I got home I played with Helen until nine o'clock. (We went 75 miles)

July 12th - Helped mother in the morning and in the afternoon I played with Barbara.

July 13th - Stayed home in the morning and in the afternoon went to see Treasure Island at the Federal Theatre. Aunt Ella came to supper and after supper we went to Reading in the automobile. We got some cherries and started home. We got on the wrong road and it was after 10 o'clock when we got home.

July 14th - Rested in the morning and in the afternoon played with Barbara.

July 15th - Shelled peas in the morning and in the afternoon played with Barbara.

July 16th - Helped mother in the morning and in the afternoon went down town. In the evening we went to ride with Aunt Molly and Uncle Arthur and stopped at Schlubers for an ice-cream. When we came back we stopped at Aunt Molly's and Uncle Arthur's and talked about camping in Maine for our vacation. I hope we can.

July 17th - Helped mother in the morning and in the afternoon went up to the garden with father and Uncle Bill.

July 18th - Went to saxonville and when we came home we brought Aunt Nettie with us.

July 19th - In the morning stayed home and rested and in the afternoon stayed home with Aunt Nettie while mother went over to Miss Galthrates.

cha-diaryJuly 20th - Shelled peas in the morning and in the afternoon went down town. In the evening we went to ride. Went to the movies in the afternoon.

July 21st - Rested all day and in the evening went up to the garden with father.

July 22nd - Rested all day.

July 23rd - Stayed at home all day and in the evening went to ride in the auto. Went up to Barbara's in the afternoon.

July 24th - Stayed home all day and in the afternoon Uncle Joe came from Saxonville. In the evening we all went to Mrs. Brown's reception. Mother and Father went in and Aunt Nettie, Uncle Joe and I stayed in the auto until they came out. The girl brought us out some ice-cream while we were waiting.

July 25th - Went to Saxonville taking home Aunt Nettie and Uncle Joe. We stayed there until about 3 o'clock then we came home. When we got home we found a letter that said we could go to Bridgeton. Aunt Molly and Uncle Arthur came to see us in the evening.

July 26th - Stayed home all day and rested.

July 27th - Rested in the morning and in the afternoon went down town. In the evening we went to Middleton to see the Bates'.

July 28th - Stayed home all day and rested.

July 29th - Rested all day.

July 30th - Helped mother in the morning and in the afternoon rested.

July 31st - Stayed home in the morning and in the afternoon Miss Dodge came to see us from Beverly. She stayed here for supper and in the evening we went to ride.

Aug. 1st - Rested in the morning and in the afternoon we went to ride with the Browns.

Aug 2nd - Stayed home in the morning and in the afternoon went down town.

Aug 3rd - Went to Boston and had dinner and supper there. We went shopping in the morning and in the afternoon we went to the moving-pictures.

Aug 4th - Helped mother in the morning and in the afternoon played with Barbara Poor.

Aug 5th - Rested in the morning and in the afternoon went up to Barbara's house.

Aug 6th - Stayed home all day.

Aug 7th - Rested all day.

Aug 8th - Stayed home in the morning and in the afternoon and evening went riding with Aunt Molly and Uncle Arthur.

Aug 9th - Fathers vacation began to-day but it was so hot we didn't go anywhere until evening and then we went to ride with Uncle Frank and Uncle Bill Larcom.

Aug 10th - Went down town in the morning and in the afternoon went to Revere where we saw the areoplanes. While we were looking at them it began to rain so we had to come home. When we got in Salem it hadn't rained at all.

Aug 11th - Went to Bridgton and had a wonderful time.

 

I told you it wasn't long. I'm not sure about the side note about the movies on July 20th, so I put in a picture of it. She calls them "moving-pictures" later.

 

sunflowerI've set a new pace for the novel I'm working on now. I'm writing at least 2,280 words/day. It's not a random number. When I started the book, I figured I wanted it to be about 100,000 words and I wanted it to be finished by November 1st. Once I did the math, I had my daily goal. I guess that means I set aside about 44 days for the book. I'm not sure when I set the goal. Hunting Tree took about twice that long to write. Vivisectionist took almost five months. Extinct took about a year, but I was tackling other things at the same time.

I don't think the outcome is much different. I believe the books come out roughly the same whether it takes me twelve months or 1.5 months. Blood Ghost only took about seven weeks, and I think it's pretty close to the tone of Hunting Tree. The pace is a little slower, maybe, but that's because Blood Ghost is about a family's approach to crisis. Hunting Tree was the collision of colossal forces. 

Back to the point--I started this post because I thought it might be fun to document the books I've written and approximately how long it took me to write them.

  1. 1. Vivisectionist - 5 months
  2. 2. Eight-Cell Stage (unpublished) - 4 months
  3. 3. The Hunting Tree - 3 months
  4. 4. Spelunking (unpublished) - 4.5 months
  5. 5. Lies of the Prophet - 3.5 months
  6. 6. Dinner (unpublished) - 6 months
  7. 7. Extinct - 12 months
  8. 8. Constantine (unpublished) - 4 months
  9. 9. Blood Ghost - 1.5 months
  10. 10. Fyre (unpublished) - 1.5 months
  11. 11. Director's Cut (unpublished) - 1.5 months

I'm currently planning to publish Director's Cut next, although I'm sure I'll change the name before I do. It might be called Migrators. That would reveal an interesting pattern. I don't bother to publish the even numbered novels. I plan to come back around on Constantine eventually, but it's a long, long, long book and I think it needs a lot of work before it sees the light. I have no intention of ever putting out Fyre (get it?), or Dinner. If I'm on pace to produce six (maybe seven) novels per year, and I put the odd numbered ones on the shelf, then will three novels per year sustain me? No! Not unless I grow my readership significantly. 

I'm really excited about the book I'll start in a few days. I can't say anything about it, of course. The second I say something about it, it starts to shrivel in my mind, shrinking into nothing as reality stomps on possibility. I'd rather stomp on the possibility with words on the page, instead of by solidifying loose concepts before they're ready to see the light. 

Twenty-some years ago, when I moved to Maine, I wanted to write a book. I wrote some pages about a guy who had a dog and a house. Nothing happened. I was just describing the curtains and waiting for the guy to do something, but he had breakfast and then went for a walk. The dog was old. When the man returned, the kitchen was a little too warm because of the sun coming through the window. Nothing happened. I stopped writing and began working as a process engineer for an electronics manufacturing plant.

When I returned to writing, years later, that dog and the man had both moved out of the house. I don't know what happened to either one of them. I started writing about another house with a kid. Terrible things happened in that book. By the time I got to Hunting Tree, I realized that I didn't even have to plan the terrible things. If I just put the words down through my fingers, the terrible things would begin happening on their own. Sometimes they were so bad that I had to go back and erase them. When a book is going well, I'm excited to return to the keyboard because I want to know what happens next. 

This is about 650 words more than it should have taken to say something simple: I want to keep writing. I'd like to finish about a hundred books and then see if I'm out of ideas yet. I've got about 200 in my idea folder, but I haven't been using them because I keep thinking of new ideas. Oops, I lied, I just checked and I have 385 ideas. Some of them I will never use, I'm sure. I can't use the one about the woman who kills her infant son. She's convinced that he's gay because he won't breastfeed (and she really wants him to because it inappropriately satisfies her, if you know what I mean). I don't see an application for that story. Although there would be some interesting avenues to explore. No, forget it. That combination of incest & infanticide wouldn't be enjoyable to read or write.

That's a weird way to end a post, so I will. I like to take a sharp left turn just before signing off.

If you're reading this before October 1st, 2013, you can get a free copy of the new Hunting Tree sequel. It's entitled "Hunting Tree IV -- Blood Ghost" and it will be for sale on Amazon at the beginning of October. As always, I'll be sending a free copy to anyone who signs up on my mailing list before that date.

moon

When I first started my mailing list, I imagined it would serve two purposes--to alert loyal readers that a new title was available, and to allow me to send a complimentary copy of my latest book to readers who had recently signed up. When I released "Extinct" earlier this year, I sent a free copy to everyone. It just seemed right. Some of the readers at the beginning of the list have been supporting me since my first book, and I wanted to thank them for that support. 

According to the thought process of other authors, this is a really stupid idea. The latest wisdom is that you build a mailing list of "guaranteed buyers." But, right now, I think I'd rather use my list to help spread the word. I'm hoping that if you sign up for my list and I send you new books periodically, that you'll help me spread the word to your friends and family. 

So, sign up on the list and I'll send you HT4 in a couple of weeks. And, I'll probably send you another free book before the end of the year. As always, I hope you enjoy reading them and I hope that you'll help me reach even more people. Happy reading!

 

The last movie I saw alone was The Birdcage (1996). I sat down at the end of a row with my popcorn and soda and hoped to enjoy a fun movie to take me away from Maine winter for a couple of hours. Just after the previews started, I had to do that weird half-rise to let two people in. It was the president of the company I worked for and his wife. They sat right next to me. Yes, I was the weirdo going to a movie alone on a Friday night. That wasn't too awkward. They both gave me a little nod and half a smile like they'd just opened the stall door to find me eating nachos while sitting on the toilet.

conjuringTonight I went to see The Conjuring (2013). It was a good movie. Good suspense and nice tense moments that didn't rely on jolting surprises. Good use of audio, too. I was able to not think of Ron Livingston as "Office Space Guy" the whole time. Patrick Wilson was just "Insidious Guy" for quite some time, but I got over that. Lili Taylor will always be "The Haunting Lady" for me. Vera Farmiga might have been the best of the bunch. I just watched her in a million hours of Bates Motel, but I forgot all about that when I saw her in her 1970's garb. She was great. The kids did a good job, too. Shannon Kook was great. I'll be watching for more of him.

The plot was good, pacing was good, resolution was good, audio was great. I'm not 100% on the mythology. They floated several concepts, but didn't bother to really lock into one specific notion. I liked the concepts though, so that was good. I don't want to spoil for anyone (and nobody I know has seen this), so I won't go into specifics. Maybe later.

I didn't run into anyone I knew at the theater. That was a huge plus. There's nothing I like more than good horror, and I think I might start going to horror movies alone. I think I might get more out of them. The isolation makes things a little more menacing. 

51EnhDj6GbL. SY300 I love a story with really interesting ideas. People will tell you that an interesting idea doesn't make for a good story--for a good story you need real characters that you care about. You need to watch these characters face challenges and grow (or shrink). They'll tell you that the story can't be good unless you have an emotional attachment to the people in the story. I agree with all that (mostly), but it's irrelevant if the idea at the beginning is no good.

I was a little kid when I was first disappointed in the idea behind a story. The book was called Andy Buckram's Tin Men. In this book, there's a kid who builds helper robots. He makes these robots from tin cans, pulleys, rope, and a tractor battery (if I'm remembering correctly). I was young enough that the story was read to me (so before I was thirteen, ha!), but I distinctly remember being disappointed. You can't make a robot from ropes and pulleys and tin cans. All the science behind how to make this robot was just hand-waved away. I wanted a decent explanation, but I didn't get one. Instead, the author strikes the automatons with lightning, and they become sentient. WTF?

When I got older, I read tons of really great science fiction, with tons of really great science behind every word. As engineers were striving to send people to the moon (and before), writers were taking all that hard work and extrapolating. They cast their imaginations out into space and took the best plots from Earth out into the void. The universe that Asimov imagines contains astounding detail and it's logical and complete. There are no pulleys and ropes there. It's perfect. And then you have Philip K. Dick who wonders about the moral and social dilemmas the new technology will bring. He explores all the dark corners that electric light can't probe. But somehow in all that hard-science sci-fi, I miss some of the whimsy of the stupid Tin Men.

Hitchhiker's Guide was a wonderful revelation to read. Adams threw out all the science and just made up funny stuff. The Infinite Improbability Drive is a great example. How can you travel faster than light? 

[the machine] must have finite improbability. So all I have to do in order to make one is to work out how exactly improbable it is, feed that figure into the finite improbability generator, give it a fresh cup of really hot tea... and turn it on!

For my own stuff, I always have to know how everything works. I may not explain every tiny detail to the reader, because I can't figure out how to do it without being incredibly boring, but I have to know. The problem is, without expalining every detail, how do I convince you that's thought out? In my latest book, Extinct,

***Spoiler Alert*** I don't reveal too much, but if you hate spoilers and haven't read Extinct, don't read any more ***Spoiler Alert***


 

In my latest book, Extinct, I take great pains to show you the intelligence of my characters. When they have an expertise, you know it, and they explain their thought process. So you might not get every minute detail of logic behind the way my universe works, but I hope that you've got plenty of reason to trust that they do.

In a new book I'm working on, one of the characters begins working with computers in the late seventies. He's a guy who knows how to fix stereos, so someone brings him a cassette deck they're trying to use to load programs onto their computer. Before the Intersweb, DVDs, CDs, or floppies, we loaded programs with cassettes, uphill both ways, in the snow (5 miles). Anyway, the guy fixes the cassette player and I explain that. I don't know why. I was probably just trying to fill my quota of words for the day--perhaps I'll cut it.

So, the story is more important than the technology, but bad technology will always kill the story. That's my opinion. It will probably change.

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