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Hunting Tree KidI've had a lot of luck lately with my third book, The Hunting Tree. The success it's having is unexpected, and so was the book itself. The two books I wrote before it (The Vivisectionist, and The Eight-Cell Stage) were fairly well-formed in my mind before I started writing them. At least the premise and the main event were formed; other details found their way in as I wrote. With Eight-Cell, I knew one of the plot lines before I wrote, but the other line was invented during the writing. Over the course of those first two books, my approach evolved.

The idea for Hunting Tree came from two places: a news story and a dream. The news story was about a group of Native Americans who jumped off a cliff, committing mass suicide. Honestly, I remember very little about this story. In fact, it was probably something I misheard on the radio while driving and then spun into my own version. The other part, the dream, was odd. In it, a boy was marked. He always had a physical mark to show that he was diseased and dangerous to the survival of those around him. With these two thoughts in mind, I set about writing Hunting Tree without having any idea how the ideas would come together. The result was very interesting because I didn't plan it--I experienced it.

Here's a quote from Stephen King's On Writing:

... I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonble precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren't compatible. It's best that I be as clear about this as I can--I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them, of course). 

I read that passage before I started Viv, but it didn't really sink in. I had to learn the process on my own, through inventing a sub-plot in Eight-Cell while I constructed the main plot from a previous idea. For me, this approach is the only way I can imagine writing a book now. There's work to do making sure that all the pieces line up, and there's plenty of opportunity to strengthen an amplify themes in the second draft. But the first draft is virgin snow. King describes his writing as unearthing a fossil. You can't go in with jackhammers and heavy equipment and expect to pull out the entire fossil intact.

I think of it more like trying to photograph a snowflake, because for me, the beauty of the piece can so easily melt away just from handling. Speaking of snowflakes, another author (Randy Ingermanson) has a very different approach:

... Good fiction doesn't just happen, it is designed. You can do the design work before or after you write your novel. I've done it both ways and I strongly believe that doing it first is quicker and leads to a better result. Design is hard work, so it's important to find a guiding principle early on.

taxcatRandy's best selling book is about how to write a novel. In his approach, you start with a complete summary of the book and fill in the details. I've experienced this approach and I can tell you this--at times it feels like you've got the skin and you're stuffing it with cotton, trying to make it appear lifelike. To be fair, I haven't read any of Randy's books. They're probably great.  

As I'm writing this, Hunting Tree is number 35 in the Kindle Horror category. The Stand is 23, It is 51, and The Shining is 53. Of course, those books by King have been on the list for years, and years, and mine will disappear in four days. I can pinpoint this exactly, because that's when sales picked up for Hunting Tree. On that list, you're ranked by a rolling thirty-day average. So thirty days after sales rose, when that first spike moves out of the window, Hunting Tree will fall.

No worries, I'll promote it again soon and hopefully it will be noticed by an even larger group of people. Hopefully. Meanwhile, I'm on to the next book, which should be out in February. I like this new one. I think I managed to get most of it without destroying it.