My Current Writing Progress

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It has been a while since I have updated my writing progress, so I decided this would be a good time to do so. I just finished the first draft of a horror novel about a werewolf.  It is clearly a misshapen skeleton of a book at this point, but at least, it is done and can be developed and edited later. As indicated in my previous post, without words down on paper, there is nothing than can be revised.

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My writing goals for the first half of 2016 follow. First, I will revise my horror novel Evil Lives After, which would be its 9th draft and to continue submitting it to agents and publishers. If I have no success, I will then plan on self-publishing this book.  I believe it is time. Next I will revise the first book of my YA series and also submit it to agents.  I am not sure if submitting two books is recommended or not, but I am following my own plan of action.  We will see what happens. Finally, but definitely not least, I will write the first draft of the second novel of my YA series.

As long as I maintain the pace I have been keeping over the last few years, I should be able to accomplish these goals.  We will see at the end of June if I have reached the destination.

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A Conversation With Neil Gaiman

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I just returned from an event from the Living Writers series at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA called “A Conversation With Neil Gaiman.” Muhlenberg College is an excellent, small liberal arts college with a thriving English Department, and this event was featured in coordination with a class on Living Writers that is offered typically every 3 years.

I was delighted to find out about this event and to be able to attend it. I teach English Literature at the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College, which is the adult degree program.

Mr. Gaiman, sat in conversation which the host, Professor Francesca Coppa, and he spoke at length about his career as a writer and about writing itself. This talk offered something for a wide variety of people, including scholars of literature, writers, and readers of Mr. Gaiman’s work. I include myself in all three categories.

I was especially interested in his view on not being branded as one kind of writer. He has written fantasy, horror, children’s novels, graphic novels, and short stories, among others. He deals with a wide variety of topics and ideas in his works, and that appeals to me greatly as a writer.

Mr. Gaiman discussed his treatment of mythology and his refusal to be put into one box in his writing. I think this is a huge problem for writers today, because we are encouraged to brand ourselves for marketing so that readers know what to expect. I certainly understand the need for marketing, but it can potentially damage writers to be viewed as writing just one kind of work or restricting themselves to one specific genre or type.

I am a writer of speculative fiction, which really can be applied to all fiction. I am a writer of  horror, YA fantasy, and will be writing a romance novel, several historical novels, and a thriller.  These ideas are in my head, and I will explore them all. I hope being a diverse writer will be my brand.

Mr. Gaiman is certainly a talented, skilled, and accomplished writer of a wide range of material.  If you have never read his work, you should. My favorite work of his is American Gods, which I have taught in several classes. Among his other work is–Coraline, the Sandman Series, and The Ocean at  the End of the Lane. Read his work!

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Another Successful Meeting of the Grounds for Thought Literary Group!

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We had a very successful meeting of the Grounds For Thought Literary Group at the Taylor Roasted CoffeeHouse in Northampton, PA on Saturday night. I had expected a small group of only about 5 people to attend because it was a warm, bright, and dry early summer evening. Additionally, there were several local events that competed for people.

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image from: just a girl and her camera  (thanks Liz!)

What actually happened, however, was very different and a delightful surprise. Very quickly the main room of the coffee house filled, and with my count, fifteen people were in attendance. It was a full meeting, with all of the two hours taken up with readings from numerous people. I began with a chapter from my horror novel Evil Lives After, and then we heard from a variety of people. It is my policy, because this is a public blog, never to identify anyone’s name. That is not my place to give someone’s identity here. I will say, however, that a young lady who has been attending our meetings decided to read for the first time—you know who you are—and it was wonderful. She read her first chapter of the first draft of a novel she is writing. She is talented, and the audience was engaged by the story. Great work to you!

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It is always encouraging to see a disparate group of writers and listeners come together for an evening of shared writings and readings. I am deeply grateful to be a part of this gathering.

Once again, I want to mention the fine quality of the coffee house. If anyone is ever traveling in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, be sure to make a visit to Taylor Roasted CoffeeHouse in Northampton, Pa.
http://taylorroastedcoffeehouse.com/

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A 3rd Draft Complete

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It always feels wonderful to reach a goal!  I had hoped to have completed the third draft of my Young Adult novel by the middle of this month, and I finished it on Wednesday!

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The next step in the process is to have it read by a few select readers and then return to the revision process.  I suspect the next draft will  take approximately 1-2 months, so accounting for reading times, I would like to have this draft (# 4) finished by the end of the summer.

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I am taking just the weekend off from drafting, and then I will return to the cycle of beginning a new novel.  I have several competing in my head to be the next one begun, so I am not yet sure which will win.  I will, however, choose and begin a first draft on Monday.  My goal for that draft is to have it finished by the end of the year.

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As a side note, I am working, albeit, very slowly on my academic book.  I am still trying to find a copy of the play I need, so more on that progress in the future.

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What Book Would You Choose To Be?

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One of the central themes in the Young Adult novel I am writing is the issue of who controls knowledge and of book banning. I was thinking about it this morning, and I remembered an assignment I used in several classes that reflects this question. I have taught Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, the most recently in a class on Banned Books.

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Montag, the fireman book burner turned book lover, finds a group of people living on the outskirts of society, who are dedicated to the preservation of books by becoming living copies of the books. They choose a book, commit it completely to memory, and then find another young person to pass this knowledge to until the time comes when the books can be once again printed and read.To have my students understand this idea personally, I assign them to choose a book they love and to memorize a small passage of 1-2 paragraphs, which they then give to the class at the end of the semester. I, too, perform this exercise.

So, as I was thinking about this today, I was wondering what books other people would choose to be, if we lived in such a terrible world. What book would you choose to become? If you can’t decide on one, then suggest a list of 1-5 books.

My choices, in no particular order, are: Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Don Quixote, by Cervantes, A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin, and The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien.  Yes, I know these are huge texts!  Please offer your choices.

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A Progress Report

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After I finished the piles of end of the semester grading, I was able to attack again the third draft of my Young Adult speculative fiction novel. Even though I had to put the writing aside briefly, I am still on the pace I had hoped for. I just reached 100 pages.

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I will continue to try to revise at least 10 pages a day though the rest of May. My target for this month is to reach at least 200 pages. If I can reach that goal, I will be very happy with my progress. I have given myself a little bit of wiggle room, since there are 12 more days left in this month, and if I do all 12 days, I would reach about 220 pages.

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Now, after the drum roll please, I hope that I have this draft done by the middle of June. It should be 250-300 pages. If I can finish that draft, then I put it aside as several people read it for me, and then soon again, I will begin the next draft. And the process of writing and revision will continue.

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An Epiphany!

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Solutions to problems that I have been considering sometimes come to me at the oddest of moments. I have found answers to questions about writing or teaching while in the shower, in the bathroom, or just after waking up. I am sure this experience is not unique to me, and I suspect the subconscious mind working on a difficulty and then presenting the answer when it is ready might be the explanation for this phenomenon. What would Dr. Freud have to say about this?

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Recently while on a gallivant with my wife, a drive we take for relaxation with no particular place in mind and hoping to find back roads we haven’t yet explored, a solution to my second novel burst into my consciousness.

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I had written two previous drafts of this book, a Young Adult speculative novel, set extremely far in the future, but I felt unsatisfied with its structure. I have had several people read it and make extremely useful comments on the book. One asked me if there would be a sequel, and I realized that I was thinking in those terms. But I was still not certain about this one. What was it? A single novel? Two books?

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The answer came to me as we were cresting a hill in the beautiful back area of northeastern Pennsylvania. I said to my wife that I needed to tell her this solution so I didn’t lose it. This was one of the few times I went out without pad and pen, something I almost always have with me. She graciously listened, and I explained what burst into my mind.

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I now know the structure: it is a trilogy, and I know where the divisions are for each book. I now understand the arc of the entire trilogy, as well as the narrative arc of each text. I also know the antagonists of each piece as well as the overarching antagonist of the trilogy. As I talked it out, the answers solidified in my mind.

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So I am now working on the draft of the first book of the trilogy. I hope to have this done by the end of May or early June. We will see.

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A Goal Reached

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I wanted to finish a first draft of my third novel by the end of this month, and I have done that.  I am not impressed by the draft, because it needs a mountain of work.  I see numerous serious narrative issues that I will need to address in future drafts.  In fact, I am not sure if I will continue with this one–I have to let it percolate for a while before I decide what to do with it.

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This completion of the first draft does lead me directly to my next immediate writing goals.   I intend to attack the completion of the third draft of my second book, a Young Adult novel over the next couple of months.  I want to have a third version complete by the end of May, which is optimistic, or June at the very latest, which might be more realistic.  If the third rewrite moves well, I will then aim for formal editing, and perhaps, just maybe, begin submitting it.

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As the semester grows to a close,  I will soon be able to finish my grading work and devote more time to the work on this revision.  I hope I am able to complete this goal.

Another Successful Meeting!

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Over the weekend–on Saturday evening, we had another meeting of the Grounds for Thought Literary Group at the Taylor Roasted CoffeeHouse in Northampton, PA.  Once again, this was a very successful event.  It was one of the more well attended sessions, with around 16 people.  We have had as few as 5 and as many as the mid-20s.

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As always, it was intended not to be a critique group, but a place where anyone can share parts of his/her writing or read from someone they enjoy.  It is intended to be a celebration of writing and reading and a place of welcome for those who are working on their writing.

I read the new prologue for my young adult novel, and the general consensus was that it was successful in pulling readers into the plot.  Thank you to all who did for sharing your commentary with me!

Several read from their works in progress, including novels and poetry.  One man read excerpts from The Illiad.  It was quite an eclectic range of work, and I enjoyed all of it.  Whenever there are groups of people gathered for exploring reading, there is magic in the air.

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Thank you to Jackie and John for providing space and serving wonderful tea and coffee–the best in the Lehigh Valley!

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A Revision Dilemma

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As I work on my third draft of my second novel, a young adult future speculative book, I have realized that I have an interesting problem from the very beginning of the book. I had spent a fair amount of time drafting and editing the prologue to the novel, and I was reasonably certain that it was pretty good. Certainly, it was not perfect, but still it was in a workable state.

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After an initial read by a few people, I had two completely different responses to the beginning. One person loved the opening and said it would pull a reader into the world of the book; one said that, while it was well-written, it did not seem to lead directly into the plot of the novel.

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I tell my students in my various First Year Writing courses when two peer evaluators suggest that a problem exists in a particular part of their papers, even if then offering disparate solutions, that they should consider very carefully a problem, in that section, does exist. They should consider the various suggestions, but always remembering they are the authors of their own writing, make a decision on revision themselves. No matter what anyone suggests, the author must always retain the final say in the writing. BUT all authors should consider suggestions from all readers they respect.

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I decided that the best way to approach this problem was to write another prologue, one that led directly to the main character and to the plot.

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After I complete that revision, I will read and have the book read with both prologues, one after the other and see which should stay. I think I know which will be better, but for now, I have to wait and see.

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