Monday, June 24, 2013

To Revisioning and Beyond: Remaking the The Franchise

A few years ago, I wrote a superhero book that was completely different from I, Crimsonstreak. Whereas Christopher Fairborne gives the genre the tongue-in-cheek treatment, this other book (The Franchise) takes a more serious look at the world of superheroes. It's a mix between The Firm and Watchmen set in a retro-futuristic 1960s with pulp heroes thrown in for good measure.

I really believe in this book and its concept. I've worked on it off and on for several years. Based on a pitch, I had an agent request it in 2010. The agent passed.

I've learned a lot more about writing and publishing since then. I'm far from an expert--just ask my publisher about the draft of II Crimsonstreak I submitted--but I'm a better writer than I was in 2010. When that agent passed, I took it hard. It was early in my writing journey, so I felt that was it. The Franchise was a terrible concept and would never work.

After I, Crimsonstreak came out, I started playing with The Franchise some more. I added a new character who's so essential to the book that I don't know how I wrote it without her. I fleshed out the setting--an area I tend to struggle with. I tried to make the main character more of an active part of the story instead of a character who was simply driven by the events around her. I wove in more backstory and added another layer to it.

A draft that was 75,000 became 80,000 words. I didn't cut content as much as I rewrote large sections of text. I created snippets of newspaper copy and text from a company handbook (a concept familiar to anyone who's flipped through Crimsonstreak and its appendices). More satisfied with the direction of the book, I needed a second opinion.

I sent it to my Beta Reader Extraordinaire. This wasn't a high-priority project--I was working on III Crimsonstreak and didn't need immediate feedback--so I told him to take his time. Because he's either partially insane or really, really good at what he does, he sent me pages upon pages of notes. These included suggestions on character arcs as well as things to look at in each chapter.

I went through the feedback and it became clear to me that simply "rewriting existing parts of the book" wouldn't work. Not only did I have a plot MacGuffin that I didn't like, my protagonist still wasn't fully-formed. A major supporting character also ended up being a bit shallow. The novel got too talky at points, so it needed another bit of action. The new character added to the book deserved more scenes and needed to be interwoven into the fabric of the story. The supporting characters--and there were a lot of them--needed to be more memorable.

So, while I haven't been writing anything "new," I have been adding to The Franchise. I'm not ready to give up on it yet because I feel there's a fantastic book hidden in there. The narrative needs to be pulled apart, rearranged, and given several more generous coats of polish. That's what I'm doing now.

In addition to rewriting large sections, I've trimmed a bunch of words and added new scenes. The current draft stands at about 91,000 words. I'm about a third of the way through this latest revision.

It's not always easy to finish a draft of the book and forge ahead with more revisions, but the more you do it, the less you dread it. I've gotten to the point--after getting over the initial shock of "the draft isn't perfect"--where I enjoy revising.

To revisioning and beyond!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Cover collaboration and the rise of the multiversal mustache

I made a last-minute adjustment to the "final" revision of II Crimsonstreak on Tuesday night. A character's mirror-world doppelganger ended up getting facial hair, a play on the much loved trope from the "Mirror, Mirror" episode of Star Trek. It's not exactly Spock's goatee, but it's close enough.

I didn't think of this myself, actually. This addition was part of the collaborative process of putting a cover together.

I'm working with my editor Kate Sullivan and talented artist Brooke Stephenson (who did the cover for I, Crimsonstreak) to come up with a cover for the sequel. I had a fairly clear idea of what I wanted. The idea was so clear, in fact, that I created a mockup in Photoshop. I'm decent with Photoshop, but my skills as an illustrator aren't professional grade. Still, I like to think I have a decent idea of how things look.

The cover for the first Crimsonstreak book went through a few different versions. We ended up going with a fantastic design Brooke made based (very, very) loosely on a concept I had for the cover. Trust me, I was as surprised as anyone when the cover concept ended up being something I came up with while fiddling with Photoshop. Brooke added the key touches that made the book come alive, such as the illustration of Crimsonstreak (my mockup used the Flash as a stand-in) and the idea to use newspaper cutaways to fill in the white space. The latter was a nod to the newspaper articles in the appendices and the character's background in journalism.

So, when it came time for II Crimsonstreak to go through the cover design process, I came up with a concept cover that echoed the first one. Seriously. The cover mockup I sent to Candlemark & Gleam utilized the same basic layout as I, Crimsonstreak, ripped pages and all. I even used the Flash again. Crimsonstreak meets a character in the second book named the Bluestreak who can outrun him. I pulled a page out of the Mortal Kombat palette-swap playbook, using a "blue" Flash and a "red" Flash to represent the Bluestreak and Crimsonstreak, respectively. Brooke will use that as a template and make it 800 million times better. I can't wait to see what she comes up with.

I'm really, really excited about the back cover. I mean...super stoked. Brooke plans to draw five comic book panels that echo comic's Silver Age. She'll use scenes from the book as the basis for these illustrations. So while the comic book characters of the Crimsonstreak-verse don't take form in a traditional comic book sense because it's a novel, Brooke will breathe life into several of them. Her rough, proof-of-concept sketches put a big smile on my face.

One of the characters caught my eye because she'd drawn him with a mustache--something I hadn't considered. We're dealing with an alternate universe doppelganger (yes, yes, again), and while I had written a specific physical difference between the character and the "real" version of that character, I hadn't considered giving him a mustache. Brooke's sketch convinced me he needed one, so I made a last-minute change to incorporate that particular feature as a gag.

I didn't have to do that. I could've told Brooke to forget about the mustache. I am, after all, the creator, right? Yet something about her drawing felt right, and I couldn't ignore that feeling. Now, that character has a multiversal mustache, all because of a little collaborative effort among Brooke, Kate, and me.

People will tell you that you lose a few things when you decide to go with a small press. That's true. But for every "take," there's also a "give." I get to help design the cover of my book--something a lot of authors think about but don't usually get to have much input on. The collaborative process of that design, in turn, ended up making a nice little addition to my novel. It's a minor change that amounts to nothing more than a few references, but it adds something memorable.

And for that, I'm grateful.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Game of (Writing) Thrones

About a year and a half ago, I said goodbye to my trusty writing chair. After I acquired it in 2004, the chair survived two moves, seven novels, and several dozen short stories. It also lived to tell the tale after my brother and I almost killed each other while putting the blasted thing together (weren't not exactly engineers).

Toward the end of its days, Old Reliable looked like this:

That chair, which lasted nearly eight years, had to be replaced. We took Old Reliable to Goodwill in hopes that someone could fix it up and make something out of it. We played "Amazing Grace" on the was an emotional time.

After fighting fits of uncontrollable tears, I finally bought a replacement. I assembled New Chair myself, expecting Old Reliable's successor to last just as long. It appears, though, that the daily process of butt-in-chair writing was too much for New Chair to handle. The fabric ripped and it started leaning to the right after about a year and a half. Here's how it looked:

Sure, it doesn't look that bad. Just try sitting in it. The snowman, by the way, is a sign that winter is coming for New Chair. It's getting a sendoff as well:

I don't know why Spock isn't there--we sent him an invitation. And before you get any fancy pants, J.J. Abrams-rehash ideas, we didn't launch the chair toward the Genesis Planet. Right out the torpedo tube for this one. No "Amazing Grace"--just pure explodey.

Old Reliable's gone. New Chair's a distant memory of inferior craftsmanship and space debris. What's next?

I have to have somewhere to sit when I write. I need a place to work on rewrites for III Crimsonstreak and polish The Franchise. Here it is:

I don't know what to call it yet. I just hope it's more like Old Reliable and less like New Chair. Because New Chair is a disappointment, like the Xbox One reveal and the Star Wars prequels. And Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

(This post was partially inspired by Cathy Day's piece on Writing Machines & Writing Spaces)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Another quick update

I plan to turn in "final" revisions on II Crimsonstreak by the end of the week/weekend. My rewrite fixed most of the issues with the book. Obviously, when you rewrite something significantly, you'll always find little bits that need to be tweaked. While reading through the book on my Kindle, I also spotted a few misspellings. I have to correct those and look at a few dozen notes I made while reading the manuscript. We shouldn't be too far off from having a cover reveal.

I'm also rereading III Crimsonstreak and making some notes on it. I want to give it some more polish before sending it to Beta Reader Mike. I need to consolidate a few things that happen in the last third of the book with events from the first third.

After that, I need to figure out which project I want to do next. I have a fantastic idea for another novel (one that's actually not a superhero book). I also have a book that's about 60% finished; I should probably go back and finish that (and re-plot the last act). I'm leaning toward working on the latter. I have a tendency to want to work on something new ("Oooo...ooooo...SHINY!") and leave other projects aside. It's very difficult to finish anything that way.