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A Fitting Sequel

nanowrimo-posterI’m almost halfway home in National Novel Writing Month, and more than 2/3rds of the way through my goal of 50,000 words. It’s fascinating to me that I can stay on course like this for so many consecutive days, even though this month hasn’t been the easiest one for finding time. Often I find myself not even getting started on my word count until after 8 at night, when I’m already exhausted and fighting the desire to just skip it for the day. But I’ve stayed the course anyway.

It helps that I am really into my story line, that it’s the continuation of a book I spent so much time and effort on before, and that it’s this entire fantasy world I created just for these characters. Well, I guess the word fantasy is a bit of a misnomer because it all takes place in America, but the time periods are a bit skewed, and the America of the book is a completely different kind of America from the one I’m used to, by design.

I’m thinking now that it won’t be YA after all. My wife reminded me that having a 30-year old protagonist kind of takes it out of the realm of something teenagers will want to read. Which is okay for me, although the world of the books is definitely a teenager kind of world, with magic, and relationships, and the good vs. evil dynamic. I am really getting into the good vs. evil dynamic right now. I’m deep into the climactic scene, and it’s taking every ounce of my strength and verbal dexterity to pull it off.

When I started 14 days ago I knew I would eventually wind up here, nearly halfway through the month, at a considerably significant place in the manuscript, working hard every day to keep up the pace. It’s just funny to me how things work, that this tale, that this world I created a couple of years ago, is alive and well, and into its second novel. Someone asked me just today if I saw it as a two book series or if there will be more to write after this one. I didn’t even take a second to think about it. This is without a doubt at least a trilogy. I have some real ideas for where these characters go next.

But for now, I’m going to let them finish out this tale.

Day 14 down. Word count: 37,850.

Sam

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20171031_184458~01~01.jpgI’m sitting here at my desk with a cup of coffee to hand, thinking up fantastic stories that will hopefully come to fruition in the next 30 days. It’s dark outside and I feel like utter crap, but my brain won’t shut down for the night. That’s because November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I am once again taking on the daunting task of writing 50,000 words in a month. This is my sixth year doing NaNo, but there was a time when I never thought I’d ever even attempt it.

For a long time I was simply a writer of short works: short stories and poems were my forte, and I didn’t stray too far from those. They were creature comforts for me, as reliable as Old Yeller and much cuddlier. People would sometimes ask me if I was ever going to try and write a novel, and I would laugh at them. “Why would I stretch outside my comfort zone?” For me it was an easy answer, because for me it was all about doing what was easy back then.

My wife, upon hearing that I was gearing up for yet another NaNoWriMo, good-heartedly joked, “So we won’t see you for the next month.” On some level that’s about the extent of it, honestly, because NaNo takes a singular commitment. It means setting word limits every single day and hitting those word limits, come sleet, snow, or hail… you know, or even the dreaded writer’s block. It’s particularly tricky when faced with all that life likes to throw in the way, but that’s also what makes it so satisfying. When I look up on November 30 and realize I’ve surpassed 50,000 words in one month I raise my hands high like a fighter who has gone 12 rounds with a behemoth.

So I’m ready to begin again, but this time will be different from the ones that have preceded it. For one, I won’t be writing something directly from scratch. With ever other NaNo I came into it with some ideas but nothing really set in stone. This time, though, I’m writing a sequel, which is a first for me. I’ve never written any kind of series, for probably the same reason I hadn’t written a full novel until seven years ago. Once I had the idea of writing a novel under my belt it became relatively easy to write with that in mind. But a series… well, it takes that much more commitment and an ability to take your characters and seamlessly slide them into another world, even if it’s the same world.

I guess it would have made more sense to just write 200,000 words in one shot, then separate all those words into two or three separate books, but I can’t imagine writing that way. For me every book has to have a beginning and an end, and splitting something in the middle seems just a tad bit wrong. Besides, now that I’m up for challenging myself, why not add on some more pressure? Maybe I should have waited until my 10th NaNo to attempt it, but I’m feeling like it’s time now.

Which reminds me, I’m tackling this as a YA series, something else I’ve never really done before (the first book hasn’t been released yet). It’s fascinating to me to write something so foreign to me, and yet I absolutely adored the first volume in the series. I knew while I was writing it that I wasn’t done with the characters, but I never thought far ahead enough to know exactly where I would take them next. Or where they would take me next.

I have a title, and that’s a start. I also have a chronology that I’m thinking will go in the beginning of every book in the series. It’s a start indeed. And first thing tomorrow I’m going to begin the beginning, as I attempt to string thread from where the first book ended off to where this one enters in. My thoughts have gone many places, from when I first decided to attempt to do this, to right now on the verge of actually digging in. Either I will get through it or I won’t.

But I think I will. Now I just need to begin.

Sam

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theLongConimageSometimes a novel just begins itself, so I have to catch up to it in due process, and I spend the entirety of the adventure lost in the nuance of the characters, so that when it’s done even I don’t know where they end and I begin. Sometimes a novel burns itself so deeply into my subconscious that I dream of its circumstances as though I were there, engaged in their decisions as if they were me.

But they’re not. They live their own lives, and I am simply the conduit for others to see the journey. Or something like that. Sometimes a novel comes while I’m writing something else, and makes me stop everything so I can write it.

My new book, The Long Con, is such a novel, and I’m pleased to say that it is now available for purchase on Amazon.com in paperback format. Soon, very soon, it will also be for sale in digital form, but why get a digital copy when you can hold the very book in your hands?

For months I lived in this world. I bumped into these characters and said “Excuse me.” I spent literally thousands of minutes breathing them in, so that it became second nature to ask them what they wanted for dinner before thinking about my own. The Long Con is more than just a novel to me; it is an experience that I didn’t want to ever end. And I guess in a sense it doesn’t end here, but it develops a new beginning.

Because now you too can get to know Sally Groves, and Glen Davidson, and everyone else who lives between those pages. But until you can get your grubby mitts wrapped around your own copy, here’s an excerpt from the first chapter…

[From The Long Con, copyright 2017, Sam McManus]

I could tell you what you want to hear, but that would be too easy, wouldn’t it? I mean, every story has a good guy and a bad guy, and it would be so simple to paint me as the latter, but things aren’t ever black and white, even if we try to shove them into those categories. I could tell you that I am the victim here, that everything happened to me and not because of me, but I would be lying to you. I am no portrait of naiveté, and certainly not someone to overlook warning signs if I had even glimpsed their existence. What I can tell you is that things are not always as they seem, which includes this crazy world around us, and us as individuals as well. When it comes down to it, we all look out for number one, even if we won’t ever admit to that simple truth.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, as I often do, because my brain is on overdrive 24/7, and it’s pretty hard for me to catch up, much less for anyone else to. I have many important things to do before this day is over, and I need to keep them well-organized; they’re as delicate as a house of cards in the path of a great wind. Because before this day is over I may well be dead, or worse. What’s worse than death, you ask? Well, if I have to tell you then it’s not anything you need to worry about, which makes me happy for you, but pretty despondent for myself.

First off, it’s about the money. I mean, what isn’t? The love of money might be the root of all evil, but the lack of money is the axe that chops down the whole damn tree. I have plenty of money, but absolutely none of it is mine, at least not free and clear. I’ve spent almost the entirety of my adult life trying to reconcile that seeming dichotomy, with varying degrees of success, but in the end that’s what it boils down to: too much and not enough money at the same time. That’s because it’s been in trust funds that have ages attached to them: the first installment on my twenty-fifth birthday, the second on my thirtieth, the third on my thirty-third… you get the picture. And none of these dates can come soon enough. That’s because I owe several people a lot of money.

I’m not some kind of gambler. I know what you’re thinking. There are many people out there who are addicted to putting in pennies and trying to get dollars back in return, who think that the system owes them one, so they waste their paychecks in seedy casinos and over games of chance. Sure, they win from time to time, but just enough to keep them coming back, to keep them dumping money into the pot, money that they will never see again. I’m not one of those poor people (and here I use the term poor in both of its connotations). But just because I don’t gamble overtly doesn’t mean I don’t take chances I probably shouldn’t take, and they’ve caught up with me more than I’d care to admit.

My addiction is the long con, the patient alternative to the short con. You know the short con quite well, perhaps, when someone steals your identity by taking your credit card, or somehow getting the numbers and running up a big bill that you theoretically end up paying for instead of the thief. The short con could also include pretending you’re leaving money to pay your restaurant bill on the table, but you’re just leaving a Gideon’s mini-Bible instead. It’s simple enough, but you also don’t get very much money from it. At the most the short con can get you a couple thousand bucks, probably, if it’s the identity theft angle anyway. I’ve never done it; there’s obviously just not enough skin in that game.

But the long con – the long con is one of the most beautiful experiences on the planet. It takes patience and perseverance, but in the end it can land you much more than a couple thousand bucks, and if you play your cards right the long con could completely set you up for life…

Seriously, check it out if you’re into suspense, into solving puzzles, but also into getting inside the minds of characters who are so real maybe you’ve seen them on the street already. I know I certainly enjoyed living with them for a few months. Now they’re yours.

Sam

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breatheSix months later, plus a couple of breaks, and the hectic nature of work, but I’m finally nearing the end of the yellow brick road on this new novel. The hardest part is finishing the first draft, especially when the world tends to intrude on the fictional more often than not.

It started with the challenge, to create 50,000 words in 30 days, way back in November, and I accomplished that with no problems. The words just flowed more often than not, my imagination soaring and the characters coming to fruition as characters tend to do. The month flew by, and I was over 60,000 words when it did, but once the rush was over I still had to finish the novel.

Because it’s not enough to just stop on November 30 and pronounce it all done, to let it collect dust on a flash drive, never to be seen from or heard from again. I’ve done that before, and I don’t think I could do it again. These characters want to live. They want to breathe. They want to be out in the world, living their lives. And I will oblige them, but I just want to make sure I’m faithful enough to them before unveiling them. It’s my job as an author.

So I’ve been working, in bits and pieces, over these past six months, trying to finish the story, to take them to a satisfactory conclusion that makes me feel something inside. It’s been a difficult process, not because the words won’t come (because they always do), but because I let the real world intrude way too often. Without a strict timeline it got easier every night to just let it slide, to say I will work on it the next night, and like dominoes the nights fall one by one, and no writing on the novel gets done.

But somehow here I am, and I’ve been writing, really writing, on the novel for the past five days. My word count has gone up drastically, but more importantly my characters are progressing. They’re stressing out, and falling in love, and getting hurt, and just simply living their lives again after an interminable pause. And I’m falling in love all over again myself, with this world, with these characters, and with this storyline.

This is the point I always get to in my novels, when I know I’m nearly done, and I’m dying to reach the end, but I know I’ll miss having them so close to me. It’s a wonderfully thrilling part, though, a culmination of so much time spent together, the words an extension of myself. They always will be. Now it’s time to finish up this draft, to begin the editing process, to let this story live on its own, to let these characters breathe on their own.

And write the next one.

Sam

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“So what’s your new book about?” my mom asked while we FaceTimed tonight.

“It’s a mystery,” I responded, that double edged sword cutting both ways at the same time, because as always it’s hard to break something down that isn’t quite done yet, that still has some plot left to ravel up.

“You know I love mysteries,” said my mom. “I’m still working my way through your last book. It’s Greg and Jason, right?”

“If you’re talking about characters, I honestly have no idea,” I replied, shaking my head. “Once they’re out there in the world they belong to everyone. They’re not my little secrets anymore, not only mine anymore.”

“I know what you mean,” she said, but I’m not sure she does. I’m not sure she can.

Being a writer is a solitary endeavor, but it’s not really solitary when I think about it. It’s about creating characters that live and breathe on the page, that I can connect with, that I can both love and despise. They become my friends, my confidants, my family, and my enemies. I live and die with their mixed emotions, always on the verge of  breaking down when they do.

And that’s something I can’t adequately put into words. It’s an ironic side effect of being a writer, of publishing something that is now out there in the world living and growing on its own. In its own way it is like giving birth, and I’m proud of every one of my children living out there in words. I love them all, but I’m not done just because they’re out of the nest.

Which is why I told my mom it is a mystery, because books write themselves, because while I know my characters I am not my characters. I let them live their lives, and these new characters in this new book are doing just that. They’re making their own mistakes, solving their own problems, and doing things I wasn’t sure they could do when I started this process. I know where they’ll end up by this book’s conclusion, but how the journey gets them there, and what state of mind they’ll be in is anyone’s guess. Even mine.

The hardest part of the process for me is having the patience as a writer to let my characters get there in their own way, and not trying to force the issue. It’s easy to say I’ll do it, that I’ll be patient, but once the writing begins to flow it’s difficult to be that guide on the side, yet so satisfying when it finally comes as it does.

And yes, it was Greg and Jason, but I had to look at the book flap to remember. Which is okay, because soon it will be Jennifer and David, and everyone who inhabits the world of this book. Then on to the next.

Sam

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“Describe a ‘first day’ in your life.”

first_place_blue_ribbonI’m really big on firsts. The first tooth I lost was a cause for utmost celebration, even though it created an imbalance in my mouth, because I knew more would follow. The first time I kissed a girl the smell of her gum (cinnamon) stayed with me for weeks afterwards, even though we shared only the one kiss. The first movie I saw in the theater was abbreviated because I arrived late, but I will never forget it for as long as I live.

There’s just something about firsts that is special, that draws me in and makes me want to indulge them for as long as I can, because once each one has passed there is no getting it back. The first time is special simply by essence of being the first time, and nothing can change it once it has occurred. That’s why people celebrate anniversaries, because each one reminds them of the original, of the first time something happened, good or bad.

The first time I realized I was black, and what that meant, was in fifth grade, when a class of white students visited our all-black school and I was introduced to the “other” for the first time. Before then all the faces I saw looked like mine, and everyone I knew had a similar history and heritage. But that day, the first day they were at the school, I saw that there was more to this world than my own insular understanding of it based on those near me. That was when being black became a differentiator and not just something I saw in the mirror every day.

My first day in Tennessee was a study in contrasts. For a boy from the ghetto in one of the largest cities in the country, moving to an up and coming college town in the heart of the Bible Belt was a shock to the system. I remember looking around when I got out of the car after driving all night, and wondering what this brave new world held for me, if I could even survive what I knew would be a radical change. I walked around in a daze that day, faced with the surreal idea that I lived there, that it wasn’t just some chaotic dream.

Life is full of firsts, from the first step we take, to the first song we hear, to the first time we hear the word “dad” and know it means us. Those firsts tend to define us more than many other things can because they stick with us. Often we memorialize them, and revisit them in our thirst for a nostalgia that may or may not have been truly amazing that first time but becomes so in the reliving.

Which is our prerogative. Which is our joy.

Sam

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fadedpicIt’s the last day of November, which means I’m down to the end of the novel I’ve spent the last 30 days creating on fast forward. During the course of this month I’ve gone through the highs and lows of novel writing — the weights and balances that make the process of writing so dynamic, and why I love it so. But as tedious as it was in places to keep going day after day, to hit the deadlines I set for myself, to hit 50,000 words in 30 days, it was also an adventure in forming a narrative I would like to read myself someday.

Its working title is Faded, testament to my lack of creativity when it comes to working titles, and yet somehow it seems to fit the constructed narrative as it now stands. In some way the entire thing is all about an experience that happened twenty-five years before the events in the present day, a faded memory that never truly fades, because they never do. And the characters need to adjust to their memories of that time, to bring it back into focus so they can deal with the repercussions from it that have come home to roost.

Synopsis:

A girl shows up on Glen Davidson’s doorstep with a sad tale of death and disappointment, begging him to show her mercy, to offer up a leap of faith on her behalf. He does so, but unbeknownst to him the story is a lot murkier than she’s made it out to be. Can this investment banker beat the odds and discover this girl’s secret before it’s too late for her… or for him?

Characters:

Sally Groves claims she’s Glen’s long lost daughter, that she needs money, and that he’s the only one who can help her with her current problems. The only hitch: she isn’t who she claims to be, and the trouble she’s in is beyond her means, even with his help.

Glen Davidson is a man who made a huge mistake twenty-five years ago, and it’s haunting him now in the form of the girl who emerges from the shadows to make him second guess everything he thought he knew about himself. In his fight to protect a girl who doesn’t want his protection he might just lose himself.

Excerpt:

He can see the tears in her eyes again, and he wonders why she didn’t come to see him before now, why it took something so drastic to look for him after all this time. She rises, and he does too, but things are awkward with them, as they are at the very beginning. He reaches out his hand to her, and she takes it in an approximation of a handshake, but it lingers for a moment before she lets go first. Then she is gone again, out of the room and down the hall like an apparition floating on invisible wings. It’s easy for his subconscious to believe for a second that it didn’t just happen, that he didn’t just meet the child he never knew he had. But his conscious mind is busy dealing with the ramifications of the words they’ve just spoken to each other, the aftermath of it all.

Discussion:
When others hear that I am doing the challenge this month they have so many questions, but what I usually tell them is that it’s a labor of love, that it takes a commitment I didn’t think was possible, to forge ahead even when the words aren’t there. It takes a kind of perseverance to go day after day with so many words still to go, the countdown moving on and the word count hopefully going up at an exponential rate. But when I hit 50,000 words, and I realized I had gotten where I wanted, the satisfaction was so sweet.
Now I’m kind of sad because for the past month I’ve had a goal, a destination firmly in mind, and I’ve been so focused on reaching it. But now that I’m here at the end it is the beginning of “What next?” and I don’t know the answer to that question. I suppose I will work hard on re-drafting this novel from start to finish, then start on something else, because a writer really never stops writing.
Even when the madness of National Novel Writing Month has faded.
Sam

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