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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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nanowrimo16“This is where it gets hard, in the perseverance of persistence, in the impetus to forge ahead when clouds obscure your way.” ~Theodicus

There’s a wall, not a literal one, but one that seems just as solid when faced with it. It’s called the 10,000 word threshold. By the time I get to it every single November I’m faced with a few things to chew on before proceeding…

  1. What realizations have my main character(s) made by this point?
  2. Am I digging deep enough into the back stories?
  3. Where do I need to go with the next 10,000 words?
  4. Does the dialogue reveal more about my character motivations and personalities?
  5. How can I avoid a lull?
  6. Am I being consistent?
  7. What about flashbacks?

This last point is one that I deal with most often because I like including flashbacks in my work, particularly in my novels. I’m a huge fan of revealing a lot of my characters’ backstories through flashback. But keeping it all straight — knowing what I’ve said through flashback and what I’ve omitted — can be tricky. However, 10,000 words in means I should have already set up significant flashbacks and that I have a lot to draw from when going back to the present. If not, then I need to go back in and edit.

That’s my process, such as it is, that I’ve pieced together over the five years that I’ve been doing this novel writing business. It’s still fascinating to me that I’m doing this, that I’m not still only writing occasional short stories and poetry. And I love it, the ability to craft entire stories, whole pages of intrigue and interactions, like I’m in the story myself. In a way, of course, I am.

Also, 10,000 words means I’m 1/5th of the way to the final goal of 50,000, but I’m still very much more toward the start of the journey. That helps keep things in perspective, but it also inspires me to write on.

Word Count: 14,064.

Sam

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reader-booksUpon finishing and publishing a book I always have mixed feelings. On one hand I’m excited to get it out there in the world, and on the other… it’s out there in the world. That means my words, my characters, my imaginary, private world is now very much public. I loved getting to know them in the microcosm of their world, to breathe life into them, to interact with them far away from others. But now they’re out in the harsh lights of the larger world, and they will be judged for who they ended up being when I decided the book was finished. They have no more chances to grow and evolve into anyone else. They’re in effect stuck in that fateful moment when I ended things without asking for their opinion.

The good news, however, is that they will now get to interact with so many more people than they ever have before. Instead of being just characters inside my head, or inside my flash drive, or on my computer screen, they can now be downloaded onto your iPad. They can now be exposed to people in Australia, in Calcutta, and in Costa Rica. Others can form opinions about them and their motivations for their actions inside the world that I created for them. They can fit nicely into the pages of a book that I can sign, but it was never about me. It was always about them, and that remains true even though they’re out in the larger world, maybe even more so now than it ever was before.

One of the brilliant things about still being in the process of writing and editing a novel is that there is always a chance to change things. If I don’t like my word choice I can switch out different words. If I’m not sold on my character names I can name them something else that resonates more. I can change anything and everything, relying on my instincts to refine and to keep refining until I’m satisfied. But I’m a writer. I’m never completely satisfied. If I took long enough to be completely satisfied with my work I would never publish anything. Hell, I wouldn’t even be able to write this blog. But I have to get to a certain point when I realize there is nothing more I can do to this world I’ve created, when I have to just let my characters out into the real world and see how well they assimilate.

It’s gotten easier to know when I’ve hit that point, to know when tinkering even more will be tinkering too much. It wasn’t too hard this time to hit that “save” button for the last time on this novel. And while I know I can’t change it anymore, I know that it’s for the best. It was time to let the inmates out of the prison, so to speak, of my mind. I was reading back through the book this morning, and I’ve made my peace with it. It’s as good as I could have possibly gotten it, and as a writer that’s all I could ever ask of myself.

Now, on to promoting it. Book signing coming soon.

Sam

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LeavesinFall4My latest novel is equal parts coming of age story and mystery. It is fraught with controversies — some earned and others the product of gossip — and its main characters are not immune to any of it. In fact, the lynch pin that holds the entire book together is the frailty of everyone who inhabits it. With that being said, though, it is a quiet strength that keeps things from falling off the rails in the end.

Welcome to Arcadia, gateway to the Midwest, the “Town that God Forgot,”or if he didn’t forget it then perhaps Santa Claus did on his way back from the North Pole. Whatever the excuse, the town is bereft of both a true heritage and a viable future. As for its present, well, that’s up in the air too, dependent as it is on a shaky infrastructure and poor management of town funds.

Life is a boring experience for nine-year old Jeremy Renton, a stranger in his own house, so he’s learned to head into the far reaches of his family farm, where excitement waits in the form of his bountiful imagination. But something happens out on that land that imagination can’t control, that shapes his life, and the town’s very nature, in ways that he never could have fathomed. In the course of a year things change immeasurably, causing Jeremy to doubt everything he’s ever known, as summer turns to fall, and winter looms on the horizon.

For Kimberly Jones, her entire life has been an exercise in futility. Her father is the town big shot, but his reign hasn’t extended to her, and she’s struggling to make ends meet on a teacher’s salary in a small town. When a juicy piece of gossip shakes Arcadia, though, she can’t help but get swept up in it, and in its possible implications. As she begins to put the pieces together, with a help of a few others, a picture begins to form that leads her in directions she hoped she would never go.

With this small town backdrop, where everyone knows everyone else, and where all secrets come out in the end, Leaves in Fall comes alive, keeping you on edge throughout in a race to know everything before the thrilling conclusion.

Or at least, that’s what I hope happens when you read it. I’m proud of how it’s turned out, and I welcome you to check it out, now available on Amazon, in both Kindle format and in paperback form.

Sam

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51wtrHagooL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_December 23, 1996 (10:55 p.m.) – With Angela

The whole of Maryland is quiet tonight, or at least it seems that way to me as I sit on this perfectly made bed and stare at the wall. It is nearly Christmas and I’m not with my family for the first time in my life. That talk was an exhausting one, when I told my mother I wanted her to drop me off here, that I wouldn’t be going with them to West Virginia to visit my family. But I’m an adult now, and I firmly believe that love conquers all, except that I’m not sure, except that I’m deathly afraid that love won’t conquer even this, much less whatever comes after.

I have already gone through the rack of CDs by the stereo on the far side of the room and mentally placed each one into genres — soundtracks, gospel, rock and roll. It was something to do on a Monday night, far away from home, in a house as silent as a tomb, but I wouldn’t dare go out into the hallway. Angela’s mother could be out there, waiting in the dark, ready to pounce on me if I were to venture forth. So I sit here on this bed thinking about my innermost fears, healthy or not.

When we got here my mother insisted on coming inside, on meeting the woman I might someday call my mother-in-law, because I think she sees what’s so obvious to me, that I’m crazy for this girl. Sure, the timeline is off, somehow sped up in this age of instance, but the emotions are real, for both of us. I’m sure of it. And my mother wanted to size hers up, to see where she stands, how solid she is in the midst of this sudden love. There is one check in her favor because she offered to let me stay for a week, a boy she had never met before we arrived in Maryland two days ago.

There is a creaking in the hall, not unlike a door being opened, or perhaps it is my imagination running wild with me. Since ten o’clock I have been shut in here with only these CDs to keep me company, as I was last night, and the night before. It is Angela’s curfew, the time at which she must be in bed, and although I don’t have to follow that schedule, I cannot disturb her. Rules of the house. But I cannot sleep, and I couldn’t last night, or the night before, because while I am here this week it is the last I will see of the girl I love for five months.

This seems like such wasted time.

Then I see a beautiful milk chocolate hand wrap around the corner of the door as it eases open and makes no sound. Perhaps the sentry has gone to bed herself, but I don’t even care. I am just so overjoyed that I can have a private moment with the love of my life, with the girl I hadn’t even known six months ago but who now takes up the entirety of my existence. She leaves the door open as she slips inside and flops down unceremoniously on the guest bed, the one that was so pristine before she showed up but that now resembles the aftereffects of a thunder storm. I have never been so proud of such destruction. She smiles at me, and my heart melts.

“Midnight is where the day begins,” she says, quoting our favorite band.

“But it’s not even 11 yet,” I reply, feigning shock at her entrance.

“Yeah, I couldn’t wait so long to see you again,” she admits.

I wrap my arms around her, because I know these moments are fleeting, that these moments are like glass, that we may not have this time again. At the same time, as I look into her eyes, I can see our future reflected back at me, and I feel it can be spectacular. If we can only make it past the next five months.

Sam

Purchase Detours, a novel by Sam McManus, from Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com today.

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This Novel, Day 3

leavesinfall2Every time I start a new novel is another chance to meet more characters for the first time. It’s always interesting to me how they show up partially formed on the page, and then they transform themselves the more I write, twisting and gyrating like snakes until they emerge completely whole in the course of the re-writes. But right now, 3 days in, is the time for growing pains, and some pretty big ones.

Normally I leave my titles until last, but I have to have a working title in order to save the file, and to post my updates on the NaNoWriMo site, for all the maniacs like me who are spending this month falling in love with a new story. So my working title is Leaves in Fall, and I created a cover that I like more and more each time I look at it. I have to keep reminding myself, though, that I am no more tied to it than a traveling ranch hand is to the person who used to pay him.

Eventually I will probably move on from the both the working title and the cover that comes along with it, but the characters will live forever, so I want to do right by them. And until now I’ve set my stories primarily in major cities (or at least larger cities), but I felt this massive pull to take these cast of characters to a small town in Kansas. And that’s where they are, living their lives under the watchful scrutiny of my omniscient point of view.

Word count: 5,734 words.

Sam

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