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The Road Trip

I love road trips, and I have an infuriating tendency to view life through “trip” or “journey” metaphors. (Do you think it’s a coincidence that the male lead character of my new series has the last name Journey?)

There are lots of “trips” going on in my world these days. My oldest son graduated from high school last week, and will be heading to college in the fall. My youngest will “bridge” from middle school to high school tonight. My middle son, who has profound autism, is always learning to deal with transitions, how to adapt to new situations and circumstances. It is a process—a journey, not a destination.

SILVER CROSS is in production. I’ve made all the changes I can make to it. I’m finally able to turn my fiction writing attention to the third book of the Journey/Tolman series. My working title is WOUNDED LAND, and I’ve done the reading, taken the research trips, written and rewritten the outline, then filled pages of incoherent notes to myself, which I will soon tape up above my desk, covering the wall.

It’s time to write the book.

There are always a few breathless moments before I start a new book, when I sit at the computer and type “Prologue” or “Chapter One.” It is like the beginning of a cross-country road trip. Did I check the tires, change the oil? Where is my Rand-McNally? Did I pack enough socks? But eventually I will stop pestering myself about the preparation. It’s time to get behind the wheel, pull out of the driveway, and point the car down the road. If I forgot something, I can figure it out along the way. That is part of the thrill of the road, the joy of discovering something unexpected…just as in my recent weekend trip up the road to Kansas, where I pulled off the road to marvel at courthouse architecture and to climb around a century-old steam engine in a small-town park. Likewise, in the research part of the same trip, I didn’t learn what I expected to learn…but I was able to fill in some of the blanks in the plot for the new book. I didn’t fill them in the way I anticipated, and the story took on a totally new dimension. My mind is filled with the history, with John Brown and John Wilkes Booth and Sergeant Boston Corbett, the man who shot Booth…and, as I have learned in the last few weeks, one of the strangest and most fascinating historical characters no one knows. My mind is filled with Nick and Andrew Journey and some difficult decisions that face Nick, with Meg Tolman and Ray Tolman and Sandra Kelly and Darrell Sharp and Kerry Voss, and with (as always) some shadowy figures who seek to twist history to their own ends in the present.

In the meantime, keep watching this space. I’ll post an excerpt from SILVER CROSS soon. It will publish on November 27.

Time to buckle up and head down the road. In a few days I’ll create a new Word file, and I’ll type the word Prologue…and I’ll begin to tell the story of WOUNDED LAND.



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Is That Real?

Right after “How long does it take to write a book?” and “Where do you get ideas?” comes this question: “How much of Nick Journey is really you?”

The answer: not so much.

But some.

You’ve heard it said before, that any fiction writer puts a bit of himself or herself into every character.  It’s unavoidable–what I’ve absorbed and experienced and observed in my “real” life can’t help but work its way into the fictional worlds I create. Likewise, other people–those I interact with every day, and those I met once for fifteen minutes a decade ago–are there, in some form. That’s the canvas. That’s the reality inside the fiction.

But, to be perfectly forthcoming, Nick Journey and I have a few things in common. We are both left-handed. We both live in Oklahoma (though I grew up in the state and Journey only came much later). We both have sons with profound autism. We both love history and the Civil War era. I love baseball, and he once played professionally. (Okay, maybe there’s a little bit of vicarious fantasy going on there…)

And that is pretty much it.

I’ve been told by people who know me that they see me in Journey. Maybe, but he’s a lot more courageous than I am. He’s more guarded with his feelings. He’s more analytical. He has an extraordinary sense of hearing, while I have a significant hearing loss. He can throw a curveball.

See? Lots of differences. Not much of an “alter ego” thing going on here.

I’m in Meg Tolman too. And Darrell Sharp. And The Judge.  (Not telling which parts of me are in the villain, though.)

I think of the relationships in my life, and how they come to the page, almost always subconsciously. Andrew Journey is not my son, either–though they share some of the same challenges. The relationship between Nick and Andrew is based on my life with the one of my three sons who has profound autism. Notice I said “based on.” Nick and Andrew’s relationship is both simpler and more complex than mine with my son.

And no, the ex-wife in COLD GLORY is not my ex-wife. I went out of my way to ensure that the portrayal of Amelia Boettcher was nothing like the mother of my children. In fact, my children’s mother and I have a communicative, functional, co-parenting relationship, and we have joint custody of our boys.  We don’t always agree, but we always communicate, quite unlike Nick and Amelia.

But I think of another relationship, and how it informed both the characters of Meg Tolman and Sandra Kelly. Bits of that relationship are in both women.

That’s life. That’s fiction. The two must overlap and intersect. It is one of the great joys and essential challenges of storytelling.

I’ll come clean, though, and admit that there is one character in COLD GLORY who comes quite close to being a living, breathing person from my real life. The funny thing? I didn’t realize it until I’d written the character, then on reviewing what I’d written, sat back and said, “Wow! That is So-n-So, and I didn’t even know it.”

Not going to tell you which character I’m talking about, though. There are a few things a guy has to keep to himself.




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How long, how long?

Of all the questions that writers are asked, perhaps the most obvious is “Where do you get your ideas?”  But, it has been interesting to me that I am asked this significantly less than another murky, decidedly unclear query:

“How long does it take to write a book?”

For me, there is no easy answer to this question, and this greatly vexes those who ask.  I’m never quite sure when a novel is really finished…or for that matter, when it is really begun.  Does it begin with the first germ of the idea, or the first bit of research, or outlining, or when I sit down at my computer and type “Chapter One?”

Likewise, is it finished when I’ve done my three (or more) drafts and sent it to my editor?  Or after the first or second round of revisions she suggests, or in the copy editing or first pass stages?  Changes are made at all these steps.  I keep seeing little things that need to be done—a word that I’ve overused, an unnecessary paragraph, a bit of dialogue that needs to be reworked, the elimination of adverbs—and don’t want to let them go.

It’s cloudy and indistinct, and I’m never sure how to answer this innocent (and perfectly legitimate) question.  Consider a bit of the timeline for COLD GLORY, which comes out next month:

December 2007 – first hint of the idea; initial research

January 2008 – first incarnation of an outline

February 2008 – prologue written (and then rewritten about 12 times)

March 2008 – writing begins in earnest

May 2008 – research travel; then the final push to finish first draft, which is done in June

June-December 2008 – revisions

December 2008 – parted ways with previous agent, began query process to find a new one

August 2009 – signed with new agent, began two rounds of revisions based on his suggestion

February 2010 – submissions to publishers begin

April 2010 – received offer from Forge; accepted offer

May 2010 – first contact from my Forge editor

June 2010 – received editorial letter and began two rounds of revisions based on my editor’s suggestions

Then there was copy editing (copy editors really know how to make a writer feel, shall we say, humbled), and first pass pages, in the ensuing months.  Did COLD GLORY really take me more than three years to write?  Certainly not—I wasn’t writing it full time, after all, with two other jobs, family responsibilities, etc.  And I didn’t really keep track of the time.  How much of that time between December 2007 and the book’s release in October 2011, did I spend writing?  No idea.  The story is the story—when I was in the world of Nick Journey and Meg Tolman and the Glory Warriors, I was in another place, a place where time is different.  (People who know me well may be amused by this, as in “real life” I am obsessive about time and always think I have less than I actually do, which means I get to places ridiculously early on occasion.  Maybe more than just on occasion.)

So the question about how long it takes to write a book always throws me off a bit.  The sequel to COLD GLORY is in my editor’s hands now.  I had a contract for it, hence a deadline (which I beat by sixteen days, thank you very much).  Does that mean it took less than a year to write?  Yes and no.  There is one part of the plot for that book, SILVER CROSS, that has been in the back of my mind for over twenty years.  I’m researching the third book now, and the story will center around something I just discovered within the last few weeks.

How long, how long?

It’s not an easy question for me to answer.  I have no insightful (or even mildly clever) response for “How long does it take to write a book?”

I think it takes whatever the story demands, and what the storyteller is willing to do to tell it.  Follow the story, believe in the story, listen to the characters, understand it, know it…and the timeline will take care of itself.

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