Book 2: The Law of Averages or The Trouble with Dreams

I tried getting Remember an Agent. That work was the best I could manage then. It was sheer audacity to believe Remember was the correct fit to be published. Since then, I’ve learned so much about writing. I needed something more relevant and approachable. More than that, it needed to be marketable. Would the work be appealing beyond the angle of dropping the reader into the character’s shoes?

 

That gave me a hit list. A list of things that the next book required. Some givens were already established so far in my writing career. A psychological thriller, futuristic optional, character driven, and involving love somewhere along the line. I also wanted something that’s set in reality, relatable, 50,000 words, and with average characters. Not all analytical scientists. I also wanted a few hangers-on from the Remember Sequel. That ended up as multiple points of view. I also wanted simple, easy to understand prose that allows the story to get across.

 

I came up with a few ideas/concepts.

1. the Earth is really one big machine that can teleport

2. a ghost sucks life force and vanishes after the people die

3. a cat turns into a human, helped to become a successful human designing cat toys

4. an alien world with varied population, mainly very thin humanoids that neatly float away without gear weighing them down, from high gravity home world chases down criminal just to allow escape

5. snake civilization of high intelligence makes heaters from fire to stay warm and hunt down larger animals  for food

 

And finally the idea I stuck with:

  1. place addiction

 

That idea came from a weird place. We all know about addiction to chemicals like cigarettes, alcohol, opioids, methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, marijuana, and various other things. The jargon abounds with these obviously. Let’s extend that to something more like love. Put on your nihilist hat, please. Love is basically an addiction to a person. Being around a particular person you love, triggers a highly complex, not well understood the neurochemical cascade of dopamine, oxytocin, and numerous others. Now, what about a place? Can people become chemically addicted to a place? Yes, if there’s an association or neural connection that links getting high with a specific place. The next obvious question is what happens if the place no longer works or the dosing ends? If a junkie can only get subpar dope, what happens? Well, we have a pretty good idea. What happens when a great relationship ends abruptly? Hate? Confusion? Betrayal? Inconsolable pain? Suicide? Take your pick. Initially, the idea just appeared as if from nowhere. Looking enough gave the root and stem of the idea/flower.

Editing as a Necessary Evil

Recently, I’ve been editing Remember. I don’t really like the editing process, but it’s a basic requirement of writing anything. It’s the antithesis of the writing. Editing is a nearly brainless activity in comparison. Editing something over and over still missing some errors is frustrating and motivation crushing. Typo blindness is troublesome. The writer knows the words they intended for the page. Not seeing a few typos each page isn’t really a hindrance for the person that wrote it. This WIRED article does a really good job explaining it. A novel is much more susceptible to typo blindness than say a 10-page research paper. A novel requires a lot of investment. Investment leads to seeing what you want to see, instead of what’s actually on the page.

 wired typos

That’s exactly what happened with Remember. A beta-reader pointed out several typos throughout the book. Unfortunately, I’d already put the ebook and paperback on Amazon. Exactly how that worked out is in an upcoming blog post. I quickly took off those listing. It wasn’t until a few months ago, but I reposted the unedited versions. I’m working on the edits as you’re reading this.

amazon listing 1

After the discovery of numerous typos, I worked out an editing plan. I’d already edited through four drafts at that point. I read slowly through each page twice. Once through a page and then again. Finding typos was easy. The work was time-consuming. I hadn’t yet found a method to stay motivated through more than an hour or so. Two or four pages a day. In a month of doing this, I lost all the motivation I could muster.

 

The blog has already featured the fruits of my procrastination. I feel too much guilt procrastinating on something completely useless. I have to justify it somehow. That’s how procrastination always starts, as a tangent that can somehow be connected back to the goal. I thought learning Photoshop would help me create book covers that I needed. Then After Effects to make a book trailer. Then 3D modeling for the book trailer. Then game development to practice 3D modeling. This happened in phases between more flawed editing.

wasting time

Through all this, my unconscious was entering the second epoch of my writing style. For some reason I can’t remember, I start thinking along the lines of clarity (an old blog post talked about a writer that showed me the way, Ella Dawson.) I recently read, the biggest mistake of a novice writer is trying to overcompensate for a perceived lack. Usually in the form of over-involved writing. That’s the symptom of Remember. Over complicated prose for confusing and difficult to understand writing. I reasoned if no one can understand what I’m writing, what’s the point. If it isn’t clear, there is no point.

 

I needed to simplify Remember. I decided to linearize it. Remember started out as two parallel story lines. One was six months ahead of the other. I jumped back and forth. The reader was getting lost. I cut out the boring stuff. Conor court trial and hospital stay were gutted (I’ll post them sometime). I moved the hook later in the novel. I needed a new hook, Conor’s life before the memory loss. What was Conor trying to remember? That should be up on here when I’m putting up the new version of Remember on Amazon.

 

I wanted the story to be more approachable and familiar. I started switching verb tenses to the past. Earlier in the editing process, I’d already switched out all the verbs for active ones. Tense switching would be much easier. I tried Find and Replace in Word. It was too finicky and took about as much time as the manual way. This verb switching actually helped in the long run. It sufficiently motivated me to cut more of Remember. Cutting from a novel has always been very difficult for me. This extra work of verb switching got me there.

 

remember cuts
Everything I cut from Remember.

 

Remember is almost finished. I’ve cut 14,000 words plus, and the novel is better because of it. Listening to music is the motivation I need for editing and typing at times.

 

Later, guys.

Photo Manipulations with Photoshop

This is a gallery of everything I’ve done so far. This is basically my way of procrastinating and not doing the work of writing. This series on Photoshop is wandering a little too far from the goal of this blog.  Most of these are from an up-coming anthology of my best writing in Remember. So here’s the gallery. Enjoy and click through to my Deviant Art page for full resolution.

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Walking Through the Forest of Night to a House so Bright

A story of transformation, finding something unreal, and seeing things in a new way.

Walking through the black forest shakes trepidation through this vessel. I just walk from some unknown location to the warm comfort of my home, each step concluding in pain, as branches thick and dense scratch up every square inch of open flesh. The continual movement through this underbrush offers a constant reminder of what hides just out of sight in the utter darkness all around. The unavoidable trip over an up-turned root or impact with a hearty low hanging branch adds punishment to my circuitous, wandering journey. I need some way to escape this blind torment — a slight reprieve from this suffering — just something, anything to change this sightless wandering.

 

A deep thumping moves through the forest floor and into my very bones. The need to brace myself to the strength of a behemoth tree possesses my deliberate action. My touch turns into a hug that becomes a death grip with another mighty, ground shaking vibration. A light reflecting back onto the trees — showing their full depth and complexity — grows with the intensity of a dozen suns in the utter darkness of this endless night. A menacing, throaty, animalistic roar from the omnidirectional distant wood sends a shiver down my spine, raising hair as if preceding electromagnetic discharge. An unwitting glance in the general direction blinds and reveals. I will and force my body to unleash the hold upon this mighty protector, this sentinel of a tree. I reluctantly gaze at the source of bright emanations floating ahead of this feeble body. The illumination acts as a giant obfuscation of my true savior, whatever form of creature may yet it be? I approach with a heart halting terror and unbridled curiosity, unhindered by neither. This encroachment continues until the ultimate conclusion of facing this thing.

 

The light fades to a faint glimmer of the once magnificent beacon, facing me with the stuff of nightmares — a monstrous feline form waiting to tear meat from bone. The shiny salivating mouth, at the ready, takes no action except to show itself. I feel this undeniable need to touch the top of its slick, black hair covered head, so much so that I just do it. Combing my fingers through the thick, luxurious fur that encompasses this unearthly beast coaxes purrs of the cat’s pleasure. The agape mouth recedes to that of a happy kitten with no interest in ingesting my delicate flesh. Another one of pure white enters the clearing, looking for some unknown treasure. The newcomer requests the same tender moment, displaying its gentle face near that of the other. I indulge the arrival with the same strokes to receive the much needed safety and security. With each stroke, the wild and feral nature of these beasts transforms into the kinder, gentler forms of pet cats with diminutive size.

 

The two cats pull back as if something calls their attention away from this. They move past me deeper into the overly dense growth. I follow as they are now my acolytes in the unfamiliar terrain, giving myself over to their animalistic instinct with no other recourse than belief in their prerogative. I trust them implicitly as sheep lend themselves to the whim of the herder. They move from branch to branch with a graceful ease, occasionally leaping to ground without faltering. The white lioness, the feline is bombarded with distraction meant to disrupt — wandering thoughts of something unknown. She flees at some indiscernible input abandoning him and me. I follow the member of our party devoted to our mutual interest, getting me out of these accursed woods. We approach a house of black smoking chimney and yellow glow through window. He makes himself comfortable here, a sign for me to enter the hidden, secret chambers within. He swiftly climbs an overhanging tree, drops down upon the lowest eaves, and curls up onto a ball. A peaceful slumber is the lofty goal of this lowly, once majestic creature.

 

Entering the bleak, sterile innards of this home leaves something to be desired besides modernity. The organic, although dark forms outside provide more of a comfort than this… barren cold. I go through the myriad of metallic cabinets and bins, looking at everything and searching for nothing. The white floor offers the only change from this… storage on every side. I pantomime my way around the room, searching the cold walls for the misplaced door, failing at a hidden compartment or any other such thing. The cold leaches into my hands, trying to rip my very essence away. I stop in futility. A noise startles me into looking one way. The cold at my back melts away to nothingness. A look back offers nothing, except black air surrounding this body. The limited surroundings are no more. Trying to escape the whiteness below, running into the dark proves this space inescapable.

 

Somethings come out of the black void and surround me in tight ring after ring. The objects flicker into life showing him to me, the black feline lounging above in various states — anything from growling to purring, eating to sleeping, back arching to scratching, and hunting for some elusive prey. The images send me through waves of reflected emotion. The scratching comes to gradual focus. The images look too real for my own good, the scratches too close. The hot searing pain cries out from every part of my outsides. The resulting outflow of blood provides a limited relief. I just want and need this perpetual torment to cease! This unavoidable pain must come to an end. I just have to get out! I welcome the sweet slumber of sleep that is death alone.

Photoshop Cover

Photoshop is the professional standard for book covers. The question used to be if Photoshop CC was worth the nearly absurd cost. For the first time desktop software leasing made sense. 6,000 bucks is unbelievably expense. Adobe’s Photoshop CC is now 19 dollars a single month or 10 dollars every month for a year.

Photoshop_icon.svg

The big question is do you really need Photoshop CC or will the consumer version, Photoshop Elements, be good enough? Photoshop Elements is missing a few things that I think separate something that looks professional and something that looks shabby. What features am I talking about? Blend modes and the opacity slider. The blend modes allow more control in the way image layer over each other. If composting two images is required, blend modes are huge. The opacity slider controls how strongly one image imposes on everything below. Another big one the text kerning or fine tuning the spacing and position of each letter. Almost every single book cover I’ve ever seen use kerning, stretching letter, composting, and blending tweaks.

 

stock images

Making a book cover requires a few things. Access to Photoshop, a book cover idea, a repertoire of Photoshop effects, and a collection of stock photos that can be used for a cover. The last one is the toughest if graphic design isn’t your day job. Look at this list over on Medium for free stock image sources. Check the usage rights always. Watch a ton of Youtube videos to build a repertoire of Photoshop effects. Look at an earlier blog post for book cover ideas. Now we have everything we need.

Photoshop isn’t a daunting thing to learn. The entire process is basically the tweaking and playing around with sliders governing everything in there. You can be artistic or not. It all comes down to comparing an image before and after every change that’s made. What looks better to your eye and such.

I’ll show something that I stumbled into while trying to do something else. I had this image. I wanted to add another image around the color gradations (one color changes to another). I tried making a highly detailed mask by copying the picture and getting the difference from the original slightly shifted. That got me something strange. It looked like an interference pattern.

I tried removing the color from both. Didn’t work. Then I started playing around. Trying every possible combination of color and no color, each blend mode, opacity level. Something along the way looked interesting. That’s how this happened. More details here.

In two weeks, I’ll post a gallery of everything I’ve done so far, photo-manipulations and book covers. Another fiction post coming up soon.

 

Later guys.

The Art of Query

After finishing and editing a book, the next step is publication. I’ve had a backup plan in case traditional publications doesn’t work out, self-publishing. There’re a lot of reasons to try traditional publishing. The reach of the work and the focus on writing versus marketing, among others.

Most publishers don’t consider work that isn’t agented. You can find a few smaller publishing houses that consider work directly from writers. So I needed an agent. The whole publishing business is completely foreign to me. Jane Friedman’s site helped a ton. Everything in this post is from there in some form. A great resource for anyone trying to get into the novel writing business.

jane-friedman.jpg

Getting an agent requires a finished manuscript. Then you write a query letter to agents. A query is a cover letter brought to its pinnacle. Basically, this query asks if an agent wants to receive your full manuscript. The easiest way through this process is with someone vouching for you. Very similar to job hunting. If someone can speak for you within the company, getting the job becomes much easier. Writing conferences are the best place as I’ve read. Still, need a query but much easier.

I don’t have any contacts in the publishing business. I need something that works as a great query. Getting traditionally published is very difficult.

jane friedman2

This article I found on Jane Friedmann’s website explains how to write one. First, find an agent that’ll like your book based on what they’ve represented before. Then research the agent and personalize the first paragraph as to how you book is a good fit for them. “I’m querying you because you represented X. I think [My book] would interest you.” Something like that.

Then you list the title and word count. The following paragraph is a short paragraph that sounds like the book. It should extol what the book’s about, it’s virtues, and hook the reader. This is basically like a summary with a hook.

The final paragraph is about your writing related biographical information. Finally, end with asking them to request the full manuscript. And “Thank you for the consideration” or something like that.

Include everything else as directed by the Agent’s submission guidelines. Take this very seriously and double check everything. Agent’s name included.

This is the first query I sent out to agents the first time around. As you can see I didn’t exactly follow those guidelines.

I’m writing you because you helped [X] by [Y] get published.

Please follow Connor Abby in Remember, a science fiction novel with more than a hint of science that runs in a space of 120.000+ words.

Connor Abby — a normal, everyday research scientist — ends up in the middle of an age-old conflict between altruistic science and a science-obsessed government, culminating in the murder of Irena Mekova. Connor undoubtedly gets embroiled in the situation partly due to factors beyond his control. Join him on a journey through a world of tech, dreams, and shifting alliances. Discover what he’s really capable of. Is Connor ultimately responsible? Is he guilty of murder? You decide!

Please request the full manuscript.

Thank you for the consideration,

 

I didn’t get positive replies. I thought the query didn’t really match the writing style of Remember. I tried a different query. This one below. I should’ve cut the biographical information. Nothing related to writing.

 

I am writing to you because, you helped [X] by [Y] get published. Please consider Remember, a science fiction novel that runs in the space of 107,077 words.

Conor passes through life streamlined against major shifts in the wind, until an engineered car accident sends his world off-kilter and onto a tangential trajectory. Conor Abby, scientist (neuroscience research), doctor, thinker, realist, friend, employee, lover, recovering from memory loss, everything feels new, but still familiar, living life, moving on, surviving with who he is, a person under pressure, someone’s thumb, forced into things beyond his control, espionage, murder, arson, thievery, subterfuge, almost anything, without losing the person he is, which is what exactly at this point? Who in the year 2417 takes interest in such a fellow? Whom? Well… everyone… from the government, terrorist groups, and possibly others but why? His ability to lie beyond methods of detection? Maybe his recollection of dreams, vivid and dense with detail, or maybe the actions he wills into being. There is just something about him that reconciles these roles, attributes even. Who is Conor Abby? Find out in Remember.

I have Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, a degenerative disorder. This gives me a vast amount of medical experience that I’m more than willing to talk about. My life story begins with emigration from India under the auspices of the H1-B visa at age five. Most people think of me as smart, remembering information well, motivated, happy, and without any college degrees. What just a few people know is I have been meditating for various amounts of time, starting around ten years ago.

Please request the full manuscript of Remember.

Thank you for the consideration,

That didn’t change the results.

I had a lot to think about. Either my query, my writing, or something I sent wasn’t working. I did an internet search for first book length. It turned out, getting something over 50,000 words published as a new writer is very hard. That agreed with everything I’d seen. I knew getting Remember down to 50,000 words would be really hard.

I decided to self-publish Remember as an e-book and physical form. A post about that is coming up shortly. I delved into another writing project to reach a few goals. Under 50,000 words, the law of averages when it came to characters, four perspectives, relatable characters, real locations, New York, and 6 months for the first draft. It basically takes me 6 months to simply type 50,000 words. That’ll come soon. During this whole query process, I was writing the sequel to Remember. That’s on hold. Wrote up an entire plan. And wrote about 1/16 of the first draft in 2 months. That’s going up soon.

What Should My Novel’s Cover Look Like?

Book covers are the first thing any potential reader sees. A book shouldn’t be judged by it’s cover, but first impressions are really important. I’m writing this to explore my ideas about how to decide what should be on a book cover.

 

I learned a lot by watching these videos from Chip Kidd. He talked about a few theories of graphic design. Don’t put a word in text and show a picture of the same thing.

Mystery or clarity. The cover should gently nudge a reader in one direction or clearly show what the book is about. Carefully decide on a balance.

The final video is a collection of book titles, book descriptions, and cover iterations.

Also, keep in mind, the cover should fit the conventions of the genre. The advice I’ve heard is go to a library, find a lot of books in your genre, and identify trends. I’ll give the covers of books I’ve read and what I think are the conventions for each.

Science Fiction: Frequently shows something that’s different in the world that’s created inside. Basically, the story element that’s makes it Science Fiction. Sans-serif font.

Fantasy: The person or object that makes the book fantasy. Frequently a person. Sans and Serif fonts.

Thriller: Person or text. Big font. High contrast. Simple lettering usually.

Young Adult: Sans. One main graphic or image. Background that isn’t too distracting. Clear images.

Romance: Two people together or something symbolizing love. Slightly interesting font.

Literary: Interesting text. Simple background. Setting, object, or overall idea.

Fiction: Person, place, or thing of focus in the story.

Mystery: Something that relates to the scene of the crime, victim, or perpetrator.

Non-fiction: Person, place, or idea the book is about.

 

I hope this helps. Graham Kar out.