Camaro reloaded

Untitled Camaro OmnibusRevision. Ugh.

I could write nothing else in this entry and you would understand completely my feelings on revision. Lord, how do I hate it? Let me count the ways.

I am, as you may have heard by now, contracted by Mulholland Books to deliver two Camaro Espinoza novels in 2014 and 2015. The first manuscript has already been turned in and I’m told I’ll get my first editorial notes by the end of the month. So there’s revision on the way. But, hey, there’s always revision at this level, so I’m not going to complain too strenuously about it. If you can’t take editorial input, you aren’t cut out to work professionally as a writer. Go self-publish if your perfect writing can’t stand the touch of another person’s hands.

So let us be clear: I’m not complaining about what revision I’m about to be called upon to do. That’s part of the work. I know this and while occasionally I’m asked to change things I’m uncomfortable changing, for the most part I have had very good experiences working with my various editors. I like to think they’d say the same of me.

No, my revision grumpiness stems from another book in the Camaro series. Called Boiling Point at one time, it’s now called Across the Line, and it is the third Camaro novel. Which means that we’re talking about a book I have not even been paid to write yet. It’s written and nothing’s going to change that, but I’m well ahead of the game. I’m not even supposed to turn in Meaner Than Hell until September of next year, so it’ll be at least a year after that before I’m called upon to do anything with these words. And yet here I am, revising them.

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Breaking my back

You know that earlier in the year I decided to take a two-month siesta rather than get my work done and that this failure on my part has been eating away at me. Because I’m an obsessive sort, I decided to find out exactly how much work I missed during the course of the first six months of the year.

The first thing to do was figure out how many actual working days there were in those 26 weeks. I don’t work every day of the week and I also take breaks on those days when my son is off from school. So I pored over the academic calendar for the first half of the year. Between January and June there were 130 working days. A working day, for me, is defined as Monday through Friday. But there were 21 break days in there. So 130 minus 21 leaves 109 working days.

With that figure in hand, I had to work out how much writing I would have ideally done during that period. I try to write 4,000 words a day. So, 109 days times 4,000 renders up a figure of 436,000 words. That’s a lot. I did not write so much.

How much did I write? Well, I wrote Meaner Than Hell and that was 84,000 words. I then wrote Across the Line, which was 101,000 words. I followed this up with a completely new version of Meaner Than Hell that weighed in at 95,000 words. That’s 279,000 words’ worth of writing during the first six months of the year.

Subtract 279,000 from 436,000 and you get 157,000 words. That’s the total shortfall I accrued in that time. Had I actually written Gavel and Giri as I’d planned, there would have been no shortfall at all, and there might even have been a surplus. Cue me kicking myself in the head again and again.

Now to look at the back half of 2014. There are 29 vacation days between July and December, so 130 minus 29 equals 101 days. Take that 101 and multiply it by my target of 4,000 and you end up with 404,000 words. That’s a goodly chunk less that the first half of the year, so things are already looking up.

I wrote Dawn of the Ninja in July, which ran 24,000 words, so that left me with 380,000 words for September through December. August was essentially off, as you know. Anyway, I’d taken 16 of my total 29 vacation days as of September 1st, so I had 67 working days left in the year.

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Sixteen tons

You load sixteen tons and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.

~~ “Sixteen Tons,” Merle Travis

Another September 11th has passed, and that means only one thing: I am a year older. Yes, I was born forty-four years ago on the 11th of September to a Marine Corps sergeant and his bride. They were only twenty-two, and never have you seen a couple more ill-equipped for child-rearing than the two of them. They went on to do an absolute travesty of a job raising me and I thank God every day that neither of them are around anymore to torment me.

I both look forward to and dread my birthdays. I look forward to them because I generally have a nice meal out and get a couple of presents (always a bonus), but I dread them because it marks another year where I’ve failed to achieve the goals I set out to reach when I was first old enough to know what life goals were. I’m not a millionaire. I’m not a household name. I’m not able to provide for my family in a way that all of their desires are fulfilled. Nope, I owe my soul to the company store (read: Sallie Mae) and I slave away at my keyboard five days a week for hours a day hoping that this time, this time, I’ll make it to the mountaintop. I guess it could happen.

Most people use the first of the year as a time for self-reflection and (potential) self-improvement. I do this, too, but I also can’t avoid the contemplation of self that comes with those yearly road markers we call birthdays. If I’m lucky I’ll get another twenty or so years. I’ve never been the lucky sort.

There have been successes, to be sure. I’ve been married for seventeen years to a wonderful woman who loves me and I love her. We have both a trial and a triumph in our son, in that his disability remains a constant challenge while otherwise he’s a healthy and happy teenager who feels safe and secure in his home and in his family life. That’s the greatest gift I could give my son. I had a bestseller last year and there’s a good chance I could have one this year. I have a big release coming in 2016 that’s going to bump me up to the B-list, if not the A-list, and I have an agent who stands ready and willing to make more deals like that. I’m making money. I have fans. No crippling disease has afflicted me yet, though I did get a cancer screening this morning. It’ll be a while before I get results.

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[REVIEW] The X-Files — “Pilot”/”Deep Throat”

The X-FilesTwenty-one years ago yesterday, a television show debuted which would change the face of the medium forever. Now usually that’s hyperbole, but in the case of The X-Files it’s completely justified. Without The X-Files there would have been no Lost, no Sleepy Hollow, not even a show like Person of Interest. Basically any show that relies on the positing of ongoing questions, mysteries and mythology has its roots firmly based in The X-Files. The show wasn’t necessarily long-form storytelling like we see today — there were plenty of old-fashioned standalone episodes, in other words — but it set the table for that in a way no show had ever done before. It was clearly a new breed of television program, and it was deservedly a smash hit right out of the gate.

I still remember where I was when I first saw the show. I was in the dining area in the student union at Western Michigan University — I was visiting for the big TV, not a student there — and I’d specifically asked if the channel could be turned to the local Fox affiliate so I could see this thing. I was totally unprepared for what I got. I was hooked.

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You don’t know Jack.

Missing, by Sam HawkenIt’s been just about a week since Missing hit the market, so I thought it was an opportune time to do a character close-up for one of the main characters in the book: Jack Searle.

Missing ostensibly has two protagonists, but Jack is clearly the character that carries the most narrative water. It’s Jack’s stepdaughter who goes missing and it’s Jack who sets the wheels in motion for what follows. So Jack it is.

Jack Searle is a big man in his late fifties. He married fairly late in life to a younger woman named Vilma, who had two daughters from a previous marriage, Marina and Lidia. Vilma was originally from Mexico, from the city of Nuevo Laredo, which sits directly across the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas. Her first husband died, so Jack was pretty much the only father figure Marina and Lidia had from their middle years and into their teens.

When we join Jack in Missing, he is a widower. Vilma took ill with cancer some years before and died. Marina and Lidia had no birth parents anymore, but they are Americans and as such Jack did not send them to live with Vilma’s brother in Mexico. He’s done his best to raise them, though he is not always the best father he could be. He’s loving, but he’s not the nurturing sort his wife was. His is a gruff, somewhat awkward, kind of affection. Neither Marina or Lidia have ever called him “Dad.” He is simply “Jack” to them.

I approached Jack from a realistic angle, and it was important to me that he be a real, fallible person. One reader, when he heard the premise for Missing, joked that Liam Neeson would play the lead. Interestingly enough, my specific idea was to play against the Liam Neeson in Taken stereotype and explore the idea of an ordinary guy faced with extraordinary circumstances. You may think I’ve spoiled you by revealing that one of his stepdaughters goes missing but, hey, the book is called Missing, so it’s kind of right there on the cover.

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