100 pages of corpses!
Today I hit the 100-page mark of my new novel, The Apocalypse Corpse. Or, if you’re more of a word-count person, just under 30,000 words.
Going by my outline, that’s roughly one-third of the book done. Of the first draft anyway. And no outline ever survives contact with the midnight Brilliant Idea That Changes Everything But I Can’t Exactly Recall In The Morning.
It’s an interesting experience writing this one. It’s my fifth book, and I’ve really come to appreciate the saying “you only ever learn how to write the book you’re writing.” (Yeah, I know, if you look at your bookshelf you’ll only see two books of mine. But the agent’s got another new manuscript that she’s about to give me notes on, and I have the first draft done of a sequel to that book already done. So the next couple of years should be busy ones for me.)
For each of my first two books, I had a very different approach. With Please, I wrote the episodes in no particular order, as the ideas came to me. I polished them as much as possible before moving on to the next ones. When I had a full book’s worth of episodes, I then organized them into a loose narrative (and loose narrative was all I wanted for the structure of that book) to give them a timeframe and an emotional storyline. Then I polished them some more. Then my editor gave me her notes and I reorganized and polished some more. Shiny!
With The Warhol Gang, I tried to write in the same episodic, chapter-like structure as Please and quickly slammed into a roadblock. I’d get a few pages in, hit some plot point that I hadn’t worked out yet, and completely stall. I couldn’t do it. That kind of structure felt wrong for the book — it felt more like containment than foundation. I had to find another way to write the book. I flailed around for a few months (OK, years) until I finally found something that worked for me: focusing the book on scenes rather than episodes/chapters. It may seem simple, but try telling your editor that you’re not going to use chapters or stories or any of the usual framework of a book. Luckily, I’ve been blessed with both good and patient editors.
Breaking the book down into scenes was incredibly liberating, in no small part because it allowed me to jump past parts that gave me problems. Sometimes skipping a scene and writing the next few allowed me to realize what I needed to go back and write the omitted sections. And I went back and rewrote a lot, perfecting everything I’d done earlier. It went something like this: Write 50 pages until I ran out of ideas, go back and edit those 50 pages and get the ideas to write another 30 pages. Go back and rewrite those 80 pages and get the ideas to write another 20 pages…. Maybe I could have done the same thing with a traditional narrative structure of chapters — only I couldn’t when I tried. Hey, sometimes writing is all about tricking yourself.
And then, of course, once the book was almost in its final edits stage, I decided to change the narrative POV from third person to first….
With The Apocalypse Corpse, I wasn’t sure how to approach it. There are a lot of threads in the book — the narrator is trying to answer some pretty significant questions about his identity while racing to figure out the mystery of the Apocalypse Corpse if he wants to survive, and this is set in the cultural funhouse of the 21st century, populated with a cast of characters that make my other books look like Jack Chick comics. I knew I had to have a pretty strong, clear plot line to hold it together. Plus, I’ve got a 10-month-old baby, so there are plenty of distractions and I’m usually in a state of mind somewhere in between a zombie and, well, someone’s who’s been bitten by a zombie. So I wrote the most structured outline I’ve ever written. Usually my outlines tend to be overlapping balloons of emotions rather than action, but this outline was one long arrow of action.
Which meant when I sat down and started to write, it just flowed out of me. I actually have trouble stopping my writing at the end of the day because it’s so clear to me what comes next. The writing is perhaps a little rougher than it would normally be at the 100-page mark of my process, but I’m at that mark a lot quicker than usual. Which means there will plenty of time to go back after it’s done and polish away.
I hope the next 100 pages come as easily. If they do, you won’t have such a long wait for this book as you did for The Warhol Gang. And this is the most fun I’ve had writing a book yet. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Oh, if you’re interested in what happens at the 100-page mark, it involves a funeral home, a stolen ambulance, and a rather unusual black market.
And yes, I know I haven’t talked about the writing process of those other two books the agent is looking at. That’s a whole other blog post….