When you write BIG keep it small.

Lesson learned this week: 

Epic, Sweeping, and Grand, don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that…

Interpersonal, character-revealing, reflective expositive reveal of the character of your CHARACTERS.

Now, how’s that for a mouthful? 

130,000 words of Epic, Sweeping, and Grand manuscript hit my publisher’s desk with a thump. (Metaphorically, because I sent it as a word file) He lauded it as “terrific”, the plot fresh and ingenious, the new lead character totally carrying the novel, and the last two acts are overflowing with action (and he meant that in a good way).  He went on to say that he loved the scale of the story.

unnamedPretty good, right? Considering that my dear publisher slotted in Give Us This Day, my fifth book, “sight unseen” last year into his prestigious slate of releases for 2015 and the submission of the manuscript was his first hint as to what it was about. His trust in my work and me was unwavering and complete.

But…

After all that, praise, all that positive feedback, he made ONE, little teeny-weeny note. He said he’d have liked to have seen a little more “sense of fellowship” meaning that sense of companionship between the characters.  He was right. Due to the “fish-out-of–water” nature of the beginning of the story, I purposely wrote the characters as all business. What he felt he missed in this BIG story of mine was the little asides about life or quirks that he felt I did so well in my previous four novels, which he published.

SO NOW, PANIC!

Couldn’t sleep for a week. How to…, What to…, How will…, How does…, started and stopped a hundred mental debates in my head between me and the story.  I’d suggest a scenario in a specific place where a little personal jib-jab could occur and then the story side of me said, “Appears, forced!” “Doesn’t flow.” “Useless appendage here.” “Slows the story, as it’s building.”

Let me tell you, the story side of me is tough!

So, finally a week later, with my pen between my legs (Bad turn of the phrase, I realize, now that I wrote it) …tail between my legs, I asked my publisher “LIKE WHAT?”

At this point, I need to tell you that my publisher is a genius. Not because of what he says, but because of what he doesn’t needlessly say. In one succinct line, he ended my turmoil by name dropping one of my minor characters: Nigel. 

Cue the angelic music: Ahhhh Ahhhhhh. 

That was at 5:45 a.m. last Tuesday.  I was really late to the office that day because at 5:46 the whole missing human connection of my story laid out before me like a GPS map. The ‘tilty’ kind in 3D that looks like you’re up in a plane seeing all the way to Grandma’s house. I immediately saw all the good and further story interconnections that paid for the ink, this new facet of the novel consumed. This one drop of gold that he strategically placed in my brain energized and elevated the entire book – in at least four places in the story!  I eventually left for the office mid-morning! The book was 2200 words heavier, but a million times more wonderful.

I entered the office with a smile that most people would assume is due to having gotten lucky, the night before.  In fact, I had gotten lucky at 5:45 a.m. Actually, upon reflection, I got lucky years ago when I met, Lou Aronica of The Story Plant and he published my first book.

Now if I could just fix that other little nagging thing about the scandalous affair in the second act. 

Uh oh, panic rising…

The Accidental Author – Episode Three

Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s our normally Thursday posting, today. Click above for the latest installment of The Accidental Author. In this episode: How to start and get through a first draft. A great quote from one of the biggest author’s around and how to see your writing as an art form. Did you miss an episode? Click here for episode 2 and here for episode 1.

My Virtual Tour’s Final Stop

Have you spotted the last stop of my Virtual Tour?  I wrapped up the summer by sitting down with Omnimystery and discussing the conclusion to the “Wild” Bill Hiccock Thrillogy.

A Conversation with Thriller Writer Tom Avitabile

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We are delighted to welcome back novelist Tom Avitabile to Omnimystery News, courtesy of The Story Plant, which is coordinating his current book tour. We encourage you to visit all of the participating host sites; you can find his schedule here.Last month we featured an excerpt from Tom’s third thriller to feature presidential science advisor William “Wild Bill” Hiccock,The God Particle (The Story Plant; June 2014 trade paperback and ebook formats). Today we’re sitting down with him to talk a little more about the book and the series.
Click here for the full Q&A

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Same Beach – Different Book

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And different role!  Those that follow the blog, know I have developed an eccentric pattern in my writing routine. It’s a rather odd thing, but I like to edit my manuscripts on the beach in Puerto Rico. You’ve heard of “beach reads”, I call this a “beach-edit.”  Each of my four novels have gone through this sun, sand and red pen ritual.  It kinda’ goes like this:

Read, turn page, read, ooops, red pen, read, Bikini,

read, turn page, read, Bikini, ooops, red pen, Bikini,

read, read, turn page, Bikini

You get the rhythm and the two-piece picture.

Last week however, I sat on the beach in beautiful Isla Verde and edited a manuscript “not of my own making!”  I did a beach-edit on my cousin George Cannastraro’s brilliant new book, Constantine’s Dagger.  This was my first experience in “story editing” or “content editing” a book.  My cousin allowed me to make him the guinea pig in my editorial experiment. 

Followers know I am not a master of grammar and sentence structure.  I couldn’t last 2 seconds in a Spelling F not to mention a Spelling B! But I, and anybody else who has done this for a while, can spot story opportunities, contradictions and potential character and plot enhancements when doing a fresh, critical read of work – not of your own brain.

No two writers write the same, even when they are cousins, but if you really put on the Editor’s cap and go with the flow of the author, it’s a pretty happy outcome. In our case, and I guess in all cases when you get down to it, story editing is about choices, conscious or otherwise, made in the telling of the tale. Sometimes when we write we have a single trajectory, one way in and one way out of a scene or subplot.  But when it ain’t yours, you are free to see the “story-scape” from a different perspective and make recommendations to give more involvement, drama, comedy, risk and reward to the reader. 

We had some wonderful moments opening up the story with added beats, which increased the tension, drama, and comedy or emphasize a character’s trait. This was easy because the action and dialogue were written so well and with a flair for word-craft. We took the opportunity to increase the texture, widen the scope and to more clearly focus the reader into the story through experiencing emotions, rather than reading about them. We had fun “cutting in” to use film terms, “close ups,” and reaction shots or just playing with rhythms like leaving the next shoe to fall, not now… but, …wait for it, …wait for it, … Now!

That part became more like conducting an orchestra than editing. But only because George wrote great characters, and musically wove them together. 

I am about to mangle an old Native American saying, but it went something like, “You can’t paddle your friend’s canoe across the river, without you, yourself, getting across.”

My first shot at editing, has gotten me across a divide I have experienced in my own writing. Now, I see more globally at the same time I am writing locally within my story.  I am quicker to recognize patterns and old stand by’s in my own work. In fact, right now, I am in the first pass of my 5th novel, Give Us This Day, I am more attuned to pacing and making conscious choices. Like whether to play the note a little longer, or make it a quick flourish in order to make an impact.

I recommend story editing to anyone who wants to get across the river that we sometimes encounter when we are traveling along the path to our own novel.

imageA BLESSED EVENT…

Weighing in at 375 pages, 108,000 words and, thanks to double sided printing, 3 lbs. I named it The God Particle. And it is kind of a kick for me to be at this final touch point with my third novel. My family planning is now complete with the addition of this third installment in my Bill Hiccock “Thrillogy.” Allow me to reflect on how I arrived at this blessed moment, (Hey, it’s an author’s blog, what did you expect?).

Ahhh, that cute, little first draft, a year and a half of gestation, then its out, smelling like toner powder. Now standing on the spindly unsteady legs of plot lines and character arcs. You marvel at it and know it has more growing to do and you dream about the possibilities.

Oh, oh… someone needs changing! So you unwrap it, the 2nd draft! Flesh out characters, fatten plots, bring in a subplot, make new connections, Hey, I didn’t know I already set up the way these two might meet! I must be a genius.

Not so much. I left out a major hunk of story in the second act! But that’s what why they invented the second pass.

I send it to my word pediatrician, Sue Rasmussen. She makes my perfect bundle of joy even more ‘perfecter’, by pointing out made up words like that one.

I take it on its first vacation, to the beach. We spend seven glorious days in the sand and surf of Puerto Rico. At wheels down of Jet Blue Flight 504 arriving JFK from SJU, I finish the last story edit on the last page. (I love it when the timing works out so well) and shake all the sand out of the book before closing it.

There’s a mid-wife at Kinko’s, Gary. He prints up 10 bound copies with slick little covers with art work in the general direction of the final cover.

Then it’s off to be held by 6 friends and/or strangers to get honest comments.  Most come back good, my cousin George Cannistraro, a talented author in his own right, as always catches a plot point I missed and from that usually the book jumps to 50% better.

Then a deep breath as I click send to let (Grandpa) publisher, Lou Aronica at the Story Plant, give it a read.

Tick tock, tick tock… Ding.

A return email! He likes it! He sees the same beauty in it that I do. Only he takes exception to the very end. The edit I did of the very last words in the book that I made at wheels down. Chauvinistic and demeaning were words he didn’t use, but were apt. So I reworked it made it better (as everything he compels me to rework gets) Now it’s good and I am a caring sensitive male once more. Good. He’s going to publish it, Yaaaaaaaaay!

I Go back to editing book four, “The Devil’s Quota.”  While writing book five, “Give Us This Day.”

Ding! Mail’s in. The edited manuscript is sent back to me. Three years after the first draft was nothing more than a blank screen radiating my chromosomes.

Lots of edits, comments and Tsk, Tsk, Tsk’s.  But also an opportunity for one more polish, one more fine tuning, one last chance to bend, shape, smooth out or hone to a fine point the plot, sub plots, characters, locations, interactions, set ups and payoffs. Oh and I get to detangle the dreaded Head Hopping POV shifts (Ugh, I hate those)

Back it goes into the maw of the Publishers system. Through the editorial intestines, purified by the editor’s liver… wait… okay, really bad analogy… Through the editorial process and then suddenly, one blessed day, Ding! The “pages” arrive. This is how my book will look when it’s ‘all growed up’! In fact, it will look like this forever. The font choice, the leading, the kerning, the style elements.  But along with it comes the big admonishment: Not For Editing!  Meaning hands off anything story or content (I had my chance) but identify in red pen only the errant period, wandering comma, perplexed parentheses, and the ever popular spell check replacement that could ‘rune’ your day!

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So here it sits. All ready for it’s coming out date on June 17th 2014.

Beautiful isn’t it (Doesn’t every author believe their new book is beautiful?)

Ahhh, the joys of author-hood. 

From Beach to Book

If you read my previous blog about editing my book on the golden sands of Puerto Rico then you’re probably wondering, “Hey, did you take any pictures?” (see below)


Here is what the experience is like: I mostly sit alone writing at home or at work or at a reserved table at the restaurant that always keeps a table open for me near the wall and a plug so I can write, and then, suddenly I’m on a sun-washed beach – still alone – while other vacationers are bouncing around in the waves of the Caribbean. My head, however, is somewhere in Pakistan or Canada or New York or New York State.

I was in the book. I edit on the beach by day and at night punch in the changes onto my laptop. Real hot time so far, right?

Well I get to do other things, but always with the umbilical cord stretched tight between the manuscript and myself. Somewhere close to day 4 I am finished. What a feeling. Then it’s a metamorphosis into a vacationer on the beach. Then comes the day when I leave, shed the bathing suit for totally climate inappropriate NYC street clothes as I head to the plane.

Within 24 hours of JetBlue flight 704 touching down at JFK, I had ‘published’ my uncorrected manuscript at Kinkos, as kind of an advance copy, meant for my close inner circle of friends to read and comment on. I do this with trepidation.

Now the book is on my desk (see below)

I sit here, with a feeling of completion–not quite postpartum depression, but a kind of hope mixed with anxiety that the squiggly lines on the page are going to filter through to a human being who will decode them into an emotion…or for the tech savvy; the text will be an emoticon 😉

Within the pages these emotions connect to the plot and characters, settings and pacing. And I hope that I haven’t violated too many rules of literary infrastructure – despite my dashes of precocious flirting with generally accepted norms. An intentional flirtation calculated to hopefully lead someone to gauge my work as a fresh, interesting approach – or just a downright good read. I don’t care which one, as long as it isn’t “I couldn’t stay with it”.

So I threw a fancy cover on it, in the hopes that it warms my readers up to the idea of, “Oh, this looks finished.”

Then I sit back, empty nest syndrome sweeping over me as my baby is out there. I wait and wait, twiddling my thumbs and… I don’t know, maybe find something to do, like write this blog?

Sometimes you write for you…

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In the middle of writing my fourth book, I get the feeling that I am enjoying it a little too much. Maybe I am creating the ‘Great American Novel’ for an audience of only one American. You know, like laughing at your own jokes, or singing in the shower, which never sounds bad. Maybe I am self-referencing and modulating the characters and stories to make my own tail wag.  It’s hard to know.  I don’t like sending out chapters for comment or asking someone to read a work half done, but is my enjoyment of my story a kind of insanity, a delusion of isolation?  A world I created that has no relation to the world of the potential readers at large.  Which begs the question, am I writing for some, quantifiable segment of society or am I writing for myself?  Right now it feels like it’s totally for myself and my own amusement.

Oh wait, I have an editor!  Whew, what a relief to have another human, not inside my head, who can give an objective opinion without my internal bias.  Did I mention, God Bless editors?

The Precocious Writer

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I am a big fan of precocious children, you know, that point right before they become judgmental teens. When you can still have a fun, multisyllabic conversation without them interrupting the moment, looking down for a text message.

What happens? How does an engaging, surprisingly aware 7 to 10 year-old, firing off word use and ideas in a seemingly random fashion, with each truly important to them, change with the onset of social puberty? Why do these wonderfully rich observations and conversations children have with inanimate objects or real people, disappear? In a mysterious way that an adult could never understand, these creative impulses are thematically connected to a stream of consciousness that makes total sense to their internal logic.

If you haven’t guessed yet, this blog was written right after Thanksgiving and the temporary immersion into family that comes along with Turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. However, copious amounts and second helpings of Tryptophan cannot diminish the fascination I have with these young minds, situationally aware, yet full of imagination and not inhibited at all. Hence the delightful conversations which if attempted with a texting-teen would take 3 times as long as you pull teeth to get more than one word answers, i.e. “yes, no, what-ever, maybe, I duuno, yeah.”

What do I get out of all this? A method to spark creativity and a model to emulate. The precocious child is the essence of creativity and observation, without filters or the self-consciousness that later in life devolves our ability down to “safe,” tried and true methods of not taking any risks in conversation or our writing.

I was once involved in an effort to foster a better path to creativity and curiosity for young minds. It reversed the normal paradigm of teaching writing (creativity) to elementary school kids. That being; to let their minds go, unfettered by grammar spelling and the traffic cop adherence that stresses form over content. This resulted in more mental exercising, yielding stronger, more elaborate and involved concepts.

This was not just simply a matter of flipping the old way around to see what happened, instead it was based on a study that seemed to indicate that at early ages, mental activity and imagination are forming and active, yet the ability to grasp structure and grammatical laws actually develops later in life. So it is an educational model that better fits the natural expansion of the human brain.

This to me is a great lesson to writers, be as free with your thoughts, observations and conversations as a 7 year old. Resist the grown up internal governors that stop or stem a creative arc before it’s left the barn. Allow imagination to once again rule the roost. Be fearless in the reality that, in the end, they are all imaginary characters anyway, and not bound by physics, logic or flesh and bone. You can always find a “grown up” to clean up the grammar, usage and punctuation later – (and pay them well for it!)