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MAKING IT TO A 1ST DRAFT MILESTONE

At 3:00 a.m. I snapped the picture below.

I’m going to have this post hit two big points. One, although it’s not entirely secret these days (in fact it came out in several publicity interviews for book one), the working title of book two is THE ULTRA BIG SLEEP. I give a nod to a different noir title and a different noir author, the wonderful Raymond Chandler.

The bigger news in my opinion, is that I’ve broken the 100,000 word mark on this sequel to THE ULTRA THIN MAN. And I’m oh-so-close-to-done with this first draft. A couple small chapters and an epilogue is my guess. The first novel went in to my editor at 96,000 words. After edits and additions, the final product came out to be 107,000 words. I can see book two’s first draft wanting to come close to that 107,000 word mark, maybe a bit longer.

To be honest, until I hit 90,000 words with this current book, I still wasn’t 100% sure how it was going to end. That might be scary to some writers out there, and worrisome to readers, but part of this “question markery” is due to my stubborn, organic, seat-of-my-pants writing style.

I’m a “pantser” through and through, throwing my characters into weird, dangerous situations around a thread of a plot idea (all in relation, somehow, to the events of book one). I was concerned that the ending hadn’t come to me when I hit what I thought might be the 3/4 mark of the novel, but I trusted where my characters had taken me. At the end of the manuscript file, I jotted down note after note and bullet point after bullet point about all the things I had to attend to when I went back. Oh yeah, she’s gotta do this back in chapter ten. And This character has to go. Or This crucial point has to come up during this scene back here or I’ll never make this other chapter fly. Or This chapter has to come much later. (Well, that last thing I had to fix before I could go on, but you get the point.)

By 90,000 words I wasn’t worried. It’s why everything’s been going so slow, though. I had to move all my pieces carefully, trusting that the end game was there. Let the chips fall where they may. My subconscious knew the ending, so I didn’t panic. I’d had very few rollbacks writing this. In other words, only twice did I have to back up a half chapter, or a chapter, or slide things around during the process of this first draft. For this book I’m not under deadline. Perhaps a future novel will be, and I won’t be able to afford such a leisurely process.

Still, in comparison to the years (decades?) it took to write book one, I’m cranking this sucker out as if I were at the tail end of an adrenaline-filled, 5-hour ENERGY-fueled all-nighter. It’s like Finals Week. I’ve got to fight to the end, cram and study, so I’ll be more than ready to take the Final.

And then I’ll get to crash. One would say I’ll be able to take a very big sleep.

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BOOKSCAN NOT USUALLY CLOSE TO BOOK SALES

Has it really been since the end of November when I posted last? Hurray, holiday season, and all that.

I’m prompted to write this post because of a certain paranoia about book sales of The Ultra Thin Man. Oh yeah, Swenson, how’s that going? Well, in reality, authors don’t really know for quite some time. My book’s only been out about five months. The reporting period for Tor that I’ve fallen into is July – Dec, and I’m told that actual royalty reports for that time period don’t go out until late April. It’s a long time to suffer in silence.nielsen1

To be honest, I’ve been mostly nervous because of a sales bellwether that’s become fairly well known since Amazon started allowing its authors access to it: BookScan. It’s owned by those folks with the television ratings, the Neilsen Brothers. No, wait, that’s a carpet and flooring company. Well, Neilsen, the TV people. They did a SoundScan, too, for music sales, and its success lead to BookScan. BookScan relies on point of sale data from a number of major book sellers. According to Wikipedia, in 2009 Nielsen BookScan’s US Consumer Market Panel covered 75% of retail sales. (Having added Walmart recently, they say it’s now 80%.)

So if I go to my Amazon account and look at my BookScan account, it should be showing me 75% of my actual number of sales. Well, no. Well, maybe. Truth to tell, the number is all over the map. I’ve heard 50%, I’ve heard 30%. I’ve heard lower.  I stare at that number on my account, the number of hardcover copies sold (and remember, the data for this is coming from most high street booksellers, but not from every book store) and I despair. Oh my god, this is horrible. That’s it?  This number does not include ebook sales, by the way, but still…   It also doesn’t include library sales, and my book was listed twice in Publishers Weekly as a book receiving a starred review, and often that means extra library orders. Nor does it count international sales (not a factor for me, as of yet, with no foreign edition forthcoming). It also doesn’t include independents. Really, it’s just trade sales, point of sale.

Well, it was time to bite the bullet. A fellow Tor author said, “Call your editor and talk to him. You can discuss numbers.”  And earlier this week, I did, catching him in his New York office. First, right up front, I’ll tell you that the ebook sales are pretty low. I was surprised at the number, actually. It’s not unheard of for this to be the case, while the ebook is priced at $12.99 and the hardcover is out. It will probably sell 2 – 4 times as many copies when the price drops (when the trade paperback is out later this year).

Then I heard the hardcover numbers. My body relaxed instantly. Nutshell? A better than average debut, at least at this point in the game. But then again, still not stellar, and maybe I’m still on the edge as far as them taking on book two, because these don’t necessarily mean point of sale numbers. Because, returns. So book two may be dependent on trade paperback sales, library sales and ebook sales continuing forward. Returns have come in, although relatively low at the moment. If there’s to be really yucky news, it would make itself known in the next month or so when stores are doing their post-Christmas returns.

But the point of all this….my Neilsen BookScan number?  Turns out it is only THIRTEEN PERCENT of actual hardcover sales. [Edit: Thanks to some in-the-know information from publisher Sean Wallace of Prime Books, note: returns don’t factor in to this number. The number my editor gave me are what’s out there in distribution, and so the sales number may actually be lower. And a rough estimate there, based on what can be seen from library holdings of my book so far, brings that number Bookscan is reporting closer to THIRTY percent. And remember, this is just my scenario.]

There are many who say BookScan is fast becoming irrelevant, particularly in today’s shifting book market. Me, I just would love for this book to do well so I can sell the next one! Have you been waiting to buy that ebook or take the plunge and fork over the bucks for that spendy hardcover? Wait no longer! If nothing else, BookScan numbers remind me that sales could be a lot better.

BOOK TWO…TIME…TICKS…BY

Between August 12 (the publication date of The Ultra Thin Man) and mid-September, or about a month, I did zero writing. (Not much blogging, either! Apologies.)

Part of the problem for me was being on tour and traveling in August to promote the book, and then by the end of August and early September, I was preparing for the new school year. A few weeks into the school year, I finally carved out some time to write on book two. I’d hoped to have a rough draft completed before August 12. Now the goal is before the end of the year, and hopefully sooner. Time keeps on ticking (ticking, ticking), and book 2 (a sequel) needs to be complete when Tor is ready to look at the numbers and calculate whether they can make a case for publishing it.

I still have struggled to get the time to write, and since mid-September, it’s been about once a week at best. (There’s a reason why I never attempt NaNoWriMo.) I’m pretty certain, now, that I’m within a couple chapters (and an epilogue) from completing the first draft. At the moment, the word count sits at 94,000 words. The Ultra Thin Man went in to Tor at 96,000 words. (After edits, it ended up at 107,000.) So I’m close. It’s just “endgame” stuff now, but it’s a tricky juggling act in this case.

I’ll keep you posted. With a post. (And with fewer parenthetical asides.)

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CREATIVE DAYDREAMS & THE MCFLY EFFECT

When I was writing in high school and college, I had a reoccurring dream.

Actually, it was a waking dream.

Okay, still not right. The most accurate term for it is “creative daydream.” Years later, the term came to me, and it seemed right. It’s something I still do today.

So…what’s a creative daydream, and what about that reoccurring one?  There’s plenty of research out there that suggests daydreaming is good for creativity. In a book published about a year ago, Creative Confidence, author Tom Kelley explains how studies show “prolific mind wanderers score higher on tests of creativity.” Supposedly, too, it’s nifty for boosting our working memory.

From an early age, I’ve taken spare moments to creative daydream. It’s like meditation, clearing the mind and letting new ideas spring to life. Except, it hasn’t always been about new ideas. In fact, I knew exactly what I wanted to daydream about.

So back to that reoccurring dream. What was it about? Well, it was all about the life of a writer.

Someday I’d finish a book. And…THEN WHAT? What might happen the day I sold a novel? Obviously this scenario lived in the “this is all I know about it right now” world. I would purposefully daydream what would happen, and as I matured as a writer, as I took classes and workshops, when I later on started publishing a magazine and other writers’ books, I learned what the actual process would look like.

So the dream morphed. It gelled until it entered a rather detailed scenario, but the basics always were: The deal with the agent. The call from the editor wanting to buy the book. The contract deal. (It was always for plenty of money, of course.) Finding out about the cover art, and so on. Oddly (or maybe not so oddly), I never factored in any actual post-book deal editing. That would be more work!

But here was the best part of my dream: Finding a box on my doorstep filled with copies of my novel. And it was always November or early December. Why? Because I could surprise my family with them for Christmas. In my mind, it was the perfect situation: I saw myself, over and over, celebrating success during a time associated with love and giving, and I saw myself, over and over, sharing that success with the people who mattered most to me.

You may think it weird that what I have always loved the most about the film Back to the Future is the strange and wonderful George McFly, father to Marty. Why George McFly? Because he has a dream of becoming a best-selling author, and at the end of the film, George opens up a box of his first novel in front of his family: A Match Made in Space, a science fiction novel.

Oh, that moment. That moment when the seemingly unassuming George McFly with the weird laugh sees his dream come true is so full of NERDY AWESOME.

Creative daydreaming has always been a way for me to rehearse new possibilities and visualize success. A motivator. A confidence builder. When copies of The Ultra Thin Man arrived on my porch, in a box, I thought of Back to the Future, and realized my own “dreamed of” future had arrived. Except…it happened in August, not during the Christmas season. Close enough.

I have other creative daydreams I still work on today. I imagine that most of them, at some point in my life, will come true. Why not? It worked for me before. When the stress of daily life hits, when the things that I need to have happen seem next to impossible, when I can’t seem to make any progress on something and can’t figure out how to solve those really difficult problems, that’s when I need to RELAX.

The only way for it to happen is to stop searching for it, and pick up a creative daydream and get to work.

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TOUR OFFICIALLY ENDS

What a whirlwind.

And I wasn’t even on a BIG tour. Fellow Tor author, the inimitable John Scalzi, is in the middle of an intense 4-week tour, 23 different cities and dates! I felt extremely lucky with my debut novel to have about 10 events spread out sporadically over  the last month. I also had a blog tour with over a dozen guest posts and interviews. I’ve put links to all the posts and interviews together in a list on the Appearances page. A big shout out to my publicist, Ardi Alspach, for her work on the whole shebang!

My final event was this past Saturday at my local cozy bookstore, A Good Book Cafe; it was a three hour sit-down signing with fellow author Mark Teppo. This allowed staff and some of my students from the high school where I teach to come on down and buy a book and get it signed.

A little over a month has passed since the debut of The Ultra Thin Man. During this time I’ve been quite jazzed to see some fabulous reviews. I have a smattering of them, snippets from fuller reviews, along with pre-publication quotes, on the book page for the novel. Customer reviews at Amazon have been quite nice. Some very decent ones over at GoodReads, too, although that also tends to be the venue for more …. “less than stellar” thoughts about the book! But this sort of thing is to be expected.

The 2014-15 school year started on September 3rd, amidst all the hoopla of the tour and blog posts, and it was a bit difficult getting my classroom ready, but everything is in full swing now. I also found it difficult to work on book two during the book release window, so now I hope to get back to it and knock out the ending, as I approach 90,000 words. (The Ultra Thin Man went in to Tor at 96,000, and ultimately ended up around 107,000).

I have announced this next news during a number of interviews and podcasts, as well as some book events, so I will also mention the working title of the sequel here on my blog: The Ultra Big Sleep. Yes, it’s another nod to noir, the famous novel by Raymond Chandler. And by gosh and by golly, it totally fits what’s been happening as I plow through the first draft!

So that’s the latest. Thank you to EVERYONE who came out to see me and to check out The Ultra Thin Man. I can still use your help getting the word out about it….particularly if you really liked the book!

Here are a few new pictures from events and book spottings!

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ONE YEAR LATER

Just over a year ago (August 15, 2013), this personal author site went live. Thanks again to the fine folks at Clockpunk Studios, and in particular, Jeremy Tolbert, for the wonderful work. I couldn’t be happier with the look and feel. If you’re a writer and looking for a drop-dead awesome site, check them out.

Now, a year later, the debut novel is out.

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What an absolute thrill it has been! I’ve had three book signings thus far, and I’ve written 9 guest blog posts, with a few more to do. I’ve had several interviews, and I still have a couple of signings and readings coming up in the next few weeks. This Thursday I’ll be in California: San Diego and San Francisco. And then I’ll be back home the first few days of September, with several other book events on the horizon.

At the same time I get to start up the new school year and prepare myself for teaching: my 30th year on the job! I started off teaching a combination of high school band and English. Here I am standing in the back of some of my high school band members in 1989 at Disneyland during a day off from a tour. (Future so bright I had to wear shades.)

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I’ve been teaching full-time English for the last 22 years. Here’s a stand-on-my-desk moment from two years ago. I’m not sure what I was thinking of saying!

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So bring it on, new school year, and bring it on, book two. I’m trying like mad to get the sequel to The Ultra Thin Man done before too long (meaning, before the school year totally sucks me in), and, hopefully, someday within the next year or so, have some spiffy new book cover to put on the front page!

 

 

PUB DAY IS PAST!

August 12.

A day that will live … well, at least in my memory. It started with well wishes from friends and family. I could hardly keep up with tweets and posts and emails!

On the horizon was the debut signing at the University Bookstore, to be followed by a release party at the District Lounge a few blocks away. I had already ordered a cake, because what would a book release party be without a cake with the book cover on it? I picked it up in the afternoon and put it in my fridge until it was time to get a head start to North Seattle for the signing. Traffic ensued, by I had time. I stopped at The District Lounge and dropped off the cake and my vinyl sign of the book cover, which I set up on its stand before heading to the bookstore. I was there about an hour early. A few attendees of the reading were already milling around the signing area. And I saw that the store was ready for me:

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I had also brought some treats for the reading itself and set up a platter. Dang! Forgot to take a picture of said platter. But here’s a picture of the treats. Yes: ULTRA THIN cookies and ULTRA THIN pretzels.

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It became evident early on that the crowd would be pretty decent. Events personnel were moving more tables out of the way and setting up more chairs. At 7:00 I was introduced by SF buyer Duane Wilkins, and I went on up with my camera video rolling. It was my Comic-Con moment, taking video of the awesome crowd. I took a few pictures of the crowd, but I had them pretend they were on a rollercoaster ride at an exciting part and act accordingly:

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I took some time to thank my family (my mom and one of my sisters flew in from Montana to be there, for example), and past students of mine who were also there, and maybe I told a few jokes. It’s a bit of a blur now. Soon enough it was time to read. I wowed them (I hope) with Chapter 1 of The Ultra Thin Man, and left them with a cliff hanger. (Or was that a tower diver?)

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Q&A was next, and I answered some good questions. Luckily, I wasn’t stumped.  I was asked about my influences, about what writers I liked right now, about my writing process, and other questions I’ve forgotten.

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Then it was time to sign books! This young lady I didn’t even know (Pepper Jean!) came up to me as I started to sign her dad’s book, and said, “I’m getting my picture with you!” And she grabbed my arm, put her other arm around my shoulders, and leaned in for the photo op. SOOO cute.

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Also, I found that as a lefty, my method for signing kept flashing that lovely book cover to the front all night!

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I used this student’s last name for a side character in chapter 1. He thought it was pretty cool, once I pronounced the name correctly.

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Folks started to go over to the afterparty when they had their books signed. I was, of course, about the last one out of there. But when I arrived at the District Lounge, the cake was waiting for me, uncut, people having some dinner and drinks, waiting patiently for me to arrive. Then it was down to the last handful of us.

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Today I spent more time with my mom and sister at my townhouse, and my sister gave me an appropriate gift:

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Several guest blog posts I wrote went live, and a few new good reviews popped up, and later in the evening I had a Twitter interview.  And now I’m typing this, sort of caught up with everything. Tomorrow I have a signing at Third Place books in North Seattle.

The dream continues.

 

 

 

 

 

MISSION: MY COPIES

Because I must. This instant. Show you the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a long time. More thoughts about this experience and a long-time dream I’ve had, in a later post. But for now:

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2 WEEK WARNING

Yesterday, glancing at the calendar, I realized  I was exactly two weeks away from the official pub date of The Ultra Thin Man. The wait is nearly over.

In fact, I think I might see my own personal copies before then. It might depend on the timing, since I’m headed to Calgary for When Words Collide on August 7. The box could arrive that day and it’d be sitting on my porch for four days! I may have to call in a favor from a good friend who lives nearby. But honestly, I sure hope I have something to show off in Calgary.

ChecklistTwo years and two months ago, I thought: this is going to take forever for the book to come out. An eternity. But it’s gone by faster than I expected, and along the way, I’ve enjoyed a lot of great “firsts” related to this novel’s publication. When I think about things logically and compare this wait to the longer stretch of time it took to finally finish the book and send it out, the process of turning a “Yes, I want to publish it” to a finished product has been more like a blink of an eye.

So excuse me while I start to get a wee bit excited. I hope to see many of you at various signing events along the way!