Release Date

On Tuesday, September 10th my debut novel, The Confessions of Adam, will be released. The optimal day to release a book, per industry wisdom, is Tuesday. A late summer, early fall release is also good, as readers are settling back into their routines and are often looking for their next book. And of course Christmas is coming. There is time for a reader to finish the book ahead of the holiday season and then purchase a copy as a gift.

It’s marketing.

On Tuesday, September 10th my debut novel, The Confessions of Adam, will be released. I have spent more than a decade with this story. I started writing it in the winter of 2005. I finished the final full draft the summer of 2016. I carried this project close and spoke of it with intimate friends and in small groups. Started on one laptop, finished on another—it required hundreds of revisions, dozens of notes on the biblical text, an outline that morphed alongside each draft, selections for workshops, and phone calls with my agent and publisher. It was incremental progress and Divine intervention—still Divine intervention.

Indeed, it’s marketing. But first it was personal.

The Last Read

This week I finished reading, for the fourth time in six months, my debut novel The Confessions of Adam. This was my last reading. With an advance reader copy in hand, it was the last opportunity to edit the text. I finished the novel.

Three thoughts come to mind at this milestone:

  1. It is strange to be so familiar with a text. A sort of blindness sets in, an inability to process any further what text is doing. Instead of learning more about the intent of the story with each pass or draft, I now learn what the story is about from readers, from engaging with readers in conversation about the novel. 
  2. I’ll not do it again. The temptation is to say to oneself, ‘I must do this again. I must write another novel like this one.’ But the fact is I won’t. I won’t do this again. The next novel will be different in more ways than it is similar. The next novel will have its own challenges and personality. Each book is a unique, a custom effort.
  3. You never finish a book, you just stop. Leading up to this reading, there had been dozens of beta readers and editors, including Cyndi and I. Yet we still identified around 35 edits. I am convinced that I could read this novel every month for the next year and find changes I want to make. It is time to stop, to go to press. I’ve done all I can.

So long, Adam of Eden and Oren of Susa. It has been a pleasure working with you.

First Copies

At a conference last week my publisher had a book table and sold the first pre-release copies of my debut novel, The Confessions of Adam. About a dozen copies went home with readers from various locations across the US. 

It is surreal to think that at any given time a stranger somewhere could be reading your novel. I have moved the work from that silent and solitary place of daily writing, through months of maneuvering a manuscript toward publication, to this new and foreign stage of observing from afar unknown readers as they react to a book with my name on it.

I am reminded of the axiom ‘the story must stand on its own.’ I’m not sitting next to each reader giving them a synopsis of the novel or telling them how I came to write the story. They’ve never seen my name before. I’m an unknown. I’ve nothing to do with the reader’s experience. The book is now theirs to complete, to read and to imagine.

The story must stand on its own—while I write the next one.

[Title Here]

I am having a very hard time titling what I hope will be my second novel.

There are two outcomes of each title I write: 1) it stinks, and I know it right away or 2) I am utterly enamored with it as soon as it hits the page, only to find after a day or two it grows soft, gray, and flat.

I tend to start with low concept titles, over-wrought and abstract ones that give the reader no idea, no clue what they are getting themselves into. These titles are artsy, literary, and pleasing to only one reader—me. Slowly, painfully, I find my way to the high concept titles, those that draw the reader in. Those simple titles that tell the reader something central about what they are getting themselves into when they pick up my prose. 

The only way I’ve found of getting to these better titles is via a list, getting all the low concept titles out, onto the page, so that they can be forgotten and I can get to the ones that have potential. The tenable titles come at least ten titles into the list, more in most cases. 

Finally, the chosen title must always be set out to rest. It must still be the title of choice days and weeks later.

And this is how titles are made.

Sunday Word Choice

Early Sunday morning, while working through edits to The Confessions of Adam, I came across a passage where one of the central characters uses the word ‘sewage.’

I stopped reading. The right word for the situation. The wrong word for the story. Too modern.

So began the search.

I didn’t want a reader pulled from the dream by the wrong word. 

With a dictionary in one hand and a thesaurus in the other, I went to work. I spent an hour reading and looking at synonyms, their definitions, their origins. Hundreds of words all revolving around refuse, waste, discharge, and other distasteful aspects of human leavings. 

It turns out that the word ‘sewage’ carries a lot of weight.

After finding my morning mood and stomach soured, I consulted a writerly friend. I texted him the challenge. Per his suggestion I went with the word ‘stagnant.’

And this is how it works. The word you’re looking for may not be an equivalent. It may be a change, a tweak, a subtle shift in tone, color, or perspective.

And this is the pursuit of story.

That

As I complete the final edits of the manuscript which will be my debut novel, The Confessions of Adam, I thought that I’d share with you the other item that my editor so kindly identified.*

What we’re dealing with here is called a “weasel word.” You can Google this. Better yet, look it up in Merriam-Webster. It’s there. I knew nothing about it until my editor pointed it out. 

As it turns out, my weasel word is that.

Here are two examples from The Confessions of Adam:

Incorrect: The telling of it feels like a tale. It could be an elaborate dream that he’s had and that he has now come to claim as personal history.

Correct: The telling of it feels like a tale. It could be an elaborate dream he’s had and has now come to claim as personal history.

Incorrect: ”No, the Maker isn’t visible, but he says he can see Him. Adam says that he can see the Maker just as a blind man can see his lover enter the room.”

Correct: ”No, the Maker isn’t visible, but he says he can see Him. Adam says he can see the Maker just as a blind man can see his lover enter the room.”

Clearly, those sentences didn’t need that. In fact once I removed that, the sentence shone brighter.

Shoot. Hang on. Let me fix that opening sentence.

As I complete the final edits of the manuscript which will be my debut novel, The Confessions of Adam, I thought that I’d share with you the other item that my editor so kindly identified.*

Forgive me.

*See the previous blogpost for my other editorial gotcha.

En & Em Dashes

As I complete the final edits on the manuscript that will be my debut novel, The Confessions of Adam, I thought I’d—I thought it would be helpful to share one of the key fixes that my editor, Lindsay Franklin found. I have spent 6–8 hours replacing hyphens with em dashes—not en dashes. When I started, I didn’t know the difference. You can Google the difference. And you should. It is important. Here are a few of examples from the novel:

Incorrect: Amat gently helps the sniffling boy tie his soaked smock up in a knot at his back and wraps a strand of bells just above each of the child’s elbows and knees. This done, he pats the boy’s head – no doubt a knot has risen from my reprimand – and ushers the child to the river’s edge, watching over him as he eases into the water and wades back in among the other boys.

Correct: Amat gently helps the sniffling boy tie his soaked smock up in a knot at his back and wraps a strand of bells just above each of the child’s elbows and knees. This done, he pats the boy’s head—no doubt a knot has risen from my reprimand—and ushers the child to the river’s edge, watching over him as he eases into the water and wades back in among the other boys.

Incorrect: “It was she. If she had not been so insistent–“

Correct: “It was she. If she had not been so insistent—“

Incorrect: There is a servant who aides Enosh and works the stable. Have you seen him – a thin, muscled, tan young man with loose, curly hair?

Correct: There is a servant who aides Enosh and works the stable. Have you seen him—a thin, muscled, tan young man with loose, curly hair?

Consider this your introduction to the world of dashes. Use them wisely.

Next

I am well into the throes of writing my second novel. I’ve heard that many writers don’t get the first novel they write published. The first one is often practice, the novel they learned on. The one that sits forever in the desk drawer. I recently heard the non-fiction writer Eula Biss state that a friend’s debut novel—at age 52—was the fifth he’d written. This hasn’t been my experience. In my case, the first one done is the first one out the door.

But none of this matters—which novel, how many, when.

What matters is that there is a next. A now. A work-in-progress. The writing is the thing. In the writing is where the work begins and ends. There is a current project that has captured me. If it is fit for readers at some point then so be it. If not, another next awaits.

What matters is the writing.

Ending

It’s been said that no one finishes a novel, they just stop working on it. If there is anything that is true about the craft of creating fiction, it is this. There is no ending for the writer, only a stop.  A surrender of the text to the editor. The writer’s temptation is to keep working and working on a manuscript. To tweak, adjust, straighten, repeat. I’ve heard authors in readings alter the published text – edit their work for a reading. This is how strong the desire is to continue. To avoid ending. To fix, affix, and reaffix. But you must stop. You must cease your effort. You must stand down. Beginnings demand endings. One day you finish, whether you like it or not.

The story is in the possession of the reader now.

And you move on to the new, the next. 

Beginning

The work of writing looks exactly the same today as it did ten years ago. I go sit in a chair at a table and open my laptop or notebook, and form and order words. It’s no easier or harder than it was yesterday and it’ll be no easier or harder to do tomorrow. 

Picasso said, to know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing. Any understanding that I gain of the product I’m seeking to produce comes when I’m in the throes of writing. 

Thus, each day I begin again. 

The planning is very thin. I plan to sit down at a specific time with a specific starting place. That starting place may be where I left off yesterday, or a character that needs further development, or a snippet of dialogue that needs reworked. But very quickly after taking my seat any notion of where I thought I might be going that day is dispelled. The work tells you what it needs.

Beginning isn’t something you do once, or at the top of each story. 

Beginning is what you do every day.