Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Five-Year Mission

Many times throughout the two decades following college graduation, I would scribble ideas for a scene, or chapter, only to dismissively shove them in a drawer and forget about them. Although I had written a handful of halfway decent short stories in high school and at college, a novel was always the brass ring I hoped to grasp, but never could seem to achieve.

In 2010, I decided it was time to fulfill my lifelong dream of writing a book. It didn't really matter what kind of book, or if it ended up being a good book. Outlining, writing, rewriting, editing and formatting a book -- even a short one -- is no easy task. The challenge for someone like me with self-diagnosed ADD and crippling authorial insecurity was getting from the start of chapter one to the words "The End" without losing the thread of the story. The result, a murder mystery titled Damage, was just that: poorly constructed with a minimum of characters and no sense of urgency imparted, yet a fairly intact and coherent plot. My apologies to anyone kind enough to have read it for me, because they certainly weren't reading it for themselves. The only good thing to come from Damage was I proved to myself I could, in fact, write a novel-length story.

Halfway through the process, while mustering the courage to tackle rewriting the clunky first draft of Damage, I took a break from it and wrote several chapters of a fun story for my children. Then the urge to return to Damage struck and I abandoned those chapters. Some two years later, I came across them and determined they weren't half bad, so I redrafted them and created the first book in The Psi Squad series titled, quite unimaginatively, The Psi Squad: Book One. The book came quickly and was tremendously enjoyable to write. The characters spoke to me in ways none of the characters in Damage had managed to, and because I had already proven to myself I could write a 60,000-word novel, I didn't feel pressured to prove it again. The Psi Squad: Book One is only about 18,000 words long, if that, meaning it ended up being exactly the length it needed to be. The self-published book hit Amazon's virtual bookshelves in 2013.

The following year saw the release of The Psi Squad and the Atherton Ghost which was equally as fun to write and slightly longer at 27,000 words. Its story continued where the first book left off and fleshed out the world just enough for my liking. Intentionally short chapters, each moving the story along by inches and providing a little character development along the way, served as perfectly spaced stepping stones to keep me from veering off course. 

Neither of The Psi Squad books have made any waves in the literary world. That's fine by me. Would I like to get rich off my writing and retire to a private island where I could write all day? Of course, but writing is just my hobby and the joy of hobbies is supposed to come from the doing, not some external reward. Besides, middle grade fiction is a tough market. I'd stand a better chance at commercial success writing an un-illustrated 400-year history of gout. After that second Psi Squad book was finished, I felt it was time to try writing something other than fiction for children. I quickly fell back into my habit of scribbling and discarding bits and pieces without any clear purpose. Before long, I decided to give The Psi Squad another try and quickly completed a first draft of a third book. Then something terrible happened -- I convinced myself it was awful.

The first Psi Squad had minimal ghost story and was mostly about introducing the three main characters. The second Psi Squad had a better balance between ghost story and character development, even managing to introduce a fourth main character. With the third book, it felt I had taken a step backward and provided a story based more on the dynamics of the four primary characters than on the ghost story. As a result, that first draft sat on my Mac as, you guessed it, I scribbled and discarded scenes and chapters for stories that would never see the light of day.

Late last year, while browsing Amazon's website, I decided to take a peek at my books. Among the various details displayed for each one is the release date. I was shocked to realize it had been four years since the release of The Psi Squad and the Atherton Ghost. This is a series for which I planned to write nine books and there I was with only two published books to show for it and a disappointing first draft of a third languishing. To drive the delay home even more, someone named Tania left a review on Goodreads for the second book that simply stated: "This book was just as entertaining as the first one. Loved the characters and the story. Such a pity that the third is not out yet."

The very next day, during my lunch break, I pulled up that draft and started reading it front to back without stopping to make notes or edit. I wanted to see if it really was as awful as I recalled. It wasn't. As with any first draft, there were a few errors here and there, a few spots that went on too long, others that needed to go on a bit longer, but on the whole there were no major issues. During breaks in a busy schedule -- Hurricanes Florence and Michael didn't help matters -- a redrafted third book emerged and by January was ready.

So, five years following the publication of the second book in the series, The Psi Squad and the Unhappy Valentine finally is available on Amazon in ebook format (the paperback option is coming soon). At 33,000 words it is the longest of the books and, in my humble and unbiased opinion, offers a simple yet effective ghost story, some excellent character development, and several important setups for the next few books in the series. More importantly, work has already begun on the fourth book. While I won't promise a quick turn around, I can promise it won't take five years.

© 2019 Mark Feggeler