Saturday, January 15, 2011

Glorious Progress

I just returned from a relaxing cruise to the Eastern Caribbean with my mother.  We visited St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. Kitts, Antigua, and St. Maarten.  It left out of Baltimore, so we had three days at sea on the way down and three days at sea on the way back.  These at-sea days gave me plenty of time with no interruptions to work on the novel, and I took advantage of that.  Before I get ahead of myself, though, I better start from the beginning -- the only reasonable place to start.

Michelle came to visit us for a week after Christmas.  We had a wonderful time together irrespective of any work that we accomplished.  I love her so much!  Beyond having a great family Christmas dinner (with my half-brother & his mother & my mother aside from Michelle & two of her kids) and playing all of the games I got for Christmas, we really got to work.  We polished up the outline for both the entire series as well as for the first novel.  Moreover, I did a bunch more research and Michelle wrote two more chapters.  For 4 days work, I don't think that's too shabby (especially considering that at the end of Michelle's time here, I got a horrible stomach flu).

After much discussion about what we need to accomplish if we're going to have a hope of having the novel in submittable form by the end of this summer, we decided that we really need to have the first draft completed by the end of May.  That is because once the whole thing is written, we will still have final editing that we'll need to do.  Moreover, we want to ask a group of close friends and family members to read the book and give us feedback for a last round of edits.  Right now we already have a short list in mind of people that we think represent a wide swath of interests who we would like to help us out with this task, but if anyone reading this is interested in reading an early draft of our novel this summer, please let me know.

In order to have the novel completed by the end of May, we computed that we'd need to write one chapter per week between now and then -- an immensely doable task if neither of us were in grad school, but unfortunately both of us are.  Nevertheless, we are both incredibly committed to this project, so this is the goal that we have set for ourselves, and so far we've stuck with it.  Since Michelle left me on January 1, she has written two more chapters.

When we divvied up responsibilities for the first book, we decided that we would decide all plot and story issues together, I would do all of the research and would write the prologue which is distinct (although obviously connected to) the main story, and Michelle would write the body of the book.  At the end of the day it's really going to result in a 50-50 split of effort.  Since I did nearly all of the research, I've come up with more plot ideas than Michelle has (especially for later books), although it really is a joint effort.  Since Michelle has been doing the vast majority of the writing, she's done a lot more of the character development, although, again, there is no piece of this book that we both haven't touched.

I've been trying to sound (and feel) confident about writing the prologue, but once I started seeing copy of Michelle's chapters I must admit that I became a bit intimidated.  There's a reason that I wanted to write a novel with her -- she's a great writer.  At one weak moment I even thought about asking Michelle if she'd write the prologue, with the excuse that it would flow better if all of the novel was written by one person.  Ultimately, I decided that I really needed to suck it up.  See, I've never really written fiction before.  The last time I did any sort of creative writing was in 9th grade when I had to write a poem in my English class that needed to be in iambic pantameter and compare one of my parents to an animal.  It was an oddly specific assignment  -- thanks, Mr. Murphy!  Even that, now that I think of it, wasn't exactly fiction, though.

I decided that while I was on the cruise, I would just have to buckle down and get the prologue written.  I took the cruise with my mother because her health isn't great (she has an autoimmune disease) and I wanted to take her on a cruise while her health could still withstand a vacation.  Her health being what it is, though, she wasn't exactly going to be able to go out to bars with me at night.  Without Max, I didn't want to hit up the bars, so every night after dinner I worked on the book for three or four hours.  I began by doing research on the setting of the chapter, but ultimately got down to writing.  After 6 or 7 days I had the prologue written.  It's 7 single spaced word pages and a little over 5000 words.  I sent it off to Michelle not knowing what her reaction would be.  My opinion of it vacillated between great pride and horror.  Thankfully she really liked it, so maybe I will have a career as a novelist after all.

As it stands, we now have 7 out of 27 outlined chapters written.  That is 25.93% of book.  We have written 19,613 words between the two of us (that's approximately 70 paperback pages).  If our chapters continue to be this length, that would end up being a book of approximately 76,500 words.  I think it'll end up a bit longer, though, because a few of our earlier chapters will most likely be longer than the later chapters (which are the ones that are already written -- we haven't been writing it in order.  So far we've written the prologue and Chapters 11, 12, 20, 21, 22, and 26, fwiw).  I think we should end up with a novel between 80,000-90,000 words.  That's great, because in general, publishers want first novels to be somewhere between 80,000-100,000 words.

Looking ahead, once we have the thing written and edited, we're going to look for an agent.  Moreover, we have a few loose connections with people in publishing (it's a we-know-people-who-know-people sort of thing), and so we're going to work those connections for all they're worth.  In general, if we could get a $10,000-$20,000 advance for a first time novel, we should be very pleased with ourselves.  Very pleased indeed.  I just read an anecdote online, however, (though I can't attest to its veracity) that after Nicholas Sparks wrote The Notebook, he quickly found an agent, and was offered a $1,000,000 advance -- for his *first* novel.  While such happenings are as rare as a spotting of one of the wee folk, it sure is fun to dream.