A Few Tips and a War Story by Gregory Zeigler
I'm following my friend Pam's post with a few tips of my own about writing a novel. I'll conclude with a war story about the dreaded marketing she referred to in her final sentences.
I'm currently working on my third novel in a trilogy (I don't know, maybe I'll have four novels in the trilogy and call it a "thrillogy.") The working title is,"The One Degree Difference."
I can't honestly pinpoint a single source or moment that inspired the twists and turns of this particular odyssey involving my two main protagonists, Jake Goddard and Susan Brand. Suffice it to say, the frightening news about climate change is keeping me up at night and the young warriors for the planet who are fighting inaction by the authorities makes me want to cheer.
But first some history, my first book was a travel memoir, "Travels With Max: In Search of Steinbeck's America Fifty Years Later." In 2009 I retraced John Steinbeck's route for his travel memoir, "Travels with Charley."The itinerary dictated my blog, the blog became the outline and the outline became the book. Nothing to it, right?
Then I decided I wanted to write a novel. Not so simple. In fact, damn difficult. But I can trace my first climate fiction, environmental thriller to one article in the Salt Lake Tribune. The article mentioned that Las Vegas was building a new expensive tunnel or straw to Lake Mead and the powers that be had not procured permission to withdraw more water from the Colorado River Compact, which involves seven states and Mexico. I remember thinking, well, that's hubris, the Colorado River is already endangered and overtaxed. What if someone tried to stop them? "The Straw That Broke" was born, and after completion (Roughly 100,000 words and I chose every single one.) was critically compared to the film, "Chinatown." But that was after much writing and rewriting. I thought as a former English teacher and avid reader that I knew how to write a novel, I didn't. In fact I'm still learning how to write a novel, but many editors and writers (like my two FRW buds Pam Beason and Dave Butler) have helped me along the way.
My process is like Pam's. My novels begin with a very rough outline of maybe 100 words or so and then evolve organically. My characters show me the way. If I get stuck, I take a walk or jump on my treadmill desk and ideas begin to flow. I also do an outline after a rough draft is complete and I also use beta readers. Their input is invaluable. For instance, because "The One Degree Difference" concerns the actions and settings (and dialogue) of high school age kids, I hope to find a high school librarian to be a beta reader.
Speaking of librarians, it's important for a novelist to enjoy doing research. There's an old writers' adage that admonishes, "write what you know." I would adjust that to read, "write what you want to know about."
My final thought. One must learn to love to rewrite. I go back over my scenes many, many times and with each pass layer in more depth while also pruning. I could almost say I enjoy the rewriting more than the writing. I like how a sentence is infinitely perfectible. I aspire to write the perfect sentence. I just hope I don't have to sell my soul to do it.
Now for my marketing war story. We all have to promote our books no matter how they are published and the bookstore event is still the go-to method. But man can they vary in quality of experience, and in the amount of marketing and prep the bookstore is willing to do. Some expect the writer to attract their own audience—challenging in a distant and strange city.
For example: One of my best turnouts at a bookstore event for "Max" was at a store In Albuquque, New Mexico. SRO. Great accolades and sales. So as you might imagine when I was returning for "Straw", I was psyched. I couldn’t quite figure out why I was scheduled at 5:00 p.m. but was still eager, ready and dressed for success.
I was even more excited when I pulled into the parking lot of the store and saw my name on the marquee in big bold letters. But on second glance, that wasn’t Greg I was seeing but Craig and the last name wasn’t Zeigler—it was Johnson.
For some inexplicable reason the store had booked me at 5:00 p.m. on the same day as a guy with a TV series—at 7:00 p.m.—prime time!
I had four people show. Two close friends and two friends of theirs. We bagged it and went out to dinner.