The Agony & The Ecstacy of Developing & Writing 4 Novels

by Shelt Garner

I have been way too vocal about working on what is now four novels. I need to just shut up and do the work. The more I talk about all of this, the more people roll their eyes and tell me to just “write a short story.”

Fuck that.

Hell yeah.

But while I’ve gotten a huge amount of work done over the last few years, it’s been more of a drift than any organized, disciplined thing. That’s why it’s been difficult for me to write short stories to shut the naysayers up. I would rather fail in an outrageous, spectacular fashion than write short stories that obviously would never get published.

What people really mean when they say “write a short story” is they’re tired of hearing about a novel that seems to be taking forever to finish. But, in all honesty, if they think that way, if they lack the ability to support my long-term dream of writing a novel they’re not my friend and I don’t want them in my life.

I’d rather be alone and a failure than have friends and have them think I’m a failure because I could not pass their “test” of getting a short story published. If that did happen, it’s not like I would shut up about the very thing they find so annoying — writing.

If they don’t like me talking about writing, then they don’t really like me and they can fuck off.

Anyway, I just had to get that off my chest.

Now, To Start Reading Movie Scripts

by Shelt Garner

Our time on this planet is brief. I’ve finally begun to reach the existential angst of someone who knows this is just about the time when my age group begins to fade into non-existence. We have a solid 20 years ahead of us if we’re lucky, but the process of demise has just about begun.

As such, I’m going to slow drift towards figuring out how to flesh out a second creative “track” of working on a screenplay or three. I have a lot of movie concepts rolling around in my mind, but it’s pretty obvious that the learning curve is far, far sharper than I thought when I finally swallowed my pride and bought Final Draft 12.

I was thinking it was going to be a WYSIWYG-type editor.

Boy, was I wrong. I have to figure out how to use it format my screenplays. It doesn’t hold one’s hand at all. Which is something of a shock. How something that doesn’t really make it easy for a novice to format a screenplay to become the industry standard is curious to me.

And yet, I still have four (four!) novels to develop and finish as quickly as possible. But I’m feeling pretty good about that “main” creative track. Things are going really well in real terms, it’s just a lot — a lot — slower than I would prefer.

But I’m going back to writing again pretty soon now, even though I haven’t filled all the holes in my outline for the first book.

Wish me luck.

I’ve Got Lightening In A Bottle With This Thriller Series

by Shelt Garner

I’m really struggling with the (new) first book in this four book thriller series I’m working on. But I definitely get the sense that there’s something there. I just have to be willing to put the work in to make this as great a yarn as I know it can be.

But it’s not going to be easy, just as it hasn’t been easy the last several years I’ve been working on writing a novel. I’ve redoubled my studying of Stieg Larsson’s stuff and I noticed something: he doesn’t cover every single solitary day in the chronology of events.

He focuses on one or two important days. I used to think that The Girl Who Played With Fire was the perfect textbook for me to use to write my own novel, and now I realize, on a structural basis, it’s not

It doesn’t really follow the structure I need. So,lulz.

But I do still study it a lot to get some sense of how to write A Novel, just maybe not My Novel.

I Have To Stop Overthinking This Series

by Shelt Garner

So, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m working on four novels in a series simultaneously. Things are going really, really well. But I still have the same old problem of overthinking things so much that I throw everything out what feels like every few days.

Some of my problems come from I have a few scenes I love so much I’m willing to fight for, which adds significant complications to the overall project. But none of the problems I’m having compare to the three year struggle to get some favorite set pieces to make sense in what is now the third book in a four book series.

Now, THAT was a sharp learning curve.

But I’m ok now. I just need to do a lot — A LOT — of reading and to figure out how to stop being so hard on myself. I understand why people might hate on me if they’re paying attention — I mean, I haven’t even finished one novel and now I’m working on four.

And, yet, what happened was, once I kind of figured out the novel I was working on for so long, I realized I needed a break. I was creatively exhausted. So what I’m doing now allows me to recharge my batteries while staying in-universe.

Anyway, I really need to speed up.

Here’s My Contribution To The ‘Cat Person’ Discourse

by Shelt Garner

Before we begin, let me be clear — I started reading the short story “Cat Person” but it hit too close to home on a personal level so I stopped. (Even though it’s a very short story.) Also, I’m just too lazy to do even the most basic of Google search for some details on this subject — think of this as just my impressions on things.

The thing about the short story “Cat Person” is it struck the zeitgeist at just the right moment. It was, as I recall, the height of the #MeToo “moment” and the story resonated with a lot of women who were enraged by men and thought they were all, collectively, a piece of shit.

Anyway, we now learn that a lot of the short story’s characterizations were lifted straight from real life. I’m writing a series of novels at the moment and so I have a lot to say about such things. I have stripped mined my personal life — and the lives of a number of other people — for plot points and characterizations. But all but one of instance of this is so out of context and garbled that it’s not a one-to-one type situation. A lot people I have met over the years would know that this or that quirk or trait of a character was based on them, but it’s not like the entire character is them.

But for one character.

One character is pretty much literally based on the late Annie Shapiro. Ms. Shapiro greatly changed my life while we were both in Seoul. The story of what happened between us is so interesting that over the years, I’ve repeatedly attempted to tell it both literally and in fiction. The literal version of I’m deeply embarrassed about — I had no right do that — and the various fictional versions were either failed or just bad.

But the series of books I’m working on now are much, much, much better than anything else I’ve worked on. And, as I mentioned, a very important character in the series is based on Ms. Shapiro. She’s dead, so I figured I’m not hurting anyone by doing this and also she was one of the most unique individuals I’ve ever met so I’m trying to honor her memory, not hurt it.

Anyway, I’m a pretty unique person, so I know that it’s very possible that someone could base a character on ME and the characterization is unlikely to be very kind. I could totally see someone using me as the basis of a villain in a fictional story, given what Ms. Shapiro and I went through in Seoul with ROKon Magazine. I was drinking a lot back then and also the stress of running the magazine really, really got to me. I was not in a good place. Ms. Shapiro and I hurt each other a lot in various ways and I was angry at her for a long time.

But her death devastated me. RIP, kid.

Now that I know the background of “Cat Person” I pause to reflect on my responsibilities as a writer. Is anyone going to get mad if I base a character of a dead person? And what about all the other people I’ve borrowed aspects of their personality and physical features from? I should be ok, I think, given how garbled it all is.

It is interesting, however, how loaded the “Cat Person” short story has become. It’s become something of a totem for men and women and how they view relationships in different ways. I can only hope for that much cultural relevancy with the series I’m working on.

Of Prequels

by Shelt Garner

I mentioned to someone who has read the first part of the (now third) novel in the series about doing a two prequels. First, she had no idea what a “prequel” was in the first place. I think I was able to get across that I’m writing two new books that happen BEFORE what I’ve given her but are still in the same fictional universe.

But she was very pleased with what she read from me the last time I sent her something. This makes me very happy — it shows that I have, in fact, gotten better. A lot better. This makes me ecstatic.

Yet, as I struggled to explain to her, she knows me and, as such, even though she’s seen a lot of improvement, she still grades me on a curve. If someone like, say, a literary agent, were to read it cold, I’m still nowhere near my copy being good enough. I have, like, three more versions to finish before I get to that point.

What’s more, now I have *four* books to go through that entire process with.

But I’m really feeling the pressure to hurry up and do just that. The pressure to produce something, anything is getting pretty intense now. And I am writing a lot at the moment. I do like the how now I have an even bigger task ahead of me. I have a huge ego and I’m very ambitious — and motivated — so I it’s just a matter of focus at this point.

My Decision To Develop & Write Four Novels Instead of Two Is Working Out Well

by Shelt Garner

They key reason why my decision to double the books in this initial group of novels has worked out so well is it allows me to do something different when the mood strikes and still stay in-universe.

I have all these great, great ideas rolling around in my mind these days and now I have an outlet to do something different while moving the overall project I’ve been working on for the last few years forward.

One thing that’s interesting is the prequels allow me to figure out how to tell a story that isn’t completely fueled by my white hot, center-of-the-sun rage against MAGA. These two prequel stories are a lot more character driven and very personal.

Anyway, I have a massive amount of work ahead of me. I feel a lot more need to just write something, anything sooner rather than later — when I finish the outlines to these four novels.

That should happen pretty soon, at least on a preliminary basis. I’m shooting for the end of July 4th weekend.

Developing And Writing Four Novels Is Going Well, So Far

by Shelt Garner

So, here I am, now working on four books instead of what I was working on — two books, one story. This is double the work, obviously, but it actually makes completing the whole project easier — since I’m working on all four books at the same time, I can create something out of whole cloth and plop it in the past if need be to help me get me out of a pinch later on in the series.

But the key issue remains — I have to actually finish this thing, no matter how many books there are.

I’m looking at these four books as one huge story that is broken into four parts that have plots and character arcs of their own. I think I may have reached “saga” levels of storytelling at this point. But whenever I get a little nervous, I remember how great the characters I’ve come up with and how entertaining the over all story is.

Now that I have four novels in this “saga,” I have plenty of room to play with. If I want to flip the script or do something different, I can do it in-universe and help the overall goal of finishing the books.

But, as I have been for some time, I’m completely delusional about all of this. This project has gone from me just wanting to write a novel to writing two novels to, now, four novels. I’m doing all of this blind. I have no idea if anyone will actually be interested in any of this — I mean, why should anyone care? But I feel given how crazy some of the stories out there are these days, it doesn’t really matter what’s going on as long as you have a coherent plot and interesting characters.

At least, that’s the theory.

Why Developing And Writing Four Novels Simultaneously Is Going So Well

by Shelt Garner

I’ve been hard at work on a two novels, one story situation for a few years now. But it wasn’t until recently when it hit met that I had two prequels I could also develop and write within the same universe. After some deep thought, I realized I would rather go for broke and write all (now) four novels at the same time than write two novels then go back and write two prequels if there was enough interest.

So, in a sense, it’s as if George Lucas had balls of steel in the 70s and wrote and produced two prequals to Star Wars (along with the Empire Strikes Back.) It’s not a perfect comparison for obvious reasons, but it’s similar. The key to what’s going on is this now such a massive creative project that if I grow frustrated with one aspect of it, I can just go somewhere else and do some work there and still be in the same universe.

A lot of this comes from I now know how *I* write and develop a novel, so some of this happening really fast because I have something of a template in my mind about how to write a novel, any novel. In fact, the idea for two prequels really came rushing into the front of my mind when pretty much got the third book in the series figured out. It was then I was like, “ah ha!”

Being able to root around in the backstory of the last two books has also changed the story some because while previous I had two major events in my head, now they have characters and a plot.

I also think maybe making this creative enterprise double in size now really gives me incentive to go a lot faster and work a lot harder.

From my point of view all of this now feels extremely self-indulgent because, well, I’m drawing so deeply from my personal history now to tell this story that I’m a little nervous people are going to know a little too much about me once they finish all four books.

But, of course, they won’t know the context.

Anyway, wish me luck.

Novel Development Odds & Ends

by Shelt Garner

Some things I keep thinking about these days as I develop the first book in a four book (at least) series.

  1. Motivation & Writing Female Characters
    The better my storytelling ability gets, the more I find myself dwelling on motivation and how to construct interesting characters — usually female. I find developing female characters a lot more interesting than male characters because it’s so much more of a challenge to believably reverse engineer the personality and motivation of a female character (as male author.) And anyone who tells you to “just write a male character and flip the gender pronouns later” is full of shit. That’s a trite, pat, way of encouraging skittish male authors to write more female characters when, in fact, writing a female character as a male author is hard as shit.
  2. Gender & Hero Politics
    To write an effective Hero (Protagonist) for a story, they need to move the plot along. So, at the moment, I have my Heroine being rather passive at the climax of the story. I have come up with a way to make her far more active, but something occurred to me — there’s a reason why you see a lot of mom’s saving kids stories, but not a lot — if any of — of children saving mom stories. The implication is if a young man saves the metaphorical princess that they marry and live happily ever after. So, it’s weird to think that a son might save a mom from the dragon. But a mom saving a child (son) from danger fits the idea of a mother’s love.
  3. Writing An Interesting Female Character Is Tough
    I love to think up really interesting female protagonists, but given where all these stories are set, I really need to explain how is that all these out-there female characters could reside essentially in the same place when in real life you don’t often run into a woman as interesting as I’ve thought up. It’s not like there are all these Lisbeth Salanders running around Sweden. I have come up with a reason why these three women I need to exist would do so near each other, but I really need to think about the consequences of them being such iconoclasts. Men are socialized to be the Hero, while women — at least up until fairly recently — have been socialized to be the Princess who needs to be saved. For a real life woman to buck this very potent social construct would come with some significant downside for her on a personal level.