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’m Quite Pleased With The Universe I’ve Created For This Thriller Series

by Shelt Garner

Things are going really well with the four novel series I’m working on because all four books are compelling stories. But a lot — and I mean A LOT — could go wrong at any moment.

But you have to just put your head down and get to work at some point. You can freeze forever because of what MIGHT happen. Worry about what is actually know, what is not known.

I will admit that some of the aspects of this huge universe makes me nervous. And, yet, even the parts that make me nervous can be used in an interesting, compelling manner. I feel a little bit like what I imagine Freddy Mercury did when he was putting Bohemian Rhapsody together and everyone thought he was nuts.

I know in my mind what the vision is and how it will ultimately look like, but if you look at it right now as an outsider you might scratch your head and say, “But why start the series THEN?”

It makes sense in the context of the over all story. I feel compelled to tell the two stories set in the past because they’re compelling and they explain, with great detail, how this otherwise surreal little community came to be.

The biggest problem I have is forcing myself not to be so cruel to myself. I have a huge amount of self-imposed pressure on me right now — I need to knock out these four books ASAP, then turn around and do it all over again so I can let beta readers look at things.

This is a huge, huge project — which is exact what I wanted when I started all of this.

So, I’m Moving Towards A Second Creative Track: Screenwriting

by Shelt Garner

I’m not getting any younger. And I do have a shit tone of screenplay concepts rolling around in my mind. So, I’m going to begin to move towards getting to the point where I have something of a second creative track of screenwriting.

There are so many downsides to this that I’m well aware of — I’m going to be drawing energy away from the novel series. It’s kind of dumb to even start given my age and where I live. And, yet, my own mortality is definitely staring me straight in the face.

I like the idea of having something I can divert my creative energy to on a lark as need be. I’ve been working on these novels — and made such progress as a storyteller — that I like the idea of doing something creative for the sake of being creative.

I’m also, by nature, rather delusional. To the point that I daydream of finishing off a few screenplays and flying to LA for a few days just to see if my natural extroverted personality might get me within pitching distance of a Hollywood bigwig of some sort.

I know, I KNOW this is very, very delusional.

But it’s a fun distraction while I keep slugging away at these novels. Yet, I know that in showbiz it’s often — almost always — who you know, not what you know. But you need a script. So, I’ve kind of vowed to myself that if I’m still interested in this second creative track of screenwriting at the end of the month that I’m going to take a huge breath and get serious about buying Final Draft.

I’m 20 years too old to start this process. But I am creative and have a lot of really interesting movie concepts that, lulz, why not?

The Agony & The Ecstasy Of Wanting Final Draft

by Shelt Garner

I want to buy the screenwriting program Final Draft, but there are two things holding me back. One, I’m broke as hell and it’s extremely expensive. Two, if I’m going to spend that much money on it, I’d like to actually use it right away.

So, as such, I know that actually buying Final Draft would be the end of the beginning of any effort to actually write screenplay. I must have at least a dozen solid screenplay concepts rolling around my head at the moment. And, yet, I’m throwing all my creativity at the four novel series I’m working on and I just don’t feel like distracting myself.

And it’s not like I live in LA — any screenplays I write would have to be done knowing full well that they are meant to be pure creativity (at least at first.) I would much rather use all my creative time and energy working on the series I’ve been working on for years now, rather than risk getting distracted and having to start at blow zero working on screenplays.

But, having said all that, occasionally I do grow restless. Sometimes, I feel like just picking a completely different creative direction for the sheer joy of it and see what happens. For the last few years, however, this lasts for a few minutes and then I put my head down and keep working on the novel(s.)

I guess it’s possible that I might sketch out some screenplays in the near future. But I’m going to be on the cusp of actually writing a screenplay if I buy Final Draft. I need to start reading screenplays if I’m going to get anywhere near that stage, however.

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.

I Need To Study ‘Mare Of Easttown’

by Shelt Garner

Even though the first episode of this limited series opens with a very lazy “heroine wakes up” trope, the first episode of “Mare of Easttown” is very inspirational because it’s very character driven. The two novels that I have added to this series have a different dynamic than the last two novels in the series and, as such, I have to lean into the characters.

But there’s a problem — I have a very narrow, passive method of content consumption. So I have to go outside my comfort zone and watch a series that makes me uncomfortable in how dark it is. Thankfully, I can buy the series episode by episode so I can push through it without becoming too upset.

And, yet, I really need to do this. Mare of Easttown is very character driven in the context of the plot and the series’ setting of tone is very engaging. And the two additional novels I’ve come up with would gain a lot from me studying both character and tone development.

Or, to put it another way — for the time being, I have huge holes in my outlines and the only way I can think of to fill those holes is to put scenes in that help with character development.

Also, the two additional novels are not as obviously in the thriller genre. The issues at the center of their plots are more slow burn frustrations than running around in any type of thriller manner.

Anyway, I have set this evening as when I’m going to start writing again. I’m back from my writer’s retreat and it’s time to get this show on the road.