Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Recipe of Double Portions

I have heard many of us writers refer to our written creations as children. I have two small boys and let me tell you raising them is easier on my mental stability that simultaneously penning two novels. Two vastly different novels at that.

For the boys I can cook up one box of Macaroni and Cheese or throw a package of weenies on the grill and they will both eat it. These two novels have totally different palets, so I'm continually trying to decide which one to feed. I'll work on one until I sense the other starting to shrivel and die, then its off to provide a bit of nourishment to the other story. This has basically resulted in the starvation of this blog. I sense the quality of my posts lagging and I apologize but unless each of you are going to start sending me a dollar a day to subsidize my dreams of making a living with words, then the blog will be the thing that suffers most from my limited creativity.

Over at the Women of Mystery blog blogger and regular commenter here, Terrie Farley Moran suggested I blog about my attempts at converting an 8,000 word short story into an 80,000 word novel, so that is what I'm going to do. Right after I explain that led me to be writing two novels at once.

Back in February I headed out to Arizona to a writers conference put on by Michael Neff, the man behind Webdelsol. The conference was great, I learned a lot, met several interesting people, including blog regulars Bluefingers and Alex Keto, and made some valuable contacts with agents. At the tail end of the week long workshop Michael sat down with each of us and really went over some of our writing and he offered up his brand of advice.(very insightful, but blunt)

Michael basically told me that he liked my writing but it came across as dark and emotionally heavy and it listening to me over the weak he'd heard a lot of really good humor in my story telling. He encouraged me to try and get some of that down on the page. His suggestion was to sit down and write a short story in the same manner and dialect as I would use if I were sitting in a seedy bar telling a story to the man sitting on the stool beside me.

So I flew back home to Texas and thought about it. I was already on the verge of starting a new novel that I knew would require more a more humorous tone that my previous work so I decided Michael's advice would be a great exorcise to get in that frame of mind. And my short story Plundered Booty was born.

Truthfully, I never intended a word of it to see the light of day but the more i wrote the more I laughed. Finally I decided to send what I had to a couple of people to see if they found it funny or if I had finally gone over the edge. I was surprised at the reaction I got. I literally had people begging to read the rest of it. Only I didn't have anymore. So I hurried and finished the story. Then everyone started telling me this is the best thing you've ever written. You should make it into a novel.

At first I blew the comments off. Sure I appreciated them. I like my ego stroked as much as the next guy but by this time I was already well into another novel. A twisted love triangle involving a woman named Grace who blames sex for ruining her life, her husband, the Texas Panhandle bull semen king, and the father of her teenage son's girlfriend.

But Captain, the first person narrator of Plundered Booty kept whispering in my ear, Feed me. Int he short story he had no name other than Captain, he will keep that moniker for the novel but right off the reader learns his full name. Here is an excerpt from the very end of the first chapter.

I will tell you my name is Hank Petty Zybeck. Hank, after the greatest country and western singer of all time. My dear departed daddy's description, not mine. Petty, for the king of all racecar drivers. Again, my daddy's opinion, but one I happen to share. And Zybeck, because I'm my father's son. Least that was my momma's claim to her dying day.
Who knows, it might even be true, but neither of my parents stood over five and a half foot tall, and I’m a good five inches better than six foot. My dad's hair was the color of axle grease and my momma's was a couple of shades darker if anything, whereas my hair has always been the same shade of red as fender rust.
But this story isn't about my questionable heritage, and it's been a long while since I went by Hank. Most folks call me Captain.
Well, that happens to be where this story begins.

Now I can't get Hank to shut up and Grace is losing weight faster than an incarcerated Paris Hilton. I had to let one of my children starve but Grace better speak up or she's liable to wither away.

This post is long enough for now, but soon I'll talk about the actual process of adding more than seventy thousand words while maintaining the flavor and integrity of the original story. That is if something titled Plundered Booty can be described as having integrity. Here's a better description. Throw a Kinky Friedman novel in the blender with a Jimmy Buffet CD, add in two bottles of Caribbean Rum, a splash of sea salt, and a quart of motor oil and voila -- you have Plundered Booty- The Novel.


Mr. Shife said...

I applaud you for all of your efforts in trying to get your words down. I have been suffering from writer's block for about 7 years, but I like to use my blog just to write and feel creative. Good luck and keep fighting the good fight.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

I am honored to be personally mentioned on your blog.

I am fascinated by the concept of writing two novels at one time. You are so on target about the voices.

I was doing the final revision of my novel when I was asked to edit a short story that had been accepted for an anthology and it was the devils own job to clear one out of my head for the other and switch back and forth. But each time I was able to go from one to the other, I was clearer and more focused on that project.

I am thinking of writing two novels in back and forth mode so was curious how it was working for you.

I share your quandary. You know from my previous comments that I am a big fan of Grace (from just a tiny description in a previous post.) But once you throw in Jimmy Buffett, well the Captain gets a lot more attractive, plus, I love the way he describes himself in the excerpt you allowed us to see.

Great post!


alex keto said...

There was, at some point, a lot of babbling about your "voice." I assumed it was the tone/style of the writing. And yeah, it came across very well in plundered booty.

Others meant it literally as in your speaking voice. To this day, that seems pointless to me given you are into the written word, but hell what do I know? And anyway, James Earl Jones still has a better voice.

Anyway, the narrators voice/style/tone was really good.

Laura K. Curtis said...

Travis --

I find myself in much the same situation, where I am supposed to be finishing and cleaning up one manuscript, which is about 90% drafted but completely unpolished, but these other people keep screaming at me when I take a day off from telling their story.

Sheesh, those characters are a pain, aren't they?

Anonymous said...

I've always shifted between two WIPs. For me, it helps to keep the writing fresh and not go stagnant. But, perhaps that's just me. And as a personal note, they say there's a bit of the Captain in all of us. Perhaps Grace needs to read a bit of Plundered Booty.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Deborah, you said it better than I did.
My "clearer and more focused" probably resulted in what you describe as keeping the writing fresh. Thanks for the clarity. I've been stalling on the back and forth between the two works and you have given me a gentle, much needed push.


Travis Erwin said...

It has been nice to have somthing totally different to turn to, when I'm a bit stuck, but at the same time I struggle to keep the two world's seperate.

The tones are so different and I think it would be easier of they shared the same target audience. Part of my troubles with Plundered Booty is I'm not 100% certain who the target audience is.

Dawn said...

I've never read your romance, Travis, but by golly you do humour well. It just might be your "thing".

Angie said...

Captain sounds like a great character -- I hope he behaves for you for the rest of the book, or at least acts out in ways you can use. :)


Stephen Parrish said...

I agree with Dawn. You have a voice that's comfortable with humor. Humor, however subtle, sells better than anything else.

JM said...

I take my hat off to anyone who can express themselves through writing and obviously from your posts, you have that talent. It truly is a talent, creativity is not something that can be learned.

Tena Russ said...

Hi Travis,

I vote for humor. There's not nearly enough of it going around.

Dueling mansuscripts... Are you by any chance a Gemini or a Sagittarius?

Hale McKay said...

Hello, Travis. Thanks for the visit and the comments. Don't be "offended" as I tend to write on the satirical side and also drift toward the parody a lot.

I marvel at your attempts to tackle TWO novels at the same time - very commendable.

For some strange reason that I have not been able to fathom, I have found myself in the midst of three short stories in various stages of development at the same time.

If you can take on two novels, then I should be able to keep my head above water through three short stories.

I'm going to add you my Blogroll to insure that I get back here to read some of your previous posts, as what I've read so far is quite enjoyable.

You definitely have a knack for humor.

Chunks said...

I'm impressed! I can barely hack out a blog entry featuring the crazed voices inside my head, yet here you are writing two novels. Keep working at it!

Tee/Tracy said...

I can't imagine working on 2 novels at once, though I can see how it would be beneficial for someone like me. After a couple chapters I totally lose interest.

I'm like that about many things. I get very excited when I first start and then I'm onto something else.

Maybe if I use your method I'll be able to finish something by switching back and forth ;)

Travis Erwin said...

Thanks to everybody for the compliments and encouragement. I have been scared to attempt humor up until now and you guys are really helping me to get over that fear.

And yes Tena I am a Sagittarius.

Now I gotta ask how you knew.

Anonymous said...

As for Bluefingers,

Funny always wins over sex. Now you combine sex and funny and you have a winner.

I would suggest to each and every one of your loyal readers out here that they encourage you to finish this novel. This is a break out humor style Travis to a T kinda book.

Always, your fan,


Cicily Janus said...

Just wanted to stop by and tell you that I am in the process of moving my blog over to Blogger...The success over here is much greater than Myspace.

Look me up when you have a chance.


For now will be re-posting the "best of" from my myspace blog.

Tena Russ said...

You said:
"And yes Tena I am a Sagittarius.

Now I gotta ask how you knew."

Aha! Travis, I knew it. It's one of my secret tricks...

alternatefish said...

I used to try to write multiple novels at once, then I realized I was just using that method as an excuse to procrastinate on each WIP. "this one's not going well, should work on this other one. maybe I should rewrite this beginning. or start a new project..." yeah, never worked. now I concentrate on the One.

question: why did everyone tell you this particular story should be turned into a novel? was it because it was the "best thing" you'd ever written or because they saw that there could be more to it? I guess I'm asking why they said, "make this longer" instead of "what else have you written?"

Brooke said...

I can't even get a handle on one novel, you are rocking for juggling two.

I have starved my blog lately too and I don't even have half as good a reason...I am humbled!

Travis Erwin said...

Fish- I heard several different reasons, from "This is you natural voice you need to run with it." To "There is so much more you could do with these characters and this story." To "You might as well write something like this, it ain't like your other crap is selling."

I have been fortunate to have a few agents say in their rejections, send my something else you've written or send me what you are working on now when you get it finished, so I have heard that as well.

I'm just trying to plug away until I write something that lands on the right desk on the right day. I have faith that one of these days it will happen, Tomorrow, next year or ten years from now I can't say, but it won't be from a lack of trying. That I can promise.

Duck said...

I can't even manage to write more than two blog posts a week. Good luck with the whole two novel thing.

Oh, and I have a couple things in common with Captain. I am exactly 6'5", and I too enjoy plundered booty.