If you are an author, you may have heard something along these lines: “Writing the first book is easy, but only a real author can write a second.” I took that as a challenge and managed to put fingers to keyboard for long enough to finish my second book, Invasive Species.
I learned a lot writing this book. I cross-supplied a lesson about going to the gym to my approach to the craft writing. Instead of going to the gym to “work out,” go to the gym to “train.” In essence, my approach was to let the work on this book simultaneously make me a better writer. Total self-assessment here – I accomplished my goal.
I’m proud of my first book, Stung, but allow me to tick off some of the ways Invasive Species is an improvement.
- Consistent POV of main character. I maintain the point of view (POV) of my main character, Josiah, throughout the book. In Stung, I felt free to slip into different characters’ heads without thinking about how that can be jarring for a reader. Changing POV should always be intentional and serve a purpose. I don’t think switching POV characters within a chapter or from chapter to chapter makes Stung hopelessly flawed. But what writing Josiah in Invasive Species taught me is that a writer should question why a POV switch is made and if it is truly necessary. Adding to my “training,” during re-writing , I noticed or was forced to notice all the times I would have a POV error when Josiah couldn’t possibly know a detail I had included the book. For example, saying that everyone in a group felt cold. Well, how does Josiah know this? Have they all expressed it to him? Is he a mind reader? I hired an editor I would recommend – Brian Niemeier – who kindly pointed out a lot of these issues.
- Economy of words/say a lot with a little. Brevity is the soul of wit, so they say, glibly. I felt free in Stung to take some wordy flights of fancy. Invasive Species is a shorter book, but not the worse for that. I trimmed the fat, then trimmed the fat again. I’m helping out a fellow author with a book he’s written, and as a basic exercise I had him do an “LY” search and question the use of every single adverb. I did the same thing myself. It helps you pick stronger verbs and use better descriptions. As part of my reading diet, I’ve been listening to a few Louis L’Amour westerns on CD, in particular his series of books about the Sackett clan. Admittedly, these books aren’t to everyone’s taste. I have grown to like them. L’Amour says a lot briefly, letting brief crisp descriptions and the terse dialogue of his laconic cowboy characters carry the day. It’s impressive stuff when you’re aware of what he’s up to. I don’t think I achieved these heights in Invasive Species, but I improved over Stung.
- Bigger cast of characters/more ambition. Stung is a “creature feature” story. I always loved those episodes of the X-Files, where Fox and Scully had to deal with a single monster and there wasn’t too much of the show’s lore to deal with. If the Smoking Man showed up, that probably wasn’t going to be my favorite 4o-some odd minutes of television, though it tweren’t bad. Stung was also, at the base level, a vampire story, with the monster Natalya luring the main character Gary into a trap and feed off of him. I’m a vampire genre fan from way back, and thought this would be a fun twist. Finally, I plugged in the romantic element. I wanted to play with the idea of an almost-divorced down-on-his-luck guy getting a little wish fulfillment. So, it was a creature feature, vampire knock off, romance adventure story. Small cast of characters and basically set in and around Chicago. Invasive Species is also science fiction/adventure, but it goes much bigger. In the opening, Aliens put the Earth’s international bureaucracy on high alert, and then the story transfers to a world within a world, where humans have to navigate adapting to an environment they never wanted to be in. I had a class my freshman year called “On Being Human”, and I viewed Invasive Species as a contemplation of what that means when a human character is stripped of some very “human” characteristics. As I said, I increased the scale and the philosophical issues I dealt with in the second book. Go big or go home.
In short, I think the “training” went very well. The books been receiving great reviews. If you have a chance to read it, no matter what you think, give it a review. I’m interested to see if you think my efforts paid off.