How Long Does it Take to Write a Book?

by Cynthia Ray

chapter one pic

Writing short stories, poetry and flash fiction is fun, interesting and doable for me.  Undertaking a longer work scares the pen off my pages, because the skills and commitment required for writing a novel are very different from those needed for the short story.  I didn’t realize exactly how different until I ambitiously started a novella over two years ago.  I spent a few months on the task, became bogged down in the middle, frustrated with myself and the process and in a self-induced state of embarrassment, shame and regret I quit writing.  I gave up on myself and the book.

once upon a time

Recently, inspired by a friend’s publication, I dug out my draft and read it again.  I was surprised to find that it wasn’t  as atrocious and stinky as I remembered.  In fact, I liked it enough to finish it after all.  Now that I am re-engaged with the project, and recovering from my feelings about my wobbly process,  I wondered how long it takes for someone, who is not me, to write a book. Is there an average?  Is there a right answer?  Do people start and stop, and then start again?  Is the process consistent among authors?  As you would imagine, the answer varies wildly among authors.  That, too, gave me hope and inspiration to write on to the end of my project, no longer alone in my leaky canoe.

In the writers who “git r’ done” category:

  • Jane Austen, according to family tradition, began writing First Impressions, the novel we know today as Pride and Prejudice, in October 1796 at the age of 20. She completed it in August 1797, just 10 months later. (Has it really been 300 years and they are still making movies of this story?!!)
  • Victor Frankl wrote his amazing and inspirational book, Man’s Search for Meaning, over the course of nine consecutive days, but he had thought about it for years during his time in the camps, and written it in his head.
  • It only took Charles Dickens six weeks to write a Christmas Carol- Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit helped speed up the process. When Dickens wrote he “saw” his characters much like the way that young Ebenezer Scrooge saw the characters from the books he had read.
  • Stephen King says that “”The first draft of a book — even a long one — should take no more than three months, the length of a season,” he says. If you spend too long on your piece, King believes the story begins to take on an odd foreign feel.

But take heart, my slow writing friends. Look how long these famous books took to produce:

  • Melville’s tome, Moby Dick, took 18 months (but that was a year longer than he had planned).
  • Margaret Atwood took over a year, with starts and stops, to write the Handmaids tale.
  • JK Rowling worked on her first novel for more than six years.
  • George Martin also took six years to write Game of Thrones.
  • It took Tolkien more than 12 years to write Lord of the Rings, and he kept on tweaking his books even after that.

Finally, here is a short list of novels that took from 10 to 20 years to write.  Mine won’t take that long to finish.  I promise.  By the way, what are you doing here?  Shouldn’t you be writing?!

the end

Resuscitation by Fiction

The current covers for the Jack the Ripper Victims Series
The current covers for the Jack the Ripper Victims Series

I set out to revive the victims of the Whitechapel Murderer in fiction, to write dramatic novels about their lives and create a Jack the Ripper Victims Series. 

There is something of Doctor Frankenstein in what I did. These photos give a sense of where I started—with the police reports and evidence. They are mortuary images of four of the five victims taken shortly after they were murdered. The fifth victim was left unrecognizable, and the crime scene photo is so extreme, it’s not fit for viewing on this blog. Part of my goal was to give voices back to the five women who were lost 131 years ago, so they might tell us what life was like in their time. In the midst of the work on the writing, I used Adobe Photoshop to manipulate the mortuary photos and bring life to the faces. Being rather visually oriented, repairing the damaged features, opening their eyes, and giving them a hint of color gave me the most vivid sense that I was reviving them. I strove to change the faces as little as possible. Even so, I have no idea if anyone who had known the women would have recognized them from the images I came up with.

Motuary photographs of four of the five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper. From left to right, Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, and Catherine Eddowes.
Motuary photographs of four of the five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper. From left to right, Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, and Catherine Eddowes.
From left to right, Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, and Catherine Eddowes.

Of course, the same would be true for the novels. When writing a fictional drama about the life of a person who is long-deceased, one has to make up much of the story. I had to invent, to flesh out around what was merely a skeleton of information. There are points in the historical record in which we have some confidence that certain things happened. But we do not know what motivated the women from moment to moment. We don’t know what they said or did in most cases.Just as Victor Frankenstein did, I had to borrow parts to make my creations’ lives seem whole. Not body parts as the fictional doctor did, but parts from other lives. I borrowed from my knowledge of the people I’ve known, from history, from the dramas I’ve read and watched. I asked my female friends and family members a lot of questions. Some were surprised by what I asked about the female experience of love, sex, pregnancy, and child birth. Filling in the gaps, I had to bring my own emotional experience in life to the telling of the tales. As an example, my experience as an alcoholic was invaluable to the telling of tales about alcoholics, which several of the women seemed to have been. Yes, the stories are inevitably inaccurate. Yet establishing fact is not my purpose. A different sort of truth emerges from the tales. The object was to give readers some experience of the world the victims knew, to provide a sense of walking in their shoes, of knowing a different time and place through senses that, although fictionally portrayed, gave a persuasive representation of a bygone environment and social situation. That took a lot of research, something that, though plenty frustrating at times, I thoroughly enjoyed.

Covers for an earlier release of the Jack the Ripper Victims Series.
Covers for an earlier release of the Jack the Ripper Victims Series.

As I developed the book covers for the series, I chose at first to take advantage of the high profile Jack the Ripper has in pop culture. On each of the original covers there was at least an intimation of the killer. Although that may have attracted attention to the books, it wasn’t the best idea perhaps, since the novels are not about JTR. Instead, they are about the struggles of women in a society with a class system that kept the poor down, one in which women had few rights and were treated as having little value if they had lost their male partner and were past their prime years. These are novels about women for women. Men who love women will also find much to like in these tales. Female readers appealed to me to depict the women on the covers in a manner that spoke of life. I took the advice to heart. Working from the images I had derived from the mortuary photos, I created a whole new set of covers for the books. I regressed in age the faces I had done to depict the women in happier, healthier times.

For the interior illustrations for the novels, I often opted for the expressiveness of hands to convey emotions for the characters. As my good friend, Jill Bauman once said to me, “Hands are the voices of figures in artwork.”

"Reaching into the Past," interior illustration for OF THIMBLE AND THREAT, the novel about the life of Catherine Eddowes.
“Reaching into the Past,” interior illustration for OF THIMBLE AND THREAT, the novel about the life of Catherine Eddowes.
"The Old Woman's Crooked Hand," interior illustration for SAY ANYTHING BUT YOUR PRAYERS, the novel about the life of Elizabeth Stride.
“The Old Woman’s Crooked Hand,” interior illustration for SAY ANYTHING BUT YOUR PRAYERS, the novel about the life of Elizabeth Stride.

Not all the illustrations are of hands. Here’s one of a phantom of alcoholism that haunts Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols. All the illustrations appear in black and white in the paperbacks. The ebooks have some full color while others illustration are sepia, blue or green monochromes.

"The Bonehill Ghost," interior illustration for A BRUTAL CHILL IN AUGUST, the novel about the life of Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols.
“The Bonehill Ghost,” interior illustration for A BRUTAL CHILL IN AUGUST, the novel about the life of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols.

While writing the first novel in the series, I feared my effort would be greeted with the same horror people had toward the lumbering monstrosity that first awoke to Doctor Frankenstein. An American male, what qualified me to write about British women of the 19th century? I worried that women, my British friends, and those who consider themselves Ripperologist would ridicule my depictions. Yet that did not happen—far from it. The reviews for the books in Ripperology magazine have been glowing ones, women have praised the stories as sensitive and pro-woman, and the UK market is where the books sell the best. I gained knowledge of my subject and confidence with each novel. The Whitechapel Murderer is not a dashing figure who got away with something daring. The killer did not deserve my time and creative energies. The tales in the Jack the Ripper Victims Series are of common women who would have been forgotten but for the outrageous manner of their deaths. As with all of our stories, simple or complex, rich or poor, it’s the emotional content and context that counts. I found I had a lot to work with.

—Alan M. Clark

Eugene, Oregon

The novels are available in paperback, ebooks in ePub and Kindle format, and audio books from Audible.com

Click here to purchase the novels from THE RIVER’S EDGE

Below are links to purchase the novels on Amazon.com (The listing on Amazon may sell you one of the earlier releases that had a different cover and possibly fewer interior illustrations):

A Brutal Chill in August 

Apologies to the Cat’s Meat Man

Say Anything but Your Prayers

Of Thimble and Threat

The Prostitute’s Price

The Definition of Insanity

By Christina Lay

© Adrian Ionut Virgil Pop | Dreamstime.com

I once again found myself on the periphery of one of those conversations between mothers. You know the one, where they coo over newborn baby photos and then quickly descend into recounting the horrors of a 48 hour birth procedure that included suction cups, multiple doctors and gravity. Then, as always, one of the mothers leans back smiling and says “But then you forget about all that, and have another one!”

I nod sagely. Yup. Writing novels is just like that.

Now I know there are mothers out their gritting their teeth and composing terse missives to me about how writing is NOTHING like giving birth and are lining up many terrifying and explicit examples for me to ponder. But I will blithely continue in my ignorance, because poetic license.

As you might know if you read my posts, I’ve been consumed in a two-year birthing process of a novella that turned into a novel that turned into a many tentacled monster that has no intention of every leaving the cozy confines of my computer to enter the harsh fluorescence of a published reality. And you know what my go-to solution is? Well, I’ll just write another one. That one will go smoothly and will require no suction cups.

Haven’t we all been there? After a tortuous year or two or ten, we deliver onto the world a misshapen squalling mess of a thing. It is beautiful in our eyes only, and requires more attention than ever, which we give it in the hopes that it will someday move out and stay in touch via the form of royalty checks. So what do we do once the thing no longer requires 24-hour care? We immediately start another, sure this one will be much less painful, and more easily pushed out of our brains into the light of day.

And the really sad thing for us writers, and why we deserve more sympathy than actual mothers, is that nowhere in this process is sex involved. In many ways, writing is anti-sex, because it’s a lone endeavor, and one that doesn’t promote social skills or bathing. If there’s any comparison to be made, it is that those first moments of inspiration, those early pages of infinite possibility and gleeful spewing of words, is a tiny bit orgasmic. But there’s no climax. No, the flirtatious tease that is our muse develops a sudden headache, and we are left to bring up baby on our own.

If we’re lucky, we belong to a coffee klatch of writers who gather occasionally to recount tales of horror and express sympathy, and maybe one of them is even lucky enough to have pictures to coo over in the form of cover art. Oh, blessed day!

If writing a novel is like giving birth, than composing a blog post is like passing a kidney stone. No, I’ve never done that either, but a kidney stone is smaller, so I’m assuming the process is proportionally shorter and less painful. But no tickle fest either. If there’s one thing I deeply regret as I look back over this past year, it’s allowing my post to be scheduled for New Year’s Day. This is the day when any writer worth their salt summons up all the Facebook meme wisdom they’ve absorbed over the past year and distills it into an inspirational post that will lift their fellows from the mire of despair and bring relief to the hearts of those pummeled into whimpering piles of sleep-deprived misery by the unrelenting joy of growing a novel in their brains.

I could probably come up with something inspirational if I dug deep, altered my perceptions, took on an attitude of gratitude, had more coffee and attended a 12-Step meeting or two, but I’m not feeling it. My baby refuses to move out. It’s a surly teen now and lurks in the basement wearing all black and not speaking to me (yeah, I’m gonna milk this metaphor for all it’s worth).

So as I am locked in this battle yet again, I reflect upon a piece of wisdom I’ve heard many times in many Al-Anon meetings: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

I have to ask myself, has my compulsion to craft stories become an addiction? Is it insane to think that I will ever “get the hang of” the noveling thing? Is it self-deluding to hope for an easy birth? The answer to all of those things is Yes. Does that mean I should stop? Hell, no.

The problem isn’t the writing, No, never the writing. The problem is that word “expect”. Here’s another bit of annoying 12-Step wisdom: An expectation is a resentment waiting to happen. In this case, a writer who expects an easy go of it, who expects their next novel to be perfect, wonderful, Harvard-educated, with great posture and clear skin, is doomed to fall into resentment. Resentment of the very story they’ve conceived and nurtured, resentment of themselves for not living up to their goals and dreams. Insanity is expecting that we’ll be able to do this thing, write these novels, and look good doing it. That we will one day become that person in the memes who wallows in joy, wildness, creativity and spirituality all while looking great in a flowing frock on a beach or a mountain top, backlit by a sunrise.

No, there will be drool. Blood maybe. Tears definitely. All days will be bad hair days. Mysterious stains will appear on all our favorite things. We will trudge, fall down, ugly cry, and doubt. Oh, there will be so much doubt.

Inspired yet?

Okay, let’s try that again. The thing to remember is that we will forget. Forget the pain. Remember those exciting moments of foreplay, and the wonder of creating something new. Insanity is believing the resentments and doubts and drool and letting them stop us from doing our thing. Sanity is doing what we love no matter how much it hurts. For someday we’ll look back on those stories and novels and oh-so-many pages, and be able to say, “I did that” and be proud. Maybe we’ll even have pictures to show.

Puzzling It All Out

By Lisa Alber

My sister recently sent me a puzzle. It’s a beautiful, laser-cut wooden puzzle with intricate shapes and over 500 pieces. She had discovered the joy of puzzles to while away the winter and thought I might find the pastime therapeutic.

She sent me this “Twelve Days of Christmas” puzzle. A hundred bucks for a puzzle? Outrageous! But you know what? So worth it to experience the solid click of two pieces fitting together. It’s ridiculously satisfying.

The puzzle pieces are gorgeous, and, being real wood, they’re also sensual. Many of the pieces are shaped like birds or bows or figures. I love picking them up, holding them, fooling around with them as I binge-watch some Netflix show on a dull evening. (I’ve got a medical thing I’ve been recuperating from that’s ongoing — but that’s another story for another time.)

The puzzle sits on the coffee table. At first, slow going as it was, I spent dedicated time putting it together. Now, I’m savoring its pleasing disarray. Perusing it, I may pick up a piece here and a piece there, or collect together pieces that belong in certain areas. I’m not actively trying to complete it, and in the act of not trying so hard, I’ll all of a sudden grab two pieces and snap them together. Or, I’ll suddenly see how a little portion of the puzzle fits into the whole. Some area of my addled brain is working on the puzzle even when I’m not really working on it.

Sounds a little bit like the writing process, doesn’t it? I’m once again reminded that the brain is an amazing apparatus. I’d been having trouble with my standalone, and my enforced break from anything creative (talk about pain and suffering) hasn’t helped. However, the little puzzle moments — A-HA! — give me hope and the tiniest bit of inspiration that maybe I will get back to writing fiction in a serious way in 2020.

As 2019 approaches its end, I send you good will and peace and love. xoxo, Lisa

P.S. Here’s Fawn, hoping for a holiday treat. The ornaments in the background are vintage from my childhood.

 

 

 

My Holiday Gift to Writers, by Eric Witchey

Sitting female teacher surrounded by school-aged childrenPhoto Source: iStock, diego_cervo.
Please pardon my abuse of form, line, and rhyme.

A Holiday Story

Eric Witchey

Twas three weeks until New Years, and Wrimo was done.

The revisions had started. They weren’t very fun.

Plot  stickies were strewn o’r the coffee-stained floor

And my phone was turned off. Ha! Ring nevermore!

I hated the tinsel, the red and green lights

That draped from my bookshelves and flashed in my nights

My pumpkins and witches, bones, and fake gore,

With my raven were stuffed in a box by the door.

My letters to Santa went out in e-mail.

“Buy my book. Leave reviews. It’s right here on sale.”

Santa ignored me. He did every year.

My stories lived only in ether, I fear.

A notice of email pinged on my box.

Damn, I forgot to shut off my intox.

Better than fixing a flaw in the plot,

I clicked on the notice with nary a thought.

“Mr. Writer, it started”—innocent enough.

“I read your last story and think it’s real buff.

It made me think of my mom and my dad,

And I couldn’t help wonder if you knew how sad

My parents are that I’m leaving real soon.

They’ll miss me. They love me. Please grant them a boon.

Stories are healing, though I can’t be healed.

A story for them, I hope that you’ll feel

Is worthy of time, of love and attention.

Please, when I’m gone, if you could just mention

Our names in a story about love and joy.

Remind them that they still love this small boy.

Remind them that love makes a life and a family.

If you could do this, that would be dandy.”

After I wiped away my sad tears,

I read the kid’s closing and let go selfish fears.

“Please do this for me,” the brave child said.

“Give them a vision of love when I’m dead.”

Now, Wrimo meant nothing. Revisions felt lame.

Only one thing mattered. Not fortune or fame.

Only the love that a story can weave

Into the hearts of the people we leave.

Stories are doorways, or windows, or paths

Into hearts and minds to do work as salves.

Distraction, or message, or battles with dirks,

Stories give healing for foibles and quirks.

By telling in paper, e-reader, or chant…

By ink or by stylus, by pen or by rant…

The word shamans’ duty since stories began–

To bring healing and peace to just one fan.

That letter to me, no Santa would read

Santas don’t write. They can’t plant a seed

Deep in the hearts of those who must heal.

Word shamans do that—we whom muses wield.

For a child who loves beyond life and reproach

To the pen, to the page, to the tale we approach.

The years that will come are made of our vision

One family from all should be our heart’s mission.

-End-

Let’s Talk Portals

by Cheryl Owen-Wilson

In a past blog I shared a poem titled “Portal Home”. Today I’d like to expand on the subject. Portals are similar to the cosmological concept of a wormhole and some portals actually work using wormholes. When writing science fiction or fantasy a magical “portal” can be used to take characters to another time and/or location.

Why use portals?

  •  It literally gets your character from one place to another.
  •  It is a kind of decompression chamber, allowing your readers to make the transition from the realistic to the fantastic. It tells the audience that the rules of the story world are about to change in a big way. The passageway says, “Loosen up; don’t apply your normal concept of reality to what you are about to see”. This is essential in a highly symbolic, allegorical form like fantasy or science fiction, whose underlying themes explore the importance of looking at life from new perspectives and finding possibilities in even the most ordinary of things.

This tool in writing has no limits.  Places linked to a portal can be:

  • A world between worlds (parallel world)
  • The past or future (time portal)
  • Other planes of existence (heaven or hell)

The beauty of this story device is once your character has gone through the portal you then have license to create multiple portals—portals within portals!

A few examples you will recognize are:

  • Rabbit holes (Alice In Wonderland)
  • Mirrors (Through The Looking Glass)
  • Cyclones (Wizard of Oz)
  • A wardrobe (The Lion, The Witch and the Ward)
  • A Chimney (Mary Poppins)
  • The Door in the Living Room (Coraline)
  • A Cairn Tunnel (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children)
  • A Wall at the Train Station (Harry Potter)
  • Television set (Pleasantville, Poltergeist)
  • A Rope Swing Across a River (Bridge To Terabithia)
  • A Science Lab (Back To The Future)
  • A world between worlds (Stanger Things)

What I enjoy most when using portals in my writing is I’m not only taking my readers/characters on a journey through space and time. I’ve also taken myself  “down the rabbit hole”.  Worlds are limitless and reality is whatever you choose it to be.  In my own writing somewhere deep in the swamps of southern Louisiana there is an Island void of present reality or the constraints of a date on a calendar.  Now while traveling to this Island may take you through a portal beware because one there you may encounter many more portals—through mirrors, dolls, juju’s, dreams—the possibilities are endless.

At this time of year most of us watch the infamous “A Christmas Carol”.    Which is your favorite movie?  Mine is an older version (1951) featuring Alastair Sim as Scrooge.

In “A Christmas Carol” Scrooge is transported from present, to past, to future.  In your opinion what was the portal used? What portals have you created in your own stories?

Cosmic Birth- Small

“Cosmic Birth” an original painting by Cheryl Owen-Wilson

In this painting I’ve imagined a cosmic tree of life giving birth to new worlds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Fantasy 2019

by Matthew Lowes

At the mass book signing with Christina Lay and Stephen T. Vessels

I had a great time at the World Fantasy convention with ShadowSpinners Press and some fellow authors in the Labyrinth of Souls fiction series. Can’t say I saw much of LA, since I did not leave the Airport Marriott for three days, but the weather was nice, the conference was great, and the company was outstanding. It is truly a wonderful experience to be in the midst of so many creative and inspiring writers and artists.

The crowds gather in LA Airport Marriott

The ShadowSpinners table had a lively showing in the book room, and I had a great time answers questions about Dungeon Solitaire and the Labyrinth of Souls. I signed a few books, did a reading with fellow authors Christina Lay and Stephen T. Vessels, and managed to get to a few talks and panels. I was particularly interested to learn a bit more about audiobook production and particularly taken with the beautiful art of Reiko Murakami.

The ShadowSpinners table and chief editor Christina Lay

With another successful appearance, we are planning to make an even bigger showing next year in Salt Lake. We’ll have more books, more authors, and more games. Hope to see you there!

Art print by Reiko Murakami (available on her website)