Razor Mountain Development Journal #46

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.

Last Time

I continued revising and editing chapters one and two. I created a book cover that I’m satisfied with.

Preparing For Launch

I have to admit that I slacked on the writing front this week. I made small tweaks to my first two chapters, but I’m waiting on reader feedback to do another big editing pass. I really need to get myself in “writing mode” if I’m going to start pumping out weekly episodes. Luckily, if there’s anything having a blog has taught me, it’s that deadlines are a great motivator.

There’s really not that much left to do before I embark. However, there are still a few of those non-writing tasks that need to be done. First, I finished setting up a Razor Mountain project on the two services that I’m planning to use for serial publishing: Wattpad and Tapas. I considered some other services, or even something like Substack, but I think it will end up being a lot of busywork keeping these updated along with the blog. My hope is that publishing on multiple platforms will increase visibility, but I’m also going to be evaluating their strengths and weaknesses for future projects. I may stick to one in the future, or dump them for something like Kindle Vella (which has exclusivity requirements).

I already ran into one annoying issue: while Tapas allows scheduled posts, Wattpad does not. That is a real downer for me, since I always prefer to schedule posts, and it would be nice if I could post new parts everywhere at the same time. Wattpad will just have to be a little out of sync.

Site Improvements

While I’m writing for the sake of writing, I do hope that posting Razor Mountain on other services will bring some new readers to the blog. In anticipation of that, I did some cleanup and improvement that I’ve been meaning to for a while.

I spruced up the Razor Mountain page by adding the book cover and description. I also added pages for microfiction and drabbles under the fiction section, so those little stories aren’t buried in old posts. Finally, I updated my “About” page with my author profile.

I’ve been looking at changing the blog theme, but I haven’t found a theme that I’m entirely happy with, so the search for that will continue. I may also make adjustments to the home page.

Results

I added and updated the fiction sections of the blog, and I set up Razor Mountain on Wattpad and Tapas.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #45

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.

Last Time

I revised Chapter One, with special attention to the opening. I spent time evaluating options for book covers.

More Book Cover Action

Much like in my writing, I’m finding that making a good book cover is not about the first draft. It’s about revision, revision, revision. I am, admittedly, trying to be cheap and do it myself, instead of dropping cash on the many fine businesses that would be happy to provide professional artists to help me out. I got myself into this mess, and I’ve been doing my best to get myself out of it.

A couple weeks back, I had rough ideas for what a Razor Mountain cover might look like. First and most obvious thing: with a title like that, it pretty much has to have a mountain on the cover. Apart from that, the book is in many ways about duality: past and future, acceptance and denial, life and death, God-Speaker and Christopher. That’s not necessarily an easy concept to get across visually, but I had a vague idea of the mountain being split in half, and the shape of a person in a dark space beneath it, also split or doubled. I imagined a line down the middle, with the regular colors on one side, and a photo-negative effect across the other side.

I continued to think about what I wanted. I looked at lots of book covers. I researched tools and techniques and companies and prices. I wrote a post about it.

I tried creating a prototype by hand, with colored Sharpie felt-tip pens. I enjoy doodling and painting from time to time, but I was not particularly satisfied with the result in this case. It does look slightly better in person — the lighting is bad and the colors are pretty washed-out in this photo — but it’s not something I want to put on the front of my book.

Welcome to Disappointment Mountain.

Next, I moved on to Canva. I started by modifying their premade templates. My next cover was certainly better, but it’s a little too simple, with even fewer visual elements than the Sharpie disaster. It also looks a bit outdated, like a paperback cover from the 70s. In retrospect, the font is more of a fantasy font, with a vaguely runic look. Still, this looks like a book cover to me, even if I’m not that excited about it.

There’s probably dwarves in that there mountain.

I came back a few days later, energized to make another attempt. With some Canva experience under my belt, I trolled through Pexels for royalty-free images of mountains, silhouetted people, cities, etc. I also fired up GIMP (a.k.a. GNU Image Manipulation Program) and did some light editing. I’m hardly a graphic designer, but I’ve played around with GIMP and Photoshop in years past, so I can do some simple things like filters or gradient transparency.

The end result was actually pretty close to my original vision. I spent a surprisingly long time on little tweaks, like the silhouette of hills that separate the top section from the bottom. Fonts are also incredibly difficult to get right. I spent ages flipping between fonts. I still vacillate between this being too cheesy and just right. It definitely feels more like a thriller font.

I also created several different layouts with these same elements slightly rearranged. Unfortunately, different services want square (or even circular-cropped) “cover” images, and in some cases I may want the image without the title and author overlaid, for cases when they already appear in text nearby.

More Revision

I don’t have too many specifics to report on the editing front. I took several more passes through the first two chapters, mostly making small line edits. Now they’re going to my first beta reader, my wife. I’ll be back to looking for more critique partners and beta readers this upcoming week.

Results

I continued revising and editing the first two chapters and I created a book cover that I’m satisfied with.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #44

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.

Last Time

I wrote a rough draft of the last chapter and started getting into revisions on Chapter One.

The Hook

As I talked about in a post earlier this week, I spent some time refining my first sentence, first page, and first chapter. I started with the hook.

In the rough draft, my opening paragraph is this:

The cave was a dark, low tunnel, crowded with formless shapes. Christopher struggled to identify his surroundings through eyes bleary with sleep. There was a long roar, followed by a thump. A buzzy, persistent rumble emanated from the darkness around him. Christopher rubbed his eyes and blinked several times, breathing deep and trying to clear his vision.

The first thing I did was get rid of the roar and the thump. I originally intended them to be the sound of other passengers jumping from the aircraft, and the door shutting behind them, while Christopher is still out of it. There’s no more mention of it later on, and it just ends up being confusing and slowing things down slightly. I rearranged and reworded almost all of the rest of it, although the meaning changed very little.

The cave was night-dark and claustrophobic, crowded with indistinct shapes. The cave was night-dark and claustrophobic, crowded with indistinct shapes. Christopher struggled to identify his surroundings through eyes bleary with sleep. All around him was loud buzzing; it permeated his body. He pressed his palms to his eyes and breathed deep, trying to clear his head.

Hopefully the question of where Christopher is and what is happening is enough to hook the reader, without being too confusing. Part of that relies on me quickly revealing more about what’s happening in the remainder of the first page.

The First Page

My goal in the first page is to get across a couple of ideas:

  1. Christopher feels strange, as though he’s been drugged.
  2. He realizes that he is not in a cave, he is in the passenger cabin of a small plane.

Next, as quickly as possible, I need to reveal that the passengers are missing, the pilot is missing, and Christopher is in a world of trouble. This leads naturally into the rest of Chapter One, which is all about answering the question, “what is he going to do about it?”. I think the rough draft does this decently well, so I worked on saying more with fewer words, rewording each of the next 4-5 paragraphs.

This is what my first page looks like, after some revision:

The cave was night-dark and claustrophobic, crowded with indistinct shapes. Christopher struggled to identify his surroundings through eyes bleary with sleep. He was surrounded by loud buzzing; it permeated his body. He pressed his palms to his eyes and blinked repeatedly, then breathed deep, trying to clear his head.

Although his surroundings were shadowy, Christopher could make more sense of the shapes around him as he blinked away his grogginess. The hunched, round shapes were seats. He fumbled around, felt the thin padding beneath and behind him, felt the arm rests.

Christopher’s perception shifted and he understood what he was seeing. Not a cave; an airplane cabin. Why had he thought it was a cave? Moonlight faintly illuminated the outlines of the small, round windows. The prop engines buzzed. Now that he thought about it, Christopher could feel their vibration through his seat.

He tried again to blink away the sleepiness that clung like cobwebs. Even when he had pulled all-nighters in college, he hadn’t felt this discombobulated. This was more like a bad hangover.

Christopher had been skeptical when one of the other salespeople in the department warned him not to sleep on planes when traveling. Better to hold out and hit a new time zone running, one of the veterans had said. Christopher had thought he was exaggerating.

He tried to stand and found himself still seatbelted. He fumbled the clasp open and stood fully, immediately banging his head on the sloped ceiling above. Christopher felt a sudden head rush from standing too quickly, but the pain of his bruised scalp helped to cut through the fog of his thoughts.

It was too dark in the passenger section of the little plane. Before he had dozed off, Christopher recalled little LEDs along the aisle between the seats; recessed lights along the seam between wall and ceiling. He had to turn around to face the front of the plane. Unlike the large passenger planes Christopher had flown on for other trips, this little plane had seats back-to-back, with some facing forward and some facing the rear of the plane. There were only eight seats in the passenger area, and Christopher’s was near the back, facing the tail.

The seats were all empty.

The First Chapter

To revise the rest of Chapter One, I looked at the order of events and made sure I was happy with everything that happened, and what order it happened in. I did end up making some small adjustments from the outline, which is to be expected.

Next, I took several more passes through the chapter to look specifically for some of the things I mentioned in my “firsts” post: adjectives and adverbs, sound, character voice, and pacing. It’s a long chapter (although it’s getting a little shorter in editing), and I still need to spend more time with it to get through all these improvements.

After that, I’ll pass it to my first reader/editor — my wife — and I’ll make more revisions based on her evaluation.

Cover Work

I’ve also been looking at options for cover art. As long as I’m experimenting (and not strategizing for an Amazon e-book bestseller), I thought I might try to make a cover myself. However, when it comes to visual art I’m a somewhat enthusiastic dabbler. I have no formal training. I just occasionally make things for my own enjoyment.

So, I tried making a cover, and I didn’t much like it. Then I started digging more seriously into other options, from paid services to DIY. I can say right now that I won’t be spending a ton of money on a cover (and boy can you spend a lot of money on a cover), but I’m still looking. More to follow.

Results

I revised Chapter One, with special attention to the opening. I spent time creating a book cover that I didn’t like, and then evaluating other options for book covers.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #43

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.

Last Time

I finished writing the first draft of Chapter Two and read Clan of the Cave Bear.

Writing the Last Chapter (Almost) First

With the rough drafts of the first two chapters done, I jumped ahead — way ahead, to the final chapter. This isn’t something I’ve tried before, but I thought it would be interesting. I’ve done a lot of outlining and plotting for this book, so I already have a solid idea where everything is leading, both in terms of plot and in terms of character arc.

Writing the last chapter actually turned out to be a lot easier than writing the first and second chapters. Part of that was that it ended up being shorter. There isn’t all that much action. I think a much bigger factor, however, is that the first two chapters were introducing the two plot threads of the book to the reader. The last chapter just has to lead reasonably out of the rest of the book, and come to a satisfying conclusion. At this point, most of that hasn’t been written yet, so I can imagine what it will all be, and write my ending accordingly.

Obviously, this means anything I choose to change along the way may invalidate part of the ending chapter. That’s fine. I expect that by the time I get everything written out, I’ll have to re-jigger the last chapter in a variety of ways. What it really seems good for is to highlight some of the themes and ideas that I really want to push at the end. Now, as I make my way through the book, I can look at that and work on pushing those things as I go, so it all builds up organically.

Writing the final chapter also gives me some ideas about the emotional resonance I want at the end. It’s more about how I want the ending to feel than the plot information I need to get across. All that really happens is that Christopher makes a decision, and acts upon that decision.

The First Revisions

The last chapter was a fun experiment, but if I want to start publishing chapters, I need to get my beginning into shape. My first and second chapters have had some breathing room, and now it’s time to go back and revise.

My first drafts are strictly to get words on paper (or pixels on screens, in this case). Sometimes the words come out amazing, but more often I end up with lots of clunky sentences that generally get across what I was going for, some digressions that seemed interesting in the moment, a few bits that I like, and maybe a couple phrases that feel fantastic. In short, it’s a mixed bag.

I like to give first drafts a little time to fade in my memory before going back to them. Some things that seemed great during the actual writing will feel less great when I reread them later. Sometimes the rough patches where I was just dumping words to get the point across and move on actually turn out to need less work than I thought. It’s hard to pretend you’re a reader of the text you, yourself wrote, but I don’t think there’s a better tool for pulling that trick off than a break between the writing and the reading.

I started working on revisions for Chapter One this week, but there’s plenty more to do.

The challenge I always face when I start revising (especially if it’s been a while) is the temptation to go straight to line editing. It’s easy to read a few sentences and find a word here or there that can be improved, a typo or some missing punctuation. For me, at least, that’s what jumps out immediately.

However, I fight that urge. Instead, it’s better to look at the larger pieces. I try to look for any reason to reorder scenes, rearranging dialogue, or otherwise make big adjustments first. By focusing on larger structural revisions before getting into the nitty-gritty, I try to avoid wasting time changing small things that are liable to need rework anyway after structural revisions.

Results

I wrote a rough draft of the last chapter and started getting into revisions on Chapter One.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #42

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.

Last Time

I finished the first draft of Chapter One, and started writing the first draft of Chapter Two. I had to adjust my writing expectations to match my current schedule.

Chapter Two, and Reining in Research

I was better at time-management this week. I slept more, I focused more, and I was able to get Chapter Two finished. Once again, this felt like a lot of work because I had to set up a new viewpoint character and a whole new setting. Time will tell whether it feels easier going forward, but it at least feels like I have a starting point to work from for the rest of the book.

I continued to get bogged down in research, but I purposely limited my research time this week. Writing characters in pre-history is interesting, because we don’t have much information about how people lived that far back. Trying to research this is an infinite rabbit hole. My approach so far has been to look at archaeological evidence (around Alaska and elsewhere), and to extrapolate from the traditions of Alaskan native peoples. One of the nice things I’ve discovered is that there seems to be some concerted effort to keep these traditions alive. I’ve been able to find a variety of information, including school lesson plans that outline specific aspects of these cultures. The challenge, however, is that I know I’m barely scratching the surface.

I’ll probably write more about this at some point, but there are strategies for effective research that doesn’t stop the writing in its tracks, especially for a first draft where you just want to get some words out.

  1. Try to describe the shape of the thing you don’t know — and thus want to research. (E.g. burial traditions among Alaskan native peoples.)
  2. Determine if that thing is plot critical. (For example, the plot requires that someone digs up an old artifact while preparing to bury a dead character.)
  3. If it is plot-critical, research enough that you know the plot will work, or how you will change it to work.
  4. If it is not plot-critical, limit your research and finish writing, making notes where you need to go back and research more.

It’s easy to feel like research is important — and it often is very important! But actually writing the story is pretty important too, and you have to strike a balance if the work is going to actually get done.

Interestingly, I think I spent as much research time on Chapter One as I did on Chapter Two, even though the research for Chapter One was relatively unimportant stuff, like the layout of small passenger aircraft. In Chapter Two I am, in a lot of ways, building a fantasy world loosely based on real cultures. While having a setting tens of thousands of years in the past gives me some leeway, I want to craft something respectful, interesting, and believable. However, I was much better at keeping my desire to research in check while I wrote Chapter Two. I asked myself what was plot-critical, and I made more notes that I will have to come back to. As a result, I have a rough first draft to build on.

This chapter was also a little shorter, at about 3,500 words. That puts the first two chapters at a total of about 8,700 words. Assuming that average holds for the whole book, it would come out to about 180,000 words, which is unreasonable for most genres. Even for genres where giant tomes are more commonplace, like Fantasy (and to a lesser extent, Sci-Fi), that’s on the big side.

These are still first draft, unedited numbers. My goal for editing will be to say more while cutting word count.

Reading Clan of The Cave Bear

I have to admit something slightly embarrassing. I think of myself as a fairly fast reader, but I started this book about two months ago, and at the beginning of the week I was about 40% through. The book has been a slog for me. I’ve started and finished at least two other books in the time that I’ve been reading this one.

If I wasn’t curious about the parallels with Razor Mountain, I think I probably would have stopped reading somewhere in there. However, I set aside time this week, and I was able to hit 80% on the ol’ e-reader. I do feel like the story pulled me along more in the latter half, and I’ll probably be done in another day or two.

Since I was reading this as a sort of comp title, I was going to just discuss the book in one of these development journals, but I think there’s enough to talk about (both related and unrelated to Razor Mountain) that I’m going to put it in its own, separate post.

Next Steps

In the upcoming week, I’m going to try the experiment I talked about previously: writing the last chapter at the start of the project. I’ll probably leave it as a rough draft, and see how much needs to change by the time I’m done with the book.

After that, I need to revise and polish those first two chapters. Those are my sample for prospective critique partners/beta readers.

Finally, I have one last non-writing task: some sort of cover art. At this point, I’ve considered doing it myself (expecting mediocre results), commissioning an artist in my family, and paying real money to professionals (ugh). If you have any experience with or thoughts about the right way — or most cost-effective way — to get good cover art, let me know in the comments.

Results

I finished writing the first draft of Chapter Two and read most of Clan of the Cave Bear.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #41

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.

Last Time

I wrote part of the first pass at chapter one, and thought about the bits I want to write and polish before I start publishing chapters.

Real Life Intrudes

I’m still trying to come to grips with the new family schedule with the kids back in school. Unfortunately, the way it shakes out, I have to get up significantly earlier than during the summer. It follows, then, that I have to get to bed earlier. I haven’t been doing that very well, and as a result I feel approximately half-dead.

As you might expect, a state of partial undeath is not particularly conducive to good writing. Or any writing, frankly. I used to do the majority of my writing at night, after the kids went to bed. Now, it’s starting to look like most of my writing time and energy will be on the weekends.

All this to say that I had hoped to get through chapter two this week, and that didn’t happen. I made some progress, but once again I spent a lot of my time doing research.

When I was thinking about getting the first couple chapters done, I would have sworn that I started with two chapters from Christopher’s perspective. Turns out I actually have chapter one in Christopher’s point of view, and chapter two in God-Speaker’s point of view. As a result, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about indigenous Alaskan groups, in order to flesh out my stone-age Beringian tribe.

How Fast Can I Write, Actually?

Stephen King famously suggests that writers should write 1000 words per day. Is that first draft? Final? Does he do his editing on the side? I don’t know.

I’ve certainly gone through more than one November at NaNoWriMo speed (1667 words per day), and even had the occasional 3-5k day. Those aren’t sustainable rates for me. I did expect that a few thousand words per week would be fairly doable. I’m reevaluating that now.


My schedule is part of the problem. I also think things may go faster once I’m a bit further in. The biggest issue may be that this is going to be a serial story. I’m going to be publishing chapters as I go, so I really want to get them as polished as possible up-front. If I were writing a “normal” novel, I would write a rough draft of the entire book, then go back to revise and edit. Now, I’m going to have to combine the initial draft and at least some revision time together, up-front, which makes each chapter take longer than my rough-draft-words-per-minute rate might otherwise imply.

I also want to be able to publish frequently and regularly enough that readers will stay interested. Since I’m having a hard time getting through a chapter of rough draft per week, I can’t really plan to publish on that schedule. That might be okay though. My chapters are generally going to be 2,000–5,000 words, but many of these serial stories seem to be broken up into smaller chunks: around 1,000 words. I assume this is a natural evolution catering to small screens and short attention spans. I should probably embrace it. I don’t intend to chop the book into a hundred chapters, but I will look more seriously at chopping chapters into several smaller parts, and posting those either weekly, or more frequently when I am able.

Results

I worked on writing the first draft of chapter two. I began to admit my own limits under my current schedule.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #40

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.

Last Time

I wrote my author bio. I also did some research into online critique groups.

Writing is Hard

This week was an exhausting one, with work and family busyness sapping my writing energy. The weather is sidling toward the cooler end of the thermometer, and school is back in session for my kids — with a few extra pandemic complications to contend with.

After planning and outlining Razor Mountain for the majority of the year, the book still managed to sneak up on me. I find myself wishing I had sorted more of the publishing setup as I worked through the outline. However, I finally made the big leap and started writing. Not a huge amount, but as much as I could manage this week. I haven’t quite finished my first draft of chapter one.

I suppose I should be more triumphant. I started writing! Unfortunately, it didn’t feel that triumphant. It felt…tiring. I could blame the surrounding circumstances of a busy week, or the broader state of the world. And I’m sure those things deserve some blame, but not all of it.

I don’t know how it works for other writers, but for me the start of the novel is always the hardest part. When the book is entirely in my head, it exists in a bright, gauzy haze of lovely, perfect ideas. It’s not concrete enough to have rough edges yet. Even when I’m outlining, I end up squinting at it enough that it still looks pretty great. But when I start putting one word in front of another, that’s when I really have the opportunity to start doubting myself. There’s no more hiding behind the vagueness of incomplete ideas. I now have to actually perform the telepathic alchemy of sending ideas between minds using only my words.

Even with an outline, there are a million details to figure out and decisions to make during the writing process. Most importantly though, each novel has its own distinct sound, and I’m not quite sure what Razor Mountain sounds like yet.

The First and Last Chapter

This is a project full of experiments, so why not add another? Something I see authors occasionally write about — but I’ve never personally done — is writing the last chapter of the book before the rest. The idea is not to have a completed last chapter, or even a fully functional draft of the last chapter, but to have an idea of the ending that you’re aiming for as you work your way through the story.

For a while now, my intent has been to have parallels between chapter one, the last chapter (41), and God-Speaker’s last chapter of Act I (chapter 16). Chapters 16 and 41 involve God-Speaker and Christopher in the cave of the artifacts. In chapter one, Christopher wakes up on a small plane, slightly drugged, in the dark. Because of some faint trace of God-Speaker’s memories seeping in, and because of his groggy state, Christopher sees the plane initially as a dark cave. Only after he wakes up a little bit does he realize where he actually is.

The Razor Mountain Prototype

As I think about what the book should sound like, I need some pages to work with — some word-clay to shape. Razor Mountain starts with two Christopher chapters, to get the reader into his adventure, before switching to God-Speaker’s point of view for chapter three. I think these three chapters, plus the experimental final chapter, make a good selection to start with. My current plan is to write rough drafts of these chapters. Then I can begin to polish, figure out the voice, and have a three-chapter sample for potential beta readers and critiquers. I’m also hoping to get an idea of how fast I can realistically write this thing in a way that I’m proud of.

Once I have that done and have readers lined up, I just have to get through the final publishing setup. I’ll probably spend a few days updating and revamping the website. The blog schedule will change, as I’ll continue publishing development journals for each chapter alongside the chapter itself.

After that, there’s nothing to do but write as fast and as well as I can.

Results

I wrote part of a first draft of chapter one, and thought about the bits I want to write and polish before I start publishing.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #39

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.

Last Time

I wrote the book description for Razor Mountain.

The Author Bio

Earlier this week, I discussed yet another part of the book that isn’t actually the story: the author bio. This seems like a small thing — and it is, compared to the story itself — but it’s still part of the overall package, and one more little way to sell yourself to potential readers.

If you read that post, you’ll know that I need to craft something short, in the neighborhood of 50-100 words. It needs to be third-person (“Sam is great,” not “I am great”). It should tell the reader a little bit about who I am and what my perspective is, not just where I’m from and what my job is (although these are common defaults in author bios). It should also include a link to my website or social media.

For a first draft, I started with my bio and the tagline on this blog, added a little bit of personal history, and finished off with the requisite bit about my family situation.

Sam Johnston is a software developer by day, and a writer by night. He’s been writing fiction since grade school, when a particularly morbid class assignment had him write a future obituary for himself. “Best-selling author” seemed like a nice way to be remembered.

You can find his serial fiction, ruminations on craft, and radically open writing process at www.wordsdeferred.com. Follow him on Twitter, at @DeferredWords.

Sam lives in Minnesota, with his wife, three children, and one tiny dog.

This is 79 words, right in the sweet spot. However, there are a few things I’m not entirely happy with.

I’m hesitant about saying “it seemed like a nice way to be remembered.” It’s supposed to be a little jokey, but  it might suggest that I’m just writing for the fame and fortune, which isn’t really the case at all. (It’s kind of amazing to me how much fame and fortune the average person thinks most authors have.)

I also decided to rearrange the family bit and the website bit. I’m not sure if it’s worth linking Twitter at all, because 70% of the time I’m just using it to advertise my website. Still, I occasionally post, and it’s another avenue to get people involved. Book Twitter is still a thing, and some people live on that site.

The bio also doesn’t say too much about what I like to write about. That’s largely because I have a hard time nailing down what exactly I like to write about. I like to read a wide variety of things, and I like to write a wide variety of things too. I don’t want to be locked into a single genre (though I tend toward speculative fiction, or at least some element of the fantastic). I know I don’t much like the idea of writing a series of books, because I’d rather write more completely different books that have nothing to do with each other.

After revision, the bio looks like this:

Sam Johnston is a software developer by day, and a writer by night. He’s been writing fiction since grade school, when a particularly morbid class assignment had him write a future obituary for himself, and he liked the idea of being remembered as a story-teller. He thinks the best stories are filled with impossible things.

Sam lives in Minnesota, with his wife, three children, and one tiny dog.

You can find more of his fiction, ruminations on craft, and radically open writing journals at wordsdeferred.com. Follow him on Twitter, at @DeferredWords.

Getting Feedback

The other thing I’ve been looking at this week is pre-publishing feedback. I’m a plotter. I like my outlines and I like to be prepared. So even though I’m planning to post Razor Mountain serially, as I’m writing it, I still want to revise and polish those chapters before they go up.

It may seem a bit odd to try so hard to polish when I’m forcing myself into an inherently seat-of-my-pants process, and maybe it is odd. To me, posting these chapters as I write them just means that I want to make my first drafts as good as they can possibly be. Even if I’m posting as I go, I still want to put the best possible product out into the world.

As much as I like to write, the truth is that I really don’t have any close writer friends. One of the reasons I started this blog was to make more connections with fellow writers. My wife is always my first reader and editor, but she doesn’t write. She can give great feedback about where the story doesn’t work for her. In addition to that, I’m looking for other readers and critiquers, preferably writers as well, who can offer feedback, chapter-by-chapter, before I post.

To that end, I’m looking into a few options. One option is online critique groups. These are websites that typically involve some sort of credit system, where you submit work for critique, and you submit critiques of other people’s work. You need to keep up a certain amount of submitted critiques if you want your own work to get reviewed.

Another option is more like critique match-ups. They’re a bit like dating sites for writers. These forums or services let writers advertise their work and look for other readers and writers who want to critique it, often in a small group or “swapping” critiques.

There’s also one other avenue I’m looking at…

Who Wants a Critique?

…and that avenue is this blog. This is a blog about writing, and you’re reading it. Perhaps you are also a writer with some work that could use revision?

I’m looking for fellow writers to critique my novel, one chapter at a time, as I write them. It’s going to be 41 chapters, and I’m planning to post one per week. So, that’s a commitment of close to a year. However, I’m not looking for charity. I will happily exchange your critiques for my own. If you have short stories or a novel in the works, I’m ready for some quid pro quo!

We’re going to be most useful to each other if you’re writing something in the neighborhood of sci-fi and fantasy. I also expect to do a trial run of a couple chapters or stories, so we can decide if we’re a good fit before making a commitment.

If you’re interested, email me at wordsdeferred@gmail.com, or DM me on Twitter @DeferredWords.

Results

I wrote my author bio. I also did some research into online critique groups. More on that in the future.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #38

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.

Last Time

Last week I revisited my old journals, scrounging for ideas that got lost along the way. I started looking into all the miscellaneous tasks that need to be done before I actually post chapters.

The Razor Mountain Book Description

One of those miscellaneous tasks is the back-cover blurb for Razor Mountain. Earlier this week, I posted what I’ve learned about writing book blurbs, and now, I need to put those lessons into practice.

I’m starting at a bit of a disadvantage with Razor Mountain. The whole goal of the project is to publish serially, putting out chapters as I write them. I’d prefer to have a finished, polished manuscript before I tackle the description, so I’m dealing with known quantities. That’s not an option for Razor Mountain, so I have to write my book description based upon my outline and plans.

In my previous post, I suggested three main things that tend to be important in a book blurb: hooks, characters and plot/conflict. The Novel Smithy’s excellent article on the subject tries to break it down further into the following categories:

  • Tagline
  • Character
  • Plot
  • Twist
  • Threat
  • Pitch

You see all of these things in book blurbs, but I would argue that you rarely see all of them at once. Still, I like this as a little more detailed list to brainstorm with.

Brainstorming

I started by just throwing out some phrases, trying to fulfill these different categories. I didn’t worry too much about awkward wording or cliché at this point. It’s just to get ideas flowing. (Besides, I’ve seen plenty of great best-selling books with prominent clichés in the blurb. Sometimes cliché sells.)

As brainstorming often goes, I started out pretty much hating everything I wrote. But after a while I found a few turns of phrase that I liked better, and built on those. Here’s a sampling.

Opening Hook

  • A plane crash. A mysterious bunker in the Alaskan wilderness. One man’s struggle to survive.
  • The shattered peak of Razor Mountain casts a long shadow over the Alaskan wilderness, and an even longer shadow across the centuries of human civilization.
  • The shattered peak of Razor Mountain casts a long shadow over the Alaskan wilderness, and across centuries of human civilization.
  • Strange technology. A hidden, militarized city. The secret to immortality. Welcome to Razor Mountain.
  • Dark secrets lie in wait, deep below the shattered peak of Razor Mountain.
  • For thousands of years, secrets seethed under the shattered peak of Razor Mountain. Soon, they’ll boil over.

Character

  • Christopher Lamarck thought moving from a desk job to making sales in rural Alaska brought more than enough excitement into his quiet life.
  • To say that Christopher Lamarck is risk-averse would be an understatement. Whenever he has a choice, he takes the path of least resistance.
  • To say that Christopher Lamarck is risk-averse would be an understatement. When two roads diverge in a wood, he takes the one more traveled by.
  • Christopher Lamarck is no daredevil. In fact, he thinks road trips and camping out are just a little too stressful to be fun.
  • Christopher Lamarck is no hero. Despite his love of ’90s action movies, he knows he wouldn’t survive through the opening credits.

Plot/Conflict

  • First, he inexplicably survives a plane crash. Then he finds strange, abandoned structures hidden in the forest. But it’s not until he’s lost in blizzard conditions and someone starts shooting that he realizes how precarious his situation really is.
  • First, he inexplicably survives a plane crash. Then he finds strange, abandoned structures hidden in the forest. But it’s not until he gets lost in a blizzard and shot at that he realizes how precarious his situation really is.
  • When Christopher’s puddle-jumper crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, he finds himself in the shocking predicament of actually surviving. However, it soon becomes apparent that nobody is coming to rescue him. If he wants to make it back home, he’s going to have to start emulating his movie heroes.

Twist/Second Hook

  • There’s something worryingly familiar about this place and these people.
  • He can’t help but think that he’s been here before.
  • As it turns out, the empty wilderness isn’t so empty, and the locals shoot strangers on sight.

Threat/Consequence/Conflict

  • Death may not be the worst consequence.
  • There are some fates worse than death.

Pitch/Genre Keywords

  • Sci-fi, thriller, suspense, alternate history…
  • A suspense-filled science fiction labyrinth that will keep you guessing until the end.
  • A thrilling sci-fi mystery, full of twists and turns.

Putting it Together

With this collection of sentences and phrases of varying quality, I tried putting together a blurb.

Christopher Lamarck thought moving from a desk job to making sales in rural Alaska would bring some excitement into his quiet life. But he gets more excitement than he bargained for when his plane goes down deep in the mountains.

Surviving a plane crash is only the start of his problems. He finds strange structures and advanced technology hidden on the forested slopes, and the secret society that built it is still looking down from the shattered peak of Razor Mountain. Yet Christopher is drawn inexorably into their machinations, and he begins to realize there’s something worryingly familiar about this place and these people.

A tale of life and death, obsession and control, and a conspiracy as old as human civilization, Razor Mountain is a thrilling sci-fi mystery, full of twists and turns.

I’ve been toying with the idea that Christopher loves action movies, which is fun for a character who is nowhere near action hero material. It gives me the opportunity to contrast him with these heroes and introduces some comic relief potential.

Including it in the blurb gives us a little more insight into the character, and I think this description flows a little better. I’m also trying the “In a world…”-style sentence fragments hook.

Strange technology. A hidden, militarized city. The secret to immortality. Welcome to Razor Mountain.

Christopher Lamarck is no hero. Despite his love of ’90s action movies, he knows he wouldn’t survive through the opening credits. But when Christopher’s puddle-jumper crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, he finds himself in the shocking predicament of actually surviving.

It soon becomes apparent, however, that nobody is coming to rescue him. The empty wilderness isn’t so empty, and the locals shoot strangers on sight. If he wants to make it back home, he might have to start emulating his movie heroes.

The inescapable gravity of Razor Mountain pulls Christopher deeper and deeper into a conspiracy that spans millennia. With his life in constant danger, he learns that death isn’t the worst fate that could await him under the mountain.

Razor Mountain is a suspense-filled science fiction labyrinth that will keep you guessing until the end.

And then I took the ending hook from the first blurb because I like it better.

Strange technology. A hidden, militarized city. The secret of immortality. Welcome to Razor Mountain.

Christopher Lamarck is no hero. Despite his love of action movies, he knows he wouldn’t survive the opening credits. But when Christopher’s puddle-jumper crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, he finds himself in the shocking predicament of actually surviving.

It soon becomes apparent, however, that nobody is coming to rescue him. The empty wilderness isn’t so empty, and the locals shoot strangers on sight. If he wants to make it back home, he might have to start emulating his movie heroes.

The inescapable gravity of Razor Mountain pulls Christopher toward the shattered peak, and he finds himself intwined in intrigues that span millennia. With his life in constant danger, he learns that death isn’t the worst fate that could await him under the mountain.

A tale of life and death, obsession and control, and a conspiracy as old as human civilization, Razor Mountain is a thrilling sci-fi mystery that will keep you guessing until the end.

What’s Missing and What’s Next

A book blurb is short. It will inevitably leave many things out. In this case, the most glaring omission is God-Speaker. However, Christopher’s story is ultimately God-Speaker’s story, and I think focusing my description on Christopher is a good limitation.

My next step is feedback. The blurb is an advertisement for the book. It’s only good if it helps to get people interested. If you like it or hate it, or even if you don’t care, feel free to let me know in the comments. I’ll probably continue tweaking this description up until I launch — and then reevaluate it again when I’m part way through the book and have a better understanding of what I’m writing.

Results

I created a book description for Razor Mountain.

Razor Mountain Development Journal #37

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.

Last Time

I worked through the chapter summaries for what is now chapters 37, 38, and 39. I finished the expanded second draft outline for the book!

Taking a Moment to Reflect

One of the interesting things about journaling my progress on this project is that I can go back and see how I got to this point. I did that this week, rereading a bunch of my earlier development journals. I wanted to look for any ideas from earlier on that I had forgotten about as the story evolved.

I didn’t find too much lost by the wayside, although there were a couple ideas that stood out to me. Early on, I talked about mirroring between Christopher’s story and God-Speaker’s story. I think this is a subtle way to make these stories feel more connected, event though they don’t actually come together until Act III, when Christopher meets the Razor Mountain cabinet members.

This mirroring could range from similar events, like a blizzard happening in each story around the same time, to turns of phrase or ideas that show up in both places, to places or things revealed in the distant past that we see again in the modern era. I don’t think I’ll plan these things out in too much detail. I’ll just keep on the lookout as I write.

The other idea I came back to is using simplified language for the Act I God-Speaker chapters, to reflect the limited language of the stone-age humans in that tribe. I think this is something worth experimenting with, but it could also go horribly wrong and just be obnoxious to read. I intent to try making it work, but I’ll throw out that idea or heavily limit it if it gets in the way of the story.

Finally, I realized that there is an opportunity when Christopher is being kidnapped by the exile brothers. He has emotional baggage related to his own brother, who died saving his life when they were children. Christopher talks with these brothers, trying to understand why Harold puts up with (and supports) Garrett, whose decision-making seems questionable at best. Harold is the calm, collected, clear-headed one, but he believes that he and his brother are a pair that absolutely need each other. They’re two parts of a whole, and he’s willing to relegate himself to the number two position in service of that.

This is an opportunity to expand on Garrett and Harold’s relationship, and also get at some of Christopher’s back-story, explaining why he’s so risk-averse.

Warming Up the Printing Presses

With a solid outline in hand, I’m digging into all of the miscellaneous tasks that need to get done before I start posting chapters.

I need a halfway decent book cover in a few different sizes and formats. I need to write a back-cover blurb to describe the book. I need to write an author profile. I need to sign up and set up the book on the services where I’m going to release it. I need to work out beta readers/critiquers to help polish the chapters before I post them.

While I’m working on all of that, I’m also reading Clan of the Cave Bear, a book from the ’80s that follows ice-age humans and neanderthals, with the fantasy conceit that humans are more naturally adaptable, but neanderthals possess a racial memory that allows them to access the experiences of their ancestors.

This book hit my radar because of the time period it’s set in, which is obviously similar to what I’m looking at for God-Speaker’s Act I chapters. I was curious how it handles the characters and their interactions. The speculative fiction elements were something I wasn’t aware of when I started reading, but the ancestral memory angle is in the same ballpark as God-Speaker’s mind-jumping memory and the memories stored in the artifacts within Razor Mountain. Coincidences abound.

Results

This week was mostly reading and planning, as I figure out some of the busy-work around serial publishing. By next time, I’m hoping to have a lot of that stuff done. I may also start drafting chapters. I want to build a backlog so I have time for critique and can still maintain a steady posting schedule. We’ll see what I’m actually able to get done by next week.