The edit before the edit

After sitting it down for about 90 day’s I’m diving into Draft 15 of Brown River Blues. This is the one where I’m trying to catch typos and fix a couple problematic sections before handing it over to some peers to edit.

As I mentioned before, some of the bits I have issue with are things that were acceptable in 2007 and aren’t in 2020. And there’s still a kinda clunky part that I hope the passage of time fixes. It’s something I just can’t cut, like the entire chapter that’s gone and the entire second half of the novel that I deleted a few drafts ago.

Anyway, as you can see from the flurry of posts, I’m in a writing mood, and I want to keep striking while the iron is hot.

Draft Fifteen

I’ve gotten to the end of Brown River Blues. It now stands at about 98.000 words. I’m keeping the official tally at about 100,000 for now. It was that much before I cut an entire chapter a few years ago.

(I also cut a section in the previous draft that went on about how one character loved MySpace and refused to get a Facebook account. I had a character say something along the lines of “Facebook is the future” back when I figured it would be irrelevant by 2013 or so, but it no longer fit.)

I’m satisfied with it now. Technically, Draft XV will be me reading it like it isn’t my own novel and trying to catch any typos I missed in Draft XIV.

(Oh, and I’m also checking for any problematic sections. I mean, I deleted something else in the last edit because my thoughts have evolved since 2007 and there was a relatively OK 2007 conversation that seemed terrible in 2019.)

After that, I have a very short list of people I want to give it to for feedback.

(I don’t remember who was on the list, but I have three people whose opinions on it I value to the point that I’d rip up three quarters of the thing.)

G Scott Smith

G Scott Smith is one of my favorite characters. Initially, he was going to be an insufferable hipster, but I kept making him more complex. His legal first name is the letter G. (He prefers no period, as it’s not an abbreviation, but goes by Scott.) He plays blues on a resonator guitar. He has a closet full of stingy brimmed seersucker fedoras. He drives a restored blue 1967 Mustang fastback. He wears $200 slacks. He keeps his hair cut like a 1970s anchorman. He’s a graphic designer. He’s happily married and is an expectant father. He has a ranch taste aversion. He really, really likes weed.

Oh, and he’s bisexual.

That’s been the case from the start. If you, for some reason, only read this for updates on my novel, you missed the whole me announcing that I’m bi thing. In Scott’s case, it’s not a plot point. He and his wife, Sydney, talk about it on occasion, but that’s about it.

I think that both contributed to the stall in editing and prompted me to move forward.

I think I was a little envious of Scott because saying it/thinking about saying it was a part of his story but that part was in the past.

And now that’s over and I’m on Page 244 of 291. Next is reading through it one more time, because I vaguely mentioned year ago that something about a character was problematic and I no longer remember what that was. The finish line is in sight.

Hiatus over

I’ve gotten back into editing Brown River Blues. How it happened is kinda funny (I’ll explain in the next post). Initially, I stalled out at one of the chapters that is outside of the numbering sequence. I have a few that are sorta interludes. They’re of varying lengths and add clarity to other parts of the story but you don’t necessarily need them for the overall narrative. Examples: There are a few newspaper articles and there’s a lengthy one that explains the death of a person that occurred well before the action of the story.

The one that tripped me up tried to do too many things at once. In the source material for parts of this novel, a novel I wrote in high school about high-schoolers, the character of Lorenzo had two best friends. I’ve always known that one of them would run away from home and make contact with Lorenzo on increasingly rare occasions. That happened between the source material and BRB. I felt bad about one of Lorenzo’s childhood friends being in BRB but not the other. I wrote the story of Gordon, but it didn’t fit anywhere except for in this spot where Lorenzo begins to repair his relationship with his dad. (Also, an unusual number of characters all have some problems with their parents, which purely was accidental and varies in degrees of severity ranging from murder-suicide to being helicopter parents.)

Anyway, I deleted Gordon’s story. I still feel bad about it, but everything flows better. Perhaps I’ll add it to the Seven Ninety-Two collection of short stories.


So, when I said I was taking a break from editing to settle into my new apartment, it turned into taking a break into settling into my new job. Now we’re seven months in to my new apartment and roughly 90 days into my new job. I haven’t put up any artwork, but I’ve purchased a couch and a writing desk and enjoyed my newfound free time. But I haven’t opened the Brown River Blues file since.

I know why, though.

Thanks to bad timing, I wound up at a chapter I don’t like. It needs to be there, but there’s something wrong with it. I think I now how to fix it, but I’ll have to get back into it. I never fully elaborated what it was about, and it’s because times have changed since I first wrote it. Instead, I’ll talk about another chapter I need to revise a little. Fixing this one is easier.

I wanted to be a little coy about two characters hooking up and eventually dating. Originally, they got blackout drunk together, had an awkward “we’ll talk about this later” conversation in the morning and interacted in a way that implied that they had become more than friends.

Later, I tweaked it to say that the night was fuzzy for the both of them but implied that they were aware of what happened.

When I get to it, I’ve decided that I’m going to say that they were tipsy but were aware of their actions and indeed are a couple by the story’s end.

I also have a problem with another character.

Basically, what I’m saying is that, once I deal with this crappy chapter, I need to make certain that a consensual encounter is displayed as one and modify another character.

I need to do one more revision after this one.

But I really need to just finish this one. 


Now that I have free time again (hooray for moving closer to work!), I will do a quick review of my novel soon and then send it to some peers for feedback. We’re rapidly approaching fully unpacked, other than needing to buy some new furniture, so this process could start as soon as Sunday.

Before I do that, there is a little footnote of information I’d like to share.

In the original version of Brown River Blues, Sydney Smith gives birth at the end. I’ve radically changed the ending, so now she’s pregnant on the first page and still pregnant on the last page. The book ends a few days shy of the due date.

Although it would be easy to just write out the pregnancy, I’m not.

Women get pregnant. It doesn’t have to be a plot point. This is a book with a lady in it, and she just happens to be pregnant.

I’m glad things worked out this way.

The Sequel

I have a four-day weekend coming up. I plan on using that time to finally do the Big F7, the Word spellcheck to catch glaring errors, and begin my final read of Brown River Blues before I start recruiting friends to give me feedback while I craft a query letter and research agents.

I already have ideas for a sequel floating around in my head.

It’s extremely preliminary: What I do know is that it is set in 2012; Imperial City’s newspaper had a round of layoffs before being purchased by the company I currently work for; and the only returning characters are Scott and Sydney Smith, the old men at what I’ve renamed Wilson’s Store and three of the five reporters in the Imperial City newsroom. I’ll have a fleeting reference to Lorenzo that doesn’t affect my “agreement” to not write about his life beyond 2007. I have the beginning of the plot, but if I stick to it, I’m going to have to ask one of my friends to share some details about her life and/or point me to some research. The topic isn’t far out of my wheelhouse, but I don’t want to offend anyone in similar situations.

I’m hoping to have that worked out before I start writing, unlike Brown River Blues. Part of the reason it took so long was because I started plugging away at it without knowing where it was going to end up. When I figured out the plot I had to go back and insert some things and also take a fresh look at the hints of the plot I left myself in the text as I was working it out.

If anything, this could be another story for the 792 collection. I know I don’t have enough for a full novel right now.

But I need to close out Brown River Blues before I do anything else. I’ll live closer to my job in a few months and I hope to have more traditional work hours by then, so I hope I have free time again to really focus on this again.

Greenfront-Council Day

Sunday was a special day that I forgot.

Nineteen years ago, as I sat in Spanish class, I spontaneously started writing the tale of Lorenzo Santiago Williamston, a 10th grader at Greenfront-Council High School in the Southwest Virginia municipality of Imperial City.

Imperial City had existed in some form or fashion since I was a little kid. I was really into Micro Machines (I still have most of them at my mom’s house, because she kept them out of the possibility of them being worth something one day, but they are all but worthless). I augmented a playset with ceramic buildings that people collect for some reason, and structures I created out of paper and VHS tapes, like an elevated highway.

In a way, I didn’t really play with it. I built roads, had suburban tracts on the outskirts, an industrial district, parks, a mall and a school. I eventually got a second playset, so I wound up with two “downtowns.” One of the playsets clearly was a downtown area, complete with civic buildings and a hospital, so at least they weren’t wholly redundant. It gave me the idea of there being two urban areas because it was the merger of two cities.

After several different names and backstories, I settled on naming it Imperial City, Va., not long before I outgrew it and packed it away. The story was this: It was the 14th British Colony. As it was in a small group of people in an isolated area, Richmond Hill Colony was founded in 1737 and flew under the radar. It’s capital was named Empire City. In 1775, it separately declared independence as the Republic of Richmond Hill. Slavery was abolished in the early 1800s. In the 1820s, though Richmond Hill had a civil war, which led to the partitioning and the creation of two city-states, Lightsburg and Sharpsville. In the 1840s, the two sides reconciled and the recombined country was named Imperial City, as a nod to its past and the understanding that, at a few dozen square miles, there was no point in having multiple municipalities. The Lightsburg district held executive offices, and Sharpsville was judicial.

During the American Civil War, Imperial City offered aid to Abraham Lincoln, which finally led to the U.S. and Virginia governments realizing that there was a city that no one had noticed considered itself to be a country. After the war, Imperial City agreed to become a city in Virginia but was allowed to keep some of its rules, as long as they did not violate the U.S. Constitution.

I was a precocious elementary school kid.

When I created Lorenzo out of boredom, I placed him in that city I had razed and built its world again. I drew a map. Once again, I was laying out roads, schools, parks, the whole nine yards. Throughout college, when I had to write a work of fiction, it was set in Imperial City. Occasionally, Lorenzo would make an appearance.

I destroyed my original novel.

When I set out to write Brown River Blues, I decided to have a fresh start. I created the neighboring Wessex County and said I wouldn’t put Lorenzo in the story. I even toyed with not mentioning Imperial City at all.

Then it all crept in.

I did vow that, despite this possibly being the first novel in which Imperial City appears, it would be the final story featuring Lorenzo. I made a call to slightly change his future, but whatever comes next for him will remain in my head.

I still haven’t completed the “final” spell check. During a change in versions of Word, some extra spaces were inserted, and the new spelling and grammar check didn’t like the speaking patterns of some characters and, like here, I free wrote a lot of it, which led to some words and entire sentences being horribly mangled. After about an hour, I was only 14 pages in, so I’m saving this for a day in which I absolutely have nothing to do.

I still need to write my query letter. I’m excited about how I’m going to write it, and I can’t wait to land an agent so I can share it.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The 20th Greenfront-Council Day is Dec. 17, 2018. I usually observe it on Dec. 10, because the action in the original novel began on that day. I need to at least get through the Big F7 soon so I can have something worth talking about next year, especially since I mentioned most of the behind-the-scenes world-building in this entry.


I reached the end of the 12th draft of my novel early Monday. It stands at 103,000 words and 294 pages, if the formatting is correct.

For some odd reason, I didn’t celebrate.

I guess it’s because it doesn’t mean anything.

As soon as I finished, I started a fresh file for Draft 14. (I inadvertently labeled it 14, and I’ll fix that later.) This one will consist of me hitting spell check, to get the easiest/most egregious mistakes, and then reading it as if I didn’t write it. It’s a mixture of things that have somehow remained intact since the first draft and things I wrote as recent as 24 hours ago. There’s probably a continuity error in there somewhere. I caught one last night when I made a last-minute change to the sheriff’s last name.

And I also added a chunk of dialogue because I had inadvertently written a character out of the book. The ending in which the character played an important role no longer exists, so if not for the addition, there would have been a “went to visit family” situation from which there was no return.

There’s already a section I don’t like. I’m going to give it a chance by reading straight through. If it sounds bad to me still, I’ll work on it.

I’m expecting this “draft” to go a lot faster than the others.

Once I hit the final sentence again, I’m making an open call to my closest friends for their feedback. I already have five people in mind, and I want no more than seven. While they’re tearing it apart, I’ll finally write the query letter I’ve been wanting to write. I’ll share it if and when I get a deal.

But, deep down, I’m really excited that this draft is over. When I started it, it was 2013. I had a computer I didn’t expect to die on me. Then, when I had a functional computer, I came down with a pretty bad case of writer’s block. And then I had to figure out how to balance things like taking care of a dog in the morning when I like to write well into the night.

It’s close to being real. Once my friends get the correctly labeled Draft 14, I’ll take some of their criticism and apply it to Draft 15 and that’s the draft that goes with the query letter. After so many fits and starts, it could be on its way by this time next year.

Unless it’s garbage.

I still have 50 pages to go

I have finished the penultimate fresh section and went back to augment the introduction of Nicole Cobb with a 1,000-word character sketch a friend challenged me to do. It will remain in the Seven Ninety-Two short story collection, as the version in it has parts I excised due to the overlap with what happens with Lorenzo during this moment.

This goalpost move has made us reach 104,000 words and nearly 300 pages, if my formatting is the correct analogue to a standard hardcover. The original was 15,000 words.

But the next chapter is — I wouldn’t say filler, but tees up the next chapter. The one after that signals the end and will have the final expanded passage. After that is the final proper chapter. The second half of Chapter 24 becomes Chapter 25, and the original Chapter 25 becomes one of the “and the” sections that, along with a few newspaper articles, are outside the numbering system. Part of the reason these pseudochapters exist is because the original version of Brown River Blues had 25 parts and now I’m cheating. The other reason is that some of them include vital information that doesn’t quite fit in the chapters they’re between and are things I expect my editors will tell me to excise.

As you may recall, I’m writing more than what I think is necessary because I think it will be easier to cut things when I declare it finished than to have to add more when an editor gives me feedback.

It feels good to finally be in the home stretch. It’s been six years and more than the length of the original draft since I deemed this thing finished. It was back when the ending was different and was, in my opinion, pure garbage. The next chapter is the last bit of the original ending. It was Chapter 23, and it’s now Chapter 22.

It’s a little funny looking at the original now. I’ve also mentioned before that, despite being 15,000 words and throwing out at least the final two chapters, a lot of that original is in there. Original Chapter 22 is an article Lorenzo wrote. Twenty pages now separate the two. I wrote that article in August 2007 when a was a year into being a professional journalist. In my years of being an editor, I’ve rewritten and revised it as I’ve learned more and kicked it back to Lorenzo to fix. The current iteration still is a little painful to read, because I wanted to convey that he still was a novice writer, but the original reminds me of how much I needed to learn in 2007.

I still can’t believe I started this as a silly writing exercise in December 2006 that I expected would be over and done by January 2007. Instead I didn’t start writing in earnest until that June.

On Dec. 4, 2006, I said

From time to time, I get an idea for a short story or novel or something. Most of the time, they don’t pan out. …

A new one just popped in my head, and I think this one may go somewhere.

I was on LSW4 then. It was new. “Widescreen, 2 gig processor, 80 GB hard drive, 512 MB RAM,” I bragged.

I think my phone is more powerful than that.

I’m looking forward to getting through these 50-odd pages and writing the killer query letter that’s been in my head for a few years. And passing this out to my friends who have volunteered to do free peer edits.

After enduring the loss of a computer and a terrible case of writer’s block, we’re almost there.


I mean, still have to read it at least one last time since I’ve banged out like 20-page sections this go round and I think the Rosewood section fell flat, but Draft 14 shall be a mere formality and not a yearslong affair.  A dozen years is enough.