To all the Charlie Browns out there

JA Konrath wrote an excellent blog on April 23, about how writers should exude confidence:

We all have lapses in confidence. It’s human. But if you want to have a writing career, DON’T SHOW WEAKNESS IN PUBLIC.

Charlie Brown isn’t a good marketer. Sure, we can all identify with being the loser. Especially if we’re at a signing and only one person shows up, or if we get dropped by our publisher, or if we don’t win that big award we were nominated for, et cetera ad nauseum. Writers are magnets for bad luck. And publicly denigrating ourselves may get us a measure of sympathy.

Unfortunately, sympathy doesn’t sell books. Stephen King is not a bestseller because people feel sorry for him. King is a winner. Winners tend to keep winning. He knows it, and the world agrees.

The secret to being a winner is confidence. Since most of us lack in this department, being sensitive artist types, we have to learn to fake confidence.

Of course he’s right.  And I guess I’m pretty good at faking confidence.  But the truth is, I’ve always felt like Charlie Brown.  

The publishing industry excels at making you feel like a loser.  Although I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of success, the journey to this point has been a gantlet of nasty reviewers and rigid bean counters and grumpy readers wielding clubs, ready to whack you over the head.  So it’s no surprise that any writer who’s had a slow climb to the bestseller lists (it took me till book #10, if you count my romances) will arrive at that destination called “success” feeling a little bruised and very uncertain about how long she can stay.  And feeling uncertain, too, about whether she deserves to even be there.

Joe Konrath described a panel where one writer essentially admitted that he was a loser and that no one would want to buy his book.  There were times when I could’ve been that writer, but thankfully I resisted the urge to blurt out how much of I loser I was. 

Loserhood isn’t just about book sales, either.  It’s about who gets the media attention, who gets the extravagant praise, and who gets asked out for drinks.  When everyone is fawning slavishly over author XYZ, and ignoring you, well — the result is a whole room of writers who feel like losers. 

I suspect our industry is particularly tough on egos.  Part of it is just the sheer odds against anyone getting published.  Years of rejection prime you for disappointment. Then when you finally get published, you’re facing a new set of odds against your book being a big success in the markektplace.  I’ve read that about 300,000 new titles are published every year.  Many of those are self-published books, but still — the competition is staggering.  Then your book comes out and suddenly everyone’s a critic.  A bad review in the local newspaper gets seen by all your friends and relatives.  A bad review on Amazon gets seen by the whole world.  Yeah, okay, so you’re a published author.

You still feel like a loser.

I have a feeling most writers feel as unsure of themselves as I do. The industry almost forces us to feel that way.  But Joe’s right – part of our job is to exude confidence and success. 

So fake it.

On collective shame and mass murderers

We all knew he’d be a loner, right?  Even before we learned the identity of the man who shot to death 32 people at Virginia Tech, we could probably all picture the killer: male, a loner, an angry guy with fantasies of revenge and access to weapons.  I was glued to the news, shocked and horrified as I waited to hear who he was. 

Then I found out he was an Asian male and my heart dropped even further.

I know this is supposed to be a blog about writing.  And maybe I can justify addressing this topic here because, 1. I write crime fiction and this was a crime, and — 2. The shooter was an English major with very disturbing samples of creative writing.  But what I’m really struggling with here is the fact the killer’s Asian.  And that alone is freaking me out.

Here’s a childhood memory of mine: our family, about to leave the house to go out to eat at a restaurant.  My mom looks at my dad’s jacket (a favorite old U.S. Army-issue jacket) and she notices that the shoulder seam’s coming apart.  “You can’t wear that out of the house!” she says.  “If people see that, they’ll think that all Chinese people are sloppy dressers!”

All Chinese people.  That’s what growing up Asian taught me: that if I step one foot over the line, if I do something embarrassing or shameful, it will reflect on every other Asian person in the country.  Conversely, if an Asian anywhere in the country does something horrible, it will reflect on me. 

I don’t know if this is the sort of thing that crosses the minds of other minorities in this country, but I suspect it does. 

I was born in the U.S. and consider myself an American right down to my marrow, but it only takes an incident like this to make me feel as if I’m standing on quicksand in this country.  I never forget that Japanese Americans were once herded into concentration camps, and that a terrorist act can leave every Muslim American vulnerable to vandalism or assault.  When we got into a tiff with Spain a few years back, there were idiots on American radio urging Americans to boycott Taco Bell!  So now I’m sure that hate radio is already burning up the airwaves with anti-Asian and anti-immigrant rants, while ignoring the fact that mass murderers in this country are almost always white males.

So no, I don’t think I’m being paranoid when I, and other Asian Americans, start wondering when Korean grocery stores and Chinese restaurants are going to get burned to the ground because of this shooting.

What I wish everyone would remember is that this is not about race.  Nor is mass murder a peculiarly American phenomenon, although it seems that this country plays host to the most shocking examples. 

Sudden mass assault by a single individual (SMASI) is an international, cross-cultural phenomenon.  It was described as far back as 1770 by  Captain Cook, who reported examples of it in Malaysia, where it was called “mangamok.”  From this came the term “running amok,” which is a state of homicidal frenzy in which the killer (almost always male) would run around with sword or machete or knife, attacking everyone he encounters, until he’s killed or controlled.  Granted, a guy running amok back in 1770 couldn’t inflict nearly the number of casualties that a guy can today, armed with an automatic gun.  The point is, these incidents have always happend.

But today, with access to guns, the death toll for a single incident is far higher.

The May 2000 issue of Journal of Forensic Sciences has a cross-cultural review of SMASI and it made the following observations:

— 90% of SMASI cases, the killer was set off by a precipitating event.  Most commonly, it was job related or a romantic rejection.   

— Virtually all are male

— SMASI happens everywhere, in every culture.

— Of those studied in North America, 77% of the killers where white, 15% were black, and 7% were other.  (This, it seems to me, is simply a reflection of the racial picture of the U.S.)

We are always going to have angry men.  And some of those men are going to react with violence.  They could be anywhere, of any race, and we can’t predict which ones will go berserk and start killing. 

We just know that some of them will.

 

Where are all the Asian-American novelists?

Before I address the subject of this blog, I just want to say that some people have pointed out to me that writing and oral storytelling are not the same thing.  And they’re absolutely right.  I know some great writers who are horrible at telling a story face to face.  They get nervous in front of an audience, or they can’t collect their thoughts on the spot, so they ramble.  My last blog title should have read, “Are novelists born or are they made?”  Because writing a novel is a much more deliberate process than just getting behind a microphone and speaking off the cuff.  A novelist has the time to consider where her story is going, and if she has “the writer’s knack”, she’ll instinctively know which plot choices will lead to the most dramatic or interesting outcomes.

That’s what boring writers lack, that instinct for the dramatic.

My last blog also brought in this comment: “Why do you crediit only the Irish for storytelling talent?  What about the Chinese?  Surely they have just as much talent?”

And yes, I deserve to be taken to task for this.  It’s true that China has a rich literary history, going back thousands of years.  My mother’s grandfather was a respected poet in China, and among my most treasured possessions are very old bound copies of his poems.  My own philosophy of storytelling parallels that of a 9th century Chinese literary figure, Han Yu, who believed that telling a story in a clean straightforward manner was the most elegant way to write.  He thought that writing which was overly flowery and too stylized was dishonest –  and his beliefs reflected ancient China’s Classical Prose Movement. 

So yes, China does indeed have a long literary tradition.

But for a long time, I’ve been aware of a dearth of Chinese-American novelists.  Once you get past Amy Tan and Maxine Hong-Kingston, how many bestselling Asian American writers can you name?  Asian Americans make up about four percent of the population, but we don’t take up four percent of the bestseller slots. 

I distinctly recall a moment years ago, when I attended my first Romance Writers of America convention.  I looked around the room, where a thousand writers had gathered, and did my usual “race check.”  It may sound weird to some people, but it’s automatic for me (and I suspect it’s true for other minorities as well) to scope out how many non-whites are around.  That night, I counted exactly three Asians, including me.  In a room of 1,000 writers.

So where are we?

Part of the answer can be found in an email I received some months back from an Asian-American man who enjoys my books.  He told me that he works in computer engineering and even though he’s making a great living at it, he hates his job.  He only went into engineering because his parents pushed him into it.  He didn’t want to be an engineer!  His dream as a young man — and it’s still his most heartfelt dream – was to become a fashion designer.  But his parents told him he was nuts, that he’d starve, and that he should choose a career that would pay the bills. 

You know what?  My dad told me essentially the same thing.  “Writing’s a nice hobby,” he said when I told him that what I really, really wanted to do was study journalism.  “But you’ll never make a good living at it.”  Like countless other Asian American parents, he told his kids that science was the way to go. “Choose medicine or engineering and you’ll never starve.”  Not starving is a really big deal among immigrant families.

So I became a doctor.  And so did my brother.

I think of all the budding Asian-American novelists and artists and movie directors and fashion designers who are now toiling unhappily in hospitals or in front of computers.  How many of them would have gone on to win Pulitzer prizes or Academy Awards, had they stuck with their dreams?  How many were forced to shove those dreams aside out of fear that they’d someday starve?

There’s a lot to praise about immigrant values.  My parents taught me the importance of hard work and a top-notch education.  They paid for piano and violin lessons, they filled the house with books, and they instilled in me a love of learning.  But I feel incredibly fortunate that in the end, I listened to my own creative yearnings.  I’m lucky, of course, that my two kids gave me an excuse to finally write my first novel while I was on maternity leave.  But I also made sure I carved out writing time even while I was working as a doctor. I scribbled in the on-call room and on my lunch break.  I stayed up late, after the kids were in bed, to scribble some more.  That’s what you have to do when you first start out writing — you find the time, despite your other jobs, your other responsibilities.  Luckily, I could do it.

I think about that guy who wanted to be a fashion designer, and I don’t see how he can do that now, while holding down an engineering job.  His chance is probably gone forever.  His parents talked him out of it, and I feel sorry for him. 

Maybe in another generation or two, we’ll see more Asian-Americans in the arts.  We just have to stop listening to our parents.

 

 

Are storytellers born or made?

At a talk I gave a few nights ago, at the Auburn Library in Maine, one man asked me a great question: “Do you think storytellers are born with that talent?”  I can’t remember if I’ve covered that topic in my blog.  I’ve written so many entries that I’ve lost track of which subjects I’ve already touched on.  But he asked me an interesting question that I think is worth talking about.

I think the ability to tell a good story is fully formed by the time we’re age twelve, at the latest.  I was already writing stories at age seven.  Age seven, in fact, seems to be the same age that many novelists say they knew they were storytellers.  (Maybe because by that time we know how to read and write, and can finally commit our own stories to paper.) 

But there are some people who never seem to pick up the knack.  You probably know people like this, people who are just, well — boring storytellers.  What makes them boring?  They get stuck relating inexhaustible details. They focus on things that no one else cares about.  They don’t know how to build suspense or tension.  They don’t understand what it is that captures another human being’s attention.  They don’t have a sense of the dramatic.  Any and all of these things can doom you as a storyteller.

I like to give, as an example, two people in my own family whom I’ll just call Ben and Maude.  Let’s say Ben and Maude get in a car accident together.  Ben will sit down in the kitchen and tell you the story of his accident.   He’ll ramble or tell you way more than you need to know and you’ll be bored to tears.  Then Maude will come in and tell you the same story — same plot, same characters — and you’ll hang on her every word.  You’ll laugh.  You’ll lean forward in your seat, anxious for the next sentence.  Yes, maybe she’ll include a lot of details but they’ll be interesting details, quirky details. 

Maude has the knack; Ben doesn’t.

So what made Maude a great storyteller?  Is it genetic?  Why do the Irish seem to be born with it?

Well, I don’t know how much is genetic.  But I do know that early childhood experiences are important.  If your parents read to you, or tell you stories, or if you read a lot of books, you will integrate the rules of good story structure without even realizing it. This is why it seems so many older-generation Irish seem to have the knack; they listened to their parents tell stories, or they listened to stories on the radio.  They absorbed words, in ways that you can’t from from merely watching television.  (I’m not talking about today’s “Talk radio”, where some blowhard goes on for hours offering his opinions on politics. I’m talking about radio storytellers such as Garrison Keillor, who can spin a tale out of just about nothing and keep you riveted.)

Every so often, I encounter an aspiring writer who just doesn’t have that storytelling knack.  Their manuscripts are boring, and it’s hard to make them understand exactly what’s wrong with their stories, other than to say “it’s not interesting.”  Or “it’s not dramatic enough.”  Often they’ll counter with “well, it isn’t meant to be commercial!  It’s meant to be literary.”  Okay, then.  But even literary isn’t supposed to be boring.

What I’ve found is that many of these boring aspiring novelists turn out not to be readers.  Yep, you heard me.  They want to be novelists but they don’t read novels.  They think they can tell stories, but how would they know if they have no one to compare themselves to?  I run into a lot of these people at my booksignings.  They come up to me and want advice about where to send their manuscripts, and how to get published.  When I ask them which authors they like to read, I’ll get back a puzzled look.  Read?  Why, they don’t have time to read!  They’re too busy!

So is their dream of being a novelist hopeless?  Should they just give up?  Are they doomed to forever be boring storytellers?

I don’t know.  What I do know is that they have a lifetime of catching up to do.  They need to read.  They need to absorb all the words, all the hidden lessons in dramatic structure, that can only be found in novels.  Musicians learn the fundamentals of music by listening.  Writers learn the fundamentals by reading.

So if you want your kid to grow up to be a famous novelist, start reading to him.  Tell him stories.  Instead of turning on the TV, turn on a children’s audiobook. And give him books.  Lots and lots of books.  (And yes, comic books count.)

Maybe he won’t grow up to be a famous novelist.  But there’s a better chance he won’t be boring.

—————

And now, a few more shots of my books around the world!

  Here are Yueying and Terri, with my books in Singapore:

singapore 1                       singapore 2

 

And here’s one from Wendy in Vancouver:

                                vancouver

Here’s one from Robyn in South Africa:

south africa

And from Martina in Croatia:

croatia

Thank you all so much for the latest photos.  Wish I could travel as much as the books do!

Which month should I go on sale?

Over on the blogsite of Jason Pinter, there’s a nice entry on March 30 called “Timing is Everything,” about the importance of choosing just the right month to publish a book.  Jason’s both a thriller novelist as well as an editor, so he knows the business from both sides.  And here’s what he says:

“A few years ago, I was talking with another editor about the next novel from a major bestselling writer. The book was scheduled to come out in several months, and galleys would be arriving soon. The author routinely sold about 400,000 copies in hardcover, and another million in paperback. Yet despite ten bestselling novels and over 40,000,000 copies in print worldwide, the author had never hit #1 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list. It wasn’t that his sales didn’t justify it–many authors have hit #1 despite selling far fewer copies–it was that his books always came out in the fall, when the competition was at its fiercest, and more books were competing for almighty consumer dollar.”

Jason’s absolutely right about timing.  If your book comes out the same week that five heavy-hitters have releases, even though your book may sell a lot of copies, you just aren’t going to hit as high on the list.  Fall, in general, is a really tough time, because that’s traditionally when publishers publish their major releases.

Since the release of my first thriller, HARVEST, in 1996, each of my books has been published in the late summer/early fall, when the competition tends to be brutal.  The highest I’ve ever gotten on the NYT list was #3, for THE MEPHISTO CLUB.  I’ve noticed that where you land on the Times list doesn’t necessarily reflect your raw sales.  THE SINNER, for instance, hit #4 on the list while BODY DOUBLE, which sold more copies, didn’t even hit the top 10.  It’s all a matter of which other titles are in the stores that particular week. 

For awhile, publishers who wanted to establish an author as a NYT-bestseller would release them in the slow months — i.e., January through March.  There’d be less competition, and more of a chance to place on the bestseller list.  Unfortunately, it also meant that overall, you sell fewer copies because of lighter traffic through the stores.  You were trading actual sales for the prestige of being a bestseller that month.

With my new book, THE BONE GARDEN, my publisher considered releasing me at a completely different time of the year, and they suggested March.  They wanted to move me into a time slot where I might be able to hit even higher than #3, and I was all for it…

… until they took a closer look at my numbers and realized that, by trying to place higher on the list, I might be sacrificing total sales.  The Christmas season, it turned out, was a period in which I sold quite a few additional books, even though it was months after my book’s release.  If I came out in March, I’d lose that second bump in sales.  So what did I want?  A higher place on the list, or more books sold?

It’s great, of course, to hit high on the list.  It’s a real ego boost to have that label “#1 bestseller” behind your name.  But when you get right down to what the publisher (and the booksellers) really want, it gets down to raw sales.  Do you want to sell 200,000 copies and hit #5 or sell 100,000 and hit #1?

Since you don’t get paid for hitting the list, but you do get paid for selling that extra 100,000 copies, the choice starts to look pretty obvious.

In case you’re wondering what I chose, THE BONE GARDEN is scheduled to go on sale this September.

—————————-

And now another photo of one of my books, this time in Sydney, Australia, in front of a native bottlebrush tree.  With many thanks to Sharmaine A. for the photo!

australia

Come around the world with me

 Among the comments in my last blogpost was a fun one by Wendy Roberts, suggesting a collage of my books on location around the world.  Since I can’t lie on a beach in the Maldives, I’d love to see a photo of my book there — or anywhere else in the world.  So email me a photo of yourself and one of my books — any edition — and I’ll post it here!  Instead of going around the world with a garden gnome, we’ll do it with my books.  Be sure to tell me your name (if you want it posted) as well as your location.  And if you want to appear here, let’s see your face as well in the photo!

Here, from Ali in Ireland, is the first photo: 

         from Ali in Ireland

Elizabeth Hurley and … me!

Okay, this is a kick.  I just ran across this article in the UK newspaper, The Evening Standard.  It’s an interview with Elizabeth Hurley: 

 QUEEN OF THE JET SET

It is typical of Elizabeth Hurley’s time management skills that in the week before her English wedding at Sudeley Castle to Indian businessman Arun Nayar – between meetings with her party organiser Peregrine Armstrong-Jones, florist Robert Van Helden and caterer Rhubarb – she set up a giant draughtsman’s easel in her son Damian’s basement nursery to do her placement with Day-Glo Post-Its. As she pondered on whom to sit next to Sir Elton John, Leonard and Evelyn Lauder, Valentino and Prince Pavlos of Greece…  

Guests (at the wedding) included Tom Ford, David Furnish, Leonard and Evelyn Lauder, Trinny Woodall, Tim Jefferies, Imran Khan, India Hicks, various Bollywood stars, Big Brother winner Shilpa Shetty and several Indian tycoons such as billionaire Vijay Mallya, known as the ‘King of Good Times’…

Now that Elizabeth and Arun are married, travel will doubtless continue to play an important part in their lives. They are currently ‘arguing’ about whether they should buy a holiday home that is a ‘hot house’ (ie, a beach house in somewhere like Mustique) or a ‘cold house’ (ie, a chalet in St Moritz).

Lying on a private beach in the Maldives or the Caribbean is definitely something Elizabeth has long enjoyed. 

‘I can let him play all day while I am under a palm tree reading a Tess Gerritsen novel. I only read horrid, American crime novels at the moment.’

Wow.  Elizabeth Hurley reads me!  Maybe I can’t hang out on a beach in the Maldives, but my books do.

You’re never famous in your home state

 A few months ago, I was delighted to be invited to be one of the two commencement speakers for the University of Maine graduation ceremony in Orono this May.  While I’ve been asked to speak at colleges out of state, this was the first time I’ve accepted such an invitation.  I’ve been a resident of Maine for 17 years and although I’ll never be considered a real “Mainer” (you have to be born here to carry that title) I do feel like one.

Never so much as today, after reading this editorial in the University of Maine student newspaper:

Choice of speakers perplexing

When the University of Maine announced the commencement speakers, the names Tess Gerritsen and Bob Edwards fell on somewhat disappointed ears.

Students may not be aware that Tess Gerritsen is a local mystery author and Bob Edwards is the former president of Bowdoin College, not the NPR anchor.

The university should look to the future and get someone that the students would be able to relate to.

While we appreciate that the university sought out local connections and speakers known for delivering powerful speeches, there is no doubt an individual with greater name recognition would better inspire the graduating class.

Graduation is for the students; the university should seek out individuals who will motivate the class of 2007, regardless of where they are from. A familiar name would undoubtedly create more excitment from the student body.

My first reaction was — Cool!  They actually consider me a local!

My second reaction was … hey, wait a minute.  They consider me just a local?

It’s disheartening to discover that not only am I a disappointing choice for the students, but also that they have little interest in hearing from a novelist who’s “just a local mystery author.”  Were they to travel outside Maine, they might discover that, oddly enough, this unknown mystery author’s books are bestsellers across the U.S., that they’re translated into 31 foreign languages, and have been #1 bestsellers in Germany and the UK.  That I’ve given speeches around the world, from Malaysia to New Zealand to Amsterdam. Outside of Maine, I’m a publishing somebody.

But in my home state … “um — who are you again?  You say you’re a writer?”

What truly astonishes me is that the students are so dismissive of my fellow commencement speaker, Robert Edwards, the former president of Bowdoin.  We are talking Bowdoin College here, folks, not some rinky dink school no one’s heard of.  We are talking about one of the finest schools in the world.  You don’t just waltz into the presidency of Bowdoin by singing and dancing on American Idol. This is a man whose accomplishments are worth hearing about, a man who deserves the respect of anyone who values knowledge.  I  myself cannot wait to hear what he has to say.  That he’s not someone whom students feel they can “relate to” is a sad comment on how little value is placed on academic accomplishments these days.

Perhaps it’s the fact I’m not a spring chicken anymore, but the older I get, the less impressed I am by the culture of empty celebrity, and the more I value the chance to sit and talk with someone like Robert Edwards.  I want to know his journey.  I want to know what propelled him through life.  Just as I hope others might want to know how I, the daughter of a restaurant cook and an immigrant, managed to get into medical school and then ended up on the New York Times bestseller list.

Clearly, Bob Edwards and I are going about this all wrong.  Maybe we should be warming up our vocal cords to try out for American Idol, or hanging out with the truly accomplished Paris Hilton crowd.  Because we all know that it’s celebrity, not academics, that’s the real measure of success these days.

The second draft

Commenting on my last blog, John S. asks:

Tess–any advice on how to make the second draft go as fast as the first? Now that I’ve discovered the story, making it work is…much harder work!

You betcha.  In some ways, the second draft is much harder work.  Which is why I’m dreading it.

For me, the very worst stage in the novel-writing process is when I’ve finished the first draft and I finally give it a front-to-back read. That is invariably when I get that sickening feeling that I’ve written the worst book in the world and there is no way I can fix it.  I give myself a day to be depressed.  I mean truly, deeply, depressed.  I contemplate the end of my career.  I try to think of alternate jobs I might be able to do instead.  Organic farmer or itinerant fiddler.  Heck, sometimes the job of donkey pooper scooper starts to sound like a more enjoyable career.  (I’m serious here.  My husband and I just acquired five donkeys, and I so dreaded working on my manuscript yesterday that I jumped at the chance to muck out the barn instead.)  

So yes, John S.  I know what you mean when you say second drafts are much harder work.

Since this is the 20th time I’ve been through the process, I’ve learned what to expect.  I know I’ll be depressed.  I know I’ll despair of ever fixing the mess.  And then I’ll get to work and fix it.  Tackling it gets down to some pretty basic issues.

First, make the plot hang together — make the story’s set-up match the story’s resolution.  In VANISH, I started off with a hostage crisis.  In the first draft, the hostage taker was a man, whose motives remained a mystery to me.  By a third of the way through the book, I ditched the guy and turned him into a gal.  That’s when her motives became clear to me.  By the end of the book, I knew what the hostage crisis was all about.  My first priority, when I wrote the second draft, was to revise the first third so that it was the logical set-up to the rest of the story.

Second, refine and deepen the characters.  My first drafts tend to be somewhat bare-bones.  I’m so busy trying to figure out the plot and the mystery that I shirk a bit on the character development.  My second drafts add detail and more introspection.  I get inside the characters’ heads, elaborate on their emotions, and find ways to deepen the conflicts they face.

Third, heighten the poetry.  I know you’re thinking, “but you write fiction, not poetry!”  But in many ways, I think I am writing poetry.  An important part of narrative writing is reaching the next level of description, a level that goes beyond the mediocre and strives toward the artistic.

Fourth, clean up all the inconsistencies.  Make sure the names and genders and eye colors have stayed the same from beginning to end.

Fifth, re-order the scenes to heighten the tension.  I’m one of those writers who doesn’t write the story in chronologic order.  Since I’m often juggling several subplots, I will often write one subplot from beginning to end, and then write the second subplot from beginning to end.  Then I’ll weave them together.  In VANISH, for instance, I wrote the Jane and Maura hostage crisis story first.  When I’d almost finished that part, I went back and wrote the Mila subplot.  Finally, I intercut the two subplots, figuring out the most dramatic sequence in which to vary them.  But I didn’t do that until the second or third draft.

Sixth — and this may surprise some people — figure out your chapter breaks.  My first drafts are continuous.  I just go scene by scene, without chapter breaks.  It’s only late in the process, usually my third or fourth draft, when I decide where to end the chapters.  I look for cliff-hanging endings, for chapter breaks that will make the reader say, “I can’t stop here!  I’ve got to read just one more chapter!”

I’ve yet to face all these tasks.  I’m still working on the first draft of THE BONE GARDEN, and already dreading my initial read-through.  But I also know that somehow, I’ll find a way to fix it.