8 Things You Must Do BEFORE Buckling Down to Write that Novel


It happens all the time. People read a crappy novel and think, hey, I can do better than that. A fraction of those people have an idea for a plot that potential readers might find interesting—if it’s raining. And a Tuesday. Because people love reading on Tuesdays, especially if it’s less than seventy degrees and the wind is coming from due north.

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A fraction of that fraction of would-be authors decide to sit down and plot the idea out. A fraction of that fraction of that fraction is able to fend off the inevitable self-doubt monsters whispering that the book is going to suck, and churn out a reasonable first draft. And, a fraction of that fraction of that fraction, of THAT fraction is able to outlast the procrastinatory distractions offered by the interwebs, members of their real-life family, and pesky employment obligations to COMPLETE a (somewhat) viable book.

1nv0qjIf that book happens to be bumped into on Amazon or *gasp* picked up by someone in a bookstore, it has a one in one hundred (okay, thousand) shot at being purchased, and even less of a chance of being enjoyed . . . by anyone. Because you know, how often does the wind come in from the north while the skies unleash a bit of rain on a Tuesday?

Having nearly accomplished the arduous task of completing a novel myself, I have compiled a list of the top 8 things you should do BEFORE buckling down to write your first book.


And hey, in advance, you are welcome.


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1)     Write your idea down on paper with a new, freshly sharpened pencil. It doesn’t matter it is has an eraser, because your idea is golden manna from heaven. You will make no mistakes here, friend. Be as vague or specific as you like. Already know how the book is going to end? Great. Write that down too. Look closely at your work. See the idea before you in all its splendor. Imagine the feelings of pride and accomplishment you will experience when you see this glorious idea come to light in the form of a book with your name on it.

2)     Make five copies. Smell the paper. Repeat the words, I am an author, over and over in your mind. Own that shit.

3)     Lift the first copy of your beautiful idea from the others, and crumple the paper into a ball. paper-1484048_960_720Listen to the sound of the paper crunching in your fist. Now, go outside. Light a match. And set your idea on fire.

4)    Drive the second copy of your idea to a farm. A hog farm is ideal. Rip your idea up into little tiny pieces. Rub the fragments of your idea all over your hair and your face. Take a deep breath. Inhale the scent of manure around you, and drop the idea into the slop pale to be consumed by the pigs.

5)      Rip the third copy of your idea into five perfectly even parts and mail a piece to Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Mary Poppins, and just for kicks, one to Satan himself. Never check your mailbox again in case the idea is accidentally sent back.

6)     Pack a bag. Do not tell anyone where you are going in case they (foolishly) try to stop you. Go for a walk. Do not stop until you come to a volcano. Drop the fourth copy in.nuclear-2123685_960_720

7)       Take the fifth copy to the ocean. If you live somewhere like Manitoba (as I once did), a lake will do. If you live in the Sahara, have someone Fedex you a f^%@ing conch shell, all right? The point is to listen to the sound of the water. Be at one with the liquid around you.  Tune yourself into the miraculous substance that first birthed life onto our planet. Now, fold your idea into a paper boat, whisper, “It’s not f&@!ng worth it,” and set your idea free.


8)     IF at the end of all of this, you find the desire to flesh out your idea in the form of a book is still too impossible to ignore, take the original piece of paper on which you wrote your perfect, unspoiled, pristine, theoretically block-busting idea and look at it closely. Bask in the perfection of your penmanship and the wisdom behind your prose. Tape it to your computer. KNOW THAT COMPLETING YOR BOOK WILL NOT BE EASY.  But, you are a rockstar, on the cusp of greatness. Because, even if your novel does suck, it never sells, and people leave their homes in droves for the sole purpose of making fun of you, when you finish you will have accomplished something that only a very small percentage of humans on earth have done. Writing a book.

And that’s pretty fucking awesome.

May the Gods be with you.


Deleted Scene / Old Souls

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Authors are often forced to cut entire scenes. These cuts are usually made in the name of improving the pace of the story as a whole, or to simplify an overly complicated plot. I’ve written many, many, (many) scenes for Old Souls that no one else will *ahem* EVER see, and that’s okay. Writing them helped me figure out what didn’t work so I could focus on what would.

That said, I’m hoping that practice helps.

Because Old Souls is a fantasy novel populated by immortal characters, figuring out where to begin the story was exceptionally difficult. And I can prove it. I have a thumb drive filled with twenty-seven first chapters . . . and thirteen prologues. When I finally decided on where to begin the book, I cut eight chapters, 30,000 painstakingly edited words, and hundreds of hours of work from the manuscript. Gone was the scene where attackers descended upon an ancient city, separating Lucien from the black-haired woman. The scene where Lucien lost his only childhood friend. The scene where Lucien’s dying mother revealed the truth about his father. And, the scene where Lucien flushes his anti-psychotics to discover who–or what–he really is.

The book now opens in the middle of a breakdown. A fire in a crowded bar, started by none other that Lucien Navarro himself.

Which I love, but still. Sigh. I loved some of those scenes.

On the other hand . . .

*Steeples fingers*

Maybe some of those scenes don’t need to hide forever.


traffic-286462.jpgI passed the cabs on my way out of the hospital, opting to walk home along the quiet streets. The cloudless sky revealed a glimmer of stars overhead. Too bright for the occasion. The farther I walked, the guiltier I felt. I didn’t want to leave my mother’s body in the hospital. I wanted stand by her bed, speaking for her while she couldn’t. I owed her that, at least.

The night was cold. My toes and fingers ached. Finally inside my apartment building, I lumbered up the narrow stairs to my door. Before the place had been sectioned off it was a house, constructed for one of the oversized families living in Charlottetown a hundred years before. The ceilings were low. As large as I was, I sometimes felt like a giant entering a dollhouse.

Earwigs scattered in the kitchen as opened the door. Empty bottles, pill containers and fast food wrappers lay discarded on the counter. Dirty dishes overflowed from the sink. I kicked my shoes off and made my way to the bathroom. Pulling the string for the light, I came face to face with my reflection in the mirror, seeing myself as Vi would have in the last moments of her life. I winced. The hollow circles under my eyes appeared darker than usual, potholing into the sickly puffiness of my heavily stubbled cheeks and neck.

The last conversation I’d ever have with my mother imprinted itself in my mind, cycling over and over until it was all I could hear, taste, and smell.

“Your father was paranoid. He thought someone was after him. The fear of being found consumed him.”
“Found by who?”
She drew a long, steadying breath. “The Rocks, I think.”
“The Rocks?” I asked, attention rapt. “Are you sure?”
She didn’t answer, beginning to nod off.
I didn’t breathe. I couldn’t. I touched her arm. “Could it have been the Stones?” I swallowed. “The Stones of David?”
“Yes. Yes. That was it,” she answered finally, eyes closed. “The Stones of David.”

How had Iris known about the Stones of David if my father had been crazy? While I’d ignored her warning before, I couldn’t do it any longer. It was clear the woman knew something I didn’t.

“That medication is hindering your ability to discern fiction from reality.”

Retrieving the clozapine from behind my mirror, I sat in the living room. I lingered a long time, staring at the refuse on the coffee table and scattered along the floor–empty chip bags, glass bottles, and pizza boxes, the uneaten pieces stale. I spun the pill bottle over and over in my hand, watching as the sun began to rise outside my second story window. city-573775.jpgThe world beyond my vantage point stood startlingly still. The streets were empty, except for the cars and trucks tucked neatly along the sides of the road. Even the herculean elms that loomed high above the cracked sidewalks and the manicured gardens the residents of Upper Prince Street prided themselves on were completely unruffled by wind. It felt as if the world beyond my little window was holding its breath. Waiting on me.

When people began venturing out of their homes and into the street, and the sun broke free from the horizon, I realized I’d been up all night, deliberating. I looked at the pill bottle in my hand.

Since I began taking the medication eighteen years before I’d learned to live with my illness. I’d maintained the control my father couldn’t, for my mother’s sake. But, what if I wasn’t sick? It was a dangerous question, one I buried years before. But suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to believe Iris; to believe I wasn’t alone, now that Vi was gone.

I walked to the kitchen. Rummaging through a drawer beside the overflowing sink, I fished out the rest of my pills to examine the bottles. Some of them were still quite full. I carried them to the bathroom, bowing bowed my head as I passed under the low doorframe.

Having dropped the bottles into the sink in a plasticky clatter, I retrieved one. I unscrewed the childproof lid while pinching the sides, an endeavor that was as habitually familiar to me as bushing my teeth. Twice daily, every day. Eighteen years. I closed my eyes, pouring the contents of the bottle into the toilet bowl. I took a deep breath and forced myself to look at the capsules floating on the water.

Emptying the rest of the bottles was easy after that.

My senses heightened. Blood rushed through my veins, charged with adrenaline. I felt as though I was alive, truly alive, perhaps for the first time in my life. When I pushed the yellowed knob, the sound of the flush sounded like a chorus to my ears, a prayer, a victory cry. The pills swirled round and around again before they were suctioned into the connecting pipes and down, down, down into the sewer. Then the water ran, the toilet stilled, and it was finished.

Looking into the mirror again, I noticed a touch of grey in my beard.

I’d wasted so much time.