Thoughts on the Craft

There are times where I question whether or not I'm a writer.

After some analysis, it's obvious I am. Recently, at PAX South, I found myself repeatedly standing in line with my manuscript draped over one arm, a set of three pens settled precariously between my mouth and hands, editing the last 100 pages of The Faithful. I'd done that multiple times, but no one asked me about (I guess not that strange) and, at some point during the conference, started having a personal crisis as to whether or not I was a "writer." Only after some reflection that I realized that of course I was, but since I wasn't writing at that point, it felt like I was living a charade.

Recently, I've realized that I've spent far too much time on The Faithful. I know it. I've known it.

Several years ago, I swore I was on my final draft. I'd gone through multiple people in my writer's group - even gone through the entire thing over a six month period with them. Even had a couple writers look at it and go "It's good!" Got full and partial requests, got a ton of rejections, and even got a revise & resubmit. However, it took a Critique Partner matching service to have someone who knew nothing about the book, read it, then point out all the errors and the things I needed to fix. M. Weisberg has been an enormous help in helping me realize how flawed the novel that I'd been sending out was and how I could improve it. So, over the last nine months I've slaved and rejiggered the novel. At last count, I'd cut 6 thousand words and added 20k on top of that. So now, I'm sitting pretty at ninety-eight thousand words. I'm sure I've covered this before.

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However, it's now out with an editor that I trust, my wife trusts, and I'm sure will be able to show me where I've faltered again. But, with The Faithful in its final weeks, I've had to sit down and evaluate my other completed novels.

I've always considered editing my favorite part of the process. Writing is something that I have to do to get to the editing. I don't necessarily enjoy it, simply because I sit there and ponder all the possibilities and how doing this one action would affect another character and I have to make their journeys sync up and compliment each other. But I've realized I've just been editing the same book for the past six years.

Since The Faithful, I've barely edited any of my other books. I started with Between the Shadows, but quickly found that I'd grown as a writer and was only leaving maybe three lines per page (and that's being generous). I tried The Emotion Exchange, but I've quietly told myself that I'm going to cannibalize it for future novels. Then, I have the Magician, which I completed but then saw an opportunity to expand it . . . only to realize that, with it set in my shared universe, that it would affect all other books in the universe for 200 years at the very least. That would be fine, except that I have a cast of (quasi-)immortal characters whose stories would be affected, restricting my novels with them as characters. Even the mortal characters would feel the implications of the Magician. It's kinda like the Avengers (movie) problem: now that all these heroes know each other, why isn't Tony Stark showing up to help Thor when the Earth is about to be destroyed by Dark Elves? It's not like it's a minor event. So, I'm faced with (possibly) ripping The Magician out of my shared universe and adapting it into a completely new world, extracting it from all references to the gods of The Faithful.

In other words . . .

As you can probably tell, I'm more of a ponderous writer. I sit. I dwell. And, once I've got it figured out, I quickly turn around the project. My wife can attest to my writing process: it's a chore living with me during it. Because I will inexplicably show up, rip her from whatever she's writing (or watching on the iPad), then levy a barrage of questions at her about how these ideas might affect another aspect of the plot and can I really reconcile those?

What I'm usually left with is silence or a "I don't know what to tell you." It's a fair response. Even for novels that she's read of mine, I change things so often that she has trouble keeping track of which version I'm throwing at her.

So I guess the long and short of it is this: I need to edit. It's been far too long since I've actually sat down and worked on a new novel. And perhaps that is the scariest part. I've spent years turning The Faithful from a 67k word mess, splitting it into multiple novels, stitching those pieces back together, until I have something that now resembles a coherent narrative that I'm not sure I can do that all again for something I haven't lovingly thought about on-and-off for the better part of a decade.

That all being said, The Faithful will come out this year, one way or another.

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Justin D. Herd

Justin D. Herd is a purveyor of the weird and strange. He occasionally squawks at friends and family, but does so only under the cover of night. Okay, that's not true. He squawks in full daylight. Drinking games have been built around his peculiarities, but the truth of it is this: he is a loving husband, with two wonderful dem--children. One growls at things he likes, including pretty women. The other has started to learn hand-eye coordination. Neither had made it to the tender age of three. From there, things will only get more interesting. He spends most of his writing time either at a coffee shop or sitting at one of his many desks around his house. Any other place makes it nearly impossible for him to write. He uses horror movies and rock music to help get the juices flowing. His favorite authors are Jeremy Robert Johnson, Alan Campbell, Terry Pratchett, Justin Cronin, and Patrick Rothfuss. He consumes most of his books through audiobooks, but still loves his personal library and getting lost in the printed word.