It’s time to start lining up beta readers for THE GAMMA SEQUENCE, my latest novel.
As a beta reader, you get to read the whole book first and offer feedback.
I am reviewing it one last time right now today, then the call goes out.
You’re gonna love this story.
Some secrets refuse to remain hidden.
Geneticist Lanaya Kim must do what authorities haven’t—tie together the “accidental” deaths of several prominent scientists around the country to show they were actually murdered. Over the past two years, geneticists have died in what appear to be accidents, but Lanaya knows otherwise. If she tells her secrets to the authorities, she risks becoming a suspect or revealing herself to the killer and becoming an open target. Hiring private investigator Hamilton DeShear may help her expose the truth, but time is running out. The murders are happening faster, and Lanaya’s name may be next on the killer’s list. But when Lanaya and DeShear start probing, what they discover is far more horrifying than anyone could ever have imagined. (119 words)
Wanna be a beta? Contact me HERE. Limited availability. You’ll need to start reading within a week of receiving the manuscript, which will probably go out later this week, and finish with any feedback and comments to me by May 10 (or sooner if possible).
Yep. Gang, I wrote an 80,000 word medical thriller novel in 36 days.
And it’s really good!
I was once again invited to contribute a novel for a box set with a group of USA Today bestselling authors and New York Times bestselling authors.
The Gamma Sequence (a.k.a. Kill Switch, its working title) was started the morning of February 26, 2019
by kicking around medical thriller plot ideas with Jenifer Ruff (after telling her I shouldn’t do it) and Allison Maruska.
By 8pm the next day, I’d sent Jenifer, who would serve as editor this time around, the first chapter of the story to review.
15 days later, I had written 17 chapters and 36,969 words of my first medical thriller,
with roughly 12 plot points to go and a goal of finishing the first draft by the end of Spring Break, Sunday March 24th. (At that time, I estimated the final length to come in at around 60,000 – 65,000 words, it seemed it would be completed in about 26 days—just over 3 ½ weeks.)
I finished writing the book on April 3 at 11:15pm, 82,000 words in 36 days, just over 5 weeks.
Now it needs to rest for a week so I can look at it with fresh eyes, and then I’ll be ready for beta readers to have a look at it.
Here’s the tag line and blurb (subject to change based on beta reader feedback):
The Gamma Sequence
Some secrets are too big remain hidden.
Geneticist Lanaya Kim must do what authorities haven’t: tie together the “accidental” deaths of several prominent scientists around the country to show they were actually murdered. Over the past two years, geneticists have died in what appear to be accidents, but Lanaya knows otherwise. If she tells her secrets to the authorities, she risks becoming a suspect in the crimes, a problem that Angelus Genetics wants squashed, or revealing herself to the killer and becoming his next target. Hiring private investigator Hamilton DeShear may help her expose the truth, but time is running out. The murders are happening faster, and Lanaya’s name is next on the killer’s list, but what they end up discovering is more horrifying than either of them could ever have imagined. (116 words)
So, how did I do it?
And what happened as a result?
Well, one result was I wrote an awesome medical thriller.
Before I started the project, I wondered if I’d be able to get it done in time. The box set required a novel by early May 2019, and I was talking about the idea in late February 2019! But my 90,000 word murder mystery Double Blind was written in six weeks, so I knew it was possible. Many people think Double Blind is my best work.
I knew I could write 30,000 words in six or eight weeks, but…
I had my Young Authors Clubs getting ready to finish their books, which I read, edit, and format for publishing; and I had two editing projects waiting, so that was gonna be a big time consideration—plus, I didn’t know enough about the medical thriller genre to be certain I’d deliver what the fans of the genre expected. I had to finish a solid story with enough time to let it rest before I started revising it myself, then have time for beta readers, then incorporate their input – and still submit it in early May as required.
Allowing for a month for beta readers to read and review, and a week of rest before a week of my own revisions, that ate 6 weeks of a short calendar. It was due in May and it was already late February. Half of that window was closed.
I kicked around an outline for a while and thought I had something good down that I could follow, so I started in.
THE “HOW” part 1
After a few days or a week, I thought I’d be able to knock out 30,000 words or more, no problem (the box set required a book of at least 30,000 words). I was excited to start, so to create extra time to get it done, I got up at 4AM every day and wrote for 2 – 2 1/2 hours before anyone else was awake. If you can do that five days a week, you’ll have 12 ½ hours of quiet writing time, PLUS whatever else you can get, like 3-4 hours on a Saturday or whatever. Because it was a short window, I also wrote in the evenings and on weekends. There was a problem that resulted from that, which I’ll address in a moment.
After 15 days I was about 30,000 words in and thought the story would it up around 60,000.
Probably a week after that, maybe two, I felt like I was slogging through the mushy middle. My critique partner was sending back chapters saying that she wasn’t maintaining interest as much, too. That was chapter 24 and 25, which will be shortened and revised. TIP: when it’s tough, keep going. You can’t revise what’s not written, and sometimes the chapters are hard to write because the author is addressing story elements that the end reader won’t need. That means the rough spot might be able to come out and not be missed.
(Above, more possible covers.)
As recently as seven days before I finished, I still felt like I was struggling with a few things. I had an ending for the main bad guy, and an ending for the secondary bad guy, and how I intended for everybody else to ride off into the sunset, but getting the three things to come together was tough. I just couldn’t visualize it in my mind. Ultimately I just started writing, figuring it will come together, and if not I’ll revise it. TIP: Get AN ending, then worry about THE ending.
THE “HOW” part 2
Ya gotta outline. Then you have a fun writing prompt every day, you know what to do, and you see your progress. Without an outline, this book absolutely doesn’t get done in 36 days. The outline doesn’t have to be all the details, but it had to have broad strokes. James Patterson says most “writers block” comes from not having an outline, and I agree. Another tip: try to get your entire chapter done in the 2 1/2 hours that day, or about 1 chapter a day. It’ll force you to keep the story moving, and as long as you write well, it’ll read well, too. TIP: Aim for chapters that are 2000 words or less, and go longer when it’s required. You can make your point in 1500 words and move on.
Now that it’s complete, I’m not sure what I was worried about
for two of those three final items. I figured out how to segue the two bad guys, and the ending is complete. It’s not completely polished yet, but it’s solid and it’s satisfying. It needs more splashes of emotion, and a few other tweaks, but it’s done and it’s good.
So what did I think?
I think when you dedicate yourself to a project like this, it takes a lot of time and all of a sudden six weeks have gone by and you haven’t done anything outside your office.
I think I tend to get more tired than I realize when I work from 4AM and use every waking hour to write – evenings, weekends, etc. – it’s okay to do but it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I get short tempered at times when I’m doing a whole book this way. Midway through, lots of people were noticing. My wife, for sure, but also my daughter, my critique partners, and probably friends or others who noticed but didn’t say anything. So I had to scale back. There were a few vacation days in there, but also a root canal. (I was smart enough to not attempt to write while on the pain killers.)
I think the revision process adds a lot of flavor and depth that isn’t consistently there in the first draft, and it’s important to do, but when you’re up and running and trying to establish a fast pace, writing fast and not getting bogged down in too much detail is good. All that depth may not be needed at every stage of the game, but after letting it rest and seeing it with fresh eyes, you’ll add what’s needed. If a CP says it feels rushed in places, or needs emotion added, or reads thin, you’ll fix it.
Finally, I think it’ll do well as a standalone, but I’m gonna consider whether I can break it into two parts and have it be part 1 and 2 of its own series, or if it has the ability to launch a series.
A few weeks ago, I thought the completed 80,000 word manuscript could be the start of a series.
Now that it’s done, I may be too tired to see four or five more books coming out of it.
And I can’t think of a good place to break it in two and have it be two books, so for now it’s going to stay one book.
Again, if you’d like to read The Gamma Sequence as a beta reader
is to figure out the things you’ve done that make your story less perfect, point them out, and try to help you figure out ways to correct them.
It’s also my job when I review my own writing.
I consider it my duty, what I would do for you and what I need you to do for me. Really giving it to each other straight so we can make our stories the best they can be.
It is a tall order.
CRITICISM and INPUT
It requires guts to tell somebody what’s wrong – with patience and kindness to do it in an encouraging and non-destructive way – and it requires time and energy to help them come up with a solution.
It requires fortitude to hear what’s wrong, even when delivered kindly, and it requires strength to accept the words of others who want to help you become a better writer.
You should also point out areas where you smiled or laughed, places where you went OOH! and anything you liked, but not just to be nice. You do it because the author needs to know what works and what doesn’t.
Fear, not ego, makes us weak and closes our ears to even the best suggestions.
Ego allows us to know that accepting good suggestions from others makes our writing better, and even if we took every suggestion from every source, our writing is still 99% our own.
MY JOB AS Critique Partner:
When I read your story it is like carrying a soft blanket through a thick forest. Anything that blanket snags on is something that needs to be addressed.
So as I read, if you misspell a word, that’s a snag. If you started three sentences in a row with a declarative noun-verb combination, that’s a snag. If you have a run-on sentence, or a character reacting before the action takes place, or a patch I want to skim, that’s a snag.
Anything that would potentially snag that blanket is what I point out to you, what must be pointed out. I will try to find them all, regardless of size, so your writing can be the best it can be.
I ask you do the same for me, so my writing can be the best it can be.
Together, we can become GREAT writers.
It is WITHIN OUR GRASP as humans.
It is LEARNED.
(Although we’ll let be fine letting people think we were born with the gift of writing.)
Once we can get the blanket carried through the forest without any snags, I know I’ve achieved The First Step of the First Priority of a Story
Never un-immerse your reader from your story.
In order to have a great story, readers have to become fully immersed, never pulling their head up to see the world happening around them but only flowing along with where your story goes and what your story does. They get lost in the world you created.
You need many things. An interesting plot. Relatable characters. Good pacing. On and on.
You must avoid mistakes. No typos. You can’t be dull.
When it’s right, readers know it.
You see it in movies all the time. When people leave a movie there pumped up after watching Rocky or they’re feeling adventurous after watching Indiana Jones. Where they are sad, crying their eyes out, at the end of Love Story or Dr. Zhivago or Titanic.
When it’s wrong, readers know it.
The Angry Birds movie, if you are over the age of ten. Finding Dory. Zoolander 2. Heck, just about anything 2. Independence Day 2, whatever it was called. The Johnny Depp/Through The Looking Glass thing where he wore all the clown makeup. Come on. Clown face? That’s awful on the cover. Nobody’s seeing that.
All the things we advise you to do – spell checking, trimming, grabber openings, cliffhanger endings – are the things that helpimmerse your reader in your story.
Your goal is to never un-immerse them.
Typos and run-on sentences and things like that all serve to pull your reader out of the story, even if only for a nanosecond.
Un-immersing your reader from the story is the ultimate sin.
The goal is to keep them in, so anything that takes them out has to be addressed.
Look, at some point you’re going to have to end a chapter. That’s a great place for the reader to say oh it’s time to make dinner – and then they get busy with a phone call and email and then the next day they have to work late and then the air conditioner breaks and then soccer practice starts and it’s their day to make brownies for the team – and your book never gets picked back up. I’ll get to it tomorrow…
A DAY becomes a WEEK becomes NEVER.
The third Harry Potter book still waiting for me. I got halfway through it because I took two airplane flights to go snow tubing. Killing Jesus took me four months to read because I read half of it in one sitting, got busy, and didn’t get back to the second part until four months later! And those are both good books. Anything slightly less and I would not have picked it up, such as Bird By Bird or The Hero With A Thousand Faces or any of a number of other books. Or movies I recorded that I started watching and never got back to. Or TV series with multiple episodes DVRed and every time I get a chance to start back up at episode three, I’m kinda sleepy and Kevin Can Waitlooks better. A month later, the folder gets deleted from the DVR in a fit of digital spring cleaning and no one notices.
Is that what you want for your story after all your hard work writing it? No.
So you have two goals. 1: Tell a great story, and 2: Keep your reader completely immersed.
That’s what makes writing difficult.
We can all tell good stories.
We can’t all tell smooth ones that readers stay completely immersed in. It’s hard work and it requires concentration and hours of furrowed brows, rewriting the same line four times and still hating it. It’s hard work to ACCEPT when somebody tells you to cut a whole chapter. It’s hard work getting up the courage to show your story to a critique group. It’s hard work to call local book stores and ask them to let you do a signing. It’s hard work = whatever you don’t like doing. (That’s TIP #3)
That’s why Hemingway said we are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.