"Mike Fuller of KEXP is testing the waters too"
Work is in the initial stages to produce an audio book version of The Just Beyond. I may or may not supply the voice talent myself, but since I've done audio production all my life, I thought I'd give it a shot. Here's a link to a demo of the Prologue. Just click on the blue note below to get the file off SkyDrive. Here's your chance to vote me in or out! And trust me, "out" is okay. Mike Fuller of KEXP is testing the waters too, and I'm pretty sure his chops would win in a fair fight. :)
As for the patch in this picture from the recording session -- don't ask what happened to my eye. Ask how I managed to go fifty plus years without hitting an eye with a drumstick BEFORE now. -mark
Where Did This Come From?
"parts of The Just Beyond can still bring me to tears"
Why The Just Beyond and not some other story to launch a hoped-for career?
When I sat down in 2012 and began drafting The Just Beyond, it was the book I felt ready to write. I knew, though, that it was a risky choice. For one thing, any time you express a perspective that touches on religion, you are going to draw some angry fire. If you openly question or contradict somebody's formal doctrine, it's going to be worse. If you construct a framework that clearly extends beyond liturgical canon, and does so in specific, intimate detail, well ... keep your head down. :)
But the risk didn't stop there. I knew this was going to be a trilogy, and I knew some people wouldn't want it for that reason -- most critically, some publishers and agents. A trilogy implies a story that is left incomplete in the first volume -- and why take a chance on an unknown author with a narrative that's not even done?
As the manuscript developed, a third hazard emerged. The Just Beyond wound up nearly 180,000 words -- almost twice the preferred length for a first novel, representing additional cost in both time and resources for a publisher to work with. It was ironic, because going in, I worried that I might not have enough plot material to produce even a novella. By the end, I was worried instead that 200,000 words wasn't going to be sufficient to tell the tale! (It would have been close. I cut out a whole chapter set in New Orleans that I dearly loved because I realized it wasn't necessary and leaving it in was not smart.) And, in fact, when it came time to submit the manuscript, a few publishers refused to look at it just due to the length.
It all worked out in the end, but I count myself lucky. These obstacles could easily have blockaded any commercial success. And I knew that when I started. Yet I believed in the story, lived in it, felt passionately enough about it to dismiss the dangers and pound it out. Because, when it came down to it, I was convinced the concept was strong.
I wrote The Just Beyond with an overriding objective in mind: to produce the kind of book I love to read. No story resonates with everyone, but I'm happy to say that for me, The Just Beyond fulfills that goal. In my eyes, no human endeavor surpasses the quest for meaning in life, the search for purpose both in our own existence and on the grandest cosmic scale. At its core, The Just Beyond is a story of that quest.
The Just Beyond is being marketed as a supernatural thriller, and it is. But it also delivers answers to the fundamental questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What am I "supposed" to do? And what lies ahead in the Afterlife, if there is one at all? These questions are powerful to me -- transcendent above all other concerns. And that is why, among dozens of viable story ideas, this is the one I chose to write first.
I don't claim that the Afterworld depicted in these pages is literally true. I'd be shocked if it were. But I do claim it could be. And I'm convinced the truth is, if not this vision, at least something equally profound. The universe is too massive, too beautiful, too packed with astounding surprises for anyone to claim they know with certainty what awaits beyond death.
"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader", I was once told. It struck me like lightning, and I've poured my soul into this book. Parts of The Just Beyond can still bring me to tears -- not because it's "good", which is not for me to judge, but because it's so personal. Without a doubt, it was the right story to do. If you read it, I hope it puts a smile on your face. And maybe a tear or two. :)
A Peek At The Sequel
I believe novels should start with a bang
I've been working on The Far Beyond, the second book of a trilogy, since shortly after finding a home for its predecessor The Just Beyond with 48fourteen. I set it aside for a while during the first book's editing, but with The Just Beyond's release a couple of weeks ago and the flood of positive reader feedback, the new book is back on the front burner with the flame on high.
The Far Beyond continues the story of Michael Chandler, this time following his journey into the dark reaches of the Afterlife in search of his lost brother Max. I've got it scoped out chapter by chapter, and much of it actually written, but for months I had been struggling over exactly how to open story.
I believe novels should start with a bang, and The Just Beyond does. But there is a certain amount of flashback early on, unavoidable given how essential Michael's life history is to later events. I wanted to tighten things up in The Far Beyond -- which will be a shorter, more intense book -- to keep the characters in riveting peril from start to finish. I'd thought up many options to accomplish this, but none of them quite captured what I was after -- until now.
Like the first book, The Far Beyond is a self-contained story even though it's part of a trilogy, written to leave readers feeling fully satisfied even though the over-arching tale doesn't culminate until Book 3. Still, for people who never read The Just Beyond but find The Far Beyond in their hands, some basic foundation from the first book would no doubt be helpful. Besides, many TJB readers -- quite possibly most -- will have forgotten key elements in the first book by the time they read the second, and will need a refresher. I wanted to avoid flashbacks as much as possible in serving these objectives, but as I thought it through, that proved harder than anticipated.
Then all of a sudden, kaBOOM! The answer came to me. Without revealing too much, the solution involves recounting the necessary background in the form of tense contemporaneous conversations. It's one of those things that makes perfect sense, except before you've thought of it. Having been enlightened in this way, the first chapter now zings just as I wanted it too. Book 2 is well on its way to being a crisp, compelling read in its own right, which was the whole idea.
Nobody would care about the book I'm writing now if The Just Beyond wasn't doing so well, and I am humbled and smiling over readers' reception so far. For that, and for the resulting interest that's building for the sequel, I owe a debt of gratitude to 48fourteen. The editing was long and brutal, but necessary, and I learned a great deal from both the publisher and the editor who handled my book. I feel like I'm writing smarter because of it, and I hope that discipline will make The Far Beyond a sequel worthy of your time.
If you haven't read the first book, grab The Just Beyond while it's still on holiday pricing, and post an honest review on Amazon and Barnes&Noble.com to help others who might enjoy the book find it. If you liked it yourself, keep watching here for news as The Far Beyond takes shape. :) - Mark
Be a Critic!
your feedback is more critical now than ever
The quote at left is emblematic of the comments I got while writing The Just Beyond with the aid of a readers group. The group helped me tremendously with ongoing feedback, chapter by chapter, on what was working in the book and what was not. That same invaluable counsel is helping to shape the sequel, The Far Beyond, which I am in the middle of writing.
Obviously, it's great to receive a positive response -- it makes the whole tedious and sometimes lonely writing process feel worth the effort. But the criticism is even more important. I'm confident in my general writing style, but I find it difficult to assess the worth of my work in artistic terms. I do my best to write convincing dialogue, set an exciting pace, and weave a plot that is both credible and full of pleasing surprises. But I never know if I'm succeeding until I hear it from someone else. And there's nothing like reader critique to point out where concepts are too vague, characters are not engaging, the plot is dragging, or I've missed the opportunity to resolve a certain scene in a more satisfying way.
Now that the book is out, there's nothing readers can do to make The Just Beyond better. But that doesn't make criticism any less important. In fact, your feedback is more critical now than ever. For one thing, your suggestions will help make books two and three of the trilogy stronger by helping me understand what I've done right and wrong. For another, I don't know about you, but I always read customer reviews before buying any product online. And even a lukewarm review can help identify something that's right up my alley, even if the reviewer themselves were none too impressed.
So I'm asking you -- you who have so honored and humbled me by taking a chance with The Just Beyond -- to make your voice heard. Comments entered on this site (bottom of the main page) will be published here, but reviews posted on Amazon and the other retail sites exert the most powerful influence on potential readers that an unknown writer can hope for. The good ones will bring in more sales, and the critical ones will make the rest of the trilogy better. So hop to it! Be honest -- brutal, if necessary; I need your candid feedback to give me a realistic perspective and your word of mouth to inform potential readers. Thank you for helping -- it makes a big difference, and I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. - Mark
What Does It Feel Like?
what I'm feeling more than anything is an enormous sense of responsibility
It's finally here -- The Just Beyond is scheduled for a firm ebook release date of Monday, December 9, 2013. It will be available from Amazon, Nook (Barnes & Noble), or directly from 48fourteen Publishing. YES, I'm excited. :)
So how does it feel to be poised on the brink of your first novel being released for sale? You'd think it might be a relief, and in some ways it is -- I'm certainly glad all the editing and waiting are over. But honestly, what I'm feeling more than anything is an enormous sense of responsibility. Partly that's because a product that has consumed most of my creative and emotional energy for the past two years is about to become available to lots of readers I don't even know, and I feel responsible to fulfill whatever hopes for entertainment and satisfaction may have drawn them to my book. There's not much I can do about that now -- this book is done, although it's very possible the two subsequent books in the trilogy will be influenced by reader feedback on The Just Beyond. But there is something I can do, in fact MUST do, with respect to TJB coming out -- promotion. Tireless, thoughtful, energetic, positive, appealing promotion. I've been preparing that for a while; I've got a large box of business cards with the cover image and web purchasing information sitting here waiting for the release, I've set things up for as broad a social media outreach as I can manage, and I'm coordinating with other people and organizations on the rollout marketing. And for all that, I feel tremendously, singularly responsible.
The book has been written, has been edited to a fine polish, has been packaged with lovely cover art and truly beautiful ebook formatting -- it's as good as it could have possibly been, given the constraints of my personal talent. But the whole purpose of writing fiction is to share a story with other people, hopefully to inspire and delight them and maybe even bring a tear to their eye. None of that will happen unless people actually read it now that it's coming out, and no one (well, maybe my mother) is going to buy it because of my name. Yes, I've sold a few short stories and I've been writing for quite some time, but as a novelist, in the marketplace I'm unknown and unproven. And while I can't make a single person buy, read, or promote The Just Beyond through word of mouth, it's my responsibility to do all I can to bring them to exactly those actions. And internally, this is a very big deal. Because I can live with the novel not selling well if people dislike the story or the writing -- I'm content that I've done the best I could on those elements. I can NOT live with a sense that the book failed because I didn't work hard enough AFTER the writing. So now, more than ever, what I'm feeling inside is a firm and not altogether comfortable compulsion to GET TO WORK.
Don't get me wrong. If this is a person's most pressing trial in life, feeling burdened by responsibility for shepherding a work of their own love and passion toward success, that person should just shut the hell up and thank God for the incredible blessing. And I do. Believe me, I do. This is a very emotional time for me, and frequently the past few days I've found it difficult not to just pace, thinking of all the things I need to look after. But that doesn't blind me to the realization of how lucky I've been. If The Just Beyond starting next Monday brings people some of the joy and comfort the writer intended, I'll be able to enjoy that blessing with a clear conscience. And regardless of what happens with the book, I'll never stop being grateful just to have had the chance. :) - mark
Official Cover Art Nearly Finished
a tangible first impression of how readers picture the story
You may assume I know the answer to the question at left. I don't. Not even in a broad sense. I do know what I gave the publisher as a few ideas, but not which, if any, they picked. I told them the only feature I considered critical was that the cover art express the supernatural nature of the story. I also said I liked the notion of a ghostly figure, as I had used on my unofficial placeholder "covers" on this site. But ultimately it's up to the publisher, they know much better than I do what sells books. And t's fun and flattering to have a professional cover artist involved with your work.
I'll be content with anything they do. I don't know if the artist reads the book first, or at least any passages that reflect the cover's content, but that would be really cool. Seeing the art in that context would provide a tangible first impression of how readers picture the story. But it's fine either way. I'm just happy to be in this position. :)
Yesterday the publisher introduced me, and the book, via their social media outlets. It's a fun time to be in their stable. :) - Mark
The Challenge of Originality
108 billion humans have lived since 50,000 BC
The details of the overall plot for the Beyond trilogy are reaching critical mass. Yes, I should be focusing mainly on the book I'm writing, the second volume in the set called The Far Beyond. And I am. But as that part of the story fleshes out, it necessarily creates ties to The Just Beyond and implications for the final book. And this is important, because it helps assure two things: 1) that the narrative will maintain an intimate, logical, and consistent flow, and 2) that I'll finish writing it. :) Even with publication of the first book, writing the other two is a daunting challenge. Writing is a struggle for me to begin with, and on top of that I am perpetually aware that one well-received book is no guarantee for the others, even as they follow the over-arching theme begun in the first.
With regard to The Far Beyond specifically, the middle book of a trilogy is often the weakest, and I'm consciously working to overcome that phenomenon. I mean, The Two Towers is entertaining and critical to Lord of the Rings, but it certainly lacks the excitement of The Fellowship of the Ring or the satisfaction of Return of the King.
Which brings me to a point about writing. Lord of the Rings is my unqualified favorite work of fiction, and its appeal sets the standard to which I aspire. An unfortunate side effect, at least for me, is a tendency to write something that parallels LOTR to an uncomfortable degree.
According to a calculation by Google, the total number of books ever published (mostly in the modern era) is around 130 million. The Population Reference Bureau calculates that a total of 108 billion humans have lived since 50,000 BC (equating to one book per every 831 people, which doesn't account for writers who produce multiple books). The arbitrary starting point makes this a dicey statistic, though: somthing like modern civilization is said to have commenced only about
10,000 years ago when the last great Ice Age ended, or even later with the Ancient Egyptians around 5,000 BC. On the other end of the spectrum, human ancestry can be traced to around 100,000 years back or as far as 2 million, depending on how you define human.
Which is a tedious and twisting setup for the statement that it's devilishly hard to come up with an original story. At the archetype level, every conceivable scenario has been written about over and over and over, and probably better than I could hope to do. How can one writer among a world population of 7 million generate something, if not a completely untried premise then at least a distinctive variation, that hasn't been done before? Even in heavily trodden, formulaic genres like Western and Romance, publishers want to know what makes your book stand out. And as a first-time author, you'd better have an answer.
When that question came, I told publishers that what distinguished The Just Beyond and its successors was a fearless depiction of the Afterlife. As noted on this site's home page, I aimed to transcend the prevailing approach of leaving the nature of the world beyond death "to the imagination". Nothing in fiction is more disappointing than a story that leads you down the garden path only to invoke this cop-out at the end. I've never read another book that handles this subject quite as I did, and my research didn't turn up anything too dangerously close...but how can you know for sure?
And in spite of my good intentions, that old compulsion to ape my favorite material seems to have slipped in while I wasn't looking. I began this posted not intendng to compare the Beyond books with Lord of the Rings. Yet as I consider it, some parallels pop out. In both sets the protagonist is an unassuming personality with empathetic and courageous tendencies, capable of extraordinary feats when called upon. Both tales begin with some necessary background and then launch a desperate, stealthy flight hounded by ghoulish enemies. Upon reaching a safe haven more of the plot is revealed, sending the hero on an even more harrowing path that results in a critical death. Powerful truths are revealed, unlikely allies emerge, formidable enemies are bested, and the most fearsome foe of all is finally confronted in an epic battle involving a sword of immense power. Prominent side characters are wed to their loves, and our hero sails off to a surprising but well-deserved reward. I never intended nor even recognized these shared elements; obviously my subconscious had the upper hand.
Ah, well. Any originality issues raised by my trilogy probably won't matter, since the first book has been judged viable enough to print. That's good, because I'm not sure I could do better. If I'm fortunate enough to develop a solid writing career, I'll certainly try. In the meantime, faintly echoing a classic is hardly the worst problem I could have. :) - Mark