Tag Archives: novel

In Search of the Readers

This morning I put the finishing touches on Dust‘s second draft. Looking over it, I find the work still a ways from where I want it, certainly from where I originally envisioned it, but more experienced writers tell me that’s how every work will prove to be. Still, it’s a vast improvment over the first draft and, as debuts go, I’m exceedingly proud of it.

Publication is, I firmly believe, in this novel’s future, but one last, critical step remains: it must be read. So I’m looking for readers.

Over the course of writing Dust I have had many people who kindly read and proofed excerpts, and an ample helping of those generous folks’ suggestions have already been incorporated. This is the first time I will be offering the full, more or less complete text. The analysis and editorial help I receive here will be the final stage before publication.

So here’s the skinny. Dust is a big novel. Just under 170,000 words, clocking it at 540 manuscript pages. Now that’s not a true monster, nor even close to the largest most of you have read, but it’s no breeze-through-on-a-lazy-afternoon either. Size wise that’s around The Fellowship of the Ring, and quite a bit larger than both The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. 

I’m eager for editorial help from those who have the time and inclination, and how you want to do that is entirely up to you: you could directly mark up the Word file, I could set up an editable Google Doc for you, or you can even take a red pen to a printout, high school teacher style. You don’t even have to get all editorial, just reading it and giving me your thoughts on the entire work if you’d prefer, in whatever manner is most comfortable for you.

I ask only two things. Firstly, that readers have the time and willingness to read and get back to me in a relatively timely manner, preferebly a month, let’s say two on the outside. I’ll also be whipping up a list of questions related to some of my chief concerns about the current state of the novel, but whether you want to actually answer them will be up to you.

My second request, and this is the more important of the two, please be honest with your criticism. I need to know what is working and what isn’t, and by sparing my feelings in regard to something you don’t care for you’ll be doing me no favors.

So, if you want to read what I think is a pretty good story, and get your own copy when it’s published down the line, just contact me here on WordPress or Facebook, or email me directly at wesharpsmith@gmail.com.

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Updates

Between work and moving into a house–not to mention the million little unanticpated tasks those both bring–I haven’t been a prolific poster. I have managed at  least to remain an overall prolific writer, at least, and for an up and coming aspiring professional that is no small thing.

So then, what’s been occupying my schedule? In my brand new house is a brand new office, and from that wonderfully isolated work space I have nearly completed draft 2 of Dust. Ten chapters, or about 20% of the manuscript remains to be finished, and work is coming along nicely. After that I’ll need to recruit two or three readers to go over it (wonderful as my wife is, she can’t do everything), give it that last layer of polish, and than it’s off to be published. Easy peasy.

Heh heh; we’ll see. I’m very confident in it as debut though, no question on that. If you haven’t already, you can read the first chapter here.

I’ve also been working quite a lot on my second novel, Citadel. Despite the likewise single word title it’s not related in any way to Dust. In fact, where Dust is a sort of post-apocalyptic literary Western, Citadel is my take on the fantasy novels of my youth. An extremely low fantasy–as in no magic at all–it features multiple POV characters in a tight third person, as compared to Dust‘s entirely first person narrative. With all the characters, setting, and plotting, this one is much larger beast to plan out than Dust, but that work is going extremely smoothly. 

I’ve actually written roughly five chapters of Citadel so far, the second of which I submitted to the Spring 2015 Meacham’s Writer’s Conference for review. Well, I must be doing something right with this, because in it’s nascent form that chapter was enough to earn me the 2015 Ken Smith award for prose. I’ll give it another layer of polish before I throw it up for you, my darling readers, to peruse.

So that’s me, still trying to figure out how to balance the past few month’s productivity with keeping this site up to date. To be honest, self-promotion has never been a strength of mine. I have a difficult time envisioining Harlan Ellison, or Hemingway, or any of my inspirations having anything but contempt for the idea of promoting yourself, rather than letting your work do it for you, but hey; all those folks are dead or old, so eff ’em.

I’ve given some thought to a regular feature, maybe something a little lighter than the usual literary talk, to keep me engaged with you. I’d love to hear any suggestions you may have. Of course, nothing succeeds in America like success, so getting the novel finished and published must remain the priority.

Take care until next time and, as always, remember: words matter.


A Novel Approach

I’ve been a writer of some variety or another for most of my life. In school English and everything in its orbit came easily to me, and I was that annoying kid who on the first day of a new grade had read everything required by the summer reading list and then some. Never a good student generally, but I could pop out an essay or ace a word question (plague of most math students, but my panaceas) nearly without effort.

Studying English in college brought the first simmering bubbles of a thought to perhaps pursue writing professionally, but it would be quite a while yet before that urge came to a rolling boil. It was the publication of a short story in early 2012 that crystallized the real possibility of being a professional writer. Concurrently with that realization, I began work on my first novel.

It actually began as a novella, predicated on three ideas, one conceptual, one egocentric, and one that seemed at the time rational and measured, but now looks hopelessly naive. The concept: the post-apocalypse’s first novelist. The ego: most male writers are weak at writing female characters, but I was going to have a female protagonist. The naive: this was going to be easy.

Well the concept came easily enough, even expanding with far less effort than I expected (more on that at the end of this paragraph). The ego, I say in all humility, was actually right, because if you asked me now to pick my premiere novel’s greatest strength I wouldn’t hesitate in choosing my protagonist and her voice. But that third, shifting little shit of an assumption? I don’t need to tell any of you fellow novelists–at whatever stage of your own work you might be–that it was very, very wrong. In fact, the very first blow to the assumption came in light of the concept, as it became clear very quickly that there was no way this story would be told in the under 50,000 words of a novella.

Ah, but naivety was not done with me yet. “Oh,” it said, “well it’s not as if a novel will be that much harder than a novella.”

Wrong. Writing a novel can be easy, in the moment. But it’s not when writing’s easy for you that it matters, it’s when it’s hard. When you don’t want to write is when you must, otherwise you move at a sluggard’s pace, which feeds doubt in your capability to tackle the whole monumental enterprise, which in turn fuels procrastination, which slows you down, which feeds… you get the idea.

My first idea, the concept which had seemed so strong and supportive initially, now seemed at times to have grown fangs and turned on me. Every time I sat down to write it seemed like there were more ideas, and the length just kept increasing, which made the whole thing feel ever more insurmountable. It sometimes seemed as if the finish line receded further and further the faster I went. At times I flagged. There were stumbles, days when I set my laptop down with my coffee cup still half-full and warm. There were probably more hundred word days than there were two-thousand ones.  More than once I paused for weeks at a stretch, my characters stuck in a moment while my creative fields lay fallow.

Looking back on it now, though, I see how I was growing as a writer. What I took as a receding finish line was, in fact, my capabilities growing ever so gradually towards my ambition. My talent and my craft moved in tandem with my novel.

It took me a shade under three years to finish Dust. In the moment that seemed an arduous, stagnant swamp of time. With a little research I see now that it’s about average for a debut novel; one that actually gets finished, anyway.

I wrote some short stories even as I worked on the novel, including most of those featured on harpsmith.net. Yet as I went on I wrote more on Dust and less on anything else (including this blog). By the last few months all of my efforts were on the first novel, excepting those times I was slacking off to work on concept for the second one. More on that in a bit.

A while back I wrote a post here about the emotional highs and lows of writing as an artistic endeavor. What I realized as I wrote, even when I lay fallow, was that Dust had taken on a new dimension from that wonder drug sort of aspect: it had become the physical–well, electronic, but you know what I mean–embodiment of my desire to be a professional writer. When I worked hard on it it was because I had the passion, the drive it would take to make way in this notoriously tough field. When I wasn’t it was because I was weak and worthless. Most of the time I was somewhere in between, and I suspect that is, in fact, precisely where the majority of work on the majority of novels has gotten done.

Dust, this novel I have at last finished, might not be great literature. It’s certainly not bad, but I doubt it’s great. What I do know is that the next will be better. And the third? Well, that one might actually be good enough for the old noodle.

I encourage you to check out the first chapter, already posted here.. In the weeks ahead I intend to post a nice, tidy list of what I’ve learned from this first novel, and how that has affected Citadel, the upcoming second. Suffice to say, progress on that one is coming a whole lot faster and in a far more organized fashion; I’ll have a preface chapter up before you know it.

As always I’d love to hear your thoughts, and remember: words matter.