Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Writing Update, Deep Thoughts

Just thought I'd catch you up on my writing endeavors. (Free tip of the day: don't ever have a child character in a book say the word "endeavor" - I only use it because I'm extraordinarily smart.)

As mentioned previously, I got a little behind my goal pace because of the rewrite for THE MAZE RUNNER a couple of weeks ago. This worried me, and I almost adjusted my schedule. But alas, I'm much too anal for such a thing, so I worked extra hard the past week to catch up. The book now stands at 77,125 words, and the First Draft will definitely be done by February 13th as originally hoped.

In fact, probably sooner. This happens to me on every book. When I get to my favorite part, which is always, always, always the last 20% of the story, I go nutso. It's all I can think about and I work on it whenever I get the chance. I bet I'm done by the end of next week at the latest.

Once the First Draft is done, I'll probably spend a good month doing revisions and rewrites. Then comes the ultimate test. The Wife will read it. I'll make her changes and then send it off to some trusted writerly type friends. I hope to turn it in to my editor in early April, which will be a little early on my deadline, which is why my editor loves me much more than her other authors. (Right, Lisa?) The book is scheduled to come out in March of 2009.

I have to admit, I'm getting very nervous as the release date for Book 1 approaches. I hate when I think about it before bed (which is every night darnit) because then I can't go to sleep. Nothing is predictable in this industry. If there was a magic formula for a bestseller, we would only have bestsellers.

Sure, all signs are good so far. Positive reviews, positive emails from librarians and booksellers who received ARCs, strong pre-sales from the likes of Borders and Barnes and Noble. There's the way awesome thing with Borders sending out the teaser chapters in their Education Week packets. Other good stuff.

But still, it doesn't mean anything if the book doesn't catch on and create word of mouth. Word of Mouth is king in the book industry, and if you don't have it, you won't make it big. So, I hope and wait, trying very hard not to worry about it. And to sleep.

Now, having said all that, I assure you I'm not Mister Mopey Mope. I'm about as ecstatic and grateful and enthusiastic as you can imagine. I'm also very encouraged and optimistic. The greatest compliment, in my opinion, from the Kirkus review was the suggestion that I am "plainly in tune with today's fan base." I truly hope they are right because that's the only thing I care about.

And let me tell you why. This is going to sound like a 9 on the old cheesy scale, but the thing I love most about being an author is visiting schools and encouraging students to do great things with their life. And to help them have fun, and associate fun with reading. And if this book does well, I'll be able to do that for the rest of my life.

So, here we are, here I am. The Change the World Tour starts in just over a month. A month after that, we'll know a lot more about how things are going in terms of sales. Until then, nanu nanu. (not sure why Mork from Ork just popped in my head, but there you go)

Look for a new Q&A soon.

Also, something's wrong with the 13th Reality website - you can't see all the tour information. Pretty sure they're working on it. Have a great day!

Friday, January 25, 2008

First 2 Weeks of Tour

I'm happy to announce the first 2 weeks of my tour in March! The full schedule of where the book signings will take place is located at http://www.the13threality.com/ (it may still be constructing, but some of it is there). Also, I don't have the list of schools yet, but will post that soon.

Anyway, I will be in Richmond VA on March 3rd and 4th.

Atlanta GA on March 6-8.

Mesa AZ on March 10th and 11th.

Salt Lake City on March 12-14.

In the following weeks I will be visiting Orlando, San Diego, Spokane, and Idaho Falls, but the dates are not yet confirmed. If you'd like me to come to YOUR hometown, send my publisher a message through the same website listed above! I'll be doing a lot of touring this fall as well.

I'm meeting with my publisher today to discuss the presentation I'll be making at all the schools (we'll be doing 3 or 4 every day of the tour). We're calling it the Change the World Tour, with the basic message that we can accomplish anything in life if we work hard enough. Even change the world. (and, of course, there'll be lots of funny stuff)

One other note: we received another nice review, this one from ForeWord Magazine. It's kind of long, so I'll post it in another entry soon. But it's very positive.

I hope to see some of you on the tour!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Kirkus Review

Yesterday we got our first review back from a major book reviewer, Kirkus. I'm very happy with it, mainly because this is the first time in my career I've been reviewed by one of the "Big Boys" and it just seems kinda cool. Especially since they didn't rip it to shreds! Let me know what you think.

Here it is:


A boy . . . a mysterious letter . . . twelve clues . . . a girl . . . a dad . . . two very strange strangers. These are just the basic ingredients in this adventure served up by Dashner in what is the start of a series that will capture the imagination of young and old alike. Atticus Higginbottom (Tick to all who know him) is smart, well-adjusted and something of a loner at school, preferring his family, the library and the Internet to his classmates. So he’s surprised to receive a letter postmarked in Macadamia, Alaska, from someone he’s never even heard of. But he’s intrigued and makes a commitment to join with his correspondent to “save many lives.” Though there are chunks of text that are overwritten, the telling is generally laced with a strong sense of humor and a sure hand at plot; the author is plainly in tune with today’s fan base. Let the adventure begin! (Science fiction. 10-12)

Friday, January 18, 2008

My Little Dude is Here!

A lot of authors say "My baby is here!" when they get copies of their book in the mail. That sounds a little too feminine for me, so I went with the whole little dude angle.

Anyway, needless to say, I was very ecstatic and looked at it for an hour straight. My wife took these pictures for me.

I really love the "13" imprint thing on the front cover of the actual book. They were going to inlay it with silver, but thought it would look more mysterious like this. It's really cool, because you kind of have to tilt it in the light to see it.

Anyway, it's fun to know they're printed and will be on their little way to warehouses and bookstores soon.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Q&A: Lessons From a Rewrite, Part 1

As I said last week, I've been working on a rewrite of a book I wrote 2 years ago called THE MAZE RUNNER. It's the book that got me an agent but didn't sell. Well, a month ago, I got a wonderful editorial letter with suggested changes, asking that I only rewrite the first 50 pages and they would consider me for publication.

This is a different publisher than the one for THE 13TH REALITY (coming in March!). It's a long story, and I'll tell it if the thing actually sells.

Anyway, I was shocked, mortified, petrified, bamboozled, and stinkified to see how poorly the original version of MAZE was written. At least, poor compared to the strides I've made in my writing the last couple of years. The editor nailed everything, and I basically rewrote 80 percent of the old stuff and added a bunch of new stuff. This may be a multi-parter post, but I thought I would share some of the lessons I've learned from this rewrite: things that are vital to a good story.

And note: I'm doing this before having any clue if the new version is good enough to be purchased by the publisher. Also, there's really nothing new here, just lessons that hit home for me. So take it for what it's worth.

LESSON NUMBER ONE: Differentiate your characters.

This book is about a bunch of boys who have been sent to live in a massive complex that is basically a big maze. Think ENDER'S GAME meets LORD OF THE FLIES meets HOLES, three of my favorite books. Throw in a little LOST, too. It's all a vicious and cruel experiment, but I won't get into the plot too much. Back when I wrote it, I wanted to make the characters really cool and funny, rebellious and hot tempered. I failed miserably.

What I ended up with were lots of boys with the exact same personality. None of them had distinguishing traits, quirks with their language, odd habits - nothing to make one different from another. My friend said it was like I'd stuck a whole bunch of Jimmy Finchers in this place, and they'd all melded together. And, as my agent said later, they sounded like an adult trying to sound like a hip kid. It was awful.

In the rewrite, I worked hard to correct this. One character is now hot tempered, speaks with a lot of slang, has no compassion for the new guy, business is business. Another character has kind of a strange scottish/jamaican mixed way of speaking, is easy going and kinder than the rest, sharp as a tack. Another character is short and fat, a smart aleck, tries to speak the cool slang but messes it up, wants everyone to be his friend. Etcetera.

This is something I'd improved on from JIMMY FINCHER to THE 13TH REALITY, and I was glad to implement it in MAZE.

LESSON NUMBER TWO: Develop the mystery/plot with patience.

Hoo-boy, is this a lesson that took me a long time to learn. Brandon Sanderson once told me something he notices with many beginning/amateur writers: their book timeline takes place in just a few days, maybe a week or two. In other words, they rush the story. Guilty as charged. All four of my Jimmy Fincher books, combined, take place in about 3 or 4 months.

I did much better with 13TH, and my rewrite of MAZE as well. The original version had this huge information dump near the beginning, where one of the blah characters takes the new kid aside and explains how everything works, why they are there, what to be afraid of, etc. It was awful.

I scratched it completely, instead having some of those same questions answered in the first 50 pages as he experiences the many cool and mysterious things about this Maze place. I left others to be answered later. In fact, take it one step further. To accomplish this in my first rewrite draft, I had the leader tell the new kid that he couldn't ask any questions, like it was a rule.

My wife kaboshed that, saying it was the classic case of TELLING not SHOWING. So instead, I created even more mystery and frustration for the main character by having him ask questions, but not really getting answered. Things happen to interrupt him, people hesitate, people change the subject, people get angry with him. My wife really helped make it better.

I forced patience into the story. I added details, in-setting dialogue, cool elements that weren't there 2 years ago. What originally happened on Page 37 now doesn't happen until Page 52. And it's much better, I think.

LESSON NUMBER THREE: Build the world with language.

The editor really nailed this one. Here these kids have been living in this other-world type place for years, and yet they spoke like snotty nosed brats at your local middle school. It was awful. She told me to invent slang and a way of speaking - something that would've developed there after different races and cultures mixed together.

This was a lot of fun for me, and I can't believe I didn't do it the first time around. The best way to show this is for me to give you an example. Then I think we'll be done for now.

The book begins with a new kid (Thomas) being sent to the Maze. He's sent in what's called The Box, a dark room that opens up after a long time, light blinding him. His first experience of the new place is a bunch of boys looking down into the Box, pointing at him and talking over each other. I showed this with a quick string of dialogue without markers. Let's do a Before and After.


He heard noises above—voices.
“What does he look like?”
“How old is he?”
“He looks like a stick in a t-shirt.”
“Hurry and get the poor kid out of there.”
“Ah, man, it smells like feet down there!”
“Did they send anything else with him?”
“Welcome to paradise, sucker.”
“Hey, Newby—hope you enjoyed the one-way trip. There ain’t no ticket back, Greenie.”


As panic squeezed his chest, he heard noises above—voices.
“Look at that shank.”
“How old is he?”
“Looks like a bricknick in a tango.”
“Nah, snipjaw that. He’s a slopper, sho?”
“Whacker, it smells like feet down there!”
“He’s a track-hoe, you kish?”
“Welcome to paradise, baka.”
“Hope you enjoyed the one-way trip, sho? Ent no ticket back, Greenie.”

These words, and their meanings, are developed and consistent through the rest of the story.

Well, there you have it. There's more, and we'll get to it later. But I hope this can help you in some way avoid the mistakes I made the first time I wrote MAZE. Have a great day!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Less than 2 months to go!

Howdy blogger type people! I've been really busy this week, working hard on a couple of projects. Thought I'd give you an update.

Without falling behind on my pace for the sequel to my upcoming book, I've also been working hard on completely revamping the first 50 pages of a book called THE MAZE RUNNER. If you go back and look at the recap of my author journey, you'll see that's a book I wrote 2 years ago, and the one that got me an agent. Well, it ain't dead yet!

I got an editorial letter from Mirrorstone Books - a wonderful letter that flat out nailed what needed to be fixed. My highest praise to the editor, Stacy Whitman. Anyway, based on how much my writing has improved (evidenced by an ARC of THE 13TH REALITY they'd received) and on how much she loves the story of MAZE, I was asked just to rewrite the first 50 pages and they'd make a decision.

Now, this doesn't mean squat yet. But I did rewrite it, and it's about 563 times better than the old one. It was painful to go back and read the old one, actually. In fact, I really need to do a post soon about the differences. A lot of valuable lessons.

My agent is reading it now, and we'll probably submit it with a revised synopsis next week. Cross your fingers!

Also, I received a copy of THE 13TH REALITY on CD for my review. The guy doing the reading is named Mark Wright. Now, I've never met this dude, but let me say this: He is now officially in the coveted Top 20 People Most Favored by James Dashner List. I won't say who was bumped.

It is AWESOME! Truly, truly awesome. It's been very surreal to listen to, and I've loved every minute. Especially his voices, especially Mothball. She has an Irish accent, and he's so good at it I just kept laughing out loud with glee. I can't wait for this thing to hit the market.

One more thing. And this is really good news. Borders (the bookstore company) has ordered 15,000 of the teaser chapter booklets from my publisher to include in their Teacher Education Packets nationwide. I think they are going to do a special printing of them with the Borders logo on it.

Though I'm not sure how this will translate into sales, I can't think of anything that could work better to get the word out to the people who matter. And, of course, I'm just ecstatic that someone at Borders thought highly enough of my book to make this happen. There's word that Barnes and Noble is considering something similar. Once again, Chris Schoebinger (the product director for my book) has been proven a genius.

My author tour begins on March 3rd. Less than 2 months away!!!!!! I should have the schedule sometime next week.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The 13th Reality Website is Up!

Well, it still might have some kinks, but it looks pretty awesome! I especially love the journal look and that you get a preview of some of the inside illustrations. A hearty thank you to Patrick Muir and all the people at Shadow Mountain who made this site possible. You guys are amazing.

Check it out:


Let me know what you think in the comments, and please report any problems you may encounter. NOTE: if you can't see the whole thing, try hitting the F11 key.

Writing Update: 61,011 words and very excited to write the last third of the book!!!!!!