This year, my second novel – The Dame was a Tad Polish – is coming out. That I can say “second novel” still feels surreal. When Pro Se Press published The City of Smoke & Mirrors two years ago, it didn’t fully hit me until I held a physical copy in my hands. I don’t believe I’ve blogged about my history as a writer, but I’ve been writing since Grade 2. I’d like to think I’ve honed my skills since writing in crayon (with an accompanying picture).
Still, since The City of Smoke & Mirrors was released, I’ve listened to criticisms (my own and others), studied more about writing (and editing!) practices, and tried honing my skills.
That’s what I want to discuss.
Most creative types will agree that you’re your worst critic. You’ll look at past work and see things about it you wish you could fix. I’ve talked to artists who looked at their previous work and they’ll sigh, pointing out all sorts of little things wrong with it. I can’t draw my way out of a paper back, so I never see what they see. I see the same thing happen to many writers. In hindsight, they’re almost ashamed of mistakes they’ll make. They’ll smack their forehead and say, “How the hell didn’t I see that the first time around?!” or “Why didn’t I think of this at the time?!”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m still very proud of The City of Smoke & Mirrors. I can’t help it. It’s still my first novel. But I look at it now or even think about it and see an assortment of things I wish I could fix:
-How the hell did I misspell “coach” as “couch” (or vice versa)? I take pride in my spelling, especially homonyms.
-Holy Hera, the book is crowded. I think I juggled too many characters. There were over a dozen potential suspects for The Buzzard. Then I added Don Komodo and his cronies; and some of The Buzzard’s rogue gallery; and the side characters like Gloria Charbar and Reg Reginald; and Dill’s supporting characters (including appearances from both of his adoptive parents!). That’s a lot of people stuffed into 80,000 words. I mean, good lord, it’s a miracle you can follow what’s going on.
-I have to wonder how many comic book fans got sick of all the Batman references I made throughout the book like all the police officer’s named after various Batman creative teams. Even things like Warehouse #27, referencing Batman’s first appearance. I used to love seeing those little references, but now they feel hollow. They’re cute, like fan service than have any kind of real meaning to the narrative.
-The syntax errors. My friend Brad said that I have a particular way of speaking that’s maybe a little hard to understand at times. He said that comes through in my writing, too. The biggest criticisms against my first novel were syntax errors. Basically, the juxtaposition of words or phrases in a sentence are jumbled in a way that makes its meaning jumbled. Grammatically, there’s nothing particular wrong with the sentence, but it could be written clearer.
-The first few chapters, while certainly fun and introducing the reader to Dill’s world, are superfluous to the main plot (The Buzzard). It’s not until the third or fourth chapter that I really got to the main mystery. When I wrote the first three chapters of Dame, I fell into that same mistake. Instead, I actually removed the first two chapters entirely and started with what hooks the story: a dead body.
-I’d mentioned the crowded characters. That made it all the worse in that ending. How the hell can that many people even move in a small room? Gah.
-And then essentially a deus ex machina appearance by a character who only appeared once before and didn’t appear to have any other connection with the villain. Really should’ve simplified that somehow.
Looking back, I think I tried to do too much with the book all at once. It’s too dense, and not in a good way. I’ve learned a lot about editing in the past year, as well. It’s helped make my writing clearer.
That said, my first novel is still action packed and funny. It seems City’s biggest takeaway is its humour. One reader told me, while reading it to their husband while he drove, he had to pull over just to laugh. That’s a huge compliment. It’s probably my favourite compliment I’ve received for the book so far.
But it still has issues that, if I were to write it today, the book would be much different. It’d be more focused. The Dame was a Tad Polish is actually shorter, at 60,000 words. That’s the preferred length my publisher wants for their books. For me, I think it’s helped me stay focused on the story rather than get lost in a sea of complicated narrative.
We’ll see what people think when it comes out. Personally, I can’t wait to hear the criticisms so I can further improve my writing for the next book!