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Musing: What’s Next?
I’m at that interesting point. My next novel, Sour Notes, is mostly complete, at least from my perspective, as it works its way to bookstores everywhere come June. It’s time I turn my attention to the next story—once I decide what’s next.
Don’t misunderstand. Plenty has to happen with Sour Notes yet. The line editor and the proofreader will both identify fixes that need to happen. Technically, I have to approve them. Practically, I rarely argue. A misplaced comma, a misspelled word, an incorrect tense, a poorly constructed sentence—I don’t fight such fixes. Unless I purposely don’t want something to follow the standards—and, yes, sometimes there is a good reason for that—I make the change and move forward.
That’s different from the process with the first editor in the chain—the content editor. Focusing on character development, storyline, plot, pacing, and description, Angie reads the story, reacts to it like a reader would, and asks open-ended questions. That back-and-forth makes for a better story. And, frankly, it’s fun.
But she’s finished. The technical editing is ahead. Layout and marketing follow. My involvement comes and goes, but my attention moves to the next project.
The most common question I—and most authors—get is “Where do you get your ideas?”
That’s never been a problem for me. Stories are everywhere.
A couple whispers heatedly at the next table in a restaurant. A spat between a husband and wife? An illicit love affair about to be discovered? An employee being fired by the boss?
An irate driver in the next lane shakes his fist and blows the horn? A criminal trying to escape from the scene of a crime? A parent hurrying home to a sick child? A worker about to be late for his shift?
And, yes, even a coyote loping along the side of the interstate at 4 a.m. as I drive to the Knoxville airport. That morphed in my imagination to a young boy struggling through a snowstorm but wanting to remain hidden like a skittish, wild canine. Did I know the backstory for Jaxon with an X? No. I saw only the coyote. And then the boy. The story came much later.
At a restaurant I frequented, a table of old men laughed and told tall tales as they kidded each other as men do. They met at that table every day. The same men. The same seats. The same breakfast. More or less, the same stories. Until one day, one of them was missing. Was he sick? Had he died? Or had something else happened? How would he explain his absence when he returned?
I didn’t know about Purvis Webb’s wife, Shelby, when I started picking at the thought of those men. Nor had I met his son, Wyatt. But the Liars’ Table came from those thoughts.
Much the same with Nathan Thomas from The Lottery. We’ve all known people like him, drifting through life without making decisions, just relying on luck—the lottery of life. What town we’re born in. What friends we grow up with. What happens to our parents. I didn’t know what would cause Nathan to take control of his life, to stop relying on luck, but it came to me.
And, yes, the same can be said about Freddie MacDougal, a man you haven’t met yet but who centers Sour Notes. I was killing time watching videos on YouTube of rock bands in concert. For everyone who made it big, I wondered, what about the ones who never quite succeed? What happens to them? How would their eventual return to their childhood homes go when they had never achieved stardom? Freddie finds out, and so will you come June.
But until you meet Freddie, I can’t do much more with him. Instead, I’m looking forward to the next book. I’m asking, “What’s next?”
For the past several days, I’ve been thinking about several characters. Interesting people. Some good, some not. All with flaws and all with good qualities. Flaws, after all, make us interesting.
But one is elbowing his way to the front of the pack. He’s jumping up and down, waving his arms, shouting, “Pick me. Pick me.”
He’s told me little so far. I’ve asked him his name, but he hasn’t said yet. But I know where he is in those first few pages. And I know something he doesn’t, because I can keep my secrets too. His world is spinning out of control and he doesn’t have a clue.
When he finds out, how will he react? Does he know a way forward? Do I? Or will we both be surprised?
Maybe he doesn’t make it. Maybe you never get to meet him.
But I think you will. Something tells me that his story will move forward.
So while you are reading this musing, I’ll be sitting in my study. Learning more about him. Asking him the most important question in a story.
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January 2024 Reader Survey Question
Until Next Monday
May you explore new paths to find your own what’s next.
If you have any questions or thoughts, drop them in the comments below.
See you next Monday.
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