To write a book and how my approach has evolved
Back from Seoul and my research trip, I’m ready to get back into the saddle and write a book. Although, this time, the process of writing will be different from the way I’ve written books before, different even from my latest project. Speaking of my latest project, Disease will see a Bookbub deal tomorrow and already, it’s climbing the charts, currently occupying the #55 spot on the Alzheimer category on Amazon. Cool!
How I used to write
When I sat down five years ago, writing Family Ties and – shortly after – Jonathan’s Hope, I was just writing, sitting at my office desk, typing in a frenzy, a blur. I don’t remember much of those days except that I wrote over 120,000 words in roughly a month. How that was even possible, I don’t know. Picture a dervish, a ginny, a crazy person typing away at his keyboard feverishly. Something like this…
Over time, my writing changed. From writing about landscapes I knew intimately (Family Ties) and make belief places (Jonathan’s Hope), I moved on to territory requiring research (The Fallen Angels of Karnataka), combining that which I knew (locales) with research online and with friends and family into e.g. the history of HIV. Willem of the Tafel demanded even more research, but I was still able to do it all online, rummaging through 1980s research into nuclear war and what damage the fallout would do.
How my previous two novels came to be
My writing has evolved since, and there’s no qualitative aspect to that. To write my erotic novel Ross Deere, I spent a good year just reading similar books and then loads of time talking to other authors who were writing similar books. While not my deepest book (no pun intended), it’s a book that required a lot of research into the depths of the human psyche, yet ultimately, I learned the most important lesson AFTER the book came out, something I should’ve known from my psychology days, i.e. the difference between how “men” and “women” (in the traditional cis-way) approach and experience sex. A valuable reminder.
When I wrote my latest two novels, Last Winter’s Snow and Disease, research grew, particularly for the former, and for the first time in my career I went on a research trip. At the time, the manuscript was almost finished. But I did go back and change a few details that were off. But for the most part, the book’s details were vague enough that I didn’t have to change much. instead, I added a few things, here and there.
What happens now?
This time, I did my research while the manuscript is only about halfway done. Still, lots of words to be written. Yet as I walked the streets of Seoul, as I looked at the pictures of a war-torn city, read the statistics over the number the dead, looked at panoramas of a 1920 Seoul compared to a more recent picture, talked to locals for hours, the novel began to change before my inner eyes.
I’ve never been in this situation before. It’s a bit daunting, not because I lose the way I’ve worked for years, but because I see a different book emerge than the one I thought I was writing. Rather than describing an old man’s life in his upstate New York retirement home, the novel will focus much more on the war and the gruesome effects of war on people, soldiers and civilians alike. And it’s scary because there are a handful of people in Korea who seem to believe that I’ll be writing this amazing book about their history. Someone even asked if it would be turned into a movie. No pressure.
When research changes a book
The new book will be different than what it was before I flew to Seoul. To write a book used to be about closing my eyes and listening to my inner voices. These days, to write a book is about tons and tons of research, hundreds of pictures, articles and walking dozens of miles on the hunt for the right impressions, the right information. And as I walked the streets of Seoul last week, I could literally sense how my brain was rewriting the plot, changing character dynamics. Hopefully for the better. For a while, I thought that Martin (the working title of my coming book) would be a more light-hearted story. After my research trip, I know it won’t be. While not as dark as Disease, a book about war is never lighthearted.
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