My Writing Journey, Process and Some Tips for Other Writers by James McAllister
I write the stories I would love to be told, but no one’s told them yet. They end up being Science Fiction or Fantasy. I got tired of waiting for someone else to tell these stories. And I’m getting old so I need the room on my hard drive. My head is almost full.
I write to please myself. And anyone who enjoys what I write. The fact that so many people enjoy my stories is amazing, and very uplifting to me.
I began writing to pass the time I spend in airplanes, airports, and hotel rooms. I start with a general idea for the story, flesh out a rough outline of what the main characters will be like, than begin writing. The details fill themselves in as I write. It is very much like reading a book, with one great exception; when I get one of those ‘what if this happened’ ideas, I can make it part of the story! Now, how cool is that?!
Someone asked me the other day if I feel for my characters. Well, I find I miss them when the book is finished. I try to relate events in the book to events I’ve experienced, studied, or have some knowledge of. Since I’ve always been good with allegories, the rest comes easily.
Sometimes. Sometimes I get lazy, or just don’t have any idea what happens next. So I usually work on two books at once so I can move back and forth.
My latest projects are the third Starclan book, and a new book tentatively called “RODS.” Here is a brief look at the opening of the latter:
It always happens in a stinking back alley. And in the middle of the night on my watch. Cold and raining. Or hot and steamy. These things never happened in sunny flower studded meadows…
“Yeah, Kawalski, isn’t it? What do you have?”
“Double murders, Captain. The woman’s over here.”
Sergeant Kawalski pointed at the rusting dumpster and began walking in that direction. I followed.
The stench and steam rose with equal enthusiasm into the cold April night. The mist mingled with Kawalski’s breath and then mine when we reached the corner of the alley hidden by the dumpster.
“Caucasian female. Looks about 40. No make up, clothes are last year’s style. No jacket. Purse is right there, unopened. Stabbed eight times. Two in her back, the rest in her face, neck and chest. M.E. said she’s been dead about an hour.”
I looked at the woman, then up and around the alley. The entrance was about fifty yards from us. A streetlamp flickered just out of view. The shadow of the medical examiner walked towards us carrying a large bag. From the shape of the shadow, Dr. Lisa Martin drew the short straw tonight. Great. Just my luck.
“Where’s the other one?”
“He’s right over here, Captain.”
My eyes followed Kawalski’s gesture. I saw a dark shape against the bricks and the basement hatch. I’d taken two steps towards it before the M.E.’s flashlight beam lit it up.
I almost puked.
“Good Grief, Lisa. Next time, warn a guy, will ya. What did this?”
“Best I can tell somebody took most of him apart, a mouthful at a time. Not much left but bone.”
If her voice had been any colder it’d be snowing. Was that for me, or from this scene? Not that I’d blame her either way.
I looked back at the body. In places the flesh was pared down to the bone. There was no skin left, and his eyes were gone. Hell, his face was gone down to the teeth. The blood splattered on the wall and along the ground formed a path back to the woman. A big kitchen knife lay to the side about half way between the bodies.
“What? Are you saying somebody ate this guy?”
“I’ll need to run some tests to determine an official cause of death. But my first impression is that’s what happened.” She didn’t look up while she spoke. I don’t blame her for that, either.
I stepped back, pressing myself to the back of the alley. This didn’t always work, but sometimes it did. I took a deep breath. I let it out and began scanning the entire area, starting at the street and sweeping back to my feet. I closed my eyes and took another deep breath.
I opened my eyes as I let this breath out slowly.
She was sobbing as she ran down the street. Panicked, terrified. Blood was running from down her neck, thinned by the rain. She nearly fell when she turned into the alley. He was close behind her, knife held high. He caught up with her at the dumpster. He grabbed her, pulled her close. She went limp as he kissed her neck. Five, ten, twenty seconds he held the kiss before he pulled back. Twice the knife came down into her neck before she turned. He kept stabbing, twice more on her arm, twice on her face, then twice on her chest. I could feel the evil pour out of him as I watched the blood pour out of her.
He stood panting over her, hands on knees. His mouth was covered with her blood. He licked the knife and his lips clean. He stood up tall and smiled. Then he jerked back, as if he’d been hit. Blood fell from a hole in his forehead. He jerked back again, a second wound bleeding on his neck. He screamed as a third, then a fourth wound drove him back. Another strike, then another, then he was against the brick wall, sliding down, as chunk after chunk of him disappeared. Faster and faster, more and more chunks of him just… vanished…
“Captain! Hey, Captain!”
Lisa’s cry broke the vision. She was inches away, looking straight into my eyes.
The concern I saw there vanished in an instant. Kawalski stood next to her, looking puzzled.
“He’s okay, Sergeant. Would you be a dear and get me two more specimen bags from my car please?”
“Sure, Doc. You, you sure he’s alright?”
I didn’t hear Kawalski’s footsteps echo down the alley. I was looking into those gorgeous eyes. Just like before…
The stench from the dumpster and the blood wouldn’t let me sink into that memory.
I woke up one morning with this opening for the book in my head. It’s up to about 10,000 words now, I’d say about 10-15% into it. I never really know until the end.
I have the outlines of about ten books in my head. I thought I knew the order I’d tell them, but The Best Laid Plans came out first. It’s the second book in the Starclan series. Go figure! I wrote The Page when I got stuck on PLANS. The Page is about knights, wizards, and dragons.
I also wrote a bunch of short stories, usually late at night in a hotel room. I wrote them as an exercise, to see if I could tell a story in one or two pages. I published these right after PLANS, in a compilation called The Universe, Five Minutes at a Time.
After I published PLANS, I finished The Page and wrote The Turret, the first book in the Starclan series. I think The Turret is my best so far, but my wife likes The Page best.
I learned a lot while publishing PLANS. The single most important thing I learned was that you can never proofread enough. You need at least two other sets of eyes looking at your words. There is always one more typo to dig out! Find some good beta readers to give you feedback. If they are good, they are the best editing you can find!
Another important thing is to never respond to anything, anywhere that is negative about you or your writing. Another important thing is to never respond to anything, anywhere that is negative about you or your writing. This is NOT a typo, but it’s repeated on purpose. Because I responded on Goodreads, I was attacked by bullies. These bullies gave all my books a one-star rating without reading them. Goodreads would not do anything so eventually I left. I will not go back. It took me too long to realize it’s the interaction with you these bullies crave. They troll for responses. Ignore them.
Then get your writing proofread again. Yeah, it’s that important!
Be patient. Unless you have a few extra million lying around to spend on commercials and billboards, selling books takes time. Think of it as building a stone wall. You fit each stone into its proper place. You can’t rush it, or it won’t be strong. Take your time and lay a good foundation, and it will be!
Learn as much as you can about marketing. Then use it.
As for reading, well, that’s a lot like wine or a good single malt; buy what YOU like. It’s okay to read good but not great books. Not every book is Moby Dick or Treasure Island. Then be kind to the author and leave a review.
Now, I won’t say only leave good reviews. But I will say to leave a review that fits these criteria:
1. Your ego plays no part in the review-do not try to show how clever you are. Use your own writing for that. In a review, it looks like you’re being mean.
2. The review is not a book report-don’t give the plot away! Tell what you liked and didn’t like, such as the characters, the story line, etc.
3. If there is something you don’t like, be constructive in your criticism. Give the author something he can fix, such as grammar, spelling, or continuity.
4. Did you get your money’s worth of enjoyment, or more or less? Would you buy it again? Remember you are writing your review to help others decide on a purchase.
Thanks for listening to my rant. I hope it gave you some understanding of what I’ve been through. And I hope some of you enjoy the little excerpt.
Be good, have fun, and safe travels!
Hello! My name is James McAllister. I am a Registered Respiratory Therapist working in Healthcare Accreditation. I grew up and still live in Central New York State. My first novel, The Best Laid Plans, was selected on February 1, 2014 as a Runner-Up in the MARSocial Author of the Year Competition, the largest competition of its type ever held on the internet. My work takes me all over; I’ve been to 45 states, along with Bermuda, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Besides my work and my writing, my other interests include sports, history, computers, photography, Jordan The Wonder Cat, gardening, fishing, and scale model building. I have been interested in science fiction since a friend in Junior High School lent me the Lensmen Series of books by E. E. "Doc" Smith. This interest was further spiked by Star Trek, and then Star Wars.