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Seven Stages of a Chesser Novel

by Shawn Chesser

Stage 1: Oh Crap! I promised what, to whom, when?

Like one of those well-dressed Sunday morning callers bearing flimsy paper pamphlets, this gut-clenching realization comes a’ knocking the moment my book release party is over and I’m shutting the laptop—“For a month, honey. I promise”—and pushing away from the office desk. It’s at that moment, fingernails making half-moons in the wooden desk top, I realize I have just promised to my readers a follow-up novel with a working title and, inexplicably—as if I had fallen victim to some kind of Jedi mind trick—the EXACT month I hope to publish said follow-up. So … now that I’ve gone and saddled myself with a self-imposed deadline—which is hands down the last thing this indie scribbler intended to do—I scream. Loudly. Into a pillow.


Stage 2: Pantser powers activate.

After flapping my gums at the release party, I’ve left myself no choice but to slink off to somewhere my wife won’t find me and covertly crack open the laptop. I’ve already coughed up the working title (on eleven of my twelve STZA releases the working title went on to grace the cover), so let the pantsing begin.

For me an exhaustive outline is a big waste of time. Instead, being a pantser, I start writing and let the characters, and perhaps a couple of serendipitous instances from the previous novel, dictate where the story goes. Being more than a little Type-A, amazingly, writing is about the only aspect of my life where I’m comfortable just flying by the seat of my pants.


Stage 3: Rise of the Naysayers in my head.

Now that I’ve gone ahead and run with one or more of the plot devices I’ve purposefully planted in the previous novel, I start to second and third and fourth guess myself. This excruciatingly painful stage usually begins at about the two-month mark when I’m at least 30K words into the first draft, and new characters I’ve really grown attached to are taking life. It’s now that the cold finger of dread trying to tell me I’m off on a tangent seems to trace my spine several times a day. And no matter my melatonin intake, the thunka, thunka, thunka of the out-of-control hamster wheel in my mind is beginning to deprive me of sleep.


Stage 4: Ahhhhh! The cover is all wrong.

It’s around month four and I’m about 80K words in when the stage four gut punch arrives. By now the cover has been commissioned. I am fully committed to the design, when suddenly I realize that the scene I had envisioned the cover to be representative of either will never make it into my first draft, or has turned out so radically different from what will be on the cover that I fear the army of internet trolls out there will catch on and (author’s privilege be damned) call me out for false advertising.

Since it’s too late in the game to change the cover, and I never, ever, feed the trolls, what does an indie author who doesn’t have a money tree growing in the back yard do?  He writes a good old-fashioned dream sequence. Voilà! Cover dilemma solved. Take that, nit-pickers!


Stage 5: Entering the Quicksand months.

Now it’s month five. My manuscript is barreling down the tracks and I realize, barring a complete rewrite, there’s no changing course. So I start to panic … a little. The hamster wheel is now full of rats—big ol’ specimens straight out of a city sewer—and the thunka, thunka, thunka in my head now sounds like a flat tire on a Mack truck going round and round.

If my current work in progress is slated for an early summer release, then we’re talking April and May, months in which my kids are involved in every spring sport save for the ones that are staged indoors where having my face parked in a laptop might go unnoticed. #NotWritingMuch

However, if my current WIP is slated for an end of year release, then the aforementioned Quicksand months are Noschoolvember (I coined that) and December—both big-time productivity killers.

The former is rife with teacher’s planning days that stretch every weekend to three and sometimes four-day mini-vacations for my kids. Throw Thanksgiving into the mix and I can count on two hands how many days my lovely offspring actually see the inside of a classroom.

While the latter, December, needs no alteration to remind me that during that holiday-laden month the classroom lights at my kids’ school are off way more than they are on.


Stage 6: Off to the editor.

I’m in the tail end of the Quicksand months and I’ve (hopefully) made my deadline and the MS has been sent off into the internet ether. Do I take a couple of weeks off while I wait for edits to come back? Nope. I’m already obsessing about whether I should change the ending or resurrect the reader’s favorite characters. Also I’ve started convincing myself my novel is craptastic and the beta readers hate it and the MS will return any moment from editor marred with red ink and retitled: WTF IS THIS?

Thankfully, over the years, only a couple of those beta readers failed to return feedback … and that doesn’t really mean they hated it … right? Maybe they were toiling away in their own Quicksand month.

Finally, just as I’m thinking the light at the end of the tunnel is a train, the MS comes back from my wonderful longtime editor, Monique Happy, and it’s not as marked up as I had feared. With my latest novel, “Abyss: Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse,” amazingly, I actually ignored my monkey brain and kept the ending as it was initially written. And those beloved characters … I’m not telling. (Cue evil laugh.)


Stage 7: Postpartum depression.

The release party is in the books and prizes are all mailed out. What to do? Relax as per wife’s orders? Nope. Post-partum depression has set in. It’s the malaise that I’ve heard hits a lot of us scribblers once our new baby has gone forth. For me, the masochist who has seemingly forgotten the last six months’ struggle, the only way to remedy the funk is to dig out the laptop and LATHER, RINSE, REPEAT.

Check out Abyss or begin the Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse series with the first book.

“GONE: SURVIVING THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE” is slated for (hopefully) an early 2018 release. Also look for “THE PROMISE”  (Book 1 in my new “RIKER’s APOCALYPSE” series) to publish late November 2017.

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Jay Wilburn
Jay Wilburn has a Masters Degree in Education that goes mostly unused since he quit teaching to write about zombies. Jay writes horror because he tends to find the light by facing down the darkness. He finds the journey through life easier by having you join him. Jay is the author of 2 series: The Dead Song Legend and The Great Interruption. He cowrote The Enemy Held Near with Armand Rosamilia. You can also find Jay's work in Best Horror of the Year volume 5 and Dark Moon Digest. Each year Jay has the pleasure of featuring many great authors in the genre through the Summer and Winter of Zombie blog tours on his website.

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One comment

  1. Joan MacLeod says:

    I love your STZA series and sorry you panic so much to bring your readers awesome stories….;) Keep it up and relax…easy for me to say right…lol..

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