A chapter a day for 80 days – how I learned to love Stephen King

A couple of July 4s ago I sat down to write a story about certain tensions in academia.

I had developed an itch, an annoyance , a bug, that wouldn’t let go. The only relief was to write about it, to put the problem down on paper and let characters grow and address the problem.

McCall_Smith2Being a fan of Alexander McCall Smith‘s fiction – particularly the 44 Scotland Street series and, to a lesser extent, the Sunday Philosophy Club series, I decided to do what I thought McCall Smith had done and broadcast my chapter publicly each day.

McCall Smith wrote for a newspaper, and I for the Web. Little did I know, until much later, that he wrote a bunch of chapters first, so that the pressure would be less on a daily basis.

I, foolishly, promised a chapter each and every day, and so it was that at 5:30- 6:00 each morning, for 80 days in a row, without fail, I wrote a chapter of about 1200 -1400 words, and posted it on the web for one and all to read.

xI quickly garnered a small hard-core of Ideal Readers. They included Alexander Bogomolny, Adam Glesser, Sigal Gottlieb,  Sue van Hattum, and Nalini Joshi (shown below):


Feedback from these Ideal Readers was very valuable in keeping me going. It was also distracting, because at least one of them (whom I will not name) and my wife Linda, would make their own creative suggestion as to where the plot should go next. The problem is – I had no plot. There never was a plot, and there never was a structure.

Stephen_King3My writing method was, and is, to follow a suggestion of Stephen King.

I have never been a fan of Stephen King’s fiction. However, his book “On Writing” is, for me, THE classic book on how to write.

One of the things I recall King saying is that a book idea starts from a tension, a problem, something that needs to be resolved.

Characters enter the tale and engage with the problem. Their personalities, and their “plot” unfold as they engage, and I rely on my memory of people and situations I have known. I loved getting the characters into trouble and then seeing how they could work their way out.

In that sense, what happens in the book – the unfolding story – is as much a mystery to the author as to the readers. At least that’s how it was for me.

So, I transferred the chapters to PressBooks, paid my $100 to them, and downloaded my book in PDF and MOBI formats, the latter for Kindle.  The Press Books formatting and styling was gorgeous (IMO),

I took a cover photograph with my iphone at the Coffee Depot in Warren, Rhode island, and designed the cover in Gimp, following Create Space’s template.

I had to drop a couple of chapters because the book originally came to over 400 pages, and the spine and page margins need to be re-set: easy enough if I were using LaTeX, but somewhat less obvious – to me anyway – in Press Books.

CreateSpace, Kindle Direct, and Amazon have been great – not only for book production, pricing, design, and marketing, but also with a lot of other useful advice.  I joined Goodreads and am now a Goodreads author.  It feels great!

Next steps? Satisfy my Ideal Readers and produce a sequel, or, as my colleague Sigal Gottlieb rightly says: not a sequel, just a continuation of the ongoing story – just like life.

I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I enjoyed writing … and saluté Stephen King, maestro.