It started with a thought, a feeling. “Preta’s Realm” came to life on a frigid night in Cleveland, Ohio. It was one of those nights when the furnace never turns off and yet you can still taste the chill in the air. I awoke around 2:00 a.m. and swore someone was walking around my house. I thought I saw shadows in the hallway and thought I heard the slight cracking of the oak floor in time with footsteps. I could have been dreaming. I could have been half-awake. It could have been a Gaki. I began to think of reasons why I might be visited by spirits. Not the Ghost of Christmas Past, but the kind that emerge from previous generations, the kind bearing witness or trying to save me from myself. I had peeled back the corner on a story that had to be told. Writers don’t create stories, they uncover them. They tap into the same creative space as painters and musicians; artists that channel work instead of birthing it.
From there I spent two hours a day for the next two weeks doing research on Gaki and Preta. These “hungry ghosts” appear in many Asian cultures and I needed to learn more about them. The Gaki or Preta, are wandering spirits, never satiated, eating human feces. They have bulbous heads, distended abdomens, and represent human greed. The description convinced me that Preta was skulking through my house. Utilizing the BIC method (Butt in Chair), I committed to 1500 words a day for about six weeks. I got up at 4:00 a.m. and forced myself to type at least 1500 words by 6:00 a.m. This blog post is in the ballpark (1200 words). I’d match this word count, at four in the morning, every day for six weeks. Some days the 1500 words flew off my fingers. Other days I cried over 600. If I fell short of the 1500 in the morning, I’d try again before I went to bed. If I didn’t hit it at night, the word count carried over to the next day. I surmise that this is the point where most people that say they’re “writing a novel” tend to have the idea die. Even if you are perpetually stuck at 3000 words, technically, you’re still “writing a novel.” At the end of each writing session, I wrote a two to three sentence summary of the 1500 words which served as my guiding outline. I never plan or outline my stories in advance as I find that utterly boring. Being the first reader of my books, I want to be surprised too.
After six weeks of composing the first draft, I set the manuscript (really a Word document) aside and did not touch it for another four to six weeks. In my morning sessions that were previously spent crawling to 1500 words, I wrote essays, blog posts, song lyrics; anything else not related to my manuscript. I needed to give it time to percolate.
The initial reading of the first draft became a glorious experience as I read the story I had uncovered. I owned the words but the story belonged to the Muse. A trip to Kinko’s with a twenty dollar bill got me a hard copy of the manuscript. I read it in one sitting which took eight hours and required me to clean the house for a month as repayment for my wife dealing with the kids. I scratched a note or two in the margins, but I tried to simply read it.
For another four to six weeks, I used my 4:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. time slot to edit and revise the first draft with a red pen. I circled, underlined, crossed out; all the excitement of a high school English Lit teacher. When I reached the end, I sat back down at the computer (BIC) from 4:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. for another two to three weeks and made the changes from the printed draft to the second draft Word file. Back to Kinko’s for a hard copy. Back to the red pen. Back to the chair for another round of making changes on the Word file. I did this three to five more times over three to five more months.
Now I had a draft worthy of sharing. I went to Kinko’s again to get a print out that I gave to my friend Adam. The guy is my first reader, a trusted friend, and gives great advice. We spent a few hours discussing it. I scribbled notes and then went back to tweak. This took a few weeks. Another trip to Kinko’s and I had a final printed version which I edited for grammar, punctuation, and tone. Back to the chair where I created another Word document, probably the eighth or ninth file by this time. I knew the story inside and out. I could recite lines from memory.
Done? Not even close. I took the final Word document, blasted it open in an HTML editor, and began formatting it for the Kindle. Line by line, over 90,000 words, I edited each one to make sure it looked clean and properly formatted on an eBook. In the meantime, I had hired a graphic artist to design the cover. The Kindle conversion process took several hours a day spread over two to three weeks. Like the writing, I ended up with seven or eight Kindle versions before I considered it worthy of an upload.
Finally, I uploaded the finished product to Amazon, viewed it one more time on my own Kindle, and released it. By now, it’s been a year or so since I saw ghosts in my house and I have spent hundreds of dollars of my own money at Kinko’s, on graphic art, coffee, and Percocet (not necessarily in that order). I have lost count of the number of hours spent researching, writing, editing, and formatting this story.
And the speedy endeavor unfolds like this if I don’t get sick, don’t have family obligations that get in the way, don’t have any technical glitches that cause me to lose work, don’t get divorced by my wife that doesn’t see me for days at a time, etc. This is “best-case” for one novel. I’ve done this six or seven times and will continue hopefully until I die, maybe even beyond that.
Whether it’s a novel or an album, the process involves investments of time and money for an artist that cares about the craft. So please consider my story the next time you scoff at paying $0.99 for a Kindle novel and please enjoy “Preta’s Realm” for free through Christmas Day. It’s probably best to pull the covers over your head instead of investigating the shadows in the hall.