Tag: Writing

The Emperor of Mars: ARCs and First Pass Pages

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The Emperor of Mars is on his way. He’s been planning this for a long time, plotting, scheming. And now he is one step closer.

Yes, he has made it to Advance Reader Copy (ARC) status and First Pass Pages.

Here are *my* ARCs looking excessively handsome.

And here is our new cat, Pebbles, tolerating (just) being put in charge of a copy.

So what does it look like inside? Well, I’m glad you asked! Here it is. This is the first page, along with a new character, George Rackham.

If you can’t read that first page, this is what it says:

Chapter 1: The Trouble with Vine-Mining

I was twenty feet underground, surrounded by glowing blue sandfish crystals, with my head jammed in a beetle-vine warren, when I realized that vine-mining wasn’t for me.

I had seen the notice pinned up outside the local office of the Imperial Martian Airship Company:


Perfect, I’d thought. What a great idea.

I had never been so wrong.

You might have thought that living in the middle of Mars’s biggest desert would mean that you never got wet…

* * *

I’ll post the rest of the first chapter closer to publication day (which is on July 18, 2017, since you asked).

I’ve been working on the First Pass Pages (basically, a printout of the ARC), fixing up any last errors, tweaking the odd bit, smoothing things a little, but the ARC is pretty close to what the published book will be. There are typos and a few other minor errors, but the story is the same.

While we’re all waiting for the final, finished book, if you want a chance to win a signed ARC, keep an eye open. I’ll be posting a giveaway in a few weeks time.

Until then!

(Note: cover and the internal illustration above are by Jeremy Holmes.)

My Writing / Editing Process

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I’m in the middle of revising my second book, THE EMPEROR OF MARS, which is the sequel to SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB. Because this is my second time through the process of getting an editorial letter and having to work to it, I’m starting to get a pretty good idea of what my writing and editing process is like.

I’ve come to the conclusion that my first drafts have:

  • Too many words
  • Too many characters
  • Too many plot strands
  • Too much detail and worldbuilding
  • Too much description

Basically, I put in far too much of everything in my first drafts. And I’ve decided I’m okay with this.

Yeah, it makes the editing process difficult. Right now I’m having to unpick a whole bunch of interweaving plot and character strands, remove some of them, and reweave it all into a tighter book.

This is often not easy. I work pretty hard to make everything depend on everything else, and then I have to take huge chunks out, and it all has to still work.

But that’s how I work, apparently. I think in complicated stories. I write too much in a book. That’s just the way my mind works.

And I need an editor. Readers don’t think much about editors. (I don’t when I’m reading a book.) But I would be terrible at this without an editor.

I don’t actually need an editor to tell me *what* to do. I generally know what I need to do. But I need an editor to tell me that I *have* to do it.

I’ve just read a self-published book (I won’t tell you which one) which sounded interesting. And it was interesting. But it needed an editor. It needed to have someone who could tell the author that what they had written wasn’t good enough, that they could do better (and I genuinely believe they could do better), and they’d better get on with *doing better* before they hit “publish”.

My writing process is likely to stay the same for a while, I think, with me writing much too much and then having to cut great chunks of it, but that works for me, so that’s the way I’m going to keep doing it.

Wish me luck.

(By the way, THE EMPEROR OF MARS will be published on January 10th, 2017. Put the date in your diary. You’re going to want to book the week off. ;) )

Interview, interviews, interviews!

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Well, it’s been just over a week since SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB was published, so I reckon it’s time for another blog entry. I think I completely exhausted us all by blogging for ten days in a row leading up to publication. I don’t know how those of you who blog every single day manage it…

ANYWAY, I’ve been doing a few interviews around the webs about writing, my book, and stuff, and because I know you all want to hear my every at-length utterance (ahem), here’s links to them.

But before that, in case you missed it, I have an author newsletter. You can sign up to it here or read the last edition here.

On with the interviews!

Casey Lyall Interviewed me on Kick-Butt KidLit

Your book sounds like an epic adventure. Where did the idea for SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB come from?

Man, I wish I had a cool answer for this, where it all came flashing into my brain like accidentally sticking my finger into a live socket (been there, done that, don’t recommend it), but that’s not how books tend to come to me. I always have hundreds of ideas bouncing around in my brain, like a swarm of slightly sticky bees, and sometimes they bump into each other and stick together to become, er, a super-giant bee or something (I think this analogy is falling to bits here. Unlike the super-bees which are definitely stuck together).

Basically, ideas coalesce until a story starts to shape itself. Some bits get added, others get shaved off or reshaped, until I can see a story. SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB came from dozens of places, like old pulp science fiction and Jane Austen and this illustration I saw from the nineteenth century which showed Napoleon’s armies invading Britain using hot air balloons and looking at Google Mars and Indiana Jones movies and so many other things.

Keep reading the interview

Vincent Ripley interviewed me over at Mr. Ripley’s Enchanted books

What tips can you share in writing a believable world/background?

Detail. The key is, you need to know how everything works, even if you don’t put it in the book. In fact, as the writer you should know many, many times more than you put in your book. It has to be there in your head. You need to know the whole of your world. Then you can write the story within it.

Read more of the interview

Emily Mah interviewed me over on Black Gate

This was a video interview, which I can’t bear to watch because I hate seeing and listening to myself. You can go watch it, though.

We talked about SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB, writing as a career (things like supporting yourself as a writer) and various other stuff.

I had a beard during the interview. Beards are good for your health.

Watch the interview

Melanie Conklin interviewed me (and other debut authors) on Kidliterati

This was an “inside scoop” interview, where each of us gave some exclusive peeks at our books.

Read the inside scoop

Jana interviewed me (and other debut authors) on That Artsy Reader Girl

Four of us debut authors did brief interviews about our books.

Read the interview

Secret Countdown: Five Truths To Keep You Sane

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Three Days To Go

In three days, on January 12th, 2016, SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB will be published. Publishing your first book can be a pretty stressful experience. Trust me on this. You’ve worked for ages — not just the years you’ve spent on writing, rewriting, and revising this particular book, but all the writing you did before this book that wasn’t quite good enough. And now your book is finally, finally coming out. It’s going out into the world. Maybe it’ll be ignored. Maybe it’ll be hated. Maybe no one will even know it ever existed.

Yeah, boy, this is stressful.

So, if you’ve got a book being published and it’s stressing you out, here are some thoughts of comfort.

1. Someone is always doing better than you

It’s very easy to look at everyone else with a book out and to see how much better their book is doing than yours. They’re getting starred reviews from Kirkus. They have a front table display at Barnes and Noble. They are on every blogger’s list of books to be excited about. Their debut is on the bestseller lists. They have adverts in the national press. They have a thousand five star reviews on Goodreads. Their advance is twenty times what yours is.

What a failure you are. What a loser. Maybe your book wasn’t that good after all.

Yeah, but no.

Someone will always be doing better than you. Even if you’re outselling JK Rowling, someone else might be getting all the award nominations. Even if you’re getting all the award nominations, someone else is on the top of the New York Times bestseller list and you’re not.

You can’t win.

The truth is it is basic human nature to compare ourselves to those doing better than we are and not with those who are doing less well. The ones we see are the ones with the great success. But they are the exceptions. There are far more people whose success is on a par with yours and plenty who are not doing as well. Except you’re not noticing them. You’re comparing yourself with those very few who, by luck or timing or national mood, just happen to be hitting a freakish level of success.

Don’t compare yourself to them. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. There is no win in comparing. It’s a lose every time.

2. There’s nothing you can do, so don’t stress it

It’s a horrible truth, but nothing you can do will really make much difference. Yes, a signing or a school visit might sell some extra copies. Yes, a blog tour might get a few people interested. Yes, putting vast amounts of effort into social media might shift a hundred more books. Attending conferences and conventions and producing lots of swag and doing dozens of giveaways, all these can add some sales.

But they are insignificant. Compared to the number of sales that will be generated just by sitting on bookstore shelves or being ordered by libraries, what you can achieve through your own efforts is statistically small and isn’t going to make much difference to your success.

How is that comforting?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I get a certain amount zen-like calm from the idea that I have no real power over whether my book sells or not. You can fall quite easily into thinking that you’re not doing enough, that if you could just do a bit more, that would make all the difference.

It wouldn’t.

If you enjoy blogging or giveaways or social media or school visits or conventions, do them by all means! But don’t do them because you think you have to. You’re not losing out by not doing them.

Actually, I’m lying. There is one thing you can do that will make a difference. You can write the absolute best book you can. And you’ve already done that.

3. This is not the end

If the worst happens and your book isn’t a success it’s not the end.

Every writer who has a career lasting more than a few years will hit that point where a book flops and they are dropped by their publisher. I know a lot of writers who have gone out of contract. Sometimes it was their first book or first series. And every one of them has come back again after a few years and sold again. Some of them have gone on to enormous success after that commercial failure earlier in their career. Hell, even George R.R. Martin was dropped by his publisher because his book didn’t perform as expected, and he’s doing all right now.

4. Someone, somewhere bought and loved your book

Maybe none of these things help. Maybe you’re still feeling down. Maybe you didn’t get any reviews and only sold 500 copies and no one seemed to notice your book came out at all, except your family, and even they didn’t seem terribly excited.

Well, it’s not true.

Someone bought your book or checked it out from a library. Someone loved it. It spoke to someone. It mattered to someone. That is true for every book ever published. We all hope that thousands of readers will adore our books, but it’s not a failure if only one person loved it, because by giving them something they loved, you’ve changed their life for the better. If you can do that for one person, there’s no way your book failed.

5. You did it!

Yep, you did. You wrote a book and you got it published. Have you any idea how rare that is, how unlikely? Millions upon millions of people want to write a book. Millions actually do. The vast majority will never get those books published. Writing a book good enough to be published is an incredible achievement all by itself.

In all the pressure of the process of publication, we forget all too often what an amazing thing we have done.

Take time to be immensely proud. What you’ve done is special. You did it!

Secret Countdown: Five Plans For Five Days (To Go)

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Five Days To Go

It’s now only five days until SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB is published. I have my author copies (see yesterday’s post) and I know the book has started filtering into bookstores, although I don’t think it’s made its way onto any shelves yet.

So let’s talk about something else instead.

When your dream is to get a book published and then you do get a book published, what then? Do you retire with perfect satisfaction to exist in zen-like peace for eternity, having achieved your dream? Do you heck.

Nope, it’s time to come up with new plans. So, these are my five goals for the rest of 2016:

  1. Pitch a book 3 in the SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB series. My publisher bought two books (SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and THE EMPEROR OF MARS (the sequel to SECRETS…)). I want to see if she wants a book 3 as well.
  2. Write another, completely unrelated, middle grade novel. I started one with wizards and murder and mystery, and I want to get that done. Unless I get commissioned for book 3, in which case I’ll be doing that instead.
  3. Revise THE EMPEROR OF MARS. I’m gonna have to do that anyway. My editorial letter should arrive this month (fingers crossed) and I’ll be doing the rewrite, making it more fun, more snappy, and more awesome.
  4. Write a related novelette or novella in the same world as SECRETS. I’ve actually written one already, but I’d like to do another. There’s another story that is not about Edward and his family that I want to keep pursuing. Also, the novelette I did has dinosaurs in, so how could I not want to keep going on that story arc?
  5. Start work on an adult novel. The first novel I seriously tried to write after I’d started publishing short stories was an adult fantasy novel. It was kind of a mess and I abandoned it, but I still like the basic idea behind it, and I really want to try it again, now that I know what I’m doing. (Kinda…)

So, those are my new goals, and somehow I’ve got it into my head that I’m going to do them all this year. You can hold me to it. Probably.

That’s today, folks. Tomorrow it’s four days to go. *Deep breaths. Deep breaths.*

Secret Countdown: I Know It’s Only Rock’n’Roll But…

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Seven Days To Go

I’m doing a blog countdown until SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB is published, on January 12th, 2016. Today, there are seven days to go, so it must be time for some rock ‘n’ roll.

Well, kind of.

Back when I was … quite a bit younger, before I had children and before 10 o’clock sounded like a late night, I used to go down the pub every Friday or Saturday night with my friend, Neil. The pub we usually went to was one of those that has a band playing most weekends. Not always great bands, but not bad bands, either. Most of them were pretty good, musically and technically. But a lot of them weren’t great performers.

They would play, and nobody much would be paying attention.

These bands, it wasn’t that there was anything wrong with their ability, but they seemed to have forgotten that they were playing to an audience. They would look at each other. They would peer at their shoes. They would stare into empty space. But they never looked the audience in the eye. They never tried to grab your attention.

The difference between them and the bands who really got an audience rocking was painfully obvious. The bands who engaged would be right there at the edge of the stage, leaning forward, grabbing your gaze, refusing to let go.

And it occurred to me: that’s not so different to being a writer.

No, no. This isn’t just an attempt to make being a writer seem as cool as being in a rock band, because we all know that’s not true. Sorry, it just isn’t. No one ever became a writer to look cool. Somehow, being hunched in front of a laptop just isn’t as rock and roll as having a Les Paul or a Gibson slung low.

Here’s the way I see it: when you write, you need to be looking your audience in the eye. You need to be telling the story to them. It’s easy to stare at your feet when you’re a writer, to focus on the processes of writing, the technical challenges and the act of putting the words on the page. It’s easy to forget you are writing a story for readers.

That’s not to say that you should try to “sell out”. I’m not for a moment suggesting that you change your story to please an audience. No really great rock ‘n’ roll band changed their music to please listeners. But you do need to remember that you are writing for someone to read. You need to write with that audience as a focus and build a story that they will respond to. You have to look them in the eye, force them to engage, and never let them go.

Your audience, of course, can be anyone you like. It can be as small or as large as you want. It can be your child or wife or husband only. It can even just be you.

Whoever that audience is though, when you write, write as though you are telling them a story and you want them to be as excited by it as you are.

Don’t stare at your feet. Your feet don’t care.


And, in case you came here expecting some rock ‘n’ roll and feel cheated, and in memory of the great Lemmy, here is Motörhead with “Rock n’roll”:

Secret Countdown: The five best bits of writing advice

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Ten Days To Go

It’s ten days until SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB is officially published! I figured I’d count down until the big day with a series of blog posts on books, writing, and maybe the odd story. Yes, folks, this may be the only time in my life that I blog ten days in a row.

Today I’m starting with the five best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever received.

1: Everyone is the hero of their own story

Yes, you have a hero for your book. Maybe more than one. But they are not the only heroes. Every single character who appears in your book has their own story and they are the hero of that story. That spear-carrier who blocks your hero’s way at the castle gate? She’s not there for the benefit of your hero. She’s there because she’s living her own story. And in that story she is the hero. She’s got ambitions and frustrations, wants, needs, fears, hopes. If you know what those are, she isn’t a cardboard cut-out. She adds to the story.

The same goes for your bad guy (if you have one). They didn’t go out that morning deciding to be evil and make life difficult for your hero. They think they are doing the right thing, for themselves, even if not for anyone else. They have their reasons and their motivations. Know what those are and you’re well on the way to a rich, three-dimensional story.

(Advice from: George R.R. Martin)

2: Cut 10%

When you’ve finished your book, revised it, polished it, and made it perfect, go back and cut 10% of it.

I’ll admit, when I first read this advice, I was massively skeptical. If anything, I thought, I needed to add to what I wrote, to flesh out scenes and characters. Well, I did have to flesh out some parts. But my editor told me I had to make my book shorter, too. And you know what? She was right.

Even though I thought the book was as tight as I could make it, when I approached it knowing I had to reduce it in length, I found it wasn’t as tight and efficient as I thought it was. There were redundant words and sentences, even whole scenes that just didn’t have to be there.

So give it a go. When your book is done, cut another 10%.

(Advice from: Stephen King)

3: Every Scene Should Do At Least Two Things

It’s easy to write a scene that does one thing, advances the plot or changes your protagonist or reveals something about your world. But a scene that does only one thing is flat and boring. It’s the kind of handle-turning writing that leaves a reader feeling underwhelmed.

But make that scene do two things – creating an arc for your protagonist and moving the plot on, for example – and make those two things be intertwined and then you’re flying.

(Advice from: Nalo Hopkinson)

4: Coincidences Are Bad

In real life, coincidences happen all the time. Unless you believe that every part of everyone’s life is controlled by some external force and we are but will-free puppets, then coincidences are a part of life.

But not in stories.

If you solve a plot or character problem through a coincidence, your readers will throw your book across the room in frustration, and rightly so.

There is one circumstance where you can have coincidences in stories, though, and that is where they make things worse for your protagonists. The coincidence where they bump into the person who has all the answers? Nope. The coincidence where they bump into an enemy looking to waylay them? Yep. Make things hard for them!

The only coincidences you should have are bad coincidences.

(Advice from: Connie Willis)

5: What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, ask yourself in every scene, “What’s the most awful or embarrassing thing that can happen to my hero?” And then make it happen.

Humiliate them. Drop them into hell. Make everything go horribly wrong. In each scene, your character should have to deal with the disaster created in the previous scene and then something even worse should happen. Rinse and repeat, and at the end, you’ll have a book. (Obviously, your hero will have to win eventually (unless they don’t), but not until the end.)

The kind of story where your character drifts through easy successes is the story that nobody is interested in.

(Advice from: Stephanie Burgis)

That’s it. The five most useful pieces of writing advice that I have ever received. They might not all work for you, but if you’re wondering why your story doesn’t work quite as well as you were hoping, give them a go. You might be surprised.

Writing and Parenthood: Scenes from an Exhausted Land

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MrD and MrX on an adventure.

It’s swimming lesson time. Seven-year-old MrD is in the pool. Two-year-old MrX is up in the viewing gallery with me. I’ve had an idea for a story. I remembered my notebook and pen (for once). MrD is looking up at the viewing window. He’ll know if I’m not watching him. MrX is making a run for it. He finds this hilarious. Somehow I scratch out a couple of lines while chasing. Not sure I’m going to be able to read this later.

It’s early morning. For once, MrX didn’t wake up in the middle of the night and it’s my morning “lie-in” (my wife and I alternate) so I get up early to try to get a bit of writing done. Okay, I’ve only had four-and-a-half hours sleep, but that’s actually pretty good. I grab some breakfast. Too late! The boys are awake. MrD is tired. He wants a family breakfast. “I need my daddy” he shouts, grabbing hold of my legs and not letting go. By the time it’s done, it’s time to get them ready for school / child-minder and drive them off.

We’re hosting a children’s party. We haven’t cleaned the house for weeks. There’s so much chaos everywhere, you couldn’t fit a spare sock in most rooms, let alone eight hyperactive children and their parents. Writing time? Not this week.

MrX is up half the night, throwing up. It’s 2 a.m. and I’m scrubbing carpets with only a few hours until I have to get up again.

You’d have to be mad to have children as a writer. They eat time and energy. They’re brain leeches. They’re not going to listen to “I have to go and write”. And even if you sneak away, your brain is so addled how on Mars are you supposed to hold all those things you need in your head? Plot, character, theme, voice, good writing. You’re supposed to balance them all, intertwine them, tie them together. Even one of those is way too much for a child-sapped brain. You don’t even remember the last thing you wrote or who all those characters are or what’s going on.

I’m driving to school with the kids in the back. “Tell me a story,” says MrD, just like he does every day. So I do, just like every day. Stories of Captain Monkey and Queen Alora (with her pet T. rex), of the upside down land on the far side of the world, of dragon mountain and secret doors hidden in trees that lead deep into the Earth, of Evil Dr. Baddie, the raptor scientist, of adventures and exploration, of time tunnels and alien worlds.

Telling stories to a child as you drive to school makes you an agile storyteller. You don’t have the luxury of choosing your favourite cafe or putting on your playlist or making green tea. You don’t have time to think or plan. You don’t have time for outlines or inspiration. You have to get going, right now. “Let’s have wolves and a baby dinosaur,” he shouts as you’re half way through a story, and so you do. “Why don’t they do a spell to open a door?” “Why doesn’t he get kidnapped by monkeys?” “An earthquake!”

You’re never going to get that kind of enthusiasm from any other reader, the shining eyes, the excited bouncing in the seat, the full-on, undivided attention.

“Let’s write a book together!” he says.

“Your book is the best book ever!”

He proudly puts his copy of your book on his bookshelf, even though he’s too young to read it. He stares at the words and the cover and the illustrations. He wants to know what you’re writing next. He wants to write a sequel.

And two-year-old MrX, who has only managed a handful of words, trundling toward you, clutching a book, shouting “Ree! Ree!” (“Read! Read!”)

You’re a zombie. Your brain is 90% sludge and 10% caffeine. You forget why you walked into a room or where you’re driving to. You don’t even remember the last time you had five hours sleep. (Hell. You don’t even remember yesterday.) Writing comes in stolen moments when you really, really just need to slump onto your bed.

But it’s all made up for when your kid says, “Write me more!”

Being a parent and writing (and having a day job) is hard. Far harder than you’d guess before you have kids. Without kids, you’ll be far more productive. You may even write better. But you probably won’t write happier and your stories won’t matter anywhere near as much.

This was written as part of a Parenting And Writing/Editing Blog Tour. Here are links to the other blog posts so far in the blog tour. (I’ll add more as they happen.)

Secrets of the Dragon Tomb is published on Jan 12, 2016!

Writing Playlists

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I don’t know how many of you do this. You know how it is when you’re working on a novel (or maybe you don’t) and you don’t have much free time. You need to get into the right headspace as quickly as you can. For me, the best way to do it is by coming up with a playlist of songs for each particular book.

I don’t always choose songs that fit thematically with the book I’m writing (I wrote one whole book listening a single song, Blind in Texas, by W.A.S.P. on repeat, even though neither blindness nor Texas featured in any way in the actual book.)

For the book I’m writing now, tentatively called The Mystery of Firelake Hall, though, I’ve come up with a list of songs which all, in some tenuous way at least, link in to the themes or events of the book. Here it is. Ten points if you can figure out the themes of the novel from this. (And what do points mean? Well, pretty much nothing. Have ’em anyway.)

The songs are:

  1. 7 Days to the Wolves – Nightwish
  2. Empire of the Clouds – Iron Maiden
  3. Coming Home – Iron Maiden
  4. Paschendale – Iron Maiden
  5. Beyond the Realms of Death – Judas Priest
  6. Tears of the Dragon – Bruce Dickinson
  7. Wish I Had an Angel – Nightwish
  8. Les Morts Dansant – Magnum

So, what do you reckon? And does anyone else use playlists?

Note: the image is of Ashton Court, Bristol, by Gillie Rhodes on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons 2.0 License.

First Pass Pages

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Things move on. The first pass pages of SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB have arrived!

A sabre tooth is an essential part of any editing process. For those deep cuts.

For those of you who don’t know what they are, the first pass pages are the pages of your manuscript laid out exactly the way they will appear in the final book. Now is the chance to go through and pick out any errors that might have been missed in the so many times you’ve gone through the manuscript before or which have been introduced at recent stages.

When you hold a book in your hand, it has been through SO MANY rounds of editing and checking. For example, once I’d finished editing and revising SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB (which involved at least seven major drafts), it went through:

  • One round of revisions based on my agent’s feedback
  • Two major rounds of revisions based on my editor’s feedback
  • One round of copyedits
  • And now this set of first pass pages.

It’s possible (probable) that there will be more rounds to come (I assume that that is why it’s called FIRST pass pages).

Apparently, at some point in between all of this, writers are supposed to write other books too. :)

First pass pages are where you go through and check every word, every comma, every spelling and have the last chance to pick up anything important that has slipped through the net. You can’t blink or you can miss something. It’s kind of brain-intense.

Now, time to get back to work.