Or, they can be. Some of the time.
But they are necessary. They force the author, who is often so lost in their own world they forget the existence of calendars, to keep on a schedule.
Deadlines are both a blessing and a curse.
This year I had two deadlines that jammed up against each other.
Let me explain.
When I handed in the manuscript for Bitten 2: Land of the Rising Dead, all seemed well. The book already seemed to track well with previous readers who liked that I had told a new, albeit different story, set in the same Bitten universe as my first novel -- but involving an entirely new cast of characters.
I wanted to create a sense of scale in my zombie world wherein the Resurrection Virus decimated not just one U.S. city but entire parts of the world.
The second Bitten takes place in Japan.
Then, in Bitten 3: Kingdom of the Living Dead, we come back to where we left off in the first book, and I progress through the story jumping between the contrasting worlds of East and West.
The only problem was that this unorthodox way of writing a "series" made my publisher very nervous. Then, on one random Monday, I got the email saying my book had been postponed until I make some changes.
I was in the middle of writing Bitten 3, which was on track for it's September deadline when I had to halt everything and go back and do some major rewrites to Bitten 2.
Now you can tell they were major rewrites because they practically doubled the page count of the original novel. My publisher wanted a more congruent arc between the events in Bitten 1 and Bitten 2. They were nervous that readers who were itching to find out what happens after the events of Bitten 1 would be put off by a lack of continuation of the series which seemed to go off on a tangent. I get the fear. The publisher, after all, had contracted me to write a series. And they wanted a more cohesive ball of wax that melted together to form one giant whole -- and instead I gave them a gobstopper jawbreaker ball that just sort of implanted itself into the ball of wax I was building. A foreign object that just didn't seem to belong.
Okay, maybe that's a strained metaphor. But the point is they couldn't accept Bitten 2 without a little bit more backstory of what was happening on the other side of the world with the Bitten 1 cast.
So I took to cutting and pasting Bitten 3 and taking important parts and placing them into Bitten 2, jumping back and forth between East and West.
I wasn't able to integrate the stories, so it really seems like two separate tales that go back and forth without any direct correlation -- other than it's the same universe and there's the zombie apocalypse to worry about. In fact, I open each section of Bitten 2 with what could be thought about as a short story involving the Bitten 1 cast. Then we jump back into Bitten 2's main story line. Rinse and repeat.
So what does this have to do with deadlines?
Well, by the time I had done the requested rewrites to get the book to a place my publisher wanted, Bitten 3 was missing its entire first section. And the end wasn't completed yet, although it was outlined.
I finished the rewrites of Bitten 2 at the end of July. That gave me August and September to basically write 75% of a new novel. Two months to get Bitten 3 completed after I had just cannibalized it halfway to death.
I wrote furiously. Day and night. Six hours a day. But the story was so involved. The cast of characters kept on multiplying. And by the end of September I was only part way finished.
So I asked for an extension.
Lucky for me, my editor was a bit behind and hadn't even gotten to my rewrites of Bitten 2 yet, so we all reached an easy agreement to extend my deadline another month.
That's when I cranked up the writing to eleven and went for broke (to mix some metaphors).
I was working two day jobs. I teach Junior High School English from 7 AM till 4 PM. Then I zip across town to teach private language classes at the HONDA corporation at their motorcycle manufacturing facility.
During October I was pulling 14 hours days, working two jobs, and writing!
I would stay up till 3 am, go to bed way too late, only to hear my dreaded alarm go off at 5:30 AM. I'd hit the snooze and sleep till 6 am.
Rinse and repeat.
To make a long story short. I managed to meet my deadline. But just barely. I was doing spell checks and formatting checks just hours before I had to hand in the finalized manuscript.
When I finally sent the file to my publisher, I was relieved. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. I had pounded out 87K words in just three months. It was some of the hardest writing I'd ever done, but the pressure of that looming deadline kept me working tirelessly.
Ha. Tirelessly my ass!
By the time I had finished Bitten 3 I was exhausted.
In fact, I had burnt myself on writing. I'm pretty sure my brain had melted.
Even with a great sense of accomplishment, even with how proud I was at how Bitten 3 had turned out, I was still working two jobs and had a newborn at home to worry about too.
I was a mess. And then, my body decided it was time to breakdown.
Whether it was the stress of working two jobs and writing, raising a couple of kids, writing every spare chance I got, and lack of sleep for three entire months (I was averaging about 3 to 4 hours a night) when I wasn't, you know, writing -- although in retrospect it was probably all of these things combined -- my body said to hell with it and just decided to shut down.
In fact, the anxiety of meeting my deadline along with the long hours and lack of sleep had all taken their toll and I had to take an entire week off work because, to tell you the truth, I couldn't even function. I couldn't speak. Walking to the bathroom was a chore. I was burnt out in the most realistic sense of the term.
I had nothing left in me.
Those other two novels I was scheduled to write, they had to be put on the shelf until I could get a coherent thought back in my head.
After the week off, I got sick. My immune system was shot from the long hours and little sleep. I tried to go to work for three days, had a good strong week, then that weekend all my ailments decided to gang up on me and kick my ass.
I ended up taking another 4 days off work.
This time I began to worry, since I'd eaten through most of my paid leave in just a matter of three weeks. And I still had nothing left to give.
So, I decided I needed to take a serious break from writing.
Two complete months off. No reading. No writing. Instead, I'd just let my batteries recharge.
But, as I enter the month of November, I found enough energy to write a blog rather than just wasting my time killing brain cells viewing Facebook and Twittering much ado about nothing.
For the next few weeks I intend to veg out in front of the television, binge watch season six of The Walking Dead, and get caught up on a backlog of films I wanted to watch this Halloween but didn't have time for.
I'll be watching slasher films way into Christmas, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Come December 24th, however, the mini-vacation is over, and it's game on again.
My winter break will be another writing marathon, albeit a much more leisurely paced one.
My current work in progress is the second installment in The Scarecrow & Lady Kingston, comedic noir with a supernatural twist, quirky action / adventure / detective series. This one features everyone's beloved Scarecrow, Julie Kingston, and the Hollywood starlet Kate Beckensale in an entirely new and unexpected adventure. The title is The Scarecrow & Lady Kingston: A Slice of Grilled Americana.
Not to give away too many spoilers, but if you're a reader of this blog I guess you're a fan and so I should share a little taste of what is to come.
The premise of the story is that Julie Kingston tries to find a novel way to quell the excessive force and militarization of police by setting herself up to be made an example of by taking an absurd punishment.
She convinces the city mayor to do more than just suspend her after an incident where she uses excessive force apprehending a criminal and then gets the city sued. Instead of taking a suspension, a mere slap on the wrists, she convinces the mayor to sentence her to a term in the state mental institution for rehabilitation.
Her theory is that if cops start acting like violent criminals in response to violent criminals, to the point where they cannot discern between a genuine threat and the general public, there is a mental component that needs to be addressed. The police need serious counseling and simply aren't getting it.
But Julie does more than just have herself committed. She gets the mayor to sign her into the mental facility for state convicts.
Yes. Into the lion's den she goes.
This is a ploy to scare cops into behaving -- and sends the clear message that the mayor is playing hardball and will keep the public safe when the police fail to do so -- a message that says do you damn job and stop beating up defenseless teenage school girls. Of course, the ones it won't work on are obviously in need of serious mental counseling, since they are likely sociopaths with badges. But the others will be too afraid to act like thugs and will fall in line.
At least, that's Julies plan. It's her one-two punch strike against police brutality and the growing concern of a militant police state -- which she takes very seriously, as she herself, a police woman, swore an oath to serve and protect the public. Not brutalize, harm them, and trample all over their rights as citizens.
Indeed, you might say there is some satire and social commentary going on here, but this is just the set up.
The greater story involves Julie coming out of her treatment but realizing something is not quite right. She eventually realizes that Scarecrow has mysteriously disappeared. Stranger still, when she asks about him the only thing anybody can give her are blank stares.
Although she recollects him, apparently nobody else does.
Dun, dun, DUN...!
After all she's been through, she begins to question her own sanity. Maybe, she thinks, while she was in the mental institution the treatments she underwent had done more to her than initially thought. Perhaps something was done to her mind. At this point, she begins to fear that she might have imagined the Scarecrow. She fears that she might be having a mental break.
As she reflects back on events, she cannot seem to find anyone who remembers him. For all intents and purposes, he simply never existed.
Then, without warning, there is a mass school shooting. And she goes to manage things, and she gets shot in the process. When she wakes up in the hospital, well, Scarecrow is by her bedside! Out of the blue, he's come back to her! Then things go back to normal. For a time.
Soon thereafter, another trauma happens to Julie, and she loses consciousness (again). When she awakens, the prior version of reality, the one with no Scarecrow, returns. Throughout the book she flip flops between the two universes and cannot quite figure out what's going on. She can't tell which version is the true reality. It's all very Twilight Zone, and it's driving her nuts -- if she isn't entirely nuts already.
As Julie Kingston grapples with trying to figure out which version of her world is real, a string of school shootings occurs. Ten in one week. And the problem is, they all happened in the same state, in the same city, at the same time and she knows they have to be related somehow, but there's nothing -- absolutely nothing connecting them. This is the mystery she has to solve while at the same time trying to maintain her sanity as her world keeps flip flopping between two variant realities and everything she knows is thrown into the confusion of the ensuing chaos.
So, that's the summary of what's to come. I hope my readers will like it. It's a much darker story, but no worries -- all the witty banter and humor of the first novel will be back, and I am sure the more complex story will keep reader attention and then some. Where the first novel was just an introduction to these fantastical characters, this novel pushes the genre into psychological thriller while revealing a few surprises along the way. So maybe this book is going to prove to be a supernatural psychological thriller / comedic noir/ genre-busting romp of a novel? We will see.
So, stay tuned! And remember, keep to that deadline. As Neil Gaiman says, if you want to become a writer, the only way to do it is to do it. I fully concur. At the end of the day, that's what separates the wannabes from the real writers. The real writers finish what they start -- and then do it again, and again. Repeatedly.
Rinse and repeat.
And as always, good luck!