The Quinquennium

 

  

 

The second novella in the Quinquennium series, As It Was In The Beginning, is taking shape. It takes place three years before the events in book one, To Thee Is This World Given, over the week leading up to the “end.”

While To Thee Is This World Given was intended originally to be a stand alone novella, everyone who read it asked the same questions, “What happens next? Are you writing more?” My answer was always “They continue on” and “no.”

It took me awhile to put enough distance between myself and the effort it took to write To Thee Is This world Given, but I eventually got to the place where I agreed that each of the four characters in it deserved their own story and the world in which takes place deserved to be expanded, and so the Quinquennium was born.

The titles for books three through five are still to be decided but the stories themselves have already been plotted. Book three takes place one year after As it Was In The Beginning, and follows the male character from To Thee Is This World Given. Book four takes place one year before To Thee Is This World Given. It follows the young Amish man. And book five takes place fifty years later and follows the young girl, who is now approaching sixty years old.

The timeline: day one, As It Was In The Beginning; one year later, Book 3; two years later Book 4; three years later, To Thee is This World Given; fifty years later, Book 5.

Simple, vibrant, eye catching single-color covers that reflect the mood and theme of each book were chosen to create a unified look for the series. Double click on any of the covers to see it in greater detail. Each has an identical star field pattern and a white border.

 

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“The First Draft of Anything is Shit”

firstdraft

I get ideas for stories all of a sudden out of nowhere and can see the scenes clearly in my mind’s eye before I ever attempt to write them (even months beforehand).

The idea for the To Thee is This World Given  came to me in March 2014. The next day at work I jotted down a brief outline on a yellow legal pad that would remain the same until the story was finished:

Two characters, a man and woman, meet on a road several years into a zombie apocalypse. They leave the road and go into the woods. They camp at the side of a stream where the woman tends the man’s wounds. They talk late into the night. The next morning they hike back to the road where they meet a third character, before parting for good.

The only  significant changes to my original concept were to make their relationship antagonistic (originally they had been much more chummy), to make their relationship with the third character friendly (originally it had been hostile), and to have the female character walk away from the male character (originally he had walked away from her).

While my stories may come quickly, the actual writing for me is not spontaneous. It’s the result of intense planning, outlining, reworking, refining, and even acting out. I frequently make the faces and perform the actions the characters are doing to figure out how to describe them and to make sure they actually work in real life. I also recite dialog out loud as I write to make sure it sounds like normal speech. All of this makes it a little embarrassing for me to write where other people can see and hear me.

It ended up taking me four and a half months to complete the novella’s 20,000 word first draft, and I ended up throwing out 99% of the text away in the second draft.

I started the actual writing the middle of April 2014. The first two lines I wrote were the first and last lines of the book — this is pretty typical for me, except that usually I start off with just the last sentence (I often can see the end of my stories before I can see their beginnings):

The First Line of To Thee is This World Given is The dead congregate; the last line is The living collide.

The only other text that stayed unchanged through all drafts was a paragraph of dialogue in which the female character is talking about the star Betelguese, the left hand of OrionI almost named  To Thee is This World Given, “The ninth brightest star” in honor of Betelguese. This paragraph is one of the most important for understanding the story:

Her voice was wistful, almost sad. “It rushed into existence and used up all of its fuel too fast. Just the blink of an eye in the lives of most stars. And right now its winds are crashing against everything in the galaxy, even us. And eventually it will explode outward and there will be nothing left. No star. No black hole. Just empty space. As if it had never been there at all.” Her eyes closed. “It’ll have had just a short, brilliant life that extinguished so much with it when it went.”

To Thee is This World Given is written in both third person objective and in medias resI wanted readers to experience the space between themselves and the characters in the same way and at the same time the characters experience the space between themselves. Third person objective and in medias res forces them to do so.

The reader is dropped immediately into the action and is never told what the characters think or feel, or how the characters got to where the story starts. They have to make that decision for  themselves, based on what the characters do and say (and fail to do and say). The reader is never told who is the good guy and who is the bad guy, who is the hero and who is the villain, who to root for and who to root against. Just like life.

The truth is that unless we are told, we never know what is going on in someone else’s head, and even then we have to take it on faith. The best we can do is pay close attention, but even then we often still get it wrong. How we decipher someone else usually says more about us than it does them. That’s a central theme of the book.

The slowest period of the entire writing process, which ended up taking me eight months to reach the final draft, plus another three months in editing, were the first six pages. Those six pages took me almost three weeks to finish, because I kept reworking what I had written the day before instead of moving on. So I got nowhere.

I was having a very hard time getting the voice right. It was driving me crazy.

The voice in third person objective is “silent.” There is no narrator, there is no “telling” at all. Everything must be “shown” through action, dialog, and description. In all other point of views the voice is obvious and can smooth over less elegant writing in the action and dialog. In third person objective, the action and dialog have to stand on their own, relying solely on the strength of the writing in each sentence. It requires tremendous discipline; it’s like a straight jacket, except that you are always fighting slipping into telling.

Additionally, by writing in medias res the story starts with no exposition, and especially early on, is in strict active voice; you just jump right into the action. The problem I was having was in not sounding like blocking, or like something written by a five year old.

(To this day, the first half of the first chapter remains the part of the book that I am the least happy with. I never could get it completely right).

In the end, I made a rule that the only thing I could read on a given day was what I was writing that day and that I could not re-read or rewrite anything I had written earlier. I finally began making progress.

I wrote every day from noon to 4 pm, longhand on yellow legal pads, and as I went along I created detailed outlines mapping out each chapter. In the third chapter, I realized that having the characters get along didn’t work, so I changed course going forward as if they had always not gotten along and stuck post-it notes on the early pages about what changes would have to be made in the second draft.

People are often surprised at how long it took me to write the first 20,000 words. The thing about a novella is that everything included has to pull its weight. Everything is Chekov’s gun. Every word has to count. Whereas the difficulty in writing 100,000 words is in having enough to say, with 20,000 words it is not saying more than enough. This was compounded by how tightly structured To Thee is This World Given is. On most days, at least half of my time was spent organizing and mapping out what I was going to write.

I didn’t keep a copy of the first draft. Every time I finished re-writing a corresponding section in the second draft, a handful of yellow pages was tossed into the recycling bin. At the end, a mountain of scribbled-on yellow pages that no one ever saw but me.

At least once a day I said, “God, this is garbage.”

Not getting demoralized was hard.

I couldn’t see how I would ever get anywhere close to being happy with the story.

But I had a little post it stuck on my desk reminding me that the first draft of anything is always shit. I had another ordering me to not edit as I wrote.

It’s better to press forward and throw it all away, than to stand still and have nothing to throw away. Ernest Hemingway threw away the first 3,000 words of

 The Sun Also Rises and re-wrote the ending of a A Farewell to Arms forty-seven times.

-k-

You can read about the themes in To Thee is This World Given, in my post  The Hardest Thing in Writing is Simply to Tell the Truth

Some of my thoughts on writing in general can be found here and here.

 

 

 

To Thee is This World Given turned one year old today

All week long Khel will be posting about how it came to be.

The first two posts, on being able to find the time to write  and the ideas behind the story  are already up. And over the next couple of days, the story of writing the first draft will be posted as well.

Also, from now until June 22nd, we are running a giveaway on Goodreads for five signed and numbered hardback editions of To Thee is This World Given.

There are no strings attached and you can enter for free at the link below. You can also read impressions and reactions to the novella from Goodreads’ reviewers by clicking the title link in the box below.

We are extremely proud of the fact that the number one response has been about the high quality of Khel’s prose (even by those who found fault with other elements).

Happy birthday little book. Here’s to many more.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

To Thee Is This World Given

by Khel Milam

Giveaway ends June 22, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Finding the Time to Write To Thee is This World Given

Virginia Wolf once said that one needs money and a room of one’s own to be able to write. But what one really needs is time. Money and a home are just the currency needed to purchase it.

Ever since graduating college, I had been trying to find a way to both support myself and have enough spare time to write.

In the 1990s, I lived in Manhattan, attended NYU’s Publishing Program, and worked in the editorial departments of various houses, hoping that by working in publishing I’d have a better chance of my manuscript being read.

But as you probably already know, it’s challenging to be able to write while working full time, especially if you don’t write in a heavily formulaic genre and you have to share 800 square feet with five people (publishing doesn’t pay so well). So, while all that time I had an “in,” I didn’t have a finished manuscript.

After a while the realization set in that the whole point of my working in the industry was moot and I ended up in law school (all but two of my roommates from that time also went to law school, of the two others, one stuck it out in the industry and one I have know idea).

I chose law because I had the grades, did well on the sample LSAT test, and wasn’t good enough at math to go to med school. My plan was to work for a few years, scrimp, and be able to buy an inexpensive house outright, which would free me from having to work so much that it would interfere with my writing.

What I didn’t know was (1) that I’d leave law school with student loans that rivaled most people’s mortgages; (2) that I’d have to work at least eighty hours a week at a firm; and (3) that the housing market would experience the worst inflation in history. So, as you can imagine I didn’t get much writing done.

During this period, the thought that I was running out of time and not doing what I was supposed to be doing became more and more urgent, until around 2006 or 2007, when it turned into an all encompassing preoccupation that didn’t let up until I actually began writing To Thee is This World Given . I would sit at my desk every night researching cases and typing memos, thinking, “I am not supposed to be doing this,” over and over and over.

Then something happened. It would end up providing me with enough money to live off of for about a year and half without having to work.

In March 2014 I was offered a settlement from my firm, and so I had a decision to make:  refuse the money and continue working for an employer I’d grown to hate; take the money, be responsible, and find another job right away; or take the money, be irresponsible, and begin writing, knowing that the longer I remained unemployed the harder it would be for me to find another job.

I chose to write.

And I wrote every day, four to six hours a day, for nine months. As soon as I started writing, I felt for the first time in my life that finally I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. For the first time, I felt absolutely content.

It’s been two years since I began To Thee is World Given  and one year since it was released, and now I’m back to where I was before  trying to figure out how to have both enough money to live and enough time to write. But I’m no longer frightened by an insecure future, and I look at the problem now as finding enough time to work, not finding enough time to write.

You can read about my experiences writing the first draft of To Thee is This World Given, here.

 

You can read about the themes in To Thee is World Given, here

Some of my thoughts on writing in general can be found here and here.

-k-

 

 

2015 Fall Writing Contests for Short Stories & Indie Books

Short Stories

Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards for short stories up to 4,000 words long in the following categories —

  • Thriller / Suspense
  • Mystery / Crime
  • Horror
  • Science Fiction / Fantasy
  • Romance
  • Young Adult

(there is also a separate poetry contest)

$2,500 to the winner

Multiple submissions allowed

Entry fees $20-$25 per submission

Open now through October 15th

Writer’s Digest Short Story Competition for short stories up to 1,500 words long, genre-neutral

$3,000 to the winner

Multiple submissions allowed

Entry fees $20-$25 per submission

Open now through December 14th

2016 Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition for short stories up to 4,000 long in the following categories —

  • Mainstream / Literary Fiction
  • Genre Fiction

$5,000 to the winner

Multiple submissions allowed

Opens in November

Entry fee has not been announced yet

(in addition to short stories, there are awards for poetry, script writing, inspirational writing, and memoirs)

Foreword Reviews’ IndieFab Awards for independently published short story collections published in 2015

$1,500 to the overall winner in fiction

Multiple submissions allowed

Entry fee $99 per submission

Open now through January 15, 2016

(there is also an award for poetry collections)

Independently Published Books

28th Annual IBPA Ben Franklin Awards for books published in 2015 in 41 genres and categories of fiction and non-fiction, as well as awards for covers and interiors, best new voices, best 1st book (The Bill Fisher Award)

Non-cash award (trophy and national exposure in trade journals, such as Publisher’s Weekly)

Multiple submissions allowed, single titles may be submitted in multiple contest categories

Entry fees $225 for first title & category, $95 per additional title & category (fee includes 1 year membership to IBPA)

Open now through September 30th, for books published between January 1st and August 31st, and December 15th, for books published between September 1st and December 31st

Shelf Unbound Writing Competition for Best Independently Published Books for books of any length and genre

$500 to the winner, plus a year’s worth of full-page ads

Multiple submissions allowed

Books do not have to have been published in 2015

Entry fee $40 per submission

Open now through October 1st

Foreword Reviews’ IndieFab Awards for books independently published in 2015 of any length and format in 60 genres and categories of fiction and non-fiction (including graphic novels and comics)

$1,500 to the overall winners in fiction and non-fiction, recognition of the individual category winners

Multiple submissions allowed, single titles may be submitted in multiple contest categories

Entry fee $99 per submission, per category

Open now through January 15, 2016

20th Annual IPPY Awards for books independently published between January 2014 and February 2016 in 77 fiction and non-fiction categories, as well as cover design and book/author/publisher website*

Non-cash award

Multiple submissions allowed, single titles may be submitted in multiple contest categories

Entry fee $95 per submission, per category

Open now through February 27, 2016

*Note entries may not be read in their entirety and are initially judged on overall impression

 

To Thee is This World Given, Book One of the Quinquennium

Three years after the day the world reset, when the dead stopped being dead, a man, a woman, two dogs, and a cat, cross paths on rural road littered with desiccated corpses. When the man chases the woman into the woods he links their fates for the next twenty-four hours. What each wants, where each is going, and whether either can be trusted will play out against a vivid, evocative backdrop and the ever present menace of the undead.

To Thee is This World Given is the first of a planned quintet of novellas by Khel Milam highlighting four characters as they cope with and adapt to a post-apocalyptic world. It is the only one of the five books in the Quinquennium series in which all four human characters appear together. Chronologically, it takes place between books four and five.

At just over 100 pages, this understated, thoughtfully composed novella’s steady, unrelenting pace shifts seamlessly from overt to subtle tension, creating a slow burn that holds the reader’s attention from start to finish. Its fluid, effortless prose is always driving forward with no extraneous motion.

What People are saying about To Thee is This World Given:

“A rare gem…a measured, well written…philosophical perspective on the end of the world.” Dom Mossiah, Dom on Wrting 

“Extremely well written — the prose is descriptive and interesting. The characters are memorable.” Ed Morawski, author of over 20 books

“Extremely well written. Milam really knows how to paint a picture with words.” RachaelReads TTITWG page

To Thee is This World Given is brilliantly imagined, expertly told, and hard to put down.

About the author:

Khel grew up in Texas in the 1980s, but has lived in South Florida on and off for the past 20 years. Degrees in Anthropology and Philosophy and Law greatly influence her writing, as does her admiration for the works of John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Dennis Johnson, and Jorge Luis Borges. Despite having intended on being a writer since high school, life seemed to always get in the way. And so, when finally given the opportunity to pursue writing full time, she took it, and her first book, To Thee is This World Given, was released the following year.

Read the first chapter 
Buy A copy now — Amazon     Barnes & Noble  

 

To Thee Is This World Given, Khel Milam, Eponym ISBN 978-0-9862625-1-7 (hb) US $16.95 / 978-0-9862625-0-0 (pb)  US $9.95 / 978-0-9862625-2-4 (Kindle/Mobi) US $2.99 / 978-0-09862625-3-1 (Nook /ePub) US $2.99