Yesterday I got the beta version back for Last Words, a zombie story. I'm forever stumbling over this title because the last book in the Kingston Raine series is the Lost Angel. So between the Last Angel and Lost Words mix up, things get kinda screwy. This is actually the second beta-version I've worked on for Last Words. The first was done in January and was awash with notes and a general consensus that it wasn't ready yet. Have you ever had a project you've worked on that you are mostly happy with, are aware that it might be a little flawed, and then have a reader tell you it's just not any good? You have to roll up your sleeves, sit your ass down, and take a spoonful of suck-it-up, because they're right and every story you have can be improved.
Last Words is already a tricky book. It's written in the form of a diary as one guy backpacks through Europe only to find that he's done so right at the start of a zombie outbreak. As all transport deserts him he's left to his wits and humour to survive in a country that barely speaks English, having to trust people he barely knows, and figure out a way to travel the several thousand miles back home without anything killing him.
There are many pros and cons to writing an epistolary book. It worked for Dracula, it worked for Frankenstein. Being compared to those is a pro. A great big con is that everything written takes place after the event so there is very little dramatic build up. When a horde of zombies chases our hero we know he makes it out alive because he's there to write the story. So, things can't be as straight forward as they would appear. And the events that happen to this poor sap have to be surprising enough to keep people interested, which makes it kinda crap when your beta version comes back full of flaws.
I was left with quite a dilemma: how do you save a story that's focussed on a 23 year old who has limited life experience? Make him as sarcastic and funny as possible, give him an ex-girlfriend who he still pines over, and finally: find out which character your star beta reader likes and GRUESOMELY KILL THEM right when they're needed the most. Then casually hand the book back and wait for the moment of evil joy when you hear, “What the fuck??? Did you just kill Xxxxxxxxxx???”
Then you taunt them a little more. “Read it quickly or I'll kill your favourite character in the next book as well.” Or I might just be randomly chaotic, pick out a name from a hat and a cause of death from a mug, and throw in a red herring or two because the sassy lady everyone likes starts to cough and wheeze, the old man is short of breath, and the pregnant teenager has a habit of darting across the road when there's lots of traffic. Give this an A+ or someone else dies! Muwahahahaha!
Anyway, Last Words is almost done. The cover mock ups should be done in a week or so. ISBN assigning should happen around about then as well, then it'll go into pre-sale mode. Whoo!