“The book American Gods wishes it was.” --Despina Durand

Thursday, August 8, 2019

HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL THE ERNESTO WAY



People ask for my writing advice, even though after decades of pounding my fists bloody at the gates, New York still treats me like the most talented leper they’ve ever met. I don’t know how to take a manuscript and tweak it so it’ll sell right away. I don’t have a secret formula for writing a bestseller (and I have noticed that people who claim to have one have never had a bestseller).

What I do have is a whole lot of decades worth of experience as a writer, and getting published. I’ve had the cheap thrill of being called a genius, and I was smart enough to realize just how cheap it was. People seem to be amused by what I have to say about it.

Maybe it’s educational. Maybe it’s just entertaining.


Anyway, I’m currently working on Zyx; Or, Bring Me the Brain of Victor Theremin, and the going is getting weird. The joyous noodling around has gotten long, and complicated, and now screams for structure. I have multiple characters and plot lines that would go totally out of control if I just kept noodling. 

Try selling a novel built like a plate of spaghetti . . .

When I start writing anything,(including this) I make notes in brackets and all caps. I’ve found it to be a good way to outline my ideas, put down things that should be included from brainstorming and research. As I write, I delete what’s been covered, and go on.

Things have gotten so bizarre with Zyx that I’ve started putting the bracketed notes in boldface to make finding them easier . . .


Even though I do some outlining--stuff needs to be hung on a framework--I’m more of a pantser than planner. Being an artist trapped in a writer’s career, images come before words, and I like to keep them loose and sketchy. That’s because things change as you work on them.

As a writer, I’ve spent most of my life building a story-making machine in my brain. It goes way down into my subconscious. It’s always gathering things I see, hear about, and experience, selecting the best of the weird shit and rearranging it into stories.

Now and then you have to stop, take a deep breath, pull your nose out of the details, step back, and take a look at what the hell the big picture is becoming.


The good thing is, I don’t have to think about it; it works when I’m going around taking care of the day-to-day business. The bad thing is, like Emily and I have often said, a short story is like a bout with the flu, while novels are more like demonic possession. The monster in the back of my brain takes on a life of its own and demands more of my synapses, because it wants a more complex structure. The abstract expressionist splatter/jazz solo mutates into a widescreen, holographic, CGI symphony/Diego Rivera mural.

Try that while having a job, a family, and all the usual stuff of life!

Some people have the foolish idea that this is some kind of civilized activity. Heh-heh-heh.

So go ahead, try this at home. Stand back. See what happens.

I should probably get down to doing it rather than writing about it . . .


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