I have the week off from work. I didn’t make any plans to go anywhere for my vacation because of Covid-19. I plan to spend my time writing as much as I can.

My manuscript passed 35,000 words today and I just sent Chapters Five through Seven to my beta readers. I’m anxious to get their responses, but right now I’m pretty happy with how the chapters turned out. I tried to show more of Kristy Amare in these chapters to add dimension to her and fill out her relationship with Orly. I had fun with Hisato in Chapter Five as well.

Tomorrow I’ll visit Ashley Vargas in her mausoleum. It will be seven years since she died.

Flowers for Ashley tomorrow.
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In my last post I mentioned the anxiety attack I had while writing and my discussion in the therapy session that followed with my psychologist. We talked about it again this past Monday, largely because I was still experiencing a lot of anxiety that I felt was tied to the new book. She asked me if I could take a couple weeks off, perhaps as long as until July 17 when my fiscal closing will be complete at work. I thought it was a good suggestion, but I told her that I would feel bad if I didn’t write during the three day July 4 weekend. So we agreed that I wouldn’t write again until Friday, which meant taking only three days off: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. She suggested I do something for my well-being during my time off, and so on my daily walks during those three days, I tried to run a little too.

Yesterday was Friday. I finally wrote again. I netted 713 new words, which was largely the first section of Chapter Seven. My anxiety was minimal, so maybe the three days off helped.

After my writing session, I watched YouTube for a little while. YouTube recommended a video to me about the final episode of The Sopranos. Last month, creator David Chase let it slip in an interview that Tony Soprano died in the final scene of the series. I hadn’t seen it that way. I felt the series ended with the message that Tony would forever have to be looking over his shoulder, but that he didn’t die there in that diner with his family. When I learned of the interview, I felt really hurt, and it told me how attached I was to his character. When I saw that video yesterday, which provided evidence that there was foreshadowing of his death throughout the final season, my heartache returned so sharply that I couldn’t sleep without taking an Ambien.

I woke up today wondering why I feel so strongly about this. After all, I thought I liked sad endings. My favorite films (Cinema Paradiso, Roman Holiday, The Lion in Winter, Before Midnight) all have endings that I find sad. In crime related shows like Scarface and Sons of Anarchy, I’m okay with the deaths of the protagonists. That left me wondering what was different about The Sopranos, and I think the answer is that I didn’t see Tony Soprano’s character arc as complete. I ended the series thinking life would go on, and that there was more to do. But the more I think about it, and the more I consider that video I saw yesterday, I’m seeing maybe that’s not the case. Maybe it was over. The show’s creator seemed to think so.

So what does someone like me do in this situation? I try to ignore it and remain in paradise.

I believe in my Black Wax Vampire Trilogy I’m writing sad endings. I considered it a success each time a reader told me they cried. I don’t know if I should feel differently about that now. I would want my readers to feel sadness that is bittersweet, like the feeling I get when I watch Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck say goodbye in silence at the end of Roman Holiday, but I wouldn’t want to hurt them like Tony Soprano’s death is hurting me right now.

Before I began writing Scribbles of the Empress, I sent a survey to my beta readers asking: Which character would it hurt the most to see die in the new book? Most of them said Orly. Berthold came in second. Although I’m into the Second Act, I still see two possible endings. If Orly dies, I hope I am able to give my readers the bittersweet sadness rather than the painful kind.

On another note, is it ironic that in my next session I’ll be talking to my therapist about The Sopranos?

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I didn’t write for two days this week. I think it’s because of depression. The murder of George Floyd, the subsequent protests, the conversations I’ve seen circulating and been engaged in regarding both, have filled me with anger and despair. I’m also struggling with disappointment in myself for not joining the protests because of the choice I’ve made to remain socially distant because of my bad lungs and having elderly parents.

Despite the depression and not writing for two days, I’ll pass 23,000 words today. I’ve also received survey responses from four of my beta readers on the first four chapters. Most of it was positive, but there are some rewrites I want to do based on their notes. My worry that the book might feel front heavy seemed to echo in the opinions of two of the beta readers. But I don’t know what I’m willing to cut. Most of Act One, and especially the lengthy third chapter, is all meant to show the layers and depths of Orly’s sadness so it will support what she sees when she scribbles herself. I’m afraid if I trim just to make the beginning shorter and less heavy on the reader, it will undermine this and the reader won’t understand why Orly sees what she does in her scribble, or at the very least won’t sympathize with her.

But as Act One ends where it needs to end in order to kick off Act Two, I can come back to this much later, perhaps even after I’ve written the last sentence of the last chapter (which I have already been composing in my head), because the depth in which I decide to dive into Orly’s heart doesn’t really determine the through line of the plot, inasmuch as it explains her motivations. My best friend, Amirah, mentioned that Orly’s feelings in these chapters are similar to the feelings I have been expressing to her as of late. Orly and I are in unison, it seems. While that would likely concern my therapist, it makes me happy, even if it is all about sadness. I don’t know if I ever said so here, but while writing The Scribbled Victims, I’d always felt at one with Yelena, that our feelings mirrored, and that I was her or she was me—chicken or the egg, whichever comes first, I don’t know.  

I had an idea this morning that I’m going to explore. I’m thinking of having The Scribbled Victims translated into Japanese. I’d really like my books to be exposed to a Japanese audience. I don’t know if that’s because I’m Japanese, or because someone long ago told me my work would resonate well in Japan, or if I’m just excited to see what the Japanese book cover would look like and how these new readers would flip through it from right to left instead of left to right.

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I’m making very good progress on the third book in the Black Wax Vampire Trilogy. It’s always my goal to write every day, but often depression makes that difficult. But in the past 54 days, I’ve written for 50 of them. On Monday, my book passed 20,000 words, and I reached the end of the first act. That was a big milestone and it felt good to get there. Just before writing this blog, I sent out the first 64 pages to my beta readers. I’m hoping they’re going to feel strongly about them and return feedback that will help shape this into the best book it can be.

I’ve complained before that I write too slowly. I see some authors touting that you need to publish X number of books a year to make it financially as a writer, and often that leaves me feeling discouraged because I doubt I’ll ever write even one book a year. Because of all the internet cookies and monitoring of web activity, some company must have caught on to my dilemma, because I woke up to an email advertising a video program that will teach me to write a book in six hours. I had to laugh. I can’t imagine what a book I wrote in six hours would look like.

Orly Bialek woke up in her casket feeling unloved. She drank scotch and scribbled some stuff with like black crayons, while everyone around her died, breaking her heart. She dropped her crayon and crawled back in her casket feeling like sad and shit. The end.

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Work at my day job has been inordinately stressful lately. The work from home status due to Covid-19 isn’t it making it any easier either. For the first time in a long time, I had a panic attack over the weekend that took me over three hours to recover from.

It hasn’t been all bad though. I continue to write in the mornings, before working, and that does improve my mood. Because of this commitment, I finally finished writing Chapter Three. It took four months, over a span of seven months, to write. (I began writing it in October but didn’t write in November, December, or January, because of depression.) It felt great to finish it as I think it’s been the most challenging chapter for me to write in the series. I’ve begun Chapter Four, and hope it won’t take nearly as long to finish. I’ve had two beta readers ask when they can expect new chapters and I plan to send them something after Chapter Four is complete.

I began this post talking about my day job because it’s really been wearing me down, and if something doesn’t change, I think there’s the likelihood of burnout. I talked with my psychologist about it today. She thinks I should consider leaving. I really wish I could; it’s my dream to be able to write for a living, but right now I don’t sell enough books to do that, and I need a paycheck. I could potentially find a job that would be less stressful, but it’s hard to leave what I have because I’ve been there for fifteen years and have a pension and health benefits to consider, including behavioral health benefits that I especially rely on.

The best answer would be to sell more books. I need to reach more readers to do that. There is so much advice out there on how to grow your readership, with social networking and advertising strategies being at the top of the list. I’ve yet to be successful at either. It’s so hard to make your books stand apart from all the other books out there, because there are so many good writers trying to accomplish the same thing I am. And then of course, with a writer’s natural instinct to be hypercritical of one’s own work, I have to wonder if maybe my books just aren’t good enough.

This post probably comes across as negative, but that’s not what I’m trying to express. My psychologist also suggested I consider changing my goal to be able to write for a living. But I will never do that. I will never give up chasing my dream. I have hopes that someday I’ll be able to look back at this post and see that it was about struggles I overcame.

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During my cabin stay in Idyllwild-Pine Cove, I didn’t write the 30,000 words I had hoped for. I only netted 3,779 new words over five days. But I still think the retreat was a success for four reasons. The first is that I completed the first two chapters of the book. The second is that my beta readers loved the chapters (and they didn’t dislike Orly for what she does in Chapter Two). The third is that I’ve created momentum to keep going. The fourth is that I only needed extra anxiety medicine on one day during my stay.

I was supposed to be there for seven nights, but I only stayed for five. The isolation got to me. Even though I don’t generally interact with strangers in public, I still like to see that they’re there. I wanted to write where it was familiar—Starbucks store 20537. And so I left Thursday morning. It’s Sunday now and I’ve added 1,215 new words. I also began writing a story about Orly before she meets Yelena and her friendship with Abdul-Samad who is mentioned in Chapter Twenty-Two of The Scribbled Victims.

I also sent out a newsletter for the first time in a long time. I received many responses from readers which made me very happy. I’m going to try sending a newsletter once a month. Click here if you’d like to sign up.

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This morning I sent the final version of Scribbling the Eternal to my beta readers. I began writing it on December 4, 2016. According to howlongagogo.com it has taken me 2 years, 8 months, and 24 days to write and edit this book. I feel like I should feel happy or at least relieved that it’s finally finished, but all I feel is anxiety.

Weeks ago, I fell into a deep depression and it persists. I don’t really know why; I’m sure much of it is chemical, and my meds can only do so much. My psychologist believes a lot of it has to do with the book’s upcoming release. I’ve put so much into this novel that thinking about how it will be received just overwhelms me. My beta readers and two others who have read it in its entirety said it’s really good, so I hope my readers like it and think it’s a good sequel.

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I should have posted this back on September 22, but it has not yet become a habit of mine to post to this blog. Anyhow, after 22 months of writing, I finally finished the full draft of Scribbling The Eternal. I was in shock when I finished. I don’t think it really hit me until the next day, which is when I sent out the final eight chapters to my beta readers. 

Since that time, I’ve received their feedback, via the surveys I write for them to fill out. The surveys ask some general questions and some very pointed questions about things I am struggling with in particular. The responses have been mostly positive. All said it was a strong sequel, which was a big relief to me because I think sequels are difficult to write, especially when you know people enjoyed the first book. One beta reader even preferred Scribbling The Eternal to The Scribbled Victims, which made me feel especially accomplished.

All that being said, the amount of notes I took from their feedback is making me realize the rewriting phase is going to take a lot longer than I expected. Since I do a lot of my rewriting as I write my books, the earlier the chapter, the cleaner it generally is (which can work against me if I have to make early changes because that means deconstructing a lot of revised and reworked text). Since I considered the majority of my book to already be clean, I expected about a six week rewrite period, but with all the notes I received and the introspection I’ve done on my own, I’m now thinking it could take between four and six months. 

I’m not discouraged by that though. I know it’s in the interest of producing the best book I can, so it’s all worth it, even though it means the gratification of releasing a new book will have to wait a little longer. Anyhow, I hope people are really happy with the final version of the sequel. 

-Robert Tomoguchi

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