An Odyssey Away from Florence

The first of two requests to submit my full manuscript arrived four days after I mailed off my queries. It wasn’t supposed to happen so soon. But the agent read my 50 pages over the weekend and wanted more. He wanted to read all of it.

I swallowed hard, yet the lump in my chest remained. It wasn’t my idea to schedule the PNWA conference for July, that’s just when it fell. My first fifty pages were ready to be shared. The first one hundred fifty, even. But not the rest. Not yet. A November pitch session would have been oh so much better. What to do?

Should I lie? Do I ignore the email until I’m actually ready to send the full novel? No, I argued, that’d be a horrible way to begin a business relationship. Look, I know the odds of me landing an agent on my very first submission are slim, but if I’m not going to believe the possibility is real, then what’s the point?

I nervously typed a response. I needed more time. The second half of the novel still has to go through my critique partners, I explained. And complicating matters, I’d only just that day accepted a six-week writing assignment, where I’d be on-site at Nintendo. I told the agent I was thrilled he wanted to see more, but it would be winter before I could deliver. I hoped he wouldn’t hold it against me.

His reply came just two hours later, nearly 11 pm his time, in New York City. He told me to take all the time I needed, to not worry. He had a mountain of other submissions to get through. He’d look forward to reading my book this winter. Cheers!

Literary agents are really just people, after all. Who knew? I went to sleep that night as relieved as I ever felt. And though this particular agent wasn’t even one I targeted during the pitch blocks — instead, he invited me to send him my pages while chatting at the cocktail reception following the literary contest awards — he quickly vaulted to the top of my list. Knowing that one of his other clients had already amassed a thousand positive reviews on Amazon the week her book launched didn’t hurt.

Super Mario Odyssey

Despite what I said this time last year, when I was filled with frustration over how a couple of strategy guide projects went, I was willing to take on another large project (I’d done two smaller ones this spring and summer, which both went very well). A very specific one. Super Mario Odyssey. If you hadn’t seen any of the footage or gameplay trailers thus far, take a moment to watch this:

One look at that trailer in June was all it took to make me lobby the editor at Prima Games for the project, particularly if my friend Joe was able to co-author with me. He was. We did. All of August, and straight through the week after Labor Day, he and I toiled away at Nintendo’s headquarters in Redmond. The book is currently at the printer, in both hardcover and softcover versions, and scheduled to release alongside the game on October 27th.

Naturally, I can’t talk about the game in detail. But I will tell you this: It’s certainly one of the best games I’ve ever played, if not the very best. I’ve been gaming since the days of the Atari 2600 and never before have I played a game filled with such charm, such variety, and such whimsy. A month into the project, Joe and I were still tapping each other on the shoulder, imploring one another to turn and look at the wild/wacky/wonderful surprise we just uncovered.

I can also say that the guidebook is one of the very best I’ve been a part of. The entire team did a great job (and I’m still amazed by what my co-author Joe and the designers were able to accomplish for one chapter in particular).

Real World Travel

Super Mario Odyssey has a heavy travel theme baked into the game. It’s right there in the title, Odyssey. As fun as the game was, and as much as I needed to be working on my travel-inspired novel, Tailwinds Past Florence, I also took a pair of trips these past few months.

The very same day that I got word that I’d be writing the guide for Super Mario Odyssey — on the way to a trailhead, in fact — a friend asked me if I’d be joining him and some others in Lake Tahoe for a week of mountain biking. Then another asked, seconds later, if I wanted to fly there in his plane.

Yes.

Hell yes.

Between the time spent capturing the screenshots for this fantastic piece of Super Nintendo memorabilia and prepping for the writer’s conference, my July went by in a flash, with nary a single ride on my bike. I needed it. And so I went, taking five days I didn’t really have in the middle of my work on the strategy guide. And what a great time it was. My friend Peter, whose cabin we stayed at, had been vacationing in Tahoe since the 70s and knew the trails like the back of his hand. You can read about our Lake Tahoe Fly n’ Ride here.

Just a sample of the trails we rode during our week in Tahoe.

This almost brings us up to date. But wait! There’s more!

My wife and I have the for-now goal of traveling to Japan every other year and we just arrived back home this week from a ten-day trip to Hokkaido. It was our first time visiting the northernmost prefecture in Japan, and it was a terrific time to do some hiking — and eating, as it turns out. Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, was hosting their weeks-long Autumn Festival while we were there. This proved to be a sweet surprise that helped alleviate the disappointment of Typhoon Tamil having interrupted our plans to ferry out to the tiny island of Rishiri. There’s plenty of photos along with an account of our trip right here.

Postcard-perfect day to climb Asahi-dake, Hokkaido’s tallest mountain.

Back to Florence, By Way of London

I didn’t ignore my novel for two months, if that’s what you’re thinking. How could I? It’s in my thoughts, constantly. No, throughout most of August, I adjusted my schedule, I woke at 5am, and got a couple of hours of writing/revising done each morning before driving to Nintendo. And I even attended a few weekly critique group meetings. I had to, it’s the only way I could still hope to be done by winter.

But finally, as of Wednesday, I was back at it. Full time. I spent the afternoon revising a scene I intended to share that night with my critique group. The writing went well, and I have to admit to being somewhat pleased with a few metaphors and turns of phrase as I read the 1400 words to my critique group. But near the end of the scene, I began to feel like I may have strayed into repetition. That my protagonist was expressing the same thoughts and worries as he had at least a couple times before.

My critique partners didn’t hold back. The writing was great, but it sounded familiar. Especially one paragraph at the end. They weren’t wrong. I sensed as much as I read it. We brainstormed ideas until an ah-ha moment hit.

So yesterday I rewrote it again. It’s not a pinch-point scene, and not one of the primary plot points, but one in which I needed to show my protagonist struggling with his best-worst-choice dilemma. Rather than him mulling it over in a woe-is-me kind of way (which he’s done before), I decided to have him get angry. After all, the problem was an intrusion on what was otherwise, a very hot and romantic weekend in London with his wife.

The book is pretty clean, with no explicit sex and hardly any profanity. But damn it felt good to let my main character shout a few f-bombs in his mind. He needed to vent.

No sooner had I finished that scene than I got five chapters worth of feedback from a critique partner. Five chapters filled with the types of suggestions that are going to make the book better, the criticism I need, and the level of praise that makes me blush.

Momentum is building. The odyssey isn’t over yet, but we’re back on the road and gaining speed. Edward and Kara are fast approaching the end of their journey, as I am mine.

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