Monday, October 31, 2011

Taking a Break

I think I need to take a break from blogging and a few other things because it is getting increasingly hard to attend to everything that needs my attention.  My stress is up -- I can feel it -- and my temper short.  I feel burnt out and I need to recharge.

This time of year, as the holidays approach, is always bad for me.  Partly because of the added stress our society places on this time, partly because I lost family members during this time and I feel their absence more, and partly because I need more sunlight.  Usually, that last part doesn't hit me until January or February but, just like the winter storm we just had, my sunlight disorder seems to be early this year.

Saying all this, admitting I need a break is hard for me.  I'm not one to quit in the face of challenges.  In fact, I'm the kind of person that, when he sees a problem, tries to fix it and make it better.  It suppose that's part of the issue here.  I've got too many fingers in too many pies.  And yet I've cut back already.  I'm doing  less than I used to.  Still, I can't keep going the way I have been.  Better to admit the truth than keep going half-heartedly.

I don't know what else to say.  So I'll end here.  I'll be sure to write if anything changes.  But for now, so long.

Friday, October 28, 2011


The pace of a story is the speed with which it moves.  The right pace for a story depends on the story most of the time; however, there are exceptions.  One of my main criticism of the Time of Wheel series is that it drags.  Robert Jordan extends scene well past the point I think he needs to.  I'm not sure why.  A simple example of this is in the first book.  Towards the end of the novel, Rand keeps trudging down the road to his destination and every chapter is a new town.  I was left with the impression that either this is a very long road or a densely populated area since Rand is on foot and can't go very far in a day.

Ultimately, the book concludes with a battle and Rand never reaches his destination.  This is very unsatisfying.  If the point was that Rand was never suppose to reach his destination why slog the reader through all those other towns?

I often have the reverse problem.  I am too brief (at least in the first draft) and I never almost always go back and add details and information.  What I try to do is not bore the reader too much.  It can be difficult.  If the reader is looking for action and your scene is one of interrogation that's a problem. Of course if the questioning reveals important information for the reader, that's another thing all together.

I allow myself bits of both because in a fantasy novel I often have a lot of information to convene to the reader.  He or she does not know the world.  So if they are traveling to Ravenhurst, I need at least a scene or two where the characters discuss the town's history and what to do their and things like that.  But not too much.  I also need to keep them in the moment and keep the reader awake, say with a band of goblins who are out scouting for food.

But interweaving both elements I can (hopefully) keep the story moving and pass along good information to the reader.

Of course, I've got other things to tell the reader too.  There's character development in there somewhere and with six main characters, I have no shortage of feelings, thoughts, and dialogue.

What's the right pace for your story?  I have no idea.  I've not read your story.  But you can find out by letting others read it and but looking for scenes and paragraph where the story bogs down.  Most people like a quick pace or even a modest pace.  Say what you have to say and move on.  Don't linger on a scene needlessly.  And above all, don't bore the reader.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Back in college, I took a course in Romantic literature.  The focused on the six main romantic English poets from the late 1700's until about 1825 or so.  I don't remember why I took the course exactly except I don't think there were any writing courses being offered.  

It was in this course I was introduced to the poetry of William Blake.  For those unfamiliar with Blake's poetry let me say, that's unfortunate.  On the other hand, he is an acquired taste I think because much of his poetry revolves around the use of symbols, most so than other poets I think.

But I got the message and years later I have found symbols in my own work. For example, Evan Pierce, the main character in my first novel, as a priest, functions as the moral center of the story.  Later, in Book 3 Evan has been written out of the story and the moral center is far more vague.  I replaced Evan with Sir Ahlan, a knight from Evan's own order.  While Ahlan is a great character he has a harder edge and the moral center takes on a more Old Testament feel.

Using symbols in writing is just one of many techniques available to the writer.  But like a master chef cooking with a rare ingredient, you had best know what you are doing when you attempt to use a symbol or you'll ruin the story.  Heavy-handedness with symbols is like playing a delicate musical phrase blaring and loud.  

My recommendation is that you don't try to use symbols.  Let them come to you.  I never intended Evan to be the moral center of anything, but as I wrote my novels and got to know Evan, it suddenly occurred to me that he was a very honest and moral person; in fact, he was a good deal more ethnical than many others in his religious order.  That sudden shock of realization happened in while writing Book 2 as I was writing about several of the priests.  And when I realized that Evan was the more moral I used that knowledge in a subsequent revision of Book 1 to adjust Evan a little.  

My other recommendation is to re-read your own work and look for any symbols you might already be using.  Since the world is full of symbols, I'd be surprised if a few of them hadn't spilled over into your work.  But if you can't find any, don't worry.  They aren't required.  They're just a nice surprise when they are there.

Friday, October 21, 2011


To my knowledge none of my novels or short stories have a theme ... unless it is the general one of good over evil.  That one sort of comes with the fantasy genre in which I write.  But I doubt there is any other theme -- at least I don't think there is.

I am told that there probably is a theme but I'm too close to see it.  I'm not so sure of that.  Because as I look at the entire series and I see how it unfolds, I notice a few patterns.  I have three characters who are orphans from a young age.  Is there a theme there?  I don't know.  If you count the magic gems as a character, that's four characters (I'd rather not count each gem individually because they all act the same way and are intended to be a unit).

I also have two characters that have estranged relations with one of their parents.  Theme?   No, other than it happens.

I suppose one theme of the series if you work hard you succeed, but that's not always true and I know it.

I do touch on and show racial tensions (between humans and elves, humans and goblins, and elves with elves; they are a divided race), refugees from war, and abducted children, but in the fantasy settings they look very different and are handled in a different way.  Plus I don't know that I say anything about them other than these things are in the world.  Be careful.

In one draft of the series I did make the point that humans are mostly driven by fear; I think I'm likely to make that point again if it works in the revise, but point comes later in the cycle, book 6 I think and I'm nowhere near ready to even think about that yet.

I suppose this all begs the question:  is a theme required or necessary?  No, not in fantasy novels and frankly I'm not trying for one, nor would I know how to construct and reinforce a theme even if the wind blew one into my story like a lost dandelion.  On the other hand, if you can find themes in your work great; water them.  Nurture them.  But for me I've got a black thumb not a green one.  Themes entering my domain are like Frodo in Mordor, I'm afraid.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Drama Kills Writing

Remember the rock-paper-scissors game you played as a kid?  I've got a new one and it involves reading, writing, and life.  Reading trumps writing because in order to write you must read regularly.  Writing trumps life because when writing, you have no other life.  But life and the drama that goes with it kills both reading and writing because you can't focus on reading or writing if you mind is focused on something else.

I suddenly realized this the other day because I've been trying to keep up my focus on my third novel but can't because so much else is going on in my life.  It is a huge distraction from my writing and so the work is stalled.  The only good part is that it has given me a little time to think about what I have written and let me identify new scenes to add.  But without time to add them, it's a little frustrating.

I'm sure this is only a brief up tick for me, like increased sun spot activity.  And I'm hoping other areas of my life will quiet down so I can resume my writing.  If not, I'll have to make some changes because now is my time for writing.  I've already shifted priorities in my life to focus more on my writing.  Shifting a few more won't matter if that's what I need to do.

Part of me wishes I could just jettison the things that are distracting.  But that's the equivalent of running away from them.  I really need to deal with the situations that are distracting and hope they do not become an issue in the future.

One never knows about such things.  Life is predictable in that way and it seems that the more books I try to write the harder it becomes to keep going.  I'm not sure why that is but I do seem to have more things to deal with that I did before I started Book 1.  That might be my imagination, and a faulty memory but I don't think so.  I'm pretty sure I resumed writing initially as a hobby, to fill my spare time.  But it has become a passion because, if truth be told, it is the one thing I want to do more than anything else.

But I need quiet time to write and lately I've not had that and I need to find some soon because as this point, I cannot stop writing any more than I can stop breathing or sleeping.  Time for the old thinking cap and brainstorming some ways back to writing.

Friday, October 14, 2011


I stumbled over a few improvements to my various workflows.  So far, they seem to be working out.

One is using my iPad to write my first draft.  Up till now, I've been chained to my desk to write a draft.  That's not always practical and since I'm trying to cobble together my third novel, it is important to keep writing (daily if possible).  The iPad makes this really easy.  The only issue is I like to know my word count and the app I'm using (QuickOffice) does not support this.  

The great thing about this approach is I can type fast and get my ideas out almost in real time.  Later I will transfer the file to my desktop computer and refine the story.

In terms of blogging, it turns out that the Blogger app does work better than I thought.  So I have an optional variant workflow when I want it.  I'm sure what cause the first blog post I wrote with the app to vanish but I tried it again and it worked just fine.

For my second novel I am changing the workflow for the release process I follow.  For Aure, the Topaz (book 1), I floundered all over the place because I was learning as I went.  I knew that and it was okay because I promised myself whatever lessons I learned I would apply to the next novel.  

Now fast forward to the present.  One of the things I could never do for book 1 was have it reviewed before I released it.  For book 2 (Vorn, the Onyx), I need to change that so I know if the book is good and solid or if not, where I need to revise and rewrite.  And once I learned about a service to help books get reviewed, BookRooster, I knew I had to try it once.  They will see that the book is reviewed by 10 people, if I understand their process correctly.  

I hope it works as well as I want it to.  It was a risk, however, because I don't know what I'm opening myself up to.  But, on the other hand, Aure is waiting for the publisher to start reading for 2013.  And assuming she takes it I'll submit Vorn to her as well.  Might as well take the time to make the book as good as I can.  And getting feedback will help me do that.

So it's busy here like the downtown intersection at rush hour.  More changes are coming too, I'm sure.  I just don't know what they are yet.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Juggling Novels

From the title you might think I'm talking about throwing books in the air and catching them.  Sorry, I'm not.  I'm talking about having lots of writing tasks to do at once.

I used to think having multiple projects all at once wasn't a bad thing because it kept me busy.  And I've never had a problem with rotating among my projects.  But more recently, say the last few weeks, I changed my mind.  I begin to see that if I'm editing Book 1, work on Book 2 suffers.  So I really need to focus and work on only one thing at a time.

The problem I have is Book 1 has a higher priority for me than Book 2 and Book 2 has a higher priority than Book 3.  I have interrupted work on Book 2 to revise Book 1.  I think what I need to do is complete the work in progress and let new work wait.  So if I'm revising Book 2 and I realize I need to edit Book 1, those editing tasks will have to wait until Book 2 revisions are complete.

I don't know if I can do that or if it will work but it sounds good in theory.  Frankly I can see all kinds of extenuating circumstances that could throw a wrench into these plans.  For example, let's say while writing Book 3, I receive a review of Book 2 with specific comments to improve it.  Does it wait or do I jump ahead and make these changes?  Or here's an even better one, while doing some writing task, I receive comments from my publisher on Book 1.  Let's say she wants more changes than the ones I made earlier this year.  I think in that case, I drop everything and do as requested because that way lies the path to publication.

And that's the real point I think.  When I'm working without deadlines I can do as I see fit, but when something from the outside world intrudes it needs attention I think.

I suppose I'm just trying to organize chaos; I suppose I would have my luck throwing book into the air.  Nah, I'm all thumbs.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Character Reaction

I've been in the throes for the Jewish New Year, a time of reflection and introspection.  This year, I decide to re-read part of the Book of Genesis, to get back in touch with a part of myself that tends to get lost during the normal routine of writing, editing, and revising.  I specifically focused on the stories of Abraham because scholars believe there is evidence he actually lived thousands of years ago.

The one story that resonated with me was the binding of Isaac and Abraham's reaction.  Clearly the story is about God testing Abraham and Abraham's reaction.  As I read the story I could help think in my writer-ish way, 'Gee, isn't life a serious of tests?  And how we react to them determines the kind of people we are.'

If that is so, then I reasoned I could use that simply fact to sketch characters for stories the same way.  For example, I could create a character who filters everything through a specific lenses.  Say he feels persecuted so everything that happens to him must be related to those feelings.

Or I could create a character with several general reactions to the trial in life.  That would have the character a most round and realistic feel.  But as I thought about, if I want to give my characters a realistic feel I really need to look at the character from many perspectives.

People are complex after.  A realistic character with going to have views on lots of different things.  For example, religion, politics, education, government, taxes, money, sex, food, art, music, books, age, women (or men), children, life, work, and so on.  All the things that you and I have opinions one.   Some will be shared by the society, others unique to the person.  Plus I need to consider the views in my fantasy world.  So I need to add views on elves, dwarves, and other races.  Also views on humans of other traditions.  View on magic are equally relevant.

What this means is you first work out the general world details and the details of a given society and then you put people in them.  You can go in the other direction too, but it is probably easier going from the general to the specific.

Now, much of the general info in my fantasy world is worked out: I've been writing novels using that setting after all.  If I didn't have the general info complete, I'd be in big trouble.  And some of the racial/societal views are known too but I've got some work there too I see now.

Lastly, I think this technique can help me create new characters faster.  I just need to work out the reactions.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Social Media Strikes Again

I've been investigating social media to get more use out of it and to my surprise, a few simple changes in my Twitter account has got me receiving unsolicited follows.  That really a surprise because up until about a week ago, my Twitter account was kind of like my appendix: it's there but largely ignored.

What changes did I make?  Mainly, I changed my profile to reflect what I'm about: that I am a writer of a fantasy series with a link to Smashwords in case they want to purchase a copy.

I also changed the background to include a custom image.  This image is the cover of Aure the Topaz, my first novel, with the text of the short pitch over it.  I don't think that has done anything however because you can't search on this image.

For each follow, I reciprocate with a follow of them and a thanks, tweeted directly to them.  The end result of this is that more people see these posts since all my blog posts are automatically tweeted to my Twitter account.

So the reach of this blog is much broader than I realized.  The odd part is that none of this generates sells for my novel.  The reason I began investigating social media in the first place is to see how I might use it to generate sales of my novel.  But there does not seems to be a correlation.  Just because you've got followers and they read your posts don't mean they will buy your book.

This makes me think I'm doing something wrong or I'm missing a piece.  Guess I've got to dig deeper into the murky depths of this technology.