Monday, November 28, 2011


As I write and develop Book 3 of the Aglaril Cycle, I find myself weaving in many different threads into the story.  Some of planned and some are not.  The planned threads include providing information to the reader that he or she needs to understand the story and the individual plots of all the characters.

The unplanned threads are the results of character interaction.  Some of these threads I can work into the story easily because they support what I'm already doing.  But some open up areas of the story I had not foreseen.

This happened in Book 2 as well when I suddenly realized that Iriel's mother had sided with the evil elves. I did this so that in Book 3, Iriel could encounter her and deal with all the hurt and pain from her mother leaving her at a young age.  Since I had planned on the main characters encountering evil elven scouts, this was an easy one to fit together.

But I'm now finding a connection between Brashani, my fire mage, and the stranger the main characters rescued at the start of Book 3, Nancy Overton.  Nancy is a sword master and works for Duke MacPherson training the knights in the MacPherson's court.  She was ambushed by brigands on the open road after being separated from the group she was traveling with.  The main characters came to her rescue and since they were all traveling in the same direction, Nancy joined the group so she could get home safely.

But Brashani does not trust her and tells Sir Ahlan this.  Ahlan manages to communicate to Nancy that her recent actions may have upset the wizard so she apologizes and offers to buy Brashani a round of drinks once they reach town.  But Brashani is suspicious and so am I.  Does this scene have any purpose?  Should there be a connection between Brashani and Nancy?  Can she help the mage with his efforts to be more accepted by the others or does she need him for some reason?

I have no answers to any of these questions but I do know that I'm going to leave all the scenes related to this thread in the book for now to see where they go.  At worst, this is just a small side plot which helps character development.  At best this is part of a larger story which I don't see the whole picture of yet.

The moral:  let yourself experience with your character to see where they go and what they do.  You'll be surprised and it will make your story better and take in place you never thought of.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Technology marches on

The other day I responded to a Facebook post from a friend.  He was commenting on the lose of the local Blockbuster video store.  Several people thought it was a shame but I pointed out that once the Internet began to provide all type of media: books, music, and video, to name three, the lose of physical stores selling these items is inevitable.

Software is a prime example of this.  I used to frequently software store often and joke that I loved the smell of new software coming out of the box.  These days most software is purchased online and I never see physical media.

This has become true of music too.  I just read an article online about the death of the CD.  And I can't remember the last time I purchased a physical CD from a store.

Borders -- the physical bookstore -- closed this year because the same trends are affecting books too.  So it is not really a surprise -- or at least it shouldn't be -- that video stores are disappearing.  Newsstands are also threatened because I can get many of magazines online now.

In fact, given the ability to research information on the Internet, I'm wondering how long it will be before financially-strapped towns will close their libraries because the function is redundant.  And that's not all. The Internet provides the function once the exclusive province of TV.  Are TV stations at risk?  And with social media, will people stop going to night clubs and live vicariously through the computer screen.

It sounds like a bad science fiction story doesn't it?  But I'm finding that at the years click by in the 21st century that what used to be considered fiction is becoming fact.

Back in the middle of the 20th century, the perceived threat to freedom was Big Brother and government.  I think technology might just trump that if we are not careful.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Are you Ready?

I have long said that I should have started writing my fantasy series, the Aglaril Cycle, sooner.  That, because of the time it is taking to complete each novel, I should have started sooner so that I can be sure that I will get to my other stories and ideas.

But the fact is (and was until recently) I wasn't ready to do so.  The first draft of the material was completed in 1999.  But that draft wasn't very good.  But I didn't know it and I wasn't doing anything to improve it.  Life has a way of occupying your time if you don't guard against and so a number of years flew by without any action on my part.  Oh I thought about the characters and the story and made some changes they were cosmetic mostly.

Then I woke up (about two years ago) and really began to focus on the story and what I could do to get it published.  That required exploring every avenue I could think of.  Some were dead ends, like join a writer's group, and some proved more fruitful, like reading several books on writing.

But the point is I was ready to commit to do what I needed to do and I still make time for it.  I shifted priorities in my life too.  And all that was vital because the best idea in the world is wasted if the writer who has it isn't able to do it justice in their treatment of the material.

And now, after all that time, I feel ready.  Partly because I approach my work different than I did and partly because the fog about what to do and how to proceed is beginning to lift.  Book 3 is in development after years of delay.  Book 1 is complete.  Book 2 is in revision.  I can see and feel the progress and my own skill now and again.  I know when I've got a good scene and when something is missing.

So when you approach a new project you want to ask yourself are you ready to handle it.  Most writers develop internal instincts about what works and what doesn't and about their own skills and abilities.  So be honest with yourself and trust your instincts.  If you have to wait, then wait.  But if you think you are ready then go for it.  If the results don't work for you, put the story away for awhile and come back to it. But if the writing is good then keep going and see it through to the end.

Example:  After several attempts are writing short stories I've put them all aside because I'm not sure I'm ready to write them.  Short stories require a different set of skills than novels do because so one, the short story needs to be self-contained.  Many of my short stories feel like they are part of something larger (which they are) and that's no good.  I've got to remember on what important in these stories and focus on it.  I've got some ideas along those lines, but I'm not ready to revise the stories just yet.  I will be but first I've got novels to finish.

And that's the challenge of writing; handling all the ideas you get.  Sometimes it's like a flood.  I hope you are ready for it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Is this the Internet we wanted?

Back in the early days of the Internet (okay, I'm talking about my early days with the Internet, the mid-90s) all I heard was talk about keeping it open and free of commercials and free of regulations.  Threats to the openness and the general freedom it afforded were (and still are)  still challenged by concerned individuals.

But the Internet has evolved into something no one expected.  Back when all you had were web sites, the Internet was a patchwork of places.  Some sites let you buy things, some gave you information, and some were trash exposing views or content best ignored.

Then people began blogging.  Blogging changes the playing field because suddenly instead of straight facts on a web site, you've opinions to which people react.  Next come YouTube, which is like blogging with video.  The TV show, American's Funniest Videos works on the same premise as YouTube, sharing videos.  But YouTube is broader and more encompassing.

Finally social media arrived and we were blessed (?) with Facebook and Twitter.  Suddenly we had critical mass because by contenting Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, and web site, the Internet becomes a very different place.  Now we have technology that is designed to let people connect with other people.  And that's great if they want the connection.  But what if they don't?  Is it an invasion of privacy?  Do we risk being out of the loop if you don't use the technology we have available to us?  It is a little like not having cable in 1985 and not knowing what MTV is.

And yet using the technology opens us up to all kinds of things both good and bad.  Is it worth it?

For myself I know my only reason for connecting with people like I'm running for public office (aside from just wanting to make more friends) is to gather an audience for the books I am writing.  If I were more obnoxious, I would use these technologies to sell my products to you.  But I'm not and I've not got many ready to sell.  So I've not bothered; but others do.

Social media has turned many of us into cottage industries and has turned the Internet into a huge marketplace where everyone is selling something to everyone else.  That wasn't the goal.  And perhaps this is the real reason I've not been more forceful selling my books.  I have information about the books posted in various places.  There are free samples of the book available.  Whether you purchase it is left you to decide for yourself.  I am only making the information available.

I think that's the best use of the technology.  Perhaps I'm doing myself a disservice but I don't believe that just because I can do a thing I should do it.  I think we need to step back and ask how do these technologies enrich us.  What do I want to use Twitter or Facebook for?  Otherwise, we are just mindless chattel being swept away with whatever new thing comes next.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Writing is a Long Slow Process

I'm finding just about everything associated with writing a long and slow process.  This is certainly true of the drafts I'm writing.  Of course, I'm writing novels consisting of thousands of words.  I would expect that.  But the revision process is a slow process too.  Revising my first novel took about two months and revising the second novel will not win any awards for speed either.

Publishing and releasing the novels also takes time as well.  Oh uploading the files is easy and fast, sure.  But getting all the files so they come out right is a huge time sink.  I thought I'd have everything in place to self-publish by the end of August or September but here in November, I'm still fussing with the artwork of the hard cover version of Aure, the Topaz.

Getting responses back from publishers has always been (and continues to be) a process measured in weeks and months.  I don't think that will ever change and I'm not suggesting that publishers rush their evaluations of submitted work.  I'm just noting that here again, there is a long process associated with writing.

Hearing back from readers and reviewers is always time-intensive. too.  It usually takes months (or ever) to hear anything.  Maybe I'm dealing with slow readers or infrequent readers and others don't have this problem, but this is my experience.

And to be clear, I'm not complaining about any of this.  I do, however, find it ironic that in an age of instant messages, tweets, and information overload that the writing process, while it has speed up from the days of typing out drafts on paper, is still comparatively slow.  And I have to wonder why?  Is this one reason why it took so long for e-book readers to catch on?  Is there an inherent lethargy with books and writing?

I don't have the answers to these questions but based on empirical evidence I would say yes.  Which then begs the question, what does that say about us? That art should not be rushed?  I would argue that the creation process cannot be rushed.  But I think that since we have such a glut of things to read the time it takes to go to market does not matter.  Also, I'm finding that what's important is not the time to market but the promotion afterwards that makes all the difference.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why Writing Good Fantasy Novels are Difficult

I had an important realization while reading Stephen King's On Writing.  His novels work well because many of them are set in the modern world.  The benefit of this is his knows how his characters should react and he can add real elements from the modern world to give the story a sense of reality if he needs to.  That's easy because the real world provides so many possibilities to draw from.

For example,  he tells of how he had an idea for a story in which the driver of a car pulls into a gas station.  After refueling, the driver uses the restroom and on the way out the door he decides to walk around a little since he has been driving north up an interstate highway for hours.  He sees a pile of snow melting and all manner of odd things partially buried in the snow.  He slips on some snow and falls down an incline.  The driver is injured and must wait to be rescued.  How this happens depends on several factors:  How long before the gas station attendant notices that the driver's car is still parked by a gas pump?  If the driver is alone, how long before he misses an appointment with someone in his life? I'm sure you can come up with similar questions.  Eventually the state police would be notified and a search conducted.  But how long would that take?  And what happens to the driver in the meantime?

However, that same situation in a fantasy world is a lot different and it those differences that make writing a good novel much harder.  To start, the driver in this example, has to be changed since there are no cars.  He can certainly be a traveler on horseback who rides into a small town to rest and who disappears.  He might have slipped on snow and ends up hidden in a ditch but if it's the situation you want to keep, then here's a better summary:

A traveler is ambushed by some brigands on the open road.  In the fight, the traveler is injured and presumed dead so they roll him into a nearby ditch and take his horse.  

Now what happens?  There are no agencies to report the missing person as there are in the modern world.  In fact there is almost no way for the traveler to be found unless I add lots of details to the world. These details must come from my imagination and must be explained correctly and non-intrusively so the reader understands them and still enjoys the story.

And that's the challenge in fantasy novels.  The reader still wants the richness available in the real world but that means knowing thousands of details before you even put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).  That's what I've done and with luck, I've done a good job too.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Report card

I thought I'd take stock of all my writing projects to see where they are.  This will help me get organized and focus on what I need to do.

Aure the Topaz is in the hands of a publisher and I am waiting to hear back.  I've completed a round of edits recently and don't plan any more changes to it.  I just need a way to get the book in the hands of readers.

Vorn the Onyx is complete.  I was proofreading it with the intent to give it to some reviewers but I got sidetracked.  I'm going to have to get back to that.  A cover for the book is in the works too.

Telep the Diamond is being written now.  The writing is slow but it is coming along.  I expect the writing to go faster soon as the action picks up.  Right now it seems mired in character development and soap opera.  I will definitely need to look at all that in the second draft.

The few short stories I have written in the latest few years are collecting dust.  I have no plans to work on them or get them out for publication.  I will defer that work until the Aglaril Cycle is complete I think.

The poems I have are another matter.  I have a poem being published in an anthology.  This is no big deal because it is part of a scheme for me to buy the book and help the publisher defray their costs.  The poem, Regret, was written for a poetry contest and it won first place or third place; I don't remember exactly.  Months later I saw an ad for another poetry contest.  So I entered it and the next thing I know it is being included in this anthology.  Frankly, if I had known what was going to happen I never would've entered it but its too late now.

But I've got enough poems to publish a book of them I think.  So I might do that or I might wait.  I'll have to review what I've got and what's really good.

So it looks like I need to keep writing poetry and Book 3 and I need to resume reading and editing Book 2.

Good to know.  Back to work.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Grand Experiment

I just finished reading On Writing by Steven King.  Great book.  One of the things it reminded me is that writers write, even when they think they are spent and their writing sucks and isn't fit to wrap fish.  Writers write.  Why?  Because that's their job; because if they don't the writing gears in their heads freeze up like cold pipes on an arctic winter morning.

There are probably other reasons too, but for me that last one is definitely true.  The more I write the better my writing is.  What I need to do is figure out a way to write first thing in the morning.  Note that by first thing, I mean after I get the dogs out to piddle and poop and I feed them, I do those stretching exercises that are good for me, and after I eat breakfast.  Although in retrospect, I suspect that eating breakfast is negotiable.

The other thing I need to do is figure out what to write.  I have my blog on Mondays and Fridays.  I suppose my novel can fill the rest of the days of the week.  But I don't think I should be writing on the weekends; I need to rest my head after all.

I think that's what went wrong this last time.  I was working on Book 3 over the weekend and I can't do that.  I need to pace myself.  Which means that if life or distractions intrude and I cannot write when I want to I forego the task.  I'm not sure I like that idea.  I'm going to have to see how the next few days go to see if that's workable.

But the important thing is I'm back in the saddle and ready to resume writing.  I have a clearer idea of how to prioritize and focus on the things that are important to me to make sure they can done.  Everything else will have to wait.  I don't know if that's workable either.  Guess it's time for the Grand Experiment: to arrange my life as I need it to be arranged so I can write regularly and steadily.

Wish me luck; I have a feeling I'm going to need it.