In haste– a reflection on 2014 before it expires completely

This is not a review of the year 2014, and what I did from January 1st to this moment; still less is it an outline of what I intend to do in 2015. I’m not someone who makes New Year’s resolutions– my problems and questions have deep roots, and facile promises to myself aren’t going to shift any of them.

No, I am taking a brief moment to reflect on what 2014 has meant to me and my writing, before the year goes away completely (here in Seattle, that means I have about half an hour). I feel, somehow, the need to put a frame around it.

2014 was probably not the most difficult year of my life so far. But it is up there.

I won’t bore you with tales of unemployment, under-employment, minor health issues, and relationship problems. No, what stands out most painfully for me is that this year is the year my confidence in my own writing (never monumental in the first place) took perhaps the biggest hit it has ever suffered– a Long Lance torpedo right amidships.

My self-publishing effort is a failure, at least in terms of sales. I started out with self-publishing three years ago, and the whole process since has been one of disillusionment. I no longer hold out much hope of attracting a major audience by this means.

On top of that, I spent most of the year suffering major flailure with Princess of Fire, from which I may only now be recovering. My writing in general this year has seemed flat and amateurish. There were several points at which I had to fight off the urge to un-publish everything I have on Amazon, close this blog and walk away. And just to put a cherry on everything, I announced that I would engage in a year-end writing surge, a project which now strongly resembles an egg dripping down a brick wall.

In the end I didn’t un-publish my stories, and obviously the blog staggers onward. As poor as my writing seems to be, it’s about all I have to offer the world at this point. I firmly believe that if I have any hope of yet accomplishing something with my life, it is intimately tied to my finally learning how to write, and writing things people want to read. It just appears that I will have to keep on trying, and pray for the light to know what to write, and how to write it.

Pray and write. I guess that’s a resolution, after all.

Happy New Year.

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End of the Year Surge – Day Six

Well, I predicted that Christmas Day would constitute a dead zone in my surge, and I was right– I got nothing done that day except over-eating. But more than that, for the three day period of the 24th, 25th and 26th, I wrote only 2700 words, a little more than my estimated daily average of 700 words, with a total so far of 6200, a little more than half of where I should have been (10,000) if I had stuck to my 2000 words a day goal.

Sigh– the moral here may be that you should never start a special writing project just before the holidays. I may have also picked a goal a few hundred words too far for my personal abilities. I find that after about 1200 to 1300 words in a single day my writing mojo definitely starts to sputter.

Although it’s now fairly certain I won’t reach 20,000 words by midnight Wednesday, I am not ready to call this experiment a failure. Instead, like any good scientist, I will change the parameters of the experiment. Instead of a calendar deadline, I will try to maintain an increased word production until I reach 130,000 words, and then see where that puts me in the narrative. Hopefully, maybe, from that height I will be able to see the Promised Land, aka, a complete first draft.

We shall see.

My End of the Year Surge – Day Three

For the first two days of my surge, in which I am attempting to write 2000 words a day on Princess of Fire until midnight on December 31st, my results are somewhat mixed– somewhere north of 1500 words for Monday, and about 1930 for yesterday, for a total of just about 3500. A shaky start, I admit– but perhaps it is not too surprising. My normal daily output typically falls somewhere between 500 and 1000 words, with about 700 a day an approximate average. Pushing myself to three times that output, even for a short period, doesn’t come naturally.

It also occurs to me that not every day in the next eight may be equally propitious for writing. Tomorrow, in particular, may turn out to be a serious dead-zone– the family has expectations of me, including going with them to see Into the Woods. I will not be afforded the opportunity to sequester myself in writerly seclusion…oh, no….

Hopefully I will get a deal more done today, and on the other side of Christmas, the weekend looms, promising to afford me plenty of opportunities to catch up on my total. So long as I can stay away from World of Tanks….

More bulletins to follow.

I’ve got an idea….

After playing hooky from Princess of Fire for a few days, I’m back on task, and thinking about setting myself a goal. Counting today there are ten days left in the year. It would mean not allowing myself the luxury of video games or movies, and maybe going a little short on that sleep stuff, but what if I were to set myself the goal of writing 2000 words a day on PoF until midnight on December 31st? Twenty thousand words before the end of the year– it’s a very nice, round number. Very nice.

Now, in all honesty, twenty thousand words will still probably not allow me to close the gap that remains to be covered in the middle of this novel, but it would almost certainly put me within striking distance. It might even make January 2015 the month I get the first draft done. That’s very, very tempting, considering how much I’ve struggled with this novel over the last year.

It will probably also mean putting Horse Tamer and flash-fiction writing challenges on the far back-burner for the duration, as well as suspending work on the couple of short stories I’ve been pondering for traditional publication. But it would be worth it.

Total focus for ten days– I can do this.

I will keep you posted.

Finish the story– White Knight

The Monday Finish the Story flash fiction challenge, 100 – 150 words based on the following picture–

Copyright 2014 Barbara W. Beacham
Copyright 2014 Barbara W. Beacham

and the initial sentence “They say that life is a game of chess…”

I noticed something about the picture and went with it….

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“They say that life is a game of chess,” said the Black Queen.

“Yes,” replied the White King. “Order, hierarchy, everyone in their place, according to their assigned roles. “

“And, then,” said the White Queen, “the clash of opposing forces, the constant of competition, the subtle machinations of the powerful, the maneuverings that produce victory or defeat….”

“It is how life itself is,” the Black King intoned. “We are but its noble reflection.”

“Let us begin the battle…,” said the Black Queen.

“Wait just a minute!” cried the White King.

“What is it, my lord?” said the White Queen.

“Where the bloody hell is my knight?” the White King hollered.

“WOO-HOO!” the White Knight cried, as he streaked down the cruise-ship’s water-slide.

A milestone…

I am now at 100,000 words for Princess of Fire. I passed my previous high-water mark of 96,000 words a few days ago, but I wanted to wait to pop an (imaginary) cork until I cleared 100,000. I have, thank God, completely recouped my losses from the Great Word Massacre of August, and I am finally chewing into the central action of the novel.

It’s a great feeling.

Looking back over my history with the Divine Lotus series, I realize I should (maybe) cut myself a little slack. In the first place, I have never been one of those writers who can pound out 90,000 words in four weeks. I have a tendency to plod, which is what made the wildfire phase of Princess of Fire of about a year or so ago all the more remarkable. I also tend to lose my way, to doubt, to pull back and retrench in the course of composing a first draft– just look at the process I went through with Princess of Shadows. Throw in how easily distracted I am sometimes (writing this series coincided with my becoming entangled in the coils of Halo, of which I have previously written), and the necessity of making a living with a day job, and it can take me years to complete a novel. This has been as true of my trunk novels as it is of the Divine Lotus series.

As best I can recall, Princess of Wonders took me at least a year to get to a first draft, and probably longer. Princess of Secrets took another two years, almost to the day, to reach first draft status. Getting to a first draft for Princess of Shadows required another three years and eleven months, although, of that time, I was actively writing the novel for about thirteen months (the intervening years were much consumed with other projects and in trying to secure an agent for the first two Divine Lotus books, a tale of woe unto itself). For each of those books you can easily add another six months for a final draft.

Speedy I ain’t. How some writers churn out three books a year I’ll never know.

So, speaking hypothetically, if I got a first draft down for Princess of Fire in another three or four months (remember, hypothetically), and then spent another six months editing it, with a finished book seeing the light of day in September 2015 (nearly two years from when I started the first draft), it would really be nothing out of the ordinary. Looking at it that way makes me feel better.

Still a lot of work to do, though….

Later.

To the light

Another Finish the Story challenge, asking for 150 words based on this image–

Photo by: Barbara Beacham
Photo by: Barbara Beacham

and this opening sentence–

“Donning her fins and snorkel, she headed out into the deep water.”

Frankly, I’m not too sure about how this one turned out. It’s more suggestive of an opening than a complete story. Still, for what it’s worth, here it is.

************************************************************

Donning her fins and snorkel, she headed out into the deep water. She ignored the screams from shore. Done with you, she thought.

The water was warm and clear. She could see the bottom—rock and sand, waving seaweed, a furtive damselfish or two. It was calming. She needed calm right now.

She stroked forward, taking her time. It might be only minutes before the garda came out after her, but you couldn’t rush this. To be at peace is the key.

She felt it first in the pit of her stomach—a lurch as if the ocean had dropped out from under her, although nothing changed. She caught herself, then heard—

Are you sure, mortal?

Yes.

Very well.

A spiraling light shone. She took a breath and dove down toward it. The sea spun around her and pulled her down into the light, into a new world.

My own critique of “Horse Tamer”, so far

I just took a count and I am 41,000 words into Horse Tamer, which is fairly remarkable for a novel for which I am creating one comparatively short chapter every week or two, while I’m making progress on another novel. This is, in fact, the first time I have ever tried to essentially write two novels at the same time. (If anyone needs proof that I am basically fruit-loops, you need look no further).

Looking back over what I have done so far, I can see certain issues emerging with the story, problems which, if this were a normal first draft, would either be items to mark down for future correction or to be dealt with by means of mid-course changes. But this is far from a normal first draft. I am uncertain whether this story will ever proceed to a second draft. It may, in fact, never see the light of day beyond this blog. To put it another way, what “finished” will ultimately mean for this story is very unclear.

It may be necessary, therefore, for me to make corrections as I go and engage in periodic retcons. Since I am, rather arrogantly, presenting this tale to the public more-or-less as it flows off my keyboard, that means doing something in public– editing a draft– that should properly be done in private, like certain items of personal hygiene. My recurring instinct is to apologize, but I plow ahead regardless.

Issues to-date:

1. I am uncertain whether I am adequately conveying Mankin’s central conflict– his uncertainty whether he wants to continue living, whether, indeed, he has anything to live for. Finding a balance here is difficult– too heavy a hand and I have a maudlin, weepy character of which the reader will quickly tire. I have come, very late in my “career” as a writer, to an understanding that it is unnecessary to beat the reader over the head with emotions– you have to trust that the reader can comprehend a character’s turmoil with only a certain number of strategic indicators of their pain. I am unsure, though, whether I have achieved that balance. This would be something to return to in a second draft, to see what needs to be fleshed out or pared down– but, as I said, there may be no second draft for this story, and I may just have to forge ahead.

2. Crisonia. This is a new character, and I am beginning to think that I have put her in an impossible situation. She has sworn herself to vengeance for her murdered father, but I have left her without the means, in any conventional sense, to accomplish it. Edmond Dantès, at least, had the Abbé Faria’s wealth to fuel his vengeance. I also begin to worry I haven’t made her quite as obsessively vengeful as she needs to be. This could be a matter to be dealt with via a mid-course correction and a series of (possibly massive) retcons.

3. More critical than either item one or two is the realization that, this far in, I haven’t yet really begun to outline the overarching plot driver of this novel. I’ve laid out hints here and there, given out tidbits, but I haven’t really begun assembling the time-bomb that’s going to drive these characters together, and then into action. I’ve been taking my time outlining the characters and their situation, enjoying building the world and the city of Venia, but 41,000 words is a long way to go without setting the time-bomb to ticking.

The problem is that I still haven’t gotten everyone in place– heck, I haven’t even introduced all my main characters yet. I have a tendency to take my time at the beginning of a long story, building out the world, but this may be a record. Of course, what some people call leisurely world-building others call a problem with pacing.

In a normal first draft this would be a matter for cutting and pasting, moving elements around, tightening timelines, and fleshing out characters. With Horse Tamer, I may have to be satisfied with some retcon placements of guns– or, more properly, long swords– on mantels, and a better focus, from this point forward, on where this story as a whole is going.

Hopefully identifying these issues and figuring out how to deal with them will, in the long run, help make Horse Tamer a better read for those of you brave enough– or tolerant enough– to slog through it with me. Bear with me. I think there is some very good stuff coming down the pike.

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And PS, full disclosure– a quick review of my previous chapters reveals that there are any number of fun little oopsies scattered through them– e.g. I called Nema “Rema’ in at least one chapter, and in another the rebel faction in the Attau civil war is referred to as the “Red Party” in one place and in another place in the same chapter as the “Black Party”. All the sort of fun little mistakes I typically make with a first draft, which I will have to comb out and fix at a later date (in my normal process, these are the kind of errors I catch with my hard copy edit). It’s almost reassuring how consistent I am…almost….

Flash fiction- Finish the Story

I haven’t done one of these for a while. Here’s a flash-fiction challenge to finish the story, based on this image–

Image copyright 2014, Barbara W. Beacham
Image copyright 2014, Barbara W. Beacham

and this initial sentence–

“In the compound on the hill, lives a man with a dream.”

And we have to do it in 150 words.

And I usually break out in a sweat if I have to do something in under 5000 words. Challenging? Oh, yes….

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“In the compound on the hill, lives a man with a dream,” said the shaman.

“His sort of dreams are dangerous. We must kill him,” said the leader.

“He only wants to restore what has been lost!”

“By technology! By building. Deny that his sort have murdered the earth.”

There was no denying it. The red wastes stretched in every direction, the dessicated earth a testimony to the folly of their ancestors. The compound, with its trees and shining glass, was a bright and tiny spot of life within devastation.

The shaman held up his hands. “I plead with you, brethren—do not do this. He strives to give us hope….”

“False hope! The sort of hope that leads back to the fire.” The leader turned to his followers. “We must wipe out this abomination!”

The ragged men lifted flint-tipped spears and clubs, screaming eagerness to kill and burn. They surged up the slope, straight into the fire of the automated machine-guns.