Another self-critique of “Horse Tamer”

Horse Tamer is now at about 60,000 words. If this were a normal novel, or even a normal first draft of a novel, I would be deep into the main action of the story at this point. As I’ve previously noted, however, this is not a normal first draft, and it’s getting weirder by the chapter. I have, most incontinently and without a trace of proper narrative discipline, allowed myself to luxuriate in the process of building out the world and my cast of characters, using an inordinate amount of time to do what would, in a finished novel, take perhaps one-third the number of words. I have one or two important characters I haven’t even introduced yet. And poor Ana, who is to be (I mean it) a major player in the overall story, hasn’t even been seen in the last nine chapters! If I were to present this mess to an editor, they would not only be justified in rejecting it, but in having me shot at dawn. Without a blindfold.

Fortunately, the saving grace here is that this is a blog, on which no one has to pay to read my ramblings. The freedom the blog has given me to take my time constructing my narrative has, however, allowed me to indulge a very bad habit– blathering on without regard to pacing. Complaints have, in previous times, been lodged against certain other of my novels with regard to their pacing. With Horse Tamer, so far it appears that pacing is standing out in the snow, shivering and holding a tin cup. Obviously, if I were ever to submit this for actual publication, that issue would have to be rectified.

In terms of specific issues, I continue to worry that I am not conveying Mankin’s emotional conflict adequately. However, more than just trying to find a balance in portraying his grief, it belatedly occurs to me that I should be giving him more emotional colors, so to speak. Grief comes in many shades– sadness, rage, depression, addiction, promiscuity, violence. Aside from his initial attempt to turn himself into kitty-chow, Mankin showed a bit of rage toward his grandfather in Chapter Two. Since then, however, he has been distressingly monochromatic. I need to think about how to fix that.

In addition, I don’t think I have very adequately conveyed the fact that Mankin has more going on in his noggin than just the loss of Alektl and their daughter. He’s experiencing a certain amount of PTSD, but more than that, I’ve had it in mind that Mankin is haunted by one thing in particular that happened in battle. So far, however, I haven’t dropped more than one or two hints about it. Ideally, all of this should be going on at the same time, so it doesn’t feel as if I’m tacking on issues. This would be a problem for a second-draft correction.

I’ve already mentioned Ana being AWOL. That absence will be rectified soon (I hope). The one other issue I will mention at this point is that I have a growing sense I have spent too much time telling about, rather than showing, the internal conflicts between parties and classes in Venia. There is, indeed, yet more to show, and I need to think about how best to do it. In story terms, showing, as opposed to telling, is a matter relaying the information as an aspect of character and action, rather than just having someone blathering about it. I took a tentative step in this direction when I introduced Tacitus Plenor a few chapters back, but I need to do more.

Hopefully the reader will find some entertainment value in all this, despite its desperately unfinished state. This is, essentially, an experiment in the creation of a first draft, done in public, with on-going critiques as it happens. Certainly, I’ve never done anything like this before. Having said that, I confess I have been enjoying writing this story and finally seeing Mankin and all the other characters I’ve had in my head for so long come to life, however imperfectly. In and of itself, that’s worth something.

Flash Fiction Challenge- 100 Words- Scavenger

Really, I wonder if I’m getting a little obsessive with the flash-fiction challenges. Here’s one I haven’t tried before, 100 words (eek!) incorporating the word “feasting”. Doing anything in less than 2000 words makes me dizzy and strains my skills to the breaking point, but here’s my attempt. I’ll just go lie down now….

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel

Ryan dashed across the debris-strewn street. Machine-gun fire echoed among the shattered buildings, but far away.

He circled the burnt-out tank, hurried down the steps to the basement door. He knocked; the door opened. He went inside.

Magda lowered the pistol she held. “You were gone so long,” she said. Behind her, in a corner, Lara huddled with the nameless boy, who never spoke.

“It was worth it,” Ryan said. “There will be feasting tonight.”

He showed them what he had found— three loaves of stale bread, a block of moldy cheese, and three shriveled apples.

Magda burst into tears.


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Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” – an exceedingly quick review of a short novel

This past week I read Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I live in awe of Neil Gaiman as an author. That’s despite the fact I am not heavily into much of his work. Mostly this is because I don’t like horror in general. My favorite works of Gaiman’s are more in the line of Neverwhere, American Gods, and Anansi Boys, which is probably some sort of pattern. Oh, and Good Omens, his collaboration with Terry Pratchett, actually made this former Southern Baptist laugh about the Apocalypse, no mean feat. In whatever genre he’s writing, though, the plain fact is that Gaiman is one of the best writers of imaginative literature alive today.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is nothing short of brilliant. It is a short novel revolving around a middle-aged man, who returns to the scene of an epic struggle to save the universe, in which he was a major player at the age of seven. I do not want to say more than that, because in no way, shape or form do I want to spoil this book for anyone.

Gaiman’s writing in this book is some of the most powerful I have read recently. With absolute economy he sets up an epic battle that keeps you turning the pages, wondering what’s going to happen next. He creates, with complete authenticity, the world of a seven year old boy who finds himself thrown into dangers beyond imagination– and then he creates a world beyond our mundane existence as full of wonder as it is horror. I’ve gotten very picky in my old age about what I read, but this book just kept pulling me onward.

This book joins my list of favorites from Gaiman’s works. Highly recommended.

Mondays Finish the Story – A Whole New World

A flash fiction challenge, to finish the story, using this image–

Copyright 2015 Barbara W. Beacham
Copyright 2015 Barbara W. Beacham

And this initial sentence– “They finally made their escape.”

Hmmm…not sure this works, but I gave it a whirl…

They finally made their escape. The jeeps splashed through the mud and rain to the ridge. There they paused to look back. The blue sphere of light filled the valley.

“It’s becoming unstable,” the physicist said. “An hour, maybe less, it’ll collapse.”

“When it does,” the engineer said, “it’ll take the entire facility with it.”

“Too bad about the workers,” the general said.

The physicist shrugged. “Nothing we could do. We had to get the data out. That’s valuable.”

“Where they will end up?” the engineer said.

“Who knows?” the physicist said. “The effect is running wild. They could end up anywhere in this universe.”

“Or the next,” his assistant said.

Everyone clambered back into the vehicles. They sped off.

The PhD student climbed out of the brush where he had been hiding. He hefted the backpack, heavy with the spare technical manual, up on his shoulder, and started back down the ridge.

Boy, I’m slow….a brief note on Princess of Fire

I have cleared 110,000 words on Princess of Fire, a mark I should have reached days and days ago. Frankly, at times it’s been a lot more fun to write Horse Tamer (yes, writing two novels at the same time is stupid, but I stubbornly persist– it must be the Scots in me…). I originally thought the two stories would not compete for space in my head, but, as with many things in my life, I have been proven wrong.

But another drag on my progress on PoF has been the fact that I have been slogging through a lot of technical details, setting up the scientific background for the story, as well as establishing the main action that occupies the middle of the book (think Dunkirk with trains). All of that seemed so very necessary, but at the same time deadly thick and exhausting. At times it’s been hard to gin up enthusiasm.

However, today, while I was chiseling out a few hundred more words, it began to dawn on me– slowly, like a sunrise through thick clouds– that I have done enough, and probably more than enough, to establish the action and background. Now, this very moment, might just be the time to really start messing with Kathy and her efforts.

Back in 2013, when I passed Princess of Shadows to my beta-readers, one of them said she liked the book very much, but wondered at times how many things could go wrong for Kathy while she struggled to get to safety. I knew I had succeeded at that point, because I had intended Kathy’s journey to be a serious struggle. And that’s what I want with Princess of Fire.

It is monkey-wrench time.

Time to screw things up, insert catastrophes, create interference, cause problems, to stir the pot. Time to force Kathy to confront crises, and to overcome them. To take the plan she has in mind and turn it inside out, and make her pick up the pieces.

To put it another way, it’s past time for me to apply the Whedon Principle— the concept that you must make your characters’ struggle and suffer, often just when it looks like they’re in the clear. Joss Whedon is a master of this, and it’s a principle I learned at his feet (metaphorically speaking).

Putting it another way, it’s time for the fun stuff.

Because, quite simply, it is in the struggle against overwhelming odds that the action and the characters become the most interesting, and the author (aka, sadist, but that’s another blog post) can have the most fun writing their story. And that’s the point I now appear to be at. It feels rather like coming up and over the top of a roller-coaster, and now comes the drop, and the screaming….

Poor Kathy….

Mondays Finish the Story – The last chopper

Another Finish the Story challenge, using this initial sentence–

“Silently as the people watched, the black hawk helicopter lifted into the air.”

and this image–

Copyright 2015 Barbara W. Beacham
Copyright 2015 Barbara W. Beacham

Silently, as the people watched, the Blackhawk helicopter lifted into the air.

“That’s it, then,” Drake said.

“Yeah.” Patrick’s mouth was dry. He had drunk all the water in his canteen hours before.

“At least we got the kids out,” Ahmed said.

“But they’ll be coming back for us? Right?” Sims said.

Patrick shook his head. “They’ll never make it back in time.”

Sims began to cry, like a child.

Patrick paid him no attention. He looked around the position, at the soldiers and the civilians pressed into fighting. He saw resignation, anger, sadness, dull weariness.

“We hold here,” he said. “Otherwise they might overrun the launch site.” Just over the horizon, beyond the trees— close, but now infinitely far away.

Maybe we’ll last long enough to see the ship lift off.

“Fix bayonets,” he said.

The sound of bayonets rasping out of scabbards, clicking into place on muzzles. Patrick turned to face the ravening enemy, as they crested the far hill.