It’s here…finally…..

Thanks be to God. The first draft of Princess of Fire is complete.

Right up until this afternoon I thought that I needed another chapter to complete the draft– but then I got to looking at it, and realized that I could collapse one chapter into another and, instead of needing five to six thousand more words, I could close the final gap with three thousand. It means that there are a number of continuity issues in the preceding two chapters I will need to fix, but that is distinctly a second-draft sort of issue. I pushed ahead, closed the gap, and she’s done. Excuse me while I collapse across the finish line….

It has happened to me before that, in writing a long story, I take a look at the narrative and suddenly the last few pieces fall into place, and what I thought would take several more days takes mere hours. I don’t know how it works, but sometimes that’s just the way it is.

The draft came in at 137,000 words, less than I thought, and I know I have a good deal of duplicated material I can cut at once, so the effective word count is probably about 134,000. That’s good, because, frankly, this thing’s a mess. Some sections are too thick, others too thin. I need to straighten out myriad details, many of which contradict each other, and a good deal of the pacing and location of different events needs to be adjusted. But as with all my drafts, this is normal.

Considering the revisions I know I need to make, plus the thought that I may need to add a couple of extra narrative threads (part of my original concept for the novel, which I abandoned mid-way, and which has since been worming its way back into my brain), I will probably need several more months to work my way through second draft, hard-copy edit, PDF doc review to create a punch list for errors, and then beta readers. Tentatively, I would say the end of the year may see Princess of Fire published, but, once again, I have learned to not make promises about a book that has proven to be wildly unpredictable.

But, still, this was the most important hurdle. It took fifteen months of doubt and suffering to get to this point, including moments when I was ready to drop, not just this book, but the whole business of writing, but it is done.

Te Deum laudamus.

Mondays Finish the Story – February 16th, 2015– Jazz in Amber

Another Mondays Finish the Story challenge, based on this image–

Copyright Barbara W. Beacham
Copyright Barbara W. Beacham

and the initial sentence–

“Little did they know when the photographer took their picture that they would find themselves trapped in a painting.”

Well, I followed the prompt for the most part, but I completely blew away the word count limit, so I won’t be adding my link to Barbara’s page. As usual, I’m not sure this works, but I’ll go with it for now.

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel

Little did they know when the photographer took their picture that they would find themselves trapped in a painting. The photographer was a Derinti cross-dimensional Preserver in disguise. He was so taken with their performance that he felt compelled, in the whimsical way of his race, to preserve it, and the performers.

In doing so, he created the first immortals of the human species—Jimmy, Blake, Lawrence and Steve. The living image in which the four found themselves was now a part of the back wall of the First Mercantile Bank. In this state they knew neither age nor decay. They merely played on and on, and anyone who had the ears to hear could detect their sweet brand of jazz, and, for a moment, feel their hearts lift.

The four musicians saw the building up of the city, in the years of the Great Warming, with massive towers two and three miles high rising to blot out the sun. They saw the towers fall into ruin, during the dark years that followed, and witnessed the savagery of men and women who had forgotten their heritage.

They saw the rise of the New Men, and glimpsed their silver ships rising into the sky as they abandoned the Earth forever.

They saw the return of the ice, and the long frozen wildness that embraced the forgotten husk of the city. They played on when only strange, mutated beasts in their dens of ice were there to hear them.

They beheld the rise of the seas, and for millennia played only for the sea beasts, the great porpoise-whales, the sapient squid and the terrible thalassadonts.

They were buried in sediment, and for ages played on for the secret beings of the deepest earth.

The sediment hardened into rock; in the fullness of time, as the seas receded, and erosion wore away at the rock, they saw the sun once more. The ice returned, encasing the world in glittering armor, and then melted again as the Sun flared and scorched the Earth.

They saw the Sun return to its quiet, ordinary ways, and the Earth grow green once more.

They saw the rise of the Silenidons, who heard their music and worshipped them for millennia. They found this distressing, as Jimmy and Blake were Catholic, Lawrence was a Presbyterian, and Steve, the tuba player, did not believe in God at all. They could do nothing, however, but continue playing. The four saw the Silenidons rise to mastery over the Earth, achieve great heights of intellect, and then fall into war with themselves. Rites of blood were performed before the ruined wall of the First Mercantile Bank, while the four played on. They played on while the Silenidons faded and dwindled away, until there was nothing left but their empty halls.

The four saw more inundations, more burials, the rise of mountains and the delving of seas, more ice and flaring sun, over and over across periods and eras and eons.

At last, they saw the Sun, swollen and dying, rising on the last day over the worn-out and weary Earth, and they played for it. They thought, perhaps, this would be the end, at last.

It was then, following up on a review of the files of the Preserver Corps, a Derinti scout appeared. He beheld the shattered remnant of the back wall of the First Mercantile Bank, saw the faded images of the four musicians, heard their music, and said, “Oh, dear,” which is a very loose translation of the Derintinese, and in no way, shape or form captures the profound dismay of the original.

Even as the bloated Sun reached out tendrils of fire to engulf the Earth, the scout erected a temporal realignment-decoder. With swift commands to his machine, he lifted the four from the wall and transported them back to the sidewalk on which they had been playing, on that one summer day, mere moments after the Preserver had departed, feeling pleased with himself.

For several minutes the four of them stood there, not speaking, not meeting each other’s eyes, while pedestrians streamed around them and traffic passed by. Then, still not speaking, they packed away their instruments and left, each their several ways.

Lawrence caught the Number Five bus across town, to the quiet street where his house stood. He went in, and put his trumpet case down inside the door.

“Lawrence? Is that you?” Millie peeked into the living room from the kitchen. Her apron was stretched over her bulging belly. “Your timing is good—I’m just starting dinner.”

Lawrence went over to her. He peered into her puzzled face for a moment; then he went down to his knees. He embraced her, ignoring her startled protest. He put his ear to her abdomen, listening for the heartbeat of their unborn child.

Progress report– Princess of Fire, ELO and the quest for inspiration

Princess of Fire is now at 130,000 words, a little below the pace I wanted to set, but not by much. The effective total word count is probably several thousand words less than that, because I’ve found some redundant material that needs to be cut. I haven’t started that process yet, however, so I’m going with 130,000 for the time being.

My best guess that I have one complete chapter and parts of two others left to do, perhaps 10,000 words, perhaps some more. The operative word there is ‘guess’, but I am, thank God, getting close.

One aspect of my writing process is that I frequently listen to music while writing. Somehow providing a soundtrack to my narrative composition seems to enhance it. I am not sure what the exact mechanism is, if the music inspires me to push harder, or if there is some sort of creative synergy in my brain between the words and the music, but it seems to help.

Sometimes it’s not easy to understand exactly how a certain piece of music enhances my writing; a casual observer might wonder how a pop-rock tune from the ’70’s relates to a science-fiction novel set in the 21st Century. But for this last push that’s exactly what I have been doing– I have been listening to a lot of Electric Light Orchestra, which is a large part of the soundtrack of my youth. For example, “Telephone Line”–

and “Do Ya”–

both of which have been helping me push through some intense scenes (flames, ash falling from the sky, Kathy facing down an angry mob by herself– the usual stuff. Poor kid). How they help me, though, is something of a mystery.

Some other stuff I listen to is a little more straightforward–

And, yes, I really lean toward the epic.

There are a few pieces, though, that I find so powerful that I have to save them for very special occasions. One of these is Patrick Cassidy’s “Funeral March”–

So far I have only used this to help write the little bit of Princess of Stars I’ve gotten down to-date– it’s just too intense for daily use.

I know other writers use music to inspire them, so I’m not a complete oddball. If anyone cares to share their writing soundtracks, or the other inspirational tricks they’ve developed to help grease the creative wheels, I would be really interested to hear about them.

RAAANNNTT! Fifty Shades of Grey and the degradation of traditional publishing

(Arooogah! Incoming Rant!)

My local newspaper has a review of Fifty Shades of Grey in this morning’s edition that just about sums it up.

Moira MacDonald is one the funnier, and more dependable, film critics around. If I had known nothing about the book from which the movie is derived, I would be well-advised by her review to flee to the hills. And even if I had missed her review, a quick perusal of Google results for the book would have brought this assessment to my eyes–

“I’ve never read anything so badly written that got published. It made Twilight look like War and Peace.” — Salman Rushdie

Oof. (“Torpedo amidships, Cap’n! She’s going doowwnn!”)

(Nothing off-color intended. Really).

It’s depressing to see this steaming pile of offal made into an actual film with an actual budget with actual actors (although, of course, Hollywood will do anything for a buck. No surprise there). The only thing more depressing is that the movie is based on a book that the publishing industry rushed to publish purely (there can be no other reason, least of all literary merit) because it had sold a ton of copies online. I am far from the first person to suggest that this one fact alone obliterates traditional publishing’s claim to be an arbiter of quality. Instead, it reveals trad publishing to be the soulless business it always has been.

Needless to say, I am not going to see the movie. I’ve got better things to spend the nine or ten or twelve bucks on. But inevitably I will be depressed for some time over the whole sorry business.

Of course, there’s always the chance that the Nostalgia Critic will review it. What a happy thought– maybe there’s hope yet….

News item– Saudi historian on why women in the US drive

We seem to be experiencing some static on the cross-cultural comprehension channel–

Or, to put it another way, it’s amazing the knots oppressors will tie themselves into to justify a policy with no justification.

To be fair, even the other Saudis on the show thought the guy was off the wall.

Personally, I’m just open-mouthed…my cultural relativity has done gone spung.

A hasty note on my works in progress, quickly done, without any sort of delay or obfuscation…really, right now…I mean it…

As I push ahead with Princess of Fire, I am probably going to be putting Horse Tamer on something of a hiatus, and likewise with most flash fiction (well, I might do one or two now and then, if the inspiration really strikes). I want to focus as much as I can on PoF.

I have another reason to hold off for the moment on Horse Tamer, however. Like a wave building off-shore, I can feel a retcon coming. And it’s big one.

I have to change Crisonia– not so much her motivation, but her status and her position, her relationship with certain other characters in the cast, and, most particularly, the means at her disposal for accomplishing what is supposed to be her devoutly desired revenge. I’ve mentioned before that I knew I had left the young woman in an impoverished box, out of which she was having difficulty climbing. This impoverishment made sense in one way in the story, but it’s made other aspects difficult. I could have some third party intervene, but then Crisonia would not be the independent actor she needs to be to move the story along. I think it’s better for her to have resources and connections at hand she can use, or manipulate. Figuring out what those should be, and how to place them in the story, however, will take a little time.

And this is in addition to the fact that I have a burning need to get Ana back into the narrative. I am even less sure what I should do with her, but it’s evident that it needs to happen. Yet more writerly-noodling will be required to sort this out.

In addition to Crisonia and Ana, I may take the opportunity to adjust some of the other characters, as well, although I am not looking to make this into a general re-write of the whole novel, especially considering the novel is far from complete. But all of this reveals a truth about my writing process.

I don’t know if this holds true for very many other writers, but for me the creation of the first draft is usually the place where I not only get to know the characters– particularly if they’re new– it’s also where I often, substantially, figure out the story itself. If that sounds bass-ackward to you, well, then, you’re probably a plotter. As a pantser, when I plunge into a new novel, I will generally have an idea of the chief characters, some idea of the action, some specific scenes in mind, and, almost always, a pretty clear picture of how the novel ends. For example, I know exactly how the entire Divine Lotus series is going to end, right down to the last line of dialogue (what is it? Nope, not going to tell you…). Otherwise, I am often totally making it up as I go, with major character motivations, plot points and narrative logic actually emerging in the process of writing the story. That’s why my first drafts are often unholy messes, with major elements shifting and changing from one chapter to another.

But (sputters the plotting writer), why don’t I just plot this all out ahead of time and spare myself the pain of having to go back and fix so much of my first draft? Well, the answer is pretty simple.

The stories won’t let me.

I mean, I have tried at different times to plot things out, but the outlines I develop always– always— melt away when they come into actual contact with the page. Time and again I’ve had the experience of typing along and suddenly a piece of action or a character will come out of nowhere and demand inclusion in the tale. My prime example of this in the Divine Lotus series is the character of Wolfson, aka Drusa, aka Amar. When I started Princess of Wonders he did not exist; in no way, shape or form was he part of my original concept. But suddenly, about four chapters in, there he was, demanding his page time– and his arrival, all at once, kicked the narrative up to a higher level. The story needed Wolfson, and it imposed him on me.

(What’s Wolfson’s importance to the story? Oh, you need to read the novels for that… 🙂 )

And so it is with Horse Tamer— I am discovering things about the story I did not know when I started it– and yes, the new bits will, and do, demand revisions. Sometimes painful revisions, detailed reworkings– but I have generally found this process very worthwhile. Quite aside from the fact that I have no choice….

A Princess of Fire update– a glimmer of dawn

Think of a company of men– soldiers or explorers, perhaps. They are trapped in some nightmare country which is covered in darkness, and they struggle through a chaotic landscape, not even sure if they have a goal, much less in which direction in the featureless dark it may lie– and then, slowly, they see a gleam beyond a line of broken hills, and realize it is the dawn.

That’s how I feel at the moment about Princess of Fire.

The book is now at 120,000 words, and in the last couple of days I have come to the growing realization, as I sometimes do with a draft, that I am within striking distance of completing it. My best guess is that two or three chapters, 15,000 to 20,000 words, will do the job.

I am not out of the nightmare country yet– but dawn glimmers.

If I can stay focused, I should be able to finish the first draft before the end of the month. I say should be able to, because I hesitate to make a definite pronouncement– all my definite pronouncements about this book have been, over and over again, wrong, wrong, wrong. Even my commitment to do a minimum of 500 words a day failed– I did some math, and from October last year through the end of January I averaged a pathetic 216 words a day on this book– less than a single double-spaced page with one inch margins, if you put it in old-school manuscript terms. The book has come in spurts and surges, with long gaps in between of ennui and depression and spending time on other projects.

But 20,000 words– to engage in some un-typical self-praise (I won’t do it again, I promise), I can do 20,000 words, even 20,000 words that make sense, in very short order. Being this close, in fact, creates the additional motivation that it would be a shame not to complete the draft, seeing as how I’m this close.

Finishing the first draft, of course, will only be the end of the beginning. When the draft is complete, the hard work of straightening out the narrative and filling plot holes, cutting unneeded bits, correcting names and timelines and characters, and fleshing out action (a 140,000 word novel that may need fleshing out. Oh, let me think about that one…) will begin. But, as I have mentioned in previous posts, a complete fist draft is the one critical mental milestone I personally have to reach to ensure that I will carry a novel to final draft status. It is the sine qua non— “without which, not”– of my writing process. There’s a reason why I date-stamp my novels with the date I finish their first draft.

So– back to work for me. When– not if, God willing, but when– I finish this draft, I am definitely throwing a party. Even if it’s just a bag of Cheetos and a slice of pizza, I will be celebrating. I will keep you posted.

Monday’s Finish the Story– The Swag

Monday’s Finish the Story flash fiction challenge for February 2nd– 150 words based on this picture–

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

and this initial sentence– “Diamond Jack had his hideout next to the Rattlesnake River.”

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel

Diamond Jack had his hideout next to the Rattlesnake River. It was the only human habitation in three hundred square miles.

The day after his biggest heist ever, Jack rode down to his hideout, rejoicing. In his saddle-bags were crammed ten thousand silver dollars, taken from the Denver express. It was all Jack’s, because after the robbery he had shot his two accomplices, Sergei McCooley and Chihuahua Chelsey, in the back. He piled the silver on his table, gloating over it and admiring its gleam.

He went down to the river to get a bucket of water for his coffee and was bitten to death by a rattlesnake. In 1973 his swag was found by a hippie couple searching for themselves. They used the money to open a health-food store and, later, a pot dispensary.

Moral: who the hell builds a hideout next to some place called Rattlesnake River?