A Non-fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig– Why I Write

Chuck went for something different this week– a non-fiction challenge on “why I write”. One thousand words. Deadline this Friday.

Well, it’s kind of simple. For me, at least. Don’t need a thousand words.

In one way or another, I’ve been telling myself stories for as long as I can remember. At five or six years old, I was telling stories with my collection of Confederate and Union toy soldiers. I told stories to myself to put myself to sleep; I told stories on the playground, I told stories in the bathtub. My childhood was one long imaginative excursion, full of drama and danger. It’s one of the reasons the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip was a personal favorite– it echoed my own experience growing up. Often my dream– or daydream– life seemed stronger than my breathing existence.

Around the fifth grade or so, I realized I wanted to write my stories down. That realization was the first step of a long, long process of acquiring the discipline to write and complete stories. This has been a struggle, the details of which are unimportant. Suffice to say, writing is the mature expression of my need to tell stories. Daydreaming, the sort that made otherwise sweet-natured grade-school teachers yell at me just to get my attention, is no longer sufficient.

I write because I dream. I write because I want my dreams to have permanence. And I write because I want to share my dreaming. I will probably continue to write as long as I can use a keyboard or handle a pen, despite the fact that the talent is meager.

And that’s about it.

And waiting…a brief Princess of Fire update

This is perhaps the very hardest part of editing a book– waiting for the beta-readers to return their feedback. I’ve gotten a response from one reader on Princess of Fire, and I’m waiting for input from two others. Patience is a virtue, or so I am told….

In the interim I’ve gone ahead and started a fourth reading of my own of a new CreateSpace PDF proof I’ve created. This one is mainly to make sure that my pagination, spacing and page breaks are all in the right places. I assume (hope) that my remaining beta readers will not find anything major at this point, and that there are no important changes left to be made. Still, I’m holding off calling the text finalized, just to make sure.

You may notice that I did not say completed— that’s not a word I use a lot about my books. Over time I’ve come to accept the truth of the saying, which I have seen most recently attributed to Harry Crews, that novels are never finished, only abandoned. There comes a point at which you simply need to stop diddling with the damn thing and either publish it or send it to an agent or editor. That moment is fast approaching for Princess of Fire— in itself, a cause for rejoicing, considering that at times I damn near despaired of ever completing this novel.

In the wake of publishing Princess of Fire I will not immediately start in on writing Princess of Stars. At the moment I know how the book begins, and very precisely how it ends (right down to the last line), but the middle is a largely undiscovered country. After the pantsing disaster of Princess of Fire, I intend to take some time and try to get a better feel for the guts of Princess of Stars— if not a full outline, then probably a pretty detailed synopsis. I anticipate this book will be big and cover a lot of ground, so I want to have a firm foundation before I actually start.

In the interim, I will probably be spending some time expanding the partial draft I have for Horse Tamer, which may need a new title. It’s a story close to my heart, but I don’t anticipate completing it any time soon– when I try to think about a possible word count for it, the number “500,000” keeps coming to mind (don’t scream– there are bigger novels out there).

Beyond that, I plan on expanding my blogging efforts, which have been lagging lately. I have more movies to review and more unsubstantiated opinions to bloviate about. Of course, and hardly least, there is still the nagging need for me to secure a day-job, another project that has been in the doldrums lately.

But I am close, so close, to publishing Princess of Fire. The sense of liberation is going to tremendous. You might want to stand back….

Later.

Mondays Finish the Story – Screams

Mondays Finish the Story flash fiction challenge, 150 words based on this image–

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

and this initial sentence–

“He thought he found the perfect hiding spot.”

This came out way, way darker than is my wont. There is also a deal of language. The reader is warned.

On top of that, I once more totally blew off the word limit. I am wholly without shame.

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
************************************************

He thought he found the perfect hiding spot.

It was the screams and the pleading that drove him there. The three strange men laughed at the pleading. For a moment fear overcame everything else, and he hid.

When the screams stopped and the stench of blood was everywhere, the cat stayed where he was, as the strangers ransacked the house. It was then one of them entered the bedroom and brushed against the curtain.

“What the fuck?”

A powerful hand grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, lifted him up. He spat and yowled, but he could not bite the hand that held him.

“What the hell, Pete, it’s just a damn cat.”

“Good thing he can’t talk, huh, Lee?”

“Quit fucking around– Sammy says we gotta finish and get out of here.”

The stranger held the cat up closer to his face. “I think I’ll cut his head off.”

It was a mistake; the cat lashed out with his claws, faster than thought. The man yowled himself, in pain, his face scoured. He dropped the cat. Hitting the floor, the cat shot between the stranger’s legs, out the door and down the back stairs to the pantry, to the cubby-hole behind the cabinet.

He lay still, hearing the men arguing, the stranger he’d wounded rampaging about in rage. “Where’s that little shit, I’ll gut him, the fucker.”

“It’s your own damn fault,” the third man said. “You always gotta screw around.”

They argued more. Then the cat heard them leave. He lay still for a long time.

Finally, the cat crept out. The house was silent.

The bodies lay scattered in the family room. The blood was drying. The cat came in and hunkered down beside the little girl. Her blue eyes stared and saw nothing. This was the child the cat had seen brought home as an infant, who had learned, after some trial-and-error, to pet him, with whom he had sat in sunlit rooms while she played at being the grown woman she would never be. The cat sat and grieved as only cats can grieve.

In the grieving, something died in him– the pet, the tame little animal content with caresses and eating out of a bowl. In its place came, in-welling, something older, and powerful– something that knew on its own of blood and the hunt.

The cat cleaned from his claws the blood of the man he had scratched, and so came to know him, and, through him, the other two, forever.

In all the universe, there is nothing so cold as a cat’s vengeance.

Songs to the Blood

Mondays Finish the Story Challenge— 150 words around this image–

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

and this opening sentence–

“The petroglyphs told the story of an unusual event.”

This isn’t very satisfactory, but I gave it a shot.

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
**************************************
The petroglyphs told the story of an unusual event. Everyone agreed on that.

Some said it recorded a great flood. Others that it told of a victory over an enemy.

Still others said it commemorated an eclipse, or the appearance of a supernova in the sky.

But to those of us who had the blood in us, it sang.

It sang in us, and to us.

It sang of stars, and the emptiness of the void.

It sang of solar winds, gas clouds light-years across, and great worlds covered with storms.

It sang of separation, of tears, of bitter parting.

It sang of long years, lost.

It sang, at last, of reunion.

We gathered, those of the blood, to wait among red stones, and open sky, for the appointed hour.

When the Moon was high, and the Sun low, the portals opened, and through them stepped our long-sundered kinfolk, bright and terrible, to reclaim their communion with us.

An Encounter on 20th Avenue, July 21st, 2015

There are yet good things in the world
I know, because I met you
this morning, on 20th Avenue
The two of you, in fact
Stellula calliope, perhaps,
although my ignorance is great
You zoomed and drank from flowers,
perched in a tree and preened,
and then came and hovered
ten feet above my head
as if stopping to wonder
why I wept

Impressions while listening to Jóhann Jóhannsson’s “Fordlandia”

Solar winds
scour the sky
Frozen worlds
locked in mystery
The dreadful fall
of burning spaceships,
lost in heaven-spanning battles.
Silent monuments
of forgotten races,
tombs entrapping the secrets
of millenia.
The screaming passage
of the event horizon,
skimming darkness and chaos,
to fall, fall, fall
back to a morning
beside the sea
I watched you walk
barefoot, smiling,
in the sand,
and I feel the touch
of a lost-love’s hand

Mondays Finish the Story – July 13th, 2015– Climbing

Flash fiction challenge for July 13th, 2015– 150 words around this image–

© 2015, Barbara W. Beacham
© 2015, Barbara W. Beacham

and this initial sentence–

“Delphine always wanted to pilot her father’s plane and when he forgot his keys on her tenth birthday, she knew that taking off would be easy.”

This is an utter bit of fluff….

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel

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

Delphine always wanted to pilot her father’s plane, and when he forgot his keys on her tenth birthday, she knew that taking off would be easy.

Nobody told her landing an airplane is the hard part.

“Landing is the hard part, honey,” her father told her over the radio.

“Now you tell me!” Delphine said, as the plane climbed.

“You’ll exceed the plane’s ceiling soon if you keep climbing,” Traffic Control said.

“What happens then?” Delphine said.

“The plane will stall and crash,” Traffic Control said.

“Oh,” Delphine said.

“Honey, you have to push the control column forward to level out,” her father said.

Delphine, who was always directionally challenged, pulled the column back. The plane climbed higher.

“Goodbye, Daddy,” she cried.

On the ground they saw the plane dwindling in the heights. Then the giant alien spaceship zoomed into view. A beam enveloped the plane.

“Such a brave child– what an intrepid climb,” the aliens said over the radio. “Come, join us.”

And that is how Delphine Eloise Novotny became humanity’s first interstellar ambassador.

I will now take a moment to gibber incoherently….

I have got to see this!!

Ian McKellen! Laura Linney! Sherlock Holmes! BEES!

Okay, I have to calm down….

And how is it that the trailer for a little art film (by Bill Condon, who directed Gods and Monsters, another film you should absolutely stop and see this instant) should suddenly engender more acute excitement in me than even the trailers for The Force Awakens?? Obviously it pushes buttons I have been fifty years adding to my psyche, built out of Sherlock Holmes and The-Seven-Percent Solution and watching Basil Rathbone in films that were brilliant, despite the fact that they ignored the original milieu of the stories– and, possibly, because I am dying for a film that is focused on character, and full of wit and intelligence. As much as I enjoy films like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy (and I do, enormously), there are times I need something more concentrated and discerning– the sort of thing to be found, for example, in the 1995 version of Persuasion, another favorite of mine. It is yet to be determined whether Mr. Holmes will actually deliver– again, judging a film by its trailer is problematic– but the premise– an aged Sherlock Holmes, post-World War II (and, yes, the math adds up, if you think about it) is intriguing.

Not to mention, the phrase “Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes” gives me a shiver of anticipation such as I have not felt in a long, long time. I think McKellen should be made a citizen of every civilized country on the planet, and whatever alien worlds we may contact, as well. The guy is just that damn good.

Okay– got that off my chest. Now I’ll lay down for a while with a wet cloth over my face.

Can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait….

As I sit here, waiting….

…for my beta-readers to digest Princess of Fire (and I stand by with antacid), I’m going forward with further changes that I know need to be done. These are the kind of fiddling corrections I thought the third draft would deal with– the small inconsistencies and errors that creep into any lengthy work of fiction. Want some samples? I thought you’d never ask–

1. Where’s Kathy’s glasses? Believe it or not, whether or not Kathy’s got her glasses on her nose is important (this was particularly true in Princess of Shadows, where they were a major plot element).

2. At the moment I have Kathy telling two different people to do the same thing in three different places in the narrative. If you don’t straighten that sort of thing out, at the very least your protagonist looks, well, challenged.

3. At different locations in the book I call a certain physical space a situation room, an operations room and an operations center. I think Emerson said something negative about consistency, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t what he was thinking of.

4. Throughout the book I have three sets of running numbers that anchor much of the action. I have to do a find on the critical word for each and make sure they increment correctly and come to the right total at the end. Normally, I’m not this anal, but I have a terror of some reader coming back and saying “On page 321 you said fifteen thousand and sixty-three, and on page 425 you said fifteen thousand fifty-three, can’t you count…?” C’mon, authors are only human. No, I mean it, we really are.

So, this is how I’m keeping myself occupied while I sweat out waiting for my beta-readers. This is always a nerve-wracking time for me– my baby is being looked at by strangers for the first time. Well, not actually strangers, but eyes other than mine. It makes my hands shake, especially since I’m not too sure the little tyke is actually that appealing….

Later.

Boy, am I glad that’s over…The third draft of Princess of Fire

I have finally, by the grace of Almighty God, finished the third draft/punch-list edit of Princess of Fire, and copies are going out to my beta readers. As with every other aspect of this novel, this phase of editing turned out to be a lot more arduous than I anticipated. So much so, in fact, that I am questioning my usual editing process.

My normal way of editing a story or novel, which I have discussed before, is to draft the novel and then perform successive read-throughs and make changes and corrections until I have a coherent story and a clean narrative. Over time I have added a punch-list edit and beta readers, but it’s the same basic process– re-reading the manuscript and winnowing out the problems. The theory is that, by the time I get to the third and fourth drafts, I should be dealing with mostly minor issues.

This time around, however, reading through the novel for the third time, I found myself stumbling over all sorts of serious problems– bad grammar, passive language, convoluted sentences, inconsistent place and proper names, dialogue that did not serve the purpose I intended, repetitious information and, most critically, issues with the action in the middle of the book, in which important events did not link together properly. If I didn’t know better, I might have sworn that I hadn’t even touched the manuscript.

But of course I did, and I’ve got the ink-stained pages to prove it. At a later date it might be productive for me to review the red-pen changes and compare them with the third draft changes, to see if I can discern what I did catch and what I didn’t, and why. Short-term, such a review will not help me much with getting Princess of Fire finished and launched out into the world.

Aside from the distinct possibility that I am just a terrible editor, I think a large part of why the manuscript was still so infected with problems may lie with the haphazard and disjointed way the first draft came together. There were parts of this story I attacked four or five times, from different angles, trying to get it pulled together, and I think that left its mark on the draft.

On the other hand, it may be that my initial read-throughs were ineffective because I knew that I would be reading the novel much more closely on the third pass and I didn’t push as hard as I should have. Either way, it may be that I need to seriously rethink my editing process. More on that in future posts.

The positive aspect of all of this is that I am confident I have now created a very clean, close-to-final draft. Assuming my beta readers find nothing major, I probably will need to double-check a few items, and possibly tweak one minor character, and then I will be ready to publish, probably at the end of this month or in early August. For a novel that has gone through so many ups-and-downs, that is a very happy thought.