Category Archives: novel

Princess of Stars– sort of a progress report

Wanted to share this– the hard-copy line edit– as always, helping to keep red pen manufacturers in the black–

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Part of what you’re seeing on this page is the fact this portion of the story was cobbled together of out maybe three different versions of the same scene.  Being a pantser is sometimes a very messy business.

As always, I do hope that by the time I finish the edit I will still be able to read my corrections; my hen-scratching does seem to be getting more and more problematic as I get older.  Oh, well.

Just a note….

Just a note, to note, in passing, something that happened last night.  Last night I completed a first draft for Princess of Stars.  The progress bar over there on the side reads “100% done”, which, over the last three years, is something I frequently despaired of ever seeing.

The breakthrough came in the first week of May, when I dumped thousands of words that were just…not…working, rethought the action of the middle third of the book, changing it essentially from a chase to a quest, and gave myself wholly over to writing while striving to ignore the ever-circling harpies of judgment.  This last week I pushed on despite developing a touch of carpal tunnel, and finished at about 9:15 PM yesterday.

The whole process for this novel was far more rocky for me than usual.  There were a lot of reasons for that, some of which I’m not really ready to talk about.  It wasn’t just that I found this novel hard– there were times when I was ready to chuck the whole writing thing altogether, and other times when I just couldn’t get my hands to the keyboard to do anything productive.  Some days it was just easier to watch YouTube videos.

By the grace of God and some hard thinking about what I was trying to do, I managed to get this first, and most essential, task done.  I’ve mentioned in other posts that once I have a draft in hand, I know I have the basic problem of any novel licked.  Like Aristotle’s ‘beginning, middle, end’, it sounds trite to say it, but it’s true– the most important thing you have to do when writing a story is to finish it.

Of course, having said that, there are weeks of work ahead.  I tend to see all my first drafts as narrative horrors, but this one is particularly scaly and gruesome.  I’m going to be a while getting everything ironed out and reconciled.  But that’s a normal part of my writing process; it was the inability to get to that first draft that log-jammed me for months and months on end and caused me to doubt whether I’m cut out for the writing life.

Well, truth to tell, I still have doubts, but with this novel, the completion of the Divine Lotus series, out of the way, I can move on to other projects and test the proposition in fresh fields.  Hopefully ones not filled with stuff that makes me sneeze.  I hate that.

Is the story any good?  Beats the crap out of me.  I’ll have to rely on others to make that judgment, because mostly I can only see the flaws.  But just finishing this, after so long a struggle, is a win, and a sure sign that final victory is in sight.

Later.

 

 

PRINCESS OF STARS UPDATE #7

Yes, a progress report on Princess of Stars, something that hasn’t happened in over a year.  That’s because, effectively, there has been no progress.  To be precise, I have written, re-wrttten, cut, deleted, re-purposed, re-arranged, laid the story down in the despair, hovered on the edge of deleting everything and un-publishing the first four Divine Lotus novels, considered giving up writing entirely, written some more and deleted that– with the net effect being that I have been more-or-less cycling around the same point in the story for more than twelve months.  Throw in some clinical depression and about three major life-changes (which are still all working themselves out) and completing this novel has been a goal that has seemed far, far out of reach.

What has changed?  Nothing seismic. There’s been no epic epiphany, nor sea-change in my writing.  Just a couple of small things that seem to be helping me get unstuck.

Firstly, I think I have hit upon a means to finesse some of my inability to get past my blockage.  In my flibbertigibbet way of doing drafts, I normally write passages out-of-sequence, working on later or earlier passages in the narrative when I’m stuck somewhere.  Knitting it all together into a coherent story is what happens in the second draft.  This time around, however, I am doing something a little different; I am writing the story with the intention of not necessarily adhering to a linear timeline for the action– and, in the process, I am not worrying my pointy little noggin too much about connecting passages and such what.  It seems to be helping.  The finished product may look quite different from the other Divine Lotus novels, but the whole point of this is to get to a finished product, and I’m getting kinda ruthless in pursuit of that result.

Secondly, I think I’ve finally reached the acceptance stage of grief over my writing.

When I started, rather late in life, to write in a serious way I thought that I was pretty good.  The process since then has been a slow coming to terms with the fact that I will never be anything more than mediocre.  There’s a reason why no editors ever accepted any of my over-the-transom submissions, nor any agent ever took me on.  I’m just not that good.

It’s been hard for me to get to this place.  I spent a long, long time in the denial stage (ain’t just a river in Egypt, folks).  I think I passed through anger and bargaining pretty quickly, and then spent a very long time in depression.  It didn’t help that my depression wasn’t just about my writing, either.  The last twenty or so years have been hard in many ways, lightened here and there by friendships and the arrival of my daughter (make that the glorious and splendid arrival of my daughter, but I digress…..).

I may- may-be coming out of that stage.  As I mentioned, there have been some serious life-changes, and those may be helping.  The jury is still out.  But I believe I’m done with illusions about myself and my writing.

I will never have much of an audience; I will never make much money at this; and it’s very doubtful anyone will ever make a movie out of any of my works.  If any of this were to happen, I would be pleasantly surprised and give God the glory– but I have to stop holding my breath over it.  I’ve been getting dizzy….

Having said that, I’ve gotten to the point where I want to finish this story and the others still in my head, for my sake and for the story itself.  It’s not going to be great literature and it’s not going to wow the masses.  But I think the story is worth completing.

So– 49,000 words out of a projected 150,000, not quite one-third.  I am finally on the verge of getting Kathy on the road in pursuit of the Lady Rose Adamant– yes, the core action is a chase– and hopefully I will be able to report solid progress from here on out.  Not that there won’t be missteps and recalculations– knowing me, it’s pretty much guaranteed.  But I think I see a path forward, and that’s progress.

Later.

Oh, and PS– I got to use the word selbstgefällig today in the story.  I am so jazzed…..

 

 

 

And now, on a completely different note, a few words about “The Horseman”

In case there’s anyone out there who cares, I missed last week’s installment of The Horseman, and I will probably miss this week’s.  The reason has to do with how I do first drafts.

I keep hearing about writers who outline everything about a story ahead of time, who know what’s going to happen to each character, who understand where each beat and turn of the the story will fall.  People for whom– allegedly– the writing of a story is merely a process of fleshing out the action.

That ain’t me.

My process is, quite simply, discovery of the story by writing it.  Usually, I have a general idea of the story’s action, some of the characters, and almost always how the story ends, but writing to get to that ending is typically a long process, often involving many doubts, much second-guessing, detours, re-routes and reboots.  Writer’s block is a familiar, if unwelcome, companion.  This is a major reason Princess of Stars has not progressed; I have been essentially stuck at one point in the narrative for about a year, until recently unable to understand how Kathy gets to a particular, but essential, change in attitude.  I may– may— have figured out in the last few days a way to finesse the problem.  We’ll see.

This is, frankly, not a particularly rational process.  I feel my way through an unlit cavern to discover the shape of my story, and wrong turns are common.  I have at times gone five thousand, ten thousand, fifteen thousand words down a path, only to realize it’s not working– the action is wrong for the character, or it doesn’t make sense, or it negates something else I’ve already written, or intend to write and which feels essential.  I have novels for which I have thrown away nearly as much as I have kept.

This is where I am at with The Horseman.  In attempting to push on past Part Eight I realized that how I handled Parts Seven and Eight did not ring true.  If I were doing this first draft properly, in private far from the tender eyes of readers, I could quietly eighty-six the failed passages and redirect the narrative.  Since I am committing the sin of presenting raw story, the uglier aspects of the process are, of necessity, laid bare as well.  Basically, Parts Seven and Eight must be retconned.  I am working on the changes at this moment.  But it will be a little while before I can re-post the parts and resume my forward progress.  For the time-being, The Horseman is on hold.

The silver-lining on this, of course, is that out of all the problems facing the world at the moment, the delay of this story is just about Number 178,289,129,367.  It’s good to keep things in perspective.

Later.

 

Princess of Stars Update #6– Crawling back into the sunshine….

Princess of Stars is now at 30,000 words, one-fifth of my rough estimate of 150,000 words. In the unlikely event anyone has noticed, it has been about six weeks since my last update, largely because I spent most of that time not writing Princess of Stars. Kinda logical, when you think about it….

Why I wasn’t writing is complex. Chiefly I was going through one of my periodic funks in which I find it hard to exercise the daily discipline of getting my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. Usually I get through it, but this spell took a little longer than normal to run its course.

Why was I finding it hard to write? That’s where the complexity comes in. A new, physically demanding temp job, personal life issues, and financial worries all contributed. The biggest factor, though, was an emotional certainty that my writing really doesn’t matter. I’ve blogged about this before, and it’s something with which I have often struggled. Sometimes it becomes overwhelming, at least for a while, and I just grind to a halt. It becomes a deal easier to play a computer game or watch a movie than it is to get words down.

In a way, writing is a bit like faith. Sometimes, you just have to practice it, no matter how you’re feeling at the moment. Yes, it is a discipline, and being disciplined about it is usually the hallmark of a professional. By that standard, it’s pretty obvious that I still have things to learn about the craft. No surprise there….

Along with that, I think it’s helpful to pay heed to the work of others you find inspiring. Personally I can hardly watch any halfway decent production of Shakespeare without feeling inspired and motivated about my own work. In this particular case, I think it was a movie that helped recharge my batteries– sadly, not Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two. That, and listening to James Newton Howard’s soundtrack for the picture. Music has always been an important aid to my writing, sometimes helping me (I think) to a higher level. The soundtrack for Mockingjay Part Two captures its epic proportions, and reflects something of what I’m trying to do with Princess of Stars. That sort of resonance is priceless.

It is also helped when I remembered that I am, at bottom, doing this for myself– not an audience (which I don’t have) and certainly not for any critics. I’m not looking for the approval of editors or literary gatekeepers. I want this story told, and only I can tell it. However imperfect or inconsequential it may be, I still want to complete it.

So, once again, back to work. Like faith, the writing process has its mountain-top moments and its long trudges through the dark valleys. Bring your persistence, and your favorite music.

Later.

PRINCESS OF STARS UPDATE #5– It’s a strange business we’re in….

Princess of Fire is now at 22,000 words and change. If I had maintained my desired pace over the last few days that total might have been a couple of thousand words higher. One of the odd things about having so much time on my hands is that I hardly ever get anything done with it. Yesterday was particularly hard– I spent most of the day playing PC games, when I wasn’t sitting down for a Skype interview or preparing for an adult education class I’m leading. Whatever was happening with my mind-set, it made it seem almost physically impossible to drag myself to my writing, although it would have only meant logging off the computer game and starting Word. It wasn’t until just before bed-time that I managed to get a few hundred words down, even as I was nodding off over my keyboard.

The Skype interview probably didn’t leave me in a very good mood. It was with a rep from a placement company, and, somehow, it very quickly went from “We’ve got a hot prospect we need to fill now” to “We’ll put your name in our pool and see if we can find something that fits you.” It’s probably an unworthy, paranoid thought that the shift came when the very young rep saw the gray hair and baggy eyes looking back at him in the Skype window. I have to avoid assuming my age is the central reason I haven’t landed a day job yet– if you go down that road, then every disappointment becomes a conspiracy. That way lies ruin.

In any event, it took me a while to gin up enough energy to write even a few words. Hopefully I can get back in the groove soon (did I just date myself? Oh, well….).

As for Princess of Stars itself, I realized that one piece of business I just put down will not work– Kathy has to meet with a delegation of Val come to Earth, and the way I got them there (in the face of what could be some pretty fierce political opposition) is more than a little cockamamie. I will have to come up with a better excuse/rationale before the final draft.

I would be far from the first person to observe that writers are engaged in a strange business– the detailed depiction of the lives of people who, for the most part, don’t exist and never will. Even historical and ‘autobiographical’ novels to some degree or another fictionalize their characters. It’s one of the reasons why writers are sometimes looked askance by non-writers.

A corollary to the essential non-existence of our characters is the difficulty we face in making their lives logical. This is particularly acute when writing genre fiction, romance, mystery or detective fiction, science-fiction or fantasy– the more elaborate the plot, and the further we get from the everyday, linear storyline of most lives– “She is born. She loves. She dies.”– the harder it becomes to create a internally consistent and logical narrative. Even great literature sometimes contains logical flaws, moments when the reader is at risk of being stopped in their tracks and wondering, “How does that make sense?” or “Why did they do that?” There are whole Youtube channels (for example, here and here) that are largely devoted to pointing out the logical flaws of movies.

Now, some authors and film directors, frankly, do not give a rat’s effluvial emission about logical consistency (Michael Bay comes to mind). These are writers and directors whose works are obviously about the spectacle or action, for whom logical consistency would simply gum up the works. Most of us, however, do care to at least some degree or another about getting the logic of the story right, simply because we want our creations and characters to have verisimilitude, and because we want to avoid throwing the reader or the viewer out of the story and make them start to say, “Wait! Stop– what?” All-too-often, that disruption is a kiss of death for a book or movie.

Now, if there’s a golden rule on how to do this, I don’t know what it is. All I do is rely on my sense of the story as a reader to tell me whether something makes sense, and then my skill (ha!) as a writer to correct it. This is not always easy; correcting one logical flaw may entail restructuring and rewriting the story in major ways. This is why ‘tightly plotted’ is usually a high compliment in genre fiction. It’s a skill at least as important as characterization.

It’s just too bad some people ignore it. Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin, Mr. Bay….

PRINCESS OF STARS UPDATE #3– My handicap as a writer…

Well, so far my intended posting schedule has turned to be more like an optional guideline. Here I am, two days late with my Princess of Stars update. I am either a lazy bum or I’ve been very busy. I have had quite a number of things to take care of this week, but I also spent too much time playing World of Tanks to honestly claim I was too busy to blog.

Princess of Stars is currently at 13,000 words. I am pushing through the initial setup and will soon be into the action. In this process I think managed to finesse, at least enough for the first draft, a particularly tricky section in which I was especially challenged.

I’m talking about Kathy’s love life. In dealing with this part of the narrative I suffer from a particularly acute handicap — I’ve never been a woman. Yes, I’m just a square that way.

In the first instance, I try to finesse this sort of thing by relating to the commonalities of people’s love lives– we all have the same emotional needs, no matter our culture or individual personalities. When that technique can’t carry me any further, I do research. I ask my wife and daughter.

Believe me, actually running a passage past people who can completely relate to it and spot its inadequacies is essential. And if you can’t do that by reading your writing to your spouse while she’s trying to watch The View, or describing the passage to your daughter while you’re driving her to school (captive audiences are pre-disposed to be critical), find beta readers who can help you out. In writing Kathy, a teenage to twenty-something young woman, I’ve found having beta readers who are all women invaluable. They’ve caught me in any number of errors and implausibilities.

With Princess of Stars this sort of backup is going to be especially essential– in the course of the next 137,000 words (or thereabouts) I’m going to put Kathy through some serious twists and turns, in which she’s going to have to confront issues she’s never dealt with before. Hopefully I will bring some verisimilitude to her reactions. At least, I can be sure I’ve got a network of first readers who will let me know if I go off course. And that’s the sort of support every writer needs.

Further bulletins to follow.

Lookit, Lookit!

I finally figured out (thanks to information I gleaned from the WordPress forums) how to add a word count progress bar to my posts. I’m so jazzed I’m willing to publicly admit that it took me three years to figure out how to do something a fourteen year-old could probably have done in fifteen minutes. Ten thousand words out of 150,000 is about 6.6%, which is a start, if nothing else….

Of course, now that I know how to do it the temptation is to throw progress bars up for other projects, but I am going to try to stay focused on my main work-in-progress. Really. I mean it.

Oh, and I am working on some fiction to post for this week, but my planned schedule took a bit of a beating today because of a long road trip we took, in order to allow my daughter to tour a college she’s interested in. Which is a bit of a head-trip; I could swear she just started kindergarten a little while ago….

There will now be a brief hitch in the get-along….

Stop the presses.

Princess of Fire has hit a snag– several, in fact. My fourth read-through has turned out to be a little interesting than I thought it would be. So much so, in fact, that I’ve told my remaining two beta-readers not to bother reading the version I sent them. I’m not quite going back to the drawing-board, but publication has shifted from possibly this week-end to some time later this month.

I am not going to go into more detail than that. When I’ve tried to write about it I have consistently slipped over into some pretty wretched whining. I’ll spare you. Suffice to say that, at this moment if I were to assess myself as a writer, I would say that I am a third-rate word-mangler who occasionally rises to the level of second-rate mediocrity.

But…there is nothing for it. Time to pick myself up, scrape off the mud and resume digging.

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.