Category Archives: novels

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…..

 

 

 

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Been gone so long….

No one is likely to have noticed, but for the last several months I have been largely disconnected from my blog– a couple of movie reviews, a few short political rants, but nothing about the core reason I created this blog in the first place, which was to share my writing experiences and struggles.

I won’t go into graphic detail about why.  My writing efforts tend to go through cycles of enthusiasm and despondency as it is, but for the last few months I have been particularly disconnected from my major projects, and could only doodle away at other pieces that have no hope of being published any time soon.  More than that, I came perilously close to closing out and discarding the Divine Lotus series of novels altogether, and had to be talked out of it, to a large extent, by an old friend whose enthusiasm for the books exceeds my own.

Life changes and personal failures contributed to my malaise.  I have been actively depressed, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, to the degree that it was hard to see a point in my writing.  A sense of futility often made it hard for me to even get my hands to the keyboard.

I cannot say that is all over and done with.  I’ve taken certain steps to redirect my life, but it is unclear at this hour whether these steps will be effective.  I have, however, resumed writing Princess of Stars.  The Horseman (a terrible title, but it’s only tentative) is also in the pipeline.

The truth is, I am not a very good writer, and I never will be.  My writing is mediocre, at best, and it was that sense of dissatisfaction that nearly caused me to dump the Divine Lotus novels.  I’m also never going to make any serious money at this.  That’s become more and more apparent to me, as well, but I think that I have recovered enough from my depression to simply want to see the stories completed for the sake of being completed. That seems a worthy and sufficient goal in itself.

Hopefully this new resolution will hold, and I will be posting more often in the coming months.  In addition to talking about my progress on my projects, I’d like to get back to doing more movie and book reviews.  I might even once more take up the cudgel of flash fiction challenges, but I make no promises.

Of course, this all assumes that a certain bloviating blowhard is denied access to the nuclear codes and doesn’t thereby blow us all to hell.

But that’s another post.

Later.

 

 

 

Scary stories

Not stories about ghosts, werewolves, vampires or IRS tax audits. Oh, no. I’m not talking about stories you read to make yourself shiver. I am talking about story ideas so big, so ambitious, they intimidate me as a writer.

I have a few of these, some of which I’ve been mulling over in my brain for years– but which I have never had the courage to put on paper or hard drive. Perhaps tellingly, these are mainly mainstream literary ideas, rather than genre.

Among these concepts–

1. A contemporary novel, working title Life in the Abyssal Plain. This is only tangentially informed by my own life (a strictly autobiographical novel based on me would be useful only as a door-stop), but I find its protagonist– a man who has always felt out of step with his universe, reaching middle-age with nothing to show for it– compelling. But, frankly, writing about real life is much more intimidating than writing about dragons and space battles.

2. An unnamed Vietnam War novel. Although I have thought about it a lot, this one is so intimidating I will probably never write it, at least as a novel set in Vietnam. I lived through the Sixties, but I was never in Vietnam. I was in the Army, but my service was years later and I never saw combat. If I tried to write a novel about the war in Vietnam, I would almost certainly commit a thousand errors. It would also take a particularly rank sort of hubris for someone like me to write, as a non-participant, about a subject for which there are so many books– If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, Fields of Fire, and Matterhorn as just a few examples– by people who were there, and who are still around.

But I did live through the Sixties, and I was in the Army after the war, serving with men who were in Vietnam (by-and-large damn fine people), and I can say something about that. I have an unpublished novelette based on my time in the Army, but I need to rethink it pretty thoroughly before I try to recreate it as a novel.

3. A Civil War novel, working title Leaves in the Stream. Yeah, probably a little too close to Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream, but it captures the concept I have of the war sweeping an entire set of families, white and black, downstream through history, with the characters unable to resist the current. Its protagonist is a young Southerner fighting for the North. I relate pretty strongly to this character– I come from a southern family proud of its Confederate heritage, in which I was the only kid impertinent enough to remind everyone about the inconvenient fact of slavery (funny, I’m also the only one who now lives north of the Mason-Dixon. Hmmm…). My novella The Peach Orchard was actually a first essay at telling this story, as well as my first real attempt at historical fiction. It will probably serve as the jumping-off point for the novel when I write it.

This novel is close to my heart. The Civil War in general hovers over Southerners in way it does not for Northerners. More than that, this is family history for me, as well as the history of my nation, and I think there are important things I can say about it.

The problem is that this concept scares me witless.

This is the one story I have to get right (above and beyond just getting it right as a story). More than the overwhelming historical detail (and that alone is staggering), I absolutely don’t want to turn out yet another pot-boiling soap opera (and there have been so many Civil War pot-boilers, starting with that gold-plated turd, Gone With the Wind). That sort of failure would kill me. The terror of doing this wrong has been paralyzing. And then there’s the scale of it– if you do it right and don’t restrict your focus to one battle or one section of the country (as with Across Five Aprils, for example), you’re almost sure to turn out something longer than War and Peace— and length is not necessarily an indicator of quality.

Writing The Peach Orchard was confidence-building, but in the scheme of the whole novel it would be only about one or two chapters. I’ve been reading historical fiction on the war, including The Killer Angels and The March, but in some ways that’s counter-productive– reading works by masters only serves to remind me of far short I fall.

Which is probably what this all boils down to– my sense of inadequacy as a writer. I’m not formally trained, and I feel that most keenly when I contemplate projects like these. The sad truth is that I am far more confident handling science-fiction and fantasy (although Princess of Fire has lately been causing me to question even that) than in making everyday life interesting– which is probably a pointed comment on my writing abilities in-and-of itself.

At some point, however, I will have to screw my courage to the sticking point and just do these stories. Or, to put it another way, close my eyes and think of the book covers. Because, frankly, these projects represent something of a bucket list for me as a writer. And I ain’t getting any younger.

The worst first draft EVER….

I’ve been AWOL for a few days, dealing with employment issues (still got none), personal issues (you don’t want to know), health issues (nothing serious, but yucky) and general morale issues (running on fumes). You don’t know how important it is to be gainfully employed until you’re sitting at home watching the same YouTube video for the fifteenth time.

You would think that I would get at least a little lift out of the fact that I have cleared 90,000 words on Princess of Fire. The problem is that I am increasingly convinced that this draft is quite possibly the worst first draft ever. In the history of Western literature. Maybe in the history of world literature, right back to Gilgamesh. It’s even worse than the first draft of Princess of Shadows, and that was a nightmare. So far I’m hanging on to my resolution to keep pushing ahead, but I’m fighting the urge to call this thing good-enough and start Fire 2.0. In truth, though, I really want to write at least another twenty thousand words to cover major gaps in the narrative. I would much prefer to have those gaps filled in before I start thinking about remedial action.

The silver lining on this cloud, the one happy thought, is that I now have a very good idea how this story needs to be structured. Kathy is faced with two simultaneous series of events that keeps her bouncing from crisis to crisis, while she battles intransigence close at hand and her own doubts. I now have a very good idea who the characters are, good, stupid and indifferent. I am also getting a fair idea what’s surplus. And it has been the act of writing that has revealed all this. Once I do start Fire 2.0, there will be a tremendous amount of work to do restructuring and re-writing, but I’ll be on much firmer ground than when I started this whole project. All of my original timelines for this project are probably junk at this point, but I’m used to that.

Now if I could just make money at this…. 🙂

Stories I need to put away….

In some of my previous posts I’ve complained of a horde of story ideas jostling in the back of my head, trying to pull my attention away from whatever work-in-progress I’m currently writing. These ideas sometimes represent powerful temptations to stray off the beaten path, particularly if my WIP is giving me problems.

The problem is that writing a novel is, among other things, an exercise in daily discipline, and importuning, nagging projects that whisper in my ear, “C’mon, big boy– write me– I’m easy….” can severely undermine that discipline.

So I thought I would engage a little mental exercise here to try to clear the decks, in which I take the most unlikely ideas I have and put them in a box. Not a hermetically sealed container (you never know when something might re-spark an idea), but a place where I can say, “That’s in my PNW (Probably Not Writing) basket.”

Some of these ideas are just plain bad. Others are not particularly well-developed. Some were the amateur imaginings of my far-off youth. Some are in genres that are not my actual cup of tea, of which I would probably make a complete hash. Whatever they are, they are far, far down the list of projects I have in mind (or have the time) to write. Some of these stories exist in partial (or even complete) form, but for various reasons are un-publishable as they are, and would require too much work to revise. A “*” will indicate a story from which I have previously posted an abandoned fragment.

Oh, and by the way– if any of these ideas spark a story for you, have at it, with my blessings.

Starting more-or-less with the really wretched and going to the almost okay (some of these never had actual titles, or only working titles, so bear with me)–

1. Unnamed Roman romance novel– revolving around the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64, I could never figure out how to keep this from sliding into a standard, rather insipid romance between the Christian protagonist and the high-born Roman lady he adores from afar. Too bad, because it has a real cast of characters– Nero, Peter, Paul– plus the inherent drama of a major catastrophe. Think Titanic with the chance of a weinie roast.

2. Unnamed 1910 romance novel– this idea popped into my head, almost complete, years ago when I had the opportunity to visit Ft. Flagler in here in Washington State. It is the closest thing I have ever conceived to a Hallmark movie– a young soldier has to chose between two forbidden loves– the beautiful Chinese girl across the bay in Port Townsend, or the young but unhappy wife of the post chaplain….no, I can’t go on. You get the picture. Fortunately, I came to my senses before actually committing words to page. Begone….

3. Working title– Seeker*– a young barbarian, cast out of his home, finds a new life in a foreign city, while exploring the meaning of life and faith. I got about thirty thousand words into this one before the energy to write it drained away– part of the problem was I realized I was re-writing the story of Socrates with a happier ending. I like the concept of a fantasy character whose chief reason for being is to understand the universe (as opposed to simply bashing the bad guys), but I need to find a different story in which to put them.

4. Working title– The Legations*– a historical novel about the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, I lost the impetus to write it when I couldn’t do a convincing Chinese character, and when I realized that the action chiefly consisted of the protagonist blazing away invincibly at hordes of Chinese soldiers in a display of Texas marksmanship. It still tugs at my sleeve every now and then because I love the period, but it’s just not really a practical idea at this point.

5. Unnamed World War II romance*– this was the WAAF officer meets US Army Air Force tech sergeant idea I had from which I posted a fragment. Upon reflection, it just seems like a really sappy idea. Buh-bye….

6. Working title– Soren and the Snotty Elf Princess— a fantasy in which a young, up-from-the ranks commander has to go on a quest to find where an Elf princess from a bygone age sleeps in suspended animation, to win her help in stemming an otherworldly invasion. The problem is, the princess really dislikes humans– if she had to choose between saving the human race and saving cockroaches, the roaches would probably get the nod– so convincing her to help humanity is an up-hill fight, at best. I come back every now and then to this one– it has some good bits, and some characters I really like, including an elderly priest-scholar who is far more interested in young, nubile girls than he is in cultivating holiness. But it doesn’t feel particularly special to me as something that could stand out from the crowd of fantasy novels, and its world not particularly well thought-out, so I think I need to, with regret, set this one aside. Might re-introduce the priest elsewhere, though– he’s just too much fun….

7. Ranker, The Red Fort, A New Heaven and A New Earth*– the military alternate history series from which I’ve posted a couple of fragments. Three whole novels that are now, for various reasons, un-publishable, and from which I’ve moved on. I regret that this series didn’t work out, and I sometimes try to think how to reboot it, but it seems likely that moving on and letting go is the most productive thing I can do.

8. Unnamed science-fiction novel in the Divine Lotus series– a book that would have fallen between Princess of Fire and Princess of Stars, this would have focused, not on Kathy, but on another main character from the previous books, off dealing with a military disaster of his own on the planet Jauthur. I have pretty much decided not to write this story, as it would be something of a distraction from the main thread of the Divine Lotus series– but the events of the story will still form the back story of the character when he rejoins the main story line in Princess of Stars.

9. Tannimor, Nolokai, and Shokomari*– two complete and one partial novel from the epic fantasy I’ve described in previous posts, involving Mankin, my premier swordsman. This is the one that hurts, but ten or more years of revisiting it has not shown me a way to make it work, at least as I previously conceived it. If Mankin ever appears in published form, it will have to be in a very different story-line.

So, there– I think that clears my mind a bit. Some of these ideas can rest in peace; others have been properly staked and buried at a crossroads. This may appear to be a massacre, but I still have several ideas contending for my attention, quite aside from the Divine Lotus series. I do think the surviving concepts are stronger, in large measure because of the work I put in on all the projects that never saw the light of day.

Nothing you write is ever wasted.

Where has all the mojo gone?

Some of you may have noticed (or not) that in my last few posts I haven’t really mentioned much about my current work-in-progress, Princess of Fire. Partly I’ve been spending some of my time trying out flash-fiction, which is kind of a new thing for me. Mainly, however, it’s because I seem to be having serious mojo problems.

Mojonoun: that which allows you to do what you need to do when you need to do it.

(If that definition seems kinda redundant, at least it avoids any sexual connotations. Not going there….)

Since completing my taxes it seems as if the wind that originally filled my sails with Fire (that was actually an accidental double meaning, but I’ll go with it) has dwindled down to a fitful whisper. I’m doing a few hundred words a day, as opposed to about a thousand a day before. I’m above 75,000 words, but it took me about a week or so to get there from 72,000.

It may be that I have exhausted most of the pre-imagined material that has carried me this far. I may also be slowing because I’m facing more difficult core sections. I also am not wholly pleased with a lot of the material I’ve laid down.

On top of all this, there has been some serious chaos in the personal space for the last three weeks, quite aside from the continuing unemployment thingie. The details would bore everyone, and spewing on about them here wouldn’t solve anything. But it’s a banal truth that it is hard to write when you don’t have a certain level of peace and quiet.

At this point I am not sure how to get the mojo back, or even if it’s get-backable. I may have to revert to the level of production I saw while drafting Princess of Shadows. If I have about 40,000 words left (a total guess at this point) that would mean approximately eighty days of first draft still ahead of me. That would mean completing the first draft sometime in May, and about a year between the publication of Shadows and Fire. I could live with that.

And who knows– things might calm down, I might get a job, and maybe Alfonso Cuaron will show up at my front door with an offer to film my novels for a lot of money.

Well, everybody needs a dream….

And now for something different– the bicentennial everyone is ignoring….

At least, that’s how it seems in the US– I can’t speak for Canada or Britain. Here in the States we’ve hardly heard a peep about a critical event in our history, which shaped us almost as much as the Revolution.

I am referring, of course, to the War of 1812.

Being the history fanatic that I am, I find this omission frustrating. The war, which lasted until December, 1814, is almost forgotten nowadays, although it has been referred to as the Second War for American Independence. Had we lost it, the United States as we know it probably would not exist. But there has hardly been any public mention of the bicentennial, and only a few, small remembrances of individual battles and events (in Canada it may be a different story– the war was an important factor in the development of a Canadian national identity).

I do, however, understand why we Americans are reluctant to remember the war. It’s embarrassing.

Basically, the war, launched on a mixture of genuine grievances against Great Britain and an imperialist lust to conquer Canada, was plagued with failure and disaster. Our attempts to invade Canada (at least four separate efforts) all failed in welters of mismanagement and stupidity. We enjoyed some successes against the Royal Navy in individual actions at sea, but eventually the British locked a blockade on the American coast and largely bottled up our navy. Toward the end of the war we finally began to field effective armies, but they weren’t there to stop the British from burning Washington DC in August 1814. The war ended in a stalemate and a peace treaty that addressed none of the original American grievances.

Reading this history as an American, my basic instinct is to cringe and cover my eyes. Not only were our forefathers infected with naked imperial ambition– even Thomas Jefferson thought taking Canada was a great idea– they were incompetently nakedly imperially ambitious (yes, I need three adverbs– it’s that bad). The American grievances were about British interference in neutral trade and their impressment of American citizens into the Royal Navy and were real enough, but they were used as an excuse for the United States to go conquering other people, most of whom refused to be conquered.

Ironically, despite the final stalemate, the disasters and the failure to take Canada, the war produced a surge of nationalistic feeling in the US. In a classic example of selective memory, Americans focused on their successes (especially the much ballyhooed Battle of New Orleans, which happened after the peace treaty was signed), and the fact that we had, for the second time in our history, stood off the greatest empire on Earth. In time, though, the war faded from our consciousness, except when we wanted to remember our early naval victories or Andrew Jackson.

Personally, I think some remembrance would be appropriate, if nothing else to remind ourselves of the costs of greed and arrogance, and to admit our past wrongs. More than likely there will be a remembrance of the burning of Washington and the bombardment of Fort McHenry, to which we owe “The Star Spangled Banner”, easily the most musically difficult national anthem in the world. But, aside from that, it looks as if the whole business is going to be passed over in silence. Sigh.

As a writer, though, I find this another period loaded with riches– overlapping the Napoleonic Wars, the Regency, and the start of the Industrial Revolution (at the war’s end the Americans were close to launching Demologos, the world’s first steam-powered warship. There’s an alternate history story for you). Jane Austen lived and wrote in this period, although, oddly enough, she barely mentions the war against Napoleon in her novels, and the American war, not at all. There are all sorts of fascinating details and events. For example, the British had a fortress in Dartmoor which served as a prisoner of war camp for both American and French POWs. The history of the place reads rather like ‘Jane Austen meets Stalag 17‘. There was the American guerrilla war against British commerce at sea, the tragedy of Tecumseh and the loss of the last chance for a Native American confederacy in the Midwest, the American victories on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain (which forestalled British counter-invasions from Canada), and the resurgence of piracy in the Caribbean (a consequence of the extended war between Britain and France). It is a marvel to me that no one has made a movie of the cruise of the USS Essex in the Pacific under David Porter, one of the epics of American naval history.

Other authors, such as C. S. Forester, Bernard Cornwell and Patrick O’Brian, have mined this period well for material. I have at least a few story ideas, starting with the Demologos, a tale about the Dartmoor prison, and a novel about a pressed American seaman in the Royal Navy. This last idea could be really interesting, as Americans are known to have been involved as seamen in many battles against Napoleon prior to 1812– for example, there were at least twenty-two Americans aboard the HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. This created some problems, obviously, when the United States declared war on Britain, which could be a great source of tension.

But these ideas, at this point in time, are part of that mass of story concepts I have in the back of my head which I may or may not ever have an opportunity to write. I’ve got a solid set of projects already in progress, so it’s an open question if any of these historical stories will see the light of day. If anyone else feels inspired to tackle the ideas I mentioned, have at it.

As far as the bicentennial is concerned, I suppose we’ll each have to remember the war in our own ways. For me, there’s always Johnny Horton.**

(**To be fair, Johnny’s history is wildly inaccurate– but I love marching Legos. And, no, I’m not terribly consistent….)

My struggle with an era

I am now about 72,000 words into Princess of Fire. I’m starting to link up sections, working toward a unified narrative. It’s becoming increasingly clear, however, that there is a core section yet to be written that probably contains most of the really difficult material. That’s the disadvantage of the “bypass and infiltrate” model of writing– you’re still going to have to come back and deal with the enemy strong-points you’ve bypassed. In other words, writing the easy stuff now doesn’t make the hard stuff go away.

Meanwhile, when I’m not putting out resumes and phoning temp agencies, I spend my time reading. One of the books I am (re)reading is Isaac’s Storm, a non-fiction recounting of the Galveston hurricane of 1900–

http://www.amazon.com/Isaacs-Storm-Deadliest-Hurricane-History/dp/0375708278/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1390875807&sr=8-1&keywords=isaac%27s+storm

The book captures the tragedy and horror of the hurricane, which killed thousands of people, in part because turn-of-the-century weather forecasters failed, through hubris and bureaucratic stupidity, to recognize the signs a monster storm. The book also conveys something of the era, which makes it doubly valuable to me.

I have long been fascinated by the period of about 1895 to 1914. It’s a time that overlaps the late Victorian and the Gilded Age with the Edwardian, and in some ways you could think of it as the last twenty years of classical Western civilization– the Great War shattered all the previous assumptions, and then the Second World War obliterated the remains. The world we live in would be mostly unrecognizable to someone from 1900.

I’ve long wanted to write something about this period, but I’ve never been able to. I’ve bounced around the Boxer Rebellion, flirted with the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, contemplated the suppression of the Philippine Insurrection, and surveyed the Klondike and Nome gold rushes, but nothing has gelled. There’s just too much good stuff– I haven’t been able to settle on one or two threads with which to weave a story.

It’s frustrating, but I think eventually something will crystallize. One thing– I probably need to start thinking about characters, rather than the grand, epic vistas of history. Maybe once I do that, things will come into focus.

Meanwhile, I pound away on Princess of Fire. At least that’s keeping me off the streets.

Later.

There is a movie theater in my head

Last night I was writing a segment of Princess of Fire in which Kathy is receiving the spontaneous homage of a thousand people at once (why is she receiving homage? You’ll have to read the book 😛 ). It is a sweeping scene- Kathy enters a plaza, and a thousand men and women prostrate themselves, without a word. In my head a bittersweet soundtrack is playing over the images, because of what’s happened before this.

While writing it, I thought (as I usually do) that it would play well on a movie screen. And then I realized it is a movie– an exclusive engagement at the multiplex in my head.

I love movies. I would someday like to write for the movies, although I understand from folks I know in the business that it is thankless and heartbreaking, and a good way to lose your soul. I would love my stories to be filmed someday.

So perhaps it is not surprising that, when I write, many of my scenes play out as movie scenes. I believe I am not alone in this– a couple of weeks ago I reviewed the 1996 film The Whole Wide World, about Robert E. Howard, who the filmmakers portrayed as going through a visualization process for his stories that looked very familiar (I, too, have garnered my share of quizzical stares). And I have heard many other writers describe their own writing process in similar terms.

This may be one of the reasons Princess of Fire is cooking along at a faster pace than Princess of ShadowsFire , as I imagine it, has an enormous number of “cinematic” moments that cry out for a David Lean or Stanley Kubrick to direct them (well, if I am imagining this stuff, I might as well go for the best). There’s conflict, death, regret, love, train wrecks, armies dying the mud, zeppelin crashes (I know, I do a lot of those, but what the hey), and things that go boom in a really big way (I’ll stop there, I’m on the verge of spoiling my own book). And, fortunately, Princess of Stars feels as if it will be just as cinematic.

But, there is downside to this sort of visualization– disappointment. Usually when I get the scene down and completed, it is not nearly as dramatic or powerful as I what I pictured in my head. I know other writers– and artists, in general– have complained of the same disconnect between concept and execution. One way I have heard this expressed is “what is on the page (or screen) is only sixty percent of what you had in your head”. And that’s sixty percent after editing and correcting.

This is most likely inevitable– people are imperfect, and their execution of imagined objects is imperfect. In one respect, the images in my head will always be their most vivid and powerful there; what I reproduce on the page is often a poor shadow. You wonder if this is where Plato came up with his theory of Forms.

Not only is imperfection inevitable, it is probably not something we can do much about. At a certain point a work, a story or a painting or a film, reaches a state in which continued correction and rethinking almost inevitably makes things worse, not better. Some artists have destroyed their work, trying to access some portion of that last forty percent– George Lucas pretty much did this with his special editions of Star Wars (Han shot first, dammit!), before selling the ruins to Disney (we live in dark times).

Still, sixty percent is better than nothing, and some days I come close (or closer) to what I imagine. I’m certainly not going to give up just because I can’t get it perfect.

Does anyone else have a movie theater of the mind? And how do you deal with the imperfection of the executed work?