Category Archives: Princess of Fire

Princess of Fire published and available

Princess of Fire is now available on Amazon Kindle. I can only say, thanks be to God. Twenty-two months (longer than it took for me to produce Princess of Shadows), a lot of doubt and confusion and false starts and long doldrums and restarts. Plus, tears and a last minute horror-show of changes. I believe, however, I’ve now gotten the book into a good shape, and the time has come for me to abandon– ahem, launch it.

I previously blogged that I would be starting on Horse Tamer after Princess of Fire, but it looks as if that is not going to happen. I will probably blog about why I’ve made the decision not to pursue Horse Tamer some time soon, but not just yet. I also won’t be starting Princess of Stars right away, either, but that’s because I need to take a break and do a little more extensive planning for the last book of the series, to make sure I don’t go through a repeat of the nightmare of rampant pantsing that was Princess of Fire.

In the meantime, I will try to do more blogging– I was on something of a hiatus during my last push on Princess of Fire— and I might try my hand at some other shorter projects I’ve had in mind. I will also be putting together the POD Createspace edition of Princess of Fire in the next week or so. And, once again, there is also the nagging issue of getting a day-job. Plenty to keep me occupied until I’m ready to start Princess of Stars.

A weight has been lifted, a monkey is off my back. Until the next project, that is….

Later.

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.

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.

Princess of Fire– red, red all over….

I have finally completed the hard-copy edit of Princess of Fire. A process that should have taken two to three weeks, tops, instead took nearly six. As has been the case with this novel, all estimates of how long any phase of its writing would take have been wildly wide of the mark. I can claim to have lost one week to the late-season bug that ravaged Seattle across the end of April and into May, against which the much-vaunted flu shot was useless (during the spring musical at my daughter’s high school kids were throwing up in the orchestra pit). Otherwise, it’s been the same combination of ennui and allowing myself to be distracted by other matters, particularly my job search (still lost in the wilderness at this point).

Not that the extra time wasn’t, in the end, productive– as is usually the case, the hard-copy edit brought out a myriad of lingering issues– inconsistencies in the story’s timeline, the disappearance and sudden reappearance of characters, lame action, lamer dialogue, horrifying repetition, and, far from the least, extensive passive language.

Here’s one of the more, um, amended pages–

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel

(As is usual with my red-pen edits, I do have some concern that I won’t remember what some of these squiggles mean when I go to add them to the working copy of the novel. But that’s normal).

Taking more time for the hard-copy edit has also had one side-benefit– it allowed me to noodle away a little longer on a particularly problematic piece of climactic action, and to come up with what I think is a much more satisfactory solution. About two thousand words will go out, and a different two thousand (or so) will go in. But this change will also necessitate my going back into the narrative at earlier points and laying a certain item on the mantel, so to speak. This, too, is normal.

For me, the latter stages of creating a novel is very much like fine-tuning an engine–it works, it’s running, but you need deal with the huge cloud of smoke it’s producing and, oh, yeah, the cylinders aren’t all firing in sync, and so on. It takes time, but it’s worth it.

Once I’ve inputted the red-pen changes (um, a week? Maybe?) I will make a PDF copy via Createspace, which will allow me to see how the pages break, and to create a punch-list of further corrections (mostly at the level of “oh my God, an extra hard-return!”), and then, finally, to send the book to my beta-readers. Publication will follow soon after.

At this point, I might be two months away from uploading this book. But I am making no promises…oh, no, no, no….

Later.

It’s ALIVE!!!– well, almost….

I have been a little delayed actually creating the hard-copy of Princess of Fire for my line-edit. In trying to tidy it up before printing I realized that there were a couple of remaining gaps, and, more critically, that the action at a particular point in the story had all the tension of a well-cooked noodle. I took a few days to try to ratchet the suspense, and while I’m not yet perfectly happy with the solution, it’s good enough for me push on ahead.

And here it is–

DSC03055flaton

DSC03080PoFsideway

and, what the heck, a sample page–

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(My apologies for the picture quality– my digital camera is lousy, not to mention bad).

The trick of printing the manuscript out in landscape, arranged in two columns with a smaller font than the final draft, is a trick I learned years ago in my over-the-transom days, to save both ink and paper. Makes it a little more convenient carrying it on the bus, as well.

The hard-copy edit has always been important to me– for some reason I catch most of my weak grammar and cliches here. Reading it through in hard copy also helps me locate and think about remaining weak spots.

It’s also a clear sign that I am making real progress toward the final product. That’s always a serious morale booster.

Now all I have to do is locate my red pen….

Bad Habits- a short Princess of Fire update

I am more than halfway through Pass One on the second draft of Princess of Fire. “Pass One” consists of my first read-through of the novel, in which I locate gaping holes, timeline inconsistencies, and such-like major structural and narrative problems. My progress has been slow, but I seem to be getting there.

Pass Two will consist mostly of fixing the larger holes and inconsistencies (many smaller ones I’ve fixed as I’ve gone, which has contributed to my slower pace). Once that is done, I will buy a new ink cartridge for my printer, run off a hard copy, and perform the line/red-pen edit. A lot of work still ahead.

Before I create the hard-copy version, however, I must conduct a complete, thorough, and utterly merciless search-and-destroy mission for the word “felt”. I use it entirely too much. Likewise adverbs, adjectives and “was”.

I am, in fact, at war with a host of my own bad writing habits. One of the problems with starting to write in a serious manner later in life is that you have to unlearn a mass of stupid/wrong/bad ideas and habits that inhibit good writing. Or, at least, I’ve had to. And not only has the learning process been slow (I mean, c’mon, I started doing this when Shrub’s father was President), but most of the habits are still automatic to me– especially that “felt” four-letter word. This is probably an indication of my native writing talents (low to “is the needle moving?”).

Thank God for find and replace.

More bulletins to follow.

Editing is a wonderful thing, even when you find icky stuff, or, a few thoughts on exposition

I am now about two chapters into the second draft edit of Princess of Fire. That’s around 13,000 words corrected for gross deficiencies, inconsistencies and obvious grammatical crimes, which, for me, is the main purpose of the second draft. In all, those 13,000 words represent about ten percent of the whole book. A fair piece of work for a couple of days.

But I have already turned up one major problem. Somehow, without intending to, I basically turned Chapter Two into one of the most blatant info-dumps in the history of sci-fi– and, brothers and sisters, that is saying something.

I distinctly remember feeling uneasy about the chapter when I wrote it, but under the principle of getting the first draft down without regard to its quality, I wrote the damn thing and moved on. Now, revisiting it, I can see it’s a blatantly clumsy attempt to tie up loose-ends from Princess of Shadows. Worse, for the most part it’s Kathy rehashing the past six months in her head, double-clumsy. It’s the sort of thing you read, and then afterwards, mentally, it’s as if you’ve been eating chalk.

The problem of conveying information to the reader, exposition, is a thorny one. Novelists have it a little easier than screenwriters, but it’s still an issue. There is nothing sillier, or more deadly to the story, than two characters sitting around telling each other what they already know– the dreaded “As you know, Bob” approach. This is generally considered the mark of an amateur, but I have seen published novels by big-name authors doing variations on this (one certain sci-fi author, not to be named, basically has his characters sitting around agreeing with one another– three or four books of that sort of thing and I was ready to drive nails into my head with a ball-peen hammer. I no longer read this author, out of self-preservation).

Having a character who’s a stranger to things is one solution to this problem. In the first Divine Lotus book I got away with a lot of direct exposition because Kathy was new to the Jauthur universe and had to have a lot of things explained to her. Peter Weir used this technique rather artfully in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World by the presence of Stephen Maturin, ship’s physician, who keeps having to have nautical terms explained to him (and thus, the audience).

Another technique is “incluing”, which undertakes to weave the needed information into the narrative in bits and pieces and by techniques other than stopping the whole story in its tracks. I favor this approach, as it seems far more artful– but, obviously, I haven’t quite mastered it yet.

And then there is the idea that it is okay to leave a certain amount of information to the imagination of the reader. Readers can and will fill in many gaps, and doing so will invest them more deeply in the story. You just have to make sure the gaps you’re leaving open don’t involve really critical information, for example, the gender of your protagonist (unless, of course, their gender has no bearing on the story. If so, have at it). However, many writers, and not just newbies, don’t seem to trust their readers at all– which says more about the writers than the readers.

As for Princess of Fire, I’ve already have an idea of where I can shift some of the information, and there’s probably more that’s actually non-essential and which I can leave out. What remains will, I hope, constitute a legitimate flashback. I should be able to straighten this out without too much difficulty.

But in the meantime…chalk. Bleech.

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.

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….