Category Archives: research

I have lost my brains…

Not, you will note, my mind– my brains. Allow me to explain.

I am making such remarkable progress on Princess of Fire (north of 51,000 words, and I took last night off), I find that I am experiencing a unique temptation– the thought has occurred to me that I could spare some of my writing time to plink away on another project simultaneous with Fire (I know, this could only end in tears, but bear with me). I’m not ready to write the historical novel I mentioned in my last post, and most of the other projects don’t feel right at the moment, but I have a passing thought that maybe– just maybe– I could try a restart of my epic fantasy, which has languished for years (from which I previously posted a couple of abandoned fragments). It’s always pained me that I’ve never finished this story.

With that in mind, I went out to my writing archives (aka my garage) to locate the notes I made years ago on this universe. I have a thick notebook with details of societies, geography, and, most particularly, languages. I spent a lot of time back when detailing three or four languages, whether they were agglutinative or isolating, basic grammar, and their phonemes. I was determined to be able to create clearly distinct languages to mark off different ethnic groups and add depth to my world. Since the notebook dates from the period where I planned to write far more than I actually wrote, it is thick and loaded with information.

I can’t find it.

I know I’ve seen it since we moved to our current house, and that I pulled it out at one point to look through it. It’s just not where I expected to find it, and it’s not anywhere else I can think of at the moment. I have dug through layers of personal writing history, in the process uncovering similar notebooks for a space opera and an alternate history series. I even found a notebook with material dating back, no kidding, to my days in the Army (if by that you infer that I am a pack-rat, well, infer away). But not the notes I am looking for.

Personally, I am so old-school that I rely on written notes to enhance my memory. Thus, I am essentially missing part of my brains. I’m not in pain, or anything, except possibly emotionally. But mislaying that notebook still bugs the crap out of me.

After ransacking the garage, braving dust and spiders (got one in my hair, which provoked girly screams), I’ve finally given up. The choice before me is forget the whole thing, or try to resume the story on a by-the-seat-of-my-pants basis. I will have to think about it. Of all the lost research, it’s the languages that really hurt. I can recreate the sociology and the geography pretty easily, but the languages took me a lot of time, as I am only an amateur linguist. To do the novel right my instinct would be to stop and recreate the essential elements of at least two tongues. From scratch. Extremely time-consuming, and I probably don’t want to do it while I am supposed to be crunching away on Princess of Fire.

As I said, an ending in tears.

On the other hand, perhaps I should try to see the bright side. It does occur to me that this could be, in fact, a blessing. Sitting in my now disarranged garage, I thought to ask myself why I should want to impose the dead hand of my amateur past on my (semi-)professional present. Some of the notes date back more than thirty years, when my writing, to put it charitably, sucked out loud.

Starting over might actually be a good idea.

But probably not right now. I need to be an adult, focus on one project at a time, get it done right, and then move on. Maybe I can revisit this after Princess of Fire is done.

Doodles, though…doodles are free….

Maps– it’s all about maps….

I am in the process of reaching out to locate an artist that could do up a map for the Divine Lotus series– one complaint I got back from my beta readers on Princess of Shadows was that they didn’t have a map of the Val Empire for reference. I have a sketch map I created for my reference, but it’s pretty amateur–


If I can find someone who can pretty that up for a reasonable price, it would be nice to add it to my existing novels before Princess of Fire is ready. Of course, ‘reasonable’ right now equates to ‘damn near free’, so this may not happen right away.

I love maps. I actually have a small collection; I’ve been known to buy National Geographic issues just to get the map inserts. One of my maps, which I think I picked up in a used book store years ago, is one of a series of maps printed by the US government for aviators in the US Air Force during World War II. It’s of northern China, and it’s printed on silk. Yep, they did that.

As a writer, maps are often my starting point, especially (and not surprisingly) for my fantasies. J.R.R. Tolkien, in inventing languages, found history implied in the different dialects he created. Maps do the same thing for me; geography implies interconnection, or separation, or conflict, or cultural differences, and provide the stage on which I can work out the action. For an amateur geographer I think I do all right (I do admit, though, that the map of the Empire might be a little, uh, busy. Also, my penmanship leaves something to be desired).

It’s not just fantasies that need maps, though. When I was working on my alternate history stories involving the Tudor dynasty in America, I took a wall map of the world and outlined the borders of the nations and empires in the stories, which was a fun exercise and helped me get the international relationships of that world straight in my head. (I actually did a tremendous amount of research and note-making for those stories, which are now defunct. Sigh).

Every writer has things that spark their imagination. For me, picking up a blank piece of paper and sketching out continents, islands, mountain ranges and rivers cranks up my story-telling apparatus. Not a conventional approach, perhaps, but for me, satisfying.

Stephen King’s “Carrie”, power, and love.

I have started what I hope and pray is the final edit of Princess of Shadows. Initial progress is slow, but that was the pattern with Princess of Wonders and Princess of Secrets as well, so I expect the pace will pick up.

So far no major issues have turned up, but I am finding that certain bits of inattentive writing still linger after four drafts (or is it five? I’ve lost count…). Here’s a fairly representative example–

The guard and Swallow conducted Kathy down a corridor
and out a door. Steps led down to a wide courtyard. It was wide,
nearly a hundred feet or so, and perhaps half that across.

Sigh. Fortunately, as I mentioned before, the CreateSpace proof PDF is proving to be very useful at spotting this sort of thing.

Meanwhile, as part of my research for my unnamed superhero novel, I have been reading Stephen King’s Carrie. That may seem like a strange choice as a superhero story, because, of course, Carrie’s not a superhero, but I am not approaching the subject in the traditional manner. This goes back to my discussion of the movie Chronicle (see the May archive) and the theme of what ordinary people do when suddenly given incredible power.

Full disclosure– I am not a horror fan, nor am I a particular fan of Stephen King. I have never read any of his books, other than an abortive attempt at The Gunslinger some years ago. On the other hand, I can, at least from a distance, recognize a skilled writer.

I picked up Carrie because it has some superficial similarities to the nascent concept I have in my head. As with Chronicle, I wanted to see how other authors have handled this subject, mainly because my own thinking about my story remains pretty nebulous.

(Mild spoilers– mild for me, at least– herein follow)

Stephen King himself has said that Carrie was “a young book by a young writer“, and at times I can see that– there are places where the narrative is thin, and some of the characterizations are two-dimensional. One of the devices King employed was the insertion of passages from reports, investigation testimony, and books written by characters after Prom Night, as it’s called, which tends to telegraph the action, perhaps more than we want it to.

On the other hand, King’s writing in general is taut, and his depiction of Carrie, her mother, and their relationship is harrowing, and form the effective core of the book. Margaret, Carrie’s mother, is a fanatic with a twisted religious lens, through which she views the world and her daughter. Her abuse of Carrie lays the foundation for Carrie’s inability to handle the power she has (in this case, hereditary), as well as her victimization by the outside world. Carrie has no foundational love on which to fall back.

For a moment, when Sue Snell, a girl who thoughtlessly participated in the moment of public humiliation of Carrie that starts the novel, tries to make amends by inducing her boyfriend to ask Carrie to the prom, it looks as if maybe Carrie will defy her mother, come out of her shell, and start to find some joy in life. This is taken away from her in an instant by the vindictive petty vengeance of a spoiled rich girl, which tips Carrie over the edge into creating a holocaust.

Parts of this novel are hard to read, and not just the horrifying interactions between Carrie and her mother. Carrie’s humiliation at the prom is painful, because you want this kid to emerge from the hell of her previous life, and that chance is taken away by shallow cruelty. There is not a lot of redemption in this book, except possibly for Sue Snell, the one character who appears to grow as a consequence of what happens. I wish there was more redemption, more affirmation, and that is undoubtedly a critical difference (one of many, doubtless) between me and Stephen King. King isn’t afraid to look straight and unflinchingly into the heart of pain and failure. I find that difficult in my own writing. In some way or another, I need to learn how to do this.

As to power, though, Carrie seems to confirm an understanding that has been forming in my own mind. I go back, once again, to Superman. Superman has the foundational love of the Kents to anchor him and to teach him how to use his powers for good; Carrie has nothing but the abuse and psychosis of her mother, which leaves her unequipped to handle either her power or the petty cruelties of other children. When she lashes out, it is rather analogous to a teenager opening fire in a classroom with an AK-47– a school-shooting by other means.

Of course, that analogy is part of the point– Carrie’s superpowers are a metaphor for the power anyone has to cause pain and suffering, whether it’s with a gun or a cruel word. We learn to use our power for good rather than harm as we are taught to empathize– to understand and to love others as we love ourselves.

I can almost state the interaction of foundational love versus power as a formula–

love > power

At least, we hope it is. Myths like Superman (and it is a myth) tell us it is. Looking at the real world, though, a note of doubt interrupts our certainty. There are plenty of people who have betrayed their love for power, or wealth, or some other lie that at some moment appeared more important or of more weight than the fuel that actually makes us human. People fail to love for many different reasons, and often with catastrophically tragic results.

So there is an uncertainty in how this contest between love and power will play out in each human being. And in that uncertainty, perhaps, lies the key to my story.

Hmm– maybe I need to see Man of Steel, after all.


Another brief dispatch.

I have resumed writing Princess of Fire. I think I’m at a good spot in my initial research to restart work on the first draft. Just from the research I’ve done so far I’ve modified some of my ideas for the story. Research will be ongoing, though– I’m tackling some stuff in this novel about which that I am not very knowledgeable.

Still waiting for my last two beta readers to get back to me on Princess of Shadows. One of them, though, pinged me back to let me know she is making progress, and is, in fact, having a great time ripping apart my grammar. Ugh. Well, I asked for it….

On another front, I have decided to finally dip my toes into CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand services, for my novels (up to this point I have only published for Kindle). I should have trade paperback format versions of my two novels available sometime in the next few days, once I iron out the remaining kinks in my submissions. Word to the wise– don’t simply upload your Kindle formatted doc files to CreateSpace– it’ll only end in tears. ‘Nuff said.

Gotta go to bed, my head is drooping.


This is what I did today…fun stuff….

Research can be a lot of fun, especially for geeks like me. At the risk of spoiling my own damn book, I’ve decided to share (when I showed this to my wife, she just rolled her eyes)–


I think my math is right– of course, if in the future I find a mistake I could work it into the story….

My research on other topics has already revealed some weaknesses in my original conception for Princess of Fire. Contrary to my usual habits, I’m working on a timeline of core events in the story and I’m integrating the revisions into it as I go.

You may have noticed that I have not mentioned anything about my beta readers for Princess of Shadows. I’m trying not to depress myself all over again….