Category Archives: science-fiction novel

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…..

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

A review of ” The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2″

Just yesterday I reviewed Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so I thought it appropriate to review the other movie I saw last week, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. Seeing these two very different movies within days of each other was an interesting experience, to say the least.

SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***

Unless you’ve been on a long interstellar journey, you have probably heard of The Hunger Games books and the movies based on them, starring Jennifer Lawrence. It is the story of Katniss Everdeen, forced to fight in the gladiatorial Hunger Games in a far-future, post-apocalyptic tyranny that encompasses what is now North America (‘Panem’). In the course of the four movies (based on three books) Katniss inadvertently becomes first a symbol, and then a leader, in a rebellion against the despotic Capitol.

The first movie, The Hunger Games, was excellent; the second movie, Catching Fire, was even better. The third movie, Mockingjay Part One, was good but something of a prologue, with the final payoff coming with Mockingjay Part Two. Essentially the two Mockingjay movies are the story of the rebellion against the Capitol and Katniss’ not-always-happy role in it. The rebels manage to overthrow the Capitol, but at great cost and suffering, and the end of the fighting is realistically ambiguous.

The movie resonated strongly with me, and frankly, I liked it a good deal more than I liked The Force Awakens. Partly this is because Mockingjay 2 seems especially pertinent to the real world we live in today– despite the futuristic setting, there are scenes that could have been pulled from Syria or Iraq or Libya today. Right now millions of people around the world are engaged in actual struggles, either non-violent or armed, against actual tyrannies. And, to be blunt, it resonates even more with what could be our own future in this country, if certain hateful and megalomaniacal individuals and groups gain actual political power. We live in scary times, and a movie that warns us against tyranny is particularly timely.

Another part of why this movie worked for me is Jennifer Lawrence. This young woman is interesting even when she’s in a film that I don’t particular enjoy (e.g. American Hustle), and I don’t think I’ve seen her turn in a bad performance yet. She brings some serious vulnerability and conviction to the role of Katniss, and if the previous three movies had not already welded us to her emotionally, Mockingjay Part Two would do it. Her pain at her losses in the war, including her sister Prim (you saw the spoiler warning, right?) is raw and brings home the cost of war, even war in a good cause. Someone has called Lawrence the next Meryl Streep, and I find it hard to dispute the suggestion.

The core of the movie’s action is Katniss’ attempt, against orders, to penetrate the Capitol in order to assassinate President Snow, the head of the despotism. This is part revenge and part an effort to kill the snake (and end the fighting) by cutting off its head. The fight to break through the traps the tyrant has put in her path is horrible, and the cost is high. Katniss finally tries to infiltrate Snow’s palace even as the Capitol’s resistance begins to crumble, which means that she sees up close the suffering of the Capitol’s residents at the hands of the rebels. It’s a powerful moment, as the Capitol’s children get caught in the cross-fire. Mockingjay Part Two is essentially an anti-war film, and the climactic scene of the fighting drives its point home hard.

The ending is not then presented to us with a neat and tidy bow– instead, the film touches on a question that plagues all revolutions– how do you ensure that you do not merely replace one tyranny with another? Katniss, given the task of executing President Snow, instead assassinates District 13’s President Coin (Julianne Moore), who, as it turns out, committed a gratuitous act of murder in the last battle in the Capitol and in the aftermath is positioning herself as the new Snow. In the book Katniss is put on trial for this– in the movie she is exiled back to the ruined District 12, her home. This is one of only one or two places where the movie left me with questions, but they are pretty minor and don’t affect my appreciation of the movie as a whole.

The very end of the movie, an epilogue years later, is bittersweet, hopeful and powerful. Its power is enhanced by the soundtrack by James Newton Howard, to which I will doubtless be listening for many years to come. It is just about the perfect conclusion to a movie about a struggle for freedom, love, and healing.

Highly recommended.

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 #4– The Slug’s Pace….

Princess of Stars is now at 17000 words, which is about 11% of the estimated (guesstimated) total of 150000. Yes, I missed a day last weekend, and daily production averaged around 500 words. As I’ve said previously, that daily word-rate is not unusual for me.

I am considering different means of helping me increase my daily average. One thing I considered trying was NaNoWriMo. I’ve never done NaNoWriMo– I’ve been writing and completing novel-length pieces for the last twenty or so years, so its motivational aspect didn’t seem really pertinent. Having an external expectation of daily word production, though, was appealing, and 1667 words per day is at least normally within the realm of possibility for me. I went so far as to create an account.

In the end, however, I decided not to commit. I anticipate the coming month (and the month after that) are going to be filled with a number of everyday life issues that are going to demand too much time to allow me to just eat, sleep and write. Among those issues is one that’s on the verge of going critical. I have not worked in six months. My personal economy is tight and getting tighter by the day. Figuring out that little problem will have to be a priority, and while I think I can maintain 500 words a day while dealing with it, more than 1500 words is probably way out of reach.

As for the story itself, I’ve reached the start of the action. In the process I discovered another logical flaw, but not a particularly egregious one. I can deal with it on the fly. With any luck I should be able to clear 20,000 words by the end of this weekend, about 13% of my estimated total. Writing a novel is like a marathon– if you think about how far you have to go, the immensity of the task may paralyze you. However, just getting through the next five hundred or a thousand words, day-by-day, divides the immensity into manageable chunks.

PS— After I created this post I added more than 1000 words to Princess of Stars. It helps when you get the writing done before you start playing World of Tanks….

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….

Princess of Stars Update #2– The Productivity Question

I am now over 8000 words on Princess of Stars. No immediate issues have yet become evident– I’ve tentatively dealt with the story logic problem revealed by my synopsis. My productivity is about the only question mark at the moment– I essentially added five thousand words in nine days, or about 550 words a day. That is not a blistering pace, but it is fairly typical for me.

I stand in awe of those writers who can do one thousand or two thousand words a day, day after day. In his autobiography Fred Pohl stated that he wrote 2000 words a day, every day, even when he was traveling or having dental surgery. Obviously, this was critical to making him, in his day, one of the most productive writers in science fiction.

For some reason– laziness? lack of intellectual staying power? poor self-esteem?– I rarely can achieve as much as 1000 words a day, and I can never sustain it. My natural daily word count seems to fall somewhere in the range of 500 to 700 words (tonight I did about 750, woo-hoo). If I am right about this novel running to around 150,000 words (a pure guess at this point), then that would mean the first draft of Princess of Stars will be complete sometime around the middle of August, 2016. That’s not so bad.

The awful part is that I know that target date is sure to slip, because many other factors reduce my effective daily word count– real-life distractions (flu shots and bills and forms to be taken to my daughter’s school), my lack of a personal work-space (I need a man-cave sooo bad), wasting time doodling on other projects, and so on. And then…then there is the time lost to those days– sometimes weeks with Princess of Fire— when the essential futility and wretchedness of my writing oppresses me and I lie in a puddle of self-pity, unable to lift my hands to the keyboard. I am not one of those authors who are breezily confident in their own writing. It’s too easy for me to see my own flaws, and note the (large) gap between conception and execution. Perhaps the miracle with Princess of Fire is that it only took twenty months to complete.

I’ve said it before– perseverance is one of the cardinal virtues of a writer. Fortunately, I am very stubborn person. And, come what may, I am on the road.

More reports to follow.

Princess of Stars Update #1 – And so it begins….

I now have a very, very skeletal synopsis for Princess of Stars in hand, and it has already paid for itself in revealing a gobsmackingly huge logic flaw in my initial conception. Some serious rethinking will need to be rethunked before I get too far with the draft.

But the operative word about the synopsis is “skeletal”. In plain truth, there are large sections of the novel in which I do not know what happens. I know the beginning, and I know the end, right down to the last sentence of the book, but most of the rest, nope. I just can’t make it up ahead of time. It’s not in me. I have to discover the novel by writing it. This appears to be an irreducible truth about how I write.

So, this is Day One of what will most likely be another very long process. I have already doodled about 3000 words, including the excerpt I included in Princess of Fire. I am going to try to make this more of a straight-through draft of the story, instead of hopscotching all over the place, as I did with PoF. Maybe I can avoid the chaos of that book. I certainly hope so.

My productivity may vary a good deal, in large part because of real-life issues I’m dealing with. Chief among these is my continued lack of a day job, which is getting pretty critical. That, obviously, will demand a certain amount of attention over the next few weeks, and will doubtless impact my ability to concentrate on the novel. Hopefully, though, that particular problem will be resolved soon.

As I did with Princess of Shadows and Princess of Fire I will post updates at irregular intervals. My one prayer is that I can give Kathy a good concluding chapter. She deserves it.

Later.