Category Archives: work in progress

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.

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

Stop the presses.

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

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

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

Editing truths

I am waist-deep into the next phase of editing Princess of Fire, in which I work up a punch-list of errata. As this basically entails re-reading the novel for the third or fourth time, it is also another opportunity to catch remaining text errors and lingering bad grammar that I somehow missed on my first two passes.

There are certain truths to editing any long work–

1. Spell-check is a problematic tool. It’s basically stupid– you have to tell it what’s acceptable (mine doesn’t recognize words I consider perfectly correct– e.g., “snockered” and “annal”), and then fight off its attempts to correct grammar that is just fine (thinking in a regional dialect is a hindrance here). On top of that, it will fail to catch correctly spelled words that are out of place or used incorrectly. I cringe when I hear new writers talk about spell-check as if it’s the beginning and end of their editing process. Nope, not even close.

2. Instead, you have to re-read and re-read and re-read your work until you can’t stand to look at it anymore, and then re-read it again. Read it to see how it flows, read it to see if the plot holds together, read it word-by-word to see they make any sense whatsoever. Each time you do, you need to find some way to see it with different eyes, even if it’s just hanging upside-down off the end of your kitchen table. Read it out loud, or sing it to the tune of “My Favorite Things”. Anything.

Personally, I’ve found that making a Createspace digital proof PDF of the manuscript really helps me spot lingering text errors and weak sentences–

proofpdf1

proofpdf2

Apparently seeing the novel in something resembling book format is helpful for me. No, I haven’t analysed it– I just know it works.

(By the way, in the latest edit, I’ve fixed the justification on the Robert Burns quote. No need to yell at me about it.)

3. In that same vein, it is essential that at some point you get someone else’s eyes on the work– and not your mother, nor your spouse, unless they are the sort who can tell you the unvarnished truth and not care that they’ve left you a pitiful, blubbering wreck on the living room couch. In an ideal world, those eyes would belong to a professional editor. In the real world I live in, most professional editors– in other worlds, editors who actually know what they’re doing and charge accordingly– would be competing for my money with my medical insurance. And that means they’d lose. If you can afford a professional editor, by all means, hire one, and then seriously consider their advice. But not everyone has that kind of wherewithal.

Instead, I have to rely on beta readers. I have a couple of very good readers, and I’m recruiting more. It’s not a perfect approach, but it’s considerably better than nothing. One way or the other, there just is no substitute for the feedback of someone who has not read the novel five times and whose familiarity with the text doesn’t exceed their familiarity with their own spouse.

The point– other eyes multiply your success.

4. Be merciless. Even in the later stages of an edit, you will find material you don’t need, or which can be cut down to size. Kill or shrink as needed. Trimming excess from a text, even late in the game, should give you a warm fuzzy. If it doesn’t– if you get sentimental and defensive about every word you’ve written– then, Grasshopper, you have a serious problem as a writer. Please, please, re-thunk your thinking.

5. Eventually, you have to quit screwing around with the damn thing and either send it out to an editor or agent, or self-publish. Here’s a hard truth– it’s never going to be perfect. There are authors who fiddle and fiddle and fiddle with a work, and never overcome the terror of being imperfect. Eventually, you have to surrender to the fact that your piece falls short of what you had in your head. Embrace that short-fall– it just means you’re human. Send your work out into the breathing world scarce half-made up, if you have to, and move on to the next project.

That’s being a writer.

The daily routine of a man newly unemployed (warning– may involve some whining….)

1. Wake up at an unnecessarily early hour.
2. Get up about an hour later.
3. Look at emails, hoping for a job offer.
4. Take daughter to school. Don’t get out of the car, because you’re still in your pajamas.
5. Get dressed.
6. Walk two miles to Safeway to buy a bear-claw.
7. Walk home.
8. Shower.
9. Look at emails, hoping for a job offer.
10. Sit down to edit current novel-in-progress.
11. Fall asleep over current novel-in-progress.
12. Wake up.
13. Look at emails, hoping for a job offer.
14. Eat lunch.
15. Check state job boards, Monster, Linked-in, Indeed.com, Dice, Ziprecruiter, Siemens, Volt, Kforce, and about a dozen other job sites.
16. Submit one resume.
17. Watch forty to fifty Youtube videos about cats and World of Tanks and guys ranting about movies, most of which you’ve never seen.
18. Go to library.
19. Check out a book.
20. While at library, try not to get depressed looking at all the other people’s books that got published.
21. Go home.
22. Think about doing a blog post.
23. Fall asleep thinking about doing a blog post.
24. Eat dinner.
25. Look at emails, hoping for a job offer.
26. Play World of Tanks.
27. Watch Youtube cat video to make yourself feel better about the pummeling you just received on World of Tanks.
28. Look at emails, hoping for a job offer.
29. Go to bed.

(repeat)

Draft Princess of Fire Blurb

Well, my first interview for a new job didn’t exactly go as well as I might have wanted (translation– I crashed and burned), so I decided to distract myself with a little blurb creation.

I think I do pretty well with my blurbs, since I aim to entice without revealing too much. I think I’ve read enough dime-store SF novels to have a pretty good sense of what should go on the book’s back cover. The purpose of the blurb is to persuade some kid with complexion issues to buy the book rather than a super-size container of malted milk balls. At least, that’s how it always worked for me.

So here it is–

Princess of Fire

Kathy Pennington has now been on the planet Jauthur for a year. Her battle of wills with her grandmother, the Dowager Empress of the Val, has reached a stalemate– the empress insists on Kathy succeeding her on the throne, and Kathy insists on going home to Chicago. Neither woman has budged an inch.

But when the empress is besieged in the south of the Empire by a rebel army, and the volcano on the capitol’s doorstep shows signs of awakening, Kathy must find sources of strength she did not know she possessed, to help save people from looming danger. If she doesn’t, hundreds of thousands of innocent lives will be lost in ash and fire.

I would welcome any comments. Thanks.

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.

Dialogue, the bane of my existence

I have been reading Stephen King’s On Writing, which is, of a surety, destined to land on my bookshelf as one of the handful of writing books I actually find useful. Someone has called it “tough love for writers” and I do not dispute that at all.

One point King makes in the book is that loners are generally lousy dialogue writers, however good they may be in general, and this insight struck home for me. In fact, I think it drew blood. I am, to put it simply, a solitary misanthropic curmudgeon, who has only grown more solitary and anti-social as I’ve gotten older. And I think this does show up in my dialogue, just as King suggests. I particularly flail about trying to write dialogue for my fantasy stories; in stories with contemporary settings I can better hear how people are supposed to sound, but in a wholly made-up universe the rhythm and sound of dialogue often escapes me.

Now that I have pulled it from the blog, I have been doodling with re-arranging some sections of Horse Tamer, seeing what I should get rid of and what I should keep, and I came to a certain exchange between Mankin and his crusty old sergeant, Denetoi. Reading it left me in a state of despair– the conversation seemed to clunk and thud and verge over toward the maudlin.

Then I remembered that this was, and still is, a first draft, and I decided to try a revision. The second version may now be a little too light-hearted, considering the seriousness of the topic, but I think it works a little better as believable dialogue. What do you think? I would welcome anybody’s opinion on these pieces, whether the original is as bad as I think it is, and whether the revision gets the job done.

Setting– Mankin and Denetoi are down by the wharves of Venia, where Mankin has just had his first seafood lunch, and Denetoi tries to give his friend and former commander some advice.

************************************
Original—

“Good looking, but not a patch on the girls uptown,” Denetoi sighed, watching the two walk away.

“I’ll take your word for it,” Mankin said.

Denetoi frowned into his cup. “Cap’n, there’s something I’ve been meaning to say.”

Mankin frowned in turn, looking at Denetoi. “And when have you ever hesitated to speak your mind?”

“Some things, it’s best to ask first.” Denetoi hesitated another moment before going on. “Cap’n, I’m worried about you.”

Mankin snorted. “What are you now, sergeant, an old mother hen? Are you going to tell me to stay out of the rain? How are you worried about me?”

Denetoi met his look. “I worry when a young man I respect wants to feed himself to lions.”

Mankin sighed. “I’m past that, Denetoi.” I think.

“But you’re still unhappy,” the older man said. “I know something about what war can do to men, Cap’n– and losing people you care about. Some men just go to pieces, some men turn into tyrants, some men drink themselves to death.” Denetoi pointed a finger at Mankin. “You had one moment when you were ready to die, but since then you’ve bottled everything up. That sort thing will burst on you at some point, Cap’n. I promise you. You’re alive, but you’re not living.”

“Now we need to leave this be,” Mankin muttered.

“Let me finish my say, and then you can cuss me as you like. I know you have to grieve, Cap’n, and that’s the decent thing to do, but at some point– some point soon– you’ll need to figure out why you’re living.”

Mankin gritted his teeth. “And you think a whore will fix that up?”

“I could think of worse things.”

“We’re done talking about this,” Mankin said.

Denetoi shrugged, looked away. “I probably shouldn’t have said anything.”

They finished their meal in silence. “We should be getting back,” Mankin said.

“As you say, Cap’n.” Denetoi’s face was closed.

Revision—

“Good looking, but not a patch on the girls uptown,” Denetoi sighed, watching the two walk away.

“I’ll take your word for it,” Mankin said.

Denetoi frowned into his cup. “Cap’n, I never told you…I was real sorry when I heard about your wife and your little one. “

Mankin said nothing for a moment. “Thank you.”

Denetoi seemed to think about what he was going to say next. “I’m worried about you, Cap’n.”

Mankin snorted. “What are you now, sergeant, my mother? Are you going to tell me to stay out of the rain? How are you worried about me?”

Denetoi looked up. “I worry when a young man I respect wants to feed himself to lions.”

“I’m past that.” I think.

“Maybe,” the older man said. “But—beggin’ your pardon, Cap’n, but you’re still not right.”

Mankin said nothing. He couldn’t deny it.

“You’re all bottled up,” Denetoi said. “You can’t go on forever like that.”

“Not sure what else I can do,” Mankin muttered.

Denetoi started to say something, then closed his mouth. “Well,” he said, “the truth is I don’t have an answer, either. I was going to tell you to get yourself a woman, but that’s not your way.”

“No.” No, it’s not.

“But one way or another,” Denetoi said, “at some point, Cap’n, you’re going to need to figure out why you’re living.”

Mankin looked at the sergeant. “Does anybody ever that figure that out? Have you?”

“Ah, well, I keep things simple,” Denetoi said, smiling. “Beer, women, crab-stew—that’s what keeps me going.”

“I guess.” Mankin smiled, too. “And here I thought you mostly just knew about horses.”

“Men and horses,” Denetoi said, “not a lot of difference between them, when you think about it.”

They finished their meal and drank another pot of ale each. “We should be getting back,” Mankin said.

“Not sure I can walk uphill too quick,” Denetoi said. He picked his teeth with fingernail. “Damn good stew.”

“We can take our time,” Mankin said.

************************************

One thing about this revision– it incorporates the biggest insight I’ve gained in the last few years about writing around emotions– less is definitely more. A heavy hand in laying out what a character is feeling is the kiss of death. It’s just sad it took me this long to figure that out.

So, opinions? Any and all input is welcome. And I thank you beforehand.

Horse Tamer– time to end the pain….

I’ve been struggling with this for a little while now, but I’ve decided to pull the trigger. From this point on I will post no further chapters of Horse Tamer here, and I will soon remove the chapters I have already published. I have a number of reasons for doing so (not in exact order of importance)–

1. Posting the draft chapter by chapter on my blog seems to have inflamed my already undisciplined style of creating a first draft, to the point that, after more than 60,000 words, I am nowhere near getting even to the middle of the story and bringing all my characters on-stage, never mind introducing the main plot-line. The open-ended nature of blogging has allowed me to blather on, piling prose upon prose, and essentially getting nowhere.

2. I think the basic indecency of posting a draft for all to see has finally caught up with me. I really shouldn’t be doing this in public. Children might be reading this.

3. As often happens with my drafts, I’ve gotten a ways into the story and realized that there is a better way to do it. I have already whinged at length about poor Crisonia, and wrung my hands over poor, lost Ana, but now I’ve realized that Mankin himself needs to be retconned. I’ve written him too bland and safe, for all my attempts to portray him as a suffering soul; I need to bring him back closer to my original conception. So, instead of massive retcons for all, I intend to start again. Call it First Draft 1.1. And I will not be posting it online, but doing it in private, where it belongs, until it’s ready.

That’s the silver lining in all this– the time and energy I expended on Horse Tamer is not going to go to waste. I’m convinced the Venian Empire and its world are the setting Mankin needs to take off and fly. Now that I am into the second draft of Princess of Fire, I can at least get Horse Tamer 1.1 (working title, don’t worry) started, while I also work on stories for traditional publication.

Yes, I’m going to be busy. And that feels really, really good right now.