Category Archives: writing life

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 MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT OF EARTH-SHATTERING IMPORTANCE!

Well, not really.

All I really wanted to do is to call attention to a change in the way I blog.

For the last three or four years I have blogged when I’ve felt like it. I started this blog as a stimulus to my own writing efforts; over time it evolved into, not just a place to talk about my progress on my current work-in-progress, but also a space in which to vent, to bloviate, to express my opinions on books or movies, and, perhaps most importantly, to experiment with fiction, short and long. I’ve written more short fiction, flash and otherwise, on this blog than I’ve ever done anywhere before. I wrote 60,000 words of a fantasy novel for which, unfortunately, I could not in the end find a resolution, and which has joined my (many) other trunk novels on the Great Backup Disk of Oblivion. I’ve actually committed written poetry.

But it has all been more-or-less random, with me being my typically undisciplined self. That’s the part I’ve decided to change. I am introducing a schedule for this blog.

There are three weekly flash fiction challenges I’ve followed in the past– Sunday Photo Fiction, Mondays Finish the Story, and Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge, which typically appears on Fridays. Not every one of these challenges sparks my interest every week (this week’s from Chuck is a horror mash-up. Sorry, don’t do horror, nope, uh-uh, call me Mr. Wussy, I don’t care), but between the three of them I should probably be able to figure out something short fiction-wise to post weekly on Monday. If not, I can post a story fragment, similar to The Golem or one of my abandoned story pieces, such as Northern Lights.

Each Wednesday or thereabouts I intend to post a short update on my WIP, which at this time is Princess of Stars (note– I passed 5000 words today. Probably about 1/30th of the final total. Maybe. The road stretches away, toward the far-distant hills….).

On Fridays I want to start posting a weekly review of a movie or a book, similar to my review of Station Eleven, or Guardians of the Galaxy. Some of these may be new books and first-run movies, but many will be classic works that have influenced me one way or the other. Since I did a review of The Curse of Chalion yesterday, I’m giving myself a pass for this week.

On this framework I will also tack occasional additional posts about other topics, incidental poems or spontaneous rants. However, there is one topic I intend to avoid– politics. Despite the fact that here in the US we are schlupping our way into the presidential election, despite the fact that so much of what is going on is eminently worthy of satire, and despite the fact that I have opinions (oh, brother, do I have opinions) about so many of the candidates, and the state of our union at this particular moment, I don’t want to devote much time in this blog to discussing the election. I’ve tried to keep this space dedicated to writing and books and movies, and I don’t want to stray too far from that focus. I may set up a Tumblr account devoted to politics, but I also don’t want to take too much time and energy away from my fiction writing. Politics in this country at the moment is a bottomless pit, and I’m not sure my two cents would do anything to illuminate the darkness (yah, a triple mixed metaphor! High-five to myself).

Lastly, I am contemplating trying to serialize more long fiction, but my previous attempts have been mixed at best. And again, I don’t want to take energy away from Princess of Stars. It’s just that I have a lot of ideas, and bits and pieces of different stories written down, and I would like some of these stories to see the light of day, one way or the other. We’ll have to see.

Meanwhile, changes are coming, hopefully positive. Bear with me.

Time to shed the purple funkies….

Since I’ve published Princess of Fire, I’ve kinda felt like Bill the Cat on a bad day–

bill-the-cat2

I’ve doodled away on four or five different projects, none of which have much prospect of seeing the light of day anytime soon, when I haven’t been collapsed in a purple funk. I was briefly cheered by an small uptick in my book sales on Amazon, but the warm fuzzies didn’t last (said uptick shows every sign of being over).

In the wake of my struggles with Princess of Fire, I have been afflicted with the certainty that I am a useless putz and a complete hack, enjoying a well-deserved obscurity. My mood has not been lightened by the fact that, in my unemployed state, I have slipped down to the only rung on the ladder of personal despair lower than yard work.

Yes. I have started to clean out the garage. Pray for me.

In the end, though, self-pity palls. You either have to yield to a final dissolution into a puddle of primordial slime, or stand up, buckle on your harness once more, and face the storm– i.e., knock off the whining and get back to writing, dork.

Because, if I’m a miserable hack, at least it’s my miserable hackness…hackiness…hacknicity…whatever. It’s my duty, or doom, to write my stories, and nobody else’s– and, conversely, no one else can write stories that belong to me. I need to tell them, and that’s all there is to it. Whether they ever get read is quite a separate issue.

As I do, I console myself with the thought that at least my stuff is better than Fifty Shades of Grey. It ain’t much, but it’s something.

So–

MY IMPORTANT WRITING PLANS–

1. Set up the Createspace print-on-demand version of Princess of Fire. This shouldn’t be particularly arduous, so a week or two should be sufficient to check this item off. No one has yet bought any of my POD editions (which means the three copies I own are completely unique and exist nowhere else in this universe, which is kind of freaky when you think about it), but you never know when some librarian in Ottumwa might decide to give you a shot.

2. Spend a month writing a detailed synopsis for Princess of Stars. I’ve already blogged about my deep and abiding desire to avoid another pantsing disaster, although I have not experienced a sudden conversion to detailed, anal-retentive plotting, and still less outlining (this is writing, people, not engineering). I know where Princess of Stars begins and I know where it ends, but I need to have a clear picture of what happens in-between.

3. Sometime in October-November launch into the first draft of Princess of Stars. God alone knows how long it will take to complete the first pass– I’m planning on allocating at least a year. How some people write full novels in three months puzzles the crap out of me.

4. Pick up the pace of my blogging– who knows, maybe even establish an actual schedule, although I don’t want to go off the deep end. Among other things, there are books and movies out there just waiting to be reviewed, which obviously need my particularly ignorant and completely biased opinion to find their correct place in the artistic inventory of Western civilization. That’s another aspect of my writing only I can commit…um, write.

Note: I previously blogged that I would be spending time on Horse Tamer between Princess of Fire and Princess of Stars. Unfortunately, I have laid it aside. My previous experiment yielded 60,000 words that went nowhere, and I think I finally have to admit that this story-line needs to go back on the shelf, probably permanently. It makes me sad, but I have only so many years left on this Earth, and I can’t spin my wheels forever.

So– once more into the fray, chilluns….

“Ring the alarum-bell!—Blow, wind! Come, wrack!
At least we’ll die with harness on our back.”

Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5, Page 3

Some Words of Encouragement….

IMG_20150831_133250019

Years and years and years ago, when I could still be considered a young man, my wife and I moved from California to Washington State so I could go to graduate school. One of my good friends in California gave me a going-away present. She was also an aspiring writer, and we briefly collaborated on some stories. Her gift was a handmade poster with encouraging quotes from notable authors about writing– frankly, one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received. It was entitled “Some Words of Encouragement”, and it hung on the wall of most of my work-areas for the next decade. Eventually, however, we moved into a house with severe space issues, so it was stored away.

This weekend I started clearing our garage, possibly in preparation to sell that same space-challenged house, and I found the poster. It brought back good memories, but more than that, the quotes were still pertinent to my writing process, and I suppose they would be to anyone else’s, too. It seemed a good idea to share them, and here they are.

Note– since I received these quotes second-hand, I cannot wholly vouch for their accuracy. But my friend was pretty careful and precise in most of her dealings, so I have no reason to think they are wildly off the mark. Also, the advice dates from the Dinosaurian Age, when there was only Traditional Publishing (and typewriters!), and self-publishing meant handing out mimeographed copies of your work on street corners. Because of that, some of the quotes should be taken with a grain of salt– but they’re still fun.

Lastly, I’ve tried to keep transcription errors to a minimum.

*********************************
SOME WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT

“Tell the readers a STORY! Because without a story, you are merely using words to prove you can string them together in logical sentences.”

— Anne McCaffrey

“You are not your writing. That is, people can love you and hate your work. Never assume that a rejection of your stuff is also a rejection of you as a person. Unless it’s accompanied by a punch in the nose.”

— Ron Goulart

“Be persistent. Editors change; editorial tastes change; markets change. Too many beginning writers give up too easily.”

— John Jakes

“Study the writers magazines and pound the hell out of the typewriter.”

— Erle Stanley Gardner

Any advice, ideas or suggestions about writing from people not in the creative world should be staunchly ignored and the damaging mental vibrations quelled with a good hot fudge sundae.”

— Nancy Winslow Parker

“Always make sure you get paid.”

— Ron Goulart

“Ray Bradbury told me to put a sign on my typewriter: DON’T THINK! It works miracles. I suggest one above that: HAVE FUN.”

— Richard Bach

“Preserve time each day for absolute quiet and privacy, whether you’re writing or not. It is, after all, the inner life that alone nourishes the writer’s real senses.”

— Donald Spoto

“The ideas that at first seem most outrageous, even ludicrous, are often our best and/or most creative ones – they just seem strange because we have gotten beneath the level of cliche in reaching them.”

— Rosemary Daniell

“You are your own person. You do not have to see things the way others do– in fact it will probably bode better for your writing if you do not.”

— Valerie Sherwood

“Write it and send it in. The most crucial thing a writer does is produce.”

— Robert B. Parker

“Life is a short run – milk it. Write what you really want to.”

— Ralph G. Martin

“The beginning writer needs talent, application and aspirin. If he wants to write just to make money, he is not a writer.”

— James Thurber

“The reader has certain rights. He bought your story. Think of this as an implicit contract. He’s entitled to be entertained, instructed, amused; maybe all three. If he quits in the middle, or puts the book down feeling his time has been wasted, you’re in violation.”

— Larry Niven

“Don’t think and then write it down. Think on paper.”

— Harry Kamelman

“It takes most of us writers a long time to learn our craft. So keep at it. Don’t give up.”

— Jacqueline Briskin

“Don’t write what you know – what you know may bore you, and thus your readers. Write about what interests you – and interests you deeply – and your readers will catch fire at your words.”

— Valerie Sherwood

A Writer’s Doldrums, or the Poison of Doubt

It’s probably some sort of literary postpartum depression thingie, but since publishing Princess of Fire I haven’t had much energy for writing. At most I’ve doodled a few hundred words here and there on different projects, none of which have yet gelled. Somewhere in the distance looms Princess of Stars, for which I absolutely have no energy at the moment. On top of that, real-life has been handing me a few tasks of an urgent nature, which means even less time and energy for scribbling.

Publishing always causes me to reflect on my writing, i.e., it engenders doubts about whether I know what the hell I’m doing. With Princess of Fire the self-doubt was especially sharp and bitter– I stumbled through the book’s four drafts and had to finish with a extra-hard push to redeem a host of lingering crimes. Then typically, in my exhaustion, I make the mistake of reading really good writers, like Hilary Mantel or Patrick O’Brian, and the distance between my feeble efforts and the prose of those who are real writers wraps itself around me and threatens to squeeze the life out of me like some anaconda of inadequacy. Cognitively I know that comparing yourself to other writers is one of the worst things you can do; nevertheless, I do it a lot.

Somehow, though, my sense of inadequacy never quite quashes my need to write. There are those who view the need to write as an addiction, and I can see some truth in the idea. Fortunately, it is generally a positive addiction, if there can be such a thing. So, eventually, I am sure I will once more crank up the narrative machine and feed my need.

And maybe– just maybe– I will someday write something decent.

Later.

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.

A Non-fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig– Why I Write

Chuck went for something different this week– a non-fiction challenge on “why I write”. One thousand words. Deadline this Friday.

Well, it’s kind of simple. For me, at least. Don’t need a thousand words.

In one way or another, I’ve been telling myself stories for as long as I can remember. At five or six years old, I was telling stories with my collection of Confederate and Union toy soldiers. I told stories to myself to put myself to sleep; I told stories on the playground, I told stories in the bathtub. My childhood was one long imaginative excursion, full of drama and danger. It’s one of the reasons the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip was a personal favorite– it echoed my own experience growing up. Often my dream– or daydream– life seemed stronger than my breathing existence.

Around the fifth grade or so, I realized I wanted to write my stories down. That realization was the first step of a long, long process of acquiring the discipline to write and complete stories. This has been a struggle, the details of which are unimportant. Suffice to say, writing is the mature expression of my need to tell stories. Daydreaming, the sort that made otherwise sweet-natured grade-school teachers yell at me just to get my attention, is no longer sufficient.

I write because I dream. I write because I want my dreams to have permanence. And I write because I want to share my dreaming. I will probably continue to write as long as I can use a keyboard or handle a pen, despite the fact that the talent is meager.

And that’s about it.

A plea to new writers, while treading carefully…

A certain author, on a certain online group, recently posted, with evident pride, a chapter of their work-in-progress. I looked it over. It was not a happy experience.

One of the greatest problems with online self-publishing, in all its forms, is that it makes it entirely too easy to put out work that is in no way, shape or form ready for public viewing. And in this instance it wasn’t just poor writing– the author obviously had no grasp of basic grammar or punctuation, the very things Stephen King calls the writer’s fundamental toolbox. Comma splices, run-on sentences, misused or missing capitalization, long interior monologues, and adverbs– dear God in Heaven, not just over-used, but used in bizarre and novel ways…you probably get the picture, and it ain’t gonna be hanging in the Louvre. It’s the sort of thing that gives ammunition to those who denigrate self-published works as amateur and unreadable.

It is a simple truth that, to write effectively in English, you must master– and not just master, but internalize– certain rules and nuances of the language and how it is expressed in symbolic form. You can’t get away from it, not if you want your work to be readable and to rise above the status of laughing-stock. You ignore those rules at your peril.

Now, having said that, you will notice that I have not named the author, nor their work, nor have I quoted any of the more wretched passages (a strong temptation, if for no other reason than to bear witness to those adverbs…). It is not my desire, nor my purpose, to denigrate or belittle any author, just as you would not denigrate a student struggling with a math problem (at least, I hope you wouldn’t). In the first place, we all have to start somewhere. The difficulty is that self-publishing allows thousands and thousands of neophyte writers to plunge straight off into the deep end, with the result that the self-publishing sea is layered thick with their corpses….

In the second place, I am not sure I would personally have many stones to throw. I think I write fairly effective sentences, and I have been at this a very long while (depressingly so), but, even so, I trip up all the time. The hard-copy edit of Princess of Fire has rubbed my nose in that fact (more about that below). And I remember quite clearly how long it has taken me to get to whatever level of competence I have achieved.

Here’s the truth– English is a hard language, even for native speakers. This bastard child of German and French, bespangled with a host of ‘loan’ words (more like, hijacked), is tricky and ever-shifting– and it hasn’t helped that formal grammarians have long insisted on imposing Latinate rules of grammar on an essentially Germanic tongue, which has basically gummed things up even worse for generations (but that’s another post).

To handle this language effectively, you have to learn the rules. You have to study. You have to read good writing, by good authors. I have already name-dropped Stephen King, so I’ll go the whole hog and mention his memoir, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, as an excellent primer on not just what tools a writer needs, but as an outline of how life influences a writer. Among other things, King hammers hard on the idea that to write effectively, you must read widely. And then you have to write, write, write, over and over again, figuring out what works and getting rid of what doesn’t.

And while I’m mentioning books, if you don’t have a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, stop reading this and go get one. Now. I’m not kidding.

All of this takes time. And time, I fear, is something many new or young writers don’t want to part with. Worse, they don’t understand that there is no other way to become a good writer than by putting in the effort and the time. Instead they charge ahead, afire with the enthusiasm of seeing their work online, on Kindle or Smashwords or Nook, and then wonder why the reviews are cruel, if they get reviews at all. This is, frankly, one of the downsides of the self-publishing revolution.

I’m saying nothing new here, but I think these truths need to be repeated every so often. More than that, though, I want to try end on a hopeful note. The fact is, everyone starts in the same place with writing, except for those extremely rare native geniuses who are born with pen in hand. Most of us have to do it the hard way. And that should be encouraging to anyone struggling to learn how to write. You need to write, and read, and persist. Therein lies your hope.

**************************
On another note–

Re: Princess of Fire , yes, progress is being made, but my first estimate of a week to put in the hard-copy changes was, unsurprisingly, way, way off. Part of the problem is that I am in the process of re-writing, from scratch, a climactic piece of action; also, the real life demands of being unemployed, of dealing with medical Cobras and unemployment insurance issues, having been seriously distracting. But I’m closing in….

Later.