Tag Archives: novel

An even shorter note

Sky Lord is now live on Amazon Kindle. This is rather sooner than I originally anticipated, but everything appeared to be a go after my beta readers reported in, so I thought I might as well proceed. Considering the holiday and everything, it will probably take a while to get the paperback edition ready, however much easier POD is nowadays than it used to be.

I have added a progress bar for The Long Quest, which is the working title of the next volume in the series. No ETA, but I think I have a pretty good grasp of what is going to happen in it. The next book beyond Quest is entitled The Stars Beyond the Gate, but I have only a few hundred words down for it at this point.

Siege continues to assume a firmer shape in my feeble brain, and there are other projects I may yet doodle on in the near future. Bulletins to follow.


A brief note– the very observant reader may notice that suddenly this evening my page sports two and not one progress bars. The new entry is entitled Sky Lord, and it is indeed in second (perhaps even third) draft. I actually hope to have it on Kindle before Christmas.

I have been uncharacteristically mum, silent and otherwise uncommunicative about this new book. There are several reasons for this, including a growing certainty no one other than myself is wildly interested in the details of my writing struggle with individual works, as well as the fact that, much to my wide-eyed surprise, I set a record drafting this puppy– perhaps as little as ten weeks, which, for me, is stunning. The second draft took longer, which is, I suppose, appropriate.

Sky Lord is set in the same story universe as the Divine Lotus series, if not quite the same universe. If that seems obscure, well, read, and all will be clarified in time. Its protagonist, Jason Conlan, is a departure for me, and I actually had a deal of fun writing him. That may mean that something is seriously amiss, but, screw it, I’m going with it.

And poor Siege? Still in there, if not quite front burner. This past spring I realized that my initial concept for it was wrong– worse, it was boring. It’s undergoing a serious re-think, which is the source of those horrible grinding sounds you may have heard over the last few months. Hopefully, it will still see the light of day at some point.

I have other books coming, both about Jason, which will carry forward the storyline from Divine Lotus, as well as other, unrelated stories. Lately my head has been very crowded.

Oh, and Jason’s stories have a series title– The Nightmare War. Incoming….


A brief update re: Princess of Fire

Perhaps a brief update is in order, now that I’ve been AWOL for a while.

I tend to be a glass-half-empty sort of person, even on the best of days, as some of you may have already noticed. Not for nothing have I been nicknamed “Eeyore” in more than one workplace. Lately, however, I have been more down than normal. Life-issues, starting a new job, and, most importantly, doubts about my whole writing effort have contributed. April has been a gloomy month.

Perhaps, though, things are starting to look up. Along with the new job, I have started work on Princess of Fire version 3.0.

Yes, version 3.0. There was a version 2.0, but it had the life-span of an ice cube on a Texas road in August.

I started out wanting to cut everything back to a single thread focused on Kathy. When I actually started cutting, however, I realized that another thread was needed, to round out the story and ground it in the everyday life of people Kathy was working hard to save. The chief difficulty is that I don’t really have the story of this secondary thread down. I probably need to build out the characters a little more, and in that effort, mostly likely, the sub-story will be revealed.

I still managed to cut 10,000 words. I will probably add that many, and a good deal more, back before I am finished.

The other issue I have to resolve is with structure and pacing. I want the story to go forward against a backdrop of rising danger, which has to start small and increase steadily until it’s screaming in Kathy’s ears. This may be, in fact, the most difficult effect I have ever tried to pull off in a novel. The only thing similar I have ever done was in one of my unpublished trunk novels, A New Heaven and A New Earth, in which a mortal danger is slowly developed– but that was achieved through a series of distant incidents, with the full revelation of what was going on eventually being sprung upon the protagonists (and the audience) in one big reveal. In Princess of Fire, the danger literally looms over Kathy the whole time, and somehow I still have to create suspense and increase the sense of danger by steady increments.

I am not sure I am up to it.

But I’ve started. Progress will be slower than with version one, simply because I’m no longer sitting at home debating whether to write or watch Game of Thrones clips on YouTube. Because of that, all bets are off about when Fire will see publication. But then, it’s not like the rent is depending on its sales.

I’m still working on that part….


PS, 4/26– As I get into version 3.0, one of the first evident facts about it is that many of the scenes and sequences are actually, no kidding, and absolutely in the wrong order. This was pantsing on a manic scale– I have one character working with Kathy before she even arrives in the capitol; another is preparing in the morning for a festival that same afternoon, and ten thousand words intervene that relate the passage of two whole days before I get back to that afternoon festival. I am cutting and pasting thousands of words at a time to get things in the proper order.

Never again…as God is my witness, never again….

I’m gonna close my eyes and hold my nose…a Princess of Fire progress report

I’m at that point, it seems, with the first draft of Princess of Fire— the point at which I have begun to grasp what it will take to achieve a relatively coherent narrative– and it ain’t pretty. It’s also the point at which I have to just keep writing, no matter how much it nauseates me. That’s where the eyes and nose thingies come in.

Today I cleared 84,000 words on this novel. That probably sounds a lot more impressive than it is, because I have come to understand that this turkey has some serious problems.

When I originally conceived this story, I thought of it as basically a single-thread narrative revolving around Kathy as she faces a crisis. As I wrote the parts I already had in mind, however, it became clear that a single thread would not adequately support this story–

1. I needed to expand the narrative to include several viewpoint characters, particularly for events from which Kathy is far removed, but which powerfully affect her. This will involve tens of thousands of extra words, and the weaving together of multiple threads.

2. Many of the characters, both viewpoint and non-viewpoint, are not adequately fleshed out, and I need to revisit them and get to know them better.

3. There are major structural problems, particularly around a core timeline which needs to be the time-bomb ticking ever more loudly in the background. This timeline also involves some fairly technical material that might require some extensive (aagh!) exposition.

That’s a lot of issues with a novel that (estimating here) is about two-thirds drafted. To put it simply, I have a hell of a lot of work to do.

That’s the main reason I feel right now that I need to clap on a gas mask while writing Fire— I know full well I am putting down words that are going to have to be fixed later, and perhaps a little more than usual with a first draft. I do not want to stop and try and fix everything now, though– that is an invitation to picnic on quicksand.

It’s just the way it is– the easy stuff is over. Time to buckle down and slog.

Stories I need to put away….

In some of my previous posts I’ve complained of a horde of story ideas jostling in the back of my head, trying to pull my attention away from whatever work-in-progress I’m currently writing. These ideas sometimes represent powerful temptations to stray off the beaten path, particularly if my WIP is giving me problems.

The problem is that writing a novel is, among other things, an exercise in daily discipline, and importuning, nagging projects that whisper in my ear, “C’mon, big boy– write me– I’m easy….” can severely undermine that discipline.

So I thought I would engage a little mental exercise here to try to clear the decks, in which I take the most unlikely ideas I have and put them in a box. Not a hermetically sealed container (you never know when something might re-spark an idea), but a place where I can say, “That’s in my PNW (Probably Not Writing) basket.”

Some of these ideas are just plain bad. Others are not particularly well-developed. Some were the amateur imaginings of my far-off youth. Some are in genres that are not my actual cup of tea, of which I would probably make a complete hash. Whatever they are, they are far, far down the list of projects I have in mind (or have the time) to write. Some of these stories exist in partial (or even complete) form, but for various reasons are un-publishable as they are, and would require too much work to revise. A “*” will indicate a story from which I have previously posted an abandoned fragment.

Oh, and by the way– if any of these ideas spark a story for you, have at it, with my blessings.

Starting more-or-less with the really wretched and going to the almost okay (some of these never had actual titles, or only working titles, so bear with me)–

1. Unnamed Roman romance novel– revolving around the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64, I could never figure out how to keep this from sliding into a standard, rather insipid romance between the Christian protagonist and the high-born Roman lady he adores from afar. Too bad, because it has a real cast of characters– Nero, Peter, Paul– plus the inherent drama of a major catastrophe. Think Titanic with the chance of a weinie roast.

2. Unnamed 1910 romance novel– this idea popped into my head, almost complete, years ago when I had the opportunity to visit Ft. Flagler in here in Washington State. It is the closest thing I have ever conceived to a Hallmark movie– a young soldier has to chose between two forbidden loves– the beautiful Chinese girl across the bay in Port Townsend, or the young but unhappy wife of the post chaplain….no, I can’t go on. You get the picture. Fortunately, I came to my senses before actually committing words to page. Begone….

3. Working title– Seeker*– a young barbarian, cast out of his home, finds a new life in a foreign city, while exploring the meaning of life and faith. I got about thirty thousand words into this one before the energy to write it drained away– part of the problem was I realized I was re-writing the story of Socrates with a happier ending. I like the concept of a fantasy character whose chief reason for being is to understand the universe (as opposed to simply bashing the bad guys), but I need to find a different story in which to put them.

4. Working title– The Legations*– a historical novel about the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, I lost the impetus to write it when I couldn’t do a convincing Chinese character, and when I realized that the action chiefly consisted of the protagonist blazing away invincibly at hordes of Chinese soldiers in a display of Texas marksmanship. It still tugs at my sleeve every now and then because I love the period, but it’s just not really a practical idea at this point.

5. Unnamed World War II romance*– this was the WAAF officer meets US Army Air Force tech sergeant idea I had from which I posted a fragment. Upon reflection, it just seems like a really sappy idea. Buh-bye….

6. Working title– Soren and the Snotty Elf Princess— a fantasy in which a young, up-from-the ranks commander has to go on a quest to find where an Elf princess from a bygone age sleeps in suspended animation, to win her help in stemming an otherworldly invasion. The problem is, the princess really dislikes humans– if she had to choose between saving the human race and saving cockroaches, the roaches would probably get the nod– so convincing her to help humanity is an up-hill fight, at best. I come back every now and then to this one– it has some good bits, and some characters I really like, including an elderly priest-scholar who is far more interested in young, nubile girls than he is in cultivating holiness. But it doesn’t feel particularly special to me as something that could stand out from the crowd of fantasy novels, and its world not particularly well thought-out, so I think I need to, with regret, set this one aside. Might re-introduce the priest elsewhere, though– he’s just too much fun….

7. Ranker, The Red Fort, A New Heaven and A New Earth*– the military alternate history series from which I’ve posted a couple of fragments. Three whole novels that are now, for various reasons, un-publishable, and from which I’ve moved on. I regret that this series didn’t work out, and I sometimes try to think how to reboot it, but it seems likely that moving on and letting go is the most productive thing I can do.

8. Unnamed science-fiction novel in the Divine Lotus series– a book that would have fallen between Princess of Fire and Princess of Stars, this would have focused, not on Kathy, but on another main character from the previous books, off dealing with a military disaster of his own on the planet Jauthur. I have pretty much decided not to write this story, as it would be something of a distraction from the main thread of the Divine Lotus series– but the events of the story will still form the back story of the character when he rejoins the main story line in Princess of Stars.

9. Tannimor, Nolokai, and Shokomari*– two complete and one partial novel from the epic fantasy I’ve described in previous posts, involving Mankin, my premier swordsman. This is the one that hurts, but ten or more years of revisiting it has not shown me a way to make it work, at least as I previously conceived it. If Mankin ever appears in published form, it will have to be in a very different story-line.

So, there– I think that clears my mind a bit. Some of these ideas can rest in peace; others have been properly staked and buried at a crossroads. This may appear to be a massacre, but I still have several ideas contending for my attention, quite aside from the Divine Lotus series. I do think the surviving concepts are stronger, in large measure because of the work I put in on all the projects that never saw the light of day.

Nothing you write is ever wasted.

My struggle with an era

I am now about 72,000 words into Princess of Fire. I’m starting to link up sections, working toward a unified narrative. It’s becoming increasingly clear, however, that there is a core section yet to be written that probably contains most of the really difficult material. That’s the disadvantage of the “bypass and infiltrate” model of writing– you’re still going to have to come back and deal with the enemy strong-points you’ve bypassed. In other words, writing the easy stuff now doesn’t make the hard stuff go away.

Meanwhile, when I’m not putting out resumes and phoning temp agencies, I spend my time reading. One of the books I am (re)reading is Isaac’s Storm, a non-fiction recounting of the Galveston hurricane of 1900–


The book captures the tragedy and horror of the hurricane, which killed thousands of people, in part because turn-of-the-century weather forecasters failed, through hubris and bureaucratic stupidity, to recognize the signs a monster storm. The book also conveys something of the era, which makes it doubly valuable to me.

I have long been fascinated by the period of about 1895 to 1914. It’s a time that overlaps the late Victorian and the Gilded Age with the Edwardian, and in some ways you could think of it as the last twenty years of classical Western civilization– the Great War shattered all the previous assumptions, and then the Second World War obliterated the remains. The world we live in would be mostly unrecognizable to someone from 1900.

I’ve long wanted to write something about this period, but I’ve never been able to. I’ve bounced around the Boxer Rebellion, flirted with the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, contemplated the suppression of the Philippine Insurrection, and surveyed the Klondike and Nome gold rushes, but nothing has gelled. There’s just too much good stuff– I haven’t been able to settle on one or two threads with which to weave a story.

It’s frustrating, but I think eventually something will crystallize. One thing– I probably need to start thinking about characters, rather than the grand, epic vistas of history. Maybe once I do that, things will come into focus.

Meanwhile, I pound away on Princess of Fire. At least that’s keeping me off the streets.


The blues monster, Part II, or dang you, J.D. Salinger

In my last post I mentioned that real-life has been pulling me away from Princess of Fire. Well, real-life has now doubled down on me– under considerable pressure from the spousal unit, I have started working on our taxes, in the hopes of getting our tax refund back in a timely fashion. I understand the logic, since we need every dollar right now, but I really despise doing my taxes every year. Really, really despise it.

On top of that, I woke this morning in a funk, the first real one I’ve had since publishing Princess of Shadows, mostly around my continued unemployment. I spent a good portion of my morning walk thinking up new acronyms for myself (I’m either a Person of Worklessness- POW– or an ILL– Individual Lacking Labor).

Between the funk and the taxes the most productive thing I did today was take a nap. Progress on Fire is slowing. I anticipated it would. Hopefully this is just a temporary lull.

Unless, of course, I give up writing entirely. I watched part of the documentary on J. D. Salinger last night on PBS, and I discovered that there is nothing better than J. D. Salinger to give a person an instant literary inferiority complex.

I didn’t get to see the whole documentary, as it ran way past my bed time, but ’tis enough, ’twill serve. I look at Salinger and I know I’ll never be in that class of writer. I try to console myself that I am writing genre, but I will never be Heinlein or Martin, either. Grrr.

But, of course, I won’t give up writing. I’d have to shut off my brain to do that. I will just have to keep plodding on, doing my best. Maybe someday I’ll actually be good.

But that’s after I get the taxes done.


There is a movie theater in my head

Last night I was writing a segment of Princess of Fire in which Kathy is receiving the spontaneous homage of a thousand people at once (why is she receiving homage? You’ll have to read the book 😛 ). It is a sweeping scene- Kathy enters a plaza, and a thousand men and women prostrate themselves, without a word. In my head a bittersweet soundtrack is playing over the images, because of what’s happened before this.

While writing it, I thought (as I usually do) that it would play well on a movie screen. And then I realized it is a movie– an exclusive engagement at the multiplex in my head.

I love movies. I would someday like to write for the movies, although I understand from folks I know in the business that it is thankless and heartbreaking, and a good way to lose your soul. I would love my stories to be filmed someday.

So perhaps it is not surprising that, when I write, many of my scenes play out as movie scenes. I believe I am not alone in this– a couple of weeks ago I reviewed the 1996 film The Whole Wide World, about Robert E. Howard, who the filmmakers portrayed as going through a visualization process for his stories that looked very familiar (I, too, have garnered my share of quizzical stares). And I have heard many other writers describe their own writing process in similar terms.

This may be one of the reasons Princess of Fire is cooking along at a faster pace than Princess of ShadowsFire , as I imagine it, has an enormous number of “cinematic” moments that cry out for a David Lean or Stanley Kubrick to direct them (well, if I am imagining this stuff, I might as well go for the best). There’s conflict, death, regret, love, train wrecks, armies dying the mud, zeppelin crashes (I know, I do a lot of those, but what the hey), and things that go boom in a really big way (I’ll stop there, I’m on the verge of spoiling my own book). And, fortunately, Princess of Stars feels as if it will be just as cinematic.

But, there is downside to this sort of visualization– disappointment. Usually when I get the scene down and completed, it is not nearly as dramatic or powerful as I what I pictured in my head. I know other writers– and artists, in general– have complained of the same disconnect between concept and execution. One way I have heard this expressed is “what is on the page (or screen) is only sixty percent of what you had in your head”. And that’s sixty percent after editing and correcting.

This is most likely inevitable– people are imperfect, and their execution of imagined objects is imperfect. In one respect, the images in my head will always be their most vivid and powerful there; what I reproduce on the page is often a poor shadow. You wonder if this is where Plato came up with his theory of Forms.

Not only is imperfection inevitable, it is probably not something we can do much about. At a certain point a work, a story or a painting or a film, reaches a state in which continued correction and rethinking almost inevitably makes things worse, not better. Some artists have destroyed their work, trying to access some portion of that last forty percent– George Lucas pretty much did this with his special editions of Star Wars (Han shot first, dammit!), before selling the ruins to Disney (we live in dark times).

Still, sixty percent is better than nothing, and some days I come close (or closer) to what I imagine. I’m certainly not going to give up just because I can’t get it perfect.

Does anyone else have a movie theater of the mind? And how do you deal with the imperfection of the executed work?

The writer’s needful– Part Two– The foundation of courage

Cowardly Lion: What makes the Hottentots so hot? What puts the ape in apricot? Whadda they got that I ain’t got?

Dorothy, Tin Man and Scarecrow: Courage!

Cowardly Lion: You can say that again.

Of the writer’s needful things, perhaps the most counter-intuitive is courage. What’s so scary about writing? Writers just scribble down words, right?

Actually, though, if you have to really ask that question, you either haven’t been writing very long or you are just not paying attention.

Writing is lonely, scary and usually without immediate reward. In the first instance, you have to face the blank page. Whether it’s a piece of paper, or an empty computer screen with a blinking cursor, the first blank page is a horrifying challenge that frequently overwhelms writers. What if my stuff is not good enough? What if I sound like a jackass? If I actually put something on the page, will it be okay, or will I be revealed as a complete fraud? This is why writer’s block is so very terrible– usually it rears its head when something has challenged the writer’s (often) fragile grip on the self-confidence they need to start stringing words together– and getting back that confidence can be a terrible struggle.

A second source of fear is what others will think. Writing, if you’re doing it honestly, is baring your soul to potentially thousands or millions of strangers. We don’t usually think of it in such terms, but writing is a form of performance art. And the consequences of going onstage and blowing your lines (so to speak) can be devastating.

Once again, these are not original thoughts with me. One of the best books I know on writing, Ralph Keyes’ The Courage to Write, approaches the whole subject of writing as a problem in courage, how to find it, how to keep it, and how to use the fear of writing, or of what you are writing at the moment, in a positive way to empower your writing. I recommend this book to anyone who writes. Others have compared writing to a hero’s journey, or a warrior’s path. Whatever the metaphor, it’s widely understood that writing for public consumption is scary and difficult.

The only people who appear to be oblivious to this truth seem to be 1. very new writers who don’t know enough to be scared out of their wits, and 2. writers so sure of themselves (whether that certainty is justified) that they ride blithely above the terror that infects mere mortals. Both groups can be blind to what that fear is trying to tell us– that there are terrible pitfalls and hungry lions littering the writer’s path.

How, then, do you get past the fear? Mr. Keyes outlines any number of methods, and the precise constellation of techniques will vary from writer to writer. Personally, I get a lot of mileage out of telling myself that whatever I am writing at the moment is either a ‘doodle’, as if it’s a little squiggle I’m drawing on the margins of a notepad during a boring meeting, or that it’s just a draft, and all the evident problems with the piece will get resolved in subsequent drafts. I’ve also learned the hard way that perfection does not flow out the tips of my fingers; this encourages me to keep going even when I hate what I am doing and I’m sure I’m the worst writer since (insert your least favorite author here. I’m not going put mine in because I’ve already beaten up on Fifty Shades of Grey enough this week. Oops).

One lesson about fear that The Courage to Write highlights is that fear can actually be fuel for our writing, that if you write honestly about something that scares you, your writing takes off. Honesty of emotion, and tackling things that make you uncomfortable, can make for great prose. It’s a lesson, frankly, that I am still trying to internalize– it’s just too easy for me to keep things safe. But until I get past that reticence, I suspect my writing will not be all it could be.

One other aspect of writing that I group with courage is the necessity of growing a thick skin. Writers need this, and usually it’s one of the hardest items to acquire. Others might classify it with persistence, the next needful thing I intend to talk about, but I think of a thick skin as being able to take the critique that makes you feel like talentless cow-flop, thank the critique provider, and move on to the next critique. It’s the ability to pull the fiftieth rejection of your novel out of the mail, read it to see if it contains any helpful suggestions, file it and then send your novel out again the same day. It’s taking the one and two-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, again reading through them to see if they can help you make the story better, and then moving on, while keeping your ego in neutral and not responding to the reviewers, even if they’re obviously malicious (in fact, especially if they’re malicious, but that could be a whole other blog topic). If all that doesn’t take courage– like crawling forward while enemy bullets spatter around you– I don’t know what does.

So, brothers and sisters, if you’re scared when you write, good. It means you’re aware that you’re in danger, and that you need to find ways to press ahead. It may also mean that you’re closing in on something good. Pay close attention and listen to what your pounding heart is trying to tell you. You may score a major victory.

Next topic: Persistence.


I have fallen asleep, but I’m still typing

I pushed through this evening, despite repeatedly nodding off over my keyboard, so that I could get Princess of Fire to over (comfortably, in fact) 31,000 words. It’s like I can’t do less than a thousand words a day on this novel. Of course, I may need to really review what I’ve written later, just in case portions came out looking like the cat typed it.

Why am I pushing? Well, people say that you get more attention on Kindle when you have a series of books available. And the thought of my mortality oppresses me. Take your pick.

I should go lay down now.