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Jul 31, 2010

Cinders Update

I've started Cinders and so far it is awesome. I am not envious of Michelle's writing talent AT ALL because she is my friend and I am more mature than that.

Damn you, Michelle!

The Worst Query Letter Ever

Are you ever plagued by the worry, "What if I haven't written enough drek?"

I've been going through boxes of my old papers recovered from my mom's garage. One held a trove of old stories. I've already found a few lost manuscripts. Now I'm finding manuscripts that were not only lost but entirely forgotten.

In most cases, for good reason.

Short stories, novellas, worldbuilding notes on worlds I never finished building,

Frex, I've found mysterious messages scrawled across the top of a scene that begins and ends on page 5. "Note to self: I'm not sure what ATEN is, but it is really important."

Self to Note: WTF?

On the one hand, I think, well, if I was worried I hadn't written the million words of drek it supposedly takes to become a decent writer, clearly that fear was unfounded.

But, egad, it is SO BAD.

The worst embarrassment of all has got to be the query letter I found. The author talks about herself in third person for three paragraphs, and then in the fourth paragraph, adds, "As the above mentioned author, I hope you will consider becoming my agent..."

Shudder.

Let us not even mention the grandiose and ridiculous claims made by this third person author. And the kicker is that I can't even tell what book I thought I was querying. Somehow I forgot to mention that.

Unbelievable.

Present Self: Please, please, younger self, tell me you never sent this query letter anywhere.

Younger Self: Pretty sure I didn't.

Present Self: [lets out breath in big whoosh]

Younger Self: HERE'S the query I sent....

Present Self: MUST.... NOT.... LOOK....

Snarky Villains You Love to Hate



Villains like to steal things, and specifically, they like to steal the scene.

Some authors write the best villains. Totally creepy, frightening, powerful. My villains are more snarky than scary, even when they meet in a cafe to dine on human hearts! That pinch of snark, combined with a dollop of badass, or vice versa, makes them fun to write, so fun, I wonder if they are planning on scene-stealing. I have about an equal number of villains as good guys, and I'm not sure if that's normal or not.

Villains are an interesting breed. They can't be boring, but is there a danger in making them too intriguing? Especially if they have good qualities balancing out the bad, so they are genuinely likable.

My villains have a number of ghastly habits. If one of them tells you, "eat your heart out," he might just mean it literally. Still, I think they're likable. One or two of them gets redeemed at the end of the book, the rest have to be content with swearing revenge.

Two of the villains in this book play a prominent role in the series set in the same world as this stand-alone fantasy.

Jul 30, 2010

This Gave Me Chills


Gizmodo has an article on how Photoshop opens Time Portals into a World War II Ghost Dimension. And boy is it freaky.

You know that old creativity exercise where you take a picture and let it inspire a story?

There are some pictures you can't look at and not imagine a story.



Sacrificing a Scene You Like for a Scene You Need

I just wrote a great scene. I introduced fun new characters, some cool shit for them to blow up, a whole mess of awesome.

It's gotta go.

Doen't fit. What I need instead of all my new shiny toys is a quiet word from a entirely different fellow, a much less engaging character, but one who, ultimately, will be more relevant to the theme of the novel.

I know, this is all unduly mysterious. It comes down to this: I have to sacrifice a scene I like for a scene the book needs. I think I finally, finally understand that annoying injunction, "kill your darlings."

Yeah, yeah. I get it. The darlings are now gutted corpses on the cutting room floor. Are you satisfied, you bloodthirsty Muse?

Has this ever happened to you? What do you do with the chopped scenes? Personally, I hope to resurrect them in some other context.

Another Cool Quote from the Mahabharata

"She fell into a swoon and the five brothers caught her, as the five senses, attached to their object, catch their pleasure."

32,745 words

Jul 29, 2010

Sugar 'n' Spicing Up My Heroine



Earlier I mentioned the need to add some flavor to my vanilla yogurt hero. I think I succeeded. I've certainly been having a great deal of fun writing his scenes.

The heroine's scenes, not so much, despite some great battles. I realized the battles were falling flat because we didn't know enough about the heroine to care if she got eaten by Ooze. She was suffering vanilla syndrome. So I've added some sugar and spice to her as well -- but not everything nice. She needed some flaws too.

Now I'm having a lot more fun with her scenes. What's especially cool is that the hero and heroine have complementary strengths and weaknesses. She's prone to tell tall tales; he ferrets out people's secrets. And so on. I can't wait until they actually meet. (Yeah, it's one of those things where we follow them each on their separate paths for a while, until, bam! paths collide.)

I'm also just enjoying being a groove. You know how it is, when the story flows like punch at a potluck. Your fingers fly over the keyboard as fast as flying monkeys and every scene marches into place. And you feel like, oh yeah, this is why I write. Why did I ever think I could give this up? Why would I ever want to do anything else?

O Laundry Stacked Three Baskets High, I see you looking at me with those puppy-dog eyes, but you'll just have to wait. I have a city to besiege! Bwahahahaha!

Wordcount: 24,541

Jul 28, 2010

Ecology of a Fantasy World


It's understood that if characters travel about anywhere in a fantasy realm, they won't be able to get more than five pages before they encounter some toothy beastie intent upon devouring them. This leads to the impression, sometimes never explained by the author (I'm looking at you, Edgar Rice Burroughs) of a landscape inhabited exclusively by vicious carnivores.

Um. Hello? Who are all the eight-legged lions eating when our hero and heroine aren't traipsing by in chain-mail lingerie?

Violating the laws of ecology always bothers me in stories. Yes, it's fantasy, you can make your own rules, but, for the love of crabgrass, at least take recommendations from ecology. It's really fun to have monsters try to eat your characters, so we wouldn't want to cut that part. (Chain-mail lingerie is another must-keep, I don't care what the weather is.) We just need to include some herbivores for the carnivores to eat, and some herbs for the herbivores to eat.

With that in mind, I began ruminating on the dragons in my story. What do they eat? Lots of things, it turns out. Cows, horses, pigs, manatees, humans. Meat. But it would take a lot of such snacks to fill a dragon, and there are a lot of dragons in my story. (Not necessarily featured as characters, but milling about in the background, doing dragonish things -- fighting, gambling, selling overpriced trinkets, charging too much interest on loans and eating anyone who doesn't pay up.) I decided that they really needed some herbivores, and the herbivores ought to be even bigger (but much dumber) than the dragons.

Enter the leviathan!

Okay, so there are leviathans swimming around getting eaten by dragons. But what do leviathans eat? You might think, "krill" but you would be wrong, because krill are boring compared to....

...Green Ooze!

Yes, I could have just said "algae bloom" but that doesn't sound like something from a fantasy novel, does it?

Here's my helpful diagram:





The thing that looks like a purple gecko is supposed to be a majestic dragon. Work with me here. Anyway, the majestic dragon eats the leviathan. (The blue is supposed to be the ocean, not a flotation device.) The leviathan eats the Green Ooze.

Oh, but wait, Tara. You have an arrow from the Green Ooze pointing to the dragon. That's right. Because, under certain circumstances -- say, just when our hero and heroine sail by in a pirate ship -- the Green Ooze gets all excited by the opportunity and changes, the way some molds do. It becomes Carnivorous Green Ooze! And tries to eat them!

(Cue music: It's the Circle of Life.)

I find this kinda thing entirely too amusing. I know. Sad.

P.S. Check out Thuvia, Hot Babe of Mars. She will get her eight-legged lion to kick your ass and steal your toupee.


Jul 27, 2010

Mood Swings USA

Ok, this is just weird.

This is what 300 million tweets look like when analyzed by mood and number of tweets.
Researchers at Harvard and Northeastern University analysed
300 million tweets sent between September 2006 and August
2009, then produced a 'cartogram', a map where areas
represent values (in this case the number of tweets) rather
than the land area.

Put the video on loop, stick it next to your lava lamp, and grok the freak, baby, grok the freak.

And don't forget to tweet this.

A Million Ebooks

BusinessWire reports that The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo is the first novel to sell a million Kindle ebooks.

Given the lovingly detailed descriptions of early-2000s computers and technology the late Stieg Larsson peppered into The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, we're pretty sure he'd love to know that he's just become the first author to sell over a million Amazon Kindle e-books -- and we can only imagine what kind of trouble Larsson's Lisbeth Salander would have gotten into with a Droid X or an iPad. Considering the dominance of Amazon's platform and company's recent announcement that Kindle titles are now outselling hardcovers we'd guess that also makes him the first author to sell a million e-books period, which is fairly notable -- and with the upcoming Hollywood adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, we'd guess these numbers aren't going to slow down any time soon. Too bad we don't know the breakdown of where these million books went -- we'd love to know if Kindle devices are as popular as the Kindle apps on various other platforms.


I wonder what royalties Stieg Larsson gets on each ebook? I know most epublishers offer 30-50%, but I think it's much less with Kindle ebooks. On the ebooks I'm familiar with, a million books would equal a million bucks. Or slightly more.

Should I Stick With Genre Writing?


Remember the Secret Novel?

I haven't been able to write it yet. I have a plot, characters, theme, setting, everything... but... nothing pulls the book together at the end. It doesn't go anywhere.

That's a separate problem from what I wish to discuss right now. (Maybe.)

The Secret Novel, as I conceive it, is meant to be literary. Or "general commercial." Whatever. Not sf or fantasy, like everything else I write or have ever been inspired to write. And I wonder if that's a good idea.

What if the reason the Secret Novel idea isn't clicking is because I'm fooling myself and my real interests aren't going to be engaged unless I throw in a werewolf or something. I have to wonder. Do I want to write this book set in the real, historical period because that is what is best for the book, or because I have deluded myself this will make it have wider appeal than a fantasy, and make my book a bestseller, Oprah bookclub book, Hollywood film?

And even suppose I could write it and it sold nicely, then what? Then I tell my fans, "Great, if you liked that sober, realistic book, just wait till you check out this next one where gladiators fight pirates!"

I'm not saying that writers have to always write in the same genre. My original plan was to just use a different pen name. But I've done that before (my two published romances are under a different pen name) and it's exhausting trying to "social network" both names. I.e. I write this blog, but do squat all under my other pen name. Logically, I should try and write more category romances, because I know I could sell those, but I prefer fantasy.

So... hmm... should I make my Secret Novel a fantasy. Everything else would be the same. (Which would make it a pretty cool and unusual fantasy). But I just don't know. Above all, I want to be true to the story. It just may be that I'm not the author who is able to write the book I originally envisioned, and I have to write the books I'm able to actually write.

Does that make sense? Does anyone else out there struggle with this kind of dilemma?

Jul 24, 2010

Except - Dragon and Unicorn Discuss the Value of a College Education


Here's an excerpt just for fun. Both characters are devi, magical creatures who spend much of their time in human form. He is the Dragon Emperor, and she, a Sea Unicorn, is his prisoner. Her people are pacifists.

He offered her the goblet, but she shook her head. He shrugged, lounged in the chair and gulped deeply. “What do you do all day long in a city where no one ever fights? I can’t even imagine it.”

“We commune. Share ourselves. Don’t look at me like that. I don’t mean physically. I speak of emotional connections, intellectual connections. I myself was enrolled in my sixth decade of college.” She added proudly, “We have a number of universities.”

“What do you study with no history of war?”

“We learn how to build castles in the sand. To herd bubbles. To discern at once and discuss at length. To distinguish between melancholy and nostalgia, between reverence and envy. To see a world in a grain of sand.”

“I sympathize. My schooling was a complete waste as well.”

“I didn’t know dragons pursued higher education. What did you study?”

“How to drink, fornicate and devour the hearts of one’s enemies.”

She looked appalled.

“Business major,” he explained.

Jul 23, 2010

Roses By Many Other Names - Finding the Right Title



An agent once told me, "I dismissed your book based on the title. It was so trite, I expected the writing to be bad too."

Fortunately, she went on to say that the writing was much better than she expected, and she requested a partial. I still felt aghast that I had almost shot myself in the foot with a lousy title.

Interestingly, the other agent at the same session said that the title hadn't struck her as trite at all -- quite the opposite. It had intrigued her. The problem: she didn't rep my genre. Her area was literary fiction. So if I had been pushing lit fic under the same title, maybe it would have worked.

Not to be coy, the book in question was Dindi Book 1, and the title I was trying out at that time was, "The Secret Society of Warrior Dancers. Book 1: The Initiate."

When you are naming a series, you have the added difficulty that you ought to have a pattern for the series. I would have moved on to Book 2: The Serving Maid, Book 3: The Warrior; Book 4: The Vaedi. (By Book 4, readers would hopefully know what Vaedi meant.)



Anyhoo.

I now need a title for my present fantasy wip. I don't know about you, but it bothers me working on a book with no title.

Have you noticed that a terrific title compels you to buy a book even if you know nothing else about it? (Please tell me I'm not the only one with this disorder.)

Some of you, my blogging writer friends, have come up with compelling titles.

STUFF BLOWING UP IN SPACE

Tell me that's not made of awesome. Anthony Pacheco is working on a space opera with this title.

Although, I realize I remembered it wrong, as BLOWING STUFF UP IN SPACE. Huh. Either way, great title.

CINDERS

This works perfectly to let you know this novella is a retake on the story of Cinderella. At the same time, it makes me think of something burnt to cinders, which is slightly ominous, and fits the theme of questioning what happens after "happily ever after."

Btw, I think Michelle's contest is still open. Go join it if you haven't already.

KILLING HAMLET

I love this title. I hope Scott uses it.


A kickass title (A) forces you, will you or nill you, to buy the book, (B) tells you something about the story, (C) works on more than one level.

Not all books have, or need, kickass titles. FIRESTARTER gives you a good idea what the book is about. CARRIE could have been a gentle coming-of-middle-age story about a divorced woman struggling to keep her small town apothecary in business.

A lot of fantasy books have trite titles because it's more important to convey the book's genre than anything too specific. If you title your book, A BOY GROWS UP, even if that's what it's about, it may attract a literary crowd who will be disgusted with the actual content. If you title it, DRAGONS FIGHT ELVES, the right readers will find it.

I have a book about gladiators and pirates. With more emphasis on gladiators. There's also an island, a contest that takes place every hundred years, and the fact that our hero is planning to throw the match. What should I call the book? I considered the obvious (believe me).

GLADIATORS FIGHT PIRATES (Not unless I can fit in such a scene. Which, I admit, would rock.)

ARENA

THE PIRATE AND THE GLADIATOR

PIRATE SEAS, GLADIATOR ISLAND

THE FALSE CHAMPION

ARENA OF THE DRAGONS (Did I mention there are dragons? Of course there are.)


Turning to my husband for help, I received a lot of tongue-in-cheek suggestions. Alas, my book is not comedy.


SAIL AND SWORD

MUSCLE AND MAGIC

HERE THERE BE WENCHES (my husband's fave, but really not relevant, sorry, sweetie!)


Or I could go for something a bit more obscure and high-brow.


THE MOUNTAIN IS NOT MOVED

WORTHLESS

FOR THE GLORY

WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO DIE (I like this, but is the phrase too tied to historic Rome? My story is fantasy, not historic fiction)


I’m open to suggestions.



How do you come up with titles? What titles are you using? Do you love your title or just tolerate it? Would you change it if an agent or publisher asked you to?

Jul 21, 2010

Excerpt

Here's an excerpt, with the the flashback scene included. Does it work? Do I need to separate the flashback from previous and following scenes with asterisks, or does it make sense simply flowing from the the current action to the past and back?



* * *

Jivad learned nothing of Hoxja’s plans for more than a week. He slept in a small barred cell at Hoxja’s mansion during that time, a prisoner, but not maltreated. Slaves from the kitchen brought him generous meals. No one tortured him. He did not see Hoxja or the Archons. In fact, he saw almost no one. This suited him. The little Bhia’ing boy he had saved – if he had a chance to do it over again, would he? Probably the boy had been caught and killed anyway, and his rescue had been futile from the start.

What would the old blacksmith have advised? Jivad thought of him frequently during the eventless days in the cell. The waves crash; the mountain is not moved. A Great Soul does good because it must be done, expecting no reward, disappointed by no punishment. The mountain does not fight the sea. A Great Soul does not seek to change what cannot be changed. Thedrosian rule could not be changed. In ten thousand years, the sea grinds the strongest rock to sand. A Great Soul accepts his death.

He practiced stillness and movement, as the old blacksmith had taught. Whether he sat cross-legged or exercised, the lashes on his back ached, and he acknowledged the dull pain as one more sensation in his awareness, neither more nor less important than the calls of parrots in the trees beyond his cell, the damp clay floor under his feet or the scent of the afternoon rain shower. If he wrapped a rag around his eyes to practice blindfolded as he used to, he could imagine the rasp of the old blacksmith’s breath in the corner, watching him practice.

Jivad is ten years old. Pa doesn’t want to bring him to the blacksmith, nor does the blacksmith want to teach him. The Overseers have orders from Hoxja to apprentice a new boy to the smith, and that is that. The opinions of the slaves don’t matter.

The first day, Jivad doesn’t want to be there either. He can tell he is not wanted. The blacksmith ignores him most of the morning. Jivad crouches in a corner of the smithery. Piled around him, half hiding him, are the fruits of the forge, curious grommets and cringles and latches for shipbuilding, some quite intricate. The smoke from the furnace smarts and chokes, and the clanging rings in his ears until his whole head throbs. The blacksmith notices his scowl, his hands pressed against his ears.

“I expect you’ll be as useless as your father,” says the blacksmith.

With that statement, Jivad realizes he and the blacksmith have a common enemy.

The blacksmith turns back to his forge, unaware of the secret alliance. Over the following days, Jivad begins to note all the ways the blacksmith differs from Pa. The blacksmith works steadily and silently. He doesn’t try to sneak away from his tasks. Even the Overseers respect him. He does not bribe them for booze. Though gruff and stingy with smiles, he doesn’t yell at Jivad, or anyone. Other slaves, even Overseers, come to him with problems. He listens quietly before he offers a word or two of advice, always sound. He is full of strange proverbs. He says things like, “An Emperor is as shackled as a slave, a slave is as free as an Emperor,” and means it.

Jivad begins to suspect the old blacksmith is more, much more, than he appears.


The splendid isolation could not last. Hoxja turned up one morning, flashing a toothy smile.

“I have a treat for you, Jivad."

Flashbacks



Right around chapter three, I succumbed to the uncontrollable urge to insert flashbacks into my wip. Four of 'em. About 300 words each, italicized.

I decided to make my hero, if not actually an anti-hero, at least conflicted. To wit, he's working as a snitch for the tyrants, and then agrees to their scheme to pretend to be the predestined liberator of the slaves, so as to expose and deliver any potential rebels to their oppressors. Since this is less than laudable, I wanted to show the reader how he came to do this, and how he justifies it.

It's possible I didn't need to use flashbacks. I think they work. I actually prefer to have a scene that shows us the past as if it is unfolding now rather than read dreary paragraphs of "he had thought" "he had said," etc. If it were a tv show, it would be the piece where suddenly the film turns a slightly different hue. I love those scenes. If integrated right, they add a richness to the storyline.

In a sense, they aren't flashbacks so much as an independent chronology. This is a much stronger feature of my Dindi books, which each has several different interwoven chronologies. For this WIP, I don't plan to employ multiple chronologies much -- they will probably only appear in this chapter.

Jul 20, 2010

Pirates and Gladiators



I've finished retouching the first three chapters, adding about 12,000 words in the process. This puts the book on track to be 70,000-90,000 words when complete, which is what I'm aiming for.

I've made the hero a pawn of the villains -- at least to start with.

I added a plotline for the heroine, who now has her own PoV scenes and an exciting career in piracy.




Yup.

My fantasy wip has it all.

Pirates.

Gladiators.

What could be more fun than a story with pirates and gladiators?





Smartass.

Jul 19, 2010

Cinders


Michelle's book Cinders is (almost) available for purchase. She's an awesome writer, an awesome photographer and now she's having a giveaway of awesomeness.

Check it out!

Delivery Status Notification (Failure)


This is flash fiction. Any resemblance to the events of this morning is purely coincidental.

Stoic, I think. My character needs to be stoic.

I wrote half the scene on my laptop but to finish it I must email it to myself on my main computer. For some reason, each time I Send, I end up with a Delivery Status Notification (Failure). In the middle of my third Delivery Status Notification (Failure), my mother calls.

"What's going on with the swim lessons?"

I've put off this conversation two days. I try to explain about the cost of gas, the distance to her house, the other pool option. She doesn't want to hear it.

"He just doesn't want your kids to spend time with their grandmother," she complains.

I email the attachment to a different address. This time it works. My file fills my screen. I put my cell on speaker phone so I can type without interrupting my mother. She is working out a number of different alternative schedules. Tuesdays and Thursdays or Wednesdays and Fridays, eight or ten o'clock, private or class lessons. I surf the net while she talks. From Epictetus, via Wikipedia, I learn to be stoic is to be "sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy." How should I show this in my character? Show, don't tell, show don't tell.

The half-written scene is a mess, a number of mutually conflicting scenelets, bits of possible dialogue. Should I put in a flashback? Or would that drag the pace? I realize I don't know if my character has parents or is an orphan. It's always easier to deal with a character who is an orphan. Parents just complicate fiction. Parents, like flashbacks, seldom move the plot forward.

"Are you listening to me or are you on the computer?" my mother asks.

"I'm trying to work."

"I know you're trying to work," she says, "but we need to get these swim lessons taken care of. Why do they need to be at the same time?"

"What?" I realize she must have asked me a question before, and I must have given her an answer which has made her imagine I require something to be at the same time. "I don't know. I'm trying to work while the baby is still asleep. He'll be up from his nap soon."

"You're really annoying to talk to when you get like this," she says. "It's rude."

There's definitely a scenelet missing, a bit I wrote last night around two in the morning, while nursing the baby. I was sleepy, but I distinctly remember writing it, on my laptop. Damn. I emailed myself the wrong draft. I've been working on the wrong draft this whole time. I go back to my laptop to email myself the right draft.

The baby cries. I use this as an excuse to hang up. After I've changed the baby's diaper and started to nurse, I check my email again. Delivery Status Notification (Failure).

Jul 16, 2010

Capturing Tone And Assaulting It With Your Mighty Fists


A day or two ago, Scott Bailey, over at The Literary Lab, had a post on tone, which I found very helpful, and I've been meaning to discuss it.

The book I'm working on now is a stand-alone fantasy, but since I had also planned a series for this world, the world-building is already quite rich. I have a bible filled with maps, histories, magics and legends. I know how they dress and what they eat. This is one reason I decided it was worth the effort to re-write rather than walk away from this series.

But how does this relate to tone?

From the start, and I mean the from teeniest, earliest spark of an idea I ever had for this story, I started knowing what kind of world I wanted and the tone I wanted to write the books in. In fact, my idea about the tone may even have been the FIRST thing I decided upon. Even though I had no idea to call it "tone."

Huh? A story idea can start with a character, or a plot, or a setting. Even a theme. But a tone?

Here's why. My original inspiration, and what has guided me since in writing this particular series, was Tibetan and Indian mythology, particularly epics such as the Mahabharata or the Blue Annals. As Scott says, "A lot of mythological writing is hyperbole. Ain't that a surprise? Hyperbole is also commonly used nowadays for comic effect."

The epics employ hyperbole at every level, and I thought it would be interesting to write a fantasy in the same manner. It would be easy to do so if I were writing straight comedy. But I wasn't interested in writing pure satire or farce. I do have humorous scenes and droll characters, even a bit of slapstick, and I hope they come across as amusing to the reader as to me when I was writing them. I wanted the humor to be like that in an Indiana Jones flick: there to balance the scenes with icky bugs or hearts being ripped out or people jumping out of airplanes.

The danger in using hyperbole is that it can slide toward the comic even when the author doesn't want it too. Melodrama is difficult for modern readers to take seriously. Because I'm writing in the fantasy genre, where magic is real and readers expect to find the outrageous conflated with the ordinary, I hope it will be possible to strike the right balance.


As an example, I have two passages. The first is from the Mahabharata, in which our bold hereos, the Pandava brothers, fight a rakshasa (ogre) named Kirmira. I've condensed it, because they tend to go on and on in places. The fight scene is pretty awesome, though, and I wish I could quote it in full.

"It is my good fortune," said Kirmira, "that the Gods after such a long time have fulfilled my desire here today! For I have been roaming the entire earth with my weapons ready to kill Bhimasena, but I did not find him. And now by good fortune I have come across him, the killer of my brother... the fool has come to my own dense wood! Today I shall wreak upon him the grudge I have harbored for so long... this very day I shall devour him, before your own eyes... and after I have killed the Wolf-Belly [the hero's nickname] with all his brimming vigor, I shall eat and digest him, as Agastya once did with the great Asura!"

"You shall not!" The strong-armed Bhima quickly uprooted a tree ten armspans tall and stripped it of its leaves. [The other brothers ready their weapons, but Bhima commands them to stay out of the fight.] Armed with his tree, Bhima ran to him nimbly. Another Indra, he lowered his club like the staff of Yama with swift force on the other's head, but the rakshasa appeared unconcerned. He hurled at Bhima his lighted firebrand like flaming lightning, but that greatest of fighters kicked the cast-up torch back to the rakshasa with his left foot. ....

There began a tree fight that spared no tree, as of yore between the brothers Vali and Surgiva, when the both wanted the fortune. The trees that fell on their heads splintered in many pieces, as lotuses that are hurled at the heads of rutting elephants. Withered like reeds, the many trees of the great forest looked like discarded tatters.

[After they run out of trees, they start throwing rocks. Finally, they grapple one another mano-a-mano.]

The Wolf-Belly [aka, our hero] planted his knee on the rakshasa's hips and pressed down with his hands on his throat: then, when all the demon's body had gone limp and his wide-open eyes became filmed, he cast him to the ground and said, "You will no more rinse your eyes with tears over your brother, miscreant! You are gone now to Yama's domain!"

And having thus spoken, that hero of men, eyes widened by rage, to that rakshasa, he let go of the quivering, lifeless corpse, bared of clothes and adornment, empty of mind.

Great stuff, isn't it?

I can hardly compete with prose penned by the deity Ganesh, whose brain is as big as an elephant's, but anyway, here's my take on rakshasas. This is not a fight scene (maybe I'll post one latter), but this is the scene that introduces rakshasas to the reader.

Two rakshasas guarded the spiked iron gates of Hoxja’s mansion. Jivad had met them before, and he always found them intimidating. These creatures were towers of muscle, eight feet high. One had the head of a boar and skin the color of gushing blood, covered with coarse black hair. His appearance was especially striking because, in addition to his bright coloration and massive hairy thighs, he wore little besides a bone harness and codpiece, cleverly and gruesomely fashioned from a human skull. He also had four arms, with which he clutched an ax, a whip, a sword and a morning star. Jivad had seen him in action, and knew no weapon was superfluous.

The other rakshasa looked less imposing at first glance. No one with green skin and the head of a frog could look entirely serious, no matter how his bugging yellow eyes glared. Also, he had three arms, which made him look lopsided. Two of his arms brandished shuriken. The third hand he kept tucked behind him, to hide his latest book, nearly always a belle-lettre or volume of love poetry. His tastes in literature ran sentimental. It would have been a mistake to think him less than dangerous, however. His skin glistened with poison. Before he threw one of his shuriken, he would wipe the throwing star against his own chest, coating it with slime that caused the victim immense pain. His tongue was bathed in a second poison, even more potent, that dissolved flesh. Jivad had once seen him lick a man to death.

Rakshasas had a reputation for cannibalism, but this was unfair. They only dined habitually on humans, seldom on other rakshasas.

The rakshasas did not know Jivad was in disgrace, and greeted him with friendly salutes.

Okay, that's pretty dull compared to the Mahabharata. Maybe I should have posted a fight scene after all. Damn.

Excitement level aside, the main difference in tone between the passages, I believe, is that in the second case, the author could not refrain from making a few tongue-in-cheek observations absent from the first passage. I could be wrong, but I don't think the fight between Bhima and Kirmira was supposed to be humorous. In context, the monster-slaying is not frivolous at all; a sage tells the story to warn a king not to allow the ill-will between the Pandava brothers and their cousins to fester, because the Pandavas are mighty warriors and will kick their cousins' asses if it comes to a war, which, eventually, it does, and they do. And the whole kingdom is left in splinters, just like the great forest at the end of this fight. So here you thought this was another Bhima-kills-the-beast-of-the-week scene when in fact it foreshadows the Bhagavad-gita! Wow!

(I realize if you have no idea what the Bhagavad-gita is, you might wonder why this is wow-worthy. If I tried to explain the Bhagavad-gita, I would only damn it with faint praise. It's kind of the Sermon on the Mount of Hinduism. Deep, deep stuff.)

However, shallow n00b that I am, I tend to giggle whenever I read these monster-battles in the Mahabharata. They strike me as really funny. How much more ridiculous must my own versions be?

This is where humor comes in as a weapon. Anticipating the risk of derision on the part of the reader, the author inserts jokes and irony to ambush the reader's laughter. This stratagem should disarm the reader's cynicism, by allowing the reader to both laugh at the scene and still thrill at the conflict.

Jul 15, 2010

Every Time I Turn My Back...

...my WIP starts Telling instead of Showing. Argh. I start out a writing session full of elegance and subtly, and then, as soon as I get roaring along in the scene, I find myself writing:
She felt sad. Very sad. She wanted to cry.
'I'm going to cry!' she cried to him.
He was sad she felt so bad.
"Don't cry," he urged her urgently.

Lovely.

I have complete sympathy for authors whose third or forth, or thirty-fourth book is worse than their first. These frickin' words are like chimpanzees, they have to be watched for errant mischief all the time or pretty soon they start throwing poo at the guests.

Other than that, I'm doing rather well. Clipping right along with my new pirate scene. No piracy has actually transpired yet, but the heroine just murdered a fat prince and I think she's about to jump out the cabin porthole to avoid the inevitably unfortunate consequences.

Blog Bolts

I'm working on changes to my blog. I'm not happy with it yet, so expect to see further futzing around with the template.

Yo Ho Yo Ho


I think I'll make my heroine a pirate.

Jul 13, 2010

Fantasy WIP Excerpt-Chapter One



I've rewritten the first chapter of the fantasy WIP I mentioned. Here's the new opening. I'm not sure about the first line.

Chapter One
The Pearl Diver

Jivad had been watching the boys all morning, which was why he saw what happened. When he and the other Demaitrian slaves arrived, around mid-morning, at the wharf, the boys were already on the raft further out in the bay. The boys ranged in age from six to fourteen, all of them with skin like resined teak, all slender, graceful and full of laughter. Each had a stubby pigtail sticking straight up on his head, and each wore a black-and-white checked dhoti. They were pearl divers. By turns they plunged into the water, though the younger boys spent more time roughhousing on the raft than diving. Two little ones waved their arms and kicked their feet, mock gladiators from the arena. Their shrieks of laughter reached the slaves on the wharf, faintly, mingled with the cries of the gulls.

The slaves unloaded a Thedrosian galleon tied at one of the piers, each slave shackled to a partner. Jivad’s companion-in-chains today was Makel. Grotesque gargoyles engraved on the prow scowled down at them while they worked. As for the Thedrosian sailors, they couldn’t wait to disembark and get drunk. They left behind a single sentinel on the galleon. He kept to his cabin most of the morning.

The overseer, a Thedrosian, carried a whip and a sword on his belt, but at the moment he was looking away from the slaves, ogling the fishwife who ran the mackerel stand across the road. The whole row of shamble shacks across from the docks sold food – strings of roast fish, guavas and cantaloupes, ale spiked with coconut milk, chocolate soup served in gold filigree cups no bigger than a thumb. Jivad drank the smells, his only breakfast.

The slaves hummed Demaitrian songs or gossiped. Speculation centered on which girls would bed easy, and who among the slaves played sneak-tongue for the Thedrosians. Tiny crabs crawled over the barnacles that mottled the underpinnings of the pier. Two slaves caught one to eat raw.

The slaves sweated as the sun climbed. The pearl divers out on the raft broke off their dives to share a meal -- fish-mixed rice and dumplings, from the look of it, and they ate it unworried, as if they had time and servings to spare. Two boys who finished early began to swim, apparently racing.

One of the littler boys jumped in after them. The older two didn’t notice him, or were too absorbed in their race to concern themselves. Arm over arm, they ploughed the water, long legs splashing behind them, until first one, and the other right behind him, slapped the side of the galleon. The Thedrosian sentinel leaned out of a porthole to shout at them, but they just laughed, flipped underwater and swam back toward their raft.

He was a good swimmer too, the little one, but by the time he neared the galleon, his stroke faltered. The boy’s legs stopped splashing behind him. He treaded water for a moment, apparently trying to turn back toward the raft, but the waves frustrated his efforts. An expression came over the boy’s face Jivad had seen before in slaves faint from exhaustion: pinched cheeks and drawn brows above a panting mouth.

Casually, Jivad checked the wharf. The overseer had crossed the street to flirt with the fishwife.

With each swell, the boy bobbed close to the posts of the pier, before the undercurrent tugged him back. The boy’s head tilted back. His eyes popped, like a frog’s, glassy and unfocused. Though he gasped whenever his lips emerged from the water, he did not cry out. He did not splash or kick. The motion of his hands under the waves resembled someone trying to climb a ladder with no success.

“He’s drowning,” Jivad told Makel.

What's the Opposite of Self-Deception?

I was contemplating the lofty topic of Theme. A character in one of my wips has the major flaw of self-deception. I wondered what the character would have to do to overcome this flaw. (Suggestions are welcome, btw.)

What is the opposite of self-deception?

I wondered this aloud at dinner, and my husband replied without hesitation. "Regular deception."

Jul 12, 2010

Better


I've been working on the re-write for the first chapter of the fantasy novella. I notice a habit of mine, to cut myself down while I'm writing. "This doesn't have to be good." It's a defense, a way to warn myself, "This won't be too good." That way, if I finish and it's not, in fact, good at all, I can say, "I wasn't really trying."

The defense is not without its charms. I have other projects I would like to work on, but can't, because my expectations paralyze me. Those are projects which I want to be good. To fall short would crucify me. The result is that I write nothing at all.

Surely there must be some middle ground between these extremes. I would like to hold myself to a high standard for every project, and not just toss out shoddy writing because I am "saving" my "real" efforts for something better -- which I never do anyway, because having to keep my own promise intimidates me. I aim to do better.

Photo here.

Never Let Me Go

I just finished reading Never Let Me Go, which apparently, though unsurprisingly, has now been made into a movie. It's of particular interest to me because it's a crossover genre: science fiction, but clearly literary. In fact, it starts from the same premises as The Island.

The Island is not as bad as the trailer makes out (kick! kiss! crash! bam!). Despite appearances, it's not devoid of deeper philosophy. And frankly, if I go see Never Let Me Go, in the theatre, I may rent The Island the next day to prevent myself from committing suicide, because, I can tell you, I was crying so hard after reading the book, I really needed a helicopter chase scene to cheer me up.

I think Kazuo Ishiguro is amazing. I have a love/hate relationship with him. The reader in me loves his books. The writer in me hates him because he is racing a unicycle in the Tour de France and I am still using training-wheels on my 3-speed.

So in between sobbing into my cheerios as I finished the story over breakfast, I attempted to absorb writerly lessons from the book. I'm still trying to distill it, so pardon the painfully obvious notes below. (Training wheels, my friends -- and aren't you glad I didn't use the potty training analogy? When you have toddlers, infantile scatological jokes are an ever-present temptation.)
Mystery: A good deal of the tension in the book comes from the slow unfolding of the mystery. I knew nothing about the book before I read it, so it worked its full magic on my. I apologize to anyone reading this post who feels I may have revealed too much about the plot and this spoiled some of that. Don't worry, the book is still worth reading.

Micro-tension: In addition to the larger mysteries raised by the story, the ending line of each scene introduced a new, micro-mystery. The scene which followed was a complete story in itself, with tension, conflict and resolution, followed by a new micro-mystery.

Understatement: This particularly struck me in the dialogue, but it was true throughout. Kazuo Ishiguro is a master of understatement. (I am a master of overstatement. We all have our talents.) In prose, the narrator (it's told first person) says less than she knows, and much less than the narrator knows. In dialogue, the characters did not say everything they were thinking. The unspoken understandings underlying the patina of chitter-chatter makes the dialogue believable.

Details: In every little micro-drama played out, usually between the same three characters, we learned a few more details that defined them as people. Toward the middle of the book, I felt a bit impatient, as I often do with literary novels, because each drama, in and of itself, concerned some trivial matter -- a lost cassette tape, a pencil case, a nasty comment one girl made about the other in front of the boy, etc. Okay, a part of me was thinking, can someone please blow up a helicopter now?

The thing is, though, I wasn't about to put the book down. And all those accumulated details gave me the illusion of knowing the characters intimately, so when Bad Things began to happen to them, it didn't take vehicular explosions to pack emotional punch.

There's a lot more I could say about his marvelous technique. I'll stop gushing for now.

How can I put this into my own writing? I can appreciate it when I see another writer do it, but how can I do it?

Lost Manuscript, addendum

I haven't typed it in yet, but I performed a quick calculation of the number of words per page and number of pages, so I can already tell it's shorter than I remembered. Only about 37,000 words.

It's pretty painful to read, although not for the reasons I'd anticipated.

Lost Manuscript Found!

A post or two back, I mentioned an old manuscript about a dystopia that I feared might be lost. Amazingly, I just found it. Not because I decided to go look for it, which I didn't. I swapped out the bookshelves in my living room for new ones, and in the process, found some papers of mine had been stacked with the books. It is possible, however, that if I hadn't been thinking about the lost manuscript, I wouldn't have been curious enough to flip through the papers.

I'm a bit afraid to read the thing, since I expect to be blown away by how awful it is. In my memory, it has a sort of glow. What a pity for glow to meet reality and die. Nonetheless, I want to put it on my computer, so sooner or later, I shall have to copy it. In the process, I expect I'll have to read it whether I like it or not. I am glad I found it.

Jul 10, 2010

Vanilla Yogurt Hero



I mentioned in the last post I wondered if I should make my hero more of an anti-hero. Right now he's got all the personality of vanilla yogurt. My three year old will only eat one kind of yogurt, the blandest flavor that can still be counted as a flavor, and that's apparently the same formula my seventeen-year-old-self served in the "Hero" food group. To be fair to Younger Me, this was never meant to be published, it was just some 36,000 words of background material for the 400,000 word Ye Olde Epic Fantasy Tome. I wanted the hero of the prequel to be Standard Hero Fare to contrast with my tortured and utterly awesome hero of Ye Olde Epic.

I ask you, is that fair? Not really. Why should the hero of the prequel have to be a cardboard cutout to make another hero look good by comparison? I think, in those days, I lacked confidence in my ability to craft well-fleshed out characters, as if I would run out if I squandered them. Now I believe it's the other way around. The more you push yourself, the better you'll get at it.

Anyway, the hero of this story appears as a side character in Ye Olde Epic, where we learn more about his personality, so there's no reason he has to be dairy product as the star of his own show.

Even a classic hero usually goes through a stage of Refusing the Quest. The problem now is the Quest just falls into his lap for no particular reason. Right place, right time, and he doesn't question it. Given his personality as I developed it later, that doesn't fit. I think he's going to be more actively scheming from the start, but in the beginning, scheming only in a self-serving way. So he can Grow As a Person and all that when he finally embraces his heroic destiny.

Don't worry, though. I'm no Virginia Wolfe and this isn't instrospection-driven literary fiction. The focus is still going to be on bashing people about the head with shiny sticks.

Jul 9, 2010

Villains, Anti-heroes and Unlikable Heroes


I've been reading Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The protagonists are hardly likable, and though by the end one feels a certain sympathy for them, what drives the reader through the book is not the hope they will succeed in their scheming, but that they will fail disastrously. The ending satisfies because they reap the harvest of their own cruelty. A similar dynamic governs the duology Jean de Florette and Manon De Source. The characters you root for are not the protagonists, but their opponents/victims, Jean and Manon.

Are these protagonists anti-heros? I don't think so. I'd call them, rather, villains who happen to be protagonists. I would distinguish between different kinds of Main Characters (MCs):
Villains - Villainous MCs aren't necessarily unlikable, at least not completely. The Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont are so fiendishly clever and hypocritical, it is a guilty pleasure to watch them spar. They have enough faults to outweigh their good features, so they are true villains, yet enough good features to let the reader take their POV without tedium or nausea. No matter how charming, the reader still roots for their downfall.

Anti-Heroes - Flawed heroes uses questionable means to achieve noble ends -- or, more rarely, noble means to achieve questionable ends. Or perhaps they begin as a villains, but unlike the true villain, redeem themselves in the end. Since we are supposed to root for them, anti-heroes are tricky. One advantage of anti-heroes is that they are usually more interesting than heroes because their motives and capabilities are ambiguous. Their victory and redemption is less assured than the traditional hero. However, since the charming rogues are already cliche, some authors try to push the anti-hero into less trite, but less likable, avenues, and this can backfire if the MC loses the allegiance of the reader.

Unlikable Heroes - Heroes can be unlikable for all sorts of reasons. If they are too "perfect," they are dull. Villains and side kicks easily upstage them. Or maybe the hero has too many annoying characteristics, and not enough endearing habits to make up for these foibles. The problem is that unlikable heros are seldom unlikable on purpose. An author might not be aware that the character is coming across as whiny, passive, pushy, entitled, vain or too-stupid-to-live.

I began some re-writes on the mss I mentioned yesterday. Essentially, every single sentence in Chapter One needed adjustment, additions or erasure. Other than changing every other word on the page, though, I left the chapter as it was.

Ahem. What I mean is that I made no changes to the plot or characters. I tightened POV from a distant to a more intimate Third Person, I added sensory description and deleted overwrought phrases. I knew the characters well. All I needed to do was draw them out more clearly, not change them.

Chapter One begins with side characters, however. (Possibly not a good idea.) When I arrived at Chapter Two, which introduces the MC, it hit me.

This guy bores the brickabrack out of me.

Ouch. Cliched phrases are easy to redress, but a cliched hero spells doom for a book. Quick! How can I fix him without sacrificing the entire story?

Maybe...?

Make him an anti-hero?

I don't want him to leap from the Great Frying Pan of Cliches into the Furious Fires of Cliche. Yeah, he's the Chosen One, leader of the raggedy band of slaves and rebels against the evil Powers, yadda yadda yadda, but this comes with the territory of Epic Fantasy. If his character is painted with a fine enough brush, I don't need anti-hero bells and whistles.

Still, he deserves to stand out from the herd of Chosen Ones somehow, doesn't he? What if he's not a real Chosen One. Yes, he's a slave, but to save his own heart from the knife, he agreed to work for the villain. And the villain wants him to pose as a leader of the oppressed, to lure would-be rebel slaves out into the open....

I'm still wrestling with it, but I like this better than what I had before.

Jul 8, 2010

Other Monsters Under the Bed

This is not, btw, my first, or only monster under the bed. I wrote other monstrosities before this one, even uglier. I never even considered trying to publish those. Even Young Me knew they weren't publishable. Here's an inventory of the ones I remember:

Fanfic Star Trek (original series) novel. About 70,000 words. I co-wrote this novel with my mother when I was in Jr. High; she wrote the Spock scenes, I wrote the Kirk scenes. I will always have fond memories of it. Long live fanfic!

SF adventure novel about aliens conquering the Earth. (Sooooooo original). I hand-wrote this masterpiece with an eraserless pencil while living in a remote Mexican village when I was fifteen. Word count? Hard to say. Pencil scrawl filled several wide-ruled spiral-bound Mead notebooks. I impressed myself at the time. Knowing what I do now about word count, I'd guess it was probably no more than 30,000 words. The mss is lost. History weeps.

Epic Fantasy. 400,000 words. (Yikes!) I wrote it in high school. Naif that I was, I mailed out this elephant-sized mss to wallow in the slush pools of all my favorite fantasy publishers. Yes, I first began to query in high school. I earned my first reject letters. One reject letter was actually personalized, a kindness I was too ignorant to recognize at the time. (Fortunately, although dejected by rejection, I was never rude.) I accepted the reject letters as one more hint I should go to college, which I did. Not only do I still have the original mss, mailed back to me, I have the original reject letters.

SF about an anti-Semitic theocratic dystopia. Word Count: 50,000-60,000 words. One year in college, God knows why, I decided to spend Finals Week writing this novel instead of studying. Another WTF-was-I-thinking moment. I almost flunked out, sure, but I finished that novel in less than a month. I assumed from the start I would never be able to publish it because of the edgy topic. "Edgy" is now really popular, but I still doubt this novel is politically correct enough to be published. I no longer know where the mss is, though I believe I have a hard copy somewhere. I hope. I would be sad if I lost this one, even if no one ever reads it but me.

Hmm. Looking at this list, mostly if not entirely complete, it strikes me I haven't written much. I've re-written much more. Not on this list are later projects, for instance Dindi, which I have re-written a dozen or more times. I makes me wonder again where a writer's time and creativity is better invested -- in re-writing old works or in writing new ones? Some of these projects were flawed from the start. Re-writing would be wasted on them. Others, such as my Epic Fantasy, could have gold to sift from the dross.

Can the Monster Under the Bed Be Saved?

By "monster under the bed" I refer to a novel written many moons ago, with all the vim, verve and lack of finesse early novels can possess. I like the vim, love the verve, but could really lose the trite, overwrought and cliched prose my earlier self wrapped around the story.

Granted, I'm a sucker for the B-movie swashbucklers. That's how I like 'em, so that's how I write 'em. Give me pirates and kidnapped princesses, give me vamps and zombies, give me robots and planet-sized brains secretly running the galaxy, and I'm happy. Even a genre-hack must draw the line somewhere, however. B-movie quality is one thing; "SyFy Original" monster-movie-of-the-week is a whole new low. Even I won't sink that far.

Exhibit A: Final showdown between villain and hero. The villain "looked down at his chest, muttered, 'Oh damn!' and died. He sounded quite annoyed."

It was not meant to be humorous.

WTF was I thinking when I wrote that?! Oh yeah. I was seventeen. Not a mature seventeen like some of you teen geniuses out there (you make me sick, btw) but the kind of seventeen that thought the bad guy should say, "Oh damn!" and die. Sigh.

What do you think? Ever tried to revise an old novel?

I can't stand letting it sit around in this state. I could die tomorrow ("Oh damn!") and someone will find this mss, pity-publish it through Lulu (as it instructs in my will), and it will forever suck.

So here's what I've decided. I'm going to hire a book-doctor to fix this mess. Since I have no money, I will hire the cheapest and closest book-doctor available: me.

You see, as it would be humiliating to admit I wrote this trash, I'm going to pretend it's the mss of a stranger, who has hired me to fix it. A charity case. I will be cruel to be kind.

How about you? Have you ever dared look back at an early piece? Tried to edit/re-write/burn it? Was it worth it?

Jul 7, 2010

Writers Who Can't Read

Here's an interesting addendum to the whole matter of writers who don't read... a writer who can't read.

Justify Your Purchasing Habits



the fish swim to me
my basket is always full
a river of books

(Or: Why I shop for books on Amazon.)

I read on about this on Kristin Nelson's blog. A publishing house is asking writers who submit without an agent to show a receipt of a book they've recently purchased from a brick-and-mortar bookstore.

Writers who cannot afford to buy a book or cannot get to an actual bookstore are encouraged to explain why in haiku or one sentence (100 words or fewer). Tin House Books and Tin House magazine will consider the purchase of e-books as a substitute only if the writer explains: why he or she cannot go to his or her neighborhood bookstore, why he or she prefers digital reads, what device, and why. Writers are invited to videotape, film, paint, photograph, animate, twitter, or memorialize in any way (that is logical and/or decipherable) the process of stepping into a bookstore and buying a book to send along for our possible amusement and/or use on our Web site."

I buy 99% of my books online. Usually, I still order a tree book; sometimes, I'll order an e-book. (I have a Kindle.) Publishers should be glad. I buy less books when I go into a book store, because I have to carry them. The weight is an uncomfortable reminder about how much money I'm spending. When I shop online, it's oh-so-dangerously easy to keep clicking away... I have about 400 items in my "Save For Later" Basket. It's embarrassing to admit how much I spend on books. Let's just say it's actually more than I can afford. If "Confessions of a Shopoholic" had been about a book-buying addition, that would have described me.

I also occasionally order books directly from the publisher, especially academic books.

Honestly, if I could make enough money to pay for all the books by other authors I purchase, I would be satisfied. Unfortunately, most advances aren't that high.

The picture is by the artist Mary McShane. Visit her gallery.

Jul 6, 2010

Words Light as Rocks


Ugh. One ugly sentence after another. Every word is like a rock. I lay down one, another, another and another... then they all spill at my feet, hurting my brain.

Jul 5, 2010

Shelter for a Fragil Thought


"A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man's mind can get both provocation and privacy."

~Edward P. Morgan

There are emotions too shameful, or fleeting, or strange to admit to any form of documentation except fiction.

Jul 3, 2010

How I Structure Books

I'm strict about the structure of my books. I tend to write too much, so I limit my number of available chapters as a way to limit my word count. I cheat, at times, by sticking 7,000 words into a chapter that's supposed to only be 5,000, but if I start to have a chapter with a 9,000 or 10,000 word count, I know something HAS to go. If I can't cut the scenes there, I have to cut in a chapter before or after and shift scenes up or down.

That's the bare bones of the book structure. Muscling over the bones, I also have a plot/character structure. In addition to the main plotline, which is Dindi's, I give a different set of secondary characters their own plotline in each book. In Book 1, the secondary characters were the widow Brena, her love interest villain-hero Rthan, and her hypocondriac daughter, Gwenika.

In Book 2, the secondary characters are Kemla and Tamio, who are scheming together, à la Les Liaisons dangereuses, against Dindi, and Finnadro, who wields the Singing Bow.

Each book also has its own series of "flashbacks"; these aren't really flashbacks, but a third major plotline told out of chronological order to the rest of the story. In Book 1, that plotline followed something that happened twenty years ago to a mysterious girl called the Corn Maiden, which Dindi discovers through ongoing Visions throughout the story. Of course, the events of the past turn out to be critical to her story as well.

In Book 2, a major villain is introduced, and he searches out Visions that will ultimately lead him to kidnap Dindi.

Draft of Book 2

I've been working on Dindi Book 2, operating on the idea this will be a Quartet.

First off, I dragged every scene I'd ever written into one file. That gave me about 80,000 words right there, but the order was haphazard, some whole chapters were duplicates, there were the wrong number of chapters overall -- in short, a pretty mess.

Using my post-it note outline method, I culled through the draft chapter by chapter. I removed duplicate scenes. Each book in the Dindi series is to have three sections of seven chapters each, for a total of twenty-one scenes.

Altogether I have a minimum of fourteen new scenes to write. Since one of those is a newly beefed-up battle, and another an all new climax sequence for the book, it will probably be more like twenty to twenty-five new scenes. Not to mention every other scene in the book has to be re-written. I need only change a few details and polish the style in some cases, but many other chapters require substantial re-writes. I've left them in now as place holders, because the new versions will probably have a similar word count.

Altogether, I have to write about 30,000 words worth of new material, and re-vamp another 40,000, then go back and comb the tangles out of the whole thing.

Jul 2, 2010

Art vs Capitalism

In the comments of my last post, "You're going to be eaten by hyenas," my friend Ban remarked, "When someone rejects something you've created it's in essence a rejection of one's inner self. You are that book - you are those characters - they live in your head. When someone says they don't like - they ARE in fact saying they don't like a part of you - however small or big that part my be."

Allow me to repsond.

No. They aren't. It just feels as though they are. Which was my point.

Seriously, my fellow writers, think about it.

I sent out a query letter. It was 179 words. Hey, sure, I put a lot of thought into those 179 words. An amazing amount of thought. I did research on query letters, read other query letters, read agent blogs, even parted with cold, hard cash to learn to polish those 179 words. And yes, it sucked rocks that those 179 words were still not good enough to entice even a request for a partial. It means I have more work to do. Damn.

But do those 179 words in any way summarize the contents and value of my inner soul?

Uh, let's hope not. It would be one sorry-ass inner soul that could be shoved into 179 words of what is, in essence, an advertisement. That's all a query letter is really, a specific kind of ad.

We live in a global, industrial, capitalist society, where art is a commodity. You aren't sharing your deepest self with another human being when you send you mss into an agent or an editor, you're peddling a commodity to a middle-man, who has to sell it in turn to someone else. THIS FACT MAKES THE BRAINS OF ARTISTS IMPLODE.

It's wrong. It's evil. It's a betrayal of everything art has meant to our species for the past ten thousand years.

I believe we did evolve the arts as part of our unique human way of sharing our inner sense of self. A species could have sociality without art. Termites manage it. (See my post on why ants don't have art.) Termites don't have selfhood, either, so although they have sociality -- eusociality, in fact, which may arguably be superior-- they don't have community. To have a community, you need to have individuality first, because community is what binds individuals together. I don't think you can be human without art.

If we evolved art to bind us into small, hunter-gather communities, then everything about how art works today in a capitalist society necessarily feels wrong. That's why there's a disconnect between the artist and the society in which we are now making art. Rejected query letters are just the start of an artist's agony. What about the Beta readers who say they just don't "connect" with your characters? What about the publishers who turn down your agent? What about the reviewers? Oh, god, the reviewers. A reviewer wrote, about the first book I ever published, that it made her LAUGH... not because it was that good but because it was that BAD. OH GOD PEOPLE ARE LAUGHING AT ME IN PUBLIC. Let me die now, please. Please?

Ahem. The point is, things just get worse after you are published, not better. Now you are being judged on the fruit of your soul, you feel naked in front of a million judges, and no matter how many people like your book, someone will hate it. That's the law of large numbers.

There's a good side to the law of large numbers. Now matter how quirky your story is, it's possible there is an audience out there who can connect with your characters. If you were a hunter-gatherer in a tribe of a 150 people, you were pretty much stuck with whatever art forms everyone else had already agreed upon. If you didn't like their art, or if they didn't like yours.... see my post below about the care and feeding of hyenas.

Now even weirdo freaks such as yours truly have a shot at touching the hearts of like-minded freaks. Woohoo! Unfortunately, to find the community of brilliant souls who will at last appreciate my greatness, I have to risk repeated rejection from a lot of otherwise decent human beings who just aren't that into me. The healthy thing would be to shrug off the people who say, "No, thanks, not my cuppa," and just focus on the kindred souls. The healthy thing would be to view art as a business, not as an existential battle. The healthy thing would be to treat rejection as a part of the profession, and just move on without obsessing over it day and night, night and day, years on end.

And, by the way, Clueless Reviewer, of course you laughed, that scene was SUPPOSED to be funny!

Jul 1, 2010

You're Going To Be Eaten By Hyenas



Over at BookEnds, LLC, a writer asked, "Does It Get Any Better?"
My dilemma is this; I seem to have lost the joy to write anything. When I was writing my novel, I was divinely engrossed in doing so. I was so eager to see what was going to happen myself that I stayed up till 4am almost every morning writing (even though I had to wake up with my 2 year old and go to work). I continuously did research on writing, querying, etc. I loved it. After I sent my queries, I was excited every time I saw the light flashing on my blackberry. Then with each passing rejection, it felt like someone was twisting a knife in my gut a little more each time. Now, I literally hate opening my e-mail. I still have several more responses I’m waiting on, and I’m dreading them. It's like these rejections are pretty much a slap in the face.

The replies in the comment section overflowed, so I will post my own thoughts here. Many of the other writers offer good advice.

My own answer? The more rejections you accumulate, the easier it is to deal with.

Except when it's not.

I wanted to dig deeper into this phenomena, though. Why does rejection of a personal creative work hurt so much? Logically, it really shouldn't. It's not like someone has taken a hacksaw, amputated your left leg and rubbed the stump in unsweetened lemonade. It's not even like you just caught your boyfriend with his pants down in the bed of the bimbo next door. But try telling that to your brain when you see the words, "After careful evaluation, I have decided that I am not the right agent to represent your work." Sticking your bloody stump leg in lemonade made by your cheating boyfriend is starting to look pretty good in comparison. And that's friggin' crazy.

I think it dates back to when we all lived in bands of hunter-gatherers on the plains of Africa. Back in those days, if you kept doing something meant to entertain and please the rest of your clan, and they replied again and again, "Get lost!" you would be in trouble. Because in those days, "get lost" meant you would literally get lost after the rest of the tribe kicked you out for repeatedly annoying them. If they rejected you, you would find yourself wandering all by your lonesome on the Serengeti. It would be only a matter of time before some Big Bad stalked you, chased you down, ripped your limbs off one by one and devoured you, perhaps while you were still alive.

So the horrible feeling where you want to crawl into a cave and hide, and perhaps throw rocks at strangers, is perfectly understandable. It's just nature's way of warning you social rejection means you're going to be eaten by hyenas.

Trilogies, Quartets, Septets

I haven't settled on how many books should be in the Dindi series yet. As I've said, the story arc is plotted, and much of it is written, but how much is "much"? Stories are fractal. I can always work in new complications.

When I broke the megabook into a series, for some reason, it would not work as a trilogy. I decided it had to be seven books, although I knew a septet would require quite a lot of additional writing. At that time, I was writing full time.

Now that my writing time is more constrained, I've considered this question again. I still can't seem to work the story into a trilogy, unfortunately.

I wanted the number of books in the series to fit the "color magic" in the story. So the seven book series would have looked like this:

Book 1: Yellow
Book 2: Green
Book 3: Purple
Book 4: Blue
Book 5: Orange
Book 6: Red
Book 7: Black

I could, however, divide the series into only four books, highlighting the conflicts between colors:

Book 1: Yellow/Blue
Book 2: Green/Red
Book 3: Purple/Orange
Book 4: Black/White

One distinct advantage of the Quartet idea is that it means the series is automatically closer to completion. My hard limit on word count is 120,000 words (per book), but in theory I am aiming at a word count between 90,000 and 110,000. (You'll notice I barely squeezed by on Book 1.) This means my drafts of the remaining books are substantial.

Book 1: 119,000 - Complete
Book 2: 86,000 - Needs new ending
Book 3: 68,000 - Needs new beginning
Book 4: 60,000 - Needs new middle

In the interest of completing the entire series this summer (ha), I think I might go ahead and work on the assumption this is how I'm going to go with it. I'll drop some tangent plotlines, perhaps even a few characters I had planned on developing further. If I really feel so inspired that I can't stop myself from writing their stories, that's okay too. I don't mind, in theory, going back to the seven book model. For now, though, I think this plan works.