Friday, November 28, 2008

The Creator and the Revisionist

I reached 100 pages on Wildmane! Yes! I am ecstatic. This means I move on to the next phase, and get to send it off to Donald, who will hopefully find a home for it. And that means money. And that means I can buy new shoes for my daughter.

My objective for the next little while is to shape up the manuscript. The rough draft is down, has exceeded my targeted page count (by 2 pages), but now I need to make it tight. I need to knock away everything extraneous. I need to make it charged with juicy scene after juicy scene. It cannot house unnecessary chaff. The filler must be purged. This story can't just be a good story.

It must be irrisisible.

To help me in this, I have sent it off to a few people I call my "advanced readers". These people are chosen for a variety of reasons. Some have loved the Wildmane story since its infancy back in college, and want to be a part of its overhaul. Some have great talent in editing stories and have graciously decided to assist me. And some, well, some were just curious. But I'll grab their feedback with the same relish.

Because these perspectives are invaluable to me. As I write a story, I become immersed in the world. I have to. The characters cannot live if I'm not plunged into their bodies and seeing through their eyes. But, when it comes to the revising stage, this works against me. It can keep me from pulling back enough to see what I have actually conveyed, as opposed to what I think I have conveyed. One of the differences between amateur writers and professional writers is that ability to take that step back and see the story as a piece of craft, to be hacked and honed to the desired effect. This has traditionally been one of my weak spots, and advanced readers can help me in that area. We'll see if I improve.

So now I'm caught in limbo. I've reached my goal, but am far from the finish line. There is still a lot to be written, and the part of me that has gotten into the groove of creating the rough draft doesn't want to stop (it never wants to stop), but I have had to slam on the brakes to manipulate the craft. Revision works a very different part of my brain. I have had to switch mentalities. This is nothing like writing a rought draft. When I'm writing a rough draft, I open all the floodgates. All ideas are sweet, and I exercise little discrimination as I throw them into the story. Good, bad, ugly, all of it comes pouring out and spills onto the page.

When I'm revising, however, I'm curt, and I wield a word-trimming scalpel or, if the need is great, a chapter-lopping broadsword. I would even go so far as to say that I'm mean. I try to be mean. I look at the manuscript as though the writer is an idiot. All writers are idiots, and this particular one who wrote this particular piece of garbage needs to prove to me that he is not an idiot. I must be grudgingly impressed, or not impressed at all. I must chip and hack and push and cajole the manuscript into a shape that would seduce even the most sour audience because, in the publishing industry, that is the most likely reader to be standing before the gates of publication.

So, I just recently removed my revisionist cloak. I revised the 100 Wildmane pages last weekend, and have been lolling about in the aftermath, what I think of as my "mellowing" time. I can switch from rough draft mode to revisionist mode very quickly. Going back the other way is a bitch. Apparently, transforming from open-hearted and giddy to sniping slasher takes little effort. But once I've been revising for a while, I need a day or two to get my mind back into fullscale creating. I think the inner child who plays with the conjured, rough draft images is afraid of the merciless revisionist. He doesn't want to stick his head out while the blades are whirring.

But the blades have been tucked away for now. The story of Wildmane is calling, and the child is piping up again. He's bouncing around, asking when he gets to go back to Amrin and find out what happened to Mirolah after her harrowing escape. Will she ever see her parents again? What does the insidious Gar Verritt and his band of misfits have in store for her?

Ah, he's tugging on my pantleg. I gotta go.

Until next time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Stavark's Stubbornness

An odd and wonderful thing happened last night as I was writing. It's been so long since it's happened that I'd forgotten what a thrill it is. It was like a deja vu that, instead of lasting a split-second, stretched and pulled me into it for an interminably sweet moment.

As Inigo Montoya would say, "Let me splain..."

First, a little bit of background. The system we (Giles and I) used for the Heartstone Trilogy was:

1st step - Giles and I brainstorm ideas, sketching visions of the characters, setting and plot together
2nd step - Giles takes our ideas and plots the chapters
3rd step - I springboard from those synopses and write the rough draft
4th step - Giles goes over what I wrote, removing and adding as necessary
5th step - I take his revision, remove and add as necessary
6th-12th steps - We repeat as necessary until a suitable final draft is agreed upon

Giles and I paid a lot of attention to ensuring that the story adhered to our vision. Oh, we would change our minds and change course often enough throughout construction. We weren't rigid in our execution of our brainstormed ideas, but there was always an attention to looking back at the framework.

"Am I doing this right?"

"Can I go down this path?"

"How will this affect our original vision?"

Since I've started working solo again, I taken a new tack. I don't write down the plot. I keep the images, ideas and characters in my head (such that I can. I do not have a mind like a steel trap. Rather, I have a mind more like a chalk drawing from Mary Poppins), then sit down and just let loose.

There are downsides. This opens me up to all manner of mistakes. I could spend hours writing down a scene, only to step back and realize that the scene is useless in moving the story forward, and has to be scrapped. In fact, at the very beginning of the Wildmane re-write, I penned four full chapters, only to realize the direction I chose wouldn't work. I deleted them all, started over again and finally got the scene I was looking for.

But the upsides. Ah, I've begun to feel them. It started small at first. When writing, instead of feeling that vague concern, I began to feel a thrill, a simple joy of shaping the unknown. I banished the question: "Am I doing this right?" I locked those worries away in a dark little cell at the base of my mind .

I remembered that thrill from those faroff days of writing in my teens, when I first started. Back in Durango Colorado, where I sat in my bedroom with that sweet, high mountain breeze fluttering the blue checkered curtains, and I clacked away on my mother's electric typewriter. Of course, I didn't need to tell my nattering mind to shut up back then. I didn't have a nattering mind.

Every time I've sat down to write lately, or even contemplated writing, I've been hungry for it. I wanted to feel that ghostly excitement again.

Last night, it consumed me.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I come home on Monday and Tuesday nights and closet myself away. Last night was no exception, and with cheesy 80s music in my ear, I dove into Mirolah's world.

Mirolah, Gar Verritt and Stavark ran from the Merthalic blademen, trying to scale the wall to escape. Except Mirolah couldn't hold on, and she fell. And the blademen surrounded them.

Gar Verritt turned to Stavark who, as a quicksilver, could certainly have saved himself by flashing away. And this was the plan. Not Gar Verritt's plan, but my plan. The grand plot's plan. Stavark needed to flee. He was going to get help, and return to spring them in a swashbuckling spectacle that would make Errol Flynn proud.

So Gar Verritt, as I made him do, said to Stavark, "Go!"

And Stavark said, "No."

And so I made Gar Verritt tell him again, "Stavark, you know what is at stake. Go!"


I sat back from the keyboard, stunned. I did not want Stavark to say "No." That was not the plan.

And then I grinned. I grinned so wide my cheeks ached. Stavark refused me. Noble little Stavark quietly and stubbornly took a stand that he would, of course, have taken.

And in that moment, he came to life.

I didn't make that decision to say "No". Stavark did, from the core of his character. Stavark does not leave his friends surrounded by the enemy, even if it's the smart thing to do. Even if it is the only thing to do. He stays with them until the end. He does not care about my plot structure. He does not know it exists.

And that, I think, is when a good story really begins.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Book Promotion, Time Cubes, and Negotiations with the Wife

This past weekend, I engaged in a flurry of book promotion. As the Dec. 3 book signing at the Tattered Cover in Highlands Ranch (see my November 13 post for details) is fast approaching, I shaped up my database of emails, typed up a quick letter and sent it out to everyone I know. So far, this area of becoming an author is my weakest area by far. I've been writing novels for twenty years. I've been uncovering the secrets of publishing for ten years. And I've been actively promoting myself for ten days.

But so far it's pretty fun. In this last few weeks, I've started this blog and discovered While facebook represents a huge potential time-sink (there are just so many interesting bells & whistles to dazzle me. And I am easily dazzled), it's amazing how many people I've connected with so quickly. And the blog has been a blast. It's a great way to warm up for writing on Wildmane.

As to Wildmane, I continue to churn out the rough draft. I've reached 68 pages so far, and the story is starting to cook. I am excited that my current system for writing is actually working. I had extreme doubts that it would. With kids, my job at the American Diabetes Association, fixing up our house, and social events with our wonderful group of friends, I had despaired that I would never find enough time to write.

Back in my twenties and early thirties, I'd disappear for a weekend, minimum, to do novel work. I could come home from my day job on Friday, get in the mood to write by watching a sci-fi movie, then go into my room and shut the door. I'd ignore the phone, ignore the knocks of my roommate, ignore the world. By mid-Saturday, I'd be writing, making progress. By Sunday morning, I'd be flying along, writing chapters and chapters. Add a third day to that, and I could damn near write a hundred pages of a novel in a weekend.

That was my late twenties. Now I'm in my late thirties, with a family, and here's the inevitable dilemma: I never get a two day block of time anymore. I don't even get a one-day block of time anymore. All of my free hours are diced up into little time cubes. Snippets of freedom in a packed schedule.

In the beginning, oh, how I would fight against it, craving that mythical three-day weekend I used to know, that open expanse of time to write and only write. Lara, my wife, was very patient at first, doing her best to afford me what I felt I needed. But as the pressure of parenthood increased on both of us, my selfish time stealing didn't fit. That time simply wasn't there.

I didn't want to believe it, refused to accept it, because losing that time equated to losing my dreams of becoming a writer, and that just wasn't acceptable. Lara and I would have endless discussions (and sometimes fights) about how to work it out.

In the end, I knew I was the one who had to bend, because all of those things that packed my schedule (like my children, my friends, improving my family's quality of life) were of my own choosing. They were not going to disappear. The diced-time situation was not going to change. So either I had to adapt, or my novel-writing would become extinct.

So I decided to buckle down and change my point of view. I couldn't have half of Friday, all of Saturday and all of Sunday. I had to fit my passion into diced time-cubes. In negotiations with Lara, we decided that while the whole weekend couldn't work, two week nights were reasonable. At first, it seemed pitifully inadequate. It was only a scant eight actual writing hours in comparison to the bountiful 38 of a full weekend. I had no idea how I would do it.

But, Monday and Tuesday night were mine. Inviolate. No discussions about time juggling. No responsibilities to intrude on my selfishness. I could banish the guilt, closet myself in my office, drink Coke and eat Pringles if I want to. And if someone trespassed, I had full rights to be the snarling ogre.

For those of you who struggle with finding your writing time, I have this to say: Hour for hour, I am more productive than I have ever been. It's unbelievable. I sit down, I force myself to write, and if it comes out crap, it comes out crap. But at least I am WRITING.

And the kicker is this: Less of it is crap than ever before.

Go figure.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tattered Cover Book Signing

As promised, I am posting the confirmed time, date, place of my first book signing for Queen of Oblivion. Stay tuned for other books signings. I'm hoping to have one in Colorado Springs, one in Fort Collins and one in Boulder. The Fort Collins and Boulder signings will probably be in January, but I'm hoping to squeeze in Poor Richards in Colorado Springs before the holidays sweep us away.

So, if you're going to attend only ONE book signing this year, check it out:

Wednesday, Dec. 3
7:30 p.m.
Tattered Cover
9315 Dorchester StHighlands Ranch, CO 80129
Get the location from googlemap here

So come on down to Highlands Ranch. I'll be signing Queen of Oblivion, and I will also read a few chapters not only from Queen, but also from my new project Wildmane.

See you there!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thoughts on "Queen of Oblivion"

So it looks like I'll have at least two book signings in Colorado (maybe four). I will post the exact dates and locations as I receive them from my PR agent. What I have requested is Friday, December 5th at the Tattered Cover in Highlands Ranch. So for those of you following this blog, mark your calendars. I would love to see you all there! The saga of Brophy and Shara is coming to its culmination, and if you've been following the story, you don't want to miss it.

And if you haven't been following the story, then you really ought to pick up Heir of Autumn, the first book in the Heartstone Trilogy (follow the link on the left-hand side to buy a copy online). It is a rich history in a brand new world, complete with sexy sorceresses, earnest young warriors, deadly gladitorial games, and international intrigue. And overshadowing the clash of three mighty empires, a towering menace in the north that threatens to destroy the world.

Wow. I'm all excited now. I think I'll have to go back and re-read it.

So, I can't decide whether the publishing industry moves slowly, or if I move on quickly, but it already seems like ages ago that Giles and I buttoned up Queen of Oblivion. I can't even remember when we finished the first draft of it. Probably November of 2007. For fans of the series, Queen of Oblivion is the third and last story in the Heartstone Trilogy, and it comes out at the end of this month.

As the publishing date nears, I begin to revisit that rich story all over again. The angst of Shara, the agony of Brophy, the murderous drive of Arefaine. Most fantasy stories are about magic and adventure, about the main character finding his potential and living up to it. In fact, Heir of Autumn (the first book in the Heartstone Trilogy) was very much about that. Brophy started out a naive young man who grew into his strength in a trial-by-fire (literally).

But Queen of Oblivion isn't about magic and adventure, though there is plenty of both to be had. And it isn't about the characters finding their potential, though Arefaine finds hers (and can I say "whooo-boy"). Queen is about redemption. Brophy has lived through the fire, but it burns him still. Shara shoulders the weight of the world, and it constantly threatens to crush her. These characters have come into their full might, and Queen is about trying to choose rightly in using that might. It is about the traps that are laid even for those with the best intentions, and especially for those with the most power.

These characters asked for it. Now they've got it. And the question is: What to do with it. Join me in this fantastical world, and see if you bite your nails, curse and spit, cry and laugh, as much as I did.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

On Inspiration and Wildmane

Okay, I'm off and runnin'. Two entries in two days. Fair warning, though, this is how I start. I'm an emotional sprinter by nature. It's the marathon where I lag.

Still and all, I was sitting at my computer this morning with a hankering to continue writing on Wildmane, one of my two current novel projects. Before settling in, I decided to check email, facebook and my blog, trying to make it part of my routine to promote my writing.

So this morning, I have decided to give my blog a direction, and it is:

The winding path of novel creation. That's my focus for this blog.

Or at least for today. (Remember the marathon analogy?)

So let's begin at the beginning. Let's talk about inspiration and drive. This is where novels begins. An idea that you just can't let go of. A purpose that grabs you and holds you until you have to write it down. These are the wisps of stories that drift past your conscious mind. These are the characters you've been dreaming about. That smart, sexy CEO in the business suit that you envision yourself dating. That streetwise city kid who's going to take the world by storm and make his impact.

These bubble at the base of the mind. They are the inspiration. And a writer takes to the keyboard, attempting to convey that inspiration accurately.

So now you've got your drive, so what next? It seems that writing is a constant attempt to define dreams into the concrete. From your imaginings into words, and then again from your words into a paycheck.

Thankfully, I have a fantastic agent named Donald Maass (perhaps I'll tell that story in a later blog, for those of you who are interested in such things). This opens up new horizons for a writer. So one of my current driving forces is the fact that, as soon as I have 100 pages of either of my novel projects (Wildmane or Fairmist), I can send it to Donald, and he will try to sell it for me.

After spending 15 years writing for myself and my friends and sending my creations out into the world to strangers who didn't care one bit about my dream of becoming an author, this is hugely exciting. There's someone on the other end, and he wants to see my stuff. The time and energy I pour into my work has a champion.

So, circling back to inspiration again, this adds to my drive. I mean, I'd write stories whether or not anyone listened to them. It adds immeasurable joy to my life, so I'd do it for just for the rush. However, having a quick road to publication whips that inspiration into a frenzy. I must get Wildmane done. And soon. The sooner I can, the sooner my dreams come true.

So, to Wildmane. I'm currently on chapter 5, roughly 40 pages, and things are about to heat up. The world is taking form, the main character Mirolah is finding her voice, and the side characters have pushed her to the cusp.

The sparks are about to fly.

And once they do, sixty more pages will go in a blink and then, the dream of that published book. My words in print.

Ah! Ambrosia.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

First blog!

Okay, here's my first blog. As it will always likely be, I've only got about five minutes to blog something.

Current news: Peter and I are trying to set up my blog site so that I can regale any and all comers with updates primarily about my writing, but also about life in general. One tends to leak into the other, I've noticed.

This is my new (and only, so far) attempt at self-promotion. I hear that one needs to do that if one is to be successful as a writer these days.

So check out all of the book pictures along the left-hand side here. Queen of Oblivion, co-written with Giles Carwyn, is coming out at the end of this month, so keep an eye out for it. There will be book signings in Denver and Colorado Springs, so stay tuned for that, too. I'll be posting the dates and locations soon.

All right. Time to go work on the grounds at Elowyn's school.

Until next time.