Saturday, November 30, 2013

Small Business Saturday at Pegasus Books.

Had a couple of good days at Pegasus Books, Wed. and Fri., thanks to my employees Cameron and Matt.  They're doing such a good job I feel like I can concentrate on my writing and not worry.

I went to the store this morning expecting it to be cleaned out, but it looks as packed as ever.  The great thing about the holidays isn't just the higher sales -- though those are nice -- but the fact that much of the stuff we sell doesn't have to be replaced. 

Sometimes the stuff has sat in the store for half a year, but a tourist comes along and it's the very thing they've been looking for.

I wish Black Weekend was predictive of the rest of the season -- because it's been a good one so far -- but it really isn't. 

I have some faith this December will be better than last year because I'm doing way more restocking than last year.

I always have to get ready for the shock of the 10 days after this weekend -- always an enormous dropoff, sometimes even below normal levels.  Especially if the weather is as bad as predicted.

Anyway, a least we'll soon have this weekend under our belt.

Buy a Book for Christmas!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Buy a book for Christmas.

I'm pretty sure the whole -- "this is the day the stores make a profit" -- thing is bogus.  In fact, I seem to remember that the "black" part of the description was there because it was such a stressful, hectic day.

It was bigger for us early in our career.  I believe the chainstores have very efficiently siphoned off most of the frenzy.  It is also completely unpredictable.  The year before last, for instance, was 40% higher than last year -- for no apparent reason.

I doubt the deals are any better now than they will be in a couple of weeks.  And I doubt there will be any shortage of buyable merchandise closer to Christmas.

I don't have "Sales" at my store.  I don't stray from that during this season.  I strive to have as much merchandise as possible, and the more I can maintain regular prices the more stuff I can carry.  In fact, I really have even less reason to have "Sales" at this time of year when I'm going to have increased volume anyway.

I try to have good stuff at everyday prices.

I have to be careful to calibrate my inventory correctly.  I want more merchandise in the store before this weekend -- but I also have to be aware that there will be a dramatic dropoff in sales after this weekend for about two weeks.  Then the final two weeks before Christmas -- Boom.

The last two weeks have become so important, it is kind of scary.  I always worry that something catastrophic will happen -- events, weather, something.  That the Sheriff of Nottingham will "Cancel Christmas." 

Hasn't happened...yet.

There is a week less time this year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but that week is missing from November, and since I'm already ahead of last year in November -- with two big days left -- apparently it had little effect.  In fact, logically, it should make December all that much stronger.

I believe the mild weather has been working in our favor.  That and the fact that I really stocked up this year, especially board games and books.

Anyway, we're good.  We see an increase, to be sure, but not as much as I read other stores do -- in fact, I think I actually see a slight decrease in traffic from my regulars.  What it does do is position me to pay off a heft chunk of my bills and hopefully have some cash in the bank for the long dry spell of the first half of the year.

If I can beat last year at Christmas, I may beat last year altogether, which considering how careful I've been in my buying, will be a real achievement.

Meanwhile, everyone have fun.  Buy a book for Christmas.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ready to get going again.

Woke up at 5:00 in the morning, a prologue to Deeptower going through my mind.  I hadn't intended to have a prologue but apparently my subconscious begs to differ.

This is coming easy -- almost too easy.  I've already written 11,000 words. 

I worry when that happens, actually.   I feel like maybe there hasn't been enough of a struggle.  But then -- I'm sure that will come.

I think I'm benefiting from all the world building I did in Deviltree.  I can take that as my starting point, and move on from there.  It makes things so much clearer and easier.  I can concentrate on story and character.

I think Faerylander, in the end, benefited from all the problems.  It's a better book.  I don't know whether it's a good book or not, but it's like a problem child who I love and who I finally need to let go.

Let the little beast go out into the world and hope for the best.

I know that I cut what I could and retained what I could, while pushing for a forward momentum to the story.  I think I made the characters more sympathetic and their motivations much clearer.  I think I managed to add a little tension.  I cut most of the light and or silly passages.

There were some intrinsic problems that arose from pushing it through early on -- I was five months in and stuck and decided I needed to push forward, and I'm both glad I did and determined that I'll never do that again.  But I've worked and worked at ameliorating those problems as best I can,  and hopefully the reader won't notice.

I'd almost given up on Faerylander, but I'm glad I kept at it.  I think its a real book now.

After a couple of months, I'm back to writing.  The last original book I wrote, Spell Realm, was a real problem, which made me wonder if I'd lost my creative mojo.   But it has been gaining favor with me as the weeks have passed.  Some of the scenes are very clear in my head, which must mean they were effective to some extent and that there will be something to work with there when I'm ready.

Blood of Gold is with Lara, my editor.  I'm hoping to publish it early next year so that my Vampire Evolution Trilogy will be complete.

My intention is to just write next year.  Concentrate on the writing.  I have enough books finished and lined up to be able to put one out every 3 or 4 months.  Most of them still need to be edited, formatted and covers prepared.  But most of them won't need extensive rewriting.

The ones that do need extensive rewriting -- mostly my fantasies -- I'm setting aside for now, with the intention of going back occasionally and working on them.  They are just kind of inchoate right now, and I'm letting them be that way.  The way they are interconnected means I'll probably have them all done at the same time.

The Faerylander world, the Deviltree world, even the Led to the Slaughter world, all lend themselves to a series of books.  I think the Vampire Evolution story is complete.  Freedy Filkins is a stand alone (I'm not tackling LOTR's!)

So I'm creating a body of work that I'm proud of.  Maybe no one will ever notice, but I know what I've accomplished.  I'm starting to be really proud of it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

To my future self.

So I've got this long drawn out analogy, which most of you will probably lose interest in. (Overthinking it much?)

But I want to get it down for my 'future' self in case I ever wonder why I made the choices I made.

The analogy is way at the end of this blog -- first I have a couple of preliminaries...


There is a freedom in writing for myself -- a liberating, euphoric freedom.

How to explain....... 

So I reach a point in a plot where I'm wondering -- do I do this or do I do that?  I ask myself -- what will people think if I do that?  Often, the answer is -- they'll probably think it's silly, or stupid, or hackneyed.

So I change what I'm doing, and try something else.

But let's say I really liked the idea and will always wonder if I could have made it work.

There is a difference in how I approach writing.  It comes down to whether I'm worried about what others think, or whether I'm writing for myself.  If I write for myself, I give myself permission to do anything.  If I start to consider how it is going to look to others -- then I start second guessing myself.

I'm free and light when I do it for myself.  I'm bogged down with all kinds of worries and concerns when I starting thinking about doing it for others.

So if I'm concerned about going through a traditional method of publishing, I think one way.  If I'm doing it for myself, I often think another way.  The doing it for myself gives me the permission to follow my own creative impulses.

The minute I start to consider how other people are going to think -- it changes.  It's less satisfying.  I'm not as willing to take chances.  If I do it for myself, I figure I can fix whatever is wrong with it, or perhaps come up with something wildly different.

So that means I'm just indulging myself, right?

Not necessarily.  This is similar to the idea that I have some control over whether a book is good or bad.  Well, of course I do, right?

Not that I can see.  I doubt anyone sets out to write a "bad" book.  Everyone is probably doing their best.

At least I am.  I'm not setting out to write a book I don't like.  I'm writing to my maximum current abilities.

Really, when I'm talk about that kind of thing, I'm really talking about how much time I want to spend on rewriting.  So, basically, the idea is that if I'm writing on a qualitative scale of 1 to 10, that if I start with a 6, and then spend two years diligently trying to improve it, that I end up with an 8.

(I don't think this is necessarily a given, at least for me.  It's more a three steps forward two steps back process.  What I gain in polish and perhaps depth, I lose in spontaneity and freshness.  Sometimes, I think, it's even a two steps forward and three steps back process.)

But say I spend much less time trying to improve it, and I end up with a 6.5 or a 7.

Obviously, an 8 is better than a 6.5.  But what if it takes two years to achieve an 8, and three months to achieve the 7?  So in two years I've achieved one 8 level book, whereas I might have had eight 7 level books -- or more likely, say one 5 level book, three 6 level books, three 7 level books, and one 8 level book.

It's worse than that.  Let's say by writing eight books I learn and get better.  So each book is a .2 improvement.  So by the eighth book, I'm at a 7.6 level to start.  I really believe this is happening.  Maybe it's a .1 improvement, but it's happening.

It's not all one thing or the other.  I can set aside the 5 and 6 level books and come back to them later.  I may improve a 7 level book easily, or take a long time but do other things while I'm at it.

(Again, overthinking it much?  ;)

So -- I haven't even reached the analogy yet, by the way...


Second part of the preliminary thinking.

I now think of writing with architecture in mind.  So, every book has a foundation, it has walls, it has different levels, it has rooms and windows and doors, it has plumbing and electricity, it has a roof, and so on.

So when I construct a book, I have to keep all those elements in mind.  I may build part of the foundation and part of the roof at the same time, I may build one room at a time, but in the end I have to put all the elements together.

The art of it is in how I construct these elements. So let's say, I decide to build a Colonial?


So here's where I start the analogy.

I just build the Colonial, because that's what I want to do.

But everyone is buying Craftmen houses.  Let's say -- Northwest Crossing.

Whereas, I feel like building a Colonial east of town, in the middle of the desert.

Pretty stupid.  I admit.  If my goal is to actually sell it, or even have people find it, I'm doing a very doubtful thing.

So there's the difference.  If I build in Northwest Crossing, I will have to worry about what the market wants, try to fit in, build where everyone else is building.  In doing so, I have to get permits, I have to hire contractors, I have trust that a real estate agent will sell the house.  It takes forever, I'm building to other people's specifications, and in the end there is no guarantee that the house will sell anyway.

But my little Colonial.  I do it all myself.  I build it quickly.  I don't have to have contractors or workers or permits or any of those things.  It's a little quirky, with a little tower on one end, a back room that's round.

Totally not the style anyone wants, completely out of place in the sagebrush and junipers.

Worse -- it doesn't have any connectors.  It doesn't have sewer line, or a water main, or an electrical line.  It's all wells, and generators, and so on.

But it's done.

So what?  Nobody will find it, if they do find it, they won't have any way of relating to it.  It will sit lonely and unappreciated.

But I compound the problem, and build another one...and another.  Each a different style -- whatever I feel like building.  Pretty soon I have a whole sub-division of misfits, which very few people will find, they have to take my word that the houses are livable.

Who knows?  Maybe someday Colonials in the desert will be all the rage.  Probably won't happen, but you never know.  Maybe the subdivision will fit into the larger picture someday. 


This is all just to say -- writing for myself is free and liberating and fast and fun -- but perhaps pointless.  But all I have to do is build it.  I don't have to worry about anything else.

Writing for others is second guessing, and frustrating, and takes forever, and isn't much fun, and constricting -- and maybe just as pointless.  But there is a chance, if a slim one.

So do I want to put up with everything else for a slim chance?

I've decided -- no.

Sorry you had to read my whole labored analogy to get here....

Redmond's turn.

It's interesting to see Redmond grappling with street closures.  I'm assuming that they didn't close 6th and 7th Streets before because for so long they were the only routes through town.

So when they did start closing streets, it came as a shock to many of the established businesses.

They objected.  They objected because it was probably obvious to them that the whole thing is a net loss for most businesses.  They could look at the results -- and they had enough time to see if there was a hidden benefit (the old -- "they'll come back later" excuse) and make up their own minds.

See, what I think happened in Bend is the frog in the hot water scenario.  It seemed like a good idea at first, it slowly escalated, then became a confirmed thing, and now no one can tell the real effect.  More and more events, longer events, more disruptive events.  Every one of them "Worthy", often for a good cause.

It'll be good for business they say, without any proof whatsoever.  It's just assumed.  Any retailer who demurs will be dismissed as a crackpot.  Newer businesses will assume that because they've been happening for so long, they must be good, right?  (And newer businesses probably make up the majority of active retailers...)

Also interesting to see that the proponents are using the same half-assed concessions to muddy the waters.

They pretend it's about "communication" and "advance warnings." Which I think are meant to just obscure the issue and make it look like something is being done.

No, it's about street closures.

But the proponents will be organized and persistent.

The retailers meanwhile will be all over the place, with a single "pro" retailer cancelling a dozen "con" retailers.  The retailers who are unhappy will throw up their hands and go along to get along.

The lobby for these events are -- the event promoters, the event sellers, the government, the pro-business groups, the advertisers, the media, and most of all, the attendees.

Retailers don't have a chance against that lineup.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Jumping on a sinking ship.

The Barnes and Noble strategy continues to mystify me.

I'm pretty sure that a full on bookstore B & N would still be viable if that's where they spent their time, space, energy and money.

So the first ad on TV I see for the holiday season?  An ad that is mostly about the Nook.

But in the latest quarter of the year, their sales in the Nook were down 32.2%.  Their sales in digital content were down 21.2%.  Their sales in digital accessories were down 41.3%.

Meanwhile their sales in actual books were down 3.7%, which they attribute to the drop off in sales of 50 Shades of Gray.  Which I believe.

So putting yourself out of business to support for a failing model, and destroying what is a viable model in the meantime.   Why?  WTF?

Owning the river.

So do they own the river?  Or the land beneath Mirror Pond?

A long lawsuit trying to decide the matter would just accomplish the same thing they want -- the delay in tearing down the dam.

Look, I personally think we have to keep Mirror Pond.  We have to dredge it.  Shore up the damn and generate a little money and build the fish ladder, and so on.

Going to cost a ton of money.

Which we don't have.  Here's the thing -- when you spend millions on an unfunded bus system, and then you get sued for having faulty wheelchair access, you don't have the money.  When you spend millions on a pie in the sky project like Juniper Ridge, then you don't have the money to fix the water system.  When you bank on future growth in a UGB that isn't realistic, you don't have the money to fix Mirror Pond.

A "natural" river sounds good.  Have you been down to the natural river lately?  Not the parks, the actual river.  I bet most haven't because you'd have to work your way through thick brush and mud and waves of insects.   It won't be visually appealing, or experientially mentally appealing, unless you built paths and parks and so on.  Which costs money.

It all just comes back to money and how stupid the city council has been with it. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

It makes 'poetic' sense.

I have a line in my first chapter of Faerylander that I knew was a problem when I wrote it.  But I liked it so much, I left it in.  It passed muster with the first 4 people I read it to (or they didn't notice it) but the fifth reader called me on it.

The line is spoken by the villain, who has just been released from 10 years in prison.  He's trying to charm a girl.  "He had to remind himself that a smile on the Outside was the same as a frown on the Inside."

Martha says, "That's sounds good but it doesn't really make sense."

So, I agreed with her at first.  But then I started thinking about it.  What I meant was, just as you'll go further in the world with a smile than with a frown, in prison your fall back position would probably be a frown, not a smile.

Of course, that still doesn't make it valid or true, but at least it makes more sense.  But -- if you need to explain a line, it doesn't work.

But it "feels" true, you know.  It makes a kind of poetic sense, at least to me. 

If you don't think about it too much.

So would he say it?

 I've decided to leave it in, just because people sometimes say things that don't really make sense if you thought about it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Such a great feeling.

I don't want to get sappy, but I love writing the first few chapters of a new book.  It's like I'm at the beginning of a great adventure.  Oh sure, later I'll come back and find all kinds of flaws, but for now, it's the simple sheer joy of creation.

I'm pretty amazed by it each time.  Who knew?

I'd never really seriously considered writing a sequel to Deviltree.  Oh, I'd always known that the device of a Deeptower lent itself to that possibility.  But I hadn't been considering it.

Then yesterday, I just started writing it.

First chapter came easy.  Well, that often happens.  I've probably written dozens of first chapters without a decent followup.  (Though not in the last couple of years -- I seem to be finishing everything I start, nowadays.)

First chapter, a young prince escaping his pursuers, finding a Deeptower, and then being saved by the strange creature who emerges.  But then the creature turns around and tosses the hero into the dark depths.

Second chapter?

I woke up this morning, curious.  I started to take a shower and the scene flowed into me.

Hero wakes up and there are three dragon heads staring down on him.  A couple of hours later, I have the second chapter done.

How does that happen?  It's as if my subconscious was ready for this, as if it knew before I did that there was a story there.  It's a miraculous feeling.  I get such a kick out of it.

Let the fates decide.

I had a year of extremely productive creative writing from September, 2012 to September 2013.  Then I started to get a little distracted by the other part of writing. 

What to do with it all?

The last thing I wrote, Spell Realm, seemed underdeveloped, so I told myself I needed to think about the practical publishing elements of writing.  Does it do me any good to write a sequel, if the original isn't good enough?  Do I really want to go off half-cocked on things, instead of thinking them through?

But... the minute I started thinking this way, it was as if the creative part of me started to switch off.  I did manage to rewrite Faerylander in a productive way, and that was valuable.  But I really believe I need to just get back to writing again.

I sort of consciously gave up on the critical thinking, practical part yesterday.  I started writing a sequel that may not have any real practical utility.  But that isn't the point.  It has creative utility and that's what I need to focus on.

The minute I put the onus on myself to be "practical," to think about the endgame, the publishing part, I start to lose my way.

When I'm productive I think this way:  Am I enjoying this?  Do I like it?  Do I think it holds together?

When I'm trying to be practical, I think this way:  Will anyone read this?  Is there something I can do that will make it more reader friendly?  How does this come across to the reader?

None of these are bad things to think about -- but they are also inherent in the former method.  By satisfying myself, I believe I satisfy the reader.   The danger, I suppose, is that I'll be self-indulgent, or that I'll put something out that isn't ready.

But I've proven to myself, at least, that I'm willing to be patient, and to not release something until I think it's ready.  The end result of doing it for myself, is very similar to the end result of trying to do it for others -- without all the downsides.

Simply put:   The writing -- and what happens to the writing afterwards -- are two different things.

If I don't think about the publishing part, I'm very very prolific.  I'm enjoying myself.  I'm not second-guessing myself all the time.  I feel more free to try different things, and to fail if that's what it takes.  To experiment, to do it my way.  To look inward, not outward.

It's the freedom of knowing that people may never read what I've done, but it doesn't matter as long as I know I'm accomplishing something.  As long as I feel like I'm doing something worthwhile.

If I start worrying about success or failure or how it is going to be received -- then it becomes something different, less satisfying.

Let the fates decide.  It's out of my hands.  I'm going to write, and all that other stuff can wait.

So, I started to write a sequel to Deviltree, which I'm calling Deeptower.  I was a little fuzzy on some of the details, the spelling of names and such, so I went to the digital copy of the original book that I had scanned into the computer.

After my writing session, I decided to start doing a final draft of Deviltree.  The book is a little short -- about 57K words, and I'd like to get it to 60K words.  It could be loosened up a little.  It reads kind of formal, which has a kind of attraction, but I can embellish a little without losing that.

Linda did a editing job on it, so I'm going through the manuscript, page by page, putting in Linda's changes and whatever changes occur to me.  I'll probably be done with the rewrite sooner than I'm done with the sequel, but that's all right.

So I'm excited to be back to creating original material, and curious if I can do that and also do a rewriting job at the same time.  If I use the morning for the original material, and the afternoons for the rewriting, I don't see why not.

Meanwhile, the outside world is still out there but I'm ignoring it. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

I'm feeling the urge to write.

After a couple of months of rewriting, I'm feeling the urge to write.

But I'm afraid of going off half-cocked like I did with Spell Realm.  I didn't think through the premise on that one, nor did I have any clue about the ending, and it came out a bit of a mess.

Last night I envisioned a clogged "deeptower" -- covered in leaves and mud, with the crude timbers the locals had put over the top caving in.  A small hole opens from the torrential rains, and a young man find it who knows nothing about what a deeptower is.

And then what?

Deeptowers are an invention I made for Deviltree, which are actually holes in the ground with steps lining them that lead to other worlds.  But you descend (which turns into an ascension) you lose your memory and you can never return.

I realized at the time that it was great connecting device to a series of stories -- but it allows each story to be as different as I want them to be.

I should probably mull it over for a couple of days before diving in...

It's interesting to me that I've gone from never repeating myself -- my first six books were all different, except the second and third books, which were really the same book I cut in half.

Now, I keep returning to the worlds I created.  I have a 3 part fantasy in mind, with a 3 part followup.

I have the Vampire Evolution Trilogy done.

I have Faerylander and Wolflander finished, with the idea of following it up with more titles like Ghostlander and Xenolander and so on.

I've got the main character of Led to the Slaughter set up to continue her adventures.

Now I'm contemplating going back to Deviltree and continuing in that world.

I really like the idea of having each of these worlds fully fleshed out.

I feel like Star Axe and Snowcastles and Icetowers are really finished.  And I think Freedy Filkins was a one off.

But all the rest are fair game.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Everyone remembers.

OK.  My Kennedy experience.  Which is pretty much the same experience as everyone else who was of school age.

Someone comes in and whispers in teacher's ear.  She leaves the room, comes back crying.  Tells us that President Kennedy is dead, and sends us home.

I remember walking up the path to my house with a friend and saying, "Well, he wasn't a very good president anyway."  Probably parroting something my Dad had said while JFK was alive.

In my defense, that comment has stayed with me ever since.  I've felt guilty about it ever since.  All I can think is, I didn't understand the finality of death.

I was a just turned 11 year old, who was impressionable and naive.  I was clued to the TV for the next several days.  Maybe my first real experience with tragedy.

Still, I wish I could go back and take back that stupid statement.  Little psychopath.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A bubble?

Lots of talk about the stock market being a bubble.

Not by my definition.  A bubble is when it just blows up and everyone joins in and everyone is talking about a new day. 

Overpriced is not the same thing as a bubble.

By my standards, which basically consist of "I know a bubble when I see one," this isn't a bubble.

Not to say it won't correct 10 or 20% or something like that.  It could even correct by 50% (which actually normally would be my definition of a bubble.) 

I just don't see the insanity.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

All in for Christmas.

So I'm all in this Christmas.

My general tendency is to spend money in the slow months, and try to make money in the busy months, which means sales on the slow months are better than they might otherwise be and sales on busy months are maybe less than they might otherwise be.

I do this for the sake of cash flow and consistency and -- well -- because it works.  People tend to buy stuff in the summer and Christmas, my store is well stocked, so I make money if I don't immediately restock.  And vice verse on the slow months.

But once in a while I also feel like I need to actually go all in and see how high sales will go if I'm completely stocked through a busy season.  Maybe don't make as much cash, but often I can push sales high enough that I can then coast a little in the slow months.

It's just an opposite strategy than normal, a change-up  --which I think is necessary on a regular basis -- say every third or fourth year.

So this is an all in year -- stocking to the gills on every category and immediately restocking on a regular basis.  Still hope to make some cash for the slow months.

I'm very very close to beating last year in overall sales, which I didn't expect considering how conservative I was on spending through the first 10 months of the year.  So I'm letting loose (with a generous Christmas budget -- but a budget never the less.)

The formula, the mix of product, that I've arrived at over the last 5 years seems to be basically working.  At this point, I could probably increase sales slightly by putting in a ton of research on exactly what's selling and when, but I think it's working at a relatively high efficiency with a moderate amount of work and effort.  In other words, the inventory is doing all the heavy lifting.

So I want to keep that up. 

Shorty shorts.

A few observations.

1.)  The destinations resorts like Pronghorn and Tetherow are finally building their hotels, apparently.

2.)  Room revenue is up in Bend, talk about downtown Bend being busy.  So let us be busy and quit closing the streets, please.

3.)  Rays is leaving.  I think it's hard for midsized companies who do the same thing as big boxes.  Specialty stores probably have a better chance of surviving, if their goals are modest enough.

4.)  Ebook sales are down for the year, regular book sales are up.  Can we say, "fad?"

5.)  Amazon insiders are exclusively selling, not buying.  Amazon is concentrating on new ventures.  (Which means what for the old ventures?  That never made money?)

6.)  Bend is growing again.  More and more mentions of Portland and Oregon on TV shows -- as weird and happening places.

7.)  Looks like Bend will survive, thanks to tourism.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Ending is most important, except for the Start, and the Middle.

I've read that the ending of a book is the most important part.  Also that the beginning of a book is the most important part.  And of course, the middle has to hold up too.

Anyway, for me, the beginning is by far the most important part in the writing of the book.

But... I can see how the ending could be the most important part for the reader.  It's what he or she will take away, will remember.

But by the time I get halfway through a book, the course is set.  I'm playing out the story that was mandated by the original premise and by the character's reactions.

So it's easy for me not to put as much work into the second half as I do in the first half.  I have to consciously go in when I'm finished and work on just the second half, once I'm satisfied with the start.
I've already changed the ending quite a bit, cutting out some chapters that I decided were extra or unnecessary.  In fact, in several of my rewrites, I was conscious about working on the ending, even though I thought most of the problems with the book were at the beginning.

The most crucial and tricky chapter is about two/thirds of the way in, and I've worked on that chapter over and over again.   I doubt I'll ever construct a book again which depends on the main character trying to talk other characters into doing something, especially when what he's trying to talk them into sounds outlandish.

I at least upped the motivation for this scene -- which used to have a silly premise of PETA people taking up arms to fight the monsters who are taking their pets.  That was OK when the tone was different, but not after I made the tone serious.

The solution was actually easy -- that it is missing family members, and worse, children -- who are being taken by the monsters.  Not so hard to convince people that there is a need to take arms.  (Though the problem of convincing them that there is a supernatural cause is still there.)

So that's where I'm at right now.  I've got a couple more days, plus next week's writing session to concentrate on the ending, and somewhat the middle.

In my books, by the time I get to the second half of the book -- events start taking over, and it is much more action oriented, which for me is easier to write.  But I mustn't forget to make the character's reactions to the unfolding events real and meaningful.

I need an emotional entry point on the second half -- so I'll spend the morning looking for that.  The book works so much better when I can relate to the characters.  (duh.)

Monday, November 18, 2013

At loose ends.

Now that I've actually finished Faerylander after wrestling with it for months (years, actually), I'm a bit at loose ends.  (I want to give the book one last reading next week, and then set it aside for my editor.)

Now what?

Do I start something new?  Or try some more rewriting?

I want to give my old book Deviltree a rewrite: Linda was kind enough to do a critique, so I can start with that. 

Sometimes a Dragon still needs work, and Spell Realm definitely needs work, but before I do either,  I want to write the middle part of the trilogy, which I'm going to call Pyramidion.

Blood of Gold is done.  Wolflander is done.  Led to the Slaughter is done.  Faerylander is done.

I want to write a third Cobb and Company book, called Ghostlander.

I may do that.

They're all lined up for editing and formatting and cover development and then publishing.  But the writing part is mostly finished.

I can give myself a week or two off -- but more than that, and I want to get back to writing. 

Right now, I'm thinking I'll take a stab at rewriting Deviltree, but if I get bogged down, think about writing the middle fantasy bookOr I may just go ahead and write Ghostlander.  Wolflander was so much fun to write, that I'm thinking another book in that series would be pleasant.

All I know is, I'm going to write something.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Well, that was anti-climactic.

I read (rewrote) the first half of the Faerylander last night, and it was kind of anti-climactic -- in a good way.   It didn't need much rewriting after all.  Excising a couple of duplications, cutting and changing a few words here and there, adding back a little flesh where I had cut too far.

But it flowed as it read, nothing was too jarring that couldn't be easily fixed.

I think what happened was, in the constant restructuring I was also rewriting at the same time, so most of the problems had already been dealt with.  I'd just assumed there would be more.  I mean, I've been working so hard, I just thought that would continue.

A couple of things of note:

1.)  The Flashbacks, where I put them, didn't seem to slow down the story at all.
2.)  I have a few short chapters, which I tend to try to avoid (believing the chapters should be roughly the same size.)  But they weren't off-putting at all, and seemed to serve as transitions.
3.)  Cobb's voice came through the most often, which is what I'd hoped for.  I now like all my characters -- even the bad guys have their reasons.
4.)  The best changes came from cutting the overly dramatic phrases.  The book is strong enough now to work with being more understated.
5.) Cutting and adding seemed about equal this time, so putting the Flashbacks back in added about 10K words.  So overall, the book is 85K, which is 20K less than the last time I wrote it, and 40K less than the 'kitchen sink' version.  I think it is much more lean and fast moving.

If I finish the second half today, that gives me the luxury of a couple of weeks to step away, and then come back to it one more time.  I've asked Linda if she'll let me read it to her (something I usually only do with first drafts.)  Nothing like reading aloud to another person to catch the little things.  I'm sending volunteer reader Martha 3 chapters at a time and hoping for her valuable feedback.

I woke up this morning with a kind of crucial point.  I'd made a big deal out of how the Necronomicon immediately takes over the mind of the villain.  Then later in the book, I have one of the heroes open the book to memorize a spell, and it's no big deal.

My subconscious caught the mistake, which I can correct something like this:

"How do you feel, Alex?"

"I feel great.  I mean, it was a little weird at first -- I thought I was hearing little voices promising me stuff but I ignored them."

Cobb heard Lillian's voice in the background.  "The Great Library protected him."

"I think you're a good man, Alex," Cobb said.   "You weren't so easily tempted."

That's sort of a first drafty passage, but it addresses the problem.  The reason I bring it up is to marvel about how the subconscious had apparently caught something relatively minor -- I mean, very few people would have caught it -- and yet not insignificant.  Makes me feel like if there were other major problems the old subconscious would speak up...

I've had the sense for a month or so that I now have a publishable book.  Last night just sort of confirmed that.  It's better than I expected.

Meanwhile, I've already written the sequel to this book -- Wolflander, which Thank God doesn't need as much work, and I have ideas for a few more  (Ghostlander, Xenolander, etc) starring Cobb and Company.

One final curious note:  The original title of this story was Almost a Human, and then Almost Human.
A new TV show just started showing with the title of Almost Human.

That just seems to be the way these things work.

Making Sausage.

Writing a book, like making sausage, is probably something you don't want to see.

I'd hoped to start my final rewrite today, but instead spent most of the day still struggling with structure.

I had some mis-numbered chapters so I was thrown off for a couple of hours trying to figure out where the problem was.  Finally wrote the beginnings in long hand and discovered the missing digit.  Arrgghh.

It is so easy when moving chapters around to lose one, or misplace one, or double one.

I'm still undecided about whether and how and when to  include the Flashback chapters starring famous horror and fantasy authors.

The Arthur Conan Doyle/Houdini chapter is light and inconsequential, to it can go.  The C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams chapters are philosophical in nature, but don't really contain any horror, so they should probably go.   And I decided today to take out my nameless holocaust writer because I've just decided the holocaust shouldn't be used in a book whose purpose is entertainment.

That leaves me with Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and J.R.R. Tolkien.  They're the big four anyway, and have the closest approximation to Cthuhlu.

These I think I can integrate into the book.

When I did my last rewrite, I reduced the four or five Lillian chapters to two, so I think I'll put one back in, and intersperse the four Flashback chapters with those.  They are clustered toward the middle, so that will hopefully leave a good strong narrative start, and then an action packed ending.

I'm may include the cut chapters in an appendix, at the end of the book.  It's only digital, after all.

Breaking off for dinner.

When I come back tonight I'm going to settle on a final order of chapters.  I know I've said that before, many times, but this time I really am done.  I've spent two months with this, after two and a half years, and it is time to finish it, one way or the other.  Many of the changes I might make from now on are six to one, half dozen to the other.  I'm just moving pieces around at some point.

Once I've settle on the final order, I can start doing the final draft.

Later:  Settled on the sequence.

 Read through half the draft tonight, and it seems good to me.  I can probably finish tomorrow, which means I can set it aside for a week or two and come back one last time before I turn it over to Lara.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Enough is enough.

Have locked myself in the room for the day, and plan to do so for the next three or four days.

Hopefully get a full complete and satisfying draft done.

I'm going to spend the first hour or two telling the story to myself, outloud, with the computer off.  Just tell the story to myself -- the feelings of the characters, what's happening, the essence of what I'm feeling about it.

When I feel that I've totally encompassed the story in my mind and heart, open the computer and start re-writing.

It is 11:00.

So I begin.

Decided to eat first, so I could stay in the moment longer...

OK.  11:15.  Turning out the lights and telling myself a story.

7:15.  Got bogged down in structure all day.  Deciding on a final order of chapters tonight and then start the real rewrite tomorrow.  Enough is enough.

The trick to rewriting.

The trick to rewriting...for me.

As anyone who reads this knows, I don't enjoy rewriting anywhere near as much as writing the original draft.  But I may have discovered the reason why, and how to fix it.

The advice that writers are given, as usual, is both right and wrong.

The advice to let the manuscript sit for a length of time in order to gain perspective is correct for as far as it goes.  Unfortunately for me, that advice usually meant that I was coming back cold and was trying to change the surface of the manuscript.  It seemed tedious and somewhat less than cost effective.

The idea of coming back cold was that I'd read it as a stranger --

But that doesn't work for me.  I just don't feel anything.  I might as well be painting rocks and throwing them over the fence.

The answer for me turned out to be -- I had to get re-immersed in the book to the same level of commitment and dedication as I was on the first draft.  In other words, I had to feel it and understand it just as deeply.  THEN I could start making changes.

So the trick for me is find an entry point -- something significant that needs to be done, and then, once I'm completely re-immersed, give myself the freedom to start making changes.

I kept at Faerylander over the last couple months, and the more I struggled with it, the more I started to feel the story again, understand the characters again.

I've completely reworked the book -- like Tiger Woods throwing away a perfectly good golf swing and working, struggling on a new one for a couple of years, with the hope of making an adequate golf swing into a good one.  Like Tiger Woods, it may be worse for awhile.

I think I'm better than adequate now, and have given myself the chance to really improve the book.

I understand the characters and their feelings and motivations, I understand the plot, and I think it is all of a piece.

So once again, over the next two weeks, I'm going to try to do a "final" draft.  Start at the beginning and try to make a good strong narrative flow.

I told myself last night to "tell" the story to myself -- in sequence, and "feel" it.  Even if I sit in a darkened room and tell the story to myself outloud.  Who these people are, what's happening in the story, why, how -- all that.  A total overall sense of the emotions and feelings I'm trying to capture.

Then, when I've done that, sit down and attempt the final draft.

Unintentionally, I programmed my brain last night and dreamed all night long like it was a book -- I didn't come up with anything new, just the sense of continuity and narrative I want to replicate in the book.

After I've sat and told myself to the story, got it all encompassed in my mind, then my entry point will be inserting the Famous Author chapters -- trying different ways.  Randomly, in order, all together.  See what seems to be working best. 

THEN sit down over the next few days and run a smooth narrative.  THEN next week, give it a complete read from beginning to end.

I'm hoping I'm there -- it will be the 10th or 12th time, or something like that, but each time something happened that made the book better, so maybe this time it's it and maybe not, but at least I'll have probably advanced the book again.

One of these days, I'll feel like it's ready.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Happy as a clam and then....

Scientists killed the oldest living thing, a 507 year old clam, in order to study it. It is no longer the world's oldest living thing. 

To me, that says it all in a clamshell.

There it was, minding its own business -- thinking its long, slow, clammy thoughts.  Maybe it had figured out the meaning of life and the secrets of the universe.

I mean, that poor clam. Sitting there on the ocean floor -- happy as...well...and along come humans prying open it's shell and it's thinking, WTF? and it dies in shock and the scientists count its rings and proclaim in the oldest living thing. 

Well, was.


In the words of Agent Smith:   "I'd like to share a revelation that I've had, during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague, and we are the cure."

Obviously, I have been mightily affected by the demise of this poor ancient clam. 

I expect an extra-terrestrial war crimes tribunal over this horrendous crime.

For your consideration.

At some point, after you've done your best, you release your efforts to the world.

You don't know if it's good or bad, but there is something there and it's worth sharing.  If you didn't believe that, you wouldn't do it.

Maybe all that is there is a story you've written, populated by ideas and characters and events that come out of your head and take shape in a book.  So it exists.  Even if no one reads it.

So you just have to release your books "For Your Consideration" and let it happen and maybe everyone will hate it or maybe everyone will like it; or a few will like it and most will hate it; or everyone will just go "meh."  But it's the result of your best creative effort and worth doing for that and worth sharing for that.

Chances are, nothing will happen.  There is a whole lot of understandable inertia out there.  So much stuff available that most people don't have the time and energy to expend on something that they have no assurance is any good.

That's if they hear about you at all.

Writing and exposing are too different things.  I'm not interested in the latter.  I want to write my stuff and hope it speaks for itself.  Which I know is naive. 

I'm being told there are things I can do.  I'll try some of them, as long as they don't require too much bending my natural karma.  I really don't like doing that.  Exploring my own karma is why I write, so it would be pretty counter productive to then bend my karma in order to get others to notice. 

My store sells things that people are interested in, but I find it nearly impossible to sell stuff they aren't already interested in.

A good word from a friend is worth a 10, 000 words from me, a good word from someone already tapped in probably worth multiples of that.  But again, I have no control over that.

I've asked nicely of a couple of professionals, and at least one was helpful, but it didn't budge the needle much.

I'm kind of skeptical of a lot of the online advice I'm hearing.  I think there is a whole industry that has arisen who's purpose it is to make you believe that if you just do such and such, success will follow. 

The same industry existed 30 years ago in magazines -- and they were so much bullshit back then, too.

I'm not all that put out by it.   I understand it.  At this point, I'm just hoping to get lucky, I suppose.  The traditional route is ridiculous right now, that that isn't the answer for someone who writes as much as I do.

I fall back on my stoic philosophy:  do those things you can do, and know that some things are beyond your control.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

52 chapter pickup.

OK.  I've got the basic framework in place.

It's a stronger narrative, but has a whole bunch of loose ends, as you might expect when you eliminate so many chapters.  I'm going to really have to work on the continuity and the transitions, make sure I didn't duplicate anything or leave anything important out.

There are several places where all the moving around left characters and information in the wrong places.  But the cellphone is also a marvelous invention for plots.  That is, the character doesn't have to be right there, you can get ahold of him on the old phoney phone.  And it's a fair trick too, cause that's what would happen in real life.

I think I have a stronger grasp of the characters and their motivations:
It was always going to be problematic to have Cobb trying to convince strangers to pick up guns and follow him into battle, but it's better to save people, especially children.  It was silly to base it on animals, when it wasn't necessary.

I still want to give it a thorough cutting of unnecessary words.  I figure another 5K from the 75K words I have.  Then, when I add back in the "famous writers" chapters, I'll be back to between 75 and 80K.

I'm thinking I ought to just take all 8 flashback and divide the number of chapters by 8 and insert them there, no matter what else the story is doing.  See how that works.

I had a fair number of duplications that I eliminated.  2 scenes at the Judges house, made into 1.

2 scenes at the library, made into 1. 

And so on.

So structurally and motive wise, it is a much stronger book.  I think.  Or a disaster.  That's possible.

So yeah, its a big mess, because I did 52 chapter pickup.  I threw it all into the air and then reassembled it.  Of course it's a mess.

From adequate --- to possible good or possible disaster.

Whenever I make significant changes, I start a new version.

I've got the older versions sitting there on my computer, from the last "polished" version, which was Nearly Human B, the one before that, Nearly Human Dead,  to the next version,  Faerylander Ex, to the kitchen sink version, then regular Faerylander, followed by Faerylander Parts, then -- Faerylander Severe, then -- Faerylander- Combo.  And so on and so forth. 

Before that I had plain old drafts 1 and 2 of something called Almost a Human.

So this one is called, appropriately enough, Faerylander Gutted.

I've had the sense from the beginning that the story was inert.  No matter how polished the writing, no matter how many interesting ideas I had, the story just didn't move forward fast enough.  It didn't have a consistent voice and it was hard to care about the characters.

So I kept trying to fix it, and each time I wrote a new draft, I think I did that.  I do believe the last draft or two of the book would have been "adequate."

What I've done with this latest restructuring is thrown out the "adequate" and risked everything on a new version that may be a complete disaster.  I mean, it may be much worse.  But I'm hoping it will be good.

"Adequate" just wasn't something I wanted to put out there.  I needed to risk complete overhaul in the hopes of changing adequate to good, but by doing so I may have changed adequate to bad.

I don't know yet.

A book either feels right or it doesn't.  Good or bad, the Vampire Evolution Trilogy "feels" right.
Freedy Filkins feels right.  Led to the Slaughter feels right.  Wolflander feels right.

Sometimes a Dragon seems -- adequate.  Deviltree seems -- adequate.  They've both been done for a long time, but I'm not willing to put them out until they feel "right" not "adequate."

Like I said, this isn't really the same thing as saying a book is good or bad -- it's possible that one of my adequate books may be a better read for some than one of my feel right books.

But I have this inner sense about whether something is really and truly done or not and I have to go by that.

What went wrong?

I've been thinking a lot about what went wrong with this first book (back) Faerylander.

I started with a "high concept" which I liked -- roughly, Cthuhlu versus Faery.  Nothing wrong with that, except there also has to be a story.

Then I was into "ideas" -- again, nothing wrong with that as long as you don't forget the story.  But the ideas should be "in" the story not "of" the story.

Third, I started with the wrong tone.  I meant it to be sort of ironic, satirical, sarcastic, funny.  A Faery creature's observations of the human race.

Now I can be semi-funny in my writing, more so than in real life, but it sort of happens randomly and in response to other contexts.   I can't do it to order.  So I immediately was settling for sort of lame shit.  I had the same problem with the S.F. bookstore story I attempted.

Hell, I don't even like reading these kinds of books.  Christopher Moore, Terry Pratchett and so on.  But I'm very impressed by them.

Because, as they say, tragedy is easy, comedy is hard.

The other thing about having an ironic tone is -- how do you make the narrator sympathetic and how do you make the characters deeper?  It probably can be done, but I realized I didn't have the chops.

So I've had to go back.  Make the characters and the story serious, make them sympathetic, make the story be about what happens to them.  And sure enough, I think I can do that.  Though it is ten times harder to go back and put that in -- than to do it in the first place.

But live and learn.  I had to have that first book (back) experience to move on.

Besides, I'm starting to really like this book again -- because I'm liking the characters.  And hopefully that will translate to the reader.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I might as well be painting rocks.

I dreamed last night that people were asking me how my writing was going and I was saying:

"Well, I might as well be painting rocks."  I kind of like that phrase.  Because there are no end of rocks, and painting them is sort of pointless, and it doesn't necessarily make them better rocks.

I've always sort of disliked and distrusted people who brag about how hard they're working.

But, you know...I've been working like a son of a bitch on this book.  I mean, I dive in around 10:00 or 11:00 and don't come up for air until dinner.  I know I'm eating lunch somewhere in there, cuddling the cat,  taking small naps, cruising the net, playing solitaire -- but I'm still in a zone.

It's all about the book.

I mean, I'm juggling so many plot elements that it requires full concentration.  Diving again and again back into the narrative -- sometimes making small changes and adjustments here and there, and other times make wholesale changes that are breathtakingly bold.  I meant -- eliminating entire chapters of my beautiful writing takes balls.  At least, that's what I think.

All in service to the story.  The story needs to work.  The characters need to work.  The writing needs to work.  All else is bullshit.

I resent anything that pulls me away.  Bank deposits, errands, people -- people trying to be friendly, what's with that, I'm writing dammit! -- and even in the evening, I'm just sort of throwing things on the box to watch later.  I usually force myself to quit sometime after dinner -- not because I don't want to keep working, but because I can tell I'm getting diminishing returns.

Then I go to bed so mentally exhausted that I instantly fall asleep, sleep hard, and wake up groggy.

Then I start the whole process over again.  Day after day.  Wake up in the morning and write these little blogs which are obviously about writing.  Then back to the grind.

So if a writer is someone who writes.  Then I'm a writer.

It seems a little crazy, actually.  All this scribbling when I know very few people will ever read it, and most of them will be "meh" about it.

But, apparently, I've decided this is who I am.

Rock painter extraordinaire.

Gutted it.

Just spent the day gutting Faerylander.  Ended up with about 75K words, which is 30K less than the last version, and 50K less than the "kitchen sink" edition.

In other words, I stripped down to the framework, cut out anything extraneous, and combined or removed entire chapters.

I'm going to go through it one more time and get that last bit of fat out.  Probably another 5K words or so.

I have to write a completely fresh chapter that more or less will replace 3 chapters.  It will be the hardest chapter in the book, a really important chapter, and I sort of want to get it right.

Then I'm going to look at the framework and see if it works, or if it needs further adjustment.  Then slowly add back on a little flesh here and there.  Lots of transitions will have to be replaced or removed or changed.

I won't be sorry to have the book be a slimmed down 80K words, which seems to be the ideal size for my novels.

It's an improvement.  I can see that.  I'm sort of trusting the narrative leaps, the implicit characterization and motivations.  

The only thing I still don't know, I still can't tell, is whether I need the 'famous writer' flashbacks.  I mean, I don't need them, but I do think they add an interesting layer.

If I do include them, they'll be detours from a very lean straightforward narrative, instead of detours from a flabby all over-the-place narrative, so it will still be an improvement.

I just seem to be in the groove right now in seeing what words aren't needed.

Here's a secret.  If it bothers me and I take it out and it doesn't affect the story -- then it's an improvement.

I think I've improved all the motivations of the characters.  I've made narrative choices that make more sense.  I finally even figured out how to eliminate the silly plot element I've been wrestling with for ages.  (I just upped the motivation, and now their response doesn't seem so silly.)

I hope I never have to do this again.  I'll have spent three months at least on this rewrite alone, which is crazy.

I didn't have to do this with any of the Vampire Evolution Trilogy, or with Led to the Slaughter.  

My fantasies are looking kind of messy right now.  But when I'm done with this, I may not ever try to save another book that is a complete mess.  I had a lot of motivation on this one -- I really, really like the premise, the characters, the ideas and some of the writing.  Even more importantly, I wrote a sequel, Wolflander, that doesn't need the complete overhaul, so I'm saving two books instead of one.

But after this, either a book works or is doesn't.

Took the second chapter to writer's group last night and it seemed to past muster.  This has always been the problem chapter, the set up chapter where I feel I'm explaining much and describing little.  But I've gone ahead with that to get the information up front-- trying to hint at things in an interesting way.

Two comments really pleased me.  One, from Pam, was that Cobb and Jotun were good "friends."  Which was exactly what I was trying to get across.  The other, from Gary, was that Cobb's motivation for staying human instead of ending his exile was a "good bit of characterization -- makes him sympathetic" which is also exactly what I was trying to get across.

So my attempt to humanize the chapter -- so to speak -- seems to have worked. I mean, if the exact things I was trying to accomplish are the very things that are commented on, that's incredibly encouraging for the rewriting process.

I needed that.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Narrator's voice.

One of the things I'm trying to find in Faerylander is my narrator's voice.

I had the same problem with Star Axe.  In both cases, they were more or less my first books.  Star Axe my first book ever, Faerylander my first book in 30 years.

I found my voice after that, in both cases.

In the case of Star Axe, I had hardened the writing, crystallized it so much I took much of the life out of it.  I finally allowed myself to be more "sloppy" -- is the word I used.  Less precise and more relaxed. 

It's better for the reader if nothing really slaps them in the face.  So they can settle into the story, knowing the writer is competent.

Because that's really it.  The reader want to know that he is in the hands of a "relaxed" narrator, who gives a sense of knowing where the story is going, that he is going to deliver on a story.

The tendency at first is to try too hard.  Too hard for effects, for artistic language.  Coming up with the most precise language can actually be off-putting.  Make it smooth -- make it easy to take.

But clear language with a little thought behind it Is artistic.  It may not seem like it.

There are stylists out there, but for a storyteller like me, I think it's a mistake to try to stray too far from a casual conversational style.  That doesn't mean folksy, it just means getting to the point in the most natural way possible.

Hard to do once you've already written something.

So you start to look for a kind of "fuzzy" voice -- or "sloppy" -- or conversational, if you will, that the reader can slip into without being self-conscious.

I just have to feel like it's something I'd say.

Another brainstorm, another mess with the damn book.

I've had another idea.

So I have the main character dealing with the Cthuhlu invasion, right?

But I also have a backstory of the gaining and losing the great love of his life, Lillian.  In this backstory, Cobb visits writers of the strange and the fantastic.

So I tried hard to filter these back stories into the main plot of the book, but I feel like it stops the forward progression every time.

So my brainstorm is -- what if I take all the back stories and make it a separate part of the book?

Part One, roughly a third of the book, I have Cobb to terms with the idea that there is a Cthuhlu invasion.

Part Two, I have all the back stories explaining how they got there.

Part Three, back to the main plot of dealing withe invasion and the confrontation.

It's actually a very simple solution.  Almost two stories, with one in the middle of the other.  It works only if each part is interesting on its own.

Would that work, or would that be even a worse blockage of the story?

I think I'll give it a try and see what happens.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Flashbacks and momentum.

My favorite parts of the book are the flashback interactions with famous writers.  But they don't do anything for the plot -- they're asides, really.  Hopefully interesting, but if they were taken out, no one would miss them.

So that's a problem.  One solution may be to hold off until I'm halfway through the book before I bring in the first flashback -- which is a bit of a cop-out.  If they aren't good enough for the first half, there is no reason to believe they are good enough for the second half.

I have the sense that there's got to be a way to integrate them into the book -- but that I haven't quite figured it out yet.

I think the beginning of the book is better.  I keep trying to clarify the character motivations, the plot premises.  I take stuff out, and then slowly put as little as possible back in.

I think I'm going to at least have to put the mentions of his love for Lillian back in -- I don't have to delve into too deep, but at least mention her two or three times before she shows up.

I have a whole bit of business about Cobb's ineptness with cellphone and cars and all technology.  I thought I overdid it, so I cut it back, but now I'm putting a little back in.

The biggest improvement to the book is that I have started to get a feel for the characters -- and I'm fleshing them out a little.  I'm making them more sympathetic, I think.  So that is really important.

If I can just find an interesting voice for all these characters, then the book will flow so much better. 

I hope I never write a book like this again -- it was a learning experience, let me tell you.   I have learned too that if I get deep enough into the writing experience, it becomes something that is interesting -- especially if the characters come alive again -- or more alive.

Can't tell anymore if I'm making it better or worse.

I honestly can't tell if I'm making Faerylander better or worse.

It's just kind of crazy.  I take stuff out, I put it back in, I move it around.

Then I try a different mix.

It's like someone shows you some paint samples that look almost the same and asks you which one is best.

I can't fricking tell.  Sometimes I read something, and it seems to work.  The next day it doesn't.

For instance, I have a couple of scenes of Cobb saving creatures -- and interacting with them, along with Jotun, the Giant.  They add color and action and even a little humor.

And they are out of place. They aren't necessary to the story, they don't fit the tone.

So I have to take out colorful, action scenes.  Ouch.

Is it better because I did?  Worse?

I'm kinda of digging being in Cobb's world again.  Starting to feel it again.  Maybe that's what it takes -- being immersed long enough to start feeling it again.

I'm trying very hard to make it flow, to not have too many explanations.  So I think I've created a more logical order of events.  But in doing so, I've taken apart something that worked already -- in hopes that I can make it better.

I lose some good sentences and paragraphs when I do this -- and I'm not sure the new stuff I'm writing is better.

But I think I have to try.  It wasn't working before and it may not be working now, but something had to be done.

I've decided to make yet another version -- what I'll call my "Severe" version.  Take out all extraneous and or explanations.

No talk of Cthuhlu until he runs into Cthuhlu.  No talk of Lillian, until he runs into Lillian.  No talk of Dragons, or of the Giant's offspring.  No Kimmils, no Sprites, no Elfs.

Just the Jotun.  Just Cobb's decision whether to return to Faery.

See how that reads.

(Later -- took out all those things, but then went back and put the Cthuhlu material back in...better?  Worse?)

I think it's going to turn out that the version I gave Wes is probably the best one, structure wise.  I want to add to two rancher chapters early, but other than that say with the content.

Simplifying the motivations and the explanations early can be improved.  I think I've deepened the a few of the characters.

So a whole lot of work for a few improvements, which is the way I guess it has to be...

It's very intensive and it takes lots of time.  Strangely, much more time and energy than writing a story in the first place.

This was the first thing I wrote coming back -- most of the following books I avoided most of these problems.

But I have to believe that immersing myself like this, for days -- struggling and trying to make the story work -- that has to be to the good.  I think, in the end, it probably even adds a little depth and polish, simply because I've gone over it so much.

I hope.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Drugs had nothing to do with it.

Watched American Masters "Jimi Hendrix" last night.

Not a lot there I didn't know.  But I did think it strange that they barely mentioned his drug use.

Now I don't much like drugs, they did me harm, but I've somewhat mellowed over the years about it.

Still, I wondered if they soft pedaled it because -- well, you know -- American Master?

Drugs did end up killing him -- if accidentally. 

The documentary made it seem that overwork -- brought on by aggressive management and his own hubris at trying to start his own recording studio -- was what did him in.  

What was really interesting was the see how much he aged in just the 4 years he was in the limelight.  Even more interesting was how the audience aged.  The fresh faced hippies of the Monterey Pop crowd were looking kind of haggard and drawn by the time of the Isle of Mann. 

But I'm sure drugs had nothing to do with it.

Dangling possibilities.

I was changing the first chapter back to 3rd Person/Past from 1st Person/Present and got to the action scene at the end -- and the story just didn't want to transition.  It seemed to be insisting on staying 1st Person/Present.

What I've got right now is a mishmash of both tenses and viewpoints -- and I've decided to leave it like that for the present until I make a final decision.

Present tense does read will, but it also reads odd.  So I have to decide if I can live with that.

Maybe this re-writing is going so well because I'm creating new material to make it work.  For instance, after a pretty eventful first chapter, I have a second chapter that introduces the hero where not much happens except inner and outer dialogue.  Lots of splaining -- which probably isn't the best way to get my guy out there.

I thought of a way to get him involved in doing something that explicates his character -- it's a bit of business, really, but a bit of business can sometimes be a good thing.

I just let myself riff on Faery last night -- comparing it to the night before Christmas, first love, and ribbons and bows, essentially.  Pretty corny.

Meanwhile, I also riffed on Cthuhlu -- the slimy, putrid world the Old Gods have drained of life.

Both descriptions can be improved, refined -- I'm just sort of glad that I thought to do it.

I'm hoping to have good solid contrasts with the hero and the villain and the two worlds they inhabit in the first two chapters -- and that the reader will pick up on the symbolism of the contrasts.

Today I'm going to try to institute the 2 parts of chapter two which are currently intertwined and see if I can't make them two different things and sequential.

It may all fall apart -- I won't know until I do it.

I'm hoping this is all helping.  What I've done over the last couple of years to try to fix things is come up with new beginnings.  I've added at least 5 chapters out of the first 8 chapters.

So in order to "streamline" the story, I've added 2/3rds to the beginning -- which seems pretty counter-intuitive.

Here's the thing -- I think, I believe, that if I have a good solid introduction -- with enough action and character development -- that the rest of the book will fall into place.

So I'm re-writing and re-writing the first 50 pages or so.  When that is all in place -- then I can proceed from there and try to make the rest of the book better.

Just this draft of Faerylander will take me twice as long as it usually takes me to write an original book.  I might be smarter just to move on -- and indeed, that's what I've done again and again since I first wrote this.

Yet each draft has seemed to be an improvement -- dangling the possibility that I can get this thing to work. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

I'm a glutton for punishment.

It's amazing how completely I've shifted to re-writing mode -- compared to creating the original stuff I was writing over the last year or so.

I'm down and dirty with Faerylander right now.  Trying different things, moving things around, changing tenses and viewpoints.  Just messing things up.  But out of the mess, a clarity begins to emerge.

I've felt that Faerylander can be a good book but I've also felt it was... missing... something.  I wasn't sure what.  I've re-written it over and over again.  I'd figure out at a flaw and re-write the whole thing.

But it still wasn't happening.

So I'd re-write  it again.  And each time, I'd sense it was improved but still not there.

Three years later, I'm deeper in the shit than ever.  Part of me is OK with it.  I mean, no one's going to read it anyway, and that really frees me to do it the way I want.  But really, the way I want is probably also the way it should be.

Anyway, the first four chapters have been redone now about five times just in the last couple of weeks.

Last night, I thought to myself -- "I need to humanize these characters."  And I got a couple of ideas how to do it.  In some ways, it also fleshes out the secondary characters, because it's the main characters responses to these secondary characters that humanizes them.

So in the first chapter, I realize that the bad guy can be explained by his relationship to his father, which required making his father a stronger character.  And sure enough, it really gave some depth to the chapter that wasn't there before.

So I started to think about my main good guy in the second chapter, and the same kind of thing happened.

I needed to have them both of them ruminate on their situations.  Have a little more inner dialogue so we can feel what they feel.  I needed to show how the good guy is a good guy and the bad guy is a bad guy. 

And a theme developed that I hadn't even thought of before.

The main character in the first chapter is so full of anger and hate that he relinquishes his humanity and invites the Old Gods in. 

Meanwhile, the second chapter has the hero trying to decide whether to return to Faery or to remain human.  In the end -- for heroic reasons -- he decides to relinquish his Faery persona to become human.

So -- you know -- there's a parallel or an opposition.  A didactic, a dichotomy.

Anyway,  the way to explicate it is by showing just how disgusting Cthuhlu is -- and how wonderful Faery is.  And to show how the villain chooses to go toward the awful for selfish reasons, but the hero chooses to turn away from the beautiful for unselfish reasons.

So that's the second thing that occurred to me -- that I need to have some poetically descriptive passages for these two realms.  Show how awful Cthuhlu is and how wonderful Faery is.

I also more or less decided that instead of cutting all these little ideas I've come up with -- I need to develop them and integrate them into the story.   So for instance, the idea of Cobb being the "Protector" was dropped in some of the later drafts, but is being revived again to show that he's a 'hero.'

In the second chapter, with the hero -- I had muddled motivations, therefore a muddled narrative.  I was trying to do two things here -- one was his conflict over whether to remain human, because of love and because he admires them.

And the other was his need to remain human in order to discover and fight the Cthuhlu.

Obviously, they're related.  But I had the Cthuhlu entering early, which just muddled the whole narrative.

So tomorrow I'm going to try to separate the two.

Part 1.  Cobb has to decide whether to remain human or not.  He hears whether his exile will be ended or not.

Part 2.  He feels the invasion of the Cthuhlu and it reinforces his decision to remain human.

So it sort of simplifies the two things, by separating them instead of mixing them, even though one follows the other.

I'll tell you what -- anyone who has read this far.  If nothing else, all this shows is how much I think and agonize over this shit.  That no one cares about.


Friday, November 8, 2013

A heavy day of re-writing.

I had some pretty strong ideas about what I wanted to accomplish today.  I've only done part of that.

I did beef up the Bruce character a little -- and I especially fleshed out his father and a little bit his brother.

I was wondering whether to start the story with the villain, but it's the villain who sets things in motion, isn't it?

I need to have Cobb do something heroic right away, if I can think what to do.

A weird theme has developed.  The first chapter is more or less about Bruce renouncing his humanity and going to the dark side.

The second chapter, more or less, is Cobb embracing his humanity, and doubling down.

Kind of cool.  I might even be able to make that somewhat explicit.

I do think the idea of making these characters "human" is what I need to do.

And I do think I need to work hard on some neat descriptive detail of Cthuhlu world and Faery -- contrasts, if you will.

Show the dichotomy between Cthuhlu and Faery, and Bruce and Cobb.  Kind of perfect, actually.

I think the descriptions of the two worlds need to be really good, poetic.  I've gotten a start on it with Cthuhlu but I think I need to keep working on it.  I'm hoping to write a descriptive passage about Faery.

I also think I've got a false start on the second chapter.

I think the way it really should go is -- Cobb feels the Jotun arrive, the world shifts, and he knows that there is news.  Perhaps his long Exile and Curse has been removed.

So he contemplates how he feels about that.  Does he want to stay human, or go back to Faery?

So he makes his decision.  I need to have him do something heroic in the meantime -- save a Kimmil?  From a vicious pack of dogs?  Something like that? 

Then, just as he is making the decision, both he and the Jotun feel the shift -- the invasion begins.

So they have their little talk about that and Cobb goes back.

It will require extensive rewriting -- but I think it makes the storyline less muddled.  Right now, I've got all these motivations mixed up.

This separates them into two parts.

Plus he's not reacting to a dream, he's reacting to a summons.  It gets his ambivalence about being human up first, as well as his love of Lillian.

And then -- After he's made his decision, that's when the Cthuhlu enters the story.

The Cthuhlu can wait because it's already been introduced.

I think I accomplished a lot tonight.  But I also made a mess which will require a whole lot of rewriting.  Sorry about that. 

Best S.F. Novels I've read, off the top of my head.

A list of the top 25 S.F. of "all time" on Business Insider.

Checked -- I've read 21 of them.  The other 4 I tried reading and just didn't like.  I've tried Peter Hamilton a couple of times and he just bores me. -- his writing seems really pedestrian.   I tried reading Douglas Adams and just didn't find it all that amusing and couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to enjoy it.   (I have the same problem with Terry Pratchett, except for Good Omens; I guess I like my S.F. serious.)  I didn't like Philip Jose Farmer -- I just didn't think he got historical characters right.   Didn't read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep because I have a hard time reading a book after I've seen a movie -- but I've read dozens of other Philip K. Dick books.

Read all the rest and loved every one of them.

To Your Scattered Bodies Go       Philip Jose Farmer
Shadow of the Torturer                 Gene Wolfe
Anathem                                       Neal Stephenson
Revelation Space                          Alistair Reynolds
Left Hand of Darkness                 Ursula Le Guin
I, Robot                                         Isaac Asimov
Sirens of Titan                              Kurt Vonnegut
Contact                                         Carl Sagan
Red Mars                                      Kim Stanley Robinson
Pandora's Star                               Peter F. Hamilton
Mote in God's Eye                        Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle
Canticle for Leibowitz                  Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Excession                                      Iain M. Banks
Starship Trooper                           Robert Heinlein
Do Androids Dream of....             Philip K. Dick
Ringworld                                     Larry Niven
2001                                              Arthur C. Clarke
Forever War                                  Joe Haldeman
Snow Crash                                   Neal Stephenson
Neuromancer                                 William Gibson
Hyperion                                        Dan Simmons
Foundation                                     Isaac Asimov
Hitchhiker's Guide to...                  Douglas Adams
Dune                                               Frank Herbert
Ender's Game                                 Orson Scott Card

Of course, it would be extremely easy to come up with an alternative list just as long or longer with books that are just as good.  For one thing, many of these authors wrote many equally good books and I'm just picking one.  Often, the one book is part of a great series.

But to keep it simple...

The list above also leaves out a lot of older S.F.  Golden Age Stuff.  So I'm putting them on my list, instead.

Obviously, I'm trying to stay away from fantasy.  That's a whole nother list.

The Postman
Startide Rising
Uplift Wars                                 David Brin
Cordelia's Honor                         Lois McMasters Bujold
Stranger in a Strange Land
Tunnel in the Sky                        Robert Heinlein
Way Station                                 Clifford Simak
Rendevous with Rama
Childhood's End                          Arthur C. Clarke
I Am Legend                                Richard Matheson
Nine Princes of Amber
This Immortal
Lord of Light                                Roger Zelazny
Languages of Pao
The Blue World                            Jack Vance
Fire Upon the Deep                      Vernor Vinge
Demolished Man
The Stars My Destination             Alfred Bester
Martian Chronicles                        Ray Bradbury
Beyond the Blue Event Horizon    Frederick Poul
Titan                                               John Varley
Armor                                             John Steakley
Man in the High Castle                  Philip K. Dick
Scar                                                China Mieville
Lensman                                         E.E. Doc Smith
Devil in the Forest                         Gene Wolfe
Berserker                                        Fred Saberhagen
Dispossessed                                  Ursula Le Guin
Caves of Steel                                Isaac Asimov
Consider Phlebas                           Iain M. Banks
The Iron Dragon's Daughter          Micheal Swanwick
Tuf Voyaging                                George R.R. Martin
Slan                                                A. E. Van Vogt
Mission of Gravity                         Hal Clement
More Than Human                         Theodore Sturgeon
Deathworld                                     Harry Harrison

Oh, Hell.  I could go on and on.  If I was at the store, I'd be looking at my bookshelves.  I've tried to carry all the above books, at least those that are in print.

 I'm probably leaving out a ton of great books.  But these are off the top of my head.