Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I went through the entire 105 page manuscript of "Said the Joker, to the Thief" in one day. Which is pretty amazing. Usually I can't go through more than 20 pages without my brain turning to Swiss cheese.

It didn't need a lot of changes. I managed to shave about 550 words.

This seems like the perfect little story. Of course, I'm well aware it ain't perfect, but right  now it feels like it is exactly the way it is supposed to be, which is pretty rare for me. Usually I have something about a story I don't quite like but which I can't change.

However, it can't be a good sign that the first chapter had over 100 views and the last chapter had only 30. But, well, on my own terms, I think it's good. I think I get a little better with each effort. (On my own terms...)

The whole process of trying to shave words has been a great exercise. I usually feel like my stories are too spare and need more. I think this kind of rewriting is something I can do. It's where I try to change things that I get in trouble, but refining what I already have, that I can do.

Now that I'm done, I've decided to keep it as a novella, and move onto the next thing.

I've gone ahead and sent this to Amazon Singles. I know there isn't a chance in hell, but there isn't any harm in it, I guess. They wanted a "detailed" description, and I sent them one line, so right there I've probably blown it.

But for fuck's sake. The file is right there. Read the first page and if you don't like it, fine. If you do like, read the second page. Repeat.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"Timeless" review.

Linda and I always seem to settle for one or two formulaic network shows, which have just enough of something interesting to keep watching. For a long time it was "Castle," which had Nathan Fillon's comedic charm.

This year, I'm rather fond of "Timeless,"  a updated version of "Time Tunnel." (How many of you remember that show?)

Yes, it has plotholes big enough to drive a tank through, and yes, it is completely formulaic.

And yet...and yet...

The characters are deepening a little as the show goes on, including the bad guys. And they actually throw in a few interesting and accurate historical details in each episode (admittedly along with a plethora of anachronisms.)

The "conspiracy" element (which every show apparently must have these days) isn't overly annoying or overblown. At this point, I'm actually interested to find out what Rittenhouse is. I'm somewhat trusting that the showrunners have thought this through.

The biggest downside for me, (and what is common in lots of TV dramas), is the willingness of the protagonists to do horrible things for "loved ones." So a character wants his wife back, or her sister back, and because of that they're willing to betray everyone else.

The other huge plot hole for me is the way the antagonists seem willing to blow up history for reasons that seem awfully murky.

But that's just it. It's a time-travel story, so EVERYTHING can be explained.

Whether it will be or not, that's the question. It's probably moot, because the very fact that I'm writing a review probably means the show is doomed to cancellation very soon. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Novel as a Platonic Ideal.

The philosophy of Plato, especially insofar as it asserts ideal forms as an absolute and eternal reality of which the phenomena of the world are an imperfect and transitory reflection.

Before I start writing a novel, I have a chance to direct it. Maybe my last chance. I can decide what genre it will be, the tone I want to take, the themes I want to explore. I can figure out whether there might be an audience for it. I can think about how much research it will need.

But once I start writing, the novel tells me what it wants.

I have a theory that there is a Platonic Ideal of the novel--the novel in its perfect form, and my job is to try to find that form as much as possible. The closer I get to the Platonic version, the more I feel like I've done my job.

By then, it doesn't matter if it's commercial, or if anyone else will ever read it or like it. The book is the thing, and I'm in that world trying to figure out what the novel wants me to say.

Obviously, I don't do outlines. The story tells me where it wants to go. My job is to coax it out of the ether.

At this point in my writing, I'm not listening to anyone else about what I should write or how I should write it. (I do seek out critique that will help me reach the Platonic Ideal of the novel.) The idea that there is a mechanistic formula that makes a book better is anathema to me.

I've told this story before, but someone joined writer's group for awhile who was a convert to a certain book about how to write. To him, there was a right way to do it and a wrong way, and if you weren't planning out every detail, weren't following the dictates of the first act, the second act, the third act and the final act, then you just weren't doing it right.

Wow. I couldn't have disagreed more.

Thing is, commercially he may be right. There probably is an technique to gain the most followers. I'm sure Micheal Bay follows it religiously. Ugh.

What I've noticed in my own business career and now in writing is that I follow a certain path. First, I seek out as much information as I can. I'm open to all ideas, I read how-to books, I seek out advice.

The second step, which is much longer, is trying out all these different ideas. I'm no longer seeking new information, (such as taking classes or reading how-to books) but I gather it as it passes by. I see which of the advice is good and which is bad. It's a process of trial and error.

The third phase, is I simply go my own way. I've figured out to my own satisfaction what works and what doesn't work, and I quit paying attention to everyone else. I try to leave the door open for paradigm shifts, but other than that, I'm pretty self-contained.

This is when my business finally became profitable. I learned through study and experience what worked, and then followed my knowledge and instincts.

I'd like to think I'm that way with my writing. I've done the first two stages, now it's a matter of pursuing the Platonic Ideal, of applying what I know. When I'm writing a novel, I'm not thinking about who else may read it, whether it is commercial or literary or whatever. I'm just trying to envision the best form of that story.

Not saying I know everything. Not saying I'm succeeding. But this is the path that helps me create the novels that are closest to what I envision the ideal to be.

This may come across as naive or idealistic, but all I'm saying is, when I'm in the middle of writing, I'm trying to get the story that is coming to me down on paper as best I can. I've run into very hard headed writers, and I admire them. Maybe I'm just an amateur playing with mystical ideas.

I can and often do have all the doubts in the world after I'm finished. I can chastise myself for not coming up with a more commercial idea. I can try to do better the next time.

But I gauge the success of the story on how close I perceive it to be the Platonic Ideal of that story.

The fourth flashback chapter that will be placed somewhere in the middle of the story.

2 chapters left, with 4000 words available. If I go over a little, I'm planning to go through and really cut down on any extra words. (Normally, I'm adding when I rewrite.)

I purposely set out to write a Novella, and it's been a nice exercise.

16.) The Pilgrim without a Bell.

Pernitius stood with his back to the wall, blending in. It wasn’t just a matter of not calling attention to himself, but somehow finding the rhythm of the room, moving in the same beat, becoming part of the flow even as he was still.
But he couldn’t help himself. He stared up at the dais, drinking in Lysandra’s loveliness. She looked the same as when he first met her, even down to the simple but elegant gown. Her dark red hair was up, tied in a ribbon, the same color ribbon that had held up her hair at the Pilgrim’s Ball.
Not just any Pilgrim’s Ball, but one held in my honor.
He remembered the awkward yet graceful girl dancing in Prince Quin’s arms. He’d thought her an innocent, who was unaware that she was yet another trophy, no more important than the medals on the Prince’s chest. He’d stepped forward to save her from such a fate.
I thought I was a man of the world. I didn’t realize what a fool I was. I didn’t know that I was in even more danger than Lysandra. I couldn’t protect myself…much less protect her.
She seemed to sense his gaze, for she turned her head his way. He quickly averted his eyes, just in time to see the Toad King moving toward him with his strange hopping stride. Alarmed, the Thief hid behind a servant girl laden with a tray with dirty dishes stacked two feet over her head. But when the girl moved aside, there stood Horense with his wide-mouthed grin. Before Pernitius could stop him, the squat little man was embracing him, squeezing with surprising strength.
“How are you, old friend!” the Toad King cried, finally letting Pernitius go.
Pernitius looked around to see if anyone had noticed, but it appeared that no one thought the hug remarkable.
“Oh, quit worrying, Pernitius. Those who know who we are don’t care…and those who care don’t know who we are.”
“If they knew who you really were, they’d be running for the doors,” the Thief acknowledged. It was hard to believe that the Toad King could so easily blend with the crowd.
I have seen his true shape.
Even now, Pernitius didn’t see a jovial rotund man, but instead a creature that could be mistaken for human only in the darkest of nights, after several jugs of wine. “I should have known you’d be here at the end of all things.”
“Surely not the end of all things,” Horense croaked. “The Mirror God must have someone to reflect, otherwise His existence has no purpose. Someone will have to survive to start over.”
“You, for instance?”
“I am immune to the Mirror God,” the Toad King proclaimed. “We come from the same place, you know.”
“Truly?” Pernitius blurted before he could stop himself.
Horense laughed, as if delighted that the Thief would ask such a question, not so much because Pernitius had been credulous, but because he hadn’t been incredulous.
“Never mind,” Pernitius said, sighing. “It has been far too long since I met someone who lies more than I do.”
“You were always a quick study,” Horense said. “You were my best student. Why, I was starting to get jealous. People were beginning to speak more of the great Thief than they were of the Toad King!”
“I’m sure that it is a terrible thing to have all the attention taken off you,” Pernitius said. And with that, the familiar habits of his old and rather peculiar friendship with the Trickster fell over him like a warm and comfortable cloak.
Believe the opposite of whatever the Toad King says, he reminded himself, and it will be closer to the truth.
He glanced again at Lysandra. She knew who and what he was, and yet talking to the Toad King in her presence made him uncomfortable.
“I’m not talking to you here,” he muttered. “Come with me.”
The Toad King laughed. “What are you worried about? No one believes the Toad King really exists.”
“No one used to believe that the Mirror God existed either.”
He led the Trickster out onto the battlements. Horense complained about the cold breeze, but still followed. They found shelter behind a guard tower.
“All right, Horense,” Pernitius said. “What do you want of me?”
“I merely wanted to greet an old friend!” Horense said. “We had wonderful times together.”
Wonderful times? Pernitius thought. Is that what the Toad King thinks?
Horense had saved him at his lowest point (as often happened with the Toad King) so there was that.
But there was no coming back from what Pernitius had allowed the Toad King to turn him into. The Blue Pilgrim was gone and in his place was the Thief, banished forever from the Thirteenth Principality.


Pernitius sat shivering on the banks of the Danjar River, staring into the black waters, trying to catch a glimpse of the shimmering gold. It seemed to him that the golden bell had floated for a time, which was impossible, of course. He meant to throw himself into the current immediately after the bell, but decided it was fitting he should suffer a few more minutes, if only to appease the Mirror God.
He’d never believed in the Mirror God and apparently, the Mirror God had never believed in him. The farther he traveled, the less the people seemed to believe in the Covenant.
Or the less they pretend to believe, he corrected himself, for it was clear to him now that the first four Principalities had believed only in the pomp and ceremonies that legitimized the rule of Princes.
He’d been robbed before he left the Fourth Principality, beaten in the Fifth Principality, ignored in the Sixth Principality. Here in the seventh Principality had come the final indignity. As he wandered down a country road, he’d been struck from behind, and even his blue garments were taken, leaving him with only the golden bell
Devout thieves, apparently, or at least superstitious ones, for it was said that anyone who took a golden bell from a Servant of the Watchers would face the Mirror God and see all that was evil in His reflection.
Pernitius hadn’t eaten in days.
He’d lost his way hours ago, when—unable to slake his thirst from the muddy puddles--he’d strayed from the road at the sound of running water. The cascading sounds of the river had teased him for most of the day before he’d finally won his way to their banks.
There, instead of drinking the water, he sat down, overcome by despair. He’d failed in his pilgrimage; he had nothing to offer the Mirror God. He was naked and ashamed.
He couldn’t go on without offerings, nor could he return home like this. Not to his family and friends. But most of all--not to Lysandra. In the beginning, the thought of Lysandra waiting for him had sped him in his journey. Now he felt only shame.
He could not finish the journey. He was done.
In his frustration, he pulled the golden bell from his neck and heaved it into the river. Impossibly, the golden bell floated for a second, and then plopped from view. In that single impulsive moment, his life changed forever.
A sick dread filled him, like the slow dripping of a poison.
What does it matter? he asked himself.
He was just waiting for the right moment to dive into the frigid waters, whether to find the golden bell or to join it, he himself wasn’t sure.
The smell of roasted meat brought him to his feet. He slipped down the muddy bank toward the waters, but to his surprise, he saved himself. He scrambled back up the bank and into the dark woods.
A campfire flickered like the eyes of an animal through the tangle of branches.
As he approached, rain was falling so hard that it was like walking through curtains of fine beads, yet as he poked his head around a tree, the campground appeared clean and dry. A huge canopy stretched between the trees. Colorful carpets covered the ground, surrounding a fire with a halo of steam over it. Branches suspended a large black iron cauldron above the fire.
To one side was a small wagon, with a mule contentedly munching from a pail of oats.
A man with a wide belly sat with his back to a tree, covered in a blanket, munching on a hank of meat, holding papers up to the light of the fire and reading.
Pernitius saw a black cloak hanging from the end of the wagon, and he circled around to it quietly. The smell of food had drawn him, but now the cloak looked more tempting.
Food won’t matter if I freeze to death.
He snatched the cloak and ran. Something whooshed overhead, crashing through the dark branches. As he stared upward, the roots of a tree sent him sprawling. He scrambled to his feet, but a creature stood blocking his way.
For a moment, Pernitius saw the true shape of the Toad King; squat, with two beady eyes and a wide mouth, legs bent in an odd direction, webbed fingers and toes.
Then the vision vanished and he saw the man from the campground.
“How…” he sputtered. “Who…”
“Put the cloak on,” the man said. “I can’t understand what you’re saying if you’re going to chatter.”
Pernitius stood beside the fire, the warmth reviving him. His hands and feet tingled. For the first time, he realized he was going to survive.
But the poisonous dread returned, the vision of the sinking bell disappearing just as surely as his old life.
The man introduced himself as Horense. Rooting around in the back of the wagon, he found wooden crate and brought it over for Pernitius to sit on. He dipped into the cooking pot and fished out a bone covered in meat.
It is said that the Toad King eats his victims, came the thought.
Pernitius looked down at the meat and took another bite. His body wanted to survive and he had no willpower to overrule it.
He looked up at his host, who was hovering over him as if contemplating his next meal.
“Why are you helping me?” Pernitius asked. It had been so long since anyone had been generous or friendly that he’d forgotten what it felt like.
“That is a good question,” Horense said. “But I have to say…you are the first human in a very long time that I haven’t been inclined to rob. Probably because you are the first person in a long time who doesn’t have a thing to steal!” He let out a guttural sound, the Toad King’s laugh. “But if you wish to repay me, I would be satisfied with your story.”
So Pernitius told him his story, from the beginning of his journey to now. The Toad King interrupted only once—when Pernitius told of throwing the golden bell into the river.
“Then you are cursed,” Horense said. “As cursed as I am.”
“Then what I saw was true…you are the Toad King,” Pernitius said.
“I thought so!” Horense exclaimed, sounding delighted. “You saw through the glamour! That makes you special…special and cursed. But you are a terrible thief. I think, dear boy, if you are going to survive in this world, you need to learn a skill.”
“Are you offering to teach me?”
“To apprentice a Servant of the Watchers would be my pleasure. I never much liked the Mirror God. He’s a little too self-righteous to me.”
Once, Pernitius would have been horrified by the sacrilege. Now it had the ring of truth.
He fell asleep under the tree, listening to the patter of rain on the canopy. Something woke him late, and he saw the Toad King by the fire, dripping with water.
“Did you find it?” Pernitius asked.
“The current is too strong,” Horense said, unsurprised by the question. “It’s probably washed down to the Cormat Sea by now.”
“I thought toads didn’t swim,” Pernitius said.
“They don’t,” Horense said. “But the Toad King does. Now go back to sleep.”


They were constant companions for the next few years, until one day the Toad King turned to him and said, “I have nothing more to teach you, my boy. Why…at the rate you’re picking this up you will be better than me in a few years.”
“Surely not,” Pernitius said. If the Toad King said it, it probably wasn’t true.
“Well…I’d advise you to earn as much as you can while still young. Someday you’ll be old, but the Toad King will still be wandering the Principalities, hustling humans.”
Pernitius turned to reply, but Horense was nowhere to be seen. He sighed and looked upward. A brief shadow passed across the sun, and then the Toad King was gone.


“Why are you here?” Pernitius asked his mentor in the shelter of the tower. Over the years, they’d seen each other from afar, but by unspoken agreement had not tried to scam the same Principalities at the same time.
“There is nowhere else to go,” Horense said. “Besides…I have something to give you.”
Every golden bell has its own sound, and Pernitius recognized his immediately even before the Toad King completely removed it from his pocket. He reached out with shaking hands to take it.
“Why…why did you hide it?” he asked.
“Because you didn’t value it then,” the Toad King said. “You didn’t understand the importance. I’ve watched you over the years wandering the realms, trying to atone to the Mirror God even as you fleeced his worshippers. It is time.”
“It is too late,” Pernitius said.
“Oh, no doubt,” the Toad King agreed. “Far too late.”
The Toad King lied about everything, so if he was agreeing that meant…
The eighth stanza of the Mirror God’s Curse came to Pernitius: “They who are most mistrusted, shall be believed.”  

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Hit my first roadblock chapter yesterday.

Just couldn't figure out how to do it. Tried three different ways.

The holidays are always a difficult time to get any focus on writing. It's amazing that any writing gets done at all. From about mid-October, when my taxes are due, until January 2, there are more things to do and places to be. The store requires more attention, obviously.

Four years ago, I ignored everything; three years ago, I was still ignoring everything. Two years ago, it took more effort.

This year, I've backed off a little from my writing obsession.

But it is still there. It is completely amazing that I walked away from writing for 25 years. The compulsion is so strong that I feel strange if I'm not writing. It just goes to show how hard the store was, and how much work and attention I had to spend on it.

But I doubt anything could happen now to stop me. (Knock wood.) This is my life now.

Anyway, woke up this morning having decided that the way to write the problem chapter was simply in sequence of events, rather than jumping around. Simple solution. I liked the dark beginning of the chapter, then the flashback, but then there was another flashback and that was one too many. I won't try to write today, and I plan on working part of the day at the store tomorrow, but then I hopefully have a few weeks to finish the book.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to turn it into a book. Not sure if I'll try to send a shorter version to Amazon Singles. I may, because it would be a one and done. Even if it got accepted, unlikely, it wouldn't contractually obligate me like an agent or mainstream publisher would.

I've mulled the possibility of submitting to agents and mainstream publishers for four years now, but have made little movement in that direction.

I was thinking yesterday that when I write a book, it's a Platonic ideal. The book tells me what it wants to be, and the closer I get to the vision of the book, the more successful it is.

That is, successful in my eyes.

It may not meet anyone else's standards at all. At first, I was writing horror novels because they seemed open enough and broad enough in scope to handle whatever ideas I had.

But my last two books were thrillers (Snaked is a creature book, but written as a thriller.) Lucifer's Forge is definitely a thriller. My current book is a straight out fantasy.

In other words, I want to write what I want to write when I want to write it.

All that argues against tying myself down with an agent or publisher. So far, I've only slightly pushed on the publisher's doors, and I've been opportunistic about my chances. I look at the monolith of the publishers and think, "No way."

So...unless some opportunity comes along, I think I'm better off writing away happily at what I want to write and then just plunking them out into the world.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

So from this point forward, anything I write about on Mirror God won't make much sense, since it is me going back and filling in.

I've removed all but the last two chapters, because if I submit it to Amazon Singles, there is a rule about posting the story anywhere else.

Friday, November 18, 2016

3 million organized fictional words. That's about how much I figure I've written in my life.

At this point in my writing adventure, I'm more or less judging things by my own standards. I think I'm probably twice the writer I was when I started, and half the writer I want to be.

That doesn't mean that people are going to like my books twice as much though. It's just an internal gauge about how much I'm learning.

Most of the improvement comes down to the process of incubating my creativity and then letting it happen. The more relaxed I become, the better the writer.

That and just discovering through the trial and error of 3 million words.

At least, that's what I think.

Sometimes I struggle to find the connectors, the plot elements that tie the characters and plots together.

Sometimes, like on my walk on Wednesday, my brain just starts firing off connector after connector, so fast I can't keep track of them. I worry that they are a little too neat, but it's better to have too many and then cut than to have too few.

Why, oh why, do I write such complicated plots?

This book is basically all flashback.

Now, there is a grand tradition of such books. A group of disparate travelers gather at a castle and each tells the tale of how they arrived there. That is roughly what I am doing here, and it feels right. A series of almost short stories unified by a grand threat.

I'm trying to keep this at novella size, under 30K words, so I can submit it to Amazon Singles. I don't expect them  to take it, but no harm in trying. I figure I can probably handle rejection by now without losing hope.

So far I don't feel I've written a clunker chapter. I had one chapter that someone else thought missed the mark and upon examining it, I thought it could be improved by expanding it into 3 chapters. But other than that, I really like what I've written.

However, I'm realizing that not everyone probably is enamored. The number of readers declines with each entry, which means that people are dropping away and I've failed at grabbing them.

But again, I'm measuring progress by my own gauge, and I know this is much more accomplished than anything I thought I could do.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The backstory of "Said the Joker to the Thief" is sort of falling together.

I'm about 33 pages in, which is sooner than usual. Not all the backstory, but enough to give me some ideas.

I'm going back and doing the necessary changes as they occur to me. I think I can risk doing that now. When I first came back to writing, my #1 unbreakable rule was not going back and changing anything until I was finished.

But I think I've got a handle on my writing now, so I know just how much I can get away with.

It's a lot of fun to write fantasy again. Not sure why I stayed away from it for so long. I'm really not worried about writing the same old fantasy as everyone else, because I do tend to go off on my tangents.

I just wrote a chapter that was almost all dialogue, which I rarely if ever do. It's funny to be doing the scans of Star Axe. I was afraid of dialogue back then and avoided it whenever possible, even paraphrasing things that probably should have been dialogue. Much more narrative storytelling, instead of progressing the story by scenes.

I've come a long way.

Interesting, frankly, that Star Axe got published, but my current writing can't even get the attention of an agent. I think the field was just easier to break into back then, simply because it was so hard to get into back then, by which I mean, if you were willing to do everything you needed to do, there was a fair chance you'd get a fair hearing.

Nowadays, it's just too easy. Too easy to write, too easy to send, too easy to get ignored.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

I approach fantasy differently than I do my other books.

Often I'm just trying to capture a mood, or an image. I don't really want to know where it's going. I want to be surprised each time I sit down to write. I want to find the fantastical, the unexpected.

This gets me in trouble, sometimes. Fantasy really does need a fully thought-out world, and I build my worlds through writing. So I write myself into corners sometimes.

I'm going through my scan of Star Axe, my first published book, hoping to put it out again in December. I'm trying not to be judgmental, but...well, I don't have any doubt I'm a better writer now.

But what I can see is that I really made the effort. The book could have used a good edit--and it never got one, even from the publisher.

I notice that I spend a fair amount of time on description...and that it isn't as off-putting as I might have thought.

I think reaching for fantastic images calls forth a more poetic language, which is what makes fantasy so alluring. While I admire the world-building medieval empires of popular fantasy, my newer stories seem more in the mold of fables, where I'm not really trying to explain everything, but hoping the mood and images carry the story.

Like I said, not much fantasy like that these days. People want extensive worlds, like Martin and Jordan and so on.  I appreciate more the Jack Vance type stories--though he certainly did the requisite world-building, it's more the beauty of the language, the tone, the images he evokes which attracts me.

Obviously, Tolkien does the world-building--no one better!--but it is the mood and tone I remember most. A kind of nostalgia for a world that never existed. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

When I finished the first draft of "Fires of the Jinn" (new title; I like Lucifer's Forge, but it doesn't really fit the book), I expected to dive into research and then write the first chapter to finish it off, then do a rewrite, then send it to my private editor.

Instead, just two days after finishing, I started writing a full-out fantasy. This is only the second fantasy I've started since coming back. The first was "The Reluctant Wizard," which I liked, but which I wanted to turn into a trilogy and I needed to reserve the time to do that.

"The Reluctant Wizard" was the second book I wrote after "Faerylander," but I didn't feel like I fully hit my stride until "Death of an Immortal" and "Led to the Slaughter," and I decided to put those out first since I thought they were more accomplished efforts. ("Faerylander" will be my magnum opus--at least 5 books. Rewritten so far like 30 times.)

When new books keep coming to me, it's hard to go back and work on the older books.

Anyway, during the 25 years I was taking a hiatus from writing, I always assumed I would be writing fantasies, as I did in my first career. Instead I veered off into horror, macabre westerns, urban fantasy, creature books, and a thriller.

But I have to say, "Said the Joker to the Thief" feels like coming home. I especially like that anything goes, that I can write whatever I like, just do it. I feel ready for this now, I fully trust my subconscious to construct a coherent plot, and I like winging it.

I don't really want to know where it's going.  I'm trying to keep every chapter a surprise. When I start mulling over where I think it's going, I grab the first thing that comes along that seems "off" and try to use that instead. I want it to veer off course every day, to do something unexpected. If it is all a jumbled mess at the end, then so be it.

I don't write short stories, but in a way, I approach every chapter as a short story. I just bundle the chapters together for a book. I don't know if it works well, but it seems to be the way my creative mind wants to do it.

Even though "Said the Joker to the Thief" isn't officially a November book, it might as well be. I started late and won't finish until December, but still...

I mentioned before that the way to improve "Fires of the Jinn" was to give it "time, perspective, and care."

So by going off and writing my fantasy, I'm doing that. And having fun at the same time.

I'm thinking this "fun" thing maybe the only thing I permanently take away from all this. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The shock of the new.

So what have we learned, boys and girls?

1.) That the experts are full of shit.

See, I knew this already from my business, but I guess I have to be systematically reminded. In areas where I feel I don't have all the information, I will often bend to the expert opinion.

In my business I've learned to make decisions with logic and objectivity and what instinctive intuition I can muster. I haven't paid any attention to what everyone else is doing for years. I believe that group think always takes over any group and anyone who thinks differently will be marginalized.

Interestingly, Linda was convinced this was going to happen from early on, and I just thought she was being an alarmist and kept reassuring her that it wouldn't.

So no more time wasted on the pundits. Goodbye Chris and Rachael and Lawrence, and especially you, Nate, you sorry bastard.

2.) That the general public is challenged when it comes to the consequences of ethical decisions.

I've often wondered how many people really understand what ethics are. I've been amazed over the years by the number of people who will lie, steal, or cheat to save a little money. People will throw away their integrity for a 50 cent advantage.

Trying to reason with people who are convinced otherwise is useless.

Most of all, bias is nearly impossible to break.

So there we have it. My attempt to make sense of what just happened.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Wrote the final chapter of Lucifer's Forge and then the epilogue.

Used about half of what I'd already written. It turned out well, though I do like the previous chapter slightly more.  Now all that remains to be written is the first chapter. It's a good feeling. The book is ready even if I got hit by a truck tomorrow. 

As I've mentioned, I intend to read "Young Men and Fire" by Norman Maclean, soak it up, and then write the first chapter. I want it to be as powerful as I can make it.

Then the whole book will need more of a rewrite than usual. I like the plot and the characters just fine, but there is so much detail that needs to be gotten right that it is going to require a lot of research.

I have a large number of characters and settings, but I have no trouble keeping track of them in my head, and my feeling is that if I can do that, then the reader--with the book in front of them-- can keep up too. I hope.

I also need to figure out the correct time and space line. Then, finally, I need to decide what to do with the finished novel.

It will be a good book, by my lights, if I can make it convincing in the rewrites.  Maybe my best.  It kills me that maybe no one will read it. But I gotta be honest here. I really don't like agents, but without an agent I have no real chance of selling this book.

Now that I'm finished, I've decided to keep it a straight thriller. No fantasy elements. I'd been reserving that if I came up short--not that fantasy makes it better, but that it gives me new energy.

But I like the book the way it is.

So...its a good book whether anyone reads it or not. Maybe I'll be satisfied with that self-knowledge.

I don't know. Obviously, it's frustrating.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Writing the last chapter of "Lucifer's Forge" today.

Funny thing is, I've already written it once. Back when the agent asked for "100 kickass" pages. I felt the story started off a little slow, so I wrote a flashforward chapter with events from the very end of the book.

But other than the main character and the overall arc, everything else about this attempt is wrong. Wrong characters, wrong timeline.

I have 2000 words sitting here that I could try to adapt. But I think it might be safer just to start from scratch.

When I say I'm writing the last chapter, I mean the last chapter in the book.

But I have one more chapter to write--the first chapter.

I have another action-packed first chapter in mind now than the original flashforward. It is basically a flashback that establishes the motivations and tone for the rest of the book.

Anyway, this just points out why my effort at "100 kickass" pages was doomed from the start; for the very same reasons that I don't write short stories or outlines or why my sample chapters sent to agents never get a response.

My strength, if you will, is in the overall book, the way the plot weaves together, the development of the characters. I think, if a reader gives me a chance, that they will have an overall enjoyable experience, that there is a satisfying chunk of writing.

I understand the imperative--the attention grabbing first scenes, the increasing tension, the need to constantly engage the reader's interest.

But...well, I tell a story the way the story comes out. Not an excuse. If it's boring, then it's my fault. But I think my pacing is all right, I think my character development is all right, I even think I have enough plot points to keep the reader engaged.

What I don't like is the idea of artificially pumping it--the action, the drama. Yes, be mindful that action and drama are needed, but hopefully by keeping the overall story foremost in mind.

I like the overall arc of a story, how it develops, and that is something that doesn't exist until it is finished. Writing "100 kickass" pages was essentially trying to write an outline, and I'm not surprised it didn't work.

I compromised on that 100 page outline--moving chapters around, taking a couple of chapters out, writing that flashforward first chapter. When I came back to this book, the first thing I did was restore it to it's original conception.

Fuck the smarmy "100 kickass" pages request. The book is complete, and damn it, I like it better this way.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Two days ago I had two chapters left to write of Lucifer's Forge.

Now I have...two chapters done and two chapters left to write. It happens. Especially, for some reason, near the end of books. I don't want to rush it.

I do like the way it's turning out. (Now it's the first third of the book I'm a little uncertain about because it didn't get a great reaction when I showed it around earlier in the year. But even then, I liked it.)

I think the book can be good if I can make it so, which may sound tautological. I mean that the basic premise is good, and I think I've written a good plot, but...I don't know if I can make it plausible, which the books depends on.

I'll try to research, try to get things accurate.

So how do I improve a book?

I've thought for some time that I have a certain baseline ability, which has improved somewhat over time with experience and practice. But still...baseline.

Re-writing obviously. Working harder to make it better. But that has always been a roadblock for me because I've had too many experiences in the past of ruining books by "working hard" on my rewriting. I think I need to change the terminology--not call it "work" at all.

I think a book can be improved by time, perspective, and care.

Time. To let it settle, to let it sink in, to let the subconscious work on it, before, during and after the first draft.

Perspective. Letting it set for awhile. Coming back to it, not "working" but giving it a light touch, looking for places to improve wording and plot, to deepen characters, to add detail, to describe.

Care. Making sure that all the parts work, that everything is consistent, is enjoyable and easy.  Making sure it is ready to be published.

I'm purposely slowing down my process to do this. I can get about 70 to 80% of the way there in my first draft and a quick rewrite.

I want to try to get 90% of the way there, even if it takes twice as long to do it.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The problem chapter  managed to get written yesterday.

It required all my tricks and all my discipline, what with the things that need to be done at the store and with Todd home.

It's amazing to me. The story seems to exist somehow outside of me and it is just up to me to discover it. It was a chapter where I wanted one of the main heroes to trick the terrorists so that they are caught by the fires they set. But I had no idea how that was going to come about.

What tends to happen is that I go into the character's head, and there is all this other ancillary stuff happening and in the course of detailing that, the main plotline emerges.

That's what writing is to me--the filling in the blanks between the main events.

So I have two characters fight. So and so slugs so and so? Big deal.

I have to fill it all in, the sights, sounds, thoughts, complications, the personality quirks, the incidental things of life. If I have a sufficiently interesting author's voice, if the pacing is good, if the details add to the story, then it's fine.

In a previous chapter I have one of the main bad guys tell another character to prop open a door and then follow them inside. So he searches around for something to prop the door and then goes inside.

And Gary at writer's group says, "Why is that there? What does it add?"

And he's right. But what really leaps out at me is that it doesn't happen more often. I'm supplying all these faux real-life details and why don't they slow down the story? How come it works most of the time?

Even in this example, it gives me a beat, a timeout, before the inside of the warehouse is revealed, it gives the bad guy the authority, the young terrorist is put in his place. Yes, in the end, it isn't worth the paragraph, but everything in a book is more or less like that. Unless you reduce it to, "Terrorist set wildfires, firefighters fight wildfires and terrorists. The end."

I've avoided "how to write" stuff this time around, because I firmly believe that if what I write "feels" real to me, then I'm doing it right. I guess I just have to hope others feel that way too.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The inevitable hesitation before the finish of "Lucifer's Forge" has struck. It seems to happen with every book.

I think part of it is that I've figured it all out. Through most of the book, I'm discovering the story, and that is the most fun part of the whole process. But by the end of the book, I know exactly where the story is going.

So it's as if I've already written it, because it is complete in my head.

I can't imagine how authors who outline their books work up the motivation to actually write. The creative dream that I carry around in the midst of the book is the real joy of it. The constant glimmering potentialities on the horizon, the gelling when I sit down the write, the surprise when it goes somewhere else or when a minor character takes over. I'm living in another world, where the architecture is dimly glimpsed but the details still need to be filled in. I'm on an adventure as much as the reader is.

The story has impact as I write it.

Whereas, knowing what the story is already is more cold blooded, has less impact, which worries me. Makes me hesitate.

Of course, when I actually sit down to write it there are always more than enough surprises, and I get swept up in the story. If not, then I need to step back and figure out why not.

Hesitation, but also impatience, because I'm SOOOO close to finishing, (I have finished it in my head) and I want to see how it looks.

I suppose part of me doesn't want to finish. I like this world I've created, I'm not sure I want to leave it. Of course, I have weeks ahead of me when I'll be in the muck of it, trying to wrestle what I've written into something coherent and consistent.

But it's not the same thing. It's the dishwashing after the meal.

Ah, well. The biggest lesson I've learned is to develop a process for writing, stick to that process, and be patient.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Wrote two action scenes where I knew exactly where I was going, over the last two days.

Both chapters passed muster with Linda. When she gives me a pleased little smile, I know I hit the mark.

Now I need to write two action scenes where I don't have a clue.

I've always said, these last few chapters are some of the hardest. It's almost as if somewhere in my subconscious I'm afraid to finish, or don't want to finish. Of course, the final chapters are some of the most important, and they really need to be nailed, so they can't be rushed.

I do have a tendency to try to finish my books too soon. So it is important that I approach the ending with that in mind. Am I rushing it? Is there something I'm leaving out?

Geoff at Cohesion quite rightly pointed out that I'd dropped the snakes in "Snaked" in favor of the tsunami, and when I wrote new chapters to bring them back in at the ending, it did improve the book.

So with "Lucifer's Forge," I'm trying to keep the terrorists in the picture, even though the firestorms have become front and center.

I also have a tendency to wrap things up just a little too neatly. In some ways, this is cool. It shows an ability to construct a complete story arc. But I need to mess it up a little, go off in a slightly different direction than I want. I mean, I pause and say, "OK. This is where the story is going, where can I upset that and still get the results I want?"

There is a sense of rightness to a book. Either I feel like I've done it or I don't. Sometimes the doubts are minor and maybe only I would notice them. Other times I just look at the book and think, "This didn't do it."

I have 9 books I'm sitting on where I had that feeling. They're...all right. But to make them better than "all right" would take the same effort that it takes to write a brand new book, so....I sit on them.

This book is good. I'm not sure how good, but it meets my standards. I do intend to do much more rewriting with this book than normal, and for some reason that doesn't intimidate me this time. I think I've slowly worked out a process for rewriting that is tolerable.

And I know that most of the time, if I don't overdo it, the rewriting definitely improves the book.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. I have about 9K words left to write, so we'll see where I end up.