Sunday, December 31, 2017

Climbed quite a ways into the south edge of Henderson Flat OHV area. Weren't any OHV's but about halfway up was overtaken by a trio of galloping horse riders. Went a little further and ventured off the trail, (I'm more and more willing to do that as long as I can keep track of where I am). I tried to reach some awesome looking pinnacles in the distance. Basically, if you kept traveling along the same hills that have the Smith Rocks for a fair distance north, it would be like the last outcropping.  Had to go hike straight up an extra mile, following a dry creek bed, and even then came up short.

Spending these last three days of the year trying to think about what I want to write.

All I know is that there has to be some substance and I have to want to write it. Other than that, I'm waiting for inspiration.

The woods are amazing. It's probably weird that I'm so willing to walk about by myself, but it always feels good. The weather is just right; the sun shining but cool enough. Completely silent, no traffic sounds, no motors, no planes, no gunfire, no internet. The ground is moist but not muddy, soft to the step. What a wonderful place to live--innumerable out of the way places less than half an hour from town. More than Bend, frankly, so it really has turned out to be a good thing to have moved here.

I've trained myself to write on these walks, which may explain how come so many of my stories are taking place in the High Desert. It's just a natural background.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Walked the ridge above Lake Billy Chinook from Overlook Park south. No trail, but soft ground and impossible to get lost. One boat in the water which whirred away as I sat here. A warm day, almost 60 degrees, a bit of wind.

Gives me a bit of the willies to be sitting so high. 

Going to start exploring this area more. Try to find some trails and or unused roads. This is the first time walking in two weeks because I've been sick. Even today I'm coughing, but damn I needed to get out of the house.

Still undecided what to write starting the first of the year. Hoping something will come along and announce itself.

One thing I've learned from writing Deadfall Ridge and Takeover. In both books, after 3 months passed by I figured out how to improve them. It's not only that I see the structure more clearly, I'm also more willing to be ruthless in cutting and consolidating.

But by then, I'd already sent them off. I went ahead and sent the revised Deadfall Ridge and I'll send the revised Takeover, but I doubt the editor is willing to read them more than once.

So I've learned. It seems to hold true of my thrillers most of all, probably because they are even more plot-oriented than my horror.

I've decided that from now on, no matter what, any finished first draft is going to be set aside for at least 3 months before looking at it again. I should be able to start putting this into some kind of schedule. Write one book, set it aside, write another book and then come back to the first book. After the initial delay it shouldn't hold me back at all.

I've proven I can write books, that I can finish them. But I'm wondering what the point is if I can't get anywhere with them. So that gets me thinking I need a "killer" idea. But...well, that just means I don't write anything at all.

I need to make a choice and just start writing.

Starting Tuesday, I'm going to start and I'm figuring that it will become clear to me what to do.

Monday, December 25, 2017

This has shaken my confidence in my overall health. I've been sick for 10 days now, still coughing and hacking, still sleeping heavy. I'd just gotten a clean bill of health from the doctor, not a single thing wrong with my 65 year old body, feeling lots of energy from my walking an hour everyday, feeling immortal.

Just a simple cold, but a reminder that the body is fragile.

Boys are home for Christmas in the living room watching The Last Kingdom with their mom. They are both looking good. Good guys. Waiting for Linda's brother Dave to come over from LaPine so we can open gifts.

Linda went out at the last minute and got a tree and decorations and the kitchen is packed with food and Walt the dog and Panga the cat are getting along and all is well. They didn't cancel Christmas at Pegasus Books again.

Had decided even before I got sick that I'd start fresh with my writing in January. I'm still a little undecided whether to attempt another thriller or to go ahead with the Virginia Reed adventure. Whichever one I choose, I will immediately start in on the other when I'm finished.

Going to try to stay away from checking sales and rankings and reviews next year. The reviews that are trickling in now are sometimes good and sometimes bad, but I think they emanate from the general population and not from people who were more or less well-disposed toward me, so they're trending  a little more down than they used to. Also, I'm just more established and I think people tend to be harsher on established writers. So for instance, Stephen King's Carrie, Pet Sematary and The Gunsligher, are all just below a 4 rating. Not that I'm any Stephen King.

But the main thing is my wish for a pure writing experience, where the expectations of the book come from inside not outside. It's probably not possible to reproduce that first year, or even that second year, where it was all about the writing and everything was possible. But I can at least turn the focus back inward again.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Apparently, the Black Death arrived on our shores. I took to my bed for the last 7 days and thus did not see it. I'll have to take Linda's word for it.

Good thing I had my flu shot.

My head is still stuffed with webbing, my eyes are red slits, and my throat is threatening to burst, but I can type.

Went to see The Last Jedi and through the haze I liked it.

Boys are coming home for Christmas Eve, so I have a couple of days for the last of the pustules to pop.

I do not wish to spread the Black Death.

The room is spinning. Good bye.


Thursday, December 14, 2017

My inspirations.

I was twelve years old when I read The Hobbit. In 1964. Yeah, I'm that old.

I was thirteen when I read Lord of the Rings. My brother Mike was home from college and playing in a summer stock Fantasticks, so that soundtrack was on the turntable the whole time I was reading the trilogy. Nothing is more achingly nostalgic than "Try to Remember."

I'd always read science fiction in my mix of reading, though our house was full of all kinds of books. Tons of books. (Many years later Linda and I started the Bookmark with my parent's books as the seed stock.)

I started looking for fantasy like LOTRs and damned if there was any. Hard to imagine now, but there wasn't anything like it. Oh, there were Victorian type fantasies, but they just didn't have the same feel to me.

I found Weirdstone of Brisingamen and other what would now be termed "young adult," books and of course there was Narnia. Some S.F. authors had a fantasy feel like Andre Norton and Jack Vance, but nothing that really hit the mark. Finding the Conan books was a pretty good stopgap.

I still remember being at the U of O bookstore during a debate tournament and seeing a Frazetta cover from across the room. Next thing I knew I was staring down at it in my hands with a weird frisson running down my spine.

I think it was another five years before I came across what I considered a real fantasy in a bookstore, Red Moon, Black Mountain, by Joy Chant. There might have been slightly earlier ones, but I didn't see them.

So in that five year span I conceived Star Axe. Because I had to. It was the only way I could fill the void. (I had no idea there'd be a movie called Star Wars.)

I'd always wanted to be a writer but I didn't have the first clue how to go about it. One night, as I was laying in bed, I said to myself "Tell yourself a story" and the whole thing bloomed in my mind in one sleepless night.

It took me another seven or eight years to actually complete the damn thing, with many a deadend. I really struggled trying to learn even the basics. But eventually I finished it and sent it off.

Meanwhile, lots of fantasy was coming out. All of it inspired by Lord of the Rings. I remember reading Sword of Shannara with its elves and dwarves and such and thinking, "You can DO that?!!" See, I'd tried to stay away from using those motifs thinking Tolkien had the market on those.


To my own surprise, a publisher took Star Axe. They labeled it as "sword and sorcery" but that was all right. I loved that genre after all. And I wasn't about to question a publisher. They did zero editing, they published my synopsis word for word, and it was a different experience than I expected.

But I enthusiastically started writing Snowcastles, which they also accepted. Then hit a roadblock with Icetowers, but eventually got it to where they liked it.

I ran out of steam after that. My fourth book was a disaster, my fifth book not much better, so I tried to be different with the next book, Deviltree. It almost got accepted half a dozen times. I came soooooo close. It was heartbreaking.

I wrote Sometimes a Dragon as a reaction to having to rewrite Deviltree so many times to the dictates of editors. I was very self-indulgent, so it was both a book I loved and was probably unreadable.

Then I married Linda, had an instant family, and bought Pegasus Books and that was the last time I wrote for 25 years. (Or at least, finished anything.)

Sometime during those 25 years I sort of gave up on fantasy books. Most of them were retreads. I constantly got books recommended to me as "different" but they never were. I read mostly thrillers and mysteries and the occasional S.F.

I loved George Martin's writing. Tuf Voyaging is one of my favorite SF books, so when Linda told me Game of Thrones was good, I read it. Since then I've found a couple other fantasy writers I like, Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion books and Patrick Rothfuss, but again most fantasy seems warmed over to me. I think I've tried just about everyone. Some try too hard to be different, some are just messes.

So when I came back to writing, I decided not to do fantasy this time. I'd long had the idea of the Donner Party and werewolves, so I did that. I woke up one morning with a vampire book in mind ("Oh, no!" I thought. "Not another vampire book!") I wrote the Lander books, and so on.

But other than a few novellas I wrote in the Tales of the Thirteen Principalities, I've stayed away from my first love.

One of these days I'm going to do it. I'm going to sit down and write my own trilogy. I think I'm much more prepared now to try it. I think it's been a good thing for me to learn the craft of writing and give myself plenty of time to think about what I want to do.

One of these days.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Tuskers IV is Live!

Tuskers IV is out in digital form for the first time, thanks to Crossroad Press.

You know, if I'm allowed to say, this book is a pretty good conclusion to the Wild Pig saga. It's hard to wrap up a long storyline in a satisfying way, and I think I got this one right. I probably shouldn't say it, but I think it's the best of the books, though each book has it's own reasons for being. You know, especially the first, which was sort of a revelation to me in how much fun it was to write.

Crossroad is talking about trying to get a "major promo, and with all the good reviews, it has a good shot" for the first book.

I assume they're talking about something like Bookbub, which for those who don't know, is a big deal. Or perhaps one of the other sites.

Anyway, it's nice to have a publisher being proactive. How fortunate I've been to find new publishers who are glad to have me aboard. Kind of unexpected, you know? I'd figured I'd be going off on my own, which means really that I'd being talking here and on Facebook and Twitter--and that's about it. Not enough in this day and age.

Very encouraging going forward.

I really need some reviews for this book if you feel like it. I really do think you'll enjoy it.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Time and intention.

This is a word splurge, probably because I haven't written on my story for four days.

Anyway, I've had some down time think about where I'm going with my writing.

My intention wasn't to get rich or become famous, though I've had much more activity in my career than I expected. My intention was to try to write a good book.

I was reading about some Indy writers and how much they are producing and earning and it is really quite amazing.

I really can't complain since I haven't really done the marketing work that it takes to make it as an Indy. In fact, I chose not to be an Indy when I went with the small publishers. The idea of putting out eight or ten books a year fell by the wayside. Instead, I've done about three books a year for five years. I could have done more than double that rate, basically. But if I wasn't going to promote I'm not sure putting out twice as many books would have resulted in higher sales.

I suppose if I want to do assembly line writing I could use a penname, and I probably should. But even there, I want to books to be as good as I can make them.

One major difference I see with the Indy writers is that I'm not dependent on writing for a living.

But, man, the amount of money some of these Indys are supposedly making is astounding if true. Then again, we're probably only talking about five hundred of these people in total. They did all the tricks, got in early, were highly aggressive, wrote to the market, produced lots of quantity.

I didn't do any of those things. Nor do I want to.

So like I said, I can't complain.

Meanwhile, the parallels to owning the store are still strong. Today I read a long article about "burnout," which is the thing I think most small businesses do wrong. Instead of staying small, they choose to grow, can't manage their growth, and burn out.

Writing needs to be fun. There has to be a certain level of engagement, and I'm still trying to find that proportion. I know I can't do what I did those first few years, which was put my head down and just write and ignore everything else.

I was afraid if I took my foot off the pedal that I'd drift to the side of the road. I still fear that. Sometimes it feels like that.

But then I remember that I finished a book just two months ago, that I've got half a book already finished. I need to keep the faith that I will be able to immerse myself once again next year. I've got The Last Fedora (maybe my personal favorite) ready to put up at the first of the year. I probably have an audio version of Led to the Slaughter coming out soon. My 80's books are getting published.

Things are happening.

At some point, I'd really like to go backward and completely rewrite all the novels in my Book Vault. Choose which ones to put out under my own name and which to put out under D.M. McKinnon. Also, maybe consider sending some of them to my new publishers.

I was thinking about Takeover yesterday and thinking about how much potential the idea had. I fell short probably, even though I think it has some of my best writing. I fell short because I was trying to do something I'd never done before. I tried for greater meaning.

But how do I imbue it with depth? How do I make it better?

Time and intention.

I have a feeling there is a way. I have a feeling that it involves rewriting in a targeted way. I think it requires time and context. Maybe six months, maybe a year, maybe both.

For instance, I once had the idea of writing a poem for every chapter, looking for the dreamstate words, and then taking those words and adding them. I still think that's a pretty cool idea.

I thought yesterday of how I should look at every page and ask myself, "What could I say that would add to the depth of this?"

Or alternatively, look at every page and ask myself, "How can I add action, color, sensation to this page?"

Or "How can I add to each character?"

I'm not sure if any of this would do any good, but I have in Takeover a good template for a serious book. I have a strong motif and a solid story and interesting characters. I just need to up my game, somehow, someway.

Time is the only thing I can really add to the mix. Time and intention.

Another insight I had on my walk yesterday was that planning and thinking about what I'm going to write is never a bad thing. The more I think about the overall book, the more I think about each chapter, the better they turn out.

The only problem is--at some point I want to turn that planning into words. Sometimes I'm forced to, because if words start flowing and if I don't write them, I lose them forever. So it's a constant tug of war between trying to incubate ideas and the necessity of getting them down on paper.

One thing I really want to do with the next book is take more notes. I often think to do that, but I don't always follow through. (Generally, I think I'm going to remember...) I don't really have a mechanism or process in place for this. I'm going to put a small notebook in my pocket and carry it everywhere. I'm going to open a Notes file for each book. I'm going to have paper at my desk to jot notes down.

The second thing I want to do is use my office as Writing Central. I've become way too dependent on writing while walking, which is fine as long as walking is possible. Right now it is 15 degrees outside, and there is no way I can sit and write when it's that cold. Last year I lost three months to snow.

But any kind of distraction at home also seems to be hard to overcome.

Right now, if the TV is on I have to go to the bedroom because that's the only room in the house where I can't hear the infernal contraption. I'm going to experiment with white noise in my office so that I can work there instead.

I'll probably still do most of my internet browsing at the kitchen table. Drink my coffee. That kind of thing. I'm sitting there right now. It's become my main station.

But I need to separate those activities from full-on writing.

In a sense, I'm sort of re-evaluating what I want to do. I'm ready to slow down, maybe get a little more serious. I mean, I've always been serious, but I have a much greater sense of what's needed. When I started, I chose to write quickly, figure out the best process, let myself write anything that came to me, not impede that progress in any way. My feeling was that I'd learn more about writing by writing than I would by studying or thinking about it.

I think that was true. I got better at it. It didn't always result in a better book, because there is a little bit of luck involved there, but I could feel myself getting the hang of it.

This progress has more or less plateaued, I think. I don't know that writing more books is the answer now. I think choosing bigger targets, spending my time thinking about them in advance, and then spending more time with them after the first draft is what I need to do now.

The middle part, the process of writing the first draft, that works great. I need to stick with that. I think I can give myself the luxury of giving myself at least several months after finishing for recharging and context before coming back to re-write. On some books, such as Deadfall Ridge and Takeover, I think I can give myself even more time. The one publisher who might have taken them hasn't given me a response, so they are orphaned right now even though I think they're good.

I'll be proud to put them out under my own name and impetus. But since I've got time, I might as well use it. I've already improved Deadfall Ridge dramatically with one rewrite. I'm betting I can do it again, and maybe even again. Just keep at it until it works. Same with Takeover; especially Takeover which is the book that has the most potential in my mind.

I kept thinking that if I continued writing I'd find an idea that was open to greater depth. Takeover is that book, and instead of being able to exploit it, I instead just managed a better version of what I was already doing. In other words, I couldn't quite step up to the full potential. Maybe I just have my limits, that's entirely possible. God knows, I read some authors and know I can never do that. But...I can try to up my game a little.

Watching a documentary the other day about session musicians and one of them used the phrase, "Good is the enemy of great.'

Well, good luck with that. If your goal is only to be great, well...that's a recipe for never starting or for quitting when you fall short. But...there is a kernel of truth there. The way I've put it, "Being good isn't always good enough."

I can't take a magic pill. I can't be deeper and smarter and more talented than I am. So I have to look for processes that will bring out the best in me. The two things I can do are "time and intention." Have the intention to write a "great" book, and take the time to do it.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

How else do you survive the modern world if you aren't diversified?

I'm trying to keep my hand in at  Pegasus Books. Feeling a little guilty about leaving everything to Cameron, though it's good practice for him if he takes over the store. I plan a series of tasks, but usually only get about half of them done, and then I've shot the day and even if I don't work the whole day it takes a chunk out of the middle.

We are overwhelmed with material. That's my doing. I've always felt the more we carry the more we sell, but I'm probably pushing the limits. (The basement is a scary hoarders domain.)

But for instance, I spent the last few months bringing in toys, finding every square inch to display them, and sure enough, sales on toys have doubled. Concentrating on games and books and toys has added to their totals at a time when Magic and comics are flat or slightly lagging.

There is quite the hubbub in the comic world over how things are going, but due to past experiences I long ago diversified Pegasus Books so that I could turn my attentions to those parts of the store that ARE working and using that money to help with the parts that aren't working. There is flexibility there, helped by the fact that we have customers off the street due to our location.

Due to being in Bend, I was never going to make it with comics alone. If I carried double the comics and graphic novels it wouldn't double the sales. So I was forced by circumstance to diversify. I can't imagined being a shop that only does comics now. Too much at the mercy of the marketplace.

This is the umpteenth time that there has been dislocation in the comic market. Sometimes it's Marvel, sometimes it's DC, sometimes it's both, sometimes it's the Indys, but it is a constant cycle that I've come to expect.

It's not just comics. Books are obviously going through a generational change, games are in constant flux, toys are completely unpredictable.

How else do you survive the modern world if you aren't diversified?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

"How much time do you spend writing?"

My struggles with "Castle La Magie" have unexpectedly highlighted the process I use to write books in ways I hadn't consciously formulated.

Process for me are the methods I use to allow the writing to happen. The habits I've formed to allow the creativity to emerge. I write a book in specific stages, which I've arrived at after much trial and error.

The beginning of the process for me were the Big Rules I formulated before I even started writing again, based on my bad habits from my first career in writing.

1.) No major re-writing until the first draft is finished.
2.) Write every day.
3.) Write one chapter of 1500 to 2000 words per day (then stop unless absolutely compelled to keep writing)
4.) Finish what you start.
5.) Re-write the manuscript a couple of times, but then lay off.

Eventually I arrived at a daily work process that allows all that to happen.

When people ask, "How much time do you spend writing?" I've never had a good answer.

When am I writing?

Is it when I'm lazing around the house? Talking to myself in the shower? Walking in the woods? Laying on my bed with my pillow over my eyes and asking myself questions?

If it is only when actual words are forming on a screen, the answer is I probably write only a hour or two per day. Sounds easy enough. A couple hours a day? I could fit that in between work and family, right?

Well, I spent 25 years proving that wrong. I constantly had the urge to write, I constantly started stories, but I could never get very far. Pegasus Books always got in the way. What became clear to me was that it wasn't the time involved, it was the headspace. Everything had to be cleared away so that I could inhabit the fictional dream long enough for the story to emerge.

So the prerequisite, at least for me, is that I have to be fully committed. The day ahead has to be devoted to one thing and one thing only: Writing.

I can't force it, but I can gently nudge my consciousness in that direction throughout the day. So that is step one of the process. I need to surround the hour or two of actual writing with hours of rumination and dithering.

Writing "Castle La Magie" has crystallized this for me. I have, in effect, been trying to write this book in a two hour window. I go out on my walk without any preparation and I sit down at the first station. (I have places to stop every half-mile on a four mile walk.) I pump out 250 words and continue my walk.

I've managed to make some progress, but it has been vaguely dissatisfying.

Slowly, I've come to realize that I can't write effectively without the full process.

1.) As soon as I've read the newspaper and downed my coffee and perused the internet, I turn my attention to the next chapter I plan to write. Usually this happens by noon.

2.) I dither and try to get my head into the story, not allowing any distractions. It can be hard, especially since I'm not forcing the issue. My brain is like a cold engine on a frosty morning. It doesn't want to turn over.

3.) I go to wherever the house is quiet and just try to think about what I want to happen next. What seems most effective to is to lay on my bed with the pillow over my eyes and just let it happen. I get vague notions, sometimes I get full-on ideas, and best of all, sometimes the words just start flowing. But more often, I run through a series of scenarios in my mind trying to figure out what I'm trying accomplish with the new chapter, which character is clamoring to be the point of view. I ask myself how I can mix it up from the expected, if there isn't something I can do that really grabs me.

Again, sometimes the story comes solid and complete and I never argue with that.

In the rumination process I start to save up ideas. It is only when I feel that I have sufficient material that I go on my walk. By then, I've already got a start to the chapter and some telling details to make it come alive.

If I don't have this, I don't write. But almost every time, I've gotten enough from my meditations to write a satisfying chapter. Then after I've written it, I think some more on what I've written and make a few changes or additions.

Then I read the chapter to Linda.

Next day, I start to process again.

Of course, it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes I dedicate myself to a chapter for hours and hours, and then late in the day it finally comes together. Sometimes I get an idea or two but decide to wait for the next day.

But basically, I'm incubating ideas all day long, staying inside the fictional dream, not allowing any distractions.

I've realized in writing "Castle La Magie" that I was trying to skip these amorphous hours, going straight to the story, and it doesn't work. Like I said, it's a cold start without any warmup. I've also realized that not only do the ideas for chapters come in the amorphous hours, but that the overall plot of the book is formed as well.

I've decided, starting today, that I'm going to go back to the full process for the rest of the month and finish the book.

Turns out, I can't be lazy about it. Turns out a book requires full dedication, hours of seemingly doing nothing.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

I essentially have three modes of writing.

1.)  The first and best is when I'm fully committed. That means everything else takes second place. I focus exclusively on the story. I spend hours sometimes just getting in the mood, contemplating it, creating a cushion around the actual writing, so that when I finally start typing I have a pretty good idea of what I want the chapter to accomplish, have visualized much of it, and have a bunch of telling details in mind.

I've heard creativity described as a shy pet that you must coax out from under the couch. I want to be persistent but gentle. This more or less takes all of a day. I can't let anything get in the way. Full attention, but not forcing it. Letting it come, but giving myself plenty of time.

When I do this, I usually write a full chapter, between 1500 and 2500 words.  (I probably could write more, but I think it helps to approach each new chapter fresh.)

2.) The second mode of writing is when I'm basically spending the mere hour or two a day it takes to put down about 1000 words or so. Not a lot of cushion or planning or mulling. Just jumping on the first idea that comes along and starting from there.

It's amazing, but this doesn't actually turn out that bad. But it's much less satisfying, somehow, and I suspect in the end there just isn't as much depth. It also requires going back and fixing things.

3.) The last mode I try to avoid. That's when I constantly revisit the same material again and again until I've lost all sense of what I was trying to do in the first place. This happens more often as a followup to the second mode--the idea that I can come back and fix it later, instead of having thought it out in the first place.

So why don't I always do the first mode?

Because it is exhausting and time-consuming. I get a little weird from isolation, I neglect things, my eyes and neck start to hurt. I forget to eat and bath and sleep. It is my price for being a writer.

I let myself do the second mode because sometimes I want to be casual, I want to think about and do other things. Holidays get in the way. Or I just reach burn-out.

The alternative to the second mode is not writing at all.

The third mode happens because there is enough substance to some of these second-mode stories to try to fix them. Most of them end up in my Book Vault, stories I may never finish or if finished, may never put out. None of the effort was wasted, though. I've learned something with every book. Sometimes I start out in the second mode and if the idea is strong enough, switch to the first mode. (And vice verse).

All of this is a consequence of trying to at least finish a first draft of every story I start. (It's very easy to fall into the trap of writing 10 or 20 or 30 thousands words, setting it aside and thinking I'll come back later. Those stories most often never get finished. I've got half a dozen in my word processing program right now.)

So I'm in the second mode right now. When I read the story back to Linda is sounds pretty good, even though I just tossed it off.

When the first of the year rolls around, I'm going to shift into first mode and write the next Virginia Reed book. Two to three months of hermitage while I write the first draft. It's both alluring and daunting. But I think it will get published and that's a high motivation.