Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Anticipated Things of 2016

I have to admit it, when it comes to books, I've had my own head deep into my own work, so I haven't been paying too much attention to what is scheduled to come out in the coming year, or is hoped to come out this year.  I went and did a cursory look at the various "Can't Wait" or "Highlight Anticipated" lists, and most of the top things listed are books 3, 4 or more of series that I haven't read yet.  I am looking forward to reading The Thorn of Emberlain when it comes out, though.
BirdsSkyOne book in the coming year that is on my radar is Charlie Jane Anders's All The Birds In The Sky.  I've been a fan of Charlie's work as the editor of io9, and she's getting tons of good buzz, so this looks like a book to check out.
In other media, well, I'm an absolute sucker for just about anything superhero related, and next year is delivering plenty for me along those lines: Legends of TomorrowBatman v. SupermanCaptain America: Civil WarDaredevil Season 2... and that's just getting us up to April.
And that will be the sort of thing that will help keep my creative brain energized in the months to come.  Which, believe me, friends: I'm going to need.
Hope your new year is joyous.  See you in 2016.

Monday, December 28, 2015

What A Year This Has Been

All right, I'll admit, I've kind of harped on the subject that, at least for me personally, 2015 has been a really good year.  I'm immensely happy that Thorn of Dentonhill and A Murder of Mages have been released to the world, and they've received the praise that they have.  I'm thrilled that I've been privileged to share the story of Maradaine with readers, and that I'm going to continue to share it with you next year and beyond.
It's not about the money, or the reviews-- though those things are nice, don't get me wrong-- but purely the fact that I get to do this and share my dreams with all of you.
I'm honored.
I've talked about how David Eddings was an early influence on me, but the big thing for me was how energized I was reading The Belgariad.  That summer I was working at an ice cream shop in the mall, and when I picked up Pawn of Prophecy, I read through it in one night.  The next day, before I went to work, I stopped at the book store across the hallway from the ice cream shop and got Queen of Sorcery and Magician's Gambit with the last of the money I had before the next paycheck.  I tore through those in two days.  With payday still a day away, I bought Castle of Wizardry with handful of loose change.  Mostly dimes.  After I got paid, I bought Enchanter's End Game and the three books of The Mallorean that had been released, and tore through that as well.  Slightly a week after first picking up the first book, I had binged through the existing canon and was now hungrily waiting for months before Sorceress of Darshiva was to be released.
This is my little wish for the future-- years from now, when there are far more Maradaine books on the shelves, there will be someone who will discover Thorn of Dentonhill and tear through it, and then get each book that follows as quickly as Amazon drones will bring them (or whatever delivery method is appropriate in the future) in a mad frenzy until they've consumed it all, and thus are waiting impatiently for whatever I have next.  That's the person I'm writing for.
The Alchemy of Chaos final front coverNot that I don't love all of you you took a chance on me this year, when I was an unknown quantity.  It's because if you that I get to keep going.  If you're reading this, you're probably in that crowd, and I am very grateful to each and every one of you.
And I did get a mention on Tenacious Reader's End-of-Year list, as one of her top Debut authors of 2015!
Now that 2015 is almost over, and we have to look to the future.  Included in that: Publisher's Weekly reviews The Alchemy of Chaos!
Hopefully, that's a small taste of what's to come.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Twas the day before Christmas...

Somewhere in his craft-and-process book The Rivan Codex, David Eddings says, "Write every day.  You can take a half-day on Christmas."  Which means that holidays don't necessarily apply in this work.  You've got to the work every day, especially to keep the pace I'm trying to hit.  So even on a day like today, I'm at it.  
The blogosphere is filling up with end-of-year best-of lists, and I'm trying not to pay any of it too much mind.  I remind myself that I'm doing just fine for my first year, and I shouldn't let anything distract me from that.
But sometimes you need a bit of a distraction, in which I'm giving this question:
Which pre-1950 author would I want to be and why?
You know, I look at that, and I don't even know how to answer that.  I mean, I don't want to be anyone else.  Who would I want to emulate, perhaps?  I think along the lines of Arthur Conan Doyle, who created a set of characters who endure to the point that they've become icons.   I like the idea of my work enduring like that.
(Of course, the dark side of that is Doyle got so sick of his main character that he killed him off, and then reluctantly resurrected him due to public demand.  And if you've actually read The Final Problem, the weariness is so evident.  It is a perfunctory tale that dispatches Holmes with little fanfare.  And yet even that created another enduring character in Moriarty, despite not actually appearing in the story proper.)
So that's all I have.   Be well to each other this holiday, and I'll see you down in the word mines.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Organizing my Thoughts for the Future

I've made no secret of the fact that I've got Big Picture plans for the Maradaine books, so now that The Alchemy of Chaos is ready to go out into the world in a matter of weeks and An Import of Intrigue is fundamentally done*, it's critical to get a better look at where things are in my writing process, where they are going, and how little changes and additions affect the big picture.
And there is Big Picture news coming down the pike...  
But that's not the point here.  The point is, I'm at a juncture where I need to re-calibrate, examine where I need to go, and figure out the best way to do that that both honors what I've done and where I want to go.  I've compared outlining to working out one's planned trip on a road map, but in a lot of ways, being in this place feels closer to being in the middle of the ocean with star charts and dead reckoning.  
I'm currently working on the rough draft of The Imposters of Aventil, which is the next book in the Aventil/Dentonhill/University share of the saga** of Maradaine.  I had to tear the original outline down and re-build it, based on events that happened in Alchemy that I didn't anticipate when I wrote the Imposters outline.  I'm now looking at the outline for the third Constabulary book with the same eye based on what happens in Import.  I feel like this will be a less painful process than it was for Imposters, because I'm already understanding that this is a necessary thing for me to do.
Because the storytelling needs to be organic.  Sticking lock-step to the outline would be absurd.  This applies to the individual projects, as well as the Big Picture.  I've looked at the Big Picture outline some more, and already see one major change that I'm going to want to implement.  Without going into spoilers or details, it's sort of  equivalent to when the producers of LOST cast Michael Emerson for a three-episode guest turn, and realized that they had something great on their hands, and decided to weave him into the larger mythology.    Sort of.  Don't read too much into that comparison.  
Though I definitely do have a larger mythology-- if that's the right word-- that I'm working on here.  But I'm also growing more confident about what that is, and how I'm going to be sharing it with you.  I'm really excited about what's to come.
But, in the short term, what's to come is The Alchemy of Chaos.  Black Gate is already excited for it, and I hope you will be as well.
Collage 2

*- As far as the creative aspected is concerned, it's done.  Copy-editing and proof-checking still to come, but that's far more the administrative part of the writing process-- on a storytelling level, it's locked down.
**- Good lord, I just said "saga".

Thursday, December 17, 2015

My Choice of Children's Books

WGreekMythhen I was a kid, there was one book I just plain consumed, over and over again, which was D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths.  This book, to me, was the gold standard for taking something as rich and complicated as Greek Mythology and making it accessible to a young audience.
loved this book as a child. It was first published in 1962, but it's rather timeless.  I had my dog-eared copy as a kid, and my son received two copies for his fourth birthday from different people.  It's a good child-gift book, after all.
I remember in sixth grade, we were doing a unit on ancient Greece, and for reasons that I can't quite recall, I was surprised by the fact that I was supposed to give an oral presentation on Greek mythology, which my teacher thought I was going to be utterly unprepared to do.*  But since I had read this book backwards and forwards numerous times, I then took up the entire class period relating the various stories I had long since consumed.
So this was my first grounding in the classics.  The D'Aulaires also wrote one on Norse Mythology, which I read as a kid, but it didn't stick with me in the same way.  But if you're looking for a book to give a child that will blow up their imagination into all things fantastic, well, you could hardly go wrong with it.
*- See: surprised.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Crafts of Page and Stage

I list "playwright" in my bio, but truth be told, that isn't something I put a lot of focus into.
Back in the day, I was pretty much living and breathing theatre.  By "In the day", I'm mostly talking about 1995-2001, when I lived in a house with three other guys who were also All About Theatre, and ever aspect of our home was devoted to that end.  The backporch was a set workshop.  The living room was a rehearsal space.*  During that time, I did more acting, directing and producing than writing-- but I did do everyting.  (Not to mention stage management, sound design, and whatever else was needed to put a show on its feet.)  
Now, while I approached theatre with a certain degree of breadth, I was largely unfocused, and with that, undisciplined.  I didn't have the raw skill to be an excellent actor, or the focus to maintain training and discipline. Most acting exercises bored me out of my skull.  
I often had ideas about what I wanted to do-- a sense of vision-- but I lacked the skill, means or resources to make things happen quite the way I wanted.  I directed an all-female production of Macbeth that came close to the vision I had, and where it failed I put entirely on my own shoulders-- my own failure to communicate my vision effectively, my own inability to bring all the performers to the same place.
So, a few months ago, I had the privilege to see Sleep No More in New York. You are probably already familiar with this performance, but if you aren't, here's the basics: the performance is housed in a five-story building, made up like a grand old hotel (though one floor is also a sanitarium and a forest-- it's very strange), in which the audience can walk around freely (while masked), and a wordless, movement-based performance (loosely adapted from Macbeth) is enacted around the whole location.  You can wonder around, follow characters, poke through journals.  It's raw and visceral and interactive and every element is united in making a profound theatrical experience.
It was, quite frankly, like the universe had plucked everything I would have wanted to do theatrically and made it flesh--- something I never had the the means, resources, talent or understanding of my own vision to make it happen.
But I remembered, also, why I stopped doing theatre-- so I could focus entirely on writing.   Writing novels requires skill and discipline, which I developed over time, but I didn't need to rent a space, hire designers, communicate to actors, etc., etc. to make them happen.
And now I'm a novelist.  But being the novelist I want to be literally takes all my focus and energy.  Not too long ago, I briefly flirted with the idea of doing some theatre in some capacity again.  I even thought to myself, "Hey, I'm actually the right age now to play _____".  But I'm not going to do that. 
And I'm certainly not lacking in things to work on, writing-wise.  The upcoming year is going to continue to be very bust for me, in the best possible way, and I'm really looking forward to it.
But that doesn't mean that I don't, every once in a while, miss the theatre.  
I'll be updating my "appearances" page shortly, as well as adding some new news once I can.  But, for starters, On February 2nd-- the release date for The Alchemy of Chaos-- I'll be appearing at BookPeople in Austin.  Hope to see many of you there.
Collage 2
*- There were even, on occasion, rehearsals in our home for shows that no one who lived in the house were directly involved in.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Things I Read This Year

So, I really didn't read anywhere near as much as I ought to have this year.  I've been slow at it.  It's one reason why I can't get too upset when a friend tells me they haven't read Thorn or Murder yet, because there's so much in my growing To-Be-Read pile, much of it by people I consider friends, that it would be extraordinarily hypocritical of me to hold people to standards that I don't even remotely live by.
Just a quick glance at my TBR list, just from books from this year:
Gemini Cell by Myke Cole
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Grace of Kings by Ken Liu*
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel Jose Older
Archangel by Marguerite Reed
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Dreams of Shreds and Tatters by Amanda Downum
The End of All Things by John Scalzi
And that doesn't even include the things that are books three or four of series I hadn't even read book one of yet.
I should read more and faster, I know.
So what did I read-- and I mean actually read and finish, not start and bounce off of-- and actually like?
Cold Iron, by Stina Leicht
Ok, I'm cheating a bit on this, because I'm not done, but I'm two-thirds through and enjoying it, and I'm familiar enough with Stina's work to believe in her ending it well-- or as well as a Book One in a planned series of at least three can end.  Stina's style is brisk and fun, and you can tell she loves her characters just enough to be horrible to them.
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
This was a fun one.  Steampunk adventure with a mecha sewing machine.  How can you not love it?
Time Salvager by Wesley Chu
I have to admit-- Wes left a lot hanging for the second book, but I'm kind of a sucker for narratives about jerks who do the right thing, and his protagonist fits the bill.  James really is an unlikable bastard, but you still enjoy him.

So, there's my three for this year.  I'm going to try better next year.  But I've also got plenty to write.  So I'm off to it.
*- I started this and had to put it to the side for a bit.  I intend to get back to it.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Fetishizing Your Process

NaNoWriMo ended last week, and while I don't participate and don't think it's a good way to write a good novel, I do think it can be an excellent exercise to learn about your own novel-writing process.  I certainly wouldn't knock on someone for doing it, especially in an attempt to kickstart oneself towards the daunting task of Writing A Novel.
I sometimes say writing a novel is like running a marathon, but if anything, it's carving a tunnel through a mountain with just a sledgehammer.  And there are days when it feels like you're going to die with your hammer in your hand, as the song goes.*
I think, though, that one's process is incredibly personal, and you can't really dictate what it ought to be.  Even to yourself.  I do think there are many people who get an idea in their head of what their process should be, and get frustrated when it doesn't yield results.  I think, for example, several people are in a different place on the plotter/pantser axis than they feel is the "right" place to be.  I think one of the hardest parts of becoming a writer is determining what your process actually is, and then honoring that.
Case in point: my brain is often distracted by Something Shiny, especially when I'm trying to force my way into the rhythm of getting started.  One thing I learned was that trying to starve it of Something Shiny-- disabling the internet, for example-- never helped.  It wanted the shiny, and depriving it would just make it seek out the shiny further and further afield.  So I learned I needed to feed that need for shiny, in a way that didn't distract from my ability to work.  This is where pop music with my headphones come in.  Something catchy and earwormy that I can put on repeat so it becomes a mindless drone?  Perfect.  What works best?  Multi-song mash-ups, the more complex the better.  The shiny-craving part of my brain is happy, and the creative-work part can get on it.
THAT SAID, I also need to embrace that situations may not be ideal.  You can't pull the "Oh, I would write/craft/create if I only had..." sewage, because that's being twee and pretentious.  Yes, I could do so much better if I had a private office in my home or a Magic Writing Shed.  But I don't get those.  Not having those is no excuse not to produce, especially now that I've launched something, and those things have expectations tied to them.    I can't be all, "Oh, the muse isn't speaking to me right now."
In other words, if you can't maximize your writing process, do what you can.  Work's got to get done.
Fortunately, they haven't-- yet-- invented the machine that can replicate my work.  Once they have that, though, I will be there, hammer in hand, determined to beat it. 
Collage 2
In the meantime, we're now eight weeks out from the release of The Alchemy of Chaos.  At this point last year, I was still in a state of semi-panic over Thorn's release, a part of my brain still convinced it was all some elaborate prank.**  I wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm serene about it's release, but I'm far, far calmer right now than I was last year.  That said, once I start to see a bit more pre-buzz about Alchemy, I'll be the happier for it.  
*- As a kid, I remember seeing an animated short of The Ballad Of John Henry where, in his battle against the machine, he was actually smashing through the rocks and making the tunnel, not driving the steel rails in.  Which doesn't make a lick of sense, but the imagery stuck in my head.  YouTube has failed me in finding this particular bit of animated nostalgia.
**- I honestly half-imagined some amalgamized middle-school bully jumping out from behind a bookshelf at the store, "HA!  You thought you actually had a book coming out!  GOT YOU!"

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Perils of the Writer: The Final Pass

So, about a month ago, I turned in the "final" draft of An Import of Intrigue, though there are still several stages of copy editing and proofing before the actual finished book comes out, and that is still a ways away.  Currently we're scheduled for November 2016.  I know you're all eager for the continued adventures of the Maradaine Constabulary, and I'm eager to give them to you, but we all have to be patient.  But the book is turned in, and the heavy lifting on my part is done.  
At this point, I don't have the luxury of tweaking and fidgiting with the manuscript.  Even with the long lead time now before Import comes out, I had a deadline and I think it's important to hit those.  I'm not a superstar who can get away with the big gap between books, or at least, I don't have the large, dedicated fanbase who will be there no matter when the next book comes out.  My business strategy has been: do good work, do it efficiently, and do it on time.  
So, how do I go from a solid draft of a novel to final one turned in?  How do I know I've got it done and I can send it off, not to worry about it anymore?  (Or, you know, at least minimize the worry until the copyedits come and show me All The Mistakes.)  
Once I've received edits on the polished draft from my editor, I print up a hard copy and read it, pen in hand.  I make a lot of my own notes based on my editor's, and then I've got a copy of the manuscript that looks a lot like this:
Marked up MS

A lot of these notes involve cleaning up sloppy phrasing, clarifying details and fixing minor continuity mistakes.  Once I'm done with that, I go back into the master Scrivener document and implement the changes.  
Once that's done, I really feel like anything further is fiddling out of fear rather than actual useful editing.  I mean, yes, there might still be things that slipped past me, but more time spent with another reading pass is diminishing returns. Could there be something more I could do?  I suppose, but I believe that perfect is the enemy of good.  There reaches a point where you have to decide, "This is done, and I have to move forward."  
And then go on to the next thing.  Which is the third Thorn book, provisionally titled, The Imposters of Aventil.  
Collage 2

Monday, November 30, 2015

Silencing The Opposition

I don't really get political here.  Anyone who knows me knows I'm somewhere in the left-leaning moderate range, and I won't actively pretend I'm not that... but at the same time, I don't really make too many political statements in general.  I don't tend to get worked up over things and feel a need to march over here and make some sort of statement.  More often than not, someone else with a larger platform has already said it better, so there's not a whole lot of point to me adding my voice to the chorus.  Mind you-- this is a privilege.  I have the privilege not to care so much to make a fight.  I know plenty of people whose lived reality means they have to make the fight.
But I sometimes like a good political argument.  I have a few friends on Facebook and such who lean in the other direction-- some vociferously so-- and when they post something I consider ridiculous, I'll roll up my sleeves and go in there.  But mostly because I enjoy the spar.  I never question their right to their opinion or their value as a member of society for holding it.
Because, as much as I disagree, then one thing I never want to do is shut them up.
I lead off with this, because I often find that the "win condition" most people have, on both extremes of opinion, is that the other side will just slink away and shut up.  Yes, I know, the "both sides do it" is something of a lame trope in and of itself, but the overarching theme of "we're right, and those idiots are wrong, and when will they figure it out or shut the hell up?" is common to both of them.  Both on the left and the right I see people go into narrower and narrower spirals of People Who Think Different Than Me Are Idiots, and nothing good comes from that.
This is the result of bubbling yourself in an echo chamber.  Part of why I don't want my conservative friends to shut up and go away-- besides the fact that they're friends-- is I do not want the echo chamber.
Silencing opposing views just makes all of us weaker.  I always love the quote Aaron Sorkin liked to re-use in several of his works: "If you're dumb, surround yourself with smart people.  If you're smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you."
To wrap this back around to writing-- you need to have other viewpoints in your life to understand them and write from them.  If you shut that out, it'll be reflected in the work.  Then you get books that are screeds and message laden.  Flawlessly right heroes and cardboard villains whose main plan is "be stupid".  How is this interesting?  Well, from what I've seen, that sort of thing is interesting to people in the same echo chamber.  And if you want to write that story, power to you.  I'm not interested.
When I drafted The Way of the Shield-- a book filled with Maradaine politics-- one of the points I felt I needed to hit was to understand everyone's point of view and write it as legitimate when I was writing in their voice.  An early version fell apart because I wasn't taking my villain seriously.  Understanding the work beyond my own comfort zone was what allowed me to make that work.
So, I'll argue, if I feel like jumping in there.  But I never want the opposition to go away.  Where's the challenge in that?
Speaking of challenge, I've been puttering away at Thorn III and a few other projects, and I need to be getting back to that.  I just sussed out a pacing/timing issue I was having on Thorn III, so I'm eager to get to the details with that.  See you down in the word mines.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Brief Thoughts on Appetite-Whetting Fiction

Today I'm in the kitchen doing all sorts of things-- if you've read my books it probably does not surprise you that I'm into food and I'm the primary cook in the house.  I remember when I read The Omnivore's Dilemma, one "rule" he puts in there to maximize your "healthy" eating is, "you can eat anything that you make from scratch", and I though, "this does not limit me much".    In fact, I'll cop that I'm something of a food snob.  
I've made a point of including food in all my work, because food is culture, food is worldbuilding.  I've made a point of highlighting how Druthal has many different regional cuisines.  
But what books have gotten my appetite going?
I'll have to confess, it doesn't happen very often.  See above: something of a food snob.  At least, it doesn't happen with fiction.  Foodie memoirs, like Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential or Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones and Butter?  Yeah, those got me inspired to go down to the kitchen and getting to work.
I can think of one example though.  While I'm a food snob, my snobbery leans toward rustic simplicity.  There's a passage in David Eddings's Polgara the Sorceress, the second sort-of-prequel to the Belgariad, where Polgara decides that Faldor's Farm (where the Belgariad begins) is the place she's going to settle down for a bit to raise Garion, and thus she's going to take over the kitchen.  The former head of the kitchen was an incompetent drunk, and Polgara has to "audition" to take over with minimal time and mostly force of personality (which Polgara has in spades).  So she whips together a vegetable stew and biscuits, which the farmhands-- having not had a decent-tasting meal in months-- eagerly consume every last drop of.  
I felt like going down to the kitchen and making a stew after that.
All right, I've got a full day of kitchen ahead of me now, so I'm off.  Hope your days are filled with joy and delicious things.

Monday, November 23, 2015


It's no secret that I've had a very good 2015.  Two books came out, to solid reviews and decent sales.  Even made the Locus Bestseller List one month.
Did I take the literary world by storm?  Are they beating a path to my door?  Is the truck coming over to
deliver the Scalzi Money?
No, that's not happening.  Not yet.  And that's all right.
Because as far as having a solid launch for a long literary career goes?  I feel like I'm in a great place.  I've done hard work and had good fortune, and this is the result.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to do this.  The opportunity to write and tell these stories.  To be able to bring Veranix, Satrine and Minox and all the rest of Maradaine into the world for you.  This is the dream I'm living now, and it's thanks to my family, friends and readers like you that I get to do this.
Next year, with The Alchemy of Chaos and An Import of Intrigue coming out, I'm only building on the good fortune I've already received.  And I have so much planned for you all, and I'm thrilled to be able share it with you.
Thank you, one and all.
Collage 2

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Sweat, The Hard, The Hours.

I'm not much of one for simple quotes of advice on writing craft.  Part of the reason for that is it's not that simple.
It's about doing the work, the hard work, to get it done.
But, if you want quotes, if you want some of the things that ring in my head about doing the work, it's better for you to hear them.

The basics what they're all saying: Do the work. Keep doing it. It will not be easy.  Put in the hours.
There's not a writer worth the ink their work is printed on who will tell you this is some easy lark.  Anyone who does is selling something. There are tools to help improve, there is mastery of the craft, but all that comes from just planting yourself in front of your writing implement of choice and working at it.
I joke about "going down to the word mines", but it helps to keep that frame of mind that it's a process of work and effort, and it shouldn't be taken lightly.   
And on that note, I've got plenty of that work still do to, so off I go...

Monday, November 16, 2015

Looking Back Ten Years

You know, if you had asked me in 2005, I would have said that I absolutely, definitely was ready for publication.  Sure, maybe my work needed some fine-tuning-- or straight up "getting done", but I thought that I was fundamentally there.
Well, this weekend I pulled out a short story I had written around 2005. I'm not sure exactly when I wrote it, but I think it was around then.  To my memory, I wrote it while I was still working in the English department, a job I left in January 2006, and I think I wrote it after attending my first ArmadilloCon Writers' Workshop, which was in July or August of 2005.  This makes sense, because I would have gotten the idea in my head that A. my perennial work-in-progress at the time, the long-since-trunked Crown of Druthal, was not the slam-dunk I thought it was going to be at the workshop and B. that I needed to try to write short stories.
So the short story in question was to be the first of several character-study-shorts focusing on one of the characters from Crown of Druthal.  I had the intention of doing more, but that never materialized.
But back to this piece: at the time, I really thought I had something solid. I put it to critique.  I shopped it around.  I thought, fundamentally, that I was ready to get things moving.
But, like I said, I pulled it out this weekend to look it over-- I wanted to refresh myself on the ideas in the story, mostly for parts to cannibalize for something else brewing in the back of my skull.
It was rather poor work.
It's not BAD, but it's the sort of thing that, if I received it for the Writers' Workshop, I'd give it a B- or C+, in part because the sentences are so clunky.  The story trying too hard and failing miserably.  Plus the climax is RUSHED because I needed to get a lot of things out and keep it under 5000 words, because SHORT STORY.
So, two things this puts in my mind:
A. Don't write short stories just because 'you ought to'.  Write them because they're the natural fit for the story you're telling.  There's no other reason to write a short story.
B. At the time, I really thought this story was Good Stuff.  Now I see how weak it really was.  My writing craft still needed a lot of practice to get to the point where what I was writing was publishable.  I couldn't see that then, but it's clear to me now.  If you're thinking about self-publishing, that's a good thing to keep in mind.  Consider putting something to the side for a bit-- not ten years, but a bit-- and then look at it with fresh eyes before you press "publish".
All that said, I think this story does have something I can salvage.  We'll see.  Off to the word mines for me...

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Dialogue on dialogue

"So, I got a question for you."
"Go ahead."
"That's not a question."
"The question's implicit."
"No, it isn't.  That's an absurd statement."
"Fine.  How does one write good dialogue?"
"You're asking me?"
"You are the professional writer."
"That's true."
"Some would say you've got a good ear for it."
"That is the term of art used."
"Term of art?"
"Term of art.  Because, that's right... The yard for the boy."
"Yard for the boy?"
"Well, that's the whole..."
"What are you talking about?"
"You're supposed to ask, 'What is a 'term of art'?"
"That's the dialogue."
"Are we doing Mamet or something?"
"Fuck that, I'm not doing Mamet."
"Maybe you should."
"Do Mamet?"
"Look at the theatre, if nothing else.  You want to write dialogue, listen to people, listen to the rhythm of how they talk.  But also pay attention to playwrights.  Their craft is almost entirely dialogue."
"You were a playwright."
"I've written plays, yes."
"And that's helped you write dialogue?"
"I think it was crucial in developing my craft.  In my development of my craft.  Same with being an actor.  I had to take those words and put them through my mouth.  When I write dialogue, I'm constantly thinking about what it would be like to say them."
"And that helps?"
"Absolutely it helps.  If it sounds right being spoken, if you can get that in your ear-- see, there's the term of art--"
"Please don't start that again."
"But if you can get it in your ear, then it rings true on the page.  They hear it.  They hear the voice of the character.  Sometimes so well, you don't even have to attribute the dialogue."
"For real?"
"Hell, yes.  Check out Rules for Werewolves by Kirk Lynn.  It's a novel that's only unattributed dialogue.  And Lynn?  Playwright."
"Worth checking out?"
"Completely.  So, again:  watch, read, listen, then write.  Got it?"

Monday, November 9, 2015

A Book By Its Cover

I've been ridiculously happy with the covers I've had so far for the Maradaine books.  I think they really capture the feel of the books and do an excellent job drawing reader attention.  Paul Young has done right by me here.
Collage 2
You look at the Thorn cover, and you know you're going to get a city-based adventure in a fantasy setting, one that involves a rooftop-running, nighttime focused hero.  You look at the Murder cover, and you know you're going to get something involving gruesome murders and two heroes who are equal partners.  
So, what do you see in the Alchemy cover? Beyond the obvious "this is a sequel to Thorn", since he and the two moons are prominent again.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Sticking to the Goals

So, now that I've gotten through October, I've got a few things of my plate. Namely, the proofs for The Alchemy of Chaos have been finalized, and I submitted the final draft of An Import of Intrigue.  Which means now all I've got to work on is rough draft stuff.
I've mentioned before that when I'm in drafting mode (which is just about always), I target 500 words a day.  I often surpass that, but 500 makes a good target for me.  It's a not a breakneck finish-a-novel-in-a-month pace, of course, but it works best for how I write.  I tend to be very deliberate in how I write and plot, so the pound-it-out-and-fix-it-later method does not work for me.
But what I need to do-- what every person who has the intention to actually write a novel needs to put their ass in the chair (or their feet on the floor, if you've got a standing desk), and just plain do the work.
The work itself is not the sexy, exciting part about being a writer.
I say that because I notice there's a certain class of hopeful-novelists who don't want to write, they want to have written.  They want a shiny book to point to, and the work is something they kind of gloss over.  There's a certain ginormous best-seller who speaks of the process of writing their first novel like it was some kind of unintended wacky accident, that they were just typing away and *novel occurred* out of the blue.  No.
The process of writing a novel cannot be expressed in the passive voice.  You've got to actively decide, each day, each week, that you're going to get it done.
Speaking of, I've got quite a few things percolating, above and beyond the third Thorn novel and the Space Opera in Progress, so I need to get to work on that.
But not before sharing this big news: The Alchemy of Chaos has a cover!  The fine people at SFSignal shared it with the world, and again Paul Young has done me right.
The Alchemy of Chaos final front cover
Check out The Alchemy of Chaos over at Goodreads.

Monday, November 2, 2015

What Are "Classics", And Why Does It Matter?

I have seen the following comment made it what appeared to be complete earnestness.  It may have been an example of that internet law, where no statement is too outrageous or satirical that it can't be mistaken for the real thing.  But this struck me as the Real Thing:
None of these new writers are any damn good.  I haven't read anything written since 1975."
Now it may be said commentator was eliding a key point; they may have meant they haven't read anything worth reading, for example.  But the underlying point is still just as absurd: that nothing new is good, and the reader hadn't bothered really exploring it.  
There's is a school of thought among the SFF fans that the classics are all that's worth a damn, and if you don't read those you aren't a real fan.  This is true, especially, when you look at this idea the simmered under all the Hugo controversy, where some were essentially saying, "The old Hugo winners were these timeless classics, and in recent years it's new stuff I haven't heard of."   It's an aversion to not only new work but new people in the field, which also has elements of racism and sexism tied to it.  
I've been seeing this for a long time, so while I don't know what specifically sparked this rant by Jason Sanford, I'm utterly unshocked by the idea that he came across something which did.
That said, I'm not all in with Sanford.  He talks about SFF Lit being thriving and vibrant-- which is totally true.  We've "won", in the sense that we've gone fully mainstream.  The SFF section of the bookstore is no longer so dusty corner in the back with one shelf's worth of the same set of books.  We've got a generation of writers who grew up with that shelf and were so hungry for more stuff that they've made banquets of it.  
But then he takes a left turn, saying, "Indie publishing is one of the few reasons SF/F literature still has a slight heartbeat."  
So, first off, is it thriving ("Science fiction & fantasy has conquered the world."), or does it only have a "slight heartbeat"?   It feels like this comment runs contrary to everything else he said.  
More to the point, how is he defining "indie publishing"?  Is he talking about self-publishing, or small presses, or what?  
But even past that, this strikes me as yet-another-backhanded swipe at traditional publishing, like it's one of those dinosaurs he complains about arguing about which classics are best.  That traditional publishing isn't interested in new voices, ideas or work.  
Even a cursory glance at the output of the traditionally published SFF of the past year shows that isn't the case.  Just this far-from-complete list at The Qwillery shows over 60 new authors from this year alone.  That's a lot of new work from new voices from a genre that only has a "slight heartbeat".  And, yes, for full disclosure, I'm included in that list. 
Now, I won't knock on the "classics" themselves.  I read them, if asked I'll recommend them, especially if I'm explicitly talking about SFF Lit from a historical perspective.  But at the same time, they aren't what I'm reading right now, and they are not on my go-to list of what I will recommend to people interested in the genre.  If someone wants a foothold into the genre, I'm far more likely to push Lies of Locke Lamora at them over The Lord of the Rings, and Old Man's War over Starship Troopers. And I, for one, am dying to know who among my peers is going to be the Next Classic.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Technical Difficulties

So, the other day I attempted to upgrade the operating system on my laptop.  One way or another, I messed up-- I think I interrupted the download or some other mistake.  End result, my laptop didn't have a functioning operating system.  It was pretty much screwed up.
Fortunately, I've got Time Machine and a LaCie backup, so restoring the computer is no problem.
Unfortunately, I hadn't done a backup on the LaCie in eight days.  So that means a week's worth of work that was gone once I restored the computer.
Fortunately, I have all my writing work in Google Drive, so everything gets backed up on the google cloud right away. So nothing was actually lost.
Unfortunately, Scrivener and Google Drive kind of confuse each other, in that Scrivener saves all of my stuff as individual rtfs, and then Google Drive is all, "Oh, you've got a different version of that rtf, so here's a conflict version." and Scrivener doesn't care about the conflict version, because it's already looking at the old one.
Thus I had to manually go through the conflicts and put them into my "real" Scrivener files to get everything up to date.
All in all, the set-back was fortunately only a few hours, and nothing was lost.  The worst of it was one scene of Thorn III, where I didn't notice the conflict file, so when I was working on it again a few days later I thought, "Didn't I write more of this scene?  Where is it?"  Fortunately, I found it and all was corrected.
I don't have too many technical problems.  Scrivener, for the most part, is a blessing, including more or less constantly saving the work as I go.  When I've had a sudden freeze-up or crash, I don't think I've ever lost more than half a sentence, and only if I was literally typing it as it crashed.  Plus, Scrivener actually works nicely on my computer.  I mean, maybe I have an old version of Microsoft Word or something, but in and my Apple operating system often act like a divorced couple meeting at a mutual friend's party.  
That's not something I need to deal with when I'm trying to write.
I'll be at Austin ComicCon this Saturday, so come on down if you're in the area.  In the meantime, I've got to put finishing touches on to An Import of Intrigue, and plenty more to work on beyond that.  

Monday, October 26, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Decisions on the Profane

"When this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you're going to see some serious shit."
The script to Back To The Future is a lot like a precision timepiece, so much working perfectly, and most of the times you don't even realize what it's doing.  This line is a perfect example.  It's the first use of profanity in the movie, and that gives the line greater impact.  After 20 minutes or so where the harshest word uttered is "slacker", one line tells you, in ways you didn't even consciously realize, that the rules just changed.  
Profanity can be a powerful tool in your writing arsenal.
Back at ArmadilloCon, I was asked about why I don't use profanity in the Maradaine books.  And while I might argue that's not exactly true, the way I use profanity is, of course, a deliberate worldbuilding choice.
The main thing, for me, was having the way characters swore be their own unique slang.  Beyond that, the slang of someone in his fifties is going to be different from someone in her twenties.  Beyond that, the slang of someone from Maradaine is going to be different than, say, someone from Kyst or Lacanja or Yoleanne.*
Wanting to incorporate all that in led to my use of terms like blazes, bleeding, rutting, rolling and sewage, as well as a few other phrase sprinkled in here and there.  Not to mention steves, facks, birds, slans, and sinners.  Part of that is personal preference, of course.  There are words I simply don't care to use.
The other aspect of profanity is the racial epithet.  Since the ethnicities in Maradaine are all their own, with their own history and context, I had to build all those from scratch.  And in An Import of Intrigue, where there is plenty of interaction between "regular" Druth residents of Maradaine and the foreign enclaves of the Little East, there was ample opportunity to put them into practice.  Especially with less sensitive or genteel characters like Mirrell or Corrie.  Kierans get called piries as a play off the word "imperial", Tsouljans and Lyranans are both called tyzos because the far eastern continent is Tyzania.  
These are the choices I made for Maradaine, which aren't the choices I'd necessarily make for another work.  In my Space Opera work-in-progress, Lt. Kengle swears somewhat prolifically, even though her alien crewmates don't always understand what she means, as translations are imperfect.  One of them wonders why crises always makes Kengle talk of mating.  
I'll be making an appearance at Austin ComicCon, specifically on writing female characters.  So that's this Saturday-- worth checking out if you have the time.
*I've yet to have good cause to drop an all-of-Druthal map or a full world map in the Maradaine books.  But those are all cities along the west coast of Druthal, as you head further south.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Knocking the Characters Around

Last week I talked about how, as an action writer, the weapon choices a character makes helps define them.
Of course, the other side of the action story is being on the receiving end.  As fond as I am of Veranix, Minox and Satrine, they are not infallible, and fight sequences don't always end well for them.
Sometimes quite badly.
The big thing I always have to watch out for is getting too "cinematic" with their recovery from injuries.  Plenty of movies have people get shot, fall off buildings, suffer major head trauma, and then walk it off five minutes later.  It might make for good movies, but it isn't particularly realistic.
Now, how much realism does a fantasy novel need, you ask?  That depends on your rules.
For example, in Maradaine, one thing magic cannot be used for is healing.  So that keeps me from having an easy out when things go badly.
What this means is I have to keep an eye out for the long term consequences.  Scars last.  Some things never quite heal right again. The body will give you a constant reminder that something isn't right any more.
Thinking about that also forced me to tone down certain things.  I tend to avoid characters getting knocked out over the head if I want them to get up again.  A bit in Thorn where Veranix gets grazed by a crossbow bolt was a change from the rough draft, where the bolt goes through his leg.  I decided I needed to avoid any sort "never walk right again", at least at this point.
Of course, those long term consequences can also be character points.  Without delving into spoilers, an injury suffered in one of the books already out provides the seed for a significant subplot in the sequel.
Speaking of sequels, The Alchemy of Chaos is just about three months away.  Both it and An Import of Intrigue have Goodreads pages, Alchemy can be preordered everywhere you preorder books, and we should be sharing a cover for Alchemy very soon.  In the meantime, I've got to get back to work on all the things.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Busy Week For The Writer - Phases of the Manuscript

October has turned out to be much like July was, in that a lot of things are happening at once.  Basically, three different things are in the pipeline in different stages of completion.
Let me explain a bit about the different stages, and the process a manuscript goes through once it's "done" and sold.  
The initial stages of a manuscript, for me, are essentially OutlineRough Draft and Polished Draft.  The Outline is where I figure out the structural bones of the story, sometimes long before I really start the writing process.  It's usually about 1000-2000 words, depending.  Then I turn that into a full 100Kish manuscript, which is the Rough Draft.  (I'm glossing over a fair amount of hard work and daily grind, boiling it down to 'turn that into', but that's the process.)  That goes to beta readers, gets worked over and fine-tuned to become the Polished Draft.  This is what gets sent to my editor.
Now, I should point out that I don't make a big distinction of counting drafts or the midpoints from Rough to Polished.  But I don't want you to think that it's just one round of polishes at that's it.  
After my editor reads the Polished Draft, we talk about it and she gives notes*, and I use that to make it into the Final Draft.  This is also where I usually print out a hard copy and go through it all, making my own notes along the way, which is integral to my process.  Something about the different appearance, the tactile element, makes things pop out in a way I didn't notice before.  So once that's done, the Final Draft is sent back to my editor.
From there, it's sent to the copyeditor.  The copyeditor checks for spelling, word use and grammar, as well as consistency and continuity.  For example, if I use a term with capital letters in one part, and not in another, the copyeditor should catch it and change everything to a single standard.  This is typically where my more embarrassing mistakes are caught.
The Copyedited Draft is sent back to me to approve the changes made.  Most of them I do, because they're perfectly sensible corrections.  Sometimes I disagree, and make a note, and it's fine.  A key example would be in A Murder of Mages, where my copyeditor changed all my uses of "footpatrol" and "horsepatrol" into "foot patrol" and "horse patrol".  This is understandable, as "footpatrol" and "horsepatrol" aren't, technically, real words.  However, I wanted those to be specific in-world terms the constabulary uses, so I made a note and changed them back.  
Once that's done, the manuscript is made into Proofs.  This is a version of how the book will actually look, printed out.  This is sent to me for one final check, and I do find plenty of little minor changes I want to make.  Sometimes a spelling mistake that slipped through, sometimes a preposition change that makes the sentence clearer, sometimes something more absurd that my eye passed over in every other check (such as "a knock came at the door of Professor Alimen's workroom door.")   But this is the last opportunity to catch something before it goes to press.  After having a typo find its way into the printed version of Thorn, I'm more than a little cautious in this part of the process now.
So, what does that have to do with what's going on this week?
Because here's what I've got on my plate, in ranking priority:
The Alchemy of Chaos: Final Proof Check (due in one week)
An Import of Intrigue: Final Draft (due in two weeks)
Thorn III (working title The Imposters of Aventil): Rough Draft (500 words/day to stay on track)
*- A lot of people get what's called an "edit letter"-- a written document of specific notes and changes, etc.  That's not my editor's personal style.