Thursday, March 31, 2016

Fairy Tales and Lessons Learned

The question put before me this week: what's your favorite fairy tale?  I had to think about this for a while.  
And this made me think, what is a fairy tale, exactly?  How is it different from a folk tale?  Does there have to be, explicitly, fairies involved?   Or merely the fantastic?  Is The Emperor's New Clothes a fairy tale?  It doesn't have any magic or fairies, just a pair of con men who use a belief in magic to fuel their trick.  
Because in a lot of ways, The Emperor's New Clothes reminds me of my experiences in academia.  I lived in the honors dorm, and there was definitely a sense that no one would ever admit to not knowing something. The atmosphere of comparing grades and GPAs and knowledge bases was highly competitive, even toxic. If someone came in with a "fabric" they claimed that only anyone with a certain IQ or higher could see, you would bet your ass just about everyone would have claimed they could see it.
It took me a while to get out of that sort of mindset, of being able to say, "Yeah, I haven't read that.  No, I don't know about that." without feeling like I was confessing to some sort of failure on my part.   Now I finally recognize that it's part of learning.  I realize that I actually like learning now, which sometimes has very little to do with the academic system.
I don't think the person I was then could have learned, for example, how to write a novel the way I have now.  I wouldn't have been capable of it.
Fortunately, that's no longer the case.   

Monday, March 28, 2016

What can you do for a writer for his birthday?

This Thursday is my birthday.  This past year has been pretty wild: two books released, signed deals for six.  I turned in An Import of Intrigue and The Holver Alley Crew, which will both be coming out before my next birthday, and in a few weeks I'll be turning in the draft manuscript for The Imposters of Aventil.  Since that book won't be released until late 2017, I'm feeling solid about where I am, schedule-wise. But I've got to stick to it.
So, you're asking yourself, "What can I do, Marshall, for your birthday?"  Frankly, you can wish me well, good health, and so forth, and that will be just fine.  Honestly.  
BUT, if you want to do more, here are some small gestures that would mean a lot to me:
  • Write reviews of The Thorn of DentonhillA Murder of Mages or The Alchemy of Chaos at Amazon or Goodreads.  
  • Pick up any of those books if you haven't bought them already.
  • Give any one of those books as gifts to a friend who might like them.
  • Pre-order An Import of Intrigue.  This one is huge.
But really, well wishes and good thoughts are all I need.  Because, frankly, I've had a blessed year, and I'm very fortunate.
In the meantime, I need to dig back into the word mines.  Like I said, I've got a manuscript draft to finish.  That's not going to happen by itself. See you down there.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Holding to the Plan, or Letting It Go

I'm just about done with the draft of The Imposters of Aventil, which turned out to be something quite different from the original outline.  A big reason for that is the original outline was written at the same time I wrote the outline for what became The Alchemy of Chaos, and in writing Alchemy, it ended up being something more than I had originally planned.  So elements I couldn't have anticipated had to be incorporated into the new outline for Imposters, and then making that into the manuscript has involved even more deviation for the intended course.
This is a good thing, mind you.   I deviate from the outline because I think these are better, stronger choices for the storytelling, as well as the long-term goals.
Signing the deal for four more books really forced me to take a good look at my long term plans.  Without going into too many details (because, spoilers), I've massively reworked them.  Yet the core of the stories I'm telling remain the same.  I've just worked out more of what I'm telling, and the better way to tell them.
I've often described the outline-to-writing process as one of first plotting a course on a map, and then actually doing the drive.  But that's not entirely correct, because a lot of what I'm doing involves crossing uncharted territory.  So it's more like plotting a course using an incomplete map, and as you go, changing direction based on what you can now see in the distance.
But-- to use Lewis and Clark as my metaphor-- I still know the goal is the Pacific coast.  Maybe not entirely sure where on the coast, but I know the direction, and know the places I have to go to get there.  What I'll find on my way there, though, is still a bit of a mystery.
I also now know that the outline itself is a two-step process.  For example, I have an outline for A Parliament of Bodies, but I already know it's going to have to be updated before I start writing it.  I have a strong sense of what those updates will entail, having written An Import of Intrigue.  I have an outline for the fourth Thorn book, but it's got a lot of changes in store for it.  (Though, according to The Plan, I won't get started on that for a bit yet.)
Plus-- and this came with the latest deal-- I am going to have books come out in a different order than I originally planned.  And that's fine.  First of all, once more of them are out there, people can read them in whatever order they like.  I'll suggest a few different "ideal orders" depending on what one might want to get out of the Maradaine books.
Once ting I want to make clear, the changes that come about are ones of making things stronger, tighter and more effective storytelling.  I'm actively fighting it devolving into story bloat.  Yes, there are characters and situations I wasn't originally planning on being important that I realize now have to be.  Which is why I think this process of stepping back and reworking things is crucial-- to make sure that while these new elements are incorporated, I don't lose sight of the plan and endgames. 
And so we're clear: I very much have a plan and endgames.  When I can tell you more about it, I will.  Until then, just know that things are on track, and I'm very happy with where things are going.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Lost in the Fantasy

This week This American Life re-ran a story from a few years ago, about a young fantasy fan who ran away from home at fifteen and made his way from New York to Florida to reach the home of Piers Anthony, his favorite author.  He hoped that Anthony would take him in, and it would be a better life than the one he was living.  Anthony, naturally, refused gently, and helped the young man get back home.  
It's the kind of fascinating story that's utterly the product of its time-- they don't give an exact timeline, but I gather it happened in 1985 or 1986, based on the fact that the yet-to-be released manuscript that Anthony let him read is clearly Wielding a Red Swordthe fourth Incarnations book, and that came out in 1986.  It's hard to imagine nowadays that a teenager could A. withdraw his savings from a bank account without an adult, B. just buy a plane ticket with cash and fly across the country, and once there C. taking cabs and hitchhiking to find the farmhouse whose location he sussed out with clever detective work.
But that's what happened.
I think just about anyone who grew up a fan of sci-fi and fantasy in the 80s, regardless of what their family life was like, can empathize with the young man's story.  I know I totally understand that feeling of "checking out" in high school, because your mind just wants to be in those fantastical worlds you've been reading about.  I never took it to the level of the kid here, who had to repeat the 10th grade because of the amount he blew things off, but I had more than one time where I was a zombie in school because I was reading a book until 4am.  I had plenty of classes where instead of paying the slightest bit of attention to what was being taught, I was planning out a D&D campaign.  
I still get that way, though not quite to the same degree.  But I'll be deep in the zone with writing or planning and then realize, "Oh, I needed to write that email/make that phone call/pay those bills".  Staying in reality isn't always my strong suit.
But this time, listening to the story, I also thought more about Mr. Anthony's side.  I wonder, is some young fantasy fan going to be looking for me for salvation?  Are they going to be up until the wee hours reading, ignoring class while sketching characters, thinking about Maradaine to avoid the pain of day-to-day?   I don't know.  I think today's young fantasy fan has it easier than my generation did-- more options, and more acceptance.  But easier doesn't mean easy.
I do hope that my work gives joy and comfort to my readers.  (I heard from one who had to sit in a hospital waiting room for hours while her daughter had a battery of tests, and she was grateful to have Murder of Mages with her to pass the time.)  
I think we need that escape-- that's what fantasy literature is for-- and I'm glad I get to provide it.  That's the real joy and privilege in my life: that I get to make these stories and give them to all of you, and hopefully make your day just a little better for it.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Working. More Map.

I'm going like gangbusters, for real, plus some non-fun, non-writing things on my plate.  But here's the current incarnation of the rebuilt-from-the-ground-up map.  Still plenty to do on it.

Monday, March 14, 2016

This Was Not The Side Project I Intended At First

I think I've established my bonafides as a map geek.  The Maradaine books all have maps of the city, and detailed blow ups of certain neighborhoods.  I've refrained from going Too Much Information on the maps, because I certainly could.  I could show all of Druthal, all the world.  I could also give a floor plan for the Welling family household.
So to my surprise, I was checking through my files and realized the last time I had touched many maps was as far back as 2008.  I'm pretty sure that was three computers and four generations of Photoshop ago.
Immediately I realized that ALL my world-level maps were, for all intents, out of date.  Not to mention, I've become a better mapmaker, a better worldbuilder since then.  Plus, it seems some of my files have been lost.  The hi-res work version of the detailed map of Druth is not anywhere on my computer.  I have a lower resolution one where you cannot make out the river and city names.  Plus I didn't keep things in separate layers on Photoshop, which was a complete rookie mistake.
I realized I had to redo the Whole World Map.  And not only that, re-do it from the ground up.  Because I know now how to do it even better.
The funny thing is, this all came about because I'm on a mini-writing retreat to get the draft of Imposters of Aventil done. (Yes, I am two books ahead of you all in terms of the release schedule, and that's how it should stay, hopefully).  The draft is coming along swimmingly, though it is a draft, and that means plenty more work to do before it's turned in to my editor.  But since I was doing that work, I decided, "Hey, I shouldn't spend too much time on this week's blog.  I should just be all, 'Hey, busy retreat week!  Here's a map!'"
Then that happened. And I got very distracted by it.
However, that doesn't change the fact that the draft of Imposters is going swimmingly.  In the mean time, here's a map, in the process of being re-built.
Full Map New Revised 2016

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Social Media Sins

All right, I'm going to tell you all a secret about this pro-writer gig.
You don't HAVE to do the Social Media thing.
You can, and does it help?  Err... maybe?  I mean, I don't know.  Like, I get some traction from posting on Google Plus, but I think that's because very few pro-writers are using Google Plus.  (I mean, heck, I got noted for it in this article here, and I'm pretty sure I was the Google Plus example because I was the only one available.)
But, yeah, you don't have to do it.  If you don't LIKE doing it, then don't.  
I mean, I'll occasionally go on Twitter, but it feels like me trying WAY to hard to be pithy and insightful in little bon mots and I have better things to do with my brainpower.
Now, one thing though, and I'm going to be a bit mean.
If you are writing, and you are good at Twitter (or Facebook or Google Plus or whatever the social media of the future will be), great.  Go for it.  Use that and cultivate your audience.
I've seen a phrase tossed around lately, and it really gets a raised eyebrow from me.
"Curating a Twitter Feed"
Yeah, I'm sorry, but no.  Not to be all back-in-my-day-get-off-my-lawn, but I remember when we called doing that sort of thing "wasting time instead of writing".  And I know what that is, because I still probably do too damn much of it.  Look, if you're good at crafting the pithy bon mots and finding other pithy bon mots to retweet and you get tons of followers, awesome.  But if you're a pro-writer, that's not your job. So don't act like doing that -- especially in lieu of writing stories-- is somehow doing your job.  And don't act like doing that is some sort of higher calling that NEEDS to be doing, because the people must have their finely researched and well crafted retweets, for the art.
Do the social media thing to the degree you're comfortable. But try not make doing that become the main thing you do.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Back To The Word Mines

I had a fantastically busy weekend-and-change.  On Thursday night, I did a reading and Q&A at Malvern Books here in Austin.  Then on Friday morning I went to go talk to a middle school English class.  This was at a n honors magnate program, but even with that, I was very impressed with these kids.  They were asking questions about writing process, acquiring agents, publishing houses.  Really smart, on point questions.
Then on Saturday I went down to Houston to read and Q&A at Murder By The Book.  When we got back to Austin we went to the theatre and then ended up hanging out with the cast afterward.
Which made this weekend kind of like a con weekend, and therefore I didn't get quite the amount of work done that I wanted to.
I am still cruising along with The Imposters of Aventil, of course.  Not at the speed I wanted, but still well within the bounds of making my deadlines.
So I'm off to the word mines, grind out some more to get back on track.  See you down there.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Creative Jumpstarts

Burnout is a real thing, and it is something I worry about.  My multi-series strategy is something I came up with to help combat it-- I'd be less burned out if each thing I write focuses on different characters.  But even still, I need to have other ways to kickstart my creative energy when I'm in a lull.
Part of how I do that is delving back into the primordial parts of the creative process- worldbuilding, outlining, mapmaking.  I love doing that stuff even if there isn't necessarily a project for it on the horizon.  
But I also love to keep going back in and expanding the work I've done, finding new ways to express it.
Which is why I'm so thrilled I found a new toy, which I'm going to blatantly shill: Aeon Timeline.
This is a cool program that lets you create timelines, spanning from cosmic levels of ages down to by-the-minute.  You can use it to work out the history of a worldbuild or outline a specific project.  You can even create your own calendars and dating system, track multiple arcs, tie events to people or things.  It is a powerful tool.  It even can sync with Scrivener, which isn't a feature I've tried out yet, but I think I will when I dive into the Lady Henterman's Wardrobe draft.
But I'm really thrilled.  Plus you can export in all sorts of ways, like this image of the history of Druthal:
Druth History

So, let's have a bit of fun.  If there's something in the history of Druthal that intrigues, tell me in the comments.  I'll expand upon it in an upcoming post.
For now, back to the word mines.  These books don't write themselves, after all.