Thursday, January 28, 2016

Perils of the Writer: Taming the Bad Habits

I've talked, perhaps at length, at the importance of learning one's own strengths and methods as a writer.  Part of the key to figuring out how you write is recognizing your bad habits, and learning how to make them work for you.
My bad one?  I get obsessed with a need for visual reference.  I feel like I can't possibly write the next bit or project unless I first have a map, or first find perfect headshots of people who look like the characters do in my head, or find that perfect image of a woman wielding a halberd that fits exactly what I would hypothetically want a cover to look like.  The last is especially frustrating, because it requires that some artist out there has already had a vision that matches my own. 
Plus, I have minimal artistic skills.  I can do the maps-- all the maps in the Maradaine books are my own work-- and I'm all right with photoshop in general. But I can't take a reference photo and turn into the thing in my head I want it to be.  Every one in a while, I get this bug that maybe I could, if I just try one more time.
But, no.  It's terrible.  No, I'm not going to share the terrible.  Because you don't deserve that.  I've reached the point where I can make some that, while terrible, is just enough to quell the need in my brain for it to exist so I can focus on the writing.  And then I'll use that in some way as part of how I work.
Because writing isn't an algebra exam; there's no need to show your work.*  
The Alchemy of Chaos final front coverHowever, if you want to see my work, The Alchemy of Chaos comes out in just five days.  It's magicky and sciencey and the same time, with tons of action and assassins and street fights and fancy dinners, and our hero The Thorn doing what he does best: making stupid choices for noble reasons.  
*- I was terrible about that in high school math.  I would get answers like boom and just write "X=7" and the teacher would be all, 'you didn't show your work' and I'd be, "But it's right" and drop the mike and then have to stay afterschool because teachers don't like it when you do that.

Monday, January 25, 2016


The Alchemy of Chaos final front coverThe Alchemy of Chaos comes out next week, so let's unlock a new excerpt from the book.
In the past month one thing had become perfectly clear to Lieutenant Benvin: he was the only person in Maradaine who gave a damn about how he did his job. Captain Holcomb was comfortable in his office, and couldn't care less what Benvin did to crack down on the gangs in the streets. If nothing else, he was grateful that Holcomb’s laziness was complete: he honestly didn’t care one way or the other what Benvin did. At least the man wasn’t obviously corrupt. That couldn’t be said for most of the other lieutenants or patrol officers in the Aventil stationhouse.
He wasn’t sure any of them were truly getting bribed. From what he had seen of these Aventil gangs, they weren’t really in a position to bribe anyone. But something was motivating them to stop him up whenever they could.
People in the neighborhood were no better. There were the gangs, of course. But the rest of the people didn’t just tolerate them, they embraced them. Someone had a problem, they didn’t call Constabulary. That was the last thing they wanted. No, they called a Rose Street Prince or a Waterpath Orphan or some other damn waste of space.
Some of the patrolmen got on board with Benvin, at first. Though it became clear that for most of them, it was about the thrill of cracking street kids with their handsticks, shaking them for coin, getting kicks off the girls. No better than the gangs, just green and red were the colors they wore. Benvin had no use for those folk.
So he narrowed his squad down to five solid patrol officers and two cadets. The ones he could trust. The ones who did it right. The ones who had been shut out by the rest of the stationhouse. He made them his own.
It wasn’t much, but it was all he could get in Aventil. Saints knew none of the district commandants or even Commissioner Enbrain were going to send anything else his way.
Didn’t matter. Benvin was going to do his job, and do it right. He’d dismantle every gang in this neighborhood and it clean it up. Starting small, with the Red Rabbits, just to show everyone he could do it.
Tonight wasn’t for the Rabbits, though, not directly. He planned to shut them down first, but he couldn’t make them the only thing he focused on. Tonight they were going to crack open the cider ring the Orphans were running. Sure, it was a tick-and-pence scheme, hardly worth the trouble. But that was why he wanted to crack it. No scheme, no ring, no crime was too small.
So Benvin sat with Jace, one of the cadets, in the wagon on the northwest corner of Cantarell Square, watching with the scope. Arch, Pollit, and Tripper were in the square, waiting for their meet, and the rest of the lads were in place so they could move in. The targeted Orphans were approaching the square with their handcart of contraband cider.
And then someone yelled “Rose Street!” and it all went to blazes.
It took Benvin a moment to fully realize what was going on, and by the time he did, the Orphans were clearing out. Pollit and Tripper charged after them, while Arch just looked confused.
But the real action was across the square, where the Rabbits were having a brawl. A full-on brawl. With whom? The Princes? One Prince?
No, it was him.
The Thorn.
Benvin leaped off the cart and blasted his signal whistle as he charged across the square.
By the time he was halfway across, Arch had come up behind him, running for all he was worth.
“Thorn?” Arch asked, heaving for breath.
“Thorn,” Benvin hissed back. That word was written on the top of their slateboard by Benvin’s desk back in the stationhouse, in big letters and underlined several times.
The Thorn disengaged from the group of Rabbits, firing a wild arrow to get them to scatter. He took two steps toward Cantarell Square, but then changed direction as soon as he spotted Benvin and Arch.
Arch drew up his crossbow and fired, but missed wide.
And then the Thorn suddenly faded out of sight as he ran.
“The blazes?” Arch said. “How’d he—”
Benvin spotted a shimmer of something going into one of the alleyways. “There!”
He tore after the shimmer, pulling up his own crossbow. The shimmer was still moving down the alley, as fast as a man running would. Benvin shot his blunt-tip at the shimmer.
The blunt-tip made contact, and with a cry, the shimmer turned back into a cloaked man. He stumbled his way down the alley, giving Benvin a chance to reload his crossbow and close the distance.
“Hold fast and be bound by law!” he shouted, as the Thorn turned on his heel and drew up his bow.
Goodreads Page for THE ALCHEMY OF CHAOSAvailable at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and more!
THE ALCHEMY OF CHAOS releases on February 2nd.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Wisdom I'd Send To My Younger Self

Sometimes I feel like I got to a bit of a late start with this-- I'm 42 years old, and my writing career is just getting started.  A lot of other folks my age have been in the trenches for years.
But my path has been my path, and I needed those years to learn how to write, to learn how I write.  That's been a long, hard process, and while it's paid off, I wonder what message I could send myself to help ease that process.
I think the thing I'd tell myself is that there is no "how you're supposed to be writing" as defined by someone else.  Be it a pace set by NaNoWriMo or that one needs to use a specific formula to craft a story or answer these questions about a character... that there is no the way and part of the journey is finding your own way.
"But, Marshall," you might say, "You're often going on about your twelve-part outline structure.   Isn't that you telling people a the way as well?"  Well, no.  I try to take care to say, "Hey, here's a thing that I've come up with that helped me write outlines, maybe it can help you as well."  It's a tool in my toolbox that I like to point to and say, "You want to borrow that?  It's cool if you do."  But I never say THIS IS HOW YOU MUST OUTLINE because that's not helpful or useful.  I never even say YOU MUST OUTLINE because while that's something that is critical for me and my process, that isn't a universal.  Plenty of great writers don't outline.
Now, I could, conceivably, tell me younger self, "You would do better outlining and here's a twelve-part structure you can use and setting a pace of 500 words a day will probably work best for you in the long run.  Have fun!"  But I suppose that would undermine the process of learning and mistake-making that got me there in the first place.
So maybe instead I'd tell myself, "You're going to make mistakes.  And you'll learn from them.  So be ready to learn from them."
The Alchemy of Chaos final front coverThe_Thorn_of_DentonhillI may also say, The Thorn of Dentonhill and The Alchemy of Chaos are going to have sweet covers, you're really going to dig them.  And younger me will be all, "The huh of what?" because I hadn't come up with that stuff yet.

Monday, January 18, 2016

THE ALCHEMY OF CHAOS and Superhero Tropes

The Alchemy of Chaos final front coverAll right, time to admit something: I thought this would be easier this time around.  I mean, I've done the Book Release thing twice, so this run-up to release day should be old hat by now, right?
One thing I realized, looking back at the run-up to The Thorn of Dentonhill is how I avoided the S-word.  I referred to Veranix as a "magic-student by day, vigilante by night", but I didn't really say "superhero".
But let's be honest, in the terms of Maradaine street-level fantasy, that's exactly what The Thorn is.  Which makes sense-- superheroes and fantasy are definitively linked.*  
But I had to come to terms with that as Veranix's story.  The Thorn of Dentonhill was very much about Veranix going from being an angry kid with power to being "The Thorn".  The Alchemy of Chaos is the next step in that journey-- Veranix coming to terms with what being the Thorn needs to mean.
Or to put it in another hero's terms:
In Thorn he realized he had great power.
In Alchemy he learns about great responsibility.
THE ALCHEMY OF CHAOS comes out in two weeks, but eArcs are available at NetGalley if you have access.  
Pre-order at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  Add it to your to-read pile on Goodreads.  
Veranix Calbert is The Thorn—the street vigilante-turned-legend—and a danger to Willem Fenmere, the drug kingpin of Dentonhill. Veranix is determined to stop Fenmere and the effitte drug trade, especially when he discovers that Fenmere is planning on using the Red Rabbits gang in his neighborhood. But Veranix is also a magic student at the University of Maradaine, and it's exam week. With his academic career riding on his performance, there's no time to go after Fenmere or the Red Rabbits. But when a series of pranks on campus grow deadly, it's clear that someone has a vendetta against the university, and Veranix may be the only one who can stop them...
*- Which is why guys like Green Arrow and Hawkeye exist.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Perils of the Writer: Recognizing When It's Time To Trunk

I think that the Trunk Novel is an important thing.  Some people can, of course, write that first novel thats just a thing of brilliance.  Others get their process-of-work writing out in shorter works, so by the time they actually write a novel, they know what they are doing.
But for most of us, learning How To Novel takes some work, which means we have some misshapen Novellike Objects in our closets.
Probably one of the hardest things you can do is learn how to call Time Of Death* when it isn't going to work.  Some novels are just unsalvageable.  And that is hard to face, because you put heart and soul and hundreds of hours into something, and it's never going to work.
It's never going to work.
I mean, I'm not being melodramatic here.  That's the death of something.
The manuscript for The Crown of Druthal clocks in around 125,000.  And there are some really good bits in there.  And there was definitely a point where my entire mindset was based on selling it and pushing that series.  I was invested in making it work.  I had sketched out a whole plan.
But it wasn't a novel.  It had length, it had characters, it had dialogue, events that happened, but... it wasn't a novel.
And I needed to recognize that it wasn't, and my energy was best spent elsewhere.
I don't know exactly when I formally gave up on it.  Near as I can tell from digging through old emails, it was somewhere around 2009.
It's terrible.  It's not a novel.  But I wouldn't trade the process of having done it, because that was how I learned how to write the books that followed.
*- Yes, I watched a lot of E/R back in the day.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Dooms of January

T.S. Elliot starts his poem "The Waste Land" with the line April is the cruelest month, but that's probably because he was never in Austin in January.
love my city, I love living here, I'm incredibly happy, but... I HATE January in Austin with the fire a thousand suns.
For one, January is the coldest month here.  Now, yes, I know Austin-cold isn't real-cold.  I know.  I grew up in upstate New York.  I waited for the bus in freezing-your-nose-hairs levels of cold when every other school in the area would shut down except for mine.  Local radio stations would mock our district.  I know about real cold.   I hate it, that's why I live in Texas.  Those stretches of over 100° for weeks on end in the summer that everyone gripes about?  That's my zone.
But that alone wouldn't be a big deal.  I can a sweater and cope.
No, the real problem is the APOCALYPSE OF CEDAR that descends upon this city in January.  To give you an idea, the Cedar count is considered "high" if it exceeds 500 grains per cubic meter.  Right now, it's over FIVE TIMES that.  Which, in comparison to two years ago, is downright light.  Back in 2014, it got to over 17,000g/m³.  One year, it was so bad, it wrecked my inner-ear equilibrium.  Let that sink it: the cedar allergies were so bad that walking made me seasick.
Right now, I'm hopped up on nasal steroids and antihistamines and still I feel like a drill is being taken to my skull.
Actually thinking through this is a challenge, which is especially problematic because thinking is what I need to do. It's kind of a necessary component of writing.
January in Austin is a thing to be endured, and I will endure it, but Im more than ready to move past it.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Goals for 2016

So, now that we're firmly in the new year, it's time to set some professional goals.  What will I accomplish?

Slight problem: I have some rather specific goals that I can't properly talk about yet.  So I'm going to have to be vague.  Sorry about that.  When I can be not-vague, I will scream to the hilltops.  But for today: vague.


First, there will be the things I have coming out in 2016.  The Alchemy of Chaos, of course, comes out in a few weeks, and the second Maradaine Constabulary book, An Import of Intrigue, comes out in November.  So that right there are two big things.


Here's where I need to be vague.  Over the next twelve months I will need to:

  • Polish "Manuscript X" and turn it in.
  • Finish draft of "Manuscript Y", edit it, and turn it in as well.
  • Finish draft of "Manuscript X2".
  • Polish outline of "Manuscript Z" and get started on it.

I may need to be reminded to breathe and such as well...

ALSO IN 2016

I'm attending ConDFW in February, and running the Writers' Workshop for ArmadilloCon in July.  I do not, as of this writing, have any other con appearances scheduled, but I intend to get a few more on my agenda.  I would like to include WorldCon in Kansas City among them, but I can't commit to that just yet.  Honestly, at this point, I really don't know.

But, let's be real: that writing schedule, combined with the release of two books, is pretty breakneck.  I need to remember to to keep things like copyedits and proofs in the schedule.  My point is: it's probably best if I don't spend too many weekends going anywhere.

So that's what I have.  In December, we'll check back over here and see how I did.  

Monday, January 4, 2016


The Alchemy of Chaos final front coverWe're now just a month away from the release of The Alchemy of Chaos.  Needless to say, I'm very excited.  
But it's a little strange this time around.  Talking about The Alchemy of Chaos implicitly includes spoilers for The Thorn of Dentonhill.  I sometimes feel like I should preface everything with, "Go read that, then come back and we'll talk."
I mean, yes, go read that.  I highly recommend reading The Thorn of Dentonhill before reading The Alchemy of Chaos. Of course, Alchemy, is a complete story in and of itself, just as Thorn was.  Both books will each give you a good, ripping adventure. You're not going to feel like you've only read two-fifths of a story.   But I deeply hope you're going to read Alchemy and want more adventures in Maradaine.  We'll be talking about that in the near future.
So what is The Alchemy of Chaos all about?
The saga of the streets of Maradaine that began in The Thorn of Dentonhill continues….
Veranix Calbert is The Thorn—the street vigilante who became a legend to the people of Maradaine, especially the gangs that run the neighborhood of Aventil. The Thorn continues to harass Willem Fenmere, the drug kingpin of the Dentonhill neighborhood. Veranix is still determined to stop Fenmere and the effitte drug trade, especially when he discovers that Fenmere is planning on using the Red Rabbits gang to bring the drug into Aventil.
But it’s also Exam Week at the University of Maradaine, where Veranix is a magic student. With his academic career—and future as a mage—riding on his performance, Veranix needs to devote himself entirely to studying and participating in a fellow student’s thesis experiments. There’s no time to go after Fenmere or the Red Rabbits.
Then a series of strange pranks begin to plague the campus, using a form of magic that Veranix doesn’t recognize. As the pranks grow increasingly deadly, it becomes clear that there’s someone with a vendetta against the university, and The Thorn may be the only one capable of stopping them. Between the prankster, the war brewing between the Aventil gangs, and the flamboyant assassins Fenmere has hired to kill him, Veranix may end up dead before the week is out. Which just might be preferable to taking his exams….

Not convinced to go preorder at Amazon,  Barnes & Noble or Indiebound?  Or at least head over to its Goodreads Page and it to your Want To Read list?  
All right, then, how about an excerpt to whet your appetite?
The Alchemy of Chaos comes out on February 2nd, and if you're in the Austin area (or close enough to drive), I'll be at Bookpeople that night at 7pm for a reading and signing event.