Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Shorn Launch

Look what I found on the Wordsmiths Books site!

The advance write-up for the launch of Shorn

I am over the moon with excitement. Russ said it best:

Free Drinks!

A few thousand words on book signings

from Ubermensch Russ Marshalek, who will be the True Host (I will only be the one who gets to look like she's done something important) of Larissa's book launch in July.

The man says a mouthful:

A Good Blog is Hard To Find: On the nutso book world, Vol I

Sunday, May 25, 2008

For ancient religion geeks

Wynette and I were discussing recently how difficult it is to write works that touch on ancient Celtic culture, particularly Celtic religion. There Be Dragons there: that area of study is a battleground among academics, and those of us who have other flavors of attachment to that tradition tend to have a difficult time separating what truths we can glean of that tradition from the fantasy-movies that popular culture has overlaid them with. I have found a better flavor of understanding, not to mention some emotional peace on the topic, from digging into academic source materials. In the course of preparing for this series I went so far as to spend months (really, months!) reading academic works on Irish archaeology and actually dragged Mark all the way across The Pond to walk those sites myself.

Turned out to be a religious experience, ironically enough. But I digress, as usual.

Presently, I am reading a book loaned to me by Ron: The Time Falling Bodies Take To Light: Mythology, Sexuality & the Origins of Culture by William Irwin Thompson (ISBN 0-312-80512-8) which essentially picks up where Frazier left off with The Golden Bough – with stunning results. I am going to buy this book; it is one I will find necessary to re-read fairly often.

In the section I am reading now, Thompson engages in a lengthy footnote on the topic of the original One World Religion (of the Great Mother, of course) and where Sumer, with its ultimately masculine tradition that became the backbone of the Etruscan, Roman, and Greek religions diverged from the continuing Mother Goddess trad of Western Europe, and recommends these books, which I am also going to hunt down, as context on that divergence:

Time Stands Still: New Light on Megalithic Science by Keith Chritchlow (London, Gordon Fraser, 1979)


The Silbury Treasure by Michael Dames (London, Thames & Hudson, 1976)

The Avebury Cycle by the same guy & publisher, 1977

It was this week, as I was reading Thompson’s book, eating my lunch, absorbing his discussion of the Great Mother as both womb and tomb and how that perception is reflected in Neolithic tomb-sites e.g. Newgrange (though he doesn’t mention Newgrange but rather Bryn Celli Ddu in Wales, and shows that picture)—when, because I’ve been following Thompson’s argument and have passed through the narrow tunnel into the inner sanctum of Newgrange myself, I suddenly saw what would have been obvious to anyone who breathed that religion: the entrances to those barrow-tombs are models of the vagina of the Great Mother, which in that way of thinking is a two-way street. But this is only one of many insights I’ve had into the profoundly male-female, always-about-fertility-and-yet-always-about-something-more, nature of that religion. So if ancient Celtic culture and religion are on your radar, do yourself a favor: pick up those books.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Book launch 2.0

Please observe the no-coffee-while-watching rule...

Please. It's for your safety.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A laugh break

Alec Baldwin just keeps getting funnier. Go watch.

Eleventh-hour plot restructuring

Making fiction-sausage doesn't get much uglier than this. When Deaclan blew me off my story map a few days ago, I realized in short order that I had to rework the plot for this last section of the novel. My story bus gets hijacked frequently enough that I've actually got a methodology now. In the interests of full disclosure...

I've got two computers in my study. (Yes, I'm a geek. And I'm married to somebody in the computing industry, which means I have a great deal of tech support and the occasional hand-me-down from a defunct company, which is where I got Study Computer #2, my laptop.) I have an external monitor (another defunct-company hand-me-down) hooked up to my laptop, so there are two good monitors and a laptop screen at my disposal--which is a good thing, because it turns out I need to look at a lot of data at once when I'm developing fiction, particularly when I'm performing reconstructive surgery on a plot. So on one of my monitors I bring up Power Writer, the program in which I do all my fiction writing. (If you're not familiar with Power Writer, and you write novels, this is a thing you want to know about: go here.) And on my other monitor, the one connected to the laptop, I bring up MS Word and start brainstorming in a new file. (Fortunately I've also got my favorite new productivity aid, Synergy, running, and can talk to both computers with one keyboard and mouse.)

In my brainstorming file, I ask myself questions like What does Edward want now? What is he afraid of? What is he going to do about it? and then attempt to answer those questions. The answers frequently surprise me, and always lead me to discover things that belong in my developing plot. But then, of course, I must also ask myself questions like What is Deaclan going to do about this thing Edward plans? -- which leads me to even more plot points. All of these new plot points must be logged in my story file along with whatever notes I've got on them. I must go through this same exercise with each of my important characters, not just my PoVs.

In the process, for better or worse, I also discover pieces of motivation that have to be set up earlier in the story: things I was not consciously aware of until I began this exercise, even though they've been driving certain behaviors all along. Now I dive into earlier sections of the novel, layering in a few paragraphs of the rumination Deaclan favors (he says far more to the reader than to just about anybody else, as it turns out) or performing minor adjustments to existing dialogue.

Then, finally, I am left with a list of New Problems to solve: things I have determined characters will want or need to do, for which I don't yet know the mechanics of how to accomplish them. They include issues such as the things one of two people who are functionally joined at the hip must do in order to effectively deceive the other, within the story rule-set, and -- always the most challenging -- how to accomplish certain bits of magic that Deaclan will decide are necessary.

It will be a couple days before I am writing sentences again, but it is already becoming obvious to me that I was wrong in my previous post: this novel is not going to come in shorter than anticipated. Silly me. I am going to have a hell of a time keeping it from getting *longer*. But it will definitely be a more exciting final act than I had previously planned.

And this, finally, is another reason why I write sequentially and accept the shenanigans of my unruly characters. I could never have imagined this story all at one go; it evolves as I write, and is much better for it. The novel that will finally go to press will include only a vanishingly small amount of what I originally expected to write, and the muse--who mostly doesn't say much until I am putting words on the page--is better at this stuff than I. :)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Yeah, my plot's broken again

As usual, my conscious mind is the last to know. When I got nervous about Deaclan's reaction in the last scene, I *should* have been: I now realize it changes big chunks of his plot. What I'd planned for him between now & the climax has been entirely obviated; whatever changes I make to his plot must, perforce, ripple into Lesle's as well. I must, at this late date, engage in yet another round of plot restructuring.

Two pieces of good news:

The plot as re-planned by the muse (thought not yet fully revealed to my conscious mind) will be better than the one I'd sketched. He is better at plot than I.

The book will probably come in a bit shorter.

Now I just have to figure out what everyone will be doing instead of what I'd planned. Has anybody seen my map?

Why I write sequentially

Today I feel as if I've got a tiger by the tail. Yesterday I executed the plot point I had planned for that point in the story--but, as so often happens, I was surprised by a character's emotional reaction, left with a profound feeling of uncertainty about what he's going to do next and how it will influence the unfolding story.

Don't read too much into my assertion that I had planned this plot point: I had only realized what Deaclan was going to do at this point in the story a few days earlier, when I began thinking about the plot point to which he's reacting and remembered that--because of the rules of magic and magical bonds already in play--Deaclan would be immediately aware of things anyone else could only have guessed at. And that those things weren't going to make him happy. Suddenly this event which I had originally planned as part of another plot was affecting Deaclan and his tactics, and -- more importantly, to my mind -- moving him into an emotional space I wasn't ready for. One unanticipated emotional response from a character can--and frequently does--change the way the plot unfolds.

The closer I come to the end of this novel, the more nervous things like this make me. In early chapters, when characters surprise me, I feel entirely comfortable just letting them do their things and finding out what they're getting at as things unfold. But now I am (I hope) within fifty pages of the climax, and the novel has to end in a particular place--and, more troubling yet, because the next novel will continue the action of this one, my plot structures must work across the divide between these books. I must not allow characters to reveal things that I need to use in the next volume--and I can't fall into the trap of allowing them to stagnate because I'm trying to hold off. And when my characters surprise me, they always move my reveals forward from where I'd planned them. I am, after all, notoriously slow at most everything. I can only assume that when the muse pushes faster, he's the one who's right. But suddenly each of my subplots is straining towards stuff that has to be in the next book, while my main plot is time-bound. The climax must occur on a particular day, because it is a holiday; and as my characters speed up the pace of the subplots, and I try to keep my reveals under control, that day begins to seem a very long way off.

Why all this worry? Because there are only so many pages that can be fit between a single set of covers before the book becomes too expensive to produce. If there were no such limits, I would probably write novels that were 800 or a thousand pages long. Readers will only pay so much for a book, and distributors and bookstores will demand their cut of the purchase price. If the money remaining after all those requirements are met is less than the cost of producing the book, I am essentially paying readers to read my stories. And of course I want to share my stories with everyone, but I can't afford to do that. As long as my stories go to market in book form, I have to keep the chunks of my story below a certain threshhold--and each of those chunks must stand satisfyingly alone.

This is a set of tricks which seems more easily managed by people who develop outlines and then stick to them. Unfortunately I develop outlines, draw maps of my story territories if you will, plan my trips--and then the characters hijack the bus. Every so often, when we stop for meals, I negotiate with them about moving in the direction of the climax point for which I'm shooting, and we modify our maps and set out again. But the characters have a tendency to forget to look at the map, or to drive too fast--and my nice measured story arcs look as if they were drawn by someone riding on a bus being driven much too fast on a poorly maintained road.

Which, of course, they are.

We will get there. But I'll be uneasy until I bring my subplots to their first-book climax points.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Staying the Course

It's been a challenging day in the study: I won't say difficult, because that would imply things didn't go well, and ultimately they did. But getting there wasn't as easy as it might have been.

It's been a few days since I wrote: I had that big birthday weekend, and a heavy week leading up to it, and the rhythm I like to maintain in the study just wasn't there. That tends to spell trouble for me in the getting-started-on-the-page department, and even though I knew what I was going to write today, that's exactly what happened. For a couple hours things just didn't flow; I felt as if what I was writing was stilted and boring (and as you know, Bob, if *you* are bored with what you're writing, your audience has already turned on the TV); the phone kept ringing, with calls I had to take. During my less confident days as a writer, I would probably have concluded I was (ack!) blocked, let myself off the hook, and hoped tomorrow was better and the block was just a passing thing rather than the descent of True Creative Paralysis.

But I knew that the paragraph I was writing was there to set up data I needed in play, and that all I had to do was keep it short and move on; and I knew that, if I would just stick with it, I would become unstuck, and the words would start flowing. Because, if you are patient with yourself and you're honoring your characters, they will. So I stayed the course: accepted that I would be getting to my afternoon deliverables later than I'd hoped, but required myself to hang in there.

Now, I didn't chain myself to the desk: I wandered off and made myself some lunch, and shuffled laundry into the washer, the dryer, the piles of folded clothes; I sat down in the kitchen and read a book while I ate , and took my time with it. But then I went back to the study, and just slogged through another couple of paragraphs--and then Lesle walked through the door of the room where the action I'd planned was going to happen, and she and Edward started talking about things that needed to be discussed, and I forgot about feeling stiff. The muse just did his thing, and when next I looked up, the chapter was complete.

Those of you who follow the play-by-play around here may remember that just last week I was speaking out against the prevalent belief that one must produce at a consistent rate; this may seem as if I'm contradicting myself. I don't think so: what I'm saying is not that we must produce n pages per week or per day (although goals are useful)--but that we must be both patient and brave during those moments when we walk into our writing places with ideas we want to pursue, and it doesn't go easily. What's easy in those moments is to declare ourselves blocked, broken or inadequate as artists. What we need to do is be patient with ourselves.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Yes, lots of exclamation points this week. Must be all that birthday excitement.

I realized I had forgotten to mention that my websites are now fully LIVE:

Mercury Retrograde Press

Be Mused Author Services

And, while you're out surfing the web, go check out Larissa's new site. That one just makes me feel like a proud grandmother (except of course, that I'm not that old...). LOL.

Friday, May 09, 2008


Fair warning: there will be little fiction written this weekend. Tomorrow is my birthday; Sunday, of course, is Mother's Day. In honor of my birthday, I was given a nice allowance for new perennials for my garden--and what should I find on the clearance rack but honest-to-the-gods wormwood! Not that pedestrian variety of artemisia one usually sees, but the Real Thing. Naturally, since this is also the month for finishing Affairs, this feels like a Good Omen.

I will be out in the garden, planting and mulching and weeding, most of the weekend. Whee!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

producing at a consistent rate

One of the precepts of writing I hear most often concerns the absolute necessity of producing consistently. I don't do that; I can't. I do have goals; right now, I'm trying to write 1000-2000 words per day, which is not unreasonable when I'm writing regularly. But yesterday I didn't write more than a few hundred: I just finished that last scene.

It's not that I didn't have time to spend in the study; it's that I had to stop and think. That scene was the end of a chapter, and I am switching between my PoVs by chapter--and while I've known for quite some time what the plot points of this next chapter will be, it wasn't until I'd written through the last one that I could plan the part of this chapter that matters. Because as far as I'm concerned, it's not what *happens* in this chapter that matters, but what it means to the characters.

In my view, plot only satisfies when it is a vehicle for character. I believe the stories that matter are about characters, not events. The events are critically important: they are the things that force the character to reveal himself, to grow and change. But if telling you the plot points of this next chapter would constitute a spoiler in one sense, in another sense they hardly matter at all--because what happens at the Winter Solstice in the Cathedral of St. John is important only because of the things Lesle learns about herself, because of the decisions Deaclan is forced to make which will push him closer to the commitment he fears, because of the conclusions the movers-and-shakers who are in that building will draw and the things they will do in response--which will reveal to each of my PoVs things they might never have otherwise figured out, and cause them to react in turn.

My characters surprise me--usually in little ways, but occasionally in ways that leave me reeling for days--in every chapter I write. It isn't until I put them into these situations I dream up that I discover how they will react--and, naturally, their reactions shift the situation as it unfolds, so that I exist in a state of continual surprise. That's what makes the work of writing interesting, as far as I'm concerned: in part because the work continues to challenge, as I must continually adapt to their shenanigans. It's part of what makes the story come alive; but it also makes productivity uneven, because once enough surprises pile up, I have to stop and think about how the PoV whose task it is to begin the next segment of the tale (in this case, Deaclan) will react to the things that happened while he wasn't driving.

I know enough of what's on his mind now to begin the next chapter--so off I go.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Fear not.

As usual, I did not forget how to write. After a morning largely occupied by Altered Forms of Consciousness, I now have six nice new pages and need only write a closing paragraph or two for the scene.

For me, at least, writing magical events from the point of view of the magical operator always induces altered consciousness--because, of course, the character in question must enter an altered state in order to work the magic. It's always fascinating to go back later and read what I wrote.

No sausage yet

I don't know if there is such a thing as a typical writer's life; I doubt it. I am the only one I know who has trouble writing on weekends, though. I didn't get any pages written on Affairs this weekend, for all the usual weekend reasons:

* I was catching up on my sleep, which I can't seem to get a full quota of during the school week.

* When all my people are in the house, I try to remember to enjoy their company. Daniel in particular will be living under this roof for little more than a year; I've got to enjoy the incidental, no-stakes encounters while I can.

* We tend to plan and eat meals that require a significant amount of time in the kitchen on weekends, largely because I am not the only one coming up with food ideas. I lose hours to this activity, but we all enjoy it. (And frankly it's a change of pace from my current first-book-release-ever freneticism, which results in catch-as-catch-can meals.)

* Laundry. It's inevitable, it's weekly, it's a time-sink.

* When Mark is home for hours on end, he reminds me of all the responsibilities I have outside my study and office. I tend to spend time on things that otherwise get ignored.

At any rate, now it is Monday morning, and the quiet descends. It's time to write. Unfortunately, another thing that frequently happens to me when I've been away from the ms. for too long is that I begin to feel anxious--as if I might somehow have forgotten how to write in the interim. So I will have to spend a bit of time easing myself back into the story before flow sets in.

Tomorrow will be better in this regard.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The State of the Sausage

As of today, I am about 180K words into The Affairs of Dragons. At present I expect to write another 20K words before I reach the end of this segment of the series; but I am a notoriously bad estimator, so it will be interesting to see how many more words I actually write.

A quick anatomical sketch of the beast: this is a fantasy novel set on more-or-less-present-day Earth. There are two PoV characters (one male, one female) and two really significant secondary characters, both of whom are male. (Naturally there are other characters as well...) Each of the primary PoVs is presented in 1st. After years of writing close-3rd, in fact beginning this novel in close-3rd, I suddenly realized that I simply must write the female PoV (Lesle) in 1st. Why? That was how she started talking on this draft. In short order I realized I must also render the male protag (Deaclan) in the same PoV, because to do otherwise would be to suggest that his thread is less important than hers, which it definitely is not. Both are necessary. So, yes: this thing I'm doing, this multi-first, which looks like a Stupid Writer Trick: it's not a gimmick. It just happened this time. Now I find it difficult to imagine writing anything but first for characters with whom I'm intimately connected, but I've been through this sort of thing before: that is just how I feel while I'm working on this project. Other PoVs will become possible again.

The novel is essentially a complete draft up to this point: I write straight through, and never knowingly skip a scene. The muse pulls the rug out from under me too frequently for me to get away with that. (This is not to say that writing out-of-order is bad, of course: many people do that, and do it well. It just doesn't work for me.) There are, however, a few scenes I forgot to write in the first third of the book, because I forgot about a sub-thread I had planned until my writing partners asked me what in the world had happened to it. (*Hand-forehead.* This is why we have writing partners.) And there is also one scene just a couple chapters behind the place where I'm working--which I never wrote because I just couldn't make up my mind whether to include it. (It doesn't matter for this book, but it will matter for the next two, so I've decided to put it in.) At any rate, there will be forward motion for another chapter or so, and then I will have to go back and fill in that last omitted scene before I can write the next one involving that secondary character. The same scenario will occur later, when I get to the point where that neglected subplot comes back into play.

When last I had a productive day in the study (and it's been too many days since that happened, as it has been an intense week) I was in the middle of a rather long scene. So my first task is to finish that: it's likely to take a couple days. Let's go find out...

Friday, May 02, 2008

Watching Me Make Sausage

I think it is a sort of shyness that makes me reticent about posting on the topic of what I'm doing in the study, that writing of fiction. Watching an artist create seems to me little different from watching people make sausage--and I've had that experience, thank you. Put me off sausage for quite some time: knowing what goes into it makes it less appetizing. Especially the part involving guts.

But I have been reminded this week that a certain percentage of the people interested in my doings are interested in my process--and that no matter how idiotic I may feel in sharing my struggles, wanderings, and false starts, mine is a sort of higher-order idiocy, and people just starting out in the craft, or people who need some perspective on the process, will benefit from being able to look over my shoulder. The rest of you can just ignore these posts, I suppose.

So: as I dive into the final stretch before completion of The Affairs of Dragons, we will have a sausage-making festival. I'll start off with a State of the Draft post, and will discuss the nuts and bolts, attempting always to avoid spoilers, as I go along. I hope you enjoy; and, as always happens when we journal about things that matter, I'm sure I'll learn from the experience of watching my own process.

One thing is certain: there will be guts. Consider yourself warned.

At long last, Bat Mitzvah photos

They are finally all up, with many thanks to many helpful friends with cameras. View them all here. (The pictures. The friends, too, actually.) You will note immediately that I am a completist, rather than only posting photos in which I look good.

Lots of red-eye in the shots from the party. We're not demons, no matter what you've heard. It was just the lighting.

Ah, the memories!

One of the Top Ten Essays on Writing, Ever. Period.

I was just thinking of Jim Kelly today, and I realized I have never before thought to share his brilliant essays on writing here. My all-time favorite of his: Murder Your Darlings. I would say more about him and his work, but it would just sound fangirlish. Go read.

There's tons of other great stuff on his site. If you're a Connie Willis fan, you must also indulge in Excerpts from Willis Watch.

And if you'd like to observe some true mastery of the short form, go read some of his stories. Congratulations on the new book, sir!

Real Book Fans

If you've ever wondered what it's like to be followed by adoring and slightly (okay, perhaps more than slightly) obsessive fans, read this. In particular, read the comments. All artists need true fans, of course--and Wynette has this amazing pipeline right into the collective unconscious that makes her work generate this response again and again. (Blood Is Thicker Than Water, anyone? Even the people who hate it can't stop talking about it on Amazon.)

I won't be camped out on the lawn waiting for the book, of course. I've read it already. Twice. :)

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The First-Ever Wild-Eyed Conspiracy Theory Award

I don't know yet whether this will be an annual event. It remains to be seen what the people in charge of cooking up new theories manage to come up with over the course of the next year. But as you know I love conspiracy theories, and this one is too loopy to let pass unremarked:

The Jews Masterminded the Holocaust

At first I had the same thought you did: "er, yeah. Right. They can't be serious." But as a student of conspiracy theory I must say this one is sheer genius: it integrates the "Jews as the Master Puppeteers of the World" Theory into the events of the Holocaust without making the usual Newbie Conspiracy Error of attempting to deny all that eyewitness documentation. All in all, amazing work for Wild-Eyed Crazies.

So there you have this year's winner of the Wild-Eyed Conspiracy Theory Award. I'd wonder what they were smoking,, it's Hamas. We know what they're smoking.