Greetings and Salutations!

Welcome to the longest-running* yet least-read** blog on the internet! Here you'll find me writing about all the things that I write about, which strikes me, just now, as somewhat recursive. In any case, enjoy :)

* not true ** probably true

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Notes from the trenches #1

It's hard to give crunchy updates, ones that can objectively measure progress on a novel. The most obvious one is word count, and it is a useful measure, of course; a book is a collection of words, after all, and the more of them there are in a draft, the closer it likely is to being finished. Currently Amra 5 is sitting at just over 11,000 words. Averaging the other Amra books, we'd get a word count of just over 70,000 words, which give you an indication of sorts. But as I get older, I get fatter, and my books might suffer the same fate.

Sadly, word counts can also be deceptive. They might not be the right words, and until a writer (ok, me) hits the flow, it's entirely possible that the word count can go down as well as up. There are approximately 80,000 wrong words, all told, from the previous scrapped drafts of Amra 5, after all.

But let's pretend that these words are definitely golden. Going by the average word counts of the previous Amra books, that means we're approximately 1/7th of the way home. In what is a good sign, last night I had a fairly brain-bending idea about the ending that I think will make it more powerful than what I'd plotted, and when I woke up this morning, it was the first thing I thought about after 'gotta pee gotta pee gotta pee'. That's always a good sign.

Thus endeth the update. The rest is just blathering.

* * *

I mentioned flow somewhere up above, and I think I should explain what I mean by it. Basically I mean being in the zone - when I've got energized focus on the book and I'm feeling fully immersed in the story and I'm perfectly confident about what's happening as I write. It doesn't mean speed or continuous effort; I've always been the kind of writer that works in bursts. But it's a feeling that what you're doing, the story you're telling, isn't arbitrary but rather inevitable. A is followed by B is followed by C, and you don't have to give it much conscious thought. It's not effortless; I've never experienced an effortless writing session. Never. But it's more like cutting grass with a power mower, and less like cutting grass with the scissors they give you in kindergarten so you don't accidentally cut Jimmy's finger off. Or maybe not so accidentally. Jimmy was a little shit.

Anyway, a book doesn't have to be written that way, not even by me. But it sure helps.

My problem is that I've always written by what I think of as the flashlight method - meaning I don't need to have the whole plot mapped out, just a beginning and an end, maybe two or three oomph scenes, and then just far enough ahead of wherever I am in the process to get to the next scene or two. In other words, the plot is mostly in darkness, but I've got this flashlight that makes sure I don't fall into a pit or off the side of a cliff.

Most of the time it has worked well enough. I like it because it means I get surprised, and if I get surprised while writing, then there's a good chance that the reader gets surprised while reading. Sure, it's a little bit dangerous, but it has worked well enough for me.

Until Amra 5.

I mentioned that I've had to re-teach myself how to plot. For this book, at least, my old method just hasn't worked. I won't bore you with the details, but after months of struggling, I finally came to the conclusion that I had to plot this book to a much greater degree than I had anything else I've written. Not because the plot was substantially more intricate than any other Amra book, but because I kept writing in the wrong direction, realizing it only when I was deep, deep in the weeds.

Why? Because this is the fifth book in a series that's probably going to be a dozen or so books long. Flashlight plotting works for a standalone, or even a trilogy. I am here to inform you that it doesn't cut it for stories much bigger than that. You have to balance the needs of the individual book against the trajectory of the series, while keeping in mind all that has gone before. You'd need a bigger brain than was given to me, to do that on the fly.

Let's just say I now have some sympathy for the later books in the Wheel of Time series, and for George Martin. That shit ain't easy to balance properly. It's very tempting indeed to descend into minor plot points and just sort of... hang out there, where things aren't so crazy and messy. And then call it deep characterization/world building instead of fear and avoidance. You even get to point to the swelling word count and say 'but I'm making progress! This book is progressing!'

Well, your word count is. Your plot...

This, by the way, was a consistent issue with the trashed versions of Amra 5. Not the only one, by any stretch, but a recurring one. It's one I am trying very hard to avoid in the latest.

* * *

On a final note, I want to thank you folks who have left comments of support. I haven't responded individually; but it's not because I don't care. My personalized flavor of anxiety makes it very difficult for me to interact for periods of time, is all. I turn into a hermit. I withdraw. I'm, uh, working on it, but it might take me a while longer to get back to being sociable. It was worse when I was younger; at least I'm not dumping my phone into the toilet because notifications have brought on an anxiety/panic attack. I ask for your indulgence.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

*nervous chuckle* will be the title of my memoir

Hey, everybody. Long time no talk, yeah? *nervous chuckle*

So, um, I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, whether you celebrate or not, and I hope that the very rapidly approaching new year treats you better than the old.

Speaking of the end of the year, many of you may be aware that I made public noises with my mouth (or rather fingers, I guess, but let’s not muddle our metaphors right out of the gate) that Amra #5, The Thief Who Went To War, would be out by the end of the year.

I, uh, I’m not gonna be wrapping this bad boy up in the next 36ish hours. That’s not happening. I was wrong about that one. So very, very wrong. And I want to apologize.

Not as an excuse (unlike most of the times I say that in my life, this time I actually mean it) but rather just to let you know I haven’t been goofing off, we’re currently on the third first draft of this book. I haven’t been stricken by writer’s block; words have been coming out. They’ve just been the wrong ones. Lots and lots and lots of wrong words. So many initially promising but ultimately dreadful plot-related decisions. Allow me to illustrate where I’ve been at with this book for the last half a year or so:

it me

It ain’t been pretty.

When I first started writing Amra’s misadventures, I was this happy, innocent idiot. Nobody knew me or her, and it didn’t much matter in the grand scheme of things if what I wrote was great or dreadful. I didn’t think much about it; I just wrote.

Things have changed. Oh, I’m still an idiot, but now I’m the kind of idiot that has juust enough self-awareness to worry about the consequences of my idiocy. In other words, I really want to get this book right, and the first two drafts weren’t. Really, truly, no foolin' not good enough to publish.

I’ve literally had to go back and re-teach myself how to plot, (yes, this will be my eighth full-length novel; I wasn’t joking about the idiot part) but Amra 5, Version 3 is now coming along more smoothly. Everything seems to be working at last, and it is my top priority. I’m not going to open my big idiot mouth and give another possibly wrong time frame for its release, but I’ll be giving weekly updates on writing progress on the blog for those who’d like to check in.

So, to sum up: I’m an idiot, Amra 5 isn’t ready, but things are looking better and you can expect weekly reports on progress here on the blog.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Blood in the Cut

So sometimes a character will demand more screen time. Theiner (Moc Mien) from Amra #3 and #4 has been making it known to my subconscious that he has some things he wants to do in front of you folks. They are bad things. 

This is a little exploratory writing I did for him, just a snippet. It might end up as a short story, or as a complete novel. (I'm still hard at work on Amra #5, don't worry!)

Early morning. Spring. Bellarius, the City on the Mount. Theiner - Moc Mien, - walked up dew-slick Standard Street alone, and without even a belt knife. He was in the second third of the Girdle, rarified environs just below Gentry territory. He was deep in enemy territory. Biter’s territory.
He’d sent a request for parley first, but hadn’t bothered to wait for a reply. With Biter, it was even odds that a reply would never come. The old man had been at the top of the shitheap for a long time, and had gotten arrogant with it.
Theiner felt eyes on him as he approached the barber’s. The wooden sign, with its spray of white hearts, swung gently in the morning breeze; the leaded glass windows reflected the brightening sky. The door was closed, but unlocked. No need to lock a door that was guarded day and night.
Theiner stepped inside.
“Fucking closed,” said the fat bastard stationed inside. He was wearing a barber’s apron. He was playing solitaire. He didn’t bother looking up. “Piss off.”
“I’m not here for a shave,” Theiner replied.
The ‘barber’ looked up, and his heavy face settled into a scowl. He was middle-aged; too old to have been a street rat. Biter was still prejudiced that way, even years after the Purge.
“If you don’t piss off right now, you’re gonna feel a razor regardless.” Two other men sauntered in from a back room. They weren’t kitted out as barbers; one had a short sword, and another had a crossbow. Neither was holding his weapon with respect.
“I’m here to see Biter,” Theiner informed them. “I know the old fart gets up before dawn, so don’t bother telling me he’s snoring.”
The fat barber stood up, letting the cards in his ham-hands scatter to the floor. He was a head taller than Theiner. He pulled out a straight razor and a nasty smile.
“Last chance to fuck off, shit-brain.”
“You’re the one called Keen, then. I heard you like cut bits off and save them.”
“You heard fucking right.”
“Here’s what’s gonna happen, Keen: I’m gonna take your razor away from you, and if your two dumbfuck friends there try to do anything about it, I’m gonna start taking bits off of you.”
Keen snorted and pointed the razor at Theiner’s face. “If-”
Theiner exploded into motion. He grabbed Keen’s forearm at wrist and elbow, then brought it down with brutal force on his ascending knee. The man was just too big to try for a wrist blow alone, so he got a broken arm instead. There was the sick, green-branch snapping sound, and Keen let out a short bark of pain. The straight razor fell from his hand.
Theiner scooped it from the floor and sent a kick to the side of Keen’s knee - another broken branch, a louder scream. It brought the big man down to his knees. He would have gone further, but Theiner spun behind him and grabbed him by the hair with one hand. The other, now holding the straight razor, he put against the man’s double chin. He gave a cold stare to the two toughs who were only then starting to react.
“Drop that fucking crossbow and tell Biter that Moc Mien’s here to see him.”

~ ~ ~

Five minutes later, Theiner had climbed the stairs and been admitted to Biter’s receiving room. It was filled with the sort of tacky shit that someone with more money than taste put on display – a life-size marble statue of Isin with improbably large breasts, a gilded Borian standing clock that nobody had bothered to wind, or dust, in ages. Other pricey rubbish. The floor was covered by a vast Elamner carpet that had probably taken a dozen women a dozen years to complete. It was stained beyond repair. The room smelled like old people and ignorance.
Eventually Biter was wheeled in by a woman wearing a smock and a face that said she was dead inside. Biter’s age-spotted face said he should already be dead. The woman parked Biter’s wheeled chair before the fireplace and made herself scarce.
“Biter. Don’t get up.”
“You still don’t look like a Chagan to me.”
“And you’re looking fairly toothless, old man, despite your name. But I didn’t come up here to trade insults.”
“What did you come here for, then? To lick my shithole? I’ll get myself turned around for that. It’ll take me a minute, though.”
Theiner smiled. It didn’t come anywhere near his eyes.
“I’m taking the Scepter, starting today. When the doors open, your muscle will not be inside.”
The old man hawked up phlegm and spat it onto the Elamner carpet, right at Theiner’s feet. The distance and accuracy were impressive, and explained the state of the carpet. “You can take that over, you little turd.”
Theiner scratched idly at the back of his head. “I came to tell you face-to-face, as a courtesy. And to make sure there was no misunderstanding.”
The old man leaned forward in his chair. “If one of your crew so much as sets foot on Bag Street, it’s war, you overgrown street rat. And at the end of it, I’ll sink the pieces of you into the marsh my damned self.”
“Yeah,” Theiner replied. “About the marsh.”
The silence started to stretch. Biter was the first to fill it.
“Being as I’m the fucking Biter, I guess I’ll bite. What about the fucking marsh?”
Theiner smiled again, and this time it reached his pale blue eyes, if barely. “I’ll let you find out on your own, Gummer. But you’d best do it before the Scepter’s doors open. That way you can make an informed decision.”

Thursday, May 24, 2018

An Unclean Strength: How to get the updated ebook

I've been working with an Amazon customer service representative the last few days, trying to get Amazon to push out the updated ebook to everyone who has already bought it. They were reluctant to do so as it would mean folks would lose their notes and highlights and such, which is fine and reasonable.

Instead, if you'd like, you can go to your 'Manage Your Kindle' page (or it might appear as 'Manage your Content and Devices'). Once you get there, there'll be a list of  your ebooks. Any book that has an available update will display and orange 'update available button - including, of course, An Unclean Strength.

Once again, I'm very sorry for the typographical errors. Going forward I will be able to hire a proofreader as a backstop for my now less-than-sharp eyes.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

An update on updates: Everything is updated.

Hi all,

Well, I've just spent a week plus updating everything in the Amra Thetys and Skinwalker series. Most of it is cosmetic; Making sure fonts and such match across series.


There were a couple of bugs in Amra #4, one missing word in Amra #3, one very wrong word in Prayers in Steel (No, Michael, a humerus is not generally found in the the leg), and, uh, more than a couple of typos in Unclean Strength.

Yes, I am wearing the Cone of Shame as I type this. No, I'm not gonna take a selfie.

The good news is, there's a way for everyone with a kindle to download the updates, if you'd like. I'm just going to post the link to the article from How To Geek, since they explain it better than I can:

In other news, there's a really nice review of Trouble's Braids up at Perfectly Tolerable - and it's her first time reading a self-published book! Also, lots of Felicia Day gifs, which is awesome.

Well, there ya go. I need to get cracking on Amra #5, so this Come of Shame has to come off. It's really hard to see the screen.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Amra Amra Amra

I've all but finished reformatting every book I ever wrote, and in some cases have given them new covers. All the Amra stuff is done, and now I'm working through the Skin Walker books. It has taken, uh, a long time. Days and days. I even added them to Google Play/Google Books.

For someone as technologically challenged and finicky-stuff averse as me, it has been a trial.

BUT, that means, starting tomorrow, I can get stuck back in to Amra #5.

Amra #1 is a svelte 64k words.
Amra #2 is quite a bit heftier at 73k words.
Amra #3 is 67k words.
Amra #4 is the longest, at 76k words.

So far, I've got 5,024 words written for Amra #5. That's basically the first chapter and bits and bobs of later scenes. I'll try and check in weekly to update the word count and complain about random things/talk nonsense, and post snippets of the non-spoilery type.

How long will Amra #5 be? I won't know until it's done, but it will likely fall between 65-80k words.

When will it be finished? I'm shooting for about four months, but no guarantees.

Okay, I need to eat lunch before I get hangry. Good talk.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Skin Walker War series: Epic Fantasy or Sword & Sorcery?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question, as the release date for An Unclean Strength draws nearer. You see, there’s a definite worry that I’ll be ‘damned if I do, damned if I don’t’ because of the way I am approaching the writing of this series. Some epic fantasy readers will undoubtedly be disappointed that these books are not the door-stoppers that dominate the genre. Some Sword & Sorcery fans will be irritated at the time I take to explore certain themes and events that feature neither swords nor sorcery, nor any action at all, on occasion.

The dividing line between epic fantasy and S&S is fairly blurred. But if you look at the typical conventions of the two sub-genres, here’s what you would probably come up with:

  • Epic fantasy is grand in its scale, and epic stories might well span across centuries and thousands of miles. Sword & Sorcery stories are generally tighter in focus, both in time and space.
  • Epic fantasy tends to have multiple point of view characters, while S&S stories generally stick to one.
  • Epic fantasy generally deals with world altering, or even world-ending consequences, while S&S very often focuses on smaller events that may make no great difference to the wider world

Based on these comparisons, the Skin Walker War pretty clearly falls into the epic fantasy category.

But there are other differences between the two sub-genres that are also important, that deal with non-plot related concerns and conventions. One of the biggest is length, which is directly related to pace.

Sword & Sorcery is the action thriller of fantasy. It was born in the pulps, and has never left them, tonally speaking. Fans of S&S enjoy the sub-genre not least because it is packed with action, with conflict, with flashing swords and, yes, deadly sorcery. For a real fan of S&S, many of the epic fantasy books out there are truly, honestly, slow and dull.

Epic fantasy readers like that magic and stabby stuff as well, don’t get me wrong. Just as Sword & Sorcery readers are not averse to an intricate plot woven through their action. The difference, to my mind, has always been about two things: emphasis and immersion.

I’ll give you an example: JV Jones’s A Sword of Shadows series features some of the best culture building I have ever read, especially in regard to Jones’s clansmen. When I spend time with, say, Clan Bludd, I don’t feel bored or impatient even if the most violent thing to happen is snarling dogs. I am immersed. I care.

In contrast, I will happily skip any feast in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. I do not care what anyone eats, or how it was prepared. It adds nothing to my reading experience, and I am impatient to move on to something I do care about.

What I have attempted to do with this series is take out all the feasts, as it were, but leave the snarling dogs.

I love S&S, but often am dissatisfied with it because it is often skeletal – there is action, but not enough in the way of deeper characterization or world building. We too often end up with stick figures, caricatures, fighting over stakes we care nothing about.

I love epic fantasy, but am often frustrated when I come upon multiple pages that do not advance the plot, or the characterization, or world building – do not advance anything, really, except the page count. It’s like buying a bag of potato chips, to discover when you open it that half the contents are air.

So to answer to the question – is this new series epic fantasy or sword and sorcery? – I would have to say I’m trying to make it both. I’m trying to give readers what’s best about both sub-genres, and leave the less salubrious bits out.

Whether I am succeeding or not is up to the readers to decide.