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

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The post book release blues

(This blog post has been adapted from a Twitter thread at the request of Carrie D. Miller, whose latest book, Copper Pennies, is out as we speak.)

* * *

Hi friends. Today I want to talk about the post book release blues. Not every author gets it, nor is it the same for every author, but it's a real thing. Having just seen The Thief Who Went to War out the door, it has been heavily on my mind. Again.

What am I talking about? I mean the creative slump that can follow the release of a book. It happens to me pretty much every time. The new book is out, and I know what I'm supposed to be working on next but I sit down to write and... eh.

The words don't want to come. They just don't. Writing feels like monotony, even when it's a project I was previously excited about. I'd rather check sales, check twitter, clip my toenails - anything but write.

Because I always have multiple projects going (at a glacial pace, most of them, but still) I am at least not faced with a blank page - that would be far, far worse - but I still feel like when I was a kid, forced to memorize multiplication tables. Something in me rebels.

I think perhaps it's because some part of my psyche still looks at writing and publishing an entire book as the end of a quest - a massive undertaking completed. That part wants its happily ever after, not *another* damned hike to Mordor.

That's nonsense of course. Writers write. We write climaxes and denouements, but we don't actually get them. Life is not fiction, after all. We generally write the world as it should ultimately be, not how it is. But the small me kicking the desk in front doesn't care.

Now some writers will have no clue what I'm talking about. They finish one project and immediately dive into the next, because that's just who they are and how they're wired. If that's you, great! I mean, I hate you but awesome!

If that's *not* you, though, come sit over here. Put that guilt and self-doubt over there on the shelf; it looks heavy.

The first thing you need to know is that the feeling will pass. You're a writer; you write. How do I know? Because I have ten titles out there, despite myself.

"But I need to write x books a year!" you cry. Okay, you have goals, and I respect that. Your inner dissident does not, however. Give them a week to sulk, is my advice. Just enough time to start getting bored. Forbid yourself even a peek at anything writing-related.

Next, get petty. Go to the top 100 list on Amazon for your writing category. Find a book you've never heard of despite it being in the top 100. Read the sample. I will bet dollars to donuts it will be... not very good. But it is in the top 100, and your book probably isn't. That means that author is living the dream while you have been binge watching Storage Wars or whatever.
Don't feel guilty - feel the righteous fire of WTF and NAW coursing through your authorly veins. (Every night when I go to sleep I remind myself that Terry Goodkind has an amazing writing career. Yes, it makes it hard to fall asleep. Yes, I require lots of antacid.)

The power of petty should have put your muse on notice at this point. If no, maybe you really do need a break. It happens. If yes, time to give yourself some writing goals. Only you know your writing quirks. There are lots of books out there to help you get writing. None will help everyone, but at least one of them will help *you*.

But I will say that you need to have daily goals. You can start out small; it's probably best. The thing is to write every day. Even if it's only a couple hundred words. Even if they suck. The thing is to get your inner dissident used to working again. Mordor ain't coming to the Shire, after all. And once you're back in the groove, the post-book launch hangover will dissipate.
Until the next one. And now you know what to do.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

The Thief Who Went to War

Well. It’s, uh, been a while since we least heard from Amra and Hogren. According to Amazon, the first publication of Thief Who Wasn’t There was on June 5th, 2015, so at the time of this writing, it’s been four years and two days. That’s a long time to wait for a sequel. Not GRRM long, not Patrick Rothfuss long, but long. Too long. And for that I’d like to apologize and explain a bit.

When I wrote Amra #4, my youngest was still a baby. I’d entered Mark Lawrence’s first ever Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off (the SPFBO) with Amra #1, and been offered a contract with Ragnarok Publications. I’d already put Amra #4 up for pre-order when the offer was made, and so a grand total of 32 people got the book before I had to take it down, so that Ragnarok could issue their own versions of the series.

If memory serves, that was only supposed to take about four months. In reality it took around a year.

Anyway, money was tight for us then. I mean, really, really tight. I was teaching English as a Second Language at the time in Vietnam, but they’d just put in place a new law that you had to have a degree to do so. I had a decade of experience, but no degree. I worked under the table for a while, because family’s gotta eat, but it wasn’t a sustainable situation. So I ended up moving to Cambodia for a time, where I could work legally, and at the same time worked like hell to finish up my Bachelor’s.

Long story short, Amra and Holgren’s next misadventure got put on the backburner, since I knew it wouldn’t be published by Ragnarok in any reasonable time frame and thus would buy no diapers. Then, by the time I left Ragnarok, it had moved from the back burner to the closet.

But I never stopped hearing it bumping around in there. Amra isn’t the kind of character who waits patiently for attention.

It has taken me roughly two years to get this book out. I’ve written and then discarded more words for it than you now hold in your hand – four previous versions went onto the scrap pile. Sometimes I had to stop, because I was completely lost and devoid of confidence. I wrote Prayers in Steel, An Unclean Strength and The Last God in the gap between Amra #4 and this book, as well as another untitled and unreleased book that’s quite different from all my others, and still not ready.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that I’m super late with this, and super sorry, but I swear I wasn’t being lazy.

The Thief Who Went To War is currently being picked over by some amazing beta readers. After that, it'll be off to a proofreader, to kill typos and bad punctuation with fire. It will be in all the usual places on August 10th. I've just set up the pre-order on Amazon, and when the link becomes available I'll share that in a new post. I'll also set up the pre-order for all other venues besides Amazon sharpish.

I hope you’ll judge it worth the wait.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Madness of ‘The Bells’

The fifth episode of the final season of Game of Thrones brought rioting from its fans. I’ma talk about it. As if you didn’t already know, spoilers ahead.

The scene was set thusly: The Iron Fleet is burning. The city’s gates are breached. The dozens of scorpions that line the city’s walls have been reduced to ash and splinters by the creature they were designed to kill. The allied troops of the Mother of Dragons are within the walls of the city, though not yet the Red Keep, where Cersei stands looking out, stone-faced and in denial.

Dany, atop Drogon, is perched on a tower, looking down at her troops facing off with Cersei’s. The opposition drops their swords, an unmistakable sign of surrender. Then the bells begin to ring out across the city, an established signal to all and sundry that the city as a whole is capitulating. In a word, Daenerys Stormborn has won. All that remains is mopping up the Red Keep, doing a dracarys on Cersei, and giving the Iron Throne a good disinfecting.

It is then and only then, in a wordless and commendable moment of the actor’s craft, that we see in Dany’s eyes rage and hate overwhelm her. Really, it’s a brilliant bit of acting on Emilia Clark’s part. Unfortunately, it’s also completely undeserved in terms of her character’s arc.

Some people disagree. They point to all the many harsh and bloody things Daenerys has done in her struggle for power. They tote up the body count, as if every death was equal, and equally heinous. They are not; not in fiction and not in real life. If they were, every soldier would be a war criminal. Whatever your beliefs about violence and nonviolence, the world has come to a general agreement that, even in war, there are actions that are too inhuman to countenance. We call them war crimes, and when the stars align, we punish them as such.

But let us put modern, real world notions of war atrocities aside. Let us look solely at the previous actions of the Mother of Dragons. She crucified slavers in the hundreds, and burned others of them alive. She looked on as her husband killed her abusive brother, the rightful Targaryen heir, in an exceptionally brutal fashion. She burned to death a powerful witch who killed her husband and unborn child, making her barren in the process. She locked another powerful, treacherous lord away in a lightless cell, there to die of thirst and starvation. She killed a powerful, thieving sorcerer. She burned the collected leaders of the Dothraki when they were going to imprison her. She burned two noblemen who took up arms against her to death, because they refused to bend the knee. She executed by means of dragon fire lord Varys, for the crime of treason. And of course countless enemy soldiers and sailors have died by her hand or at her orders.

In short, if you are powerful and/or belligerent and oppose her, maybe don’t make long-range plans.

But do you know who she’s never killed, or had killed? Peasants. Commoners. Children. The powerless. People who have not threatened, harmed, or taken up arms against her.

In nearly eight seasons, she has shown exactly who she is – a ruthless, powerful woman who will fight to her dying breath to reclaim what she sees as her birth right. But she has also known and shown what lines she was not willing to cross.

Let’s go back to Dany, perched on Drogon atop that wall. The bells are ringing. King’s Landing is prostrate before her. Her enemy, the one who beheaded her close advisor days before, is about thirty seconds away as the dragon flies, waiting to get dracarysed.

And so Dany decides she’s gonna torch the defenceless, surrendered city, with her troops still inside it, instead of flapping straight to the Red Keep – which holds Cersei and any remaining troops willing to fight for her, and the iron throne. Why torch the town first?

Because fuck those filthy peasants, I guess.

The truth is, we know why. The showrunners decided that Jon and Dany had to go at it in the last episode. That’s all. That’s it. That’s the only reason. They tried to backpedal the character in the last season, putting her on an ‘I saved you all, why don’t you love me? The brown people loved me when I saved them!’ jag – with tasteless overtones of jilted lover sprinkled on top for added flavor – that was somehow supposed to prepare the ground for what she did in King’s Landing.

It didn’t. Most fans weren’t fooled or satisfied, because for six plus seasons they watched Dany grow into who she was. And it wasn’t that. It wasn’t perfect, mind you – but it definitely wasn’t that. The Bells required Dany to not only be insane, but stupid. To burn what she had already won. To delay destroying her worst enemy for the sake of murdering a city full of nobodies.

‘But she wants them to fear her!’ I hear the Game of Thrones writer’s room cry out. ‘She can’t have love like in Meereen, so all that’s left is fear!’

Except she’s got a fucking dragon and the living already fear her, and the dead fear nothing, and Dany is not stupid enough to not understand either of these points.

‘But she’s craaaazy now!’ that same writer’s room bleats. ‘She snapped! There’s no accounting for craaaazy!’

Except there is. There was a way to show Dany deciding to finish off her dear old dad’s bucket list item of roasting King’s Landing, a way that, while unsatisfying, would at least have made a grudging sort of sense. If she had destroyed the Red Keep first, and then some dumbfuck commoner had pelted her with horse dung while she was giving her liberation speech, I might have reluctantly swallowed the ensuing incineration. It would have been at least tenuously supported by her character development.

But that’s not what happened.

The Bells, and indeed the entire seventh and eighth season, has displayed other instances where the decision was made to prioritize plot expedience over established character development, but none were as unearned and unforgivable as those few, wordless seconds showing a woman atop a dragon deciding to destroy what she had just conquered.

The Bells should serve as a reminder for every writer that your plot needs to be true to your characters. If it’s not, we’re watching or reading about puppets, not people – and even Pinocchio wanted to be a real boy.

Shoutout to the Goodest Boy.

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.