Thursday, November 25, 2010

Joy of Pantsing

One of the benefits of being a pantser is the joy of discovery, that occasional event when you turn around and find something you never thought of but realize you can’t do without. A character waiting to be noticed, or a bit of history that you the author never knew about. I’ve had both happen to me. I remember when I was writing Off the Map, I was up half the night with all the ideas floating around, even the title, but that was a real woman I was writing about, a real life full of raw material.

When I was writing St. Martin’s Moon I discovered many of my characters (actually, I discovered all of them, that’s what I do), but one stands out, the Communications Officer, Candace. I discovered her when Marquand, the hero, just turned around and there she was, shining red hair and alpha as hell. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with her, but that was OK, because she and Marquand both knew what they wanted.

Just yesterday another character, in my WIP Tales of Uncle, also revealed himself to be a member of a religious sect called Upwellers. Further, he brought news that the city of Querd, introduced in my previous novel A Warrior Made, had pretty much self-destructed, while the Upweller sect was in disarray and many believed that the end of the world was near. And it was all the fault of my heroes. Now I have to figure out what they’ll do about it, if they do anything about it.

Then today, as I’m driving down the road, I had some further insights into where the story wants to go. The whole ending scenario was revealed to me, not only the Upweller’s destiny, but the golden throne, the Stone King, the Barren Birth. It’s just the most wonderful feeling in the world when so many little parts suddenly make sense like that.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Back to Backstory

Today’s topic is dream-sequences. It was going to be backstory but I’ve seen a lot of blog posts about backstory lately. Dream-sequences are a great way of handling backstory issues, perhaps my favorite way, which is why I thought of them.

The problem with backstory, of course, is that it’s inert, which is why it’s back and not frontstory. Frontstory is ert. We the authors have two choices, either leave backstory in some little lump somewhere, where it will be a great weight that slows our story down (Boo! Hiss!), or we can throw our backstory ruthlessly and without compunction into the hopper of our imagination and grind it into little tiny bits, so we can mix it in with our front story and no one will notice, but you get extra flavor and nutrition anyway. Yay, flavor and nutrition!

Dream-sequences are the Vita-Mixers of backstory, although Vita-Mixers don’t have hoppers. Mixed (get it? Mixed?) metaphors aside, dream sequences are great ways to include the backstory element, i.e., the content of the dream, into a front-story element, e.g., the dream itself, in such a way that it contributes to the development of the character and thus propels the story. If it’s done right. If not, it’s just dreck.

So, how do I do dream sequences? Since I believe in general that people mostly think in pictures, it follows that in a dream sequence, pictures will be almost the entirety of the content, if not all. If I do put in words, that will almost always be dialog, most likely a memory of something someone already said, and very short. Possibly musical. In St. Martin’s Moon, for example, Joseph Marquand has a dream in which, at one point, he hears someone calling his name down a stairwell, “Jo-ey. Jo-ey.” That sort of thing. The stairwell was current context, but the name was the name his girlfriend who died used to call him, thus bringing the girlfriend (whose name–don’t laugh–is Bing-Bang) and the horrific manner of her death into the present context, where…

I have an idea. Next post will be about flashbacks.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Whatever works

My publisher’s often wondered where I get my ideas from.

In fact, it’s pretty simple. There’s a proof I once read in a popular book about mathematics, that shows that the set of integers is infinite. It basically says to just create a number that is different from every other number in at least one of its digits. You can always do this, therefore the set is infinite, as is the set of mathematicians spinning in their graves at this ridiculous oversimplification.

Stories are the same way. No, I’m not going to tell you how because this isn’t a post about originality but about rules and how not to follow them.

I took a writing class, once. I don’t remember anything about it. My high school English classes had a little more success, at least I have the basics of grammar and stuff down. But I think that’s because I read a lot, so I got a lot of practice. When I started writing, I didn’t model myself on anybody, or follow a book of style. I wrote to please me, and to get the story down on the paper in just the way it was flowing in my head. Dialog, actions, thoughts, all mixed up in a kettle and stirred around a bit because that’s what people do. Well, it’s what the people in my books do. They think while they talk and they move while they think.

So if you’re thinking that at some point I’ll try to give you some rules for writing, don’t. I have some idea of what I’m doing, yes, because I pay attention, but I also know better than to think that what works for me is going to work for anyone who isn’t me. I once wrote a dark and dismal poem using limericks. This was during the writing class I don’t remember.

I do have a rule about writing, more of a guiding principle, really, since rules are usually about doing some thing some way. My guiding principle is about doing the same thing some other way. “If you’ve seen it done before, don’t do it again.” Note that this is directly opposed to almost all rules. It makes editing my books a bit of a trial for my publisher, that’s for sure. Not even my punctuation is safe.

I hope you’ll click on one of those links over there and tell me well you think I did.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Originality, the curse of the writing life.
I suppose most people think it would be the lack of originality, but that's not necessarily true. Hollywood is much happier making a remake than it is taking a chance on something totally untested. In a lot of the blogs I've read, back when I was trying to get agent representation and publication through one of the larger publishers, one of the big things they want is something called a 'comp title', a book or books that your manuscript is like. I suppose there are people out there who start writing a book by thinking, "I'll write a story that's like Harry Potter, only it'll be a school for villains, trying to corrupt him." (And before you think about stealing this idea for yourselves, it's been done already, and very well, and it doesn't sound at all like I've described because it's more original than that.) Take a look at the current vampire craze in paranormal romances, every author under the--well, not under the sun, coming up with some 'twist' on vampires, as long as they're fabulous lovers with French accents and silk ruffled shirts. Which spun off the werewolf craze, followed by the 'witch' craze, followed by the 'faerie' craze followed by...I will resist the cynical observation that this is helped along nicely by the current business model in publishing. But I will say that my publisher has often expressed an amazement at the bizarreness of the stories I have inflicted upon her. She still publishes them, though, because I'm Just. That. Good.
But getting that book published, that movie produced, is not what I had in mind. A movie producer or a book publisher has the option of saying, "Hmm, interesting concept, but I'm not sure it'll play in Peoria." Even a writer can do that. An author has no such luxury. To the author it's His Idea, and he has to make it real, put flesh on the bones, even if he doesn't know how. Worse, helpful advice and examples are little help, because they are things that have been done before. I have trouble writing blog posts on subjects I've seen done already.
I have a folder of such ideas, little documents for the stories I think of that I can't figure out how to make them work. Sometimes the reason they don't work is because they're not especially original. I have lots of ideas that I get from reading other people's books, and those ideas may become a good scene in my own book but never a book of their own. The heroes of my second novel spent 6 weeks waiting on a forest path for me to come up with an idea for what happened next, so they could tell me what they were going to do about it. I spent 4 years writing St. Martin's Moon (some of which was lost starting a new job and not writing much), and I had to push the bones of the ending into place just to have them there, so that I could suddenly realize what the ending was all about 2 weeks after I wrote it. I got three story ideas from the Color of Silence contest and five from the Dark Glass contest, and someday I will make them work!
When I figure out how.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Shared Vision

Head-hopping is a term used to refer to scenes getting described from the points of view of multiple characters without any notice of a transition between them. It’s the lack of transition that bothers people, or at least, bothers writing coaches.

I never took a writing course, or had a coach, though, so I have my own take on head-hopping. I would argue that all three of the forms I will display here are inevitable and even necessary for stories written the way mine are.

I started writing by sitting down and writing. I followed the characters and wrote down what they did, what they thought, and what they perceived. Not necessarily what they saw. I hate description and don’t want to do it, so by focusing on what a character perceives in a scene, I can dispense with all the unnecessary descriptive clutter. He wants to pee, so who cares about whether the tree is an oak or an ash or whatever. Certainly not me, and that saves me the trouble of researching oaks and ashes so I can tell them apart.

Every scene I write is written from some character’s POV, not my own. I am not giving you an account of what Gavin experienced in the arbored dell with innocent Emily, followed by what Emily experienced with virile Gavin. I am telling you what Gavin said and thought and did, in order, even if they overlap sometimes. Nothing annoys me more that a supposed conversation between two people where one character finishes an entire paragraph of dialog before the other character gets one thought in edgewise. If Emily has a sudden revelation because of something Gavin says, you can bet I’m putting that sudden revelation right where it belongs, and not three lines down after Gavin finally shuts up.

I do not write scenes with people moving around in them. I write people and the experiences they have. If two people are talking, then I will present the conversation as it comes, a series of thoughts and perceptions and emotions and sensations all jumbled together and affecting each other. What he says is not always what she hears, what she hears may cause her to think of something totally different, which will result in a physical reaction that he totally misinterprets. I even invented a punctuational style to indicate when a character is thinking while speaking. There’s no realistic way to portray this if I limit myself to he said-she said. So I don’t. Here’s a bit from Unbinding the Stone, dialog-free:

This was just three people with some kind of magic, not an avalanche! And he was a Hero, not a villager. Comparing himself to someone like Tumagir was rank discourtesy, to himself as well as Tumagir. It was–what had Khan called it?–unbecoming of him. He saw it, like watching himself from above, and the god was right. It was funny, and he laughed.

She looked at him, a sour, dyspeptic look on her face. She’d won. This worm should be groveling, wetting himself with fear, not smirking at her, as if she were a child learning to walk. She was not a pet with a new trick! Anger moved skittishly over the veneer of her mind, a surface emotion for a depthless soul.

Tarkas saw her face twist, and could guess at its cause.

There is another type of head-hopping I occasionally employ, which is when multiple people are perceiving the same scene. In the example above the perceptions are serial. Tarkas thinks, Tarkas laughs, she gets pissed, and so on. (Feel free to get the book, and find out what happens when the lady gets pissed.) But sometimes it’s important to know what several people perceive of the same thing, at the same time. In the example below, Deffin is Tarkas’ pet/comrade, but the clansmen around them can’t be allowed to know that, especially the one Tarkas is fighting. I still wonder if I should have used the parentheses.

Tarkas leapt, defending his erstwhile foe with phenomenal courage. (Deffin fell away, confused. Then, somewhere in his keen nizarik mind, a concept emerged and approached cognition: ‘play’.) With an inhuman scream of rage, the beast flung Tarkas away like a toy, and the heroic visitor lost his sword. Then the thing was upon him, clawing at his back and tearing at his throat with his fangs. (Deffin held to his parent, wrestling with him in cub fashion, a relic from a cubhood denied him.) His sword gone, Tarkas gripped the hellish being hand to hand. With phenomenal strength, he forced the demon back, where it stepped off a small abutment and fell into the gloomy wood behind the camp. But the valiant guest was not spared. In a last, vengeful ploy, the grotesquerie grabbed his outstretched arm and pulled him down into the darkness with it. But unseen was not unheard, and the gathered clans could hear the sounds of their struggle, fading into the distance as Tarkas led the beast away from the rest of the camp, long into the night.

In this scene the crowd perceives one thing while Deffin perceives another, even though they are all seeing the same physical situation. There is a third type of head-hopping, where the participants are both perceiving the same thing, each from their own standpoint, a state I call a ‘shared vision’. In this scene from A Warrior Made, both Tarkas and Irolla are contemplating their relationship in a moment of repose:

A discreet tap heralded an inaudible thump, as a tray of light snacks settled outside her door. Her servants well knew not to interrupt them during one of his rare visits. She stirred herself to get it, treating him to the sight of her in motion and herself to the sight of him in repose.

For his part, Tarkas moved himself only enough to watch, hand propped upon pillow and chin propped upon hand, as she moved with her usual grace across the floor, over to the door, which she opened with such flair. It wasn’t flair, of course; he knew that she knew no one was about, but it still seemed so daring.

As she desired. She could feel his eyes, his total concentrated attention on her, and she could feel…other things as well, even from across the room. His aura fairly burned, and then, when it flared–!

She was so beautiful, so…alive. At times like these he could almost imagine what she must feel and know every day of her life in this place, and almost he envied her. Still the woman he had known in Kwinarish, the only outward changes he had noticed in all their time here were in her hair and her eyes, which had changed color slightly. Otherwise she still looked like a young woman of…how many seasons? By the Gods, he had been a Hero longer! Still so delicate, none of the calluses, the scars, the muscles that the women of their old home would have had by now. His fingers rubbed together, unseen. His calluses. And his scars. He felt so rough. She was like he used to be; being with her was like being the self he had once been and still wanted to be.

She felt it, just then, heating and cooling and prickling along her back and side as she knelt to get the tray, so she was not at all surprised when she turned back to see his needs so plain on his face beneath the careful mask. He was so soft, she knew, beneath all the hard places time had given him. She had none and mourned the lack. Without them she felt caught, trapped in an endless childhood for which she had no love. He was like she longed to be; being with him was like living the life she should have led and still hoped for.

It was all an illusion, of course, the ramblings of a tired and jealous mind. He had known nothing, so long ago, for all his learning, his prospects had been similarly barren of real accomplishment. Holding out a hand, he noticed the scars and scratches his life and labors had placed there, swords and claws and thorns leaving their traces as he had left his, in the remains of the monsters he had slain, and evil he had vanquished. In his friends in Querdishan and other cities of the realm, learning slowly to trust in him and the magic he brought. His life was hard, but good.

She took his hand, feeling the warmth surging through it and from it, balancing herself against his strength as she lowered herself and her burden to the surface of her bed. His scars were an illusion, she knew, and her lack of them equally so. His work left them, hers did not, at least, not where she could see them. Her servants were one scar, her fortress another. Her elementals flowed through her constantly, marking her soul as she marked their doings, soothed their hurts, and corrected their errors. Of the other Lords, only the Lord of Earth suffered similarly. She could well understand how their predecessors had fallen. It was a good life, but hard.

Releasing her hand, Tarkas took one of the items from the tray, as she did the same. With identical, unplanned motions, they each lifted their offerings to the other’s lips.

So what’s the point? Well, aside from giving a lot of examples of my writing, which hopefully will inspire you to go out and get copies of my work, my point is this: Head-hopping is not necessarily a bad thing. It depends on the way the author writes. One person, a judge in a contest, described my style as ‘third person that reads like first person’ (that’s not the exact quote, by the way), which is pretty accurate. Standard third-person wouldn’t allow me to do what I do, which is OK because I don’t write in standard third person. I never learned how.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

the senses of entitlement

Choosing a title for a book is tricky business. When I first started writing, the title for my book was The Flame in the Bowl, which is truly appalling, but OK for a working title that will never sit on a shelf. The funny thing is I’ve seen titles just as bad sitting there. I never took many classes in creative writing, and I don’t belong to any writing groups or anything like that. I don’t even go to the conferences and seminars. If there is a class on the subject of choosing a title i don’t know what it would say. Everything I know about writing comes from my own imagination, shaped by the many many books that I’ve read in my life.

How do I choose a title, then? I don’t have any hard and fast rules, but there are some general principles I use that may be of use to others. One such is to avoid nouns. Nouns are solid and substantial, but they are also lumps that just sort of sit there. They don’t really invite unpacking, unless they’re very unusual nouns. ‘A Warrior Made’ is a noun sort of title, but it was derived from the expression ‘A Warrior Born’, which my hero most certainly was not, so it has a certain interest from the contradiction. (The book also features a female warrior, so there is a ‘warrior maid’ angle, too, but my wife feels that that muddies the waters rather than help.) I met one author who was talking about his new novel, a medical thriller called ‘The Anatomy Lesson’. I immediately came up with what I thought was a better title, ‘A Man of Many Parts’, but I don’t think he appreciated the suggestion. ‘The Flame in the Bowl’ became ‘Unbinding the Stone’, a verb title I came up with from an image in the story itself.

It should be clear that I like titles based on familiar expressions, hopefully with a twist thrown in. My stories ‘Bite Deep’ and ‘Off the Map’ got their titles that way. BD is a most unusual vampire story, which combines several of the world’s ancient mythologies to tell the true origins of Christmas as a vampire ceremony, stolen by pagans and then by Christians. The hero is searching for a purpose in life, and his mantra is…well, you know. I remember when I was thinking about OTM and all the stuff I wanted to do with it, and I thought about what to call it. The idea of a woman taken off into uncharted realms led immediately to ‘Here Be Dragons’, a common reference in old-style maps indicating a lack of knowledge about the area. And the story featured dragons, of a sort. But I wasn’t happy with it. The story is about a woman who gets dragooned onto the set of Interdimensional Survivor, so to speak, she wasn’t on the map at all. Ah…

‘Ex Libris’, a story about commando-librarians and their dangerous true work, was originally ‘The Children’s Room’. ‘The Children’s Room’ is a terrible title, not only because it’s a noun but it has little to do with the story. The library I based the story in, my own local library, had a children’s room, of course, but there’s nothe about ‘The Children’s Room’ to indicate that it was set in a library. ‘Ex Libris’ is not only a familiar expression, it does indicate the library-hood of the whole thing, and it has a sexy little X in the title.

Then we get the bad puns, similar to the familiar expression type of title but with a further element of silliness thrown in. ‘Chasing His Own Tale’ was the first of these, followed by ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, ‘Undermind’, and ‘Struck By Inspiration’. The merits of these titles should be obvious.

Put these general principles together and what have you got? Well, something pretty ghastly if you don’t do it right. Good Luck.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


I just heard this term today. Over on the Writer Unboxed blog, which I recommend everyone read, they just finished up a month of posts on various aspects of the craft of writing. In the final post they had a summing up which mentioned this concept, about which I had never heard. (See? Good grammar.)

A logline is apparently a term used in scriptwriting, where it refers to “the short blurb in TV guides that tells you what a movie is about and helps you decide if you’re interested in seeing it.” This is apparently in contrast to a tag line, which from the look of things is even shorter, “a memorable phrase that will sum up the tone and premise of a brand or product”.

When I was writing St. Martin’s Moon, I would often describe the book I was working on as ‘it’s about a werewolf attack on a lunar colony.’ At which point their eyes would go wide and they’d say ‘Cool!’ However, that short description. however accurate it may be, and it didn’t end up that way, is neither a log or tag line, as I understand the terms.

The tag line I came up with is “The Moon is haunted, but the werewolves don’t know that.” I came up with that one after a few years trying to come up with a synopsis for a query letter. Unlike the first description it’s pretty accurate, but notice that it says almost nothing about the story. Tag lines don’t.

Then I discovered loglines, to my dismay. Bear in mind that I have spent literally years trying to come up with a short description of this book. The funny thing is, taglines came to me easily. It was the longer descriptions I couldn’t do. Once I had to get involved with the plot, which taglines aren’t concerned with but loglines are, I found myself going in 3-5 directions at once, because that’s what the laughingly-so-called plot of this book does.

Happily, it seems that loglines aren’t the problem I thought they might turn out to be. Unless I’m doing something wrong, which is always possible, the logline doesn’t need the complete plot, just the main plot. In most cases there’s not much of a difference but in the case of St. Martin’s Moon the difference is considerable. The main plot features Joseph Marquand, operator extraordinaire, recalled to space service to solve a werewolf attack in the most unlikely of places. It’s everything else that causes the trouble. Candace, Bing-Bang, Bertrand, and Dr. Ron are major players as well. The whole concluding sequence depends on them, not Marquand, but they only get involved because Marquand is there. So you can see where trying to get all this into a complete and short summary is not a doable thing. I couldn’t even do it in a complete and long summary. In fact, the only complete summary I can think of that does the story justice is the book itself.

But a logline is not a complete summary, it’s a teaser summary. What good are spoilers to TV Guide, after all? I came up with this, off the top of my head: “A former operative turned werewolf hunter returns to the site of his lover’s death to solve the most unlikely case of all, a werewolf attack on the Moon itself.”

I wish I could get the ghosts in, though.

What do you think?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The shape of things to become

My new blog post at Comments invited.

My life since Confluence has been a bit hectic. They have a much better story contest theme this year than in previous years, and I got a good start on a story for it, but now it's gone silent and I'm casting about to see where it's going that I'm not seeing.

I had my interview a couple of days ago too, and a number of comments that kept me busy. My account on Twitter chose that day to explode as well, on a totally different topic. I was blocked for some reason by a man I followed, and when I mentioned it on Twitter I got some replies back about him. Early on these morphed into a discussion of religion, and I ended up getting slotted into an argument with a devout atheist, on the subject of faith v. religion, which was the subject of my blog post 'My Word.' This post is one of my most visited, second only to this one. At least, I think it's second. I don't think they have stats for individual posts.

Then of course there's my day job. Been busy these last few days putting together some new code and testing it out. Yesterday was an office picnic, food, talk, and whiffle-ball. I pulled a muscle or something running bases. Hurts just sitting here.

Monday, August 09, 2010


It's interview time! the nice folks over at
have decided to chat with me today.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Posted a new blog over here today.

Monday, July 12, 2010

In the beginning

Back when I first started writing Unbinding the Stone, I had no idea what I was doing. I had read a great many books, of course, done well in my English classes and almost qualified for the National Spelling Bee for my state ('risque', if you're interested). I had even taken one class in creative writing at college. But I was not moved to write anything until long after, when I was a grad student in Philosophy. I had a dream one night, told my wife about it, and she prompted me to think about writing a story. My Hero became the embodiment of a concept I heard about in a Philosophy class, a man who did the right thing because it was the right thing to do. At some point a first sentence appeared in my head and I wrote it down.

What to do after that?

In the books I'd read, there would be a lot of decription, perhaps, details about the environment my hero lived in, the people, the country, etc. I had one sentence and I'd just written it. The only thing I had left was the information from my dreams, where he was going and what he wanted. So that's what I wrote. He was going into the forest to get a particular piece of wood for a particular purpose. Did I want to describe the forest, or the wood? No, I did not. I didn't know a lot about trees or woods, but more important, they weren't important to the story. Perhaps thatwas just my lazy cowardice talking, since I didn't want to go to the trouble of learning about trees and woods, but I put the focus on my hero, Tarkas. Did he care about the woods? No, he'd lived in them all his life. He wouldn't care about them unless they were part of his immediate purpose. Similarly the village he'd just left. The carnivorous plant between him and his goal mattered, but only a little, since he avoided it. The path mattered, in so far as it took him to his goal.

Already I had gotten far away from any lessons the books I'd read might have taught me. I wasn't writing in first person, but I wasn't exactly writing in third person either. I was writing third person as if it was first person. Everything was seen from Tarkas' perspective, using Tarkas' words and concepts, as if the reader (me, in this case, even though I was the author as well) was in Tarkas' place but was not Tarkas. I the author was invisible. The side effect of this was that it applied to all characters, not just Tarkas, head hopping as a built-in feature. The usual technique of scene breaks when POV changed wasn't going to work here. I wasn't writing scenes, I was writing characters and what they saw and did. When Tarkas was the focus, everything was from his perspective. When the focus changed the perspective changed, and the focus could shift from one paragraph to the next.

Similarly the dialog and even vocabulary was subject to perspective shifts. When Tarkas didn't know a word I couldn't use it. It is a sign of change in a character, usually Tarkas, when he starts to use a word he didn't know before. I couldn't use certain syntactic form like contractions when Tarkas was in focus, because Tarkas would not use them. But other characters would. The world itself changed, based on what concepts the character in focus had to describe it with. Tarkas' world grows as Tarkas grows.

And me with him, of course.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Just a misunderstanding

Another new post up. Someday I'll have to put a real post up on this site, I really should.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

new blog posted

I discussed the topic of cover art and artists over here.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

posted on a different blog

There are also some blogs I post to occasionally. I just posted on

Saturday, June 26, 2010

posting elsewhere

I have another blog, you know. I had a blog I'd written in notepad and this blog wouldn't let me copy and paste, so I posted it over on my wordpress blog, which would. Then something strange happened. I blogged again. And again. Then I blogged here, then there again. Anyway, from here on out I think I'll post on one blog and put up notes on the other that I did.

So you can find today's post here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Writing by the Numbers - 2

One topic I see a lot of on author blogs and in the various online groups that feature authors, is the use of outlines versus 'pantsing', i.e., winging it, playing it by ear, throwing stuff on the wall and seeing what sticks...well, let's stick with pantsing.

I am a pantser. Just thought I'd make that clear.

Back when I first started writing the book that eventually became Unbinding the Stone, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I had a dream (really, the whole thing started with a dream I had one night) and a first line that popped into my head, but nothing else. Okay, something else, years of reading other people's fantasy novels, and of course, my wonderful high school English classes.

So when I sat down to write that first draft I put down that first line and thought, "Now what do I do?" I thought about it for a day or so, and decided I really didn't like descriptive prose. I didn't read it in the books I read, and I would be damned before I'd write it. Unfortunately, there is a bit of a need for description of some kind in a book. My solution to this dilemma was simple and obvious: pay attention to what the character perceives, rather than what he sees. We all see things that we don't perceive, simply because we've seen it a million times before. What we perceive is usually the stuff that matters to us at that time, for whatever reason.

The connection to pantsing in all of this obvious, I'm sure. I was pantsing squared. That's why this post is called Writing by the Numbers - 2. In the first Writing by the Numbers I wrote about writing for me, for number 1, so to speak. Maybe I should stop before I get to 3, not sure what'll happen there.

Back to squared pantsing. Not only was I making it up as I went along, I was making up how to make it up, as I went along. It didn't stop with description, you see, it became everything I wrote. What words the guy used, how did he speak, how did the non-human creatures speak and act, how did gods act, all with an eye to making them readable to a mere human like myself. (Which is crap, really, since I was writing them, they obviously had to be readable to me. The problem was making them still sound plausibly like gods and non-humans.) Needless to say it all worked. Eventually. That first book did need some extensive revision, mainly because the computer it was on crashed and I had no backup, but also because the first version sucked, big-time.

The second book, A Warrior Made, was similar but very different, since I never do the same thing twice. The good thing was, I had some idea of what the main character was like. The bad thing was, it was 20 years later, he had grown and changed a lot in the meantime, and I added 6 other main characters.

My latest novel, St. Martin's Moon, which starts with a werewolf attack on a lunar colony, was even more pantsed than them. Not only did I not know what was going to happen next, I didn't have a plot, or even a genre for the book. It was originally supposed to be a horror/mystery but I don't really do much with setting (a requirement for horror) or plot (necessary for a good mystery). Unfortunately I found out too late, and here I was with these really cool characters walking around and doing stuff. The only connection to all these things was the hero, since everything that happened was because he was there. But he wasn't doing them. When I finally figured out what the book was about, some 2 weeks after I finished it, the amazing thing was that it all worked!

The only way I can write is if I have something that I've already written, to work with. Outlines are not possible for me. I have to have the story written up to that point so I have something to extend. Unbinding the Stone itself started from a philosophical notion I heard about in class, that I used a fantasy context to develop and build on. So I have to say, pantsing is a great thing. For me it's the only thing. But really, I would recommend not pantsing about your pantsing.

Wait a minute, I just had a great idea for that third post--!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Evil Genius

This blog is not about me. Well it is about me, since it's my blog and you will get a dose of my writing and responses to things.

But this blog is about a great set of books I dscovered completely by accident in the library a few weeks back. My daughter (the 9-year-old, not the 15-year-old) is currently reading books in the YA section of the library, and is constantly after me to bring her home new material. Her favorite is animal books, but there's a limit to the amount of that stuff out there. So I went looking about the shelves at random, and came across this nice little book--okay, not so little, it's a bit thick for YA--called Evil Genius. See, the title wasn't about me at all, so there.

Evil Genius is the story of young Cadel Piggott, a man of incredible smarts raised by people of incredible dumbs. He is taken to see a 'therapist', Thaddeus Roth, but it quickly becomes clear that Roth's method to deal with Cadel's moral quandaries is to remove his sense of morality altogether. To this end, he and Cadel's father, the supervillain known as Phineas Darkkon, have created an academy of Evil know as the Axis Institute for World Domination (eat your feeble English school heart out, Hogwarts).

I stop at this point because I don't want to divulge too many spoilers, and this book deserves a close read. Harry and his friends have nothing on Cadel and his enemies. In many respects this book is a YA version of Soon I Will Be Invincible, another superhero novel on the evolution of the villain, equally fun is a totally different way. Doctor Horrible too, but without the songs.

I liked this book so much that we went out and bought both it an its sequel, Genius Squad, and have read them both. We eagerly await the next in the series, Genius Wars.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Roads not taken

I could have died yesterday.
It isn't much of an observation. In this world we can almost die every day, several times over. Most of the time we don't notice the possibilities, but they exist nonetheless.
Yesterday I got my face rubbed in it. I was taking my daughter to a bowling party for her 4th grade class. We're driving along, and I get to the turnoff where I would normally go to get the place. But right in front of me is an oil tanker truck, and I really don't want to be stuck on a one-lane road behind something that slow. So I don't make the turn, going straight and taking a different and slower route to the same place. I get there right on time anyway, and as I'm signing her in, a guy comes out and says that some kids might be delayed, since there was an accident on a certain street. It semed an fuel oil truck had been hit and overturned!
A couple of hours later I go back to the place to pick up my daughter, who was having a lot of fun and didn't want to leave, but what can you do? I took a different route home, the one I would have taken going down, and sure enough there was still a circus on the road, trucks with flashing lights everywhere, and the same oil truck I didn't want to be stuck behind, now upright on the grass.
That got me to thinking, especially since it was my turn to blog on my publisher's site and the subject was time travel of all things. I don't much care for how backwards time travel is portrayed, usually too many inconsistencies in it. But sideways time travel is of great interest, worlds at the same moment in time but with different histories. For example, one where I followed that truck...

Friday, May 07, 2010

I'm not telling

I'm getting two manuscripts edited at the same time. One is my first novel, which never got a proper edit in the first place. I asked my publisher if she was planning to format Unbinding the Stone for Kindle and she said she didn't have the book in Word form. I do, of course. Well, maybe not 'of course', apparently there are authors out there who delete their files when they get published, which strikes me as odd. I still have all the edits of my books. Anyway, once the possibility of sending her my book doc was raised, getting it revised and recovered was a short step away. I'd been pushing for it, even offered to pay for it, since the cover and back blurb are pretty bad and don't say anything about the book. In addition the thing will actually become more profitable for her, so what's not to love.

My editor did the first 180 pages and said, "Do like that for the rest." Not sure what came up, but it was something in the way of a favor anyway so I can't complain much if she stopped 40% through. Besides, the book is 10 years old now, I'm changed as a writer and will probably do well enough on my own. The hard part will be not changing the tone of the book.

My other editor was removed from the project. In fact he was removed from all projects, if you know what I mean. He told me to remove 'was' and 'were', since my publisher hated those words (like I didn't know that), but otherwise my MS was completely perfect.

I believed this.

The senior editor promised me a proper edit when I finished with that little chore. My publisher offered my son a job as editor of the SF/F branch. Seems she had an opening.

So I spent a few days doing a word search for 'was' and trolling through my book, St. Martin's Moon, trying to get rid of whatever I could find. It's not as easy as it sounds, you know. Finding it is easy, but to get rid of it, I have to read the text and decide how to do it. What other words have to change to accomodate the change in verb? How do the new words change the meaning of the sentence? How does the new sentence afffect the whole paragraph? It can be quite a workout.

But I recall one bright spot, a line that was pure 'tell', that I turned into pure 'show'. My hero was looking through a database trying to find a Western with mad scientists in it (don't ask, just read the book)(when it comes out), and he accidentally trips over their horror movie listing. It's quite extensive. He was impressed by it. There was even a line, 'This was an impressive list.'

Like I said, pure 'tell'. But for most of the book he'd been making obscure movie references, and as I was looking at the 'was' in the middle of this dull sentence, a new sentence popped into my head:
"Impressive," he thought to himself in a deep mental voice, "Most impressive."
Which is pure 'show', fits the character, is familiar without necessarily being obvious, and suits the tone of the book. For those of you who don't know it, it's the line Darth Vader says after Luke escapes his trap by leaping twenty feet straight up. You would not believe the bits of dialog and song lyrics I have floating around in the back of my head, waiting for opportunities like this.

Anyway, thus endeth the lesson for today. Anyone who needs an example of 'show, don't tell', please feel free to use it. I have 400 pages of book 1 to plow through.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

missed deadline

There was a contest that ended 4/15. A short story on a theme, 3500 words. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?


I usually do well with themes. All of my short stories grew out of some kind of theme. Chasing His Own Tale was supposed to be humorous and SF/F. Okay, not much as themes go, but it was

Buy it now, you know you want to.

my first one and I like to think I rose to the challenge. Speaking of challenges, one of the few fruits of my painful attempts to describe my latest novel (St. Martin’s Moon, I talk a lot about it over here) is that I got a great new short story out of it, called…wait for it…Chasing His Own Tale 2! Clever, no?


Actually it’s called Struck by Inspiration. It was called The Inevitable Sequel but like everything else this title just popped up out of the blue and smacked me.

That same year (the CHOT year, not the CHOT2 year) I discovered the PARSEC contest, the same one that just ended for the year today. That first time around the theme was Hard Port, and I ended up writing my Cyber-piracy story, Boys Will Be Boys.

Buy it now, you--wait, I said that already.

I think I’ve talked about this one before though, and you know how I feel about repeating myself. The PARSEC contest comes up with some wierd themes. The year after Hard Port it was Instruments of Madness. I actually had an idea about three people each of whom uses an ‘instrument of madness’ in some interpretation, against one of the others. One of these days.

My story Ex Libris came out of a PARSEC contest (‘Metallic Feathers’), as did Undermind (‘Dark Glass’), which has not yet been published anywhere. The Dark Glass theme actually gave me several ideas. One of these days.
This year’s theme was The Color of Silence, kind of an odd choice. I thought of a planet called Silence, a sword called Silence, and even a newly dead spirit, composing Haikus about the glories of Heaven, cast in colors of silence or some such. Souls unfurled like wings. In fact, the sword called Silence is a central prop in my new short story, Chasing His Own Tale 3: Have At Thee, Knaves!
I do well with themes. Too well. I get so many ideas I can’t get them all down. It’s a problem to have.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Universal appeal

For me, the werewolf has always been the Universal werewolf, poor Lawrence Talbot getting bit, turning into a wolf, and finding to his horror that even death wasn’t enough to save him from his curse, the curse of infinite Hollywood sequels. It came as something of a surprise to me to find out that there even was another lore about werewolves, back when I first encountered the novel Xxxx Xxxx by Xxx Xxxxxxx. In that book he presents four other legends, if I recall correctly, none of which had anything to do with bites or full moons. In fact he was rather caustic about Universal and the movies, which kind of annoyed me. I loved the old Universal monsters, even if they were constantly coming back from the dead for no known reason. Van Helsing, rebooting the whole franchise, so to speak, is one of my favorite movies.
So when I got around to writing my own werewolf novel, it was only natural I turn to the Universal model. Instead of lifelong curses or magic belts, it has people, cursed bites, and all the drama-y pathos and angst which I, as a character-driven reader and author, most care about. And in case you’re wondering, I did get around to writing a werewolf novel.

The original idea for St. Martin’s Moon came to me in a bookstore, where I saw a book with the title ‘Blood Moon’, and I thought, “Hey cool, a werewolf attack on a lunar colony!” (I actually did think that, by the way.) Of course it wasn’t, but then I thought, “Hey! I’m a writer. I can do that.” Really.

It wasn’t that easy, though. I don’t write horror, I write people, and for the story to work for me I had to figure out a way to hopefully cure these guys. Until and unless the money rolls in on this one, in which case I’ll have to think of something clever real quick. In any case, I didn’t figure out what was going on with this story until about two weeks after I’d finished writing it. Thank God for word processors.

It is in every other way a classic werewolf story, with a hero who does nothing, werewolves as a victimized underclass, and the most effective person in the story has been dead for four years. And of course it answers the most important question of all: Why the Moon?
No, I’m not going to tell you now.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lunacon 2010

Yes, I'm finally going to do it!
What? Blog about my event last week.
Why? Because I have another event today and I need to get all caught up.

The biggest and best thing about Lunacon for me was that Tanya Huff was the Author GOH. I would have gone just to see her, so going and getting a chance to sell some books was even better. She had done me the enormous favor and honor of giving me a quote for my first-ever novel, Unbinding the Stone (the one with the blue cover, on the left), one of the best and finest quotes I've ever seen on any book. True story: I went to her signing table, yes with one of her books in hand, and I mentioned that she had quoted my book. I just happened to have a copy of the book with me and put the quote in front of her. She read it and burst out "I loved that book!" As a thank you I gave her the second book, A Warrior Made. Unfortunately, it turns out that even her quotes are done through her agent now, so I can't ask for any comments about my upcoming third novel, St. Martin's Moon. It's a werewolf novel, not in the series of Tarkas books, and I'll be blogging more about it and werewolves in general on the Echelon Explorations blog next week, so tune in there.

Lunacon was a very nice place, lots of good and friendly folks with a great love of SF and books in particular. The dealer room, where I spent most of the weekend, was top-heavy with book vendors, which could have been a problem for a little guy like me. But I only sell Echelon Press titles, which the other vendors do not carry at all, and I and my daughter are very aggressive in dragging in the customers, which many vendors are not. We sold quite a few books, not as many last year but enough to qualify as a successful event, i.e., one that doesn't end up costing me money.

I also got quite a few cards from several of the other vendors there, especially the steampunk dealers for my friend Nick Valentino, author of the YA steampunk novel Thomas Riley. Not that he needs any help from me in promoting his books, but when you can help, why not? We even sold a bunch of mysteries and the usual Western. Really, SF and Westerns have a great deal in common. I can see the need to try to keep them separated but I think it's a doomed effort.

Anyway, time to start loading up the truck. Gotta get ready for ICON!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

short, sweet, and to the point

My wife has given me the most marvelous incentive to post today. If I’m not half done in a half hour, she’ll introduce me to Mr. Baseball Bat. Has there ever been a more loving and supportive spouse?

Today we’re going to step away from the dark and the drear. I’ve tried writing dark and drear, and believe me, I suck at it. Why? Well, horror finds its power situationally, in setting and mood. It paints a room in shades of black and off-black, and then puts up a sign that says ‘You are here.’

The problem is, I don’t write situationally, I write character(al)(ly). And I like to make up my own words, too. But I do write short stories, more and more as time goes on. In the beginning the secret was comedy, or at least, an attempt at comedy, as anyone who’s read my short stories Chasing His Own Tale and Boys Will Be Boys can attest. (Assuming they’re honest.) (And kind.) And if you haven’t read those great stories, click on the links and do so. Go ahead, I’ll wait.


Ah, welcome back. The reason for the comedy is simple. One ball, some flippers, and a bit of skill can keep the player going for hours. Whoops, sorry, I came up with the pinball metaphor while you were gone. Comic stereotypes are like the pop bumpers, you see, and…oh, forget it. The point is, you don’t need a lot of action to make it look like a lot of action, as any politician could tell you.

Buy it here, now. It's fictionwise!

Over time, the comedy in my stories has dropped away considerably, but never completely, although there are some people (Karen) who will tell you that I’m a comic author. I’m not, really, I just have a keen sense of the absurd, and I’m very observant. Reality can be much stranger, which is why my later stories (nice segue, eh?) are much more rooted in the real and the weird. Sandi von Pier, the star of Off the Map is completely real, but let’s face it, reality TV? How real is that? I just made it…unrealer. And Ex Libris, the sort-of sequel to Off the Map (which is published in the Triangulations anthology, for those of you who clicked the link to BUY NOW and didn’t understand what you were looking at), is set in my own library, even though I don’t think the librarians there are secret commandos.

By far the least comic of all my short stories is Bite Deep, and it’s no surprise that it was the hardest to write. Of course, it didn’t help that I had to get it done in two weeks. Well, that and the fact that it tried to combine three of the world’s great mythologies into a 4000-word short story about vampires at Christmas. And succeeded, I’ll have you know!

So I guess the takeaway from all this is that writing short stories is hard work, that can be accomplished in more than one way, and that we should all try to get along because life is short and there’s no time to waste fighting each other when we could all be doing something much more pleasant like reading my books.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Bring on the bad guys!

It’s been a strange week for me, vampire-wise. Not only is the theme of this week’s blogs ‘Vampires’, but just yesterday I saw a hilarious comedy, Lesbian Vampire Killers, and one of my stories, ‘Bite Deep’, became available for reissue. I have to admit, I’m something of a purist when it comes to certain subjects. Monsters are one of those subjects, and vampires are monsters. Even the lesbian ones.

There are those who like the ‘glitter in the sun’ vampires. Some balk at the glitter but have no problem with sexy heroism. Some dislike the sex but have no problem with dark brooding heroism. And let’s not forget the science fiction version, vampirism as a disease with blood as the cure.

Not me. Vampires are monsters, whether the story is a comedy or a tragedy. They are defined by all manner of bad things.

Of course, they can also be good characters. The man whose own nature betrays him, or the wicked sinner who gets what he deserves. A creature that was once a man but now isn’t can still work up a good case of angst, trying to be what it had been. The awareness of fading humanity is good ground for tragedy if the victim was a good man, and villainy if he was not. Or perhaps the awareness of fading humanity will lead a villain to try to become a good man, far too late. Dark and brooding non-heroism.

So far I have used vampires twice. My novel A Warrior Made features a villain who becomes the first vampire. Surprised the hell out of me, too, I didn’t realize that’s what he was until after I’d finished the book. ‘Bite Deep’ features the People of the Fallen Blood, born of an evil act and spending their immortality trying to atone for it. I was asked to write a story about fire. Somehow that became a vampire Christmas Carol. It was the right season, at least.

Don’t get me started about werewolves–!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

another great day in bookland!

Here I am, in the great state of South Carolina, enjoying the hospitality of their Book Festival for the fourth straight year. I live on LI, NY, for those of you who don't know this, and it's a 13 hour trip for me to get here on the best of days. Although I will say, that after the blizzard last year, it was only a 12 hour trip to get home. Amazing how fast you quickly you can get where you're going when there's no one else on the road getting in my way. I posted the pictures of the trip home on my MySpace page last year, too. A lot of snow, all on the grass and the trees. The roads were completely clear. We could use these self-cleaning roads up north right about now.

Anyway, I must really love this place to travel that far for it. And I do. The people here just love books, and they're so nice too. I remember my first trip down here, I was getting ready to head home and a lady at a gas station, who never saw me before, commented that there had been snow up Virginia way and I should be careful.

This year has been the best event yet for us. The weather is cooperating, at last, and there are just so many more book-lovers coming through the doors than I remember from times past. And they all stop at our booth, and want to buy our books! I should mention that I'm here in the persona of Author Guy, bookseller extraordinaire, subletting a space from my publisher, Echelon press, and selling all the books that aren't already being represented by their own authors.

In this case, those other authors include Nick Valentino, in full steampunk regalia and selling his novel Thomas Riley to just about everyone who walks in the door, it seems. I do fantasy (just click on the cover art over there if you don't believe me), and I've never sold as much fantasy-related work as he has. If I wasn't so busy selling everything else I'd watch to see how he does it. In part I think it's because he has a friendly competition going with Teresa Burrell, author of The Advocate, a mystery novel that is taking it's proper place as the best mystery on my tables. The lion's share of the books we-as-Echelon sold yesterday was sold by these two authors. Sam Morton, a Columbia native, was there as well, but the home-town advantage was no advantage here. Everybody he spoke to knew him already, and most of them had already gotten his books. And he's just too much of a gentleman to tell them to leave him in peace so he can get some work done.

Soon the event will reopen its doors, and we'll all be back again, trying to get some work done, making this the best SC Book Festival Echelon has ever had! If you're in the Columbia area today I hope you'll swing by and help out in that noble cause. And if you're not, well, those book covers over there, if you click on them, they'll take you to a wonderful place filled with literary delights. Go on, click one...

Saturday, February 20, 2010


I recently pulled out my overused copy of Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, one of the great Alternate History novels. As often happens, I found myself wondering how gunpowder is made. For those who don't know, this book is about a man who gets transported into a alternate Earth where he reveals the secret of making gunpowder to all and sundry, those upsetting the social order. It also has a lot more going for it than that, but that's the part that's relevant to this post.

Anyway, the difference this time is that I'm sitting in front of my computer, and thus in a position to google how gunpowder is made. Which leads to the question of where saltpeter comes from and how it's refined. Which leads to the Haber-Bosch process, which leads to a very interesting new book that I have ordered and will read as soon as it comes, called The Alchemy of Air, by Thomas Hager.

In a similar WW1 related note (did I mention that the Haber-Bosch process was crucial in keeping Germany's munitions industry going, after the British embargoed Chilean nitrates, which were used in making explosives?), I also got my hot little hands on a DVD version of Oh What A Lovely War, a critical parody of WW1. I saw part of it when it was once broadcast on a local public TV channel, but I lost the last 20 minutes! It portrays WW1 in terms of a seaside carnival, with lots of the patriotic songs and the war itself cast in terms of carnival rides and games, cutting behind the scenes to more realistic portrayals of what was really going on. Can't wait to see the end at last.

Eventually I'll remember to look up how paper is made too, just in case I get transported to an alternate universe.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What's all this then?

Right. Sex scenes, and why I don't write them. Actually, I said this already, in a story that hopefully will be published someday, so I'll just quote myself. This is from a story called 'Chasing His Own Tale 2: Struck By Inspiration', and believe me, it's no sequel. ('Chasing His Own Tale', the story of an author trying to write a story, and getting a lot of flak from his characters as he does, is available here.) The characters are Author Guy (that's me), Second Rate (a Hero wannabe), and his paramour, Yellow Haired Panther.

“Cut!” I said loudly. They blinked and stopped gazing into each other’s eyes. “That’s a wrap.”
“What?” said YHP.
“He filmed us,” said Second Rate. “It’s a standard part of contracts these days, called ‘research footage.’ I’ve never seen it used for an intro before.”
“Where else would I use it?” I asked automatically, but then I remembered, and put up a hand before he could try to remind me. “Don’t tell me, I know where it’s usually used. I don’t do those kinds of scenes.”
“You don’t?” asked Rate.
“That is a downside,” commented YHP, who’d caught up.
“Anything that a sex scene could contribute to a story can be said just as well without all the bodies in motion, and probably better.”
SR smiled. “And they make you feel all oogey, too.”
“Damn straight. And with tape like that who needs ‘em? If I cut it up right, I should be able to get three scenes out of that, maybe four.” I zipped through the tape, back and forth. “No, three.”
“Not bad for an intro,” agreed Rate. “But this no-sex thing, do you really think that’ll fly with a paranormal? Those things are practically built on sex. Where are we, anyhow?”

I'm told that this sort of thing can be done well, but since I doubt it will be done well by me I don't do it. On the other hand, I can manage to put words like 'oogey' into a book, that's gotta count for something.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The weather outside is frightful

So here I am, inside, having spent the day watching snow fall, writing a little bit more in my novel, watching Medium, and eating popcorn and hot cocoa. I also played a lot of Bejeweled Blitz, a game app on facebook, which I really hate lately. It's mainly a teaser, to get people to buy the full app, which I did. My family is much more into it than I am now. My youngest daughter, 9, is beating us all.

I finished chapter 4 of Tales of Uncle, my WIP, at long last, then did some tweaking on the whole story so far to add prominence to the upcoming battle. Anything to avoid chapter 5, which takes place right after the battle. Chapter 4 did what my stories usually do, namely ignore everything I was trying to do and going its own way. I wanted to tell a story about necromancy and other gicky things, but it instead became a story about stories about necromancy and other gicky things. (Sort of like Medium is a story about what being a psychic does to a wife and mother's life, chapter 4 is a story about being a story-teller and what it does to his life.) I'm sure I'll be revising that one at some point.

Chapter 5 is supposed to be a transitional type of chapter, involving a story told to a man as he lays dying. But I imagine it will be very difficult to do a somber spiritual piece at high speed, and I'm dreading the task. I'll probably end up telling a totally different story by the time I'm done. Then I can move on to the more present-day parts of the book, with chapter 6 telling how Fenita destroys the enemy armada by herself. That should be fun.

My publisher started a new blog for the Echelon Explorations line she's starting. We're supposed to be blogging about a variety of things to promote our sci-fi/fantasy/steampunk/paranormal/weird stuff books. Unfortunately the blogs apparently need to be approved and she's off in Pakistan or somewhere, so nothing new is going up. She also has a couple of new marketing directors for the Quake and Shorts lines, which is good. I should post more there, but I don't have any new stories coming out. I have a novel and 3 shorts hanging fire at the moment.

I also found the latest Tanya Huff novel at the library, a nice little book called The Enchantment Emporium. It has an interestingly convoluted magic system that isn't quite as clear as I would like, but quality-wise its up there with Summon the Keeper. I hope she can keep up that level of complexity. There's much more of a push to publish with follow-up books.

I created a new query for my novel, a dialog form that works much better to catch the dual plotlines of the story. Not going over very well, though. It turns out many agents went on a query-break for the holidays, but several who didn't have looked it over and told me the form is not a good one. Ah, well.