Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 Retrospective and 2008 Goals

Well, everyone in the western world seems to be taking a look back to the past year, and making goals for the next, so I guess it is my turn. I am not big on New Year's Resolutions, mostly because there is this expectation that everyone will fail anyway, so if you fail, "Join the crowd." I had some specific goals last year, one was to finish writing my first novel before I turned 40. I set this goal a few years ago. I worked toward it steadily, and I didn't make it. At that moment, when my goal wasn't reached I knew I had a choice. Set a new goal, or quit. My tendency in life is the latter. My wife and friends have said on more than one occasion that I've never finished anything. Well, the older I get, the more I realize that finishing well is much more important than I used to believe. Finishing well as a father, as a husband, as a business owner, as a bread winner, as a bike rider, as a dish washer, as a laundry doer, as a lawn mower, as a pergola builder, as a novelist... whatever I start, I need to start it believing I will finish it. Working till I finish it. Starting something and not finishing it, basically says I am a liar.

So this past year I've improved in some areas, I am trying very hard to be a better husband to my wife, she deserves nothing but the best. My kids are growing up so fast, both just had birthdays this month and will be gone from the house before I know it. I've got a long way to go yet, and hopefully God will give me time to finish well on all of the things I have begun in my life, that pergola in the backyard still needs a few more nails, the bike in the basement is collecting dust (and my waist is expanding because of it). So really, that is my goal for 2008. Keep moving forward. Try every day to reach a little more toward the finish line. Admit when I've failed, and set a new goal. A very wise friend of mine said that if you can just shorten the time between each attempt at a goal, eventually you will realize that you worked toward that goal, more often than you didn't.

If I do that. Any goal I set will have a positive affect on my life, and the lives of those around me.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Reading Level

I found this nifty little site that looks at your blog and judges the reading level needed to read it. My blog came out at a High School level.

cash advance

I remember reading an article a while ago about running your writing through a reading level test. The writer quotes some statistics from the book: Fiction Writer's Brainstormer by James V. Smith, Jr. He did a study where he took several commercial and literary writers work and looked at four areas: Passive Voice, Number of Characters per Word, Readability, and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scale.

He found that the best selling authors, read by the majority of adult readers in the US, wrote at a fourth grade level. From this study, he created his Ideal Writing Standard. Now as a writer, he revises every SCENE in his books to the following average standards:

No more than 4.25 characters per word
Passive Voice: 5% or less
Readability: 80% or more on Flesch Reading Ease scale
Flesh-Kincaid Grade Level: 4-6

When I reached 100K words on my book, I ran the entire thing through the tools found in Microsoft Word, and came up with the following:

4.3 characters per word
2% passive voice
77.5% reading ease
5.7 Grade Level.

Also, as a test to see if my editing impoved or degraded my results, I just ran the statistics on my first chapter, which at this point is about as ready for publication as I can get it:

4.3 characters per word
0% passive voice
82.5% reading ease
4.5 Grade Level.

I felt pretty good about this. What it all means I don't know, but if paying attention to readability helps my writing appeal to a broader audience, I am all for it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Just Because!

Ok, I got a little sidetracked the past couple of days. It is the holiday season, I'm not in a working mood, so I decided I wanted to update the skin on my blog (coming soon), and I thought it'd be cool to have a nice, color illustration for the masthead. So I started working on colorizing the sketch I did of a Vurmierg. I've really been wanting to take a stab at this for a while, so I just did it. My dream when I was in High-School, College, was to be an illustrator for fantasy novel covers. Somewhere along the line I realized I wasn't quite up to snuff and pursued other interests, but still that dream lingers. I don't think I'm of the caliber of most of the greats (Hildebrandt, Vallejo) by any stretch of the imagination, but I have fun anyway.

One thing you may notice is that he now has a tail. Well, the simple fact of the matter is, I kinda forgot to add that when I first did the drawing. Well, what do you expect, it isn't like I know the author personally, and know every minute detail of his characters.

Monday, December 17, 2007

She Spoke to Me.

So I've been jumping back and forth between finishing up the rewrite of the ending of Crimson Swarm, and editing the early chapters. On Saturday I spent a couple hours editing chapters two and three. Two is nearly complete, three still has a bit of work. While editing chapter three I had one of those great experiences that writers love to have. I realized that much of the dialogue didn't make sense based on changes I had made to the first two chapters, so I cut a big chunk of it out. Then I needed to come up with something new for one of the characters, Elise, to say. So I closed my eyes, and I tried to get in her head. Something dreadful just happened to her, so I tried to feel how she would feel. Say what she would say. Then I opened my eyes and started typing what she said. It literally felt as if I was hearing her speak. For about a half hour I typed as fast as I could, trying to catch every word from her lips. When I got done, I went back and read it, and man, it was pretty darn good. All of the sudden I get a sense for who she is. Not just some two dimensional blond with a sword strapped to her hip. She had depth, she was someone I could respect.

Now if I can only get a few other characters to talk to me this way, I may just have something here. C'mon guys, tell me your stories.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Where Are They Now?

As I'm nearing the end of writing my first draft, for the second time, I'm discovering that I am losing track of where everyone is. I found myself bringing a character into a scene and then saying to myself "where did he come from?" I'm sure there are writers out there that have no problem with this, but my brain has limited ability to remember even what I had for lunch yesterday, let alone keep track of the location of 20+ characters throughout a 115,000 word novel, which spans two continents (and in some cases thousands of years). So yesterday I took action and came up with another tool in my arsenal. Now whether this is just another tool to keep me distracted from my true need to just write, or beneficial, is maybe a bit difficult to see, but overall I think it was a good idea.

Basically I created a spreadsheet. Dates down the left hand column, and names along the top, in the chronology that they appear in the story. If you remember I already keep a calendar in Outlook to keep track of the chronology of the story, so adapting it to keep track of all the characters was relatively easy. Take a look:

As you can see characters are introduced as the story progresses, and there are a few places where I've placed a black line indicating the character leaving the story, either by death or other means.

A couple of interesting things came out of this. One was there is a big battle toward the end of the story (This is fantasy after all) and in the battle I had 14 main characters, the one event that brought them all together, and not a single one of them was killed. Now I'm not completely sure any of them should be killed here, but it seems likely that some would be in a battle of the scope I've written. So I'll have to ponder a bit about that.

Another thing, more what I thought I would discover, is people appear and disappear in various scenes with no indication of how they got there. What happened between the time we saw them last and now? I even had two characters that magically combined into one somewhere along the way. (not on purpose) So in this respect this was a very helpful exercise. Try it, maybe you'll discovers some things that really make you question how your brain works (or doesn't).

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Even Tolkien Struggled

I have been reading a book titled The Company They Keep - C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community by Diana Pavlac Glyer. I am not sure I can recommend this book wholeheartedly, but I am getting some good insight from it. The book seems to be a Doctoral Thesis, and is geared more toward making a specific argument about a point of view. Namely that the member's of the Inklings influenced each other's writing significantly. I was expecting a more "writerly" look at the romanticism behind the group. If you haven't heard of them before, the Inklings were a group of writers that met for nearly two decades each Thursday night to read portions of their writings to one another and offer encouragement and criticism. Lewis and Tolkien were the two primary members.

As I've said in previous posts, some reading I have done on Tolkien in the past, and how he wrote, really inspired me to pick up the pen (keyboard) and try my hand at writing a novel again. I read a section of The Company They Keep today where the Glyer describes a time early in the writing of The Lord of the Rings that Tolkien was stuck. Apparently Tolkien wrote, and rewrote the first few chapters, and then was unable to go any further. He had a notion of how he wanted the story to go, but really no direction. He had Lews, and his publisher, Rayner Unwin read the chapters, and the general consensus was the writing consisted of too much "hobbit talk". Tolkien created a story that delved deeply into the Shire, and the goings on, but was unable to move beyond the light-hearted "Hobbit" story. For five months in 1938 Tolkien was unable to write any more of the story.

Then Lewis commented, "...hobbits are only amusing when in unhobbitlike situations." It seems that this comment changed the direction and feel of the story completely. It became darker and more serious, very "unhobbitlike". Then Glyer gave this example. Toward the end of the chapters Tolkien had completed was this scene originally. It takes place as Frodo, Odo and Bingo (the original names for Frodo's two companions) were walking in the Shire:

"Round a turn came a white horse, and on it sat a bundle--or that is what it looked like: a small man wrapped entirely in a great cloak and hood so that only his eyes peered out, and his boots in the stirrups below"

The horse and rider stopped near Bingo. "The figure uncovered its nose and sniffed; and then sat silent as if listening. Suddenly a laugh came from inside the hood." It is Gandalf, who calls out, "Bingo my boy!" as he throws aside his wrappings."

Sounds vaguely familiar doesn't it? So Frodo and his two friends were out for a stroll in the countryside of the Shire and this white horse rides up and Gandalf, in high spirits, greets them. But what to do next? How it Tolkien going to get the story moving at this point. Then Lewis made the above comment, and Tolkien rewrote this passage to look like this:

"Round the corner came a black horse, no hobbit-pony but a full-sized horse; and on it sat a large man, who seemed to crouch in the saddle, wrapped in a great black cloak and hood, so that only his boots in the high stirrups showed below; his face was shadowed and invisible.

When it reached the tree and was level with Frodo the horse stopped. The riding figure sat quite still with its head bowed, as if listening. From inside the hood came a noise as of someone sniffing to catch an elusive scent."

Wow! What a change. One is this light-hearted romp, and the other is full of fear and darkness. I can picture Tolkien's train of thought, and the direction the story began to take after this. "Where is Gandalf? Who is the Black Rider? Why was he sniffing?" I love that last one. So simple a thing as keeping the sniffing in from the first draft to the last can build so much depth to the feared enemy. Tolkien built this whole idea that the Black Riders couldn't see, but used their sense of smell, quite possibly from that single word.

This is what I love about the method Tolkien used to write. He did not map out the plot and every element of the story. He painted in broad strokes, and let the story go in the direction it wanted to go. Did he even know that the black rider was one of the "nine" at this point? Maybe not. From what I've read before he had no idea why Gandalf didn't show up.

So I guess the broad themes we can learn here is "Listen to your friends" and "Don't be afraid to go where the story takes you." I think both of these things make the story much richer in the end.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Kindle Sputters My Interest

Ok, I don't usually post comments like this to the blog, but I just couldn't resist. When I saw the news about the Kindle from Amazon, I was pretty excited. This is something I have been looking forward to for a while. I currently own a Treo smart phone from Palm, and I read books every once in a while on it, but its small, back-lit screen just isn't conducive to long-term reading. The Kindle on the other hand looks like it would be great for cozying up with a cup of tea and reading all night. I was completely sold by the sales pitch on their site. I love that you can download books wirelessly directly to it. But... $400? I just can't get over this price. I remember when I watched the keynote speech by Steve Jobs for the iPhone's debut. He convinced me that the price for the iPhone was reasonable. I wasn't quite ready to buy one yet, but even if it had stayed at the original price of $599, I feel I eventually would. He did a whole iPhone + Internet Device + iPod thing that made me say, "Yeah, $599 is about what I would expect to pay for all that." Mr. Bezos on the other hand did not do such a good job. An electronic device that stores a boatload of books, and connects wirelessly to his website to buy those books, and is really easy to use, just does not equal $399 which coincidentally (or not) is the exact same price now of above said iPhone.

I know there were a whole lot of people, smarter than me, that decided the pricing structure, but it seems to me that a better model would be to price it at say $149, and then plan on selling a whole heck of a lot of books. I know I would probably spend considerably more on books at Amazon than I do now. For the convenience the Kindle would give (have your book anywhere, any time), and the discounted price (less than cover price + no shipping) it seems to me they could make considerably more with a lower up-front price.

So respectfully, Mr. Bezos, cut the price as soon as possible (Apple did it, why can't you?) Then I'll buy one, and you can track my purchases on over the next year to see if you made a smart decision.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

LOTTERY Made a Grown Man Cry

To continue on my post from yesterday, I thought I'd post my review that I wrote for LOTTERY on

I don't normally read novels of this genre, but when I kept seeing stories online about LOTTERY by Patricia Wood, I decided to give it a try. I got the book in the mail at lunchtime and sat down at the kitchen table to read. An hour later I was deep into the story, with tears in my eyes. Patricia painted such a beautiful picture of a man who most of society would look down upon. In the end, Perry became the kind of man that I hope I can be. Above all else Perry puts others first; the friends that surround him during tragedy, and even the family who try to take advantage of him after he wins $12 Million in the lottery. It is so refreshing to see a story, that puts the American pastime of getting more stuff aside and shows us that there truly are more important things in life.

This is not to say Perry did not have fun with the money. I laughed as he went on a shopping spree with his friend Keith, looking for a 27" TV. Still the most enjoyment he seemed to get, was writing those $500 checks (because he couldn't fit in more zeros) to nearly everyone that asked.

By the end of the day, I read the entire novel and for days after I can't get Perry out of my mind. Thank you Patricia for such a beautiful story. And for anyone unsure about buying the book, please take my word for it, you will be blessed to read it. I would not be surprised to see this rise to the bestseller's lists.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Wow! Someone Is Reading My Book Right Now!

Ok, not really, but to me that would be cool. I just got Lottery by Patricia Wood in the mail today. I don't know why I was so excited to get it, but I was. I guess because the Author once posted a comment on my blog. How in the world she found me, I have no idea. I've visited her blog several times... What a neat lady. So anyway, I mostly read Fantasy, but the description of her story sounded so compelling, I had to buy it. I even paid full price at Amazon though I usually buy used ones. Hey she seems like a neat lady, I want to help all I can.

So I stared reading at around noon. At 1:30 I emailed her to tell her she made me cry. Me a 40 year old man, sobbing at the kitchen table while eating lunch. Within an hour I get an email back from her, saying she always finds it gratifying to make grown men cry.

Then I got to thinking how cool it would be, as an author, to know that somewhere half way around the world, someone was at this very moment reading a story I wrote. Do I have a big ego or what?

So Pat, if you somehow stumble on this blog again, here's to hoping that you get joy out of knowing I spent almost all afternoon reading Lottery, when I should have been working. So far, I love it. For everyone else out there, I highly recommend it. Buy it now!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

How to Get Published

I had a discussion the other day with a friend of mine about the book publishing business. It got me thinking that I have never really written down the process, as I understand it, to getting a book published. So for my benefit, here is everything that I know, or think I know, about how to get published.

  1. Write The Book - First you must have something to publish. In the fiction world of publishing, unless you are already a published author, you need to have a completed manuscript before you can get a publisher to agree to take on your book. For non-fiction it works a bit differently, you can find a publisher based on a proposal for a book, but then the publisher relies more heavily on what is called your "platform". Platform is basically, your credentials, why will people want to read a book written by you? Usually this is because you have already acquired some kind of fame. Which really goes back to the same thing for fiction work. If you already have a base of buyers that know you or your work, then you can get a publishing deal without having first written the entire manuscript. So that being said, as a new, unpublished fiction author, you must write a great story. Refine that story. Join a critique circle. (I belong to a group on FM Writers Community) Have people read it. Refine some more, until you are absolutely certain it is the best you can write at that moment in time.

  2. Write the Hook - Your next goal will be to get the attention of someone in the publishing industry. This is typically done through a "Query" process. Which starts by writing a query letter, that includes your hook. The hook, as I talked about earlier, is a paragraph or two that will make people want to buy your book. Maybe at some point I'll go into what I think that looks like further, but for our purposes here, you are going to write the best darn letter you can that makes someone interested enough to want to see more. Don't try to guilt them into reading more. Don't try to trick them into reading more. Just be professional, and write something compelling.

  3. Hire an Agent - Next you might think you need to find a publisher. While this is true, there is one major problem. Many of the big publishing houses do not except submissions directly from authors, or "Unsolicited Manuscripts" as they like to call them. Therefore the best next step is to find a Literary Agent. An agent will help you get in the door at the publishers. They also help negotiate contracts, sell sub-rights (movie deals, language translations, Action Figures, etc...) and they help guide your career. They can and should be a good sounding board to bounce ideas off of. Here are some quick notes about what I've learned about finding an agent:
    1. Research Agents - Do lots of homework to find agents that would be a good fit. Only query agents that represent your genre. If you write fantasy, don't query an agent that doesn't say they represent fantasy.

    2. Beware of Frauds - There are a whole lot of people out there, eager to take advantage of folks like you who have a dream of being published. Watch out for them. Look at potential agents client lists. Talk to their clients. Don't pay a fee to them for them to look at your work. Legitimate agents get paid when you get paid. Here are some sites to help protect yourself:

    3. Follow the Rules - Once you find your list of agents, find out how they want to receive queries. Then do what they say. If they only ask for a query letter, only send a letter. If they ask for a letter and the first five pages, send the first five pages. If they want it typed in a certain font, mailed with a SASE then do it. At this point you don't want to lose out on a great agent because you tried to be cute, or tried to stand out from the rest. Let your writing, and only your writing stand out.

    4. Be Courteous, but Persistent - Agents get hundreds of queries a week. It can take months for them to get to yours. Don't shoot off an email after only a week asking if they read your query. Your best bet is just query as many agents as you can and then do something else. Work on your next book. If your writing is good, they will contact you.

    5. Send Your Manuscript - Usually the next step would be to send your manuscript to agents who request it based on your query, or upon a short amount of writing they have previously requested. Again follow the rules. Then wait again. At this point you can be a little more proactive. When you send in the manuscript, try to get the agent to tell you a time-frame that they will look at it. Ask them if it will be OK for you to contact them after that time period to see if they have had a chance to read it. But still, remember that they are very busy, they have clients, queries, and other manuscripts to look at.

    6. Celebrate - At some point, hopefully, you will get a call from an agent (or multiple agents) offering representation. Again there are many things to think about before you sign on the dotted line, and perhaps I will cover that in the future as well, but congratulate yourself, this is a huge accomplishment.

    7. Modify the Manuscript - Many times at this point, the agent will have advice for you to help make your story stronger. Listen carefully. They are the experts. This doesn't mean you have to do everything they say, but give much more weight to what they say, than if your Aunt Edith told you she hated your protagonist, and why don't you make him a her instead.

  4. Find a Publisher - This is where your agent gets to do her job. Your new agent will now go through a similar process that you did to find your agent. They will write a query letter. They will research their target list of editors at publishing houses, etc... But their biggest advantage is that they should already have a pretty well established relationship with editors from all the big houses. So when they tell Editor A at Random House that he will love your story, Editor A should be happy to take a look at it. If the agent does her job right, and if your writing is as good as she thinks it is, she should be able to find one, or hopefully more than one editor that wants to publish your story. At which point your agent will help you decide who to go with, and help you negotiate your contract.

  5. Modify the Manuscript - Again the Editor will probably have some feedback on your story. How to make it even stronger. Take their advice.

  6. Book Production - At this stage the book is for the most part out of your hands. The publisher will design the book. Design the cover. Again they are the professionals here. You will hopefully get a chance to offer your suggestions on the design, but don't be surprised if they don't take all, or any of your advice.

  7. Promotion - You may think your job is done once the book goes to press, but it isn't. Publishers will allocate a budget for promoting your book, but at this point if you think of their job as getting the books to the store shelves, and your job to promote it, you will be better off. Book signings. Speaking at Libraries, book clubs. Getting involved in various online activities; building your own site, writing a blog, etc... Do everything you can yourself to promote your book. Don't count on the publisher doing it all for you.

  8. Write the Next Book - Through all of this you should be writing the next story. Most Agents and Editors want you to always be working on the next story. I've heard that to get an agent, many times they will want to know that you already have a second book in the works. They are in it for the long haul, and don't usually want one book authors.

So, there you have it. Everything I know about publishing (condensed in easy to swallow chunks). One caveat to all this: I am not a published author. All of this I have learned from reading blogs on publishing. Lots of blogs. So take what I say with that in mind. Do your own research, and if you find something that I've said that is just plain wrong, let me know.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Waiting Game

I read a great post today on the BookEnds site. In it Jessica talks about being on the receiving end of the torture that I have read plagues most writers... waiting to hear from a prospect they've queried.

Although I haven't walked down this path yet, I love that there are stories like this out there. Basically Jessica, an agent, had to grin and bear it for several days as she waited to see if an author would choose her as their agent. Oh to be in such an enviable spot as this author. Apparently she had offers of representation by six agents, and she agonized over which to choose. Jessica apparently was the winner. Good for her. But the hidden author's story is what gives me great hope.

I read statistics every day about how hard it is to find an agent that wants to represent you. Miss Snark used to say that it is all about the writing, and if your writing is good enough you will get published, eventually. But there is always that nagging voice in the back of my head, "What if it is more than that? What if I have to have connections?"

Well apparently for this author it was all about the writing. Her query must have been great, her writing even better. She had SIX agents wanting to represent her!

So now I know that if I can't find an agent, it is not because there are too many hoops to jump through, or not because I didn't know the right people. It will be because my writing wasn't up to snuff. I find comfort in that for some reason.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Hook Part 2


Since I posted this new, revised hook on the BookEnds, LLC site for possible critique, I thought I'd post it here too. If I get a crit, from BookEnds, I'll post that in the future.

Aberthuil Nauile doesn’t know that he once led legions in a war that raged since the dawn of time, against an enemy that cannot be killed. He doesn’t know that he rode on a dragon with his father, and saw his mother die while giving birth to him. He doesn’t know that he once saved his great, great, great grandfather by defeating the black enemy on the slopes of a volcano. Aberthuil doesn’t know that he beheld the creation of the world, as his grandfather eight generations before took the planet ravaged by a war of the gods and began anew. All he knows is that he awoke in a coffin in a tomb, and now the whole world thinks he is their savior. All he really wants to know is his name, and why he keeps hearing voices in his head.

Seems a little wordy at times, but it has potential I think.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Hook

I know it is probably way too soon to be thinking of this, but I have been working off and on for months on coming up with a hook for Crimson Swarm. The hook is somewhat akin to the jacket copy on a finished novel. That quick paragraph or two that will entice people to buy the book, instead of the one sitting next to it on the shelf. So far I have not been happy with anything I've come up with. But this morning I saw this entry by Kristin Nelson:

A light really came on for me. So I quickly dashed off a hook. It is very rough still, so I won't post it, but using her basic thoughts, and the example she gave from Harry Potter, I am really excited about a hook for the first time. This is probably the 5th or 6th one I've written, and it is the first one that makes me think someone might want to buy the book based on it.

Of course my goal will be to find an agent with it (who knows maybe it will be Kristin).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Half a Year Gone

Laying in bed last night I realized that I have less than six months to my birthday. This doesn't usually keep me up at night but what it signifies is I have only a short while to get Crimson Swarm polished up and completed. I had a goal of having the story complete by the time I turned 40. Well that was last March. I came close to having draft one done by then, I think I finished it some time in April. I made a new goal at that time to have draft two done by my next birthday, in effect complete "while" I'm still 40.

So this morning I cleaned up Chapter 2 as much as I could and posted it to my crit circle. I can't say enough good things about belonging to a group like this. I am certain that my writing would not be anywhere near the quality it is now (what level of quality it is, I still don't know for certain).

Now I need to jump to the back of the book and work more on fleshing out the ending. It is coming together nicely, but still needs some work to satisfy me (and my friend who really disliked my original ending).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Reading Aloud

I had a great morning tea with an inspirational character this week. And yes he is a living, breathing human being, but a character nonetheless. He's someone I've gotten to know over the years, and is a wealth of enthusiasm and creativity. If you want to see (or hear as the case may be) for yourself, click on over to:

One of the things that we discussed, among hundreds of topics it seemed, was his interest in voicing audio books. As you will quickly hear at his site he has an amazing voice and ability to stir the imagination.

This got me thinking about how I write. I find myself continually speaking aloud a particular passage I just finished. This allows me to hear the words, hear the texture, the flavor as they roll off the tongue. But I realized that I only read small parts aloud, and I wondered at what benefit there would be to read a larger chunk. So yesterday I read the entire first chapter aloud, in one sitting (while the wife was at work and the kids were at school of course). Wow, what a great exercise. There were a few places in my "complete" first chapter that I stumbled over. Those I quickly fixed. But there were other whole passages that really came alive for me. I hope I am not just fixated on my own words, and that they really are something that people will be interested in reading, and hearing, but for me it really helped me see that yes, chapter one is as good as I can make it.

I really must move on now to chapter 2. The editing is nearing completion and almost ready for my crit circle to get their hands on, but maybe this time I'll read it aloud before I post it, and maybe they won't find so many amateur mistakes like they did in chapter 1.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Chapter One Complete

Well, I am finally getting back in the groove of things. The kids are back in school. At last the mountains of work on my desk are diminishing. And the yearning to get back to Nuadaim is growing strong.

This morning I completed what I am going to consider the final edits to chapter one. I received several really good critiques from my crit circle. And I ran the chapter through many times. I am quite confident that it is the best I can do, at the moment.

My goal is to have all chapters, and edits done by the end of the year. Then have a couple of beta readers read and give feedback. All with the goal of saying by my birthday at the end of March that Crimson Swarm is complete.

Then of course comes the hard work of trying to find an agent.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

J. K. Rowling vs. J. R. R. Tolkien

I spent the last few days reading the latest and final Harry Potter book. At the same time I began reading The Hobbit to my son at night (he had to fill the void left by Harry Potter somehow). I found it interesting to read both of these at the same time. I have been a lifetime Tolkien fan so it comes as no surprise that I prefer his writing style to Rowling, but there are some definite areas where Rowling shines as well. She amazed me with the complexity of the final book. Rowling really seemed to work hard to take elements from early on in the series and make them important in the end. I do feel the final few chapters were a bit rushed as she tied up everything in a neat little package, but hey, how else would you do it, unless you dragged it on with many endings for each plot element.

I am still in love with the richness of Tolkien. His descriptions of the world of Middle Earth are full of life and beauty. I find myself worried at times that my son (9) would be bored when Tolkien takes a half page to describe a field and it's trees and surroundings, but so far there have been no complaints. Rowling on the other hand does seem to keep descriptive text to a minimum, getting right to the action. In the end I rather enjoyed the Potter series and am sad to see it end. Although not with the sadness I felt when I first read the Lord of the Rings in high school, and realized that there would never be any more, (Children of Hurin notwithstanding).

J. K. Rowling should be proud of her accomplishment. History will tell if she will rank up there with the great J. R. R. Tolkien.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Vacations put blog in a dead calm. (Editing Too)

Well, I promised myself I would update this blog at least once a week, and apparently it didn't take very long to break that promise. Vacations, and a nutty workload are the main culprits. Also the Tour de France doesn't help either (watching that on Versus instead of writing). I'll be out until nearly the end of July, so don't look for anything here until August. I do have a trip down south with some friends from my college days... who knows maybe I'll get a bit of work done then (yeah right!).

In the mean time check out this posting from Agent Jonathan Lyons about not jumping the gun accepting an agent. Some good solid advice. If I ever get in the enviable position to receive an offer from an agent, I will certainly follow his advice. (This post has been inserted into my "getting published" binder.)

Monday, July 9, 2007

Story within a story

Between trying to finally get caught up with my day job workload, a nasty summer cold, and upcoming vacations, I am getting rather excited about some new ideas to polish off Crimson Swarm.

I've come to the conclusion that I've got to add in some key ideas that were dropped a while ago (because I thought I would be over my target word count of 120,000.) One concept is to have more interplay between the present and the past. This is exciting to me because I can really dig into the "why" behind the hero's actions at the end of the book. Thus not having this sudden info-dump, and wrap up kind of ending I have now.

This will also allow the reader to delve into the mind our our antagonist, and see what makes him tick. No more two-dimensional bad guys. I am hoping to really show his motivations, and at least give a sense that he is more than just evil for evil's sake.

I've been considering options as to how to go about this, and I think at this point I may just write a short work that tells the story of the past events, and then chop it up and intersperse it in with the main story. Obviously it will be a bit more complex than that, but it seems to be a good place to start.

Now if I can just get these five web sites I have to build out of the way...

Friday, June 29, 2007

Chapter by Chapter Plot Points

Continuing a bit with the discussion of a few days ago.

Because I'm not not much of a planner, I don't really have a tight outline of the entire novel. But also because of some great thoughts one of my readers had, I have realized there are some major plot points that are missing. So one of the things I have decided I need to do is go back and outline each chapter and list the major plot elements.

I'm about half way through now and I can already see where holes can be filled, and fluff taken out. I'm writing down number of pages for each chapter, and one quick thing I can tell is if my chapter is 20 pages long, and I only have 3 plot points, there is probably much that can be cut. On the other hand if I only have 3 plot points and the chapter is 10 pages long, there is room to add more in. (Not that I have a target chapter length or plot points per chapter number, but you get the point.)

This is a great way for me to quickly see how the story develops.

I'm still not sure if this is something I could have done before I started writing, but I know there are plenty of writers who would say I should have done this a long time ago.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Best thing since sliced bread.

Yesterday I stumbled upon a site: AutoCrit: Fiction Editing Software. Man, what a tool. You take a chunk of your writing (up to 8,000 words if you buy their platinum membership) and paste it into their site. Then using an algorithm they developed based on published fiction, the tool shows you where your writing is weak. Things like: Overused Words, Repeated Phrases, Cliché Finder, etc...

The first time through, chapter one was pretty bloody. I cannot believe how often I used "ly" adverbs. I hate ly adverbs, I worked very hard to never use ly adverbs. It found 58! With a ratio of 1.7%. They claimed this is 1% more than I should have.

Now, I must warn you, it doesn't fix the problems, it just points them out. So I spent several hours going through and editing. As I worked on it, I discovered they were right. The writing became much stronger addressing the problem areas. Now as I run chapter one through AutoCrit, all the red, weak words are gone. I've fallen to a mere .4% ly adverbs. It has much more punch to it. And I didn't have to pay $2,000 for a professional editor.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Planning Vs. Writing as the Story Takes You.

I started writing Crimson Swarm after I read a biography of Tolkien. (I don't remember at the moment which one) In the biography the author talked about how Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings. Basically he had the idea that he wanted a story to follow The Hobbit. It had to have the One Ring as a primary element, and he wanted to have some kind of quest. He also had the poem: One Ring To Rule Them All, written. Other than that (and a great deal of back story) He just sat down and started writing.

It was said when he first wrote about Frodo meeting with "Strider" in the Prancing Pony, Tolkien had no idea who Strider was. He only knew that because Gandalf didn't show up (which he also didn't know why) Frodo needed a guide. So thus Strider was born.

This idea appealed to me greatly. I had tried my hand at a large novel in the past, and failed miserably, partly because I'm not a planner by nature. I like to just do things. I'd rather go on a vacation with only vague idea of where we are going, and just see where the road takes us. (My wife however is about as detailed oriented as they come, so this just doesn't fly in my house)

So I sketched out some very basic concepts, and just sat down and started writing, and it was wonderful. I really reveled in the unfolding of the story, and the times when things just surprised me.

I pretty much wrote the entire novel like this. Sure as I went along I started to map things out further, but when I did, I found myself deviating from that pretty quickly.

So now that I've reached the end of the first draft, what do I think about the whole process? Well, there are some good things and some bad things that came up doing it this way. The good is, it was completely enjoyable. And because of that I kept at it. Even when I didn't feel like writing, I told myself, I had to write, because I wanted to see how it ended. I also think there are some twists, and surprises that would not have been there had I mapped it all out before hand.

Now the downside. As I look at the ending, and get feedback from my reading partner (see previous post) I see some major problems. Problems that if I had taken the time to map the story out better probably would have been avoided. I let myself get off on a tangent, following a story line that I never really intended to highlight much.

So now that I see both sides, which will I do next time? I honestly don't know. Maybe a combination of the two.

Do I think that Crimson Swarm is doomed because of lack of planning? No way. I actually don't think there will be much work to go back and adjust the story, cutting what shouldn't be there, and adding what should be, than if I had planned it from the beginning. Only time will tell of course, but I think I have a good idea where I need to go. And the first step is to diagram it out.

I'm excited to see what happens to the story, and I'm convinced it will be much stronger in the end.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

With friends like these...

I got an email from a good friend of mine today who just finished reading the entire first draft of Crimson Swarm. (You know who you are.) From conversations we've had in the past, I had the idea that he might not like the direction I took at the end, so I told him if he was totally disappointed in the ending let me know. His response, "I can't say I'm totally disappointed in the ending. I'm only largely disappointed."

Now for a very short moment, less than ten seconds, I was crushed. This is not the kind of thing you want to hear. But, it didn't take me long to be grateful for a friend like this. What would have annoyed me more is if he gushed all over it, and I knew he wasn't being totally honest. (something this friend would never do, one of the reasons I respect him.)

For those of you who don't know me from Adam, I am a graphic designer. I don't really consider myself an Artist. I went to art school, and did pretty good. But in my school there was a raging debate between the Fine Artists, and the Graphic Designers. You know the old story, what we do isn't art. Well, I agree. What we do is sell a product. Whatever that product is. We may be every bit as talented as the guy whose work is hanging in the Museum of Modern Art, but that is not where we took our lives. I just didn't have it in me to spend countless years trying to make a name for myself in the art scene, when I could make a decent living selling other people's stuff. But one of the big downsides to the graphic design side of things is you are not your own boss. You can't decide that everything you do is going to be blue, because blue doesn't sell alfalfa sprouts. Green does. Most jobs you've got several people telling you what to do. Change this color, make this font bigger, crop this photo differently, etc... It can get darn frustrating. Many, if not most times the end product is not as good as it should have been because the client had to have it their way (even though they hired me because I was the professional).

What the heck does this have to do with getting "I'm largely disappointed" emails from a friend about my ending. Everything.

When I set out to write a book, I didn't do it to fulfil some inner muse. I didn't do it because I wanted to create a work of literature to be debated in academia. I set out to write a book that people would like. One that people would want to read. Maybe I'm a sell out. I know lots of people in Art School would have said that. But I have a great job doing what I love to do. I've provided for my family for years, allowing my wife to stay home with the kids when she wanted to. And now I'm having the time of my life writing a novel, about something I love, and I have every expectation that when it is done, there will be others that love it too.

This is not to say that I'm going to just ditch my ending and totally change it because of one good friend's comments. But I am going to seriously consider his thoughts. And I look forward to sitting down and really digging into it with him.

Kristin Nelson had a great post on her blog today that really got right to the point. "How Honest Do You Want Us To Be?" She asked this question about how to respond to writers when they are looking for a critique of their work. My answer, "Bring it on."

Monday, June 18, 2007

Chapter One Complete

Well, I've just hacked and stitched and hacked some more on Chapter One, and I feel really good about it. It is much tighter, and moves much more quickly than it did in the past. I have had several comments that it dragged a bit so hopefully I have fixed that.

Also I worked very hard to get inside the main character's head. What is he thinking? What kind of turmoil does he experience? Although there is no conflict outside of him, I definitely think I have added some within him. So does it past muster? Does it begin the story in the right place? Does it present necessary information without huge info dumps? I think the answer is yes. I really feel good that I can tell my writing has improved over the past couple of years. There is very little left in this first chapter that is completely from the original draft. And I think that is a good thing.

Now all I need to do is get the entire book done before I improve too much more, otherwise I'll never get it finished.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Writer's Group Not for Faint of Heart...

...or for the lazy for that matter. I joined an online writers critique group year or two ago. (in the Forward Motion Writers website) It was really, really helpful. But one thing I constantly struggled with was keeping up with the critiques of my fellow group members. So at one point about 6 months ago, I decided to take a sabbatical from the group, so that I could focus on finishing up the first draft. Well as you know the first draft is done, so now it is time to get back in the group. As I contemplate this it got me thinking about the pros and cons of the structure of my crit group.

The pros are fairly obvious. I've got three or four people reading my work, giving me feedback, really trying to make my writing better.

The cons are a little harder to nail down. One that may not be a con, but more of a shortcoming of the structure, is no one ever has a chance to see the big picture. We post a single chapter at a time, and critique a single chapter at a time. So it is as if you are reading a novel with blinders on. Especially for the memory impaired. I can read a chapter, and then come back two weeks later and read the next chapter and have no idea who any of the characters are. It doesn't help matters that all the books are fantasy novels, so already they do tend to mush together a bit.

Another con is we are all just amateurs. Some a little more skilled than others (I'd place myself pretty low on the grammar scale), so any advice we get must be carefully considered. Not that it shouldn't be even if we were all published authors, but it does make me yearn for more of a mentoring type situation. (Stephen R. Donaldson is from my hometown, maybe I should look him up.)

I also long for a group of writers that I can physically meet. Read each other excerpts. Discuss with each other our thoughts. You just can't get that online.

All this said, I still think it is worthwhile. So I'm off to inform the group I'm ready to come back.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Where to Begin

I've struggled for some time on how to begin Crimson Swarm. It seems there is a lot of opinion on the subject. Some say never start with a dream sequence--never start with an info dump--prologues are frowned upon. As you will see on the link to the left of the 100 Best First Lines, I really like the subject. Therefore I've revised the beginning of my novel several... dozen times.

To make matters worse, from what I've read if you get past the query stage and a potential agent asks to see more, often times they will ask for the first two or three chapters. So you really have to nail the beginning, otherwise they will never see the exciting action of later chapters.

I had this really cool, Cate Blanchett kind of beginning for a while. That's gone. Then I added a prologue, that I felt just had to be there. I'm about to cut that. I completely rewrote the first half of chapter one. So when will I know I've got the beginning I need? Honestly at this point I don't have an answer for you. I'm pretty happy with the first paragraph of the first chapter now, but will I be in two weeks? What do you think?

"His first memory was the smell--a strange mixture of burning lamp oil, cooked meats and vegetables, and something else, something he could not quite put a finger on until later... the smell of death."

If this makes it to the final edit, I'll be surprised.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Calendar of Events

I started editing last night, and one of the things that I want to be very aware of is what time of the year events take place in. To this end very near the beginning of the story-writing process I began keeping a calendar of all events. You can do this any way that works well for you, but for me I used the calendar in Outlook.

As I wrote new scenes and events, I would go back and add them to the calendar. This way I had a very quick way to know what the seasons and moon phases were at all times. (I installed a component to Outlook for the phases of the moon). Also this helped keep the chronology of different characters who were involved in different story-lines correct.

I did have a couple of very interesting surprises happen with the moon phases. On two separate occasions I wrote in the phase of the moon, and then went to my calendar to check to see if I was anywhere close, and on both occasions I was exactly right. In one case I wanted a new moon, so the hero's army wouldn't be seen sneaking into the enemy camp, and sure enough the very night I had them do it, it was a new moon. On another occasion I mentioned it was a waning gibbous moon, and sure enough that exact night it was. I don't know what it means, but it sure was nifty.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Rush to Finish

Well I stayed up way past my bedtime last night finishing my read-through of the first draft of Crimson Swarm. I actually thought it ended pretty well. It was apparent though that I rushed the writing at the end trying to meet my self-imposed end-of-May deadline. The last chapter was only two pages (slightly less even). But the cool thing is, the meat is there, it just needs a little dressing. I found a few points that I'll need to go back and add some foreshadowing earlier in the book for, and actually realized one event I foreshadowed never happened. So I'll have to decide whether or not to add the event in, or take out the foreshadowing.

But overall, I'm pretty darn happy with it. So the next step is editing. I'm happy that my word count is right around 110,000. So this gives me room to add, or delete at will without having it get too long or too short. (From all I've read a first time novel, in the Fantasy genre should be between 100,000 and 125,000 words.)

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Drawings to build depth

I wanted to follow up on a thought I had in yesterday's posting. The use of drawings to help with your story. Not only to help with the background, world building aspect, but to actually help drive your story. One of the key locations in Crimson Swarm is an enemy fortress named Addlemort. Before I had my characters even catch a glimpse of Addlemort, I drew this:

Once again I probably put way too much time into the drawing, but it really helped me as I began work on the parts of the story that took place here. In the first scene, our hero had to sneak into the citadel undetected. Before I drew the picture, I had no idea how he would do it. Afterwards, I saw those cool flying buttress stairs on either side of the central tower, and I realized that if he could just somehow make it down the mountainside to the top of one of those walkways, he could make it in. Of course how do you sneak into a fortress across a bridge and down a flight of stairs out in the open? The solution I came up with was the majority of the soldiers were distracted. By what? A great plot element grew out of this question, and actually found itself intertwined tightly with where the bad guys drew their power.

The second scene involving Addlemort was when the our hero returned later with an army to attack the fortress. And again I was able to use the drawing to really drive the ebb and flow of the battle. To me it would have been nearly impossible to write the events that took place without having a strong visual like this drawing. I could look at it and run scenarios through my head before actually putting anything down on paper.

Of course you may say you don't have a fancy drawing program (in this case Adobe Illustrator), or you can't draw a straight line. As I said I think I put way too much time in this. There were other cases where I just did a very quick sketch to help orient me in a place. Here is a drawing of the council room where a big debate took place about whether or not to go to war:

Obviously only took a minute or two, but without this I would have had a very difficult time keeping track of everyone at the table.

I've even gone back and done drawings after the fact and then had to revise what I had written because it just didn't make sense once I drew it.

So get out those pencils (or mouses) and get drawing.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Can't Put It Down

Well, I'm almost finished reading my first draft. (Anne Lamott has a great phrase for this that I choose not to repeat on this blog.) And it is most definitely rough, but I have found myself on several occasions having difficulty putting it down.

Is this because I have such a big ego, that I just love to hear myself "talk"? Or is it hopefully an indication that it might be publishable? That someone else might get some enjoyment out of it? Time will tell of course.

I've most definitely noticed some holes in the story. Some places where I'm inconsistent, but on a whole it seems like it flows well. Has a strong climax. Means something.

One of the things I'm very glad I did is keeping notes as I wrote. Every character, every place, every race, every animal, every mountain range, sea, etc... got entered into a word document the moment they appeared in the story.

I also tended to go a little overboard with drawings. Here's a map of Nuadaim (the name for my world):

As you can see, way too refined, but man does this help when it comes to making the story believable and cohesive. I also do the same thing for all the towns, and citadels, and rooms, etc... I find that if I do a drawing, it is much easier to write about than if I just try to picture it in my head.

I had a whole battle that took place in an enemy fortress, that I had no idea how it was going to go until I drew it. Then it became very clear how the enemy would defend themselves, and how the good guys would attack it.

So even if you can't draw at this level (not that it is anything amazing) I still think maps and drawings are very important. So get out that pencil and paper next time you move your characters into a new setting.

Monday, June 4, 2007

What makes a "Scene"?

So all day I've been pondering the thoughts from Holly Lisle's ideas of editing a novel. The thing that really struck me is her idea that EVERY scene in the book must have a purpose. Every scene must move the story forward in an interesting fashion (paraphrasing here). She gives this definition of a scene: "A scene has a start and a finish, characters and dialogue, engages at least one and sometimes all five senses, and offers conflict and change." Then she says to go through the novel and make sure every single scene follows this definition. Wow! That is an amazing little piece of advice.

Where was she two years ago?

I know I've got some scenes that don't fit this definition. Now it is a matter of finding, and then cutting or modifying them. Be brutal man! Nothing is sacred.

Creating a New Language

It gets pretty difficult at times to work, when all I can think about is the book. I did go through a bit of discouragement a few days ago as I read through the first draft, but then the writing improved, and now I'm excited again.

The article I mentioned in the previous post by Holly Lisle has really got me pumped. I was thinking this editing process was going to be a long drawn out affair, but she makes it sound so easy. Of course I know that isn't true, but it does give me hope.

One area I know will bog me down is creating some languages. (Which I know Holly does BEFORE writing the book.) I used what I always considered a spacer language for the first draft. It was really just a "code" I developed in high school, swapping out various letters with each other. "Af e zhutho af quzho nquifl quzhogo thapol e zhukkaquo." Which I still think is pretty cool, but not quite what I'm going for. (By the way this is the first sentence from The Hobbit)

Now I really want to put some development time into creating actual languages. Again Holly Lisle to the rescue. I bought an e-book called the "Create a Language Clinic" it has some good stuff in it. I have four main languages in Crimson Swarm, and Holly's ideas will go a long way in helping me flesh them out.

The first language I started work on, was the one I considered the easiest because the race are pretty simplistic in their world view. I used to call them the Voormarg, but after working through the language development, I now call them the Vurmierg, and their language is "Common Gzuri" There is a "High Gzuri" that is spoken by the main villain in the book, but his grunts only speak a very simplified version. I'll post some samples of their language as I develop it, but in the meantime, here is a sketch of what a vurmierg looks like.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Writing a Fantasy Novel

I finally decided it is time to start getting my thoughts down about my experience writing my first novel, "Crimson Swarm". This has been a dream of mine since the moment I picked up the Lord of the Rings when I was a pre-teen. I have such a strong desire to be part of something larger than myself. Something beyond "normal", and I think that is the cord that Tolkien struck so soundly inside of me.

My faith is such a large part of my life as well, but I'm not very good at expressing it, so Crimson Swarm is also an outlet to help articulate what it means to be part of the grand plan of God for his creation.

So here I am. I honestly can't remember when I began writing Crimson Swarm, but I think it has been about two or three years. And finally last week I wrote the two words I had been longing for, "The End". Of course that is a load of baloney, it is far from over, but it felt good nonetheless.

So for the last few days I have been just reading it. Trying very hard not to edit, just read. One thing that is quite apparent is, I am a much better writer now than I was when I began. I'm probably about half way through reading, and at last the writing is becoming bearable.

I just read an article by Holly Lisle, (a prolific Fantasy Author, and from what I've seen an all around great asset to the writing community.) The article was on how to edit your novel, and in one pass no less. So that is where I am. I'm excited. I think the story has great potential, and if I can get it cleaned up, and well-written throughout, who knows... maybe it'll be something someone will want to read.

So that is it for now. I've got a lot more to say on the subject, but I'll save it for another post.