Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Brant’s NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up

Before delving into this post, I want to thank Kathryn for all the posts she wrote during the last month.  She put a lot of effort into picking music and posting about how her choices inspire her.  I for one found her posts and choices of music interesting and thought-provoking.  Great work Kathryn.

My Final NaNoWriMo  Status

  • My Cumulative Word Count: 57,580
  • Average Words per Day: 1920
  • I Passed 50,000 words On: Nov 22
  • Current Page Count of (Mostly) New Material: 211
  • Chapters finished (out of 13 planned): 7 

The short hand of these statistics is that I finished well ahead of schedule and went a long way towards having a (very rough) first draft of my second novel, …Demiurge, Unbound,….

And I get to proudly display the following:




Don’t bother trying to blow up the certificate.  I printed it out and still can’t read it.  The people at NaNoWriMo need to award a better JPG file.

Final Thoughts on NaNoWriMo 2010

The goal of writing 1667, on average, every day is extraordinarily hard to do on a day-in-day-out basis.  I had a significant advantage in that I had been thinking about my story for a very, very, long time and had a great deal of material in my head. 

What slowed me down, kept me from writing well over 60,000 words in a month were the undefined areas where I had to stop and think about what I wanted or needed to write about. 

That is where I am right now in my story: How do I get from the start of chapter 8 to the end of the story?   I have some ideas, and know what I want in the last paragraph of the book, but in between is a mystery.

Writing 50,000 words in 30 days pushed me to write even when I had no idea what was about to pour out onto the page.  As a result, sometimes when I was struggling, plodding along writing what at first felt like drivel, I would have an burst of insight about what a chapter was really about.   Random and aimless text suddenly became focused and directed.  Meaningless sentences became subtle hints to what was coming. 

In those moments writing became effortless and I was unable to type as fast as the thoughts came to me. 

I am now in a quandary over how best to spend my time.   There is value in editing and refining my first book, and there is equal value in pushing on and finishing a first draft of the second book.  And if I finish a first draft of the second book, why not push on and write a draft of the third through seventh books? 

I think what I must do is create a schedule in which part of my time is spent editing and part of it is spent creating new material.  This is not my normal way of working, and transitioning to such a schedule will not be easy.  But I believe the benefits I will gain from such a shift in habits is far greater than continuing with my usual habits.  For this insight, I have NaNoWriMo to thank.

I also discovered I have way too many subplots.  I simply don’t have room for ideas and characters I thought I needed to fill out a book.  I am forced to seriously consider dropping not just planned scenes and characters, but entire plotlines that I just don’t have the space available to write about. 

This is quite an admission, considering I hade originally planned 7 books x 13 chapters/book x 3 section/chapter = 273 sections.   You would think that leaves an abundant amount of space to fill with all sorts of side trivia, but this is not the case.  Simply telling the core story efficiently is a challenge. 

In the seven chapters (twenty-one sections) I wrote so far, several major characters have gotten very little time and attention, and side characters little to none at all.

As a plotter I have come to understand the value of writing by the seat of your pants. I see know that the most carefully detailed plot misses details not thought of until you put words to the page. 

I watched as the wording of each sentence forced changes on me that compounded on each other until my carefully worked out plot was, to a certain extent, undone.  

In the process a better plot emerged, filled with twists and turns I didn’t really think about until the moment I was writing them down.  And because each sentence flowed (more or less) naturally from the one before it, the scenes I wrote are tighter and more focused than many I wrote while trying to conform to a ridged plot.

I think in the future I will stay focused on the central most story and most important characters for telling that story.  I will make certain that the most important events do happen when and where I need them too, but in-between I will let my words wander and carry me where they will.  The details of the plot I will leave for my (almost infinite) edits.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The End of NaNoWriMo

It is finally here! Brant did an awesome job at 57,623 words on his story, which from what I have heard so far is awesome! I hope to write a little more tonight, but so far I am at around 37,000 words and some change. Not bad, all in all. They goal is not to write just 50,000 words, but to get writers' behinds in gear and write that story they always wanted to. And I did that. The competitive side of me is brooding, but the creative side is very happy.

I have one final song that inspires me, and I think the title makes it fitting as an end for this process that comes once a November. It is called Dante's Prayer by Loreena McKennitt, and it is a mixture of love and sorrow that really gets my writing moving. Believe it or not, hardship is my story's bread and butter (I apparently have a small evil streak, ha ha). Enjoy!

Hopefully soon we will be putting tidbits of the new stories on the blog to wet your apetite for more writing. Until then, write on!

P.S.: I know I didn't post songs for days 27-29, so if you are interested, these are the ones that I had picked out.

Day 27: Ubi Caritas, which is Latin for "where there is charity and love, there is God." Used in the creation of my story's hero.

Day 28: Solace by a-Ha, one of my favorite bands. I actually used this when trying to get into character for my story's heroine, who suffered a devastating loss. Also I chose The Heart Asks Pleasure First from The Piano, just because I love hearing the simple intricacies of that song.

Day 29: A Stevie Wonder song sung by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Higher Ground is an energetic song that is my action-writing playlist. But, since Brant isn't a huge Stevie fan, I also chose the 10th Doctor Who's Theme Song, which I think is a great song for the start of an action sequence. Or to get the blood pumping to your fingers.

Friday, November 26, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day Twenty Six

Brant and I had a productive evening last night. After watching fun stuff, I still managed to write over 1500 words and pul my characters forward out of the mire I had them stuck in. My hero made the next move in protecting his country and an unexpected ally came to the fore. Not bad for a short writing session. Hope I can keep up the pace of the story, it was starting to slow down.

Today's song is of a more serious bent than what I chose for inspiration yesterday. Lord knows why most of my favorite songs tend to be in a minor key, but that is beside the point. It is by a brilliant piano composer named Jennifer Thomas, called A Beautiful Storm. I know this is heavy, but it is perfect for what I am doing now on my story. My hero's country is overrun by enemies who are burning it to the ground, he has to sacrifice some of his own land for help, and he desperately wants to help the heroine out with her own loss. Dark works here. And I think this song pulls all that together nicely.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going, and write on!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day Twenty Five

Evening, readers. I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving. I know Brant and I did, we enjoyed familial conversation over a banquet of freshly made goodies. After we were full, watched WKRP's Thanksgiving special, and ate some more, we decided to get down to writing. I was well into my process before I remembered that I didn't share my motivational song of the day.

Today's song, in honor of Thanksgiving, is from an artist I recently fell in love with called Ludovico Einaudi. The song is a beautiful piano solo called Love is a Mystery. A fairly simple piece, which paints a picture in my head of someone running after a lost love. It has changed each time whether the love was caught or not. But I feel desperation in this song, and that makes this a very useful piece indeed.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going, gobble gobble, and write on!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day Twenty Four

Whew! I wrote about three thousand words yesterday, squeezed in a little here and a little there. I also made a cheesecake, two pumpkin pies and three pumpkin breads last night in preparation for Thanksgiving. So now I am almost at the 30,000 word mark and I have plenty of sweet things for the holiday. I think I did well, if I do say so myself. So, I am in for a treat...

The song for today is an instrumental version of one of my favorite love songs, originally by Daniel Bedingfield. It is titled If You're Not the One, and this piano version is done by Myleene Klass. It is breathtaking, and I think I will use it on a soon-to-arrive unrequited love scene in my story. I have already set it in my writing motivation play list on YouTube. The use of playlists on YouTube is awesome to me. No matter where I am when I am able to write, I just pull out YouTube and I have my music right there. I am hoping to pass that 30,000 mark today, so wish me luck. Good luck to you too. And Happy Thanksgiving.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going, and write on!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day Twenty Three

Boy, am I far behind on my writing. I am still sitting at arount 26,000 words, and the last few days have been enough trouble to keep me from writing. I really, really want to, but there are so many other things that need to be done this time of year that take precedence. Like excersizing a little more room into my tummy for the holidays.

Today's inspirational song is an old favorite of mine, beloved since grade school (I think I just dated myself). It is from the movie Labyrinth, and it is called As the World Falls Down. I love to just listen to this song, and its sadness. The words themselves are quite motivational to me too. Dripping with romance. Makes me think I should actually try writing a romance next time around...

Keep your NaNoWriMo going, and write on!

Monday, November 22, 2010

NaNoWriMo Days 20-22

First, a little shout out to Brant. He is just a few words away from the 50,000 month quota. Hooray for Brant!

Sorry about this weekend, it completely slipped away from me. I wrote very little, because of an injury, but don't worry. I feel better now. I did however work on my story. I dug around and learned a little strategy so the battle scenes will read a little more realistic. I just haven't written them in yet. So here are the weekend songs I had chosen and didn't release.

Day 20: One of my favorite movies that involves one of my hobbies is Gettysburg, a great movie about the Northern armies hard won victory that turned the tide of the Civil War. The military theme song therein is called Men of Honor. It is a great song when gearing up for a battle, even if it is a little slow.

Day 21: A nice, angst filled song today, which I found while perusing YouTube for Torchwood stuff. I think this song, titled He Lives in You, is a good song to put you in a somber mood. I have a death scene coming up again in my story, and I loved the feeling I got listening to this song. Probably not the right terms to use for a death scene, but it's true.

Day 22: Enough with the downers, I know. Today's song is in my terms, simply beautiful. It is called Vocalise, written by Rachmaninov and arranged by Karl Jenkins to be done by Adiemus. Whew, what a mouthful. This song adds color to what I am writing. When I need better descriptions, a bigger amount of detail, or just a sense of purpose in what I am writing, I go to this song.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going, and write on!

Friday, November 19, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day Nineteen

Yesterday I actually wrote over 5000 words. I know, I can't believe it either. I stopped up short when I wrote myself into another military strategy session. Why do I keep writing myself into things I don't know? Well, let's move on to something I know a little bit more about.

The song I chose for today is from the movie Braveheart, a great (if unrealistic) movie with an emotional soundtrack. Of course the song is For the Love of a Princess, the love theme of the movie. The vibrato flute and swelling of strings is perfect for many things. From an unrequited romance to a great loss, even lofty thinking. I am using it today for the latter. Anyway, if nothing else, just listen to the song and let your imagination take over.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going, and write on!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day Eighteen

Another day has dawned. I hope you are all still trying as hard as I am. I may not make my quota, in fact on most days I don't. But I am moving along on the story a heck of a lot faster than I usually do. Yesterday I left my heroine on the brink of a discovery about a frenemy nation that will either push her over the edge, or possibly go completely over her head. Also set up the possiblity for a turning point in the relationship between the hero and heroine. I haven't decided yet if their relationship is mutual admiration or something deeper. Honestly (and against my normal grain) I am leaning to mutual admiration.

Today's song choices are a new favorite and a rediscovered classic. First up is Stars by Helen Jane Long. She is an accomplished songwriter and pianist, and I love the lonliness I hear in this song. I think it is perfect for the heroine in my story, who is going through great loss and feels she is all alone.

The second song is a trio of the best songs from the movie Red Sonja compiled into one piece on YouTube. The songs are the Kalidor's Theme, Fighting the Soldiers, and the Love Theme. These are all written by a master in movie soundracks, Ennio Morricone. He also wrote the music for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly trilogy, The Mission, and many others (as Brant and I discovered last night). My favorite out of this trilogy is the first song, Kalidor's Theme. It is simple, and yet stirs the blood. I have decided to use this song as the basis for the berserkers in my story. There are a lot of them, so they deserved their own motivational song.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going, and write on!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day Seventeen

Yesterday I finally broke twenty thousand words on my story. Yey me! But today I am finding it a little more difficult to get anything done. So, why not go to my inspirational and motivational songs, you say. Well, all righty then.

Today's song (finally, a solo!) is called Suddenly Yours, and it is from a group called 2002. It is one of those rarer major key songs that get my creative juices going. I picture coming out of the darkness into the light on this one. The end of the journey, when the beleagured hero or heroine conquers the baddies and gets to go home to their families, hot meals, and warm beds. It is sedate, but it is so peaceful. And I just love the name.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going, and write on!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day Sixteen

A lot of drama in Brant and my lives yesterday. My old truck (which I named Dr. Pepper Truck, because of its color) needed a lot of work again, and we finally decided it wasn't worth it. So we spent most of our free time yesterday picking out a 'new' used car. In spite of all that, I still managed to write over 3k words yesterday! I am almost caught up to where I should be in my novel, according to the average set forth by Brant to reach the 50k words. I am around 18,600 words. I might not make 50k, but I will have a lot more invested in this novel than I thought I would.

Today's inspiration is a song I have loved since I learned it on the piano more than a decade ago. It is a piece of classical music with a dramatically sinister turn, called Danse Macabre. It is written by the gifted French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, and I found a delightful vingnette of pictures made by someone on YouTube to watch as you listen the first time. I use this when I need to write with a little more frenetic energy. Sometimes what I write is 'evil,' (ie. the characters are in trouble), but more often or not I am just reminded to put a little more motion and vitality into my stuff. Otherwise, as I have told the group members several times, my characters pop into a void, speak their peace, and pop out again. This song helps me add color.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going, and write on!

Monday, November 15, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day Fourteen/Fifteen

Sorry I didn't post yesterday, but the day loosed from my grasp and ran down the street like a mad woman on a sugar high. So, today I will post my songs for both the fourteenth and fifteenth days.

Day fourteen was a song to get the blood pumping, and perhaps help out with a little righteous anger your characters might need to let go of. It is a piece of classical music most of us may have heard of called Ride of the Valkyries. I just love that this song is old enough for a lot of people to dismiss it, but great enough that it keeps getting used in new ways. I love this classic.

Day fifteen is from a newer classic, Jurassic Park, called Hatching Baby Raptor. Believe it or not, I used this song the first time (a while ago) when I needed to get into a proper frame of mind for a ghost story. The scene that this song basically wrote was when the ghost first 'opened her eyes,' after death. I love the haunting qualities of this song. If you have a little need of some spirits in your story, I suggest this one. By the way, it is also useful if you need a little painful introspection, because (at least for me) it puts me in a somber mood.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going, and write on!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day Thirteen

I managed to write just over 2000 words yesterday. I patted myself on the back for writing anything, and got to a place where the next surge willl give me lots of words. We here at the Magic City Writer's Group hope you are still keeping up with the novel writing. Or at least keeping up with this blog. That's a great start.

Today is another double header in inspirational songs for me. I know, I have more songs than I thought I did too. The first is from a great techno artist simply called BT. The song is called Dreaming, and it is one of those songs that just make me want to write. The beginning lines always do it for me: "No words, no talk. We'll go dreaming."

And the other song is from the great movie soundtrack archives. From Braveheart, we have The World of the Heart, a song that is so swept away with sad and beautiful emotion that I use it whenever I need to write about someone's heart breaking. In case you don't remember, this is a great movie about valor, betrayal and redemption. If that doesn't get you writing, well, then you don't write like me.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going, and write on!

Friday, November 12, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day Twelve

The month is almost half over, how are you doing? I am still many, many pages behind my quota. I don't feel like giving excuses, it is just the way it is. Well.

To combat the I-can't-do-it-itis, I have a brilliantly ethereal song to inspire you. It is from Evanescence, and Mozart. I found that lots of people have done this song, but right now it is my favorite. It is called Lacrymosa. I love this song, which just generally inspires me to do any writing. Well, after the song is done. The second time I listen to it my mojo gets going. Before that I am just swept away in the beauty of the music. I hope you feel it too.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going, and write on!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day Eleven

I managed to get in a quick 3000 words or so last night, just under the wire. I am still about 10 pages behind my quota, but I think that is impressive. I just put all my favorites on YouTube on play and went to town. When I have an idea and some inspiration, I can really write quickly. Not award winning - not on a first draft anyway - but I get it done. I will catch up, hopefully by the weekend if not today.

Another duo today. These songs represent interesting dichotomies. They are great songs from otherwise horrible movies. Anyone that know me knows that not only do I like science fiction, I adore super-cheezy science fiction as well. But I become a loyal follower of a great musician and his/her score. These are a couple of great examples. Even when they have a mound of cheese to write for, they create music that serves - at least for me - as great sources for inspiration.

The first is a gem called Conan the Destroyer, soundtrack written by Basil Poledouris. I love Conan the Barbarian, and the music was great there too. But the sequel was horrible. Its only saving grace was a soundtrack that swept you away in the appropriate emotion for the scene. So I use this music as a great source of inspiration for never giving up, and also for becoming the barbarian I know is somewhere inside of me. Here is the Main Title.

The second is from an unfortunate movie from actual history. Now the story of King Henry VIII is great in and of itself, loaded with greed, sex, and court intrigue. So it amazes me how the movie The Other Boleyn Girl could have been so bad, but it was. However, the music is beautiful. I listen to it and I am filled with a sense of longing, loss, and regret that the movie should have given me. The song I chose is The Execution, which I used when I wrote a scene a couple of days ago where one of the major heroes was killed. Very helpful.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going, and write on!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day Ten

I actually managed to get in a couple of pages yesterday! Yey me. I came in early to work to get a little pre-job writing done, so this blog will be brief. Today's picks (again with the two songs) are songs that I used last week to get me into 'battle mode.' My hero and heroine faced off for the first time with the big ugly - as I called it in my head - and managed to squeak out a win. Will they be able to get reinforcements before big ugly comes back? Duh duh duh.

Ahem. Sorry. The first song is from an interesting band that infuses heavy metal with classical music. I have to say, great idea. The band is called Apocolyptica, and the song I chose is Bittersweet. For the record, though, I haven't heard a song of theirs yet that doesn't inspire me to write a good fight or battle scene.

The second song is a little more classical. Or a lot more classical. It is Chopin. In a nod to my sister, she made me fall in love with this song a long time ago (when we first saw The Secret Garden). It is Nocturne for Piano in E minor, Opus 19. Beautiful, sad, but with a driving rhythm that makes this also a good one for battles, both internal and actual.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going, and write on!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day Nine

Okay, I admit it. I haven't written in a couple of days. I have had so much stuff on my plate that I have had almost constant brain-fry. And yesterday was our writer's group meeting, which - while fun - eats up the evening. But, I might be able to at least squeeze out a page or two today. In keeping with that, I have a couple of songs that strike mystical cords in my subconscience.

The first is a haunting melody called The Voice, which I have already used a couple of times when I need to write a dramatic scene using my heroine, who seems to be pushed in a particular direction by an unseen hand. She follows it - follows it blindly, if you ask the hero.

The second is one of my favorite songs ever, unfortunately written by a total pig. This arrangement was done by Mannheim Steamroller for their first Christmas album, but quickly made it into my normal rotation. Enjoy this version of Greensleeves.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going, and write on!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Brant on NaNoWriMo Day 8

Before I get into my post today, I want to give a shout out to Kathryn.  Most of the posts out of the this blog have come from her lately.   Kathryn’s informative posts about what music inspires her and where she has been focusing her writing on a day-to-day basis have provided me insights of my own, as well as links to some beautiful music.  Great work Kathryn.

My Current NaNoWriMo  Status

  • Suggested Daily Word Count: 1,667  (Works out to 50,000 words in 30 days.)
  • Words Written Today: 1,800
  • Suggested Cumulative Word Count by Day 8:  13,336
  • My Actual Cumulative Word Count: 17,807
  • Average Words per Day: 2,226
  • At This Rate I Will Finish On: Nov 23
  • Days Remaining in November: 22
  • Total Words Remaining for NaNoWriMo: 32,193
  • Words per Day to Finish on Time 1,464
  • Current Page Count of (Mostly) New Material: 64 

The short hand of these statistics is that I am well ahead of schedule.   I have a comfortable buffer that I can build on to make certain I actually do 50,000 words in 30 days.

A Song That Inspires Me

Song of the Seahorse by Miriam Stockley is a song which I listen to often.  Its sweeping melody and melancholy lyrics makes me think of many different things, but with regards to my story I feel it captures something essential about my character, Artemis Arrowsmith. 

Song of the Seahorse, by Miriam Stockley

The lyrics dwell on the death of a lover and the how the person feels because of their loss.   This is central to Artemis’ character and the subplots that revolve around her.    The music also captures a sense of beauty and even wonder, other elements central to her character.

A Lesson Learned From NaNoWriMo: JUST KEEP TYPING!

Seriously, don’t dwell on anything.  Just keep typing.

“What am I wanting to accomplish in this chapter/with this character?”  Don’t worry about it, just keep typing.

“Wait…isn’t this character supposed to be dead already?”  Don’t worry about it, just keep typing.

“What color did I say her eyes were a few pages back?”  Don’t worry about it, just keep typing.

“Wasn’t this character a different sex in and earlier chapter?”  Don’t worry about it, just keep typing.

The Result Is An Interesting Mishmash.

On scenes I have reasonably well mapped out in my mind, I blend descriptions and actions and dialogue together in reasonable proportions.   Not great, but workable text.

Then there are areas where I know I want or need a conversation on a subject, but I don’t have the details well thought out. 

This writing tends to be various people talking in an undefined area with characters appearing out of nowhere.  Where are they? Who knows?  What led up to the scenes?  Who knows?  All I know for certain is that there are elements in those scenes that I definitely want to keep somewhere in the overall story.

A Funny Thing Happened While Trying to Write A Story

Along the way, I was forced to deal with the motivations for the character of Demiurge in a more concrete way.  Given that the title of the second book is …Demiurge, Unbound,…, this was unavoidable.

But his origins are located behind a shroud of the distant past, which meant I needed to think about that past in the way he would.  I.e. Discovering the voice of Demiurge required thinking about my story’s mythology as he remembered it.

This led to a multipage “tell” that turned into a surprisingly clean summary of events explaining how the world ended up in its present state.  

Details became clear to me that I had glossed over in my mind, and with those details I realized I needed additional information about the world’s geography that I had never considered before.

The downside:  The new geographic details affect what I have already written in the first book.  On the bright side, what I need to add, while major, can be done by placing a few key sentences in a handful of  areas.  One particularly vivid description in chapter seven in the first book could be the foundation for significant reveals in the second book.

Rather than add those elements to the first book, I noted what I needed as part of my NaNoWriMo efforts.  i.e. I just wrote it in a a major, ugly, info dump.

And while I was doing that, I had a second major insight to the working of my world. 

How magic works and what its limitations are is a subject I have wrestled with often.  Now many of those details are clear to me, and I see how it has affected the path of Artemis and Damon both. 

These insights led me to know how the second book will end, and what scenes will comprise much of the third book of the series, …And Damon Roth,…

In particular, I now know why Damon first became interested in Artemis, and what he had to go through to find her.  Once again, I decided to jot down these thoughts as part of my NaNoWriMo efforts.

After these insights, I was able to return to a more linear narrative focused on scenes I had long thought of but had written little about.  Once again, I am writing less mythology and info dumps and more of a blend descriptions and actions and dialogue together in reasonable proportions

Insights Learned During NaNoWriMo.

The pace of writing has forced me to abandon quality for quantity.  To pour words onto the page as fast as they appear in my head.  Misspellings abound.  I use the same word in sentence after sentence, creating a repetitive feel that is, frankly, boring to read.  Grammar, the bane of my existence, is sacrificed for rambling sentences that often make little sense even to me.

Fast and furious writing forces you to make decisions that ripple through your overall work.  Earlier text that you think has settled and needs nothing more must be modified.  Plot strands for the future become clearer and more defined.  

Good ideas also end up on the page as details I hadn’t considered until now become facts of the world.  The story evolves and becomes substantially better.

I must admit to a temptation that this style of writing has inspired in me.  Namely to write my whole seven volume story in one gigantic effort as fast as possible. 

Yes, the final product would be craptacular, but it would also be a complete first draft.  After that I could focus on the long slow editing process where turgid text is replace by compelling prose. 

I’m not certain this would be a better approach that my normal style of write-edit-edit-edit-edit-edit-edit-edit-edit-write some more.  But my experiments with NaNoWriMo makes me wonder if writing the whole story at once wouldn’t yield rewards I can’t fathom at this time.

NaNoWriMo Day Eight

I wanted to use this ethereal song I heard about a month ago on my Pandora radio, but I can't find a good link with the song on it. it is called Autumn by Ryan Stewart, and it is a beautiful melancholy of a song played on piano with instrumental background. The best I could find was on YouTube, but the background noise is a little bit too much for me.

So, the better - or official, if you will - song I chose to inspire me today is again two-fold. I have an awful lot of writing to do in territory I know almost nothing about. I know, I shouldn't write about things I don't know, but my stories always lead me down those paths. Maybe I should just get out and do more so this doesn't happen as often. Now in my story, the hero and heroine are racing to the southern borders to try and recruit an ally who is a little scary. There is horseback riding, camping, driving oneself to exhaustion... I know nothing about those. There is also grief and possibly a budding romance.

Those I know a little something about. For the former, I chose a song I just really love, the original Superstitious by Stevie Wonder. Such a heart pumping song for me. For the latter, I chose Phillippe Describes Isabeau from the immortal romantic movie Ladyhawke. This one feels like grief and romance for me, and if you know the movie, you would know why. I hope you enjoy these, and get to writing once again.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going, and write on!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day Seven

Sorry about posting this late, but it has been a lazy day, and I have been busy. Getting Christmas and Thanksgiving shoved into my head at the same time, taking stock of what needs to be done, making a beef stew... the day gets away from me. But I didn't forget to post the inspirational song for the day.

For those of you that know me, you know that I am very proud to be a Texan, transplanted to Alabama. No shock... most Texans I know are proud, but I have a lot of deep roots, and one of those spreads to the Alamo. My favorite song from the 2004 The Alamo is The Death of Crockett, but I couldn't find it on YouTube to send out to you guys. But, I did find a great second, and I hope you will enjoy it.

There is nothing better than great peril to make a hero shine. This whole soundtrack, written by Carter Burwell (of Braveheart fame) is the rhythmic personification of heroism and martyrdom in my opinion. Some wonderful person on YouTube created a medley of the music combined with still footage from the movie, and it is a nice long one to write to. I am listening to it now and it is filling me up with righteous courage (which is what my hero and heroine desperately need right now. So enjoy this Alamo Suite.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going... and write on!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day Six

Today is a chilly day here in Alabama. I don't know what the weather is like where you are, but I find it hard to even get out of bed today, since I don't have to go to work on Saturdays. To help combat this, I once again have chosen two songs: one to get the fires burning, and another to inspire a certain part of (my) creativity.

The first song is one I stumbled on accidentally. I love the British series Torchwood and found a video montage of it. Attached was the song It's All About Us by TaTu and fell in love with it too. It is very strong and makes me think of unrequited love, which for some reason stirs up creativity in me too. It is a dual action song!

My formal song entry for the day is, strangely enough, from the movie Casper. The movie was fun but goofy, but there were parts of the music that accompanied it that were absolutely beautiful. My favorite of those is Casper's Lullaby, a haunting piece that is my go to when I write of anything ethereal; ghosts, lost love, or even a fallen hero. I hope it gives those of use still writing every day a go-to for a sad, sad moment in the story. I know I have a couple.

Keep your NaNoMoJo going!

Friday, November 5, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day Five

Welcome to Friday, and day five of writing that novel you have clunking around in your head. You haven't started yet? No worries. NaNoWriMo is pretty forgiving, and you can start anytime. I have a great hero song for you today, and creating a hero is an important step to writing a novel (at least in my world). Today's song is an Irish didy, an ode to the fallen soldier. It is hard to pronounce in Irish (aren't they usually?), and is called Seainneam Cliu Nam Fear Ur. In English, that is We Sing a Song of the Brave Lads, and it is sung by Capercaillie. I love the haunting qualities of the song, and the sad images it often brings up in my head. Enjoy, and keep your NaNoMoJo going.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day Four

All right novel writers... I know how you feel. Day four, and you really really want to do this, but whatever it is has slogged you down. For me it is a bunch of new changes at work, and I ahaben't got the timing down. I am a little behind on my writing, but nothing I can't catch up on with one good night and some inspiration. So, today I have two - count 'em - two songs to inspire us!

The first is one that builds up energy for me. It is a song by the pop group Jamiroquai (gotta love that name) and it is called Canned Heat. For the longest time I thought the lyrics said "I've got candy in my heels tonight," but apparently it is "I've got canned heat in my heels tonight." Anyway, enjoy it, and I hope it helps you keep your mojo going.

The second song is another soundtrack song, that I think is perfect to play as I think how my hero should be. It is regal, robust, and energetic. It is from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and it is appropriately titled Return of the Lion.

Keep your fingers agile and your NaNoMoJo alive... Go Writers!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Brant’s NaNoWriMo Musical Inspiration

One of my favorite pieces of music to write by is actually a trailer produced one year for the British science fiction series, Dr. Who.  The song is called All The Strange Strange Creatures

A montage of Dr Who scenes played against All The Strange Strange Creatures

It starts off  with a slow creepy buildup before exploding into a sweeping melody that combines both action and a sense of wonder.   Every time I listen to it I see in my mind a montage of scenes from my story.  Iconic moments that I either have written or intend to write.  This music helps me see the epic arc of the main story I am trying to tell.

Day Three of NaNoWriMo

The goal of 50,000 words in 30 days is quite challenging.  This works out to be about 6 pages of new material I need to write per day. 

I decided to use NaNoWriMo to work on my second book, …Demiurge, Unbound,…  Over the years I have tossed various notes and snippets of scenes into the book in preparation for one day turning the confused jumble into an actual novel. 

The end result is that I start off with a slight advantage, about twenty pages of material that I can use with little correction or editing.  i.e. I started NaNoWriMo with about three days of leeway. 

On day 1 I wrote 6 pages of new material, interwoven with the existing text.  Day 2 I managed about 4 pages.  Right now on Day 3 I have already managed about 5 pages (I woke up early and dove into writing first thing.) Right now I already have over 7300 of new (or mostly new) words on paper.  Not a bad start.

In a later post I will talk about how the need to write fast and loose affects my style and is shaping my story.

NaNoWriMo Day Three

Day three. Day two was a crappy day for me at work, and I didn't write as much as I wanted to. Fortunately day one was good enough to cover it. Back to the grind though. This song I put up on my Facebook page last month when I discovered it, and it still is giving me fun ideas to write. It is by Hayley Westenra, who has a beautiful and haunting voice. It is called Dark Waltz, and I especially get inspiration for my werewolf story, Moonlit. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NaNoWriMo Time

Welcome to the second day of National Novel Writers Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo. Many in our group wanted to try our hand at the NaNoWriMo challenge of writing a novel in a month, which Brant (using his mathematical skills) said equalled writing about 6 pages a day. To which I exhaled deeply and Lindy sighed. Then Lindy suggested we try motivating each other by sending songs through the email that motivate us.

I jumped on this idea, because I adore using music to create a mood. So, in the span of about 2 days, came up with thirty songs that inspire me in some way. Yesterday I sent the first one out to our entire group, whether they were doing NaNoWriMo or not. It is a song that really gets my mojo going: County Galway, written by John Williams and performed in conjunction with the Chieftains for the movie Far and Away. Brant suggested I post my songs on the blog so everyone that reads us can enjoy the music too.

Now for the second day. I have chosen a goodie. It is another long one that I have been enamored with since I got to play it in my first All-State band. It is the first movement of a symphony written around 1988 for a classic sci-fi trilogy, Lord of the Rings. The movement is simply titled Gandalf. Everytime I hear this I get swept away, especially at the part where Gandalf is riding breakneck speed on Shadowfax. Trust me, you will know when he is riding. It gets my creative energies galloping too.

So, for those of us who have successfully made it to the second day, way to go! Now on to day two...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Milestone Reached

Late last night, I finished my first draft of the rewrite of chapter six, …Personal Lives Are Upset….  It is not ready for posting on my Gods Among Men website, but it is just about ready for submission to the Magic City Writers

Side Note:

I have been remiss and not posted about the last meeting of the Magic City Writers’ Group.  I apologize, but the desire to work on chapter six has been soaking up my writing urges.

What I Have Been Up to Lately

I had to do major rewrites on the last three chapters, in which I introduce many important characters, bring them together, and reveal major plot threads.  Much of the essential content is the same as before I rewrote them.  Some side items were removed, and important elements were introduced.

Many pages of material have been moved off to long term storage in what I call my story’s  bible.  A separate document where I put meta-knowledge about Gods Among Men (history, descriptions, language notes, outlines for plot threads, and so forth).  I also put deleted scenes there, chunks of  text I don’t currently need, but which could be mined for ideas or phrases I like.

The End Results

While it took a fair amount of work, the rewrites served their purpose.  The overall flow is tighter, more focused, with better characters and escalating tensions.   I can see the improvements, and know that these chapters are now much better. 

Moreover, they are sturdy foundations for much that is to follow.  The overall story has improved and become clearer in my mind.

The Middle of the Road

There are thirteen chapters in each of my books.  Finishing chapter six means, ostensibly, that I am just shy of halfway through this major edit of the whole first book.  

In some ways, however, I’ve already done more than half the required work.

The Shape of Things to Come

Chapter seven, …And Critical Moment Relived…, is a self-contained flashback whose details are not affected by the new elements I introduced during the rewrites.  Right now it is long enough to qualify as a novella.   My goal is to turn it into a modest-size short story. 

This will largely be done by deleting long pages of total crap and tweaking what is not.  Less than a rewrite, more like a normal edit.   I have high hopes this will go quickly.

Most of the later chapters follow this pattern.   They need a brutal edit, but not complete rewrites.  There are fewer structural problems,  more sentences that need eliminating or improvements. 

I can focus more on fixing what is already there rather than creating new material from scratch.  And I am getting faster at the editing process.

My Goals For The Coming Months

If I can maintain my current pace, and the quality level of my recent efforts, I think the first book, At The Lady’s Behest Comes…, will be ready to submit to publishers by early next year.    I may be somewhat delayed in November by NaNoWriMo, at which time I plan on trying to write much of the first draft for book two.

The View From Where I Am Right Now

There is still much to do, but much has also been accomplished.   A milestone has been reached, by which I can see how far I’ve traveled, and how much further I have to go.    Not enough has been done to warrant celebration, but a moment has been reached that is worth noting.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Killing Your Darlings

Supposedly it was William Faulkner who first coined the phrase “kill your darlings”.  It is a vivid image, one designed to convey the emotional intensity that occurs while editing your work. 

Most first drafts suck.  Buried in the trash are the occasional gems.   Sentences and paragraphs that the writer loves.  Turns of phrases, character moments, little jokes and lushly written imagery.

But when writing turns to editing, nothing is safe or sacred.  Sentences that sparkle are the ones you want to save.  But sometime they just don’t fit.  They slow a scene down, or make no sense without including garbage you need to eliminate.

Inevitably, a good editor must delete sentences they love, paragraph they adore, and even characters they desperately want to keep.

The first time this happens is traumatic.   For me, my third chapter is the one which felt like a knife fight.  To this day if I need to make major modifications to something, I say to myself, “well, it can’t be as bad as when I edited chapter three”.  So far that remains a true statement.

I sometimes save parts of scenes, ones I like most, but which simply must go.  I copy them out and put them somewhere where I can find them.  The idea is that, someday, I may want to mine those scenes for ideas or phrases. 

The truth is I almost never look at those saved excerpts again.  More and more, I rewrite scenes from scratch, deleting whole pages of existing material.  What remains of the original text is worked into new material as appropriate.   

The result is better scenes, better chapters, and a stronger work. 

Yes there will be future edits, and more darlings will no doubt die.   But the result is a story I believe is objectively better.   It is worth a few (hundred? thousand?) deleted sentences to achieve that goal.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

When Last We Met

On Wednesday, August 11, 2010, the Magic City Writers met and reviewed my fifth chapter entitled Through Persuasion and Force,….    

The meeting was small  again.  Kathryn, Lindy, and myself.  Nicole was unable to attend, as was our hoped for new member Emily.   

And now onto the food.

Let’s Torture Alex by Mentioning What We Ate

Since we were meeting at 6 pm, we ate dinner before the meeting.  We went for a low key meal.   Kathryn picked up some breaded chicken tenders at Publix, garlic mashed potatoes, and garlic cheese toast.  For snacks we had some crackers with a nutty flavor. 

An Now What We Did

I had rewritten Through Persuasion and Force,… from scratch and was feeling pretty proud of it.   Normally this would be a sign of impending doom, an invitation for an ego bruising recitation of what was wrong with the chapter. 

This time, it turns out I had some reason to feel proud.  The chapter was the longest I had ever submitted, but took far less time to review than my previous submissions.   The entire meeting lasted less than an hour and half, whereas normally it takes us four hours (or more) to go over a work in detail.

It was agreed that this was the best chapter I had written to date.  Yes, there were flaws to be addressed, but not nearly as many or as severe as my earlier attempts. 

Without going into details, I was advised by Kathryn and Lindy to fix the problems they pointed out, then not edit this chapter again.  It can be considered complete.

This is a personal milestone.  Never before have I received so positive a review.

The Remains of The Day

Afterwards I retired to write this post, while the others went their separate ways.   Lindy had places to go, and Kathryn needed to finish working on her submission for next time.

Coming Attractions

We tentatively set the date for the next meeting to be Wednesday August 25th at 6:00 pm.  Again the plan is to eat dinner first, followed by reviewing Kathryn’s submission.

Until my next post, take care and have fun.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Exercising Your Writing Habits

I had cause to think about exercising.  Thoughts that led to some insights about writing. 

When I began exercising a few months back it was hard.  I often left the gym sore and winded.  But, with some proper guidance from my physical therapist and a personal trainer, I got stronger and developed some endurance.  

These days when I leave the gym, I still feel the workout, but I feel pretty good too.  Doing the exercises makes me feel physically better.   What was once a chore, planning and going to the gym, turned into a pleasurable routine.

As I considered this, I was struck by a similar shift in my feelings toward writing over the last few years.   

Once Upon A Time…

A few years ago I labored at writing in a sporadic fashion.  Writing was a chore I often had to force myself to do. 

I had ideas I liked, ideas I turned into putrid prose.   In short, I sucked.  I knew I sucked, but had no idea how to identify or correct my many problems. 

Then I got serious and began exercising my writing muscles more regularly.  I sought help from other writers who  made me see not only how truly bad my writing was, but also how to make it better.

And somewhere along the way, writing stopped being a chore.  Writing stopped being something I did instead of having fun.  My skills improved, and as they did so did my sense of accomplishment.

To those who want to write, but find it a chore

Writing gets easier…if you work at it steadily. 

It is discouraging to labor for hours with the result being dreck best discarded.   But skills improve.  Mistakes are corrected, and become easier to avoid.  The rewrites you once dreaded, you  begin to relish.   The edits become cleaner and less work is needed each time through. 

The quality of first drafts goes up, and the number of edits required before something is acceptable begins to drop.   In time writing becomes fun. 

And that is when you really begin to tell your story in a way you like, in the way it deserves to be told. 

Sunday, July 25, 2010

When Last We Met…

On Sunday, July 25, 2010, the Magic City Writers met and reviewed the beginning of Lindy’s novel, The Night Things.    

The meeting was small; just Kathryn, Lindy, and Myself.  Nicole was unable to attend, as was our hoped for new member Emily.   

Before describing what happened, let’s talk about  the food.

Let’s Torture Alex by Mentioning What We Ate

As snacks we served three types of cookies: peanut butter, chocolate chip, and oatmeal raisin.   In a word, yum.

For dinner Kathryn made a very good Cobb Salad, using the official recipe from the The Hollywood Brown Derby, home of the original Cobb Salad.  She even hand made the salad dressing that is supposed to be used on it.  It required a bit of tweaking (chicory was impossible to find, and blue cheese was substituted for Roquefort ) but the result was delicious.  Great job, Kathryn.

Just for the records, the salad consists of water crest and romaine lettuce, tomato, bacon, chicken, hard boiled eggs, avocado, blue cheese, chopped chives, and tuna.  

The dressing’s ingredients do not live up to their combined taste, so I shall not bother listing them.

Later we were suppose to have either watermelon or ice cream for desert.  I regret to say that we were so sated from dinner we forgot to have desert.

Oh woe is me.   Now we shall have to eat these items later in the week. 

An Now What We Did

Lindy knew that her submission was a rough, first draft.  She asked we only give her general comments.   i.e. Focus on structure and plot problems, not so much on details or grammar.

I think my idea of general comments was a lot closer to her concept of line-by-line edits.   For that, I apologize to her.

The consensus was that The Night Things contains many strong elements, and that Lindy needs to flesh out or rewrite certain portions.   Some parts were quite good, and other parts needed more work. 

After reducing Lindy to a shadow of her former self, we did writing exercises based on an idea of Kathryn’s.  Her idea was to practice our ability to describe items based only on how they feel. 

One at at time, we each put odd shaped objects into a box and closed the lid so the others could not see what it was.  We each reach into the box and felt the items, never looking at them.  Afterwards we wrote a few sentences describing what we felt.   

This was a great idea.  It required flexing unusual writing muscles and focusing on subtle details.  This was a very useful exercise for me, and I think for the others as well.  Another great job, Kathryn.

The Remains of The Day

After dinner, we retired upstairs and watched a Mystery Science Theater 3000 riff on a movie called Jack Frost.  This movie hammered and glued a number of Russian folklore stories together into one of the dumbest movies in history.  Basically it was a deranged mixture of Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and Sleeping Beauty with liberal doses of the Baba Yaga myths.   Needless to say, at times we laughed till we cried.

Afterwards I retired to write this post, while the others went their separate ways..

Coming Attractions

We set the date for the next meeting to be Wednesday August 11 at 6:00 pm.  This time, we shall eat dinner first, then rip to shreds my fifth chapter, Through Persuasion and Force,….   

I am especially looking forward this, because I just finished a complete (and much needed) rewrite of this chapter.  At the moment I am feeling quite proud of myself and need to be taken down a notch.   I feel certain the others shall oblige me.

Until my next post, take care and have fun.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A New Posting on the Website For My Story

I have posted a new copy of Chapter one, The Wizard’s Spells…, on the website dedicated to my story, Gods Among Men.  

There is also a new blog post on the book’s website entitled (appropriately) Another New Version Of Chapter One

The  blog post talks about the reasons for the latest edit of chapter one and the vital contribution from Alex, a founding member of the Magic City Writers’ Group.  (AKA, the person I keep torturing by talking about the meals we server at our much-too-infrequent meetings.) 

I will not repeat myself here, except to express my deep gratitude for the invaluable help she is giving me with editing my story.  Thank you Alex, your efforts are much appreciated.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Show And Tell

I have been quiet of late, which is not to say I haven’t been working.  For several months I found it quite difficult to focus on writing.  My time and my thoughts were co-opted by pressures from work, preparations for my and Kathryn’s wedding, developing an exercise regime so that my back problems from last year do not recur, and so forth. 

This is not to say I did nothing with regards to working on my story.   The process of writing and editing requires both physical and mental effort. 

Physically I had too much to do and too little free time to do it in.  Mentally, I have been thinking and internalizing realizations I had months ago.  Preparing for the time when the wave of demands on my time would recede and my labors could resume.

In recent weeks I returned to writing, and established a schedule I hope is self-sustaining.  

Recently I tested an insight I had into the writer’s adage, “show, don’t tell”.  I am pleased with the results.  Before explaining my insight, and the results, let me establish the fundamentals of both “show” and “tell”.

The Ease of “Telling” a Story

It is (relatively) easy to “tell” a story, to lay out in simple words what you want the reader to think or feel.   The problem is that the readers don’t actually feel those emotions, they just know they should.  Using “tells” gives your writing the emotional content of a computer algorithm.

When you write the words “John felt angry” or “Jane smiled in happiness”, the words “felt angry” and “in happiness” are “tells”.  

Almost anytime you use a word that directly represents an emotion or motivation the sentence or phrase is a “tell”.  It is at those times that you are explicitly telling the reader the emotions and motivations of characters.   By extension, you are telling the reader how they should react to those emotional states.

You aren’t engaging the imagination, you are dictating a reaction. 

You aren’t describing actions, you are informing the reader how they should interpret the scene. 

For that matter, you haven’t created a scene, just established a character’s current state.   It is a point with no direction or momentum.

The Difficulty of “Showing” a Story

To “show” a story requires  painting with words.  To create an image that clearly conveys context and emotion without stating either directly.

Instead of “John felt angry”, consider “John’s face turned red.  He clenched his fist and snorted like a bull.”

Instead of “Jane smiled in happiness”, consider “Jane tapped her feet in time with the pop song playing on the radio.  She looked out the window, saw red roses reaching for the sun, and smiled.”

Neither sentence above is great, but they do illustrate the key points about “showing” a story. 

It takes more words, more sentences, to “show” a scene rather than”tell” it.  

“Showing” requires a focus on actions, on details, to create an scene the reader can imagine.  From the imagination comes understanding of the character, and perhaps empathy.  From understanding and empathy comes engrossment, the desire to keep reading.

My Insight

“Showing” a story or scene  is always more powerful, more engrossing, than “telling”.  “Showing” a story is the preferred approach, hence the adage of “show, don’t tell”. 

But “showing” requires much more work and many more words.   It takes more time to write, to find the right way to describe a scene.  In some cases, it is difficult to find the right words to “show” something that you can “tell” in a few words.  

“Showing” can slow a scene down, make it drag when you want it to move faster.  Plus, when you “show” everything important details can become lost in a sea of words and images.

Ergo there must be a balance between the two.   A time to show, and a time to tell.  A time to dwell on details, and a time use a “tell” as a shortcut between more important moments.  Instead of “show, don’t tell”  the correct approach is “show and tell, each in their proper proportion and where they are most effective”.

What this Approach Led Me to Discover

With practice I have become more comfortable with “showing” and less reliant on “telling”.   I combined this with my earlier revelation about how I should sharpen the focus of my story. 

The result was much better characterizations, and a stronger pacing. 

I now write transitions between scenes as brief “tells”.  Summaries that cover only the essential facts needed.    A successful “tell” is one that is short, infrequent, and serves to either start a scene or transition to a new scene. 

“Tells”should underscore something that is being shown, or remind the reader of important information they were shown before.  “Tells” that fail these tests I  either delete or try to convert to “shows”.

Scenes of importance became “shows”.  Descriptions of actions and expressions that force me to reveal the characters  in ways that make them more real.  If it is worth spending more than a few words on a moment then it should be a “show”.  A visual play in which actions flow from the character’s nature combined with their situation.

I don’t claim that there are hard and fast rules for when to use a “show” versus a “tell” or that I have found a perfect mix between them.  But the insight I had  has demonstrably improved my fiction writing.   It takes longer to write each scene, and the words do not come as fast.  Nevertheless, I recommend experimenting with this approach yourself.    I think you will be pleased with the results.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I Have Returned

Almost exactly one month ago my home computer developed not one, but two major (and unrelated) hardware problems.  In under a day it went from acting weird to being totally non-responsive.  Since that time, up until last night, I have been in computer hell.

What Do You Do When You Are Shit Out Of Luck?

There is something terribly unnerving about looking at a hard drive that holds ALL your files and wondering, “Is everything still there?” 

Yes, I have backups.  But without a functioning computer I couldn’t access those backups either.  And, to be truthful, I haven’t been diligent about making external backups.  One of my drives is set to keep an automatic mirror (exact duplicate) of the drive with all my data.  This gave me some piece of mind.  A reason to believe that even if one drive failed the other would have all my data safely stored on it.

Unfortunately, one of the major hardware problems was my mirror drive crashing and becoming unreliable.  Add to this a fried motherboard at the exact same time (meaning I was unable to even look at my primary data drive to see what was on it) and I began to worry that I had lost everything.   That fear intensified as what should have taken days, building a new computer, instead took weeks.

Why The Hell Was Recovering So Freakin’ Hard?

The good news is that, having finally crawled out of the rubble and rebuilt my computer from the ground up, it looks I lost nothing at all, or at least nothing significant.

Why though, I must ask myself, was getting back to having a stable computer so hard this time.  I have built computers before.  It is annoying and requires attention to details, but it isn’t hard to do.

Except this time.  This time everything that could go wrong did.

Murphy Can Take His Law And Shove It

Parts were backordered and I had to wait on them.  Days spent twiddling my thumbs rather than building my new machine.

The new motherboard wouldn’t talk to my video card and had no built-in video capabilities, so I couldn’t even get text to show up on my monitor.  I spent days of mucking with hardware, swapping cables, monitors, and videos cards around, all to no avail.  Finally I got a response from the motherboard manufacturer on how to correct the problem.  (Basically I forced a reset of the CMOS settings.)

After that, I screwed up while configuring the new system.  Yes, I did it to myself in a moment of rank stupidity.  I feared that I may have accidently wiped my primary data drive.   For several days I couldn’t see if there was anything on it at all.   When I did finally get to where I could see the drive, there were important files missing.  (Such as an up-to-date copy of my first book.)  Fortunately I was able to retrieve copies of this missing data, the details of which I will return to later.

The first time I installed my new copy Windows 7 Ultimate, it wouldn’t accept the product key that came with it as being valid.  Eventually I started the install over and the second time it worked without a problem.

Once I had Windows up and running, the computer began buzzing me to warn me about a hardware problem.  (Yes, a new hardware problem in a brand new computer.)  Turns out that my new CPU, the Intel I7 920, runs a wee bit hot.  Almost hot enough to boil water.  Seriously. 

A little investigating revealed that the heatsink and fan Intel ships with the I7 chips is not capable of cooling these chips.  The solution: buy a better heatsink/fan.  More waiting, more hardware to install, more tests to perform.

And then there were the endless days (yes, days) trying to coax recalcitrant data off the failed mirror drive.  Even though I could see the primary drive at this point, some of its files had been damaged.  This meant I needed to get whatever I could off the failed mirror. 

The process of getting that frackin’ drive to hand over its data was akin to wrestling a greased warthog from hell.  I was unable to get everything off it, but I got copies of all the files I really care about.  (Such as the latest  copies of all my writings.)

On top of all this was other problems that demanded I switch from focusing on my computer to working on other issues.  Most notable, my mother and niece both had (unrelated) major computer problems at the same time which required my help to solve.   This included fighting nastiest virus/spyware I have ever personally encountered.

And Now?

Finally, last night, everything began working like it was suppose to in the first place.  The new heatsink is keeping the CPU nice and cool, Windows boots up quickly and without warnings of screeching beeps, and  (most importantly) all my data looks to be intact.

I still have a lot of work to do on the computer.  A long list of software need to be installed, and I need to look into some kind of online backup service so I won’t have to deal with the fear of losing everything ever again.  But as of this moment, for the first time in a month, my system is stable and reliable, and my data is safe and secure.  The situation isn’t perfect, but it is a damn site better than is was a couple of days ago.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Freelance writing

I know this isn't really related to the sci fi writing group but it is distantly related (like a second cousin twice removed or something) because it concerns journalism. I started some freelance writing for in the hopes of getting my name out and making some side money. Go read an article if you get a chance, pretty please.

Latest article on local music. Hope you like it :)

Monday, March 1, 2010

A New Version Of Chapter One Is Now Available

I have posted a new version of The Wizard’s Spells…, a.k.a. chapter one of At The Lady’s Behest Comes…., the first book in the Gods Among Men series.

There are not a many changes, but there are some that are quite significant.  Most notably, I have begun weaving the importance of Tara Rihtwis into the first chapter.  In the process, I made slightly clearer what went wrong when Damon was casting his spell, and what agitated him so afterwards.  

Both of these changes were made in response to my insight that I posted about in A Time to Rethink, namely that I need to sharpen the narrative so that the characters of Damon and Tara are front and center.  My goal is to make it clear from the very first chapter that the reader should focus on Damon and Tara as the story unfolds, that they are the crucial characters around which everyone and everything revolves.

You can download either a PDF or XPS version of the chapter at

I do not plan on revisiting this chapter again anytime soon.  Not because there isn’t room for improvement, but because it is time to move on and focus on other chapters that desperately need attention.  I am currently forcing myself to finish the final edit on chapter two.  Once done I shall post it online as well, and announce it in a blog post.

Take care and have fun.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When Last We Met…

On Sunday, February 21, 2010, the Magic City Writers met and reviewed nothing.  Which is not to say we did nothing, but I am getting ahead of myself.  

The meeting was small; just Kathryn, Lindy, and Myself.  Nicole was unable to attend again, though she is hopeful that she will be return to the group in the not too distant future. 

Now onto the food.

Let’s Torture Alex by Mentioning What We Ate

We went for a simple fare this time.  I grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken on the grill while Kathryn made tater tots.  We took advantage of the slightly warmer weather to eat on gazebo and enjoy the garden and waterfall.  As a snack we had ice cream on popsicle sticks.  A very tasty meal with plenty of leftovers for the rest of the week.

An Now What We Did

Since no one had anything ready to submit, we did a variety of writing exercises.  Lindy brought an art book and we took turns picking pictures and writing whatever the images inspired.  Later we listened to songs for inspiration.  

The exercises displayed our propensities,strengths, and weaknesses.  We allowed ten minutes per exercise, which for me is enough to generate a few brief paragraphs at most.  Kathryn  in the same time wrote well over a page.  Lindy was somewhere between the two of us.  My writings and Lindy’s tended to have dark themes, while Kathryn’s were more light-hearted. 

I tried to focus on character development, my greatest weakness as a writer.  I also made special effort to “show, not tell”, i.e. to describe the character’s actions and use dialogue so that the reader discerns their emotional state without being explicitly told what that state is. 

Personally, I found the exercises quite helpful and refreshing change of pace from our normal editing process.

The Remains of The Day

Lindy left relatively early and Kathryn and I retired to watch Juno, a quirky movie which we enjoyed.  Before Lindy left we agreed to meet again on March 7th, and placed the onus of turning something in on me. 

Oh, joy.

I guess that means I need to get off my ass and force myself to start writing ASAP.  Which, of course, is part of the purpose of the group.

Until next time, have fun and party down.

Monday, February 1, 2010

When Last We Met…

On Sunday, January 31, 2010, the Magic City Writers met and reviewed (again) chapter four, …And Strikes Down The Inner Circle, from of my epic, Gods Among Men

This is the first meeting of the group since November of last year, the holidays and bad schedules making previous attempts to meet impossible.   I hope we can maintain a bit more regular schedule for the next few months.

Nicole was unable to attend this meeting, and will likely miss a few more meeting before she will be able to turn once again to writing.   Her presence and insightful comments were missed.

As you can tell from the current date, I am more than a little late getting the post about the meeting finished.  The week vanished rather quickly under a blizzard of bills, the return of Lost, and laziness on my part.  I apologize for the delay.

Much occurred during the meeting, but  first lets talk about the food.

Let’s Torture Alex by Mentioning What We Ate

The food was excellent.  (Is it ever not?)

Kathryn and Brant made a marinara sauce following a recipe Brant calls “Keep throwing chopped up vegetables and tomato sauce into an 11-quart pot until they threaten to overflow, add a pint of garlic and other spices, then simmer for the afternoon”.  This recipe never turns out the same way twice, but is always tasty.  Once ready it was served over angel hair pasta.

As a pre-dinner snack, we ate a piña-colada/French bread pudding that Kathryn had made the day before.   Delicious without ruining our appetites for dinner.

Changing The Editing Format

Lindy suggested a change to our normal chaos-driven format for going over reviews.  Always eager try new things, we  followed a pattern she has had some positive experience with lately.

First each person, one at a time, lists all of their positive general comments.  After everyone has made their positive general comments, each person lists their negative comments.   During this period,  the author being reviewed sits quietly taking notes, not interrupting, save perhaps to ask for clarification. 

After all general comments are finished, the group begins making specific comments about sentences or paragraphs, or ask what the author was smoking when they wrote something.

I think this technique has much to be said for it, and I look forward to trying it out a few more times before passing final judgment on it.  One immediate advantage is that we made it through the general comments faster than normal and got into the line-by-line edits relatively early.

And Now Back to Ripping My Chapter Apart

Actually this was one of the less brutal sessions for me.   There are lingering problems, but  far fewer structural problems than in reviews of my previous chapters, or of this chapter when it was last reviewed.  

Everyone liked the center section, and were especially fond of a minor character whose personality and role was significantly improved during my last rewrite.  There was the usual complaint that I am too plot constrained and often do not have the best characterizations.   A failing of my writing that continues to plague me, but there was overall improvement even in this area.

I walked away with a list of specific suggestions that will be easy to incorporate, for the most part, and which will make the chapter stronger in the end.  I doubt there will be a need for me to resubmit this chapter to the group again.

The Remains of The Day

Lindy stayed around and worked on some art homework.  She left relatively early, after which Kathryn and cleaned up and dallied in individual pursuits for a bit. 

Later Kathryn and I gathered to watch a mini-series off our NetFlix Instant Queue called The Color Of Magic.  This is a fairly faithful adaption of the first two books for Terry Pratchett comedy/fantasy Discworld series.  While this might not be to everyone’s taste, we enjoyed it immensely.

We plan on meeting again near the end of February to review a submission of Kathryn’s. 

Until next time, have fun and party down.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Music To Write By

I like to listen to music when I write, sometimes at decibels that can cause hearing loss.  I have even created playlists that I associate with certain characters; that expresses, for me, something about their nature, or inspires some scene involving them. 

I find that, after a while, the song itself becomes an odd mixture of background noise and inspiration.   I end up not listening to the words or individual notes, but my imagination still becomes hyperactive. 

An All-Round Favorite

A short list of my favorite pieces would have to include  All The Strange Strange Creatures , the trailer music from the new Doctor Who series.   This is a terrific piece of music that just never gets old.   It practically screams, “write an epic while listening to me”.  I can listen to it and write almost anything.

Other songs are more tied to particular scenes, often ones that I have long planned. 

The Ecstasy Of Music

Such is the case with another favorite of mine, The Ecstasy Of Gold by Ennio Morricone from the movie The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly.  Not the version on the “official” soundtrack; that version just lays there and puts itself to sleep.  No, to hear the version worth listening to you must rip it from the actual movie itself.  (Or, click on the link I’ve provided above.  It takes about 40 seconds before the song starts.  It’s worth the wait.)

To me, The Ecstasy of Gold is synonymous with a scene where Tara Rihtwis is pursued closely by a pack of Gogs, led by Widukind, who in turn are being tracked by Artemis Arrowsmith.  

When the music plays I can see this scene as if it were being played in a movie theater.  I can describe it in perfect detail, probably better than I will ever be able to write it.

Moody Music

I find almost anything by The Moody Blues great to write by, but Gypsy (Of a Strange and Distant Time), from their album To Our Children's Children's Children, holds a special place for me.   Listening to it inspired a scene that struck me as so powerful, a plot twist so unexpected, I altered my story to include it. 

The opening moments of the song made me think, completely unbidden, of someone hearing something that alarms them. For no good reason I decided it was Tara who was alarmed.  

Then the drummer hitting cymbals in the background made me think she was hearing the muffled sounds a sword fight, perhaps on the other side of a door. 

Then the music swells into a strong guitar rhythm, and in my mind’s eye she opened the door to see a room on fire.  In the center of the room are two people locked in mortal combat.  One, her beloved father, Morel Rihtwis; the other her closest friend and oft times protector, Artemis Arrowsmith. 

I had never thought about having those two characters fight until I listened to Gypsy (Of a Strange and Distant Time).  Afterwards, I realized that their diametrically opposite worldviews made their conflict inevitable, and the result of that conflict equally inevitable.  I came to see their final clash as the pivot point from which to start bringing various plot threads to satisfying finales.

Other Music

The list goes on, and on.  So many pieces of music that have shaped my thoughts, and in so doing shaped my story.  The point is not which music inspired what moment, but that music itself forms such unexpected connections within each of us.

What music do you listen to as you write?  What scenes are synonymous with certain songs for you?  What songs have inspired elements of your own stories? 

Monday, January 25, 2010

What Price Art?

Recently, Nicole said something that spawned a rather wandering chain of thought in me.  She was talking about the post I wrote entitled The Hidden Danger of Epic Tales, and said something like, “It is the first story you try to tell that inspires you to write in the first place.”

My brain, as usual, worked too slowly for me to pick up on that train of thought and pursue a conversation about it at that time.  Instead the idea planted itself in the back of my thoughts, somewhere between the mold and the mushrooms, and began to germinate.

Beginning in the Middle

I doubt that many people, when they first start to write, think of their story from beginning to end.  I certainly didn’t.  Instead it starts with a character, or small set of characters, and some scene that seems compelling at the time.  An idea half formed, with no beginning or end.  A theme or genre may be in mind, some grand ideas, but nothing concrete.

Taking the compelling first thoughts and turning them into a story takes time, so much time.  Time spent alone, with a computer or pad of paper, doodling ideas like an artist might randomly draw images hoping that art will emerge. 

The Price Paid

Most of that time is totally wasted.  Hours spent that will never come back, putting down words that are unworthy of the blank page they spoiled. 

Why do it?  Why not go do something more enjoyable?  Why not spend it with your family?  Why not call up friends and go out for the evening? 

Because the story will not let you rest.  Because you can’t stop wondering what will happen next in the tale you alone are trying to tell, and which you alone may read.  Because you are convinced that with the right words you can describe the images in your imagination, and nothing will detract you from finding those words.

The Profit Earned

It is not the completed work that writers strive for, so much as the sparkling sentence.  Don’t get me wrong, a completed work is the ultimate goal. 

But what drags you through the long nights and repeated attempts to write the same scene or chapter are certain moments that make you think, “Did I write that?” 

It is those moments when you see a few words, a handful of sentences; a paragraph, scene, or chapter and think, “I really like that.  I did that. I wrote that.” 

With those words you feel a justifiable pride.  At that moment you don’t care if anyone else ever reads one word of what you wrote.  The long effort was worth every moment it took to achieve.  You bask for a few seconds in a wonderful feeling.

Then you start trying to write the next sentence, paragraph, scene, or chapter.  And the frustrating hunt for the right words starts over again.  The feeling fades, but your remember it well.  And as the long hours pass you know, or at least hope, that you will again find the right words and experience that heady rush once again.

Later stories you might write for money, or other less noble reasons.  Some you may start and then abandon.  But the first story you write for the love of writing, for the want of skills greater than you currently posses,  is a special story that changes you in ways immeasurable.

It is the story you can’t walk away from, because it simply won’t let you. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Few Good Blogs

My post this week is a bit delayed due to laziness combined with the game Castle Age on Facebook.  (Curse you Nicole for introducing me to a game I enjoy!  Wait…that doesn’t sound right…. Never mind.  We return you to your regularly scheduled post.) 

In addition to being lazy and goofing off, I have been reading various blogs lately, some of which I found to be highly informative.  I thought it would be  good idea to pass on a few quick links for those interested in the art of writing.

First Up: Between Fact And Fiction

Natalie Whipple wrote a post  entitled Revision Reference on her blog, Between Fact and Fiction.   In addition to being very interesting, this post made me feel like the slowest writer in creation.  She casually mentions that last year she wrote first drafts for 6.5 books! and that this is to be "The Year of Revision". 

After I popped my eyes back into my head, I went on to read what she described as “The little ticks that bog down” her writing.  I saw in her list many attributes I have learned to avoid thanks to the Magic City Writers’ Group

Such tidbits include Hedging (“she almost ran to the door” versus “she ran to the door”) and using Tags such as angrily, sadly, vehemently,  and so forth instead of describing actions that imply the emotion. 

Natalie goes on with a list that includes Chattiness, Repetitiveness, Overstaging, and other items good writers shouldn’t do.  It is a very well-written, highly informative post that I can easily recommend to anyone wanting to improve their writing skills.

Second Up: There Are No Rules

I have sung the praises of Jane Friedman and her blog, There Are No Rules, before and I do so again.   This week she mentioned the release of a book in a post entitled, Form The Perfect Critique Group.

The book is The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Make Revisions, Self-Edit, and Give and Receive Feedback.  Given that this blog is dedicated to a writers’ group, I think you can see why this caught my attention. 

I’ll let Jane’s post explain why this is a good book to have.  For myself, I plan to sucker someone into buying it, and then borrow it from them.  (Nicole, you owe me for Castle Age!)

Third Up :There Are No Rules, Again

Yes two posts from the same blog.   It’s a good blog.  This time I am highlighting a guest post by Jim Adam entitled Story Structure: Beginnings, Middles, and Ends

This post focuses on the Harry Potter series as a way to highlight good story structure.  It is a first rate analysis and part of a larger series of guest posts he is doing using the Harry Potter series to discuss various elements of storytelling.

In this installment, he points out how both the individual books and the series as a whole have layers of structure designed to draw the reader in and give them a sense that the story is “going somewhere”.   He also underscores how J.K. Rowling includes details, scenes, and incidents that at first seem minor, but become important to the plot.

This is a post that makes you think of stories at a higher level. That requires you to step back and think about how the small details give rise to a pattern that readers subliminally understand and respond to.  For new writers, such as myself, Jim’s post is thought-provoking and provides insights easily overlooked when casually reading the Harry Potter books.

Th…Th…Th…That’s All Folks!

There were other great posts I read this week, but I am behind on my list of 3-trillion things to do, so I shall sign off till next time.  Have fun and party down.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Hidden Danger of Epic Tales

I read an interesting post on Jane Friedman’s blog, There are No Rules, entitled Telling a Story: One-Sentence Stress Test. It is a post well worth reading, but I want to focus on one thing she wrote.  It is some advice that might have helped me over twenty years ago, but now comes a bit late.  I provide the out-of context quote here because I think it is worth repeating.

For most first-time novelists, however, pursuing a story that resists the one-sentence stress test is perilous. Stephen King didn’t start off with The Stand; his first book was Carrie. Meanwhile, George R.R. Martin only undertook his complex fantasy cycle late in his career when his skills had reached full maturity.

Complex books like these should come with an FDA label: “WARNING! Trained professionals at work. Do not attempt this at home.”

Struggling writers who wave off such warnings often pay for their hubris by producing a novel that simply doesn’t work.

My own work over these many years is a testimony to the wisdom of Jane’s words.  If I could go back to my younger self and give some writing advice it might well be something like her warning above.  “Start with something simple.  A straight forward tale that fits in one novel.  Something easy to tell.  Delay working on the complex epic until you have the skills to tell it properly.”

I had simple stories in my head back when I was in college, but I didn’t feel the urge to write those stories down, to tell them quick and fast.  Instead I was lured by a disjointed series of ideas that felt right together, and so became fascinated by a complex puzzle of a tale that I could only glimpse at out the corner of my mind’s eye. 

Over time I toyed and tweaked with the various ideas I had, arranged and rearranged them next to each other, trying to discover how the fragments fit together to form a greater whole.  I knew I was trying to write something big, something complex, but I had no idea how big or how complex.  I didn’t have the skills needed to tell my epic, nor those needed to find the thread of a story that connected one item to another. 

Over the last several decades I gained the abilities needed to tell the epic I call Gods Among Men.  I know my story now in ways I couldn’t in my youth, and I know what I must do to tell it.  It is a daunting task, and if I had other books under my belt I would feel more confidant in my ability to do my story justice.  To tell it the way it deserves to be told.

I said Jane’s advice comes a bit late.  When I was younger it might have been possible for me to choose another story, a simpler tale that I could have focused on and finished.  Now I cannot turn aside from Gods Among Men.  Day and night I think on it; it fills my daydreams and is the center of every effort I make as a writer.  Call it passion, or obsession, or just plain stubbornness, but the end result is the same.  I cannot tell another story until I have Gods Among Men “finished” in some sense of the word.

I take solace, however, in a different thought: had I been more experienced, had I realized early on how complex and difficult it would be to tell Gods Among Men, I might never have found the nerve to to try writing it down. 

Gods Among Men is the work of a lifetime, my lifetime.  And the truth is I love this tale.  It isn’t effort to work on it, to think on it, to write and edit for hours at a time.  Well, sometimes it is an effort; but often I lose myself in a fantasy world of my own creation.  A brutal world, a beautiful world, a complex realm with characters that defy simple labels such as “good” or “evil”.

Perhaps I shall never finish this tale of mine, that it will be nothing more than a monument to my own hubris.  If so, that will be a shame, but not a tragedy.  A tragedy would be if I had never tried to tell this story, if I had never accepted the challenge of telling one great, truly original, tale.