Friday, March 3, 2017

Hemlock Book Four Update

Hi!  This is a very, very quick update on the status of Hemlock and the Maker's Fire - Book Four in the series.  The book is nearly through the beta reading phase and close to being sent out for the final edit.  I also have the final cover art, which I will post very soon!  Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

New Year's Resolution: Achieved


[Author's note: the first draft of this blog post was written on on January 1st, 2017]

As I start writing this post, the default title for it seems self-evident.  I've been struggling to come up with ideas to blog about for the past several months.  But the obvious thing to do on this date is to post about making a New Year's resolution to complete the manuscript for Hemlock and the Maker's Fire (book four and final volume of the Maker's Fire series)!


Well, I'm pleased to report that this won't be necessary, because I have already completed it!  I finished the manuscript during the break between Christmas and New Year's.  I have sent it off for beta reading, and I've decided this would be an auspicious occasion to break my recent silence and post an update with this (hopefully exciting) news!

I am pleased with how the story turned out.  I was worried that the planning that was necessary to bring the story to a satisfying ending might constrain the free-form writing process I like to employ.  But this didn't turn out to be the case.  In fact, there were some surprises near the very end--even for me.  As schizophrenic as this sounds, I wrote some revelatory passages, and just sat back and said to myself:  "Really?"  But then I thought about what had sort of just ended up being written (in as close to a spontaneous fashion as possible) and I started to nod my head affirmatively.  Not only did the surprising idea mesh with the plot and backstory--it felt right.

This book also marks the point where I discovered that writer's block is a real thing and I can be vulnerable to it.  Despite my best attempts to keep a positive spin on things in my most recent blog posts, I simply wasn't writing, and I now feel I was in real danger of torpedoing the manuscript by letting it sit unfinished for too long.

Before this point I hadn't grappled with being blocked.  Maybe it had something to do with trying to come up with an ending to a series that lived up to what had come before in prior volumes and my own expectations.  It's also a fact that things were happening in my personal life that presented a real distraction: both temporally and emotionally.  But, the thing is, I don't think I should have stopped writing altogether like I did.  If I ever hit a similar situation again, I think it would be much better to carve out small blocks of time just to write something--anything.  I think writing just enough to keep the creative embers glowing is important.  Fortunately, I was able to pick this project up and complete it fairly easily once I did finally make the time.  But I won't take that for granted ever again.  I liken it to losing my balance around the edge of a cliff.  Maybe I wasn't in danger of actually falling, but if the same thing had happened a few feet closer to the edge, then who knows?

The Maker's Fire series of novels were written over a ten year period.  I guess, when I really think about it, every period of my life over those ten years is probably reflected in the story.  But that reflection is more on the micro level.  The macro level story was conceived early in the process. although the details did evolve.  The initial one hundred pages or so of Book One were totally off the cuff, but after that some "vectors" informing and predicting the overall plot arc did begin to form.  Some of them didn't even make sense to me at the time.  For instance, the implications of Hemlock's early visions of the Black Dragon stirring were not fully planned out when first written.  But I soon "discovered" what they meant as I imagined each unfolding layer of the story.  This is part of the mysticism of writing that I like to believe in.  I wrote about those draconian visions because I knew Hemlock's use of her powers was having some effect in the larger universe; and, later, my imagination filled in what that was and how it fit into the story.  It was like an off the cuff riff in a musical jam session that later got (seamlessly?) woven into the tapestry of the story.  I really enjoy that aspect of writing.

Now it's on to editing and cover imagery and all the other fun stuff that comes with publishing.  Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Writing Status Report

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I am pleased to report good progress on my writing.  The manuscript for Hemlock IV now stands at 91k words.  It is getting close to being done, and that is very exciting.  I did write a lot on vacation, as I had planned.  Unfortunately, I've only had limited success in preserving the writing momentum I'd established now that I've returned to normal life.

If you asked me whether I'm happy with the manuscript so far--I'd say yes.  It's surprising because I've learned to expect the unexpected, but it's turned out much as I expected it would.  The exception is the ending which has changed somewhat radically from what I'd envisioned earlier.

What have my latest inspirations been?  One inspiration has certainly been the Final Fantasy video game series--specifically Final Fantasy XIII, which I recently finished.  The imagery of that game is just amazing.  It's inspired me to take some of my written scenes "to the next level" in terms of visual description.

This is a bit of a tangent, but that's one thing that has always disappointed me just a bit about Tolkien's writing.  He never describes his magic in vivid detail--or maybe it's better to say that the magic in his world isn't very visual.  I guess that's alright (and I would never presume to criticize a master writer!).  But as a reader, I do like "special effects" in magic.  So I have made sure to have some good special effects in some of the climatic confrontations in Hemlock IV.

I am also pleased with how the character arcs are developing.  That's one thing that's been nearly effortless in writing this series.  The characters have just fallen into place.  I'd like to think that's due to some sort of serendipity, but since that assumes that I've actually done well writing the arcs, I will leave that to the reader to decide.

I'm feeling strangely cold and impartial as I preside over the final fates of certain characters.  Not everything is roses and Shangri-La at the end of the story.  Some characters fare worse than others, and I feel strangely detached about it.  I have grown attached to these characters.  Like Paul Atreides, I've asked myself "Where are my feelings"?  I'm hoping it's some natural function of remaining neutral as the story evolves organically.  Maybe, after a few years, I'll regret certain things about what I've written for these characters.  What I can say is none of the main characters have ignoble fates.  That's worth something, right?

I am anxious to complete the final chapters and move to the next phase which is beta reads.  I will do my best to keep things moving because I know the wait has been too long!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Yogi at the Intersection of Myth and Reality?

I recently finished reading a book called "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramahansa Yogananda.  This is a very interesting book.  The writing is beautiful--at least in my estimation.  Many seem to feel the prose is overwrought, but I think it conveys a sense of peace and spirituality.  The subject of the book is the author's life, the life of his guru and that of his guru's guru.  All of these yogis demonstrate miraculous powers with astonishing frequency.  The tale is presented as non-fiction, but a pragmatic mind can't help but wonder about all those miracles. 

The book was first published in 1946 and deals with the relationship between western and eastern spirituality and also the author's mission to bridge the cultural divide between India and the West.  In doing so, he comes across as an unabashed cheerleader for India--but one can't fault the author for patriotic ardor.  Given that the author founded a spiritual organization that persists to this day, I have a level of skepticism about the book given the potential for self-aggrandizement for financial gain (like Dianetics).  Still, I am intrigued by many of the spiritual ideas presented in the book.  I think of these spiritual ideas as assertions whereas the book treats them as "scientifically" vetted truths (proven via the practice of Kriya Yoga which the author equates to a science).  For instance, the author presents the idea that the Earth plane of existence is bordered by a higher "astral" realm and an even higher realm beyond that.  I could write a full blog post on that topic, but that idea resonates with my theories and spiritual experience. 

An example of the way the author tries to tie eastern and western religion together is by claiming there are subtle references to reincarnation in the bible (e.g.:  John the baptist is the reincarnation of Elijah, etc.).  What the author doesn't explain is how the metaphor of suffering as purification that the story of Jesus (and Christianity in general) seems to be infused with relates to eastern religion.  I don't get the sense that eastern religions see suffering as the best path to enlightenment, so I'm curious how the author would have explained that difference.  I can imagine the author responding that being apart from God is terrible suffering--but I am making a distinction between that and physical suffering like what Jesus endured.  The stories of these three yogis aren't laden with an excess of suffering.  Despite the almost mythical level of miracles presented and what I perceive as the lack of a complete analysis of the relationship between eastern and western religion, the book proved to be entertaining to read, inspirational and also thought provoking.  And that's about as much as I hope for in a book.

I have a vacation coming up later this month and I am looking forward to completing Hemlock book four on that trip.  I'm often bored to tears on the beach; so, instead, I envision myself perched on a nice ocean front balcony typing away.  That sounds like a serene setting in which to bring the Hemlock series to a close, and I am looking forward to it!  If you are in the Americas, I hope your summer has gotten off to a good start.  I look forward to sharing the results of my vacation writing with you very soon!


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Impermanent Marker

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A lot of things are changing in my life right now. My first reaction when reflecting on change is to begin to judge the changes: are they positives? Negatives? I want to try to quantify them and then aggregate their net effect into some overall statistic. Am I better or worse, and in what magnitude? I suppose this is the computer scientist in me.

No matter whether we perceive changes to be positive or negative, I think there's value in taking a step back and realizing that changes just are. They exist free of any context. Any emotional response we may feel toward them is separate from the changes themselves. It helps me to ground myself when I think like this. It's always important to remain sensitive to life and also to the opportunity to influence events. But certain events--especially those we can't directly influence--exist outside of us. We are just observers and are left to contemplate their impact on us.

 I often tell kids that I've found it to be a useful technique to visualize emotions as clouds that pass through our bodies. Emotions can build on themselves and strengthen if we begin to question them or become attached to them. I do spend energy trying to figure out why I feel the way I do. But I try to do it with a detached mindfulness. When I was younger I remember getting worried when I was experiencing negative emotions. It's like I expected not to have them and felt slighted by the universe because I was feeling them. I would get more and more upset as I experienced the original emotion plus the amplified effects based on feeling like I didn't deserve my fate. Now, I think I know better. In the words of an immortal (and temperate) philosopher: excrement happens!

A friend told me a story today that relates to the concept of impermanence. The Persian king Xerxes stood atop a hill as his massive army passed below him. His aides were startled when they noticed that Xerxes was weeping. Incredulous at the sight of their king in tears as he witnessed the spectacle of the passing troops, they asked him why he cried. He replied: "In a hundred years they will all be dead." Maybe our emotions are like that passing army. No matter how grandiose they may seem, they will fade into nothingness soon enough--provided we can just let go of them. The challenge is for Xerxes to stay on the hill and not descend into the torrent.

The astute reader may have noticed that the preceding paragraphs have amounted to little more than an elaborate distraction from an update on my writing progress over the past several weeks. The good news is I have made some progress--albeit less than I had hoped for. I did succeed in writing one sequence featuring dialogue with a divine presence that I found particularly challenging. Getting into the voice of this character was something I just had to wait to come to me. I couldn't will myself to write that dialogue--I just had to channel it. The bad news is I'm not done the story yet! I had planned to be done the first draft by now. So I am a little frustrated by my lack of progress.

 I really am entering the final lap of this novel, but these life changes have me in the proverbial pits. I promise you that I will get moving again very soon! I miss the writing and I need to complete it before I lose too much of the story's context that's sitting in my mind. My mind tends to wander, so I have to be mindful of striking while the iron is hot.

I briefly thought about doing another interim book release rather than waiting to release the completed final volume. I typically get anxious like this when I reach a potential stopping point in a manuscript. But I know this isn't the right answer this time. I have to forge ahead and reach the finish line of this multi-year journey--I have to complete this series of novels. And then, flush with victory, I can consider what comes...next. I hope you will be there to complete this journey with me, dear reader.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Full Throttle and then into the pits

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It's a new year and I've been remiss when it comes to blog updates.  What have I been up to?  I've been doing some writing, of course.  I started working on a blog post some time ago to report on progress made during the extended writing session I did in December.  Somehow, I seem to have misplaced that post.  I can assure you that the lost post was a legendary piece of prose, and we should all lament its passing.  But we must carry on somehow, despite the sorrow...

Let me put the melodrama aside and tell you what I actually did.  I wrote a lot of words and I managed to get through most of a very, very challenging part of the manuscript.  The manuscript is close to 90k words now and I think the end is in sight, although there are still a couple of potentially daunting sequences remaining.  The end of this series is taxing me as a writer and a thinker, and I believe those are both good things.  It would have been a disservice to readers and to me (on a personal level) to play it safe on this finale.  The entire series is thematically predicated on the concept of bold risks and danger.  It only seems fitting that the end of the series should retain a high level of ambition.

I will confess to taking another writing break since the holidays began last month.  But it's getting to be about time for me to come out of this hiatus and get this book completed.  I think I am going to need a some dedicated writing days to pull this off--and those are typically in short supply.  But I will do my best to make that happen as soon as possible.  I am ready to cross this finish line and move into post production!

I wish you a very happy New Year, and I hope you will be reading Hemlock and the Maker's Fire well before the end of it!

This post is dedicated to the memory of David Bowie.  He's one of those artists that made a significant impression on me despite the fact I never considered myself a true fan of his.  It's a sad reality that sometimes the significance of a person is most easily appreciated in retrospect.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Wet Robots

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I recently had a stimulating discussion with an old friend about the nature of reality.  We were discussing an assertion by science and philosophy (specifically a man named Dan Dennett) that free will is an illusion and our actions are all the product of a fully deterministic physical brain.  Dennet, to his credit, makes the point that even if free will is an illusion, it's still important to live life like free will is real.  In other words, even if we are "wet robots", it's not practical to live our lives like there's no consequences to our actions.
There are some scientific findings that support the notion that our decisions form in our brain in a measurable way before we are conscious of them.  I wrote the below in response to watching a video by Dennett posted to a social network by my friend.
"My takeaway from this one is that it makes sense from a philosophical and scientific point of view but has little practical value to impart to day to day living. The analogy {Dennet makes} to fiat vs "real" currency seems like an appropriate one. I will admit to struggling with the philosophical implications of this video for about 24 hours after I watched it. But, ultimately, I think there's still room in this model for some consciousness apart from the physical body. For instance, maybe there's an infinite number of physical bodies on multiple planes and our free will phases us between alternate timelines? I appreciate the machine-like nature of the mind--and, lately, I've enjoyed trying to "life hack" myself. But, ultimately, I don't view science
as the sole informant of my point of view. Science is good at reductionist measurement, but I do think you can lose the forest for the trees. And even if we view ourselves as "wet machines", the very contemplation of that fact could negatively impact our "programming". So take this down! (Just kidding) I think we differ on this point about the existence of the external "soul". Maybe Decker is a replicant after all--but you'll never convince him while he's hooked up the Matrix. Turtles all the way down!"

My friend subsequently pointed out that Dennett's argument is actually supporting living as if free will is real.  I am still thinking about my response.  My first thought is how would I even attempt to live like a robot pretending to be a "real boy"?  I've never been a great actor.  I don't envy those who subscribe to this lack of free will principle, even if they don't go off the deep end of nihilism.  Wouldn't this belief create an undercurrent of despair in daily life?  No thanks.  My friend does make one interesting point, though.  He says the truth should trump any comfortable illusions.  I do agree with that statement.  So I think I have some thinking to do in order to reconcile my argument with these two potentially conflicting concepts (free will and the acknowledgement of the possible philosophical implications of the science).  Of course, a multiverse model of reality pretty much allows for anything--and there is "spooky" physics to support at least the possibility of that.

On the writing front, I am excited to announce I've scheduled a writing retreat for November.  My goal is to complete the first draft of Hemlock book four.  I am extremely excited about this and will probably post more frequently than I have been during that period.  The Hemlock books seem to have a life of their own!  I have virtually ceased all marketing for a few years with the exception of this humble blog, yet sales continue to trickle in and downloads continue unabated.  I can speculate on one big reason for the continued momentum: the venerable Indie Book Blog .  Scott Poe is the operator of this nice indie review site, and has generously been running a banner for the Hemlock books for *years* at this point.  Please visit his site and give him some love!  Thanks, Scott!