Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tapping the Brakes

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As some of you who read this blog may know, I typically write as part of a semi-daily routine.  I've reached a point in the Hemlock IV manuscript where I'm writing a climactic battle sequence.  At the same time, my non-writing life has been very hectic.  During the last writing session I had, the details of the battle were bursting out of my brain like a fire hose gone out of control!  I didn't want to stop writing, but I knew I was taking on a sort of manic demeanor that wouldn't bode well for my overall well being. The net result is I've been feeling very stressed writing this battle sequence and I actually had to take a break for a few days!  It may sound silly, but I feel it's had a noticeably positive impact on my stress level.  But I will certainly get back to writing this exciting sequence as soon as possible, because I miss it!

This manic writing phenomenon also happened to me while writing Hemlock II.  It seems I can get obsessive about writing sometimes.  So, while  I've had to put the brakes on just a bit, the good news is the end of the story is coming into sight.  I think that's good news, anyway.  Bittersweet also, perhaps, but good for the production of this novel.

On a personal note, I'm reading a very interesting book about the relationship between Art and Religion called The Re-Enchantment of the World: Art vs. Religion .  It's made several points so far that have resonated with me and require additional contemplation.  One is that my personal fascination with mythology and fiction could be related to a disenchantment with the dogma of religion.  Another is that people relate strongly to stories because a fundamental way we all view our lives is as narratives.  The book goes on to state that we all want to "be somebody" and have a heroic narrative.  And because we think in terms of narratives it's easy for us to identify with narratives written as stories.  My initial reaction is I think these ideas make a lot of sense, but I haven't had time to fully digest them, yet.

Will this book influence the final chapters of Hemlock Book IV?  I would say yes.  At the very least they may help to guide my hand on the rudder of the story.  I have to think about Hemlock's narrative, and also the narratives of all the other characters in the novel.  I will have to ask myself whether these narratives are all coherent and brought to a satisfying and logical conclusion. Will there be other influences from this book?  I can't say yet.  I haven't even completed it yet.

Thanks for reading my update!  I hope you are doing well.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Short Post - Book Four Manuscript Update


I've reached a pivotal point in writing Hemlock Book Four!  All of the plot lines have come together for a climactic confrontation!  It feels surreal to reach this point in the narrative after all of these years.  It's both gratifying and a little disquieting because I realize there will be a sort of void in my creative life once this series is complete.  Certainly, other projects will emerge to fill that void--and that's very exciting.  But, at the same time, this story has seeped into my veins.  It's become my periodic escape into another world, and there's a lot of lore and thought that's gone into that world.  It will be strange to contemplate starting anew.

But, lest this post become too maudlin, I should realize that I still have a lot of writing to do before Book Four is completed.  I can't afford to get ahead of myself!

I'm sorry I haven't posted a "proper" blog post lately.  I've been very busy, and I've been so excited to write the Hemlock story that I've given the blog short shrift.  I'll try to be better about that in the future!  I hope you enjoy the upcoming summer months if you are in the United States!  If not, then please enjoy whatever season you will be in for the next several months!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Change of Perspective

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Writers earn their chops by successfully writing from multiple perspectives.  Characters in a story have to be portrayed differently and they should have unique points of view that come through in the writing.  Good characterization will demonstrate the unique characteristics of these personas.  This will reflect the societal norms of the societies they were raised in.  Writing a character raised in an eighteenth century Native American village has to be much different than writing a London debutante.

My hypothesis, then, is writers should be better equipped to deal with differences in beliefs and attitudes between one culture and another than non-writers are.  But then I wonder how easy it is for a writer to capture these differences unless they travel or do research about life on foreign soil.  Along these lines, I wonder about my own cultural "voice"--both as a writer and a human being.  Cultural values change and morph over time.  Is it socially and morally imperative to be receptive to these changes as one advances through life?  Or is it better to anchor yourself to certain core values?

I think the ideal is to engage in a process of continuous re-evaluation of one's cultural values.  This evaluation would ideally take place in several dimensions:  philosophical, moral, social, financial, etc.  But the reality is it's difficult to find the time for all of this introspection.  Invariably, we fall back on pre-existing values.  And this can lead to situations that challenge or contravene these pre-existing values in a disruptive way (when they have "calcified" and become brittle due to age and lack of re-evaluation).

When these moments come, how do we react?  If you subscribe to the concept of the plurality of self, you might begin a process of forming a new persona that identifies with the values suggested by new emergent realities.  In this case, the older selves don't cease to exist, but may have to be gradually deemphasized or merged with newer points of view.  And it may take a while to fully reconcile these points of view.

I think it's good for a writer to go through these evolutions for the same reason that actors sometimes get better with age.  As you realize that your own self isn't static, I think you gain perspective that you can leverage when writing your characters and giving them unique backgrounds and perspectives.

So maybe a writer should book an overseas trip once a year to stay fresh or do something unusual like joining a UFO hunting group.  Maybe one should experiment with religion or explore a new subculture.  If you become adept at creating new personas, then perhaps it lessens the pain of having to retire obsolete ones.  I will have to ask some enlightened, older friends about this.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Headwinds and Tailwinds

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I've had a couple of really good writing sessions over the past couple of weeks. Before these sessions, I hadn't felt like I'd had a good session in quite some time. I'd noticed the feeling, but hadn't really reacted to it much. I just kept writing. I don't know if this was some flavor of writer's block, but I suspect it displayed many of the symptoms of it. The thing is, though, I never thought to myself that I had writer's block while I was experiencing whatever I was experiencing. I just knew I was writing with reduced efficiency and inspiration. When it comes time to edit, I'll have to take a careful look at the things I wrote during this period. My hope is they will prove to be of the same quality as I produced during the earlier parts of writing the manuscript. I am still excited by what I've written--I just wasn't as excited while I was writing it.

Maybe what I was experiencing was due to a lack of improvisation in the writing relative to the earlier books in the series. As much as I value spontaneity and allowing a manuscript to morph, the reality is some constraints are inevitable when writing a fourth book. So, many of the plot points and character developments had already been conceived prior to the writing. There's a certain "buzz" I get when I conceive an idea. It's a creative high. When I'm writing from the seat of my pants, that high is ever-present. But when I'm writing previously fleshed out ideas, the high has faded and what's left is a workman-like joy at realizing the concepts with good, tight prose. I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with that.

The ebbs and flows of mood and inspiration seem to be mercurial. Looking back, I can't put a finger on exactly why I had this down period in my writing and then pulled out of it. The cause could have been the lack of writing improvisation, or maybe it was a side effect of something else going on in my life at the time. In fact, I can't be sure it won't come back. When I was younger I used to become very discouraged by losing inspiration during a project. I'd often bounce from new project to new project without finishing anything. It was very frustrating. At some point I realized that it's nearly always better to finish a project than to abandon it--even if the project is no longer viable or inspiring.

Ultimately, projects are units of work, and work is often something we do because we feel compelled to do it. It's true that work can also be fun. Work is fun when the tailwinds of creativity and inspiration are driving us forward. But it isn't always fun. Sometimes we are becalmed and unmotivated. Sometimes we even have to work in the face of adversity, which is like headwinds holding us back and retarding our progress.

There's probably been a lot written about how to create writing tailwinds. Maybe I should read some of it. But, for now, my stubborn approach seems to be keeping me moving.

The Hemlock Book Four manuscript stands at about 50,000 words. I am now getting into the meat of the final part of the story. I don't mean that I'm at the end of the manuscript but rather that I'm writing scenes I had always imagined as being part of the end of the overall story arc. They are epic almost by definition since they will prove to be pivotal to the outcome of the tetralogy. Hopefully they will be as exciting to read as they are to write! How can I say exciting to write given my topic in this post? Writing is always exciting--it's just the degree of excitement that varies sometimes. Writing=good!

I wish you all a happy and healthy 2015! Thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Adding Flair

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I've been slowly writing my way through the fourth Hemlock novel, and approaching it in a methodical fashion.  I think there's a point when an author completes the outline of a plot for a novel and the exercise of writing the manuscript can become monotonous.  There's an acute risk of this happening if the writer doesn't allow for the plot and characters to morph and evolve around the planned outline and events.  This is why I always try to allow for these changes to emerge while I'm writing.  Sometimes this causes delays, but I think these detours are very important to the overall motivation of the author and the success of the writing process.

Another aspect of embracing this variability is making sure what gets written has the necessary detail and individuality in terms of setting and characterization.  Every scene needs to stand alone in the sense that it should be interesting, advance the plot and/or advance the character development.  It's easy to settle for executing a scene competently, but I always shoot for trying to write the scene with a certain "flair".

The word flair makes me think of the period in the history of chain restaurants where the wait staff was encouraged to wear innumerable buttons and other personal items.  This practice was later satirized in popular comedy.  There is such a thing as too much flair.  An example of this might be something like having dragons being ridden by dwarves in purple power armor.  Interesting?  Maybe... OK, probably...  But "spirited" to the point where it could negatively impact the atmosphere that's been established in your fantasy setting?  Yes, I'd say that would be a risk--unless your setting is a humorous, flamboyant fantasy/sci-fi hybrid.

Part of the work that goes into achieving this flair is trying to come up with a vivid visualization of a scene and then boiling the description down to an optimal level of detail that fires the imagination but doesn't become excessive and bog down the flow of the writing.  This is an area I've been trying to improve in my writing.

Here's an update on my work in progress!  The manuscript for Hemlock Book Four stands at around 45,000 words.  I am in the midst of writing an exciting quest/action sequence and the overall narrative is approaching what appears to be a climactic encounter.  Note the word "appears" in the preceding sentence.  I still envision this novel being at least 100,000 words before all is said and done.  The thought has crossed my mind that I could go the way of popular movie franchises and release the novel in two parts.  I always despair that my slow writing might cause people to forget about me between releases!  But I'm still reluctant to split this novel into parts because this tale does not divide cleanly.  I think the reader would be left unsatisfied.  But I always welcome your feedback!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Belief Systems and Fantasy

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I recently had a conversation with a friend about the origins of belief systems.  We talked about how early humans created deities based on what they observed in the physical world around them. They saw the power of the sun to deliver light and warmth and worshiped it as a God.  They developed a familiarity with the land they lived on and soon worshiped it as the manifestation of an Earth God.  In both cases they developed belief systems that gave them comfort and helped them to emotionally cope with the world around them.

Our modern world has many similar belief systems such as religion, law, ethics, and morality.  I've been thinking about why fantasy still seems relevant to me as adult with access to all of these other belief systems.  And I am starting to think pop culture has become the dominant new belief system--one that is "broadcast" on a daily basis to billions of people around the world.  Our novels, shows and movies embody the more formal underlying belief systems of law and morality.  Some overtly demonstrate these values, some challenge them, while others allude to them. 

Fantasy stories that are widely appreciated usually involve heroic quests undertaken by brave individuals who often make sacrifices in support of their ideals.  Other stories present deeply flawed protagonists--but they always have some virtuous characteristics.  A good story that we enjoy informs our lives.  Even if it seems like an escapist activity, immersing ourselves in a good story usually reinforces the dignity and importance of our own daily struggles.

Fantasy is perhaps the greatest form of storytelling because it has the widest latitude.  A fantasy can paint any scenario--completely unfettered by the boundaries of our reality.  Fantasies create their own reality--but the good ones do so in a way that echoes and reflects back on our own.  Without this aspect, a fantasy story becomes a silly account of the escapades of sword wielding primitives.  But with it a fantasy story can speak to the noblest and most sacred aspects of our existence.  

The word count on the Hemlock book four manuscript stands at around 40k.  I am hoping to accelerate my pace of writing, but I'm not sure my other responsibilities will allow it.  Hemlock is about to embark on a quest at this point in the story--and that's a fun part to write for me.  The political and interpersonal parts of the story are more challenging because you have to weave together many different threads.  Quests are often more constrained--the one I'm about to write certainly is.  That allows the author to just let the story flow.  And that is usually a great feeling!  Thanks for reading and I hope you are enjoying the fall (or whatever season it may be in your part of the world)!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fantasy 101 Anthology!

I am thrilled to announce that I will be part of the forthcoming Fantasy 101 Anthology!  This anthology brings the lead-in novels of four fantastic indie series together in one box set!  Think of it as an on ramp into four cool series.  And the best part is you get four full length novels for only 99 cents!  The anthology goes on sale tomorrow and is going to be promoted on iTunes via Smashwords.  If you are reading this you may already own Hemlock and the Wizard Tower--my entry into the anthology.  Even if you do, consider that you'd still be getting three novels for 99 cents.  I think it's a pretty strong value proposition.  The other authors are Jeffrey Poole (Lost City - Tales of Lentari Vol #1), Lindsay Buroker (Encrypted - Encrypted Series #1), and Steve Thomas (Klondaeg the Monster Hunter - Klondaeg #1).  It is a noteworthy group and I am humbled to be a part of this with them!

Here is the iTunes link:   Link