Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Occult Brain Dump

Photo by tyrantel.  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
I apologize in advance for the rambling nature of this post. It's a bit of a brain dump. But since I haven't posted to the blog in so long, I figure rambling and off the cuff is better than silence...

I've been thinking about the occult and its penetration into mainstream pop culture (and even what the term occult means in the polytheistic, modern world). I remember back to the 80s when Dungeons and Dragons was considered by many to be a gateway to the occult. It's funny how I regularly play D&D and other adventure games where demons are fairly common, yet I still won't mess with a Ouija board. I'm not sure I can reconcile those two viewpoints. I guess I still believe the occult may be real on some level and don't want to mess with it, while at the same time I know a plastic demon figure in a board game isn't going to haunt my house or something.  Disclaimer: I also knock on wood with a frightening consistency.

The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies that were made in the last decade probably represent the breakthrough of "fantasy" into mainstream pop culture. Now orcs, trolls, witches, demons and wizards are no longer just a part of shadowy tales from Salem, or the writings of Aleister Crowley. In truth these archetypes had been adopted and neutered by geek culture since Dungeons and Dragons emerged in 1979--it just took the mainstream a few decades to catch up. So how does fantasy enchant and frighten when its iconography has been "neutered"? What I've ended up doing with my fantasy writing is to attempt to make every fantasy creature or character a fully realized "person" who happens to have a fantastic form. Reliance on these aging archetypes without doing so is just boring in my humble opinion. It's a road that readers have been down before--many, many times.

I have a persistent thought that there must be new myths and archetypes waiting to be created. These myths should help us interpret our modern lives like the old archetypes helped people in centuries past. But in this age of instant communication maybe the myths and archetypes will have a shorter shelf life. The way we fall in and out of love with celebrities suggests to me that people are looking to these people to serve as their archetypes rather than myths. What they don't realize is that this turns their celebrities into myths in the process. And then fans become disillusioned when it becomes evident that their heroes are really just "normal" people with a lot of wealth.

I think people are hungry for new myths. Even the myths of religion seem to be failing in this modern age of reason and science. But science alone can't do anything but measure and predict. It typically doesn't provide a framework to map our emotional and spiritual lives. No, I'm still convinced that we need new myths.  I have an instinct that if the new myths are done "right" then they will be controversial since they will be challenging established "conventional wisdom".  My hope is that they will be constructive rather than destructive.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Winter Holiday Book Giveaway!!!

Photo by Amie Fedora.  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

The excellent fantasy oriented review blog "Indie Book Blog" is hosting a huge winter book giveaway featuring nearly 300 books (mostly e-books, but there are a few physical books as well)!  Be sure to head over there and enter by leaving a comment with your email address.  Ten copies of Hemlock and the Wizard Tower will be featured in the giveaway!

---------- Epic Giveaway Link ----------

Friday, December 9, 2011

News on Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy

Photo by Albion Europe.  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
First, a news update on the forthcoming novel "Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy".  I've got about four or five chapters left to write.  I thought I would be cutting it shorter than that, but I have realized that I need to add a bit more content to get a good, smooth plot arc.  Of course there is lots of fighting, scheming, and magic in the story.  I think it pairs well with the original story, and I'm certain it is written much "tighter" than Hemlock and the Wizard Tower.  For starters, much of the world building is already established.  And when I do additional world building in this novel it is all told through action.  There are no long passages with world building exposition or long monologues.  I think it will be a much easier read.  I'm going to try and make a final push to complete the first draft before the end of the year.  Wish me luck! 

Next are some brief observations from a journeyman writer.  If you are a writer then they might be of interest.  Your mileage may vary...

At some point I think all writing falls back on established archetypes and societal norms.  This is true of contemporary writing as well as science fiction and fantasy.  Whether a character is a priest, a star ship pilot or a warrior, a reader will form some basic assumptions about the character based on real life and the pop culture stories and myths that have preceded it.

From time to time I've found myself falling into the trap of relying too heavily on "prefab" character archetypes.  I think this is where an author runs the risk of having a flat plot or a cliche storyline.

For example, I was recently writing a sequence where my protagonists are fighting some enemies.  I immediately settled on trolls for the enemies since they are a good fit for the setting.  But I found myself having a hard time getting through writing the chapter.  I was bored with it and I hadn't even written it yet!  It turned out that trolls were precisely the wrong answer for this.  So I erected my mental scaffolding, and went back to imagineering the sequence.  And what I ended up with was far, far better than trolls.  Now I am really looking forward to writing this part!

Authors can derive some support from the conventions of their genre, character archetypes and societal norms; but I think readers are really looking for novel and distinctive stories and characters.  It's not easy to consistently deliver that as an author, but in my experience the results are very satisfying and much more fun to write.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Few Days As a "Real" Writer

Photo by wwarby.  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
I'm at the tail end of three full days of dedicated writing.  It's been an amazing experience.  And a slightly draining one.  I've been preparing for these past days by imagining and engineering (imagineering) the details of the new novel for the past months.  For me this consists of figurative gears turning in my head--but also a lot of note taking and jotting down scene fragments.  So what happened over these past few days is best described as a frenzy of regurgitating, writing and cross referencing ideas that I've been working on for a long time.

The work has proceeded quickly.  I've written close to 25,000 words since Monday.  My work in progress, which I'm now dubbing "Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy", is tantalizingly close to completion.  Yet significant work remains.  I'm unsure whether I'll be able to complete the first draft by the end of the year, but that is my goal.

I'm in a strange emotional place with this novel.  My mood seems to be alternating between thinking that it is going to be great, and thinking that it's going to be nothing more than another self-published fantasy novel in the proverbial slush pile of life.  Even mediocre novels are an amazing journey for a writer.  They start out as wild ideas in our minds: necessarily ethereal and inherently wonderous.  We sort of hold out our dream catchers and channel them into words.  Almost by definition the words we produce are not the same as the initial vision we had.  They are derived from that vision, but they are something separate.

I think every story starts out as a wonderous thing.  The devil in the details is the translation to words.  That is where the craft of writing comes in.  I think I've improved my craft, and I think my new story is at least as good as Hemlock and the Wizard Tower was.  So unless I'm really in the grip of some nasty self delusion, this book should be better.  But I dream that it will be worlds better and that it will excite people as much as it does me.  In order to do that the words will have to be invisible.  They will have to describe the magic of the original concept as closely as possible.  And that's where I can't gauge my success.  Only other people will be able to do that.

I have to confess to feeling a little hollow.  It's very solitary writing all day.  I miss being in an office.  The irony is that within an hour of being at the office I'll be pining for another day to write.  Just one more precious day.  I guess it's all part of the cycle of desire and fulfillment.  I need to wait for my creative fire to re-ignite before I write the final chapters of this novel.  You could call it the Maker's Fire.  Hey, isn't that the new name of my trilogy?  {wink}

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Songs, Cycles and Surfing

I heard a new song today, and it propelled my mind's eye into unexplored dimensions.  I had a very vivid vision of a vast machine where people were the cogs and gears (Artist=Royksopp, Song=The Fear).  This piece of music transported me to "another place".  That is the highest goal of art I think.  Great artists can probably exercise control over the nature of the experience that the listener/reader of their art has.  In my writing world, I'll just be happy if I can get the reader "there".  Or maybe I should say I'll be happy if I can get the reader somewhere other than "here".  I'll have to have faith that their experience of "there" will have some relationship with what I am imagining when I write.

But lately, I've not been so sure that will be true.  At times I fall into a kind of despair that people aren't connecting with my stories the way that I hope they will.  But in my more rational moments, I think the reality of the connection is more beautiful and wonderous than I could hope to imagine--or to control.

I think it's like the ending of Blade Runner when Roy Batty is delivering his monologue:  "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. ... Time to die."  The author "dies" when they complete their manuscript.  The white dove flies off into an uncertain darkness--gone to seek out new nests: alone, naked, shorn of its former body--the cord that once tethered it to the author and allowed it to grow and evolve being forever cut.  Like all things in life it is a cycle of birth and death.  The death of a story's connection to the author begins a life of connection with readers.  Soon that connection with readers may pass as well.  Then it's time for the line I omitted from Roy Batty's monologue: "All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain."

Oh well.  It's a melancholy thought to think that your writing may end up as nothing more than some forgotten bytes on a descendent's hard drive or an archaic backup.  But that's life: the cycle of birth and death.  Lest these melancholy thoughts become too cumbersome, it becomes time to queue up some Surf Music: the universal cure for emo outbursts.  My recommendation is the album "Surf Drums" by The Lively Ones.  I think it's the most life affirming music I have in my collection.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Constraint and Inspiration

Courbet: Desperate Man
I was fortunate to grow up during the genesis of video gaming. As games have matured and grown along with computer technology the gameplay, sound and graphics have improved steadily.  The first video "game" that I ever played was on a "dumb" terminal. We used to type out racetracks on the screen in ASCII characters, and then we would "race" the cursor around the course using the arrow keys. We thought this was very entertaining at the time. Then came a little program called "Eliza" that simulated a psychiatrist. It was a crude piece of code that did little more than rephrase what you typed in and posed it as a question back to you. But we spent hours and hours playing with it.

Next came the wonder of the Atari 2600. The graphics were amazingly crude. But we were still enchanted by them--and also by the richness of the interactivity. This was magic. I can't express to someone who didn't live through it what the sheer wonder of that era of gaming was like.
Soon advances in graphics became the driver of the "WHOA!" moments of video gaming. Video resolution (number of pixels on screen) and amount of colors became the focal point of innovation. I remember seeing 16 bit games for the first time and it was just astonishing. I later had an Amiga computer and there was an entire sub-industry built around trying to achieve the holy grail of 24bit color images (essentially as many colors as the eye can see). Again, it was mind blowing seeing a high resolution game image in true color.

Today we have essentially reached the zenith of conventional gaming display techology. There are still advances, but they are more incremental than generational; and these advances don't produce the same level of astonishment as the older breakthroughs.  Producing game imagery with only a paltry 32 or 64 colors has become a lost art. The amazing thing is that artists were able to make beautiful games with such a limited palette. Incredible passion went into milking every last bit of technology out of the earlier platforms to produce the best experience possible. Compare that to the modern environment where every game has enough boilerplate technology available to seemingly allow it to be great. But few are.

I think the lack of technological constraint might be making game designers less inspired than in prior eras.  Constraint imposes boundaries on us, and boundaries challenge us to break through them. I think the process of transcending constraint produces greatness as a necessary by-product.

My writing time is very constrained right now. When I do get time to write it often bursts out of me like one of those xenomorphs from the Alien movies. Sometimes it is a painful process--I've written myself to the point of illness a few times because I overwork myself when I should be relaxing after a tough week of work (unlike some that I greatly admire, I am not a work 24x7 person).

Like many do, I fantasize about being a full-time writer some day. But I can't help but wonder: how would I react to having an unlimited amount of time to write? Would the lack of a time constraint affect the quality of my work? Maybe I'm just being paranoid (actually, that's fairly likely), but I'm afraid to change anything about my lifestyle and work habits until the Hemlock series (official title now "The Maker's Fire") is done. I think Hemlock and her adventures are at least partially a by-product of my creative constraint.

I have a feeling that if I was no longer constrained then I would probably be writing about peace and tranquility instead of rancor and adventure. Of course life is full of surprises! Maybe if I were to start writing full time then another constraint would present itself, and I would produce good writing as a result of a different struggle. Only time will tell...

Thursday, November 3, 2011



This is one of the longest words in the english language according to the Oxford dictionary.  What does it mean?  It was a word coined to describe the political position of being against the disestablishment of the Church of England.  Some people must really have despised this political position to christen it with a name that weighs in at a hefty 28 letters and 12 syllables!  Maybe the thinking went something like this: "This is such a reprehensible example of a scoundrel that we really can't make due with an ordinary term for them."

My friends and I used to goof on this word in high school.  It was the perfect weapon in the arsenal of a bunch of nerdy guys whose conversation probably closely followed a bad script from an episode of Big Bang Theory.  We appreciated the epic feel of the word and the fact that it oozes a sense of the intellectual elitism that we believed we were engaging in.

But I think this word may still be relevant today (above and beyond its intrinsic relevance since the Chuch of England is still the official national church).  The Indie book movement seems to be gaining momentum along with the "democratization" of other forms of media.  The centralized management of the publishing house and the content filtering done by a few select people is giving way to easy online publishing, and robust, web-based collaborative filtering of ebooks.  But there are still nay-sayers out there.  If you take a moment to look, you can easily find some article or blog disparaging indie authors as nothing more than a shouting bunch of vainglorious hacks whose work should be cast aside without a glance in favor of the "real" books vetted by the traditional publishing system.

These people need a word for their backward thinking--a word that carries the same weight and gravitas as antidisestablishmentarianism.  I present to you AntiDemocratizedContentAndCollaborativeFilteringistism.  The next time one of these supporters of the old status-quo engages with you, just drop that term in conversation and sit back and watch the fallout from the mental mushroom cloud that is certain to follow.

(Note that I don't actually have (or intend to express) a position on disestablishmentarianism.  Use of the term represents the exercise of artistic license for rhetorical effect.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Level Up! (...or an elaborate excuse for not writing)

Nothing is more life affirming than stepping outside of one's comfort zone and learning a new skill or ability.  Sometimes these moments are recognized by a public acknowledgement or even a ceremony.  But oftentimes the smaller achievements go unacknowledged.  There is no great sin in this--at least on the interpersonal level.  But I do think it's important to give one's self credit for the little things that we do.

In the world of video games, new and incremental achievements are often accompanied by an electronic fanfare and the congratulations that the player has "leveled up".  Many persistent online games use this concept to entice players to keep coming back for more.  There's always the next attainable milestone, and with it the recognition that you've done something meaningful (in game terms).  Attaining that next level or that special item in the game is often an accomplishment that will be recognized by your peers, as well as theh computer.

Maybe the reason for this semi-pointless exploration of small accomplishments is that I want to pat myself on the back for wiring up a new dryer this weekend.  Unfortunately, it consumed some good writing time.  But I did learn a new skill: I used a multi-meter to make sure the circuit wasn't live before I started working.  And I think I can make the assertion that I "leveled up" in electrical wiring.  Perhaps more importantly, I earned an "achievement" with my spouse.  Last time I checked, spousal achievements are much more valuable than gaming achievements...

So, finally, we've arrived at the real reason for this blog post.  It's really meant to try and make me feel better about not working on the next Hemlock novel this weekend (although short story writing played a part in that, as well).  I think the time off may be good for the Hemlock project, though.  As I usually do when a project goes on hold, I have been thinking about it a lot and getting some ideas in place: specifically in the hard to define areas of mood and pacing.  I hope to report tangible progress on Hemlock very soon!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Ants Marching Toward Their Fate?

We all arrive at destinations in our lives.  Sometimes we feel a clear sense that we have arrived as a result of our prior choices and actions.  Other times it feels like our arrival is the result of chance--or some interplay of choices and chance.

I was watching some ants crawling around a candy jar in our office kitchen this week.  Ants always fascinate me because they have an uncanny ability to show up around food--and they seem to do so by using some mysterious system of patrols, pheromone markings and perhaps...fate.

If I am feeling imaginative, it's not hard to imagine that the ants arrive at the food because it's there--and that their path to finding that food is reverse generated back to some point of origin.  I think of this in terms of some sort of system of temporal milestones connected by a chain of choices and coincidences.  Maybe these milestones are fated and our choices influence them in various directions.  Maybe drastic choices can even eliminate and/or create new milestones.  Now I don't necessarily believe this, but it doesn't seem like that much of a stretch to consider it. 

It's undeniable that there are certain points in our lives that seem more significant than others.  Why do we remember certain things and not others?  For instance, when I was in high school our school won a contest sponsored by a radio station.  The rules of the contest were simple:  whichever school sent in the most petitions would win a free concert by a popular rock group.  I have a very vivid memory of one day in science class when the intrepid girl who was organizing our drive to write petitions stopped into our class to rally the kids to write another round of them.  I find it odd that I remember this day in class far more vividly than the subsequent rock concert!  How could that be?  Could it be that that exact moment in the classroom was a powerful and deciding moment in the outcome of that contest?

The passing of Steve jobs has triggered a wave of sadness in many people.  After hearing the news, I watched his commencement speech that he gave at Stanford University.  During this speech he discussed how seemingly trivial actions that he took early in his life turned out to have a significant impact on his later endeavors.  He mentioned that he took a calligraphy class that he assumed that he would never use--but when he was designing the user interface for the Macintosh computer, his knowledge of calligraphy helped him to make the Macintosh the most advanced desktop publishing computer ever made.  He also talked about having faith--even during the most trying of times.  His great trial was being fired from the company that he conceived by someone that he had hired not a year prior.  At that time, he could not forsee where his life would take him, but he persevered, and his later life took many remarkable turns.  He ended up being re-hired by Apple Computer when they acquired another company that he had started after being fired.

Jobs didn't come out and say it--but it sounded like he had some belief in the power of fate.  And as I looked at that ant in the candy jar this week, I wondered whether it was somehow destined to find that candy, or whether it was the beneficiary of random chance.  As a part-time fantasy author, I'm sure tempted to believe the former, even when my rational mind insists that the latter is true.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Just a tiny morsel

In lieu of a proper blog post, I offer up this silly little poem that I wrote today.  Hopefully my brain will untangle enough to do a normal post very soon!

The Whirley-Whimples

I know a place where the Whirley-Whimples play
they are dwellers in our cellars to escape the light of day
when they dance their whirley-whirley dance
they're wont to skip and frolick
and they sing a whimple-whimple song
with tunes like Jackson Pollock

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fear of Flying

I'm a nervous flyer.  I'm not paralyzed with fear in the air, but I am nervous throughout a flight--especially during takeoff, and to a lesser extent during turbulence and landing.  I intellectually understand that flying is safe--safer than driving, as a matter of fact.  But my body seems to instinctively know that flying in an airplane at thousands of feet in the air defies all primordial notions of safety, and is basically an act that requires placing complete faith in science.  The "meat" doesn't buy what the intellect is telling it, and only feels comfortable on solid ground.

When I refer to "the meat", I mean my physical body, of course.  By making this statement and separating the perception of my body from that of my intellect, I am making an assertion that the mind/body connection is not as simple as a mindless body inhabited by an all-controlling mind.  I believe that there is more to the "mind" than just the functions of the brain. 

People often talk about "gut feelings"; and, in fact, science has proven that there is tissue in the gut that is remarkably similar to the brain.  There are also the notions of instinct and racial memory that seem to transcend the traditional idea of the separation of mind and body.

So where am I going with this?  I assert that fantasy is the intellectual playground of the "gut".  It is an imaginary realm where instinct and gut feelings are more important than cerebral reasoning.  It's a realm where if things "feel right" then they probably are.  In fantasy, magic is a power borne of belief, faith and feeling rather than observation and science.

That's what fantasy is about--it's about the notion that life is more than the purely mechanical dance of your body and your neurons through the world.  Fantasy embraces the idea that our lives are more than just a giant deterministic dance of  cells leading to a scientifically destined outcome.  It embraces concepts like emotions being meaningful, the journey of the spirit, and magic-- which is often the acceptance of an occurrence without an accompanying scientific explanation of a chain of cause and effect.

I think that a good grounding in fantasy can play a role in connecting with the "mystical" part of our lives.  It's almost  a parallel concept to religion because both involve the acceptance of a chain of causality outside of empirical sensory experience.  Without this mystical connection, I think you can spend your entire life locked in "rational" analysis, and perhaps by doing so, end up missing the entire point of your journey through life.  That's just one man's possibly irrational opinion...

Notably, I did find some comfort on that flight by imagining myself flying in an Atreides ornithopter.  Since I was dealing with "the meat", I had to comfort it with an imaginary image that it was familiar with and fond of.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Returned from Reality

I've just gotten back from a short but exhausting trip.  It kind of sapped my creative energies, so my focus now is on re-fueling them.  This will likely consist of a frivilous purchase (or two) and a lot of relaxation.  I hate the feeling of being creatively "tapped out".  It often leads me to want to try to write "harder", when the reality is that I simply need to rest.
So, I apologize for the long break since my last blog post.  I expect to be resuming normal posting frequency now.
I did write a little bit while I was away, so the process of writing the next novel has not completely stalled.  I continue to be excited about the project, but I have to take a little break.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Shorter but Faster

I have decided that I am going to split up the next Hemlock novel into three volumes so that I can release each volume more quickly. Volume One of Hemlock and the Dangerous Depths (working title) should be released by the end of the year.

I realize that part of the allure of fantasy is the immersion, and I do regret that the volumes will not provide the same immersive length. But it took me the better part of four years to complete Hemlock and the Wizard Tower, and I don't want to wait that long between releases. And it's not just a matter of writing more--the act of imagining the storyline (which I have dubbed "Imagineering") is hard to put on a timetable. It just comes to me, and it takes as long as it takes (especially in the face of the competing priorities of real life).

Volume I will likely be value priced at $0.99 due to the shorter length (it will technically be a novel, but will probably be around 50K words as opposed to 133K words for Hemlock and the Wizard Tower). Hemlock and the Wizard Tower is also priced at $0.99. How can a shorter Book Two, Volume One also be priced at $0.99? The answer is that I consider Hemlock and the Wizard Tower to be priced as a loss leader. It is the entry point to the series, and therefore it needs to have an enticing price and deliver superior value (word count). With the later releases, I will be trying to at least cover the production costs of "publishing", which are editing and cover art (never mind my time-hah! But, as you probably guess, it's a labor of love).

I am going to make a pledge right now: each volume will have a complete story arc and a satisfying ending. I'm not just going to chop Book Two into three parts and call them volumes. Each Volume will be a stand-alone novel, but will advance the overarching story arc as well.

On a personal note, it continues to rain and rain in Philly. I will try not to wash away before the next blog post!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Virtue of Forgetting?

Sometimes I'll be sitting somewhere and I'll get the feeling that I should be remembering something. Often this will be accompanied by a feeling that I should also be worrying about something. Lately I've been tempted to just ignore these feelings. I figure that if I am feeling OK, then maybe I should just "let it ride", so to speak.

I experienced this phenomenon today. I had been worried about losing my phone charger but was hoping that it would be waiting for me at work. Alas, when I got to work there was no charger to be found. So I started working, got distracted, and suddenly I was feeling good; and then I got the nagging feeling that I described above. Wouldn't it be great if we could just let go of responsibility and live in the moment more often? I once had a friend who embraced this notion of living in the now. He ended up living in an abandoned bus in the wilderness and talking to insects. Seriously. But he was also the happiest guy that I knew at the time. Go figure.

I think there must be a balance to be struck between the anxiety of constantly worrying about things and the care-free feeling of just letting go. One glorious tool of the modern world is calendaring--especially when it's integrated with your mobile phone. I'm hoping that by the time I reach senility that there will be a fully programmed neural computer waiting to guide my every thought and step. Maybe the twilight of my life will be like one of those "Dark Rides" where you sit in a car that's mounted on a rail and ride through an amusement just taking in the sights. I might be OK with that once I hit 90 or so. It would sure beat sitting in a room somewhere rotting away like a zombie!

Imagineering is still underway on the next Hemlock novel. It is mainly centered around the second act of the novel and specifically concerns a character that I had intended to be moving offstage pretty quickly but that is now seeming to merit some additional "screen time". In the meantime, I need to get back to writing the first act, which is completely "imagineered" at this point. I feel bad that this process is taking so long. I saw a recent poll that said that 1-2 years is the acceptable window for the next novel in a series. I hope I can hit that. Being a part time writer makes it a big challenge. And I guess I'd rather be sure that it's good than have it be just OK but completed faster.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Amnesia and Motivation

I had a diversion last week when I decided to submit a short story to an anthology. I received some very good feedback from the editor, and spent a lot of time revising and reworking the short. I will certainly post information about it here once it is "published". Hopefully it will be in the aforementioned anthology. If not, I will continue to submit it elsewhere, and see what happens.

I have mentioned my suspect memory in prior blog posts, and it has struck again. I was going through some notes for the next Hemlock book when I stumbled upon a flashback scene that I'd outlined and then apparently forgotten about. It's kind of odd to read over something that you've written and then forgotten about. There is a moment, however brief, when you don't remember what you are reading, and you can almost experience your own writing like a reader would. If there was a pill to induce temporary amnesia I bet it would be very popular with writers.

Not too much else to report at the moment. This past weekend was a sprint between activities that I don't hope to repeat anytime soon. I need some chill time...and writing time. I estimate that I'm about 25% of the way into the first draft of Hemlock II. Dang, I wish I was farther in. But the key is to keep going.

I have a theory about project motivation. If you graph it over time, it looks like an inverted bell curve. You start out motivated and then your motivation steadily decreases as you approach the half completed mark. The key is to reach that 50% point, because though you are at your lowest motivation there (you still have a lot to do), as you proceed, your motivation will begin to increase again because you begin to see an end in sight. I think most projects falter between the 25% and 50% completion point. Your mileage may vary--but this is how my mind works.

That's it for now. Have a great week!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My Project Management Hat

Last night I wrote some more. The story for the next two Hemlock novels is sort of weighing on me at this point. I feel like I need to complete it in a reasonable time frame. This may mean more frequent writing sessions for me. Currently, I limit my writing to the weekends, or when I get flashes of inspiration. What I did last night was just sit down and write, regardless of mood. This is what I did over the weekend, as well, and the results were pretty good in my (not so objective) opinion.

The only thing that would truly hold me up is a shortage of ideas. I'm realizing that there may be a few areas of the plot that may be a bit thin, so that could introduce some delays. But I feel confident that I will be able to just write for at least another 10-20K words. Hopefully by then I will have fleshed out the upcoming sections enough to keep cruising.

I've read that bloggers should avoid posts where they just talk about writing. So I may have reached the pinnacle of blogger boredom with this post. I hope not... Actually, this is probably more of a project management topic than a pure writing topic. And we all know how exciting project management is as a topic for blog posts. Heck, People magazine is even starting up a new offshoot mag called "Project Managers". See? I can be trendy too. {Wink}

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Today I imagined something that was hilarious to exactly one person on the planet. Yes, you guessed it, that one person was me. I was hard at work on a mundane task, and my mind was a thousand light years away from any thoughts of my new novel. But apparently my sub-conscious was still working on it. Because my concentration on my mundane task was suddenly interrupted by one of my characters delivering an imaginary public service TV spot on ... something.
To be honest, I started giggling (internally...I think) before this character even got to the subject of his "spot". This is surely one of those things that only someone who spends a great deal of time rambling around in the dusty corridors of their imagination can appreciate.
And let's be honest, being a semi-professional imagineer is sort of a silly concept unto itself. Silly is defined in a few different ways, but for the purposes of this post, I will cite words like "trifling" and "frivilous". People who dig ditches, build homes, bridges or companies...they are the engines of the relevant, the significant. Imagining heroes running around with swords seems silly by comparison.
But maybe there's more to it than that outward appearance of silliness. Maybe these fantasies aren't trifling and frivilous after all. Not if they entertain us, and refresh us to face our true challenges in life. Not if they inspire us to live our lives like a quest, and to make an effort to excel. Not if they encourage us to dream, and to bridge the gap between the possible and the impossible with energy, passion, creativity, and perseverence.
Tony Robbins, why are you taking over my blog? I seriously need some therapy here.
On a writing note, I have a big block of writing time lined up for this weekend. I'm really excited about it! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Subconscious at work

Unfortunately, I've done very little writing this week. But, strangely, I feel like I've accomplished a lot in terms of planning out the second act of my upcoming novel. My subconscious has been busy this week even when my conscious mind has been otherwise engaged.
It's kind of like a creative bowstring being drawn to a quivering apex of potential force. I'm ready to write like a fiend. Hopefully it will be like that weekend I had a few weeks ago where I just sat down and started typing as fast as I could. That was a great feeling.
I'm cautiously optimistic that this second book will be better than the first. But it's still early on in the process, and the buzz of conception and creation is still fresh in my mind. I'm very anxious and excited to share the new story with readers. I want to talk about it and to hear people's reactions to it. Maybe it will end up being just another story, but the potential for greatness is always there. That's why we get up in the morning, right? The zest of life is the raw potential that it embodies. Anything can happen on any given day. Any novel could be a breakout. That potential is reason enough to keep going. No matter what.
Wow. This post seems to have ventured into Tony Robbins territory. I certainly didn't intend that. I suppose this is one of those "off" posts--because I didn't come in with much of a plan. Pure stream of consciousness. Or unconsciousness...

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Chrome vs. Sheetmetal

I have been thinking about description and stylistic prose in novels, and
along these lines, when less is more. Books that use simpler language and
sentence structure seem to have a few clear advantages. First, you can read them
really quickly. Second, the details that are omitted tend to get filled in by the reader's imagination, provided the author gives the reader some type of mental hook to draw their mind's eye into the story. There is a place for this type of writing.

For better or worse though, I have chosen to write more descriptively. Or, perhaps
it isn't a choice as much as an intinsic style. But for my next novel, I have
made a choice to keep the more descriptive portions of my writing to a
relative minimum. I think this is a good choice, because like any
superlative, the detailed descriptions will be made more striking by comparison to the more conventional writing that they will contrast with.

I think the risk of using a simpler writing style is that your scenes might start to seem cliche to the reader. If an author describes a city of elves the reader will probably be able to imagine that, but chances are that it will be a kind of mental pop art stand-in prop rather than a fleshed out and unique locale in the author's
fantasy universe. And that lack of detail detail could hamper the reader's ability to suspend disbelief for other parts of the story.

It's a wonder that authors write at all, given all of these dangers {wink}. But, I guess the editing process is often used to address these types of issues. We indie authors do edit, right? {wink}{wink}

On a personal note: ARGH! I haven't been writing much in the past week. I hope to make amends for this tomorrow.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

There's a certain majesty to a work that is crafted to pander to specific appetites, and eschews the social mores and conventions of the time that it is made. I suppose this is another way of saying that the vulgar can be beautiful--especially when it's classification as being vulgar is the by-product of a value system that is gilded and stratified, and, perhaps, already falling aside under the ponderous weight of old thinking.

Take the movie "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!". If you aren't familiar with this movie, check out the trailer on youtube. This movie was considered vulgar in its day, yet the roots of modern films like Tarantino's Kill Bill are there to be seen. And the movie is no longer shocking--because the idea of a woman kicking some serious butt is no longer so completely outside of the gender archetype that society has defined for women.

I think fantasy stories are on a similar track. When Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings, although the story was evocative of age-old myths from multiple cultures, I don't believe there was a fantasy tale like it in mainstream consciousness. The Arthurian stories were around, but they didn't focus as much on wielding a power that could destroy the world. Lord of the Rings pushed our society forward in a subtle way, as we came to grips with nuclear weapons and other truly terrifying end of the world scenarios.

Now, all manner of stories about magical powers abound. We have wizards, vampires, werewolves, superheroes, etc., etc. As a collective, humankind seems to be preparing for enhancing ourselves through genetic engineering. And we're using these stories and fantasies to explore the morality of these issues before they become a reality. It's a pretty amazing thing, really.

So what is the next story after this? What writer will write the defining myth for the 22nd century, in the 21st?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Lexicon or Leprechaun?

It's been a long week. The transition from vacation back to real life was predictably difficult. What has been the toughest is the contrast between my most productive days of writing in, well, years (this past weekend), and a week of relative inactivity on the writing front due to fatigue from work. This feels like a week where I could have written a lot if circumstances were different. But I have written some little fragments here and there. So, some progress has been made this week. I have a busy weekend coming up, with a possible family day trip and prep work to have a new carpet installed in my basement. Hopefully I'll be able to get in some writing time.

I also had a strange feeling this week. One night, I was listening to some inspiring music and looking at some inspiring art, and I got a very vivid feeling of flying high above my imaginary world like I was an incarnation in it. I don't really know how to describe it other than a very vivid and literal flight of fancy. Maybe imagining very intensely brings with it a certain pathological tendency. If I go nuts, or something, at least people will be able to read this blog post and mark my descent into insanity from this point on. :)

When I wrote my first novel, I made a decision not to create an entire lexicon of terminology for my fantasy "universe". I didn't want the reader to have to learn a bunch of new terminology in order to connect with the story. I did use some unique names--mostly for monsters or creatures that were unique to my story. But for creatures that were based on real world mythological ones, I decided to describe them first and then use the real world name for them ongoing.

An example of this is the Griffin in Hemlock and the Wizard Tower. Now, I could have called it a GrifflePottenSnort, but would that have added anything to the story for the reader? My take then (and now) is no, it wouldn't have. I'm curious to hear from anyone that feels that learning a deep lexicon for a fantasy setting added significantly to their enjoyment of the story. I have decided to use a few more unique terms in the next novel relative to the first, but it will not be a dramatic change.

I hope you all have a great weekend!

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Just enjoyed another True Blood episode on HBO. Sometimes I wish I was writing contemporary fantasy/paranormal, since it is a genre I enjoy. But I haven't had the urge to write in the genre with the exception of a half forgotten idea that is coming back to me as I type this. I think it had something to do with werewolves and a laundromat. Maybe it's good that that concept apparently got thrown into my mental trash bin, because it sounds kinda silly as I read over what I just typed.

I feel like the new novel is taking on a life of its own now. It's established some strange inertia that is propelling it from my head onto the virtual page. It's a great feeling, but it also leaves me with a sudden feeling that the story has left my control to some extent.

Now this may sound odd, because, obviously, I am writing the novel and I can change anything I want to at any time I want to. But I know better than to try to get in the way of my process now that I am just basically dictating the story into my word processor.

I think what I can conclude from this is that I have already written this novel in my head. It is almost a completed draft, and the incomplete parts are filling in as a necessary consequence of their context within the larger story. If I wanted to make fundamental plot changes, I probably should have done it months ago when I was imagining the core concepts and plot points that are making up the story.

Of course, I could be getting ahead of myself. Maybe I'll hit a conceptual wall and I'll need to go back into full bore imagination "mode" in order to get through it. But after this weekend, I think that that is an unlikely scenario. The writing has been flowing as quickly as I can type. But it does come with a concomitant mental energy expenditure. That could slow me down as I head back to the reality of my day job tomorrow. We shall see...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Travel Without to Look Within

I'm back from a very nice vacation. I have to confess, however, that I'm not intrinsically a traveller. I get comfortable in a routine and I like to stick with it. Vacations force me just a little outside of my comfort zone. And this is a good thing.

There is a quote from Frank Herbert's Dune that comes to mind as I think about this topic: "A person needs new experiences. They jar something deep within, allowing them to grow. Without change something deep within us sleeps, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken."

I didn't write too much while I was away. This was largely due to spending most of the time with my family. But I think that there will be indirect benefits to my writing from this vacation time. Hopefully my sleeper (third eye?) has been awakened. And I hope that I will be able to craft some good, elegant writing and tell the story that I am so excited to get onto (virtual) paper.

I hope everyone had a great week (it's almost over). I plan to do some writing tomorrow, and I should be tweeting about it then.

One more quick note. Soon after writing my last blog post about my arcade games, I went down into the basement and fired them all up. They still all work (phew). You need to run these old electronics from time to time to keep them free from decay and atrophy.

My recent vacation was to the NJ shore. And during my trip I realized that the boardwalk arcades, which were the final bastion of some of these tired old gaming warriors, have either gone away or changed over to redemption games. No wonder the arcade collecting hobby has slowed down in recent years. There simply aren't many more old machines coming out of arcades, any longer. And the machines that are left are starting to need repairs and restorations, as they enter their fourth decade of duty. So, my last post was probably hasty. At the very least, my perspective on the arcade collecting hobby has changed.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

To Remain Happy One Must Always Change

The fortune inside the cookie read: "To Remain Happy One Must Always Change". I slipped it into my wallet, feeling that this was a piece of wisdom that I should carry with me always.

I was listening to a radio feature on nostalgia this week. Apparently nostalgia used to be considered more than a benign remembrance of the past. It used to be a medical condition associated with a longing for the past with an accompanying melancholy.

For the past fifteen years or so I've been interested in collecting old arcade games. I have filled my basement with these relics of past gaming glory. Many of them are now showing their age and in need of repairs. And for the first time I find myself uninterested in playing them.

Now I've gone through periods of disinterest before, but this has been several months in the making--the longest period yet. I have to consider that, perhaps, this hobby has passed me by. Part of me is sad at the idea of the passing, but another part of me feels that the time is right.

I'm going to wait for a few more months before I make any decisions about selling arcade cabinets. There are a few cabinets that I would keep, but I would sell many of them, I think. I don't want to have regrets down the road. But I guess that life doesn't offer guarantees about not having regrets, does it?

In other news, I leave for vacation this weekend, so I'll probably be scarce on the internet. I get paranoid about hotel wi-fi and its security weaknesses. But it will be a great opportunity to think about the new novel and write down some scene fragments.

Have a great week!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Back to the Future / On to the Past

Now that I'm done with the flashback in chapter three, I need to go back to the of the story. I need to go back to Chapter Two and write quite a bit of it. The scenes are all mapped out in my head, so once I sit down and start writing it, it should go pretty quickly.

I've also been adding some chrome to the flashback chapter three. Chrome (in writing parlance) means specially crafted language or description. I am bending the meaning a bit here to include making a scene more fantastic and cinematic.

Once work on chapter four starts, I'll be into the real "meat" of the story line for this new novel. I'm looking forward to that (and it shouldn't be far off). I have pre-planned some aspects of the journey that will be happening in this part of the book, but I am hoping for some good off-the-cuff organic growth to emerge here as well.

...And on to the Past! I've also had an idea for the next flashback sequence. I'm really charged up to write this one--almost as much as I was to do the first flashback that I recently completed the draft of. I wonder if I'm going to write this one in another 5000 word marathon session like I did the last one... I hope not, for my endurance's sake.

I've always told myself that I wouldn't self-impose any dragonian writing deadlines on myself. (This just in from the Crypto Doggerel Department: "Hey, was that a pink floydian slip in that last sentence? What is the significance of it, I wonder?")

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Writing Fatigue

Yesterday, I had the most productive writing session that I've had so far on the new novel. As I mentioned in my last post, I had some good ideas for the first flashback, and I wanted to "strike while the iron is hot" and get them written down asap to ensure that I didn't forget any of the details.

I had a small block of time between family duties and other responsibilities, and I wanted to take about half of it to write and the other half to relax. But as I started writing, and things started to flow, I didn't seem to be hitting a stopping point. And I just couldn't stop myself since I was writing so productively.

Last night we went to see fireworks and we had an unusually late night out waiting for them. I was a mess: I was tired and a bit grumpy. I guess I was already tired from the week at work, and writing right through my small window of relax time really took it out of me. Sitting in gridlocked traffic for 90 minutes after the fireworks didn't help matters... I told my wife that we are getting fireworks on Blu-Ray next year. I was only half kidding...

Oh well, at least I doubled the word count of the manuscript yesterday. If I could keep that pace up, I'd be done in a matter of weeks. But it's fairly clear that I can't keep that pace up and be a reasonably cheerful human being. So it's time to put the brakes on a bit.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Writing the First Flashback

I'm kind of excited about the flashbacks that are coming in book two of the Hemlock series. These scenes will take you back to some of the formative moments of the City, and should provide some good (and exciting) background on it. These scenes will also weave certain details from the first book into the over-arching story in a very clear way.

Dragons are also making their first (animate) appearance in the story in book two. I think they always bring a certain excitement and epic scope to a fantasy yarn, but I think the key for an author is to use them appropriately and try to avoid cliche. We'll see how I do on that front, but I am reasonably confident that my take on them will be somewhat unique.

My daughter hasn't been sleeping well for the past few weeks, which means that Mom and Dad haven't been sleeping either. I've lost some time due to this, but I am forging ahead as well as I can, under the circumstances. So far caffeine and perseverence have been my main crutches, although the predominance of the former will soon have to yield to the predominance of the later as my body simply runs out of energy to exploit. My "trials" often lead to better writing, so maybe this recent period of creativity I've been having should be attributed to my daughter...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Poetry of Youth

"He feared his maturity as it grew upon him, with its ripe thought, its skill, its finished art; yet which lacked the poetry of boyhood to make living a full end of life. Physically he was young yet; but his changeful and mortal soul was ageing quicker than his body--going to die before it, like most of ours." - Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by T.E. Lawrence

The above is a quote that really resonates with me. It pretty much sums up the role of writing in my life. It restores and maintains the poetry of living. T.E. Lawrence expressed this idea so beautifully that for me to write anymore will probably just lessen the impact of his skillfully crafted words.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Interview done!

I just completed a wonderful interview with John Rakestraw on his blog talk radio show, which is now called "The Platform". We covered a lot of ground and I think it was an interesting conversation--and will be of special interest to anyone who's read Hemlock and the Wizard Tower. John is a really great interviewer, and I even got a chance to speak to Toni Rakestraw, who edited the 3rd edition of the novel!

John Rakestraw interv iews B Throwsnaill.

I recommend checking out some of John's other archived shows, as well. They are very interesting and informative, and John brings a wealth of creative knowledge and experience to the table.

Thank you, John!!!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Interview / Even Further Plot Developments

I'm going to be interviewed by John Rakestraw on his weekly internet radio program "John Rakestraw Talks" on Saturday 6/25 at 1:30 eastern time (10:30 pacific). Every author loves to talk about their writing, so I'm sure it's going to be a blast. Here is a link where you can listen to the program: John Rakestraw Talks.

I'm getting tired of writing updates about cool ideas I'm having for the next book. Maybe you're tired of reading them, as well. I just need to get writing so I can share them with you, rather than trying to type up something cryptic that won't give anything away. Despite this self-remonstration, I feel compelled to mention that yesterday was an *epic* day for story ideas. A bunch of "threads" came together, and I think I have the arc for the remaining Hemlock novels completed again. And it is much, much cooler now.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Further Plot Developments

I got a really cool idea tonight. And this idea gave me a new perspective on my creative process. In addition, I learned that the storyline for novel two--and actually for the entire series-- is still under construction. I didn't think this was true just a few days ago. But, to use a tired metaphor, layers of plot keep peeling back to reveal a more intricate back story.

I had one solid idea leading into the weekend, but I still had this feeling of uneasiness about the story. It felt like a restless energy in the back of my mind, which wouldn't release me until I'd mined an unformed concept out of my subconscious. Or, you could look at in from the opposite perspective wherein I was consciously asking my subconscious to produce a cool idea. And I was thinking about it all weekend ("OK, subconscious, I'm listening. Feel free to chime in with your great idea whenever you are ready...").

I can't really say whether the unformed idea caused my mildly obsessive yearning for it, or whether my yearning for it caused the formation of the idea. Maybe there's a duality to it like some wacked out quantum physics experiment where the act of perceiving a particle causes it to have a well-defined location. Maybe the yearning for the idea and the idea came into existence simultaneously and I had to bridge the gap? Oh well, almost time for Game of Thrones. Enough of this babbling for now.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Merit / Blog Giveaway

I've been thinking about Merit this week. Yesterday I had a "whoa!" moment when a big concept struck me. I'm not sure how it will play out for the little guy, but big things may be afoot for him. I'll probably know more after I mow the lawn this weekend (if you've read some of my former posts about inspiration, this will make sense).

I'm participating in "The Great Indie Summer Read Giveaway". Over a hundred e-books are being given away over the course of the summer, so check it out. Here's the link: The Great Indie Summer Read Giveaway.

This feels like kind of a short update. I spent most of my week trying to avoid being absorbed by a gelatinous cube, so I'm a little fatigued. It seems like hard work always pays off down the line, but these are the weeks when being a full-time writer seems like a very attractive dream. I guess I'd better get back to writing asap!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A New Review / Thoughts on Falignus

I want to thank Jeffrey Poole, author of Bakkian Chronicles for reading and reviewing Hemlock and the Wizard Tower! You can read his review here. A few sites where I've applied to have Hemlock and the Wizard Tower featured tell me that I need at least five reviews before they will consider featuring it. So getting #4 is a big, big deal for me. Thank you again, Jeffrey.

This new review is the second one that mentions some uncertaintly about the character Falignus. From a pool of four formal reviews and a couple more informal ones, one mention of a problem can be explained as a possible outlier or matter of taste; but two mentions starts to sound like a trend. We're going to learn more about Falignus in the next novel, and hopefully this will help to explain away any ambiguity that there may be in the first novel relative to what his nature and motivations are.

I will say a few things though (in a spoiler-free way). The guy has a temper. Some of his more chaotic actions are a direct result of that. In fact, he is chided by Gwineval in one scene about this very characteristic. He is clearly ambitious, but he is also a skilled administrator and politician. He is trying to forge his own destiny, but he's been set upon a path by his background, and there's a lot of inertia in play there. That's all I can say without introducing spoilers. I'd be happy to continue a spoiler enhanced discussion of this on a new page, if anyone is interested.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

How Stanley Kubrick Would Write It

I wrote a scene last night. I re-read it this morning. It is clear, concise, and moves the story along. But I'm un-happy with it. It needs "something". So, I'm sitting here thinking about it, and the thought suddenly hits me: "What would Stanley Kubrick do?".

The answer, of course, is that he would do what he was notorious for, which is to shoot another take. He would just keep re-shooting until he got a take that spoke to him on some fundamental, artistic level. He was always looking for the actor to bring something different--something unique--to a scene. I think this is why his films all have an other-worldly vibe to them (which I love and which is why he is my favorite director).

I aspire to have every scene in my novels be interesting and unique. It's not enough, in my mind, for a scene to just move the story along. So I guess it's back to the drawing board for this particular scene. One of the characters needs to step it up! The director will just keep re-shooting until it's done right.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Happy Xenomorph

Wow, a scene from chapter 2 or 3 (not sure yet) of the next Hemlock book just burst out of me like a xenomorph larvae from one of the Alien movies. Except minus the blood, and the acid, and the teeth. It was like a happy xenomorph, leaving catharsis in its wake instead of pain. And probably making me less of an alien for a while.

That is part of the catharsis of writing for me--a comfortable return to an appreciation of the mundane in my life. Mundanity can be wonderful when it is complemented with a generous helping of wonder, and writing does that for me.

Hemlock is clearly changing and growing in this new story, but sort of in two steps forward-one step back fashion. Now that she has attained and realized her power, she has to figure out how to use it...on her own.

I'm having fun writing it. It's taking a long time though. But I'm pleased with what I have so far, so I'm not planning any radical changes in approach for now.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Read, Wight, and Bluegrass

I worked on some plot design for the next Hemlock novel yesterday. I also did some more thinking about how I write. I have concluded that I get the best ideas when I am on wheels and listening to music. This can either mean driving or mowing the lawn with headphones on. I don't know why this particular tincture works for me, but it is very consistent. Maybe travelling in a vehicle untethers my soul somehow and lets me tap into creative energies more easily? It's not easy to explain.

I had a neat moment over the weekend. My father plays the banjo. I was slightly embarrassed by this during high school, since it was the age of rock and roll, and bluegrass was not exactly cool in my estimation. All of my friends thought it was cool that he played though--why I never figured it out until much later is one of those mysteries of adolescence. Anyway, after much coaxing and a kiss from his granddaughter, my father gave us a little concert. Do you ever realize how special a moment is while you are living it? This was one of those moments. My mom got pictures, but my phone battery was dead, so I missed the video.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Human Fish Tank

I've come to the realization that I really enjoy eating my lunch at Subway. Subway, to me, is like a small utopian environment. Everyone comes with a need (hunger), gets complete control over how that need is met, and ultimately leaves satisfied.

Everything is compartmentalized and clean. Colors are bright and the decor is contemporary. You get your food in a tidy little basket. You are given one napkin, which is usually sufficient, though you wish for more. The waste from your meal is just a piece of wax paper and your well-worn napkin. You recycle your plastic mesh tray like a good eco-citizen. You could be on a space station, or deep in space on a generational Mars expedition.

And there is human interaction. Customers speak in code words to sandwich makers, who stare back from beneath heavy-lidded eyes often tinged with a ruthless efficiency. Woe betide the customer who delays a response to the sandwich maker. But, by the same token, the sandwich maker who asks the same question over again can be subject to derision from the customer. It is a cruel, almost Darwinian interaction.

Real estate is tight, so people are forced into one another's personal spaces as they wait in line or navigate the maze of tables during lunch hour while fetching a soda refill. Social classes intermingle and dramas unfold. When one customer complains loudly, the owner attempts to placate him, but the customer storms out yelling with the tone of righteous indignation often adopted by those who are neither righteous nor possessed of much dignity. The entire store subsequently learns (by virtue of a response delivered in the gravelly, booming voice typically employed at construction sites) that this person is chronically miserable, and his coworker informs the owner that, no, he won't be pleasing this individual today, and that he is lucky not to have to deal with him every day.

This is life: twenty minutes of life wrapped into a sub and served for less than $7.00 with a drink and a bag of chips. Forget the movies, this is the better ticket.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fighting a monster

I've been fighting a real monster for the last week. It started out as a shadowy figure obscured by darkness. Thinking it to be an Orc, or some other lesser creature, I engaged it immediately and confidently. But it quickly parried my quickest attacks, then my strongest, and then my craftiest. I realized, to my horror, that I was facing something much worse than a mere Orc. This was some sort of creature from the nether realms--a dark spirit--and I felt like it stood between me and any hope of a future.

I thought about enlisting others in my fight, but even the thought of that dishonored me. I continued to fight alone, realizing, with a sinking feeling, that this might be one of those rare fights that cannot be carried by anything other than raw determination. So I hacked at the creature over and over again, probing for any weakness. After many hours of struggling, I finally perceived an effective line of attack. I was victorious in the end, and I yelled the war-whoop of triumph.

The above is a mythical description of the past week of my life. It's been interesting, to say the least. I think that looking at your life as a journey steeped in myth can be an aid and can see you through tough situations. The only potential danger I see is creating mountains out of mole hills. I do sometimes envy people who seem to approach life and challenges with an almost clinical detachment. Sometimes that approach yields a clarity that the passion of a warrior can obscure. I know I'm not entirely comfortable with a clinical approach, though. For me, life is best viewed as an epic quest.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Designing a "Trick"

I finally have the ideas for Chapter Two of Hemlock and the Dangerous Depths ready. I have written a portion of it, but it's not completed yet. The beginning of this novel is (necessarily) setting the stage for new adventures. Much like Hemlock, I am anxious to begin (writing) those adventures. But there are smaller excitements to be had before the major arc begins.

One of the new plot developments requires designing a "trick". A trick, in the context of a fun house, is something that the visitor experiences in a room that is amusing, frightening, etc. When I use the term "trick", I mean something mysterious in the story that requires a cognitive exercise (rather than a conversation or a fight) to figure out. Tricks are a fun part of any fantasy tale.

The problem with tricks is that they are hard to come up with. You rarely can just make up something off the cuff. Because it is a cognitive challenge, it has to be credible, fresh, and compatible with the setting of the story. It took me a while to come up with a new trick, but I finally did, and I'm happy with it. As is often the case, it was inspired by music.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hemlock and the Wizard Tower: 3rd Edition

A new edition (3rd) of Hemlock and the Wizard Tower is available. It is the result of months of learning about indie e-publishing and what goes into a successful e-book. It is also the result of a re-assessment of my own abilities as an editor.

I fell into the same trap that I think many first time authors do. I let the excitement of completing my first novel overshadow my concerns about editing and quality control. I did spend over a year (part time) editing and proofreading, but, upon reflection, it still wasn't enough. This 3rd edition is the version that I wish I had initially presented to the world. I humbly present it now in the hope that some readers will give it a chance.

Hemlock and the Wizard Tower
3rd Edition
* Professional Re-Edit
* New Regional Map
* New Glossary of People and Places
* New Table of Contents

As an act of contrition, I am offering the 3rd edition for free for one week. My hope is that anyone who purchased a prior edition will take advantage of this offer and upgrade. I also encourage anyone who has not purchased a prior edition to try this one. I only ask that you consider posting a review if you enjoy it.

As a tribute to the Indie Book Blog, I am hosting the Smashwords 100% off coupon there LINK . There are many great indie book reviewers out there but Scott at the Indie Book Blog has done the most to help me get exposure for Hemlock and the Wizard Tower. He has also been very supportive of a number of other lesser known indie fantasy authors, and directing some traffic his way is my small attempt at re-paying him.

Thanks for reading, and go grab a free copy of the novel!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Musings from the Drive Home

Here's an experimental post. I was listening to The Doors on the way home, and thinking about many concepts in a blissful state of mind. I wanted to write something about it, and this is what came out. It's playfully incoherent, and hopefully a bit poetic. It was fun to write, in any case.

The inversion of identity injection is self-rejection. We all have intrinsic qualities that asymptotically approach perfection. Streets wind lazily in an attempt to obfuscate the non-linear. We all stop-and-go, bouyed by whatever magic we find. In the forest of ideas the Satyr gestures provocatively. He's there in the shadows, and then gone. If I imagine purple, can I craft any words that can make a reader dream my dream? When should the writing be invisible? Visible? Can I write between the words?

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Chain of Inspiration

It's funny how I've become a sponge that soaks up any noteworthy concept that I encounter, and considers its fitness for inclusion in my forthcoming book. My parents returned from a vacation this week, and they described a colorful locale that they visited that had a very interesting and creative feature. As soon as they described it, a game show style imaginary bell rang in my head, and I knew that I had to work it into my story somehow.

Although I'm a peddler of fantasy, I try to never overlook the wonder of real life, and the network of artists that keep us all collectively inspired. I wonder how many people have been inspired by this particular locale. Maybe I'll include it in my book and a musician will read my book and think of a song, which will be heard, in turn, by a construction worker who maybe will have his spirits raised by the song, and will do something funny that will inspire another book, etc., etc. Rinse and repeat in the karmic spin cycle that is life...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Migraine and the Power of the Quest Mentality

Let's see... what to report this week. I've been struggling to complete a project related to Hemlock and the Wizard Tower. It is close to being ready, and will be announced very soon.

I haven't been thinking about the Hemlock sequel lately. Usually when I go into these dormant spells, there is creative energy building up in my subconscious. I guess I should just sit back and relax, and let things percolate a bit.

I had a migraine this week. I am prone to them, but I've gotten pretty good at managing my diet and exercise to keep their incidence to a minimum. Circumstances got the better of me this week, however (too much caffeine I think). My experience of migraines (I believe I get them on the mild end of the spectrum) is a debilitating headache, nausea, and lack of appetite. I basically lay around all day, and am unable to take pleasure in anything.

What happens to my mind and body is notable. Some people urge me to take pills, but my sensation is that my body is trying to purge impurities, and further medication seems like it would just be another impurity. My mental experience is similar. I get very negative while I lay there, and everything seems dark and hopeless. It's almost like all of the negative emotions that I am able to control during my normal experience has been stored somewhere in my psyche, and is also being purged.

The upside of this experience is that when I get through the sickness, I feel a renewed sense of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual awareness. Or perhaps it's the sixteen hours of sleep, and the fact that I can eat like a horse that feels so rewarding...

Maybe this outlook is part of the "quest mentality" that I think readers of fantasy share. In a fantasy tale, challenges and suffering are usually rewarded somehow. After all, if they weren't, it would be a tragedy and not a typical heroic fantasy. The most effective tool that I've found to ward off negative feelings in my life is to imagine a heroic context for my existence. I think this is healthy, and I think it enriches my life. It's a big part of why I'm drawn to fantasy stories of all kinds.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

More fun exploring

I was merrily spelunking through my imagination last night. It was a good trip because I came away with a lot of good ideas and plans for the next novel. If you've tried the game called Minecraft--my next comparison is inspired by this iconic game (if not, Minecraft is a computer game where you mine in search of rare minerals).
Thinking about the story and the world it is set in is like mining. Sometimes you just find ore, but sometimes you strike gold (or even obsidian). I never know what a "mining expedition" is going to produce. I rarely come away without some new idea or insight, but sometimes I hit a vein and am awash in precious ideas. This is where the mine cart comes in: I have to write these ideas down as quickly as possible, because my memory isn't always the greatest.
It's such a pleasure to explore a story and an imaginary world like this. I picture myself moving through these imaginary locales like a director on a movie set. I watch the scenes play out in my mind. At their best, the stories that result are like field journals. I hope that the joy that I feel when I create these adventures shows through in the final product.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Some Stimulating Simulating

I've been busy "simulating" for the past several days (pardon the computer term). I've blogged several times in the past months about the evolution of my writing process from a pure write from the hip style to a style that uses outlining to some degree. Well, one thing that I've returned to, as I work on the sequel to Hemlock and the Wizard Tower, is trying to "simulate" character arcs. This consists of imagining that I am one of the characters, and then, given a certain plot point and the information known by the character at that point, I try to imagine what that character would be thinking and how they would react to their circumstances.

I'm finding that, at times, these reactions are not what I had planned for in my outline. In other words, the course of action that I had planned for the character just isn't working when viewed from that character's perspective. Discovering issues like this is why I like to take my time when I write. I'd much rather figure out this type of problem in the development stage than after the manuscript is written. That's why re-writes happen, I think, and I don't want any parts of re-writes, if I can avoid them! I've always hated re-doing things...

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Good vs. Great Writing

If you read my previous post, you may have noticed that I referred to a book called "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" by T.E. Lawrence. T.E. Lawrence is more commonly known as Lawrence of Arabia. I recently started to read Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and I was immediately struck by the excellent writing that Lawrence exhibits.

I am feeling inspired by this masterwork, and I am trying to analyze what constitutes great writing. I think that good writing is clean, concise and communicative. Great writing takes good writing to another level. Great writing often exhibits exceptional use of uncommon words that communicate with more vigor and precision than more common words. Great writing also uses simile and metaphor to engage the reader's imagination. Attempting great writing can be perilous for a writer, because these more advanced techniques tend to have the opposite of their intended effect if they are not executed properly.

My goal as a writer is to continuously improve my craft. My specific goal for the second book is to make it better than the first--especially in the area of the writing (considered distinctly from the quality of the story, which I expect to be at least comparable to that of the first book).

I will post some impressions of Seven Pillars of Wisdom once I complete it. If you don't know much about Lawrence of Arabia, it's worth a quick read of the Wiki page, at the very least. He is one of the most fascinating figures of the 20th century.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Placeholder Clothes

Wow. I just typed a blog entry that was spectacularly munched by blogger. Never ignore a stuck "saving..." button. Well, if T.E. Lawrence can rewrite Seven Pillars of Wisdom in one week after losing a near complete manuscript, then I sure as hell can retype four paragraphs.

I finally figured out the clothing for a significant new character in the next Hemlock novel. I fear that this may be the type of mundane miscellany that could make for a boring blog post. I apologize in advance of that's true.

But this actually was a significant milestone for me. That's because these clothes weren't merely a happenstance fashion selection by this character. These clothes reflect the culture of a society that is being introduced for the first time. I thought of an initial idea for the clothes, but it just didn't feel right to me. So the issue stuck in the back of my head for months. I was paging through some wiki pages this week when I spotted a historical photo that just clicked for me. This was the missing piece of the clothing puzzle for this imaginary culture.

I had mentally referred to the initial outfit as "placeholder clothes". Since I don't hang out with a lot of writers (er, actually, I do, but for some reason we are usually gaming and not talking about writing when we are together), I don't really encounter situations to talk to other people about "placeholder clothes". Thank God for the Internet (and blogs).

Monday, April 25, 2011

On Villains and Villainy

I was enjoying the second installment of the HBO series Game of Thrones last night. I found myself feeling quite antagonistic toward a number of characters. After the episode, I started to think about why I was feeling such a hatred for these now established villains. What I found notable was not the animosity itself, but the degree of it that I was experiencing.

I have identified three acts of villainy that have occured in the show thus far, and have considered their impact on my emotions as I watched. The first is adults acting deceptively toward and manipulating children. I think that this act alone will usually cement an audience against a villain.

The second act that I noticed was violence against animals--and in this case against a beautiful and cute animal. As has often been said, people can be more sympathetic toward animals than people, since they are, for the most part, intrinsically innocent. Watching this act produced an even higher level of animosity in me. I started thinking in terms of violent revenge at this point.

The third act was outright violence against a child by an adult. (You would think that this is about as far down the path of evil that a villain can go. And I'd agree with you, were it not for an even higher degree of villainy that I've run into in certain novels: torture of children. I refuse to read any books containing torture of children. I've put down otherwise good novels because of it.) To put it metaphorically, once I watched this bit of villainy, I put away my mental dagger, and took out my mental battle axe.

So, there you have three distinct acts of villainy, ordered in increasing levels of my reaction to them. Game of Thrones has already used all three! After watching last night's episode, I was left feeling very unfulfilled. I'm not sure it's good for an episodic show to ramp up that much revenge tension in the first few episodes. Will they be able to maintain this level of tension? And how long can you string an audience along as they are frothing at the mouth for vengeance?

I haven't had any concrete villains in my Hemlock storyline (that were core to the plot) so far. I have used violence against animals in one scene, however. Still, I prefer painting in shades of grey rather than black. Game of Thrones does have me thinking about villains, though. Specifically, it has me thinking about what level of villainy is most satisfying to a reader. I suppose that villainy is something like a spice used by a chef. It needs be used judiciously because either a lack of it or an overabundance of it will likely cause problems.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Finished Chapter One

I did some writing today, and I completed Chapter One of the new Hemlock book, which now has a working title of "Hemlock and the Dangerous Depths". I'm not sure whether that title will stick, but I like it so far.
I'm tempted to release the new chapter as part of a Sample Sunday or by some other means, but I probably need to temper my enthusiasm. There's a lot of ground to cover on this novel, and the chapter will probably need some revision at some point. But there's a voice inside of me going: "So what? Just release it now. If you have to revise it later, then so be it."
We'll have to see which "side" wins out, but, as you can probably infer, I'm fairly excited about making some concrete progress.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The King Archetype

The King is an important archetype in myth. It symbolizes leadership, adherence to ideals, and stern discipline. The Queen serves this role equally well. Joseph Cambell wrote about the roles of the King and the Warrior as they exist in the myths of many cultures. I think that these archetypes are still resonant in our culture today, although their trappings (and their struggles) have changed.

On a personal level, many people struggle to connect with their inner Kings or Queens. Until they do so, they are like tumbleweeds, being continually blown to and fro by the winds of fear and desire (the sources of suffering according to Buddhism). Some people are in touch with their inner "regents", but have not connected with their warrior spirit that enables them to fight against adversity, and to live by the rules that their Kings or Queens set forth. This usually results in self loathing that can be very destructive.

On a tribal level, aspiring Kings and Queens now wear business attire and wield laptops and briefcases. Their challenge is to realize their potential as leaders in this modern age. Modern leaders no longer wield absolute power by default. Most are beholden to processes and forces that periodically measure their performance against short term goals. It is the rare leader that earns enough credibility to assume the mythical role of the King, which is to lead with absolute authority. I think it's fair to say that we have a shortage of true Kings and Queens in the world.

The theme of the pursuit of a King or Queen is one that I'm thinking about for the subsequent Hemlock stories.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Never Give a Wizard a Glow-Stick

I was like Will Farrell on ecstasy, jamming on a glo-stick at a rave. I realized tonight that I went nuts with the glow effect on my map. So, in a rare exercise in restraint, I've gone back and removed most of the glow.

Initially I was just thrilled that the map didn't look terrible. Now I'm starting to look at it more objectively. It doesn't really look like a hand drawn scroll map, which seems to be the best look that I've seen for fantasy maps. It has a semi-"Legend of Zelda" vibe going on. Maybe not a bad thing, but I've seen better. I may go back to the drawing board and see if I can do something in Campaign Cartographer's vector mode. Trouble is, the out of the box vector "clip art" selection seemed weak to me. And I was hoping to resist going nuts with the add-ons.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hemlock and the Wizard Tower Map

Here is the map. It looks better zoomed in. The zoomed in version is approximately the resolution that it would have on an e-reader. It's a little busy, but I think it holds up OK. I will post more about the map soon, including some more perspective on creating it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A day of mapping

I spent my time working on mapping today. I am using a tool called Campaign Cartographer. Last weekend I had watched some video tutorials, and had taken a stab at a first map. When I went back to that map today, I wasn't totally happy with it.

So I decided to start a new map and try to learn more about the product. After some initial frustration, I finally started to get the hang of it--at least on a basic level that should allow me to produce maps that I'm satisified with. Some aspects of the interface are not very intuitive. For instance, I am still not sure how to select and move something within a layer or sheet.

I am currently working on my fifth map, and I think this one may be a keeper. I'd estimate that it's about 60-70% done. I just figured out how to create text along a curve, and now I'm trying to figure out how to apply glow and other filters to text. The key breakthrough for me was figuring out sheets (which are like super-layers).

It's been pretty fun to see the terrain features from my imagination crystalize on the map. It actually pulled me a little closer to the world. For instance, as I was drawing the Elite district of the City from the story, I actually felt a little resentful that their large, nice homes took up so much space around Hemisphere Lake, when I know that their population is less than the smaller, run down Warrens section.

This brings up one key value proposition of CC: the clip art. You get a pretty nice selection of clip art--enough to make nearly any type of map. This includes terrain features as well as buildings. I'll tell you what though: you still want more. The company offers several packages of clip art updates, and I definitely see the appeal. In fact, if you were to purchase their entire suite of clip art, you could rack up over $800. It's crazy, but I see the temptation.

I hope to have an example map to post soon. I'm a little reluctant to post any works in progress.