Solid Writing Week

First time this year I wrote over 10,000 words in a week. And that was despite being too baked to write Friday after working in the real world 11 hours. So while it’s not the pace I like to keep yet, I’m good with it.

While I was working on the Hellenist Fantasy, I thought about doing something Stormlight-Archive(ish). One thing I have had to accept by limiting the number of PoV characters is that a lot of the story is told “from the top.” Now this probably isn’t *that* unusual for Epic Fantasy. But part of what makes The Black Company and Malazan Book of the Fallen superior to most, IMHO, is that battles are told just as much ‘from the fray.’ Codex Alera was also good at this. Now for one character, this isn’t a real problem, because like his inspiration, he leads from the front. But for the Dessians, whose Legates typically watch and only intercede when the battle is at the crucial moment, it’s a tad more complicated.

So to address that, and add some color and examine the soldier’s culture & trials of the time, I’m going to add a sprinkling of subchapters, similar to the Interludes of Stormlight, but contained in the main PoV of whoever they serve under. I might do this for the political bodies as well, in order to demonstrate how they operated–or failed to operate, as the case may be. I’d write those a little more in an “annals” style. As objectively as histories in the time got (which was rarely THAT objective).

I’ll wait until rewrite to decide if I follow through on that. But right now, at least, I like the idea.

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Exit Rewrite Mode

Two books, 215,000 words, and pretty much able to stamp “Final Draft” on Aurori’s Blood. I’m pleased with the first two books of that series now. And I have an idea how to focus the fourth book so that it’s still the series I wanted to write, instead of the crazy thing it veered into with the fifth book. Ultimately it will still get to that crazy stage. But not until I’ve exhausted the history that’s the reason I wanted to write the series in the first place. 😛

So now I’m even more in a ‘dead’ time between here and NaNoWriMo. Or at least I would be, except for my vacation in September. So I think I can be at about 50,000 words by November, and then double that in the Month of Frenzy. Maybe even finish book 4, Chosen’s Return. Besides, can I really complain about going to Hawaii? Nah. Used to live there, once upon a time, for three years. That was before donning the tophat and goggles. My writing back then was largely academic in nature. Loved semi-colons. One of the things I had to learn when switching to fiction was to crush them ruthlessly.

I’ve been meaning to add pages on the blog for all the other stuff I’ve dabbled in. That is: The Aurori, my Hellenistic Fantasy, an Urban Fantasy, and a Space Opera. Though the latter may or may not go under Tarien Cole, as such. I haven’t decided yet. Given the amount of blog time I’ve talked about both lately, they need them. 😛

Insects and Insight

This is a snippet from my Sword, Sorcery, and Sandal Epic Fantasy. Strategos Amuhan, the narrator, is the “Hannibal” of my pseudo-Punic Wars plotline. Which is fairly close to the beginning of the arc here. Enjoy!
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If I would have been forced to describe the last day’s march on Trystwy in a single word, it would’ve been ‘swarmed.’ Never have I seen so many ways to be attacked by relentless, blood-sucking insects. Leeches waited in the swamps our march skirted. Mosquitoes and black-winged moths both descended on us in fast-moving clouds, as maddening as Shahrak Horse Archers. Even Shayla, whose ebullient mood had proven infectious since joining us, frowned and muttered, “Khepra Himself must have planted His seed in this bog.”

As a third mass of bugs appeared, thick enough to conceal the sun, Tiernan dismounted from his horse snarled, “Erebus take this!”

“Run faster!” Spiros taunted. “Maybe we can use you as bait!”

When Tiernan arrived at the bank, he didn’t dive into it, instead he reached into the mud with both hands and slathered it over his exposed arms and face. Clumps rolled down his short beard and tumbled back into his hands. The Thunderbolts hooted, but Shayla leaned forward on her pony like a cat being teased until its rump raises and wiggles. He returned to the ranks with a wide, lips-sucked-in grin that resembled a matron’s toothless effort. Even I found it impossible not to shake my head at the bard.

He had the last laugh, for as the bugs feasted on us, he rode through them without so much as a flick of the finger. When next we passed a spring with sufficient bank, half the host dove for the mud. I found myself tempted to join them, but as Strategos, my duty was to bear every burden without flinching. No matter how trivial it might seem. So I contented myself with swatting those insects that slipped beneath my hood or up the sleeves. With the low shoulders of Shayla’s gown, I knew that she had to be suffering worse, despite her cloak. So I cleared enough space with a hand for me to talk. Then I asked, in a tone I thought gentle, “I’m assuming Tiernan’s remedy is part of your folklore. So why didn’t you avail yourself to it, Shayla?”

She turned up her nose at me and harrumphed, turning her pony around and disappearing into the ranks behind as I gaped until a moth found its way to my tongue. That cost me much in military decorum. Tiernan covered his mouth and chortled. “The Chief didn’t lie when he said taming that one is like saddling the wind. Be thankful she’s infatuated with you.”

I feigned a blink as we resumed our march. “What convinces you she is?”

“Gods Amuhan!” His chest quivered. “Her eyes never leave you. Even now, she watches your back. Her hand ‘accidentally’ finds yours whenever it can, and brushes your arm or leg when it can’t.”

I tucked my head further into my cloak to hide my blush as another cluster of dried mud fell from the bard’s smirking face. “But you knew this already. Because while most Gods have favored you, Telas did not. You’re no better lying than the child caught with a chunk of bread from the oven.”

Snickering, I looked back at Shayla. Her head turned and dipped, like she was unaware of where I was. But before I returned my gaze to the road, her golden eyes belied the claim of disinterest. “Yes I did know,” I affirmed. “Though hearing you say it encourages me. One never is quite certain if a man’s heart isn’t playing tricks on him when it comes to the affection of a woman. Still, there’s something strange about her family.”

My bannerman’s face narrowed into a line. So I leaned a hand on my knee. “Let me guess: You know because it echoes the story about why you left your mother’s people?”

Tiernan winced. “I’d hoped you hadn’t seen my reaction to your analogy.”

“I did, comrade.”

After glancing over his shoulder to ensure Shayla’s pique hadn’t passed yet, the bard said, “Lord Amuhan, I’ll tell you my story. It’s up to her to tell you how close it is to her own. But I’m certain the same law is involved.”

“What law is this?” I drummed a finger on my thigh. Then flicked at another mosquito.

“Our people have a custom when duels are fought. To prevent retaliation, the victor must take the surviving spouse and any children into their own family.” His eyes flicked to Shayla again.

“That explains why she and Carii are so different in temperament and looks.” I stroked my chin. “So the Chief became her husband to guard the daughter. And she took up her training because Shayla possesses talent as well.”

“Probably,” Tiernan conceded. “I was accepted among the Lexovi because of my Mother’s talent. She had birthed me before becoming Beien Ciall to them. But another challenged and defeated her. All such duels are to the death. If there isn’t a death blow, the victor carves out the loser’s heart. “ He paused and cleared his throat, and I glimpsed a sheen over the big man’s eyes.

“And by law, you had a new mother,” I finished.

He nodded grimly. “Understand, most of the time, such ‘adoptions’ go well enough. However, in my case she didn’t want a ‘half-breed’ for a son. So I became an outsider in truth. And if a boar’s tusks were laced with poison, would any think to look before I died?”

“No, they’d never know,” I replied with a shake of the head. “They’d assume you succumbed to the wounds. So how did you—?”

“I’m not a bard because I have a strong voice and love to collect stories that can be put to song,” he answered dryly. “Mother taught me much of herblore and natural remedies. She also taught me a good deal about ritual magics.”

My eyes rounded. “Why didn’t you say this when Toi was poisoned?”

Tiernan shook his head. “You forget, he walked away. We thought it little more than a scratch. It wasn’t until the Priestess couldn’t heal him that she even thought to look for poison. By then, Toi was already dead. Besides, the chemist seemed to do a thorough enough work in identifying it. And I had never seen it before either.”

I closed my eyes and remembered the yellow ball and black bile extracted from his body. The bones broken from convulsions and contorted expression on his face as the poison killed him. There wasn’t a pit in Erebus deep enough for his murderer. And I wasn’t certain the order to kill me had come from Davos either. “I appreciate you telling me this, Tiernan. It couldn’t have been easy.”

“I’ve gone this far in disclosing the ways of Mother’s people,” the bard said with a deep frown. “You should know, even if Shayla were Carii’s birth daughter, eventually the two would become rivals. And only one could remain in the tribe.”

I hung my head. Rain Dancer sensed my distress, mincing his steps as I looked over first one shoulder, and then the other for the wilder woman. I caught a glimpse of her blond mane near Captain Spiros at the front of the Hundred Hands. A stab of jealousy pricked my side, though if I had been the newcomer, I’d be as curious as Shayla to learn of the new cultures.

“The condor was hers? Or Carii’s?”

“Hers,” Tiernan answered without hesitation. “She’s the curious one. And the birds are already bound to her arms.”

I pivoted and made an interrogative grunt. He shook his head. “Now I am getting perilously close to discussing secrets Mother made me swear I’d never share. If she wishes, Shayla will explain herself.”

With a sigh, I answered, “For an explanation, this isn’t helping me understand her very much.”

Tiernan chuckled. “Lord Amuhan, I may be a bard. And I certainly know the ways to woo women. But I’ve never made claim to understand them.”

I laughed so hard, I nearly swallowed a mosquito.

Something I’ve Discovered

Devoted Editing to two straight books in full rewrite mode saps the enthusiasm. I’m almost to the end of the second now. So there’s no reason to set it aside. But I don’t think I’ll do this again. Write one, rewrite one works better for me. Especially since I usually am editing a project while I write anyway. Though nothing as full-bore as I’ve done the last couple months.

I started compiling notes for Book 4 of the Hellenistic Fantasy. After the full-scale war of the last book, this one will be a bit more maneuver and counter, though with a dark adventure for a second plotline. Yalissa’s not-so-pleasant discoveries continue to accumulate. But at least she gets to ask questions in person this time around. Not sure she’s going to like the answers, though.

I made pilgrimage up to Sporting Park in Kansas City to watch Sporting KC throttle Toronto FC 4-1. It’s always fun to watch a game there. In fact, I’d call it the best venue for any sport in the country. And the team is the defending champs, so no reason to complain there, either.

But my real countdown is to vacation in Hawaii. Three weeks tomorrow. I lived there for three years back before Tarien Cole was a name to use. I’ve missed it often, but hadn’t had a chance to go back yet. It’ll be sad to miss the rainy, stormy, part of the year for sun and the beach. Oh darn. I may even get some writing done on it. If my wife will let me. 😉

A Hearty Endorsement

Of this list of questions: http://writerswrite.co.za/15-questions-authors-should-ask-characters

I’ve always been a fan of doing character interviews. I do them of my major characters in each book. Along with questions like, “What would cause you to abandon your plan?” for the antagonist (as in, “Does he do it because he wants to make the world better, as he sees it–and thus is a well-meaning extremist. Or is he just in it for Global Domination and the EVULZ). Even minor characters get a good helping of these questions. You never know when one might ‘step up’ on you.

For Yalissa, in my Hellenistic Fantasy, for instance. What would mentally destroy her has changed from Book 1 to now. In the 1st, the Destruction of her Temple and Faith would have undone her. She would have sacrificed everything for her fellow Chosen. However, the events of the second book tear away all of that from her. Now, her relationship to Sharit is more open to questioning. And what she truly cares for is the people she has freed from captivity.

How did she get from point A to Point C? Ahh. Not telling. lol. One day you’ll learn. I hope. 😉

Where We Discuss Who Tarien Cole Is.

Or More Accurately: Is Not.

I often hear the statement, “Your writing must reflect your beliefs.” I personally find this a ludicrous statement. My current work, for instance, is a Hellenistic Fantasy written with full polytheistic pantheons, the possibility of apotheosis, Pre-Christian philosophy regarding Government, Civics, and Economics, and the general presupposition that all war is Holy War. In short, it is a Fantasy Recreation of the world of Rome and Carthage in the Punic Wars. Minus even the far-off influence of Judaism and Monolatry (if not true Monotheism). My lead characters all operate within the views of that world. One a priestess whose Patron oversees Love, Beauty, Trade, and the City, as Tanith did Carthage. Nor do I apologize for their own personal agendas, some of which include things we consider quite odious in the modern world: Slavery, for instance, was commonplace in the era. Well over half the Roman population was servile. Carthage could not have functioned without them either. It would be a gross disservice to insert modern considerations on the topic into that setting. They simply did not exist.

The person who Tarien Cole inhabits has a very distinct set of values. Despite my love of steampunk, I enjoy my modern conveniences, thank you. Despite the fact my current WIP comes from a ‘pagan’ setting, I am comfortably Christian in confession. And I have other works where that faith does occur in characters. Including a Historical Fantasy set in 16th Century Prague with a Brandenburg-born Bohemian Lutheran with Calvinist sympathies (who takes a Romani sorceress as his wife). Despite the fact the economic system of both of those worlds predates Adam Smith, I am a believer in the Free Market.

In short, most of my works have little relation to me. Some have virtually none. I don’t, as a rule, cut snippets of myself off and make characters out of them. In fact, I made the lead male character of my Steampunk as divergent from myself in personality as I could imagine. Just to see if I could! Hence his rather Indiana Jones-ish mentality to everything from women to problem solving.

Am I saying it’s wrong to do that? No. There are no ‘right or wrongs’ in writing, except this: “Thou Shall Not Bore Thy Reader. Because That Simply Sucks.”

I happen to enjoy making characters from what I observe. In history, in reading, and in the setting itself as I formulate it. I don’t pre-program parts of myself into the story. And even when a character ‘somewhat’ aligns with myself, I’m still responsible as a writer to answer questions AS THE CHARACTER. Not as me. So again, I am almost always endeavoring to divorce myself from the process, and listen to the characters.

They are not me. They may be my friends (though their murderous, sadistic author has a strange way of showing it). But I am not a metanarrator. Consider this one more reason I resent using fiction as a method of message.

Honestly Compels Me to Admit

That with the World Cup having begun, even though I’m only a few chapters from the end of the Third book of my Sword, Sandal, and Sorcery, that it’s very likely I might still be not-quite-finished with it at the end of the tournament. 😛

Hopefully I’ll do a little better than that. But I actually went backwards today…yeah. You know that moment when you realize the part you’re writing doesn’t match what you planned from the previous time the PoV appeared? whoops! 

I should be able to fix that. But I’ll need to focus a little bit. Which with Spain and the Netherlands about to play, it’ll take a little bit. 😉

 

Proof I *Can* Be Nice When I Feel Like it.

I spared one of my characters today. I was all set to do the deed, via poison meant for another character, no less. But I decided to spare her. 😛

I feel…strangely ambivalent about the decision. Like an imp who wants to go back and off her anyway now. *evil chuckle*

Yeah, I’m such a softie. That’s why I’m getting ready to slaughter an entire army…

You didn’t think it could LAST, did you?

 

Time to Go Camping

CampNaNoWriMo, to be specific. I’ve done the traditional NaNo the last 3 Novembers. It’s been fun, and honestly, I’ve never felt like 1667 words a day is a ‘speed writing’ threshold. Ok. Let me be clearer on that. It simply isn’t. 2k per day, 5 days a week, is my usual goal in writing. All I’m doing when I NaNo is making one of those ‘days off’ a ‘half-day,’ if you will. Or jacking up my word count on the regular working days a tad. Either way, there’s nothing ‘speed writing’ about it. 

That said, I did get tired of my writing for a bit after November this year. I think that was because I did something I knew I shouldn’t have. I really wanted to get away from the Epic Sword & Sandal Fantasy that’s been consuming my work since July of last year. But I felt like I didn’t have anything else ‘ready’ for NaNo. So I plowed into Book 2, and got tired of the project shortly after NaNo. There were other things too. Work stuff, a double dose of sick. Wifey sick. Serious health problems in the family. And I’ve been writing one project or another almost non-stop for six years. Maybe a ‘sabbatical’ wasn’t the end of the world.

Anyway, I came back to Chosen in War in February, and I decided that although I’m going to trim some stuff when I edit (probably trim a subplot back some, and tweak here and there) that the story is quite goodish. Without getting spoilerish, it *looks* on the surface like a conventional Hero(ines) Quest. But what do you do when the Quest-Giver might not be entirely on the up-and-up? (And without putting my cards on the table, that’s putting it mildly.) It also has a nice war arc for the military-fantasy inclined. One that draws from the Punic Wars. And, if you haven’t been following, this is being told with Carthage as ‘The Good Guys.’ Or at least, the Cathaginian Protagonists are…there’s some right nasty folk in Marqash (my stand in) as well.

So now for Camp NaNo (To come back to the beginning) I am going right into Book 3. But that’s cool. Because this is the story I’ve been chomping at the bit to tell since I began the story. This is where I get to have Hannibal cross the Alps, with Magic! And oh yeah, did I mention that “Macedon” actually decides to HELP in this Punic War, instead of wait for its turn to get crushed by Rome? And oh yeah…a Servile Rebellion in the midst of all this. “Rome” is in trouble. But don’t worry, they’re still a race of ingenious, indefatigable, indomitable Determinators. 😛

So I’m geeked about writing Chosen in Chains, actually. That said, I’m going to do something considerably lighter when I finished Book 3 (of projected 5) off. Probably back to my Urban Fantasy. Just because I’ve missed those characters, and I want to see if I can write a story where Vic becomes a cross between Bruce Wayne and Charles Xavier. Pre-wheelchair. 😉

 

Chugging UpGrade

I’ve spent all week on one chapter of the Sword & Sandal. It’s admittedly a long chapter. But not that long (about 6000 words so far, and climbing). To be fair to myself, I’ve spent a lot of work editing. On that front, I should point everyone to this little side project: http://fav.me/d5ylwfa

The Crux is probably best described as my own response to The Dark Tower and Six Gun Tarot. It’s something I did more or less completely for fun, with knowledge that even Weird Westerns set on post-apocalyptic future worlds are still not really marketable. So I don’t have any problem sharing it there. But I love Westerns. And I hated what the second of the books above, in particular, did with the genre. I think there’s enough room to be “punkish” without going all PC. And of course, if you’ve followed me long enough, you know I despise Message Fic.

I wrote this last year. It grew out of a short story character concept that sprang into my head a while before that: http://fav.me/d48a92f which earned me a Daily Deviation on dA. I couldn’t come up with a good story for Phoebe right off, after that. But she wouldn’t leave my head. So I turned back to the Wastes, and mashed up magic, western, post-apocalyptic adventure, steampunk, and a dash of potboiler (though much less than usual), to make what is probably my most straight-out adventure story. It started out with its own magic system, but wound its way into my Auroriverse. I’m not sorry for that. There are plenty of messed-up worlds to write about in it. Even if the current project and my Space Opera are distinct. 😉

It’s the story of a gambler, a gunslinger, and a cannibal (yes, he’s a good guy) in the last bit of civilization for a thousand miles in any direction. And ‘civilization’ is a loose term, when you speak of a world forsaken even by its gods. When one gets out of sight of the city’s gaslamps, anything goes. Really, I had as much fun as anything I’ve written outside my Urban Fantasies.

I tossed aside Brett Weeks Night Angel the other day. I’m fairly certain that establishes me as having fallen out of love with true GrimDark. Especially since I devoured Ringo’s Princess of Wands in 3 days. Yeah, I know, there’s a message in it. But contrary to dedicated message-fic masquerading as speculative fiction these days, there’s a STORY first. And Ringo isn’t Anvilicious about the message.  Besides, some people do need to know that not every believing Christian is the stereotype of a Bible Thumper. I’ll concede faith often plays an important part (and usually positive) in my stories. I don’t think you can be honest to historically-based fantasy without making it so. But that doesn’t mean I either have to make every hero ‘jaded on religion’ and a modernist in disguise. Or a bigot either. Those two character types have become a veritable cliche in modern fantasy, and not even the reviewers call it out. So yes, when Ringo makes a character who isn’t one of either, it’s nice to see. Much like the Carpenters in The Dresden Files.

Maybe this is why I’ve gravitated to Urban Fantasy for my reading these days. Epic Fantasy has been overrun by dark, depressing places I don’t care to visit, with characters that have few, if any, redeeming features. Glen Cook was never as depressing as the people who’ve come after him. Look at his Instrumentalities of the Night series. Sure, there’s a lot of darkness involved. But Piper is far from an unsympathetic character, even as a mercenary. It’s ironic we have to descend to the grime of the cities to find characters we can believe in anymore.