Locke the Puppy!

Apologies once again for the lack of updates. It turns out that puppies are disruptive to one’s schedule and general life style. Who knew? Fortunately, they’re so unbelievably incredibly adorable, it’s hard to hold it against them.

7wks IMAG0242 11wks IMAG0434

As the pictures show, he’s growing super first. He’s seven weeks old in the first, eight weeks in the second, eleven weeks in the third, and thirteen weeks in the fourth. Having him has been both joyful and frustrating, as most worthwhile things tend to be. Perhaps the most important lesson is that having a puppy is the great social icebreaker ever conceived by man. I’ve had more conversations with strangers in the past six weeks than I’ve had in my life to date prior to that point.

At first I got nearly no writing done, but I’m starting to find a post-puppy equilibrium. Right now I’m putting the finishing touches on a short story that will hopefully be included in an anthology that may or may not be themed after purple unicorns. The plan is then to return to Gare and try to do my next revision of Wildfire Crown (which at this point needs a new title, sadly). Hopefully that will be done by the end of the summer and I can jump back into some other projects.

I also posted on the Fictorians this month. The theme was best-novel-you’ve-never-heard of, and I chose S, by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. Check it out here!

I’m headed toward the east coast to visit friends and family next week. The plane ride will be made all the much more enjoyable by Skin Game, the newest Dresden files novel. If you haven’t started the series, please do so. It’s superb.

I’ll leave you with a “video” that’s really only audio, but still worthwhile: a symphonic rendition of Phantom of the Opera that’s just sublime.

 

 

Updates and a Puppy

It’s been a busy couple months. I went to DC for work and Vegas for pleasure, where I got to eat fabulous food with a good friend and see Penn & Teller for the third time.

Writing, unfortunately, took a hit, as I found myself trying to figure out what to do with The Wildfire Crown, as well as trying to work through the first draft of Lanterns of Shadesmere, my newest project. Lanterns is going well but slowly – it’s a far more complicated project than I originally envisioned. In retrospect, I probably should have realized this given it’s planned to be a seven book series in a different world with different magic. I’m taking a break from Lanterns to work on the next draft of Wildfire, based on the feedback I received from an editor. I was stuck for a while on how to best apply his comments to make the book stronger while still preserving my vision, but I feel I’m finally making progress. I’m hoping that I can have the Wildfire draft done by mid summer and a polished draft of Lanterns done by the fall, though that may be overly optimistic.

For a while, I thought I’d be self-publishing Lanterns, but I’m now reconsidering that. That isn’t to say I won’t self-publish in the future, but given the current state of my life I don’t need to rush into anything, and there’s a lot I could learn from working with an agent / editor. No final decision there yet, it’s going to depend on how the revision of Wildfire goes. My main concern is that Wildfire isn’t a particularly commercial concept and I’ll find it a tough sell, quality writing or not.

In other very exciting news, I’m finally getting the dog I talked about way back. His name is Locke and he’ll be arriving this Friday at  8 pm.

 

Locke

 

I promise there will be many, many, more pictures when he arrives 🙂

Also, for those interest, I’ve got a new post up on the Fictorians about writing from non-human perspectives: http://www.fictorians.com/2014/04/14/non-human-perspectives/.

Transitions

2012 was an incredible year for me.

I went to writing seminars and workshops for the first time. I started to produce the first writing I’d consider in the neighborhood of publishable. I did an awesome webshow with my friend Sean. I switched from QA to tech writing at work. Internally, I improved my self-confidence and tried to push myself to new heights. All things I hope to continue in the coming year.

2013’s shaping up to be pretty awesome as well. I’ve been searching for a new apartment for the past few months, in hopes of finding a place that will let me get an awesome big dog. Thanks to Palo Alto realty prices, that’s been rather depressing. I found one place last month that would have been perfect. Turned out, around thirty other people thought it’d be perfect as well, and I didn’t get it.

This past Saturday, I had an appointment to see two apartments over in Menlo Park. It was a long walk to the first one. I was already tired from getting up at 6 am to meet an old college friend. The guy was ten minutes late to a 10:30 appointment, which was stressing me out because I also had an 11:00 appointment and I really hate being late. The guy finally pulls up and gets out. We shake hands and he and asks me if I liked the Michigan weather. I told him I’d just spent the holiday in Michigan and liked it just fine. He laughs and shows me the apartment, which takes about two minutes. It looks good to me – plus, he’s okay with cats and the big dog. I tell him I want it and ask him for a rental application.

He says he can tell I’m a trustworthy guy, and I can have it if I want.

Thirty minutes later, I have a signed lease, a new set of keys, and he’s driving me around Menlo Park, showing me the best places to eat, before stopping at his son’s restaurant and giving me a gift certificate. Sometimes, things just work out.

Writing wise, I’ve got a busy year planned already. I’ll be attending Superstars again in May. This time, it’s in Colorado Springs, and I’ve extended the trip to meet with my parents beforehand to do some sightseeing. In November, I’ll be doing the Writer’s Mastery workshop with David Farland. It’s hard to even describe how much I learned in those two last year, and I look forward to a reprisal this year.

My current project, The Wildfire Crown had a bit of a set-back this holiday, when I realized a number of key plot elements weren’t cooperating. Dealing with those issues has turned out to be a far more painful process than I would like, and puts me a few months behind schedule. Still, better to find out these problems now, than, say, after I’ve sent the manuscript to a dream agent. I’ll blog about the issues at some point – I think there are some good lessons to be learned.

I’m headed to Paris in a couple weeks with my friend Sean and some others. I’ve been once, for a brief stay, about six years ago. Looking forward to getting to know the city a bit better this time.

I hope to get back on track with blogging, I know I fell a bit behind. Thank you all for reading, commentating, encouraging, and critiquing – I appreciate it so much. It’s been a wonderful experience and I hope it continues through another year.

 

For 2013’s first video, I move away from music to bring you Simon’s Cat, a must-watch for cat-lovers of all kinds 🙂

 

 

 

An Update Concerning Magic and Dogs With Magic

Had another fantastic weekend with friends – Sean and another friend, Case, came up to form a three person team so we could compete in Grand Prix San Jose, Magic: the Gathering tournament.  571 teams made it out, so the convention center was absolutely swarming with magic players. The tournament was Swiss style but effectively ended when you lost your third match. We managed to stay in through round 9 before dropping our third. Sweet moments included playing the featured match against a team of Japanese pros including reigning player of the year (who Case beat!), and me winning the deciding game of a close match after getting a penalty game loss for improperly storing my cards.

In the midst of the tournament I even managed to write two blurbs to submit to the online workshop I’m taking.

***

Sean and Case left Sunday afternoon. After dinner, I opened The Wildfire Crown and started to write. Three hours and five thousand words later, I typed ‘The End’. I put poor Gare through a lot. The both of us could use a rest 🙂

Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve finished a rough draft, it’s the sixth. But this project’s different – I raised the bar a great deal, and as you know if you’ve read my previous posts, I have a ton of unfinished versions of this story sitting around. I’d estimate I’ve written close to 400,000 words for this project overall, less than a quarter of which made it to this draft.

A draft which is far from done. Finishing wasn’t quite the emotional high I’d hoped for, because the ending just isn’t very good. It’s not terrible, but it’s got too many ideas in it. Key themes are handled in a clunky manner. A secondary character got dropped. A planned denouement didn’t happen, though I still may add it in if I can get some other elements to work out.

But that shouldn’t be much of a surprise; I’ve spent hardly any time on the ending, compared to the rest of the story. Other portions have seen multiple full-rewrites. The last twenty thousand words are a true rough draft. The good news is, some of it works really well. In the mess I still managed to find some wonderful moments I want to keep, some unexpected developments I want to build around. The setting of the final sequence is really cool, but I didn’t decide on it until a couple weeks ago, so it’s not fleshed out as well as it should be.

So, there’s a lot of work to be done. The good news is it’s work I’m excited to do. I’ve come to realize I like revising more than writing a new scene for the first time. The second version’s always better than the first, and with enough polish, a rough misshapen mess turns into something elegant, beautiful.

I’ve learned more than I could have imagined with this project, but I’m not done yet. I’ve met my bar for the first draft; the bar for the second draft is much higher. I’m going to have to push very hard to hit it.  I honestly have no idea how long it will take – I’m hoping only a couple months (or less), but it’s hard to say. It’d be nice if I could get the story out for beta readers before the holidays, though that may be a tad optimistic.

***

I’ll be taking a break from novel-writing this week, to try my hand a couple short stories, with plans to submit them to the Writers of the Future contest if they turn out well. The first is about two outlaw brothers who concoct a risky scheme to trick the kingdom’s most dangerous thief, only to find out that the thief’s been playing them the whole time. The second is about a were-wolf named Simon trapped in a truck with another were-wolf, intent on turning Simon into a killer, with two humans trapped in back the perfect test to see just how much control Simon has.

Can’t wait to see how they turn out. I think that’s half the joy to all this, each story is it’s own discovery, and no matter how well or poorly they turn out on the page, they always live on in my head.

I’ve decided I like ending these posts with a video. Today this song came on my Pandora stream, and it was perfect for the mood I was in. Hope the same is true for one of you, wonderful readers. Till next time!

A Brief History of Stories, Part Five

(This is a continuation. Previous installments here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four)

The Wildfire Crown

So, here’s the scene: Two months ago, and despite all my good intentions, my recent draft of Crown & Collar was failing. The schedule I’d been hoping to adhere to – having a polished, near-ready to send out manuscript by the time I went to David Farland’s seminar at the end of August – was clearly not going to happen.

Now, when reality’s come over and stomped all over your plans, realize you have a choice on how to take it.  When you’re doing anything as hard as trying to write a publishable novel (and lots of other things fall in this category), you’re going to have lots of moments where things aren’t going the way you want. Those moments are important; they’re where you have the opportunity to make an importance choice, and learn a lot. The choice is how devastating you allow the obstacle to become. If you see it as a failure, it’s easy to enter an internal- doom spiral of despondency.

Doom spirals have the nasty habit of making the perceptions of failure worse, and can conclude in the only way to actually fail at writing – giving up.

As frustrated as I was, the recognition of the draft’s weaknesses spurred an understanding of how I might fix them. All the work I’d done was not wasted. I felt that I’d started to finally understand the heart of the story I was trying to tell. The attitude I went into starting over once again with was not pessimistic, but optimistic, because I knew the next draft would be better.

That’s the key. Forward progress. Well, that’s the vague key. You also often need specific keys. In this case, the specific key came when I was reading one of David Farland’s daily kicks (daily writing tips) in preparation for the seminar. In it, he was talking about using your setting in interesting ways.

I realized I’d been neglecting setting almost completely. It only came up when it absolutely had to, in order to make the scene’s make sense. That’s a mistake – setting is crucial to making your world seem real, to drawing the readers into your story. You don’t have to spend long paragraphs describing everything, but if your reader has no sense of the space around your scenes, it’s going to weaken your story.

I began to flesh out my setting. That means more than just what it looks like – I needed to ask how it affected the story. The first section occurred in an old ruined castle in Siberia. How does that affect things? Does it change any actions? What’s special about the ruined castle, that I couldn’t do the exact same scenes in, say, an ice cream store?

A key early scene involves a wildfire. But the wildfire wasn’t real – it just sort of appeared for one specific scene, then was never mentioned again. I began to flesh out how a large fire near town would impact characters.

Then I realized I could use the fire as a key thematic point. It could serve both as a back-drop to give my world flavor, and as a key element in the plot. The story isn’t about the fire, but the way the fire is started (accidently, by Gare’s master, Roland), the way it progresses, and the way ends, all help tie together the story.

The fire didn’t fix my story. But it gave me a much stronger structure for my story to live in.

With that in mind, as well as a number of other more subtle changes, I started to work again. I rewrote my first section, weaving the setting of the ruined castle in (actually it was a soviet compound then, but same idea). I paid a little more attention to the space around Gare – snippets of overheard conversation, the way the guards acted and moved – that didn’t directly affect the plot, but greatly affected the ambience.

That section succeeded. It was a milestone for me. If that was a short story, I felt that, after editing, it was of publishable quality.

The next section was harder. The shape of what was happening was less obvious. It wasn’t as clear to me what Gare should be doing to drive the story where it needed to go.

But the structure work I’d done made me feel confident the idea was right, that if I just iterated enough I’d make the section work. It took probably 25,000 words of discarded scenes to make the 10,000 word section work, and even then, it wasn’t quite as strong as the previous section.

Still, it got me up to the 20,000 word mark I needed to be ready for the seminar, with two weeks to spare. I stopped writing new materiel and spent a week editing that segment, and then sent it off to family and friends.

The critiques I got were excellent. Some points I expected, others were a surprise. No matter how much I told myself that I’m not objective about my own writing, seeing proof it was still a bit of a shock. I made the changes I could, and then shipped it off to David Farland and the other workshop attendee’s.

Since then, I’ve been plowing ahead. The first third of my outline was in good shape. The middle third needed serious work, though the final third seemed strong as well. I’ve spent the last month working on that middle third, terrified that all my work would be for naught and I’d discover some unfixable hole.

I’m pleased to say, that though the middle third is far from done, I believe I’ve found the proper structure there as well, though it meant tinkering with an ending I’d thought was solid.

That brings us to….today! The manuscript currently stands at about 53,000 words of an estimated 85,000. Tomorrow, I’m flying off to David Farland’s novel revision seminar. He’s going to show me his edits of the first 10,000 words, as well as his critique of the first 20k. The entire class will be going over everyone’s first 2,000 words and outlines. I’m excited and terrified – there’s some very good authors in this group.

One thing’s for certain – I’m going to learn a lot. Next year I’ll no doubt have another five parts to add to this 🙂

This ended up being quite a bit longer than I intended, but it was a lot of fun to write. For those who stuck through it, hope you enjoyed it, and thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

A Brief History of Stories, Part Four

(Previous parts here: Part one, Part two, Part three)

Crown and Collar

The failure of the second draft of Old Dog taught me an important lesson – I didn’t fully understand my main character. That’s always a problem, maybe even more so when you’re trying to write a character-driven first-person narrative.

The main issue here was how I was exploring the animal-human dichotomy. This is the type of thing that naturally comes up when you deal with shape-shifters or anthropomorphized animals, and a theme I’ve always found fascinating. I needed to make a decision here: Was Gare a human in a dog’s body? Was he just a smart dog who could pretend he was human at times? Was he something in between? I was most interested in option three, but that’s vague. What does “something in between” even mean?

I decided that making Gare a centuries-old shape-shifter made dealing with this issue far too complicated. With a life that long, understanding Gare meant understanding his life, all two hundred years of it. But I didn’t want this story to be “Gare’s Biography”. I wanted to tell the story about Gare and Ben and the magic crown.

I also realized that the most important part about Gare’s background was his relationship with his master, Roland. Dogs are often defined by their loyalty to their masters. If Gare was dog-like at all, I had to consider this point. That created a second problem – in the story, Roland was long dead. Exploring their relationship would mean making heavy use of flash-backs. I was worried about what they would do, pacing-wise, to the story.

Fortunately, both the above problems had the same solution – Gare needed to be younger. I started again, under the working title Crown and Collar. Roland was now going to be part of the story. I decided to start off by having Gare and Roland steal Yaroslav’s magic crown together, as that was the event that really set things rolling. I also made my decision about how to treat Gare’s character; he was going to start off very dog-like, and gradually grow through the novel to something more. That nicely fit in with my decision to use loyalty as a theme. For a dog, loyalty to his master might be everything, but as the novel goes, Gare starts to think less like a dog and realizes that loyalty unearned is a hollow thing.

I wrote the initial section of Crown and Collar right before I attended the SuperStars writing seminar. I was excited – I finally had a novel that was going to work. I felt great about the themes, the premise, and the climax. At SuperStars I decided to attend David Farland’s novel rewriting workshop at the end of August, figuring I’d have a very polished complete manuscript by then. With a little help from a world-famous fantasy author, I’d put on the last touches, and be ready to submit for publication in the fall. All I had to do was figure out all the various little details to make the themes and story work.

I came back from SuperStars charged and feeling great. I tore into the first draft, ready for it to all come together.

At about the 30k mark, I realized I still had big problems. Gare as a character was working out better. The plot was not, nor were many of the secondary characters. A great deal of the story depends on Gare’s relationship with various secondary characters – Kalis, a local leader of a group called the Tyrlight Council and were-coyote; Ben, a young math professor and aspiring were-wolf; Eonhar, a mysterious being who claims to be working for the immortal Lochii. Just as I realized earlier I hadn’t fully understood Gare, I now realized I hadn’t fully understood how he would relate to these three characters.

So I tried again. I re-wrote most of my earlier scenes, refining my vision of these relationships and Gare himself. The second draft started hitting problems right about the same point the first draft did. I made myself push on, but at about 50k words, I stopped once again, rather frustrated. There were just too many things that didn’t feel right. Eonhar was crucial to the end of the story, but I felt like he was just being arbitrarily inserted everywhere else. Kalis and Ben’s motivations didn’t seem strong enough – I felt like I was forcing them to do things with authorial power, rather than letting the characters do what made sense to them. There was also the matter of Yaroslav’s magic crown creating plot holes wherever I put it.

It was mid-June. I had to submit the first 20,000 words of my manuscript to David Farland at the end of   July, and once again, I knew I needed to start over.

It wasn’t as bad as it seemed. As rough as the process had gone, I felt like I’d learned a great deal at each stage. The biggest pitfall you can run into when writing and re-writing is that you end up running in circles, but I knew I was progressing. I identified what I felt were the biggest flaws remaining in the story foundation, and decided I’d solve them and have an outline before I started the next draft.

During a wonderfully productive weekend a couple months ago, I managed just that.

I’ll tell you about that next week, when we’ll watch history catch up to the present.

A Brief History of Stories, Part Three

(This is a continuation from Part one and Part two)

After writing Dragon’s Heart, I felt things were starting to come together. My writing was improving, and with Sean’s helped I’d identified a few key flaws that had been hindering my stories. My goal for 2012 was to apply those lessons and write something I could submit for publication. I knew that meant learning how to polish and edit, but I figured that would come easily once I had a solid foundation to work with.

Old Dog

I’d been trying to develop a storyline starring a canine character for a while. My ideas folder had a half dozen sketches, but none of them gained any traction in my head. Then, I read the first few books in the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne (check him out here). The books are light-hearted, fast-paced urban fantasy starring Atticus, an immortal, super-powerful druid who goes around kicking paranormal ass. Atticus is accompanied by his Irish Greyhound, Oberon, whom Atticus gave sentience and the ability to telepathically communicate.

That gave me an idea: what happened if you took the powerful, kind of snarky urban fantasy main character (like Atticus or Harry Dresden), and made him a dog?

I thought that sounded fun, so I came up with the idea of Gare, the immortal German Shepherd. Two hundred years ago Gare had been a regular dog, raised by a powerful gifted human named Roland. Roland, a mad-scientist type, was always experimenting with magic and managed to give Gare sentience. He trained Gare in magic as well; shapeshifting (to human and other forms), elemental manipulation. He even gave him the gift of immortality.

When Roland died, Gare found himself alone in a world that he didn’t understand. Though shape-shifters were common, they were all human at the core. More then once humans tried to take advantage of him, and he learned not to trust anyone.

Gare decided the only thing to be done was to find some kind of magic to resurrect Roland, so he managed to steal a magic crown held by the tyrant Yaroslav that was rumored to do exactly that. But the crown’s power turned out to be sealed, protected by a code that no one had ever been able to break, much less a dog.

Gare learns that in the real world, it’s every dog for himself, and the best bet when trouble’s coming is to run. He spends the years bouncing between various human companions, leaving each when there’s any hint that Yaroslav is on his tail. He tries living as a regular dog, other times as a human, but most of the time it’s neither and he finds none of it satisfying.

Finally, Gare finds someone who might be able to help him. Ben is a newly-minted math Ph.D. who’s already hit global headlines by cracking a centuries old cipher. Gare offers Ben a deal – Gare would teach Ben magic, in exchange for Ben trying to break the crown’s seal.

But just as Ben begins to make progress, Yaroslav tracks Gare down, eager to take his crown back and extract some revenge. Helped by a group of mindtwisters, gifted with the ability to manipulate thought and emotions, Yaroslav begins to make Gare and Ben’s life a living hell.

Gare’s first instinct is to run again, but that means abandoning Ben to whatever cruel fate Yaroslav has in mind. For the first time in his life, he decides to stay in fight.

I wrote the first draft, finishing it in late January of this year. I thought it was a clear improvement over Dragon’s heart, so now came the big question: how to polish it? How far away from something publishable was this?

I ran my own post-mortem over the draft, and, well, found more flaws than I liked. I spent most of February working on the plot, and more importantly, trying to figure out what the story actually was supposed to be about. I had this notion of the book being about Gare’s journey, but frankly, I was pretty undecided on who Gare was. His personality came off as inconsistent. I couldn’t decide how to balance the dog qualities and human qualities. I thought his goals were vague at times, and worse, his voice just wasn’t coming through on the page.

Other issues included the secondary characters all being paper thin, and the tone of the story being undecided, starting off light-hearted and growing rather dark by the end. A number of scenes were obvious filler and border-line boring. My dialogue attempted to witty but, due to me not being as engaged with the characters as I needed to be, came off as stilted.

In other words, it needed a lot of work.

But no problem, I thought. I came up with a long list of improvements and started in on the second draft, maintaining a lot of the structure by writing the scenes from scratch. The first third or so went well; the characters came together, the action was sharper, the dialogue better.

The second third still fell flat. I ended up leaving the second draft incomplete about 80% of the way through. I stopped because I realized I was compromising the story I wanted to tell with a plot that wasn’t serving that purpose.

This was depressing, to say the least. I was a month away from my first big writing seminar. I had this fantasy of having a complete manuscript to show off to interested parties. I’d told family and friends I expected to have something to show them for critique in by May or June. None of that was going to happen.

But it wasn’t all storm clouds – there was a real epiphany here. In the shambles of the failed second draft I found the real Gare, so to speak. I found the story I wanted to tell, and I found the way to tell it.

And next week, I’ll tell you all about it!