Thursday, July 29, 2010


I've touched on this before, but feedback from a reader is making me think more about it again. Up front I want to state that I am all for originality in almost all aspects of creating stories. The reader of my book is absolutely correct that there are strong unoriginal aspects of my story. I am in no way upset to hear the reader mention this, but I do wish to explain a couple of conundrums that I have.

The unoriginal part of my book is the type of creatures involved. I use trolls, dragons, goblins, orcs, dwarves, and elves. I believe that there is a huge base of fans that wants worlds that echo this Tolkienesque style. We were born from the big Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) craze of my teen years. I heard there was upward of five million active players back then. People mention that orcs belong to Tolkien. That may have been true at one point (though I believe he got them from old legends himself) but D&D changed that by having orcs be one of the most common types of monster. Hugely popular computer games, such as Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights also reflect this. I believe publishers and agents are overlooking this one big fan group, not understanding that originality is not always what is wanted. Sometimes people want the type of world that they love most, but with a good story (not like the weak official D&D books that have been released). Each time that someone has dared to publish books along these lines, the reviewers skewer them....but they sold like hotcakes. Isn't publishing supposed to be a business? Look at The Sword of Shannara and the Iron Tower trilogy to see how unoriginal stories can sell.

Second, though it may be heresy, my fictional universe suggests that Tolkien was the one that was unoriginal. The magic that flows through every atom in the universe acts almost like a form of DNA, propagating an echo of life through each habitable planet such that each will have nearly identical flora and fauna. Those creatures and plants that differ between these planets often show up in the legends and stories on the other planets, because the creatures most attuned to magic feel a resonance in their minds. So, Tolkien and others who came up with the legends of goblins and dragons and such did not truly imagine them on their own, but got the story ideas through the magical resonance that came to them through the energy that connects everything. Similarly, there would be planets out there that reflect the legends of other cultures, such as the Chinese or any other group that has their own legends. The fact that the Western scientists land on the planet that reflects Western legends is not an accident, but rather another of the effects of magical resonance. Imagine how shocked these learned scientists were to find birch trees and wolves and such on a distant planet! It took them a long time to cope with the shattering of their scientific ideas.

Sorry if that sounds weird. I honestly don't know how to get an agent to look beyond the unoriginal creatures. All I know is that I most hunger for stories of this exact type (Tolkien and D&D) and the publishers are not giving them to me!

Note: I fully realize that there is a pretty hard-core group of fantasy readers who would be glad to never see another Tolkienesque fantasy in their lives. However, I believe those people should recognize that those of us who DO want more derivative fantasy have a right to exist.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Title Talk

I tend to admire simplicity in most things, and that extends to writing. I have a feeling that I underdescribe when I write, which I hear can be a good thing, i.e. leave things to the reader's imagination. Even the characters in my book follow my philosophy, with the best people always preferring a plain pommel or scabbard, while bad guys may have more ornate styles.

The title of my book -- The Shard -- reflects my style. I like it the way it is. To me it reflects the tone of my story, that of down-to-earth realism. However, I always see books in the stores with far fancier titles, so I wonder if I shouldn't consider changing it? The fancier title that I am thinking about is 'The Shard of Kathkalan'.

Kathkalan was the greatest elven hero, who roamed across all the lands dressed all in black while performing great deeds. When a terrible black dragon destroyed the eastern parts of the realm, Kathkalan decided to slay the dragon. He took the shard (a minor magical relic which you can read about here) with him into the mountain lair of the dragon and was never seen again.

Some clever bard decided to write a song that suggested that the elven hero Kathkalan, dressed all in black, entered the mountain, and came forth again as the black dragon Kathkalan. Thus, everyone began calling the dragon Kathkalan. This wasn't terribly pleasing to Kathkalan's lover, Alvanaria (who is a major character in my story), but that's another tale. Anyhow, I had to tell you this so you would understand that the name Kathkalan refers to both the elven hero and the black dragon that plays a large role in my book. Also, the shard does appear to belong to both Kathkalans, as it is assumed that the elf died at the hands of the dragon.

So, what do you think is a better title -- 'The Shard' or 'The Shard of Kathkalan'?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ancient Miniatures

A blogging buddy of mine, Kevin Hearne (whom you should all be visiting regularly -- he has at least three urban fantasy novels coming out!), posted some shots of painted miniature Dwarves. When I commented that I once tried painting Dwarves, he asked me to post about it and put up some pics.

Wow. These poor figures have been banged around through around thirty moves, back and forth all over the world, and I haven't looked at them for nearly 30 years! They are lucky to have survived at all. They are dusty and dirty, their paint is faded and sometimes missing altogether. They are pretty sad! However, I used to love them so much.

Please note that I was very poor back then, and I had only a tiny set of cheap paints. I couldn't work the magic that some miniature painters do.

Kevin wanted Dwarves, so here are a couple shots of what has survived (at least somewhat).
Pretty sad, huh? Dingy and worn. I don't even own any paint and brushes now to redo them. They do remind of my Dungeons & Dragons days, which is what led me to writing eventually.

Since I found these, I might as well post a few other shots. Here is one of Thor.

He survived a tad better since I had him wrapped up in tissue!

Now a couple of shots of some Napoleonic Age miniatures I did. Sorry I can't get all the dust off of them.

My sons were awed when I pulled this ancient stuff out. They didn't care how bad they looked!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Agents and Bandwagons

I read all the time about writers hopping onto the most recent trends. No one needs to be reminded of how many vampire books are being shopped around right now. To me the biggest trend is the avalanche of Young Adult (I'm including Middle Grade even though others keep them separate).

This YA storm is so powerful that it becomes disheartening for those of us writing distinctly for adult audiences. My book can be fun for YA readers (see my earlier post about my children reading my book), but it is certainly not aimed at them. To make things worse, my next book (the prequel to the first) is so bloody (think Quentin Tarantino meets La Femme Nikita (the movie, not the tv series)) that it is a good, hard R rating.
What I find most disheartening, however, is not the tidal wave of writers joining the YA trend, but rather that many agents seem to be hopping onto this bandwagon as well. I use Querytracker to keep track of the queries I send out. When I check out each potential agent, it amazes me just how many of them state they are looking for YA. Hey, what's wrong with selling some books for us adult readers? We have money! We want more great stories, too! Don't we?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wasn't This Supposed to be a Writing Blog?

I must apologize to all. While it's true that I have license to ramble on about whatever I wish, the fact remains that most of us are here because we are writers trying to figure out how to make it in these difficult publishing times. I hope to get back to writing issues shortly, but I felt the need to finish off all of the various photos of recent travels.

Why not contrast everyday life against the fantasies of global travel? First is a shot of my youngest son in one of the nearby oil fields in Azerbaijan.

Next are a few shots (taken by my oldest son) of our recent vacation in London. Here is an odd Crooked House in the charming town of Windsor outside of London.

 Here my fabulous wife and youngest son relax in one of London's amazing parks.

Let's see, how about a shot my eldest son took at the Green Day concert at Wembley Stadium.

I'll finish with a shot of my youngest and my wife, exhausted from a long day of walking, resting on a bench near the Tower of London.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Back to Real Life

I'm back to my regular life in Baku again. Budapest is a lot like Prague -- almost magical in its beauty. I love when a country works to preserve its heritage, and I especially enjoy the Gothic (among others) touches of these Eastern European countries.
I am trying hard to land Budapest as my next assignment. It will be hard to get, but my family would really enjoy living there for three years.

If one is interested in such things, I always have all of my photos at the Flickr link on the right side of the page.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Promising Hints

It turns out the information I was given about my hotel was wrong -- there IS free internet available. However, it is slow, and I am not spending much time in my room, so I apologize for not reading enough of your blogs right now.

I have sent a dozen query letters so far for The Shard. I haven't heard from half of the agents yet. I received two partial requests, and as of today both of them were rejections. The first I knew would be rejected, as Nathan never takes on books of my kind. The second I had bigger hopes for, but no go. On the positive side, the rejection was personalized and offers some tantalizing hope. Since I don't know what the agent would think about sharing, I won't give the name.

Two agents at the agency read the fifty pages that I provided. Here is an excerpt from the letter:

"We both came really close on this manuscript - lots and lots to love about it! Unfortunately, we're both a pass on representation as it just wasn't quite 100% right for us."

It was nice for a busy agent to take the time to say this. I am not given a specific reason, and that is fine. My guess is that my one big fear is true -- I have many standard Tolkienesque tropes in my book, and I imagine this turns off agents. I intended for the story to be this way. I present things initially to appear like a pure Tolkienesque high fantasy, and only deep into the book do I turn most of the tropes on their heads. I took a writerly satisfaction in imagining readers drawing early conclusions only to have to reassess things later. The problem is that agents never read far enough to realize what I am doing.

I suppose I just need to keep writing the prequel, where the whole thing turns into science fiction. Then there would be no question as to whether my fantasy novel was simply derivative.

Budapest is as awesome as I remembered, though it is scorching hot right now. Not as hot as my native Arizona, but my body has been away from Arizona for so long that it is acclimated to other weather. I walked so much the past two days, that even though I am used to a lot of walking I still have blisters on my heels.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Off Again

It sure is hard to find time to write when life gets busy. We returned from vacation in London last week only to plunge into work preparing for the Secretary of State's visit to Baku. Then this week at work I had to do an audit of a part of our inventory. Now tomorrow I have to fly to Budapest, Hungary (I get up at 2:30 AM...ugh!) for a week. It's for work, so I won't get around much.

Fortunately I've been to Budapest before, way back in March 2003. I went there for two weeks to play in a chess tournament. It was a blast, and Budapest is one of the prettiest cities I have seen. Prague and Dubrovnik are a little prettier, in my opinion. Sadly, I had a really bad camera with me the last time I was in Budapest, so the pictures I have are not great. Perhaps I can get some better ones this time!

Oh! How's this for irritating and unbelievable -- the hotel where I was placed gives me a choice of having breakfast OR having internet! Since when did such things become an either/or decision? I don't operate well without breakfast, so I will choose that, but it is insane in these modern times for a five-star hotel to not offer internet as part of the room package. So, that means no blogging for the next week.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Visit With My Boss

I had a busy 4th of July weekend, since my boss Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to Baku. On Saturday night I worked right through until sometime around 3 AM, caught some sleep, and then started working again throughout the 4th. It was worth it, as she had one of the smoothest visits (or so we were told). It is always hectic, but a little exhilarating to work on such visits. I have worked on visits for several Presidents and Vice Presidents and for every Secretary of State since Warren Christopher.

One of the oddest jobs I did was to be a seat-filler for a speech President Clinton did at Moscow State University. The First Lady was sitting in a roped off area with a lot of empty seats, and since CNN was taping it they didn't want to see a bunch of empty seats around Mrs. Clinton. They drafted a number of us at the embassy to put on our best suits and fill those empty seats. I happened to be the person who sat next to Hillary. She nodded and said 'Hi', and that was about it.

Hillary came to the embassy in Baku after her meetings with the Azeri president. She spoke to all the diplomats, family members, and local staff and then did a walk-around to shake hands with everyone. It didn't allow for the best pictures, so below is the best I could find. It shows me with my two sons. My older son Anton is shaking her hand.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

One More Time, Then Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Program

I think I lost a lot of my normal readers on Monday due to the holiday, and that's wonderful. It's great for people to get away from this time consuming addiction. Apologies to all, but I think Bru's hard work on her interview with me was worth mentioning one last time for those who missed it.

Just to give you something of value here, I'll share one of my favorite Alan Lee works. I love this piece so much that I bought one of the prints. It's not much, but it shows his delicate beauty. Look at the subtle realism in the flow of the cloaks, the rocks, the water, the stonework of the bridge. It is exactly this style of work I would love for the cover of my book. I don't need to show readers what my characters look like (they can decide that better in their own imaginations); I prefer to show snapshots of the story in action, illustrating the stark beauty of the world. Alan Lee is my dream artist, though I'll never get him. Anyone out there able to mimic this style?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Please Check Out My Interview!

Bru at Pitch Slapped has an interview with me up on her blog. I think it is a wonderful idea to run interviews with writers, so if you like what you see, become a follower! Thanks so much, Bru!

Since this is so short, I'm going to post some pics taken from just outside my house here in Baku, Azerbaijan. This TV tower looks like an alien spaceship at night, changing colors constantly.

Friday, July 2, 2010

I'm Being Interviewed!

Thanks to Anne aka Piedmont Writer I found this lovely blog where February Grace does interviews with writers. I answered the weekly question that she had posted, and amazingly she picked me!

I'm excited and a bit nervous to see what the questions will be. I hope I can do a good job answering them!