Tuesday, August 31, 2010


We all have unique writing styles and voices, however I believe most of us can point to an author or two and suggest that our style or voice has real similarities to theirs. Perhaps they were authors who had great influence on us, so we purposely incorporate some of their writing habits.

I had my greatest influence from George R.R. Martin, whose A Song of Ice and Fire series is not only utterly brilliant but his dark, realistic style is exactly what I love most in fiction. I can't copy his writing style, nor do I wish to, but I have borrowed his manner of rotating chapters between each POV character. Naturally, I also attempt to create a gritty realism even if I can't yet master it the way Martin does.

I see Martin's influence in my work, but I don't see his voice or style there, and I consider that a good thing. I want to develop my own voice and style, though I would like it to get much better than it currently is.

The reason I am writing this, though, is that I just started reading the Belgariad series by David Eddings, and I can say that despite certain things I actively dislike about the book, I think my writing style is far more similar to Eddings' than to any other author I have yet found. Of course our styles are different, but when I am reading the way he strings his words together and the overall tone of his work, it reminds me of my own writing more so than any other author has done.

I do generally like the book so far, though I don't believe it will be one I love. The main reason I dislike some elements of it can be found in this old post of mine. Eddings used this cliché not just with his main character, but with practically every character around him!

How about you, can you point to an author or authors and see your style in their work?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Interview with a Wizard

The wizard in my book, The Shard, is a bit of an enigma and also a real headache for me. I wished to write the book with him as one of the POV characters, thus allowing me to present the science fiction aspects of the story to readers, but this would have made the book far too long (it is 130,000 words without his chapters) and adding the sci-fi elements would have made selling the book more difficult. So, I decided to make the book stand-alone as fantasy, with only hints within the story of its more complex underpinnings. I can't say I'm happy about having to do it that way, but agents these days seem pretty hard-line about book length.

I did a post that described my wizard Xax, but I figured it could be fun to interview him also. Everyone knows this, but I want to reiterate that all of this is my copyright. (I'm normally not paranoid about these things, but this particular post contains some important things from my WIP).

Me: Pardon me for saying so, but you don't look much like a wizard.

Heh! Yeah, well, that's because I still don't think of myself as a wizard. Strange, I've lived more than six thousand years here on this planet, yet those first 63 years lived on Earth are what made me feel like my true self. I still see myself as a Russian and a scientist. I'm a wizard here because I have little choice. Much of what I knew from Earth doesn't apply here, and my friends and I who landed here happened to be the only ones who can overtly manipulate the energy that they call magic.

You don't view it as magic?

I don't know. I have so many thoughts on all this stuff. You know, all of us scientists were agnostics, but arriving on this world threw everything out of whack. Evolution just doesn't work this way. If there is life, it should have evolved along its own distinct paths, not mimicked that of Earth. Seeing wolves and elm trees and so on really messed with our minds.

Then, once we began to 'see' this energy flowing through everything, it gave us ideas. It appears to run through every atom, so in theory it must flow between everything in the universe. Our first inclination was to default back to Earth-think and imagine that we were wrong about God or gods. It seemed like there was a pattern, so it must have been purposely created, right? Later we decided that we were being foolish. It seemed far more likely that there is simply a resonance or echo of some sort transmitted through this energy, such that any habitable planet will follow this similar pattern of life.

But there are some living things here that are different from Earth...

True, but we still see resonance involved. Whatever happens to live here does in fact appear on Earth in some form, most of it in actual life but some merely within our legends. Therefore we posited that there are some people on each planet that are more attuned to the energy resonance and can have visions or dreams of other habitable worlds. Thus, the stories on Earth that appear to be strictly legends in fact came from the minds of those more closely attuned to what was happening on sister planets.

And magic?

We found that we could manipulate the energy in some minor ways, though it was exhausting to do so. The greater the feat, the more draining it was. There were no guidebooks on how to do this, so we had to experiment and make everything up on our own. We are far weaker as wizards than any fictional wizard I ever read about back home.

Okay, tell us about your name. You weren't called Xax on Earth, right?

No, but I used to spend a lot of time playing Web-sim role playing games, and my favorite character was a wizard named Xaxanakis.

How did you pronounce that?

It only looks hard. It's pronounced zax-AN-a-kiss. They just call me Xax here.

So, you took the same name of one of your gaming characters? What year was this?

The last year I recall from Earth was 2138. Yes, we decided that our original names simply didn't fit in well with the linguistic tones of this world. Since we were being forced into the role of wizards, it seemed appropriate to take on a name that sounded like a wizard's name. I already had one. One of my friends wanted to call himself Gandalf, but I convinced him that the Tolkien family would track him down across the universe and kill him.

You're probably right! Can you tell us how you came here?

Back home on Earth our group perfected a couple of critical things needed for a relative immortality. We first perfected cloning. It was meant for military purposes. We also perfected the capture of information from the mind and digitalizing it through our slot interfaces. Essentially we proved that a soul doesn't exist. Once we overcame the body’s inclination to reject certain things, we could successfully imprint mind data back into a younger cloned version of one's body.

We not only saw this as providing a form of immortality where the original body still ages and dies but you get to continue living on in a new copy of your own body, but we saw the means to win the race to the first habitable planets. While China and the U.S. were building massive generation ships, we beat them to the punch by building a small, fast ship with no one manning it. The ship had a set of automated creches that could clone our own bodies over a twenty year period. Once it arrived and confirmed that life indeed existed on the planet, it kicked off the cloning cycle and reconstituted our group...only young again.

Later we found that our bodies interacted with this world entirely differently than it does with the natives. We found that we weren't aging. Or, at least it seemed that way at first. When we met the elves and found that they didn't age, we assumed that the magic energy interacted with our bodies in some way to rejuvenate them. However, the elves never seem to age, while we actually do but very slowly. After six thousand years, I look like a middle-aged man, though I was twenty years old physically when I landed here.

This is fascinating stuff, and I could go on forever, but I think my readers will find it overwhelming. Perhaps we can continue another time. Thanks, Xax!

You are most welcome!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Entry for the Rainy Day blogfest

This is for the Rainy Day blogfest over at The Writer's Hole. There is quite a lot of rain through part of my novel. I suppose that if it is meant to portend anything that it would have to be this: the rain lasts as long as the prince is heading down the wrong path, and it clears up just as the correct decision is made. I didn't plan it that way, but it sounds appropriate.

Anyhow, this scene starts after the armies of the Known Lands have begun their march to attack the elves of Laithtaris for supposedly instigating it, when in fact the prince himself hired men to sabotage things because he wants an excuse to take more land that he sees as rightfully his.

Midas is the MC, a noble so minor that he's not even considered a noble by most, while Sol is the one true noble friend he has (other than his father-in-law Lord Tathis of Iskimir).

Sorry if it's a touch longer than the rules asked for. Any help spotting issues is greatly appreciated. You all found some great fixes the last time I did this!


What should have been a three day march to the crossroads instead turned into a dreary, exhausting five day slog through pouring rain. The banks of the road back to Iskimir were now littered with broken wagon wheels and even a few dead mules. One of Midas’s mules had to be put down after snapping an ankle while trying to pull a stuck cart out of the muck that had once been a road. The men put their heads down and endured the misery with only the typical grumbling of soldiers on the march.

Midas’s troops had been the last in the line of march, and thus got the worst pickings of campsites upon reaching the crossroads. Sleep had not been easy to come by for anyone over the past few days, as there was no dry ground to be found, so tents had to be staked out in the quagmires that were once wheat fields. The prince and some of the other lords found farmhouses and barns to take over, forcing Lord Tathis to pay off his grumbling farmers.

Mules huddled in lines along the fences, while men huddled no less miserably under large tents. Putting tarps down helped little; water quickly poured in and formed pools inside the tents. Men placed boxes of supplies and packs and bundles of clothing around the tent, and tried to sleep on top of the uncomfortable mounds. Tempers frayed, so men talked little. When they did talk they often snapped at each other. Fortunately the men were too exhausted to resort to fist fights.

Midas gave up on sleep, groaned, and sat up. He rubbed his aching back. It was impossible to make the crates underneath him comfortable, even with the soggy blankets. He looked around the tent. His men appeared to be sleeping, but he could hear muttering sounds and quiet groans here and there, and he knew they weren’t sleeping any better than he had. The only one snoring was Sir Brindor. Midas rubbed at his aching head, wishing he could perform that wondrous elf magic that he had experienced a few short days ago.

He needed to go find Lord Tathis and see if he had been successful in seeing the prince and telling him about the elves’ offer to meet. He wasn’t hopeful that the prince would listen, but, nonetheless, he had to try. There had been no opportunity to speak with any of the other lords, other than Sol, during the march. Sol’s men had marched just ahead of Midas’s, so Midas and Sol had ridden side by side at times, trying to figure out anything they could regarding this miserable expedition. The only conclusion they could reach was that they needed to find a way to stop the attack on the elves, even if that meant committing treason.

Midas groaned again and stepped as quietly as he could into the pool of water beside his makeshift bed. The water reached his ankles. He waded to the entrance of the tent, balancing carefully so as not to fall on any of his men. He poked his head out and found the rain only a light drizzle.

He had no way of knowing what time it was. There was little to differentiate between night and day these past five days. They never saw any sign of the sun or moons, though there were times when the darkness appeared to lighten a bit. He kicked himself for not having a man keep an hourglass going, and then just as quickly dismissed the idea as pointless.

Heaving a heavy sigh, he set out toward the road, clambering over the wooden fence slats that marked the edge of the field. The road was only slightly better than the swampy fields. He walked along the rows of wagons and mules, looking at tent after tent and seeing no coats of arms. No one was bothering, and this made it impossible to find anyone. Midas wondered whether Lord Tathis would be with his men or with the prince in one of the farm houses.

After an hour he gave up. He stopped in the middle of the road and threw back his head to let the rain fall on his face. I’m too old for this. He turned around and set off back toward his own camp.

A short time later, he saw, low on the horizon, a small red ball glowing through the clouds. He knew it was either the sun or the small red moon; if it was the moon this was the first time in his life that he was happy to see it.

As he approached his own camp, he saw a figure sitting on the fence ahead. When he drew near he saw that it was Sol, and his spirits lifted a bit. Midas barked a laugh and climbed onto the fence next to Sol, who clapped him on the back.

Sol pointed down the road and said, “I think it’s that vile little moon, but at least something is breaking through the cloud cover.”

“Yeah, I saw it. Do you think these rains might subside?”

“I dunno,” Sol said. He groaned and stretched his arms. “I’ll tell you what--I doubt anyone is getting much sleep. I honestly don’t see how Prince Valderis expects us to be in any condition to attack anybody.”

“I keep wishing this could just be a nightmare, and I could wake up back in Welby, even if it means having to wake up next to Rina.”

Sol looked hard at Midas for a moment. “You know, Midas, the boys are about grown up. I don’t think Havlin would mind you and Rina splitting up. He thinks the world of you, and he knows you two are miserable together.”

Midas scratched the stubble on his cheek. “I suppose so. I just wanted to get the kids grown before I worried about what to do with Rina. I hate to think of upsetting Havlin, though.”

Sol leered. “Hey, my eldest is old enough to marry, and she’s not so bad looking now. She’s a little plump, but she’s got a pleasant enough demeanor. Hmmn?” He nudged Midas in the ribs.

Midas laughed. “Those red haired demons of yours? The prince should sic them on the elves; this would all be over by now!”

Sol laughed so hard he nearly fell off the fence. When he calmed down he said, “Yeah, they’re a handful aren’t they? I should’ve spent more time with them, tried harder to raise them better. Then maybe I could’ve married the girls off to your boys. I’m just not cut out to be a father, I guess.”

“Hey, at least Vona was a terrific wife. I envy what you had with her. The sickness took her so young. You can’t blame yourself for how the kids turn out when they don’t have a mother around. Hey, how come you never married again? You were always good with women.”

Sol groaned. “Oh, don’t start now. I love women, I do, but marriage doesn’t suit me. Anyhow, I have my fun when I want it.”

After a few moments, Midas said, “It’ll be a hard year. The crops are ruined.”

The two kicked at the mud puddles beneath them. The rain picked up again, and the red moon disappeared behind black clouds. A few minutes went by in silence.

Sol looked over at Midas again. “I know we keep asking the same question, but what are we going to do to stop this, Midas?”

“I can’t even find anyone to speak with, Sol,” Midas replied. “That’s what I was doing walking down the road--trying to find Havlin. You go try to find him, I dare you. No one’s bothering with livery right now.”

“We need Ord,” Sol said. “There’s no one else, other than the king, who commands as much respect among the nobles. He’d know what to do.”

“I don’t get it, Sol,” Midas said. “Ord cares as much for these lands as we do. More perhaps. He’d never let this happen if he could prevent it. Something must’ve happened to him.”

“Well, we don’t have time to send anyone to Pangalia to find out what’s going on. I had expected to see him in Iskimir. I hope you’re wrong about him.”

“Me too, Sol. Me too.

Friday, August 20, 2010

How to Outline

There it is -- the full outline for the first half of my second novel, written out in about two minutes on a yellow sticky. It shows each of the three POV characters in order of their relative importance. The guy at the bottom is the Russian scientist who ends up becoming the wizard Xax in my first novel.

It may seem funny, but this is about all I need in order to write my books. At some point I may sketch out a timeline to ensure everything matches up. I'll also use some index cards in order to keep track of all the tiny characteristics for each character in the book. But, for the story, all I need to know is what character is in the next scene and what plot point is involved.

The way I write a chapter is to take the character and the one plot point and simply let them go. My mind has already evolved loads of history and detail of the 'world' and of each character, so I already know how things go in general; I just don't know the specifics of dialogue and any unusual happenings that will spontaneously show up as I am typing. All I know is that once I begin to tap out a chapter on the keyboard, I zone out and wake up later with a chapter, and never once yet have I been disappointed by what came out!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

One Simple Fix for America

I normally don't blog about politics, and I don't intend to do so much, but I believe almost every citizen of the US is sick to death of how bad our politics have gotten. There is no one on any side of the spectrum who is willing to do the hard things that are necessary in order to stave off some pretty nasty things that are coming in the not so distant future. It doesn't matter what they believe, even if they are for it, they still won't vote for anything that they feel may endanger their reelection chances.

That one word, 'reelection', is the cornerstone of our political problems. From the moment an official takes office, almost everything they do is based around their reelection. They know that we must fix many big problems, like Social Security or the mounting debt, but even if they are for doing this they still won't touch it, because it means death to their reelection hopes.

I think the solution is rather simple, though of course it will never be implemented. There should be no reelections.

I would lengthen the term of each office by some reasonable amount, say 8-10 years for presidency and senators and 6 years for a representative, but no one is allowed to be reelected to any office. The benefits to this are clear -- officials would not be worrying about being booted from office and could focus directly on their actual job. An additional benefit would be the flow of fresh 'blood' through the system on a regular basis. People will argue that there are good things to be said for getting seniority in office, but I don't think it is hard to see that the current system is quite broken and having seniority is certainly not a valid enough reason to keep a system where people refuse to do what is right in favor of their own tenuous grips on power.

In the comments, Bethany mentions that people will not want to aim for politics as a career if they can't remain in power. Well, I don't believe it should be a career, nor do I think our founding fathers meant for it to be. Much as with juries (and the founding fathers themselves), political office should be a temporary public service performed by good, intelligent citizens concerned for their country.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Nurturing Talent in Writers

Yesterday's post was useful to me in that I learned something new about agenting. In close to two years of studying writing and reading about agents on their blogs and in articles I have never once seen them state that they got 15% of both advances and royalties. I've always read they got 15% of advances. I'm not saying they are being purposely deceptive, but it seems odd that agents are not more forthcoming about this. I imagine I am not the only budding author out here who views advances and royalties as two distinct things. Yes, I have always read that publishers recouped their advances from future royalties, but that is not the same things as understanding that agents will continue to draw 15% from royalties indefinitely. Just to be clear, I am perfectly fine with this arrangement; I just wish agents were more direct in stating that they get 15% of 'earnings' rather than using the word 'advances'.

I still believe the system for developing writing talent is severely broken. Let me use a chess analogy, since chess is something I am an expert in. I view those writers picked up by agents these days as being somewhat equivalent to titled chess masters. They have a product that is already pretty much publishable with some relatively light work by the agent and editor of the publishing house that picks the book up. However, this illustrates exactly what is wrong with publishing today.

If chess organizers only cared about chess masters, there would be no chess on an organized basis. It is well known that there are many talented people out there, but they cannot simply become masters on their own except under rare circumstances. They need to have their talent recognized first so that they can be developed and become masters. Russia and China, to name a couple of countries that do it best, are well-oiled chess monoliths, because they understand that they need to comb through tens of thousands of prospective players to find the talented ones and nurture them.

In the writing world, agents have no incentive to recognize when a new writer has talent. There is no incentive to develop talent and help that writer become a master. Therefore we are losing potentially tens of thousands of writers who could have been the next Pushkin or Poe or King or ... take your pick. It makes sense on one level because agents simply need to make a living, and choosing talented but raw individuals is much harder work than picking out those who are already masters. But, isn't it a crying shame to lose all of those potential greats out there? There must be a better way.

Amateur critting groups are fine, in a sense, but they don't provide any professional level support to the budding writer. Chess masters don't become masters by working with other amateurs. They become masters by working with master level players. Writing courses are also not a fix. I have been through a number of them, and they do some few things well, but they don't truly develop writers adequately. I think some smart publisher, perhaps one lucky enough to have the backing of a wealthy book loving patron, could get the jump on everyone else by going further and actually seeking out and developing raw talent. We need at least one publishing house out there willing to take on those works that show true promise but which need a bit more editing work than today's agents are willing to tackle.

In a post on Nathan Bransford's forums, I wrote about one possible solution/dream:

I don't have a brilliant solution to this. It would take something other than the worked-to-death literary agent to tackle this issue. It could perhaps be solved by a wealthy patron who loves books and could support a publishing company that would be willing to take on writers who show real potential but need more polishing than today's agents and publishers are willing to deal with. I wish I was wealthy, as I would love to do this. I know how wearisome the slush pile is, but nurturing talent is a noble thing and I wish it could be done better in book publishing.

Part of me thinks that it could even be done with a collaboration between such a house and agents. After all, any good agent should have a true love of books. Rather than an entire slush pile descending on this fictitious publishing house, the house could have agents pass along those writers that they felt showed talent but were too raw for the agents themselves to take on.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Literary Agenting Should Evolve

I began researching what it meant to be a writer in these modern times about two years ago. It's amazing how little we know when all we are doing is writing a book. The publishing world is under tremendous pressure to change. One thing I have noticed when researching publishers is that more and more of them are turning to giving authors no (or tiny) advances. I think this is quite logical, and I support it, however it does upset the 'way things work' regarding literary agents.

Since agents make their money from advances, there is no reason for any agent to help a writer get a deal with any of the growing number of publishers that don't do advances. Why should they when they won't make any money? A system where agents are ignoring many publishers because there are no advances is a broken system.

The ideas I have seen, such as having agents charge money to writers, are no good, as that system is too prone to swindlers and others who would take advantage of the horde of wannabe authors out there. The system works better when an agent only gets paid if their client succeeds.

I believe literary agents should evolve a new system that doesn't work off of advances, but allows them to earn a set percentage of an author's earnings. This would maintain the model of joint success between agent/writer while allowing agents to sell to any of the publishing companies.

Edit to add that Bryan (ink) says in the comments that agents DO also get 15% of royalties. In my defense, in two years of reading about agents I have never heard any of them say this. They always make it sound as if they just get 15% of advances.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Entry for the Weather Blogfest

A Little Slice of Nothing is running a Weather Blogfest today. I joined because I have a lot of rain in my book and I would love any feedback on weak spots or at least your feelings about the scenes (there will be a second scene next week for the Rainy Day blogfest).

I have a simple little scene just at the beginning of the deluge. The point was simply to ramp up the hints about some upcoming military action, while also showing that this POV character falls ill. Geldrath is a young man who is heading north to fulfull the required two years of military service for the king. He is riding in a merchant cart with three dwarves.


The summer rains behaved strangely this year. Usually they came thundering in each afternoon for several weeks, dark clouds roiling and lightning flashing, lasting only until evening. This year the rains came and didn’t stop.

For the past three days the mules had strained to pull the wagon through the mire. The four companions sat with hoods drawn, lost in their own thoughts. The sound of the rain drowned out all other noise, except for the thunder that followed the jagged flashing of lightning.

Several times the wagon plodded past farmers watching helplessly as their fields flooded with too much water. Geldrath knew how they felt. Each year the farmers of Kalinford had looked forward to the summer rains to help their crops, but this much rain could do more damage than good.

The worst part for Geldrath was making camp each night. Gorm insisted on continuing his martial education. “You can’t choose the weather when you must fight,” was all the dwarf said when Geldrath complained. When Geldrath gave only a half-hearted effort, Gorm gave him a sharp crack in the ribs with his stave and cursed at him. “Do you wish to die so badly, boy? You can’t let the weather get to you. You can’t let anything interfere with your focus on your foe, that is, if you want to live!”

Geldrath had risen out of the mud, shook the water out of his eyes, and tried to concentrate on his lessons. The day before the rain had begun, he had started to feel a sense of confidence during the sparring. He could hold his own for a short while, though the strength and experience of the dwarf always told in the long run. He felt a growing pride that he could fend for himself with at least one weapon, and he didn’t want Gorm to grow angry with him and discontinue the lessons.

Now he lay under a wet blanket in the bed of the wagon, the warmth of Barmin pressed up against his side. Though an oiled leather tarp covered the wagon, water managed to seep in anyhow. Sleep came slowly under these miserable conditions, and to make matters worse Geldrath felt his throat beginning to hurt and his nose run. That’s just what I need--bruised ribs, no sleep, soaked clothing, and then a sickness to boot!

When Geldrath tried to roll over and find a more comfortable position, Barmin grunted irritably at him. Geldrath lay on the hard boxes and thought about his brother and East Gate. Just when he thought that sleep would never come, he jerked awake in silent darkness. Silence! The rain has stopped! He wondered if the silence had woken him, but then he heard a distant noise.

He sat up, pushed the blanket from his head, and lifted the tarp a crack. He heard a clinking sound and a low rumbling from far off down the road to the south. Riders. A group of them. The sound grew and Geldrath recognized the sound of hooves splashing through puddles and the jingle of harnesses.

His head now poking out of the tarp, Geldrath noticed that Gorm was awake also. His eyes glittered in the bright light of a big half moon. The two smaller moons were not visible, and Geldrath was glad since he’d never liked the tiny red moon. The more superstitious folk considered it bad luck at best. He heard Gorm winding a crossbow under the tarp. The dwarf looked over at Geldrath, shrugged, and whispered, “Just in case, eh?”

Geldrath felt around for his cudgel, found it, and drew it out onto his blanket. The riders would be in sight any moment. He wasn’t too concerned. If there was any real danger, Gorm would be waking the others. Bandits were rare in this part of the Southlands. As his eyes strained in the darkness to see the riders, his ears told him it was a large troop indeed.

They appeared from behind the small stand of trees that screened the view of the road. The riders moved in pairs, bulging packs draped around the horses. The shapes of spears, bow staves, and swords poked from the bundles. He counted thirty-three soldiers, the last riding solo behind the others. He wondered why this band was out in such force at this time of night. He wondered where they came from. Kalinford had a bare handful of men who were trained enough to be called soldiers in time of need. He decided that they must come from the small keep at Trasken Ford. He had visited Trasken Ford several times with his father and brother to sell and buy goods at the large autumn market, and he’d seen the small stone keep where his liege lord lived. He assumed Lord Magdor must have enough soldiers to field this troop. But, why would they be trekking so far from home? Does it have something to do with the gathering of troops that the courier was talking about?

The soldiers barely glanced at the wagon as they passed. Gorm released the tension in his crossbow and tucked it away. He watched Geldrath stow his cudgel, and then whispered, “Get some sleep, lad, we’ll be reaching Lythandia tomorrow with luck.”

Geldrath felt a twinge of excitement. It would be good to see the large city and have a break from the routine of travel, camping, and training. He realized that the soldiers might even be from Lythandia.

He lay back in the blankets, cold, wet, and sick, but happy that the rain had stopped at last. A distant yet loud crash of thunder shook the wagon, and the mules cried out. He fell asleep to the rumbling snores of Barmin and Valgorn.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Quick One While She's Away

Just a couple of quick notes, first that the awesome Matt Rush has kindly posted my current query for all of you to critique. Second, tomorrow I will be posting another excerpt from my book for the Weather blogfest. Hope you'll read and let me know what you think, good and bad.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mood Music

Apologies for posting about music again. As much as I love reading and writing, music is my deeper love.

If I were a better musician I most likely wouldn't be doing this book writing stuff, because music runs through my veins. Unfortunately, I couldn't afford to buy a guitar until I was in my twenties, I couldn't afford lessons and had to teach myself, and a few years ago I broke my left hand so badly that I can now only play with three fingers. So, writing it is, except that I give myself the right to blog about music when I feel like it.

I was thinking about how curious it is that my mood for music swings so dramatically throughout the day. Almost each day while driving to work I play loud metal -- Filter, White Zombie, Soundgarden, Tool, APC, Green Day and so forth.

When I am at home on my computer, though, I have been listening to quiet stuff, mainly the gorgeous "Memories of Green" from the Blade Runner soundtrack and my favorite Enya song "The Council of Elrond."

What is your mood music these days?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What Makes a Book 'Best'?

I was thinking today about how so many songs are considered to be the 'best' songs done by such and such a band, and how that so often seems to differ from what I myself consider that band's best song to be. Sure, I can look at a song like "Stairway to Heaven" and love it and see what is brilliant about it, but the truth is that it isn't the song by Zeppelin that I listen to the most. For Zeppelin it would be "No Quarter".

That's the key for me. What song by each band do I wish to hear most often? It may not be the song that is considered best by so many critics out there; in fact it seldom seems to be the case. Soundgarden's best song is most likely considered to be "Black Hole Sun", but what I listen to most often are "Boot Camp" and "Searching With My Good Eye Closed" (though I have edited out the silly intro).

I suppose this could be seen as analogous to my opinions on books. The so-called classics of literature certainly have great merit...except that I enjoy them only to a degree and then never wish to read them again. On the other hand, there are 'lesser' books that I re-read again and again because they touch something inside of me that I really do care about. I'll always have my own list of 'classics' and it will have little to do with the ones upon which the 'experts' of this world agree. I'm quite content with that.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Rainy Day blogfest

Since rain plays a major role in my first book, I jumped at the chance to join the Rainy Day blogfest. Any other takers amongst my blogger buddies? And, since I have so much rain in my book, I need more than one blogfest to be able to do the scenes I want to do, so here is the Weather Blogfest!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

High Drama Blogfest entry

I only heard about this yesterday, so I'm not sure I'm picking the best scene for this. Anyhow, the idea is to post a scene of no more than a thousand words that demonstrates high drama. That's pretty broad. DL Hammons is hosting the blogfest HERE.

Putting the whole chapter would be nice, since it builds up the tension better, but I'll play by the rules and start near the action. To bring you up to speed, Edo and Orcbait are a pair of elderly rangers out on a scouting mission to glean information about the mysterious army that is panicking all of the barbarian tribes. The king of the Alsean tribe, who is on friendly terms with the Greatlanders, has lent his best scout Zareg to help Edo and Orcbait with their mission. They have encountered a ton of refugees along the way, and this scene starts after the trio has snuck up on the campfire of another group of refugees one night. Note that the three have a small camp hidden away inside a clump of boulders a short distance away.

Edo silently counted. There were twelve figures scattered about the large fire. These barbarians were different from any he’d seen before. They wore nothing but loin cloths, even the women and children. Their bodies were smeared with white clay and then streaked with black, and more white clay had been used to make their hair stand up in spikes.

One man was more frightening than the rest. He was white from his bald head to his toes, except for a blood red ball painted over his ancient, leathery face. He was the only figure standing, and he pranced around the fire making wild gestures with his arms and speaking a strange tongue in scary tones. The other figures--Edo noted that three of them were women and two were young children--seemed to be half-listening to the man as they went about various chores.

Suddenly Edo wanted to retch. He saw that there was a thirteenth person in the clearing that he had failed to notice. This figure--Edo couldn’t tell whether it was man or woman--was lying on the far right side of the fire and two of the ghostly men were butchering the person with stone axes. He caught the stench of blood on the slight breeze.

Edo stopped another dry heave, quietly spat out the sourroot, and glared over at Zareg, who widened his eyes in warning to keep silent. When he could look again, Edo saw that one of the women was skewering a piece of the victim on a spit. Cannibals! They’re cannibals, thought Edo, his stomach lurching. He glared over at Zareg again, who motioned for them to crawl back beneath the trees.

When they could stand again, Zareg placed a finger to his lips and motioned them onward. They moved on in silence all the way back to their camp.

“Who in the name of Aronis are those people!” Edo hissed once they’d all settled into place.

Zareg scratched at his mustache. “I’ve heard of them before, though I’d hoped never to see them.”

Edo looked over at Orcbait, who looked grim and pale underneath his grime. They waited for Zareg to continue.

Finally Zareg said, “They’re as bad a bunch as has ever walked this earth, no better than goblins if you ask me. They kneel to the red moon; they--”

“What do you mean by that,” Edo interrupted. “Kneel to the red moon?”

“Just that,” Zareg said. “They think that the red moon has some sort of magic powers; that it can help or hurt them somehow. You saw that man with the red face? He’s their…their…well, you don’t have a word for it in your language. They, uh, think he can influence what the moon can do to them.”

“That’s crazy,” Edo said. “It’s just a moon. I know lots of people like to pretend it causes bad luck, but that’s just superstition.”

“Well, not to these people. They think it has magic powers. Anyhow--”

The companions nearly jumped out of their skins as screams and loud crashing sounds split the night, coming from the distant camp. A hideous roar followed, along with more screams. Closer by, the horses stamped and snorted. One of them whinnied loudly.

“Down! Down!” Zareg said. “Orcbait, go settle the horses, quick!”

Zareg dropped down and pushed dirt over the fire. Edo followed suit while Orcbait slid out of the hole and ran toward the frightened mounts. When all was black except for the bright light of the moon and stars overhead, Zareg and Edo sat as still as possible, listening to the continued crashing sounds. Another shriek split the night.

Edo leaned close to Zareg and whispered, “Is that what I think it is? I’ve heard that kind of bellow before.”

“A troll, maybe more than one.”

There was the sound of running feet. Zareg crouched and waved to Edo to duck down. Edo loosened his dagger in its sheath. The sound of running hesitated, and then continued…right toward their hideout.

Edo drew his dagger as a form, glistening white in the moonlight, plunged into the gap in the boulders and crashed directly into the companions in a tangle of arms and legs. Edo heard grunts and a shriek from the figure; a bony arm landed on Edo’s shoulder and a hand grabbed his hair. Edo fought off panic and shoved hard at the figure. He heard a loud grunt from Zareg and a thump, along with another shrill cry from the figure, just as suddenly cut off. Warm droplets spattered over Edo and he tasted blood on his lips.

All was silent save for heavy breathing and a faint gurgling sound from the dying figure. Edo peered hard at the shadows where the corpse lay. It was one of the cannibal women. Zareg yanked his dagger from the woman’s belly and wiped it on her loin cloth.

Edo wiped blood from his mouth and gingerly explored his hair where the woman had yanked it nearly out of his head. He found himself wondering why Zareg had killed the woman, but he knew the answer without asking--they couldn’t afford to attract the attention of a troll.

“We’ve got to get out of here, now,” Zareg muttered. “Trolls can smell blood from miles away; that’s probably what drew them to that camp to begin with.”

“There’s plenty of blood to keep any trolls happy,” Edo whispered, “but I wouldn’t want to stay here now anyway.”

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Little Help Here

Imagine your child is diagnosed with cancer, but a cancer so rare that scientists don't bother to try to find a cure. How helpless would that make you feel? One father is trying to do something about it, and I thought it worthwhile to spread what word I could to the few lovely followers I have. Perhaps we can make a difference...

Check out the contest HERE.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

End of Days Award

Well, Hart the Naked Tart has passed along this End of Days award. Thanks, Hart!

The rules are this:
Imagine the world was ending when the Mayan's predict, December 21, 2012... What would you do between now and then?

Wow! I don't like the idea of my mortality creeping into things. I always assume (to paraphrase Catch-22) that I will live forever...or die in the attempt.

I'm fortunate enough to have enough money to keep me going fine until then, so I would certainly quit my job. I'd sell off my house to raise extra cash. Books, schmooks. I love writing, but only when there are readers to read it! Since there won't be any readers anymore, I won't be doing any more writing. I suppose I might split time between hanging out on some gorgeous beaches with my family and travelling to some great places we haven't yet seen. I'd reread some of my favorite books and rewatch my favorite movies. I'd play a lot of sports and games and music with my kids.

Hmm, who to pass this along to? I want to see what Anne aka Piedmont Writer says to this. Matt, of course, and Victoria aka aspiring_x.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Friends Are Awesome

I'm not the most sociable of people. If my wife offers me a choice of going to a party or staying home with my computer, the computer is going to win nearly every time. However, in the rare instances when I really click with someone, there is nothing better. It has happened to me only a few times in my life, and since I move so much, I have only two real-life best friends that still keep in touch regularly. With them I never have to make small talk. I can talk forever about my hobbies and they won't get bored; they will actually encourage me. So, thanks Mike D. and Gary L., you really make life better!
Mike is a very creative person. We got a little band together when we lived in Zagreb, Croatia. It never went anywhere (we could never find a singer), but it was great fun jamming to old Led Zeppelin songs. I was always awed that Mike could apparently play everything -- drums, bass, guitar, harmonica. He would even try to sing, though it's better not to go there.

Well, once when I visited Mike in Maryland he surprised me with a book with the following cover:
(NOTE: This was before I had written the story!! I had only talked with him about what I intended to write.)
(click for a larger view)

It turned out to be a random novel that he had wrapped this cover mock-up around. It felt good to see my 'book'. I hate to nitpick when he put so much effort into it (and the cover art he found is really great, very appropriate to the colorings that I prefer in fantasy art), but the awards he listed are for sci-fi books rather than fantasy, and even though my series eventually turns to sci-fi, for now it is just a fantasy. I don't feel the font and coloring worked for the title, either, but having tried to do that myself a couple of times, I know just how hard it is to get right. What wowed me the most was his made-up blurb on the back cover. It isn't professional quality and has a few too many cliches, but he essentially got my story right (I must point out, though, that the boy is not a farm boy. Even I wouldn't push the cliches that far!). This was one of the best gifts a friend has ever given me!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Writing Weaknesses

All of us have weaknesses. In writing these can be especially pernicious, as we may not even recognize them. What has been eating at me, however, is that I do recognize several of my weaknesses, but I have a hard time actually doing something about them.

I think my biggest weakness is 'tension and conflict'. I have a tendency to resolve things too easily when everyone knows we should be piling on the misery for our main characters instead. My story reads a bit too linearly. Why is this so hard to fix? Because this particular weakness cannot be solved simply. I cannot change a sentence here and add a paragraph there to make it all better. I would need to simply rewrite nearly the whole book to fix this problem, and I don't have the willpower to do that right now. I suppose I can put this one away and focus on the next book for now. Perhaps in the future I can return to The Shard with renewed energy and do the necessary hard work.