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Advice to a Young Writer

Advice to a Young Writer

This message from a young writer arrived last week via my website:

I am interested in writing teen fiction light novels. The genre I would like to work with is fantasy, adventure, and space. What does it take to become a fiction writer? What steps did you take? and How did you accomplish your work? I am still working on my fiction story. I created a link [omitted]. Just to get a head start.

A few days later, when I had time to provide a lucid reply after sleeping hours and hours, I wrote back:

Welcome to the land of stories! We writers are an odd bunch, living so often as we do in worlds of myth and make-believe.

How does one become a writer? One writes.

A lot.

Like all crafts, writing takes time and practice. Often, the first book written will not be the first book published. Many writers have manuscripts that will never see publication, because those were their practice books. Maybe book three or book five is the one finally published, the one readers might think is the author’s first book ever.

Dragon’s Rook took twenty years from concept to publication. Most writers don’t take that long. I was busy making a living while writing short stories and poems, submitting them to contests or magazines, and then — at long last — finishing a novel.

However, there are many unfinished novels. Some I threw away, because the time to write them had long past. Some I kept, because I still have a passion to complete them.

I can’t give you any rules or checklists to guide your journey. It’s unique to you. However, all writers become writers by — drum roll, please! — writing.

Learn all you can about constructing compelling storylines, creating intriguing characters, writing dynamic dialogue, and even learn proper grammar and sentence construction. Good paragraphs are structured like good jokes: not that they are all funny, but that they build toward a strong ending. Write a strong sentence, write a strong paragraph, write a strong scene. Repeat until you have a chapter, until you have another chapter, until you finally have a book.

Avoid cliched phrases or trite characters. Avoid lazy writing. There may be only a limited number of stories in the world, but find a way to tell your story in a fresh way.

Be open to constructive criticism. Not nasty put-downs, but honest feedback meant to help your work improve. Be humble and teachable. Be ready to stand up for your story choices, if necessary, but also be ready to consider other options. Be willing to look at the story honestly, and to see its flaws as well as its strengths.

I saw on your website that you have some of your story posted. A word of caution: Avoid offering too much of your work for free, or too soon. A chapter or a scene might be okay, or a short story related to the novel not included in the book itself. (Many writers are offering free short stories or deleted scenes as bonus material for readers.)

I wish you all the best on your journey, and I hope to hear good things about you in the future.

Sincerely,
KB

Any other advice you’d give a young writer?

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Dragon’s Bane Update

Dragon’s Bane Update

First, a bit of housekeeping: The recent Goodreads giveaway was a success. Not quite as many participants as the 2015 giveaway, there were still a large number of entrants interested in Dragon’s Rook. The winners are Jessica from the Netherlands, and Sheila from New Mexico. Signed paperback copies have been mailed, and should arrive soon.

Second, questions have been asked by readers concerning the availability of Dragon’s Bane, the second half of The Lost Sword duology. They have served as prods to speed up the completion of the story:

1) I just finished Dragon’s Rook and loved it. Any news on when the sequel will be available for purchase? I can’t wait!

(T)hank you for the kind review! We writers pour pieces — minutes, hours, years — of our lives into our work, so when readers receive it well, we are encouraged to continue.

As for when Dragon’s Bane will be available, I had hoped it would be completed and published by January 2016, but life matters took me away from it for a long while. (I won’t bore you with the details.) However, I hope to have it ready soon.

Today’s revisions included (SPOILER ALERT) a reunion scene between two characters who each thought the other was dead. 🙂

2) I just finished Dragon’s Rook, really liked it. I was wondering when the sequel is coming?

First, thank you for reading the book!

Second, I’m pleased that you enjoyed it.

Third, I wanted the book completed and published this year. However, due to life circumstances, my writing has been quite slow. Dragon’s Bane is about one-third complete, and there are copious notes regarding unwritten scenes.

The ending scene was written about fifteen years ago — believe it or not! — but it may change. I’m exploring a couple of potential plot twists that never occurred to me during the writing of the first book, but which may deepen the story even further.

Below is a taste, a scene from the first third of the book, a confrontation between Lady Yanámari and her mother, Queen Una:

The eyes widened, the fury grew, and as it did, Queen Una fully materialized, her form solid, even the tiny creases around her eyes and mouth delineated. She released Yanámari and stepped back, lifting her arms from her sides and lowering her head, looking at Yanámari from beneath dark brows.

As the queen opened her mouth to speak, Yanámari laughed. The sight was too comical: flowing black garments, menacing stare, threatening posture. A bit too much like the Hôk Nar Brethren. In the past two days, she had seen more amazing things than this.

Beside, what true power resorted to manipulation and magic?

There was something external about magic, as if the one who practiced it and the one upon whom it was practiced were both tools of a capricious power that must be cajoled and lured with secret rites and careful spells. Is that where her mother had been all these years? Learning the dark arts? What an absurd expenditure of time.

Where was she when I was a child and longed for a mother? When I might have loved her?

But there was no hope of traveling that road—the cart had already passed.

(c2016, KB)

For more information or to read reviews, visit keananbrand.com.

 

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Step Right Up!

Step Right Up!

(rabid used-car-salesman gestures and wild-eyed look) “Step right up, folks! A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!”

The lawyer clears his throat, and the salesman amends his pitch. “A once-in-a-year opportunity!”

The lawyer nods.

“Enter now to win one of two signed paperback copies of Dragon’s Rook!”

And, for those readers who don’t prefer the high-pressure sales pitch, here’s a graphic with an embedded link, which you may click or not, as you wish. 😉

2 Win a FREE Book!

 

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Working, Writing: Parallel Pursuits

Working, Writing: Parallel Pursuits

Fellow writers whose royalties are not yet sufficient to pay the bills, or other folk who spend waaaaay too much time at the computer and not enough time actually moving (we’re artists, and we exercise our brains; that’s enough right? 😉 ) here’s a great way to get in shape:

1) Invest in a good pair of gloves, good shoes, and your favorite OTC pain reliever. (You’ll need less of the pain reliever as time passes.)

2) Apply to work part-time at a large store, one with lots of inventory that must be moved and stocked pronto; or work on a construction site, at a repair garage, or anyplace else that might be considered blue-collar and non-intellectual. (As kids, my brother and I worked with Dad in his construction and remodel business. I learned more good work ethics and life skills there than any job since has taught me.)

3) At first, whenever arriving home from your assigned shift, you may be too tired to write or think or even wiggle. You may curse your age, your out-of-shape-ness, your alarm clock, your creaky joints, etc. Let it all out. 😉 Your days off may be spent sleeping rather than writing. Let it happen.

4) One day, not too long after you’ve begun this new, body-pummeling endeavor, you’ll realize your brain is awake with new ideas. You’ve mingled a bit with real people. You might even have made new friends. The sunlight is your friend, not your enemy. Your food choices or cravings will change: more water, less coffee, and more meat and veggies, fewer instant noodles. Your clothes are now too big, but your posture and stamina at the writing desk have improved.* Your fingers, once so nimble on the keyboard, are thicker now due to hard work, but give them a minute or two to limber up, and they remember how to type.

For months, until finances reached a crisis, I resisted returning to ‘real’ job, because 1) it felt like selling out, 2) I didn’t want another full-time job to overwhelm my mind and my time to the point that I couldn’t write, and 3) I didn’t want to be among people. Mingling with my characters and taking the occasional trip to writers meetings were all the socializing I needed.

And I was afraid of the pain. After injuring and re-injuring the same set of muscles and joints (car accident, a fall from a step ladder, and a few other falls), I didn’t want to aggravate the site and invite more debilitating pain. However, although there have been days like today when the pain of last night’s work leaves my shoulder stiff and unwilling, the aggressive activity has been therapy, forcing muscles and joints to work at full capacity and in their proper function. Chiropractic issues are resolving themselves as muscles gain strength to keep bones in alignment.

The doctor told me once that, if I refused the physical therapy exercises, my shoulder would freeze. I’d have no mobility unless I faced the pain. I kinda sorta followed his instructions, and at home I used the chart and performed most of the necessary exercises. But with no one else to  me, to encourage me through the pain, I didn’t do the hardest ones.

The part-time job as a stocker has solved that issue. Sure, I’m typing this in pain, but I’m typing. The pain is merely at a discomfort threshold, far from the Oh-God-make-it-stop level it was after the car accident and the fall from the ladder. Both left me breathless, staring out the windshield or at the wall and wondering if I’d damaged myself this time to the point of no recovery.

We writers, our dream may be to shut out the world and tell our tales, but we need pain, I think, in order to write pain. We need troubles in order to write troubles. Those we write may not be the same as those we experience, but we know the emotions: the worry, the fear, the grief, the despair, the agony, the recovery, the planning for a new future, the hope.

I won’t be a stocker forever. I know this. Just as in nature, life has seasons, and this is merely one of them. For now, though, as strange as it may seem, keeping the shelves stocked with canned veggies, with dog food, with hairspray, with toilet paper, is also keeping me fit for writing.

Working or writing: We don’t have to choose one or the other. There are times when the writing lags, or when the day job must be abandoned, but those are mere seasons, and the two pursuits need not be anathema to one another. Just as winter’s snows feed summer’s streams, and sping’s buds lead to autumn’s leaves, so too does work inform writing and writing lighten work.


* Bought a new, smaller pair of jeans for work, washed ’em, wore a few days later, and they were already too big. Working in the stock room is better than going to the gym — and I get paid! 😉


Just for kicks, April 29-May 6, 2016, there’s a Countdown deal for the Kindle version of Dragon’s Rook. Today it’s .99, but the price will increase incrementally until it returns to it’s usual $4.99.

 

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In Progress

In Progress

In the past, I’ve shared incomplete poems or scenes, or pieces that have been worked and re-worked, to show fellow writers that perfection is 1) often relative, and 2) not a one-step process. Writing is the practice of perseverance.

In the wee hours of morning, when my head hurt and I couldn’t sleep, I pondered the beginning of Dragon’s Bane, the second half of an epic fantasy yarn. Scenes need re-arranging. (Anyone who knows me knows I play “52-card pick-up” with chapters and scenes, mixing up parts of the story until I settle on a progression that feels right.) Emotion needs to be established. (Always tricky.) Mystery and atmosphere must be heightened. (Always fun.)

And I need to write more poetry and fragments of the story world’s history. I used almost all of them for the first half of the story (Dragon’s Rook), so the well is almost dry. Time to dig deeper.

As I lay awake, this gap-filled poem arrived, employing phrases and concepts from the first book, obliquely summarizing the entire story:

in the high mountains
beyond Craydaegs’ gate
behind Brona’s Veil
the people await

past the curtain of night
on the path of the moon
in the land of the horse-kings
_______________-oon

hear the horn of the Woodsman
heed his ____ tread
his fell axe is trimming
the leaves of the dead

the warrior, the flame,
a sword in the west
away, all ye Dragons
let enmity rest

c2016, KB

Once finished, it’ll be the opening poem before the story begins.

lake at Myriad Botanical Gardens, Oklahoma City (c2014, KB)

lake at Myriad Botanical Gardens, Oklahoma City (c2014, KB)

 

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Granite

Granite

Ideas from unexpected places? Happens all the time.

This week, while writing story notes in a spiral-bound notebook, I was listening to episodes of “Ancient Impossible” on the History Channel.* When I’d hear a historical detail I wanted to remember, I’d jot it on a separate page from the story notes.

In Dragon’s Rook, I wrote about a mountain city carved from granite.** However, I didn’t reveal how it was carved. Granite is serious stone. It doesn’t like to be cut.

However, there are examples of granite cut in ancient times, and they were the subject of a couple segments on “Ancient Impossible”: How did the ancients cut a large core of granite — a cylinder with evenly-spaced narrow grooves spiraling down its length — and how did they cut a slab that is marked as if by a circular saw, a piece of technology that no one expected to have existed then?

And that reminded me of something that should be incorporated into the next book, Dragon’s Bane: How was the city of Elycia carved into a mountainside composed mainly of granite?

Not gonna tell you. Yet. 😉

But it makes sense inside the story, and it explains one detail mentioned in Dragon’s Rook — the grooves left in the stone cliffs.

I want to go write that material right now, but I’m still finishing Thieves’ Honor, a space opera novel, which I hope to have complete by the end of the month. And then it’s back to Dragon’s Bane. And, after that, The Unmakers, a novel of paranormal suspense.

Anyone else listen to TV rather than watch it? Must come from all my years of having a radio but no television — listening is now a habit.

** The Mount Rushmore carvings are granite.

 
 

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Pilgrimage, Heroic Fantasy, and Robin Hood

Pilgrimage, Heroic Fantasy, and Robin Hood

The difference between wanting to write and having written is…hard, relentless labour. It’s a bridge you have to build all by yourself, all alone, all through the night, while the world goes about its business without giving a damn. The only way of making this perilous passage is by looking at it as a pilgrimage. ― Shatrujeet Nath

What a pilgrimage it has been — and it’s far from ended.

I meant to write a blog post last month, or perhaps the month before, about the most influential character I ever encountered as a reader, and thought the character and the words would come pouring forth with ease.

I shoulda known better.

My imagination went into hiding, I seemed to forget every story I’d ever read, and all the words evaporated like summer rain in the desert.

HFQ 6x9 front cover ONLY-croppedAdd to that sudden betrayal by my brain the equally sudden request from my friends at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly: They’d finalized the stories and poems for their anthology, and were ready for me to do my part — design and format the book.

I’d been preparing for this event for about two years. It is one of several reasons I published Dragon’s Rook after almost throwing it away. Needing material on which to practice, I heavily revised the novel and restructured it, then learned how to format it for print and e-book, and then — with the artwork and cover design from a friend — published it independently. The experience and skills gained from that process has been put to excellent use in helping bring HFQ’s anthology to the public.

Words may have hidden from me, but book formatting is a different kind of creativity.There wasn’t much time to bemoan the lack of storytelling or blog posting — there was a cover to design, and text to manipulate, and fonts to sample. And a deadline to meet.

Still, I pondered which character(s) could be considered “the most influential”, but didn’t know the answer until it strolled onto the scene in a private message exchange on social media. A fellow writer said he was preparing to read my book, but had lost some of his enthusiasm for the genre.

There’s more to his message, and more to my reply, but this is the portion pertinent to this post:

(I)f you proceed, I hope you’re pleasantly surprised. People see swords and dragons, and they form opinions without knowing how those items are used in the story. Rather than being a Tolkien knock-off or a GRRM wannabe, Dragon’s Rook is its own thing.

Couldn’t duplicate GRRM or Robert Jordan or most others, even if I tried, because I’ve never read them. My reading is mainly in other genres — detective mysteries, for example.

The main stylistic influence is Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, a book which led to trouble one summer when I confessed to having read it x number of times and was about to read it again. Dad decided I needed to get out more, so he made my brother and me cut and haul pine on BLM land that needed to be cleared, and then we stacked it at our house in preparation for winter. (Yes, I have stories about stories.)

Bingo! Robin Hood! How did I not realize that before?

a photo of the rough front cover of my beloved Velveteen-Rabbit-ed copy (KB)

a photo of the front cover of my beloved Velveteen-Rabbit-ed copy (KB)

He isn’t the only character who has influenced my life once I read his/her story, but Robin i’ the Hood certainly had an impact on my plans that summer.

My dad meant to make me exercise and soak up sunlight, but he’s also the one who introduced me to this edition of the book, and he used to read portions aloud, so — loving it as he did — what did he expect but that I would love it, too?

I loved it so much, in fact, that the copy pictured here has begun to fall apart. Several years ago, I purchased a replacement copy — in much better shape, almost pristine — of this very same edition. It is the best, mimicking an illuminated text, and rich with color and action.

I’ve read other versions by other authors, but none beats Howard Pyle’s. It’s robust, full of humor and tragedy and exploits, and it fired my imagination until I composed pale imitations of the adventures of Robin and his merry band.

In seeking for something Robin-like, I stumbled upon other classic tales, such as Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.

You guessed it. That book’s falling apart, too.

 

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