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Finding the End

Finding the End

After waking in a strange funk, likely caused by falling asleep while watching a Scottish crime series and hearing shouts and gunshots in my sleep, I have the rough outline for the unwritten remainder of Thieves Honor.*

This novel was supposed to be completed in December 2015, but life has its own plans and stories take their own time.

I wanted to advance, but a voice nagged at the back of my mind, so I returned to the beginning of the story and revised or cut passages that had never quite satisfied. Something was missing, too. Like the forgotten spice for the soup, a minor plot element had been left out — and its absence, while not making the story unpalatable, certainly made it less interesting.

When Ray Gun Revival magazine went into hiatus, I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I’d planned for three “seasons” of the Thieves Honor serial; for the novel, however, time and material had to be condensed, and the story itself needed to change.

As of this morning, about three years or so later, I know roughly how to do that.**

There’s much to be said for outlines, but I don’t think or create in linear fashion. My mind needs time to hike over wide wide tracts of unconnected wildernesses and brings back ideas I would never have considered but for the wandering. And if I don’t start writing something, a story may never actually be written before it is forgotten.

I plod when I’d rather soar, although some of my best short story work has occurred under a looming deadline. That’s usually after I already know the characters and story goal well enough to fit the puzzle together at the last minute.

It’s good business to produce books quickly so one can build a paying audience and solid readership. There are exceptions to that, of course; a certain famous fantasy writer is known for his slow production rate, but he hasn’t lost his audience.

I wish I wrote faster. My mind is teeming with untold stories.

 

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* If this is the result, maybe I should fall asleep to noisy Scottish crime dramas every night. 😉 After all, in the novel, there’s a dead character with a Scottish burr who “haunts” Finney, the ship’s pilot.

** For readers in the know, Carson Quinn, son of a famous pirate, and Rebeka Bat’Alon, the rebellious daughter of a port governor, are making a comeback in the story, turning their bit parts into pivotal roles. The mystery of the ghost ship Elsinore will be solved, and there’ll be another visit to the outcast colony living in the abandoned mines of the Devil’s Eye.

Readers were first introduced to the colony in “Shooting the Devil’s Eye”, a short story in Raygun Chronicles, a space opera anthology.

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Gotcha Covered

Last night’s writer’s meeting was ill-attended; only three of us showed up. However, that allowed me to seek advice from the librarian who leads the group, and ask her how the exteriors of books affect 1) inclusion in the library’s collection, and 2) reader choice.

Concerned about my preference for simplicity in artwork or design, I was surprised — and yet not — by her responses. Sure, if the artwork is cheesy and/or seems at odds with the subject matter, the staff might have a laugh, but what’s most annoying to them are book covers so minimalistic they reveal nothing about the content. She mentioned one publisher that tends toward such spareness there’s no artwork or even a description of the plot. Just the title and the author’s name.

So simplicity of decoration is fine, but tell readers about the story. Give ’em some reason to choose your book.

“If the reader flips to the back to read the blurb, you’re almost guaranteed they’ll check out the book.”

Then she looked at my rough draft for the cover of Thieves Honor. It looked like a thriller, not science fiction, but the fix was easy: She suggested I flip the background image, so the front became the back, and vice versa. The color gradiant and the angle of the light changed, giving the illusion of outer space rather than what the photo actually portrays — a table, a wooden chair, and the light from my computer screen all running together into a tie-dye abstraction of formless color.

The current draft of the front cover:

in-progress cover (c2016, KB)

in-progress cover (c2016, KB)

So, can I get away with no focal image on the cover, or is some artwork still needed? And is the look too “homemade” to be taken seriously?

For reference, the original image in its original orientation:

Abstraction (c2016, KB)

Abstraction (c2016, 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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The End? (Examining Famous Novel Endings While Trying to Write My Own)

Today I return to the final bits of writing before a book is published: the acknowledgements, the back cover summary, the author bio (the dreaded bio), and more.

In so doing, I am drawn back to an old blog post from April 2009, in which I addressed endings from classic novels, as well as the endings for two of my own novels. Perhaps I should not have struggled — those two endings have yet to be written.

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I’ve been considering endings. Writers are constantly being advised about the best ways to begin their tales, though what comes after may be less than stellar, but a strong ending can redeem a weak opening (not that I’m advocating such).

What makes a story work, beginning to end? All writers have the same tools, but each wields them differently, so that time bends in one writer’s hands, but is linear in another’s. One writer excels in action, another in dialogue or description. But one shouldn’t only play to one’s strengths; all writers should — in my occasionally humble opinion — practice to add muscle to their weaknesses, turning them into strengths.

TCOMOne way is to study other writers and other stories. I often go back to the classics. For instance, the classic revenge tale, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, begins thus:

On February 24, 1815, the watchtower at Marseilles signaled the arrival of the three-master Pharaon, coming from Smyrna, Trieste, and Naples.

A deceptively quiet first sentence, it still has the tang of mystery about it. Why the importance of the date? The word watchtower has more than one implication, the arrival of a ship also signals the arrival of people and goods, and the cities are ports of call where intriguing events might have occurred that will affect the story.

Just as the book opens with a ship’s arrival, it ends with the sailing of another vessel:

“Look,” said Jacopo.

The two young people looked in the direction in which he was pointing. On the dark blue line separating the sky from the Mediterranean they saw a white sail.

“Gone!” cried Maximilien. “Farewell, my friend, my father!”

“Gone!” murmured Valentine. “Farewell, my friend! Farewell, my sister!”

“Who knows if we’ll ever see them again?” said Maximilien.

“My darling,” said Valentine, “the count just told us that all human wisdom was contained in these two words: Wait and hope.”

I’m not a fan of all those exclamation marks, but that last line is as strong an end as a story needs.

Some Danger InvolvedFast-forward a couple centuries, and Will Thomas writes an excellent series of mystery novels featuring Barker & Llewellyn. The first book, Some Danger Involved, begins thus:

If someone had told me, those many years ago, that I would spend the bulk of my life as assitant and eventual partner to one of the most eminent detectives in London, I would have thought him a raving lunatic.

It ends thus:

I mused for a moment. “We did it, didn’t we? We actually solved a case. Well, you did, anyway. Racket tried to throw us off the scent, but you saw through it all. There’s just one thing that puzzles me.”

“What is that?” he asked.

“Who’s this widow you haven’t mentioned before?”

He didn’t say anything, but I knew I’d struck a nerve. His pipe went out.

Humor and mystery, even at the end. Perfect.

The Queen of Bedlam 260x420The Queen of Bedlam, another mystery, this one by Robert McCammon, begins with a bit of philosophy and history:

‘Twas said better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, but in the town of New York in the summer of 1702 one might do both, for the candles were small and the dark was large.

And it ends with a bit of rumination:

Matthew held the glass close to the fingerprints and narrowed his eyes.

How like a maze a fingerprint was, he thought. How like the unknown streets and alleys of a strange city. Curving and circling, ending here and going there, snaking and twisting and cut by a slash.

Matthew followed the maze with his glass, deeper and deeper, deeper still.
Deeper yet, toward the center of it all.

Again, a book that ends but a story that doesn’t, as the main character, having survived and solved a case, still seeks a killer who eluded him.

Hobbit-bookHow about another classic? JRR Tolkien‘s The Hobbit, my introductory drug to the whole fantasy genre, begins with a now-famous paragraph:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat; it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

Hmm. Exactly how does a hobbit-hole mean comfort? And what in the world is a hobbit?

“The the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!” said Bilbo.

“Of course!” said Gandalf. “And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

“Thank goodness!” said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.

A cozy ending to a rousing adventure, coming (almost) full circle, for the hobbit at the end, while still enjoying his comforts, is a different hobbit from the fussy little man at the beginning.

The Meaning of NightThis last illustration is from The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox:

After killing the red-haird man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.

The first time I read that line, I didn’t want to read the book, because such a sentence could only be a trick, a flamboyant barker’s call to ride the rollercoaster, and the rest of the ride would be disappointing. Not so. And, just as in The Count of Monte Cristo, the quest for revenge turns the man seeking the revenge:

This, then, is what I have learned, since writing my confession on this final shore:

Honor not the malice of thine enemy so much, as to say, thy misery comes from him; Dishonour not the complexion of the times so much, as to say, thy misery comes from them; justifie not the Deity of Fortune so much, as to say, thy misery comes from her; Finde God pleased with thee, and thou hast a hook in the nostrils of every Leviathan.

I long for sleep, and for soft English rain. But they do not come.

E.G.

Regret, lessons hard-learned, and desires unmet: Was the revenge worth the cost?

As for my own writing, I know where I want a fantasy story to end — the final scene has been written for years — but there’s still a manuscript-and-a-half to finish first. However, because of what the three characters endure before that scene, the quiet ending will carry the weight of all the adventures and sacrifices, all the dreams and losses, that have gone before it.

In the science fiction serial novel, I don’t know the ending. I know the conflicts and the characters, and the broad brush-strokes of the background, but the minutiae I’m learning as I go, right along with the readers: the less-obvious motives of the characters, the various reasons the colonies exist and are in conflict with the rebels, what’s going to happen next.

I just don’t know how it’s going to end.

Having a work in progress even as it’s being published is a disquieting circumstance for me. It keeps me writing, and it takes me on a journey. Maybe I’ll only know the ending when I get there, and not a moment before.

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UPDATE:

The two novels remain unfinished.

Life, you see, has a way of imposing roadblocks.

But roadblocks are only delays, not final destinations.

After all, one need not use roads to achieve the goal. Sometimes one must blaze a trail.

The “manuscript-and-half” mentioned above has become merely one manuscript. The trilogy has been shrunk to a duology, and the first book should be coming soon. Dragon’s Rook was expected in the summer, but I’m hoping it will be available in e-book form by winter. A cover is forthcoming.

 

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Applause v. Participation

Kishi kaisei.
Wake from death and return to life.

Tade kuu mushi mo sukizuki.
There are even bugs who eat knotweed.
(To each his own.)

I’ve been developing a short fantasy set in Japan, in an era and a culture about which I know little. That means delving into reading about all manner of topics: honorifics, architecture, food, names, proverbs. I’m tempted to fill the story with Japanese terminology, but I don’t know what’s true to the period and what’s modern. And tossing in every word I learn would overwhelm the plot, and distract or annoy the reader, so I’m backing off, using the literary equivalent of a pinch of salt. A taste, not a stomachful.

An interesting dish — but who wants to eat it?

As with everything I write, I wonder, “Who’d want to read this? Am I writing only for myself? Am I okay with that?”

My reading at the most recent writers meeting was an attempt to answer those questions. I brought my first two thousand words of the Japanese fantasy and invited the other members to tear into it. The story needs to be solid, because it will be competing against other and far better writers, and I want to do my best so there are no regrets if I lose. No excuses.

The group followed along as I read but made few notes on their copies of the pages, which was unexpected. My own copy was littered with notes before the meeting ended. The responses were favorable, the speculations thick and fast, the suggestions and critiques constructive.

It was the most — what’s the word? — refreshing critique session since, well, never.

In a prior group, my speculative stories were met with negativity, so I stopped sharing, stopped asking for feedback. The writer went into hibernation, and only the editor showed up for meetings.

At first, I believed the bad press: “Your stories are too difficult to understand” or “You’re not connecting with your audience.” While that may have been partly true, I came to realize that the audience — certain members of it — were never going to connect. Their understanding of and approach to reading left little room for deviations from their personal expectations: A story must look like this and not that.

With realization came renewed confidence. Nah, the audience didn’t change, but it stopped mattering. I could predict which of my stories they’d like — the more conventional ones — and which would make their eyes glaze and their mouths purse.

A new state and two writers groups later, I’ve landed with a mixed flock of hatchlings, most still in the nest, some just now recognizing their wings, some learning to fly. They’re fearless, though, sharing their earnest romances and troubled life stories, their awkward urban fantasies and sophisticated twisted fairy tales. They tell each other what they like and what they don’t understand, what’s not working and what piques their imagination.

The group works. I can’t explain it, but it works.

Maybe because the nasty black-hat villain Ego hasn’t arrived.

So I shared. They responded. It was good.

People have read my stories in publications, but it doesn’t necessarily occur to readers to contact authors and tell how the story affected them, how it stayed in their minds for days or roamed their dreams at night. How it made them cry, scream, laugh, think.

The response from my fellow writers the other night was like applause at a live play, accompanied by an honest but non-mean-spirited review.

I don’t need flattery or compliments or pats on the head.

As nice as it is, I don’t need applause.

What I crave? Capturing readers’ imaginations to such a degree that they fill in the details I didn’t describe. They journey alongside the characters, and talk to them, emote with them, live through them. The story matters so much to the readers they lose sleep to finish it. They argue with friends over why a character did this or said that. They can’t wait for the next story.

My cousin's son, hamming for the camera, always ready for the laughs and the applause! (c2013, KB)

My cousin’s son, hamming for the camera, always ready for the laughs and the applause! (c2013, KB)

Participation. That’s what I want.

Better than applause any day.

 

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Clint & the Gang

Took this photo at the Hollywood Wax Museum in Branson, Missouri, last summer:

classic Clint Eastwood Hollywood Wax Museum Branson, MO (c2014, KB)

classic Clint Eastwood
Hollywood Wax Museum
Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

Makes me downright nostalgic.

So does this, although the artistry is somewhat less than that performed on ol’ Clint:

classic Star Trek crew Hollywood Wax Museum Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

classic Star Trek crew
Hollywood Wax Museum
Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

Maybe Westerns and outer space, mashed together, is why I love Firefly so much, and why I can’t escape the Old West influence in my writing, whether that be space opera, modern fiction, or even medieval fantasy.

I was raised in the West and the South — I live on the cusp of the West even now — and that independence of spirit and manner of speech creeps in, even when I’m not aware. Not gonna fight it. Just gonna embrace it.

 

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It’s All about Me (bwah-ha-ha-ha!)

It’s April Fool’s Day here in the States, but I promise — cross my heart — everything in this post is true. 🙂

Well, except for one thing. The title is true and untrue at once. Stick around. You’ll see.

The proper title should be this: Sharing My Writing Process — An Experiment. This post is part of a blog hop, and my invitation came from Travis Perry. There’ll be more about Travis and the hop when I reach the end.

But first, the questions:

ruins in Eureka Springs, Arkansas (cKB)

ruins in Eureka Springs, Arkansas (cKB)

Q     What are you working on?
A     I’m revising and doing last-minute rewrites on an epic fantasy that is planned for publication in summer or early fall. It’s a book I gave up on, but for which I have regained a new appreciation. The first half of a duology and weighing in at over 200k words *, Dragon’s Rook is still very much an unfinished work. As I enter the last handful of chapters, I realize 1) endings are difficult to get right, and 2) there’s a stinkin’ lot of story left to tell.

I’m also writing a modern urban fantasy — vampires, swords, cell phones and such — called The Unmakers. It’s a strange tale, and I’m not always sure how to approach it, but I like it and can’t wait to tell it. The story owes its sensibilities to Bram Stoker, medieval knights, film noir, the Old West, Christian missionaries, and teenage ghost hunters. Yeah. See why I’m not sure how it’s supposed to be told?

I once vowed I’d never write about dragons or vampires, but what do I do? Write about dragons and vampires.

I also want to finish Thieves’ Honor, a science fiction serial I originally started as a NaNoWriMo project back in 2007. Then I resurrected it and posted pieces on my old blog. Johne Cook, an Overlord at Ray Gun Revival, read an episode or two and invited me to write for the magazine. When RGR went into hiatus, Thieves’ Honor was incomplete, which is how it remains today. However, you can read episodes of it here. (click links at top of blog page)

a view from Mount Magazine, Arkansas (cKB)

a view from Mount Magazine, Arkansas (cKB)

Q     How does your work differ from others of its genre?
A     I strive to make the fantasy epic and heroic while still letting people be real. Other writers do, too, and many stories are far grittier than mine, but I don’t want to mistake “grit” for “realism”. Sure, folks misbehave and kill each other, and it’s an ugly world out there, but people can be decent, brave, patient, and all the “soft” stuff that doesn’t seem to be mentioned as often as violence, sex, and messed-up people.

Yes, there is violence, sensuality, and messed-up people in my stories. But there’s also hope. I like hope. Makes me get up each day and keep trying.

Q     Why do you write what you do?
A     Why, indeed?

I write whatever interests me. I hated research papers in school, but now educate myself by researching whatever captures my fancy. Sometimes it leads to unexpected stories, sometimes it enhances what I’m already writing, and sometimes it lets me meet interesting folks I might never meet otherwise — modern blacksmiths, for instance, or medieval re-enactors.

Some stories begin as dreams or what-ifs, some began as challenges from other writers, and one story (unfinished) came to life when I was ill for a long time and unable to leave my bed much. I was bored, weak, kept falling asleep whenever I tried to read, so I let my mind wander.

Q     How does your writing process work?
A     Dragon’s Rook started out as a short story almost twenty years ago, and looked far different from the sprawling chihuahua-killer it is now. The rook in the title originally only had one meaning — a chess piece — and that meaning obliquely remains. There’s a chess-like game referenced in the story. However, rook gained other meanings as the story grew: blackbird, a place to nest birds, a tower, and a cheat.

the dragon who used to keep me company on my old writing desk, and the inspiration for one character in Dragon's Rook (cKB)

the dragon who used to keep me company at my old writing desk, and the inspiration for one character in Dragon’s Rook (cKB)

The dragons, though? They were an unexpected development, meant only to be brute beasts. Then one started talking. Then it laughed. And then the story changed.

So, process? It’s messy.

As a young writer, I tried following all kinds of advice: where to write, when to write, how much to write, how long a story must be, how a story must look, all sorts of formulas, but imagination shriveled up and creativity died.

Then someone asked the right questions:
1) So what? Who cares? (What’s important in the story, and why?)
2) What’s driving the story: the plot or the characters?(Just as our character determines our actions, choices, and words in real life, so do fictional characters decide what happens and what to say, strongly influencing the plot.)

I ditched the advice and the bogus rules, and started writing what I wanted, how the stories demanded to be told. Ideas returned, and for a time there were nights I never slept, trying to record the ideas flooding my mind. (Not a recommended way of living, especially if one must go to a job on a regular basis, as I did.) After a long dry spell, not only did I write novels, but short stories, poems, essays, freelance articles.

But I don’t write every day, and I don’t write in the same place or at the same time of day. Formulas and schedules don’t work for me. **

Sometimes I have nothing to say, sometimes I can’t write fast enough. I’m still learning to be okay with the silences, when ideas hide and words refuse to obey.

* —– * —– * —– * —– * —– *

Now, about those other writers who make this post’s title untrue:

Travis Perry, blogger at Travis’s Big Idea, and author of several speculative stories, invited me and a few other writers to participate in this “blog hop” on how we write. (I was supposed to post yesterday, but there were other words to be written.) If you like magic mixed in with your science fiction, check out his fun short story, “A Little Problem With the Dilithium Stone“, a fan’s homage to Star Trek and fantasy tales.

L.S. King, a friend and fellow writer, is also participating in the hop. Her newest novel, Sword’s Edge, is now available and gaining excellent reviews.

K.M. Alexander, not part of this loop but participating in another branch of the blog hop, has answered the same four questions on his site.

If she’s up for it, I’m challenging Suzan Troutt to add her own contribution.

Now, go forth and write!

* And that’s after pulling out about 20k words to streamline the book. Yup. It’s a monster.
** For writers who do work better with schedules or particular parameters, check out the advice on the Nail Your Novel blog.

 

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