Things I Wish I Knew Before Writing a Fantasy Series–But I Just Did It Anyway

Whoops–ever get the funny feeling you just slipped up and wrote an epic trilogy or two? Here’s some of what I went through when writing the Despair series…

1) You will use many of the same words over and over again. You will fall into certain patterns. The up side is that it will be easier and easier to edit this. You may, as I did, use versions of the word “look” 499 times.

2) You will need to edit. A lot. Like around 30 times. 30 times for 300 k plus words is a LOT a LOT.

3) You will have to write supporting materials, like lexicons and timelines and character sketches and sketches of where people are sitting around a table, and maybe draw maps, even if you can’t draw. You will also try to draw your characters, realize this helps you visualize them, realize you can’t draw, and wind up relying on SIMs 4 far too often.

4) Eventually you will realize that everyone in your story needs last names, then ages, then middle names, then birthdays, then parents, then an entire back story, then possibly even children… by the time you’re finished, you’ll know every item in their wardrobes, plus their social security numbers.

5) You will try many ways to organize information, including but not exclusive to Word documents, cards, notebook paper, pieces of paper stapled together, Excel, Scrivener, hand-drawn charts, bubble maps, graphic art, and SIMs 4. All of these will both fail your expectations and help you along a little bit further.

6) People who have not written a fantasy series with this level of complexity cannot understand what you are going through. You will feel closer to Tolkien and Jonathan Stroud and L. Frank Baum than to your own family.

7) Conversely, anyone who helps you hash out your series, listens to your work-in-progress being read aloud, or offers you encouragement will be your best friend forever.

8) Anyone who criticizes your work-in-progress will feel your wrath and possibly have an evil or obnoxious character named after them.

9) You will mutter, mumble, and murmur to yourself about your characters. You will use your own made-up words in regular conversation with adults. You will quote yourself in public and laugh hysterically, and no one will get the joke.

10) Your worlds will become incredibly real to you, and you will mourn not spending time there.

11) You will have these horrible cock-ups when you realize that a) something canonical that you wrote just does not jibe with reality or history at all b) something that all other plot points depend on is horribly, horribly illogical and must be completely rewritten c) the thing that was so horribly, horribly illogical that you rewrote actually made perfect sense and you were insane when you thought it was illogical and now the rewrite needs to be scrapped d) fifty things you brought into the story that you meant to do something with just sat there, and now you’ve got to either develop them or take them out.

12) You will use the word “canonical” far too much considering the work is unpublished.

13) Your characters will develop and some of them will come so far that you wouldn’t even know them if you went back and looked at the material you started with. They will reveal untold layers of depth to you, and even if you fail to convey this in your writing, you will be touched by it. This is a completely mysterious process, and you will forever wonder where these character people that you apparently invented really came from.

14) You will discover there is a huge divide between a good story and good writing. You may have an awesome story and the best ideas, and you will still have to figure out how to write it like everybody else.

15) You will begin to feel a massive responsibility to your characters. You may find yourself telling people that you can’t hang out because your characters need you. After all, who else do they have?

16) You will feel an even more massive responsibility to your characters’ children, should they have any, or should any be planned.

17) You will become insufferable when watching or reading any sort of series at all. You will point out all kinds of inconsistencies and say things like “I had that problem too, but at least I didn’t rely on the idiot man child trope to solve it.” You’ll claim to feel the pain of other series writers and yet mock them when they fail to satisfactorily resolve a subplot, or the emotions in a character interaction don’t ring true. I recall a particularly ugly moment when I insisted on rewinding one part of a series show over and over to illustrate that “the writing is so bad here, even the actors don’t believe it–see? See?”

18) You will read other books and fill them full of obnoxious and snarky notes about everything the author did wrong. You will feel superior for five minutes, and then become paranoid for the rest of the day that you might have done the same thing or worse.

19) You will have music for things. Songs for different characters. Music that gets you going. You will be trained like Pavlov’s dogs to that shit. When the music turns on, you write.

20) You will fall in love with several of your characters, at the least, and miss them when you don’t spend enough time with them. But this will not prevent you from doing horrible things to them in the name of the story.

21) You will obsess over whether your books are just like someone else’s, or similar in even a small way. This will agonize you. Then you will turn around and agonize because your books are completely unlike anything else in the bookstore, and have no genre, and therefore must be totally unreadable and unmarketable.

22) You will write pages and pages of narrative and back story and “notes”–for want of a better term–describing aspects of your world and your characters. None of this will add to your actual word count, and later you will lose them. Even if you don’t lose them, you’ll probably never look at them again due to the sheer volume. Somehow, even without these notes, you soldier on.

23) Your point-of-view will be an absolute disaster because you have no idea what you are doing. Somehow, you soldier on.

24) Even though you have no idea what you are doing, the words will keep coming and the ideas will pop up and you will keep writing. At times, you will curse this and wish you could stop and wish this burden could be taken from you. You will feel like you are pregnant but can’t give birth. You will feel like this for way longer than nine months, for way longer than any human ever should.

25) Some people won’t get your series, won’t like it, or just won’t take any interest. Those people are dead to you.

26) Some people who care may want to stage an intervention or suspect you have a mental illness. In the end, you will realize the word “project” just isn’t strong enough to describe what you’re going through, and “all-consuming obsession” sums it up better.

27) In the middle of a normal conversation, you’ll suddenly say things like “I wrote something about that in book two,” or “There’s actually a penguin in book three” and it will be totally unrelated to the conversation at hand.

28) You want to speak to other authors desperately, but they don’t understand what you’re going through either unless they have also written a fantasy series, and most of them haven’t. But you’ll wind up jawing their ears off anyway.

29) You will give half-baked versions of your work out to everyone under very dubious circumstances. You will wet yourself with anticipation when your beta readers respond back. You will get feedback that says thing like “It was good. I liked the X character. You should include space Nazis,” where the X character is a minor character of no development who could have been replaced by a large stone.

30) After much, much repetition, certain people will become half-hearted “fans” and what this means is that they will insist on “playing” with your work. They will make a lot of suggestions, rewrite bits of it in their own minds, pester you about elements they want you to change, and get all creepy like Annie Wilkes in Misery when you do something to a character that they don’t like.

31) You will later regret some of the horrifying fates you dished out to certain characters, but it will be too late.

32) You will spend too much time “interviewing” yourself about your books, planning the amusement park based on your setting, and planning toys, t-shirts, and Halloween costumes based on your characters. You will also spend hours thinking about cover art, haranguing artists whom you don’t intend to hire or pay, and Googling pictures of people who might look sort of like your characters, if composites of them were done with hot, good-looking actors or actresses.

33) When you came up with how the magic worked, you never knew 1) it would develop new ways to work as the series went on 2) new things would be discovered that stop it from working 3) It would just keep getting more powerful and Quick! Somebody turn this thing off before it takes over the world!

34) It seemed like a good idea to have portals, alternate dimensions, and magical McGuffins at the time. And what’s wrong with people who can read minds and receive visions? Three methods of procreation and four half-baked religions? Why not? The more the merrier!

This is what you thought before the fridge horror kicked in and the implications of all your bad choices became totally apparent. Then one day you realize your main character is probably related to her love interest, your seers are mind rapists, and your method of creating portals encourages character suicides. This is a bad, bad ugly day.

35) For reals, who knew you would use “as if” THAT many time? It’s embarrassing.

36) Your imagination will become a lot stronger, like a muscle that you overuse. Maybe before, you couldn’t imagine your way out of a paper bag. Now you will confound even children with the things you come up with. The up side is that children will like you and your own children will “catch” the creativity, become more creative, and maybe even join in the creative process. The down side is that adults think you are mentally ill and avoid you.

37) You will have trouble eating and sleeping at times, and may drink more coffee than can actually exist in this time-space dimension, although no one can prove that yet.

38) You will pretty much stop watching TV because you’re too busy making up your own stuff. The difference is that when most people are reading or watching something, and they want to know what happens, they just read or watch some more. In your case, you have to make up some more if you want to know what happens. That can be frustrating when you are really into your own story. It’s also frustrating for anyone else who happens to be following along.

39) If you have kids or significant others, they may confuse your characters with other TV, movie, or book characters. This can be insulting or gratifying. My daughter constantly gets “Sirius Black” from Harry Potter mixed up with my own character, “Classic Evil.” Yesterday, she called my friend’s son by one of my character’s names. When we watch movies, we’ll say “Oh, isn’t that character just like Blade? Doesn’t that remind you of Sam?” and other people have no idea what we’re talking about.

40) A story is a living, organic thing. Yeah, it has identifiable parts and can be broken down–but there’s also something indefinable and holistic that will defy all attempts to categorize it or logically understand it or control it. We wouldn’t tell stories if they didn’t convey something other, something we can’t tell any other way. There’s a magic within the process of telling. People may tell you to plot your story, outline it, plan it–none of this makes any difference when the story takes over and pulls you into its flow. My advice is just to go along for the wild ride. There’s a saying for skiers, “Skiing is a dance, and the mountain always leads.” I think this goes double for a fantasy series. “Writing is a dance, and the story always leads” or something like that. You can always go back and edit 30 times, so enjoy the ride.

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Short Story Formula

I like to break things down so I can do them more efficiently. So it seemed to me there must be a formula for short story writing, particularly really short stories. I’ve written enough other forms that I didn’t see why this should elude me. I’ve also been writing in the Clarion West Write-a-thon:

Haha. Funny story. So I was poking around in my email, and I hit some button. It looks like I hit the sign-up button for the Clarion West Write-a-thon! Okay, so whatever. If it’s writing, I can kick its ass, right? I mean, I beat nanowrimo in 12 days last year or something. That’s 50 thousand words in 12 days. So all I do is set some outrageous writing goal–and you know damn straight I can do it–then I pester all of you to sponsor me.

Here’s the link where you do the sponsoring:

https://www.clarionwest.org/groups/write-a-thon-2017/

It looks like they’ll take any amount! (This really is a worthy organization you guys.)

I’m about 1/3rd of the way down, on the left, looking kinda spooky and washed out.

It’s a six-week deal, and I think I’ll write six short stories, at 3-4 k per week. That’s a big thing for me because to be honest, it’s easier for me to write a book in a week than a short story. I’m really a distance writer. I’m trying to learn to pare it down.

Well, I don’t know how I got into this, but what the hey. Sponsor me for Clarion West!

 

As a result of this challenge, I’ve had to find a method. It’s not that different from writing a chapter of a novel, I discovered. And if this works, I can be like Chekhov and write billions and billions of these little suckers, just for fun. Here’s what I discovered.

Start with an element. Some kind of premise or situation. It does not matter what! Just pick any kind of stupid thing. Write about that for a few, doing a mini-scene with some dialogue and scene setting. Don’t try to make it too BIG or IMPORTANT. No big concepts or jeremiads. Just mess around.

You can introduce your main character here, do the voice, or tell some about the POV character. Keep it loose.

I also suggest doing what I call “form breaking” which is to put a form in there that is not of the short story. That is, it’s not narration, dialogue, scene setting, or action. That is, it’s something other, like a letter, a song, a legal document, a newspaper article, a piece of folklore, a script… get the idea?

The form break allows you to set it up quicker, like they do in comic books. Think visual. You want to collage the story, kind of surround the wagons with images and ideas type of thing.

This should have quickly set up the first part. Now you add element number two. Again, does not matter what it is. Pick something at random. Something about the main character that sets them apart, is a special skill, burden, power, or problem. Pro tip: just like in Chinese where danger also means opportunity, so in the short story, the character’s special burden is also the character’s secret weapon or hidden strength. And note how efficient that is, too! I do appreciate efficiency.

Do some illustrate-y stuff next about how the POV character relates to the world or other characters. This is a great place for dialogue, a mini-scene between two characters. Of course in the dialogue, you do all the usual stuff like character development, plot movement, and you’re amping up the problem of the story. But I figure you know to do that.

OK, action. Generally right here, I move the POV character to a new location to find out new information and possibly meet a new character. The previous scene probably gave them good reasons to move. The character they meet may be the antagonist, or turn out to be an ally. Sometimes I will use two characters here so it keeps the reader guessing.

This is a good place to showcase (again) the POV character’s hidden strength. It may be just a hint or more obvious. You don’t go “This was her hidden strength.” You just show it, how cool it is, or make it noticeable. Sort of developing the strength, making it grow through the story, by repetition and change. Sometimes this is known as resonance.

Pro tip: while internal monologue is neat, it’s more efficient to have characters for the POV character to talk to. POV characters develop faster with other characters to bump up against. Just as in real life, the stress of dealing with other people causes them to grow.

Action: shocking information is gleaned by the POV character! A bad scene! Also, around this point, POV character might be re-evaluating their life choices, realizing they didn’t know all they thought, realizing they are more like someone else than they knew, or making a decision or choice to be strong. Don’t make this too overt. Show it by facial gestures, body language, little remarks they make. If they have some kind of key phrase they say, you can rework it to mean something different to show how their mentality is changing.

Now you can work on the wrap-up, because this is two-thirds done. You can either finish in one scene or you can also have a denouement on the end. Remember we are keeping this at 3 to 4 k. (3,000 to 4,000 words)

The wrap-up is the hardest part, because it’s like tying off knitting that is all tight and everything pulls on everything else. You have to work hard to get it. Just muscle through and get it done, is my advice.

Climax scene: action. The antagonist will now threaten POV character with the special burden or the problem they had in the beginning. All the fit is now going to hit the proverbial shan. Things look bad for POV character. You know, do scene, dialogue, make sure to throw in cool setting that gives poignant hints of mood. I like to have things glitter in the air a lot.

You can use one of your secondary characters for surprise help here, or as someone for the POV character to protect. Resonate your POV character’s hidden strength again. Cast doubt on whether the POV character can do it. The POV character must re-realize their change of mentality from above, which now comes to fruition and pushes them to take action!

Then have the POV character pull the wild card out of the pocket!

This wild card is generally two of the previous elements combined. That is, hidden strength + something else. Sometimes it’s even three elements combined, but the combo is important because it’s both surprising and not surprising, which is what readers expect. Therefore satisfying. (Don’t forget that hidden strength is often the flip side of special burden. Very important.)

Pro tip: do not use a deus ex machina! That’s what this whole method is set up to avoid. Use combined elements from earlier in the story, developed or applied in surprising ways.

Denouement: the quickest is a form break. I.e. a newspaper article or outside convo that tells what happened. It has an aura of authority to it, too. But you could also slap on a little commentary at the end, a true denouement, that re-states just for clarity and resolution, what the situation is NOW. As opposed to when the story started.

The end!

Finally, there is a element of magic to this, I don’t deny. Sometimes it works because you’ve done so much practicing, you’ve basically tried it all, and so you instinctively know how to line the elements up and execute them effectively. So I always advocate the “writing until your eyeballs nearly fall out, for around two hours a day for ten years” approach. It’s extremely effective, and surprisingly efficient, compared to the alternative, “writing once every six months, and half finishing a story.” I’ve tried both methods. Guess which one got results?

Happy short story writing! I’ll gladly answer any questions anyone may have. I could talk craft for a week and never be done.

 

 

 

 

 

The Greatest Master Move

The greatest master move of all. There is something beyond for us to listen to. When we hear that, all other moves fall by the wayside.

I was in a wave pool once, and noticed that if I floated at the deep end, I could hear the mechanism of the wave maker, grinding along, making waves. I was transfixed. “Listen to this!” I said to the people with me. “You have got to hear this!” They listened, but weren’t that impressed. “But it’s like listening to the back stage area of the universe,” I insisted. “It’s the connective tissue, the stuff behind the scenes!”

Of course it wasn’t really that. It merely represented that to me, at the time. Although I still find the sound of a wave maker to be eerie. But the back stage area of the universe–that’s a real thing, a real shortcut, something accessible. I used to think it was like puppet strings, that if I pulled the right one, I’d be able to control my life, my art, outcomes. It’s not like that. This is a dimension you access by surrendering to it, and you do this by stopping thought.

Sounds too easy, or maybe too difficult, in turns. It’s both. It’s easy to start and to see it, but hard to keep it going, as thought has a tendency to return in full force. Still, these little glimpses into the infinite have incredible impact. Some people call this practice meditation, and some call it yoga. Either of those will work to begin the practice of stopping thought for the sake of creativity, for mastering writing.

And oh, what you see, when you stop your thought! Oh, that shiny, shiny world! It creates both ecstasy and extreme positivity, to the point of spontaneous grinning and laughter, and THAT is what allows the something-beyond to whisper through.

Of course, it can get through without such extreme measures. Most creative people do stop their thoughts briefly to let inspiration take hold. But it works better the longer you do not think. I try to stop thought any time I can, sometimes as long as half a day. I would like to do it most of the time, but I’m not really advanced enough yet. And you would assume this would screw up my life, that I would make mistakes and everything would fall apart. Quite the opposite. Things fall into sync, and I’ve done things like found creative solutions, noticed and fixed broken things, evaded car accidents, experienced astonishing insights, gotten places early, impressed people far and wide, and all of it while I’m blissing out from an unreasonable level of happiness.

I’ve been a thinker for most of my life. I’ve got an advanced academic degree; in the past, I pushed thinking pretty far. Far enough that I found its shabby edges. Far enough that I began to suspect its limitations. And when I heard that thought might actually be the problem, I listened, because it rang true. It was one thing I had not tried. With all my thinking, I’d never come to the conclusion that maybe I should STOP.

By the time I realized this, I was in pursuit of creative goals. Creativity teaches us in little ways to stop thought, to let go of ego. I began to experience the truth of it. Not see, or believe, but experience. And that is the greatest master move. The practice of letting go of thought, of listening to the beyond. Hearing the great ineffable silence, and all that is transposed on top of it.

If you ask me how this helps me to write, or to live, I can only present my first tarot card from a reading I had last week: “unknown.” But it does, by leaps and bounds, by moving through the back stage area of the universe, and so turning to the ineffable silence, the luminous emptiness, is what I call the greatest master move.

And this is not a belief of mine. Nothing so grand. It is merely an experience. I’m sure to some, this does sound very woo-woo and airy fairy, but I challenge you to try it nonetheless. It’s not like it’s going to hurt you to stop thinking for one minute.

 

 

 

Recipe for a Leap of Faith

Here I shall list my recipe for a leap of faith. Actually, I have designed an entire outline for how to write an epic-type book. I wrote it out the other day when I was trying to avoid writing a certain touchy scene wherein a favored character betrays his father. My books all follow what is known as the Levi-Strauss or possibly Joseph Campbell line (yes, I read academic studies of folklore from time to time. I came within inches of a career as a folklorist). You’ve probably heard of this, though. The Hero’s Journey (it’s worth memorizing):

  1. The hero is presented with a challenge, rejects it, and is forced or allowed to accept it.
  2. He/she travels on the road of trials, collecting powers and allies, and confronts evil, only to be defeated.
  3. This leads to a dark night of the soul, after which the hero takes a leap of faith that allows him/her to confront evil and be victorious.
  4. The student has become the teacher.

That’s it. Epic-style book in a nutshell. The rest is all in the details. Should the above prove too abstract, just think Star Wars and you’ll have it.

Since as usual, I’m supposed to be doing five other things right now, I’ll just list my recipe here and be off. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek.

Recipe for a Leap of Faith!

Leap of Faith = old power + new power of mythic deepness

Yes, the answer was within them all along, but how do these leaps of faith work, precisely?

Take 1 (one) old power:

–wamprat shooting

–good with animals

–writing

–carving

Using visions or a long night of the soul, combine with 1 (one) new power of mythic deepness:

–the Force

–Lion turtles

–Lexiverse manipulation

–vision of what to carve

Results vary, but expect not only triumph over the forces of evil, but deep insight. Can be shown different ways:

–The Force will always be with me. I can trust it.

–Found a new way to fight back, but not kill opponent

–Imagination triumphs over control

–Magic is letting things be what they want to be

 

For A+ presentation, word the deep insight as a pithy saying.

That is all! You now have a home-baked leap of faith!

 

Master Moves

I’ve had an intention for awhile now to blog about the craft of writing. Above and beyond anything that happens with my fiction, craft is an area of massive geeky interest to me, something I never tire of discussing. Crescit eundo is the state motto of New Mexico, and it means roughly, “It grows as it goes.” This is how I’ve experienced learning craft, for every time I think I’ve hit the heights, I see that I’ve only reached a level that allows me a view of still higher possibilities. So mastery really eludes me still, and is probably decades off, if I ever get there. But from here, I feel I can at least identify what mastery is.

This is my informal list of what I consider to be master moves in the craft of writing. I’m sure many won’t be represented here; this list really is about moves I’d like to learn myself. I may add more as I go along. I’m always discovering new things in this infinitely fascinating pursuit of better craft.

  1. Coin tricks, or slight of hand. Like a person who does coin tricks, a writer also must draw attention or focus to and then away from certain things. Sometimes a writer introduces X and then covers it up with distracting W, Y, and Z, only to spring X later, when it’s been forgotten. A master knows how to mention just enough distractions to throw the reader off the scent, without mentioning too many and becoming confusing or dull. That way, when the reveal of X comes, it’s not only a surprise–it’s an expected surprise. That’s because X remained in the subconscious of the reader, forgotten, but ready to be activated when the writer produced the right coin. (Writing has also been likened to a performance, or to performing magic, and I’m sure that comparison is equally valid.)
  2. Adding insights of depth. Using themes of depth. A writer can do this without being a master at it. A true master knows exactly how much insight will go over and how often. A true master might also double up the insight with another function, such as visual description. (Efficiency of that type is really more of a mid-level skill.) The true master knows exactly when to lower the blade, so that the deep insight comes across as meaningful and full of gravitas, not trite or preachy. Patience is likely the key here. This may also be a timing issue.
  3. Resonance. Resonance in writing is usually the natural and eventual result of repetition, which is a great mid-level tool on its own. But masters repeat and allow X to morph, playing with the meaning of X, playing with the form of X, letting X cross over with Y, until at last, a deeper meaning mysteriously emerges. This seems to be a case of letting go to let the thing become what it wants to be. I’ve done this one by accident, but I don’t entirely understand it, and I am eager to explore it further.
  4. Rule-breaking. There are oh-so-many rules on the ‘nernet these days that tell us how to use algebra to make a book. Which is all well and good at the newbie level, and helpful for the mid-level writer too. Beyond that, things get a little more quantum. The master starts to do interesting things like going against the rules because a better solution has become clear. The master finds ways to make going against the rules work better than following them. I’m sure it’s something that happens as a matter of course, and not because the master TRIED to do it. Again, it’s a matter of letting go, experimenting, going with hunches, seeing what happens. But generally speaking, it is often the case that the master can get a better effect by breaking certain of the rules than by following them.
  5. In description, a master might be able to describe the essence of an experience before actually identifying the experience, and yet the reader will still follow it.
  6. Forks–in stories, there are these junctures where the story might continue along those lines, and might not. This is a little different from an unfired Chekhov’s gun, because it’s more elaborate. An entire storyline might be introduced, and then abandoned, only to be picked up later. A less experienced writer might introduce such a fork, producing a lot of curiosity in the reader, and then abandon it and never pick it up again. But a master won’t do that. Generally, a master follows up, even if it’s sometime later when least expected (see coin tricks, above). Because the master follows up, the reader learns to trust the master, and therefore, the reader will follow that master anywhere. This is a matter of control–a master does not gesture toward any forks that will not be followed up. (In practice, this is a very high standard to achieve, and I doubt any writer gets 100% at this, but it can always be a good goal to have.)
  7. Exquisite control over point-of-view (POV). This is the wonderful skill to know how deep to go in POV with a character, and when to pull out and touch more lightly on only actions. When to give character thoughts by peppering them, and when to go deeply into character thoughts and experience. Also, WHO to do this with, since a true master will have enough control to get into the POV of other characters too, and will know how deeply to go. A true master can do this even when the book is in first person. How, you ask? Well, I’m no master. But I have observed that visions, framing stories within stories, and dialogue are three useful methods. There are likely others. The real trick, though, is knowing when to go in deep and when to skim the surface. That is where forms can come in handy…
  8. Forms–masterful use of them. Any pen monkey can use a glitzy form or pull a cute form trick, but there’s something different about a true master’s use of form. There’s a solidity and certainty and rightness–perhaps a gravitas–to a master’s form use. I can only say this results from heavy experience of what works. A writer cannot fake this. It is only going to come from layering of experience. A LOT of experience. Also, it’s difficult to describe this. It’s a know-it-when-you-see-it ¬†phenomenon. The cute permutations of form, often attempted by younger, “cool” writers, have a strained quality and a lack of solidity, like it is all form with nothing underneath to support it. They dazzle the eye, but do not draw you in deep.
  9. Deepening. This is my target master move, since it is related to many of the other master moves. It requires, I think, the ability to open up as a writer, as well as intellect or insight, as well as exquisite patience and timing, as well as POV control, as well as form experience. It means following a character’s POV deeply in intimate internal monologue–slowly, but without becoming boring. It means slowing down exposition to a crawl and still being interesting enough to keep readers in there. The ultimate challenge here is to strip the POV character to the essence of their being–very, very slowly–and to take the reader with them. Performed correctly, this deepening is religious or spiritual in its effect on the reader. (Yes, it is a very high standard. Possibly unachievable, but still fascinating to me.)
  10. Bonus master move. This one I’m not sure about, but it’s an idea I’ve been tossing around for awhile. Basically, this is writing on a level that affects reader behavior. It may not be master level, since a lot of ads could be said to do this. But I’m still intrigued with the possibilities. This kind of writing could cause fixations–especially with certain words or concepts. It could cause cravings for certain foods, or an obsession with the fully-realized world in the writing (fans geeking out, basically). It could be hypnotic, as some poetry or music can be, but in prose, this effect can build and build, attaining incredible power. This is writing that colonizes the mind, that creeps in and won’t leave. Could also be writing that gets readers really stirred up and moody, or produces copycat behavior. This writing pushes past the boundary of the page, and into the real world.

That’s my current list. I’m still excited to learn more about how these moves really work, because when they do work, whenever I encounter them, they strike me as so truly beautiful and masterful. They are such a pleasure to experience in reading, giving me so much appreciation for the author’s skill. I only hope that I will have time in life to learn a few of these moves, or get close. Of course, the way to achieve this is to read and to write a LOT. There is no substitute.

 

Far from perfect

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I just finished final spell checks and sent my book, Oskar Ottokar Chandler, Paranormal Extraordinaire, off to beta readers. Many problems remain, though few with the book. The cat still has fleas, despite four months of treatment. The winter has been one of the longest and coldest on record. The car broke down, my daughter is sick, and the most recent storm has forced me to miss work. My house is dirty, I’m out of laundry detergent and he-who-shall-not-be-named is in the White House. And so on.

A year ago–actually it was February 22, 2016–my car had also broken down, and I had to take it to Les Schwab for a tire replacement. I had some feeble Artist’s Way-inspired plan to visit the cemetery and look at gravestones for creative inspiration. And that plan had completely fallen through. And I remember saying to myself, as I sat smelling rubber at Les Schwab, “I can’t believe this bs. I was going to spend the day at the cemetery.”

Then I thought, who says something like that? Sounds like some quirky character who spends too much time visiting the dead. And I realized, it must be the voice of Oskar, my bit character who played a small role in previous books, and who is an orphan. And I’d always felt he had more to say, and that his story might be worth telling. I’d kind of pictured him as a gay Sherlock Holmes, but hadn’t gotten around to figuring him out. I wrote down that one beginning sentence, and his voice started coming to me, page after page.

Luckily, I had my laptop with me.

So Oskar Ottokar Chandler, Paranoral Extraordinaire, was born. At Les Schwab.

It’s been a great year. A lot of people say this was a terrible year, the worst of their lives, but for me, I think this has been a breakthrough year. I’ve spent most of the year with Oskar, practically inhabiting him, and the rest of it with Coney, Oskar’s would-be boyfriend. While insanity reigned in the White House, I quietly learned things about consciousness, mortality, and existence that forever changed my life and way of looking at the world. While racism, sexism, and homophobia held sway on high, I silently wrote a paranormal gay love triangle replete with characters who are either not white, not straight, or not male, including my first trans character. I filled up the pages with the antics of vegans and feminist men-in-black, ghost and spiritualists and anarchists and seers. In the end, neither fleas nor cold nor cars nor he-who-shall-not-be-named could get me down. Oskar carried me through all that, and when I got too heavy, Coney carried me further.

So I’m actually quite glad that on Feb. 22, 2016, I had to take the car in and couldn’t go to the cemetery. And this is the attitude I want to take forward with me: that a big mess of crux can push a person to their highest abilites in creativity and consciousness. 2015 might have been my year for getting physically fit, but 2016 was my year for getting spiritually fit, mostly due to things beyond my control. If Oskar and Coney have taught me one thing–well, they’ve taught me so many things. But they’ve definitely shown me that things that are far from perfect can be exactly what we need.

“That rabble that calls itself my fans…”

Still working on Oskar Ottokar Chandler, Paranormal Extraordinaire, but I’m all but finished. Meanwhile, in November I finished a supplemental novel to that one–yes, another nanowrimo novel–called Diary of a Mad Editor. That one is in Coney Idyll’s voice, and what a fun voice it was. A very voicy voice–no rules! I learned that if you pick a rule breaker for your POV character, you can do really fun things with words. He makes up words like “boy-likey-ness” and just doesn’t bother with grammar or correct terms at all. Also, he’s got a naughty mind, which added to the humor considerably.

Plus Coney is another great trickster. Don’t tricksters just make the worlds go round? Getting Coney in the same scene with trickster Emmett worked surprisingly well. Maybe some day I’ll write a novel that contains only tricksters. I wonder how that would come out?

Most of my characters are creative people in some vein, but Coney is on another level. He actually is famous, “the elusive and mysterious editor of the deadzines, of the rabbit logo” and he has packs of fans. If he weren’t forced to hide underground from the MIBs who want to capture him and wipe his memory, he’d spend more time at signings with “that rabble that calls itself my fans.” But the horrible things that have happened to him tend to work in his favor, and so the fewer appearances he makes, the more popular he becomes. He’s so popular, he gets free stuff everywhere he goes, and so even though he’s incredibly rich, he can’t figure out what to do with “the green stuff” that keeps showing up in his pockets. Money multiplies around Coney like bunnies making more bunnies. “Lettuce for the rabbit” he calls it, and complains “there’s old Benjy again” when he finds more hundreds in his pants pockets or sticking out of his closet. “What do I have to offer Oz, besides fame and fortune?” he worries, as if that amounted to nothing. And perhaps it does. Perhaps he is right.

I hope to one day have these books in shape to be shared. I’ve hired a new editor and I’m very excited about finally getting Heather Despair into readable condition. Kids, beware! If you write a pack of books, you’re going to have to get them edited too! The fun doesn’t stop after the first draft! And if you have a bunch of rabble that calls itself your fans, they won’t let up until you get the books out there! So I want to thank all ten of those people for being the best rabble in all the worlds. I promise to give you the best I have to offer.

 

 

Sketches of Coney Idyll. He seems to stick his tongue out a lot.

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Oskar Ottokar Chandler, Paranormal Extraordinaire

My latest book is a very different book than I thought it was going to be. A much better book. What started as a mildly humorous paranormal detective story wound up a paranormal gay love triangle. It’s funny, as they all are, but heart-wrenching, and somehow, much deeper than the previous books. This book holds secrets. It may be the first, but I’m hoping it’s not the last of mine to do so. I feel like I’ve reached a new level with this one.

It’s the story of Oskar Chandler, “Oz,” whose friends are all spiritualists and whose relationship with his boyfriend Trenton is pretty solid. He takes off on a journey into the heart of the notorious MIBs of the town of Portales Espirituales, hoping to solve a few mysteries. Who is the lost Chandler? What killed Oskar’s parents? And how are the MIBs hiding from seers and spiritualists alike? In his search, Oz meets a strange vegan anarchist, Coney Idyll, who lives in a network of tunnels under the town–and his life is never the same.

I’m writing along at a nice clip on this one, around 2 k ¬†each day, and hoping to have it finished before nanowrimo begins, when I’d like to do a book from Coney’s voice. Probably a diary. In the meantime, here’s some art the story inspired. Yes. This one’s called Angel Boys.

 

Half-Ghosts Reunion

I’ve gotten a little side-tracked rewriting my first book, Heather Despair (Oh no! Not again!), but I did complete the Half-Ghosts #3, entitled Half-Ghosts Reunion. It is a fun ride if I do say so myself. A definite good scene. I’m not posting it online anywhere because I have the notion that it may not be good to tip my hand too much. However, I hope to make ebooks out of the two trilogies I’ve written and make them available for purchase on Amazon. I think that would be fun to have a pack o’ books on there. That’s not to say I’m lazing off. I’m working hard. Not only do I have the two trilogies, but numerous short stories and a half-finished fourth novel for the first series. As proof of my hard work, here is chibi Emmett:chibi Emmett

Half-Ghosts #3

Today I began Half-Ghosts #3 as a NaNoWriMo novel. Given that I wrote the first book of this series in ten days, and it was 30 k, NaNoWriMo ceases to be much of a challenge, but I do like the camaraderie of other writers.

Undecided about posting the chapters on wattpad, but perhaps if I get any requests, I will go to the trouble. In the meantime, here is some artwork of Hemmett and Aether, deified.

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