The Agony of Revision

I’ve used this image before. It is the ships of the Pallbearers fleeing Earth after the Day of Transition. In The Peaceful and Just, book one of To See Many Stars, Arlat is about to show this image to Kavela and the rest of the companions. This is where they really begin to understand that they are pieces in a larger puzzle.

If you’re like me, every time you return to words you have written on a page, you critique them, reading them over, trying to find a new way to arrange them in your head. This process is what we call revision. I think of it like a sculptor. I have plotted out my creation with notes, and then perhaps drawn a few pictures of my plan, and now I am massaging the piece itself, taking off a sliver of material here, reshaping another part there. The problem comes with knowing when to stop. After all, if I keep cutting away at my work of art, won’t it eventually be stripped down to nothing? Then won’t I have to start over? When is the right time to say: “Enough! It’s done! World, gaze on my amazing gift to you!”

That’s part of the problem, of course. The world isn’t gazing. No one, except for my wonderful wife and a few friends, is gazing. No one cares, except me, and everytime I look at the damn thing I see something else I want to change. As the years go by I think about this with copyright dates. I put them on all my books, but when I go back in and revise something that I copyrighted 1996, shouldn’t I change the copyright to 2018? And does it matter anyway? It’s never been published! Also, now I can’t even remember when I actually wrote some of these stories, because I’ve changed them so many times.

I don’t really have any answers to these questions. What I do know is that writing is a series of revisions undertaken over time, to make the story the best it can possibly be. I also trust myself when I’m revising: if I get stopped on a sentence or a paragraph, that’s usually a pretty good sign that there’s something wrong with it. So in effect, revising can become subconscious: just read with a critical eye, and let your mind do the rest. There is, I think, a certain point where I forget that the story is “mine”, and it becomes part of the world of fiction out there. That has happened, for the most part, with Chivalry, my first novel. When I read it now it is like any other book, and it’s pretty good, but I don’t have the desire to change every word in it. I just want someone else to read it.

What I am doing now with To See Many Stars is really focusing on simplifying and explaining things that I know, but that the reader does not know. I have several readers jotting down notes for me, and when they have a question, I try to use a sentence or two to answer it. It’s making my YA fantasy better, more fun to read, and easier to follow, which in the end should help me get published. I’ve cut out twenty or thirty pages. I worked really hard on them, but enough time has passed that I don’t miss them at all. My work flows a hundred times better and that makes me happy!😁


The Four Winds Woodshed

My favorite song is Astronomy. (Yeah, Blue Oyster Cult.) According to Wikipedia, it’s based on a poem by the band’s manager, Sandy Pearlman, called “The Soft Doctrines of Imaginos.” I first heard it (that I know of) in 1988 or ‘89 on the Imaginos album. That version had a different singer. I’ve heard that Joe Satriani worked the mixing board and ran errands for the band, so he probably played on the album somewhere. Anyhow, the song talks about the Four Winds Bar, and for some reason (probably because the song is so obviously a song about high fantasy) the Four Winds Bar always reminds me of the Inklings, a literary group that met at The Eagle and Child public house at the University of Oxford in England after World War II. Readings for the Inklings included C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Apparently their criticism of one another was sometimes harsh, but you can’t fault the resulting material.

So when I decided I wanted a literary group of my own, I thought about that song Astronomy, and about the bar affectionately known as the Bird, and old Clive Staples and John Ronald Reuel sitting around over beers saying, “you do one about space, and I’ll do one about time, and we’ll see what happens,” and then I thought that the Four Winds Bar was a pretty good idea, and I like the idea of a woodshed ‘cause that’s where you go to get schooled. So that’s the name of the group. You have to have  a finished novel to join in.

A few notes on the rules:

1) Copyright Law is strictly enforced.

2) The purpose of the Four Winds Workshop is publication. That is, we help one another get published.

3) We foster a community of support.

4) We engage in “open communication with an assumption of positive intent.” This requires work on both sides; when we review the work of others, it is with the purpose of learning and of teaching, and when we hear the reviews made by others, we understand that their words have merit, because they are telling us something that took them out of (or brought them into) our story.

5) If you say you’re going to do something you have to follow through. We all yearn to have our work read by another, so if you agree to read it, you have to read it. As unpublished writers (so far!) deadlines and promises are sometimes all we have!

If you are interested in joining the Four Winds Woodshed, please leave me a comment so that I can get in touch with you.

Oh yeah . . .

I got a rejection letter yesterday from an agent who said they liked my premise but my writing didn’t draw them in the way they were expecting. Ouch!

That could be their idea of a form letter, but I prefer to think of it as the closest I’ve come to date. It’s certainly the most informative reply I’ve received. I sent out the query in September. Could it be that they moved me into their “Worth Another Look” pile before rejecting me on the second round? And if so, should I keep some of that query letter intact when I rewrite it? I already got rid of the ten pages I sent them, because a writer I’ve been working with in the Four Winds Woodshed  demonstrated to me how long it takes me to get into my story.

I over–complicate things when I write because it keeps me from thinking I’m not doing anything good, or original. I think many writers probably suffer from this. It’s time for me to start ripping away the extraneous stuff so that the reader can see the goodness that lies at the heart.


Since I Saw You Last

There. I managed to take all of 2017 off from this blog. It was a time of freedom, a time of whimsy, a time of drunkness. Words for what happened during the last year are everywhere. It might be better if we washed the slate clean. Not that I had a bad year. I don’t use Facebook, and I don’t read Twitter, so I really enjoyed myself. I just feel like I am at a stage where I need to learn more about things that are important to me personally. Here are ten really important things I learned between the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2018.

1. I learned that I love my wife more every day. A stable lifetime relationship is very important to me. (Okay, I knew that. Somehow I know it even more now than I did a year ago.)

2. I learned that I like the Replacements.

3. I learned how to double space a query letter into the body of an e-mail. If you need help with it I can give it to you. If you know more than I do, or are an agent, please share. Actually, if you’re an agent, would you like to take a look at my manuscript? It’s YA Fantasy, 50,000 words.

4. I learned what it’s like to buy a home.

5. I learned that ePub makes my manuscripts look amazing. I’m not sure what to do now. (Except keep telling my stories, of course.)

6. I learned how to mark the buoys on Lake Tahoe with a GPS from my paddleboard.

7. I learned that I really do like a shorter snowboard.

8. I learned how to brush the dogs’ teeth and trim their nails without anyone getting hurt. I can’t offer advice on that one. I imagine that every dog is different.

9. I learned that reading glasses mess with depth perception. Then I learned what it’s like to live with a concussion.

10. I learned that working with someone else on their writing can be helpful to my writing.

I’ve been a proud Minnesota Vikings fan since the fall of 1990, my first year in college. It’s going to be a wild month.


I Am a Global Populist

I had to take a break from politics. I wish I could get away from it completely. It is hard at work. There are a lot of very happy people and a lot of very upset people. There are also some people who get it: the votes were counted. The winner won. Life goes on. There will probably be some changes for all of us. Other things will stay the same. It is not the end of times. Trying to predict what’s going to happen, ranting, raving . . . all of this will end, because we all eventually have to get back to keepin’ on keepin’ on.

I do want to kind of figure out what I am. Like most people, I believe in things on both ends of the political spectrum. I believe in letting people make their own decisions. I believe in free trade. I believe in equal acceptance of all people, regardless of race, creed, or gender. I believe that we have moved past an insular society, and that the internet will hasten globalization. I believe that my country had done bad things. I believe that it’s the best country in the world, and that we have a lot to teach as well as learn. I believe in adapting. I believe in the right and the responsibility to defend those I hold dear. I am not a big fan of the Patriot Act, or anything that threatens my freedoms. I believe that George Orwell was prescient when he wrote 1984, and that cameras everywhere are great if you’re looking for photos. Soon you start to realize that the closer we look at things the more contadictory answers there are. If you don’t believe that, take a look at NFL replay. I believe that cameras everywhere become especially bad when you take sides against your government. I believe we have the right to take sides against our goverment, if we feel strongly enough about it. I believe that our founding fathers were pretty smart, and that questioning their ideas or belittling them is unsound. I believe that history repeats, and those who don’t learn from it are doomed to repeat it. I believe in the right to free speech, and I believe that the more that speech bothers me the more it needs to be examined. I believe that people are for the most part good, but that everyone is influenced by their environment.

Our president elect is a populist. He won by telling the people he would give them what they wanted. And I believe in that. I do think we should let the masses decide. However, it becomes important to say who the masses are. Are they the white supremacists? Are they the corporate fat cats? Are they the homosexuals, the Mexicans, or the drug dealers? Are they the bartenders and waitresses? Are they the teachers? Are they the people whose houses and lives are being blown apart somewhere else in the world? Yes. Yes. And yes.

I believe in populism where it relates to the whole. The whole world. Because that is who our future leaders will have to answer to. Sure, you can bomb Iraq and shut them up for a while. You can lock up the blacks. You can starve the Ukranians, and sterilize the Indian poor. But eventually it’s going to come back and bite you in the ass.

Now, it is important to say that, as we move towards globalization, there must be checks and balances for that too. Failure to set a pace and make rules will also result in war and hardship. It is a difficult task. That is why we need strong, intelligent guidance as we move forward. There will always be setbacks and problems, but forcing others to do what we want has repurcussions. Letting laissez-faire work, letting people learn for themselves, has a lot to be said for it. In the long run, it is the quicker path. But, like life, it can also be painful and dangerous.

Of course, if you’re uncomfortable with letting people learn for themselves, you can just go on telling your sons and daughters who they can and can’t date, and how and when they are allowed to have sex. Best of luck with that.

Donald, marginalize anyone you want. Point the finger wherever you want. Build whatever wall you want. You’re the boss. But remember this: life is stronger than you, or anyone. Life finds a way. Learn to make friends with it. Or don’t. We’ll all be watching. And judgement comes in the future.



My Wife Took Me To See My Favorite Team

This is one of those. things that everyone should get to say once in their lives. We flew from Reno to Minneapolis and stayed on the seventeenth floor of the Hotel Ivy, a Minneapolis landmark hotel. img_0048We could see the stadium from our window. That’s it on the top, third row down, third from the right, #1703. We got around the city in our Sorels, even though I was worried about not having any other shoes, it was totally the right choice, and let us travel light. I had my new suitcase that Kim gave me as an early Xmas present: now I feel like a practiced traveler, like we’re going places! It was cold cold cold, but there are skyways everywhere between the downtown buildings, and the Metro train was easy to use and cheap. It was fun to figure out how to do everything together, from airport to restaurants to stadium. We had an easy, unstressed trip. We saw the Vikings almost come back and beat the Cowboys, but it was not to be this year. I must say that having a good time together with my wife makes it all better! I love you, Kim. Thanks for the wonderful birthday present! And for making me feel special! And for loving me and letting me love you in return. There is nothing better in life.img_0049



Here is my handmade sawbench. I built it myself. There is not a bit of metal in it. It is a little rough, but I learned how to do a mortise and tenon joint and a drawbore joint. It makes a good stool and a good place to sit and drink a beer. It’s a little wobbly, but I figured out that’s because my garage floor is not as flat as it looks. It was a good project. I did drop the top part on my foot at one point, and now my toes are sore.


I Did It!

I finished The Silent and Brave. It ran a lot longer than The Peaceful and Just, by almost a third. I didn’t do a real good job of cutting out rather than adding, but I really like the way it turned out and the characters I discovered and explored. I think it added a lot of depth to my world, my creation of Malvada.

Now, in order to defeat the malaise that generally falls on me after completing a project, I am immediately starting book three, The Prosperous and Malevolent. Hopefully it will be shorter and quicker. One thing I intend to do is go with a straight narrative, keeping all the characters together from beginning to end, so that I can keep one perspective, that of Kavela. That will be unlike the second book, where my point of view jumped between places and characters, following different narratives.

I have a ton of ideas. The champion has conquered two of the wards, but now he must tackle the third, and it will be the most difficult one yet. One of my main characters will be killed. Another will have his love tested. We will meet a scoundrel. A character we thought was good will turn out to be very, very bad. The Narze will return to the narrative, led by Arrik Xermexes, the Other champion.

In order to master the third ward, the champion and his companions will have to quench the river of fire. Don’t worry. I have a plan.


Just Can’t Wait . . .

For this to be over. The mood out there is angry, confrontational, divisive. I can feel it at work, where people still turn partisanship into conversation. I have felt that way myself. The feeling now seems to be that there are no good answers, that we are doomed.

My hope is that from these ashes will rise hope. That times will turn good again. That we will remember hope, and faith. Because what this election has tried to teach us is that we are all against one another, but that is not what America is about.

America is about recognizing that our neighbors, our coworkers, and the people we come into contact with every day of our lives are all the same as we are. We are all looking for the same things. Love. Better lives. Hope for the future. America is about government by the people, for the people. It is not what we have been promised these past few months.

On Tuesday all of the provocation will be over, and there will be answers to nothing. But maybe we can begin to look at the positives and live again, rather than use the negatives to fight one another.


I Love My Jack Plane

It’s a strange phenomenon when an object gets under your skin. You hear a trace mention, or have an idea, or see a picture, and then there are the internet searches, the Wikipedia entries, the inevitable trip to Amazon to see how much it costs, the trip to the store to look at it in person.

My love affair began (as many things seem to have done in the past few years) with my wife’s soundbooth. I don’t feel guilty about this. Actually, her soundbooth has caused similar infatuations for her, with excellent results for her psyche and self-confidence.

It was while building the thing that I got my introduction to woodworking. This led to me wanting power tools. A Tormek tool sharpener. A Grizzly bandsaw powerful enough for resawing. A jointer/planer. Enough stuff to drain my bank account and provide fodder for Christmas wish-lists for years to come. I had to focus. And I had an urgent, unstoppable need to buy stuff.

I settled on a particular project. There was a gap between the door frame and the floor of the soundbooth, half an inch wide, 36 inches long. I thought it would be nice to fill it with some pretty wood. Bill, when consulted, ordered me to take measurements and come over so he could fix something up, but I wanted to do it myself. The problem: with my rudimentary tools, I had no way to shape a piece of wood to fit the gap.

Enter the hand plane. I knew what they were. I had never used one. I did the aforementioned research. In the process, I realized that this was an item that called to craftsmen and collecters in a certain way. If in doubt, Google Patrick Leach’s “Blood and Guts.” I saw Lie Neilson planes that cost as much as those power tools I was talking about. I weighed my options. I made a trip to Apex Saw Works. I held in my hands what I wanted, the Stanley Sweetheart #62 Low Angle Jack Plane. It was not cheap. I bought it anyway.

I brought it home. I lovingly constructed a shelf for it to sit on, a pine 2×4 stretched between studs in my garage. I set the plane in place and went to bed. The next day I realized the depths of my insanity when I lifted the plane by its beautiful cherry handle and knob. I turned it over and gasped in horror. The flat base of the heavy plane had squeezed the water out of the non kiln-dried shelf and caused the base of my jack plane to rust, in one night, not just a little bit, but badly, deeply, disfiguringly. I hadn’t even used my baby yet, and it was ruined.

I was distraught. What could I do? I took a glass sheet and package after package of sandpaper, and I wore my arms out sanding that thing clean and flat again.

We drove to Master Craft, and Kim chose some purple heart. I cut it down with my circular saw. Then I trapped it against a piece of plywood and I took my first fine shavings off, then more and more, until I was left with a stick of wood of the exact size I needed and a garbage can full of purple curly wood. The wood turned flat and smooth under my hands. It was like magic. Push, shave, and exactly what should come off did come off. It was exactly like I thought it would be, hard work, tedious, soothing, wonderful. My plane worked! No longer did I care a thing about power tools. I had become a hand tool man.

Now another problem. To plane things, you have to be able to hold them steady. I needed a woodworker’s front vise. More research. Another trip to Apex. Sawing, glueing, drilling, some luck, some not so much. My ghetto bench hides screws, and while I was planing the front of it flat I hurt my honey the second time, scratching it and nicking the sharp iron in two places. Now I had to learn to fix the bevel, and the secondary bevel, and the reverse bevel. I had to learn to sharpen. Thank goodness for YouTube. I purchased a cheap Eclipse guide. I made a jig so that I could repeat my sharpening angle. I found a thin ruler to rest on my sharpening stone. I consoled myself by saying that it was a tool, and tools are meant to be used, and tools, when used, get damaged and must be repaired.

I learned about bench dogs, and hurt those too. I learned why cabinet makers eschew the use of metal fasteners in construction. I bought another plane, another Sweetheart, a #4 Smoother. (Haven’t used it yet, so it’s still in perfect shape. So far.) I sent off to Lie Neilson for a vise handle (dammit–I had to own something from that overpriced catalogue!) I resolved to buy a ripsaw made of Sheffield steel and build a sawbench. I found a cheap hunk of white oak with cracks and a giant knot and used my jack plane to turn it into a vise tail. I planed my first end grain, working from the edges to the center so that I wouldn’t splinter it. I learned about tearout. I was proud of the results.

Handplanes and vise tails are in my dreams. Is this going to be a fading infatuation, a momentary crush? Now that I’m done with my vise, will I move on to another love? Or will I continue in my love affair, and collect more hand tools, and learn to shape wood with them, and care for them?

Only time will tell.