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 Silent and Brave revision page #175

The revision of The Peaceful and Just is finished and sent off. Soon the revision of The Silent and Brave will be done as well. I had a great vacation, got a beautiful Hawaiian tattoo, read two great books, and spent wonderful time with family.

It’s time to start thinking about The Prosperous and Malevolent, and I have some great ideas. It will start in a Selessian village that has been destroyed by the Narze and Arrik Xermexes. The champion will arrive in the village. Angered by the killing of his people, he will destroy the rail ties that the Narze are using to travel rapidly (they have a steam locomotive) by heating them in fire and bending them around trees, a la Sherman’s neckties from the Civil War. I need to begin to cast Arrik Xermexes as my ultimate villain for Book 4, although the villain in this one will be Niisteen, who will not agree with the champion’s goal of quenching the river of fire and opening the first ward Los Lewr again.

In order to quench the Pyratine River, Salaam Aktelon I will have to work together with Arrik Xermexes. Together the two of them will drop an empty on the source of the flames from the Mandelbrot.

Some other ideas:

Niisteen and Mesopotamia Wrath are barren, but Mesopotamia Wrath has a daughter who has traveled to Los Lewr to live in luxury. None of them are happy, but the daughter will vie with Ullane for Kavela’s affections. In the end, Niisteen will reveal that he gave Ullane the mistral because he needed her to break the Teilarata but considered her the weakest of the companions, one he could dominate when the time came. In the end they will fight a duel, as Niisteen has created another mistral. It is Mesopotamia Wrath’s daughter who will kill Niisteen, perishing herself in the process.

I have an image of a whole room of smartphones, taken and stored in Los Lewr after the empties broke. That’s all for now. My work continues!


My Bio

These agents always seem to want a bio. I don’t know why. It reminds me a lot of college, where the first question out of everyone’s mouth was always “Where did you go to school?” Then they immediately go to that city for conversational impulses . . . “Did you know so-and-so” and “Have you been to such-and-such?” And low and behold, you have a friend of a friend’s friend in common, and then you’re supposed to be best buddies. It all seemed so fake to me, but I guess it’s just how it works, and the bio has the same purpose, so that when that agent gives me a call saying they can’t wait for my manuscript we can reminisce about how we both loved “Spaceballs.” (So what does that make us? Absolutely nothing!)

Maybe this is why I sometimes don’t fit in well.

I was born in Washington State, the eastern, desert side, where my father was a professor at Washington State University. I remember the cougar in the cage that looked like it was designed by an architect from ancient Greece, incongruously set beside the freeway. We moved a few times growing up, so that I have experienced the mosquitos of Minnesota summers and the endless waiting for the sun to reappear that characterizes Minnesota winters. I spent my high school years in Gladstone, Oregon, a suburb of Portland. We returned last summer and I very much enjoyed seeing my family and drinking Breakside, Gigantic, and Cascade Barrel House ales. Having watched too much Miami Vice, after high school I decided that I wanted to attend college in Florida. I arrived at the University of Miami with aspirations of a criminal justice degree.  Alone for the first time in my life, I was introduced to a whole new community: it was 1990, and the Hurricanes were playing Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Eventually I settled on a degree in English, and I have been tending bar ever since. In Orlando I met my wife, my life, Kimberly, and acquired my first beagle. We married in 2004 and now we have a family of four–legged trumpets. Their names are Woodstock, Penelope, Emily, and Humphrey Bogart. Although my interest in the trombone came to nothing, I love music, everything from Bob Dylan to Def Leppard, and from Eminem to Jerry Jeff Walker. I live in Dayton, Nevada, where I enjoy snowboarding in the Sierra Nevadas, paddleboarding on Lake Tahoe, disc golf wherever, and attempting to get on paper from 300 yards with my Winchester Model 70 Featherweight. I am an excellent co-ed softball coach, and my favorite sports teams are the Minnesota Vikings and the Miami Hurricanes. Some of my favorite authors are Faulkner, Hemingway, LeGuin, Lloyd Alexander, Cormac McCarthy, Henry Miller, Malcolm Lowry, and Laurence Durrell. I have been writing fiction since I was in the sixth grade, and strangely, my themes have not changed all that much. I have never been published, but I am hoping to change that soon.

There, how’s that for some conversation starters?



Synopsis (Again)

The Peaceful and Just revision: complete

The Silent and Brave revision: page #144

At first there were only a few of the matter transmitters called empties, owned by the richest corporations. When the ecoterrorists of the Green Teilate Party stole the empty actuate from the Institute of Chemical Process Fundamentals and used it to turn roads into empties for everyone, they changed the face of the Earth. In a manner understood by no one, the empties multiplied. Within months, every road, every bit of pavement in the world, every concrete foundation, had the ability to act as an empty. Any human being on Earth could walk out of their house, step onto the nearest sidewalk, punch a set of coordinates into their mobile device, and be transported in an instant anywhere they wanted to go.
The first ward, Los Lewr, was built to contain the knowledge of matter and act as the control center for the empties. On the Day of Transition, all of the empties broke. Anyone or anything that touched the surface of a road disappeared. No one knew where they went. Los Lewr could provide no answers. Society crumbled. The great cities of Earth, crisscrossed by webs of empties, became uninhabited wastelands. The population of the world was reduced to a few thousand, the majority of which were drawn to the remote desert surrounding Los Lewr. It was land that no one had wanted, where roads were few and far between. The survivors named their new country Malvada.

The survivors of Earth split into two camps. The majority, led by the Green Teilate Party, renounced science as having destroyed the world and vowed to become an agrarian society. The remaining believers in science called themselves the Ars Memoriae. Fearful that their knowledge would be lost, the Ars Memoriae built three more wards, so that there was one at each point of the compass in Malvada. They placed their combined learning in these wards, omitting disciplines considered harmful to humanity.
Tensions mounted between the Ars Memoriae and the Green Teilate Party. The Green Teilate Party took control of the western side of Malvada, naming it Tarlan. Tarlan had a sea, mountains, and a fertile valley between the two. It also contained Birrigat, the ward of time in the North, and Arlat, the ward of genetics in the West. The Ars Memoriae chose to leave Earth, using old combustion driven starships. The ones who were successful became known as the pallbearers. The Green Teilate Party, now calling themselves the Teilarata, closed Arlat and Birrigat, forbade travel, laid seige to Los Lewr, the ward of matter, and made practicing science a crime punishable by death. In the war that followed, Los Lewr was lost beyond a river of fire. The Ars Memoriae who remained on Earth were forced to the eastern side of Malvada, which they named Morea. There they built and fortified the city of Algodon around Chalcis, the ward of the connection of all things.
At the beginning of The Peaceful and Just, the Selessian Salaam Aktelon I arrives in Al–Akbah, a free market at the eastern edge of Tarlan. He is pursued by Xermexes, a Teilarata keeper who wishes to take him to Arlat, where the Selessian will fulfill the prophesy of the Talevala, becoming the champion who will reunite the four wards of the pallbearers and Malvada.
Chauncer, a boy from Arlat, discovers a tunnel through the mountains between Arlat and Al–Akbah. Chauncer desires the services of the champion for the Yellow Hands, a society charged with administering Arlat for the benefit of humanity.
When Salaam Aktelon I refuses to go with Xermexes, Teilarata soldiers destroy the market, leaving three survivors, Chauncer, a rabbit vendor named Kavela, and Kavela’s helper, an outcast member of the Ars Memoriae named Ullane. Chauncer convinces the others to travel with him to Arlat to free the champion from the Teilarata.
On the way to Arlat, the companions meet Mesopotamia Wrath, a widow angry with the Teilarata for stealing her almond trees. Mesopotamia Wrath reveals their identity to Darshan Marat, valetin of the scaalites, soldiers who Arlat has made impervious to injury or death. Darshan Marat sentences the companions to breaking on the Catherine wheels, and only the intervention of Valdimir Von de Veld, the vallain of Arlat, saves their lives. The yellow hands take them to Arlat’s Room of Light, where Salaam Aktelon I lies dying of the wounds inflicted upon him by the scaalites.
After the companions convince Salaam Aktelon I to allow Arlat to heal him and turn him into the champion, they learn that Vladimir Von de Veld wants to use Arlat’s powers to enter the body of the champion, so that he can live forever. Chauncer cuts Arlat away from Vladimir Von de Veld, who then dies in the Room of Light.
In Los Lewr, the last scientist, Niisteen, has built new working empties and placed them in all the wards. The companions use the empty in the Room of Light to travel to the first ward. There they meet Niisteen, who gives Ullane the mistral, a powerful weapon to fight the Teilarata. Mesopotamia Wrath stays behind in Los Lewr to marry Niisteen, and the companions return to Arlat and the Room of Light, where they find Salaam Aktelon I, now healed and the champion.
In Arlat the Yellow Hands have sealed off the Room of Light to keep Darshan Marat from creating his own champion. Ullane uses the mistral to free them. The Yellow Hands do battle with the scaalites for control of Arlat. Darshan Marat uses the Room of Light and the keeper Xermexes to create a second champion. Salaam Aktelon I climbs to the top of Arlat and discovers a message from the pallbearers. The Teilarata soldiers kill all of the Yellow Hands, but Kavela is able to cast Darshan Marat into the bottomless caverns beneath the Room of Light. As the scaalites begin their march East to attack the Ars Memoriae, Ullane uses the mistral to dump Arlat’s lake on them, washing the scaalites into an empty road and leaving Arlat in the hands of the champion Salaam Aktelon I.


The Peaceful and Just revision page #197

Lately my editor has been on me about clarity, what she calls the “supreme God.” I have been trying to better explain the things that I understand, but have not communicated to my readers. This is a complicated book, with a lot of “world building,” and there are a lot of things that I know about my characters and the places that I leave out because I thought my readers could discover it as they go. However, I am beginning to realize that they won’t hang around to discover it if they don’t care about the story because they don’t understand it.

Also, there are many things that I am learning as go. This is why writers really need to know their characters and their setting, know everything about it, and it definitely helps to know it before you start. I must say I don’t really work like that, but I can see the benefits. I am stuck having to go back and work on it in my revision, but I think I have figured out many things that add depth to my story and my characters.

I have also realized something important. My end goal is always to write something that “reads just like a real book” (to paraphrase Marc Bolan). It is an amorphous idea, but I know it when I read it. I always thought of it like Hemingway going back and marking his paragraphs where more was needed to keep the flow going, but now I think it is actually less. In other words, flow is achieved not by adding more description or action, but by clarifying what is already there. For example, I need to stop using different words for things because I feel the reader is getting bored of reading the same word over and over again. Instead of pegmatite and obelisk I can just call a stone a stone. Some repetition is actually good. It allows the reader to have familiarity with the book, rather than having to break open the thesaurus every paragraph. By simplifying and clarifying, I think that my book comes closer and closer to that elusive flow I am always looking for.

Learning My Story

The Peaceful and Just revision page #166

Here are the recent revisions I have made to the first book in The Peaceful, Brave, and Just.

First, I took my prologue and extended it into a short chapter that explains more clearly what the empties are and about the split between East and West, Tarlan and Morea, the Teilarata and the Ars Memoriae. The Teilarata are in the West, which is called Tarlan. They have renounced science, and they are the more powerful of the two factions that rule in Malvada. They control two wards, Arlat, the ward of genetics, and Birrigat, the ward of time, but these wards are isolated and the Teilarata seek to keep people out of them. The Ars Memoriae, believers in science, control the East, which is called Morea. They control one ward, Chalcis, and have built their main city, Algodon, around it, where they prepare for the return of the pallbearers. I also tried to be more clear about the identity of the pallbearers, those who were responsible for the destruction of the Earth, and who then left it after building the wards.

Second, I revised chapter thirteen, Kapala. This is the chapter where the companions use the empties that Niisteen has built to travel to his ward, Los Lewr, the ward of matter. This chapter started out well, and my editor claimed that she could “see” it better than what came before. However, that was only true at the beginning of the chapter. By the end, that “seeing” disappeared for her, meaning that I had lost the thread of what was going on and needed to clarify the story to keep the reader involved. So I tried to do that. Part of the dilemma is the character of Niisteen is outside of the story I have told already. He is the closest connection to the pallbearers, and to us, or the reader. He is a scientist, and has separated himself from the conflict between the Ars Memoriae and the Teilarata. He knows more about the pallbearers and what happened to the empties that made them leave the Earth. Therefore, he knows more about the world than the companions, and things they think of as myth he understands as science. This is a hard bridge to gap. Also, I have two major problems that I see with the story. One of those is the way that Mesopotamia Wrath sells out my main characters to Darshan Marat, nearly getting them all killed, but then they still continue to travel with her. So I tried to add a little more clarity to that, or at least show that my companions were still angry with her for her betrayal. The second problem also involves her, and it is when Niisteen says he needs a woman to stay with him in Los Lewr to continue his line. The two choices are Ullane, who doesn’t want to, and Mesopotamia Wrath, who surprises them all by agreeing to marry Niisteen. Now this solves my problem of what to do with her, but I have to be careful to make it believable, rather than just convenient for me as the writer. I don’t want the reader to think it was just a means to an end. The relationship between Mesopotamia Wrath and Niisteen will have repurcussions down the road, especially in book three, The Prosperous and Malevolent.

I hope my revisions made book one better. I still have four chapters to go, but I am on the downhill with this one. It has taken me away from the revision of book two, The Silent and Brave, for too long, but I also learned some really important things. I learned the identity of the vallain of Chalcis, Jehanne, and learned her motivation. I also learned that she is the one who goes to the past to try to collect Riika and Heli, the divinators in book two. Da’ai Timon, the vallain of Birrigat, saves them from her. This was a major stumbling block in book two that I have mentioned before, and knowing more about that dynamic and the reasons for it is going to help me mightily when I return to that revision. I hope to have both books done by the end of the month, so that I can start writing book three in Hawaii, but that might be asking a lot of myself. We shall see. I am looking forward to creating from scratch again, rather than trying to fix the recipes I have already made, but it is all part of the process, and it is all getting better all the time.

I’m going to send out two more queries today or tomorrow. I think the new chapter one is a good one to have, because it acts as an introduction to the world of Malvada and its differences, and it is part of what an agent will read when they read my queries, so maybe, just maybe, it will pique the interest of someone somewhere in the world who will give me a shot with this thing. I can’t wait!



The Four Rulers of the Wards

The Peaceful and Just revision page #162

I am working hard on this chapter. I didn’t realize it needed it so badly, but my editor let me know by telling me that she totally lost focus on the story at the end of the chapter. That is a sign that, even though I thought I knew what was going on, I really didn’t, and I definitely wasn’t communicating it to the reader. So I’m back in, revising it. At first I couldn’t even look at it. I wasn’t interested.

Now that I have reworked it a little bit, I see that the missing pieces are in the development of Niisteen, and in the politics of Malvada. I need to delve deeper into that character, and those of the other four vallains of the wards. There is more going on in Malvada than the companions know, and since I have been relating my tale from their perspective I haven’t done enough to explore the backgrounds and the roles of the vallains of the four wards.

Delving deeper into that, I realized that Niisteen, Von de Veld, Da’ai Timon, and Jehanne Mondragon (the vallain of Chalcis) would all have come together for a meeting of some sort once they were able to do so using Niisteen’s empties. Then I had to figure out their individual motivations. They work for the wards, and the wards wish to be reunited. For what reason do the wards wish to be reunited? To usher the pallbearers back to Earth, of course. Even though the four vallains agree that this is the final goal, the way they plan to do it and their individual goals may be kept secret from one another, and they make work at cross-purposes depending on how they see the balance of power aligning in Malvada.

Now I know that the brunos flee Algodon because Jehanne breeds them for manpower and treats them as slaves working for her goals. I know that Niisteen wishes to control all the wealth of Malvada when the pallbearers return. Von de Veld, before his death, wished to become the champion,  immortal, and therefore the supreme leader of Malvada and the four wards. And Da’ai Timon, being a linearist, remains silent and wise. These four wards and four vallains will play a large part in The Peaceful, Brave, and Just. I need to understand their motivations, and the way they will affect my companions, before I can move on.

See, it’s good to go back and revisit things that need it.

Same Day Rejection

The Peaceful and Just revision page #150

Yesterday I sent out my two query letters. First I rewrote the prologue, changing it into a chapter (because prologues are unnecessary) and trying to flesh out some of the more difficult concepts of my fantasy: where Malvada is, how it came to be, what the empties are, who the pallbearers are, what the wards are, and why the Teilarata and the Ars Memoriae hate each other. I think it answered questions that readers might not understand, and still makes for compelling reading, even, dare I say, being more interesting for an agent, since that is the first thing I send to them and it’s the part they might read. I was pleased with it. I sent it out as part of my query letters. Then something happened to me that hasn’t happened before.

I got rejected yesterday night. Yep. That’s right. It was a same-day rejection. One of the agents read my query on his iPhone and sent me his standard message saying that’s not for me. Now, I’m not angry about that. It was actually nice that he read it, and nice of him to respond. I’m just amazed at how fast it happened. Now I have this picture in my head of agents looking through their email, going eeeny-miney-moe, and pressing the button that says SEND POLITE REJECTION.

It just makes me think. What is the point of all these query letters? Is it a chicken and egg situation? That is, I’m continually revising and working on this thing, and sending out my letters. So my letters and my book should both be getting better. At some point, do the scales tip in my favor? Does all of my work suddenly add up into a query that jostles the agent’s eyes enough that he/she chooses to hit the SEND MORE MATERIAL button? Or does word get around between them, hey, I’ve seen this idea before, it’s kind of tickling my fancy, this kid has sent out a few hundred of these things, maybe it’s time to give him a shot? Or, option three, is there no chance of ever getting an agent with query letters, and I need to start meeting people and going to writer’s conferences, because all of these agents really only book artists who they have met over drinks with friends? If that’s the case, what’s the point of query letters at all?

I guess it’s just a mystery to me. What happens in their minds and in their jobs is alien to me, and I just have to keep trying to make my stuff better, and keep working at getting it into their hands. I just want to know what the magic bullet is. What’s the one sentence that will make the agent on his iPhone look up from his coffee and go: “Hmmm . . . got a live one here.” I’ll keep searching until I find it. It’s all I can do.

Pain In My Tuckus

The Peaceful and Just revison page #148

I seem to be getting further and further away from The Silent and Brave. That is, as I continue to work on the first book it becomes more and more complicated, and more and more apparent that it needs more work than I thought. I was sure that chapter eleven, Kapala, was the one that needed the most work, and that I could fix it and be done with it, but now that I have fixed it and moved on to chapter twelve, Empty House, I find that 1-it is even more confusing and 2-I don’t even want to look at it. I know what that means. I read on some agent’s page of wisdom that the parts you struggle with as a writer or the parts where you lose interest and can’t seem to find a way forward are the parts that they will find need more work, and that is what is happening here. This is where my story drifted off into craziness, the empties (matter transporters), Los Lewr (the third ward of the pallbearers), and Niisteen (the last scientist, the only resident of the third ward, and the one who has learned to make empties again).

What I have to do is stick to my few simple sentances philosophy, and explain this stuff. It’s all important. The story is the story. Even if its fantastic. And I have to write it. I’ve been working on it in my mind since I was a teenager, so there’s really nothing else for me. I even had a great idea for book three, where Mesopotamia Wrath’s daughter will come into the story to tempt Kavela and try to steal him from Ullane. But before I can do any of that, I have to make book one better.

I realize now that the prologue I wrote about Niisteen is very important, and lets me reveal a lot of details that I need later. I have to make a better picture of the empties. I have to make a better picture of the “Empty House,” which is Los Lewr, and of Niisteen himself and his motivations. These things must be clear and concise before I can move on. It all starts with a few simple sentances. So that, even as I feel like I am moving backwards, I can realize that I’m really going in the right direction.


The Silent and Brave revision page #141

The Peaceful and Just revision page #135

Clearly I have added more to my plate. It is unfortunate that I have become sidetracked from the first revision, because it is going to be difficult to get back into, but I will manage it. The insight and improvements I am making in the first book with the help of my editor are worth it. I have come to chapter 11, the first chapter of the third part of the book. This might be the most important chapter in The Peaceful and Just. It is about the Room of Light, where Arlat does her work of genetic modification. The room of light is full of ferns with a special sugar sap called trehalose. Trehalose is a complex sugar that is capable of acting as a stabilizer in the human body; that is, it can replace the fluids that normally fill a body and keep that body in a state of suspended animation while Arlat makes changes to its genetic makeup. That is the way the scaalites were made, and also the way the champion is created. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the Room of Light is where Niisteen placed the empty he created to facilitate travel from Los Lewr to Arlat. He put an empty in each ward, and they all travel to Los Lewr, and then allow travel from Los Lewr to any of the other wards. These empties are called “kapala” by the Teilarata. It is a mystical term, and so I need to make sure my readers understand what is going on, the importance of these new “roads” that do work and allow instant travel to the companions.

The Room of Light itself seems to be difficult to picture. Because of the confusing things that are happening inside it, it needs to be very clear, so I have to go back in and use my few simple sentences to make it more visual for the reader. That is what I’m working on today. Because what is going on is confusing to my characters, I have to be careful not to reveal things that they would not know, but that makes it even more difficult. Hopefully I can make it a little clearer, at least until I can get my readers into chapter twelve, where we meet Niisteen in Los Lewr and he can explain everything himself. My editor said that chapter is much easier to follow, and I believe it.