A Few Simple Sentences

The Silent and Brave revision page #141

I’m still stuck on Chapter 12 in The Silent and Brave, but it’s only because I’m working on the changes suggested by my editor in The Peaceful and Just. It has been a good experience, actually. I have been able to see places where a careful reading exposed mistakes that I could no longer see, which was exactly what I wanted.

Some things I was able to fix, thanks to my editor: I have a habit of using different words to describe the same person, place, or thing. I do it for variety, but what it really ends up doing is confusing the reader.

Also, I get so lost in where I am that I forget to adequately describe it for the reader. I can already see it, so I either remove the simple description or else muddy it up so much by trying to describe everything that I lose the easy picture.

When faced with editing, I think the artist’s mind goes to concept changes, and mass reworkings of a project. It’s not really as scary as that. I have already done all the hard work. I have slaved over paragraphs. I have learned about my characters. I have made my plot.

All I really need is a few simple, short, descriptive sentences that fit around all of that complicated stuff, to make it easier for the reader. It’s not hard or intimidating. It doesn’t even take a lot of time. What it does is make a huge difference.

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Dealing With Constructive Criticism

The Silent and Brave revision page #141

My editor has returned my manuscript to me. I am fortunate to have their help. They work for free, and they have an excellent knowledge of the English language. It is also someone close to me, which means that I may take their criticism more personally than I should. So with that double-edged sword to deal with, I think I will offer my impressions of criticism and how to manage it.

It definitely affects me. I think that I, like all writers, feel that once I have done the difficult work of setting the words down, tossed it on the desk, and said, “There it is, my masterpiece,” no one else should have any say about it. From that point of view, criticisms are slights on all of the time and energy I have invested, and my first desire is to throw them in the trash, to say they are not valid, to say that the notes and note-maker have no idea what was going through my mind when I wrote this, so how can they make any changes?

That sort of thinking is counter-productive and just wrong. At the same time, as I look through the red and blue ink spread all over my manuscript, I can’t help but notice things that I did deliberately and with much thought marked as being incorrect or in need of more work. So how to consolidate the two points of view? It all seems like so much work! (Work that I, as a genius writer, don’t feel like doing, and am somewhat insulted to even have pointed out to me.)

The first thing is to realize that my manuscript can always get better. In fact, that is why I asked for my editor’s help in the first place. Though it pains me, since I asked for the help I had better listen to what my editor has to say. I really wanted this person to read it, and I knew that I wouldn’t come away unscathed.

The second thing is to realize that there are benefits to a different perspective. When I write, I become so emotionally invested in my work that it becomes difficult to see problems with it. So I have to ask myself: what I can learn from a different set of eyes?

Here is one example: I hate the way that it is formatted. I use Pages, Apple’s excellent word processing program, but to send it to my editor I had to convert it to a PDF or a Word Document. In the process, I lost my double-spacing, all my paragraph indents, and my font size. Although it cut down on the number of pages, I don’t know how my editor even read it. With my eyes, I need a magnifying glass. This is really annoying, and I need to figure out how to fix it. If I was an agent receiving this manuscript, I wouldn’t even look at it, and that has probably happened to me already. So that’s one thing I learned, although my editor was kind enough to work through it and not even complain about it.

Another example of a way I can use that different perspective to my advantage without becoming upset is to realize that a mark made by my editor could mean that they didn’t understand what I was saying. It doesn’t always mean that it was wrong, because they are not privy to my thoughts. However, if a word or phrase was something that they didn’t understand, I should take the time to go back and further explain it, and just doing that may make my manuscript better, because then the next person who reads it won’t get stopped in the same place.

By trying to use my editor’s comments as post-its, indicating places where I can take a second look at my manuscript, I believe that I can maintain my own personality within the work, and still go through it and find spots that can use a little extra love, places that I might not be able to find on my own. That is the benefit of having an editor, and of using constructive criticism to my advantage, rather than becoming upset by it.

 

Which One of These Should We Outlaw?

The Silent and Brave revision page #115

I finally finished the revision of chapter nine, On the Ice, or at least I got it to the point that I don’t want to look at it anymore. It may need more work when I go to do my final read-through. I don’t know why it was so difficult, except that there were a lot of different perspectives contained in it, and I had to make it clear how my characters felt and why they felt that way, without just coming out and saying it.

Now I am going into chapter ten, White Death. This is the chapter inspired by Simo Häyhä, the Finnish sharpshooter credited with the most confirmed kills during the Winter War against Russia. He used his knowledge of the terrain, cross country skis, and a Finnish version of the Mosin-Nagant to terrorize the Russian army which had invaded his homeland. Riika is my own Simo, taking his discovered rifle out onto the frozen plains where he can use it to terrorize the arm of the champion. After he and Stope (Stull is laid up in Birrigat with his wolf bites) shoot into the arm, the Celestine cavalry rushes out onto the plains to catch them, but on the hemiau they overrun the snipers where they are hidden in the snow. Kavela, Ullane, Chauncer, and Alvaiinen go slower and actually catch Riika and Stull, but choose to let them go because they have the rifle and because Stull and Chauncer recognize one another.

My explanation of the concept of Sisu came out so well at the end of the chapter eight, Piles of Stones, that I am hoping the same will happen with my sniper. I love these references to Finnish culture and history, and because I use them as touchstones for my novel, it is really nice when one of the concepts dovetails that well with what I am writing. It seems to give it more purpose, adding layers of authentication to my fantasy.

While I’m talking about shooting, I took my new Winchester Model 70 Featherweight in 30-06 to the range yesterday for its second sighting in. I used the 125 grain low recoil rounds that Kim and I played with last week, and then went up to 150 and 180 grain cartridges. I got out to 200 yards and have it almost sighted in where I want it, but after nineteen shots kneeling on a bench and prone my shoulder said “OWWWW” and I had to stop. It is a very powerful rifle; the difference between it and the Mini-14 with the .223 is huge. It makes me wonder about what we demonize in the media, so here is a photo of the different calibers I like.

 

imageThe sharpie is so you can tell the size of the different cartridges. The one on the left is the 30-06, an absolutely devastating cartridge. It has enough power to kill an elk or black bear. These bullets are used by hunters and they are where most ballistic developments take place; expanding bullets, bonded cores so that the metal stays together, that sort of stuff. No one ever seems to want to ban these, even though they are by far the most powerful. Next to it is a steel core armor piercing .223 round. These particular green tip rounds were almost banned by the United Nations this year. They are very high velocity, and can punch a hole in steel plate. These are the “assault rifle” bullets hated by all gun control groups. Their smaller size makes them easy to shoot and it is also easy to carry a lot of ammo, thus they are often used in mass shootings. Next to that one is a 45 ACP pistol round. These particular Winchester bullets used to be called Black Talons, until a prosecuter in a court case made a big deal out of the name, saying that it indicated they were to be used to attack instead of as a defensive round. Now they are called the PDX1 Defender, but they are still the same bullet, designed with sharp petals that spread wide open on impact. The last cartridge is a 380 ACP, also a hollow point that is designed to petal open and slice through tissue, making a larger wound channel. This bullet is the smallest and least powerful, but the guns that fire it are also smaller, and very easy to conceal. Nathuram Godse used a 380 ACP in a Beretta M 1934 to assassinate Ghandi, an image I still remember from my childhood and the movie.

***I just noticed that I am using my experiences from yesterday’s prone position rifle session to begin chapter ten.***

Prostitution and War

The Silent and Brave revision page #109

I just realized that I have to be careful. Sexual domination has always been a part of war; Ghengis Kahn knew that rape is a fast way to absorb a culture. It’s still that way, from the comfort women of the Second World War to the sex slaves of ISIS. That may be the most telling sign that war is an artiface of man, not woman. (Where are the comfort men?)

I also find it hard to believe that we still live in a world where slavery of any kind seems like a good idea to a culture. I understand the desire of mankind to take the fruits of labor of other men and women for their own, for free, as a way of exerting their own dominance, but I don’t understand the lack of understanding of history. Slaves tend to rise up against their masters. In world society, slavery is no longer tolerated. Trying to justify it is a horrible black mark on any culture, and trying to remove reliance on it is devastating to a country (see our own Civil War, still the most awful conflict in our history in terms of American lives lost and economic ruin and recovery.)

In this chapter, On the Ice, I have a character, Dreck, who likes the prostitutes who follow the arm to earn money. Realistic, yes, but just introducing them as caricatures is not right. I live in a state with legalized prostitution, and I also believe that we should not judge how anyone tries to make a living, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, but I realize that I have to be careful, because the exploitation of women is a sensitive topic, especially for those who have been and continue to be used in that way against their will.

 

On the Ice

The Silent and Brave revision page #103

Originally this chapter was called “Secret Treaties” and it’s main point was setting the stage for Dreck and Antoni Phillipi’s treachery against the champion. Now I’ve changed it to “On the Ice” and it’s more of a description of the Teilarata arm taking up position around Birrigat, and how that affects the champion’s arm sitting across the ice and watching, knowing that their job just got a lot more difficult. Instead of focusing completely on the two valetins, I am working more with the companions, especially Ullane, who is defining her role as a soldier as opposed to the other women in the camp, who are there to earn money from the other soldiers, especially Dreck, who likes to keep a couple in his tent at all times for his personal “use.” Antoni Phillipi has spotted Ullane in the Celestine arm, and he mentions that he is more interested in her, as she is a bruno. Antoni Phillipi is from Azucar, close to Chalcis, and has fought the brunos often; he thinks Ullane should be his slave. All of these insights are my attempt to further develop these characters, while at the same showing how the champion’s arm is not all good. Most of the soldiers in it have their own reasons for fighting against the Teilarata, and not many really care what happens to Birrigat, they are just trying to be on the winning side of the conflict. This will be important later, when Dreck turns against the champion, taking his arm with him. I also want to show Ullane’s spirit and desire to defeat the Teilarata. She is one of the ones fighting for the right reasons. And I want to develop the relationships between her, Alvaiinen, and Kavela. So that’s why I’m back to page #103: I’m having to rewrite the whole chapter, but it’s almost done, and much much better.

Other important things going on today: The Miami Hurricanes are playing Virginia in the ACC Tournament, getting ready for March Madness: both of those teams, as well as North Carolina (who will probably beat Notre Dame and play the winner of the aforementioned game for the ACC championship) could easily be Final Four teams this year.

Also, Kim and I went to the batting cages last night and got the ball rolling on our co-ed softball team. Looks like there’s a lot of interest, and we should have no problem putting together a fun team for summer.

 

New Query

The Silent and Brave revision page #108

Okay, I went to Barnes and Noble again, searching for agents to query. I have mentioned before how this process depresses me, because it just makes me think “how will I ever possibly join their ranks?”

I wanted to take the advice of Sam Morgan at JABberwocky and look at the back blurb to Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings–“Now that’s how you pitch an epic fantasy.”

I had a little different experience this time. I should mention that work has been really bumming me out, and I really want to be a writer and not a bartender, and all that stuff. I just felt helpless. But this time I had a little different experience.

First off, I was again amazed by how many new books on the shelves are for young adults and how many are fantasy. I feel like my writing interests and what’s selling are right in lockstep, for whatever reason. I don’t know how long it will last, but I’ve got a book to sell and it would look great right there on the shelf next to those. Or in a movie trailer.

Secondly, I opened up a few of those beautiful new hardbacks and immediately found long author acknowledgements, including the names of their current agents. I picked two, Joshua Bilmes (shocker, back to JABberwocky, but when I googled him I saw taking queries for the first time in forever, as of six days ago . . .) and Pouya Shahbazian. Yeah, that’s the Divergent guy. Hello Hollywood. So I had my agents to query, and they are heavy hitters.

Thirdly, I found The Way of Kings with ease, and as I was reading the back blurb, I was not thinking, how can I do this? I was thinking, this is exactly what I do! So then I copied it down on my server pad, hoping no one would accuse me of stealing or some other impropriety, and I ran out to the car and read it to Kim and said, “I can do this!” It’s not less invented names or maps or magic or swords. It’s more of everything! But the real difference, the thing that helped me the most, was it’s a BLURB. That is, instead of trying to tell the whole story in a page, it tries to get the reader excited about reading the story for themselves. I never understood that before. So now, I’ve written my own blurb, and it goes like this:

Empty now the pavement passes, laid in place by drays and draughtsmen; steel girded to reave the heavens, empty now, forlorn, forgotten

All Kavela wanted to do was sell rabbits. Rabbits for meat, brought to him by his giant Selessian hunter, rabbits for furs, sewn with the help of an outcast girl, who, like him, had found a place to survive on the outskirts of the Teilarata empire. He had everything he needed for his thriving business, including a stall on the busiest alley in Al–Akbah market. Then, one day, he arrived in the market and found a boy in his stall hawking squirrels.

With the newcomer came the beginning of the story of the champion. A story that would turn into revolution against the Teilarata, the rulers who seized power over the land of Malvada on the Day of Transition, driving science from the world, shuttering the four wards of the Pallbearers, and locking away the wisdom they contained. For Kavela’s Selessian hunter is also the champion, the chosen one, made immortal in Arlat, the ward of genetics, destined to lead Malvada into a new golden age where mankind can once again enjoy the benefits of knowledge.

On the way Kavela and his friends will travel to Los Lewr, the ward of matter, where the last scientist will give them the mistral, a powerful weapon to fight the Teilarata. They will have to convince the champion to accept his role, and if they want to overthrow the Teilarata, they will have to defeat an army of unkillable scaalite soldiers, bent on their destruction and determined to maintain Teilarata rule over the dark and ravaged land.

So that’s what I sent to Joshua Bilmes and Pouya Shahbazian, and you know what? They may not take it, but it’s a hell of a lot better than what I’ve been sending out. For the first time in a long time, I feel like my query is advancing, and that means that my chances of becoming a published writer are advancing right along with it.

 

 

Trusting My Instincts

The Silent and Brave revision page #105

I’m talking about trusting my instincts as a writer. This is important, because I am all I have. It is nice to get feedback, but in the end my story is my own, and only I know how it is going to go and I am the one who has to get it there. If I start listening to all the fuzz that is out there, criticism, how to do this, how to do that, it leads to doubt and paralysis, or the famous final scene where the author sends his pages into the roaring fire and starts over from scratch. Maybe a justifiable sacrifice, but not a way to get anywhere, and, I always thought, a big waste. There’s got to be something good in there.

I’m fascinated with the way my instincts work with revision. It’s almost subconscious. I read my stuff, and as I’m reading, some things just work, and then there are other parts that stop me and make me think. It is these parts that need revision the most. I don’t always know what they need or how to fix them. There’s just a tiny spark of suspicion at first, and then I continue to work with the lines and realize that they need to change.

Today I am working on a long passage in Dreck’s head about his past, and how he came to fight for the champion. I love the background for the character. It is necessary to add depth, but the way I wrote it is all exposition, and that can be boring for he reader. I didn’t want to scrap the information, but I wanted to figure out a different way to present it. I tried moving it, but it wasn’t right in other places. I tried rewriting it, but it just got longer. I thought and thought about it, and didn’t know what to do, but my subconscious mind knew that it needed to change, and after thinking about it for a while the answer came to me.

A good way to avoid exposition, explained to me in college (thank you college) is to put the information into conversation. Instead of telling Dreck’s story in passing, I took my characters Kavela and Chauncer, who might reasonably have known Dreck or at least heard about him, and I’m putting Dreck’s background information into their mouths, during a conversation they have while they’re sitting waiting on the front lines. This works great. Instead of exposition, It becomes gossip, which is what soldiers do while they’re waiting. Even better, it fills in Dreck’s background while demonstrating problems my characters might have with him because of his past. In this way I am able to add depth and background for multiple characters, without dictating to my audience how I want them to feel. Instead I let them overhear the information and they can make up their own minds. This has the effect (I hope) of pulling the audience further into the story. That, I think, is the essence of storytelling.

I didn’t get frustrated. I just kept the problem in my mind and waited for the answer to come. I listened to my instincts and trusted myself to figure out the problem. My story is better because of it.

Why Write a Fantasy?

The Silent and Brave revision page #103

Today I am examining my choice to write a series of fantasy novels, rather than something more “adult” and literary. Can there be literary meaning and importance in fantasy?

I think my first goal as a novelist was to write a story that was pure and simple on the face of it, a real-life story with real-life characters. That was Chivalry, and it was born of my college experiences and experiences to that point in life. I reread it last year and I think it’s wonderful. I’m glad I wrote it and I’m glad it turned out the way it did. I think it fulfilled those expectations, and I would still love to publish it if I could find a willing publisher.

Now a lot of time has passed. I wrote a second novel, about a sailing trip to the Bahamas, called King’s Highway. That is also based on college experiences, and it has some good parts but is much less satisfying to me than Chivalry. My plan is to eventually rewrite it as a thriller, taking up the levels of violence and intrigue, because I think that would make it more interesting to an agent, especially as I look around at blogs and websites, and see what agents are looking for in today’s publishing climate.

I began a third book, called A Man Like Me, intended to be literary and personal and great and all of those things that an author would want in his work. I finished what I wanted to with it, and again there are some good parts, and again there are a lot more that need work. Again, I hope someday to return to it, and finish it to my satisfaction. It has all my “real” characters in it, and I want to tell what happens to them.

Then Kim and I had our hard times, with having children. I have mentioned it before, how this made me want to create a character who couldn’t be hurt in any way, and that was the genesis of the champion, and my return to fantasy, that I have always loved, all my life. And now this is the story I want to tell, my science fantasy, about the wards of the pallbearers and the future of mankind.

I don’t know exactly why it has caught me so hard and kept me interested. It is very hard, inventing a world. First I have to believe in it. Then I have to convince others to believe in it too. That seems astronomically difficult. But I love magical realism. I love Salman Rushdie and Garcia Marquez. I love that idea, that there is a little bit of the unexplained in life. I was up on the mountain yesterday, singing “Toyland” to myself, a Christmas song, and believe me, I am a white middle class kid, Christmas is all about fantasy. It is that idea that “once you pass its borders you can never go home again . . .” And to me that is fantasy. The older I get, the more I realize that life is just very difficult, and hard, and dirty, and that any bit of romance I can hold on to is so important, because we spend all of our days with the real. Any imagination we can keep, any innocence of childhood is vital to our happiness. Yes, we should dream of other worlds, because daily life is bearing down on all of us.

Now I look around, and find that there is not a lot of romance left. Stories are being recycled for movies, and the real world only titilates when there is action or murder added to it. Why shouldn’t I write a story about good people trying to do good things? One thing that people still read is fantasy, so, if I’m so interested in it, why shouldn’t I write it? I don’t know if I can do it better, but I’m going to keep trying. I don’t want to pass the borders yet, and let the real world take me down. I want to live in a magical world, with my magical, beautiful wife, and my magical friends, and believe that I can still find a storybook ending, by writing one for myself. I intend to believe that until the end of my days.

 

 

 

Valetin Dreck

The Silent and Brave revision page #103

Another new character I have introduced is Dreck, a valetin for the champion. Valetins are the under–generals in Tarlan. Where leaders of major cities and wards of the pallbearers are called vallains, valetins are more numerous but still wield power.

Dreck was a permit collector in Fered, the mountain outpost closest to Arlat. While Fered was under Teilarata rule, Dreck, a vain and prideful man, enjoyed the trappings of power and wealth. He likes good food. He collects art and weapons. He likes to entertain. He wants to be the most powerful man in Fered.

For many years, his greed and vanity led him to steal from the Teilarata as he was collecting permit for them from the people of Fered. When Arlat fell to the champion, he decided to join the champion against the Teilarata, seeing an oppotunity to gain power, also hoping that he would be able to escape punishment for his past transgressions.

When Romal al-Hashimi, the vallain of Celestia, arrives in the champion’s camp, he immediately calls Dreck out as a fake, a minor official who has seized on  circumstances to benefit himself. Dreck’s insecurity is signified by the fact that he wears a helmet and goggles that completely cover his face, so no one in the champion’s arm really know what he looks like. Dreck’s pride makes him dislike Romal al–Hashimi and the champion both, and he falls under the sway of Antoni Phillipi, a valetin from Azucar who is experienced in fighting and who has likewise used the champion’s revolution against the Teilarata for his own personal gain. These two valetins quickly begin to discuss the possibilty of turning their arms against the champion and Romal al–Hashimi and rejoining the Teilarata, especially once Alsha Marat, vallain of the Teilarata arm, finds a way to come between the champion and his goal, Birrigat, the second ward of the pallbearers.

Stope and Stull

The Silent and Brave revison: page #98

I am moving along very well with my revision now; I would be over page #100 if I had not cut some unnecessary/incorrect material, which is of course part of the reason for revising. I like to take out ten percent, and overall to this point I believe I have added more than I have taken away, so being able to cut anything makes me happy.

This part is easy because it involves a lot of action, which is fun to write, and hopefully fun to read. I am experiencing that magical occurance writers speak of where a minor character begins to take over my subconscious and turn themselves into a major character. In this case, it is actually two characters, Stope and Stull, acquaintances of Chauncer’s in Arlat. In The Peaceful and Just they were antagonistic to him in a bullying, schoolboyish way (think Another Brick in the Wall). I loved their names, which are mining terms (they worked underground, like most youths in Arlat) and so maybe it was inevitable that I would further explore their characters. In The Silent and Brave they have joined Alsha Marat and the Teilarata arm, and are working as scouts to find a way for the Teilarata to challenge the champion at Birrigat. While they are out on the ice, they are attacked by wolves and rescued by Riika and his rifle. This may seem a little bit clichéd, but like ghost stories and descriptions of meals in literature it is, as they say, “a gimme.” Stull is bitten by the wolves and badly injured; he will spend much of the book recuperating in Birrigat, and so he and Stope witness the investiture of the ward by the Teilarata arm, the assassination of Alsha Marat, the treachery of Dreck, and the consequences of these events. They also provide me value because they allow me to show sympathetic characters on the opposite side of the struggle “in which every citizen of Tarlan will have to choose a side.” It is important to me to present a war in which there is right and good on both sides, as well as bad, because that is what real life is like. One side is not always completely right and one side completely wrong. For Stope and Stull, loyalty to the champion or the Teilarata is not the most important thing. Survival is the most important thing. Choosing the side that will win is paramount. I think that for the common man that is an underappreciated factor.

Towards the end of writing this book, I also discovered that Stope and Stull have a relationship that is more than just friends. How about that? I’m sure its not the first time there have been gay characters in a fantasy novel for young adults, but I am sure the LGBT community is underrepresented as a whole within the genre.