The following link takes you to Steph Post’s blog concerning First Drafts and Writing. Her comments are pretty much dead on.
Here we go again, right? It’s new Years Eve already and I thought at this time last year and the year before that I was on the threshold of having a dream year. Let’s say that previously I’ve been here and been wrong several times.
Although last year I published Fried Windows and have received a lot of positive feedback from fans and fellow authors, it hasn’t allowed me to write full time, which is my objective. Perhaps that is a longer journey than I expected. It tends to take several books before a sufficient number of readers discover a relatively obscure fantasy author like me.
Yesterday, I submitted Book Six of The Wolfcat Chronicles. Revisions for the entire series continue to move along. I should be finished revising Book Seven in a couple of weeks. As I’ve said before the last three books of the series need the most work, though, and that will slow the pace of revision considerably – especially the rewrite envisioned for the last half of the final book. However, despite the generally painful experience of revision, I’m optimistic that I’ll complete revisions of the entire series sometime before April. I’m including interruptions in my expectations because, somewhere in the process, I will be doing substantive edits and content edits on at least the first book of the series.
Last week was fun. The day at my sister’s house in Palm Harbor was a good change of pace for me. I’m grateful for the invitation and glad I could arrange things in my schedule to take a couple of days off. While there I met someone I didn’t know who has actually read my most recent book. If you;re not a writer you don’t understand what a big deal that really is. It’s also a little intimidating. You never know what a reader is going to say. They might tell you your baby is ugly.
All of us at the gathering were in rare form. You know how you wish you had a recording of the event just so you could capture the spontaneity and high spirits? Yeah…but somehow I think having a camera present wouldn’t have worked as well. People are naturally hams, you know? Playing to the camera would destroy the occasion, making it look too much like Reality TV.
Anyway, lots of laughs shared and good memories for all. Maybe we are supposed to recall such events without the aid of artificial recordings, just so we are kinder to all the silliness that probably – out of a family context – was not really all that funny. Such events tend to be you-had-to-be-there kinds of things, especially when you attempt explaining what was funny to others.
For some reason being around my oldest sister brings out the clown in me – not the scary kind but the playful, joking sort. It’s always been that way. Her clan is pretty much insane by any reasonable standard. So, of course, I fit right in. We each have our foibles, don’t we? It’s good to have a place you can go that you feel like you belong, even if it is just for a day.
I like family get together because I sort of expect things – based on past experiences – but also I never truly know what will happen. This time it started with a dining room table discussion about something that happened years ago – something that was not even remotely funny at the time.
When there is a new member to the gathering a novel dynamic is introduced. More stories to be told and greater depths of experience to be fished for something worth sharing quirk the group. I think back to when I was a kid reaching point of realizing that discovering dirt on close relations is immensely interesting. That is probably the best thing about family get togethers. You discover that your personal strangeness when compared to other family members isn’t really all that bad after all.
Anyway, things progressed and evolved from the stories told at the table to other stories told, retold with embellishment, or outright fabricated. I’ve been known to do some of each but since I’m a writer the latter is where I reign supreme. For some reason memories of childhood remain vivid and clear while recalling what happened last week or even yesterday is shrouded in mystery. That’s how life works, though. And whenever you run out of true stories to tell there is always a chance stretch things a bit. Telling how things should have been is almost as good as how they actually were, right?
Yesterday, my editor informed me in an unofficial way that Book 1 of The Wolfcat Chronicles is next in the queue for substantive edits. That means nothing really except that the process is about to begin. I’ll be working on a list of terms, characters and places that have unique spellings so that a style sheet can be created for editing purposes. Otherwise how would we know that Mt. Kordha is spelled correctly each time it appears, right? I’ve decided it makes more sense to create an inclusive list for the entire series. I started working on that last night and the list is already going on four pages – and I’ve not delved into Book Two yet.
The Wolfcat Chronicles may seem to have a cast of thousands while you’re reading it but most of the names are merely mentioned as memorable faces in the crowd and are not actual participants in conversations. Still, a series with the kind of depth and scale of the wolfcat books has dozens of speaking parts. It’s a lot like going through one’s real life in a way. You meet people all the time. Some of them become friends others do not. However we all have momentary exchanges and those tend to affect us in some way.
One of the crazier aspects of writing an entire series is the total immersion required of the author. It begins with the actual creation of the first draft and continues through each successive revision. It becomes necessary to believe in the fictional world, actually entering it and living there for certain spans, just to understand the characters and their conflicts. I don’t know if it ends once everything is settled into final form and published. We’ll see.
This is one of many series I have created over the years but it stands alone as being the one most nearly complete for all its revisions over the years. It’s hard to think I’ll not continue living in the fantasy world to some extent. After all, with so many characters in the series there are other stories left to tell. I’m considering that as I go through this series of revisions. I know there is at least another book, possibly two. Such books would not be necessary to understanding and following the series but they would be interesting projects for me to flesh out more detail on minor characters. That is, after all, how one book evolves into two and three. The main characters may drive the plot but the subordinate characters that interact with the main characters propel the story into new directions. Soon, a trilogy becomes ten books.
I have confidence in The Wolfcat Chronicles because over the past dozen years numerous people have read it in draft. Each one reported loving this or that character and wishing to know more about their stories. I’ve taken a lot of that into consideration with the revisions. Also, it’s a good sign that the story works.
With recent technological developments in film production many beta readers have told me this would make a great movie – something along the lines of Avatar or Lord of The Rings. I don’t know, though. I can visualize it of course, but then I live in the fantasy world while I’m working on the books. It comes with the territory of being a writer.
#writing #revising #editing #publishing #TheWolfcatChronicles #FriedWindows
There used to be a saying that I don’t hear anymore: “I’m going to knock the stuffing out of you.” It would have been easily accomplished after Thursday’s Christmas dinner at my sister Joyce’s house. She outdid herself again and I over ate, as usual.
Since my kids grew up and moved away – and my wife and I divorced – Christmas has been a lot different for me. I’m that uncle, brother, cousin or friend (sort of) – you know the type. Others feel sorry for me on the holiday and invite me over for a meal. But since my kids grew up there hasn’t really been much drive inside of me to celebrate the holiday in a traditional way. Some of that has to do with working in retail for so long that whatever Christmas spirit was in me has long since been wrung out – or would that be rung out, as in Silver Bells? You see – nothing gets you out of the spirit like listening to Christmas music over the store intercom ad nauseum.
I’ve always hated the commercialization of the holiday. Greed has a lot to do with that. It is not the best side of people at all. People take their lives into their hands shopping for the holidays. And it’s kind of like people come out of the woodwork to celebrate, even people who aren’t practicing Christians.
I suppose it’s not really an ‘exclusive club’ sort of holiday, even though a lot has been made of stripping the religious significance from the holiday and getting the reason for the holiday all mixed up in the debate over separation of Church and State. You don’t necessarily have to be a Christian to say Merry Christmas, you know? Since Christmas falls around the time of year when several other holidays occur, like Kwanza, Hanukkah, Yule, the debate over what to say as a holiday greeting has been muddled around and mixed in for good measure. Happy Holidays is less offensive, although back when I was a kid we said that to include New Years along with Christmas.
Historically the early Christian Church moved the celebration of the holiday to coincide with pagan holidays celebrated in Europe for the purpose of recruiting new converts to the religion. A lot of anti-Christian folk point that out as justification for neutering the holiday of its religious overtones. Certainly the truth about when the Birth of Christ actually occurred is a mystery. Many scholars believe it should probably fall around September. And since the calendar in use at the time was Jewish, very likely the holiday would shift around as the lunar and solar calendars do when converting – like with the date for Easter in the Spring, which is tied to the Jewish holiday Passover. So I can see the argument that the actual holiday should not have anything to do with Christian beliefs. However, it has been called Christmas since I was a kid so at least humor an old man and allow me to say Merry Christmas to you without getting your panties in a wad.
The holiday should be celebrated as one sees fit. Not only should it not be forced upon anyone who doesn’t want to celebrate it but also people who do celebrate it should be allowed to practice their religion in the process, if that is their desire. Personally I have never taken any offense when someone wishes me Happy Hanukkah even though I’m not Jewish. And if someone said Happy Kwanza to me, I’d be fine with it although I’m not African. But, then, I have a thicker skin than a lot of people, I guess. To me, it’s not a huge deal what anyone says to me. If you’re more comfortable with Happy Holidays and believe that is the least offensive way of expressing the joy you feel this time of year, go for it.
What i enjoy most about the season is seeing houses decorated with lights. Some people go Clark Griswold overboard on that, but it’s okay. It’s their power bill, right? But one of the things that irks me about the season is how stressed out it makes some people, like there is an obligation to do this and that. That strips the meaning of the holiday away, making it more about competition (making sure little Johnny and Mary get the best toys) and greed than anything else. One should not feel any obligation to seasonal celebrations, folks. If you aren’t in the mood to sing Christmas Carols, exchange gifts or even make a traditional meal, you shouldn’t have to just for the sake of the holiday and what others would or would not think of you should you abstain. Having said that, I think people like to complain a lot about having to get all the shopping done for everyone, and it really isn’t intended to be a negative thing. It’s almost like some people are driven to see who can finish their shopping for gifts earliest. Me, I was always a last minute kind of guy. Sometimes that worked out with price slashing last minute deep discounts. Occasionally I missed out on getting something that was in short supply, though.
Lately I haven’t been a gift giving type due to my personal economic situation. My family knows about all of that. It’s embarrassing when they get me gifts but I appreciate the sentiment and wanting to help meet out. They know if I could I would share gifts as well and when I get out of my current situation I’ll likely play catch up for a season or two. But that’s the way I’m wired. Money isn’t all that important to me and never has been. The fact that it is important for nearly everyone else sets me at odds with the world at times, but I’m okay fighting that battle. My needs are few: a place to sleep, something to eat, a change of clothes for after a quick shower, and I’m good to go.
I’m grateful for my nephew, Jay, coming over to Orlando to pick me up to take me back to Palm Harbor for Christmas. I’m equally grateful to my brother-in-law, Jerry, for driving me back the day after. Family is important and spending the day with my big sister’s clan was a good time. I spent the past couple of seasons with them, so it’s becoming a tradition, I guess. I think this year we all laughed more than we had in previous gatherings. I’ll take credit for my share of the funny stories, but a lot of that has to do with the shared company and feeling at home, even with that dysfunctional lot.
Anyway, the holiday set me back a couple of days on revising Book Six of The Wolfcat Chronicles, but I had worked that into my personal schedule, so I’m still on track to meet the end of the year deadline. I completed Chapter 16 last night. Today I’m going to attempt knocking out half of the remaining chapters. Perhaps I can finish it off on Tuesday, then, one day earlier than planned. If not, I have Wednesday morning.
#Christmas #Holidays #Commercialization #TheWolfcatChronicles #Revisions
(Note: because I will be out of town for the next couple of days I’m posting this one a day early – Enjoy!)
The year was 1973. As I was ‘m finishing up my junior year of high school and deciding which college to attend former James Gang lead guitarist and singer, Joe Walsh released a second album with his group Barnstorm which proved to be the band’s last combined effort. Though Walsh would continue to release other solo material and join the Eagles for the album 1976’s Hotel California, it was The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get was propelled into the Billboard hot 100’s top ten albums on the strength of commercial airplay for the single Rocky Mountain Way. The album also included Meadows, which was a minor hit that failed to break into the Top 40.
The album is memorable for me as it was the first that I played upon setting up my stereo system in my dorm room at Purdue University. I used it to test the speaker placement of my quadrophonic system. Released by ABC Dunhill Records the album was available in both Stereo and QS Quadrophonic. My receiver has a built in SQ/QS decoder for multiple channel playback. It was one of a half dozen albums I owned that was Quad compatible but always one of my favorites.
Within music circles Walsh was respected as a multi-instrumentalist. As a singer, songwriter and guitarists for the James Gang he had commercial success with several hits like Funk 49, Walk Away and Midnight Man but it wasn’t until he departed the group that he gained full recognition of his talents, reaching super star status.
On his 1978 album, But Seriously Folks, Walsh reflects on the craziest aspects of fame with the satirical lyrics of his hit single Life’s Been Good, a crowd favorite he performed live with the Eagles, four of whom appeared on the album. In the song he pokes fun at the Rock’n’Roll lifestyle, talking about tearing up hotel rooms and having accountants pay the bills, staying out late partying to the point of not being able to find the door, owning a Maserati that does 185 but losing his license and owning a really nice mansion that he’s never seen.
#JoeWalsh #Eagles #Barnstorm #JamesGang #RockyMountainWay #LifesBeenGood #70sMusic
Way back somewhere and some-when I had a teacher named Kristin, though I didn’t call her by her first name until a few years later. We didn’t hit it off well, but after nearly four full school years of fairly close association, whether she was my English teacher or my faculty advisor for the school newspaper, we eventually reached a point of mutual respect. At some point I told her I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, not realizing that the whole point of becoming a writer is never needing to grow up. I asked for her advice and with pity in her eyes she told me if I develop characters that feel real to the reader then I might succeed.
A lot of time was spent in college pursuing secrets insights. In the process I worked on writing, attempting to find my author’s voice and toying around with methods of storytelling. You see – I figured out that it’s better to be a good storyteller than a good writer, especially if you plan to make a living as an author – not that I have arrived there quite yet. Still, all along the way I kept focusing on my characters and making them as realistic as possible. Basically, what makes them real for a reader is not the author’s narrative descriptions but how the character is portrayed through dialogue. If the spoken words sound right, more than half the battle of selling the character to the reader is won. And so, that has always been how I have approached characters. I start with a few the main characters, at least two, and have them converse. Pretty much they tell me the story while introducing me to the other characters that populate their fictional universe. They clue me in on what’s bothering them lately (the conflicts). From there the plot (the storytelling) takes care of itself.
It is not easily accomplished. Sometimes characters misbehave and their dialogue must be tweaked for it to sound real. Also driving plot through dialogue takes a good deal of practice. You also need to pay attention to real world conversations and how people talk – not stuff you hear on TV but exchanges between family members, friends and strangers. In this I benefitted from spending so many years in retail dealing with the general public and a number of fairly diverse employees. Over my nearly thirty-year career I probably have a few thousand stories to tell just from my associations.
For dialogue to be effective in helping to create a character’s realism the writer must sell it without drawing undue attention to the written words. What I mean is this: at some point within the first two exchanges of dialogue the reader must be immersed in the scene along with the characters. Suspension of disbelief takes place almost immediately if the reader fully embraces the characters as human beings (or in the case of my fantasies, just beings). The reader cannot be cognizant of the plot elements entering into the dialogue. A test to see if you’ve gone to far as a writer is to read what you have written and actually hear the voices of the characters as if they were talking. Would they say those things you wrote? There is an art to achieving this and it is why some writers succeed at capturing a reader’s imagination while others don’t. I call it being sneaky.
One of the best examples I can think of for realism in dialogue and character development is Steph Post’s A Tree Born Crooked. Her characters feel as real as the guy sitting down at the end of the bar or your aunt that no one in the family wants to invite to social gatherings. Her novel is filled with characters you can avoid noticing even though you probably wouldn’t go out of your way to talk to them. It is dialogue driven in a way that probably should be studied in school because it is done that well.
When properly written dialogue-driven plot enhances the quality of the story as well as the experience of reading. A good deal of narrative, which is inherently more boring than dialogue to a reader, can be eliminated. The story will take on a blocked format where narrative is used to frame interactions between characters, primarily setting a scene and directing a reader’s attention to characters’ actions. The result is that the author will invite the reader into the story instead of just showing or telling what happens.
In preparing to write, the more detail an author puts into a character profile the better. Think of it as writing a short biography of someone you, as the author, know extremely well. It should include the basics like date of birth, place of birth, where the character grew up, family, friends, schools and the like, but deviate from a traditional biography in giving a complete description of the character’s height, weight, skin tone, eye color, hair color, and interesting features like a mole or a proportionately large nose. You may or may not use all the information you put into the profile but you must know those details including backstories. What crushes did he or she have growing up? What became of those people – if the character knows? Such information creates depth of the character and lends realism to the person created on paper.
Some authors pattern characters after people they know. It is best to create composites of several real world people, though. You don’t want opinions of living persons to enter into a piece of fiction. However, taking four or five people and using them as a pattern to create a character that shares their attributes and background will often make for a realistic subject in a work of fiction. For The Wolfcat Chronicles I patterned many of the characters based on profiles from a role playing game in which I was involved for a time in early 2000. The character Ela’na is based on a real person with whom I became close friends. She served as a muse throughout the creative process for composing all ten books.
For The Attributes, a science fiction environmental piece set in a colonial world in the future, the characters are based on musicians in a rock band whose work I follow. I composed the novel over the course of a summer as sort of a birthday gift for the lead singer. Although the book has not been promoted that much I consider the story one of the best science fiction pieces I’ve done. The dialogue flows very well and it was one of the first stories that I used dialogue extensively in driving the plot.
Occasionally the main character of a book is an alter ego of the author. In my books, for example, Brent Woods, who appears in Fried Windows, serves that role to a large extent. Although he does things I would never do and is more outgoing than I ever was he shares a good deal of my background. We attended the same schools and, of course, knew some of the same people. Since Brent has some amazing abilities and visits other worlds some people have questioned just how much he is like me. I suppose that as a writer I do visit other worlds and I have special powers while there as the creator of the alternate universe.
Part of the process of making characters feel real is believing they are real. A fellow fiction writer once told me that in order to make a contrived world believable an author becomes a part of the fictional world he or she creates. While writers tend to live in the story while we write, it may seem to others that we have lost touch with reality from time to time. We may pop our heads in and out of the real world to carry on the business of being alive like eating, sleeping, paying bills, attending mandatory family things like birthdays and such, but mainly we are immersed in our creations while we are composing them.
Editing and revising the draft becomes a painful revisiting of the overall creative experience, much like reliving the events of real life – the good along with the bad. It is a necessary evil in the writing processes but much less fun that conjuring substance from nothingness. The objective of a revision is not creating as much modifying and sometimes deleting. If a writer spends too much time immersed in a story its hair grows too long, shaggy and unkempt. Think of a good revision as basic personal grooming for the story. Professional editing is more like seeing a barber or going to a hair solon to fix a bad hair do before being seen in public.
#Writing #Realism #CharacterDevelopment #Storytelling #Fiction #Editing #Revising #FriedWindows #TheWolfcatChronicles #StephPost #ATreeBornCrooked #TheAttributes
The revisions on Book Five are complete. I submitted the manuscript yesterday. I’m already into book Six. I finished adjusting the chapter sequence for story flow yesterday and made it into chapter three last night.
For the most part what I have been doing throughout the revision for the entire series is looking for redundancies and removing them. I have needed to amply some descriptions and made other minor changes to be consistent throughout the series. One can only do this while working on all the books. You see – when you write a series it is easy to forget some little details. That is why programs like Scrivener are probably an asset for writing longer works of fiction. But I composed this entire series using MS Word. Over the years I have edited it and revised it several times using either MS Word or Open Office. I could import it into Scrivener and sort of reverse engineer the story, adding in index cards for each chapter to help keep thing straight, but at this point that would take more time than necessary.
At this point I know the story very well. Since I wrote the first part of it almost thirteen and a half years ago I have read and reread it dozens of times. But what happens with revisions is that a part will be eliminated that impacts other parts of the story. One change begets a domino effect for every part that follows. Fortunately I’m not making major changes anymore. But still, I am finding small details that related to things that have been removed in prior revisions. This is a very good reason to revise and edit books while sober and undistracted. Lately I have been doing my revisions without listening to music or only playing music that I have listened to often enough hat it no longer distracts my attention – which means I’m listening to a lot of older stuff like 70’s music.
There may be a few things that will be tweaked as the books progress through substantive editing and content editing, but I’m pleased with he story flow and the story arc, the latter is difficult to do with a story that spans several books. There is a master plot for the series, of course. But I found it essential for the telling to maintain he integrity of the three main sections as originally composed. So, while there are pieces of story that help build toward the conclusion of the series, the immediate focus in to conclude the interim crises and conflicts.
The first second of the story I wrote was the middle part that now spans five books. As the entire series will be produced the lengths of the books and even the number of books may change. And so this 3500 page, ten book series may be presented as seven or eight longer books. Those are decisions that will be made in the course of substantive edits. But as the series has been adjusted and paced the first section comprises five books. Each book has an overall theme directed to the part of the story – in this case the One Pack section – as well as and individual book theme. The conflicts, climaxes and resolutions work the same way. There are major ones that span five books and also one that spans the entire series, but then there are conflicts that are resolved in a shorter span. I’m not sure this level of complexity to the plot could have been achieved had the series been composed in a more traditional way, one book at a time.
Some writers use outlines and have a great deal of structure from the initial planning of the story. Although I have composed books in that manner it is not the way I created The Wolfcat Chronicles. I developed the characters first, worked on some dialogue and then followed the characters around in their interactions. The first 413 page draft of One Pack lacked a good deal of detail and had gaping holes in the plot, however, the basic story idea was there. In revisions more things were explored, more conflicts presented and, as the story grew the complexity of the plot increased. Also the characters became more realistic with internal conflicts compelling their actions. Other, secondary characters were added in and eventually the story expanded to over 1200 pages.
In the course of writing The Last Wolfcat, which was envisioned as a three book series from the outside, the story was composed as the main characters were followed. At some point midway through composing the second book of that section, I was involved in editing a children’s book. My publisher at the time suggested I write a children’s book based on the wolfcats. His thinking was that it might be a quick way to get a book out with the basic character ideas. He was concerned that I was engaged in a never-ending writing project – and to some extent so was I.
I writing the ‘kids story’ I decided to do a prequel to One Pack beginning with when the two wolfcats, Ela’na and Rotor, were young. Although the story quickly evolved to be anything but a children’s book, I learned things about the characters that needed to be feathered in and corrected throughout the entire series that followed. And so, midway through the second book of the Last Wolfcat, I performed a massive revision to One Pack and completed Spectre of Dammerwald (the two book prequel) before continuing to tell the concluding part of the story.
Although I completed the tenth book I was never totally satisfied with how the book ended. I have since figured out why I had issues with it. The concluding part will be rewritten with this current revision and will tie into Fried Windows, a yet to be published book called The Power of X and an as yet untitled book that is the sequel to The Power of X. These books follow the Brent Woods character who appears in The Last Wolfcat and also give insight into Ela’na’s adventures on Earth and much more detail about th offspring of Rotor and Ela’na.
#TheWolfcatChronicles #FriedWindows #BrentWoods #Revising #Writing #Publishing
In 1972 something pretty unusual happened in music. An album released five years before was climbing the charts again, riding on the popularity of a song that had failed to chart in the US when it was released five years before. The album, Days of Future Passed and the song Nights In White Satin received a resurgence of attention after a late night DJ decided to play the track while he took an extended restroom break. Afterwards, the station received many requests to hear the song again, and so, it was rediscovered. Eventually Nights In White Satin peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the best selling song in the Moody Blues history.
The band was originally formed in 1964, though membership changed over the next three years. Their first charting hit was Go Now. Although the band released an album titled the Magnificent Moodies for Decca Records and had recorded a series of singles, their music was not commercially successful.
The Mark II line up of the band that recorded the second album, Days of Future Passed, included the current remaining members of the band: Graeme Edge, Justin Hayward and John Lodge in addition to Mike Pinder and Ray Thomas.
Before recording “Days’ in 1967 the band was heavily in debt to Decca for advances and their recording contract was about to expire. They made an arrangement with Decca to record a stereophonic demonstrator album for a subsidiary label, Deram Records, featuring a rock’n’roll version of Antonin Dvorak’s New Word Symphony. In exchange for the recording session the label would cancel their outstanding debt. Their manager Hugh Mend l arranged for the band to have creative control over the project, something rare given the circumstances. Although the demonstrator album material was recorded the project was eventually scrapped but the band recorded several tracks to be used for a concept album that followed the life of everyman through a day.
Days of Future Passed originated in a time of experimentation. The Beatles had released songs using exotic instruments and sound effects. They had also experimented with blending of classical instrumentation into rock music. The Moody Blues expanded upon that idea creating a complete album with interludes between songs performed by classical musicians. Although the album sold well in the UK its initial response in the US was lackluster. The idea was slightly ahead of its time, but five years later there was an audience or the sound.
The Moody Blues had released several albums between 1967 and 1972 gaining a following worldwide for their mellotron driven sound. Many of their fans believed they lyrics were somehow prophetic leading the band to write a song in response, “I’m Just A Singer In A Rock’nRoll Band”. Oddly enough the album containing that song, aptly named Seventh Sojourn, as it was the bands seventh offering, was also released in 1972 and rode somewhat on the wave of resurgent interest in a five-year-old album. The song did well on the charts that year.
#MoodyBlues #DaysOfFuturePassed #NightsInWhiteSatin #SeventhSojourn #70sMusic