As it was in the beginning: how does an author hook a reader?

 

Wherein I promise the advice every writer wants and fail to deliver…

Especially because I don’t give advice. I don’t have the credibility, but I can read, and I am constantly working to become a better writer. I have started my latest project three or four times (I honestly can’t remember), and every time there was a problem. The most recent problem was “too much, too soon.”  I had a great beginning to introduce the character and some special qualities of his–he’s a musician and poet, and he has the ability to speak to goddesses, something that is rare to say the least–and an interesting situation.  But once I started writing, I realized that a lot of stuff was happening and that we actually hadn’t gotten to know the main character.  I wrote about twenty thousand words before I realized that readers actually hadn’t connected with the main character, despite an interesting first chapter.

And I realized that a lot of my favorite books, books where I am totally hooked from beginning to end, actually don’t do a lot in the beginning.  The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, for instance, begins with a bizarre and exciting prologue with a guy blowing himself up, but after that, Chapter 1 is people walking into town, getting ready for a party.  Plenty of books do start with a bang, but those that do usually settle into the fairly regular rhythm of daily life for the main character.  But at the same time they don’t seem mundane. Continue reading “As it was in the beginning: how does an author hook a reader?”

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The Anatomy of Story (Goodreads Review)

The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master StorytellerThe Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a classic storytelling manual, and it certainly adds something unique to the storytelling world, but I had a lot of trouble telling what that was. If you are the sort of writer who devours writing books and collects advice, able to weigh it against everything else you’ve read, then this is a good book. Based on my reading of it, however, it is not a panacea. Not that it has to be, but I would advise against having expectations as high as the jacket copy suggests.

My complaints follow. Continue reading “The Anatomy of Story (Goodreads Review)”

Getting into Lovecraft

Reading H.P. Lovecraft requires, ironically, going beneath the surface.

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Howard Phillips Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937)

The stories of H.P. Lovecraft have a dedicated following in the Fantasy and Science Fiction community, and are canonical in Horror, along with Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, and Algernon Blackwood. Lovecraft’s corpus enjoys a certain unity, which some might call repetition, unparalleled except in more recent authors who aren’t afraid to cite Lovecraft as an influence, or even hail him as a genius. The works of Stephen King and Clive Barker, for instance, have so many crossovers that readers often conclude each work is part of a larger whole, an entire fictional universe. Just like Stephen King’s fictional analogue of the state of Maine, Lovecraft’s work takes place in a New England of his own creation, with its own universities, towns, and publications.

These repetitions and allusions build up to a world that is haunting and creepy, but not because of what you might expect. We have to take a look at Lovecraft’s style of narration and the psychology of those narrators to really figure out why Lovecraft’s stories are indeed weird, enduring, and influential. Lovecraft’s stories get under your skin but not for anything on their surface. I have been reading At The Mountains of Madness for the past few days, and while I’m reading I don’t sit there thinking “oh God, I’m terrified,” or even “that’s sick!”

But I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, terrified that lurking in the corner is something whose terrible presence so chills me that I cannot sleep. To keep typing this blog post is so deeply against my nature that it may result in a complete nervous breakdown, terrifying my very soul and giving rise to the persistent thought that I should stop typing, delete my WordPress account, and drift into anonymity…but it’s a warning you all must have before you make the same regretful choices I have made. Oh, how I wish I had never opened the 2014 publication of The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, edited by Leslie S. Klinger with an introduction by Alan Moore, and published by W.W. Norton. Oh, the regret… Continue reading “Getting into Lovecraft”

New Look, New Short Story, and Other News

Howdy there: I have been playing around with GIMP and have found some cool ways to make my own artwork, so I gave the blog a new look.  Tell me what you think.  I created the new banner just by playing around and trying to create something related to the themes of my books.

To end all questions: yes, I and the family are moving to Colorado in June.  I will miss New England and the writing scene here, but I’m looking forward to being close to my extended family and old friends in Colorado.  I haven’t been blogging or writing short stories lately because we’re getting our house ready to sell and I have to focus on the novel.  This is not an apology.  I like writing this blog, and I have plenty of stuff I want to write about and discuss, but it’s a lower priority.

Continue reading “New Look, New Short Story, and Other News”

Back to Basics: compelling short stories and character motivations

I have gone into back to basics mode: what does it mean to tell a story? I have been reading a lot of short stories since giving up on A Game of Thrones for what must be the eightieth time. Not just fantasy or science fiction, but authors of all nationalities, genres, and styles. I have been reading Chekhov, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Flannery O’Connor, and others who I used to read before I got the idea that I had to give myself assignments and read stuff that was current. I’ve noticed a couple of interesting things: Continue reading “Back to Basics: compelling short stories and character motivations”

“Just write”

I saw The Last Jedi yesterday, and here are my thoughts:

  • Plenty of interesting stuff, lots of surprising moments
  • I still prefer the swashbuckling pulpy adventure of the first movie to the overstated drama of the newer films
  • As much as it was a good movie, I would still rather see a totally new story.

I have three young boys who love Star Wars (thanks to me), and I am getting a little tired of it. “Star Wars” movie is now a phrase that gets used all the time, and it emphasizes the feeling I had while watching The Last Jedi that these films are more like TV shows in the way they tell a never-ending story. Each time the characters face basically the same obstacles and spend their time solving a fairly explicit puzzle. This was understated in the first trilogy, but now it’s almost like watching Law and Order. Continue reading ““Just write””

Pumpkins of Death: Brief Update (NaNoWriMo and when to fire a literary agent)

I can’t put my finger on why, but I hate it when bloggers apologize for not posting regularly.  Is everyone hanging on their every word?  Did they sign a contract saying “I will post no fewer than twice a week and no more than eight times a day?”  I’m not doing this because I owe any words to anyone.  I just make a lot of words.  It’s nice there’s a platform where I can put them out where Google can find them for people, but I’m not writing because I owe it to anyone but myself.  Yeah, so screw you people.

Anyway, sorry for not posting for a while.

I haven’t because I’ve been working on a new book, The Last Omen, loosely based on Greek Tragedy and (of course) Shakespeare.  Alyatha is the reluctant queen of Marathea, prophesied wife of the newly-prophesied king.  Marathea is sandwiched between the empire of Habia Korenz, and the anarchic non-state of Nemerev, where warlords and pirates threaten the network of roads and shipping lanes around Marathea.  This wouldn’t be such a big deal if her husband were up to his job: the Habiari are threatening to invade to quell the violence in Nemerev, and someone keeps paying a vile priestess to perform human sacrifices in order to change the course of fate, the most sacred thing in Marathean culture.  The priestess happens to be her husband’s former lover, but when push comes to shove, Alyatha has to join forces with this witch to save the kingdom.  Fantasy hijinx ensue.

I wrote about 14,000 words of this before November started, but I decided to do NaNoWriMo since I was already working on a new manuscript.  Though I always scoffed at it before (“I make my own damn goals, I don’t need a friggin’ website for that!”), it’s actually a lot of fun to track my progress and share it with people.  I’ve written about 37,000 words so far, and my goal for this book is between 90,000 and 100,000.  Because…

I had to fire my literary agent.  I won’t give too many details, but the important part is he wasn’t doing enough to support me as a writer.  He did nothing in the way of editing, and never initiated communication (i.e. he never asked me what I was working on next).  He didn’t tell me what was going on with my submissions, even when I pressed him for info.  When I brought him new material, he rejected it outright instead of helping me make it marketable.  I rationalized it at the time, but have since found out different agents would have worked completely differently.  He never suggested career development like writer’s conferences or classes, and he didn’t do much to make my book marketable.  I have other avenues, so this is nowhere near giving up.  Don’t send me sad emojis.

The manuscript he rejected outright with no assistance to make it something worth his time was Firesage, and I am most likely going to send that one to an open call from Angry Robot books.

I am keeping some short stories in circulation, including “The Harp” and “Killing Montherek, and a new one called “Her Name is Memory.”  The last one was definitely a challenge, as I tried to write from the perspective of a narrator with a damaged memory.  It was rejected without placing in Writers of the Future, where I also submitted “The Harp.”  I probably won’t write any more short stories until I finish The Last Omen, but as I have found saying “I probably won’t write any more short stories until…” is a good way to find yourself writing short stories.

It’s snowing in Vermont.  Pumpkin season.  Yes.  Sentence fragments can tell you a lot.  So can complete sentences.

The Urge to Create

In which I alienate people with different work habits.

I’ve finished revising a novel, so it’s time to discuss the psychology of writing!  I have written a couple times about writer’s block, that worldbuilder’s disease can distract you from thinking about more productive things, like character motivation. I still haven’t had the experience of “the words don’t come” and I just don’t get these statements like “all professional writers hate writing” or this ridiculous tweet:

Sorry if I’m being too simplistic, but I just don’t understand how you would write if this is your modus operandi. I replied that instead you could just pick a time and start writing (an opinion held by Stephen King, Roald Dahl, Ernest Hemingway, and Philip Glass, among others). Writing, for me, is just something that I do, like breathing. I can’t not do it. I’m not trying to make anyone jealous, that’s just how I’ve functioned since I was a kid. I never thought it made me a “writer” until I was in my thirties. I just never noticed it until someone pointed it out, that normal people don’t do that.

Anyway, the strange thing that happened to me this week still wasn’t “the words won’t come” but trying to hold myself back from writing. I finished the polishing edits on my novel Firesage Saturday morning by writing a new prologue. I ditched the one with the two demons talking to each other about the fate of the world and replaced it with the last bit of my main character’s old life, the one she ditches in favor of becoming an officially sanctioned sorceress. I breathed a big sigh, and then by that afternoon I was seized with panic.

“What do I do?” I kept asking myself. I’ve got a great book to read, luckily, but the underlying urge was “I need to write something.” I vowed not to touch Firesage until the beta readers got back to me (and one already did, which was totally unexpected), and I didn’t think it was a great idea to start outlining the sequel until my agent has seen it. I tried working on a screenplay based on “Stages of Man,” but then I realized that I didn’t have the character’s motivations mapped out very carefully. I started telling myself that I’m not a screenwriter and I shouldn’t try it, I should focus on novels anyway. I’m good at that and I can get better at it by doing it more.

And every day I wake up and I feel like I should be writing something. This could just be inertia, and it could be displaced energy. I don’t get the focus out of my day-job that a lot of people do, since it’s basically managing chaos (i.e. parenting). If it were inertia, then I wouldn’t have had this same feeling all the time when I was younger and hadn’t figured out how to write a novel. It wouldn’t have kept me up at night scribbling in notebooks. It wouldn’t be that the way I “blew off steam” after a long day was writing an essay when I got home at midnight. The only thing that I’ve found can effectively channel this energy is building something, working outside, or drawing, but I still feel like I should rather be doing something that I know I’m really good at.

I want to get into outlining the next book, and I am just going to stop denying myself that. In fact, writing this blog post was pretty difficult because I want to be doing that instead. There’s nothing else on my mind.

New short story

A quick note here just to let you know my short story “Stages of Man” is now available here for free:

I should be able to get used to something like that, like how Southerners should be expecting the heat, or how people really shouldn’t fear death: you know it’s coming, so it’s no big deal, but no, every time I run into her, it leaves me feeling cold and sick and exhausted for days… . She never seems to understand how painful it is to see her. If she could avoid it, I wish she would. As it is, it’s almost like she’s still alive.

Continue reading “New short story”

Young Adult Protagonists

In which I alienate fans of lawyer books…

dragon_prince_cover
Young people: horny, stupid and capable enough to get into major trouble.

First the news: I am about a quarter of the way through editing Firesage. I don’t have much inclination to do anything else because editing is so rewarding. I thought about doing a blog post on my editing procedure, but actually editing is so much more fun, I thought I would share some thoughts on the age of protagonists. I got two more short stories rejected this week, and will post them here soon. If you haven’t read “Talons of the Sun” or “The Lapis Dragon-Tamer” yet, head over to my short fiction page, and stay tuned for more.

The subject came up on Facebook about why so many stories are about people of a particular age, and I have some quick thoughts on this.

Continue reading “Young Adult Protagonists”