Archive for April, 2010

Real Life

Lots of real life stuff going on right now.  Word filtered down on Monday that my brother has been in the hospital in another state for a week.  Trying to get accurate, or even coherent information from a state away is frustrating to say the least.  I was starting to make plans to go up there myself, but Mom has just been diagnosed with a UTI (potentially very dangerous at her age), so I have to stay here and take care of her. 

Enough of that.  Since I haven’t had a chance to think up a new subject for the blog, I put up another culture from the world of THE SHAMAN’S CURSE and THE IGNORED PROPHECY on the Worlds page.  Enjoy.

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Coming up with a title can sometimes be one of the hardest parts of writing.  My most recent short story is an example.  It literally started out as “Some Title Here” in the place in the manuscript where the title ought to go.  Then it was “The Wrong Lion”, which fit the beginning of the story, but didn’t really relate to the middle or end.  On to “The Lioness and the Eagle”, which, well, it’s just bad, okay?  Then “Lioness” and finally “Becoming Lioness”.  The last one I think is a keeper.

It’s even worse for novels.  With short stories, slush pile readers and editors may not even pay attention to the title.  Once I’d purchased a magazine or anthology, I’m not sure that I’ve ever read or skipped over a story based solely on the title.  But with a novel, that title on the spine may be all you have to interest a reader in the bookstore.  I don’t know that I’ve hit on any absolutely right titles for my novels, yet.  Well, maybe one.

THE SHAMAN’S CURSE fits the story.  My protagonist’s life is, if not cursed, certainly seriously disrupted by the the shaman’s attempt to take revenge.  The shaman’s own life is cursed, in a way, by his obsession with vengeance.  And, at the end, the shaman attempts to put an actual curse on the protagonist.  The title just fits in so many ways.  But would you pick this book off the shelf based only on the title?  And would you expect the story to be something different than what it is?

THE IGNORED PROPHECY fits and doesn’t quite fit both at the same time.  One particular group of people has shaped their entire society around a prophecy, but the prophecy was not singular, it was part of a series of prophecies.  When taken in context, it’s meaning is very different from the meaning when it’s read alone.  So, they’ve ignored the whole picture.  Plus, like any good prophecy, it can be read more than one way.  Their prejudices have caused them to see only one version, ignoring the other.  And, the larger prophecy predicts that another prophecy will be made.  When it is, one character chooses to disregard it, bringing on the precise outcome they’ve been trying to avoid for hundreds of years.  The problem is that’s all background and subplot, not what the main story line is about at all.  So maybe it’s not such a great title.

BLOOD WILL TELL is a good title.  It’s kind of catchy, but it doesn’t relate to actual events in the story nearly as well.  If you backed me into a corner, I couldn’t explain just what blood will tell you in this story or how.  I just haven’t been able to come up with another title that fits better.

DREAMER’S ROSE is one title I love.  Rose is a dream guide, born with the ability to enter other people’s dreams.  Properly used, the gift is supposed to help guide people out of troubling or recurring dreams.  She’s essentially a compass for dreamers and the title intentionally reflects the many-pointed star on old compasses and maps that was called a compass rose.  I can picture the cover art with a compass rose as the background.  Well, I’m allowed to dream.

SEVEN STARS is probably best described as a working title.  It comes from the home of the protagonist, which is a high mountain valley, surrounded by seven peaks.  On a particular night of the year, from a certain spot, it appears that there is a star resting on each of those peaks.  So, it’s called the Valley of the Seven Stars and a ring of seven stars is both the symbol of the valley and the emblem the protagonist uses during his exile from his home.  Other than being his emblem and the symbol of what he’s trying to get back to, it doesn’t have much at all to do with the plot.  And the title somehow subtly reminds me of “Seven Samurai”, which is way off base for this story.

There’s definitely room for improvement in almost all of those titles.

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Since I’m still blogging about world-building, I put up a part of the world-building materials for my first two novels, THE SHAMAN’S CURSE and THE IGNORED PROPHECY (and my latest short-story “Becoming Lioness”).  Look under Worlds for a glimpse of the Dardani.

A post on the Hatrack Writers’ Forum recently posed the question of where world-building ideas come from.  The short answer is: Everywhere.  Everything is potentially grist for that mill.

I have read fairly widely and taken a few courses in subjects that interest me, even though they had no particular relation to my “real life”.  And I find that a lot of that material, sometimes digested over many years and recombined in (hopefully) interesting ways, make it into my world building.

The world of THE SHAMAN’S CURSE and THE IGNORED PROPHECY could possibly be traced back to my cultural anthropology class as well as various books and articles on the subject that I’ve read since.  The subtext of the stories is very much driven by the interaction and occasional conflict between the various cultures who see the world differently and value very different things.

As an urban fantasy, most of BLOOD WILL TELL occurs right here.  Still there’s world-building involved in the non-human characters of the story, the rules of magic, and the interaction between the magical world, Chimeria, and this one.

The inspiration for the world of DREAMER’S ROSE came from a trip many years ago to Princess Louisa Inlet in British Columbia, Canada, combined with many trips  to the coast redwoods here in California.  I was foundering on what made that world unique until my memory dredged up that trip.  (That’s where the caption picture for this blog was taken.)

I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the probably many things SEVEN STARS needs is more attention to the world-building.  I think part of it may just end up looking a lot like one particular area in the Sierra Nevada that I used to visit fairly often.  I need more definition of the different groups that are interacting in this story, too.  Perhaps not quite so much as for THE SHAMAN’S CURSE and THE IGNORED PROPHECY; these cultures won’t be as different from each other as those.  But more than I have now.

Ideas for world building can come from anywhere.

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Some more thoughts on world building, today.

For my first novel, THE SHAMAN’S CURSE, I have a map and about twenty pages of world building materials (some of which may turn up on this blog, under Worlds, someday).  Most of this is about the various cultures (six in all) in that world.  For these peoples, I wrote out things like:

  • How they look–tall/short, fair/dark
  • What they wear
  • What kind of shelters they live in
  • What they eat
  • How their economy works.  How do they get what they want?
  • How their political system works.  Who’s in charge and how are they chosen?
  • What they value.  How would they judge a successful life?
  • What are they most afraid of?
  • The relative positions of men and women
  • Marriage customs
  • How they raise their children
  • Religion and festivals
  • Even how they deal with death

It’s great to know all of this.  Of course, the problem is an awful lot of that crept into the novel and had to be cut later.  But it’s still good to know.  Besides, it’s fun to imagine all these things and how they interact and make sense for one group but shock another.

For later stories, I’ve usually drawn a map, but I haven’t written out the world building in the same way, although I know most of the same things about those worlds.  I just haven’t felt compelled to write it down.

The world building for DREAMER’S ROSE eluded me, until I remembered a trip to Princess Louisa Inlet (where the photo at the top of this blog was taken).  Then the world became real to me in a flash.

And, in writing this, it occurs to me that there is one story for which I really don’t have a good handle on this kind of information, my current problem child SEVEN STARS.  Before I go back to it, I really need to work that out some more.

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Part of the fun of writing fantasy, or really any speculative fiction for that matter, is you get to make up your own worlds.  And sometimes those worlds are populated by strange creatures.

I didn’t really make up any creatures for BLOOD WILL TELL.  I just used existing mythological or fantastic creatures like werewolves, unicorns, and dragons.  Of course, I get to make up the rules for these creatures in my world.  My werewolves don’t have to be just like everybody else’s–and they’re not.  I also decided that all of the magical creatures would be able to take human form.  It’s a gift from the dragons, to help them communicate.  Once they’re all in human form, however, there’s more they can do with each other than just talk.  So I have a few hybrids, including my main character.  Then I get to make up what the challenges might be for these hybrids.  Valeriah is half werewolf, but she’s also one quarter unicorn.  She craves rare meat at the full moon; but at the new moon, she’s a vegetarian. 

Sometimes, though, you have to make up entirely new creatures.  Sometimes, for that, I’ll take characteristics of existing creatures and put them together in new combinations.  I did that for THE SHAMAN’S CURSE.  I had to.  One of the first significant events in that book was based, in part, on the Maneaters of Tsavo (real-life maneating lions).  The problem was, my main characters were members of the Lion Clan.  I decided that it would probably be taboo for them to kill lions, their totem animal.  So, I had to have some other dangerous creature for them to hunt.  I came up with a sort of very large saber-tooth cat, with a greenish-tawny striped fur, and a rhino-like hide over its shoulders.

But then I decided that I didn’t want to have just one made up creature in this world.  That made it seem somehow too convenient.  So I added a kind of lion-maned flying squirrel.  “Chit” ended up getting a fairly large part in the story, actually.  There’s also a wild horse that’s sort of like a zebra or onanger, except it has leopard spots and an antelope  that’s kind of a cross between a chamois and an markhor.  And a giant lake otter that’s something like the giant river otters of the amazon.  Oh, and wyverns, but I didn’t make them up.

I had other creatures, too, but they got cut.  Who knows, maybe they’ll turn up later in the series.  There’s a rhino-sized wild boar, with tusks and horns, which is supposed to be the natural prey of those saber-toothed tigers.  There are a couple of large lakes, just begging for some kind of lake monster.  And I had thought of a herd of miniature unicorns with very nasty dispositions, just to really confuse my horse-loving protagonist.

I haven’t made up any creatures for DREAMER’S ROSE or SEVEN STARS.   Hmm, maybe I need to.

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I posted some time ago about setting SEVEN STARS aside.  I was just having too much trouble with it, which probably meant that I had something wrong or not fully formed.  So, I’ve just been allowing the ideas to come and jotting them down when they did, but not trying to actually write anything on this project.  I’m still not ready to go back to writing it.

The original story was from a novelette that I wrote and never liked much.  It didn’t feel finished, somehow.  So, I decided I knew enough things that could happen to these characters to make it into a novel.  I still think the story will work much better as a novel.  In the process, though, I switched the main character and it just wasn’t working.

This week, I had an idea that would enrich the ending and jotted it down.  And then, at odd moments, I let myself sort of roll it around.  This idea changes everything.  I think it’s part of what I was looking for and couldn’t find when I was too close to the project.  Not everything, not yet, but a good long step down the right road.

The implications of this idea will change the main character dramatically.  He’s going to be a lot less rational and in control and a lot more prone to anger for a large portion of the book.  That means I have to change where the story starts (something I’d pretty much resigned myself to, anyway) in order to show him before he lets his anger get the better of him.  Otherwise, he’s liable to be a pretty unsympathetic character, which is not what I want.  He’s going to be a lot more dangerous, this way, but I think that’s what the story needs.  One of the things the story needs, anyway.

It will also help with developing stronger antagonists and motivations for those antagonists.  They’ll have good reason not to like this guy.

This is definitely going to be a challenge to write, but that’s good.  He’ll be very different from any character I’ve tried to write before, especially as a protagonist.  You’ve got to stretch every now and then.  With this idea, I can actually feel enthusiasm for the project starting to build again.

But, before I even think about going back to SEVEN STARS, I want to finish the first revisions to DREAMER’S ROSE and hopefully get it ready for its first critiques.  Nobody but me has even seen it, yet.  And I’m starting to rack up notes for some significant revisions to THE IGNORED PROPHECY, too.  Maybe, in the meantime, some more story-changing ideas will come to me.

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At last, I feel like I’m getting somewhere.  Prioritizing–and publicly commiting to those priorities–helped.

I’m caught up on my chapter revisions for THE IGNORED PROPHECY.  I finished reworking the synopsis for BLOOD WILL TELL.  That needs another read-through before I start sending out more queries tomorrow.  And I’m making good progress on the new initial chapters for DREAMER’S ROSE.  The chapters aren’t perfect, but since this part is a first draft, they don’t have to be.  I really like where this new material is going to take the story in the long run.  I did a little work on “The Wrong Lion”, too.  I’ve even had a couple of good ideas for SEVEN STARS, which I jotted down and then closed the file again.

It feels very good to be writing new material, not just revisions, again.  But it feels even better to feel like I’m actually accomplishing something.

Lesson (hopefully) learned:  Don’t try to do too many things all at once.  Knowing me, I’ll get myself into this predicament again.  Maybe I’ll be able to get out of it a little faster, though.

More substatntive posts next week, I promise.

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Lately, I haven’t felt like I’m making any progress.  It’s not because I haven’t been putting in the time, either.  I’ve decided it’s because I have just too many projects going right now.  Generally speaking, I prefer to have a couple of projects going.  That way, if I hit a stumbling block on one, I can stay productive and just switch over to the other until I can get past it, but I’ve decided that I’ve just got too many projects going at the moment.

Part of my problem is that I don’t really consider anything finished until it sells–which means that nothing is finished right now.  Until then, I feel like I should either be trying to make it better or trying to sell it.  That leaves me with too many things on the active list.  That wasn’t so bad when I had fewer projects nominally completed, but it’s just not going to work any more.  I have to prioritize. 

First, is the project I can actually finish.  I need to polish up the synopsis for BLOOD WILL TELL so I can send out more queries.  I’ve already sent most of the ones that 1) accept email queries and 2) don’t require a synopsis.  Now, I need the synopsis to be polished up and ready to send.  I can’t express how much I dislike working on the synopsis, but it has to be done.

Second, really should be my current main project, which is the first revision of DREAMER’S ROSE.  I’m so close to having the new material finished, if I just stop letting myself be distracted.  There’s only about a chapter and a half to go and then on to the revisions on the part that’s already written, which should go much faster.

Third, my current short story, “The Wrong Lion” (tentative title), set in the same world as THE SHAMAN’S CURSE and THE IGNORED PROPHECY.  (I have a fondness for titles with multiple meanings and this one could be read at least three ways in reference to this story.)  I’ve targeted this to a market with a short window for submissions.  I need to finish it up, if it works out, and get some critiques on it.

Fourth, revisions on THE IGNORED PROPHECY.  I’ve been doing a chapter exchange with another writer on this one and I do want to keep up with the chapter revisions as the critiques come back.  The rewrite of the beginning can wait until I finish the second draft of DREAMER’S ROSE.

And that’s really plenty to be working on and hope to show progress on any of it.  The stories that are currently out on submission are to be considered finished at least until they come back.  BLOOD WILL TELL is finished and in the query process.   THE SHAMAN’S CURSE and SEVEN STARS are on the shelf for now.  The only other thing I will permit myself to work on is brainstorming for the two novels I haven’t started yet, but I do that best outside of writing time, anyway.

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