Thursday, September 29, 2005

Where to Begin

Now that I've finally found the best entry point for the Jan-Pawel Trzetrzelewski sequence, I'm struggling with how to begin the first novel. I need to be able to give the reader a number of important facts about the world very quickly, particularly to make clear that this is a fantasy world and not a mundane novel, at the same time make the reader care about Jan-Pawel and his situation.

At the present I'm not entirely happy with my starting point, but I'm concerned that if I start a little later, when his boss actually confronts him about "wasting" time in recreation, it will require too much backfill and be confusing.

So I'm still thinking and pondering what I want to do with it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

There's a Hole in My Story...

While copying some more notes that got soaked in the
recent blunder with the window, I discovered that one
novel has a major logic hole that I've got to plug --
particularly since it happens at the very beginning,
and everything follows from it.

The premise is that the mad king has his eldest son
executed on trumped-up charges of conspiracy to seize
the throne. However, if he's claiming a conspiracy,
why does he not also wipe out his son's staff, who
would presumably be considered co-conspirators?

Particularly given that one of these staffers proves
to be instrumental in avenging the murdered prince,
the oversight must be explained. It can't be merely a
lucky blunder.

And I quite honestly haven't the slightest idea of how
to go about plugging this hole.

Oh well, it wouldn't be the first time I plunged into
a novel and then had to go back and make major repairs
on the beginning after writing enough to get a better
sense of the direction the whole is taking.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

I Didn't Know That

Today I was recopying some pages of story notes that
had become wet and were starting to mildew. As I was
doing so, I took the opportunity to further reflect on
them, and expanded upon them with other considerations
and possibilities, including queries about things I'd
since discovered while writing other stories in the
same universe.

As I did, what initially appeared as a problem sparked
a connection with something I'd been wanting to
introduce during that period of the timeline. Suddenly
the apparent contradiction was instead evidence of
something even deeper, which explained why the
identity switch at the root of this particular story
was such a threat, and had to be resolved, even if the
protagonist might be enjoying her new identity. At the
same time, it also sets the stage for the "grand
finale" novels for that universe.

Amazing how these things work out sometimes. Now if I
could just get some serious writing time, instead of
having to spend most of my time grinding away at

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Young Man on the Brink of Adventure

As I procede with this new story of Jan-Pawel
Trzetrzelewski's youth, I'm running into one of the
most problematic issues in writing a story with a
young protagonist. One of the cardinal rules of
fiction states that the protagonist must solve his or
her own problem, not have it solved by an outside
agency. But when the protagonist is a minor, his or
her latitude of activity is constrained in many ways
by adult authority. How does one create a situation
such that is is believable that the protagonist does
not immediately turn to an adult and hand the problem
over to be solved?

One possibility is a disaster which incapacitates the
normal adult authorities, leaving one's youthful
protagonist without anyone to fall back on. However,
Jan-Pawel's stories are not disaster stories, but more
on the order of spy or international intrigue stories.
Adult authority has not been incapacitated, but is
being subtly undermined from within and without.

Which leads to the second possibility for eliminating
the easy out of simply handing the problem over to the
grownups to be fixed -- adult authority does not
believe that the problem exists, and dismisses out of
hand the evidence offered by the youthful protagonist.
But such a technique must be handled very carefully,
lest it veer in the direction of idiot plot. If the
adult authority figures are so willfully blind that
they refuse to see clear evidence of a problem, simply
because it is necessary to the plot for them to be out
of the loop in this way, the story will suffer for it.

Yet at the same time, it has to be believable that a
villain who can defeat intelligent adults can still be
defeated by a teenage boy.

So tough to find the right balance.

Friday, September 23, 2005

I Must Be Nuts

Today I was supposed to have the whole afternoon to
finish up those articles that are due at the end of
the month. Instead, what do I do but start a story
about Jan-Pawel Trzetrzelewski when he was a teenager.
Like I need any more stories that I probably won't be
able to sell anyway.
And then I can't even manage to keep my mind on what
I'm reading because it keeps wanting to run back to
this first adventure of Jan-Pawel, long before he
entered the diplomatic service, when he was still
certain he wanted to be an actor and playwright.
I have got to get those last eight articles finished
for my September set on the long-term project, and
tidy up the four articles from the other project, and
get them all in the e-mail before we leave for Archon.
I really don't want to have to try to slide another
set of articles in after the deadline by pretending
that it doesn't matter because it's the weekend.
But it's so hard when my mind is full of this
Jan-Pawel story, and won't even stick to words right
in front of my eyes long enough to know what I'm
reading so I can write a coherent article.
It makes me almost wish the articles would just write
themselves and Go Away so I can write my stories in

That's Not What I Meant!

Recently Jimmy Akin has been having an interesting discussion about the price of goods in emergencies. He argues that what many people have recently been calling "price gouging," for instance, the sudden steep rise in gas prices following the damage to oil refineries by Hurricane Katrina, are not motivated by greed, but in fact reflect a shift in the natural price point of the commodity due to changed circumstances. However, another writer, Scott Richart of ChroniclesMagazine.Org, has argued on the basis of the concept of a "just price" that this is not true, and that there is an objectively proper price, at least for vital necessities, that should not be exceeded no matter the economic situation.

Part of the problem here is the simple fact that money has multiple uses, among them a metric of economic choice ("you may have A or B, but not A and B, pick one"), and a long-term store of value. When goods are in short supply, raising prices enables the seller to restrict the buyer's range of economic choices, thus reducing the likelihood of panic buying on the part of the first few people to arrive, which would leave the seller without anything to sell to later customers, who might well be more truly needy than those people who simply happened to get there fastest and grab with the biggest hands. (Jimmy Akin's argument) Sounds quite rational -- except that money also functions as a long-term store of value. If the store owner doesn't have to use that money to buy goods at inflated prices, but can instead hold onto the money until after the crisis is over and prices return to normal, the store owner is now wealthier and the customers poorer, leading to feelings that the store owner has improperly gained at the expense of others' misfortune. (Scott Richart's argument) Once one realizes that each correspondent is looking primarily at a different function of money, but that neither is realizing this disparity, the argument takes on a whole new level of meaning.

So how does all this relate to writing? Often, there is a tendency for writers to create overly simplistic conflicts -- everything is on the surface, and arguments between characters really are about what they're arguing about and nothing more. But in life arguments are often about something other than what they really seem to be about -- which is often how arguments escalate far out of proportion to the apparent issue, simply because the unrecognized real issues at stake are far higher than the relatively trivial issue that started the fight. Awareness of the difference between surface and underlying conflicts can often make the difference between an idiot plot, in which the characters refuse to take the obvious steps to resolve the conflict solely so the author can keep the story going, and a story that has the potential to keep the reader thinking long after THE END has been reached.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Now That's Odd

Yesterday my Tuesday post wasn't appearing on the blog
page, so I decided to rewrite it and send it again,
assuming that it had been lost in transmission. But as
soon as I sent the new version, the old version
appeared as well -- which looks really stupid.
I have no idea of what went wrong, unless it's
something to do with having to send my blog posts via
e-mail, since all my computers are so old that I can't
get into the regular Blogger tools with the browsers
I'm currently able to run. Eventually I'm hoping to
get the iMac upgraded so that I can run System X on
it, but if life doesn't slow down and give me a free
day or two to open up the computer and install the
equipment I need to put into it, that's going to be
indefinitely delayed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

An Entry Point at Last?

I think I may actually have an entry point for the
Jan-Pawel Trzetrzelewski sequence.

It's odd how these things work. I'd been struggling to
figure out how I could have a story in which he's
relatively junior, yet has enough authority to have
the latitude to actually do things. I knew that Cloak
and Shadow wasn't really the right place to start, but
it was the earliest that I could find.

Over the weekend, I had a very annoying person driving
me nuts with their overbearing, bossy manner. I was
getting sick of the way they'd let their new position
go to their head, and decided it was time to write
this offending person into a story -- and squash them.

Just like that, the whole story I needed came clear
for me. I finally understood what kind of a story I
needed. Jan-Pawel is dealing with this nasty boss,
trying not to get too annoyed -- and then the boss is
stricken, and Jan-Pawel has to pick up the pieces, in
a very messy political situation.

Now I just need to scrape together the time to write
it. Which, unfortunately, is often easier said than

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

An Entry Point at Last?

I think I may have finally found the elusive entry
point to the Jan-Pawel Trzetrzelewski sequence.
Ironically enough, the discovery came from one of the
more unhappy parts of our campout last week.

One of the people in the organization that runs the
campground seems to have let their new authority go to
their head in a big way. Suddenly they're taking a
great joy at bossing us around, which was really
getting on my nerves (needless to say, I really don't
like bossy people).

So I decided it was time to get my revenge, by writing
this person into a novel and bringing them down, hard.

Suddenly all the pieces are falling together in my
mind. This person is Jan-Pawel's boss, and is driving
Jan-Pawel nuts -- and then gets incapacitated in the
middle of a crisis, so Jan-Pawel has no time to feel
any Schadenfreude at having been suddenly relieved of
the obnoxious boss, because he's having to pick up the
pieces before everything really goes down the drain.
So I've got just the right balance between being
juinor enough to be sympathetic and being senior
enough to have the latitude to acutally do something.

Now I just need the time to actually write the thing.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Here We Go

So I'm starting writing Cloak and Shadow, preparing
Jan-Pawel Trzetrzelewski for his first independent
diplomatic assignment. Even as I'm writing, I'm
getting a steadily better sense of what will come

I'm hoping that this weekend's camping trip will give
me the time I really need to make some serious
progress on it. After all, I did the first four
chapters of Plausible Deniability while at a campout
this past spring.

But morreso, when I get back Sunday, it's going to be
time to buckle back down on non-fiction writing, which
means less time for fiction. Best to take full
advantage of the time while I have it.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

That Elusive Entry Point

So I'm going to be starting writing on Cloak and
Shadow, even while I know quite well that it's not the
proper entry point for the Jan-Pawel Trzetrzelewski
sequence. But I'm hoping that by writing it, or at
least a substantial portion of it, I can get a better
grasp on the early part of Jan-Pawel's life, and thus
a better sense of just where the best entry point is.
Of course I'll still be working on Plausible
Deniability, and some of the other novels between the
two of them. I'm hoping that by working on all of them
together, I'll get a better sense of the whole, and
thus be able to see where I'm starting from.
Not to mention the practical benefit of having several
novels close to completion when I do finish the first
one, so that I can present a publisher with the
possibility of having a whole series of books that can
be published in rapid succession, instead of having to
wait for sequels to dribble out, one by one.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Us and Them

In watching the coverage of the recent Hurricane
Katrina disaster, particularly as it has unfolded in
New Orleans, I was struck by how quickly and easily
people redefined the people stranded in the city as
"them." No longer "us," no longer part of the
community, but irreconcilable others who only
understand force and must be dealt with a firm hand
lest they rise up and destroy everything.

Not that there wasn't significant wrongdoing going on,
particularly the armed gangs robbing, raping and
shooting at the people who were trying to help, but
among many observers there seems to be a loss of the
distinction between the real thugs and people who were
just trying to get safe food and water in a city where
all civil structure had broken down. It's particularly
notieable in certain online fora, but the behaviors of
the National Guard and other organizations actually on
the ground reveals just such a shift of attitude,
often to the point of a disturbing contempt for even
obvious innocents such as small children, the disabled
and the elderly.

As a writer, I ponder how often we quickly delineate a
simplified "us and them" characterization in our
works, so that we encourage our readers to look at
people as such oversimplified groups, rather than
individuals with their own needs and hopes and drives.
And just how much does such oversimplification bleed
into our attitudes toward people we actually deal

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Still Looking for the Entry Point

I'm working steadily on an outline for the new novel
of Jan-Pawel Trzetrzelewski's first independent
diplomatic assignment, now tentatively entitled Cloak
and Shadow
. However, the further I go, the more I
become convinced that it's not the right entry point
either. Even here, there are just too many things that
feel like they need to have been developed by an
earlier novel -- yet to go further back, I'd have to
get into parts in which he is a subordinate with much
less latitude for independent action.
Sometimes all you can do is feel your way along until
you find the right place to begin.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Still Searching for that Entry Point

It looks like Triptych is definitely stuck, and just
jumping ahead a chapter or two isn't going to get it
moving. So it goes on the back burner to simmer for a
while, until I get some fresh insights on it.
Which means I'm back on Jan-Pawel Trzetrzelewski's
stories. I'm doing some further outlining on Plausible
Deniability, but at the same time I'm working on
outlining some novels dealing with his earlier life,
trying to find the proper entry point. One, dealing
with his first independent ambassadorial appointment,
is looking rather promising. However, I'm not entirely
satisfied with its suitability as the first novel in
the series, since it has some other issues that might
make the going rough for readers who have no previous
experience with my writing and particularly with
Jan-Pawel to make them willing to trust me until they
get into the story. On the other hand, if I go back to
a point before he had ambassadorial rank, when he was
still just a secretary, would he have enough seniority
and authority to do the things necessary to carry the
Sometimes there's no way to be sure but to write the
story -- and hope that you don't end up burning hours
of scarce writing time to no good effect.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Balancing Projects

Right now I'm bouncing back and forth between several different novels that are all wanting my attention. Tryptych seems to be stalled right now, although that may be as much because I need to do some more thinking about the world and how I'm going to bring my twenty-five-year-old vision of the story forward to work with my present skills. I'm pulling Plausible Deniability, the Jan-Pawel Trzetrzelewski novel, back out again, even while I know that it can't be the first in that sequence yet and I stll need to find the "On Basilisk Station" for it. And I'm wanting to get out some other novels that I've done various amounts of work on in the past.

Yet the more I divide my attention, the harder it is to get any one project finished. At the same time, if I stay too long with a project that has become stuck, I shut off the possibility that I could be making progress on a different project. It's a delicate balancing act to find the proper balance that keeps me moving forward, and hopefully results in completed novels that can be sent to a publisher, rather than a whole pile of half-completed works.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Bearing Witness

Over the last several days I've been struggling to
assimilate the images I've seen of Hurricane Katrina,
of whole cities in ruins, of one of our oldest and
most famous cities turned into hell on earth. It's
disturbing to see just how slender the line between
civilization and savagery still is, and how quickly
things can come apart altogether. It's appalling to
watch one's own government standing around with its
collective thumb up its butt while people are
literally dying for want of the most basic necessities
of life: clean water, food, medicine.
We were all so proud of how well people behaved in the
collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.
There was none of the panic that is such a frequent
image in disaster movies, and many hurried to say that
such panic is but a cliché, a bit of movie shorthand
not reflected in life.
But this time we have seen another disaster trope come
true: namely, the complete collapse of civil order.
Which leads me to ponder what makes the difference
between the two disasters, such that one produced
solidarity and humanity, while the other produced
dissolution and inhumanity.
Fiction of necessity must often deal with people in
extremis, facing life-or-death situations in which
there are no good answers, only degrees of bad ones.
I myself have often used severe weather as an element
in my writing, since I have long been fascinated with
such phenomena. However, I find now that I must
reconsider my use of them, and particularly whether I
have completely underestimated the social element of
truly major disasters that wipe out whole areas'
abilities to respond to them.