Sunday, November 19, 2006


But not in the sense of "I'm owed this."

I'm currently in the process of rewriting a number of stories, and have come to the conclusion that their titles simply don't work. Some of them give away the conclusion of the story. Others sound like something out of a standard genre cliche list, or just plain clunky and stupid.

A bad title can actually prejudice an editor or first reader against a story to the point that it simply won't get a fair reading. But you have to have something in that "title" slot -- to send a story in without a title would be considered about as unprofessional as sending it written in crayon on brown paper bags. Leaving a story untitled because you can't come up with a good one will pretty well guarantee that it will not be read.

But coming up with a new title is often an exercise in frustration. Ideally, a title should perfectly encapsulate the story, yet not spoil any surprises or destroy the tension of the story. It should be catchy and memorable, but not trite or cliched. It should resonate on several levels, and not clash in terms of culture: ie, a fantasy set in a quasi-European medieval setting probably shouldn't have a title that is drawn from Buddhist philosophy or Eastern martial arts, unless there is a very good reason for it. Similarly, a title in Latin, drawn from or even suggestive of medieval Catholicism, probably wouldn't be a good fit for a story set in medieval Japan or an analog thereof.

In other words, a title should fit. And that's what's hard.

Sometimes I'm lucky and the story comes with a clear and obvious title from the beginning. A few times, I've had the title come first and have to pull and tug at it until I was able to pull the story out. But far more frequent are the stories that languish for ages with working titles that are little more than the name of a major character, or a place. And when it comes time to get them ready to send out, the hardest part is often finding a suitable title for them.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Recently I'd pulled a number of old short stories and decided to do some work on them and send them out again. One in particular, which belongs in the same sequence as "Spiral Horn, Spiral Tusk" (it's about the son of the principal protagonists), seemed to be an easy fix.

However, as I got into it again, I began to wonder if I'd really started it too early, and whether the buildup to the shipwreck was really germane to the story. However, as I tried to find some way to excise it, I had the problem of creating a new beginning for it that would set up the situation sufficiently to make a reader care.

But then, beginnings are always tough, and beginnings of short stories doubly so. You've got to set up the situation quickly, yet not so much so that the reader becomes lost. Sometimes the hardest part is figuring out what bits of information are so critical they have to be presented upfront, and what bits can be saved for later without trouble.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

On Writer's Block

Recently I've been pulling out some of my old short stories, trying to decide what I want to do with them. However, it's proven harder than I'd anticipated.

In particular, I'm looking at several of them and trying to figure out what I even want to do with them. I wonder if I should completely redo them, or even toss them out altogether and start over, telling the stories afresh with completely new words.

And at the same time, I'm wondering if I'm becoming hypercritical, to the point that nothing looks good. There are points at which our awareness of writing craft outstrips our ability to actually produce, so we're left feeling like all our work is hopelessly inadequate.

In The Steel Breeds True, Amanda Lordsley-Starcastle is struggling with just such a period. Her internal editor, which has become externalized in her mind as a sort of miniature Yezhov, is continually telling her that every single word she puts on paper is trash. She is a published poet, who even has had her works picked up by textbooks and anthologies that pay her money, yet she is struggling with an overwhelming sense of complete inadequacy.

Is it any wonder that I, who have managed only occasional sales, should be wondering if everything I've written is a load of horse manure.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Points of View

After years of letting it simmer on the back burner, I've finally taken The Dolphin-singer back out. It's an expansion of the short story "Spiral Horn, Spiral Tusk" (published in Sherwood Smith's anthology Beyond the Farthest Star), and I'd originally started it way back in 2000, when it became increasingly clear that the story of Rissa and Admiral Shayell simply did not lend itself to a series of linked short stories. It's set during the Isolation, perhaps a century or so before Codyland Reunion, although there is almost no overlap in the characters, so it can certainly be left ambiguous until I actually need to fix the relative chronology.

As I'm outlining Chapter 2, I'm realizing increasingly that the intricate web of misunderstandings that are so critical to the story really need access to the heads of both Admiral Shayell and Lord Benton. It's just as important to see what each man meant as what they misunderstand the other as saying and doing. However, to try to do it in tight third-person POV would mean a whole series of tiny scenes, switching back and forth.

However, I'm not sure to what degree I can get away with switching to omniscient POV, particularly given that omniscient is severely out of favor right now. An established author can do it -- viz. Sherwood Smith's recent novel Inda, which uses omniscient to great effect in several scenes. But a first novel already faces a major hurdle just getting past the "read to reject" first readers, and burdening it with an unpopular POV choice could be just one too many issues.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Some people write novels by starting at the beginning and writing steadily through until they reach then end. Others jump around, doing the chapters that interest them, then going back and knitting everything together.

I find that different novels lend themselves to different approaches. Some, particularly those with multiple diverse threads that slowly draw together, are easy to write out of sequence. Others need to be written one chapter at a time, because I can only see each chapter as I come to it.

But whatever kind of novel I happen to be working on, I've learned that I can't be too rigidly wedded to a particular approach. If a novel that I'm working on by doing chapters all over the storyline starts to unravel in my hands, I may have to go back and actually write some of those chapters that I've been skipping over. Equally, if I get balked by a chapter in a novel I'm writing sequentially, but I have a clear view of the chapter that follows, it's often best to simply jump over the offending chapter, then come back and work it out once I have a clearer idea just where the novel is heading.

Young Rene XIV is something of a mix. I've been doing it largely sequentially, but more than once I've jumped over a problematic chapter, or scene within a chapter, in order to keep from being left stuck. Recently Chapter 10, which deals with events in the hinterland of the Swamp Kingdom, was giving me trouble. I just couldn't seem to get a feel for where it needed to go. However, I had a much clearer idea of what Chapter 11 should look like, so I decided to jump ahead and write it. So now the novel's moving again.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Today I broke 50,000 words on Young Rene XIV, which is a significant milestone. That's the number of words you try to produce in NaNoWriMo (although I have yet to be able to participate -- every November it seems some obligation always comes up to devour all my available time). I'm figuring that I'm somewhere between a quarter and a third of the way through the overall storyline, although the overall form of the novel is still shaky in my mind.

Still, it was cool to add up all the chapter wordcounts and realize that I'd made the mark -- and I still have scenes I need to add to or complete in both Chapter 3 and Chapter 5, and may be adding one more scene to Chapter 2. Not to mention that I'm still extremely dissatisfied with Chapter 1, at least partly because significant parts of it strike me as idiot plot as written. So it's quite possible that the 50,000 word mark may shift backward somewhat before I get a complete draft written.

How long that may take will probably depend upon what other obligations come my way. Although right now it seems that non-fiction projects are rather scarce on the ground.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Looking for a Key

A key element, that is.

I'd been able to push the first scene of Chapter 3 of Young Rene XIV forward a few pages, only to run into a fresh block. This time it was a logical one -- I knew Benoit du Rocher needed a way to get a message to his wife, but couldn't take it himself. I'd originally thought to have him send a messenger, but if he did that, why didn't he order the messenger to accompany her and the children on the road?

Not to mention, if he couldn't get through, why did he think a messenger could get through in his place?

So I was stuck, trying to figure out how to logically bridge the gap. It was too short a distance for a carrier pigeon, but perhaps some other animal might be suitable -- and equally, not suitable for taking on the road, which would rule out a dog.

Did I want to go for something ordinary, if a little wild, like a raccoon? Or perhaps something exotic, like a small raptoral dinosaur or some really alien critter imported from the Outer Worlds?

And then I recalled that Ixilon's cats enjoy greater intelligence than those we're familiar with, and there are personal connections with a historical hero whom Benoit greatly admires. Suddenly everything came together and I knew how to take care of that critical juncture.

However, I'm now faced with the question of whether I need to have cats and their strange gifts in Ixilon figure again in the story.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Returning after Time Away from a Project

I was happily surprised when I recently picked up the young Rene XIV novel after having set it aside for over a month, and discovered that the time working on other projects did indeed allow me to get a fresh perspective on it. Things that had been insurmountable barriers suddenly came clear to me, and I was able to outline a large number of chapters.

Unfortunately, I'm now getting to the point where I need to actually write the chapters in order to get the necessary perspective to push the outline forward to the end. Which of course means actually having the time to write, not always a commodity in great supply. But I've just finished one major non-fiction project, and I'm hoping that will translate into some more writing time than I've experienced of late.

On the other hand, it's also possible that my clearing my desk will be rapidly followed by someone else writing me and asking if I'd like to pick up a project for them, on a very short deadline. And there will go my fiction writing time again, because we need that money.

Monday, July 03, 2006


As I'm working on Codyland Reunion, I'm having some serious misgivings on my choices for point of view in Chapter 7. Most of the book is written in tight third person, but in this one I've slipped out to something more closely approaching omniscient.

However, in this scene I really don't want to get too close to the two spies. Not only are they unsavory sorts that I don't want to bring too close to the reader, but I want to create a certain air of mystery and danger around them, which could be dispelled too early if I let the reader into their heads. At the same time, there's really no one else who will see them as they sneak their way into Crescent City for their meeting with Tony Yale.

This may end up being another of those things that I'll let stand until I finish writing the whole novel, then see whether it works in the matrix of the finished work.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Steady as She Goes

Progress on Codyland Reunion remains painfully slow, largely because of other obligations that eat up my time. However, when I have been able to get a few paragraphs written, I've been discovering some interesting little techniques by which the Codylanders make more enjoyable the necessity of living underground.

Unfortunately, it's mostly just local color, rather than any real advancement of the story. Oh, for time to let go and write, instead of having to constantly hold it all in while I trudge through duty.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sticking Points

I've been working on the novel of the end of the Isolation (working title Codyland Reunion) for some time now, and I had been enjoying a fairly steady flood of ideas, working well ahead of the novel itself. Now that seems to have stopped.

In fact, I seem to be having a drought of ideas all across the board. None of the novels seem to be producing ideas, which is rather frustrating when I have a little spare time and would like to make good use of it jotting down ideas.

However, I think part of the problem may be that I simply need to write up the chapters I have outlined. Once I get them firmed up, I often start seeing the connections and can move onward from there.

Unfortunately, that assumes that the time is even available. And with all the obligations on my plate right now, time is in very short supply.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Building Bridges

A lot of people have the impression that one writes a novel by starting at the beginning and writing straight through to the end. However, this is not necessarily the case. Sometimes writing a novel is rather like building a bridge, working from both banks at once and aiming to meet in the middle.

I'm doing that with Plausible Deniability right now. I've gotten to a sticking point in the early chapters, but I have a strong idea of the ending. So I jumped ahead and wrote those scenes, which simultaneously gave me the sense of progress that comes from having written, and gives me a clearer sense of where the first part of the novel is going. Just having those key scenes written allows me to consider what kind of foreshadowing and element planting I need to do in the early parts of the novel.

So now I'm not only working forward from the beginning, but also working backward from the end, adding the scenes that lead up to the ending scenes I've already written. Hopefully I can bring both ends together in the middle.

Of course if there are problems, there's always the rewrite to take care of them.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


I was working on The Crowns of the Martyrs, writing the scene in which Ligonier Cardinal Rafferty visits the Archbishop of Vaildai to congratulate him on being named to the sacred purple, and I knew Urdan was having some kind of emergency that kept him from being present at Ligo's arrival, as protocol would really require. However, I soon realized that I was writing around the nature of the problem, and the text was effectively a placeholder.

Placeholders can be tricky. Sometimes they can enable you to write around some minor bit of information, like the name of a minor character who'll only appear once, or some minor incident that isn't really critical to the story, so that you can keep the story energy flowing. Then, when you've got the whole novel written, you can look back and see what fits best into that odd little spot, and it's actually likely to have more resonance with the whole story than if you'd stopped and tried to force the right answer as you went.

But if it's actually a placeholder for something critical to the story, it can sap the story of life, or even keep you from reaching the conclusion the way it really needs to be done. And if you don't realize that you've got a placeholder for the real thing, you can end up with a limp, lifeless story.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Papers Please

As I'm writing the story of young Rene XIV and Sebastien the Usurper, I'm getting steadily closer to the point where Rene's blasted into our world and falls in among a group of teenage skiffy fen who help him integrate into our world when they think the worldgate may well be a one-way, one-time event, and then defend him when Sebastien's goon comes hunting for him, and help him get back to his own world to regain his throne after it's obviously possible to reopen the gate.

But as I'm doing it, I'm discovering just how hard it would be to insert a kid into the school system who has absolutely no backtrail, no identity documents, no record whatsoever of his existence before the moment he appears in Cynthia's family's backyard in the middle of a pouring rainstorm. The obvious cover is that he's a refugee from the hurricane that's just torn up the Gulf (and probably is the source of the rainstorm he arrives in). This would explain why he has no documents -- he got up here with nothing but the clothes on his back, and was separated from his family and isn't even sure they survived.

However, there's the question of whether the school system would let him in on even a temporary basis with no documents without his putative guardian actually coming into the office to sign paperwork and speak with the administrators. The kids don't want to clue Cynthia's mom in on the situation because she runs a beauty shop and is a notorious gossip -- and the beauty shop also provides the obvious excuse as to why she can't come in for face time with the administration, since she can't just cancel her customers' appointments and close her beauty shop so she can go jump through bureaucratic hoops. That is supposed to give the opening for the late-twenties older sister of one of Cynthia's friends to call the administrative office on her cellphone, pretending to be Cynthia's mom in the middle of her beauty shop, and tell the administration to just send the necessary paperwork home with the kids and she'll sign it and send it back the next morning. But if they're going to insist on face time, it's going to get a lot tougher. Either Sandy comes up with fake ID with her face and Cynthia's mom's name on it (and thus commits criminal identity fraud), or she arrives as herself and then has to explain just how a Greek-American should be guardian to a Louisiana Cajun with a noticable French accent.

And even if I can get them over the initial hump and get Rene into school, eventually they're going to want to see some documentation. It's believable to say his school records and immunization records are irrevocably destroyed and there's no way to obtain copies, since schools and doctors' offices don't typically maintain offsite copies of their records, so if the schools and doctors' offices in question are completely destroyed by the hurricane, those records could be wiped out. Even a baptismal certificate could believably be impossible to obtain if parish churches don't routinely send their records on baptisms, marriages and deaths to the diocese to be kept in the central chancery archives. But believably claiming that his birth certificate has been irrevocably destroyed in this day and age is pretty close to impossible. Once there was a time when a fire in a county courthouse could wipe out all those vital records -- but at least in Indiana all hospitals send birth and death records to the central vital statistics bureau in the Department of Health on a daily basis (my husband works with the ISDH computers, and has told me how these things work). Louisiana probably follows a similar protocol, and since Baton Rouge is well inland, it'd be hard to believe that a hurricane could retain enough strength to destroy the state vital records center. And even if it did, with the practice of keeping duplicate data centers in remote locations, it's likely that even complete destruction of the one in Baton Rouge would still leave duplicate records in Montana or Wyoming or suchlike. And then there's the problem of a Social Security number -- and Social Security records are kept in Federal record centers in Washington DC, and probably duplicated in multiple secure locations, so even if his Social Security card was reduced to a pulp in his wallet, the record would be there in the Federal government's files -- and when the local Social Security office can't turn it up, there's going to be a major problem.

So if Rene's going to be on Earth for any length of time, either his teenage protectors are going to have to get involved in criminal identity fraud, or his story is going to fall apart for want of documents that can't plausibly have been irrevocably destroyed, and aren't going to be there.

Yes, we really are that tightly documented from birth to death these days, and every important step of our lives requires producing those documents, to the point that it's impossible to operate without them. The present is most definitely not a friendly place and time for a visitor from another universe.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Going Back

As I'm writing the novel of young Rene XIV and Sebastien the usurper, I'm thinking ahead to the ending, and specifically to Cynthia Delacroix having to go back to Earth and her old life after she's had extraordinary adventures with the boy king.

It's something almost no world-crossing adventure novels address -- having to go back to the child role after having made adult decisions and shouldered adult responsibilities, and being given adult respect for doing so. When young people shoulder adult roles in an emergency in the mundane world that puts normal adult authority out of commission, at least they're recognized as heroes, and perhaps even accorded a little more respect, a little more latitude. People understand when they have trouble resuming the child role, if they aren't always quite as deferential, quite as quick to assume that adults are right by definition.

But if all those adventures have taken place in another world, and you're returned to your own world just moments after you left it, nobody knows what you've gone through. And you can't even try to explain, because it will only get you dismissed as delusional. If you have trouble slipping back into the child role after having been treated as an adult for what may have been months for you, it'll simply be assumed that you're being stubborn or sassy, as opposed to having trouble going back to ordinary life after extraordinary adventures.

Yet at the same time, I don't want to create a downer ending, in which Cynthia despairs of ever being able to fit into a world in which she is going to be but an insignificant, interchangable cog. Because realistically, there's no way she's ever going to rise in this world to anything comparable in status to what she briefly enjoyed in Ixilon, being a counselor to a king, helping him regain his throne from an evil usurper, and generally being one of the movers and shakers. Most likely she will be expected to slot herself into an ordinary, workaday job for the rest of her life, doing as she's told, perhaps rising to a middle-management position, but certainly never being one of the great decisionmakers.

I may be able to suggest at the end that somehow Rene did find a way to open a gate that would allow Cynthia to move permanently to Ixilon, but somehow that seems like sidestepping the very real problem of how can Cynthia ever return to ordinary life after her extraordinary adventure.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


As I'm working on the novel of young King Rene XIV and the usurper Sebastien (as of yet untitled), I'm beginning to get the feeling that there's simply too big of a jump from Chapter 2 to Chapter 3. At the close of Chapter 2, Rene and his brother Alexandre have made contact with Eigun Eiderveyen, who is going to help them get out of the capital as Sebastien's forces are rapidly taking it over. When Chapter 3 begins, Rene and Alexandre are on the royal flagship, well out to sea, and Rene is reflecting on their escape.

I'd originally thought that the process of getting to the flagship and getting it out of the harbor probably wasn't of that great of interest, and it would be best to jump ahead and cover it only in a brief flashback. But as I tried to get Chapter 3 moving, I realized that there's just too much material there to cover in a brief flashback, and it really does need to be covered properly.

So now Chapter 3 is going to become Chapter 4, moving everything that follows forward one chapter, and I add in another chapter of events in Ste. Genevieve as it's falling to Sebastien's forces. I'm hoping this will prove satisfactory, and I'll be able to move forward on this thing.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Empty White Room

When I was originally starting to write the story of young Rene XIV and the usurper Sebastien, I was moving right along with the brief prolog and started the first few paragraphs of the first chapter. Due to other responsibilities, I had to set it to the side for a while. When I came back to it the next day, I couldn't seem to get it going again. Since I had a strong image for the second chapter, I decided to jump ahead and write that one, then come back and tackle getting the first chapter moving.

So, after perhaps a month, some work on another novel later in the sequence, and other life events intervening, I came back and reread the abortive beginning of the first chapter. Immediately I realized what was wrong with it -- it might as well be happening in an empty white room.

We have the boy king and Cardinal Chartremont, but there's absolutely no sense of setting. There's none of the exotic environment of the Floating Palace, the court, any of the stuff that's going on. It's as if the interaction between them takes place in a vacuum.

So I have to try to give the scene a sense of place, which means backing up long enough to capture the image of the room in which they're standing, of the temperament of the people assembled there, all the things I need. And as I do that, I finally get another bit that's been eluding me -- a better sense of why the two men are even meeting in the first place, and what it all means.

But it's an easy trap to fall into -- to want to jump straight into action, and in the process fail to ground that action in any sort of surroundings, to the point that it might as well be taking place in an empty white room.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Slow Uphill Struggle

Last week, I seemed to be making fairly good progress on The Crowns of the Martyrs. The words were flowing fairly well, and I was filling Chapter 1 in quite nicely.

This week, things aren't going so smoothly. I'd moved up to Chapter 3, to the scene in which Ligonier Rafferty is dealing with the public response to the announcement that two other senior prelates from their world are to be given the red hat in the upcoming consistory. I thought it would be condusive to relatively rapid writing, but instead every word seems to be a chore to drag out. I've been working on it for two days now, and I'm still slowly and painfully dragging out the words of the opening paragraphs, introducing Ligo to the reader. I haven't even managed to get to the point where he discovers that he's got an incipient riot on his hands.

Needless to say, this is quite frustrating, after the energy with which the words were coming only last week.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

After the Beginning

Discovering the proper beginning point of a novel can be difficult, but even then, the problems aren't necessarily over. You still have to work out each step until you get to the end.

Right now I'm working on The Crowns of the Martyrs, and I'm beginning to wonder if I need another chapter between the first and second. I'd originally intended to start with Jan-Pawel's arrival in New Rome on the Lake called Bitter after the end of his disastrous mission in the Caliphate. But I decided to add another scene in front of it, then expanded that scene to an entire chapter, moving Jan-Pawel's first scene to the second chapter.

Now I'm starting to think that there's too big of a logical jump between the close of the first chapter and the beginning of the second. We end the first chapter with Witten laying his plans to have Jan-Pawel "kicked upstairs" to a position where he'll have prestige but little or no power, and in the second we have Jan-Pawel arriving to receive the news of his promotion. On one hand, it seems to me that there should be at least a little of the methods by which Witten persuaded his superiors to grant this promotion without realizing that, far from wishing to honor Jan-Pawel, Witten in fact intended to destroy his effectiveness, permanently. On the other hand, every chapter I add to the front delays Jan-Pawel's appearence further, and could lead to confusion as to just who the principal protagonist is.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Problem of Evil

Normally I stay away from fundamentalism, whether it's the typical Evangelical Protestant brand or radical-traditionalist and ultra-traditionalist Catholicism. But recently I came across a gem of an article series that I couldn't pass by just because of the writer's other intellectual positions.

The blog's called The American Inquisiton, and in among the railing against the republic is a most interesting set of articles on the portrayal of evil in the media, and particularly in the cinema. It starts with Narnia, and continues through The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, then closes with a final analysis.

Whether or not we agree with the blogger's conclusion that the problems in portraying evil in current films are the result of a loss of a religious sense of sin, as writers we have to take note of the issues he raises that these filmmakers have not adequately established that the antagonists in these films are indeed evil, and the protagonists are indeed justified in the actions they are taking against the antagonists.

As beginning writers we are cautioned against the danger of creating cardboard villains who are purely Eee-vil, without any beleivable motivations. We carefully study methods for giving our villains believable "tragic virtues" that show they are developed characters rather than merely types. Yet do we, in doing so, end up undercutting the sense that they are indeed villains, and end up sending the message that there is no such thing as evil, merely misunderstanding?

Part of the problem is of course the need in visual media such as the cinema and television to shy away from graphic violence in order to gain a rating that will garner the widest range of audiences. In this the novelist has an advantage, for there are many ways to describe atrocities in written media without becoming needlessly graphic, for instance, focusing on the trauma of the survivor, with the actual act kept in the past.

But there still seems to be a noticable misuse of the "tragic virtue," such that "he's not all that bad" becomes a process of excusing the villain's crimes, as though being kind in one area makes it all right to be vicious in others. To take a historical example, the fact that Joseph Stalin did seem to actually love his daughter Svetlana, while it makes him a human being rather than a cardboard cutout, does not diminish the magnitude of his crimes against the peoples of the Soviet Union, whom he murdered by the job-lot in his pursuit of total control.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

On Seizing the Moment

So today I finally get some writing time, and decide to pull out the novel of King Rene XIV of the Swamp Kingdom and his wicked uncle Sebastien the Usurper. I'm figuring that the words are going to just come pouring out, since I know the story so well and it's a pretty straightforward action-adventure fantasy. Not a lot of intricate philosophy or social dance, just the slam-bam of a coup d'etat and a boy king fleeing for his life to another world and teenage allies.

But when I sit down to write, it's a real struggle to get the words flowing. I push out a few sentences, and then I'm wandering around the house before I can sit down and put out a little more. I did manage to turn out almost 1500 words, but I'd been hoping for so much more.

I think it's that old problem of holding in and letting out. After having to hold back so long because of the press of non-fiction deadlines, it's hard to let go and let myself write. There's the pull of multiple other novel and short story projects that all want my attention. But there's also the sense that I ought to be doing something else. I do have two other article projects, even if I don't have the right books for either of them right now. And this house is anything but spotless and ready for the realtor to show Right This Minute, so there's the guilty sense that I Really Ought to be busily cleaning and getting it Just Perfect.

All of which makes it difficult for me to make the best use of this wonderful chunk of time that suddenly presents itself for me to use. It's so frustrating to produce so little, when there's so much to be told and so dreadfully little time.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Perfect Stranger Problem Again

As I'm forging ahead on The Crowns of the Martyrs, I'm realizing how completely ad intra a novel it is. That is, it's a novel set almost entirely within the halls of the Catholic Church, dealing with its people and politics. Unlike the other novels like Cloak and Shadow, there's not the strong element of interaction with members of other traditions, both Christian and non-Christian, and particularly the Independent Churches of Christ and Christian Churches of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, my own religious background.

Since I'm not Catholic, I suddenly have to confront the question of whether I should be writing this book, or if it's a form of trespass. In Cloak and Shadow, the strong role of Paige McFarland and her Restoration-Movement faith as seen through Jan-Pawel's Catholic perspective becomes a form of "how others see us," a chance for reflection. However, there just isn't going to be that element in The Crowns of the Martyrs, due to its focus on internal Catholic Church politics.

On the other hand, The Crowns of the Martyrs is going to be near the end of the Jan-Pawel Trzetrzelewski sequence, so by the time it comes out (assuming any of this stuff ever gets published), my ecumenical credentials should be well established. However, each novel really needs to stand on its own merits, since there's no guarantee that any given reader will have read any of the previous books.

In the meantime, I keep writing, even as I consider the issues. I do my best to handle the material respectfully, with the same sort of consideration and reverence I'd want my own faith given by others.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


As I'm working on the novel of Jan-Pawel Trzetrzelewski and the massacre at the consistory (tentative working title either The Martyrs' Crowns or The Crowns of the Martyrs), I'm becoming steadily more convinced that my original plan for the first two chapters is faulty. Instead of having Jan-Pawel appear in the second scene of the first chapter, I'm thinking it's best to delay it until the beginning of the second chapter. This will permit the first chapter to deal entirely with the political maneuvering that makes possible the massacre, and will connect Jan-Pawel's entry with the next scene, in which he's introduced to Siloan. This way it will flow better, instead of moving in jerks.

However, I'm not entirely satisfied that delaying Jan-Pawel's appearance until the second chapter is really that good of an idea. Most of the important characters who are now appearing in Chapter 1 will be killed when the ninjas strike, and play no role in the subsequent conclave. On one hand, it's possible that the massacre is well enough into the novel that their deaths will mean all the more, but on the other, it's possible that readers will feel cheated to lose what seemed to be significant characters midway through the novel, and may not realize that Jan-Pawel, along with Eigun Eiderveyen, is the principal protagonist.

Of course this may be just another case in which I really need to write the whole novel and see where it's going before I can get a real feel for what needs to be done.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Entry Points and Introductions

As I'm working on Cloak and Shadow and on the as-of-yet-untitled novel of the massacre at the consistory, I'm struggling with whether the beginnings of them are any good, or if I need to start somewhere, or somehow, else.

Although these will probably be later novels in the series, I can't really assume that every reader who picks them will have read the previous novels. So I've got to make sure that new readers are brought up to speed quickly, without boring long-term readers to tears.

In Cloak and Shadow, I introduce Jan-Pawel and Paige both through meetings with their respective bosses, sending them on their diplomatic missions. The third is of the refugee priest being threatened both by one of the local auxiliary bishops and by agents from the dictatorship that took over his home country. Now that I'm looking back at it, the interviews both seem to be bland -- yet they convey necessary information, introducing the characters and establishing their diplomatic credentials.

In the novel of the massacre at the consistory, I'm starting with a top-level political strategy discussion, yet I'm still not sure if that's the best way to start this novel either. Yet I'm not sure what kind of "we've got a conspiracy here" scene would work best without producing a false start.

You know, the sort of novel that begins with a slam-bam action scene, and then it ends and the characters in it don't show up again for ages, as you drag through how things got into such a fix. It's pretty close to a bait and switch, to my mind.

Of course it may all be just more of the walking-through-fog phenomenon. Once I have the whole thing written, I'll be able to look back and see how everything fits together. Maybe I won't even be using the original opening scene as the beginning. Maybe it'll become a later chapter, or disappear altogether.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ideas and Time

Why is it that, whenever your idea hamster is really getting going and you think you're finally going to have some time to actually write, it all goes away?

Things are really coming together on Cloak and Shadow right now, and I'm starting to see the interconnections I need in order to write it. And after I finished the last big load of articles and wasn't finding any new assignments on H-net, I thought I was going to have some actual writing time.

Fat chance. Today I get an e-mail from an editor I've worked for before, telling me she needs help with a bunch of articles that other people wussed out on. And we need the money, so I can't really tell her no. So I'm going to be frantically pounding out these articles for the next month, and there goes all my writing time.

We'll see if I ever get any writing time, or if it always ends up vanishing as the next non-fiction project makes its appearance.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Fog and Confidence

I often compare the process of writing a novel to walking through fog, with the confidence that, even if I can't see all the way to the horizon, I can always see far enough to keep writing. One of the things this means for me is that I can feel confident to plunge into writing when I know relatively little about the world in which the novel in question is set.

For instance, as I start writing Cloak and Shadow, I still know relatively little about a whole lot of key things. I haven't sat down and worked out the staff of each of the embassies that are important in the novel, or the chancery of the archdiocese of Raus-ceil-quein, or the court of Queen Catriel. I still don't know about the Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement) congregation where Paige McFarland will be worshipping, other than they're refugees, rather than Salquari. Yet I feel confident that I will start seeing them as I get close enough to actually need to write about them.

Of course there are dangers in plunging ahead, but there are also dangers in meticulously planning every single thing. On one hand, one can go in the wrong direction without realizing it, and end up having to do major rewrites, simply because an element appears midway through that becomes so important that one must go back and lay in the necessary foreshadowing so that it doesn't pop up from nowhere. On the other hand, one can become so obsessed with working everything out in detail before hand that one never gets to writing the first page of actual story.

Monday, January 09, 2006

False Starts

Today while I was standing in line at the post office, I got out my trusty old Palm VIIx and started writing a scene in one of the novels I'm working on. I got about a paragraph done by the time I got up to the clerk. But almost as soon as I got out of the post office and headed back to the car, I had an intense feeling that I'd begun that scene the wrong way, and was going to have to toss it out and start over.

It's not an uncommon experience. If you start a scene even a little slightly off, it's possible to end up in a completely wrong direction.

At least in this case, I didn't do as badly as one scene I started in the first draft of The Steel Breeds True, when I picked the wrong POV. I got almost three pages in it before I realized that I needed a completely different point of view. The only way I was able to rewrite that one was to print out the first version, then open a completely new file and, using the old version as a guide to the events, write the scene from the proper POV.

This one's just a matter of a faulty assumption. Fix that one, and I should be back on track very quickly. Of course that assumes that I'll actually have the time to do the writing any time soon.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Missing Person Found

I'd been rather frustrated in the writing of Cloak and Shadow because I could tell I was missing someone, but had no real sense of who this person could be.

And then yesterday, while I was listening to an old Steely Dan song, it finally hit me. First I got the name (although I'm spelling her name Paige rather than Page), and then biographical details came pouring in. Now I think I can finally get this novel going again -- assuming I ever get some writing time between all these non-fiction articles I have to churn out to keep the income flowing.

Yet another perfect example of the walking-through-fog phenomenon.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Back to the Beginning

I should be working on a set of articles that are due January 16, but I haven't been able to get back into it and get going again on it. Frustrated with my inability to find a new entry point into the project, I got some of the Ixilon materials out again.

However, I do think I finally found the proper entry point to the whole sequence that deals with Eigun Eiderveyen and Jan-Pawel Trzetrzelewski. It's the story of the boy-king of the swamps, Rene XIV, and how his wicked uncle Sebastien thrust him into exile on the yonder side of a worldgate in order to usurp the Cypress Throne. However, the world into which he was thrown is our own, and there young Rene found allies of a most surprising sort.

I've written the prolog, in which Sebastien sets forth his plans, and a few sentences of the first chapter. I'd really like to push ahead on this novel, but at the same time I know that Ihave a moral obligation to get to work on the article project, since I've signed a contract promising that I'd get them written and turned in on time. And it doesn't help that the pay is really lousy on these articles, so there's not really that much to help motivate me in the face of a thorough lack of inspiration on how to turn these assignments into finished articles.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Walking Through Fog

I often compare writing the first draft of a novel to walking in heavy fog. When I begin, I can't see my way through to the end yet. But I can see just far enough to write the first chapter. As I write it, I begin to see where the second chapter will go, and the one after it. Sometimes the fog clears for a space so that I begin seeing how several chapters at once should fit together. However quickly or slowly it clears, it almost always pulls back fast enough to stay ahead of where I'm actually writing. If I suddenly run into it and lose my way, I've generally done the writing equivalent of overdriving one's headlights, and the best thing to do at that point is to slow down or to set the project aside altogether and work on something else for a while. When the project in question is ready to write again, it'll let me know.

Recently I ran into just that sort of problem with Cloak and Shadow, the story of Jan-Pawel Trzetrzelewski's first assignment as an actual Head of Mission. I was running into a feeling that something, or perhaps someone, was missing. However, I didn't have any idea what should go into those holes, or even exactly how big those holes were.

I've learned through bitter experience that trying to force things is apt to wrench the story out of shape. However, by setting it aside for a while and concentrating instead on some other parts of the chronology, I was able to gain insights on that novel. Now I'm starting to get a clearer idea of just who all I'm missing, and even beginning to see some of them.

Now to try to pull these threads together into some kind of coherent whole, and make sure that they don't go unravelling all over the place the way I had happen with Wyrm Rampant back in 2001. (That's one I've still never been able to get back to and sort out, although one of these days I really want to. It just doens't help that it is going to be a huge novel, big enough that I really don't know if any publisher is going to want to take the risk involved in publishing it from an unknown author).

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Myth that Refuses to Die

Recently there has been considerable consternation about a television program on the old story of "Pope Joan," that is, a woman of the early Medieval period who supposedly masqueraded as a man in order to pursue her hunger for learning and ended up becoming so famous for her erudition that she was made a cardinal and ultimately elected pope, only to have her true gender revealed when she gave birth to a baby while on her way to her coronation. Supposedly she was then torn limb from limb by the outraged crowd and the embarassed Roman Curia covered the whole incident up, but her memory survived in the custom of all papal processions carefully avoiding the street upon which she met her doom.

There is not one shred of historical evidence for this story, yet it refuses to go away no matter how many times it's debunked. Part of it is pure ugly anti-Catholic glee at the Church heirarchy being made to look foolish, and in modern times feminist hopes that the exclusive masculine priesthood could eventually change, but because of the sheer persistance of the story in the face of fact there seems to be something more basic to human psychology at work here.

First, there is the element of the fear of infiltration, of the outsider sneaking into the inner circle. For those of us who remember the Cold War, the constant fear of Communist infiltration of American institutions was a constant feature of that era. Even today, one of the fears of the War on Terror is of American converts to radical Islamic fundamentalism becoming a sort of fifth column, indistinguishable from us save by their beliefs. But it's more basic than any particular conflict -- part of social cohesion is a clear understanding of who is a member of the group and who is an outsider, and thus the infiltrator threatens to destroy that distinction of us vs. them.

Second, there is the sense of delight at the underling outwitting authority, even if only for a time. Even as we fear the disruption of the social order, we don't want to let it become too rigid or too sure of itself, lest it become a tyranny. From this comes our love for figures such as Robin Hood who break the formal rules of society in order to serve a higher justice. It is also at the root of Trickster figures, who may outwit every power divine and mortal in one story, yet is outwitted and humiliated by a child in the next story. We want to be reassured that authority will be reined in if it should become overweeningly arrogant, yet we also want to be reassured that those who overturn authority will meet their own comeuppance in turn.

I'm not advocating the use or modern retelling of this particular story, since its historical use has generally been such as to be highly offensive to Catholics, and thus even a well-intentioned retelling will be colored by history. But understanding why the particular motif has proved so enduring can help us as writers tap into these sorts of basic narratives.