Posted on March 25, 2015
I published this article over at the Independent Bookworm site, last October, and thought I would now post it on my own website (with a few edits). I put a lot of effort into creating fantasy worlds; complete with believable histories and realistic cultures. After investing so much of myself to lure and immerse my readers into the setting so they believe the story “could be” real, it would be ludicrous to summarily dismiss the entire illusion with just a few words or faulty imagery. Yet, time-after-time I come across this in many fictional stories.
When I originally wrote this post I was reading a sample of a Medieval-themed Fantasy novel that looked interesting… at the time. It was intriguing, and I finished the first two chapters. The author had already drawn me into the world they have created. They did a good job of writing the end of the chapter so that I didn’t have any choice but to run my finger across my Kindle to bring up the beginning of the next chapter. And it went something like this:
“Lionel, we thought we had found the missing orb, but it is not as you described. It is not the correct color.” The elderly knight holds out a shining white sphere.
“It’s okay. It is missing the most important ingredient.” Lionel reaches out and when he takes the orb, it turns a dark blue, like the middle of a lake. “Me.”
“That’s cool.” Boyden standing slightly to Lionel’s left steps closer, his eyes wide.
I went back to my Kindle library and deleted the sample, then searched for another book.
The author made a critical, but an all too common, mistake. They destroyed the illusion that they had so painstakingly created at the beginning of the book. Because of what I had read to this point, I was settling into the Medieval-themed world the author had built. Then suddenly I came to a screeching halt as I was snatched out of the well-formed fantasy world. I am okay with stretching the lines of the time-period with words like “orb”, since it is a fantasy, but unless Lionel and Boyden were somehow transported from the Twentieth century (which they weren’t), the contract the author had made with me, was broken, and I could never trust the author again.
The author had made a promise, a contract, with me that this was going to be a Medieval-themed novel. From the description, and what I had read in the first couple of chapters, I was prepared to read a book set in a Medieval-like world. I wanted to be taken away to a fantasy world that, while different from Earth’s Middle Ages, stayed true to the same basic principals of that time period. I would not expect someone to show up with a machine gun or for a plane to fly over head, or for someone to say “Okay” and definitely not “Cool” (unless they referred to the weather).
I have heard many people say that because it is fantasy, you can do whatever you want. This is the furthest from the truth. Mark Twain said,
Why is this? The basic tenet of fantasy is that the world, that the author creates, is an alternate reality of what we already know. An illusion that something could be real if you only let yourself go along with the author for a while. Illusion is the crutial word here. A common definition of illusion is ‘Something that deceives by producing a false or misleading impression of reality’. The key is that it gives the impression of reality. It is not a surprise that the word reality continues to come up as we try to define fantasy. When I read “Okay” and “Cool” the impression of reality was ended as cleanly as if the Knight had used his longsword to sever the connection between myself and the author’s world. Strange things happen in the real world that people cannot deny. However, in fantasy, the world must appear to be true. To do otherwise would be to breach the contract between the reader and author.
I realize that it is not always easy to use period-specific words. I am a little anal in my own writing and try not to use any word, in my Dragon-Called series, that did not originate prior to the mid-1500s. I am not this strict when reading other authors, but there is a limit. Simply putting just a little effort, on the part of this author, would have kept me comfortably in their world, and I would have bought the book.
Words are not the only way to destroy the illusion, but possibly the most common.
Another example occurred when I read a sample of a different book and immediately bought it. The story line was good, and the author kept me engaged. There were a few times, at the beginning, that stretched my believability, but I excused it because the story line was well done. That was until I came across a scene where the protagonist was invited by the king to attend a banquet. When the protag shows up at the banquet, the author starts describing a palace banquet room. They initially did a reasonable job, but with crystal chandeliers, it would have been more relevant for something out of the Renaissance period or maybe even later than that. Regardless, I kept reading and then the author required me to stretch my believability beyond reason. He had the protag describe the opposite end of the room like this:
At the other end of the hall was a bar stocked with every possible type of wine, ale, and distilled spirits. Directly before the bar was an open dance floor with a small stage off to the side for the minstrels.
A couple of pages later the author writes these lines:
One of the young bartenders saw them coming… <deleted for brevity>
Someone with the Protag says, “Hi Aeron, we’d like two chocolate swirls.”
The author proceeds to describe something that sounds like a martini to me. I was so engrossed that I tried to put this scene aside, though failed. Especially as the author continued with more of the same in the rest of the scene. And yes, you guessed correctly; I deleted the book. I survived the description of a 1920’s speakeasy, but bartender and a martini, really!
These are not the only methods that can rip the reader out of the author’s world. Basically, anything that stretches the reader’s ability to believe in the setting the author has created. It is important to keep in mind that the reader is already suspending their belief to even invest time to try and accept the author’s world. The reader has entrusted the author to not only create a world that will whisk the reader away for ten minutes or hours on end, but to keep the promise that the author will maintain the illusion.
When an author delves into the fantasy genre, they are signing on to create a world, whether it be an alternative physical world to Earth, or our own world (hopefully that is Earth for all of you) based upon alternative principals, the metaphysical. In doing this, they are making a promise, to their readers, that they will do everything in their power to maintain the illusion of reality. If the author fails to do this, then they have given up any claim to the reader’s time and their loyalty. You can see similar train wrecks in other fiction genres.
My objective is not to criticize other authors. Most keep the promise and view their reader’s trust with due reverence. Everyone has their own style and a voice that is unique to them. My goal is to help those that venture into this, and similar, genres with something that is nearly as important as the plot, characterization, and all the aspects of writing that is drilled into most of us as we learned our profession. When an author introduces a character and tells us what they look like, a little about their background, and give them dialog – we, the readers, expect the character to do something later. The author has made a promise that there is something important, or at least relevant, about this character. Maintaining the illusion of the world is as, or maybe more, important.
Imagine if the first example had gone like this:
“Lionel, we thought we found the missing orb, but it is not as you described. It is not the correct color.” The elderly knight holds out a shining white sphere.
“You are not mistaken. It is missing the most important ingredient.” Lionel reaches out and when he takes the orb, it turns a dark blue, like the middle of a lake. “Me.”
“Incredible.” Boyden, standing slightly to Lionel’s left, steps closer, his eyes wide. (Yes, Incredibl e originated in the late 14th century).
Would it have changed the content of the story if the author had changed the “That’s cool.” to “Incredible.” above? I think not, it required little effort. The only difference is that I would have bought the book.
When you read fiction, how important is the illusion?
Posted on February 15, 2015
As many of you know, for the last year I have struggled with finding a title for the second book in my Dragon-Called Legend series. Two months after the first book was published, Fire of the Covenant, I started the sequel. A month was spent roughing out major scenes, then I was able to sit down and start writing the actual follow-on story. A blinking cursor sat on the top of the first page. I stared blankly while the sunlight waned and at some point became night. That day bled into another. This was followed by two more days of agonizing over a title for this book. Finally, I decided I needed to move forward and reluctant as I was, I typed BOOK TWO.
A year later and nothing had replaced these two haunting words.
“Haunting! Aren’t you being just a little melodramatic.” Her voice was like smooth Bourbon, rich and deep, yet at the same time had a sense of velvet about it.
“I wouldn’t say that,” I defended my use of haunting, but Willow just tossed her copper red hair, leaned over and put her elbow on the arm of her distressed leather chair, her chin resting on her balled fist. I had gotten used to the dirty blond look, but if anything, she epitomized change.
“Of course you wouldn’t.” She shook her head; the chin still anchored to her fist, then she stood with a scowl; her eyes closed and eyebrows raised. With a sigh she opened her eyes and dropped into the chair, her body sagging so that she was lying in the seat. She fixed me with a stare, the scowl still in full force. “Okay, tell me why the words Book Two haunted you?”
“Actually, it’s not the words themselves.”
She bolted upright; the scowl wiped clean by a stern glare. I spoke quickly to fend off the anticipated barrage, “It was the use of the words as the title for the book.”
I had to keep from snickering. She sat there, her mouth agape; her eyes shifted wildly as her mind whirled and tried to comprehend.
“The title is an extremely important part of my writing.” I leaned closer somehow thinking that it would emphasize my words. “It helps me discover the path.”
‘The path?” Her eyes had settled and added to her question.
“It provides clarity as to where I need to go. I can look through the forest of all the storylines that I could be writing. Instead it points me down the one true path of the story that I want to write.”
“That makes no sense.” The scowl had returned; from where I hate to guess. “I think you have been away from your writing too long.” She relaxed into the back cushion with a Cheshire Cat smile. “The stress of not writing has finally made you go insane.”
I laughed and relaxed as well. “That may be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that a title; which captures the crux of the book, makes it easier for me to envision what the story should be, instead of all the what-it-could-bes. I can better connect to my creative flow when I can focus on a meaningful title.”
“Connect to your creative flow!” Smile gone, Ms. Scowl back. “And what the Hell am I.” She was on her feet, and a finger pointed at me like a German Luger. “If you want to ‘connect to your creative flow’, then you should have been talking to me over the last five months instead of spending all your time moving into a new house.”
“Halt. Aufhören. Put that away.” I laughed and gently pushed her pointed finger back into her fist, though I wasn’t sure if that was a sane thing to do either. “Let me explain.”
At least Ms. Scowl was gone, but Madame Frown was only a slight improvement. She sat stiffly down, her back like a razor’s edge, and her eyes dared me to come up with something acceptable.
“You are my Muse, my creativity.” I scooted forward so that I could put a hand on her knee. “You are the source of my writing. Without you I would just be fumbling around with a dozen unfinished stories.”
My adulation seemed to be having the desired effect. Her shoulders lowered and the anger faded from her face – at least a little.
“Then what did you mean?” Her voice softened. I guessed she was hurt by my earlier words. How she had flown from angered to aggrieved, so quickly, was beyond my male understanding.
“You are so creative that sometimes I am overwhelmed with all the choices.” I kept my one hand on her knee; I figured it was a good idea to keep her at a safe distance, then held up my other hand to stop her before she could launch into more objections. “I know that is counterintuitive. I am definitely not complaining that you are too creative.” The next words I used could be calming or release the perfect storm. “Your creativity generates lots of different ideas as to what I can do with the story. This is what keeps me from just sitting there staring at a blank screen.” I paused for a deep breath. “Even so, sometimes there are several ideas rolling around in my head as to the direction the story should go in.”
“They’re all good ones.” Now we shift into being offended.
“Yes. Yes. Great ideas. However, I can’t use them all.” I put on my best sorrowful hound dog eyes. “For the manuscript to move forward, I have to have one solid focus for the storyline.”
Her head tilted and I could see her considering my words.
“The title helps me to focus on the best option for the main storyline. As I am writing, I can look at the title and it keeps me on track so that I don’t wander down a rabbit hole following the white rabbit of another story.” I sat back satisfied that everything was clear now.
“So what you’re saying is that you can’t even keep the story straight in your mind without some sort of visual reminder?” She grinned.
I didn’t snap back with a witty remark (I am a writer after all) as I rationalized that sarcasm was better than the host of emotions I had already dealt with. “Not exactly. I can keep the story straight. It is just that the storyline can go down several paths and having a title, that is based upon one specific path, helps me to ignore the others when they pop up; which they do from time-to-time, and move consistently toward the end of the book.”
“Over the last year I have given you a lot of title options, so did you finally settle on one?” Her curiosity overcame all the other emotions.
“Yes.” I intentionally didn’t add anything else.
“You need to go over to the series website to find out what that is.” This is a direct, inexcusable attempt to get you to read the blog posts on my series website at DragonCalled.com/blog
“Humph.” She crossed her arms and legs while she slid into the back of the chair. “Since you now have a path, how do you plan to get there.”
I stole her Cheshire grin and leaned back, hands clasped behind my head. “Ready to work?”
Coming up with a title, even if just a working title, helps me find the path to my writing goal. I wonder if I am the only one who does something like this? Is there anything that points to the path that lets you reach your goal?
Posted on September 7, 2014
Yes, I fell off the end of the world! However, I am back now.
For those that were not aware, my wife and I sold our house and moved into an apartment temporarily until we locate a new home. This meant a couple of months of repairs, packing like crazy, and then “The Move”. So I had to put my writing on hold, including this blog and my series website (DragonCalled.com). But I learned something from this experience.
First off, writing is in my blood. Being away from my books in progress and blogs was a difficult time for me. I quit smoking thirty years ago and not being able to write felt similar, except that I don’t feel better after not writing (I did after I quit smoking – though it took a while). It was difficult to quit smoking – I smoked THREE packs a day! I went through a similar withdrawal when I couldn’t write. Every time I got on my computer to check e-mail or look up one of the multitudes of questions we had related to our packing and moving, I wanted to bring up my writing software. It was like “If I could only type one chapter”, but had to take a deep breath and tell myself “Not now.” I even found myself pausing as I walked past the Apple Store in the mall. All those people typing on keyboards. I wondered what it would feel like to type just a few paragraphs. It was worse after a meal and I saw someone else typing (not really, but it fits the story).
When I say writing is in my blood, I have credentials for this statement. Both my father and my uncle were independent authors and self-published in a time when the word didn’t even exist. I have books from both that were published over forty years ago. According to the dictionary, the word self-published originated in the 1970s. My ancestors were Indy-author pioneers
“Huh! When did you show up?” There it was. That deep female voice that gently whispered in my ear when I would be leaning over my computer in the middle of a scene. The same one that turned into a loud kick-in-the-butt protest when I would try to take the story line off in a different direction. Man, how I missed it.
“Willow. I’ve missed you!” I smile in honest appreciation for her.
“Don’t give me that ‘I’ve missed you’ crap.” She stomps into my new, though much smaller, office and drops into the leather chair.
I stare over my desk. As usual, I am at a loss as to what this woman means.
My deer-in-the-headlights look did little to soothe her anger and it came out in her words, “For almost three months you left me, for only Hemingway knows what, and I had to fend for myself.”
“Hey, I was busy.” It wasn’t like I was gone intentionally.
“Busy!” She bounced up. “Too busy to even talk to me once in a while? Too busy to write just a paragraph or two so I knew you were alive? How dare you.” She plopped down in the chair and I could see tears in her sky-blue eyes (though last time I saw her, I could have sworn they were emerald green).
“What was I to think.” She sniffled. “You could have been hit by a bus or anything. I fretted day and night.”
“But I wasn’t.” I thought it was funny, but she didn’t quite see it that way.
“Oh yeah, well maybe you should have been hit by a bus for all you cared about me.” She turned her head away, but I could tell she was crying.
“I’m sorry.” I hated it when she cried. “I am ready to pick up where we left off.”
Her voice was muffled as she had her face against the brown leather on the back of the chair. “You think you can just woo me with hundreds of thousands of words, beautiful literature, then dump me like some one-night strumpet. Next you roll back into my life, months later, and expect me to inspire your creative juices.” It is hard to understand her at this point through the sniffles and wavering voice. “Well, I am not that kind of Muse,” she shouts at me. Her words are extremely clear now… unfortunately.
“No. No. I never thought of you like that.” I feel like I am on a slippery rock in the middle of a raging river. “I wanted to come back to you. I really did. I even tried, but there were too many obstacles.”
“You didn’t try very hard.”
“Yes. Yes, I did.” I get up and come around to put my hands on her shoulders. Her body shivers from the crying. “No matter what happens, I will always try to write every week, even if just a little.”
“You promise?” Her back is still turned to me.
“Yes, I promise.” I rub her shoulders. “In fact, I already started. Yesterday I wrote 1,900 words – an entire chapter.”
“Without me?” She sounded hurt.
“Just to get my fingers use to it.” I laugh, hoping that it will lighten the mood. “I know it isn’t that good, and I also know you will be able to fix it during Revision.”
She turns in the chair, and pushes to her feet, nearly knocking me over. The tears are gone as she walks around me toward the computer. In a clear, business-like voice, she tells me, “Alright, get over here. We have a lot of catching up to do. Now, when we left off they had just been attacked by… ”
I don’t hear the rest of what she is saying. I am way too happy and think ‘I really missed this.‘ I go and sit in the chair as I hear a Julia Roberts throaty voice whisper in my right ear, “I’m glad you’re back.” Then in her normal tone, “What if we introduce… ”
I really missed this!
Is there something that you really feel passionate about, but obstacles stand in your way from doing them? What might you do to overcome your obstacles?
Posted on July 5, 2014
July 12th at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego
Noon – 3pm
Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore
Come join me and a few other local authors as we share about our books. Take a chance to mingle with a possible future best-selling author – well, besides me There will be some refreshments and a lot of fun had by all. See you on Saturday.
7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Suite #302, San Diego, CA 92111
Directions to Mysterious Galaxy
Posted on June 25, 2014
Will Hahn is an author friend of mine who has a new book, in his series, that will be released shortly. In preparation of this, Will is doing a Blog Tour (going around to different blogs and providing information about the author and the upcoming book). I asked Will to provide me and my Readers an excerpt on one of his main characters, a description of the book, and a link to an excerpt from the book itself. I also asked him to provide a bio so you can get to know him a little better. He is better able to provide this information, so I thought it best if I had him finish the rest of this blog post. The world, Land of Hope, Will creates in his series Judgement’s Tale,
Excerpt on Treaman the Woodsman
I’m so pleased to visit the blog of a new friend, Peter that I’ve met through the Magic Appreciation Tour and now a member of our shared website at the Independent Bookworm. We epic fantasy guys need to stick together. And today I want to introduce you to another new fellow, one of the main characters of my latest epic fantasy novel Judgement’s Tale.
Treaman is a young woodsman, skilled in outdoor survival as well as a fair fighter. He’s a member of an adventuring band, rare individuals in the Lands of Hope who go about looking for trouble in a world at peace. And in Treaman’s day, the best place to find trouble was the Percentalion, a large chunk of the central northern kingdoms (see the map) that’s slipping back into the chaos of an elder day. The inability to move around reliably, strange weather and monstrous creatures all make the inclusion of a Woodsman necessary to adventuring parties. Here’s a look at the start- and maybe the end- of Treaman’s adventuring career. I hope you enjoy it.
Link to Treaman Excerpt
Judgement’s Tale Part One: Games of Chance will be available July 4th 2014.
As we say in The Lands, Ar Aralte! (Hope Forever)
Judgement’s Tale Part One: Games of Chance
For twenty centuries the Lands of Hope prospered from their Heroes’ peace, but suffer now from their absence as a curse thickens over the central kingdom known as the Percentalion. An immortal omniscient conspirator schemes to escape the extra-worldly prison restraining his tide of undeath, using a demonic ally in a plot to bring back hell on earth. Solemn Judgement steps onto these Lands both a stranger and an orphan, driven to complete the lore his father died to give him.
In a world beset with increasing chaos, the bravest Children of Hope must take mortal risks. A young woodsman’s spear-cast, a desperate bid to save his comrades; the Healers Guildmistress’ cheery smile, hiding a grim secret and a heavy burden of guilt; the prince of Shilar’s speech in a foreign tongue, a gambit to avoid bloodshed or even war. As a new generation of heroes, scattered across the kingdoms, bets their lives and more, Solemn Judgement- soon to be known as The Man in Grey- must learn to play… Games of Chance: Part One of Judgement’s Tale.
Wm. L. Hahn Bio
Will Hahn has been in love with heroic tales since age four, when his father read him the Lays of Ancient Rome and the Tales of King Arthur. He taught Ancient-Medieval History for years, but the line between this world and others has always been thin; the far reaches of fantasy, like the distant past, still bring him face to face with people like us, who have choices to make.
Will didn’t always make the right choices when he was young. Any stick or vaguely-sticklike object became a sword in his hands, to the great dismay of his five sisters. Everyone survived, in part by virtue of a rule forbidding him from handling umbrellas, ski poles, curtain rods and more.
Will has written about the Lands of Hope since his college days (which by now are also part of ancient history). With the publication of Judgement’s Tale Part One, Games of Chance, he begins at last to tell the tale of the Land’s most unique hero, The Man in Grey.
Will Hahn is the chronicler of the Lands of Hope tales.
ThePlane of Dreams– See the trailer!
The Ring and the Flag– Try the Audio Book at Scribl!
Three Minutes to Midnight–
The Book of Tales–
Will Hahn at Smashwords
Will’s Amazon Page
Will’s B&N Page
Posted on May 15, 2014
With the fires that scorched San Diego recently, my youngest daughter Amber, a teacher, wasn’t working so we ended up texting a lot. We were talking about all the different wildfires, and the following is an excerpt of how our texts went:
Amber: I can’t believe RB is untouched. Knock on wood. RB is the area where I live in San Diego.
Me: Don’t forget we had the Bernardo fire on Tuesday.
Amber: I know haha. It was the very first one!
Me: We’re #1 We’re #1
Amber: Hahahahaha. No time for jokes Dad.
With that last tweet I had to stop and think for a moment. A few moments later I texted back:
I disagree. When faced with adversity, it is the perfect time to make a joke.
“Now why did you say that?” Willow strolled in and dropped into her overstuffed leather chair. A leg over one arm and her head resting on the other. Her long blonde hair draped over the side of the chair, her professionally cut off Jean shorts, and a tank top indicative of the hundred degree weather that went along with the fires.
“Because it is the truth.” I leaned into the back of the chair and intertwined my fingers behind my head.
“How so?” I wished she would look at me. It is like a game we play. She sort of ignores me until she determines if what I am saying is interesting enough to require her full attention.
“Conflict is part of life.” My answer to Amber had been something that just came to me, and I now was winging my explanation. “And from an author’s point of view, it is the nectar of our writing life. Without conflict there is no story, and the same applies to our own lives. Without conflict we would never know what we were capable of and when that final day comes, what would we have to say about what we did and who we were?”
She turned her head toward me with lips twisted, before she said, “But why is it the perfect time to make a joke?” Ah, she was interested.
“What is the alternative?”
She thought for several moments. “There are a lot of things you could do. Get angry. Worry. Cry. Though the best thing would be to deal with the adversity.”
“Does getting angry, or worrying, crying, or any of a dozen other reactions help you deal with it?” Even as I was winging my answer, it was becoming clearer to me in my own mind.
‘Maybe.” I could tell she was trying to work through the different actions to see how they might help.
“I think that if you can make a joke, or bring any sort of levity into the situation, it makes you better able to deal with the issue.” The quick comment, I made to my daughter, had settled firmly into my mind. “For me, it helps me to step away from what I am facing and to take a breath. It helps me to put the situation into perspective. And most importantly, if I am making a joke or approaching the situation, that created the conflict, with a light heart, I am able to push aside the panic, the worry, and all the other things that would distract me from dealing with the conflict. Or if the adversity is out of my control, like the current firestorms covering San Diego, it keeps me centered and ready to react appropriately if a the time comes when I can exercise any control.”
She nods and considers my perspective, though she is not quite willing ready to agree yet.
I guess this comes from my belief in what is commonly called the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
So how do you deal with adversity? Do you approach it in a lighthearted manner, do you worry, what is your initial reaction (and maybe well beyond)?
Posted on May 11, 2014
I’ve always wanted to get away and do nothing but write. My wife actually gave me a birthday gift, a couple of years ago, of a week away at a hotel in the local mountains. I missed her and came home after five days.
Recently, friends of mine, who live along a lake in the mountains of Montana, were going away and needed someone to dog and house sit, for two weeks, while they were in France. I volunteered, and my wife graciously told me to enjoy myself. I still wonder about how quickly she agreed. Two weeks without me rambling around the house, turning on the news, not to mention rolling back and forth in the bed. Hmmm….
Regardless, it felt like a dream come true. But dreams are just that… dreams. Reality doesn’t really care about your dreams.
First, let me say I had a great time. My friends have a log house that sits on a lake. I mean the edge of the lake is ten feet from their deck. And it was wonderful to spend time with their dog, Lilly. My dog passed away three years ago, and I have missed the unrelenting love that a dog can shower on a person. Lilly and I went on four mile walks every day, and she didn’t bark when she wanted something, instead she would rub her head up against my leg, and give me sad eyes.
So just me and a dog, for two weeks, in a log house on a lake. My friends even left food and wine. What more can an author ask for.
I set a goal to write a minimum of 36,000 words while there. It would be pushing it, but I thought I have been able to write 3,000 words a day in the past. To give you an idea, 36,000 words is 24% of my estimated word count for book two of my Dragon-Called Legend series.
I sat down the first day, after my friends had left, and started writing with a fury. After about an hour, I realized I hadn’t really thought out where the scene was going. In fact, on my 3×5 Plot card, I had just written an ambiguous statement for the chapter. It took me most of the day to figure out that it wasn’t just one chapter, but seven or eight (I already had 23 chapters written prior to these chapters). I figured out what I needed for the first of the chapters and where it needed to go. I only got about 1,600 words written. Even so, I knew I could make that up the next day.
The next day I got 2,700 words. Not quite the 3,000 I needed to do for that day and the 1,400 I needed to make up from the day before. However, I did figure out where the next couple of chapters needed to go.
Finally, days three and four I exceeded my goal, 3,228 and 3,587.
Then I started a descent. Over the next few days, I had to stop and spend time working through where the next chapter was going, before I could write it. As painful as it was, I plodded through each day, and each chapter, developing the thread of the story that ran through them. Unlike many chapters, these all were tightly connected and highly critical to the overall series story line. So very important to get them correct.
As I got toward the end of these chapters, something else happened. After nine days of developing the story line and writing seven to ten hours a day, I was becoming burnt out. I still wrote for two more days, up until the day I left, but both days combined only netted me 3,000 words total.
At the end of my “author’s getaway” I ended up with 26,000 words. Only about 17% of the estimated book word count. However, I am still extremely pleased with what I accomplished. As I mentioned, these chapters are critical to the entire series; which may be why they were so hard to write. When I returned home, I had 62% of the first draft completed and, after a couple of days of rest, I will be ready to jump back into the book again.
What I found the most interesting is that I started to feel burnt out as I got down toward the end of my trip. I have sat, in my home writing room, and easily written for six or seven hours – until my wife reminds me that we should have eaten dinner an hour earlier But this is the first time I have done that every day for a week-and-a-half. My brain was pretty much fried by that point.
I also realized I could never be a hermit. Even though I did go to dinner twice, and breakfast once, with some of my friends’ neighbors (there were a just a couple on the mountain road), I still missed more social interaction. If I hadn’t been able to Skype with my wife every night, I would have gone a little stir crazy. Thank you Wifey.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. But I would do things a little differently. I would plan out a dozen Plot cards, in advance, with a lot of detail on each card. If I had done this, prior to my recent trip, I wouldn’t have spent as much time as I did trying to figure out how I was going to weave these eight chapters together. If given a similar opportunity, and I was better organized, I could probably cap my writing at six hours a day and still end up with a much higher word count then I managed on this trip. Plus, I really enjoyed getting a dog fix.
Lesson learned. Dreams rarely just happen, but may require some good preparation and a lot of hard work to bring them to life. The other thing is that when it comes to isolation, I can do okay, but I am not like Hemingway — if I have too much wine, my writing sucks.
Posted on April 13, 2014
Recently I was contacted by an Australian Book Blogger, Dave Kearney, and he asked if he could interview me over Skype. After some coordination (there is an 18 hour difference), we spent an hour chatting about my writing experiences; about my first novel, Fire of the Covenant; my 40 year dream of becoming an author and finally reaching it; along with more questions about my writing and my life.
Dave has posted the interview as a Podcast on his website. You can listen to the interview online at http://www.scenesandsequels.com/ss-podcast-episode-1-welcome-interview-peter-cruikshank/ or download from iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/scenes-sequels-podcast-for/id856047901.
He also wrote a review of my Fire of the Covenant that you can check out at http://www.scenesandsequels.com/book-review-fire-covenant-dragon-called-legend-book-1/
I enjoyed talking with Dave about my two favorite subjects: Me and my book. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did doing it. If you get a chance, please forward the link to friends and, if you are so inclined, leave a comment here. Thanks for taking the time to find out more about my life and my writing.
Posted on April 7, 2014
Every five or six weeks I take my turn, as one of the resident authors, over at Independent Bookworm website, and post to the website’s blog. Last Monday, the 31st, was my turn again, and I did a post called The Voice. Whenever a group of authors get together, almost inevitably the discussion eventually comes around to the Author’s Voice. Surprisingly, there are a lot of different interpretations of what voice even means. After the discussion ends, the one thing all can agree upon is, that no matter what you do, don’t lose your voice. And this is much harder than one would think.
There are a lot of temptations. Some authors try to fit their writing to match what is “currently selling” or let an editor change their voice, so they can pigeon-hole the author into a format the editor is comfortable with. Even family and close friends can be a threat to an author’s voice.
As important as this is, few people outside the industry even know the term. I really enjoyed doing this post and hope you will go over to the Independent Bookworm and read it. http://independentbookworm.com/2014/03/31/the-voice/
You can use your voice to leave a Comment either here or over at Independent Bookworm – as long as you leave one
Posted on March 31, 2014
It had to happen. I have received the baton from a fantastic blogger and writer friend of mine, Kirsten Boyd. She has nominated me to participate in the My Writing Process Blog Tour. Thanks Kirsten… I think? The idea is that I have to answer four questions about my writing, that lets me discuss my stories and how they came about. Since that happens to be my favorite topic, I didn’t think it would difficult at all – but it was harder than I thought, but I am glad I participated.
The only rules are that I have to talk about them on a Monday, and then tag three more writers, who will then talk about their stories on the following Monday.
So here we go. Below are the four questions, and my answers. I hope you enjoy them and would appreciate any comments.
1. What am I working on?
I have a couple of projects in the works at the moment, that I am writing simultaneously. Not sure who came up with the idea to do two books at once, but I am committed.
One project is Book Two of my Dragon-Called Legend (D-CL) series. Book Two is the follow on to Fire of the Covenant (FotC) and continues the story of the twins, Rowyn and Willoe, as they try to find a way to defeat the world dominating Shin-il Priest, while discovering what they can do to keep one of them from killing the other one. I anticipate Book Two to be nearly as big as FotC; which is an astounding 500 pages.
The second project started as a short story I wrote, then thought would make a good Young Adult (YA) novel. It is set in the same world as the D-CL series, but several hundred years in the future. The working title for this book is The Dragon Whisperer. It is about Rylan, who discovers his innate ability to communicate with dragons. He tries to save a rare green dragon, that is able to mind-bridge with Rylan, and also the dragon’s mistress. His efforts lead him to discover that he is a Haldis, High Guardian and Weapon of the White Goddess. In his quest to save the dragon’s mistress, he is joined by Elfs, a person familiar with the dragon’s mistress, and a strange little man with powers that leave Rylan stunned. This book will be shorter than the books in the D-CL series, probably closer to 300 pages. Depending how the book proceeds it may be the first book in a separate series.
My hope is to publish both books by October this year, the earlier the better. The Dragon-Called Legend series was designed for adults, but has been well received by teens as young as 14. On the other end, a spry 91 year old has fallen in love with the characters. Whereas, Fire of the Covenant was not targeted at Young Adults, even though it seems to do well with the YA reader, I am writing The Dragon Whisperer so it could be classified in the Young Adult category, but still be enjoyed by the same readers as those who would read Fire of the Covenant.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I feel comfortable in many different genres, in addition to Medieval Fantasy, whether it be Sci-Fi, Historical Fiction, or even Contemporary Fantasy. I have stories partially written for each of these genres to prove it (someday to be published). What all these stories have in common is strong character development and detailed action description, with a lot of dialogue. Unlike many writers, in the Medieval Fantasy genre, my world building isn’t designed to create a world that is exotic or strangely unique, but instead created so that my readers see the world as if it really exists, maybe sometime in the past. Part of this is that I go to extremes to ensure the world is different, but just enough off that people aren’t sure – this includes trying not to use any words that did not originate prior to the 15th Century. It is in the details that separate a good story from a great one.
3. Why do I write what I do?
I pour my heart and soul into my writing, trying to bring my own beliefs and personality into the stories. I want to find readers that find something in my voice that speaks to them. Throughout my life I found there were times I just needed to get away, but didn’t have the ability to step out of what I was in. I found that ability in the pages of fictional novels. Whether it was to take a break from a stressful situation, or just to unwind and rejuvenate, I want to give that same respite to others.
4. How does my writing process work?
I am what I call an organized Pantser. I get an idea for a book, a lot of different ways. I recently did a post on the Independent Bookworm website that talks about one of the ways I get new ideas http://independentbookworm.com/2014/02/17/how-tales-are-born/
Once I have an idea, then I dive into my Scrivener (writing software) and create a bunch of plot cards, what you might think of as outlining the story. If I anticipate the book will be around sixty chapters, then I will come up with plot cards for twenty to thirty of the chapters, spreading from start to anticipated finish. These are a guideline as some of these chapters might not even make it into the final book.
With a general idea of where the story is going to go, I start writing. I normally have a really good idea about the first half-dozen chapters, but then a lot of it is free-flowing after that. I know where the next point I want to hit, but between that and the last point, it can vary quite a bit.
Some authors have to find a nice quiet place, where they can’t be disturbed, to get their Muse to come out and play. My Muse, Willow, loves background noise. Normally I will have the TV on, my favorite is a golf tournament. I may not pay any attention to the TV, but occasionally I will lift my head to see what is happening, but quickly drop back into the story I am writing.
After I write the First Draft, I go through Revision and then work with my Editor to clean up the manuscript. After that it is off to Beta Readers, and after incorporating their feedback, then it goes through the process of being formatted to be published.
It sounds a lot simpler than it is, but that is pretty much my process.
Now to those authors I am nominating for My Writing Process Blog Tour.
Katharina Gerlach, who has been an inspiration to me and shared quite a bit of her vast experience as an Indie Author. She has a collection of over a dozen books, many in the Young Adult category.
Martha Gilstrap, the author of some great novels, such as Elegy and also A Sprig of Adventure.
William L. Hahn, a fellow member of The Independent Bookworm site and author of the Shards of Light series..
How about you? What is your writing process? What’s the weirdest inspiration you’ve ever had for a story?
Posted on March 11, 2014
I finally got through with my yard work and sat down at the computer to work on one of my novels, when a screech sounded behind me. I nearly jumped out of my desk chair, but turned it instead to see what was making such a horrific sound.
Willow filled the doorway, a scowl on her face, and she had something in her hand that I couldn’t see around the door jam. The arm, the one that stretched out into the hallway, jerked a couple of times.
“Stop moving or you’ll get more.” Willow stared into the hallway and yanked her arm and was rewarded with another screech.
“What is going on?” I really needed to get back to my writing if I was going to get my quota in for the day. Unfortunately, I had sat for the last thirty minutes just staring into the corner of the room, with an occasional peek at the computer display. I had three sentences, and none of it felt right. “I need to get back to my story.”
“Oh really.” She stared at me and yanked at whatever was outside the room, without even looking into the hallway. “How much have you written so far?”
“Well— ” I knew I couldn’t lie to her as she would find out anyways.
“Yeah, just like I thought. You want to know why you can’t write anything?” She glared at me, challenging me to tell her.
After a few moments, she nodded smugly. “This is why.” She stepped into the room and dragged in whatever was in the hallway. It turned out to be Rylan, the main character in my Dragon Whisperer novel. And she had him by the ear.
“What’s he doing here?” I stood up shocked that one of my characters was in my office. No wonder I can’t get him to talk in the scene.
She shoved him forward into the room, letting go of his ear. “Ask him yourself.” She walked past him and dropped into her well-worn leather chair.
Rylan stood there in his leather pants and linen shirt with a suede dublet over it. His hair was pulled back in a ponytail; medium length, dark-brown and curly, with a blond streak on the right side, that was set off by bright green eyes. He rubbed his right year and grimaced.
He turned to look at me and smiled, though it was a weak one.
I just stared and waited for an answer. It struck me that the chapter I was trying to write, started off with Rylan complaining to Emerald. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going anywhere. Rylan was whining to Emerald, and she had just made a glib retort, but then I couldn’t figure out what Rylan did next.
“You know the scene you are working on?” Rylan said hesitantly.
I nodded. Of course, I know the scene. I’m the one writing it!
“What was the last thing you wrote?” He stood, feet apart, and his tone had become tight.
I didn’t need to look at the computer as I had been staring at it off-and-on for the last half-an-hour. “You had just complained to Emerald, and she put you in your place.” I had to grin as I thought of her quip.
“That’s exactly it.” He stepped forward and put his hands on the arms of the desk chair, leaned down so his face filled my entire view. “Why am I such an idiot?”
I was stunned. I had no idea what he meant.
He stood and walked across the room, then turned and came halfway back. “I am always complaining. That’s not me.” He rubbed his chin as he turned to face the door and then turned back again. “I don’t whine.”
“Sounds like it to me,” The scorn in her tone left no doubt how she felt.
Rylan glared at her and then back to me. “Everyone complains from time to time, but this is ridiculous. Why does Emerald always get the great lines, and I have to play the straight man?”
“Well, you are a man and Emerald is a dragon.” Willow chuckled.
“Stop Willow.” I chided her. “I need to find out what is going on.” I turned back to Rylan. “Go on.”
“Emerald knows everything and I appear to know nothing.”
I could see he was really upset, but now I understood why. “That is the crux of the story. You don’t know you are Haldis, and Emerald is the only one who can train you. Of course, she is frustrated with you. She expected you to know everything, and… ”
“She thinks I am an idiot.” He sat on the arm of the leather chair, and Willow scooted over as if he had cooties.
I nodded. “Yupper.”
His head drooped for a moment, then he lifted it and his sad eyes looked at me. “There’s nothing you can do about it, is there?”
I shook my head. “If it helps, you will become really powerful and a real hero.”
“Does Emerald ever quit belittling me?”
“I can’t tell you that yet. There is a lot of the book still to write.”
He nodded and stood. A sigh escaped his lips, and he walked to the door. He stopped and turned to look over his shoulder. “If you can get her to leave me alone, I would really appreciate it.”
“I’ll try.” I shrugged my shoulders.
He nodded again and disappeared into the hallway.
As soon as he was gone, I got an idea for how the scene would play out. I spun my chair and started typing.
“Better?” I had nearly forgotten Willow was still in the room.
“Much better.” I kept typing as the scene unfolded in my mind. “I’ve already written Rylan’s response and had Emerald snort in derision at it.” I tried not to laugh as I didn’t want to hurt Rylan’s feelings. I need to concentrate on this, and maybe I can still reach my quota for the day.
“You should change his hair and give him a bob.” She laughed.
I gave her a dirty look, but deep down I was chuckling again. Then a thought struck me, I wondered…
Posted on February 24, 2014
You would think that once I had published my first book, I would have complete confidence as I started the next book in the series. Well, wrong. It is true that I am more confident, but as an author friend of mine (Kirsten) termed it, the Ugly Voice, is still there telling me that I am not good enough.
I can hear Ugly Voice’s disparaging tone, “Sure you wrote one book, but that was a fluke. And even if you manage to finish writing another, you know it won’t be as good as the first.”
Even when people tell me how much they loved the first book in the series, and can’t wait for the second book, Ugly Voice is there whispering, “It’s a shame they are going to be so disappointed.”
I have tried to ignore Ugly Voice, but it is difficult to block the constant barrage of negativity. It drains so much of my energy that sometimes it is hard to write. It was so bad that for over a month I kept finding other things to do than face starting the next book. Ugly Voice is very powerful and when I took its snide remarks to heart, it grew and became more dominant.
Near the end of January, I sat at my desk and looked across the room at Ugly Voice. It was hunched over with its back pressing against the ceiling. Ugly Voice is pretty hairy with a big head and even bigger nose. Reminds me of a creature I read about in a story once.
With the encouragement and support of my family and friends, I battled with Ugly Voice and managed to keep it in the corner, but it still called across the room, “Why are you wasting your time? You Should be out enjoying life rather than wasting your life away on something that won’t see the light of day.”
Over the next month, my emotions rolled like a stormy sea. One day enjoying my writing time, another day thinking that I will be spending most of this coming year working very hard on a book – and what if it was truly a waste of time?
Recently, another author friend (Eileen) came up with a great suggestion.
Find a wee matchbox. Line it with soft cotton wool and shrink UGLY VOICE down into the size of a pea, and tuck it in the box to sleep. Then rock it sweetly until it dozes and stick a great hulking padlock on the box and never let it out again!
I tried doing this, but I couldn’t quite convince Ugly Voice to get into the matchbox. Ugly Voice looked at the soft cotton wool and only snorted. When that didn’t work, I thought maybe the problem was that I just can’t get rid of all my doubts – at least not yet.
However, even if I couldn’t silence Ugly Voice altogether, maybe I could dampen it enough so it would not paralyze me. I coated the inside of an empty coffee can with self-doubt. It was like scooping up a handful of lard and smearing it along the insides and bottom of the can. Ugly Voice put its nose over the can and sniffed, but kept one eye on me the whole time. I turned my head as if I didn’t know what Ugly Voice was doing, but I watched out of the corner of my eye. Sticking a finger in, Ugly Voice tasted the self-doubt and smiled, an ugly, twisted smile. Then Ugly Voice stuck its head in and started to wiggle its body as it tried to push down to lick the bottom. Its body became smaller and smaller as it twisted and turned to get into the can.
Finally, when the only thing visible was Ugly Voice’s ugly butt, I quickly turned around and slammed a lid on the coffee can. The can shook from side-to-side as Ugly Voice realized that it had been tricked. I put a rock on top of the lid and stuck the can inside my desk.
I can still hear a muffled sound now-and-then coming from inside the desk, but it only distracts me for a moment or two. I no longer become incapacitated thinking about how long it will take me write the next book, and if it will be good enough or not. Now, I just focus on what I am writing that day and make it the best First Draft I can, realizing that Revision lies over the horizon to make it better.
As I look at the coffee can, that still rattles occasionally, I wonder if others have an Ugly Voice? Whether you are a writer, an artist, into sports, at work, with your family, or wherever you face self-doubt, have you encountered Ugly Voice?
Posted on February 10, 2014
If you saw my e-mail last Monday you know that the below post went out early and my blog post on IndependentBookworm.com was not available. Well, IT’S AVAILABLE NOW. Please go check it out and see How Tales are Born — at least the way I do it.
The reason I have posted the blog over at this other website is that I had recently been invited, and have since joined, a group of published authors on a website called the Independent Bookworm (IndependentBookworm.com/). I will continue to post on my Personal Blog (PeterCruikshank.com) on a regular basis, but I will also post an occasional blog on the Independent Bookworm site (maybe every six or eight weeks). I just wanted to ensure Readers, of my personal blog, that I have not deserted you. Please think of the posts that I put up on the Independent Bookworm as bonus blog posts. Though you might also enjoy some of the other authors posts on that website. There are a lot of interviews, with authors outside the group, along with some interesting articles for the site’s readers.
To paraphrase from the site’s About Us:
The Independent Bookworm is a loose group of independent authors. The authors focus is on Fantasy (all sub-genres), Science fiction and stories with history (historicals, historical novels, contemporary stories with historical elements, with or without romance). Each author publishes his/her stories independently from the others but when it comes to the iffy bits (like creating the cover, proof-reading, blogging, advertising) we stick together.
The aim of the Independent Bookworm is to produce quality books for all those interested in the genres regardless of age, gender or any other distinguishing feature (like tattoos, braces, color of skin, or educational background).
Posted on February 5, 2014
I recently saw an Apple commercial that reminded me of one of my favorite movies. As I watched the commercial, it made me think about why Writers write. This isn’t the first time I have thought about this question, but it was the first time I actually sat back and let my mind focus on it.
We don’t write because it is easy. Taking a year or two, or even longer, throwing all your energy into something that may never see the light of day, is not something one takes on lightly. I know writers that have invested over a dozen years, almost daily, pouring their heart out, and only have a drawer full of unpublished manuscripts to show for their efforts.
So why? Why go through all this effort?
Many writers will tell you that they have a story inside them that has to come out. There is something that they are passionate about, and if they don’t share it, even just writing it down for themselves and their family, they will explode.
Passion is a strong motivator. As I considered the role of passion in writing; I stumbled across a quote from Joss Whedon, the well-known author & screenwriter, film & television producer, and director of fantasy/science fiction:
“Passion, it lies in all of us, sleeping… waiting… and though unwanted… unbidden… it will stir… open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us… guides us… passion rules us all, and we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love… the clarity of hatred… and the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion maybe we’d know some kind of peace… but we would be hollow… Empty rooms shuttered and dank. Without passion we’d be truly dead.”
I think the simple answer is that we are human, and humans have passion. Writing is one means for us to share that passion. As a famous poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed what passion does for all those that write:
“It is a fact often observed that men have written good verses under the inspiration of passion, who cannot write well under other circumstances.”
We write because we have such passion that we have to write. Too simple an answer? Maybe, but that does not take away from the truth of the statement.
Back to the Apple commercial. Below is the commercial itself.
If you want to see the original clip, from the movie, that Apple used for their commercial, here it is:
Oh me, Oh life of these questions of these recurring.
Of the endless trains of the faithless.
Of cities filled with the foolish.
What good amid these,
O me, O life?
That you are here.
That life exists and identity.
That the powerful play goes on,
and you may contribute a verse.
What will your verse be?
My verse will be love of family and friends. My verse will be a fervent heart and a kind word. My verse will be a collection of stories – a gift of worlds to get lost in, just like the ones left by those authors that came before me.
So I have to ask you – What will your verse be?
Posted on January 29, 2014
The title of this post is a quote from Epictetus, a Greek sage (AD 55–135). I figured he was pretty wise – it took a lot of street smarts to live 80 years back then. Especially when he was a slave. So taking his advice on writing seems like a good move.
Another of my favorite quotes comes from a more recent writer, Ernest Hemingway. If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.
Both of these quotes are pertinent to my life, and this blog post in particular, because lately I had been thinking I wrote a book, I wrote a book. OMG, I have to write another book!
I spent the month of December and most of January relishing the fact that I finished my book, it is published, and I am actually selling copies.
“So why are you so glum?” Willoe entered and leaned on the back of my chair, looking over my shoulder.
Glum I thought. Was I really glum? Then I realized I was. “I guess I am a little blue.”
“Blue.” She turned me around and peered into my eyes. “Melancholy is more like it.” She stepped back and dropped into her worn leather chair. “You’ve been moping around for weeks.”
“Yeah.” I could feel the depth of my frown as I pushed back into my chair and looked down at my lap as I twiddled my thumbs. I knew she was right, but had been afraid to admit it.
“I have had a lot of fun with my book release.” I lifted my eyes just enough so I could see the sharp edged shape of her nose and her bright eyes.
“As well you should.” Her eyebrows knitted and I could understand her confusion. “You should feel proud what you have done.”
“Well, it is more than just being a little proud. My ego has been in overdrive and it has been a blast.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“I have to write another book.” I was taken back by how loud the sigh was that escaped my lips.
She didn’t speak, but the tilted head asked the question just as well.
“I have been coming up with every excuse I can, why I can’t find time to write. I think the problem isn’t that I can’t find time, I think the real problem is that the first book was so big, coming up with a book just as big, or nearly so, is such a daunting task. “ The sighs just wouldn’t stop. “So daunting I can’t seem to get started.”
Her lips twisted and she stared at the ceiling, a sign she was mulling over something. Then her eyes dropped back down and centered on me. “What was the most fun you had when you were writing Fire of the Covenant?”
“Well not Revision or Editing.” I grinned
“You won’t get an argument from me.” She smiled back. “But seriously, what engaged you more than anything else?”
Lately, I had been focused on all the hard things that I went through with the first book and not what had I enjoyed about it. But when she asked, the answer came easily. “Sitting down and telling a story. Having a general idea of where I want to go with the story and just writing it. Not focused on a specific goals, just telling the story.”
“Then you should do that.” She shook her head slightly like it was a no-brainer.
“That’s how I ended up with such a big book the first time.”
“It will take forever.”
“I have a lot of other things I have to do.”
“What if it isn’t as good as Fire of the Covenant?” I blurted.
Her eyes narrowed. “Seriously?”
I opened my mouth to give another excuse, but there wasn’t anything I could say. It struck me that the only thing getting in the way of my writing… was me.
She let me sit for a few moments then asked, “What are you going to do now?”
“Tomorrow I am going to get back to writing the next book.” I smiled.
“What if the book is even bigger than Fire of the Covenant or if it takes you a long time to finish it?” She leaned forward saying the words slowly.
“It doesn’t make any difference. The story needs to come out and I need to tell it.” I felt like I had been hauling around a eighty pound backpack and just put it down.
She put a hand on my knee and with a self-satisfied smile told me, “We will tell it and it will be just as good as, if not better than, Fire of the Covenant.”
So if I don’t return an e-mail right away, or I don’t answer my phone, or if you see me and I look like I am daydreaming (well that is normally how I look), don’t be offended or worry about me. I am just writing my next book or thinking about it.
What are you keeping yourself from doing? Something that you know, deep in your heart, you can do, but something else, in your own mind, is throwing up roadblocks.