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Posts from the ‘WRITING: ART’ Category

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For me anyway, books have distinct phases. The ‘what a great idea I am plunging into’ phase, to the ‘this is hard complex yakka phase’, creating the details and shape of a whole world, picking the variables that will determine your character’s path. This where you find the character and plot have had a less-than-amicable divorce, are shit-talking about each other, and will do the exact opposite of the other wanted, out of spite. It’s the hardest part of the book for me, except for some of the other parts…

Like the next part, where the book is starting to run on rails again… and I ALWAYS re-read and think and wonder… why the reader should bother, and why I as the writer should bother going on.  Yeah, doubt and depression win against the earlier uncertainty, every time, easily. Now, I have written enough books to know that this too, will pass.

It’s like the sign just outside our great metropolis of Whitemark, which says ‘pass cyclists safely’ without giving you a clue how to do this. I mean, if you swallow them with their bicycles, those have lots of spiky stick-out bits, and if you swallow them without the bicycles, the bicycles make a tripping hazard. The answer is to wrap them – and their bicycles in duct tape first. And then lubricate them well to help them pass easily.  Olive oil is better than sunscreen.

Or in other words, there is no obvious easy way of going through this phase: because it, as often as not, it is you that needs fixing, not the book.  This is often where we turn to first readers and ask them what they think. When we have finished the book, we want them to be nasty and try to find the mistakes. At this stage we want them to say ‘take my money’  (Seriously, if helping a friend at this stage, this is not hard edit time.).

So: from the WIP (unedited, raw, hot off the fingers.)

 We had to run to keep up.  The wolf stopped just as I was about to drop. I stood there, hands on my knees, panting. Bey was panting too, but he, like the wolf, was turning his head to listen.  And he looked deathly afraid.  Then I heard it, and I was afraid too.

It was a giggle.

How a giggle could sound quite so nasty, quite so evil… and quite so… gleeful was a shock. But it did. And then off to the side, was another. And then, another, from the other side.

“What is it?” I asked, looking around the snowy forest-land we found ourselves in.

“Nithings.” The word was almost a hiss from Bey. He plainly hated and feared whatever they were.

“What are ‘nithings’?” I asked, not sure I wanted the answer.

“Illska hlátr. The cruel laughter. The children of the hag of Niflheim.  They take glee in torture and find sport in tormenting those they catch. That’s who Uncle Luke rescued me from, after the Jotunar killed my parents.”

“What do we do?”

“Run. They wouldn’t be chasing us if there weren’t hundreds of them.”

“I don’t know if I can run much further.”

“You just have to try, Liss. We can’t stop,” said Bey pulling me upright. His voice, his manner… I remembered that, when he first came to stay with grandfather. Bey was on the edge of panic, just holding it in. Only just.  So I tried running again. Got a bit of a second wind, or maybe it wasn’t as steep uphill. The snow up wasn’t deep, just a nasty, slippery crust. It had got a little lighter, possibly because we were mostly out of the forest, onto a rocky ridge.  But the whatchamacallits were definitely gaining on us.  I saw one for the first time, through the trees just down-slope.

I wasn’t prepared for that.

It looked like… a bunny.

And then there was another. It was a cute little baby-face.

There was something wrong with it… with both of them. Babies and bunnies didn’t move like that, though.

And they didn’t laugh like that either.

We’d come to a steepish piece of rock. The wolf bunched itself and leaped, taking it in two bounds and few bits of rock, falling down on us. Fortunately nothing large, but I flung the first chunk as hard as I could at the chasers. Hit one. It even sounded like a baby, yowling about it. “Climb,” said Bey.

So I did. Both of us did. Looking at the milling pack of things below us they… had more legs than a baby. Or a cute bunny. I said as much to Bey.

“They sew the skins to themselves. They like the small and soft. They skin them alive, and then sew them to their own skin.  Angbroda’s seidr keeps the skins looking alive. You’re supposed to feel sorry for them. To spare them, to hold back… and then they kill you. They use pity and goodness as a weapon against men.”

 Image by Monfocus from Pixabay

Kaleidoscope of Chaos

I remember playing with kaleidoscopes as a kid. There were more than one kind, but they all operate off the same basic principle of three mirrors in a tube that reflected what was at the end of the tube into fascinating fractalline shapes. One kind had little plastic shards that when you turned the tube, fell into new patterns. This one wasn’t as cool as the other, that had a clear glass marble at the end and whatever you pointed it at made up the pattern. The world became art, with that kaleidoscope. Read more

Ideas and the story

I’ve just seen the cover-roughs for SHAMAN OF KARRES, and it looks good. It was always going to be hard to impossible to follow in the direct footsteps of James H Schmitz with these books. I made an effort but I’m not pretending I succeeded. Still, the appeal of old-fashioned space opera seems to go very much wider than the fans of James Schmitz. We seem to have added a whole new generation of younger fans, who are now reading the original books. And the point is: if not me, then someone else.  They might have done far better… or far worse. But, essentially, me is what the readers got. Read more

Small Worlds: Writing Them

A commentor here observed that the Merchant and Empire books are set in a small world. It’s an interesting observation, and one that deserves some thought, because a lot of fantasy and sci-fi books seem to sprawl. They cover an epic-worth of territory, sometimes by design, sometimes just because it seems traditional.

But not all stories need sprawling worlds. Some books, even novels or series, fit better in a small space, a human or other person sized space. Which is sometimes difficult to do.

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Maslow and Conan

When I started thinking about writing this post I was torn between two topics: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and Conan the Barbarian not-the-story-but-the-movie. I’m not going to try and analyze the latter based off the former, as tempting as the ridiculousness of that is. I’m not, because I haven’t finished the movie. I was watching it as homework for a short I should be writing. I actually bought a DVD player (we had never needed one before as we don’t really consume film type media), and my dear First Reader and I cuddled on the couch (also a first, we tend to abandon the living room to the teens who take up every available square inch of flat space) and we turned on the flick. We expected cheesy, corny, all the tropes of B movies. What we didn’t expect was that about half-way through (Conan and his sidekick are about to find the temple of the two-headed snake) we’d get bored, really bored, and wander off to do something else. We’ll come back to it. It’s homework for me, after all. It’s just that, on that hierarchy of needs, it’s not even on the scale. Read more

What’s in a Name?

Most weeks I don’t have a lot of time to read. At least, that’s been the case recently. Work, life, writing. The writing is a very good thing. Ok, all of it is good. Reading has been ranking way down there, I’m afraid. I’ve fit in a fair amount of research reading, and one pleasure read (I do love our own Alma Boykin’s Familiar tales!). What I have also been doing, to give my brain crunchy little granola nibbles while my hands are busy at work, is listening to podcasts. I know they aren’t for everyone – especially not my peculiar blend, I suspect – but there are times something really catches my mind and gets it going. Read more

The Uncertainty Of Creation

You should know, before you start reading the words that come after this, that before I started writing them I sat here staring at the blinking cursor on the pristine screen for far too long. I often approach Mad Genius like this. ‘Who am I,’ I ask myself silently, ‘to offer any advice whatsoever on writing? I still don’t know what I’m doing, much less how well I’m doing it.’ But here I am, and I am determined to honor the privilege of my position because… Because I was given so much help when I first started. And now I’m here, a little way in on the journey, able to reach behind me to give some encouragement to those still staring at their blank screens.  Read more