Friday, February 26, 2010

Suckiness

I'm home sick from both works today, and I've thus far spent the entire time at the computer working on editing CALLARION  AT NIGHT and surfing the interwebz for entertaining goodness.

So it's not a complete loss, truth be told. As of now I feel better than I did at 4 this morning when I woke to head to the office, so I should be good by tomorrow.

A day sick but still well enough to work on the novel? I call that at least a partial win.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Revision Mania

I've made no secret of that fact that I'm in the midst of revisions on CALLARION AT NIGHT. From December 31, when I said the core of the story was "done," I've easily rewritten or added a net amount of pages between 50 and 100.

Yeah, the core of the story is not "done." In fact, after my wonderful amazing fantastic betas read it, I discovered that the core of the story was nowhere near "done." I've easily set off on more research in the past two months than during the eight months it took me to complete the first draft. Language and psychology have been the big time sucks during revisions thus far (thanks to Amalia for letting me pick her brain about Old Norse words). My friends Alice and Casey are helping a lot on the psychology front, as is the brilliant one know 'round these parts as fairyhedgehog.

Suffice to say, I'm moving right along through this revision thing. It takes me roughly two to three days to go through a chapter, so I'm estimating (read:praying) to be done with this third (I think) round of edits sometime in March or April. I should precede the previous by saying I expect the edits on the first ten chapters to be done by then. I've split the thing into chunks to save my sanity. Also because the middle is going to require massive rewrites based on what I do with these first ten chapters, so I'd rather get this beginning ironed out before moving on. I might actually hit my August goal to start querying. Who knows?

*crosses fingers.*

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Truly Manly Blog Award

Susan Quinn of Ink Spells fame gifted me with a blog award yesterday. Yes, the left hand column of this thing is starting to get crowded with all the confabulations people are bestowing. Truth be told I'm rather pleased that everyone enjoys my ramblings enough to gift me with so many honors. This one's hysterical simply because of what it is though.

How can you not be amused when someone took the time to pose X-Men action figures, take a photo, and add speech bubbles to them? I especially enjoy Beast's thought process there.

Full disclosure: The X-Men cartoon from the early '90s was one of my favorite shows to watch when I was younger. Well, that and Spider-Man. Really all the Marvel cartoons of the early 1990s.

Here we go with the Rules:

Tell a couple of things about yourself, the name of your favorite guy book, your favorite sports moment, favorite MANLY MAN movie, favorite manly music, and your Favorite Food With No Nutritional Value.

1. I can change my car's oil, install a car radiator, and change a flat tire speedy quick. Sheer laziness and lack of facilities is what keeps me from doing my own oil changes all the time.
2. If you give me the tools and reasonably clear instructions I can build pretty much anything.
3. Favorite Food with No Nutritional Value: Boston Creme doughnuts
4. Favorite MANLY MAN movie: Rocky. Definitely Rocky. It's total 100% cheese-tastic, but that's what makes it awesome.
5. Favorite Guy Book: Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King


I suppose, as per the rules, I'm supposed to nominate fellow Manly Man bloggers for this award.

So here goes:

1. Adam Heine of Author's Echo. He's my brother in steampunk, fantasy geekery, and is generally an all-around cool guy to chat writing with. His MS, Air Pirates, is in the query stages right now, and I'm confident he'll get at least a few bites off it.

2. Iapetus999 of The WriteRunner. Andrew is also a member of the steampunk family, does very detailed posts on story development, and also has taken the time to offer his (very) worthwhile commentary on the CALLARION AT NIGHT snippets posted here. Steam Palace, his WIP, paints a very interesting picture of what the United States might have looked like if history ran a different course.

3. Last, but certainly not least, is Gary Corby from A dead man fell from the sky. Gary is a consummate wordsmith and highly educated in technology and all things Ancient Greece. He's also graciously allowed us a window into what a debut author goes through (The Pericles Commission comes out on October 12, 2010. Buy it!).

These three gentlemen have all helped me improve my writing in various ways besides being all-around cool guys to bandy ideas back and forth with. Bask in the award goodness, guys. You've earned it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Edits and Other Insanity

Today's been quite busy, oh loyal blog readers. Between work, a brief critique for Julie Cross from Diary of an Unpublished Wannabe Writer, and incorporating edits that will result in Major Edit Three of CALLARION AT NIGHT, my brainpower is pretty much all sapped.

So yeah ... no actual blog post today, but I wanted to share some of my rewritten work. The following scene takes place in Chapter One, when Moriah notices men from the northern kingdom of Edom on the steamer deck below her (the "dark thoughts" will be expanded on later):


Moriah shook her head to stop the dark thoughts from coming, and saw six tall, fair-haired men, probably from Edom, at the back of the crowd around the priest. The men wore longcoats lined with thick furs and remained silent when the other humans cheered the Brother on. Moriah frowned. The Edomi didn’t leave their northern kingdom if they could help it. Especially not since the civil war that left their capital city in ruins.


A blonde Edomi tapped a white-haired comrade on the shoulder, and pointed to Moriah when the other man turned. The white-haired man scowled. Moriah gave a little wave. A show of possible friendship was never out of place. Even if she had played a part in ruining their capital. The blonde Edomi walked away from his fellows after a brief conversation. Moriah dropped her hand to her gun. Half a minute later, the blonde Edomi stood at the railing beside her.


“Kvedja, Moriah Rowani,” the Edomi said. “We did not expect to see you here.” His full beard covered a face that had seen many years of fighting. Perhaps during the mercenary work the northerners loved to hire themselves out for.


“Greetings to you as well, drengr warrior,” Moriah said. “I am returning home. What is the purpose for your trip?”


“Our business is our own.” The mercenary looked at her with one bushy eyebrow raised. Like he was daring her to press further. The men of Edom loved to trap people with their own words. She hadn’t been taken in with that trick for years.



“Has San Jacobo been rebuilt yet?”


“The virki lies in ruins after you and your eidbondi destroyed it. It remains as such to remind us what happens when foreigners intervene in things that do not concern them.”


“No man has claim over me.” Moriah surprised herself by keeping her voice level. “Least of all Nicolai Drovgor.”


“We understand.” The Edomi looked at his comrades, nodded, and then turned to her. “I must return to my countrymen. May the Njordr smile on you, Moriah Rowani.”


“And may Donani always protect you from Appolyon’s ill will, drengr.” Moriah bowed her head and pounded her chest in the traditional Edomi farewell. The bearded man smiled and repeated the gesture. Other passengers gave the lanky man a wide berth when he walked away. The well-known reputation of Edomi fighters to kill men for looking at them wrong kept them back.

Let me know what you think of this, loyal readers. I'm moving right along on those rewrites. Hopefully this thing will be ready to send out for another round in about a month or so (if work and life cooperate that is).

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ignoring Style Guides

I've worked as a copy editor for more than three years now, but have been editing other people's writing (and my own) for more than a decade. I'm counting friends, friends of friends, and random schoolmates asking me to read over their passages as well. Friends who are in college will still, off and on, ask for my editing help even now.

All of this is background to the following statement: I hate style guides.

To be more specific, I hate the differences between them. The Chicago Manual of Style is followed, as I understand it, by the publishing industry at large and several major publications; the Associated Press Style Guide is the Bible for practically every major media outlet in existence; the American Medical Association Style Guide is the standard for medical writers ... you get the picture.

It seems that wherever there's writers, there's a style guide telling them what standards to follow. The fun (not really) bit comes when a writer tries to go across style guides in their writing life. An example: My background is journalism. As a result of this, I've had the AP Style Guide drilled into my skull ever since I took my first journalism class in college. That's essentially seven years following the Associated Press's grammar rules for writing. And also seven years writing mostly fact-based writing. This comes through in my fiction, as you'll note Iapetus999 picked up on in the last sample I posted from CALLARION AT NIGHT. I also mentioned that as a weakness in the next day's post.

My master's degree is in technical communication, for which I had to learn not one, but two style guides during the course of. The first was the AMA Style Guide and the second was Microsoft's Technical Writing style guide. By this point, I'd already added The Elements of Style to my internal style guide repertoire. You can imagine that the rules of grammar are getting very clogged up in my head by now. So what, you may ask, do I do in order to keep everything straight? Well that's easy.

I ignore around 80% of all style "rules."

My aim is to write in a way that's pleasing to the ear. If that means ending a sentence on a preposition, so be it. If that means splitting an infinitive, then I'm going to do it. If, by some stretch of the imagination, it means writing an entire page in sentence fragments? You can bet your butt I'm going to go that route. Does this mean I don't use style guides at all? Of course I use them ... all I do is take the things that work for me and leave the rest.

A novel is like a symphony, and you're the composer. Some of the best composers know the rules well enough to break them. The same goes for writers. I know the grammar rules I ignore, but I ignore them because writing a good novel cannot be done (in my opinion) with a slavish devotion to rules. The rhythm of storytelling doesn't allow for rules. It allows for transcendent talespinning that stands the test of time because you the writer are tapping into the universal music behind the words.

And that, my friends, is the most important part. Tap into that rhythm in your story, accept the cadence of the words in your ear, and you will write something beautiful.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Favorite Historical Programs

On Monday, Stephanie Thornton asked about my favorite historical movie or TV show. The favorite historical TV show bit is easy -- Ancient Discoveries on the History Channel. It's where I first found out about the Antikythera Mechanism, Galen's medical genius, and Hero of Alexandria and his steam engine skills.

As to the movie portion of things, my favorites are Braveheart and The Patriot (no, I'm not a huge Mel Gibson fan thankyouverymuch). Random side note: Have you noticed that, in many movies where Mel Gibson is the lead, his character's wife is either already dead or dies in the course of the film? In action movies specifically.

There are other historical movies I liked -- Kingdom of Heaven, Lawrence of Arabia, and Elizabeth to name a few -- but those two mentioned above are probably tops for me. Braveheart hits the right notes for action and grandeur (even if the most famous line is "They can take our lives, but they can never take our freedom"*), and The Patriot is just cool.

And that completes my Q&A for this week. I might do another one next month, but we'll see what happens.

* Terry Pratchett satirized this line in Night Watch. The scene:
Reg had stood up, was waving the flag back and forth, was clambering over the barricade ... 


He held the flag like a banner of defiance. 

"You can take our lives but you'll never take our freedom!" he screamed. 

Carcer's men looked at one another, puzzled by what sounded like the most badly thought-out war cry in the history of the universe. Vimes could see their lips moving as they tried to work it out. 

Carcer raised his bow, gestured to his men, and said: "Wrong!" 

Reg was hit by five heavy bolts, so that he did a little dance before falling to his knees. It happened within seconds.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Condense Your Cast of Characters

Tomorrow I'll answer Stephanie's question from Monday's post, but I got another idea for today's post and I wanted to touch on that.

There are several bits of prominent writing advice floating around the internet -- "show, don't tell," "eliminate unneeded prepositional phrases," "AVOID ADVERBS," "condense your cast of characters" ...

Wait, what?

Your "cast" is the number of named characters in your book, i.e. Steve the bartender counts, but the third spearcarrier from the left does not. Your main character, your villain, and every other character important enough to be given a name should be counted in your cast.

Sometimes, we write characters as a need for a different person comes up. In CALLARION AT NIGHT, I name four of the soldiers in the Lord Premier's Gendarmes (points if you guess where I stole the organization from) -- one is the Premier's nephew, one appears three times, and two are only in one scene (the scene from Chapter Two that I've posted here).

Now, these four soldiers all serve different purposes in the narrative. However, and I might actually do this, the two soldiers that are named in only one scene could easily be replaced by any of the other soldier/villain-allied characters without much of a difference in the narrative. This is what I mean by condensing your characters. If there is a way to take Steve the bartender and Jackie the waitress and make them the same person in the text (named Stevckie -- not really), then you end up with a stronger side character. The purposes of the two characters haven't changed, mind you. What you've instead done is heightened Steve's (or Jackie's) purpose to make it more poignant.

This doesn't mean that having one-off characters is a bad thing, though. Sometimes you need them because of a location change/time change/whatever. In that case, by all means keep Steve the bartender and Jackie the waitress as two separate people in bars on different sides of the city. But if you can rewrite to shrink the cast by any stretch of the imagination, it has the real potential to simplify both your life as the writer and your story as a whole.

And how can that be a bad thing?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On Video Games and the Eternal Question

On Monday, Adam Heine asked me several video game questions. As video games are mentioned in my blog header, I am of course obliged to answer them.

Favorite RPG?

As it stands right now, the title for my favorite role-playing video game of all time has to go to Final Fantasy IX. The reason for this is several-fold. 1) I think the interaction between Zidane, the main male character, and Garnet, the main female character, is absolutely hysterical. Their dance toward romance reminds me of the byplay between Moriah and Nicolai. 2) The visuals in this final iteration of FF on the PSOne are just fantastic. I particularly love the scene at the end when thousands of silver dragons fly toward the hero's airship. You think the dragons are going to kill them all, but then every fecking airship in existence swoops in to save the day. 3) Zidane entertains me.

Memorable video game moment?

The ending sequence of Dragon Age:Origins. Awesome visual of a magical explosion of power. And it has some cool heroics to boot.

Mario or Luigi?

Luigi all the way. The poor guy doesn't get all the love he should. Especially when his shorter brother is the only one getting the girl.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Coming Up With Ideas -- Answers Day One

Seeing as Donna, Adam, and Stephanie were kind enough to ask questions on yesterday's post, I figured I'd devote an entire post to each of their questions. Because I'm nice like that. Yeah, that's the reason.

Anyway, I'll go in the order of being asked, since that seems to be the fairest way to go about this whole process. That means Donna's inquiry is up first ... since she was, you know, first.

Coming Up With an Idea


The beginnings of what would eventually become CALLARION AT NIGHT can be traced to the fall semester of 2005. I was driving to college one morning -- 45 minutes one way from my parents' apartment to campus -- when the phrase "God, satyrs are annoying" popped into my head at random. I spent the next several weeks coming up with why the speaker thought satyrs were annoying, and eventually wrote the short story "Moriah, Child of the Rowan."

Moriah didn't have a last name in that story, but she was already a tracker and a half-nymph at that point. The character of Cynthia Bluecallow was originally a human blacksmith named Alice, and Nicolai's original name was Jacob (he was really, really smarmy in that incarnation). The hatred of half-nymphs and half-satyrs was well in place in that story, though the society wasn't nearly as closed as the current version.

Another major difference between that story and the current one is that Dahliah (Moriah's mom) had left the city to become Chief Archon of the Woodland, instead of the reason she gives in the current novel. Her name also wasn't Dahliah in that version. The original name escapes me though.

After I finished the umpteenth rewrite of SON OF MAGIC in April 2009, I decided I wanted to leap right back into another story to give myself time to decompress from writing that one. Thus, CALLARION AT NIGHT was born. I started writing it as a traditional fantasy, but quickly decided to make it a steampunk instead. And thus I found the perfect science fiction/fantasy subgenre for me to write in.

The rest, as people are wont to say, is history.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Opening the Floor for Questions

It's that time again, loyal blogreaders. The one where you are free to ask me whatever you wish about writing, video games, steampunk, or anything else really, and I'll answer your question as best I can in a post.

You'll recall that Julie's comment on the open post I had awhile back was the spark that began the Romance From the Guy's Perpsective Series. If the topic's particularly rich, it could happen again, my friends.

Anywho ... leave your questions in the comments and I'll pick which ones to answer as the week goes on.

Oh, and if you didn't see it over in the sidebar -- I officially succumbed to Twittery. Feel free to follow me there too.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Steampunk and Automatons

Back in my post about cyborgs in steampunk, I mentioned that the Ancient Greeks had automatons. This is borne out by the historical record: Philo of Byzantium (3rd Century BCE) crafted an automaton maid that would pour water or wine when a cup was placed in its left hand.

The very word, automaton, is derived from the Greek word automatos -- "acting of one's own will." And, as so many cool advances that occurred in Greece during the time of the great inventors, the automatons were considered toys, religious tools to impress worshipers, or even as ways to demonstrate general scientific principles. Hero of Alexandria (who gets more press on this blog than any other inventor besides da Vinci) created siphons, a fire engine, and a programmable cart among other things as examples of his automaton skills.

There's a stanza from Pindar's Seventh Olympic Ode that refers to the island of Rhodes, well known for its proliferation of automatons:

The animated figures stand
Adorning every public street
And seem to breathe in stone, or
move their marble feet.

The Ancient Chinese also had automatons, as evidenced by this excerpt from Lie Ze:

"The king stared at the figure in astonishment. It walked with rapid strides, moving its head up and down, so that anyone would have taken it for a live human being. The artificer touched its chin, and it began singing, perfectly in tune. He touched its hand, and it began posturing, keeping perfect time...As the performance was drawing to an end, the robot winked its eye and made advances to the ladies in attendance, whereupon the king became incensed and would have had Yen Shih [Yan Shi] executed on the spot had not the latter, in mortal fear, instantly taken the robot to pieces to let him see what it really was. And, indeed, it turned out to be only a construction of leather, wood, glue and lacquer, variously coloured white, black, red and blue. Examining it closely, the king found all the internal organs complete—liver, gall, heart, lungs, spleen, kidneys, stomach and intestines; and over these again, muscles, bones and limbs with their joints, skin, teeth and hair, all of them artificial...The king tried the effect of taking away the heart, and found that the mouth could no longer speak; he took away the liver and the eyes could no longer see; he took away the kidneys and the legs lost their power of locomotion. The king was delighted."

Automatons have existed in the Middle East since the 9th Century CE, and are described in numerous texts from the time of Islamic scholarship. Al-Jazari, the famous Muslim inventor of the 13th Century, described a boat with four automatic musicians that he used to entertain partygoers. There was even an automaton duck in the 18th Century that mimicked digestion.

Suffice to say, automatons have existed for a really, really long time. What's this mean for the writer of steampunkery?

Playtime! Because the science of how to craft automatons has existed for so long, it's a well-documented method of adding robotics to your steampunk tale without applying too much modern science. Studying the texts of Signore da Vinci and those of Jacques de Vaucanson, the French inventor who crafted the aforementioned Digesting Duck, is a good start for more contemporary designs. Philo's automatic maid is well-documented via translations of his works, if you want to go more ancient.

George Mann's automatons in The Affinity Bridge are controlled via punch cards, if you want a literary example of how to do it. And The Difference Engine has an example of the Japanese Karakuri ningyŨ, which were designed in the 19th Century.

 A tea-serving Karakuri, designed in 19th Century Japan, with the mechanism at right. 
It functioned exactly as Philo's automatic maid did.

All you have to do, of course, is to make sure your automaton design makes sense. There's little worse than crafting some awesome technological advance and having it fall flat because the design isn't logical. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Clueless Ones -- Romance from a Guy's Perspective Part V

Make sure you look at the post below this one too. This is a two-post day, and I don't want the earlier one to get missed.


Yesterday Susan Quinn asked how to portray a romantic conflict with a guy who's completely clueless about said romantic conflict. If I interpreted that wrong, please let me know and I'll edit this.

In SON OF MAGIC, the male hero (Swain) is utterly clueless that his best friend (Astrid) is head-over-heels in love with him. That said, she's still his best friend and he quite clearly cares about her. He doesn't know he's in love with her .... yet ... but he is.

I thus made Swain an all-around good guy who watches over Astrid without really thinking about how she might view his attention. All the while, she's agonizing over when to tell him her feelings, how she should tell him, or whether she should just grab the boy and kiss him until he forgets his name. I think the last one would be the funniest, personally, but that's me.

Swain knows something's bothering Astrid, but he chalks it up to being forced from their homes and not any sort of romantic inclinations. In this way, he's clueless of her feelings for him.

It really depends on how close the characters are in the first place. Are they close friends? Acquaintances? Is the boy the older brother of the girl's best friend? The closer the connection between them, and the more time they spend together, the more aware the guy will be of something bothering the girl. The clueless guy will not, however, think what's bothering her have anything at all to do with the girl being absolutely bonkers for him. This is a general statement of course, and not entirely true, but it's at least believable enough to make a story out of it.

Hopefully that helped, Susan. I love it when you folks ask questions in the comments, by the way. That's one less blog post I have to make up myself!

Communication Styles Part Two

Part Four of the Romance from a Guy's Perspective series.

Fairyhedgehog brought up a very good point in the comments yesterday. To summarize: she referenced a study done a few years back that shows the communication styles of men and women over the age of 40 aren't all that different, despite what Tannen's 1990 book says. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the study, or at least what I thought was the most interesting based on reading the research report, is that the researchers accounted for psychological femininity and psychological masculinity -- both of which are distinct from gender identifications.

An anecdotal example: My college mentor, whom I've blogged about before, told me that upon taking psychology courses in school, her daughter realized that (and I'm quoting my mentor saying this) "My mother is my father and my father is my mother." What's that mean? Well, my mentor (a retired college professor who was working part-time to replace herself) ended up being more of an authoritarian than her husband was while their children were growing up. In other words, her husband fulfilled the "mother's" role of nurturer, while she fulfilled the "father's" role of disciplinarian.

One of the things I didn't realize before fairyhedgehog brought up that research study is how much the psychology of a person determines how they communicate. Also, according to the study, younger Americans* are more likely to have smaller gender differences in communication because gender roles are less strict now than they were even thirty years ago.

That said, it's still worthwhile to pay attention to how men and women talk when you're writing your male or female character. Why is this? There are still things a man will say to his wife/girlfriend/fiancee/best female friend who's madly in love with him that he won't say to his male buddies. The Brad Paisley song "I'm Still A Guy" is, surprisingly, a really good example of this. The lyric "And I'll pour out my heart, hold your hand in the car/Write a love song that makes you cry/Then turn right around, knock some jerk to the ground/'Cause he copped a feel as you walked by" is particularly explanatory.

The best thing to do, I feel, is for the writer to give their MS to a trusted friend of the opposite gender. My friends Casey and Jenna are reading Callarion at Night for this very reason (they also happen to have experience with psychology, which is another plus).

NOTE: This is going to be a two-post day today because I want to address Susan Quinn's question from yesterday too.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Men and Women Communicating -- Romance from a Guy's Perspective Part III

When I was in undergrad at my second college (I transferred twice before getting my B.S.), I took a class called Human Communication. The point of this course was to discuss communication methods commonly used in all aspects of contemporary American life. One of the books we were supposed to read during that semester was called You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Communication.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I can remember learning is that men and women ask for things they want differently. An example from the text: Three boys and three girls were given toys to play with. When a boy wanted a toy that another boy had, he asked for it directly. When a girl wanted a toy another girl had, she tried to use the third girl as a way around asking directly (e.g. Jenny telling Sarah that Erika wants to play with the doll Sarah has, when it's really Jenny who wants to play with it).

Books like this are worthwhile for two reasons. First and foremost is that it allows male and female writers to get a picture of the different ways men and women communicate inside gender groups and with each other. It's a good resource to have because, let's face it, we're going to default to our standard communication styles. For a man, that tends to be more direct and upfront. For a woman, it's more circumspect and subtle.

Perhaps more interesting than knowing these communication styles is knowing that people will have difficulty understanding if the communication style is not the one they use. Hence why the stereotypical American male is said to not understand subtlety. This is the number one offense I've seen in my scant experience with male romantic characters. They understand the subtlety of the female main characters far better than any real man typically would.

There are, of course, men and women who break the mold. My wife is, in general, a very plain-spoken woman and not prone to subtlety. My friends Casey and Alice* are the same way (a big reason why they're my friends). By contrast, my male friend Gary tends to be more circumspect.

What does this mean for the female writer trying to write a male character or a male writer trying to write a female character?

Pay attention to how men and women typically talk.

A stereotypical guy will tell you up front what he means (unless it's emotional, then he tries to play it off like it's no big deal). A stereotypical girl might speak more in hypotheticals and try to get answers to a question she's not asking. When these two get together, sparks are more likely to fly from him misunderstanding what she's asking rather than any understanding on either part. Especially when it comes to romantic entanglements.

The end result of all this? A guy will say direct things that he doesn't realize are the wrong answer because he doesn't know what the girl's really trying to ask.

Does this mean you have to make all men dense as a brick wall or all women capable of verbal gymnastics? No, of course not. In fact, you might get an interesting story out of flipping communication styles between a man and a woman. However, you the writer do need to pay attention to standard methods of communication when you're writing male and female characters. That's what (I hope) you take away from my rambles.

What are your thoughts on this, dear readers? Agree? Disagree? Want elaboration? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I cackled ...

... at this post over at Combrevations yesterday. This is a very good lesson -- beware bears, steampunk aficionados, and lions (among other things of course).

Monday, February 8, 2010

Chapter Length

One of the many things I struggle with in my writing is how long to make each individual chapter. Sometimes this is easy, seeing as there are scenes where you can insert a break into the action. These are the cliffhanger endings that writers love because, if it's done right, you know the reader is going to immediately move on to the next chapter.

Sometimes -- in fact much of the time -- I've found it's difficult for me to find a good place to end the chapter. Let me give you an example from CALLARION AT NIGHT:

I've added a new chapter two to the story (one that follows on Chapter One more immediately), and the first part of the chapter ends with an explosion in the poor part of the city. The explosion happens on page 5. A previous version has the chapter continuing to page 15, following Moriah down into the city where she helps heal the people injured in the explosion and has a fight with the yellow-jackets.

A more recent edition has the first five pages split into Chapter Two and the next ten to fifteen as Chapter Three. There are a bunch of points like this, where I've struggled with how long is a reasonable length for a chapter. Chapter One, by the way, is eleven and a half pages long.

Having said all this, I wonder if there's such a thing as an "ideal chapter length." What do you think, oh loyal blog readers? Is there a point in a chapter where you stop reading? Or does it matter so long as the material is interesting?

Your thoughts are, as always, much appreciated.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Knowing Your Strengths and Weaknesses

We all have strengths and weaknesses as writers. A friend of mine does very good dialogue, but has issues writing description. Another crafts impressive emotional hooks, but sometimes can fall flat in other areas. Still others have stellar, sweeping descriptive powers, but can't detail the emotional journey of a character to save their lives.

As for me? My writing tends to be influenced by journalism practices a little too much. Iapetus999 mentioned yesterday that the excerpt sounded very newspaper-article-esque. Truth be told, that factual "x happened, then y, then z" was what I spent four years learning how to write. Some really interesting days have come out of me having to un-train my brain to think like a reporter when telling Moriah's story in Callarion at Night. It's a difficult switch sometimes, and one I have to consciously watch out for. As a result, I can't typically elicit emotional responses effectively in a first draft. My brain doesn't work that way.

One of my strengths -- at least when it comes to critiques -- is making sentences sound grammatically better than they did in the original draft. I'm also apparently very good at finding logic holes (I suppose that's because I'm a prime offender of leaving logic holes in my stories). Oh, and I'm able to craft better secondary characters than main ones for some oddball reason. Haven't quite figured that one out yet.

What about you, my loyal and intrepid blog readers? What do you find are your strengths or weaknesses in writing?

P.S.: Some fairly substantial family stuff happened early this morning, and I'm going to be somewhat incommunicado for the next few days. I'll still be checking the blog and my email, but don't expect any new posts for Thursday and Friday (maybe even Monday).

ADDENDUM TO P.S.: My "fairly substantial family stuff" is the fact that my wife's grandfather (my father-in-law's dad) died early this morning. I didn't specify before because I hadn't yet seen my mother-in-law say anything on her Facebook page, and I didn't want to make any public notification until they did. So thanks to all the well-wishers on here. You guys are awesome. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Callarion at Night sample

Today is yet another busy earnings day at the office, so in lieu of coming up with anything else, I decided to share a just-written scene from Callarion at Night, wherein we see Moriah exhibit some heroic traits. So, without further ado, here is a section from the brand-new Chapter Two of Callarion at Night.

Chapter Two

Moriah treated at least half a dozen more injuries, before gunfire near the Lowtown gate drew her attention. Half a squad of yellow-jackets stood over three injured men near the Lowtown gate. The men were lying on the ground, moaning with pain, when the yellow-jackets raised their rifles and fired.

The yellow-jackets shot more men, and some women, as they moved through the field of injuries. More yellow-jackets appeared, and split up among the wounded. A dozen gunshots echoed as one. Each person they killed was lying in pain on the road, some groaning with broken bones and blood pooling beneath them. Battle-rage thrummed through Moriah’s body. She looked for Nicolai, but couldn’t see him anywhere nearby. It figures he’d disappear when she needed him. She stomped to the nearest yellow-jacket — a sergeant judging by the chevrons on his jacket. “What in the Nine Hells are you doing?”

The sergeant slowly turned to her, glanced at her face, and then turned away. He’d seen her eyes. Of course, a half-breed didn’t deserve a response. Moriah tapped him on the shoulder, forcing herself to not shoot him for the insult. The sergeant didn’t turn around. She tapped him on the shoulder again. He still didn’t turn. Moriah drew her pistol, cocked it, and held it to the back of the sergeant’s head. The man froze.

“Sergeant. If you do not turn around and look at me right now, I will shoot you. Is that understood?”

“I think not, half-breed.” The sergeant spoke, but still didn’t turn. Half a dozen repeating rifles cocked, and Moriah saw each gun pointed at her. The men’s ebony masks presented visages of uncaring stone all around. At least it wasn’t like Hirvak CityShyam, when half a hundred men had their weapons on her.

“Sergeant,” she said, “you are going to tell your men to lower their weapons.”

“Under whose authority? Yours?” The sergeant looked at her, blue eyes burning with hatred. He scoffed. “You have no power over me, blasphemer. Run along before my men send you to the Ninth Hell where all your kind belongs.”

“Moriah! Stand down!” Thomas’s voice echoed across the street. The old man ran toward her, and Malory looked over the roof of the truck idling behind him.

“Moriah Rowani?” The sergeant’s voice held a faint tremor. Good. Her reputation had preceded her. She allowed the battle-rage to show in her eyes, and the sergeant took an involuntary step back.

“Yes, sergeant that is my name. Now, would you be so kind as to answer my question?”

“Weapons down!” The yellow-jackets surrounding Moriah lowered their rifles. A yellow-jacket with a silver eagle on the breast pocket of his longcoat — a colonel — stalked over to them. “Sergeant Yosan. What is the meaning of this?” The colonel reached them at the same time as Thomas. He jumped when he noticed the old man. “Master Caine. What are you doing here?”

“Colonel Trevorian. My goddaughter saw the explosion, and decided to help the injured.” Thomas laid a hand on Moriah’s shoulder. “Moriah, we have worn out our welcome.”

“They’re killing people wounded in the explosion.” Moriah kept her gun pointed at the sergeant. “I saw them shoot more than a dozen who couldn’t fight back.”

“We don’t shoot civilians.” Yosan narrowed his eyes. “These errant moldwarps are traitors to the kingdom. They flout the Lord Premier’s law.”

“A wounded dockworker who was injured when your men fired cannon rounds into his apartment building is not a traitor,” Moriah said. “He is your countryman and deserves the help of a physician, not a bullet to the head because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“Your Grace, if you would please lower your weapon?” Trevorian said. “I promise I will take care of the situation.”
---------------
From here, Moriah ends up launching into a speech about laws and how no one's above them. Which will be somewhat of a theme going forward.

Thoughts? Criticisms? This is very raw, so I'm sorry if any of the writing is unwieldy.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Amazon Capitulates to Macmillan

I ran into this article about the resolution of the Amazon vs. Macmillan dispute today on Yahoo! Finance.

Some rundown on the issue that played out over the weekend is thus: Macmillan went to Seattle to negotiate with Amazon about a new pricing structure for e-books because they thought Amazon's price structure was too low. Amazon enacted a ban against all Macmillan books rather than acquiesce to the publisher's demands  in what was apparently an electronic Cold War between the two giants.

Macmillan, which owns St. Martin's Press (home of blog-friend Gary Corby's debut) among other imprints, is one of the world's largest publishers. Given their market share, the fact Macmillan yanked their titles from the Kindle in protest of the pricing structure is a Very Big Thing.

Amazon announced today, roughly half an hour ago U.S. Eastern Time, that they were going to agree to Macmillian's pricing demands. The end result of this battle? Macmillan's e-books will retail for $12.99 to $14.99 in the Kindle online store, $4 to $6 more than the $9.99 price-point that Amazon has thus far demanded for all new bestselling titles that come out on the Kindle.

Here's the Wall Street Journal's take on the issue. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the WSJ article, and among the plethora of reasons why I love that publication, is that it provides the statements from both Amazon and the Macmillan CEO.

As an unpubbed and unrepresented writer, I don't have a financial stake in this whole debate. However, upon reading the statements from both parties, I find myself coming down on the publisher's side of things rather than Amazon's. Don't misunderstand me -- I love Amazon and their discounts -- but publishers have needed to take control of e-books for a long time. And Macmillan has now done that. For that I can only applaud them.

What about you, loyal readers? Where do you come down on things?

UPDATE: Pimp My Novel, book sales blog, weighs in on the debate. As does Cory Doctorow, and Laura of Combrevations fame.

Steampunk Recomendation: Soulless, Book 1 of the Parasol Protectorate

A short time ago, I made a brief list of recommendations for those wishing to read more Steampunk novels. On that list was Soulless by Gail Carriger, Book 1 of the Parasol Protectorate and the introduction of Miss Alexia Tarabotti -- a 25-year-old spinster who wields a silver-tipped parasol filled with buckshot. And happens to fall for Lord Conall Maconn, the 200-year-old Earl of Woolsey who is also a werewolf. Yes, you read correctly, a werewolf. 

On a related note, Kristin Nelson -- she of Pub Rants fame -- is Carriger's agent. I mention this because the indomitable Ms. Nelson recently posted the query letter that Carriger used to win representation. It's interesting because Carriger billed Soulless as a paranormal romance as opposed to a steampunk romance. And, upon reading the book, I can see why Carriger decided to focus on the paranormal aspect rather than the steampunk.

I say this because the inner dealings of vampire and werewolf politics are a bigger portion of the book than the steampunk science elements are. However, and this made me very happy, the final third of the book is a tour-de-force of Frankenstein-esque mad science perpetrated by men who believe they're helping humanity by putting supernaturals -- vampires and werewolves -- through testing worthy of the craziest madmen in literature.

Soulless is definitely a romance novel. The amount of detail in the make-out scenes between Alexia and Conall makes that abundantly clear. All in all though, Carriger crafts an interesting, brainy heroine; an intelligent, powerful man to match her; and a villain that you really really want to see them triumph over. And the voice of the novel recalls some of most entertaining Victorian stories ever.

Suffice to say, I loved reading this book. The sequel -- Changeless -- is coming out at the end of March, by the way. I'll probably read that one too. Even if it is another romance novel. ;)