Saturday, August 19, 2017

How a Writing Group saved Turesia* (and possibly Silexare)

*working title. I ain't sayin' its real title yet. 

Here's my two cents on writing groups and, please believe:  it    is      wordy.
I'm not covering finer points because I don't have the authority for that. Just gonna tell the tale of how I broke down and succumbed and how good a decision that was.

Uergatas, captured by Beastmaster Grimmet to battle in Keswal
concept art by Jason Tasi

I've been conceptualizing, dreaming of, and working on Turesia for... a long freaking time.

Before I published A Sawmill's Hope, at a point when I was pretty sick of looking at it, I became inflicted with another story. It was inspired by a whirlwind of ideas. The combat and rivalries of UFC fights. The unlimited lives of games like Super Mario Brothers. An archipelago nation in civil war that has been split such that the brutes are on one side and the magicians are on another. And, as is becoming usual for me, a tragic fairy tale.

I wrote a very rough draft for Turesia. It was about 60,000 words, roughly 180 pages, the length of a short novel. Then I stumbled upon Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself. It blew my mind. I proceeded to blaze through the First Law trilogy, getting an education on tight third-person point of view. With this knowledge (albeit in infant stage), I plopped my ass down to rewrite A Sawmill's Hope. Thirteen agent rejections and a Kickstarter later, ASH came to life.

During that year, Turesia lay dormant. Neglected. Stephen King has commented on the danger of letting a work in progress stagnate and he was right. I loved the potential in my draft. I loved the characters and setting and monsters. But when I came back to it, my draft was a mess. And igniting my passion for the story felt like trying to crank a chainsaw underwater.

Memories of how I imagined the story were vague at best. I had scattered notes and a wildly inconsistent draft. I tried starting it again and again, experimenting with different ideas and approaching the story from different angles and viewpoints. I tweaked scenes, characters, the magic system. I trashed every scene I wrote. Nothing worked.

I almost scrapped the story more than once. I questioned whether being a writer was even a thing I could do, considering how insurmountable the process had become.

Brandon Sanderson, the robot that types out a ten-pound cinder block of a novel every other Tuesday, has preached on the significance of writing groups. I'd been reluctant to the idea of writing groups. Among my more unrealistic (and laughably delusional) fears were:
Show my million-dollar ideas to strangers so they can snatch and run?
Take on the responsibility of educating plebeians to reach my lofty level of literary luminosity?

More realistically, if I can't make progress in the story with the time I have, committing to critiquing someone else's writing is the last thing I should do.

Turns out I was wrong. All the way.

One year ago today my coworker Ben and I sat down for lunch at the only Mexican restaurant in the town I work. We hashed out ideas and agreed to swap an excerpt, chapter, or scene (typically not to exceed 5k words) every Friday. We'd meet the following Friday with our own feedback on what we were given and a new scene to hand over. Or goal was to simply remark on to the other person's excerpt. Not really suggest fixes or improvements, just react. "I was confused here." or "I didn't buy this." or "This was hilarious." or "This bored me." That sort.

Well, it worked. Since August 19th, 2016 we've met every Friday minus maybe eight for holidays and vacations. I've written about 140,000 late-draft level words. While that may feel like a low rate, I rejoice in it. This pseudo-deadline has benefited my consistency in writing more than any passion or idea ever has. I have a 40 hour a week job that requires me to be on call after hours. I have a wife, and two sons that I want to spend all my spare time with. I'm a member of two bands that, together, keep me active on the bass.
[On a separate subject entirely, whenever a person tells me they want to write a book but don't have time, I'm learning polite ways to tell them: The obstacle is not your lack of time, it's your priorities. And I'll argue them to the ground on that point.]

Ben has finished enough short stories to be ready to publish a collection. His style is more science fiction / suspense, particularly near-future. Mine is gritty fantasy that takes place in Silexare. But since we're both readers at heart, there is no judgment or discrimination going on. We're able to see the potential in each others' works and enjoy the stories and scenes for what they are.

Before this becomes novel-length, here's some take away:

"Story Time" Pros:
-A deadline makes me write
-Ben's input is clever and useful
-Critiquing Ben's work bolsters my chops at critiquing my own
-Mexican food for lunch every Friday

"Story Time" Cons:
-I'll have to add these as they occur to me. The roughly $6 lunch bill every week is insignificant.

Hit me with your questions in the comments. I've blathered long enough.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Research Record - June 2017

'Hey, Dabid!'

Hola.

'On what obscure subjects have you been self-educating lately, mein Dave?'

Oh praises be. I'm so relieved that you care. If not, this post would be an embarrassingly empty endeavor, wouldn't it?

'Not necessarily. I mean-'

Well, wouldn't it?

'Um...'

WOULDN'T IT?!

'...'

*David flips table, becomes a werewolf, scours groin with tongue*

~

Story in Progress:

Turesia

Wikipedia Searches of note:

Scandinavia
Not as useful a reference as the book I'm reading. (see below)

Conifers
I just needed some specifics on Fohrvylda's most common trees.

Falconry Training and Technique
I'd love to sit down and kick it with a falconry pro. I have many questions on this subject, all because of the beastmaster's son, who trains sprakes. I found this site, which is pretty informative.

Ragnar Lodbrok Children
Wife and I have gotten into History Channel's The Vikings again and I was curious about the fate of Ragnar's kids.

Google Searches of note:

Harpy Eagle
Between this raptor and the osprey, I have enough reference and inspiration to create my precious sprakes. (Check out my sweet stash of sprake nudes)

Collective nouns for birds
Here's the website I ended up choosing as a reference. Enjoy.

What does hawk poop smell like?
I found no definitive answer. Still looking. If you're knowledgeable on this, or how osprey poop smells, please let me know in the comments.
:::EDIT: Holy hamster look what I just found:::

Can I use a hawk to track a person?
Found no definitive answer on this either. All I do know for sure is that if it is possible, raptors wouldn't rely heavily on their sense of smell to do it. So it would have to be visual or sound. Visual is what I'm leaning toward, since in Fohrvylda there is currently no way to record audio. Luckily, the person being tracked is quite famous, and her fans have created art in her likeness.

Aviary
Fohrvylda's aviary is the beastmaster's son's favorite place to be. The only place he's understood. If only he had wings of his own.
The images of aviaries I've found online have not been as grand as Fohrvylda's. I wish I could draw...

Sophia Bush
Yes, the actor. This is one of the few things that has not changed since I started writing this story. The Sophia from One Tree Hill era (I don't follow the show) is an ideal visual representation of Irdessa the Undying. She's pretty, but not strikingly so. Good smile, good scowl, has dark wavy hair.

Thucydides
There's a cool phrase about cowards and fools that was incorrectly attributed to Thucydides. I love the phrase. It, in some variation, it could be considered a theme of Turesia. Shame it wasn't written by Thucy.

How to maintain leather
Just curious. I figure if two characters in leather armor hike through shallow ocean water all night they might need to do some maintenance on their gear in the AM.

Books Referenced: 

"Vikings: A history of the Norse people" by Martin J. Dougherty
It's pretty basic but has a lot of useful insight. Fohrvylda is not medieval Scandinavia but there are enough similarities to make this book helpful while I'm writing about food, locales, building methods, weapons, etc.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Into my process, March 2017

Here comes a bunch of drivel about writing. Consider yourself warned.

~~~

This little story of mine, known up until this point as Turesia but subject to change, is more complex than any story I've told. There are several indicators of this. One is that I'm at about three and a half years in and just now at the halfway point of the final draft. Then again, that could easily be evidence of life distractions, a lack of discipline, or any number of things. 

Today I'm writing about the most obvious indicator, to me, that this has become complicated.

The scene I wrote last week takes place in Fohrvylda, one of the islands in Turesia. Herein, we're being formally introduced to the five individuals that make up Vretos' court - the ones who hold the power in Fohrvylda. We're also learning a little more about the political hierarchy and setting of this nation. 

The following has already been established, although we've never met these guys -

Vretos is the ruler of Fohrvylda and he appears to be superhuman in that he doesn't notice taking an arrow to the shoulder, he can withstand a 60' fall onto packed earth, and he can wrestle a Uergata to the ground.
Beastmaster Grimmet tames orcanes and other beasts of burden and battle. He goes on excursions to find monsters to fight in Keswal. He's just presented one of the most spectacular fights Keswal has ever seen by pitting five Uergatas against fifty pirates.
General Garr has a big golden mustache.
Marshal Zandar is in command of all domestic forces, including archers in Keswal. Also, his vest is too tight.
Lanista Udiari owns a couple dozen convicts who fight in Keswal, including our heroes - Torvald and Irdessa, and that dirty scumbag Kraus.

SCENE FOUR

Characters
(in order of appearance)
Beastmaster Grimmet (POV)
Lanista Udiari
Marshal Zandar
Vretos
General Garr

Setting
Vretos' lodge, in the highest stronghold in Promontory, Fohrvylda

To be established
Motive for all present characters, and a particular inciting decision

So here's my prep work for scene four -
First I needed to get a picture of the scene. Did a little image shopping on Google.
from traveleering.com
inspiration for Promontory, Forhrylda. Except the cliff should be vertical and several hundred feet high
from magicfilledtheair.files.wordpress.com
inspiration for Promontory, Fohrvylda. Also, there are more lumber-built buildings

from lonelyplanet.com
inspiration for Vretos' lodge
from pinimg.com
inspiration for Vretos' lodge
(if you ever want to see my collection of inspiring web-based imagery that I usually forget about, check out my Pinterest

Obviously, none of the above images hits the nail on the head, as far as my vision for these locations, but they do give me ideas of what sights, sounds, and smells our characters will be experiencing. I had to fill in some blanks with (very rough) sketches. I do this pretty often.
Faithless Sea on the left, cliffs rising to Promontory (second attempt felt better)
Bottom right is rough idea of Vretos' table, except it's larger than that and there's no fire in the middle
Next I have to determine whose point of view to use. I actually wrote a lot of the scene from Lanista Udiari's POV, then scrapped it. He's more rational than Grimmet, and sort of came off as a stick in the mud in this scene. Besides, he has a POV scene coming soon enough. I wasn't going with General Garr because the scene isn't very dynamic for him. Same with Marshal Zandar, even though he's a cornered and kicked dog in this scene. Grimmet was fun to write. He's something of an overgrown child (so I can identify) and he's petty and snotty and obnoxious and jealous. No fun to be around, mucho fun to write.

I need to establish everyone's mindset during the scene. That's usually in the form of an Excel document.

Finally, I have a ton of notes compiled in a Word document, with quotes and descriptions and prose that are all necessary for the scene. Not going to attempt to display that here. Currently it's 35k words and a complete mess. I delete it in pieces as I apply it to the story. 

[[I have to give a shout out to a video I referenced. It is a 20 minute intro to the nuts and bolts of dictatorships, especially cruel ones, that I believe would help EVERY fiction author \ world-builder. It's called Rules for Rulers and it flavored some aspects of Fohrvylda's government.]]



~

At last, as of late last Thursday, the scene is written, and it's in the hands of my faithful alpha reader, Ben, the other half of my writing group. The current word count for it is 4,900. This Friday, at our local Mexican restaurant, he'll tell me what worked and (inevitably) what did not. 

I'm pretty damn thrilled about the scene. It involves heftier world-building than most scenes, but I have made every effort to temper that grind with some humor and suspense. I chuckle, because this might be the sort of scene a younger me would glaze over, picking out the important bits. But it's a scene that the more analytical me would, and does, marvel over. 

Anyway, that's a glimpse into what I mean when I say, "I'm working on Turesia now." And, if there was any question, I love it. Love every aspect of it. Wish this paid the bills. Soon enough.

We're all partial to our own stories but in this moment, and for the past eight months, I'm convinced that I'm writing one of the best fantasy stories I've ever read. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Research Record - Jan 1, 2017

Because I haven't written one in a while!

Just going to record a couple of seemingly unlikely destinations my research has taken me. I'm not suggesting you'll find this entertaining... More likely, 'hmm. That's interesting' at best.

Story in Progress:

Turesia

Wikipedia pages of note:

Sailboat
Because I'm depressingly ignorant on the subject yet my story requires some knowledge.

Akhlut
This monster inspired the Orcanes of Turesia.

Pangur Ban
The movie Secret of Kells made me curious.

Sphaerotheriida
I wish there was a cooler name for pill bugs / rollypollies than pill bugs / rollypollies. The great beast is a variation of the sphaerotheriida.

Gigantopithecus
The latest Jungle Book movie made me curious. (They're real! Just not house-sized, as depicted in the film.)


Google searches of note:

How did brachiosaurus support its own weight?
Under Earth's current atmospheric / gravitational conditions, it couldn't have.

Chicxulub crater
The above search opened a can of worms (as these things do).
Chicxulub crater was formed 66 millions years ago by an asteroid or comet some six miles wide. It's believed to be ground zero for the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event (wherein 75% of life on Earth became extinct, including dinosaurs.)

Hiraeth
I love this word. I want to use it as a character's name and entire backstory.

Boat etymology
I was naming a town.

Sacrifice etymology
Still naming a town.

Define bleachers
Not a lot of words for this, ya know? Especially of the historic variety.

Do tigers climb trees?
Yes. They swim, too.

Pig iron
Not actually made of pigs.

To make a sword from the blood of your enemies
Spoiler: by the time you have enough blood of your enemies to make a sword, you probably won't have many enemies left to swing your new sword at.

Entropomancer
I'm kind of infatuated with the concept of entropy. If you buy into heat death as a feasible ultimate fate of the universe, you'll know a) there's not a greater threat to existence than entropy and b) its incline is inevitable. A mancer whose field is entropy is, in a word, cynical.

Define Cortege
Among other things, this is an amazing song by Apocalyptica. I want to name a character this as well, based on that song.

Stridulation
This is how crickets make music. Some people say you can determine barometric specifics and thereby predict weather based on the pitch of crickets' stridulation. What people, you ask? Consonant monks of Ausgan.