Still here, Still Reading!

Well.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve had lapses before here, but never so long as a month–for that, I apologize. I can’t say anything specific took me away from writing here, but there we are–and I’m back.

can say that I did quite a lot of reading in the last month, including a few Indie books (reviews coming!) and falling back in love with a favourite author I’d forgotten–Stephen King. I haven’t read a King book in years, and it was a pleasure to get back to his stark, conversational, downright creepy style. In fact, with his experimenting with eBooks early on in the format, I think there’s potential for a blog post there…

In the meantime, I have several posts planned for the next couple weeks. I’ll be reviewing books from some of my favourite Indies–Ryan Casey and David A Hayden coming soon, and J. M. Ney-Grimm and Lindsay Buroker on the horizon–and we’ll have an interview or two. I’ll also talk about popular iPhone apps for writers, creating systems of magic, and why self-publishing is like making your own beer.

So stay tuned, and keep reading–we’ll be back to our regular programming shortly.

 

Reach for the Stars…but Don’t

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about ambition. Reaching for the stars. Going the distance and going for broke. Manifesting your own destiny.

Biting off more than you can chew.

This is going to be a more philosophical post than normal, so I hope you’re bear with me. I don’t have the answer to the question I’m going to ask, but I’ll invite you to offer your own answers in the comments. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong here–or even a thin line between them. But it’s something hanging around in the back of my mind for some time, and it’s nothing I can ignore any longer.

The question is: how much ambition is too much?

It’s all very well and good to reach for the stars, and I’d never encourage someone to not follow their dreams. But the pragmatist in me has to ask: when do you overreach your grasp? It’s pretty easy to do that–I do it on a regular basis, and I’m only now starting to recognize it. And I think it’s a pretty crucial question to ask. You see, I’m the kind of person who often bites off more than he can chew. I do it because I love to challenge myself, to think big, to dream. But there’s also a very large part of myself that is practical to the point of stagnation–that is, I tend to work very hard at convincing myself that dreams are just that, and to not pursue them if there’s too much risk.

I guess that’s part of the crux of this issue. If there’s no risk, the payoff can’t be that great–but the greater the risk, the more frightening it can be. In the case of this blog and my writing, the risk is accountability. I haven’t been keeping myself accountable for what I’ve set out to do. Faithful readers may remember a very detailed schedule I set myself to in finishing my Tapestry project, which has since stalled. A larger issue is my promise to review three Indie books a month, something I have, in all honestly, had a difficult time keeping up with. My recent lapse in posts of any kind is evidence enough of that.

So I’ve bitten off more than I can chew–I can admit that, and I can live with it. But what to do about it? Here’s the real question: when should one stop dreaming? Where’s the line between “impossible” and “I’ll try anyway,” and most importantly, when should you cross that line?

I know a lot of Indie writers who crossed that line, and I admire them for it. It reminds me that I can do the same–but at some point, I have to remind myself that I can only handle so much–which leads me to another self realization: I’m a fixer. Or try to be.

This means I like to approach a challenge and find a way to solve it–but it also means that I often take on more than I can handle by myself. To once again quote Dan Pallotta, it’s “altruistic martyrdom.” Being a martyr for a cause that doesn’t require it, simply because you believe so much in that cause. But in the end, it doesn’t get you anywhere, just leaving you with a feeling that you didn’t do enough, or could have done more.

So what does this all mean in terms of following your dreams? I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place; I want to think big and follow those dreams wherever they go–but I also want to live and walk in the “real world.” I want to reach for the stars, but I want my feet on the ground while I do it–and to some extent, it makes me wonder if the two are compatible at all. The easy answer is that dreams can be ephemeral; they’ll slip through your fingers if you let them, so don’t let them. On the other side of the coin, if you want security and stability in your life, you have to make choices that create that stability for you–it can’t be left to chance.

There is a happy medium here, I’m sure. You can follow your dreams and be practical about it–in fact, having a practical plan can be a sure fire way to ensure your dreams come true–but it’s important to have some self realization. As much as I’d love to be able to read three or four Indie books a month, it’s an unrealistic expectation at certain times of year because of my career. Devoting all of my free time to writing might seem like a good way to actually finish my projects and make them as good as they can be–but I need and want to make room for family. I think you can reach for the stars with your feet on the ground–but I can’t say I’ve found that balance yet.

You may see where some of this is going–a change in my blog schedule. I do read a lot of books, but keeping up with three Indie books a month (on top of ‘real life,’ other reading and hobbies) is challenging. I’ve actually found myself skewing toward short stories, which isn’t fair to the Indies who have written wonderful full length novels. So I’m going to make another change.

I still intend to review Indie works, but will cut it down to one or two reviews a month. I intend one to be a novel; the other either a novel or short story, depending on my available time. I’ll still blog on other issues related to Self Publishing, and will work “behind the screen” to build a bank of reviews for when I’m too busy to pound out a blog post. Hopefully, I’ll have fewer lapses in activity here, if not no lapses at all.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue to ponder the philosophy of ambition. It’s all very well and good to say that one should follow their dreams with abandon, but at some point you have to wonder what you’ve lost because of that single minded determination. I don’t want to stop dreaming. But neither do I want to turn off my life for the sake of my dreams. I guess, in the end, the most important thing to remember is that whichever choice you make is a choice you makeand the consequences, either way, are yours alone.

A Different Kind of Indie Writer

Once again, I unfortunately find myself without much time to write a second blog post this week–I really should start ‘banking’ them so they’re ready when I need them–so we’re going to go with something quick and simple today.

I am, unapologetically, a dyed in the wool Trekkie. So naturally when I found out that the MMORPG Star Trek Online had gone Free to Play, I was excited. So I downloaded it, and I have to say it’s just awesome. If you’re a Star Trek fan, you’ll like this game. There are tons of references to the show, the continuity is solid, and the gameplay is fun. And hey, it’s Star Trek–what’s not to love?

But to the point. STO has a feature called the Foundry, where users can create their own “episodes” for other people to play in game. Now, game modding is nothing new; there’s a veritable cottage industry of game modders who create new content for existing games, which in some cases are more popular than the original.

Now, the thing about this game is that a lot of the missions get a bit repetitive. You orbit a planet, shoot down some starships, beam down and go head to head with more bad guys until you rescue someone or download some data or whatever. Rinse, wash, repeat. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun, but a lot of it is the same.
Enter the Foundry. Users–and most of the players in game seem to be die hard Trekkies who know their lore–can make up whatever stories they want. The best part is the robust tools the game developers have given their users–I haven’t made a mission myself yet, but it looks pretty straight forward for someone with a bit of experience. Players can open up the Foundry through the same menu they use to access in-game missions. After you play through it, there’s a chance to give a ‘tip’ to the person who created it using the in-game currency, so you can reward them for their hard work.

What does this all have to do with Indie Writers? Beyond making a mod for a game you enjoy, this gives a particular opportunity to create original work in the Star Trek Universe. For example, one of the things that always irked me a bit in Star Trek: The Next Generation was a hanging plot thread in the first season, where a race of parasitic beings try to infiltrate Starfleet. At the end of the episode, they send a signal, presumably to reinforcements–it’s a perfect chance to pick up the story again later on. But the writers of the show never did.

In the Foundry, one could write the “sequel” to that episode, and let players run through it in game. Or maybe you want to explore what happened to Thomas Riker after the DS9 episode “Defiant.” Or allow the player to travel back in time to deal with an Original Series era starship that mysteriously disappeared. One user has even created an episode called “A Klingon Honor Carol,” based on some familiar source material. These episodes can be text heavy (like the ones I’ve played so far, because I like the story element), or all about blowing up enemy ships. It’s your choice, and from what I’ve seen there’s demand for all sorts of missions.

The people who create these missions aren’t necessarily part of the Indie Writer Community–but they’re still creating original work on their own time, and I think that qualifies. The developers of the game run a “spotlight” where they highlight really good Foundry missions each month, and some of the user created content has even found its way into the official game. It’s a great opportunity for anyone who loves Star Trek to write the episodes they always wanted to see–then live them out as the captain of your own starship.

The downside is that you have to be a subscriber to the game in order to make missions. It makes sense–the developers still need to be profitable, and this is one of the areas in a free to play game that they can exploit for profit–but it’s unfortunate. As much as I enjoy this game, I don’t want to pay a monthly fee to play it, and there’s plenty of content accessible to people who don’t subscribe. For now, I’m content to play other people’s episodes and delve even deeper in to a fan-based Star Trek Universe.

Tune in on Monday for another Indie Review, where we’ll be talking about Lindsay Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge series!

(Not so) Indie Review: Captain Nemo

by Kevin J Anderson

This week I’ve featured a number of reviews by indie authors I enjoyed over the holiday. This is a focus I’d like to start honing on this blog, and it’s been a way to test the waters. The intent is to highlight some of the wonderful work being put out by writers who simply love to write, but don’t want to get embroiled in the bureaucracy of the Big 6. There’s some fantastic work out there that isn’t being seen, and I hope to be able to bring some of it to light, in my own small way.

So why feature Kevin J Anderson, the of Star Wars, Dune, and author of more than 100 published works?

Well, he’s certainly not indie, but he’s a proponent for the eBook format. Anderson has most of his works available in eBook format, many of them put through his own e-publishing company Wordfire Press–which also publishes work by Neal Peart (of Rush), Frank and Brian Herbert, and Rebecca Moesta.

But on to the review.

I can sum up this book in one word: fun. Make that two words: incredibly fun. Really, in all seriousness, this is a great book, and I’d highly recommend it. That said, it’s a book of particular taste, and it won’t be for everyone.  So take my review with a grain of salt–but at the very least, I’d urge you to try a few chapters.

The premise is simple: Jules Verne, author of such classics as 20,000 Legues Under the Sea and Journey to the Centre of the Earth and basically the inventor of the science fiction genre, is a struggling writer who longs for excitement but can’t seem to leave the confines of his dull life. Meanwhile, his childhood friend Andre Nemo is catapulted from adventure to adventure. Nemo is everything that Verne is not, and the best our struggling author can do is live vicariously through his friend.

You can see where this is going. Nemo corresponds with Verne throughout his adventures, and eventually Verne transcribes them into story, gaining considerable fame for it. He achieves his dream of becoming a successful writer–but at what cost? Are the stories even his? This is a question that’s at the heart of the book, and though it’s never answered, it begs to be asked with each page–and not just within the narrative. I think it’s no mistake that Anderson chose this conceit while using the real Verne’s stories as a structure–the entire book becomes a commentary on the fleeting originality of literature (or lack thereof), the ownership of ideas, and the ethical uses of those ideas if they’re borrowed.

Anderson could be asked to answer those questions as well, of course, and I wouldn’t think to answer for him. It’s all very meta, and I think it’s enough to let the questions hang. What I can say is that, despite what some reviewers have said, this book is by no means uninspired, derivative, or  simply reinterpreted. On the contrary, the way Anderson weaves Nemo’s life with Verne’s is well done, and makes for a compelling narrative. Even if you don’t want to read it through a glass of literary criticism, it’s a rousing adventure tale, and quite simply a love letter to the sci-fi genre.

The book is divided into several parts, each referring to a different story written by Verne, and in which Nemo shares the adventure that supposedly inspired that work. Interspersed with Nemo’s exploits is a fictionalized biography of Verne himself, as he struggles with home life, direction in his career, and his disappointments in love and writing. While Verne’s  story is interesting, it’s definitely Nemo that steal the show, and his incredible escapades set up a stark contrast to Verne’s dull life. And herein lies the main theme of the book (and one so pertinent to writers of any genre): is it better to experience your life, or to live through other people’s experiences?

The meat of this book, as said, is taken up with Nemo’s adventures. He find himself battling pirates, gets shipwrecked on a mysterious island, journeys to the centre of the Earth, fights in the Crimean War, builds a submarine…and more. It’s simple, unabashed fun. If you’ve read any of Verne’s stories, you’ll probably love this book (though ‘traditionalists’ might wonder at some of the liberties taken). Even if you’re not–as I admittedly am not–each adventure is exciting and engrossing. Anderson’s style is also languid and easy to become immersed in, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to read 50-100 pages without lifting my head from the book. If I had one complaint about the action in this story, it’s that there’s almost too much of it; some of the adventures aren’t explored as much as I would have liked, and so much was crammed into the book that it was a strain to suspend my disbelief. That said, I wouldn’t change it for the world–it’s not supposed to be believable, it’s adventure.

That reflects what I like most about this book. While I’m not accustomed to Verne’s writing (having only read Journey), I’m familiar with other writing from the era, and can say that Anderson successfully captures the ‘voice’ of late 19 Century Romantic literature. The language isn’t as stilted and formal, but the feel behind it is there. I found the passages with Nemo traveling across Africa in a balloon to be most effective in putting forth the sense of exploration and curiosity that filled Europe at the time. Everything outside the Continent was curious and exotic, and people were eager to swallow up everything they could; the writing of the era reflected that, and it’s a testament to Anderson’s writing that he’s able to do so as well, even after having learned so much in the past hundred and fifty years.

Nemo has a great character arc, and is fully fleshed out. He’s easy to sympathize with, and the reader immediately connects with his curious nature and wish to explore the world. His story was extremely satisfying, and I found myself hanging on every word. By contrast, Verne’s character is a bit dull and flat; he comes off more as a complainer than anything, and I honestly didn’t find him very interesting. I didn’t need to follow his story, as I could guess where he’s end up almost from the beginning (and indeed, a prologue shows us just that). I was really only interested in his story inasmuch as I wanted to see what he would do with Nemo’s.

But in Anderson’s defense, I think this bland portrayal of Jules Verne is completely intentional. Set against the themes of the book, it makes sense for him to be underdeveloped and uninteresting–the whole point of this story is that he lives vicariously through Nemo, and doesn’t have much personality of his own. Perhaps it’s a stretch on my part, but I could see this as being a further commentary; Verne is only interesting through the filter of Nemo–that is, the storyteller is only as good as the story.

The only real complaint besides that noted above is that the book is a bit repetitive. There’s a common trick of writers that do series or sequels, in that the first pages of a book give a brief summary of the last one, to either remind the reader or help “catch up” someone who hasn’t read what’s come before. This is unnecessary for a single book like this, but Anderson does it rather often. I found myself regularly reminded of what happened in the last chapter or even several pages back–and for someone who tends to read in large chunks, I found it a bit wearing.

But ultimately, as if it weren’t obvious, I loved this story. I try my best to be objective when I review a book, because no piece of literature is absolutely perfect–but I enjoyed Captain Nemo so much that I’m finding it difficult to come up with things that didn’t work. That’s not to say it should be on the syllabus next to Shakespeare, Hemmingway and Verne, but in my own and honest opinion, it’s very simply a Damn Good Book.

Kevin J Anderson can be found on Twitter, at Wordfire Press, and on his own blog. You can find many of his books, including Captain Nemo, on Amazon and Kobo, and your local bookstore.

Roll a D20 for Inspiration

d20 by Janetgalore, c/o Flikr

Last week, I talked about how I like to draw on roleplaying games for inspiration in creating characters, so I thought it would be fun to follow up this week with the other end of things–the Game Master.

For those of you who haven’t played an RPG, the Game Master (or Dungeon Master in D&D parlance) is the one who runs the adventure for the players. Their job is to build encounters with enemies to fight, scatter treasure for the players to find, and develop a plot for them to follow. You can see where this is going: the GM is, essentially, a storyteller weaving a compelling story for the players to play through. You can see why this is appealing for a writer.

This past weekend, I had the chance to sit down with a group I used to play D&D with. I haven’t had a lot of time to play with them lately, but had a free evening on Saturday, so I dropped in. The GM whipped up a One Shot so I could play without disrupting the overall arc of their story, came up with a nice plot hook for my character to be thrown into the action, and we were off.

The story was quite clever: my character Arranis was frantically wandering through the forest trying to collect herbs for a potion that would help heal a young boy. I ran into the other adventurers, who came back with me to the village, where we discovered that the boy–Timothy–was ill because their family couldn’t afford proper medical care. The town they were living in was controlled by a tyranical man who was taxing them to death, and cared for nothing but himself. When we tried to confront him, we were intercepted by a ghost in heavy chains who told us our villain–Abanezer–would be visited by three spirits hoping to convince him to change his ways; our job was to make sure the good spirits could do their job without interference, and we spent the evening fighting off foes who wanted Abanezer to stay as evil as he was.

Sound familiar?

This is what I enjoy so much about role playing. Even a well known story can provide a fun backdrop for adventure. Some of you may have seen the recent episode of The Big Bang Theory or read the Penny Arcade comics of the past weeks, and it’s the same idea. Take a story, spin it into an adventure, and hack/slash away. Our GM was able to lead us through a compelling plot, and we, as players, were able to affect the story through our actions.

Game Mastering is a particular skill, but it’s closely related to writing. You want to have Plot Hooks for your characters, motivations for them to want to move the plot forward, tension and action to keep them interested, and–most importantly–a backup plan in case your characters go widely off the path you’ve set out. Most of you know all too well what happens when a character or plot gets out of control and you need to write yourself out of a corner. Usually, it leads the plot into wonderful territory you never considered, and (for me anyway) that’s part of the magic of writing.

I once ran a solo game for someone who wanted to learn the World of Darkness system. It’s a game that focuses on horror and supernatural elements in a “real world” setting, so it has a much more tangible feel to it. We had a great time playing what amounted to a short piece of fiction–effectively, we were living out the story, I as the narrator, and he as the protagonist. This specific game is actually part of what got me back into writing after a (too) long hiatus, and (with the player’s permission) I’ve started work on it as a novella called The Road to Hell. Look for it to be released sometime in 2013.

I can’t say that I’m an experienced Game Master–I’ve really only dipped my toe–but the games I ran did make me a better writer. And, I like to think, vice versa. It’s all about weaving a story, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that a lot of writers would be good at running an RPG–or that GMs or players would find they’re good at writing. The people I played with last weekend are a great example–one of the players (who was actually the first DM I played with) had a successful turn at NaNoWriMo this year, in fact.

RPGs certainly aren’t for everyone. For some people they seem downright silly. But if you’re a writer, I’d urge you to at least give it a shot–you might be surprised with what you find. And if you’re a DM who stumbled upon this post and have never written a word–try it. You never know.

I could talk at length about RPGs…and might do more posts on the topic as related to writing. In the meantime, I’ll let others speak for me. Here’s a few links for you:

  • Critical Hit: A terrific podcast by the folks at Major Spoilers. It’s an ongoing game that started as a great tutorial for one player, and got even more awesome from there. Really, go listen–you can find them on iTunes.
  • Dragon’s Temple: Julio Nicolini is a writer and fellow player from Myth Weavers who has his own blog. He talks about RPGs and writing, and often posts excerpts of his work.
  • Penny Arcade: These guys talk about video games, comics, RPGs and all things GeekTheir comic often deals with Dungeons and Dragons, and the crew gets together with Wizards of the Coast once a year to play a game with the indomitable Wil Wheton–which you can also find on iTunes.
  • Myth Weavers: This is a “Play by Post” site where you can play a variety of RPGs online. It’s a great community, and very friendly to newcomers.
  • Wizards of the Coast:Makers of Dungeons and Dragons and other games.
  • White Wolf Publishing: Makers of the World of Darkness game, and others–including Vampire, Werewolf and Mage.

Thanks everyone for reading along these past few months. With the holiday season fast upon us, I won’t be posting here again until January–next week will be a bit busy. So Happy Holidays and New Year!

ROW80 Update: When in Doubt, Add Dragons

Around of Words in 80 DaysI’m afraid I don’t have much to update today, and I’m sorry that seems to be a common refrain lately! This weekend was a bit rough–I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say I was ill enough that I didn’t writemuch, and only today am I beginning to feel myself again. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to write in fits and starts, and have accomplished about 1000 words. This means I’m three quarters finished with the rough draft of Court of Rain–which means I’m about halfway through Phase One of my project. I was hoping to be finished all four parts of phase one by the end of December, and I’m not sure that will happen–but I’m not going to change my goal just yet. Be positive!

In the meantime, although I didn’t write many actual words, I had a lot of time to think about the story. I’ve been a bit dissatisfied with it lately. I love the characters and the idea, but it’s starting to feel flat. There’s too much discussion and humming and hawing. This, I’ve realized, comes down to the structure of the project.

As I’ve mentioned, the whole project is based on the structure of the tarot. The Court stories are based on the four court cards of each suit–Pentacles (Sand), Cups (Rain), Swords (Sylphs), and Wands (Tinder). The court cards can be thought of as members of a family–mother, father, son and daughter–and when they come up in a reading, they often refer to a particular person in your life. As such, the ;purpose they’re serving in my story is as a sort of character study.

And there’s the problem. There’s not much action in these stories. I figured it wouldn’t be an issue since each scene is only 2000 words long–but with a total of sixteen scenes, you get what amounts to a short novella. That’s a lot of text without much action–it can’t all be character development.

So I’m learning a couple valuable things about my writing. First, that you can’t concentrate on description and character to the exclusion of action. Something’s got to happen to move the plot forward, and the machinations of my antagonist won’t cut it. Second, I need to learn to be flexible with my structure. Basing this on the tarot is all well and good–and will contribute to the mystical symbolism of the overall project–but if I keep to it too much, the result will be bland and constricted. Sometimes you have to colour outside the lines.

So where does that leave me? I’ve got to kick things up a notch. And what better way to do that than to throw in a dragon or two?

Dragons have always been a part of my “world,” though they’re not common. They are the physical manifestations of their respective elements–thus there are four species. A Mage practicing with a particular Element can, if powerful enough, summon a dragon. Though that doesn’t mean they can control it…

Dragons aren’t something the general populace knows about. They’re creatures of myth and legend, and it’s been centuries since a Mage powerful enough to summon one has been active. Over the course of this story, I wanted dragons to appear, but more in the background than anything. Now, I think I want to bring them in early. My antagonist is threatening to change the status quo for all the other characters–he’s trying to start a war that will eventually involve the gods. If he has dragons on his side, the stakes get suddenly very high–maybe high enough to challenge the gods themselves.

Now I’ve got an interesting story. We’ll see where it goes.

ROW80 Update

I was going to include this update in today’s longer post, but decided that topic deserved to be set alone. I’m a fan of evocative writing, even if I’m not too good at it yet, and I’ve wanted to share that for a while. Hope you like it.

But on to the update:

I’m managing to keep myself vaguely on track, having written just shy of 2000 words since Monday. Not too bad at all, I think. More than that, the scene I wrote introduced a character I’ve been waiting to feature: Tobias Osir.

In the original incarnation of the story I’m writing, the plot takes place hundreds of years after the story I’m writing now. There was a long complex backstory I was going to reveal in flashbacks and short “interlude scenes” that would give more information on the mythology of the world. They all featured the Prophet Osir and his quest to reinvigorate the faith of his people in the midst of a devastating war. When I started writing Tapestry this time around, I decided to just write that story. Why hint at it when I can put it front and centre?

Osir is a character I’ve had in my head for a long time, but he’s never really been well defined–precisely because he was in the background. That’s a mistake, of course–background characters of any importance should be fleshed out–but now that he’s one of my main characters, that’s moot. I’m excited to get a chance to know him better, and more than just some esoteric prophet.

The thing that’s surprised me most about Osir is that he’s pretty timid. I generally build characters by having an overall view of their arc, then just writing an introductory scene; I have an idea of where I want to go, but I find I get more colourful characters if I let them develop organically (especially when they do so in relation to other characters). The scene I wrote was between Osir and Alkut, who is trying to overthrow the Empire and start a war–and wants Osir’s help. Osir’s reaction is meek and defensive. This seems like a weak start for him, but I think it will serve his arc well–there’s a lot of room for growth and development.

Chipping Away At The Stone: ROW80 Update

Well, I’ve managed to follow my own advice, and set out to make some time to writ. I didn’t make a huge amount of progress since Wednesday–835 words–but it’s a start. I’m chipping away at the stone: piece by piece, I’ll carve out this story. I wonder at my self imposed deadlines and goals, though. I was expecting to finish writing Court of Rain by November 15; with one story out of four completed in rough draft, I’m well overdue.

I want to remind myself that part of the reason I’m behind is the restructuring of the narrative I’ve been doing. In trying to resolve the issues brought up in an earlier post, I’ve killed off one character, changed the motivations and characterizations of a second, and added a third (who is turning out to be a major one). I’ve also re-written an entire scene featuring this new character, effectively redoing 2000 words instead of writing a new scene and putting me ahead.

So I can’t be too hard on myself. Part of the beauty of ROW80 is that the goals are explicitly mutable. They allow for unforeseen circumstances and change. I just have to be careful not to rely on that and turn it into an excuse to fall even further behind. Now that my major restructuring is done (I hope) I can charge forward and write the rest of Court of Rain. I’ll aim for mid-December to finish another 6000 words, which shouldn’t be a problem if I keep myself accountable. Wish me luck!

 

Back in the Saddle–plus, New Schedule and ROW80 Update

Around of Words in 80 Days

A Round of Words in 80 Days

Well, after more than a week of writer’s block and general lassitude, I’ve been able to jump back into it and actually write. Research, plotting and organization is important, mind you, but I feel like I haven’t accomplished much tangible work in the last while. But I’m happy to say that in the last few days I managed to hammer out 1,153 words.

Okay, so it doesn’t sound like much spread over the three days since Wednesday’s update–but it’s a start. And a good one, considering that each of the scenes in my project–of which there are sixteen in total–are supposed to be around 2000 words. So, half done one new scene = not too bad. The unfortunate thing is that this is a new scene I’m writing to replace on that wasn’t working, so in a sense, it’s backtracking. But, it’s better for the overall story, so there you go. Perhaps I can salvage some of the replaced scene for something else.

I also have some news to share. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I originally set out to write a new post for every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And you also know that for the past couple weeks, I haven’t managed a Friday post. This is a combination of work ramping up, trying to focus on writing my story rather than blog posts, and generally not having a topic to write about.

But on the advice of Duolit, I’ve decided to concentrate my efforts for this blog into certain areas. This will help me keep to a more regular schedule, and also help me figure out what exactly I want to say on this blog.Which, in turn, I hope will make it more interesting for you guys! So, I’ve come up with a new schedule:

  • On Mondays, I’ll blog about publishing. This may include articles about cover creation, how Kobo/Amazon works, formatting, or general indie publishing topics. This is the bare bones of self-publishing.
  • On Wednesdays I have an update with ROW80, so it’s a good time to do an article on Writing. This will be the meat of what we do; topics will cover things like character arcs, plotting, world building, and what makes good fiction.
  • On Fridays I’ll feature other indie authors with two semi-regular features: Indie Reviews and Indie Interviews. This won’t happen every week, but I’ll offer them as often as I can. This gives me some flexibility in my schedule while doing something that gives back to the indie community at large–showcasing other people’s work. There’s a lot of it out there, so there’s plenty of potential in this feature. I’m going to aim for at least two of these posts a month.
  • And on Sunday I have another ROW80 check-in. These posts won’t be very long, and will be more for keeping me accountable to my schedule. On Sundays I may also post news about this blog, or important topics that come up outside the topics listed above. Lie Fridays, this may not happen every week, but with a smaller post it shouldn’t be a problem.

So there we have it–a new schedule, and some concrete topics to look forward to each week. Enjoy–and as always, feedback is appreciated!

Organization Woes, OneNote, and ROW80

I’m a writer of short stories. This is something that’s starting to become apparent as I work my way through my Tapestry Project–writing an extended series is a much different thing. It will be, effectively, an epic length novel by the time it’s finished–and a novel has very different considerations than a group of short stories.

We won’t get into that today–I want to share, as part of my ROW80 update, what has helped me get back on track. As I mentioned Monday, I’ve been having trouble with some of the basic plotting of my project, in particular what the characters will be doing. So I sat down and did some careful organization–and I used a new (to me) Writer’s Tool called OneNote.

OneNote is a Microsoft product bundled with their Office Suite. It’s basically note taking software; you can make notes,add images, sound or video, organize it into separate workbooks, and generally keep everything tidy. It’s a one stop shop for all your notes and research.

Now, I know I’ve talked about Scrivener and it’s organizational qualities, and they’re great–but OneNote is something I’ve wanted to try for a while, and now that I have, I’m loving it. It’s easy to use and does exactly what I need it to do. The only trouble I’m having is synchronizing it between computers–but I’m troubleshooting that.

Anyway, this program has helped me get back on track. My update on Monday showed I haven’t moved very far in the project, and I’m afdraid I can’t extend that progress–at least not in word count. But, I’ve been able to set down what I want, and some deadlines as to how I’ll get there.

OneNote 2

Deadlines

As you can see (click on the image to enlarge), this is a very long term project. I based these timelines on the ROW80 schedule; this first round I’m participating in will encompass Phase One; I’ll tackle Phase Two over the next couple rounds, and Phase Three will probably take two rounds in itself. All in all, I don’t expect to finish the project by at least 2014.

That seems like a long time away, but I like giving myself the extra time. Realistically, I may be able to write parts of it much faster–but keeping a schedule like this will keep me on track, and allow me to see when i’m dropping behind. It should be interesting to see how I keep up with it.

(Incidentally, you’ll see I was also doodling on this tab in OneNote; the program has a drawing toolbar like Word, though I had to use a paint program to fill in the lines and dots and such. I’ll get into this symbol another time; suffice it to say it’s an Occult Glyph that the Hierophantic Caste uses, and that its meaning will be explored across the project as a whole. Meanwhile, I’ll promise a free copy of the entire project to the first person who can decode it in the comments below…if you can!)

OneNote is great for all sorts of things. The ability to insert check boxes made drawing up that schedule pretty easy. The big thing I like about this program, though, is that you can write anywhere on the page–just point your cursor and start typing, and it’ll put your text into a separate box. You can then pull this box around the page, fitting it wherever you like. That proved helpful in the page you see to the right.

OneNote 1

My plotting of Phase One

This is a Plotting Diagram for Phase One. As I’ve explained, Phase One will contain four stories of four scenes each; putting each story into it’s own block allows me to move them around

as I decide which will come first. My original order was Court of Sand, Court of Rain, Court of Sylphs, and Court of Tinder; comparing all of these together makes me wonder if I should switch Rain with Sylphs.

I’m a very visual person when it comes to organizing, so being able to basically shuffle index cards and move them around was very helpful for me. And I use that metaphor intentionally; one of the highlights of Scrivener is the use of Index Cards on the corkboard, which would can move around as you please. The difference is that in Scrivener you can only change the order–you can’t place a card wherever you want. In OneNote, you can put one card on top of another, move it off to the side, or move it completely off the page (as I did with my scene by scene synopsis in the picture here; I didn’t want to give you any spoilers!)

So this is how I’ve spent the last few days working on my Tapestry project. No, I don’t have a word count to offer for ROW80 this week–I wanted to, but didn’t make the time. However, all of this planning and finagling has helped me achieve something very valuable: I know have a very concrete idea of where I want this story to do, how my characters should act, and how long it will take me. I feel like I’ve painted lines on the road and am ready to barrel down the highway–remembering of course that in writing, it’s occasionally encouraged to go off the rails.

Lastly, you’ll notice a change in the theme I’m using for this blog. I got tired of the ragged page looking one, and wanted a bit of colour. I haven’t settled on this theme, and migth play with a few others over the next while–tell me what you think in the comments!

~J