Tapestry–A New Project, and a Sample

All Sizes

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While I’m in the midst of planning the marketing and production of my upcoming collection–The Astrologers and Other Stories–I’m also continuing to write. I have a file on the memo app on my phone that teems with story ideas, and one of them is particularly exciting for me.

Those of you who read The Astrologers (which you can find here, here, and here), will have an idea about the World of this project. The setting is one I created many years ago, but my planned novel never got finished. The Astrologers is a stand alone story I wrote partly in the hopes of rejuvenating that world–and it worked. The ideas started flooding in, and now I’ve pencilled out an outline for a large project.

It starts two hundred years before the time of my planned novel–which I still plan to write one day–and The Astrologers. I wanted to explore the backstory of my World, and in the process, help build it. I’m also planning on featuring a favourite character of mine, the Prophet Osir–a character that never appears in the aforementioned novel, but is a significant figure in its mythology. Now, I get to tell his story.

The project–tentatively titles Tapestry–will be written in three phases. Phase one is a collection of sixteen short stories, each working as character studies; they will be released in four sets, each between 8000 and 10,000 words long

Phase two will consist of four novellas, each following the story revealed through the earlier character studies. These stories are interrelated, and some scenes from Phase one will be revisited from other viewpoints, or otherwise expanded upon.

Phase three will be a longer novel that concentrates on Tobias Osir, a young soldier in the army who is caught in the middle of a religious and political war. Osir is forced to question his faith and his place in the world. It will follow him from his naive beginnings to…well, you’ll just have to read it.

In the end, we’ll have nine separate stories, each interrelated and connected to each other: a true literary tapestry. There’s a specific structure behind this–but we’ll talk about that another time. In the meantime, here’s a sample: the opening of the series. Let me know what you think in the comments!

 

Garden

Lamplight flickered, and shadows danced on the wall. Verdant silence filled the halls, and the only movement was the opening of the door to the Empress’s chambers. A dark form slipped out and closed the door behind him with a soft click. Alkut stopped for a moment, listening; content that he was alone, he sneaked quietly away. He did not notice her son, Ohmelus, General  of the Court, watching him.

****

Metedre fell upon the door as it closed, resting her forehead on the rough wood. A heavy sigh shook her shoulders, and yet she wore a faint smile; these encounters were always bittersweet. She bit a lip. More sweet than bitter tonight.
But the guilt would come. It haunted the dark, sang refrains in her mind as she held court with her Emperor. She never ceased to marvel that he didn’t know—or if he did know, that he didn’t care. She would be naïve to think that it was as well a kept secret as she wished, and that thought kept her continually on edge.
And yet she would not deny herself. Tauri was cold, distant—he had an empire to rule, and had no time for her. She had known that even before they were married. She had but one role as Empress: continue the line. That she had, with Ohmelus, and though more heirs would be welcome, her function had been served. Tauri had little to do with her, nor should he. His eyes were on the governance of the realm.
When Alkut’s footsteps receded out of earshot, she stepped away from the door and padded her way, barefoot, to the window overlooking her garden. A small marble bench sat by the sill, and she wrapped her robe more tightly around herself as she sat. For once, the breeze was cool tonight. The soft caress was welcome.
She did not love him, and he had as much as admitted that he had no love for her. Their…arrangement was mutually beneficial, and that was all. Occasionally, she revelled in the thought that all she need do was give the word, and he—and his temptations—would be removed. She need not expend any further thought on the matter, and no one would dare ask questions, even tell the Emperor if she bade them not to. Her quandary would be erased. But then, Alkut served not only to warm her bed. He was critical to the Empire’s survival.
The breeze wafted through the window and brought with it a scent of jasmine. They had been imported from Tornum at her request—and no little expense—and had become one of her greatest pleasures. It was a slave for an overwrought mind, and always served to bring her back down to earth.
Tauri had acted interested when she asked for the flowers, and the Court did as they always did, applauding his decision despite the cost. In the end, it had been to him little more than an opportunity; he’d had the flowers planted all through Ais for the populace to enjoy, and spoke at length about the benefits of bringing such beauty to the normally hot and dry city. Indeed, the white blooms had infested the city, and everyone praised the wisdom of the Emperor for bringing such life to their veritable desert. Not a word was spoken about her own involvement, but that was immaterial. She relished in the people’s enjoyment, and was happy that her own request had benefited them.
Still, she was the only one in Ais with a full garden. Many of the richer caste had flowers in their yard, even grass and fountains—but not a real garden like hers. It was a great indulgence in a realm with more sands than people, and the resources it took to cultivate and maintain the plants was considerable, but nobody begrudged her. Occasionally she held lavish public parties in her garden, welcoming everyone, regardless of caste or wealth. The people often called her The Jasmine Empress because of it, and celebrated her generosity. No regent of the Empire had ever done this for the people, and she knew she would be remembered for it long after she turned to dust. It was a legacy that gave her more pleasure than that of the Tauri line ever could.
The parties were becoming more frequent, and more necessary. Her people had fallen on difficult times; populations grew while resources grew thin, and there seemed to be more problems than pleasures. Her garden had become a bastion of peace, a refuge where people could forget their cares, if even for a short time. Something about the verdant growth entrances the Ozym; they felt grounded in her garden, rooted. She liked to think that being connected to the land gave them a new perspective of their problems—that they were fleeting, however taxing, that these blossoms, properly tended, would outlast all of their problems. She wanted this garden to become a symbol for her people, a sign that the problems of their material world mattered much less than the wonders of the world around them. This garden, she hoped, would continue thriving long after all of them had turned to dust.
She smiled at the thought, her indiscretions of the evening almost forgotten. Then, gazing dreamily out the window, she caught a flutter of movement in her garden, and a small gnomish figure stepped out of a copse of trees. Metedre stood at once, and fled to the door. The Crone had news.

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Editing and Ego

credit: Penn Provenance Project.

The best part of being a writer–in my opinion, anyway–is creating. That’s why I like to write: I’m a creative person, and I enjoy making things. To be in control of a character or setting, or to invent either from the ground up, is a thrilling thing for a writer.

But that’s not really what a writer does, is it?

A writer starts there, but the real work is in honing that creative idea into something readable. That’s not an easy thing to do, whatever Mr. Vonnegut says. It takes a lot of attention to detail, a lot of time and effort, and–most especially–a big slice of humble pie. Editing is where you take that incredible, gonna-be-a-millionare gem of a manuscript, and tear it to pieces until it resembles something people will actually buy.

When I was in high school, we were given a simple project in English class: write a story from the viewpoint of a character from another story we’ve read in class. I chose a story with a character who was illiterate and uneducated, and had him write a letter to his son. I purposefully filled the story with spelling and grammar mistakes and imposed a lack of clarity, because I thought that was how an illiterate person would try to write a letter. The idea might have been interesting, but I failed the project. Why? It was filled with spelling and grammar mistakes, and suffered from a lack of clarity.

The piece needed severe editing, but my insistence to the teacher that “this is how the character would have done it” fell on deaf ears. In trying to be creative, I missed the point of the lesson: to create a cohesive story that was interesting to read. It was, in fact, unreadable–and despite that being the intent, the story ended up being a complete mess that was hard to follow and not enjoyable to read. And here’s the point: properly edited, that story could have been clear and easy to read, while still getting the point across.

And that, I think, is the hardest part of the editing process. It’s easy to think about an editor as the one who erases or deconstructs your work–but when you take your ego out of it and understand that editing is in your best interests, you start to see how valuable that process is. An editor will not only check your work for spelling and grammar mistakes, they’ll refine your piece to make it the best it can be.

I’m in the throes of this process now. I recently sent a selection of my work for a sample edit from an editor, and the response was surprising. After going over the story twice myself and making my own edits, I thought it was close to finished–but my editor picked up on a lot of small things I’d missed. And that, I think, is the best reason for getting a professional editor to look at your work: they’re going to find stuff you missed. That in itself is worth the cost.

My first collection–The Astrologers and other stories–is ready to send for editing now. This is a step in the writing process that I’ve never taken before, and it’s a bit nerve-wracking. But it’s also liberating.

My editor is fellow writer and blogger Yesenia Vargas. She’s just started offering editing services, which you can find more about here. Now, another stumbling block for new writers is the cost of hiring an editor–but Yesenia has great rates (among the best I’ve found), and I can speak to her work being top notch.

And, as of the time of this writing, Yesenia is graciously offering a 50% discount to her next four clients! Send her an email quick and get on her list–you won’t find a better deal than that.

We’ll be talking to Yesenia about her editing services soon, so stay tuned!

 

Swooping and Bashing

I haven’t had a whole lot of time (or energy) this week to put up a blog post, so apologies for the delay! This one is going to be short and sweet, but I wanted to get something out there. My intent for this week was to get out a few related articles on the process of editing, but that’ll have to be pushed into next week, so stay tuned.

In the meantime: Swoopers and Bashers.

In the wonderfully quirky Timequake, Kurt Vonnegut wrote that there are two types of writers: swoopers and bashers. Swoopers are those who write everything all at once, just get it on the page, then spend an arduous amount of effort editing the work until it’s “right.” Bashers–Vonnegut identifies himself as one–prefer to labour over each and every sentence, getting it right the first time until it’s done.

I used to think I was a basher too. I’m the kind of person who will stare at a blank page, not because I don’t know what to write, but because I don’t know how I want to write it. I’ll have the scene or dialog all planned out in my head (or, occasionally, in an outline), but won’t put pen to paper until I know exactly how I want to say it. That way, in the words of Vonnegut, “when it’s done, it’s done.”

This is all very well and good, but what I’m finding out now is that it doesn’t work that way. Maybe for an accomplished wordsmith like Vonnegut it’s okay, but not for me. In looking over my existing work this past few weeks and deciding what I want to publish, I’ve been discouraged to see that the pieces I thought were ready for ‘print’ are far from it. Much of it looks immature, if you will. In fact, it looks very much like a (gasp!) First Draft. Which, of course, is all it is, because I thought I was the kind of guy to get it right the first time and never bothered to go back.

Lesson learned. Now that I’ve finished my first collection of short stories–which I hope to have published online in about a month or so, pending setbacks–I’m starting to learn how much work actually goes into writing. And more importantly, how much of the writing process isn’t “creating” at all, not in the sense once like to think of how a writer crafts their work. Most of writing is actually editing, revising, and frankly cutting stuff that doesn’t work. It hurts, it’s dull, and it will drive you crazy–but it’s necessary. I don’t know what kind of magic pen Kurt Vonnegut had that let him bash out the perfect novel on the first try…but I’m inclined to think even he had it harder than he let on.

 

Case in point: a wonderful blog post on editing from Mike Nappa on the Writer’s Digest website. I couldn’t put it better myself, so take a read after the jump: How to Edit Your Book in 4 Steps.

Now, about that collection I mentioned above: I’m in the process of getting an editor, and will be sending it off to be pored over very soon. This is my first experience with a professional editor, so I’m interested to see how my work pans out. And of course, I’ll let you all in on it as we go…watch for that coming soon!

 

 

Another Brick in the Road.

Source: Sarah Reid c/o Flikr

 

So, I’ve set the first brick in the road to becoming a self published author: writing something to publish. Of course, I’ve written lots of things over the years–stories, poetry, novels–but nothing that’s gotten me moving. Today, however, I finished the fourth story in a collection of shorts which I plan to sell on the Kobo store (and via them, on iBooks, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble) in order to establish a presence and start some buzz. I haven’t decided on a price yet, but it’ll be low–and I plan to offer one of the stories separately for free as a teaser, which will hopefully generate some interest.

Why I am I going this route, instead of going straight for the novel-in-waiting?

There are several reasons. First of all, I need to experiment with this. I’ve never published before, and although it’s getting easier and easier for writers to get their work out there, there’s still a lot to learn. I figure it’s best to cut my teeth on something smaller and simpler, rather than going for broke with a large project–and potentially mucking it up.

Secondly, one thing I’ve read over and over again in my research on e-publishing is the importance of building an author platform. This is something I’ll concentrate on in a separate post, but suffice it to say it means developing an audience. You can’t sell books without having people to sell them too, and your readers will be your best source of advertising. It’ll be easier to start building that audience with a shorter introduction to my work, not to mention quicker.

Finally, and most importantly: I need to just get started. I’m not going to publish anything if I don’t start somewhere, and to be perfectly honest, starting small will keep me accountable. And, hopefully, once I get the ball rolling, it’ll be easier for me to keep rolling with it.

Next step: finding an editor. I’ll be writing more about that part of my journey in the coming weeks. If all goes well, I plan to have something published online by the end of September.

Steampunk, (part 3) and short stories.

I mentioned a while ago that one of the introductions I had to the world of e-publishing was Lindsay Buroker. I read a couple of her short stories (Ice Cracker II and The Assassin’s Curse), and got hooked on her writing. But it also got me thinking that  I could get into indie publishing in the same way.

This is something I’ve been thinking about since I started this blog, and set out on this e-publishing journey to begin with. So it was with great pleasure that I came across Ryan Casey’s blog and his recent post, “Short Stories: Four Reasons Why You Should Write Them.” Check it out, it’s a good read.

It also validated part of why I’m going about this the way I am. My short term plan is to write a collection of short stories and use them as a sort of “test drive” through the process of uploading and publishing a book on the Kobo store. The thought was that this would be a simpler project than jumping in head-first with a novel, it would take less time and resources to get my work out there and start building a platform, and it would introduce readers to my work for a minimal fee (I’ll probably charge $0.99 for the collection, and possibly offer one of the stories as a stand alone free download). Ryan hit on those points, and more–which makes me think I’m on the right track.

But his post also got me thinking about what else short stories are doing for me. I’m getting a lot out of it:

  • It’s getting me “in the habit.” Writing the first draft of a short story is taking me, on average, three days, and because it’s a shorter self contained plot, it’s easy to keep engaged. I look forward to finishing them, so I can go onto the next one. The end result is that I’ve written three stories in the last week and a half, have started a fourth, and have a plethora of new ideas.
  • It keeps me accountable. Having a long term project like a novel is great, but it can seem a long ways off. It’s also a large project, which–for me–is an intimidating way to start off. Especially if the novel ends up not selling, in which case I’d probably feel like I’ve wasted a good deal of time and effort. By writing short fiction, I can give myself shorter term goals, which are easier to achieve–which in turn keeps me engaged in setting new, larger goals.
  • Short stories are helping with my “world building.” I want to get into fantasy writing because it means that I get to make the rules; yes, there are tropes and ideas that most fantasy will make use of, but I can still use those as a framework, and dressing it as I see fit. But building a world is a lot of work; you have to be careful about consistency and tone, and doing that over a longer project is challenging. Writing short stories is allowing me to experiment with the world as it’s being built, adding onto things piece by piece until I have a cohesive whole. I’d like to talk about world building in a future post, so stay tuned for that.
  • Finally, it’s Immediate. Not literally–I’ve given myself to the end of September for my first collection, editors willing–but it’s a lot quicker than a novel, which can take months to write, let alone editing and revisions. I’m the kind of person who is generally productive, but likes to see results, and short stories are fitting the bill. I get small nuggets of success at regular intervals, they’re quicker and simpler for my readers to digest, and I can build up anticipation for new stories by issuing them relatively quickly.

So, for me, short stories are the way to go, at least to get started. In my short time in the online writer’s world, I’ve sensed that this is the consensus view; if you have comments to the contrary, let’s open a discussion!

And now, for those of you who have been following my experiment in Steampunk, (you can find part one here and part two here) here is the conclusion of The Astrologers:

Almost everyone in the audience jumped to their feet and started pushing one another aside in an effort to get closer to Vesir. He stepped back reflexively, grinning as he did so–he obviously enjoyed the attention—and tapped the handle on his other palm.

“Not so excited now, please be calm! The Astrologers know all, but they can only answer one question. And, my dear friends,” at this point, he adopted a hang-dog expression, “my magnificent Automata are not inexpensive to operate. Perhaps if someone would be so kind as to make a donation…”

Dolle’s mouth fell open. This man was a…what was the word her father liked to use? A huckster?

Nobody seemed to notice the barker at his game, however. The people started digging in their pockets for coins, waving them and hooting like pigeons begging for a crumb of bread. Vesir placed the rod under one armpit and made a show of applauding his customers.

“Excellent, excellent, my friends! I knew there were philanthropists in this crowd,” he cooed. He leaned into one particularly excited young woman and added: “the last lot were certainly not so kind–nor beautiful–as this.”

With a twirl, his coat flapping behind him, Vesir stepped back toward his Astrologers and tapped the closest one on the shoulder. An arm raised with a mechanical, jerky motion, producing a velvet bag. Vesir saluted the automaton and took the bag. Beckoning to the young woman, he deftly pocketed her proffered coin, and both it and the bag disappeared into his pocket.

“Now, my beauty, what is it you would like to know? Remember, the Astrologers can tell all the secrets of the heavens!”

The woman looked suddenly sheepish and stumbled over her words now that she was on display. Eventually, she leaned in and whispered to Vesir, who smiled, showing pearly white teeth. As she went back to her spot in the crowd, Dolle could see her blushing.

Well, well, well!” Vesir exclaimed, clapping his hands. A secret question! Well, my young friend, it is safe with me–and with the Astrologers! They are modest machines, I tell you. No one will hear of it from I, the Magnificent Vesir!”

With another flourish–his theatrics were wearing on Dolle by now–he retrieved the leather handled rod and whirled it in the air again. He walked up and down the row of mechanical men, choosing one seemingly at random, and fit the rod into a hole in its side. Smiling widely at his audience, he whispered at the automata, his eyes never leaving the crowd.

“This is Aspect, one of my wisest and most articulate Astrologers. He will answer your question, dear lady. Behold!”

He began to turn the rod. As he cranked, the Astrolger made a series of clicks and whirs, its head turning this way and that, arms moving up and down as he marched in place. Thoroughly disillusioned now, Dolle had to stifle a laugh. It was hard to believe that these people were believing such a ridiculous display. It was interesting, however, to see the wheels and dials on its chest move. The pointers cycled around, moving at different speeds.

But they ate it up. People were clapping in time to the automata’s clanking rhythm. Some shouted their own questions, though Vesir paid them no mind. The woman was gnawing at her fingertips in anticipation.

Then there was a faint humming sound which rose in pitch until it was almost a whistle. The wheels stopped turning, as did Vesir; the pointers rested at various angles. The showman examined the Astrologer’s chest with great concentration, giving the occasional nod and “I see”, stroking the small pointed beard on his chin. Then, removing the rod and folding it into his pocket once more, and faced the audience. Without looking at his creations, he addressed them in a loud, triumphant voice:

“And what, my Astounding Astrologers, is the verdict?”

Aspect stepped forward and made a clunky sort of bow, then raised an arm in front of itself, as if preparing to declaim on a stage.

“All signs point to…yes.”

Its voice was tinny, and buzzed on the sibilant sounds; there was no variation in tone, no emotion at all. It could have been a series of pops and clicks and buzzes that conveniently happened to sound like speech–but the audience erupted with applause. The woman who had asked the question rushed forward to Vesier and hugged him, tears in her eyes, then ran out of the tent–dragging her astonished male companion with her. The others seemed to want to stay and ask more questions, but Vesir feigned fatigue–holding out his velvet bag, of course–and told them he must rest before the next show, as must his Astrologers. On the way out Dolle heard at least one man say he’d be back for the next presentation.

The entire show had lasted less than ten minutes. Dolle wasn’t convinced, and felt more than a little guilty for sneaking in–her father seemed to have been right. It was nothing more than a put-on.

Vesir took off his gloves and chuckled to himself, hefting the bag of coins before stuffing it back into his pocket. He approached the Astrologer who had answered the question, and kicked it in the shins.

“Another good one, old boy. This lot pays much better than the cheapskates back in Heira’kol!”

The automata didn’t respond.

Vesir laughed, and punched it on the shoulder. “All right, you lot, back to the wagon! A few of you could use a polish before the next set, I should think…” He trundled back around the corner, and the Astrologers turned to follow.

All at once there was a tremendous racket coming from outside the tent. Vesir came running back, head cocked to the side, listening. Spitting some words that Dolle wished not to have heard, he ducked into the wagon and reappeared promptly with a coiled whip. He ran out of the tent, muttering “Not again…”

Dolle was alone with the Astrologers, who had stopped moving in Vesir’s absence. She inched forward; then, realizing she was entirely alone, walked boldly up to the Astrologers.

“Sirs,” she said, bowing, “That was a very…interesting demonstration.”

There was no response. She tapped Aspect on the side, looking up at him.

“Aspect, sir, what was the question the woman asked?”

The Astrologer whirred softly, as if considering a response, then bent his head down to look at Dolle. His multi-faceted eyes were flashing with hundreds of colours, but they seemed somehow empty. In the same, lifeless tinny voice, it answered:

“All signs point to…yes.”

There it was, then. It was all a trick, a toy, nothing more than a cleverly programmed anima after all. She had to admit that these constructs were more complex than she’d ever seen, but they were no longer magical, or even impressive. They were just big, clunky heaps of metal and wisps of elemental magic. She almost wanted to cry.

A loud crash shook her out of her reverie. There was something just outside the tent. She could hear panicked voices yelling in terror as booths fell and tents teared. Something was thrashing about outside, and even as she heard the ear splitting roar, her father’s voice carried over everything, calling her brother’s name.

The crashing noises were coming closer to the tent. Now she could hear her brother’s voice, sobbing with fear. Other voices, men mostly, clamoured and called, chasing after her family and, apparently, whatever beast had gotten loose.

There was another crash as the animal bowled its way into the tent. It fell on its side, growling, and righted itself quickly. It was a large lion, painted green and with a red mane. Clumps of paper mache clung to its fur along its back and tail. If it noticed Dolle, it didn’t show it; instead, its gaze was trained on the circle of men surrounding it–Vesir included, brandishing his whip–while her brother cowered behind her father’s legs. He was bleeding from scratches on his arms and face.

Several of the Astrologers had toppled over, knocked aside by the animal, but Aspect stood firm. Dolle, hiding behind the automaton, ventured to step around it to get a better look at the lion. It still hadn’t taken note of her, but as she stepped into view, her father did.

“Dolle!” he screamed, more out of relief than anger. “Where have you been, we’ve been looking…”

He was interrupted by the lion’s roar; the beast crouched, ready to pounce, its tail flicking pensively back and forth. Its gaze turned between Vesir and the other men, and its quarry–her brother. Jim whimpered as the men approached slowly, trying to circle around and corner it. Dolle, behind directly behind the lion, was in their way. Vesir called out:

“Girl! Little one…back slowly away so we adults can take care of this.” He sounded more annoyed than concerned for her; his eyes were trained more on his automata than Dolle. Her father noticed.

“Why don’t you order that contraption of yours to attack it?” her shot back angrily, pointing at the Astrologer. “If they can do half what you say they can, surely they could do something other than stand around. Hey!” he called to Aspect, “Get the lion, save her, you great bucket of–”

“You’re not helping the situation, sir,” Vesir said. His voice was calm, but dripping with condescension. He expertly avoided answering the question. The Astrologer stood there, mute and seemingly unaware of the situation.

As they argued, the other men started inching carefully forward in a wide arc. Vesir threw a cold look at her father and followed, snapping his whip to get the lion’s attention. It worked: the creature turned to Vesir and growled; the man swallowed, mumbling something about the missing trainer, and readied his whip again. The lion picked up the cue, and backed away.

Directly into one of the fallen Astrologers.

It almost tripped, and snapped around suddenly, jaws clacking at the perceived threat. Instead, he found only lifeless metal–and Dolle. Its tail flicked again, and its eyes shone. It raised its head to sniff the air, and the lion advanced a few tentative steps. It didn’t seem interested in Dolle herself so much as the fact she was the only one blocking its escape. It made to crouch again, and then everything happened at once.

Her father screamed her name. Vesir cried out. Her brother wailed. The lion leaped forward. Dolle let out a surprised yelp, and clasped the Astrologer tightly, her knuckles going white. The other men charged forward, desperate to get to the lion before it got to her.

And for Dolle, time seemed to contract, moving in slow motion. Her surroundings faded, and her vision went silver-white. Her hands grew warm and began to tingle. They felt almost fuzzy–like when your arm falls asleep if you lay on it wrong–but painless. The sensation swept in a tangible wave through her body, concentrated in her hands once more, then left, flowing into the automata. Her vision cleared and she swooned, falling to the ground. As she closed her eyes, she could vaguely see Aspect erupting forward, tackling the lion and bringing it to the ground, all the while repeating the same phrase over and over in that tinny, humming voice, the last direction he had been given: “Save her, save her, save her…”

When she came to, she found a circle of faces peering down at her. Her father and brother, Vesir, other men–and Aspect. She stared curiously at the featureless automata, and she swore that it regarded her just as closely. The eyes, glittering with colours as before, were dancing. It held out a metal hand to her; tentatively, she took it, and it helped her to her feet.

“She appears to be adequately recovered,” it said. The voice was still mechanical and toneless. Even as she stood, her head still dizzy, her father swept her into his arms, crying. Behind him, she could see the lion being manacled and led back toward the cage it escaped. He brother watched it wistfully; in his hand he held a paper mache tail with a serpent’s head at one end.

The others drifted away, their interests lying elsewhere now, clapping Vesir on the back and congratulating him on saving the girl. He smiled smile and nodded modestly–“no problem at all, just my duty”–but his eyes were awash with confusion. When they were alone, he darted toward Aspect, running his hands all over its chassis, examining every bit of the Astrologer. No longer the unresponsive and obedient machine, it politely brushed Vesir’s hands away.

“Thank you for your concern, sir, but I am quite undamaged. Your ministrations would be more beneficial if directed toward the girl.”

Vesir stood back in shock and surprise, and shot a suspicious look at Dolle.

“What did you do to it?” he asked. There was no anger in his voice; on the contrary, there was a touch of awe, of wonder.

Her father let Dolle gently to the ground, and took her hand.

“Don’t you touch her,” he warned Vesir, who promptly backed away. “Come, Dolle. Jim, we’re going. I think we’ve had enough of the carnival this year.” He held out both hands, which his children dutifully took in their own.

As they started walking away from the tattered tent, Dolle turned, breaking her father’s grip, and ran toward Aspect, hugging its legs.

“Thank you,” she said. The automata touched her gently on the head.

“I am pleased to have been helpful,” it said. “And thank you, for this.” It placed a hand over its chest.

Dolle smiled. “You’re welcome, Aspect,” she replied.

Running back to her father, she waved at the Astrologer. It waved back, arm clinking softly with the motion, as Vesir looked on, agape.

My Attempt at Steampunk

When I started to get back to my writing, my first question to myself was “what genre will I concentrate on?” The things I’d written spanned a few–sci-fi, fantasy, general fiction, even non-fiction–but I thought it best to stick with one or two genres and build a base there. The larger projects I’m working on are basically fantasy, though I’ve thrown in some weird fiction as well; but science fiction has always been dear to me.

I wanted to share the story that first got me into science fiction. It’s by Issac Asimov, the king of sci-fi. I found this story extant on the internet–though I’m not sure if it’s in the public domain, so if anyone has a problem with my posting it let me know and I’ll be happy to remove the link. It’s called The Last Question, and you can click the title for the text.

This story is a perfect example of what science fiction should be. It’s got some solid (for the time) science to it, has real human concerns, and has a wonderful ending. It blew me away the first time, and still gives me chills whenever I read it. Check it out, even if you’re not a sci-fi fan. It might convert you!

Anyway, I digress. When I was considering concentrating on sci-fi, I started looking at some good examples. I read a lot of Bradbury, Asimov, and so on. I also came across Kevin J. Andseron, who, in a whirl of serendipity, I learned was giving a reading at my public library. I got to meet him, and he passed out pamphlets containing the first three chapters of his new book Clockwork Angels, which is based on the latest album of one of my favourite bands, Rush. Talk about synchronicity!

The book is great, and I can’t wait to read the whole thing when it arrives this fall. It also introduced me to Steampunk–along with the oft mentioned Lindsay Buroker–and it got me thinking. Steampunk, as I understand it, is kind of a blend of science fiction and fantasy; a fantasy world where technology and magic intertwine to create a unique setting. Exciting…and why shouldn’t I experiment with it?

So, for the first time on this blog about writing, I’m going to post a sample of my work. This is my first attempt at the Steampunk genre. I’ve taken ideas and the setting from my planned fantasy novel and am trying it out in a steampunk cast; if this turn out, I’ll refit the novel as a whole. I think it has potential, but I’d appreciate constructive feedback.

Please keep in mind that this is a first draft, hammered out over margaritas. Its not going to be perfect! Here’s the first part:

The Astrologers

The carnival was coming. The most exciting weekend of the year–spun sugar candy, games and prizes, a carousel, the Hall or Horrors (Jim’s favourite); and it was finally here!

Dolle got out of bed early that morning, earlier than she had any right being up, and knocked on her parent’s bedroom door. Their room was separated from the rest of the small cabin because, as daddy said, “adults need their own space;” Dolle had never understood why, but being the adults, she assumed they knew best. And one day, she would be old enough to have her own room too, so it didn’t matter too much. For the time being, she was content–most of the time–to share a corner with her younger brother.

Dolle was ten. She was old enough to know the Important Things in Life (or so she thought,) but still young enough to be enraptured by the magic of it all–and the carnival was the shining example of that magic, the one time each year when there were no chores and they could eat all the candy they wanted, when there were incredible things to be seen and wondrous fun to be had.

As soon as she heard her father grumble something under his breath and his mother sigh a muffled consolation that he’d “promised this months ago,” Dolle went to her brother’s cot and shook him awake. It didn’t take much convincing; he was just as excited as her. He sprang out of bed and immediately started rambling about seeing his first Chimera. The schoolhouse had been talking about it for weeks now, after one of the schoolchildren moved with his family to Dakadain from far off Heira’Kol, one of the earlier stops on the caravan’s tour. It had all Jim had been able to talk about. A real live Chimera!

Dolle didn’t care so much about that–though she had to admit she was curious. Mostly, she didn’t care for the side shows in the carnival. It was the games and food and craft fair she was interested in, something her mother agreed on. This year would be different, though. This year, the Astrologers were coming.

For centuries, the Alchemages had been working with Elemental Magic, working it for the betterment of the Toral, teasing the intricate secrets of nature out into the open for all to see and command. But only in recent years had there been significant progress in one of the obscure schools of elemental magic: artificial anima.

Most of these alchemical constructs were little more than basic tools, insect and rodent shaped objects built from cobalt, silver or steel and imbued with elemental magic. They had been around for some time, their novelty long worn off. Dolle had even seen one at work, at one of the richer farms outside Dakadain: a large brass bison that ran on condensed Earth magic, and helped till the fields. It was an interesting thing to see, but in the end it was little more than a magical tool. Most artificial anima were less useful, really just toys and trinkets.

But rumors had been circulating for years that a certain Alchemage-a powerful Aeromancer by the name of Vesir–had achieved an incredible feat: the creation of sentient, thinking automata. He called them the Astrologers, and they were supposed to be able to tell the future.

Dolle was learning about artificial anima at school, but her teacher had scoffed at the idea of automata when she’d asked. Machines couldn’t have souls, she said, and dismissed the idea out of hand. So Dolle intended to visit Vesir and learn all about them herself.

Her father was finally getting out of bed, and her mother had put a kettle over the fire and was starting to tend the flames when she asked if they could see the Astrologers. Her father dropped a slipper he’d been trying to fit over his foot, and her mother just stifled a laugh behind a hand.

“Dolle, you know better than that, I hope,” her father said. “Those things are just toys, I’m sure. Some sort of machine that only has a certain number of things it says, so that fraud Vesir always knows how to answer them.”

“But daddy,” Dolle whined, “what if they’re really real?” She stamped her foot on the floor to accentuate her point. “If people can make anima, why can’t they make other things?”

Her mother, having got the fire going, put some sausages on the flat-iron balanced over the coals, and started mixing some eggs.

“Because, dear, magic doesn’t work that way. Can you tell me what the Elements do?”

Dolle slumped in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest, depressed at the sudden appearance of a school lesson. At first she refused to answer, but with a stern glance from her mother, she reluctantly obliged.

“The four elements each have their special rule over nature,” she recited. It was a textbook answer. “Earth, Air, Fire and Water each have different properties, but none of them stronger than the others. When a mage learns to use Elemental Magic, he learns to bend those properties to his will–but they can never be more than what they were to begin.”

“That’s right,” her mother cooed, placing a plate of eggs and sizzling sausage before her father. He hungrily dug in, grunting his thanks when she added a cup of hot tea to the setting.

The Elements are powerful, but they can only do so much. When they are used for anima, that construct behaves like an extension of its Nature. But a Geoanima wouldn’t be able to fly, no more than a Hydroanima would be able to start a fire. And none of the Elements has the power to animate something so that it can think and feel for itself.”

Dolle had heard this explanation before, from her teachers at school, friends at the playground, and other adults from which she’d tried to learn the secret of automata. Not for the first time, she wondered–not aloud, for she’d learned long ago that such questions would only earn her scoffs and “isn’t she cute-s”–about the Elements. If none of them could animate a thinking, feeling creature on their own, how had GiSek, the Creator, done it for the Toral?

Knowing better than to press the issue, she started eating her eggs, silently chewing and scheming a way to see Vesir, without her parents knowing.

There we are, folks! I’ll put up other samples as they come.

Scrivener: the Ultimate Writer’s Tool.

Scrivener

So you’ve got a way to gather your research, a place to hammer out your 750 words a day, and a bunch of handy web resources at your fingertips. The next step, of course, is to write your project. And by many accounts, the best tool for that is a program called Scrivener.

Scrivener is a project based writer’s tool that aims to help you get past your first draft. It’s an organizer, a compiler, can build your manuscript into publisher accepted formats, and can export the final project into a number of file types, including an eBook. It’s a one stop shop for the self-publishing writer!

Now, I’ve only started using Scrivener, so I don’t as yet have a comprehensive view of all the tips and tricks. It’s a remarkably robust program; you could work in it for months and not use half the features that are available to you. The the thing is that, unlike a certain Microsoft based word processor, not knowing all these little features doesn’t get in the way of using the program–but when you find them, the program gets more and more convenient to use.

Scrivener is based on an framework set to help you organize your project. When you open a new project, you’ll see a series of folders on the left hand side, each of which represents a different chapter in your book. On the right is a corkboard, where you can “pin” index cards to outline the chapter or–if you click on the chapter in question–indicate separate scenes. These cards can be shuffled around in any order, labelled as concepts, ideas, first/revised/final drafts, or moved from folder to folder. You can outline your entire novel in one place, and shuffle things around as you please. This makes organization simple, but also means that one of the messier parts of editing–rearranging things so your plot flows smoothly–is solved with a click of your mouse. You can even run a search for specific keywords to filter a certain group of cards; if, for example, you have a subplot that weaves through your main story without interfering with it, you can pull all of those cards in sequence to see that it makes narrative sense.

The main corkboard

If that was where the program ended, it would be worth trying out. But Scrivener does so much more.

There’s a place for you to keep notes and plot lines for specific characters or places, and even general concepts so they are at your fingertips, but don’t interfere with the manuscript. There’s a pane for research where you can add images, text, full webpages, and even video to reference as you write. You can re-size this pane to show as much or as little of either side as you like. Likewise, you can bring up a pane to show your index cards, so you can write scene by scene and rearrange the entire structure as you go. I think that Debrief, shown earlier this week, is better at handling all your research in one place, though Scrivener seems to have more options in terms of including media. I’m still playing with both.

Scrivener research

You can do research in Scrivener too!

Scrivener can show you at a glance how many pages, words and characters are in the entire document, or just parts of it; how many pages it would be if it were printed as a paperback or 8.5X11 paper; it can calculate word frequency in the document; and you can add word count targets for each chapter, or the project as a whole.

Scrivener also gives you access to a few simple–but useful–tools, such as looking up a highlighted term in Google, Wikipedia or Dictionary.com; translating the word into other languages; and even a name generator. (Though the name generator has a lot of options as to race, nationality, number of names, etc., I still found it to be a bit generic. Though I prefer character names that reflect character, so I won’t be using this feature anyway).

Of course, once your project is finished, you’ll want to do something with it. You can compile your project and export it in a variety of formats, including .pdf, .rtf, .doc, ePub and .mobi. Each format gives you a number of options as to what to include in the final output, and when you compile as an eBook you can edit the metadata. Conceivably, you could write a book, export as an ePub, and have it ready to upload it to sell in your favourite eBook store all with the same program.

Scrivener Compile

Compile your eBook with ease!

Because Scrivener is such a large program, it can seem daunting to use. As I mentioned, you could skim the surface of the program and be perfectly happy with it, but the deeper you go the more useful it is. Fortunately there are helpful tutorials at your disposal. These tutorials are set up as projects, so you can open one (for a novel, for example), and work through it as a hands on example of how to use all the program’s features. It will take a couple of hours to go through it, but it’s worth it to get the full scope of the program. For those who want a quicker look, there’s also a series of video tutorials on their website that will give you a good idea of how to use Scrivener.

Did I mention you can also take “snapshots” of different edits of your work and compare them side by side? Or type in full screen mode with no distractions–though you can add a background image for inspiration? Or (on the Mac) edit multiple pieces of text simultaneously, dragging and dropping bits into each, in Scrivenings mode? I’ve also figured out how to synchronize my files with Sugarsync so I can work on them away from home, even though I only have Scrivener on this computer.

Scrivener is available for the Mac (for which it was originally written) and Windows. There’s a lot more documentation about the Mac version, but the Windows version is catching up. It comes with a 30 day free trial, though to be honest, the $43 price tag ($48 for the Mac version) is a steal for as much as this program can do. If you’re serious about writing, this is a great program to help you achieve your goal.

Writer’s Tools: 750 Words.

The main screen, where you write. At the top is your “streak.” The number of words is tracked on the bottom of the page.

So you’re a writer, and you want to get published. It’s a big scary process, but it’s getting easier–especially with the advent of e-publishing. But before you polish off your manuscript and start selling, you have to write it. This week I’ll introduce some tools that I’ve found helpful in my own process, and I hope you’ll find some use out of them too.

The first–and absolutely the most important–thing you need to do as a writer is just sit down and write. I put my writing on hold for many years because I kept telling myself I didn’t have time, was out of ideas, didn’t want to go through the editing process…I was good at making excuses. There’s always a distraction, and it’s indisputably easier to not write than it is to produce something.

If you’re serious about writing, though, you just have to do it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have time; make the time. Just write something every day, stream of consciousness style, and eventually your talent will start to hone itself. It’s still a lot of work getting

The tone of your entry.

everything perfect, but it’s a start–and once you get into the habit, it gets a lot easier to keep doing it.

That’s where today’s tool come in. 750 Words is a website that encourages you to write (you guessed it) 750 words each and every day. It’s the equivalent of three pages of writing, and only takes about fifteen minutes to half an hour, depending on how fast or distracted you are. It’s the brainchild of Buster Benson, who said he got the idea from a book called The Artist’s Way, in which the above idea–writing three pages a day–is outlined. It’s a simple concept, but I can attest that it’s a powerful one. In my first two days on the site, I bashed out half a short story that’s been knocking around in my head for weeks, not knowing how to be written. Between the two days, it took 35 minutes. Now, of course, this is raw unedited text, but that’s the point: just getting it out as a means of inspiring your creativity.

But it doesn’t stop there. The website also compiles a lot of data about your writing. The more you write, the better this data

Word usage.

is, and it can reveal some surprising results. It tracks how fast you type, of course, and how long it took you to get to 750 words (word count is tracked in real time); but it also tracks your distractions, compiles a graph showing your words per minute over time, and shows the total words you’ve typed over your lifetime on the site.

Benson also uses some clever algorithms to track things like the mood and tone of your writing (by picking up on keywords), frequency of word usage (like um, adverbs, and quantifiers), and what tense (past, present, future) you’re writing in. You can check your results daily and see how they change over time, and compare them to how the world (i.e. the 750words community at large) does the same things.

This might seem like just some fun information, but for a writer, this kind of data can be invaluable. Do you use certain words too much in your writing? Are you mixing tenses accidentally? Are you trying to write a story one way, but the tone comes out all wrong? Depending on what you write each day and how you interpret the data, you can get a pretty clear idea of how you write–from an objective viewpoint.

The site also tracks how often you write, since the object is to write every day, and that it offers a point

Tenses and commonly used words.

system by means of rewarding your contribution. This is then compared against the world as well, offering an air of competitiveness that some will find motivating.

I should note again that this site isn’t meant to be a place where you churn out excellent work. It’s going to be rough-but rough work can be edited. I’ve taken to copying all the text I type once I finish, and pasting it into a raw word file. This way I can go back to it (the site doesn’t save your text day to day) and get a finished story out of it, or even just revisit the writing. Or paste it into Scrivener for some organizing–but we’ll get to that tool later this week.

Benson runs this site out of his own pocket, and doesn’t charge for you to become a member. You can, however, donate to the cause by going here and scrolling down. On the left there’s a drop down menu where you can choose how much to contribute via PayPal–cleverly referred to as buying a cup of coffee–or you can contribute monthly. It’s certainly worth it to keep this service free for all.

In the end, what we have here is a tool to get you started. Even accomplished writers will find this useful, if anything as a motivator to keep at it daily. The more you write, the better you’ll write, and this is a simple and effective way to get into the habit. Definitely check it out.

So, what now?

So, I’ve got a blog, a twitter handle, a fist full of unpublished work, and a vague idea of where to begin my adventure in the world of e-publishing. Where do I start?

Well, the first thing I thought I needed to do is figure out exactly what I wanted to get out of this. When I started writing, way back in junior high school, I had grand visions of becoming a world class author, selling millions of books and gathering a rabid fan base. I was going to be rich and famous.

Any writer who’s reading this will know just how unrealistic that vision was. It’s not that you can’t make a comfortable living as a writer, it’s that not many people do–and if that’s the end game, you’re probably not writing for the right reason. As I matured, I realized that fame and fortune wasn’t something I wanted at all; hell, I’d be happy if a few people bought my work and I was able to glean a second income from it. But then life happened, and the whole idea fell to the back burner.

Now, as I mentioned in the previous post, the landscape has changed, and it’s a whole lot easier to get your work out there. There are dozens of success stories around the internet about people who just wanted to write–and discovered whole fan bases waiting for them.

This seems like a good place to start. Just write. To what end? I don’t want to be rich, I’m not dying to get on the New York Times Best Seller’s list. I won’t turn that down, of course, but that’s not why I’m here. I just want to write, and to share my ideas and stories with people. Writing is cool. It’s creative. It’s fun.

The first thing to do is test the waters. I’m in the midst of compiling a couple of projects which I intend to offer online through the Kobo Store, and from there, the Kindle, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks Stores. I think it’s important to jump in with both feet and start to build an audience–which will be helped with Twitter and the blog as well. I’m editing these small projects–a poetry chapbook and some children’s stories–and am working on a novella, each of which will either be offered for free, or for $0.95. And we’ll go from there.

Down the line, I have a collection of short stories in the works, and am going to re-tackle the giant novel/series/epic I’ve been wanting to write for many years. It’s had several failed attempts and many unfinished drafts, but with a goal in sight–i.e. publishing as an ebook–hopefully I’ll be able to actually complete it.

The second task item is gathering a system of resources. I’m starting to network with other indie writers, reaching out for advice to learn from those who have tread this path before me. Here’s a blog that I’ve already found tremendously useful. Lindsay Buroker started the e-publishing process around 18 months ago, and has been quite successful. You can find her first novel–Emperor’s Edge–on the Kobo store, where she’s put it up for free. I’ll talk more about Lindsay in an upcoming post.

Another blogger recently posted about why a writer should or shouldn’t blog. It’s an interesting discussion: should a writer blog for their target audience (readers), for other writers in order to network, or both? The link discusses it much better than I can summarize it, but it’s something interesting for me to think about as I set off on this venture.

Another fantastic resource I’ve found out about is Scrivener. It’s a word processor aimed at helping writers–fiction and non-fiction–organize their manuscripts. I’ve only been using it for a couple days with the free trial they offer on their website, but I’m impressed. It’s a robust program that does more than just collect your thoughts, and I could see how it would prove invaluable.

So that’s where I’m at. Now the real work begins.

Edit: A friend of mine just pointed out another useful tool: 750 Words.com. It’s important for a writer to write daily, and this site will not only give you an excuse to do so in a stream of consciousness style, it tracks how many words you write each session and saves it for you, all while keeping it private. I just took a half hour to try it out, and ended up bashing out the beginning of a new story that’s been tickling my brain for the past week or so. Off to a running start!