Pinning Him Down–Pinterest and Character Development

Frankenstein’s Monster, by DerrickT c/o Flikr

Today I thought I’d continue my exploration of Pinterest with a post about Character Development. I’ve wanted to talk about characters in writing for a while, and eventually plan to do a series–so this seemed like a good place to start.

My first impression of Pinterest after a couple day’s use is that it’s best for…well, impressions. As writers, we’re in the business of creation, and that means we’re always keeping an eye out for inspiration which can come from anywhere. It’s tempting to use too much of something that inspires you–but that’s a topic for another post.

The way to get around this–in my opinion, anyway–is to cast a wider net, as it were. Use Pinterest to gather images from a large range; don’t collect a bunch of pictures and videos that are too alike, and don’t be afraid to spread out beyond the subject of the board. What you want is something like a Scatter Plot. You’ll have a certain number of images that relate to one another, but you’ll have enough on either side of the range that it can develop into your own unique idea.

Anyway, back to impressions. I think this sort of strategy is going to be most useful in two areas: developing a setting, and developing a character. Neither should have real-world counterparts (unless your story is set in a detailed real setting), so you want to have a wide-ranging impression. I think this can be most effective with characters, because the best characters are the ones that are multifaceted. You want to have a character that would look like a scatter plot if they were graphed out.

To that end, I’ve started two boards which I’ll use to develop two of my main characters: Alkut and Ahbinzur. Take a look.

Alkut

Alkut is the main villain in my Tapestry Project. He’s is a Page to the court of the Emperor Tauri, recently deceased. The Yziman Empire wishes to establish a trade agreement with their rivals, the Toral–an initiative planned by Tauri. The Emperor’s heir is no statesman, and so much of the negotiations fall to Alkut.

He’s a remarkably handsome man and very charismatic. His equivalent in the Tarot is the King of Wands; he knows how to take action, has a fierce temper and will, and tends to consume what he touches. I’ve included several different versions of the King of Wands, each with subtly different iconography that help me round out his character.
His defining characteristic is his yellow eyes. Most of the Ozym are pale and have little natural colour. There are a few Ozym who have yellow eyes, but they’re washed out or indicate sickness. Alkut’s eyes, on the other hand, shine with an otherworldly vibrancy. A lot of my board so far consists of different yellow eyes, and I’ve even deleted several pictures I thought didn’t work. I like one in particular: a picture of a young boy with bright yellow eyes. There’s an innocence and peace to the face that offsets his eyes nicely–he looks older and wiser than he is, and his gaze is hypnotic.
Because he’s a villain, I wanted some pictures that reflect his personality. He’s evil, through and through (though I’m brainstorming some redeeming qualities so he’s not flat). I chose a few pictures of frightening or spooky figures; these won’t be used to describe him, but they give me something to look at as I’m thinking of his mannerisms. In this sense, they truly are pictures of impression.
Finally, I included a picture of a spotted salamander. That creature is the Elemental of Fire, and in my story a mage working with a particular element will often have such a creature as a familiar. Alkut’s familiar, however, is a dragon, and I want it to have a slamander-esque form. So I’ve also found some neat pictures of Hypsognathus and Eryops, early dinosaurs with that kind of structure. The Hypsognathus Skull is particularly evocative.

Ahbinzur

In Tapestry, the Toral are ruled by a Queen, who is in turn advised by the Hierophantic Caste. The Caste is ruled by the Stewards, four mages who each look after their element. Ahbinzur has been newly elected to be the Steward of the Aether, but immediately notices the decadence and hypocrisy latent in the Caste. She wants to strike a blow for True Faith, and though her actions may be devastating, they’re for the greater good. As such, she correlates nicely to the Queen of Swords, who looks out for Justice and Truth at all costs.
I’ve included several images of the Queen of Swords in her board, each with different iconography. I particularly like the Crowley version–this is a deck I work with often. That image is the Biblical Judith, who seduced Holofernes, then killed him in order to free her people. She went to great lengths and suffered much for the Greater Good–and so does Ahbinzur.
Her element being Air, I wanted to find images that have a flowing, sort of ethereal quality to them. The meditating maiden is particularly nice. I also included an image that evokes her namesake, Binah–the third Sephirot on the Tree of Life–which represents knowledge and understanding. She has a clarity of vision that most of her Order lack, which is exactly why she’s taken it upon herself to reform her Order. Yet there’s a certain innocence about her. She’s young and inexperienced, and there’s a hint of doubt in her. The image of a fairy by the pond evokes this; there’s mischief there, but more so, there is uncertainty.
The Elemental of Air is a Sylph. This is a creature normally appearing something like a fairy, which doesn’t really fit into my world–so I’ve been trying to find something analagous. In searching Pinterest for Sylphs, I came across several beautiful birds. The Long Tailed Sylph, fittingly, is a real hummingbird native to South America. While my world is a fantasy one, I’m not going crazy with imaginary creatures, so it was an epiphany to find an actual creature I could use here. Ahbinzur’s familiar is a retinue of Sylphs, which she can communicate with and who follow her instructions.
There’s a dragon for each element, and the Aether is no exception. When thinking of what form this creature should take, I looked at pictures of Chinese Dragons, and learned of the Azure Dragon, a Chinese contellation. This fits perfectly, as the dragon lives in the sky, flows with the currents of air, and has a sinuous appearance. I imagine the Aetherdrake being born of smoke, striking fast, and floating away on the breeze before it can be struck in kind.

So there we have it. These “character sketches” can help flesh out my characters in a grand way–and I’m learning new things about them as I browse. So far I think it’s a great way to build characters–you should give it a try!

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A Toppled Tower

from fimoculous c/o Flikr

Imagine, for a moment, a tower that’s built piece by piece over a number of years. It starts as a one story house with a solid foundation; over time, another story is added, then another. Soon it reaches into the sky, and grows higher and higher. It gets that cartoonish curve you see when someone draws something tall and rickety. If it keeps getting higher, what’s going to happen?

It’ll crumble like a house of cards. Unless, of course, you continue to work on the foundation.

This is the trouble, I find myself in currently. Over the weekend, my wife and I were doing some shopping and I had a creative epiphany that solved one of the question I’ve had about my Tapestry Project: how do I bring my main conflict–a behind the scenes war between gods–into the forefront so it means something to the characters? The idea was a war between two fey tribes, the Winterkin and Summerchilde. The conflict has been waged for centuries in an alternate plane of existence, and it’s now bleeding into the real world. Sounds compelling, or so I thought.

The problem was that, in shoehorning this concept into my existing framework, I’ve effectively built too many stories (forgive the pun). Magic in my World is a product of the Elements–I’d have to equate that somehow to the seasons if I have Summer and Winter fey tribes. I haven’t introduced fairies into my story, so I have to make them fit before giving my characters that identity. Having an unseen world that lurks beneath Tornum gives a lot of opportunities, but requires some retooling to make sense. And, ultimately, I’d be adding a core concept to the book.
Really, this epiphany doesn’t work–not for this story, anyway. I like the idea and may use it elsewhere, but for Tapestry, it’s a dead end. But it was revelatory for another reason.

It showed me that my overall story, as much as I’ve worked on it and tinkered with it over the years, has an awful lot of holes. It’s a tower waiting to be toppled by the slightest breeze. Why? Because I keep adding to it.

It’s a good story–I think so, anyway. It’s one I’ve wanted to write for a long time, and I’m excited to finally be doing it. But it’s become larger than itself now, and I’m trying to incorporate too many disparate elements in an effort to make it interesting. This is what happened the last time I put it down. It collapsed under its own weight, and I simply couldn’t keep it straight anymore. This time, I don’t intend to abandon it–but something needs to be done.

This is a very valuable lesson for me. If something as simple as a cool idea can tear the foundation of my story to pieces, there’s something wrong. I need to repair the foundation, rather than thinking up new and creative ways to solve the problems inherent in the story. I didn’t expect that lesson, but I’m glad for it. It’s given me a lot to think about.

And lo, as if the Great Muse was thinking of me as I pondered my problems, I came across this article, How To Strengthen A Story Idea. Go ahead and click on the link, it’ll open in a new window. The greatest thing I took away from this article is that if you feel that your story is falling flat, you’re in trouble. You have to reinvigorate it somehow, and it’s likely a larger problem than warrants adding some action or a new character. To quote the author, Roz Morris, you have to “recreate the gut ‘wow.'”

How do you do that? I’m just learning that myself, but this article is a great place to start. In the back of my mind, I’ve known for a while that my story is getting too complicated. Most of the research I’ve been doing will end up in the ‘background,’ colouring the characters, setting and themes, but that doesn’t mean it’s strong, or relevant to the story. I have to find our what is, and go with that.

This is what I’ll need to consider over the next while. Do I need to involve kabbalah, I Ching, Tarot, astrology, alchemy and theological philosophy? Do I need to have each character’s name reflect some esoteric or occult meaning? What’s really important for this book?

The answer to that question, simply, is the story. That’s what’s important. I can have all the window dressing I want: if the story isn’t good, the book’s not good. The narrative is the foundation–and I can add as many stories to the tower as I want, it won’t do a lick of good if I don’t have a strong foundation.

So where does this leave me? I’m of a mind to shelve the project for a while, work on something else, and come back to it with a clear head–something suggested in the article above. I’m wary of that though, because I know myself. If I put it down, even for a couple weeks, there’s a chance I’ll neglect it completely.

So for the moment, I’m going to continue working on it–through research, if not actual writing. I need to get back to basics, and my research on Tarot will give me that anchor. Once that’s complete, I should be able to get a clearer view of the overall story, do some revised plotting and outlining, then dive right back in. In the meantime, this is something I needed to learn, and I’m glad it came when it did (as opposed to, say, after releasing the first stories in this project). It’s a lot easier to fix  the foundation if you haven’t built the tower already.

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.

Tom’s Diner, Evocative Writing, and an Update

Have you even heard the term “earworm?” If not, you’ve experienced it: a song that wriggles its way into your head and makes a home there, unwilling to leave. Like Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega:

It’s one of those songs that just won’t let go. It’s catchy, pithy, and expressive. But what does it have to do with writing?

I was listening to this song the other day, and it struck me that it’s the perfect example of evocative description. I won’t reprint the lyrics here, but you can find them online. I can’t even think of a worthy sample to give here, because anything taken out of the context of the whole is meaningless. Take a look, I’ll wait.

The song seems nonsensical: just a person narrating their (rather dull) day. Until you get to the end of the song, and you realize that she’s sitting in a diner alone because she’s no longer with her significant other. There’s no indication why they broke up, who left who, if infidelity or death  was involved–just that she’s lonely, and misses him. Then the rest of the song makes sense: she hasn’t been narrating her boring day as much as setting the scene for how she’s feeling. Despite not being very long or eventful, the song is enormously effective.

This works because Vega gives you no indication of the plot until the last verses–and even then, there are so many open questions. The whole song is made up of little details that seem so inconsequential it’s easy to gloss over them. But in looking back on them, they set the tone beautifully, and in a better way than simply telling the listener what’s happening.

When writing fiction, evocative description is the way to go. It’s so much more effective than telling the reader point blank that your character is feeling sad or happy or hungry. It’s economical too: Vega’s character has a complex emotional state that’s expressed in just over 200 words. Even better, she does this without having the character speak, or even really do anything beyond putting cream into her coffee. As a writer, you want to make sure you pull the reader into your story, to make them sympathize with your characters. You can do this by handing it to the reader on a silver platter–but that’s boring, and it’s not respectful to a reader who’s able to figure things out for themselves.

Instead, by placing little details in seemingly innocuous places, you create an emotional tapestry that pulls the reader in without them even realizing it. The continuous rain, the woman who doesn’t know she’s being watched as she hikes her skirt, the man behind the counter who doesn’t pay attention to his customer–these are all external indications of how Vega’s character is feeling. They’re metaphors, and very effective ones. And all without the character so much as lifting a finger.

The added benefit here is that you get to create your world in relation to the characters. Vega’s world seems damp, murky, and unfriendly–a perfect compliment to her character’s emotional state. But the same world, as described, can be used to reflect other characters. Maybe the woman hitching her skirt is meeting a lover for a romantic kiss in the rain. Maybe the man behind the counter is inattentive because he’s secretly in love with the woman with the umbrella. When other characters react differently to the world you’re creating, you’re telling the reader even more about them. Again, without those characters doing much of anything.

Here’s an example from the opening of my upcoming release, Court of Sand:

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, Ohmel, General  of the Court, watching him.

I think the passage needs some tightening up, but you see what I’ve done here. I could have written bluntly that Alkut was sneaking out of the Empress’ chambers while Ohmel looked on, perhaps even having Ohmel whispering his intent to punish Alkut for the transgression. I could have gone into great detail about how Alkut is having an affair with the newly widowed Empress, that there’s already an underlying tension between him and Ohmel, and that the Empress is an unwitting pawn in a larger plan. But all of that boils down to exposition, and it’s dull. The few lines above tell much the same story, with (I think) a bit more flare. Evocative writing gives a whole new dimension to your work and your characters.

And, frankly, it’s more fun for the writer too.

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

ROW 80 and the Tarot

The Fool–beginning of all journeys.

I’ve got another update for Round of Words in 80 Days–but it’s a small one. Unfortunately, I haven’t made a whole lot of progress since Sunday; not in terms of words written, anyway. Maybe around 300.

But, I haven’t been idle. I’ve been researching, and that’s something I’d like to talk about today.

My Tapestry project, as I’ve explained before, is structured into three phases. What I haven’t revealed yet is that the entire project is based on a larger overall structure–the Tarot. For those who may not know, the Tarot is a card-based system of divination* that’s been around for several hundred (some say thousands, though that’s a tenuous claim) years. I won’t go into the history of the Tarot here, though there’s a great book about the subject.

A bit of backstory: I’ve been reading Tarot for nearly a decade, but I’ve always had trouble memorizing the meanings of each card. When I did readings, I usually did them with a book in hand–which doesn’t make for a very confident result. Nevertheless, people seemed to enjoy my readings, so I continued.

About a year ago, I realized that the reason I was having trouble figuring out the meanings of the cards was because I was researching them too much. Everyone has a different way to interpret the cards, and it gets confusing if you’re trying to decide amongst several different interpretations, all of which claim they’re more accurate. I realized that Tarot isn’t about hard and fast meanings–it’s about intuition. When I stopped “learning” about the cards, I quite suddenly found myself able to give accurate readings without a reference book.

What does this have to do with Tapestry? This project is, in part, a way to familiarize myself with the deeper structure of the Tarot.

There are three phases of the project, and each corresponds (roughly) to a part of the Tarot. Phase one follows the ideas behind the Court cards; phase two will follow the pips (or minor arcana,) and phase three–the big one–is structured after the Major Arcana. This final bit of the project was actually the part that started me off; I’ve always wanted to write an allegorical “hero’s journey” type book patterned on the Major Arcana, which is essentially a story of spiritual development from Fool to Enlightenment.

Anyway. Right now my research is focusing on the court cards. I know, I said above that research isn’t getting me anywhere in understanding the Tarot–but this is different. By comparing the accepted meanings from several different sources, studying the actual cards from various decks I use, and intuitively learning to understand the archetypes behind them, I’m beginning to get a general sense of each card. Each chapter in phase one will center around a particular character, and my research will help guide the development of that character.

Now, I should stress that I’m not turning the Tarot into a story. I don’t have sixteen characters (the number of court cards) in phase one. Ohmel, introduced as the Knight in the Court of Sand, also appears as the Knight in the other three courts. My main villain, Alkut, appears as the Page of Sand as well as the King of Rain, and possibly the Knight of Tinder. The characters are still my own, and won’t be held fast to the archetypes I discover in the tarot; instead, I like to think of them as being “coloured by the cards.”

So this week has been spend researching and thinking about the Court of Rain. In this part of the story the Queen of the Toral and her retinue deal with the fallout of the Ozym’s trade proposal–understanding that it is very likely a prelude to war. This is a suit interested in intuition and feeling, so it promises to be an emotionally charged entry, which I hope will pull the reader in, and help them make strong connections to the characters. Next up is Court of Slyphs.

You’ll notice that I’m not titling my stories directly after the Tarot; that’s because the story isn’t about the Tarot, just inspired by it. Breifly, here are the correlations:

  • Court of Sand = Suit of Pentacles (or Coins), which deals with Earthly, practical matters.
  • Court of Rain = Suit of Cups, as explained above.
  • Court of Slyphs = Suit of Swords, dealing with thought and logic.
  • Court of Tinder = Suit of Wands, which is about action and movement.

And there we are! How’s everyone else doing with ROW80 this week?

*I want to clarify that I don’t believe the Tarot can actually tell the future. Rather, I consider it an Oracle that can help give advice by revealing things we may already know, but aren’t paying attention to.

Image by snowqueen1426, c/o Flikr.

ROW80 Update, and Random Musings

So, this is my first Round of Words update.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot to say. The ROW80 FAQ looks for tangible results, so all that daydreaming I’ve done about where my plot will go doesn’t count, right? 🙂

Seriously, I’ve not done too bad. This week I wrote close to 2500 words–I forgot to get an exact count, but my story was around 1000 a few days ago and is 3500 now–and finished the first rough draft of one part of my project, tentatively titles Succor. I also corrected some plot holes, I think…and in the process, sort of wrote myself into a corner. The ending of my story now makes a bit more sense, but I’ve added what will turn out to be a major plot point in a later part of the project. Mental note to follow up on that.

So, considering that I released two books in the last seven days, I think ~2500 is pretty good. Here’s to keeping up the pace. By my calculations, reaching 32000 in the time I have left is only an average of 470 words a day, so I’m on track.

While we’re on the topic, I thought I’d describe my project a bit more…clearly.

Tapestry is the working title of a nine part project (series) which takes place in the world of Tornum, where my short story The Astrologers, is set–but a few hundred years earlier. The basic setup is this: the Ozym are a hard people who live in a land of deserts, mountains, and little else. They’re rich in wealth, metals and (steampunkish) technology, but are wasting their resources otherwise–they’re a starving people, and need help.

Then there’s the Toral, a more agrarian people steeped in faith, religion, and dogma. They’re a deeply spiritual people, but their Hierophantic religious caste has grown decadent and useless–their religion is more a “matter of course” than anything, though there are those who long for their faith to be affirmed.

The warlike Ozym want what the Toral have–resources–and through the conniving of a young ambitious page of the court, are willing to take it by force. A war is inevitable, but there’s much more at stake than food for the people and religious freedom–and powers at work that neither race suspects.

As I’ve described elsewhere, the project will encompass three phases:

  1. Phase One: four collections of four stories, each centering on a different viewpoint leading up to the conflict. Court of Sand is first, and features the Ozym; Court of Rain follows with the Toral; Court of Slyphs concerns the Four Hierophants, and Court of Tinder leads to the call of war.
  2. Phase Two: four novellas, as yet untitled, each focusing on a different side of the war. The Ozym, Toral and Hierophants all get their own feature again, and the fourth will cover the actual conflict.
  3. Phase Three: A stand-alone–but intricately linked–novel focusing on the journey of a young Toral page-turned-prophet, Tobias Osir, as he struggles to find meaning and salvation for his people. This one is further down the line, but will serve as the basis of the mythology I’ve drawn up for the world of Tornum.

The whole point behind this project–and the reason it’s called Tapestry–that that each segment of the project will link to another in a way that’s more than just chronological. The aforementioned Succor takes place as the Yziman Emperor is discussing terms with the Toral Queen; the second story in Court of Rain will look at it from her point of view. Items that are hinted at in one story will be explored in another, and questions here will be answered elsewhere.

All in all, the story will feature magic, technology, and alchemy while attempting to discuss issues of racism, class disparity, and spirituality. It’s been in my head for a good long time, and I’m loving that I’ve finally found an outlet for it. I expect the entire project to take at least a full year to write, and maybe around 332,000 words.

Fortunately I’ve got the ROW80 community at my back keeping me accountable and providing inspiration!

Last Minute Changes

The Astrologers

Update: It appears that something has gone amiss with either the uploading of the file or the conversion process Kobo puts the book through; when you turn the page all you see is the cover. The file debugged fine, but still isn’t working, so I’m de-listing it until we can fix the issue.

So we’re just over a week away from the release of my first official eBook–save the date on October 23, where you’ll be able to pick it up at the Kobo store and Amazon. I’m working on putting it through Smashwords as well, but that may take a bit longer–they have a different submission process, which we’ll talk about soon.

But! There’s been a slight change in plans.

A friend pointed out that the four stories I intended to put into the collection–one fantasy and three horror/weird fiction–don’t fit together thematically. I’d thought it wouldn’t matter, seeing as The Astrologers (my fantasy tale) would be offered separately anyway as a freebie. But her point was that it muddles the branding, which is a very important thing to consider when making a first impression on a reader.

It reminded me of an article I read recently about JK Rowling, and the release of her most recent book, The Casual Vacancy. The post on MarsDorian.com talked about the unfortunate mistake in branding; people bought it expecting more of the same YA fantasy fun–but got a raunchy book filled with sex, drugs, and profanity. It’s all very well and good for a writer to branch out, says Dorian, but Rowling’s foundation as a YA author was so solid that young people are buying the book without even reading the dust jacket.

Which is all besides the point for me. The point is, selling a fantasy story alongside a few horror stories doesn’t really make sense. So I’m going in another direction.

The Astrologers will be released as early as tomorrow, and will remain a stand-alone short story. Instead of offering the horror stories alongside it, I’ve included a preview of Court of Sand, the first release of my upcoming Tapestry series–which takes place in the same world as The Astrologers, albeit a few centuries earlier. That makes a lot more sense.

(Update: There was apparently a mix-up at the Kobo Store; although I set the release date for October 16, it came out this morning. There’s no sense in taking it down, so you can get it here. Did I mention it’s free?)

But I’m not ditching the other stories!

The Ancestor and Other Stories will be released on October 23, as planned, for $1.99. This is a collection of three stories from the same genre, which makes it more cohesive. I still want to be writing in the horror/weird genre, but separating them from the fantasy books at least allows readers the choice between them, if they don’t like one or the other. Call it diversifying the product.

You’ve heard all about The Astrologers by now, perhaps even read the first draft on this blog. Over the course of this week, we’ll take a look at the stories in The Ancestor in anticipation of the release.

Finally, you may ask: what about the promise of a free copy of The Astrologers and Other Stories if you sign up for my Community List before October 23? You’ll still get them, but they’ll be two separate eBooks. Plus, you’ll receive the complete first draft of Court of Sand as an added bonus within the next couple weeks! But the offer will only last until the official release, so sign up now!

(Since the release of The Astrologers happened a bit earlier than anticipated, those of you who signed up for the list will receive their copy sometime within the next 24 hours).

Tapestry Sample part 2–and exciting news!

Following up on my last post, today I have the second part of Garden, the sample from my upcoming Tapestry project. But first, some exciting news!

Yesterday I got my manuscript for The Astrologers and Other Stories from my editor, Yesenia Vargas. This is the first time I’ve had my work professionally edited, so I was a bit nervous. But it wasn’t as error-ridden as I’d feared. Once I go through the edits, I’ll be ready to start formatting–one more step taken!

This is where it starts to feel really real. Now I have a manuscript that’s been tinkered with, ad somehow that drives it home for me. I’m looking forward to my first real release!

In the meantime, I’m still working on my new project, Tapestry. Here’s the seond half of the sample I introduced in my last post:

Garden, part two

Metedre raced down the stairs and into the garden, her heart in her throat. Kthone didn’t contact her often—she rarely showed herself at all—but she had proved to be a great source of advice. She carried with her an immense store of wisdom, and was eager to share it with her—to the point, in fact, that Metedre often wondered if she were being groomed.
The scent of jasmine was cloying in the garden, but she reveled in it. The aroma of damp soil mingled with the flowers, creating a wonderfully textured sensation. She stepped out of her slippers so she could feel the grass on the soles of her bare feet, and found her way through the winding path, looking for her charge.
Kthone stood beside a tall willow—also imported, and sadly not doing well in its new habitat—both hands resting on a small knobbed cane. She was clothed in an earthy taupe robe, cinched at the waist by a thin green cord that could have been a vine. A tall flat hat was perched on her head and appeared forever in danger of falling off, though it never did. When she smiled at Metedre’s approach, her face folded into a labyrinth of wrinkles and she showed brownish teeth. Patches of coarse hair dotted her face and hands.
“Evening becomes you, Empress,” she croaked, her voice deeper than one would expect. Metedre nodded her thanks, folding her hands into the sleeves of her gown.
“Well met, my friend,” she replied. The unusually cool air chilled her, and she wished she’d fetched a thicker robe than the simpler shift she’d donned after Alkut had left. “And to what do I owe this visit?” She shivered, moving from foot to foot.
The Crone lifted a hand, as gnarled as her cane, facing a palm toward Metedre. The Empress knelt and pressed her palm in turn; a shallow warmth emanated from the Crone, filtering through her own body. She smiled.
“The warmth of the land permeates all; you are forgetting your lessons,” the Crone chided. But there was a lilt of humor in her voice. Metedre stood again, and nodded.
“I have been…preoccupied of late. My people…”
“Yes, yes, my child, I know of your troubles. They matter little, but weigh much. This land,” the Crone said, gesturing with her arm to include the whole garden, “has been transformed. You brought life to it, continue to nurture it. Your people weep for lack of resources, for want of fertile land, but it is all right here. This is all you need.”
Metedre nodded again, but her smile had faded. She had heard this talk before, and while she saw the wisdom in what Kthone was trying to tell her, the Crone simply didn’t understand the depth of the situation.
“My people are starving, Kthone.  Our population grows faster than we can feed it, and for the first time our Empire can’t seem to sustain itself. We have tried irrigation, rotating crops, cultivating hardier strains; nothing holds. We have imported dozens of species from Tornum, but this garden is the only place they grow and thrive.”
The Crone hobbled closer to Metedre, gazing idly around the garden as if taking it in for the first time.
“Yes. And this garden is a formidable achievement. This is harsh land indeed, all desert and sands. And yet you have wrought this bounty from the earth, teased it to your will. Why has it not been so elsewhere in Yzima?”
Metedre winced. It certainly hadn’t been for lack of trying. The problem was a source of water; Yzima had an extensive coastline, but little water flowed through the interior of the Empire. Most of the major settlements were on the shores, and industry followed—leaving little room for the cultivation of crops in the areas that were best suited to it. Many Emperors had tried in the past to pass reforms to clear that land, but the Empire had always been built on Industry; their wealth, their very livelihood depended on the kind of invention that pushed agriculture aside. Their factories and refineries and smelters needed water too, and it was a matter of simple economics that the results of that toil created more wealth than farming.
It had never been an issue before now. They were expanding at a record rate, and people were moving inland. The continent had been plotted centuries ago, and people were delving into the interior for want of space. But neither industry nor agriculture could function well in the expansive desert, and so the coastlines became more and more clogged with people competing for prime land. The result in recent years had created a sever issue of supply versus demand, as both major <industries> competed for the same scarce resources, and both flagged in response.
But Kthone knew all of this; they’d had this conversation several times before. Metedre saw the small woman’s smile and knew she was being tested.
“Other areas of Yzima haven’t received the attention my garden has,” she replied tentatively. The other woman nodded, encouraging her. “I have tended these plants tirelessly,” she continued, “even had the course of the River Umen turned to irrigate it. But the toil of my people hasn’t been any less than mine. “
“Their toil, no,” Kthone said, setting her cane aside and bending to the ground. She gathered a clump of soil, and waddled closer to Metedtre, pressing it into her hands and closing her fingers around it.
“Their will, perhaps not. You have life in you, Empress, and you send it forth as others send words of war and hate. These people, your people…they are hard and sharp, like the sands of the desert. They do not understand as you do. You are a mother, and have wisdom others lack.”
She smiled, placing a muddy hand on Metedre’s abdomen.
“Yes,” she muttered, gathering her cane.
“Mother?” he asked, “why are you out here alone? Who were you talking to?”
Footsteps approached from the palace, echoing in the silent night. Startled, Metedre turned, childishly hiding the soil behind her back, as if she’d been caught stealing. She couldn’t think of who else would be up at this time of night, let alone wandering through her garden. General Ohmelus, the General of Tauri’s armies, walked down the path, and she relaxed.
Metedre gestured behind her, but the gnomish woman had already turned away and was walking into the trees.
“A friend,” she replied. The Knight gave her a curious look, his eyes searching for this “companion,”but saw nothing. He didn’t pursue the issue. Instead, he nodded towards her clenched hands.
“It’s a little late for gardening, mother,” he quipped. “Or are jasmine saplings best planted in the dark?”
She ignored his tone—he seemed surlier than usual—and looked at the wad of dirt in her hands. A small spout had grown out of it, already arching toward the moon for light. Laughing, she tenderly planted it in the ground, wiping her hands on her shift.
“Come, Ohmelus, walk with me.” She offered her arm, and they strolled together down the moonlight path.