"For the sake of humanity, join in Bitterwood's revolt." - Kirkus Reviews

Monday, May 26, 2008

The old order passeth...

In retrospect, it was a bit short sighted of me last year when I launched this blog dedicated to only one book. So, rolling forward, I'll be posting all Bitterwood, Dragonforge, and other book news at a new website called The Prophet and the Dragon. I'm kicking things off with a contest to give away free copies of Dragonforge every week in June. Check out the new site for details!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dragonforge Sample Chapter!

I just cruised over to the Solaris website and discovered they finally have a sample chapter up for Dragonforge! Read it here. This isn't the first chapter of the book, but it is a moment in the book when the major players in the human rebellion meet for the first time. I've been talking about Burke the Machinist here for almost 9 months now. I'm excited that the rest of the world can finally get to meet him!


Hooyaw! I wrote over 10k words this week. I feel really good about the way book three is coming together. I wrote over on the Codex forum that writing is a little bit like working a Rubik's cube. I know what the final configuration is supposed to look like, but currently the cube is all twisted up. I have characters in the town of Dragon Forge that I have to get to the Free City. I have characters in a cavern up north that I have to get to Dragon Forge. Any time I twist a plot thread around to fix one face of the puzzle, it seems like I throw another face out of alignment. But, it's starting to look right. Recognizable patterns are begining to emerge.

I'm stopping in the middle of chapter 17. I feel as if I just started this book a few weeks ago. All in all, I can't complain about my progress.

By the way, some people have been asking when I'm shifting this blog away from it's Bitterwood motif and launching a website that does more to promote the Dragon Age trilogy as a whole. To which I can only say: soon. Right now my focus is still on banging out the first draft. The release of Dragonforge is still over two months away; I'll definitely have something live weeks before the release. Hold on just a wee bit longer. I promise the wait is worth it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Woohoo! I'm past the half-way mark. Not quite 8k words this week; a bit low, but the fight scene I was working on had a tougher choreography than I'd anticipated. Also, fight scenes can really strain the old vocabulary, especially in the third book of a fantasy novel. I've already used up all the obvious fantasy weapon verbs: slicing, hacking, slashing, piercing, gouging, crushing, biting, stabbing, cutting, etc. I don't have formal quotas on any one verb, but it do sometimes find myself thinking, "Hmm. Is this the fourth eye gouged in this book? Or the fifth? Because five is obviously too many."

So, don't be shocked if you're reading the last chapter of the third book and you find a fight scene that reads, "Bitterwood grabbed the jawbone of the ass, then smacked the dragon upside the head. The shit went down, verily."

For the next trilogy, I may just have everyone shake hands, talk out thier differences, then sit around and make small talk for 120k words. Just really get to know the characters inner lives, thier hopes, their dreams.

Oh, who am I kidding? You know someone's going to have an arrow sticking out of them before the first chapter's over.

In other writing news this week, I sold a story to Daikaijuzine. It should appear in September. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

55827, collapsing wave forms, balls in the air, Swedes

I'm a little embarrassed. I finished two chapters this week and felt pretty done around 7 this evening, when I settled down for a couple of hours of King of the Hill and Simpsons to unwind. Then, when I just now set down to update the blog, I realized I was only 40 words short from having written 10k words this week. If I'd been more aware, I suspect I would have pushed to get out those last 40 words. Then again, the paragraphs are what they are that the moment. The start, things happen, there's a resolution, the characters move on. Adding 40 words for the sake of an arbitrary goal would damage my artistic integrity. (That last sentence should be read tongue in cheek. No, not out-loud with tongue in cheek... you'll only hurt yourself. Please don't sue if this warning came to late!)

This coming week, I have one really clear chapter planned and one pretty fuzzy chapter. It's fuzzy in a quantum mechanical kind of way. It's like the electrons in an atom occupying every possible position at once until an observation is made that fixes their position. Jandra and Shay are going into an underground kingdom. This is a pretty definite starting condition. I know what they are looking for, and I know the big fight obstacle they have to get past. But then, the possibilities explode. They can find what they are looking for, creating one reality for the rest of the book, or they can not find what they are looking for, creating another reality for the rest of the book. I know, two possibilities doesn't sound like that much of an explosion, but each of the two possibilities then branches out again. If I decided they don't find it, then I have two possibilities for which other character has secretly beaten them to it. If I decide they do find it, then I have two possibilities for what will happen to the characters immediately after they grab it. And, of course, two possibilities split from each of those choices, etc. etc.

The longer I can write without making that pivital choice, the more my imagination keeps getting to say, "Oh, but what if...?" That's a big part of the fun of inventing stories. But eventually you have to actually pick an action and write it, and this collapses the wave form of the book to a degree. As you write further, more and more of these wave forms collapse, and by the end, the book is a coherent whole that readers can pick up and enjoy. The author, however, is always left wondering what the book would have been if he'd taken the other forks in the road. The ghosts of books that could have been always haunt a published book. They aren't neccessarily the ghosts of better books; quite likely, many were far worse books. But I, as an author, will always lay awake wondering what these unwritten books would have been like.

A counter aspect to this is that sometimes I put things in books that don't seem like they'll have much consequence at all, and later it will turn out that this small insertion later has huge ramifications. A choice that was more or less random will turn out to resemble some grand master plot. Zeeky, from Bitterwood, drives a major plot thread in Dragonforge when she returns home and finds all the villagers missing. I needed at least one person who had escaped the fate of the other villagers to explain what's going on, so I introduced Zeeky's 12 year old brother Jeremiah. Jeremiah served his plot function, but never quite sparked for me as a character. When I introduced him, I thought I could make him a good foil for Zeeky, and have the two squabbling like siblings for the whole book. But, it just didn't feel right. Zeeky wasn't the squabbling type. So, two or three chapters after he's introduced, Jeremiah is told to run for safety when a fight breaks out, a responsible thing that an adult might yell to a twelve year old boy when danger breaks out. He does so. Events unfold in such a way that the other characters have no chance to reunite with him immediately. They speculate on whether or not he made it to safety, vow to look for him as soon as possible, then get on with the rest of the plot. Effectively, when Jeremiah runs away from that fight, he vanishes from the book.

Now, I've moved on to book three. I originally thought that Jeremiah would have hooked up with Zeeky again sometime between book 2 and 3, but once I started writing the Zeeky scenes, I again found that he wasn't pulling his weight. I already had plenty of characters. He wasn't adding anything to the scenes, so I decided they still hadn't found him. Meanwhile, I had my secondary villain, Vulpine the Slavecatcher, working on a diabolical plot in which he would trick some pathetic human slave into become an unwitting weapon against the rebels in Dragonforge. But, I already have a couple of former slaves in the book. It was tough to figure out what would make this one an interesting character. And then, boom! I realized I already had my answer: When Jeremiah runs from the fight, he keeps running until he's found by people who sell him into slavery. Now, there's an extra-dimension to Vulpine's plot since we know it's not just sinister on the grand scale, but also something that personally endangers a character we already know and who has close ties to a character who is a major driver of events, Zeeky. And, even better, my characters are still looking for Jeremiah, so they can do the responsible thing and go search for him and still get drawn right back into the main plot line. It's like I threw a ball into the air in the second book, then reached a point in the third book where I thought, uh-oh, I need a ball right now, and suddenly the ball I tossed a year ago lands in my outstretched hand. It's moments like this that makes writing feel like magic.

Changing subjects, over at my whateverville blog, I had a post in the comments from a guy named Chris the Book Swede informing me he will be reviewing the Solaris Book of New Fantasy in the next day or two. That book contains a Bitterwood prequel story, Tornado of Sparks, which reveals a major secret about Jandra's origins that has big ramifications in Dragonforge. I checked out his Chirs's blog and there's plenty to read while waiting for that review, including a fresh interview with Karen Miller. Pay Chris a visit by clicking here.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Ten chapters finished! I just wrote a full chapter from the POV of my secondary antagonist for the third book, Vulpine, a sky-dragon with the profession of slavecatcher, a job that is pretty easy to figure out from the job-title. Vulpine had appeared a few times in earlier chapters, but most of those scenes were just him talking. In chapter ten, he really gets to show off why everyone has seemed afraid of him in the earlier scenes. I tell you, a good bad-guy scene almost writes itself.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I made it over the 35k word mark today. I've written seven and a half chapters. I'm definitely past the 1/4 mark of the book, and still on target to get 1/3 done before March runs out. My ambition was to write 10k words a week, though, and so far I'm falling short of that. I'm closer to 7,500 words a week. Still, I'm averaging over 1000 words a day, which isn't bad. If I can continue this pace, plus work in a few days where I really catch fire and get out 5k in a single day, my May 30th first draft goal is still looking good.

I'm definitely no longer writing the opening of the book. First drafts of my novels come in three phases:

1. The optimistic opening.
2. The mushy middle.
3. The bitter end.

Each phase has it's challenges. The optimistic opening phase is fun because I'm still full of energy, certain that this is the best idea I've ever had for a book. But, then once I get to about the third or fourth paragraph of the first chapter and I realize that, somehow, I have to get all the characters and places and concepts out of my skull and into my computer, and it changes from creativity into, you know, work. Not that I'm complaining! I love writing! But, there's a point where I've spent an hour or two writing my first thousand words that I invariably think, "Well, I still have 119,000 thousand words to go." It can be a little intimidating.

Then there's the mushy middle, which I'm starting to sink into. I recently posted a fairly long post about this on Codex, which is, alas, a private forum that I can't direct most people to. So, my intention is to edit what I wrote there to be read by a broader audience and post it here or at whateverville soon. The mushy middle is the quicksand of my novels. I lost many an early novel to the bogs here. Over the years, I've developed the ability to get through them, and even to make the middle parts of my novels really sing. The mushy middle of Nobody Gets the Girl, for instance, contains the big blow up in Jerusalem, perhaps the most memorable scene in that book. The mushy middle of Bitterwood has the brutal fight between Vendevorex and Zanzeroth. The mushy middle doesn't refer to the final product, but more to the process of getting the middle third (or more like the middle two quarters) of the book written, which is always a long, hard slog for me.

Finally, the bitter end. In this phase, I usually feel as if I've been working for months on a jigsaw puzzle, and I've just realized that the picture on the box is for a completely different puzzle. Usually, when I start a novel, I have a vision of the big climaxes I want to build to at the end. And, almost always, I get to the last quarter of the book, and realize that none of my early plans are going to work. The characters I wanted to behave a certain way took life and decided on different agendas as I wrote. Nobody was supposed to get his old life back. But, as I neared the end, he told me that wasn't the choice he would make, and I just had to deal with it. In my original outline for Bitterwood, it was actually Bitterwood who was in the Free City being tortured by Albekizan. Pet wasn't even in the original vision of the book when I started. When he did show up, I intended that he'd be a romantic interest for Jandra. But... Jandra was just having none of it. I know it's strange--these are my characters: if I want Jandra to fall in love, I just have to type "Jandra was in love" and "poof" she's in love. In theory. In practice, I reach a point where my characters fight back. "You know, Pet just isn't my type," Jandra protests. Bitterwood lectures me, "I'm not going to stand in front of a crowd and lead a revolution. I work best in the shadows. My hatred isn't meant to be shared with a mob. My demons ride me alone." All this means that, in every book I've ever written, when I get to the final chapters, the big scenes I'd had in mind when I started are torn in shreds, and I break into a flop sweat as I look at all the loose ends of what I've actually written and begin to understand the characters who actually showed up and try to figure out if there's any concievable way I'm going to weave all these loose ends together into an end that looks as if I'd been planning it all along.

Somehow, it all works out. And, apparently I'm just masochistic enough to enjoy it. Because once I'm done, I always turn around and do it again.