"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.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


I made it safely past the 20k mark, my goal for the week. For the next month or so, I'll assume I'm shooting for 120k words, so I'm now 1/6th done! Woohoo! I'm hoping to reach 30k by the close of next Sunday, but this will be complicated by Stellarcon this weekend in High Point, where I'll be a guest. I'm on a couple of panels and have a signing lined up for Saturday at 11. Stellarcon is a sentimental favorite con for me, since it's the first con I ever attended as a guest. I usually find time to play at least on session of a game I haven't tried, and usually attend several panels wearing my fanboy hat instead of my writer hat. Still, I'll take my laptop along and try to get a few words squeezed out here and there. Hopefully, I'll see some of you there.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

B3 is planted - 12651

The brief break I took from writing about dragons since finishing work on Dragonforge is over. I had intended to start writing the third Dragonage book (code named B3, short for Bitterwood 3, since I haven't settled on a title) in mid-February. Instead, I wrote a short story the first two weeks of February, then proceeded to contract the flu. So, instead of writing the last two weekends, I've laid around contemplating my bedroom ceiling. Luckily, my strength returned this week and B3 is now rolling forward. Moments ago I finished typing up the third chapter, and I'm now at 12,651 words--roughly 1/10th my target word count. My goal is to finish a first draft by the end of May. This is a pretty ambititious goal, given the scope of the story I have in mind. Dragonforge came in 20k words longer than I planned, and I can see how this book could easily run longer.

I always feel a mix of excitement and dread any time I undertake a new novel. Excitement because I enjoy writing; there's a definite magic as characters come to life and the plot lines start to fall into place. The dread comes from a variety of factors--creatively, there's always the chance you can get into the middle of a book and discover that one of your characters is stillborn. You thought he or she was going to be so cool, but now you're sick of them. They never grew beyond the stage of a little word doll that you can move around on the page and pose however you like, but somehow the spark of life never animated them. Also creatively, sometimes the plot that emerges is so tangled that you despair of ever straightening out all the threads. This happened to me on Dragonforge--the final book came out fine, with all the threads weaving together into a wonderful tapestry. But there was a point when I was about 15 chapters in where I just couldn't see how on earth I was going to get all my characters together for the climax after I'd spent the first half of the book spreading them out to the far ends of my little dragon world. I also had the problem that some plot threads were unfolding very quickly, far too quickly to stay in synch with the others. For the second draft, I had to sit down and write out every scene in the book on over a hundred notecards, then arrange them all in a logical sequence and figure out how to slow down the too fast plotlines and speed up the pokier ones so that everything meshed.

But, in the end, the joys always seem to triumph over the dreads. The seeds I've planted this week will eventually grow into an actual story and I'll be able to sit back and admire it and all will be right with the world. And then, after a month or two, I'll forget how tough it all was and start another book. And thus the great wheel of life turns.....

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Coming soon...

Behold, I have created the blacksmith
who fans the coals into flame
and forges the weapons of destruction.
I have created the waster to destroy.
Isaiah 54:16

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Woohoo! Dragonforge is GO! and, an upcoming event!

So, I turned in Dragonforge on Wednesday night/Thursday morning. Friday afternoon I get a call from my editor at Solaris--he's already read the entire manuscript. So, I asked him if he gave it a thumbs up or a thumbs down. There was a long moment of silence. Then I realized my cell phone battery had died. I felt like I was trapped in a TV commercial....

Anyway, we finally managed to talk once I got back to my car and had the charger plugged in, and he went down a list of requested changes, with most of them being really simple stuff. I have a character mention a name that he logically couldn't know a chapter before he officially learns the name. There was some dialogue that was unitentially jarring in the context it was said in. And, there were a few plot elements that were left dangling. One was an intentional dangle, a mystery to be left over into the next book, but didn't require resolution to tie up the major plotlines of this book. I added a bit of dialogue near the end to acknowledge that the characters hadn't just forgotten it and gave a hint at what they might be pursuing next. Then, there was a a plotline that was tied up, but with a plot device left dangling. I had a character buy a gift for another character early in the book, then, due to the sweep of events, he never gets to give her the gift. The editor (and one of my wise-readers) wanted to know what happened to the ungiven gift? So, I had to figure out a plausible path for the character to get his hands back on the gift in his final scene so he could give it to her. It was a good catch; the old scene neatly tied up the plot thread, but the new one has more emotional oomph, I think. Now... I'm done!

Except, not really of course. I still have line edits to wade through, then galleys to proof, etc. etc. But, at this point, we're talking about changing words here and there. The events of the storyline are now locked in. The novel creation is done.

I spent much of the weekend reading "The Fifth Elephant" by Terry Pratchett. It's so odd to know that he must have spent months on it, like I spent months on Dragonforge, and I can come along and finish it two days.

I go back to my day job tomorrow after two weeks off. I feel guilty that I didn't get more done with all the time off. I have three or four short stories I have circulated in ages, good stories that would probably find homes if I would just print them out and mail them to someone. And, I had intended to post a lot more to my blogs in this time. Ah well.

One thing I've been meaning to post is that I have a event this week at the Barnes and Noble at the Streets at Southpoint in Durham, NC this Thursday, 7pm. It's a shared discussion on writing SF with some other local authors, including Lisa Shearin, Warren Rochelle, and Debra Killeen. If you're in the area, come on by.

Now, it's nearly midnight. I've spent the last two weeks without using my alarm clock. It's going to be a rough awaking tomorrow, I fear....

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Dragon Champion: Book One of the Age of Fire

This morning, around 3am, I emailed the finished manuscript of Dragonforge in to Solaris. I'm going to be spending a good deal of the next three days before I go back to work reading. I've barely read any novels for the last six months as I've stared down my first real novel deadline. Basically, any time I would sit down to read a novel, I could never tune out the mantra "I should be writing, I should be writing."

However, one book that drowned out this "I should be writing" sound track is a book I just finished last weekend, E.E. Knight's Dragon Champion. This is a fantasy novel with a dragon protagonist, AuRon, a rare gray, scaleless dragon who we meet as he's pecking his way out of his shell and follow through the years as he grows into dragon-hood. It's a fantastic book on many different levels. First, Knight's dragons, while firmly in a magical tradition, follow set biological rules that are well thought out and fascinating. The ecological realities of feeding a dragon are well explored. More than a few hominids get devoured in the course of the novel and yet Knight manages to make us root for AuRon even when humans are his prey. The world doesn't break much new ground in the way of fantasy settings, there are elves, dwarves, and something called blighters that seem to fill the role of orcs or goblins. That said, Knight manages to flesh out the individual characters from each race and never lets the characters devolve into stereotypes. The fantasy world does have a lot of ancient history to absorb, but Knight lays it out quite cleverly--starting with AuRon as an infant lets the reader discover the world at the same pace as AuRon.

Despite the scope of the book, with events unfolding over decades, Knight manages to make the book a real page turner. Dragons are on the decline because humans are wiping them out, and AuRon spends large chunks of the book as a hunted beast. You're never quite certain how he's going to get out of the various perils he faces. Since the book is part one of a series, I was worried near the end by the sheer number of dangers that AuRon was facing. Problems were piled upon problems, and I found myself certain that some of the problems would carry on into the next book. But, brilliantly, Knight keeps his contract with the reader and ties everything up in a way that's quite satisfying. AuRon's final confrontation with the Wyrmmaster, the master opponent of the book, is especially well handled.

And, if you like this book, you don't have to wait for the sequel! Since I'm so behind in my reading, two other books in this world are already out. If you enjoy dragon-based fantasies, definitely check them out while you're waiting for Dragonforge.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Getting there

The deadline to turn Dragonforge over to Solaris is coming up on January 11th, which explains why I've been largely absent from blogging lately. I did some rough calculations recently and think it's taken me roughly 500 hours to produce a reasonably polished manuscript. This includes time I'll be working on it through the 11th, but not time I'll be spending after this point, since I'll still be going through some line edits after the crack Solaris line-editors go at it with their red pens.

My time break down on the novel breaks down like this:

160 hours writing the first draft. I base this on writing at least 10 hours a week for 16 weeks.

120 hours writing the second draft. I spent roughly 15 hours a week working on the second draft for two months.

120 hours writing the third draft. I'm including time not yet spent in this. I have 32 chapters. I'm spending approximately four hours on each chapter, though this is a pretty rough estimate. Some of the cleaner chapters I'm zooming through in only a few hours. But, a few have required more work.

So, that's roughly 400 hours spent in production of the novel once Solaris approved it. To this, I'm adding 100 hours of prework. I wrote two outlines for the Bitterwood sequel, one of which I never showed Solaris, and I'm glad of it. I also wrote three sample chapters, once of which I've completely chopped from the book. (It was a prologue set years before the novel began. As the word count on the book swelled, I decided to chop it. It didn't have any information that wasn't revealed in dialogue later in the book, and it was perhaps a bit to overtly science fiction to start off a fantasy novel.)

Breaking the book down to the number of hours I spent writing it allows me to figure out what I'm making per hour writing a novel. And, it turns out that's it's not a bad sum. Better than my day job.

Of course, the real reason I'm writing isn't for the income, but because it's something I just love doing. I woke up at five this morning and turned on my laptop and got to work on a chapter. There are the occasional moments when I have no energy and enthusiasm for writing, but every time I just sit down and get to work, I'm quickly swept up into the storyline. Right now, I'm enjoying wrestling with the english language, trying to figure out the right words in the right place. The challenge comes not because it's hard to find the right words to say what I want to say, but often because I have so many options. A few days ago, I found myself with a scene where a dragon launches into flight. At first I had him climbing into the air. Then I had him climbing into the sky. Then, climbing into the night. Then, climbing toward the stars. Editing for style is like solving the world's biggest crossword puzzle. Sometimes, you think you have exactly the perfect word that makes your sentence sing. But, then you'll realize that you just used that same world in the previous sentence, and if it's a word that has any sort of impact at all upon the mind, you have to decide which sentence gets it, and which one gets rewritten. Sometimes, it's not even the same word, but a similar one. It would be odd (to me at least) to write, "He rode his horse down the dusty road." Either rode or road has to go.

Each phase of the writing has its own rewards. The early stages of outlining and planning are full of rewarding flashes of cool ideas. Big picture problem solving goes on at this stage. You have in mind a climatic battle where all your characters get into a fist fight on top of a Mayan temple on the moon. (This ISN'T from Dragonforge, by the way.) Figuring out how to get all your characters to the moon can be fun, and you'll find yourself creating characters who can fill specific roles in the novel -- a white archeologist whose specialty is Mayan culure, for instance, and an astronaut who traces his ancestry back to the Mayans and hates archeologists for plundering his people's past. Then, the actual writing begins on the first draft, and there's a completely new type of creative energy involved. Not to get into too much mumbo jumbo here, but there's something eerie about the way that characters and settings can come to life in a writer's mind during the first draft. I've had other writers tell me it feels like a good character writes his own dialogue. I agree. I have a scene in Dragonforge where someone asks Blasphet why he's about to do some particularly cruel thing. And, when the character asked the question, I didn't consciously know what Blasphet's answer would be. Then, suddenly, Blasphet's words were all typed out and were perfect, possessing all the calm and frightening logic of a psychopath. Where does this stuff come from? I don't know, but it's an amazing experience when it's happening.

The second draft is no longer about creation. It becomes a work of stagecraft and choreography. You've got all your characters and dialogue pulled out of you. Now you just have to make everything work together seamlessly. To me, the second draft feels more like work than any other draft, and requires a lot more conscious decision making. This is where you cut and add scenes, and sometimes do away with entire characters because they just didn't do what you thought you needed them to do when you first started. Your Mayan archeologist, for instance, is just redundant now that you have the astronaut with a Mayan heritage. And yet, while the second draft feels more like work, I've also discovered that it feels, to me, more like writing. I'm producing stuff I'm actually eager to show other people. There's a certain professional satisfaction in chopping out an entire chapter, or making the cold decision to cut a character you like but who is really only dead weight.

As mentioned before, the third draft, the style draft, is mostly fun on a word play level. There's still some story telling going on, and some creativity as you flesh out scenes and replace clunky dialogue with stuff that's more on target.

Being able to find all the stages of the process rewarding seems to me to be a real challenge for some people. Writing isn't just one skill--it's a whole bundle of skills, all entangled. Throw in learning to market and promote your stuff, and there's even more skills. There's not a day that goes by lately where I don't feel lucky that everything has at last come together and I get to see my words in bookstores.