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

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.