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

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.....