blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
In my heart of hearts, I believe the plot and characters in Sand of Bone are the best my current skill set can make them.

So what has me fretting prior to release?

Typos. Stupid typos.

It's a professionalism thing, I suppose. Once a certain baseline of writing ability is met, "good story" becomes subjective. But an incorrect gerund, missing comma, or extra hard return? That's just plain wrong. But no matter how many people read the novel, no matter who I pay to proofread, no matter how meticulous I am about every little change and correction, a mistake is bound to be missed or -- worst of all! -- created in that final round of editing.

And that's the fear I'm sitting with right now.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
So I'm waiting for my parents to arrive, and hoping they either beat the line of icky storms or choose to hang out at a coffee shop until it passes.

In the meantime, I'm tinkering with the NaNo project. I've decided to focus on the urban fantasy--Crossroads of America--because I (a) have the research at my fingertips, and (b) grew more excited the more I thought about it.

I love the characters. There's Jacqueline, who prefers to go by Jack--an early-thirties Californian geocaching her way across the country to escape the demons of her past. There's Luke--an early-thirties martial arts instructor who hangs out with an informal group of folks interested in and/or with an affinity for supernatural matters. There's Wyatt--a farmer and medium--and Carrie--an intuitive who works with the Indiana Geological Survey And there's Duncan--Jack's best friend, who knows the secrets she wants to forget.

On the other side, there's Mark--a young man who isn't entirely stable--and the Ditch Devil--who takes full advantage of Mark's ambition and ego-fueled gullibility.

And I throw all those people into museums, war memorials, old catacombs, and planetariums. And there might be wolves.

I've been in love with this concept for years. I want to make it happen!

Familial and work obligations will take the first few days of the month, but I have decided it won't matter if I "finish" NaNo with 50K words. The who idea of NaNoWriMo is what's driving me to finally--finally!--give this novel the time it deserves.

Oh yeah... I should probably finish the Sand revisions, too.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I’ve hit the obsessive stage of revisions. It’s my favorite stage of the process–more enjoyable, even, than that first flush of New Story. The stage of focused revisions is one of both control and discovery, when all the pieces at last fit together properly and flow with the right balance of surprise and inevitability.

Those worldbuilding changes thrill me. Everything that didn’t quite fit now snicks into place. Plot holes are filled. Motivations are clear. Stakes are raised. It works.

Knowing I’ve set myself up to rewrite the last third of the novel is a bit of a drag, but not too much. I’m excited about it for the same reasons as I’ve stated above. It all makes sense. It works.

I’ve been here before. I’ve learned how to switch the nothing-else-matters focus on and off to take care of life’s responsibilities, and I (mostly) keep the snarls of vexation on the inside when interrupted by mundane things like showing up for the classes I’m supposed to teach, grocery shopping, and answering the phone.

But I’d certainly be much happier if I could, right this minute, hide in a remote cabin until I finished. Until I finish the last lines while Fanfare for the Common Man plays in the background.

Yes, I do hear that when hit “Save” at the end of revisions. I hear it because I start singing it. Badly, but with great enthusiasm.

So… a few weeks from now, when I’m whining about how everything sucks and never works and is nothing but an embarrassment that ought to be burned and shows only how stupid I am, when feedback from beta readers proves beta readers are necessary because I have zero objectivity, when I’m grumping about proofreading and cover design and all that crap, do me a favor: remind me I love this book.

And tell me to play Fanfare for the Common Man. I promise to snarl only on the inside.



Also posted at Blair MacGregor Books
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
... with feeling. Or different feelings. Or deeper knowledge, or better strategy, or greater confidence. Or hubris blind to incompetence. We shall see.

I am inflicting more revisions on Sand of Bone. Once upon a time, repeated revision rounds felt akin to shaving away words and layers in an attempt to make my novel-peg fit into a proper slot. But the freedom of how I've chosen to present my stories, along with the reading and consideration of reviews given to Sword and Chant, have given me both a positive push and clearer understanding of my goals. It's made these last two rounds of revisions exciting and enlivening.

There are a couple big changes, both involving worldbuilding.* One is the transformation of Exile into Salt. The same behavior will get you sent to that gods-hated place, but the change of name and purpose fixes plot holes, and allows for all sorts of little one-lines from characters such as the unofficial and sarcastic "motto" of Salt cures.

It also allowed me to burn far too many hours checking out salt flats, and that was much fun. Quirky and random research topics are one of the reasons I love the work I do.

Also changed is the mortality of the ruling Velshaan. They've always been descendants of the creation gods, and they've always aged, been vulnerable to harm, and decidedly mortal. But now they can die only when one of their own bloodkin kills them.

Think through the consequences of that one, and you can see why I'm excited by the change. Yes, your own kin will be the cause of your death, but what about times when withholding that death would be worse than causing it? What rituals would be created to be a psychological buffer? How would it feel to grow up knowing no one but your family can kill you, and that you must one day kill a parent or grandparent? What happens when the bloodkin have a really, really big feud?

As you can imagine, those two changes alone create massive ripple effects. The revisions are line-by-line, word-by-word, with an eye to ensuring every choice, plot point, and character attitude is compatible with the changes.

But the bottom line is I'm so much happier with what the final novel is becoming. I'm newly excited rather than frustrated. I'm loving it all over again.

As an added bonus, the changes fit well with a tidbit of advice picked up from Brad Beaulieu's GenCon seminar this weekend: Plant fear of the solution in the character.


(And if you haven't read Brad's work before, I highly recommend it. Epic fantasy, flying ships, Russian flavor, truly awesome and complicated characters.)

Today, I made it through the first four chapters of changes. As long as life doesn't deal me yet another sledgehammer to the gut, I just might get these revisions done by the end of September. It's only, y'know, nine months behind schedule.



*For reasons why I'll blithely alter my worldbuilding, see On Worldbuilding, Changes, and Plot.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
An added benefit of karate camp--wherein I spent hours coaching students on the strategy of defending against multiple attackers, other hours considering the best strategies to communicate with parents, and yet more hours determining what motivates kids to make good choices under tough circumstances--was the ability to see my plotting with a sharper eye.

So why doesn't Syrina tell her Big Secret to the exiles at the earliest opportunity?

Because I hadn't thought to do that in the first draft, then just let that choice ride through all subsequent revisions.

Why did I let it ride?

Because I couldn't figure out and manage the consequences of her revealing the Big Secret.

Then I began to wonder about that last answer. How many stories have a "Why didn't she just do X?" moment because the writer was unable to think through the consequences of X? Because the writer cannot--due to inexperience--see what would follow said revelation? (And I mention inexperience because I found those at the foundation of my own un-choices.) How much of it is a hesitation to reveal because, in real life, the writer would herself hesitate to face the changes such a revelation would cause?

Or is it just me?

So now I'm on a kick of analyzing my "revelation" choices all over the place--determining if keeping a secret enhances the plot or manipulates it.  Looking at the reasons behind the choices.  Forcing myself to consider if the choices were made for convenience.

In this case, revealing the Big Secret creates a massive ground shift in the motivation and outlook of several characters, and greatly alters the reasons later choices are made. But--as with the worldbuilding changes I made earlier--it doesn't change the story I wanted to tell.

Oddly enough, I chose to work on Sand of Bone because I thought it would be a relatively simple task to edit. Instead, I've opened the Pandora's Box of revisions.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
The deeper I sink into Sand of Bone revisions, the more trouble I'm having maintaining voice.  It's fairly easy in large sections where revisions require a simple rework and rearrangement of what's there.  But the places that require a bridge of new material--or an entire new chapter--I am struggling against the omni voice of Chant.

Writing in omni isn't something I expected to so fall in love with.  Chant was an experiment, my chance to try out what [livejournal.com profile] sartorias spoke of with such excitement.  But as I settled into the flow--developed a better feel for narrative shifts, grew comfortable with choosing whose eyes and ears and mind would be shared with the reader--I indeed fell in love with its dual nature.  Omni is at once direct and removed, simple and complicated, rich and streamlined.  It's the broad focus of a panorama lens combined with the encompassing intimacy of a gentle kiss.

Now, with Sand, I feel as if I'm learning third all over again, which in some ways I am.  There is such a temptation to slip into omni, to re-write the entire thing in omni.  But shifting from third to omni isn't a simple thing.  The switch would require a complete overhaul of its structure, timing, character revelations, important plot notes...  And I don't have a storyteller--the behind-the-prose character telling the story.  Based on my experience with Chant, that lack is enough to kill the chances of omni working well.

So, no, Sand will remain third--at least until I reach the end of the rewrite, I suppose.  Then I'll beg some beta feedback to see if it works.  If not, I shall shelve it, work it on Chant's sequel, and Drunkard, and any other thing I can until I figure out what the heck I want to do with it.  Why not do that now?  Because I want beyond all wants to have the rewrite finished rather than aborted.  (And I'm so glad I get to make that choice.  Were I on an external deadline, Sand would never be what I want it to be.)

But the no-omni thing is indeed bugging the crap out of me.  I never thought third-person would feel so constricting and clunky!
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
To say I'm revising Sand isn't quite accurate.  I'm rewriting the novel, word by word.  Some sections will survive pretty much as they were in the earlier version, but that's the exception.  Major plot points remain intact.  Major motivations are different.  I altered pieces of worldbuilding just enough that the ripples were difficult to predict, or formed roadblocks to previously smooth parts.

I've reached the midpoint.  Finally, I feel settled in the new configuration.  The upside is the rewriting should be smoother from this point forward.  The downside is I can more clearly see what needs to be changed in the first half, and seeing it makes me want to fix it.  That would be a time-sink because I'm fairly certain I'll end up with yet another pile of needed changes once I hit the end of this revision round.  I won't know what those are until I hit the end.

It's like working from a detailed outline--with surprises along the way.

And it does make me wish I could write 80K novels.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Maybe it's the fleeting touch of spring in the air. Maybe it's the pressure to Get Things Done. Maybe it's a response to finally—for months, and without non-fiction distractions—focusing on stories. Or maybe it's a delayed rebound from the multiple years I chose to ignore all the ideas. Whatever the cause, I find myself beset night and day by the internal demand I get everything written NOW.

I'm blasting through the rest of Sand of Bone now, making swifter progress now that I feel more immersed in the world. Suddenly, this idea trotted in this morning that I should completely cut the middle book from the trilogy. I could do it, with the creation of a new set-up for what's now the third book, and I'm liking the ideas more and more.

The second book wouldn't be just lost words, though. On the heels of the above thought came the inkling of a different story that could be told of the characters and culture that fill much of the second book.

Grumpy Neb from The Drunkard keeps tossing me his observations about his young charge, smart and sexy Lin from The Slaughterer is forever just sitting down to dinner with his huge family because that's the scene from which the entire plot flows, and the narrator of the final book in the Chant series is whispering angry tidbits at me.

Three key scenes from Surrender run through my thoughts over and over. I drove home from Asheville with another novel idea rattling around, and had a rough plot sketched by the time I got home—one that will connect with the Indy book I still plan to finish, and the Charleston book I decided to write when I visited That Man.

Because I really, really needed another project. Because having ten novels in various stages ranging from "nearing final draft" to "collection of ideas and plot points" simply wasn't enough.

Sweet New Idea Muse, surely there must be a writer out there staring at a blank page who could use a touch of your inspiration. Truly, I will be just fine if you move along to the next gal. But if you're worried about how I'll do without you, you could leave your kind cousins Word Count and Revision to watch over me.

(Aside: That Man continues to be awesome and fascinating and kind and fun and someone I'm happy to have in my life. Hee.)

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

In working with revisions for SAND, I've been dealing with adjustments to the world's history, particularly the passage of time between past events and current plot. When first written, I used the passage of centuries to explain the loss of critical knowledge because my younger self viewed knowledge—especially critical knowledge—as resilient and enduring. In revisions, the passage of time is less than three generations because I now know knowledge is fragile and our ability to hold it tenuous.

The loss of skills-based knowledge is easy to see. My grandmother, living in the backwoods of Kentucky Appalachia, knew how to preserve food and dress game. My mother, living in California's suburbs, had no need to preserve food, raise her own meats, or hunt and dress game. Thus I lived most of my life without that knowledge.  Most folks today can't imagine slaughtering, cleaning, and butchering their own chickens. Most folks can't successfully quarter a chicken.


Sure, it's easy to say those skills don't matter in modern life. We've so specialized labor that we no longer need to know how to raise chickens for food. Tyson does it for us. But imagine what those skills would be worth if food-supply specialization became prohibitively expensive for average folks. Imagine what our grandchildren would think of us, letting knowledge that enhances survival go by the wayside so quickly, so easily. But we, living in the middle of that loss, really don't see the problem. To us, it's more important to navigate social media than preserve vegetables. That's not a judgment; it's a
fact.

T h ere was a deeper knowledge that drove past skills acquisition, and that knowledge is being lost as well. My grandmother didn't preserve food because she wanted to live a simpler life, or provide her family with healthy alternatives to processed foods, or because it was Next Cool Thing. She preserved food because she lived in a time when there were patterns of plenty and scarcity. If she didn't gather and preserve what was ripe, when it was ripe, her family wouldn't have it to eat the next month. It was simply a known fact that not everything could be had at any future time of want.

B u t the type of knowledge I've been musing about, the knowledge lost in SAND's backstory, is more historical and fact-based. Despite our modern means of storing and exchanging information, this knowledge too is fragile, changeable, and ephemeral. Small groups of people can still successfully hide information and divert attention. Large groups of people can decide which facts get repeated, and which facts get ignored, by deciding to "Like" and "retweet." We can see videos uploaded from folks in the midst of the Syrian uprising, but we don't know what decisions are being made by those holding power over Syria. We may never know. That knowledge will be lost.

I recently read an online discussion about bad clichés in fantasy. The lost sword/book of spells/heir to all things was singled out as particularly silly. One commenter asked how you could just misplace something so obviously important.

Well, we did lose Richard III for centuries. It's suspected the knowledge of his resting place was forgotten within a mere hundred years or so or his death.

If but half a dozen people know where The Secret Thing is hidden, it takes a couple bullets, a pair of fatal accidents, a bad case of pneumonia and one suicide to ensure The Secret Thing is lost forever. If Bob is the only one in the family who knows his sister's kid is actually the result of a one-night-stand with Big Politician, Bob can ensure the knowledge dies with him. If my character's grandfather didn't want his granddaughter to learn the Secret Handshake, the girl isn't going to learn it. She may grow up knowing a Secret Handshake once existed, but she won't know what it is.


Truth is, it's easy-peasy to lose things and the knowledge of things—particularly important things, because we don't necessarily use them on a day-to-day basis—and almost as easy to deliberately hide knowledge, at least for a time.

So the relevant backstory for SAND is far more compressed than the previous version. Everything is more immediate, which makes the interactions and conflicts far more personal as well. And I find myself thinking about how our own histories will be remembered based upon what knowledge we choose to pass on to our children, about the impact time has on what gets retold or withheld, and about the ways we determine what will be important to the future based upon what we know of the present.

In other news, it's snowing tonight.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
After a long break for non-fiction projects, I can finally get back to SAND.  And when I work on SAND, i tend to crave almonds, cardamon, cumin and dates.  So I'm brewing cardamon in my coffee and putting cumin my soups, and I'm putting little bowls of almods and dates in reach while I'm writing.

The non-fiction projects have gone out to my medical reviewer to ensure I've kept everything within bounds.  The first text should be easy to wrap up once I have it back.  The second one will take more work, I know.  The text still hasn't settled on a balance of too little versus too much information.  Forex, I doubt most of my target audience will be interested in exploring the process by which glucocorticoids, released by the adrenal cortex, increases gluconeogenesis.  However, most would want to know that stress coupled with a sedentary lifestyle causes blood sugar levels to remain high.

But that's for another day.  Today I get to play in the SAND!
blairmacg: (Default)
Here's the word cloud generated from pasting aaaaaaaaaaall of Sword and Chant into Wordle's generator:

Wordle

The size of the words is supposed to indicate the words' prevelance in the text.  It's kind of a cool way to view one's story.

I had no idea I talked about Kennem more than Calligar.  It seems I have a penchant for describing what characters' hands and heads are doing.  Time is apparently more important to the text than I thought, as is enough and around.  But what's up with back and one?






Miscellany

Nov. 28th, 2012 11:17 am
blairmacg: (Default)
I have joined Goodreads, but have no idea what I'm doing.  Eventually I'll figure it out.

Since moving to the new dojo location about two months ago, my number of students has doubled.

Still working on Sand -- some revising, some new writing, and a great deal of checking for details that no longer apply and/or need to be altered to fit its new worldbuilding parameters.

Sword and Chant has now sold in the UK, a fact I find totally frakking cool.

That Man is still, to my great happiness, in my life.  I'm so looking forward to spending New Year's with him.

I'm still looking for an extra two or three hours a day.  If anyone finds a stash of unused hours, please let me know.

blairmacg: (Default)

I've mentioned before my current considerations (struggles? issues?) with changing story viewpoint from the omni used in Sword and Chant to the multiple third used in Sand and Bone.  It's akin to shifting from sparring to self-defense.  Both use many of the same tools, but in different ways directed by a different mindset.

I'm working with seven viewpoints in Sand.  There are very good reasons for this, even though it presents a pile of challenges.  But if there is one thing I've taken away from a ton of workshop hours, critique sessions and conversations with successful writers and editors, it is this: a writer can get away with anything she wishes as long as it serves the reader.

I can choose to reduce the number of Sand's viewpoint characters—narrowing the story's scope, cutting out subplots, and changing points of tension—or I can find a way to make multiple viewpoints serve the reader.  And I am nothing if not (selectively) stubborn.  So if I've already established answers to the basic "which character has the most at stake" piece of writing advice, and I'm clear on the standards of changing viewpoints at chapter breaks and the like, what then?

Here are the first three tools I've used to make it work:

The no-brainer is first: each viewpoint must be distinct.  The character must have his own voice and her own motives, his own reasons and her own needs.  These are separate and distinct from the protagonist's/antagonist's plots and needs and motives.  The protagonist wants to win the war; her servant wants to get laid.  The antagonist wants to slay his enemies; his guard wants to get home to her farm.  Then, those distinct character motives impact the main plot.  The servant performs acts of valor for the protagonist in the hope of impressing potential bedmates.  The guard feeds information to the opposition so she can see the war's end come quickly.

Certainly those points could be achieved without establishing the servant or the guard as a viewpoint character, if that's the sole reason for the character to exist.  But there also lies the risk of convenience.  A guard-turned-spy showing up with the right information at just the right moment can tilt toward deus ex machina in an instant.

 

Second, all viewpoint characters must have a distinct view of the same thing early on, preferably when the reader first meets them.  Think of the blind men describing the elephant.  Or people of different ages watching Sesame Street.  Or people of different cultures describing the experience of eating at a Chinese buffet in Oklahoma.  What will be noticed, enjoyed, ignored, mocked?  What will be pointed out as missing?  (One of those most telling character details, in my opinion.)  It's this integrated experience that not only distinguishes each viewpoint, but grounds the reader more deeply in the story.  Continuity exists even though the viewpoint changes.


Here's an example:

A sees Purgatory as a horrid place certain to make B repent.

B, in Purgatory, sees it the safe place where A can't assert power.

C, with A, sees Purgatory as the place she'd go if she could because D is there.

D, in Purgatory, focuses on how to maintain order and discipline there.

E, who is D's friend, knows where to get the best damned moonshine in Purgatory.

 

Third, the reader's mind must be able to flow from one viewpoint to the other.  Because I'm working with so many viewpoints introduced in very short order, the chop-chop method—titling chapters with distinct character names or locations—of changing viewpoints didn't work for me.  I didn't want to tell the reader, "And now for something completely different!" five times in a row.  So, in a variation of the integrated experience, each viewpoint has a thought/action/interaction that introduces an upcoming viewpoint character.  It's all about the transitions.


Example:

A focuses on B, interacts with C, and mentions D.

B focuses on A, and interacts with D.

C interacts with A, mentions B, longs for D.

D interacts with B, C, and E.

E interacts with D, mentions A, B, and C.

 

Lastly, I'll know I have a major problem if a beta reader returns comments of skimming one viewpoint character in order to get to the next.  Uneven tension is a surefire way to lose the reader's attention at best and piss her off at worst.  More than once I've read a multiple third novel that makes me groan when I realize an awesome tension and buildup is being interrupted by a suspense-deflating scene in a different viewpoint.

 

Well.  Hopefully I haven't bored anyone to this point. :)

 

Anyone else have tricks and tools for multiple third?

blairmacg: (Default)

I'd made fantastic progress on Sand, until reaching a point where one change will require me to make revisions to everything previous.  So it's still progress, these revisions.  It only feels as if I'm going backwards.

 

Then, in a wonderful fit of words, I put down a huge amount of information outlining the sequel to Surrender the Past—the sequel to Chant.  A major event I thought would happen near the beginning of Past actually occurs in the final third.  That means the third in the series—Tomorrow's Bones—will start at a different place, and that might mean a fourth novel.

 

But today, it's back to Sand.  Only after I reach its end will I permit myself to work any more on Past.

 

(Dear Gods of Creativity: You have blessed me with an abundance of ideas, for which I am most grateful.  Now, if you wouldn't mind, could you put in a good word for me with the Gods of Uninterrupted Hours so I might put those ideas on paper?)
blairmacg: (Default)
Between fretting over various things I can do nothing about, I fretted over things I could indeed control.

I played with cover design for a variety of projects.  The more I do it, the more I enjoy it.  Learning some of the basics about fonts and visual elements helped.

I've begun the process of uploading and tweaking Chant.  The process made me grateful I'd uploaded, in sekrit, smaller pieces as practice, and thus I expect the tech to hiccup somewhere. 

Blair MacGregor Books has been updated.

Sudden Moxie Press  now has the beginnings of a website.  I'm not exceedingly concerned about this right now, but did feel the need to have, at least, something quite basic.  My project over this week will be building it up properly.

Both sites have a link to Sword and Chant's opening chapter. 

Revising Sand has been both fun and frustrating. Every time I think I have the plot issues solved, a worldbuilding issue rises.  Once I wrestle the worldbuilding back into place, a character issue pops up.  I will have something for beta readers tomorrow, though.

Hmm.  I think that's it.  For now.



Copyedits

Nov. 1st, 2012 02:33 pm
blairmacg: (Default)
Nothing makes me feel more like a stupid writer than reviewing what my copyeditor has done to my manuscript.

And--honestly--I mean that in the most positive and grateful way.

There are commas removed from places I was certain commas were required, and commas inserted in places I was certain didn't need them.  There are "delete this silly word or phrase" curls all over the place.  There are clear notes about awkward constructions and unassigned pronouns that are polite versions of WTF?  I've found myself getting almost giddy when she lets me keep a word in italics (I'm guessing I get one for every ten I originally used).  And I had no idea I was so damned obsessed with "then." 

There are stylistic choices I'm having to abandon--am opting to abandon--because I must balance my choices against reader assumptions.  The fact I'm self-publishing makes a huge difference.  The more "rules" I break, the more likely it is readers will assume I don't know the basics of writing, and I'd rather the story stand on its own merits.  Someday, perhaps, it won't matter, and I can let the stories flow the way I wish them to.  But that day isn't today.

Really, it's bad enough I've chosen the omni viewpoint.  I suspect to see plenty accusations of head-hopping.

So I'm down to my last fifty pages of copyedits.  I may get them done before I must teach this evening, but it's more likely to be finished tomorrow.

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