blairmacg: (Chant)

This is fun: writers answer ten questions about a new or upcoming project, then tag other writers to do the same.    [livejournal.com profile] sartorias was kind enough to tag me, and the writers I'm tagging will be listed at the bottom of the post.  I'll link to their answers next week.

Here we go:

What is the working title of your current book?

Sword and Chant

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Different parts came from different places.  The central characters and their relationships came from a horrid, derivative, pseudo-Celtic fantasy novel I'd written years and years and years ago.  It was my first attempt at a novel.  The characters and their relationships were interesting but everything else was...  Ugh. 

Worst of all, I actually sent it to a couple publishers.  Once I'd learned enough to know how terrible it was, I lived in fear I'd someday hear it read aloud at one of those "It Came From the Slush Pile" convention panels.

Many years later, while writing four other novels that shall one day be revised, I became interested in the social and political dynamics of the Kashmir region, Afghanistan in the 1990s and the events surrounding Six Day War.  Those ideas freed the characters of my first attempted novel from the prison of derivative plot, and I combined them with different elements of setting and culture.  Some beta readers have said the setting feels like Turkey, and some say it feels like northern Africa.

The primary antagonist—the Chant—evolved from musings about the nature of sacrifice: the cost to the one making the sacrifice, the one causing the sacrifice to be made, the one accepting the sacrifice, and the willingness of all parties to participate in the sacrifice. (Those ideas will get more stage time in the sequel.)


What genre does your book fall under?

Fantasy, most certainly.  Epic fantasy, I suppose.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

First of all—movie!  Woohoo!  Unless, of course, it's one of those horrid adaptations.  Then it would be awful, and the actors actually playing the roles wouldn't want to admit their involvement.

Anyway.

In my mind, the characters look and sound like themselves, not actors, but I can come up with a couple ideas for the secondary characters.  I could age Grace Park many, many years so she could play Nikala, one of the warlord-chieftains.  Andre Braugher could to play Yasid Sword, and Joy Bryant could play his daughter.  But for the main characters...  I'm clueless. 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Seriously, it took me months to write a blurb that was under 200 words, and even then someone else had to fix it.  One sentence?  Gah. 

It could be: Jaynes will do anything to avenge his father's murder, but his triumphs as a warlord didn't prepare him to face the threat of civil unrest, foreign invasion, and the seductive promises of the exiled god of sacrifice.

Or it could be: Shala Sword emerges from hiding to prevent the god of sacrifice from conquering the tribes, but finds the most brutal battles are against mortals intent on exacting revenge for sins committed a generation ago.

Or it could be...  Well, you get the idea.

 

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I chose to self-publish, for reasons outlined here.  It's currently available as an ebook through online retailers and in multiple formats.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Once I decided what I wanted to do with the old manuscript, I futzed with the opening chapters for about three months.  Then 9/11 happened, and the last thing I wanted to do was write about asymmetrical warfare, insurgencies, and guerrilla tactics.  When I was finally ready to face it again, I tore into it with a fury.  It was the first novel I'd written from a detailed outline. I finished within three months, and came in at nearly 160K words.  I later cut out enough words to make another short novel, had those chopped words not been so worthy of chopping.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Yeesh, I hate doing that.  It's epic fantasy with a large cast of characters, gods who speak with mortals, battles and arguments, love and loyalty and loss, and a subtle form of earth magic.  It's like other books with those things in it.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My own internal debates.  What happens when lifelong enemies decide they're tired of fighting, or when the leaders want to end the fight but those they lead don't want to?  What are the personal costs of fighting a weaker opponent who refuses to give up?  What are the moral implications of fighting an enemy who is weaker but more ruthless than you are?  What are the moral implications of not fighting, if that choice enables the enemy to hurt someone else?  When is it ethical to sacrifice your life—whether through action or death—and when is it ethical to use the willing sacrifices others make?  When does the act of defending one's self cross the line to excessive aggression?  Why do people insist on saying, "It's really that simple" when it obviously isn't?

Odd as it sounds, I think about these things a great deal.  However, I very rarely discuss them because folks usually want to deal with real-world examples, and as soon as real-world examples are used, the discussion becomes one of politics.  And once politics enter the picture, Someone Must Be Right.

Sword and Chant lets me explore what happens to a culture, and to individuals, when they can't find solutions that are good and right, and find themselves instead trapped doing what is ugly and necessary.

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

It's filled with women and men who have families and friends, who argue and fight, who fall in love and defend one another, who are sometimes proud and sometimes ashamed, who have to lead with confidence even when they know they haven't a clue what to do next.

And there is the Chant—god of sacrifice and patron of unfulfilled dreams.  He controls a skilled assassin who has an attitude, who'd be a pretty cool guy if he weren't a god-enthralled killer who's quite good at his job.

Who did you tag?
I tagged two of my VPXV classmates--LaShawn Wanak and Stephanie Charette--and my longest-running critique partner and VPXVI grad Sandy Skalski.  There are a couple others I'll be adding to the list, too.

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)
43K down, 87K to go.

I suppose I could do a little more, but my attention is beginning to wander and that's not helpful at all.

Today has involved back-and-forth revisions: Read a passage in need of reworking, scroll back to confirm yesterday's changes will support the change, scroll forward to make the change, scroll farther forward to make a note in the text of changes that'll need to be made when I reach that point, scroll back and proceed.  These are not my favorite sort of revisions.

Then I came across a note scribbled in the margin of my revision sheets.  It says, "Add: mother doesn't want."  I have no idea what this refers to.  Which mother?  What doesn't she want?  Who doesn't she want?  The revision notes surrounding the scribble are no help at all since the only mother character in the connected scenes isn't saying or doing anything the comment supports.  I do wonder what I had in mind.

What's interesting is how the omni voice has become invisible to me.  I'm not certain if that's good or bad for other readers, but I like the smoother flow of it.  I like it so much, I tried to write a piece of my present-day paranormal in omni.  Boy, did that suck.  Omni belongs to Chant, it seems.  Scenes for the next book are becoming more distinct.

Karate is going to tire me out this week.  My own instructor is out of town, so I and another senior student are teaching his classes on the nights I usually train.  Training is usually more physically demanding than teaching, but teaching is more exhausting than training.  By the time I finish the week's classes Saturday afternoon, I expect to be quite weary.

Dang, who am I kidding?  I am fully weary now.
blairmacg: (Default)

Okay.  This draft is finished.  I will not tweak it again until feedback comes in from readers.

Is this draft an improvement?  Damn, I hope so.  I think I have much better control of the omni voice throughout, and that was one of my biggest concerns.  Knowing with absolute certainty who is narrating and why made a huge difference.  It gave me clear boundaries to work within, as well as a master guide.   If I had a question of whether to keep or toss a section, whether a scene shift was needed, or whose perspective needed to be shared, I asked what would tug at the narrator's heart, what he would have focused upon, what he would think critical to his purpose.

About 12K words fell victim to the delete key, primarily due to my new "If it's too hard to fix, I probably don't need it" philosophy.  I can't say the story is poorer for the cuts.  There were also little-fiddle changes to clarify underlying threats, punch up what was previously flat, set down a couple of props and ideas that can be picked up in the next book, and build a sturdier foundation for the narrator's driving purpose.

The shifting relationships between the three central characters gave me grief.  It's easy to write scenes between characters who like each other.  It's easy to write fight scenes--physical and verbal--between characters who don't.  What took much more consideration and word-weighing ended up being the scenes in between, scenes in which one or both tried to be kind or make amends, in which one must gain the approval of the other.  Scenes that would be so awkward in real life, most folks would avoid them altogether.  Scenes that built relationships without resolving conflicts.

I will tomorrow toss it out my virtual door and await feedback.

Then I need to decide if I should jump into the next fiction project or take care of a couple non-fiction pieces first.

blairmacg: (Default)

A bit of a tough writing day.  Revisions are making me happy, but I hit a pair of difficult chapters.  The first tells of a massacre that wasn't supposed to happen.  The second includes grieving for another dead character while caring for the body.  The recurring images, the snapshot memories, that pop into my mind have not been pleasant.

This is different from grief.  At least, I think it's different. It centers on visual memories of the event rather than missing the person who died.  But I don't know what I'd call it. 

I write about this stuff because I'm trying to figure it out, and because I know it's affecting my writing choices--not because I'm seeking sympathy.  I'm not depressed, or even feeling especially bad.  I'm feeling...out of step and unsettled.  And very, very glad I'm past those scenes.

One more awful scene comes up before the end of the book.  Just one more--in addition to all the other revisions--before I can call it done and place it in the hands of betas.

In the meantime, I should have more time tonight.  I'm down to about 31K remaining from the draft.  The end is in sight.  The next project is waiting.  I'm getting impatient, and forcing myself to be meticulous rather than speedy.

Omni aside: One of the advantages of omni pov is the ability to shift focus without chopping the writing up with scene and chapter breaks.  I find I toss that advantage out the window when writing combat scenes.  In those cases, the chops give me the pacing I want.

Completely unrelated: A hawk perched on the porch right outside my window earlier.  I had the passing consideration of what the neighbors might think if I fashioned a hawk feeder to go beside the standard seed dispenser.  Then I thought of what a hawk feeder would need to be filled with, and promptly lost interest.

And on the off chance someone reads here who doesn't read there: [livejournal.com profile] jimhines has a cool discussion going about writing and martial arts.

That is all.  I'm off to get a tad more done before taking Dev to his final driver's ed class, then coming home to work a little more.

blairmacg: (Default)

I'm more bummed than I thought I'd be over missing ConFusion this weekend.  That was one of the cons I'd made a habit of attending, in the years before life went sideways.  I didn't know anyone up there, I rarely knew anyone who was showing up, but it was a weekend to get away and relax and write in my hotel room without interruptions.  I could have gone this year, but mistakenly gave this Saturday as a date to schedule clients.  And I'm booked solid.

I do have ReaderCon to look forward to, though.  I'm already registered--con and hotel--though I may need to leave pretty early on Sunday.  (Karate camp starts that evening.)  [livejournal.com profile] skzbrust has convinced me I should also attend Fourth Street.  The scheduling on that one will be very easy or utterly impossible, depending upon the dates of Dev's summer obligations,* which I should know by the end of February.  I may even attempt Loscon this year since Dev has reached the age of preferring to spend his long weekend hanging out with friends than family.

Revisions are making me happy.  I see much more that is right in the new version than there was before.  I may end up with more time than I thought I'd have in the coming week, so I'm hoping to make the halfway point.  This would be going much faster were I not completely re-typing the manuscript, but re-typing is forcing me to consider every little thing--essential, since my goal is a subtle reshaping of the omni narrative voice.  Most of the changes I'm making aren't marked on the page.  They simply happen as I type along.  It's a bit like putting someone else's story in my own words.

And today I realized (admitted?) why one section of revisions took so danged long.  A beloved character dies, and other characters face a crisis while still actively grieving.  It wasn't writing the death and burial scenes that stopped me cold; it was the scenes of grieving that followed.  Is it any surprise that slowed me a bit?  No.  Is it surprising I didn't even consider it as the problem?  Yeah, I'd say so.  It bothers me to be so unaware of what my mind is doing in the background of daily life.  More characters will die before the book ends.  I wonder if it'll stop me cold again.

In the meantime, onward.  I have a few hours to burn tonight.  Let's see how far I can go.

(And part of me keeps hoping aaaaaaaall my Saturday clients cancel so I can drive up to ConFusion.)

*The kid is scheduled to attend flight school and a law enforcement career camp, as well as work as a counselor for karate camp.  If the dates this year are similar to last year, I'll have him at home for only one week in June and one in July.  That will be very, very strange.

blairmacg: (Default)
Names:  I must change a major character's name.  I've known this for a long, long time.  Y'see, the current version of Chant comes from seeds of a story I initially wrote in the early 90's, and I named one of the primary characters Asper.  The diagnosis of Asperger's didn't exist at the time.  The name change is not easy.  Nothing sounds right.  I'm thinking I'll just use George as a placeholder.  Maybe it'll at least break my attachment to Asper.

Shakespeare and Omni: Directing Shakespeare's Hamlet is an experience very different from directing Midsummer Night's Dream, and not just because one is quite the tragedy is one is quite not.  In Hamlet, everything is about Hamlet.  If he isn't in the scene, he is discussed by the characters who are.  Hamlet has all the gravitational pull in the little Danish universe, and everyone who comes too close becomes trapped by his darkness.  It's almost claustrophobic in its focus, and can be made more so with very few script cuts.  If the director miscasts the leading role, or can't adequately support and guide the actor, the entire production implodes.  It isn't a single-viewpoint play, but it comes danged close.

Midsummer, on the other hand, is an ensemble piece.  The faeries, the lovers, and the mechanicals all depend upon each other to start, spark, influence, and conclude their individual storylines.   The storylines aren't interlaced so much as interlocked.  Directors sometimes emphasize that with casting choices (the actors who play Hippolyta and Theseus also play Titania and Oberon, forex).  Others do so with blocking.  I once saw a fanciful production that created Titania's bower from an oversized inverted umbrella that gently swayed above the stage, lulling Bottom to sleep while other scenes unfolded below.

In my own writing, I'm creating an ensemble piece by using omni.  Certainly I could do so using multiple third.  But, as I referenced before, it would be a very different tale told through that ensemble, and it would require thousands of additional words.  Thousands.

Midsummer also has a narrator in the character of Puck.  He's the one who invites the audience in, tosses out bits of commentary, oversees the interlocked stories, and is responsible for moving the plot along.  He is not the one with an emotional arc, with the greatest investment in the play's outcome, or unfolding character development.  He is at the end exactly who he was at the start.  But which character will cause the production to succeed or fail?  Which character will determine if the audience connects?  Puck.  The not-at-all-objective narrator who concludes his time on stage telling the audience just how special he is.  It's all about Puck.

That's the piece I'm needing to remember most as I march my way through revisions.  It is indeed a re-visioning, seeing everything anew, through the lens of my narrator.  Even though he isn't telling his story alone, he is telling what he wishes the reader to know for reasons that are his own.  It's all about his purpose, his interpretation, and his conclusions.  After all, the second sentence of the novel is, "Most people are wrong."

And in other news, I'm now wishing I'd been able to play Puck when the role was offered me fifteen years ago.  Alas, while a pregnant Cordelia could have made for an interesting choice in King Lear, the same could not be said for a pregnant Puck.  Ah, well.
blairmacg: (Default)
We had a touch of snow here overnight Thursday into Friday.  This does not please me.  Yes, I understand many places are already colder and snowier. Born and raised in coastal California, I'd never lived in a place with seasons until I moved to Indiana after my son was born.  There was a time I thought I was getting used to winter.  That time has passed.  I will never be one of those who just loves living where the seasons change.  I'm the one actively working toward an annual December-to-March southern migration.

Anyway.

I ended up snatching some revision time for CHANT.  This does please me.  Changing the identity of the narrator caused me to consider the character's perspective in ways I hadn't before.  He holds much more resentment, much more internalized anger, than I previously gave him.  It won't much change what he does, how he behaves, or how other characters interact with him.  But it certainly taints his viewpoint of some events, and of one character in particular.

How much of that belongs on the page?  That's the question I ask whenever I make a change.  What I've settled on to guide me is the reason my narrator is narrating in the first place: He wants to preserve history from his time because his people are sliding into obscurity, and he fears what will happen if all is forgotten.  So the fact my narrator (rightfully) wants to disembowel my favorite bad boy may cause him to make interpretive comments.  But the empathetic understanding of why bad boy does what he does must remain.

Not since I first had to master tight third have I been so aware of viewpoint.  It's like learning how to drive a manual transmission.  Sputter-sput-sputter, rev, lurch, stall, cuss, sigh. start again.

The omni viewpoint never really left the writing world, though it was distinctly out of official favor for decades.  I wonder if its current growing acceptance has its roots in social media.  After all, we never really experience an event in isolation anymore.  First there were newsgroups, blogs and journals, giving chunks of thoughts to which others could respond.  Then there were places like Facebook--more interaction and smaller chunks, but still centered on the individual.

Now there's Twitter--swift and constant updates about everybody, from anybody, in a public space.  A one-stop-shop for multiple impressions of single events happening in real time.  If I cast my own mental/emotional filter in the role of narrator--making choices of Follow, Unfollow, or Reply To--I've the seeds of an omni view.  From a reader's perspective, then, making the transitions an omni writer creates may be easier than before.  The reader has had the opportunity to practice.  And, perhaps more importantly, we're growing accustomed to knowing--wanting to know--what everyone else is thinking.

Who knows, maybe there will come a day when lit crit names limited third as the demonstration of societal isolation and self-centeredness. :-)
 

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