blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
So I was working on Sand last night.  It was one of those every-word-fights-me places in the revision process, where my goal is to keep the emotional arc intact while altering what's being said, who says it, why she says it, and what secrets remain unsaid.  So.  Freaking.  Frustrating.

Then, while staring at the little cursor blinking at the end of the last line, I decided I needed to add a timeframe to an event mentioned two paragraphs above.  Up went the cursor, and I typed, "--two generations before the Woes."

Then I sat and stared at those five words while the underpinnings of three novels shifted into alignment.  I swear, I could almost feel subterranean pillars, staircases and tunnels scraping and creaking and rumbling into new positions.  And when all that movement ceased, I was left with a backstory and an arc and a thematic backdrop that suddenly made perfect and beautiful sense.

After, I made not a whit of forward progress because I was too busy examining shiny plot pieces, seeing what they looked like in the new light.

--two generations before the Woes.

Five words that didn't change a thing, but showed how all the changes make sense.  I write because of moments like that.

Aside: I've altered the titles a little bit as well, to better reflect... things:
Sand of Bone
Breath of Stone
Burn to Hone
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

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)

Last weekend was spent in Asheville, North Carolina with That Wonderful Man.  Fabulous food, great conversation, and cool outings.  He and I both have exciting things in the works.  I so enjoy hearing him talk about things he's passionate about. I came home feeling all warm and glowing and other cheesy things. I am already looking forward to seeing him again.

The dojo is growing so quickly I decided I needed help sooner rather than later, so I began training a woman who can help with some of the administration and sales. We're fortunate to have found someone who has not only the job skills, but the understanding of and passion for our program. In addition to the new help, we're reconsidering our spring and summer schedule because of the high number of new students coming through our doors. This is a good problem to have, as long as we continue to manage it properly.

The Storybundle launch has been pretty awesome. The rising sales numbers has put me in a marvelous mood. More on that experience as it unfolds.

Revisions for SAND are back on track, and I'm so very happy with the results. The changes are moving the plot and character arcs away from their formal residence, Rim of Melodrama. I am so much happier with the results, though still resigning myself to the fact I'll not be finishing these revisions until late March. I simply don't have the hours.

Dev achieved a solid, productive school day without me needing to prod and nag. That was, in truth, the biggest anti-stress event of the day.

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!


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.


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.

blairmacg: (Default)

I have an annoying penchant for overusing "then." How bad is it? Well, roughly one of every 230 words in Chant was "then".  Yeesh.

I'm not a visual writer so much as an auditory writer. I'm blaming this on theater in general and Shakespeare in particular. When I'm plotting a story, the first pieces I get are dialog-heavy scenes. Conversations move my stories forward. That of itself isn't bad. The problem arises when I get too focused on making sure the reader hears exactly what I hear, and use way too many em dashes, ellipses, dialog tags, and odd constructions.

That auditory focus then bleeds into non-dialog prose, and that's where the Shakespeare kicks in.  I like the rhythm of language, and love how rhythm and emphasis heightens impact. Lady Macbeth's "Make thick my blood" stirs a different emotional response than "Make my blood thick." But really, most of that impact happens only when the words are spoken. In a story, it too often ends up sounding archaic, or just plain awkward.

Now that I'm comparing Chant--written in omni--to Sand--written in multiple third--I can see how writing in omni exacerbated all of the above because omni feels more like oral storytelling (to me, anyway).  And that led me to wonder if the preference for third over omni was prompted by the transition from oral tradition--with the storyteller interpreting the story as it unfolds--to written stories--with the reader providing her own interpretation.

And now, back to editing.

blairmacg: (Default)
I finished Chapter 1 last night, read through it for a quick proof, and deemed it Good Enough For This Pass.

Writing it was a bit of a disturbing process, actually.  The antagonist has a touch of Caligula in him.  These revisions are steering his kinks away from the sexual and into the more violent.  Finding his new boundaries while writing the scene was decidedly uncomfortable.

But now tis done, and I am starting on Chapter 2.  If I can get to Chapter 5 without serious stumbling, the remaining revisions will be easier.  It's these opening chapters--with a ton of little and large decisions to reshape the story--that are a pain.

I dreamed about some of the characters last night--an odd thing.  I can count on one hand the number of times I've dreamt of my stories, and it's always the same couple of characters.  Those folks must be my personal archetypes.

Hmm.  Now THAT might be interesting post.

Because I intend to move through Sand rather swiftly, and because it's a pretty long book, AND because we're heading into the holidays, I'm putting out a beta request now.

Sand is the first installment of a much longer story--gritty fantasy, much fighting and manipulation, large cast of characters.  I'm scheduled to finish revisions by the first full week of November, and will be looking mostly for global feedback (rather than line-by-line) to come back to me by the end of the month, if possible.  As always, I will happily reciprocate.

If you're interested, drop me a message or respond here!
blairmacg: (Default)
I managed, thus far, to get a mere 500 words into the Sheykhala project.  That means I have only 449,500 words--give or take--left to revise.  I may make a bit more progress this evening.

As I mentioned in this previous post, I'm choosing to remove the act of rape from the novel, and those revisions require a shift of motivation and personality for the primary antagonist.  And that happens in the first chapter.  From the first paragraph, I must decide how this altered antagonist will view the other characters and how he will react to them.  How his sensuality is experienced and expressed, how his charisma entices while his actions repels.  What he notices, what he assumes, what he plans, and what he wants.  So while the chapter's outcome will be the same--X will no longer be able to do Y because of Z--the journey, and the journey's motives, will be different.

Another time-eater sounds trivial: I needed to know the size of the average cowhides, horsehides, and African buffalo hides.  Since I want to use leather a great deal, I must have a reasonable source.  And the source will determine the appearance and cost of said leather, as well as the environment and ecology of the setting.  That, too, comes in to play within the opening paragraphs.  But now those questions are answered, and the reader will likely never notice I bothered.

And now I shall return to it.

In other news: Tonight is usually the night I train, but I have just enough of an intestinal ick that karate would be a very bad idea.  Tomorrow, I'm taking Dev and one of his friends to the local Renaissance festival, where he can't wait to check out the weapons.  Once upon a time, I worked Ren fairs.  I still have the costumes, but not the body that once fit within them.  On the other hand, I've lost ten pounds in the last month, so there's always next year...

And in two weeks, I'll see That Man again, and I am SO looking forward to it!
blairmacg: (Default)
It's an awesome morning--55 degrees, the sky striped with clouds, the crickets still chirping.  The dogs are overjoyed.  It's been a long time since running circles around the house was exhilarating rather than heat-exhausting.

The weather reminds me of mornings at Viable Paradise.  Truly, I think I've entered the season when everything will remind me of Viable Paradise.  Cool mornings?  VP.  Rain?  VP.  Documentary about Italian crime families?  VP.  Ukes, whiskey, and kale?  Yep, VP.  Not for the first time, I wish Martha's Vineyard was on the way to some feasible destination that permitted me to just drop in during that week October.

I'm not saying I want to go through the workshop experience again right now.  Much of what I learned is just now settling into place.  Workshopping again will just keep it all stirred up in my forethoughts.  It needs to become an intrinsic part of the process instead.  But I'd love to just hang out!

The pieces of Chant's sequel, Surrender Past, is coming together in bits and pieces.  Until Chant, I was solely a seat-of-my-pants writer.  Chant was the first novel I wrote from an extremely detailed outline.  Looks like I'll be writing Past the same way.  I wonder if that's a byproduct of the omni POV, needing to see the whole picture before setting out.

Now, as I shift over to the revisions for Sand and Bone, I'm looking forward to making progress.  I'd reached the point of revising in response to rejections so much, that I stripped out the sense of immediacy and and excitement.  I'm done with that.  No version of the novel got a better response than the first "final" version.  Trouble was, I didn't really know how to fix the problems, so ended up exacerbating the faults instead.  I forgot it's a story, not a collection of writing techniques.

blairmacg: (Default)

Well, well, well.  I've been distracted lately by a sweet man.  A very sweet man.  The distraction looks like it'll continue for awhile longer, though my giddy giggles have--thank goodness--abated.

While working on Bears (and I truly wish I could get an entire day free to knock it out in one swell foop), I've been thinking and re-thinking the opening of Sand.  I wrote the original version of the first two chapters a gazillion years ago.  One scene leads up to an act of rape, which occurs off stage.

I considered keeping the sexual violence despite my fear of handling the situation and characters poorly.  I have never been a victim of a violent sex crime.*  But I've been blessed with a couple close friends in the last five years who have been willing to be open and blunt about their victimization, the aftermath, and their ongoing journey away from the past.  I believe I can do a better job of writing that character arc now.

I considered keeping the violence without the sex.  It could work for the character arc of the woman victimized.  But drawing that behavioral line for the rapist will fundamentally change his character, his behaviors, and his motivations.  That might not be a bad thing.  It could be more interesting, actually.

And when it comes down to it, the importance of the scene is its focus on the power disparity--which doesn't need to be expressed through a violent sex act.  Sure, it could be, but whyI couldn't come up with a decent answer.  And that told me what I needed to know.

So I'm keeping the violence, along with the elements of imperial incest, and realigning the now-not-rapist character.  I don't need the rape component to tell this story.

Thoughts?  Similar experiences?

Okay.  That's the big decision for this novel.  I don't have to make a similar decision for another 180K words.  (Then it'll be figuring out how to put forth a believable development of Stockholm Syndrome.)  Alas, that doesn't mean I can dive into revisions.  I might be able to drop my toes in, though.

*I have been pressured into unwanted sex, yes, but that is distinctly different.  Some will put that in the same general category as rape.  I don't. 


blairmacg: (Default)

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