Writing Down the Bones

So, I got my edits back over a month ago, and I still haven’t gone through them all. I have a lot of fear. Fear of rejection, fear my writing won’t be good enough. But it’s more than that. I realize now the reason so much of my writing has fallen flat is that I haven’t really been editing, just spewing story. Even when I make corrections, it’s all spew.

I need to sit down and do the work of polishing the spew. Intentionally using all the tools of the trade, crafting the story in other words.

And I’m afraid I won’t be able to.

So if you see me not writing, will you remind me that I need to just suck it up? Thanks.

Today’s post title is taken from a famous writers’ book called “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. Check it out if you have a moment. I got my copy somewhere around here. She offers some practical advice on the writer’s process and craft. Good stuff.

Holiday Update

Been feeling very unmotivated lately, which is bad because there is so much to do. Even with my book off at the editor, there’s more books to write, works to critique on Scribophile, podcasts to listen to, and so much more.

Playing with WordPress’s “new” block editor. I put “new” in quotation marks because as you and I know, I am slow to adopt fresh technology. I’ve never been a first adopter. Maybe it’s from being raised in a house full of antiques, but I just prefer old things. Old furniture. Old books. Old socks.

Even my fantasy novel is old-fashioned. I hope people don’t mind that. I’ve always been partial to old-fashioned things. That’s why Bubblegum-Man is written the way it is, filled to the brim with tropes and action. Just like old-fashioned comics. And don’t get me started on music.

There’s something about Christmastime (and I do mean Christmastime, as that’s the winter holiday I’ve most experience with) that brings out the nostalgia for old times. And I don’t mean the good old days, whatever those were. Things weren’t any “better” or “worse” when I was growing up than they are now. If anything, lots of people’s lives have improved since the 90s.

Christmas is almost here. More specifically, Christmas Eve. That’s when my mom cooks the feast of seven fishes, an Italian-American tradition. We eat pasta and fried fish, cold broccoli salad, and all kinds of other treats and goodies. It’s an evening filled with warmth, love, and joy, and it’s probably my favorite part of Christmas, aside from the presents. There’s nothing quite like getting or giving presents.

One of my other favorite things about Christmas is putting ornaments on the tree. There are certain ornaments we’ve collected over the years that just resonate with me. You know how you can look at an old house and imagine all the years of family joy, drama, and strife those walls contain? Well, when I look at certain ornaments, I feel a similar spark. Like there are thousands of years’ worth of stories wrapped up in them, buried, just waiting to be teased out.

I’ve never been able to. Maybe next year.

Your First Book Will Stink

And that’s ok. So does mine. It’s not terrible by any means, but it’s no masterpiece. Totally normal. Everyone stinks their first time. That’s what gives us room to grow.

But that’s the hard part: Growing. See, you have to want to get better to be better. You have to do the work, put in the effort. Study and research. Don’t just throw around words like “shaman” in your fantasy novel if you’ve no idea what a shaman actually does. I’m talking to myself as much as anyone else.

Then there are sacrifices to be made. Writing every day is a sacrifice of time. You either get up early or stay up late. Those are your choices. Do you have to write every day? Of course not. But your craft will improve slower. How much time do you think you have?

I’m 35. Probably 5-10 years from really making it big. Then I’ll be 40. Maybe I’ll have 40 more years, maybe 60. But will I be lucid and healthy the whole time? Who knows? So maybe only 30 years of success. Is that ok? No. I’d much rather have more. But that’s not up to me.

My growth has been slow. Painfully slow. Some of that has to do with autism, some with bad habits, some with procrastination. That’s ok. I’m still growing.

It’s the growing that’s important. It’s the journey that really matters. I know that’s small consolation, especially if your journey is as painful or more than mine. But in the end, the journey is really all we have in this life.

Gah! That’s depressing.

What more can we do? Well, thankfully, we can still do what we can do. Our lives are our own. We can exercise our will and make what ripples we can in a sea of mediocrity. Find something solid to hang onto, some bit of clay we can mold and call our own.

Remember friends, it is not too late to seek a better world!

More Book News

Sent my book to the editor the other day. I’m using Jordan Rosenfeld’s editing services. She’s great, and I highly recommend her. She looked over my manuscript once before and gave me great direction and guidance. Hope she’s ready because this draft is almost totally different from the one I showed her before.

Yes, I’ve been working on this novel for too, too long. Time to set it free to sink or swim. I’ve got another two books in the wings that I’m working on, so that’s interesting. Tang of Fate, my first novel, is a fantasy work about a woman who’s trying to stop an evil sorcerer and his skeleton army by finding a hidden power somewhere in the lost north. Fun times! There’s elves and buffalo and wizards and magic and stuff blows up.

Going to be starting a mailing list soon with all sorts of goodies. Not sure yet what form it will take, but stay tuned. It’s all happening this year. Next year. Whatever.

Tang of Fate: Autumn Excerpt

Happy Halloween, folks! In honor of the fall harvest (or Tiri-Zul, as it’s known in Tiranon), here’s a chilling excerpt from my wip, The Tang of Fate, an epic fantasy novel filled with gods, monsters, and mortals. Feedback always welcome. Please enjoy!

Today’s excerpt takes place in Travellers Forest, eastern Zargon.

Terrwyn’s dream about flying on a broomstick was interrupted when she felt something soft drift over her face. Scratching and sniffling, she popped open her eyes and glanced around. She saw Croli turning the knob on the door, edging it open. His cloak must have brushed against her as he moved. He didn’t seem to notice her. Terrwyn held her breath as he slipped out of the room. She heard his footsteps disappear down the long, dark hallway. She pursed her lips for a moment then sighed, deciding to follow.

Terrwyn crept out into the hallway, walking toe-heel, as she’d learned as a child to avoid waking her parents when she wanted to wander the cornfields at night. The hallway was nearly pitch-black. The only light came from a window at the far end and the faint glow of the hearth casting red light up the stairway to her right. The stairway creaked with almost every step she took. She gritted her teeth at every sound, straining to catch some hint she’d roused another soul in the dark. But no. She was alone in the dark. Alone, save for Croli, embarked on some midnight errand. He’d had his staff with him, so she’d buckled her sword. She didn’t know what danger he went to face, only that it must be dire indeed to justify him not bringing her along. As she entered the common room, she saw men and women sleeping beside the hearth, a few collapsed at their tables near drained mugs. She heard the sound of another door creaking and turned just in time to see the curve of Croli’s cloak flapping out the doorway.

The sleeping patrons seemed completely out, not a single snore among them, their bodies still as exhausted newborns. Tiptoeing around them, she made it to the door and snuck outside into the night. The steady buzz of crickets and the croak of frogs filled the air. The night was thick with humidity and almost too dark to see anything, despite the plethora of stars. She looked all around, but she could see no sign of Croli. Terrwyn began to regret following him out into the night. She started to wonder if she were just being paranoid. Just her luck, he was probably relieving himself on the side of the building.

She turned to the post where the horses were tied. Gill and Marius were both there, along with two others. Marius’s eyes were open, watching over the others. Terrwyn smiled. Then, just beyond the edge of the forest, she heard the sound of crunching leaves. She nearly jumped from the shock. Struggling to keep her breathing slow, she crouched down beside the doorframe. Just there was the saucer of milk left for the moon goddess, turned over in the night. The cookies were gone as well, the cloth wrapping torn open as if by some thrashing animal. From the corner of her eye, she thought she saw the faint glimmer of moonlight in the forest. But there was no moon in the sky. Slowly, she stood up and walked down the stairs. The grass crunched underfoot as she left the road for the forest’s edge. There. A glimmer of light just a few yards ahead. She crouched again, holding her arms in front of her to move the branches of the brush as she entered the forest.

All the wood was black as pitch, starlight scarce below the treetops. But the source of moonlight was growing brighter. Finally, it shined over her. She panicked, threw herself to the ground, hoping she could hide from the light. “It’s no use.” Croli’s voice. “I heard you on the stairwell. Come on, Terrwyn. You’re not fooling anyone.” Terrwyn felt her face flush. The soil clung to her jeans and shirt as she stood up to face Croli. He was just ahead, moonlight emanating from the crescent atop his staff. The light had softened now, and she could make out Croli’s face in its pale glow. He was smiling at her, eyes darting side to side as she approached him.

“You have your sword,” he whispered. “Good. They’re very close. Stay behind me.” Terrwyn didn’t have to ask who he meant. She struggled to keep up as Croli glided through the forest. While she had to step carefully around roots and stones, Croli seemed able to move effortlessly here in the darkness of the forest, his feet making no sound as he skipped over rock and branch and fallen log. Terrwyn could hear grasshoppers and crickets chirping in the night. Up ahead, she could hear the steady rush of the White River.

As they passed through the wood, over moss-eaten logs and under the black branches of trees, she began to hear something else, a distinct hissing sound that stopped her in her tracks. Croli stood just a short distance ahead of her. He turned and motioned for her to come closer. She did so and, following his lead, crouched low beside a massive hickory stump and peered through the thorny brush. Not seven feet from where they perched, a small campfire glowed in the night. A man in a black cloak sat with his back to Terrwyn and Croli, tall skeletal warriors flanking him. More approached from the dark beyond the fire, armed with clubs and nets, though a few wore swords at their waist.

“Now’s our chance,” Terrwyn whispered. “Let’s go!” She paid no attention to Croli as he raised his hand to grab at her. She crashed through the bramble, thorns scratching her arms and legs as she lunged for Hadeon. Her sword flashed in the firelight, as she made her swipe, but Hadeon vanished in a plume of smoke. The two nearest skelerai, their swords raised to attack, brought their blades down, and Terrwyn crouched beneath them, her sword up, guarding. The clang of metal on metal sounded through the forest as more skelerai joined the campfire’s glow, hissing and brandishing weapons. There were many, too many for her to count at once. They seemed to be taking their time. She could do nothing where she was, pinned down by her opponents’ blades.

Just then there was a burst of light from the forest. The skelerai turned toward the blaze, screeching terribly. Thunder clapped in the clear night sky as jagged lightning struck the earth, reducing the skelerai to ash and dust. Croli came plunging through the forest, his staff sending Terrwyn’s two opponents to the ground with a single swipe of his staff. Terrwyn rose, gasping, grateful to be alive. “Look out!” Croli hissed. Terrwyn turned to see one of the skelerai lunging for her with its sword. Terrwyn yelped and tumbled out of the way, then slashed at the creature’s sword-arm, slicing it at the elbow joint. The creature hissed and scrambled to its feet, reclaiming its sword from its severed limb. Croli was busy with the other skelerai, as Terrwyn engaged her one-armed aggressor.

With an ear-splitting hiss, the creature lunged forward, and Terrwyn sliced its other arm off then brought her sword up and stabbed the skelerai through the eye-socket. The creature kept coming, but it seemed unable to tell where she was. She ducked low and withdrew her blade, taking her enemy off-balance. She bounded up and sliced down through the skelerai’s spinal column, and the creature was still. Croli was still busy with his foe, but a gust of wind from the treetops shattered the creature’s sword, and it fled back into the forest.

The gust of wind had also scattered the coals of the fire, so that now the flames were starting to spread among the trees. Croli swore and raised his staff again. Clouds formed high above, and a soft rain fell, extinguishing the fire. He scowled at Terrwyn, shaking his head, and tromped off back the way he’d came. Terrwyn followed best she could, but the forest was now pitch-black. The clouds blocked the starlight, and Croli seemed unwilling to ignite his staff. “Croli!” Terrwyn called, stumbling over roots and rocks. “Croli! Help! I – I can’t find my way without light!” Her words seemed to have the intended effect, as she heard Croli’s hard footsteps soften then turn toward her. Soft moonlight soon shone over her, and she followed it all the way back to the inn. Croli sat on the stairs. He held his staff out in one hand, his forehead in the other. He was bent over himself. Terrwyn couldn’t tell if he was angry with her or just tired.

“Croli?” she whispered. When he didn’t answer, she stepped closer, kneeling beside him in the cold grass. “Croli? Are you ok?”

“No.” The silence between them was thick enough to chew. Then he broke it. “What the hell do you think you were doing?” he asked. His voice was calm, quiet, as if he were asking where the outhouse was or what was for dinner. “Those monsters could’ve killed you. They absolutely would have if I hadn’t been there. You acted recklessly and without thought.”

“Croli, I–” she tried to interject, but he looked up at her, and the fury in his eyes stopped her cold.

“No. You don’t get to talk. Do you have any idea what tonight cost? Do you know why I don’t just sling spells around, willy-nilly? Magic has a price, dear Terrwyn. Life for power. That’s the bargain. Every spell takes time off my lifespan. Granted, wizards tend to live longer than normal humans, but still. And now, because of your arrogance, your stupidity, I may have lost crucial time. Time that could mean the difference between victory and defeat! I wouldn’t expect a normal woman like you to understand. Simple farmers on the Kaian Plains. Zargonese bumpkins. You know nothing of magic, of its cost, of the horrors this world conceals.”

Now hear this!

Because Fantasy

Recently I held a poll on Twitter to determine the title for my fantasy novel. The Emerald Sword never really grabbed me, but I didn’t have any great ideas.

Then I wrote some words down from my main character’s perspective and I realized I had my title: The Tang of Fate

First I went to Twitter for confirmation. About ten people voted and as I figured, Tang of Fate won over Emerald Sword, Zamurrad, and Something Else.

It’s catchy, not quite as cliched, and it definitely helps that no one else appears to have used the title yet.

What’s it about? Glad you asked! Saucy female protagonist sees her family slain by evil sorcerer. On her way to stop badguy from turning everybody into skeletons, she makes friends with a wizard, a changeling, and a princess. And achieving her goal may doom the world with fire and ice.

I’ve always loved fantasy fiction, especially more grounded works like Dragonlance and David Gemmell’s Drenai Saga. I love Star Wars and comics of all types, as well as classics of genre and literary fiction.

After an adolescence spent following white dudes with swords around, I strive for greater diversity in my works, with POC and women as major characters I have relatively few LGBTQ characters, but the ones I have are written as people, not props. That goes for all my characters. (It’s not that hard. Bar is ridiculously low.)

Ten more things Tang of Fate will have:

Four things Tang of Fate will definitely not have:

  • Any mention of a balance between good and evil. The concept is atrocious.
  • Dwarves
  • Dull, over-troped writing
  • Songs about dish-washing

  • YMMV as to whether this be a bug or a feature.
  • Bad Writing Advice: Part 1 – The 4 (or 5) F’s

    I’ve come across something in my writing that’s helping me a lot, and I’d like to share it with you.  Now, as with most writing advice, this bit won’t appeal to everyone. Some are gonna think it’s dumb or too hard or not hard enough or whatever. That’s ok. Ready? Here we go.

    At the base of everyone’s brain exist the four F’s: Fighting, Feasting, Fleeing, and sweet, sweet lovin‘. These are down at the root, in the oldest part of our brain, the part we share with animals and worms and fish and stuff. Put at least one of the four F’s in any story you want to tell, and you got your audience by the amygdala. People love reading that stuff. They can’t stop themselves. Your story may still very well be absolute garbage, but people will keep reading it cuz it’s got those things our lizard brains crave!

    Now, don’t jam the Four F’s in there. They have to flow natural. Otherwise, it just stops being good or so-bad-it’s-good and just winds up bad.

    Allow me to illustrate.

    The video above is a trailer for the B-movie “Sharknado. This is not a good movie. The characters are boilerplate. The writing is cliched as heck. The story is predictable. This movie is bad.

    But it is entertaining. Why? Because it has all the four F’s.

    The people FLEE the rising waters.

    The people FIGHT the sharks.

    Image result for sharknado

    Yes, that is a man fighting a shark with a chainsaw. On dry land.

    A good portion of the film involves FEAST-ing on beer. (This one is a cop-out. I don’t care.)

    And this guy wants to MAKE SWEET, SWEET LOVE to Tara Reid.

    Image result for sharknado TARA reid

    Tara Reid on left. On right, guy who wants to make sweet, sweet love to her.

    And there you have it. Put the four F’s in your story. Sprinkle them in liberally, don’t overweight any one of the F’s, or your reader will get a tummy-ache. And remember, this trick will not fix any problems you may have crafting appealing characters, compelling story lines, or immersive settings. But it will guarantee your story will not be boring.

    The worst you’ll do is write Sharknado.

    And the world will always need Sharknado.

    EXPERT-LEVEL: There is a 5th F. It’s called FIGURING STUFF OUT. It is incredibly hard to do this well. It’s so hard to do this well, that if you have any doubts about being able to do it, just don’t.

    Figuring stuff out is what made Watchmen one of the greatest books of all time.

    Figuring stuff out is what drew millions of people to Lost in the mid-2000s.

    Figuring stuff out (a good mystery) is something only the greatest of writers are able to accomplish well. You can lead readers/viewers on for a long time, but the payoff has to matter (as Lost fans know all too well).

    Figuring stuff out is not a part of our lizard brain. Lizards don’t really care why or how stuff works. That’s an ape thing, a human thing. Figuring stuff out is how we got fire, the wheel, religion, philosophy, Rubik’s cubes, and Lady Gaga.

    So, yeah. There’s fighting, fleeing, feasting, making sweet, sweet love, and figuring stuff out.

    Oh, and funny…ness. Funniness. Humor.

    And…frankfurters? Maybe?

    On a Break

    Hey guys. Sorry for the lack of updates. Trying to get this book done, and between work and living with parents, it’s taking forever.

    As you can probably guess, I’m updating to let you know there won’t be any updates for a good, long while. When the book is done, I’ll get back to it. Probably with a new look. We’ll see.

    Gods and Monsters and More!

    Hey, folks! Long-time readers may remember me talking eons ago about a book called “The Emerald Sword.” I’m still working on it, but NOW I have come up with a plan to have the final draft done in just ten short weeks.

    Ok, ten regular-length weeks, but you get the idea.

    The novel is about a fiery redheaded girl who embarks on a quest to save her family from an evil wizard and his skeleton army and winds up embroiled in a conflict that may lead to the destruction of all she holds dear. Plus, there are werewolves, fairies, dragons, buffalo, and maybe even some chocolate if I can squeeze it in there.

    Depending on how the agent hunt goes, we could be looking at publication as early as 2020 or even later! Whoopee!!

    Space Dracula stands on an asteroid in space.

    Space Dracula approves of this message. (I made this one years and years ago. In MS Paint. So, yeah.)

    I’ve also been working on making the site more accessible to my blind visitors and those with slower internet connections. PLEASE let me know if you have trouble accessing any part of this site! I’ve been adding alt-text and image description to all my images. A bunch got erased on accident and had to be either replaced or junked indefinitely (don’t leave me alone with computers). So now most of the images on this site should be friendly to screen readers. I’m only now getting started with this sort of thing, so please be patient and let me know if I’m doing this right.

    I haven’t added descriptions yet for my Bubblegum-Man and In His Spare Time comics. I’ll be working on those soon!

    Finally, I’m toying with the idea of putting In His Spare Time up in the comic space. Probably plow through some of my back catalog before posting new material. Let me know what you think.