Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dragon's Rook

The title may change--too many books with "dragon" in their titles--but the novel is rapidly approaching the end. Well, the end of the beginning.

Book One will be about 140,000 words, not as many as the original incarnation, but hopefully enough to envelope the reader in my world.

I'm on Part Four today, still tweaking a few things, re-incorporating old material that was too good to throw away but didn't quite fit in the original. I like to experiment, do things I'm told can't be done. (Just ornery that way, I guess.) I'm looking forward to getting some feedback on the updated manuscript, see if the experiment works.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Last Story

My short story, "At the End of Time, When the World Was New," has the distinction of being the last story published in Dragons, Knights & Angels before that magazine merges with another.

It's one of only two of my science fiction stories that I am not ashamed to be seen with in public, and I hope readers enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Small, Quiet, Amazing Things

This past Monday night, the renegade writers group met at a restaurant and shared Christmas stories and poems we'd written. We laughed so loud we drew attention from other diners, but that didn't stop us. Afterward, three of us went to the movies. After much debate--Beowulf, I Am Legend, or August Rush--we settled on young August.

Great movie. It is a tale of perseverance and hope. Beautiful photography, a touch of Oliver Twist, a lot of great music, and good acting. (Freddie Highmore has a fantastic future.)

For the too-literal thinkers, this movie may be too improbable--after all, would a homeless kid without a social security number and no records of any kind end up at Julliard?--but they miss the point. What if everyone believed when they were told something can't be done? Much of the power in this story comes from August's persistence, from the gift inside him that must be heard, and the belief that he can and must use that gift to do an amazing thing.

Not all of us are musical prodigies, but that does not mean we have no gift, no purpose, nothing amazing that we can do, even if those amazing things are small, quiet, everyday sorts of things. The photo below is from one of my favorite scenes in the film. It's full of parallels, music, and irony--all things I like--and it shows an adult sharing with a kid, encouraging him, taking the time. In other words, telling him he's important. A small, quiet, everyday sort of amazing thing.

It's also a meeting of two characters searching for other people, not knowing they're in the presence of one they seek.

In another scene, August is asked where he gets his music. What are his influences? Everywhere, he responds. He hears music all around him.

Where do we writers get our ideas? A partially correct answer is imagination, but even the most creative person in the world is limited in sources for that creativity if he uses only what resides in his own mind. Writers must be sponges, absorbing environment and experiences into imagination, transforming everything into the music we record on the page for our readers to hear.

What is it inside us humans as a whole that struggles to transcend our troubles or limitations?

What holds us back from achieving the big, important things? Is it because we see the difficult task as the impossible task?

But, if we never try, if we don't have that gift or want-to pushing us on, we never know what we can do.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tell Me a Story

I've said this before about miniseries and television shows available on DVD, and about thick novels: I like sinking into a long, intriguing, well-told story. I like not having to wait for weeks to watch a TV show storyline play out; I can just pop in the next DVD, hit "play", and keep going. The same goes for miniseries. Novels, especially those in a series, are a similar story (forgive the wordplay).

If the characters, writing, and premise of a series grabs me, I will read every book. For example, I own two diverse mystery series: one featuring a male protagonist, Inspector Ian Rutledge, a veteran of the First World War, and another series set at fictional Hawkenlye Abbey and featuring a set of protagonists, a monastery abbess and a French-English knight returned from the Crusades. I have read, reread, and re-reread every one of those books. I like having them available on the shelf. I dislike waiting for the next in the series to be published.

I've worn a "halo" around the center of my Lord of the Rings DVDs, they've been played so many times. The four paperback books (The Hobbit and The Lord of Rings) have all been well read, and no longer fit sleekly into their communal slipcase. The LOTR hardcover set still looks good, but that's only because the paperbacks exist.

Having viewed most of my movies several times, I do not always sit still to watch. I stand, I move around, I putter in the kitchen or sweep the floor, play a game of Scrabble against myself, fold laundry, work on my various writing projects, exercise in front of the television. However, there are always parts of the story that will grab my undivided attention, and I will stop whatever I'm doing and watch. The same with books: I may skip a page or two in familiar books, parts that after the first two or three readings fail to interest me, and I read the good parts (reminiscent of The Princess Bride, subtitled by author William Goldman as the 'good parts' version), the places where characters are in conflict, stress, change, action--the places where something happens.

And yet--and yet--there are moments of visual or written poetry that will get me every time: the sweeping cinematography and beautiful music that accompany the lighting of the beacons in The Return of the King, or the long opening paragraphs of If I Were King by Justin Huntly McCarthy.

Like most of the children to whom I read, I am an impatient and restless fan. Grab my attention with a well-crafted tale, however, and I'll sit still as long as it takes you to tell it.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Everything Old is New Again

I'm weaving together two manuscripts that I had previously unraveled.

The two books were once two plot lines of equal weight in one manuscript. The book became unwieldy--as did the timeline--so I moved one set of characters, setting them and their story a few months ahead of the other, and for a while worked on both manuscripts at once.

Again, too unwieldy. I set aside the original storyline, concentrated on the newer one (now set in spring instead of summer, because that way it flowed well into the other events). 

Now, the time has come to reunite these long-lost twins. The problem? They no longer resemble one another. Their characters and plot threads still interweave, but the writing is different. The original story feels clunky, amateurish. As I mentioned to a friend, that first chunk of writing feels as if it belongs to a totally different person; I seem to be grafting the words of a stranger onto my story.

Crap must go. Much of what I once thought was so important is redundant, heavy-handed, and downright boring. In the first manuscript are about 80,000 words of self-importance that I am amazed any reader ever thought were worth crafting into a story.

On the other hand, I have a wealth of material to manipulate. I can rearrange the puzzle pieces, put one character's dialogue into a different character's mouth, change the order of events, tighten the plot, ramp up the tension, increase the action.   

I will ditch 40,000 words and create a better story--but I needed all 80,000 first. Without them, I wouldn't know my characters, their cultures, their countries, et cetera.  I wouldn't know how they speak, what they value, what they've left behind and are striving to regain. I wouldn't know how to tell the story.