November 2007


Publication has been delayed until 12/10 due to some tricky formatting issues.  It is my fault for dispersing so many footnotes throughout the text!

I might have mentioned that writing is a lonely job. It requires self-discipline, patience, stubbornness, and a thick skin. You will develop these traits over time if you stay in this business, because if you don’t, then you won’t stay.

But there is help.

The first thing to do is find a writing partner, who will critique your work, and allow you to critique theirs. You can learn much from reading other people’s first drafts. See what kind of things work, and what doesn’t, and things you can avoid or use in your own writing. A partner also provides you with social contact, a shoulder to cry on, and an encouraging pat on the back when you need one. And you do the same for them. It is the single best thing you can do to further your writing career.

Second is to take care of yourself. Get enough sleep, eat healthily, and most importantly, get some exercise. Make it a priority to get a half an hour walk in each day. You can think about writing while you are walking, or ideally talk about it with your writing partner, who is out for a walk with you.

Third would be to take a writing class or seminar. You can learn a lot from a well taught class and being able to talk to a published author (who is hopefully teaching the class) will give you insights into the business.

Lastly, there will be days when you don’t want to write anything. If it is just one day, then give yourself a holiday. No one needs to work every day. But if one day goes to two and two stretches into a week, then you have to make yourself get into it again. The best way to do this is–just do it. Start writing, wherever you left off. Don’t worry if its crap. You can always revise it later. Set yourself a goal. Five hundred words in two hours, or something like that. Then do it. Eventually the words will start flowing again.

That is a great feeling.

I spent most of today going over the bits of Ketha’s Daughter that my writing buddy, Mike and I talked about last night.  He was in a particularly critical mood, so I had to do a lot of defending.  Sometimes he is right, and sometimes he is wrong, but he always helps me to clarify my own thinking.  I did need to cut out some of the flab in the passages we discussed, and today I did just that.  It is hard, because I am in love with all the words I write.  But sometimes things just have to go anyway, in the service of creating a coherent whole.

Spent time today polishing up a bit of Book 2 of Song of the Arkafina.  I wrote a mock Icelandic edda to give one particular chapter a little more atmosphere.  Now I keep fiddling with it, changing a word here or there.  It was an enjoyable exercise.  I started by doing a little research.  I downloaded a book from Project Gutenberg (I should add that to the helpfulsites.com post) on the writings of Snorri Sturlasen, who was a 12th century Icelandic politician and historian.  He wrote a lot of eddas.  I read some of them to get an idea of the style, and then I made up my own, using the pantheon of gods I created.

Did you know that a lot of the lays  in Tolkien are actually copied from Anglo-Saxon mythology?  He was a professor at Oxford and very knowledgeable about Icelandic and old English sagas.

But I didn’t want to copy something.  I wanted it to be original.  Here is a sample…

The beast didst roar, and growl in vain,

The Mariner would not quail,

He strode bravely forth to meet the bane,

Crying, “Either you or I must fail!”

The beast reared high its hornèd head,

And wide stretched its chilling maw,

With lolling tongue stained bloody red,

And dripping fangs to snap and gnaw.

Still he came, and the beast didst rise,

Its flashing teeth as pale as death,

The Mariner falls, in agony cries,

And prepares to draw his final breath.

But even as the beast crows, in victory taunting,

With the Mariner’s leg caught fast in its jaws

His foe fights on, his courage unstinting,

Ancarnen shines, ice-locked light from the stars.

Its hideous body unhingèd, the beast’s head falls,

On the bridge stained red, with blood and fire,

Forward and onward the Mariner crawls,

And once more throws wide the gates of Skyre.

Each warrior finds his carven throne,

Round the groaning table, full and free,

But the one-legged Mariner sails on alone,

In the dreary dark of the frozen sea.

After a lot of hard work and three rounds of editing, the publication date for Heart of Hythea has been set for December 3rd. I will add more details as I find them out.

I have been busy over the past few days editing book 2, which is due at the publisher after the new year. I still have a lot of work to do, creating a glossary, and a comprehensive map of the territory covered in the book. I also did a map for Book I. Drawing maps is quite difficult, but fortunately I took cartography in college so I have a little bit of knowledge in that department. I’ll talk about that in a separate entry.

Andrew made a comment the other day about the websites he frequents. Although I do use books for a lot of my reference needs, I also have quite a few sites that I visit for help now and again.

1. http://www.rhymezone.com

A comprehensive rhyming dictionary. Has words divided up by the number of syllables, and arranged alphabetically.

2. http://www.behindthename.com

A guide to thousands of names, fully searchable, with meanings, derivations and alternate spellings. Has names grouped by nationality, which is very useful if you are writing something set in a foreign country.

3. http://www.etymonline.com

Gives the derivations of thousands of words and expressions. Helps when you need to make sure a word or phrase was in use in a historical context.

4. thesaurus.reference.com

A huge site, with an incredible number of words, synonyms and antonyms. Fully searchable, and there is a dictionary for the words you don’t know, of which there will be many, trust me.

5. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

Ahhh… Wikipedia. The repository for all knowledge in the universe, just like the Encyclopedia Galactica, only cheaper. Free actually, and you definitely get what you pay for. Don’t get me wrong, for a lot of things Wikipedia is very useful. But don’t use it to research any sort of hot button issue. It isn’t accurate, and it certainly isn’t unbiased, when it comes to history or biography.

6. http://www.google.co.nz/language_tools?hl=en

Google translate. Can be useful for tossing the occasional foreign word into a story. I am not a big fan of Google, actually, as I have a unnatural prejudice against big companies that (seemingly) want to take over the world, while (absolutely) destroying my right to privacy. No g-mail for Suzanne, that’s for sure.

Don’t even get me started on Wal-Mart and McDonalds. 🙂

Patience is a virtue, but with writing it is a necessity.

It helps if you are born with a reserve of patience, if not you will almost certainly develop one if you stay in the writing business for any length of time. The number one rule to remember is that everything takes at least three times as long as you think it ought to. If someone at a magazine says they will get back to you in a week, then expect it to take three. If you submit a book to a publisher, especially if it goes on the slush pile, it can take six months or more. Even if you get a contract, it will be at least year before you see your words in print.

E books are a little better.

It is important to keep track of your work and where it is in the process. Send emails now and again to touch base, but don’t be a pest. Editors are busy, busy people and they try hard to get things done on time.

If you are playing the waiting game, then keep busy. Start on a new story or novel, or do research for a future project. Have several things cooking at once.

Right now I am editing book I of Song of the Arkafina, going through Book II with my writing buddy, and doing new words for Book IV. I am also researching the Winter War, between Finland and the USSR, with the idea of using it as a backdrop for a new series that I will start writing next year, when I finish Book IV. And I am always thinking of short stories, though I rarely get around to actually doing them. But I have a file where I keep these ideas, and someday…

Still not really feeling up to par, so I’ll talk about an easy subject today. What sorts of books do you need, as an author, for reference?

I’ll take you through my books I have to hand on my shelf.

1. A dictionary. Well I am not being strictly truthful here, because I have a software-based Oxford English Dictionary. It sits in its own little window, docked to the title bar of whatever program I am using. Very handy, and ridiculously inexpensive. But by all means get some kind of dictionary, and use it frequently. Not just for spelling, but for usage.

2. A grammar book. Mine is “Collins Good Grammar.” I probably don’t use it as often as I should.

3. The Penguin Dictionary of Geology and the Penguin Dictionary of Geography. Both very handy for getting features and place names right.

4. “Symbols” by Sandra Forty. A guide to every symbol you can think of, and plenty more you haven’t. Valuable for making designs and icons.

5. “Costume” and “Costumes of Everyday Life” by Margot Lister. Absolutely brilliant reference works showing how clothing has changed from 900 to 1900. You need these if you are writing any kind of period piece.

6. “The Decorative Arts of the Mariner” by Gervis Frere-Cook. Somewhat specialized, but useful for me because I write a lot about seafaring peoples.

7. “Fauna Britannica” by Stefan Buczacki. A gorgeous big format glossy book with beautiful color pictures. Gives the forkloric history and naming of every animal species in Great Britain. A great tool if you want to write a short story and can’t think of a subject. Also gives you authentic sounding regional names for animals.

8. The Hutton Getty Picture collection, vols. 1-10 published by Konemann. These books are an absolutely priceless reference to life in the 20th century. Each decade has its own book, with nothing but pictures, divided by subject (the 1930’s book lists: Earning a living, haves and have nots, unrest, leisure, cinema, entertainment and the arts, fashion, science, transport, sport, children, life, war.) But if you need to describe something, and get it right, then a picture is invaluable. I paid quite a lot for these books, but I use them frequently.

9. “Arms and Armor,” DK Eyewitness books. Yeah, I know its a kid’s reference work, but I get a lot of use out of it. Sometimes when you just want to know a little bit about something, to add detail to a story, then trying to sift through an adult non-fiction work can be a waste of time. Head to the kid’s section of the local library, and find what you need. I bought this particular book because I use it so often, but several other DK books are also very handy. “Battle” is another I would like to own.

10. “Brewer’s Phrase and Fable,” another great book for generating story ideas.

I mentioned the other day that following the rules of writing won’t necessarily make you a success. I thought I might share this piece of advice from my editor, received just yesterday. This is in response to a question I had asked him on whether I should delete a cliché, “hungry as a bear” that a character uses in one scene in Heart of Hythea.

He wrote:

Not at all. Sometimes you have to ignore all these so-called rules of fiction writing (never use “really”, never use “that”, never use a cliché). They are usually made up by people who think they know enough about writing to teach others how to do it, but they rarely do know much, and often have never even had fiction published (too many writing manuals are written by people you’ve never heard of). Basically, if it works, use it.

Enough said I think.

No updates forthcoming until I get over this nasty case of strep throat.

It’s easy to wonder, with some of the dreck that gets published, how some authors manage to turn out best seller after best seller. Some of it, to be sure, is due to the frustrating habit that people have of seeking out the familiar. But there is more to it than that.

These authors possess the ability to move people, to stir their emotions, and get them caught up the world of the author’s creation.

You don’t have to be a technically accomplished writer to do this, and do it well. In fact, getting hung up on the fine points can be counterproductive.

What you do have to have is…

Heart.

I try to infuse heart into my work. To do this successfully I have to be writing on things I feel strongly about. That is where the hidden theme becomes a useful tool. Heart of Hythea is about a girl who is chosen by the gods to do their bidding. It is full of adventure and romance. But within that framework I can address a lot of issues that are important to me, and (on a good day, at least) do it transparently. Things like honour and responsibility, slavery and freedom. The trick is to make the story engaging, and let the hidden themes percolate underneath, giving depth and meaning to the events beyond the confines of the action.

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