Lost history and no drinking
Chasse's Song reached 50,000 words this week, with a key moment concluded that defines the plot for the second half of the novel. Research for Chasse's Song was limited this week, focussing mainly on spear fighting techniques. Most of the work on the novel was in banging out writing.
However, part of this week was devoted to a revisit to Girlie, thanks to amazing research being conducted by a good friend - Grant Tinney - who has a Facebook site called Brighton South Australia's Lost History Tour.
Contributors to the site have unearthed a treasure-trove of images and stories that support my research for Girlie and I have revised and added detail to a couple of pieces of information used in the novel, particularly concerning the Argosy dance hall at Seacliff.
I also uncovered a small article via Trove highlighting the alcohol rules in place in the 1940s - no consumption of alcohol within three hundred yards of dance halls. I always wondered why my father and his friends used to get in cars and drive a distance from the local dance hall when I was a kid. Now I know. It also explains the popularity of hip flasks and similar containers for having alcohol handy and easy to transport and hide.
A return to work this week might slow the writing process, but I'm committed to meet my target draft deadline for the second The Last Wizard book.
Boats, butchers, birds and bruises
With 45,000 words in draft, technically I'm at the halfway point of Chasse's Song. Of course, 'halfway' is a concept when creating a story, a marker, a reminder of keeping the story within agreed bounds. This is partly determined by text binding limitations with publication, partly audience expectation of reading lengths, partly 'tradition' for a genre - but mostly so I can give myself a solid target to constrain the tale.
Writing comes with more research. This week, the Harbin Dragon Fang are embarking on building a new dragon ship, regardless of whether the ones who fled when the dragon appeared in the village are coming back with the village's only ship. This sent me back into researching how the Vikings and other seafarers built their clinker longships. So much information is available, particularly given the projects that have been undertaken to replicate the building of those ships - everything from the kind of tree needed, how to shape and cut the keel, the strakes, the bow and so on. Additional research was needed to determine how a sail could be constructed from goat hide (the Vikings apparently sometimes used wool). Materials, techniques, time - all are important to help me add 'authenticity' to the story.
This led to revising how to fell trees effectively. Again, personal life way back in my teens gave me experience in this, but memory and research need to combine. There are some fascinating pages online. I was especially amused by the link following:
Then the fun research turned to killing and butchering goats. Yes, from my childhood I remember the process for killing, hanging, gutting and butchering a sheep, but fifty years separate me from that time. So, into the research. There is literally nothing you can't learn online nowadays. Why this? A spoiler - how else do you feed a baby dragon?
With the story's changing seasons from deep blizzard winter to emerging spring, I then researched a range of topics including seagull breeding seasons, bears emerging from hibernation, wolves hunting in snow and so on.
Finally, before this post, I was researching the impact and healing processes involved in treating broken ribs and a 'mildly' punctured lung - the fate of a character hangs on this material.
The links in this post are quick samples of where I've been as I've been developing the story. Each piece of research needed correlation from multiple sources to ensure I was finding accurate (or relatively accurate) information. A long time ago, I naively thought writing a story was a case of 'making it up' and relying on my personal knowledge and experiences. While that is equally still true, especially in a fantasy tale where the world and magic are in the hands of the writer, the degree of research involved is often hidden from readers, especially if it flows in the tale as it should - part of the world, the characters and the events.
One more week of being a 'full time' writer lies ahead before the working world kicks back in. Fourteen chapters have taken shape. I'm enjoying the project, but it is only a partial form chipped roughly in marble - a long way from the statue I want it to be.
School's Out (for winter)
Finally a break from work since January and post-COVID school set-up - which makes focussing on writing a tad difficult while I unscramble my brain from Teams and Managebac and teacher training and support web sites and...However, all going well, I face a two week period to be a writer most of each day.
Chasse's Song draft is almost at 40,000 words, but writing this past week, despite the plans of mice, has been very slow. Currently I've been researching more survival in snow strategies, how thick ice has to be to walk on over water, how long ice on seawater takes to melt post-blizzard conditions, how to skin a bear (roughly - my character is not in a situation to skin it like a pro).
I've also taken a session to go through the first 35,000 words to check for inconsistencies in events, characters and so on, and adjusted accordingly. Retaining integrity and logic, especially when a character has been through trauma and is likely to have nightmares, flashbacks et al, is essential, although not always easy when progressing a story.
Coaxing a love story into Chasse's life is also a challenge in the environment and situation he faces, but I've sown the early seeds and look forward to growing this relationship. Although Tam is currently a background story, I've also introduced the first strong evidence of her growing magical power - no spoilers, sorry.
That's all for this entry. More detail next week when the next stage of the story takes its direction. Back to the task at hand.
Cold; damned cold
Chasse's Song reached 31,000 just before I started this post, so the project is growing steadily. My target is to have a first draft of around 100,00 words by the close of July, but that will take some serious writing commitment of 2-3000 words a day between now (after work hours).
The fun part is research as usual. My character lives in a sub-arctic environment, so I've been researching snow and animals and plants, particularly behaviours of wolves and human survival techniques in cold environments. It's been interesting comparing survival techniques I learned as a child/teenager growing up in country Australia while running trap lines and hunting with the professional advice for surviving in a very different climate. Exposure in any environment is the killer, and particularly hypothermia which led to a cousin's death when his boat capsized in Lake Albert in cold weather. Trapping concepts, building ad-hoc shelters and so on translate across situations, but understanding that it's safer to be under the snow than on it in a blizzard, avoiding sweat, that it's okay to drink snow (apparently a myth is that it's not okay), and so on have added depth and accuracy to the situation Chasse finds himself in.
As an 'apprentice' warrior in a patriarchal society, with a sister who has refused to accept the patriarchal expectations, 16 summers' old Chasse is beginning to struggle with the concept of manhood proposed by his father - its strengths and its weaknesses - as he begins to define himself by his ability to survive.
Writing about a character in a cold climate while I sit in a heated room seems anomalous - so occasional standing and sitting outside and dawn walking to work helps me associate a little with the discomfort of icy cheeks, cold, damp noses, tingling toes and fingers. Being a child of the edge of the Australian desert, I don't do cold easily, although I clearly remember those bitter mornings of country childhood when ice coated the cattle trough and puddles as we stamped our feet and created clouds with our breaths. I sincerely do not understand how or why people choose to live in colder climates.
Chasse has just survived a near-death experience, but only because his sister intervened. I've had the onerous research task of learning how long bodies take to lose heat after death as I deal with Chasse's survival. I have writing to get back to - sorry. A few more words to write to reach today's target.
First, all quiet on the publisher front - not how I like it, but part of a writer's fate.
I'm making good progress into the first draft of the second book in The Last Wizard trilogy, Chasse's Song and I'm enjoying where the story is going. Having spent considerable time reacquainting myself with Harbin and Tam's world and where her brother Chasse fitted, I finally feel I've moved into Chasse's space comfortably and we've passed 25,000 words this weekend.
Whereas the original book - now Tamesan's Song: The Last Wizard Book One in preparation for re-release - focussed on Tam's coming of age, Chasse's Song: The Last Wizard Book Two, focusses on his coming of age as explained in previous posts. This will mean a number of interesting and challenging issues emerge. Now that he is a dragon warrior and he was present when the Dragon Fang were ambushed while they were raiding a southern town, he has to resolve his role in Harbin as a young man, a warrior, a protector, and a son and brother, and potentially a husband. His father, Dragon Head Kevan, takes responsibility for leading Chasse through the Trial of the Second Winter, a time when the new dragon warriors of Harbin 'come-of-age' through testing and facing the truth of what they are required to do and be. This new stage brings increasing security and also dilemmas for Chasse who can see how his sister's choices place her at odds with village traditions and where this will potentially create a schism between her and him. And he is still dealing with PTSD from his first experience as a dragon warrior. And there is a growing love interest that will also challenge him. Tam is on the mountain, with the dragon's egg, the Herbal Man's library and goods, and little brother Jaysin, although her life is now momentarily offstage. Oh, and eventually the ones who abandoned Harbin when Claryssa the dragon emerged will return to search for the dragon treasure. But that's not written yet...
Kirsi has agreed to work on the cover illustrations and we've now signed a contract so that part is underway and I'm excited that she is involved.
I'm dedicating an hour or so each day to writing currently, and trying to nail several hours each weekend. When I started writing seriously way back in 1988, even before I won my first contract, I bought time by replacing my involvement with basketball. Back then, training and playing with Noarlunga City Tigers consumed close to 15 hours a week, spread across 6 days of commitments, so when I retired from the club and the game entirely I converted the basketball slabs of time to writing time. I coupled that with sometimes smashing multiple hours two-three times a week in exchange for sleep, working until 2 or 3am and sleeping briefly before heading to work, and that's pretty much how the Andrakis trilogy came to life from 1988-1993, but it wasn't a sustainable way to live. In contrast, the original The Last Wizard was fully drafted in three months in 1993 when I took a term's leave from teaching.
Okay, so Chasse wants me to take him further into the Trial of the Second Winter because he wants to become a man. A blizzard is brewing in the background and his father is about to engage him in trial by combat. A wolf pack is circling higher up the slope. I have to go...
The Changing Winds...
Hmmm it has been a little break. Remembering to post regularly in an irregular world is challenging. Still, I have been writing. I can't not write...
As recorded earlier, All We Have is awaiting a publisher response, Girlie has a rejection and will now move to the next prospective publisher, and Dragon Queen is on temporary hold after Book One draft completion and several chapters into Book Two.
Simultaneously - who said I have ADHD? - I'm working on a very old project that was written as a solitary book but will now be expanded into a trilogy. The original The Last Wizard has been edited and is now ready to be re-published as Tamesan's Song: The Last Wizard Book One and I am four chapters into Chasse's Song: The Last Wizard Book Two. For years, readers have asked for a sequel and I always had notes for a series, but life events in the mid-nineties interrupted the project and I never returned to it.
The first book focussed on Tam's struggle to break out of the mould set for girls and women in her village against a much darker backdrop of the lies of her culture. It was/is a coming-of-age story for a strong female character.
The second book sees her brother, Chasse, caught in the aftermath of Tam's discovery of a dragon on the mountain above her village, also coming to terms with his masculinity in a world that can be dangerous. Tam's continuing story becomes a backdrop for Chasse's tale and challenges to protect his family.
The third book - Jaysin's Song: The Last Wizard Book Three - focuses on the youngest sibling coming of age as he discovers why he has always been different to other children and why he will usher in the future age.
It has been interesting and difficult to rekindle a very old but favourite world and tale. I have reacquainted myself with the Harbin culture and beliefs, its geography, its isolation, the events of the first book that set the second one in motion, and the characters. Now, a mere 14000 words into Chasse's Song, the first draft is still feeling awkward, recapturing a style and language and atmosphere I'd forgotten for twenty-five years, but it is beginning to take shape.
I've invited Kirsi Salonen to create covers for the rebirth of the original novel and the fresh projects. Robert Stephenson contracted Kirsi to design the renewed Andrakis covers back in 2006 when we first moved that series to Print-on-Demand. Kirsi creates imaginative, dynamic and intense work. Check out her site: http://www.kirsisalonen.com/
Next entry I will focus on the development of Chasse's Song.
This has been a squirrel week - so many distractions and challenges and opportunities! Work and family aside, even the writing has squirrels bounding in disparate directions, demanding attention.
So I thought I'd focus on fixing the Amazon edition covers on the Andrakis series. Andrakis hasn't had much luck when it comes to covers. The original series from Pan Macmillan started with different artists unable to capture the first cover until the final design emerged with Andra on the final battlefield facing dragons emerging out of roiling clouds. I totally loved that first cover visual because of its energy and dark threat. The lettering for the title - meh - but the cover was great. And then it was all downhill. The cover for Kingmaker always felt half-finished, leaning towards cartoonish; Andra standing in a stream of dragonfire on Cennednyss bridge. And then came the disastrous cover for book three. Conceptually, Dragonlords with Andra confronting A Ahmud Ki beneath the twisted trees had merit, but the cover design was nothing like the first two books and readers looking for book three didn't recognise the link. By the time most did, Dragonlords was off the book shelves and it still remains the most difficult book to track down. I maintain that the sales drop from book two to three was entirely due to the odd marketing decision to make book three look nothing like books one and two. that experience made me overly cautious thereafter. The original series covers are posted with this entry.
Jump ahead ten years and the Andrakis books were out of print so Rob Stephenson kindly had them redesigned and marketed through Altair as POD (Print on Demand) for readers still interested in reading the series. It was a low budget, quiet reprint, but Kirsi Salonen created new art work for the covers and the series finally looked like it was a series.
Jump forward ten more years and I decided to rekindle (pun deliberately intended) availability of the Andrakis series via Amazon. Well, what a learning journey that has become so far as cover production is concerned. Initially I created three very amateurish covers on white backgrounds just to see how the whole CreateSpace/Kindle space worked. Then I thought maybe I should make the covers a little more professional, so I played with Kirsi's original artwork, made several mistakes and finally ended up with a finished product last week. What did I learn?
Okay, I learned I'm no artist - or designer actually. But I have learned a little more about design and Photoshop.
I learned self-publishing is a little bit of fun and a lot of craftsmanship and that precision is essential. Someone In Amazon would be sick of sending me emails saying there was still an error in the print or on the cover. Jan Balo popped into conversations and offered sound advice to help me avoid some design errors. However, I made the corrections and learned more from the mistakes. Text shape and size can significantly change the 'professional' appearance of a cover. Layers can be manipulated to add depth. Colour matching and linking adds continuity, and so on. I've included the final covers as evidence of the progress. I would post the alternative cover designs I tried while I was learning but they are seriously embarrassing (and no doubt still visible somewhere on the web).
So the cover squirrels kept me chasing in circles the past week, but I've enjoyed the chase.
Writing squirrels also had me running in circles - and jumping between projects, including writing the first chapter of the sequel to The Last Wizard (yes, I know, 25 years later!). I've mapped out a story/plot for the second book. When I finish it, and begin the third in the series, the titles will emerge as Tamesan's Song: The Last Wizard Book One (the original), Chasse's Song: The Last Wizard Book Two and Jaysin's Song: The Last Wizard Book Three. I originally wrote The Last Wizard to be a stand-alone novel, but even as I reached the end the next two books announced themselves. I wrote notes etc, but my life tilted sharply in a different direction in the late 1990s and the project never took flight - but now it has.
So, yes, I'm working on three writing projects concurrently again. Squirrels. Everywhere.
And then theres' COVID 19 and school and IT and...
Back we go..
Tomorrow is back to work after four days and two weekends away from the chaos. In fairness to Meg, I did spend three days working on school web sites for teachers, parents and students during the so-called break, but the last four days I devoted to being a writer.
After a wee bit of excitement back in 2015 when I tried to kick start a flagging writing business, I neglected much of what needs to be fostered. As my previous blogs detail, I have returned to writing in earnest and the momentum is good. What I neglect is everything AFTER a book is written, and that I must change.
This week I revamped my tired old writing website at www.tonyshillitoe.com.au Drop by for an updated view - still a page to fix around how and where to buy my books, but essentially it's almost done. From now on I will also store these blogs on that site.
I also spent time this week revamping the Amazon covers for the Ashuak and Andrakis series, learning new techniques and applying them to the covers to make them less amateurish. This led to updating the interior content as well, again to improve the appearance. It takes a full day to design a cover, and another whole day to check the layout of the content, and that's the tip of the iceberg. Examples of the updated covers, one from each series, are included below (drafts - finals are too large a file for here).
Moving forward, I am about to embark on book two of the new fantasy series later this week and I'll add updates of that in the next entry. For the record, yesterday I was distracted for three hours and wrote an intro to yet another new series. I need to focus!
Well, no recent posts because of our common enemy Covid-19 who has consumed my life within our school; building an online learning strategy, environment and resources for parents, students and teachers, supporting teacher resilience and competence in that strange new environment for ELC-12 using Teams, Managebac and Showbie and a vast array of web resources and tools, and basically caring for the learning and emotional wellbeing of a community. I'm currently building web sites to support teachers, parents and students with digital skills. As John Lennon aptly sang, 'strange days indeed.'
Writing took a back seat, but some events chugged along. I submitted Girlie to a publication contest, but lucked out on that one, so now I'll prepare the manuscript for the usual submission processes. A re-read yesterday revealed a couple of glaring editing errors - no matter how ruthlessly you work through 115,000 words, even with vigilant friends checking, you miss details. When I hear someone complain that they found a spelling error on page 27 of a novel, or a missed word, I know how and why those errors happen - and no, I'm not talking about lots of errors in a text. Anyway, Girlie will be packaged and sent to the first publisher target to see if they will take her on. If not, we move to the next one.
The pandemic zombie-fest novel, working title All We Have, was sent to its first publisher a fortnight ago, so we will see where that ends up. Either my timing is terrible or great in this current world event. While it was never aimed at imitating a Corona style pandemic, maybe there is enough in it to make it a worthwhile read. Anyway, the waiting game has begun for that novel.
I also reshaped and finished Book One in the new fantasy series, currently titled (insert title here). Creating a title is really challenging because so many books and films have been published and already bear the very titles the next writer/creator want to use. So one target in the next few days is to generate a list of options, test them against the titles already published and come up with an appropriately interesting/catchy title for this work. I'm hoping to head into Book Two during the coming week, given I'm taking four days off work post-Easter (happy dance).
I hope everyone out there is safe, socially-distancing and looking out for family, friends and neighbours. We are living in one of our films or novels right now. I might say that for a full-time writer this might seem 'normal', as it would for gamers, introverts and only children (I qualify in some of those categories). Use the time we've been given wisely. Happy Easter!
Best Laid Plans...
As Douglas Adams wrote, 'The best-laid plans of mice.' The plan was to flesh out the fantasy world for the new series and even draw maps. Well, I did find time to flesh out the worlds a little. The maps - not so much.
Currently, two cultures are drafted, three to be drafted more.
Working out a hierarchy and political and social structure for the dragon culture has been interesting. Essentially, the political structure is a regal matriarchy supported by an oligarchy overarching a loose socialist democracy. Queen Shadrael is the inheritor of rule from her grandmother who featured in the Ashuak Chronicles, but her right to the role is challenged. While the Queen has absolute authority, she is guided/advised by a group of Elders, and Clan-wide decisions have to be agreed to by the dragon Congress. Social status is tied closely to political status, with some allowance for birthright. Economically and militarily, the dragons live off of a human slavery system that they have established by domination. The dragons can draw on several millenia of cultural history, stemming from a time when they were beasts in the wild, through the era of the dragonlords and the Andrakian trilogy to inheritors of magic from the Genesis Stone.
The key human culture of the tale is the Domovinan kingdom, ruled by a Shah. Inherited absolute rule is the key system, supported by a warlord leading class and a fledgling and highly-threatened democracy in the city. The culture is misogynistic in the extreme as a result of a history where powerful women were users of magic who were eventually overthrown by men. There's a tale within a tale buried in that history that will also hark back to the Andrakian trilogy. The Domovinan kingdom is in the middle of an industrial revolution and ruthlessly and jealously guards its technology (this technological revolution precedes but ties into the world in the Dreaming in Amber series). Social strata in Domovina is very much like that existing in C18th England - from wealthy royals through to wealthy merchants/criminals, middle class business owners down to workers and the poor.
The dragon culture embracing the human slaves is still taking shape as those characters begin to receive airplay in the story. The Alfyn culture is to be developed early in Book Two and a new human culture will be brought into play as the first two clash.
The complexity of the cultures is still unravelling as I write and new necessary detail is required in the story. A friend on the weekend asked if I subscribe to George Martin's differentiation of writers as being architects (detailed planners) or gardeners (organic growers). In my case, both apply. There is an awful lot of planning and almost as much organic growth to create characters, places, communities and a story embracing them.
And as for the diversion of direction on the new project, I accepted an invitation to Meander - a B&B property near Springton owned by good friend Evelyn - and used the escape time to add and edit details in another project to complete it. This is the post-apocalyptic project for which I now need to find a publisher. Tonight I will begin drafting a proposal and blurb to accompany the first chapters of the novel and select who I will approach. Frankly, I'm so far out of the writing loop my choices will be dictated by what I can research online. I'll post the progress on that as it unfolds over the next few months.
PS: The fantasy novel is now at 100,000 words and growing, so I've stayed busy
Writing is my passion. Ideas, opinions, beliefs, experiences expressed through language - through words and images - pervade and create my life. Writing is my voice, my soul, my self. My dream is one day writing will sustain my life...