Beta is better...
First up, Happy New Year for 2021 to everyone! While COVID remains a real threat, Trump is stalling to leave the White House, China continues to expand its Belt and Road initiative, the Taliban and multiple other organisations and nations continue to oppress women and people of colour, Australian leaders don't understand that white Eurocentric supremacy in world politics is no longer an unchallenged force, and greed and selfishness continue to drive too many ordinary people, I hope that, for you and your families, 2021 is kind and full of not just promise but fulfilment. Take a moment to tell those you love that you do love them. Do random acts of kindness. Smile and laugh.
I stopped writing on Dec 28 for a short break, but that was after I edited and shared Chasse's Song (Book Two The Last Wizard) with a beta reader for feedback and also shared sample sections with artist Kirsi Salonen for consideration as basis for the cover illustration.
The beta reader report is in and generally favourable, with some important but minor recommendations made, and I have attended to them today as part of my new year's resolutions.
My concern was capturing style after a 25 year gap between books, but the beta reader confirmed that it wasn't an issue. One challenge is to link Book One and Two for readers who might have a 'break' between books so they can recall key Book One events. In the case of the original novel, the dragon's egg and threats to it need to be clear from the outset in the second. I have made adjustments accordingly, without a ham-fisted recount.
Curiously, I also began book three (or did I say that last entry??) Anyway, I'm looking forward to growing Jaysin's character in the third book against the tapestry of a larger and more threatening world than either Chasse or Tam encountered in their initial tales.
I'm about to enjoy a week of family flying in from Queensland, daughters and grandson I haven't seen for more than a year. I doubt I'll be writing in that time. Next post will be in a fortnight then, when I've chosen what to work on next.
The hidden art of home libraries
The school year sags into holidays and this fascinating year of 2020 drags its feet, unwilling to relinquish its fervent grip on the throat of human hope. Coronavirus continues to rage in parts of the world, serums designed to reduce the virus' impact bring possibilities but not cures or prevention, Sydney has another outbreak while the rest of Australia holds their collective breaths as Christmas travellers clutch tickets, and I hope to see my daughters and grandson in the new year.
Daytime work for 2020 stopped on Friday. Actually, it was meant to end on Wednesday, but small unfinished tasks lingered through Thursday and Friday, drawing me back into the office to add detail and 'do the right thing', whatever that actually is in a working world.
There are also distractions. Friday and yesterday I chose to build a dream - a wall library in the lounge for our books (or at least for some of them). I'm no carpenter - I failed Woodwork at school - but I managed to recompose a combination of IKEA bookcases, Bunnings kitchen cabinets, assorted sections of melamine, sweat, determination, creativity and careful measurement into a library (picture below). Finally, a space in our house feels like a writer should be here.
Editing of Chasse's Song has therefore been interrupted and slow, but the aim is still to finish the first edit before Christmas Day weighs in. Rearranging word order to improve the scansion (yes, I know it's prose, but the inner poet can't let go of a sense of rhythm when writing), selecting 'better' words, finding one word to replace three, reducing same word repetition, testing alternative words, adding and removing details, and checking for typos, misspellings, grammatical inconsistencies and really stupid mistkaes (yes, Dad joke irony) continues to be the prime imperative in this part of the writing process. I'm hoping the next couple of days will be fulltime writer days to aid this process.
I suspect my next post will be either between Christmas and New Year or in the new year. Either way, I wish you all an amazing, restful, Coronavirus-free, loving Christmas. Let's see if the contract for 2021 has any fineprint or hidden clauses. I'm hoping it brings everyone a fresh perspective, energy, productivity and joy.
The first cuts are the deepest...
Before you know it, a month storms by and we are racing into the Christmas period. And I haven't posted.
This week I completed a hard copy first edit of Chasse's Song. The process of working through the current 93,000 words was spread over a three week period. I begin by saying it is an exciting and scary experience to read a novel draft in its entirety for the first time.
Among the aspects I scrutinized were:
The editing process in Chasse's Song sent me several times back to Tamesan's Song (Book One) to check consistencies in culture and characters. While it is tempting to take licence and adjust aspects of the original story, I've disciplined myself to make sure the second book follows the original in matters, for example, such as the ages of Chasse, Tamesan and Jaysin.
Facts and consistency aside, the edit also involved checking for effective descriptive passages and images. Where appropriate, I added colour, names, details, weather, light, sound, odours and texture to immerse the reader deeper into moments and character experiences.
I also checked, edited and added opportunities for Chasse to be reflective and thoughtful - in other words not just an action and dialogue character. Because he is a young warrior startled by the violence of his role in the Harbin community, Chasse faces the effects of trauma - basically PTSD - in the form of nightmares and personal uncertainty. I have been working through to make this side of his character, and his learning/growth, believable.
Establishing dragon and wizard culture in a side story to Chasse's main story also influenced sections of editing to ensure the 'lore' established in book one is visualised and developed in book two.
Reading silently and aloud is a crucial action in the editing process. I use it to test expression, fluency and dialogue feasibility and consequently rewrote a significant number of sentences and phrases to improve the reader's experience. Searching for clumsy expression, awkward expression, archaic expression, stumbling expression is probably the most challenging and in some ways neverending editing task. This also touches on sentence openings - juxtaposition of phrases to add variance to the rhythm of the writing.
Reading dialogue aloud is a crucial part of the editing process to ensure the characters' interchanges are character-consistent but also flow as in natural dialogue. Where the dialogue sounds/felt stilted, I've made changes.
The edit also explores the storytelling flow - how actions and events integrate and how and where to 'break' them in order to arrive at the next part of the story. This is particularly important in constructing the chapters. My aim is always to make a chapter a 'little story' in itself that is connected by character and the larger tale to preceding and subsequent chapters. This also involves looking for how and where seeds/connectors/hooks can be inserted to keep the reader wanting to know what happens next.
And there is the obvious editing for typos, spelling mistakes, grammatical errors - the mechanical, secretarial editing that ensures the reader's attention isn't derailed by an obvious language blunder. Sadly, as careful as I try to be from the outset, there are always quite a few to fix.
With the hard edit finished, from tomorrow I begin to transfer those into the original digital manuscript. This process becomes the second edit because it involves the second full reading of the manuscript. Experience tells me that I will make additional changes as I work the first edit fixes into the text.
On a different note, today I started the third book, Jaysin's Song - okay just the first two hundred words, but I have the concept emerging so the next few weeks will be an interesting challenge with Christmas bearing down. I am hoping to get at least one more blog entry done before Dec 25th. Let's see.
The end is the start...
Amid a week of US elections (go Biden!), illness at home (man cold) and COVID testing (negative), I finished the last chapter of Chasse's Song and printed the first raw draft (91,000 words). The quality may be contentious, given the virus and drug combination running riot in my head, but between patches of sleep, sleeplessness, coughing and exhaustion, the story drew to its conclusion and the project's first step is done.
Every project I've completed - now eighteen novels (fifteen published) - starts with an idea of the end point. For Chasse's Song, the physical end point was always going to be arrival in a new and very different culture for the protagonist, and the protagonist's emotional/psychological end point was also to be a different place. The next step - editing the raw draft - will be as much about ensuring the latter end point is reached as it will be about typos and consistencies in plot and data. Growing Chasse has been challenging, and for it to be his 'song' he must show significant growth.
The introduction of the new culture meant exploring a host of challenges - the level of technology in the new culture, the cultural norms, the potential physical differences, the social structures and the language to name some. Harbin - Chasse's home village - in many ways is an isolated, cloistered early medieval community containing maybe just over 200 souls. In Harbin, stone building and metal forging technologies are almost non-existent, there are no animals like horses, cows, pigs, cats and dogs, just goats and wild creatures like wolves and bears, spears are dominat weapons and there are no range weapons. Chasse encounters these as he stumbles upon different cultures in his escape journey, and writing his character's responses to these wonders is part of the challenge.
Language is also significant. New cultures in emerging worlds are unlikely to share a common language, so I've created a new language for exchanges with the new culture, leading to working out how understanding can be reached. Luckily, the dragon Harmi inherits the knolwedge of previous generations as part of dragon lore, and through Harmi Tam is able to translate for Chasse. Although Harmi and Tam are not the central characters for this novel, their roles are extermely important in enabling Chasse to learn. Unfortunately for my family, creating a new language leads to me babbling phrases and words in my study to hear if they roll off the tongue with the right resonance for speaking. Speaking in tongues is alive and well in our household.
"Sharm, dracomenu. A te e manu itay gad e draco nemin sha yee harma."
"Welcome, dragon protector. It has been a very long time since a dragon blessed our people."
The latter chapters led to further research into medieval cultures and practices, and I have to say I love doing the research for the writing because I learn so much more about our world. The construction and engineering process for creating effective metal-tipped arrows alone is fascinating. The ingenuity of the human mind for thousands of years remains enigmatic.
Okay, so the raw draft is printed. I'll let it simmer for a few days before I start the reading process. Despite spending almost eight months drafting and re-reading chapters and sections for continuity and development, this will be the first time I read the work from start to finish and that is always a scary but really enjoyable moment in writing a novel - to see if the story even works. Then the hard part begins...
Growing a hero from an ordinary person in a fantasy world has many possibilities, and some of the best characterisations I've read for these, like Pug in Magician or Frodo in Lord of the Rings, have characters who struggle to rise because magic alone will not make them great, but they have a spark in their souls that is both at once gentle and fierce.
Entering the final phases of Chasse's Song, giving him a mentor who comes from an heroic background, Chasse is facing what it takes to become more than average, even more than good, and writing this section draws me back into my sporting experiences where, to rise to the top, players I've played with and against and admired in several sports have worked harder than the average sportsperson - countless hours of strength and endurance and agility building, repetitive practice of skills, experimentation with skills to find innovative ways to apply them, sweat, blood, tears, exhaustion.
I remember one critic mocking Shana from the Ashuak Chronicles, saying a woman couldn't really do what I have her do in the novel, but every part of Shana is based on the efforts and successes of real women who have grown stronger, more agile and more adaptable through perseverance and training to be among the best in their sport. As a fantasy writer, I've been very lucky to be involved with real people facing challenges and seen how they have overcome them. Applying that to characters amplifies the heroic qualities of the real people on whom I base stuff like Chasse's training under Natias in this novel.
Chasse must be worthy of walking beside his amazingly intelligent, talented and resilient sister. His skills lie outside of her capacity to bond with a dragon and to perform magic, so he must harness his limitations in order to become worthy as a protector.
Character development aside, having the central characters meet people from other cultures poses the issue of language and authenticity of cultural variations. Tam and Chasse were raised in a monolingual community with limited interaction with other cultures, but their escape through the mountains brings them into contact with new languages and beliefs. I've had fun developing a language of the Menuii, spoken by Natias. Although this language is used sparingly, because it is not the lingua franca of the world into which our characters will arrive by the novel's end, it's fun looking for ways people might express common phrases like 'Thank you' or 'Again,' or 'Welcome among us.'
Research for the novel this past fortnight extended to learning how ancient cultures smelted metal, particularly iron, because Natias introduces Chasse to creating iron arrowheads. This led to fascinating reading and viewing as shared in an example below:
And along came Jones...
Tropes and stereotypes and all the assorted apparent pitfalls of genre writing have featured in the past couple of weeks as I've wrestled with concepts and ideas to let the story progress in Chasse's Song.
Finding Chasse a 'male' mentor within the story's confines is part of what caused the writing to slow dramatically and for me to be only at around 80,000 words of the draft. He has been partly trained by his father and dragonwarriors, but the forced escape from the village to save his sister and the baby dragon interrupted his development as a warrior and put the story in a situation where a new mentor had to be found. Fortunately, this past week, we found a stranger in the mountains who wasn't originally cast for this novel and he will be Chasse's significant mentor hereafter. He comes with his own back story and reason for wanting to help three siblings and a baby dragon. He puts a couple more jigsaw pieces into the wider puzzle Eric originally shared with Tam in Book One.
I've also been tampering with mindspeak/mindmeld as Tam and Harmi establish their dragon/wizard relationship in line with the lore of the world in which they exist. Add to this relationship the capacity now for Tamesan to 'inherit' the magical ability of all wizards and dragons who preceded Harmi - Claryssa and her ancestors - and for both Harmi and Tam to face learning how to apply their inherited knowledge. Mindspeak between dragon and wizard can extend to them also having the capacity to listen into other minds and to speak with those minds. This opens a host of possibilities and problems with the storytelling. Tam's younger brother, Jaysin, is an adept - a mind capable of understanding and learning magic. However, our protagonist for this part of the story- Chasse - does not have a magical capacity like his siblings and finds the mindspeaking/mindreading intrusive.
I spent some time editing and then re-editing sections where Tam communicates with Chasse - at first allowing him to learn the skill, then denying him the ability to see how that would affect events, and finally deciding to let him participate as a receiver and conveyor when it involves Harmi, Tam or Jaysin, but not with anyone non-magical ie characters who cannot be the catalyst for mindspeak. Logical magic - hmmmm. But we do demand it.
Thus I'm closing in on the end chapters of the first draft. Chasse will undergo harsh training at the hands of his new mentor, Tam's transition to wizard will mature with interesting results, Harmi will learn to fly and begin taming her knowledge, Jaysin will continue to learn his own brand of magic from books. The characters will come down from the mountains and see the kingdom and great city for the first time. I'm envisaging I have about 15000 words to go or approximately 4-5 chapters to reach the end and launch point into the third book.
The slowness of rumination
Writing is a concoction of thinking, writing, editing, writing, thinking, musing, scribbling, talking, discussing, thinking, writing and never in any particular order of any of those things.
Next entry I'll unpack some of the thinking around Harmi (the dragon) and Tam's magic and how I've developed concepts since book one.
Spaces and places
Time to sketch some new spaces and places for the development of Chasse's Song. The second instalment of The Last Wizard is close to 65,000 words this week, but the action moves away from Harbin and into a much larger world. Tam, Chasse, Jaysin and the fledgling dragon, Harmi, have escaped the clutches of Marron and the new Dragon Head Mikane, and must forge a new path into a world where wizards and dragons are far from welcome.
I began by enlarging the original Harbin map beyond Dragon Mountain, exploring how the greater mountain range might look, where rivers would run, where people are likely to have settled and where the wilds were still 'untouched' by civilisation. The new land also has a couple of stark reminders of the past - a large forest where dragons were once meant to have lived and a vast scar across a forest/plain where dragon fire burned everything and where nothing grows.
Choosing a map 'style' to represent mapping by the greater civilisation beyond Harbin is a challenge. Whether to represent mountains as peaks or as semi-cartographical pictures, and to what degree to include detail that will eventually be lost in a small picture in a paperback all are questions to explore. Also generating a sense of the city to which the characters are heading eventually is a task I've started. My first drafts are included in this blog to show the thinking behind creating a physical fantasy world. Coupled with this will be the development of the wider world's social, political and economic cultures.
Then there will be the challenge of language. Again, I'm compiling a lexicon of the language of the world beyond Harbin, a barrier the characters will face when they first interact with people outside their isolated bubble on the wild north-west coast of the lands. Adding logic to the new language is part of what I try to do. So, for example, in the new language 'chet' means village, 'emachet' is town (ema means big, hence big village), and 'karemachet' means city (literally great big village). A host of other words and phrases are being developed, and some of the language is evident on the map draft.
Still very early days on the map building - not sure if I'm happy with the style or will do something different, but I do have a 'pictorial' sense of space and place developing for the story - and for the third book eventually.
Slow progress: changing directions...
The writing process is fascinating, even when it is something you feel confident and motivated with. Chasse's Song has progressed to 62,000 words - slow by my personal standards, but not indicative of the ideas: more about available time.
Not a lot to write this week as far as process goes. I'm still drafting maps for the location, and Kirsi has shared a second draft of the first cover illustration that effectively captures a sense of character, place and colour, so aspects are happening. Events are shifting the main characters out of the village into a world beyond the mountain, and that is where the story goes forward from today.
On a different tangent, I can no longer order author copies of my books on Amazon - an issue that other writers have warned me of - so I will spend a little time in the coming fortnight learning how to prepare and publish print-on-demand copies of my work on IngramSpark. This will enable me to order copies that I can on-sell to people. While Amazon proved easy and convenient to make my out-of-print work available as ebooks, it has backfired as far as accessing paper versions. I will correct that.
This time - not much else to say...
Illustrating a place
Back at work means less time for the good things, so I've left this entry for a fortnight.
The first exciting news was seeing a working draft of Kirsi's illustration for the first book. We're working on the ambient colour being similar to the original novel ie colours around Tamesan's name meaning the Dawn's Light while capturing a sense of character and place. I'm loving what I've seen and we are discussing important features to add connection between the art and the writing.
Readers often ask if the writer has input into cover illustrations. My experience generally has been yes, and is certainly the case now when self-publishing, but also some of my earlier books emerged with covers approved by the publisher and not entirely by me. I think a lot depends on the marketing editors and what they guess will work as attractive covers.
Chasse's Song is now entering Chapter 18, and just over 55,000 words. The last two chapters brought interesting challenges where I am trying to capture Chasse's struggle with what constitutes being a man - traditionally in his village and what people expect of him. The antagonists have been reintroduced to ramp up the pressure on Chasse as they threaten the people he loves. Chasse is an emerging warrior, but his inexperience and lack of confidence arising from his inexperience combine to frustrate him when he wants to act as he believes he should act.
Because of the central character focus, it's also interesting working out how to show growth continuing offstage for Tam and Jaysin who are coming to grips with learning magic and living with a growing dragon. The trope/feature of magic in The Last Wizard books is partly the immutable and ubiquitous connection between dragons and wizards, with dragons being an inter-generational source of magical lore and ability, and also the presumption of the capacity for magic to enhance and work on the natural energy in all matter. Tam's growing capacity for magic is tied directly to her baby and growing dragon. Jaysin, however, is an anomaly; a person who can weave magic from the very matter of things, something not seen in this particular fantasy world before.
Speaking of fantasy worlds, as each of my works emerged I placed them geographically on the same planet/world. The Andrakis trilogy with its lands of Andrakis, Ranu Ka Shehaala, Targa and Uz Erhaag expanded eastward in the Ashuak Chronicles to include Ashua, Shekisu and Sekesu and Ukesu, and in the Dreaming in Amber series the world not only encompassed all of these lands but introduced Western Shess. Map examples below...
The existing draft of my latest work moves east from Ranu Ka Shehaala to introduce more countries/lands. The Last Wizard was never originally positioned in this world as a stand-alone novel, but I am now placing Harbin and the future places to be introduced in the third book in the greater fantasy world, most likely to the far north of the yet unpublished new fantasy project. So that entails drawing a new map of the world which I started today.
No research this past fortnight, just purely writing and editing.
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...