I have not fallen off the face of the planet

I haven’t written a post on this blog in about a month and to be honest, I’m not sure I have a lot to say. I’ve been busy with work and housework and cooking and writing and writing about cooking etc…

That said, I AM still working on The Dark Queen of Darkness. I’ve started sending out sneak peaks of the first two halves of the book – The third half pivots and focuses on different characters and I’m only about half-way done. What’s interesting about this book, aside from it being the hardest I’ve ever written, is that it actually has a theme. To date, I’ve written books where no solid theme emerges. I like what I’ve done so far with the other work, but this one stands out in a way that, regardless of where it takes me (or more likely doesn’t take me), I’m proud of the work AND what it says.

The main theme is the fallacy of ‘true love’. Not that a true love isn’t possible, no not that, no I’m talking about the fallacy of the sort of fairy tale ‘true love’ that causes folks to go starry-eyed at first sight. Sure, we sometimes have those moments where our heads turn and the word ‘wow’ drops from our conscious mind even as far as out lips. What I’m really going after is pedestal upon which we (Americans) put love, and as a consequence the idea of marriage, because it’s not reality. To be honest, I can’t think of a better way to talk about reality than a satirical fairy tale.

An interesting side effect is that by focusing on that theme, the writing of character and plot feels somehow easier or at least more fruitful. I made everyone a caricature (which somehow made most of the characters stronger, still working that out), loosely based the plot around a standard fairy-tale trope, and then set to focusing on the theme. Of course, I did go a bit further in that I’ve spent a considerable amount of time layering in concepts from both traditional and contemporary fairytales, sometimes overtly and other times with enough subtlety that actual thought is required. Each scene is set up to speak, in some way, to my theme, and in doing this, nothing feels particularly superfluous. When I do find myself having to build a scene to flesh out a character, I can do it to the fairy tale vibe or the main theme of true-love not being what you think it is. Basically, every scene makes a point, no matter how silly that scene is.

I think what I’m trying to get at is that by trying to say something with the book, rather than just tell a fun story, the writing gained some muscle. Sure, there are still some very rough edges, but the core is there and from the perspective of an unpublished author with 3 manuscripts under his belt, I can’t believe I’m the one who wrote the thing. So, the take away? Write to a theme, it’s life-changing.

AND, since you’ve made it this far, if you’re interested in reading through the first half, I’m looking for feedback on plot, voice, and characterization (to that end I’ve gotten some advice on this score that I’m working on now). Just drop me a line and I’ll send it out.

Dear writers, why do we write? – My reason

This question came at me out of the blue this evening after a particularly long day that started with a 2 1/2 hour commute to the body shop and rental car agency before work (almost triple the usual with an odd detour). The off the cuff response to ‘WHY?!’ is: because maybe writing is a sort of really cheap drug that doesn’t actually get you high. I mean, I could quit if I wanted to, right?

Probably not – and that’s the crux of dependency, isn’t it?

Everyone who knows me, knows that I started programming back in high school and went to college for the same. What fewer folk know is that I started out with little games and I wanted to turn that into programming games for a living. It turns out, I’m not really smart enough for that sort of thing and don’t have the temperament to live in the sort of city where that’s a possible job option and I certainly haven’t got the steady hand nor sharp eye you have with most artists. My creative world lives in making things where I can measure twice and cut once. it’s one of the reasons I like wood-working. There’s a precision your tools give you that a paint-brush, for example, won’t. In any case, my education and various career options led me to where I am today. Not game programming.

I don’t want to sound as though I don’t enjoy my job. In fact, I think that after having left a year and returned, I feel much more fortunate and committed than ever before. You sometimes get lucky and it’s not always obvious when you do.

So, here I am today, a writer who’s chief success is publication in a small-town newspaper as the author of a sometimes entertaining recipe box. My lesser known successes are more of the personal variety and simply involve having actually drafted more than one novel (I’m up to 3 and have two more well on their way to full draft status). On more than one occasion, I’ve attempted to just give it up completely and walk away, because well crap, I’m not very good at this and in spite of tremendous support and help from the writing community haven’t managed to achieve the fundamental author task of just getting something published.

Repeated failure is demoralizing, and incredibly painful to the ego yet, I keep doing it, and I’m not alone. So many of us are in the same boat, constantly chipping away at a story that we desperately want to share and not quite getting there. Or better, finding that one lucky break that puts us in the enviable position of getting to write for a living! Oh my. Wouldn’t that be something.

To circle back around the the metaphor with the drug & dependency. I can’t speak for my colleagues out there, but for me, I cling to the tangible creative outlet that writing provides. It’s a way to express myself and create things that didn’t exist before. When I was a kid, I was absolutely intoxicated by the writings of those who created new worlds for me to explore and be a part of, and ever since, I’ve remained drunk on the idea and am continually looking for a bigger fix, and in comes writing, the only drug that might get me that next big high with the occasional collapsed ego hang-over.

My Tombstone: He died doing what he loved, waiting for Kvothe to get to the point.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed by the title of this post, I’m reading (listening actually) to The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Before I press on here, I want to make it perfectly clear that this is a disorganized bit of observation by a reader and also a struggling writer. I do not make any claims that I am better at the craft than Mr. Rothfuss. The story isn’t bad, nor is the writing, I just find myself a bit annoyed.

It may be that you loved or are in love with the book. Excellent. I’m glad you connected with this. I’m afraid I’m struggling. Even though some of his language and descriptions are lovely and make me wish my tongue contained a quarter as much silver, I am now on chapter 51 and asking myself, “When the bloody hell is Kvothe going to get to the point here?” Again, the setting is wonderful as are the excellent descriptions. It’s case-study in description in prose for someone attempting to produce a commercially viable work of speculative fiction. Again, though, I say, is this book going anywhere? This alone is a pretty annoying, but what’s more annoying is that a single, very popular and well regarded book can contain so many of the things people tell authors not to do.

I spend a lot of time trying to improve my craft. I do want to get published some day and can’t get there without improvement. It’s also true that I’m incredibly hard on myself and sometimes just find it easier to say, well, that didn’t work, did it? Nobody can tell you your work is a pile of thoroughly unsalvageable garbage quite like you can. However, in listening to this book I’m finding myself faced with virtually every piece of advice I’ve heard being completely ignored. Some of these tidbits of advice, such as the use of dialog tags and adverbs, I’ve come to regard as absolute nonsense advice. I feel that reviewers point to these as problems, but really it’s just the smoke. The real fire is elsewhere in the writing. I also once got advice to the effect of ‘watch out for passive description’ in a short story that used it once. The Name of the Wind use it in near equal measures to more active descriptions.

I’m not really sure what the point of all this is, except to say that I’m struggling as a writer right now. I’ve hit a moment where I’ve convinced myself the work is absolute trash. The only solution for me is to understand how to improve. Then, when I go to examine other writers’ work, I’m presented with this sort of thing – A never ending story, with lovely descriptions that manages to break every damn rule of thumb for good practice I’ve been acquainted with. It brings to mind the question, are there any actual guidelines to follow? Is there really a way to get better or am I just stuck trying different things until I find my voice? Anyhow, I’ve got no answers or even conjecture on the matter. I’m just annoyed.

Also, I’ve been working on the Name of the Wind for days, listening while I drive, cook and even for two days while I worked on one of those metal earth models. There is no end in sight and I really don’t know if I have it in me to finish.