Thursday, November 13, 2014

Imagery and Information Gaps

I am starting from scratch on Land of Battles. That's right, I am throwing out what I have written, opening a blank MS Word page and beginning again. After re-reading what I had produced over the last year, I realized that I had no other choice. The task is daunting and I'm disappointed in myself, but I am trying to stay positive and remember that this is a new chance to get the novel just right.

I have always used research as a way to inspire myself. The devil is in the details, as they say, and it is the small things, like reproductions of Viking shoes found on bog bodies that really pique my interest and create new ideas. My novels run like films through my mind, so it is important that my mentally imagery is perfect before I translate it to the page.

I have recently started a Pinterest board, linking myself to articles on Viking artifacts and research. There are some things I have read about before, but the visual of a reproduction is hugely helpful. On the other hand, some of this is completely new information to me and will be incorporated into the novel. So, if I start posting long blogs about bone combs or bronze age tattoos, don't be too surprised.

I will also be taking a different than planned approach to relationships between the characters in the new novel. They are in a new country and new positions, so their interactions are about to shift dramatically.

I am less than twenty pages into the new draft, but I can already tell that it is fresher and stronger than what I had before. Hopefully, a marathon session will come soon and I will be able to tell you that I am a quarter of the way done. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Strong, Silent Type

One of the most popular archetypes in literature is the strong, silent type. This is usually a male character whose basic traits can transfer easily from genre to genre. The strong, silent type is easily found in romances, thrillers, mysteries, and horrors, and the list could go on to every type of fiction in the market. There is something inherently attractive about a character who does not need to explain himself, who meets every obstacle and plot twist in his path with a staid sense that he will overcome, and who does not fill endless pages with dialogue which fails in its attempt to charm.

Although readers can generally spot this archetype from page one, they often don’t mind its reoccurrence because every good reader knows that it is the job of a good writer to imbue this stereotype with all of the unique traits and ambitions which boil just under that surface of silence. One strong, silent type can be as vastly different from the next as the author chooses, and these differences often unfold slowly, making the character a mystery in themselves.

In spite of the type’s popularity, I believe that it is actually a very difficult character to write. In a first person narrative, the character’s narration may contribute to a feeling that he speaks much more than he does and only a very gifted writer will be able to subtly hide the mysterious quirks which ought to be quintessential to the character. The third person perspective requires the perfect balance of exposition and dialogue. Too much and your character will no longer be “silent”, too little and his motives will not be clear. He may seem too callous, too dull, too lacking in opinion, or, worst of all, simply not present.

For me at least, these issues can go unobserved until edits. As writers we should know everything there is to know about our characters. I remember being told in a writing seminar years ago that my readers may never know the color of my hero’s first car, but I had better know it just the same.

This mental storage of information and empathy can become treacherous when it comes to the strong, silent type. He does not explain himself and if we fail to do it for him because we already know the answer and forget that the readers do not, we will present nothing more than a bland stereotype who does a few strange things here and there.

I am tackling this issue right now in Land of Battles. Yngvarr’s character is set. I know him backward and forward. He is, after all, the hero of my trilogy. I plan on spending years with him. However, for the readers, his character was left murky at the end of Prince Dead.

The issues which were not discussed in the first novel take center stage in the second, but it is hard to explain them in great detail without weakening the character. He is the legendary warrior, the berserker who cannot be killed, and, now, the king. However, it is his weaknesses which guide the first half of this new novel. They must be explained without being too Freudian, too whiny, too boring, or too cliché, and he is certainly not the man to do the talking.

I need an epiphany and a plan, and until I get both, my progress is painfully slow. I think it may be time to enlist the aid of friends and family to help me solve the problems, but I hate showing weak writing to others, and at the moment I am not at all confident in my first fifty pages. I will never publish something I am not confident in, but I have also set a deadline for myself. Hopefully, progress will be swift, and I will have an update soon.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Been a long, lonely time...

So… it’s been a while. I won’t bore you with all the details, but last year I got a job which has sucked the life out of me. Very early mornings, long hours, back-breaking work, split days off, and no ten minute breaks in sight left me sleeping on the couch by three o’clock some days and barely leaving the house to get groceries I wasn’t. I wanted to work on my novels. Deep down I have always felt that there would be a future to my writing career so I wanted to keep moving forward, but I still had other things to do.  As little as we may like it, bills have to be paid, beds have to be made, pets need taking care of, clothes need laundering, dishes need washing, and the list goes on forever.

I have never been one for assigning myself a strict number of pages to accomplish within a certain time frame. I tried it for a while, but the outcome was sloppy, unimaginative writing that would have taken so much time to fix that it was easier to simply throw it out and start over. When I am past a certain point mentally, I would not torture anyone with the novels that would result.

I did try to keep up with this blog and my twitter account, but eventually I realized that I was facing a choice. Did I give writing or promoting what was left of my depleted energy? Social media slowly faded out of my thoughts as I did my best to rustle up the energy to finish the edits on Prince Dead and begin its sequel. My blog was cut off first, then I gave Twitter the slow fade.

I missed interacting with other readers and authors, as much as I missed the opportunity it gave me to reflect on my goals and keep me on track.

The good news is that Prince Dead did get completed and is now available on Amazon in both print and ebook versions. I also wrote a historical romance novel during the last year. I will talk about that one more later, but it will need heavy reworking and is not on my schedule of releases yet. Land of Battles, which will follow Prince Dead in the series, is about 60% complete.

I have also decided that it is time to give my writing more priority in my life. Hopefully, after the holidays, I can move to working my real job four days a week instead of five. If so, then I will continually remind myself that writing and promoting should get close to half of my time. I plan on promoting in person through book signings and self-publishing seminars. Online, I now have a Facebook account and I will be setting up a Pinterest account soon. I hope my readers will be patient with me on those, as I have never used either before and probably have a great deal to learn as to how they function.

I look forward to reconnecting with the many great people I knew here before and I can’t wait to meet even more authors and readers. I will be embracing the internet in a new way, thankful for the opportunities that it gives and the people it connects me to, whom I would never have known without it.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Free Book Blowout - The Wrap-up

Today is the last day to download The Gates of Nottingham and So Many Secrets free on kindle. Without giving away too much, I will say that this has been by far my most successful promotion. Luckily, both novels got picked up by popular blogs, and I am very grateful for the help of those administrations.

The goal in all of this is, of course, to generate interest in both novels, but I will be pleased if readers simply enjoy them. Just for fun, here is a list of the songs I was listening to obsessively while writing these novels. I promise that they make no sense in context except perhaps by the mood set by each one.

The Gates of Nottingham:

White Wedding by Billy Idol
Lux Aterna by Clint Mansell
Angels by Within Temptation
My Immortal by Evanescence
Halo by Beyonce

So Many Secrets:

West End Girls by The Pet Shop Boys
Dream a Little Dream as performed by The Beautiful South
I'm on Fire by Bruce Sprinsteen
Dancin' by Chris Isaak
There Must be an Angel by The Eurythmics

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Gates of Nottingham, A Bit of History

I never claim that my novels are 100% historically accurate. I research for months before I start writing and often during the writing process as well. That said, some things are left anachronistic for the sake of the story. I am sure that some things are wrong because I did not catch them. I am not a professor of medieval history. That said, I want to talk about a few of the choices I made and the facts that accompany them.
The Gates of Nottingham is not written in any sort of old English, in the dialogue or prose. The novel is set in 1197. At this time, Saxon German and Norman French were just beginning to be combined into a language that both nobles and peasants could understand. You could compare this early form of the English language to modern Spanglish, an amalgam of languages full of inside knowledge, mixed pronunciation, and incorrect form in either language. Most English aristocrats and landholders were still very closely tied to their Norman roots and still speaking the court's French as their first language, whereas most peasants still spoke the mixed Germanic language that came into use after the Viking conquests. The mix of the two is unintelligible to modern English speakers. You could call the early form a dead language. So, I did not make any attempt to bring this form of speaking into the novel. It was suggested to me that I bring in some Shakespearean type words and phrases to better keep the placement of the novel in the past. I, however, always find it rather sloppy when early English is thrown into modern prose willy nilly. It is just my opinion that it can be rather distracting to read. For this reason, the novel was kept in a neutral form of English. Slang was, of course, excluded and the grammar, even in speach is generally more correct than our own day to day English.

The arts of weaponry and battle were a huge part of my research. There are so many myths on both of these subjects which have been perpetuated for so many years that they have almost been accepted as truth. There is a great deal of debate on how much a medieval sword weighed. Many modern craftsmen insist that they were much lighter than we think and that the majority found in ancient grave sights were constructed for tournament, and were therefore heavier than war blades. However, it is well documented that sword fighting was done with both hands, as the weapon was too heavy for one. Archaeologists have also noted in the skeletons of soldiers very englarged bones in the right arm. It was a common practice in training children to force them to carry heavy bags of rocks with their dominant arm to build it up for later sword training. Up until the body of King Richard the third was found just a few months ago, the generally accepted theory was that he was not a hunch-back, just a swordsman, and that the former idea was added for dramatic purposes. For this reason, I decided to go with the theory that the triple layer bonded broadswords of the era were as heavy as some sources claim them to be, which can range anywhere from 20 to 50 pounds. An internet search provides you with answers as little as 2 lbs, whereas textbooks estimate much higher. This is why the weight of the swords in the novel is never specified, though it is mentioned that Marion has a difficult time moving Sir Guy's sword. Sir Guy is, in my novel, an enormous man and it can be assumed, whichever theory you chose to believe on swords, that his would be heavier than most.

As to the longbow, there is much less debate on its specifications. Most English longbows of this period would have been about six foot long with a weight pull back of 120 lbs. Severe scoliosis is found in the skeletons of archers from this time. Their spinal columns were actually bent toward their pulling arm.  Longbowsmen were trained to shoot ten arrows per minute with accuracy up to 168 yards. If only a general direction were desired for the shots, most could shoot twenty arrows per minute up to 300 yards. The longbow may not have had the flash of a sword, but it was not a weapon to be discounted. In fact, it is often credited for changing the course of history at the battle of Agincourt.

There are few clothing remnants from this period in history and what have been found are mostly peasant's clothes, made at home, and often boasting rather strange cuts and stitching. Most of what is assumed from the clothing of this era is what is seen in the artwork. The general idea is pretty close to what you find in Hollywood movies, so I did not spend much time in description. The only thing that stands out in the novel is mentions of color codes in clothing. Color coding started in medieval courts and even at the time, there was no concensus of the meaning of different colors. I mentioned that green was the color for love. Some sources claim this as fact, others dispute it.

Lastly, there is the attack of the castle. The weak point in a castle of this era (which was very early --there would be no spirals, no round towers, nothing of the disney picture just yet) was the corner. I was shocked to learn this and figured that if I incorporated that into the raid, I would not be believed and would be instantly discredited by readers. This is why the attack focuses on the penetrating the castle through the gates. Men with crossbows are stationed on the walls. Crossbows were actually illegal at this time, though the law was hardly enforced. They were not an accurate weapon, but could easily be given to untrained men, and for them it was probably their best bet out of the choices given. The battering ram is described as splintering into nothing. This is commonly noted in the ballads of the era, though I have never seen it portrayed in fiction.

So many people have asked me which version of Robin Hood this novel is meant to resemble most. The answer is none of them. Guy and Marion's relationship is generally thought to come from the most recent BBC series, but I actually started writing this novel before that series was released and as you can see, the relationship appears very early in the book. Forest scenes have been compared to the Kevin Costner movie and I suppose they do bare a resemblence. Quite a few people have said that this novel is not an accurate reflection of the most popular written version, Howard Pyle's masterpiece. It was not meant to be. In fact, I have never read his version. The controversial, darker portrayal of Robin Hood was inspired by the oldest of the original ballads. Originally, he was simply a thug and even when the "steal from the rich to give to the poor" motif comes into play, he is still much more brutal than the commonly accepted narrative. In the first ballad where Sir Guy makes an appearance, he is an innocent, traveling nobleman. Robin Hood needs to get into the castle at Nottingham, so he kills Sir Guy, steals his clothes, redresses the corpse, then completely mutilates Sir Guy's face with a knife. Robin leaves the body by the road and people assume that Robin is dead. I did not want to push the envelope so far, obviously. I can't have my hero mutilating the corpses of people who have commited no crime but to be born an aristocrat. However, you can see where Robin Hood was not always portrayed as the gallant, Errol Flynn in tights, perfect character recognizable to most of us.

All of this is to say, that my novel, like most, has its accurate points and its inaccurate points, led by history which is sometimes known to be fact and is sometimes guessed by historians. I am sure that even since I wrote it, accepted theories about this period have changed. I hope however, that the entertainment shines through in spite of any flaws in its history.

Friday, May 17, 2013

So Many Secrets, A Dream Brought to Life

**** In honor of my week long book blowout, I am bringing you the first of my posts wherein I discuss the actual process of writing the novels which are now free on kindle.

One night I dreamt that in order to protect my sister, I married a man whom neither of us could stand. Now, I'll be honest, I was probably watching too many Masterpiece Theater presentations at the time, but I liked the idea. At the time, I was still writing The Gates of Nottingham, so I knew I could not develop the idea too far. I mapped out a few chararacters - the three sisters and their prospectives suitors and left it at that.

When I was finished with Nottingham, I wanted to take a break from the anxiety and violence ridden writing I had been doing. I had been accused of being a man in the guise of a woman by so many early readers of Nottingham that I figured I might try to explore my softer side a little. I came back to the early notes I had written about my dream and started plotting.

The first idea for the novel was a multi-generational story told through an omniscent narrator. When I realized it was getting too heavy, I decided to cut it into a trilogy. I have wanted to do a trilogy for a while now, but I can't seem to focus and this was no exception.

I picked a favorite sister and worked on her story. The narrative style changed a couple of times, as did the starting point. I threw out eighty pages before I had an opening that worked. The first person narration was born and from there, every event was filtered through the eyes of Jane, the heroine. Though I may never go back to first person narration, it taught me a great deal about perspective and the many different lenses that can be put on one event.

I wrote in sequence, never deviating from the order of the story, which is not something I have done before or since. It was one character's story, she does a great deal of learning and growin throughout it, and I knew that I would ruin the nuance of it if I did not keep it in sequence. It was a bit of struggle because I often want the instant gratification of writing a scene as soon as it appears in my head.

All in all, So Many Secrets did not give me nearly the amount of trouble Nottingham did. I already had one novel under my belt, and it was a huge help. I still cut 120 pages out of the final draft, honing in on the most important sccenes only, but after the circus that was the Nottingham edits, this seemed minor.

Maybe on the next novel, I can aim to lose less than 100 pages.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Gates of Nottingham, Trials and Tribulation

In honor of my week long book blowout, I am bringing you the first of my posts wherein I discuss the actual process of writing the novels which are now free on kindle. This post is about The Gates of Nottingham and tomorrow's will be about So Many Secrets

****When I started writing The Gates of Nottingham, I did not have a plan. I had a few scenes in my head, some major plot points, and vivid images that I wanted to incorporate into the text. As a result of that ,  the original drafts were quite a mess.

I ended up with mountain of pages that did not make it into the novel available now. The story was originally meant to follow King Richard from his prison in Austrian and on through his journey back to England. I had thought that it would be an interesting subplot, but found in the end that it detracted from the Robin Hood story by pulling the reader's concentration from an already character-laden plot. This was a seventy page cut and I was not even done with it yet when I decided to pull it. All in all, I would say that over two hundred pages were gleaned out during early edits, before I had even written the ending.

Likewise, the characters were a work in progress from their early forms. The original draft of the first hundred pages contained a shy, somewhat passive Robin Hood whose hand was forced by fate. In the end, I found that having events leading the plot rather than characters resulted in a weak story, so Robin had to be changed.

An omniscent narration was given up to give each scene from one character's perspective only. This resulted in a patch work of actions, knowledge, and ideas that allowed the novel more depth. By the mid-point, all of my character's schemes were falling into plot points like dominos and the second half of the novel turned into an easily written, action packed ride.

I froze out right before writing the climax of the novel, the last bloody battle scene. With nearly five hundred pages written, I got scared. I had done so much research into the weaponry and battle techniques of the era that I found myself unable to pick what information to use. Meanwhile, each of the warriors had their own unique fighting style that had to be incorporated. My panic (or as I like to call it- strategizing) lasted over two months. I mapped it out, watched medieval movies, and edited the work I had. Sir Guy's fate changed a dozen times if it changed once, as did each detail of the scene from the weather to the arson to the crossbows.

Finally, with one song playing over and over in a loop through my ear phones, I wrote the thirty page climax in four hours. I felt that to stop even for lunch would stop my pace in the most important scene in the novel. This was where I wanted it to shine. When all of the lies and intrigues stopped and enemies were forced to at last meet honestly and face to face.

That was not the final ending in the journey of writing this novel. While I will not spoil the ending, I will tell you that it was re-written just a month before the release. And yes, the novel was edited again and again until I could not stand to read it anymore.

So, I bring it to you now, the result of over two years of work for free this week. It was my earliest writing and my baby, the writing journey to which all the rest have to compare themselves. For me, it was a wonderful experience and I hope it will be for you as well.