Here, at last, is the Prologue to my forthcoming supernatural thriller, The Chilling Killing Wind. Next up will be the cover reveal in one week’s time, but for now, meet former police detective John Lazarus as he prepares to go witness an execution….
It’s been another month and here we are, right in the middle of NaNoWriMo. How’s it going for me? Pretty well. I’m well over halfway to 50,000 words, which is the target for NaNo–but not for the book in question.
And what is my project? I’m returning at last to Orion’s Huntress, the space opera novel set in the Forgotten Stars universe but in no way narratively related to that series. It is, in truth, my way of writing another space opera without having to build a galaxy from scratch. And hey, galaxies are big, so they can contain a lot of stories. I got about 80,000 words of this book done two years ago before I stalled out with no real notion of where to go with the story. This time I’ve put a lot more thought into things and I am hoping to actually finish the draft. So that’s where things are with that.
What else is going on? Well, over on The Geekiverse, I have a column up extolling the virtues of Die Hard, whose thirtieth anniversary is this year. (Thirty years of Detective John McClane? Wow….) Check that out!
I have other items on the way, including a cover reveal and the first chapter for The Chilling Killing Wind. Those items will likely run sometime the week after Thanksgiving, as I plan to actually issue the book in December! Huzzah!
So that’s what’s been going on. More to come in the next few days, I hope…including a tribute to a couple of storytellers who left this world last week after long, wonderful lives of some of the best storytelling ever. More to come on those.
As one of those storytellers liked to say, “Excelsior!”
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Hey all! Time for a long-overdue check-in as to what’s been going on.
1. First, and most importantly, I’ve finished the first draft of The Song of Forgotten Stars, book iv: The Savior Worlds. Huzzah!!!
If you’re wondering, the manuscript wound up just shy of 194,000 words. I aim for cutting at least ten percent of the book’s length at each round of edits, which means that I’ll be striving for a ballpark figure of around 160,000 words for the final draft. But that’s getting ahead of things, as my practice is to set aside drafts for at least several months upon completion before I start the first round of edits.
As to when we might expect a release of The Savior Worlds, I’m guessing sometime in 2020.
2. I had planned to have The Chilling Killing Wind out in the world by now, but I was postponed by my focus on finishing the Forgotten Stars IV draft, and by Amazon’s decision to finally make CreateSpace a part of Kindle Direct Publishing. This is now complete, so I plan to resume work on that front.
3. I continue to write for The Geekiverse, although I haven’t had anything up in a few weeks because of, again, my focus on the Savior Worlds draft. I’m hoping to return there next week, though. See what you’ve missed by me, here!
4. Finally, check it out: I got FAN ART! Wil Meade, who is the son of a fine fellow named Sean Meade who provides highly valuable editing and proofreading services (seriously, my books would be freakishly messy if not for his eyes), actually sketched my trio of Forgotten Stars heroines: Princess Tariana, Princess Margeth, and Lieutenant Rasharri. What I love most about this is how he captures Tariana’s cheerful “Gosh whiz!” optimism and Margeth’s “Oh, would you stop already!” practicality. Check it out!
That’s about all I have going on right now. More updates to come, though! Onward and upward! Zap! Pow!!
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The Geekiverse is a website run by some Buffalo-Niagara region geeky folk, and I have joined their ranks as a writer/commentator! My main input over there will be a regular column called “Curios from the Outer Rim”, in which I’ll discuss older items of geeky interest (my arbitrary rule is at least 15 years old), hoping to shine some light on things whose initial interest levels have faded or which have even lapsed into a bit of obscurity.
My first installment is a response to one of The Geekiverse’s podcasts, which in turn discussed “The Best Summer Movies”. Future installments are on the way!
I also provided an article for the site about the 2018 Hugo Awards, which were just handed out this past Sunday at Worldcon in San Jose, CA.
Exciting things are afoot! Check out The Geekiverse!
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So my first-ever book signing is in the rear-view mirror!
How did it go? Well…in truth it was a mixed bag. Sales weren’t great, but that is due to a very slow day for foot traffic at that bookstore, which the owner said was highly unusual. He speculated that a local music festival was drawing people away, and he apologized for how slow it was every time he came out onto the porch to see us sitting there.
We had a few sales, but nothing major. That, however, really wasn’t the point. The point was to get our feet wet with this sort of thing, to get some experience that can be applied to the next event, just as soon as that happens. We also did a lot of discussion of the Geekiverse website, which I will be joining next week as a writer (huzzah!). Lots of exciting things are happening…including the release of The Chilling Killing Wind, of which I’ll have more to say next week! (Hint: I may post the book’s prologue.)
Onward! Upward! Zap! Pow!!
(Lower photo courtesy Pete Herr of The Geekiverse. In my defense I wasn’t entirely sure if I was supposed to be smiling there. And also note the photographic evidence that I can, in fact, not wear overalls at times.)
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So it’s not “All Forgotten Stars all the time!” over here. What else is there? Well, how about my next novel, set for release in late September? It’s time to start the buzz on The Chilling Killing Wind, which is a supernatural thriller/horror book.
Obviously I’ll have more to come on that project, but right now I’m in the formatting and book design phase. Then I’ll have to order a proof and go over it. Once that’s done, I’ll assign the actual release date.
But you might be wondering what The Chilling Killing Wind is about, so…here’s the back cover blurb!
Tonight, former detective John Lazarus will finally put his old life behind him. He has a new job as a teacher, a new home, and a new love. All he has to do is get through tonight’s execution of Roy Edgar Chalmers, the last of the three men who killed John’s wife in a botched robbery. Once Chalmers is dead, John Lazarus will be done with his old life at last.
But tomorrow the murders will start: strange, violent crimes whose only connection is the pair of voices exhorting the perpetrators to kill. As an occasional police consultant, John Lazarus will increasingly suspect that something abnormal is at the heart of these killings. And when Roy Edgar Chalmers, not nearly so dead as he should be, approaches him for help, John Lazarus will realize that maybe his old life isn’t quite done with him….
So there we are! Great things are happening! Books are on the way, and don’t forget about my book signing this weekend!
Excelsior, and I’ll see you ’round the Galaxy!
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In my ongoing quest to become a Real Writer, I have a Real Writer Event coming up! Behold!!!
Off the Beaten Path Books is an independent bookstore in Lakewood, NY, on the picturesque shores of Chautauqua Lake. This event is happening under the auspices of The Geekiverse, a local website that’s an up-and-coming one-stop-shop for all your geeky needs. I’ve been slowly coming into The Geekiverse’s orbit (more on that in weeks to come), and this will continue that trend.
So! If you want a signed copy of Stardancer, The Wisdomfold Path, or Amongst the Stars, come to Off the Beaten Path Books on Saturday, August 11!
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Welp, I haven’t been very good about posting here lately, have I? Three months is…bad. But I’m still around, and still hoping to add more content to this space (as well as others…but nothing I can really discuss yet)!
So, what’s been going on of late?
First, I’m still working on The Savior Worlds: The Song of Forgotten Stars, Book IV. This one has been proceeding in fits and starts. I got off to a great start, and then I faltered as I ran into story problems, then I ironed those problems out and got going again, only to run into more problems and have to stop again. After averaging 1000 words a day through May and half of June, I stalled out completely for two weeks while I tried to figure out where things were going.
I’ve got it mostly figured out, though. Since July 1, I’m back to averaging 1000 words a day, and I hope to get this draft done no later than the 15th of September.
I’ll have more to say about this book as it evolves, but one difficult thing has been the nature of this series and the direction I’m taking. Each book has been markedly different from its predecessors in terms of scope and structure, and that is no different this time out. The overall tale of the saga gets bigger and bigger as it goes, and that’s hard to manage and still keep the focus on the characters. As I noted, though, I have a pretty good handle on the rest of this one.
Second, I’m starting the formatting process for The Chilling Killing Wind, which I intend to release into the wild sometime in September. More announcements will definitely be forthcoming about that, so stay tuned! I’m excited to get this one out and finally start diversifying my output beyond manuscripts in various states of polish on my hard drive.
Third, you may have noticed that I’ve changed up the appearance here, in keeping with my intent to post more regularly. I have a list of posts I want to write, which will help. This site will still be about my books and my writing, but I’m going to broaden the focus just a tad to basically focus on my thoughts on various aspects of storytelling as a whole. I’m excited to be doing this. There will also be additional tweaks on the way as I update the individual pages so that each series or set of books will have its own page.
More to come, so stick around! My immediate goal is to update this site on Thursdays each week, starting today. So tune back in and follow me on the social mediae!
See you ’round the galaxy!
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The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
–Randall Jarrell (1914-1965)
When the Lion at his pleasure comes
To the watering place to drink, ah see!
See the lesser beasts of Al-Rassan
Scatter, like blown leaves in autumn,
Like air-borne seedlings in the spring,
Like grey clouds that part to let the first star
Of the god shine down upon the earth.
–Guy Gavriel Kay, from The Lions of Al-Rassan
April is National Poetry Month, so I’ll be doing some posting about poetry over the next few weeks, starting with this. Should writers read poetry? Should they write it? While I would never presume to tell writers what they should or should not write, I tend to think that the answers to both questions are Yes.
I have occasionally committed acts of poetry myself, but not very often, and as I don’t generally find the results particularly encouraging, I don’t intend to share them except as very brief excerpts in my fiction. I do, however, read a decent amount of poetry, and I firmly believe that all writers should do so.
It all comes down to what Stephen King called “the writer’s toolbox,” and his dictum that to be a good writer one must read a lot and write a lot. Reading a lot extends a writer’s grasp, and reading poetry extends it in ways that reading a lot of fiction does not. If writing is likened to carpentry–extending Mr. King’s metaphor a bit–than reading poetry is like learning entirely new methods and techniques. A new way to stain a piece of wood, say, or perhaps a new method of joinery.
While poetry can certainly be read for its technical aspects, I find myself concentrating much less these days on things like rhyme or meter than I did when I was reading poetry in school. What I’m after now is the language itself. I read poetry to see, in new ways, just what language can really do.
Consider metaphor. Here’s a poem called “Up-Hill”, by Christina Rosetti:
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.
I suppose the metaphor here is pretty obvious: the road that is being walked here is life itself, and the inn at the end that cannot be missed and has beds for all who come is death. That’s not especially hard to see. But the craft of the metaphor is what’s interesting here, and in my experience, metaphor is best explored via an industrious reading of the poets.
Then there is description. Writers often worry about description: what’s too much, what’s too little, which details are best to utilize in painting a word-picture, which details are best left aside. As much as I love the work of JRR Tolkien, Alexandre Dumas, and Victor Hugo, the fact is that writers these days are not given as much space to craft their descriptions as in decades or centuries past, so we have to be careful.
This is where reading poetry can help us. Take this short verse by Tran Nhan-tong, a Vietnamese emperor and poet who lived from 1258 to 1308:
The willows trail such glory that the birds are struck dumb.
Evening clouds balance above the eave-shaded hall.
A friend comes, not for conversation,
But to lean on the balustrade and watch the turquoise sky.
(translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich, in the collection World Poetry)
So few details! In fact, there are almost no details given here, just statements of fact. But can anyone read this and not create a mental picture of a summer evening, looking out at the willows beneath a turquoise sky dotted with clouds? If they can, I don’t know how.
And then there is rhyme and meter and alliteration and all the other various things that our high school English teachers tried teaching us. Those are all wonderful tools that you can use in your storytelling. For all our focus on things like plot, character, and world building, ultimately the spell that our stories cast is deeply dependent on how we use our language. That’s where so much of the real magic lies, and this is best learned by reading poetry with an eye to what the language is doing.
Next up: Where to start?
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Let’s talk about comedic timing for a bit. I’m not talking about the kind of timing that actors and actresses need to have, in which they deliver their funny lines with sufficient timing that it maximizes comic effect and gets the biggest laugh. I’m more talking about the placement of the joke itself within the story.
You can’t just have a joke any old place. You have to plan these things. If you put a joke in your story’s most emotional moment, it has to be good, and it has to allow for a certain release of the tension of the BIG MOMENT. But I’m not talking about this, either.
What I’m talking about for a minute or two is the joke itself, and when it can happen. Sometimes jokes occur to writers outside of the confines of the story’s timeline, and it’s tempting to throw them in wherever. But you can’t do this. You have to think about a joke, and where it’s going, and why.
Basically, the story itself has to support the joke.
I have a good example here, from the 1987 movie Broadcast News. (This is one of my favorite comedies of all time, by the way.) The movie is about the news division of a television network in the late 80s, and the challenges faced by one producer (Holly Hunter) and one reporter (Albert Brooks) as the times change toward budget cuts and flash over substance. The story isn’t important for the point I’m making, but the relationship between Jane (Hunter) and Aaron (Brooks) is.
These two have been working together for years and have the kind of relationship where they can speak to each other in shorthand, where they can anticipate each other’s thoughts and finish each other’s sentences. They are close enough that it’s amazing that they’re not a couple, a possibility which hasn’t even occurred to Jane until she falls for a new reporter (William Hurt), and has to have things spelled out for her in one of the best declarations of love in a movie ever.
The joke isn’t there either, though.
As the movie progresses, obstacles arise left and right, and it gradually becomes clear that events both internal and external are going to force Jane and Aaron apart. They are going to go different ways professionally, and when they realize that their hearts are simply not going to align anymore, we know that while their friendship might not be specifically ending, it will never be as close as it’s been again.
And then, near one of the film’s last scenes, comes a throwaway joke, a single line, that is very easily overlooked. Blink and you’ll miss it…but everyone I’ve ever known who knows and loves this movie knows this line. Jane calls Aaron and asks if they can meet to talk, and Aaron says this:
“OK. I’ll meet you at the place near the thing where we went that time.”
And she gets it.
This is a great joke and a great line, even though it’s over so quickly, precisely because of where it happens in the movie. If this exchange happens in the first half hour, sure, it might get some laughs, but it wouldn’t be memorable. It wouldn’t be–it wouldn’t feel–true. And that’s what’s great about it: it feels true.
A line like that gives a little hint to us, watching this friendship get slowly pulled apart, that there’s still a little life there, that these two people do still share some kind of connection where they can innately understand one another and comprehend this sort of shorthand that only the very closest of friends can have.
The story supports the joke, which could come any time in the script but which comes when it does because our writer, James L. Brooks, knows exactly where this joke has to come. The joke helps us maintain optimism that Jane and Aaron can still be friends, and the only way the joke can do that is if we’re already invested.
So when you have a joke that serves a specific purpose, you have to be careful about where you put it in your story. Your jokes help create the tone in your story, but your story has to support its jokes too.
And that’s all I have for today. See you around the Galaxy, folks!