Monday, December 29, 2008

A Moment to Dream

100 pages of Wildmane is off to my agent. The qualifying lap is over, and the race is on.

It's appropriate that this particular starting gun cracks with the start of the year. I fired up my writing engine back in October. Now it's revving as January rolls around. Of course, there has been a bit of a lag in December. It's only natural. The Christmas season tends to put the brakes on, not just with writing, but with everything. And that's the way it ought to be. There should be at least one moment every year where normal priorities take a back seat, and everything slows down. For me, that's the Christmas season.

Of course, Christmas brings its own hectic race. Well, perhaps for some people who are wise and shop early and get all of their lovely little ducks into a row before Christmas week, this time of year is relaxed and smooth. But in my household, we're very last minute.

Okay, I take that back. I am very last minute. My wife is simply overloaded. Or, to be more accurate, she is very giving and overly ambitious. She plans things out. She buys gifts early. But she also takes it upon herself to create hand-made presents for half the people we know (which is a considerable amount), and then can never manage to finish them all. In fact, a year in which 75% of her Christmas projects are completed by Christmas Eve is a banner year. So between the two of us, there is a lot of rushing, cursing, and multiple attempts to cram twenty marbles into a ten marble bag.

As for me, well, I could give many excuses to explain why I do my Christmas shopping five days out. And often two days out. And yes, sometimes even on Christmas Eve. But I won't bore you with the details. As I mentioned at the beginning of my blog, I'm an emotional sprinter. So perhaps, sub-consciously, I like it that way. Perhaps it's the only way I know how to be at my best.

It would appear that all of my Christmas blathering has nothing to do with writing, but it does. It has everything to do with writing. This post-Christmas lull is one of my favorite times of year. This is when I actually do get to slow down, and it is in those lazy, swampy moments that creativity begins to bubble.

Writing is always in the back of my mind. For those of you who have taken art classes, you know that the negative space of a drawing is as important -if not more important- than the painstakingly sketched lines of positive space. The negative space shapes the drawing. And every moment spent away from the keyboard is that negative space, bulging against the "lines" of my craft, shaping those rare hours where I lose myself in creation, making them more prominent. It is within this "negative space" that I recently crossed a writing threshold. It happened late on Saturday night, two days after Christmas. After sage advice from Aaron, a personal writing inspiration to me and a flagship member of the stalwart Sparkling Hammers writers group, I put the finishing touches on Wildmane and sent it off to Donald. Wildmane has been prepped for the next step: the sale of the manuscript.

Now the real work begins. I've given the story to the world, and now I have to make good on the promise those pages hold. It is akin to starting from the beginning. As I mentioned in The Creator and the Revisionist blog entry, writing the rough draft and revising it are two very different frames of mind. Now that Donald has something to utilize in a sale, I have no need of revision until the end of the book. I have spent the last week honing the manuscript, drilling down to the details and shaping the text. Over the next few days I intend to let go of that, to let my mind drift, let it expand once more, let it come to that place I enjoy the most, and then to let it loose on the story.

Perhaps Donald will be able to sell the manuscript soon, perhaps even before the rest of the story is complete. Wouldn't that be a nice belated Christmas present? Perhaps this time next year, I will be able to write a blog about the impending release date of Wildmane. What a nice little dream, and since the beginning of the year is the time for dreaming, why not? To all of you aspiring writers out there, take a moment with me in this brief pause, this "deep breath before the plunge" and send your dream out to the world. 2009 is coming. Let it give us that big break we've been waiting for.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Judge of Character

It is my full intention of making this a very quick blog entry (which inevitably means I will fail). Today is one of my favorite days of the year, and I really should get about all of the things I have to do. My wife is infinitely patient with me and my sudden writing jags, (and she should be inducted as a saint at the end of her days for being so), and I appreciate her turning a blind eye as I quietly tip-tap-type this blog entry. Because today is about family and friends, not about writing. It's about connecting to people one-on-one, renewing old bonds and making new inroads. But I couldn't help myself. I wanted to talk about this very important day in my life.

I know what you're thinking: What day is that? Are you referring to Christmas? If so, you're early. Christmas doesn't happen until next week.

But no. I'm talking about Clan Christmas. Today, I get to go to Colorado Springs, where we have a pre-Christmas get-together with the group of friends that we call our "Clan". Or at least as much of that group as we can gather together right now. After all, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are for family, and everyone has their plans for that. So every year, The Clan picks a day sometime in December, before Christmas hits, to come together and celebrate the friendships we have held onto so strongly.

The term "The Clan" was coined back in my college days, meant to refer to this batch of friends who glommed on to each other through sheer inspiration. These friends dreamed each others' dreams, partook in each others' adventures, and formed ties that have stayed tight from then to now. Considering how easy it is to fall out-of-touch with the ones closest to us, I find this circle of friendship more amazing with every year that passes.

I went to a funeral yesterday, and the wonderful man who had passed away had a parade of friends step up to the podium and give eulogies. The eulogies were startlingly well-written, and you could tell that each person knew the honored man, Jerry, intimately, and had been moved by him, his warmth, and his inner strength. Each of them summed up what Jerry had meant to them, and attempted to give a view of Jerry's life to the audience. As each of the eulogists spoke, I found myself more and more impressed by the way Jerry had lived his life, and I wished I had known him. But the one thing that stuck with me was a paragraph that was taken, the eulogist said, from the writings of a native american whose name, unfortunately, I cannot recall.

The paragraph essentially said that the depth of a person's character is most accurately determined by his friends. Not by family, as one is born into their family. The blood of your brothers or sisters, fathers or mothers or grandparents runs in your own veins, and that gives intrinsic reasons to stay loyal to them. And not by your spouse or your lover, where the mating instinct drives you to them. But only, most accurately, by your friends. For these are the people you choose. For no other reason than your own will, you have bound yourself to them. And so there is no other reason besides your character to stick with them through hard times, through fights or long absences.

This struck me, and made me even more appreciative for the fantastic group of friends that I have. And it explained why today, of all days, is one of my favorite. I get to go and see those friends, catch up with them, and renew the connections that honor them as well as, according to one eulogist, my own character.

So here's to Christmas and the holiday season. May you all find your own vision of what that means to you. I know I will, starting today.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bestselling Novel

Wow! I was caught flat-footed when I came home last night and logged onto my email. A gold nugget lay waiting in my in-box. My agent had copied me on an email he sent to my editor at Eos, mentioning that Queen of Oblivion hit the Denver Post bestseller list!

As my friend Peter would say: BOOYA!!!

That's three-in-a-row! Each one of the Heartstone Trilogy has hit the Denver Post bestseller list, but each time I'm equally astounded because all of this derives from the strong fan base right here in Colorado. They take these numbers from a few booksellers in the area, one of which is The Tattered Cover. So everyone who went right out and purchased the book and everyone who came to the book signing on December 3rd literally pulled Queen of Oblivion into the limelight.

And I was completely caught by surprise. Four years ago, Giles and I scoured the internet every day for any mention of the novels, looking for people who reviewed it or any other mention, and that's how we found out about hitting the bestseller list with Heir of Autumn (which debuted at #2, right under Stephen King's Cell, and then two weeks later, hit the bestseller list again at #7. Incidentally, 2 and 7 are my lucky numbers, so I was pumped). But these last few weeks, I was so busy with the holidays, the new promotion at work, and visiting family that I completely forgot to check.

It's such a rush to see Giles' and my name right up there with the greats of fiction. This time, we snuck right underneath Toni Morrison, who is at #5 with A Mercy.

If you're curious, check out the Denver Post local bestsellers.

Thanks again to all of you who have loved this story from the beginning and continue to show your support. For me, Santa arrived early this year.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Perspective Jumping, Intuition, and Facebook Fix-its

One of the things I've wanted to try after the Heartstone trilogy was to write a story with fewer characters and to stay longer in their heads. More thoughts. Less dialogue. Fewer jumps between perspectives. The Heartstone trilogy is set in a world that is alive with many cultures, and even more characters to represent those cultures. With Wildmane, I wanted to scale back, to have just a couple of cultures, and to delve deeper into a single character's head.

After training myself to jump quickly from one character to another throughout Heir of Autumn, Mistress of Winter and Queen of Oblivion, it has been difficult to stay put in Mirolah's (the main character of Wildmane) head. I keep wanting to shape the world by leaping behind someone else's eyes.

But I've stayed true to my course. And after 100 pages, I made my first jump. And the chapter enchanted me (which is almost a sure-fire sign it's crap. The chapters I love the most from the outset almost always end up the dogs. I have no idea why this is). Immediately, my plotting mind wanted to jump to yet another perspective: the villain. It really was past time to go there. I'd written fully 1/4 of the story, and while a threat has already shown its face, it's mysterious, with no intelligence or discernable plan behind it. It was time to reveal my nefarious villain: Zilok Morth.

I was pumped. Ready to unleash all of my darkest thoughts through the eyes of my undead master of magic...

But that excitement faded the moment my fingers touched the keyboard. Writing the chapter was like standing and looking at the engine of a car that's not working. (C'mon, you weekend mechanics know the look I'm talking about). Stand. Stare. Put your hands on your hips. "Hmmmm..." And look like you're assessing the situation when you really have no idea where to begin.

When in doubt, just go. That's my motto. So I ran at the hill!

And stopped at the base. No no no. That's not the way it goes. I ran at the hill again!

And skidded to a halt once more.

Then turned away, disgusted. I didn't have time to have "bad writing nights" anymore. So, feeling my inspiration slump, I fell into all manner of distraction to avert the reality that I wasn't finding my "voice" for the chapter. I fiddled around on Facebook. I idled in my email.

Finally, with an inner growl, I went back to the chapter and just started typing dialogue. Any dialogue. Bad dialogue. Just to keep my fingers moving. And it sucked. And I hated myself. I went back to facebook and posted my problem. Everyone online gave their two cents.

That, apparently, was just what I needed. I'd love to tell you why, but I really don't know. When I throw problems at my friends, I never expect them to come up with the 'right' answer. Not really fair to burden someone else with that. And more often than not it's isn't WHAT advice they give me that helps, but just that they throw notions my way. So why did I do it? Intuition, maybe. Boredom? Perhaps the notion of speaking the problem aloud gives it room to breathe. I don't know. But sometimes it works. And this time, it broke my deadlock. Somehow it pulled me out of my expectation of what needed to happen, and let my intuition tell me what was going to happen.

Zilok Morth was not going to get written tonight. I'd left Mirolah in dire straights, and she needed resolution. Logically, I had to introduce the villain. That was what made sense, what my plotting mind demanded, but he refused to make an appearance. So I took a chance. I went back to Mirolah...

And the chapter sang. Ah, lovely. Young Mirolah grabbed the story back and made it hers once more. It makes me wonder if I'm creating a new addiction. Will I be able to jump from perspective to perspective anymore? Will Mirolah become a high-maintenance lady who refuses to be set aside?

We'll see. But the adventure proceeds, and that's what I was hoping for.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Writer's Tripwire

I have many writer friends. I think it's inevitable. We who choose this rarely lucrative profession glom on to one another as we cross paths throughout the years. From high school to college, I must have gathered almost two dozen friends who wanted to be authors someday.

After college, that number slowly dropped, and continued dropping as my writer friends' attention got caught by other things, or when they came to their senses and realized that becoming a writer not only required the sacrifice of many other grand things, but also required constant selfishness and a good bit of self-loathing.

I started writing when I was seventeen. And by "started writing" I mean I had that first, seductive glimpse of being a famous author. I put fingers to keyboard with the firm notion that I was writing my first bestseller, all the while entertaining the thoughts: Wow! Wouldn't that be cool to be Piers Anthony and write Xanth novels? Or wow! I bet Margaret Weis has the best life ever! Can you imagine? Thousands of fans waiting for your next story, aching to find out what happens to Tanis, Raistlin and the rest. Wouldn't it be sheer bliss to have readers living and breathing the lives of the characters you love? Yes. That is what I want. That is my heart's desire.

It's been twenty years since then, and most of my original writer friends have gone on to other professions, other adventures. I don't think many of them actively decided to give up writing. It's just hard to keep The Writing as a top priority when there's little encouragement and less money. They just let that dream lie fallow, and the years rolled by.

However, there are a few who stuck to it, gutting it out through the rejection slips and the grinding task of creation, throwing their passion onto the page in fits and starts. And of those friends, most of them fall prey to the topic of this blog, and will recognize what I'm talking about. I bring it up because it hit me smack in the chest this week.

I let my mind get the better of me. I let those incessant, chattering monkeys curl back upon me and wreck my house. I fell into a writing depression.

Maybe this is inevitable. Maybe this is, like the rejection slips and self-grinding, a necessary aspect of the craft. I mean, what is more cliched than the tortured artist? When I first started writing, all I heard about was the half-insane writers. The misfits who were so socially awkward it was painful, but could put their finger on the pulse of humanity. The alcoholics and drug addicts. Hemmingway and Fitzgerald. Emily Dickenson. Writers who destroyed their lives for their craft, who cut out their hearts and threw them on the page, then died bleeding, miserable wretches.

I never wanted misery with my writing. I refuse to believe I have to become one of those wretches to be a great writer. I fight the notion all the time, but I can't deny the depressions on this rollercoaster of creation. This is an example of that seductive, destructive cycle:

Last week, during my writing nights (those of you who have been following the blog will know this is Monday, Tuesday and sometimes Sunday, based on the angelic benevolence of my wife), I delved into the character of Medophae. I'd reached my 100 pages looking through Mirolah's eyes, and it was time to start the next segment of the novel. Wildmane was ready to be born again.

I wrote it. And it sang. It trumpeted. A host of celestial beings converged on my house and struck up the orchestra. When the chapter was done, I floated out of that room and made myself a manic nuisance to my wife, who tolerated me, smiled affectionately, kissed me and sent me to bed. That was Sunday night.

The euphoria lasted through the Monday workday and into the next night, when I started the following chapter and flew along with the divine spirit flowing out of my fingers. And then I reached a crossroads, a place where a choice needed to be made. With happiness coursing through my veins, I hung up my keyboard and went to bed. I'd face that problem with ease the following night.

Tuesday night rolled around, and with joy in my heart and a full bag of Taco Bell gorditas on my desk, I jumped into the saddle set to work.

I failed. I tried again. I failed again. I shook my head, shook out my fingers, and tried to work out the problem. I tried to find that angelic orchestra which praised me so highly the night before. But it was gone. Those damned angels just up and vanished.

I like to blame it all on Taco Bell, but it wasn't that. It was that same tripwire that causes so many of my writer friends to stumble and, in this case, me too.

I was so enamoured of what I had written that I did not return to what really drives me. I wrapped myself up in the "glory of me" after creating something that lit me afire. And of course, so thoroughly wrapped, all I would write from that moment forward would be brilliant. Right?

But no. I looked back at the past few paragraphs and, sure enough, they sucked. I wanted to slash them to ribbons. My glorious pillar of self-appreciation cracked. Maybe I wasn't that good. Maybe I actually stank and my love of the previous chapter was simply the obliviousness of an over-tired mind.

Since then, I haven't written a lick. I'm afraid the moment I return to the keyboard, it'll all come out crap, and how could I possibly shame my previous chapter by following it with a dog?

And there is the trap.

I struggle through this even now as I type the blog. I'm going to have to return to Medophae, and I'm going to have to count on myself to guide him to the next scene with the same intuition that birthed him, even if it all comes to crap, because here's the thing: If I don't, there is no Medophae. It all began with my passion for his character, not an admiration of my prose. The words arose from that love.

And so, when I get to the keyboard this coming Sunday, that is what I will do. Simply start writing. The Revisionist can shred it later. Sometime in 2009. But right now, he has to shut up. Until the end of the book, the Creationist must have his way, or there will be no book at all.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Luckiest Man I Know

I just got back from the first book signing for Queen of Oblivion, which was held at The Tattered Cover in Highlands Ranch. These signings are my favorite things to do. A book signing is, truly, a moment when I get to live the dreams of my sixteen-year-old self, a boy who wanted to make heroes come to life and share them with the world.

Tonight, I got to blather on about my heart's passion, and everyone listened. They asked questions. They delved into my joy with me, and made it that much greater. The signing was outstanding. The venue was outstanding. The Tattered Cover staff was outstanding. And can I just say:

I have the best group of friends in the world.

There were over forty people there, and while I was very happy to see a half a dozen new faces (yay! Word-of-mouth and marketing works!), the bulk of the group was my friends and my family. These are the people who listened to me shamelessly regale them with my adolescent novels back in college, and who have cheered me on ever since then, down through the intervening years. These are the people who went to Giles' and my first signing in 2006, and to every signing thereafter. These are the people who rush out to buy the new books as soon as they can, even if they don't read anything else in the fantasy genre. These are the people who walk up to the signing desk with 2, 5, even a dozen copies that they intend to push on their friends.

In short, they are the the people who make me a writing success, and it was heartwarming -and humbling- to have them cheering me on.

Of course, it's every author's dream to fly to any city in the country and have hundreds of avid fans waiting to greet him. I have not reached that place yet, but I am willing to bet that the only way to get there is to have a core group of friends, like I do, who believes in me and has from the start. A group that takes my writing and loves it and champions it in the world.

Tonight, I am the luckiest man I know. I got to stand up in front of the people I love and respect the most, and I got to share with them my childhood dream.

Thanks to those who came and supported me tonight, and more thanks to that precious group that has been supporting me for years. Here's hoping I will someday prove your faith is well-placed.