Running on the beach and making peace with the water gods

Image CC by SA 3.0, Natania Barron
Image CC by SA 3.0, Natania Barron

I’ve spent the last week here at the coast, the lovely North Carolina coast. When I first came here a decade ago, I was shocked that such a place existed. In my experience, the ocean had only been cold and unforgiving, full of rocks and churning waves (I’d had two near drownings before 12, and let’s just say we had a tenuous relationship at best).

But here is a calmer, gentler, warmer side of Neptune. The white sands, the blooming yucca, the magnificent dunes covered in cactus and Gaillardia and sea oats. The waves that come up to my knees and don’t tower overhead. The blue-green waters, the dolphins, the sweet breeze. When I’m  here, I achieve a certain kind of mental zen, an odd white noise of thought brought about by the landscape that’s unlike any other place.

I’m not a beach person. I should point that out. Sand, sunscreen, and beach bumming are just generally not on my list of faves. But after ten years of visiting this same beach, in those rare moments of quiet and freedom from childrens’ requests and the hustle and bustle, I still tap into that sense of peace. I usually find it on a boat, but I found it somewhere else this year.

For those of you who follow my Twitter feed, you’ll notice that I’ve been starting to run. In the hectic life I lead, I needed something that was mine, something that got me out of the house and away from all the noise of life.

But this is highly amusing on a number of levels. First, I’ve never been a runner. In high school and elementary school, there were few words I feared more than “the mile run.” It was a yearly horror. I’m not really built for running. Aside from the physical limitations (mitigated through surgery) I’ve never managed to do more than sputter and gasp my way for a few minutes and give up. Some people can look back to times in their lives where they managed great feats of athleticism, but that’s never been me. There’s nothing to reclaim.

CC by SA 3.0, Natania Baron
CC by SA 3.0, Natania Baron

Still, I love my neighborhood (even though it’s seriously hilly) and my puppy kept looking at me with his big eyes. So I started. And I didn’t use an app, other than to track my runs, and I just moved. Right shoes. Right clothes. Great canine motivation. My first few “runs” were really more like stumbles down the hill. But I noticed something new. I’ve been doing yoga for years, and instead of slipping into gasping and sputtering, I started falling into a breathing pattern. In (2, 3, 4), out (2, 3, 4). I became a machine. Oxygen my fuel, my lungs the engine. And it wasn’t exactly easy, but it was somehow… satisfying.

Then I got here to the beach. The week previous, I’d managed to run for 10 minutes straight. Then, my first night here, I decided to run in the dark for a mile. I tapped in to that stillness. Instead of rugged hills, it was all flat going. Ocean breeze. Stars above. All thought vanished, and I became the machine. In (2, 3, 4), out (2, 3, 4). I hit that point where I was no longer in my body, I was sort of floating above everything else and just going, going, going…

And I ran a mile.

No, it’s not your mile. Yes, I’m aware that people run ultra marathons, which make my mile look like a lap around a kiddie pool in comparison. I’m not in it for the stickers on the back of my car. I’m in it to keep the Blerch away. I’m in it to find some zen. Just like writing books, it has nothing to do with what everyone else is doing and everything to do with me. It’s a selfish act, sure. But it’s an essential solace. Every step is another word in a sentence, every breath punctuation.

I haven’t written much in the novel, at least not on paper. But this is Joss’s world, out there. And while I’ve always had a fear of the waves, I feel like this year I made some peace with them. On foot, or in the waves, I’ve achieved some kind of understanding. And, in spite of the craziness of a full-out family vacation, I’ll take that as a considerable victory.

Look into my brain, why don’t you?

I’m almost finished with Watcher of the Skies. Hitting that point where I feel it all whooshing to the conclusion. And rather than show you a snippet, I thought I’d just let you take a look. I’ve been busy at the Pinterest board, and it’s got a lot of spoilers in it. Or, at least, to me, it does. It might not to you. A bit Regency, a bit Classical, a bit Victorian… and lots and lots of water.

Joss’s story is sad. Sadder than I thought it was going to be when I started. It’s still got a lot of light moments, including a pair of cats named Puke and Shit. As you do.

Last, from the poem that inspired the title:


On first looking into Chapman’s Homer, by John Keats


MUCH have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told 5
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken; 10
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

I didn’t have much to tell him

Format Quote

I didn’t have much to tell him.

“I fought in the war,” I said. “I had a child. Though I have not watched him grow, for I was not well acquainted with his mother. Not properly, anyway. I fear I have disappointed you in not living a truly upright existence.”

He laughed. “As if I could tame you, Joss! You, creature of lightning and water and energy. Gods, if I could ever bottle but a fraction of your essence, or whatever it makes you what you are, I would be a king among men. You never have fit into my understanding of the world. Nor by Diana’s nor Mary’s law. You are utterly unique, and you opened my mind and understanding in a way I have never managed since. I will be forever mystified and grateful for that chance meeting we had, and the short time I counted you among my dearest.”

William Wordsworth to Joss Raddick, 1818. Watcher of the Skies

It’s not fun until someone loses an eye.

I grossed myself out today during writing. I don’t know if it’s because the AC is broken and it’s 90 degrees up here and the humidity is through the roof, but I apparently needed to outdo myself in fiction. It was one of those weird moments where I’d planned for the scene to go one way and it took a sharp, brutal detour in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. Like the title says, someone literally loses an eye in the process. Of his own volition.

I can get away with a bit that I normally couldn’t in Dev’s narrative, because he’s on this Dante-esque journey. I’ve got to hit some of those high notes. But I realize whenever I talk about these chapters (which together work almost like a novella in the middle of the novel) I sound a bit daft.

Anyway, I wanted to start recapping my writing progress with a little more panache, so I’m trying a new format.

Two Things I Loved: I finally got to write another Dev chapter, and his character arc is coming to a close. The appearance of Cai in human form (she/he’s a god/goddess) was pretty unexpected, and I linked the mythology of Ardesia up with the mythology of the rest of the realm pretty well.

Two Things I Loathed: The description of the beast Dev fights in this chapter got under my skin a bit, but I’ll redo it later. It’s called draft zero for a reason. Also, still not 100% convinced of Dev’s devotion to Marna… which I’m realizing is okay, in the grand scheme of things, but may need to become more apparent to readers. Or something. This ain’t no romance, but I can’t be cruel about it.

Best* Quote of the Day:

It was an easy place to get lost, an easy place to want to get lost. The trees had a cadence of their own, a whispering and seductive rhythm.

“So,” the knight said, “listen. Listen to the trees, and you will see where this poisonous beast is, this creature who is slowly killing my realm and claiming it for Her.”

“Her? Another goddess, then? I’m not sure I want to meet another. The last one I fell in with tried to eat me.”

*see? I spared you from the eye scene. Really, really you should thank me.

Worst* Quote of the Day:

This beast—this creature you want me to find,” Dev said. “It could kill me.”

“It could. But you were well on your way to killing yourself when you came to me… I am not asking much more than to risk what you were prepared to throw away.”

*worst because Cai, the god/goddess knight here, sounds a bit like Gandalf.  Or something. I hate when I lapse into Tolkien. And for some reason, whenever deities start talking in what I write, they go all Shakespearean.

Thoughts of the Day: Been thinking a lot about the concept of passion in writing. Drafted a post on it, even. Passion is the single driving factor in what I do; I lost it for a while, but it came back. :)

Also, came around to the realization that this novel is certainly not steampunk. I mean, it’s got steampunk elements… but the more I write the more I realize this is Gothic fantasy, really. As if the squids weren’t a dead giveaway.

Around the Bend: Squid extraction from our heroine’s husband, slightly admirable villain reveal, wind-up to the big-time boss fight with the Mother Squid. Also, this whole draft is going to be significantly shorter than I planned; I’ll be surprised if I crest 90K. Which actually makes my job easier, as that has never happened before. I’m always hacking away at a draft, rather than enhancing it.

Onward, squidlings.

Movin’ right along… footloose and fancy free…

Finally had a chance to do a little bit of writing today. The weekend was horrible, and writing was not an option. I had an epically bad reaction to medication on Saturday (I am a lightweight of unparalleled proportions) and was in no shape to be writing. I mean, I do have a drug addict in the book, and maybe (just maybe) I could have mustered something insightful or interesting. But honestly, just looking at the computer made me feel ill. So, none of that.

However, progress is continuing. Not a huge day for output, but just under 4K for the day and I’m not complaining at all. I had a lot to catch up on. Oddly, this was one of those times where I was finishing a scene (gun shopping!) and had no real idea how I was going to get to point B when, literally, it dawned on me. Plot twist + something more at stake = win. Happy writer. So, guns were bought, blood was spilled, insults were flung, and the stakes got higher. Not a bad day for Dustman.

Tomorrow is my son’s first day at daycare. I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do with two full days a week for writing (and blogging). Hopefully I’ll be moving the meter up and up and up! (Paradoxically while moving my characters further and further down into Underally, and closer toward the thing that lies in wait beneath…)

Six Ways Twitter Can Make You A Better Writer

Many people consider Twitter solely for networking purposes, for meeting people with common interests and conversing. And while that’s a big part of it, Twitter can also be a very useful tool for improving your writing.

When I first started building my Twitter follow list, I started with a lot of writers. And soon I discovered, mostly through feeds of people like Jay Lake and Paul Jessup, the #wip hashtag. Easy enough, WIP stands for “work in progress”. Basically, writers sample little 140 character or less sections from their work, sharing it with their friends and followers. Not every writer does this (either some don’t like the attention it brings, while others might feel it’s a little too flashy or something) I’ve found it very helpful for a number of reasons.

  • Most importantly, excerpting your #wip brings people into your creative process. It allows your friends, fellow writers, and general followers a glimpse into your current project. The line you tweet may or may not be that good; it may or may not end up in your final draft. But does it matter? If you’re a new or emerging writer and you have a tidbit to share, it’s a great way to get buzz. If you’re a more established writer it helps to generate excitement about your new project and certainly gives fans of your work a reason to follow your feed (besides, you know, tweeting about what you eat).
  • #wip sampling also leaves a written record of what you’re working on when. I find this very useful, and something enlightening, to go back and watch my progress. I can actually figure out how long it took to write various short stories and novels by searching the #wip tag in my posts. To get even more specific, I can add another hashtag, mostly for myself, that indicates what project I’m on (sort of just for myself).
  • #wip sampling really forces you to look at the words. It takes them out of context of the story, which is a fantastic way to edit. In fact, there’s probably only one or two instances where I’ve ever tweeted a #wip that I didn’t end up editing. Sometimes the rhythm of the language is off, sometimes it just dosen’t punch enough; other times, it just needs a tiny tweak to make it better. In the end, it puts a good distance between that sentence or sentences and the whole work. No, I don’t suggest tweeting every sentence just to edit, but if you can every once in a while it can certainly give you some insight.
  • I do this exercise typically when I’ve hit my 1K for the day. I’ll look over the whole work and try and find the best section to tweet. If there’s nothing–absolutely nothing–for me to share, chances are that I’ve done something wrong. If I’ve written 1,000 words and nothing is worth sharing with my writer and reader friends, then something is surely missing. There’s got to be some place with tension, with humor, with excitement! If there isn’t, I’ll go back and do some house-cleaning, even if it’s a first draft.
  • If you’re shy about your work, and don’t like to share, tweeting little bits and pieces is a good way to warm you up. Because, honestly, if you’re going to start publishing, well, everyone is going to have access to everything. While some #wip tweets get responses, many don’t. Mostly because they’re just snippets, of course. But it’s a perfect opportunity to get your feet wet.
  • Lastly, I love going through my friends’ #wip tags. It makes me feel like part of a writing community. String them together and you’ve got some truly fascinating tidbits of creativity going on. Widen your scope through all of Twitter, and there’s a collective, beautiful cacophony of image and craft. To me, that’s just absolutely inspiring. Knowing that other writers are doing the same thing as I am (hopefully not exactly the same, but you get my drift) definitely encourages me to get through the daily writing grind and make my work better.

How about you? Have you discovered any way that social media has helped your writing process?

(re)writing blind

I’m in the process of a complete rewrite, the most extensive I’ve ever done. It’s true, first novels aren’t the best novels. And my first novel was written three times before I put it away for a while. But it kept pestering me until I realized that the characters, the story, and the plot (if tweaked considerably) were still worth the trouble. The exact trouble is rewriting a 75K exceptionally mediocre story into something around 120K that has a lot more grit and substance.

What I’ve done is written blind. I didn’t even read the last draft, completed some three or four years ago. Oh, it’s still around, and occasionally I’ve had to consult it. But scenes are, by and large, constructed from what I remember. And if I can’t remember? I re-create.

The most amusing side-effect is the similarity some of the passages have, in spite of the fact that I’ve not re-read. Today I was writing one of my favorite scenes, where Peter meets three very important characters, called The Three, in the great hall of Lyos (HELLO epic fantasy!). There are a few bits I actually like about the old version, but all in all I’m happier with the rewrite (though it’s a bit on the long side!).

For your amusement, the scenes are below. The original is in italics.

The doors opened inward, and Peter straightened his tunic again.  He wished that Tengel were around to help him know what to say. Nonetheless, he proceeded into the main hall of Lyos, his footsteps echoing against the black marble floor.  The hall was even higher than the entrance, structured like a colonnade.  There were leaded windows in each bay to the side, and a few statues—mostly carved of wood and painted—as well.  At the very end was a dais of sorts, with three great oak chairs carved with ornate designs.  Three figures were seated there, facing toward him.

The center figure was the one that took Peter’s attention fully.  She was a small, wizened creature, delicate and old beyond reckoning.  Her long white hair fell down her shoulders, plaited here and there, and ended by her elbows.  Her garb was light blue, which matched her eyes.  A pair of wrinkled lips were lengthened in a soft smile.  She gestured to a chair set below the dias.

To the woman’s right was an older gentleman, but compared to the center figure, he seemed youthful.  His beard was steely gray, black shot with white here and there.  Although he was tall, he sat straight, and Peter noticed the man’s large hands with exceptionally long fingers.  His skin was swart, as if from frequent travel in the sun, and his eyes large and brown.  He had a kind face, and wore a long robe of dark green.

On the other side of the woman was an even younger man who was dressed solely in grey.  His coloring reminded him of Harmon—his beard was red-gold and his eyes light grey, though squinted toward him.  Unlike the other two, he did not smile.  Instead, he regarded Peter intensely.  He was very strongly built, and Peter wouldn’t be surprised to find out he was some kind of soldier.  His square jaw gave him a handsome if not slightly harsh look.

Peter nodded, and Beryl curtsied, bowing her head low so her hair fell across her face for a moment. She did not smile again, but turned and opened the doors that led to the hall.

Immediately, Peter’s eyes were drawn up and up—then further still. Though the beams were not living trees, they had been carved to look so. The wood was lighter than the roofing, a honey-wheat hue, and each limb and branch curled and reached higher than the next. Here and there were glass leaves and birds, affixed to the beams, reflecting the light from the large glass windows, set high above their heads.

Peter had been led from a side door, and he followed Beryl across the smooth tiled floor—tiles so black they gave the appearance of still water—toward the center of the room. Peter was aware of statues poised along the sides of the room, but stopped short when he noticed the three figures sitting in chairs on the dias.

Peter’s eyes were drawn to the the woman in the center; she commanded attention in spite of her remarkably small frame and advanced age. Peter did not think he had ever seen a woman so old, and yet so beautiful. She was perched at the edge of her seat, her tiny hands encircling a cane, her long white hair plaited on each side and spilling far past her waist. The ends were tied with silver thread that reflected the glimmering rings on her hand and the bangles on her sagging ears. She wore a simple white robe, and yet it was a marvel in its plainness and purity. Her face was round and set with deep, dark eyes, and she gazed at Peter with a look of both surprise and amusement. When he caught her eye, she smiled, and her face set with a thousand wrinkles in her fair white skin.

To the woman’s right was a wizened man, though he was far from elderly in comparison to the woman. His beard and hair were the color of steel, both trimmed and straight. His bright green eyes stood out against his dark skin, lined with wrinkles and dark lashes. He wore brown, and was quite tall, but carried no staff or cane. From the way he sat Peter guessed him to be rather fit; his posture was impeccable. Something in the angle of his head and the sharpness of his nose reminded Peter of a bird of prey, however, and he did not smile. He simply turned his heavy-lidded eyes to Peter and raised one brow.

And the third figure Peter saw was familiar in that he bore a striking resemblance to his brother Harmon. In fact, the similarity was such that Peter knew at once they had to be twins. Leofris was slightly sturdier than Harmon, but just as tall. His hair was cropped short, the curls clinging to his brow. He had a small beard, mostly about his chin, and wore a dark red tunic with a brilliant clasp keeping his cloak to his shoulder in the shape of a silver stag. When he saw Peter, Leofris’s mouth fell open ever so slightly, and he was the first to speak.

The self-conscious fantasy epic.

AnneauUniqueThis morning I read a piece in the Guardian called When the Lord of the Rings doesn’t cut it: Confessions of a fantasy junkie, and found it rather amusing. In particular this bit (which makes us all sound a bit like Gollum, I think):

I understand the pain of the addict. At the turn of a page, weeks of total immersion in a fantasy world come to an end and mundane reality is waiting. Fantasy is epic because that is how we like it. But like any narcotic substance, fantasy operates on the law of diminishing returns. Once you’ve see a few dozen dragons, you’ve seen them all. The fantasy fan is on an eternal quest to recapture that first taste of magic. Eventually, the doorstoppers don’t cut it anymore. And then we are forced to go underground.

I’ve written on this topic a few times, and it certainly hit home for me. As someone weaned on Tolkien and Lewis, I know the feeling well. I remember trying to hide my undying love for Middle-Earth, and failing miserably when my book report gushing to the world was read aloud in class by my teacher. My school was small enough at the time that there weren’t any D&D groups to join, and the only person I know who also read fantasy read Terry Brooks. And I did not.

Anyway, it didn’t get easier or better for me as I got older. I’m now convinced that my time in both undergraduate and graduate school studying Middle English was only in an effort to study the roots of fantasy literature. It was cheating a little, because all that chivalric literature really isn’t any different than fantasy, save in language and occasional subject. (I should argue that plenty of medieval stuff is even more revolutionary than today’s contemporary fantasy–read Silence for a cross-dressing heroine, for example!) I found quite a few friends in graduate school, however, who loved fantasy, and that was certainly a help.

But my roundabout point is, in spite of coming to grips with liking to read fantasy epic, it’s taken even longer for me to accept writing it. Why? Because it’s a genre that breeds self-consciousness. It’s practically made of cliche and stereotype. Saying you write fantasy literature to some people is no different than admitting a penchant for furries, or a LARPer. I know, I’ve gotten the looks before. Eyebrows up, mouth agape–they struggle for things to say, but the fact is, even if the book was on the Bestseller list, they’d likely never read it. And if they did, it’d probably make them laugh hysterically.

Anyway, currently I am writing a fantasy epic. True fantasy. No steampunk, no time-travel, no squids. And I find that I’m incredibly self-conscious about it some days, and completely revel in it on other days. I have moments where I ask myself, “Is this too fantasy epic?” and others when I think I’m really on to something different. Truly, it must strike a balance to be good, and I’ve never had such a set of demons on my shoulder arguing it out over a book. I love the genre to bits, and I am indeed still reaching to capture that magic–but doing it with my own wand, as it were, is another spell all together.

I wrote a sequel to The Lord of the Rings when I was fourteen. It was about Merry and Pippin meeting up together in old age and making a trip across Middle Earth to Gondor, and their final days there with Aragorn. I wish I had a bit to share, because it is quite amusing. Regardless, I have always expressed my love in writing. I scarcely know how else to do it. I even re-wrote half of The Stand once…  And while I am a bit self-conscious about this particular endeavor (and… well, thankfully not plagiarising) it’s still done with joy. Part of me is very much that same fourteen year old with the ugly sweater and wire-rimmed glasses hunkering down at my Aptiva and composing everything in Footlight.

And thankfully, at long last, I don’t care who knows. I only hope I can do it well enough.

Glut, glut, glut.

I am trying to be candid here.

I have too many words.

Not counting finished drafts, I have somewhere around 230K of unfinished business. This is either work in process (currently I am writing two separate books) or words that need to be edited. This morning I thought I’d total it up, for reasons of amusement. But now? Looking at it I’ve got to wonder what the hell it is I’m getting at.

This started when I got frustrated editing a first draft. Then I decided to do something else; which lead to something else… which means, ah, what the hell?

Self: Stop this grumblefest. You need to look on the bright side.

Glutty McGlutterson: Wha? Like, the fact that I’m writing and that’s something and I should keep my chin up, buster, and dance with rainbows and dragons and flying horses?

Self: Um, no, not exactly. Since when have I ever called you buster?

McGlut: Ugh, you always do this.

Self: Do what? Force you to accentuate the positive?

McGlut: I’m going to start calling you Pollyanna.

Self: Seriously. Remember that 10,000 hours thing? You’re being a writer. Not an editor. So you’re writing.

McGlut: I can scarcely think where to go.

Self: You were on a roll.

McGlut: *sigh* That peksy past-tense.

Self: Oh, grow up! Just sit your ass down and write. Stop complaining. You are a professional.

McGlut: A professional word-vomiter.

Self: Better than the other way.

McGlut: … true.

Self: Consider the current project. Marketable, single person narrative… just focus on that. The rest will come. Or it won’t. And you’ll drown to death in words.

McGlut: *glub, glub, glub*

What the heck am I doing?

The answer is writing. Writing and writing, and podcasting a little.

In spite of the failure of last week, which isn’t really a failure at all but a disappointment, I’ve been busy putting the oldest story I think is worth telling back in order. It’s a bit like turning a 50-piece puzzle into a 1,000 piece puzzle. The picture is similar, but the pathways are different, and there’s lots more to the whole. I call it editing, since it’s technically a rewrite, but honestly it feels more like writing.

Writing characters I created when I was still a teenager can be a little surreal though. I had the concept early, I just didn’t have the tools at the time to write it. Then later, when I had the tools, I didn’t have the guts to do some of the stuff I’m doing now. Sure, it’s not going to change the world of fantasy writing; it’s sword & sorcery, after all. But I think I’m doing enough things differently that readers will enjoy it.

One character in particular has been wonderfully cathartic to write. Her name is Chira, and in essence, she is a machine of death and destruction. She is somewhere between a Mord Sith and River from “Firefly”–she’s gritty, and her fighting style is crazy. She carries somewhere between eight and ten weapons on her at a time, and she’s obsessed with martial training and strategy. I don’t know what it is, but maybe I just need a little more female warrior in me these days. Writing scenes with her lately has been absolutely thrilling for me. She is also a smart-ass. Heh.

Other than that, the writing is intriguing because it’s got so many characters in the scenes. Rarely do I have less than five people together, since they travel that way, and it’s really exciting writing scenes with lots of banter going back and forth. Not to mention, one of my characters is a real joker, and this is the first time in a while that I’m writing funny stuff. It’s weird, because I’m a funny person in general, I just take myself (and maybe my characters) a little too seriously sometimes. It’s a bit refreshing!

I am also blogging for GeekDad, so that’s been taking up some time that I usually use here. I’m going to try and put together a more strict schedule to ensure I post here more often, but I can’t promise anything due to the energy and unpredictability of being a mom!

“So it’s magic. Like you were talking about before,” Peter said, the word heavy in his mouth. He still felt a bit idiotic talking about magic as if it were real.

Tengel nodded, looking Peter in the eyes. “It feeds on magic. Like I said.”

Peter took the meaning in Tengel’s words, but hesitated to give words to it. “You’re implying that he sent the abael after me due to my own magical proclivities.”

“Good word proclivity,” intoned Quinn, as he drew up to the two of them. As the fire stoked, Peter noticed how brilliant Quinn’s hair was—when it caught the light it kindled like copper. “Proclivity. Sounds like a disease though, doesn’t it?”

“You haven’t got magical proclivities,” said Tengel.

“Of course I don’t,” replied Peter.

“Just magical possibilities,” finished the healer.