Lost for Words

Now that the Makkarios series has been made available on the iBooks platform, I have turned my attention to the same for the Last Book of the Kings series. Several years have passed since I last revisited the first volume of this series, The Keeper House Unending — the first of all my novels, in fact. Now that I’m looking at it again, I’ve discovered that I have a problem.

[So embarrassing!] It is terribly obvious that a seventeen-year-old wrote this. I can hardly read it without flinching. Or squirming. Or both, to be honest, though I’m not sure how that actually works in physiological terms. It is almost as bad as the time I rediscovered the spiral notebooks of my actual first novel, which will never see daylight unless in those few moments while I try to get the match to ignite against the matchbook cover. Those I wrote when I was fifteen and, though technically they qualify as plain teen fiction, are far more of a fantasy than any speculative fiction I’ve written since then.

So I find myself wondering the following: does this mean that I have grown as a writer? Or have I just grown as a critical reader? One can recognize literary rubbish without being able to write good stories, after all, just as a music lover can detect bad pitch without being able to sing a note. And so the natural contemplative’s eternal process of self-examination goes on…

But in the meanwhile, for those of you who have an active life outside that of the mind, I have begun an experiment in nonfiction. It is called the One Word Devotions series and will consist of brief “exegetical” devotions, intended to instruct as well as to give fodder for the meditative processes. You may find it here on Amazon; it will not be made available in ebook format, because that defeats the purpose of the book.



“I quit.”

Really, I just wanted to say that, just once. I’m too obsessive-compulsive to quit anything once I’ve made a beginning, but sometimes I wonder what it would be like. So sometimes I daydream about quitting as a writer. I daydream about it quite a lot these days, for various reasons. It always disheartens me even more than… well… everything else does. It isn’t until I start thinking about what life might be like as a non-writer that I realize just how much of my identity is bound up in writing. Granted, I usually end up wondering if anybody would even notice if I did quit writing, but that’s a different matter. Whether anybody notices what I write or not, I am a writer.

I haven’t been able to write for a while now. (Depression; I don’t want to talk about it here.) It’s unhealthy for me, not only as a writer but as a person. Like I said, a good deal of my identity is bound up in the act of writing. I have heard people liken the act of giving your writing to someone else as almost on a par with being stripped bare in public. It isn’t quite that bad, especially once one gets accustomed to letting one’s imagination out into the world where anyone might see it. When one gets to a certain point, it’s actually worse to go unnoticed than it is to be under the searchlight. Think about it: if one’s identity is deeply invested in a certain activity, and that activity is ignored for the most part, one easily falls into some serious existential issues.

Anyway… I’m trying to resolve these issues as best I can. In the meanwhile, I am planning for the summer at this point. My new multiple-novel project has gotten too dark for my own good, so I have put it to bed for a little while. Like I said earlier, I’m too obsessive to quit anything I’ve begun, so I’m working again on the Last Book of the Kings series. This poses its own set of problems, including another set of overlapping novels. I suppose that I’m writing this post in order to ask a favor of friends and readers: please cheer me on. I don’t ask things like this often or easily, but I don’t want to give up on this part of my life. Those of you who have read / enjoyed the Keeper stories especially, I’m looking to you for reminders of where this series has gone already as I attempt to bring it to completion.

On writing simultaneous novels, Part 3

I’m dragging my feet at the moment, for a variety of reasons. Beyond the distractions of entering the holiday season and the natural instinct to hibernate that always arises with the reduced daylight, I have encountered an unexpected hazard to this project– excessive sympathy for one of my main characters. You’d think this might be an advantage, except that his dominant characteristic at this point of the story is discouragement. For various reasons he finds himself completely helpless, trapped in improbable circumstances with no one to call on and no means of escape. He has no allies, and to be honest he’s discouraging me no end.

I know that, if I can get him just a little farther forward, he’ll gain the ally he needs and end up occupying a different (though not necessarily easier) position than he does now. The trouble is, his situation is an exaggerated reflection of my own at present. An enterprise begun partially as a means to forget is now serving as a constant reminder. So I end up playing mindless match-3 computer games or reading manga when I ought to be working, because I don’t want to think about circumstances.

My dream is a sort of writer’s sanitorium: a private room overlooking well-kept lawns and some aged deciduous trees, a relaxed schedule, and voluntary opportunities for recreation and crafts classes. And above all, large blocks of time left empty for the various activities that make up the process of writing fiction. In my case, that includes researching (you’d be surprised what I research for fantasy novels), drafting blueprints of key locations, and meditating on plot developments while completely motionless and supine.

My writing style is, I admit, rather ponderously holistic. It involves my entire life. When I have only an hour or two every few days to devote to it, I become unspeakably frustrated. Frustration turns to discouragement, and discouragement to inertia, and inertia to stagnation. This four-novel project is presently looming so large (compared to the time I have available to devote to it) that I’m practically a walking quagmire. I’m stuck.

On writing simultaneous novels, Part 2

Another issue that has confronted me in the process of writing four novels at the same time: back story. Four main characters, four sets of secondary and minor characters (many of them overlapping from one main character to another), four individual histories. Right now, however, it is the individual history side of the matter that troubles me. One is a visual artist who has been taught that the visual arts are frivolous, shameful and at all costs to be avoided. One is a young bookkeeping clerk being blackmailed into obedience by the man who murdered his father. One is a brilliant student trapped in a world of hallucinations due to his own foolhardy overconfidence. The last is the student’s younger sister, trained in the tradition of the prayer singers and chosen by the casting of the Lot to replace her brother– the only female child ever chosen by the Lot.

You might be able to see already the problems. Each person has a different set of circumstances, a different knowledge base, a different personal back story. At the moment, I’m wrestling over the girl’s story. She has committed to memory hundreds of prayer songs. I’m neither poet nor musician; I need to know something of both in order to create a knowledge base for her. Before that, it was the artist– and I have little to no skill in the visual arts. The clerk, being a numbers person, forces me beyond my limits in that direction as well. The student is, for me, the nearest to my own knowledge base, but in his hallucinogenic condition it won’t do me much good.

I don’t mind a challenge, especially if it requires me to learn new information. It’s simply a little discouraging that the finish line keeps moving farther and farther ahead… [sigh]



On writing simultaneous novels: Part 1

It is not without reason that I have been absent from this forum since October. I have resumed a project that had stymied me a few years ago. I figured out what was its problem: it could not be one novel. In fact, it has turned into four novels that cover essentially the same events from different points of view. As one might imagine, this is taking a very, very long time to work out in practical terms. The specific difficulty may be stated thus: in order to write any one of these books, one must know what happens in the other three– in short, the process for developing one story expands fourfold, because none of these characters goes to exactly the same places as the others, knows exactly the same set of people as the others, etc. At the same time, there is so much overlap that they must all be handled simultaneously. I have files… oh, I have files… I’ll show you level 1 of my files. If you want a sense of the scope of this project, just count the files in this screen shot, and multiply it by six.

EyesToSee Screenshot

… because each of these files contains anywhere from four to twelve subfiles, some of which contain two or three files of their own. I will admit that I’m enjoying the challenge. It gives me reason to take my time with the characters, their environments, and their backstories. The development phase of storytelling has always been my favorite part. It’s just tricky. For instance, I discovered this morning that I had been spending so much time on the first three stories that I’d neglected the fourth. How did I discover this? By trying to fill out the outline for the first one, which turns out to be incredibly dependent on the fourth.

For the first time, I have a project that requires use of a spreadsheet in the outlining process. (It’s in the “Story Structure Elements” file.) No, not just a spreadsheet. A workbook full of spreadsheets. Its title is “Events in Parallel” because that’s exactly what I need to see: just how the four story lines run in parallel. Not every event overlaps all four stories. Some overlap two or three, while others are unique to one story alone. Here’s a sample of what I mean:

EventsInParallel Screenshot

This is a section from one quarter (Spring of the first year of the story) as I try to figure out what all four of my main characters are doing during this period of time. If you noticed the tabs at the bottom of the image, you’ll realize that I have four spreadsheets per year for… well, you can’t see all of it, but for five years of story time. I’ve only begun filling it out, but you can see how intricate this has become already.

I’ve titled this post “Part 1” for good reason. I’ll be back soon, most probably to complain about juggling four main characters and their respective satellite characters. Because all four interact to some extent, I need to know how each one views the others– except Tatsuro, who spends most of his story in a trance state. Even he has some level of interactions (in the past) with the others that shape his current situation. But that I shall leave for another post.