Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Table of Contentment

A lot of people just turn past the Table of Contents when starting a book, right? Maybe. But if you're a clever author, you can use it as a powerful weapon against your readers' inner voice that tells them to put your book down.

When I was a kid, and I picked up the newest volume in a series that I loved, one of the first things I'd do is scan the ToC to see what clues I could mine from the chapter titles. I'd get revved up just from that preliminary list. As an author, too, it's just fun to name your chapters, to come up with a few words that capture the essence of what each episode has in store.

Foreshadowing is crucial here. The chapter titles themselves can convey an irresistible picture of what's just a few pages past the stopping point your reader scheduled in advance to make time for pilates class (if that's still a thing). And also, you can give enough hints earlier on to make fututre chapter names relevant, when they didn't mean anything at first glance.

For example, when someone reading my YA Fantasy gets through the first four chapters and turns back to the ToC, they'll see Chapter Five - Lady Valeine, and think, Finally, a female character! This book has been a total sausage fest so far, and I was getting worried. They'll see Chapter Seven - The Crystal Blade In The Dark Mountains, which on its own is already pretty sexy, and remember that they just read a reference to this particular mythical weapon, and that the story's hero was one day going to go after it. Chapter Eight - The Invited Enemy, could trigger a panicked realization like, Wait, the hero and his dad are in a magically protected place where only they can enter, plus the people they invite. Whoa, sounds like some major $**t's gonna go down. 

I could shamelessly plug my own book a lot more, but I think the point of this post is clear. Have fun naming your chapters; don't think of it as some tedious chore. If your reader is questioning whether she wants to continue, and turns back to the ToC for motivation only to see a bland numerical listing, she's probably likelier to close it than if you'd given her something enticing. Keep 'em on the line however you can, or lose 'em.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Begging My Beginning To Be Benign

So, you passed up tons of opportunities that came your way, whether social, academic, or occupational, because your number one love, your main squeeze, shrieked from within the pit of your guts to the apex of your irregular cranium, "DUDE! I'LL NEVER GET WRITTEN IF YOU DO ANY OF THAT!" And you asked yourself, do I want my life to be about carrying on the constructs that other people see as the parameters of life? Or, do I want it to be about exploring the uncharted depths of myself, and sharing my discoveries in a way that gives the finger to those artificial barriers and inspires many to do the same?

Then, of course, you went with Option B, cast your undivided attention day after day onto that cruelly gratifying mistress in your head, breathed realistic life and triumph into characters that began as fragile bundles of excitement in 8th grade homeroom, and now, long after typing THE END (drum roll) ...you've got to go back to the beginning! Bet you're feeling kind of foolish, right? Wrong! -ish

A common pitfall for debut fantasy novelists, one that tripped me up quite a bit, is that their first three chapters serve more as a platform to launch the actual story, instead of beginning the story where it naturally ought to, on Page God Damn 1. "Oh, I've created such a complex, intriguing world--this is all the necessary information you absolutely must digest before we proceed," said Sweatychin Basementguy, whose work I've yet to hear any buzz about.

Dynasties rose and fell to set the events of your story in motion; formidable warriors clashed and befriended one another, and then clashed again; there are cities with ornate names and varying purposes that just made us forget the names of characters you briefly introduced, in whom we weren't even invested to begin with. Now we're on pg. 20, and the intricate character development depicted on Storage Wars is making us reach for the remote while using your pages as a beer coaster.

Some authors who are just starting out will dump all of this onto readers in dense paragraphs of exposition, evoking the fear of a textbook-style quiz at the end of every chapter that even an all-nighter of cramming wouldn't help. Others who've learned from this mistake will try to trim what they can part with while veiling the remaining need-to-know factoids in dialogue or stream of consciousness, flattening their characters' authenticity from the get-go. Then come those who don't give enough information because they're still cringing in shame at being part of the aforementioned clubs, leaving readers wondering what the hell happened to the would-be protagonist from Chapter One, and when are we coming back to him?

There's nothing wrong with a slow beginning or a complex introduction to characters and setting, as long as the reader is immediately drawn in to experience it, and not pelted in the head with the ricocheting tiles you thought you'd cemented into a colorful mosaic. The trick is to give your audience an elegant doorway through which they can travel, and let them gradually take in the unfurling complexities you've set in store for them. Don't drop a labyrinth in front of them with signs posted everywhere that read, "The middle and end of this are great if you can make it."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

From One World To Another

After being deeply engrossed in your art for even one day, and having to interact in a social capacity the next, do you ever feel as though your only options are to be either a fun drunk or a sober train wreck? Do you think this post is intended to offer secret Option C? Lol.

If you discovered that a fountain from another dimension lay buried ten yards beneath you, and every shovel scoop brought you a potent taste of its brimming waters that promised a greater reward the deeper you delved, could you go out and be even halfheartedly invested in anything else? Could you report to work and show sincere care for your accumulating duties? Could you perform them effectively without succumbing to a debilitating pull towards what you really ought to be doing?

And, after you unearthed this divine vessel, finding it contained the truest parts of yourself, what if those with whom you tried to share it saw only the dirt and grime in which you bathed to find it? What if you offered it like a cup from which to drink, and instead they asked you to spare a buck twenty-five for the vending machine?

I could never write my book on Sunday and go to work on Monday. The more energy I funneled into the world I created, giving flesh and form to characters whom I had to be in order to write, there was nothing but a shadow left of the guy who clocks in at 6:00 AM and does what he's told.

Like in some Star Trek episode (which undoubtedly exists) I found myself eviscerated on a molecular level if I tried to extend one foot into my creative realm and the other somewhere else. Each phase required a transitional period of isolation and even detox before I could make that full leap, occupying them separately for months at a time.

For instance: one of your central characters has finally reached his climactic breakthrough that you lovingly envisioned for years, only, every day you thought about it there were still hundreds of stair steps of character and plot development ahead, until now. Now, you've reached the summit of that climb with him, and it's even more breathtaking than you could have imagined, because in this moment you're more a witness than an orchestrator.

How do you take that to a cocktail party? How do you chime in about the state of the economy while still buzzing with that wild electricity? How do you not cringe like someone's serving stuffed roadkill when asked how come you haven't devoted yourself to a permanent day job?

What about all you creative types out there? Do you struggle with having to constantly negotiate this kind of rift? Are we just junkies with better teeth and a tad more self control, waiting for that high in the real world that parallels what we induce on our own?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Moving

I dropped out of college at 21, packed my car with every belonging I could use and hit the road for Phoenix, AZ, realizing I wasn't leaving San Diego behind, but rather the role I had been expected to play there.

Stopping over at a Circle K across from a Kohl's that ostensibly forms the nucleus of Yuma, I stepped out of the driver's seat, set the lukewarm ziplock holding my mom's crisp tuna melt sandwiches on my car's roof and chowed down. And in that moment, seeing the locals pump their gas, watching others come out through the ringing doors with snacks and DVDs of 90's B movies, I felt this exhilarating rush at knowing that I could be anyone to these people.

No one within a two-hundred mile radius could label me as part of any particular workforce, or think me odd for acting outside the routines and social conventions I'd maintained over the preceding years. Every construct I'd occupied was now bloated to bursting from the dust of my wheels, and only reinvention lay on the horizon.

Driving has always been a relaxing pastime of mine, and there were certainly many nights when I was nineteen or twenty in which I hit 100 miles easily, with stereo blaring and no destination. It's no surprise, then, that my book depicts characters who ride eagles over vast stretches of terrain at will, and a protagonist who keeps moving, away from the shackles of his past, away from every home that sooner or later caves in, towards that far-off place where all is undiscovered. This scene aptly represents that roving spirit:

Morlen took great strength in Roftome’s pride, sitting well at ease even while they tumbled and swayed in a surveying pass over the beckoning snowy heights where thousands more flocked. There were no rulers here, nor subjugated masses. There were only those made kings by their own reckoning, sharing countless snow-capped thrones with one another, and none would be led who did not wish to follow.

He envisioned this place serving well as one of many homes he made for himself in later days, none of which would keep him settled too long, since he would not be confined to one edge of the world.

“Let us make a pact,” Morlen said with renewed enthusiasm. “To leave no cloud untouched, and no mountain un-treaded, when less-troubled times call to us.”

Etching an elegant path flanked on many sides by foreign realms and alien skies, Roftome raised his sturdy head in acceptance. “No mountain un-treaded,” he repeated boldly, with chest puffed. “And no cloud untouched.”

I've been moving around my whole life, between two homes from age six to eighteen, along avenues demanding commitments that push my passion and talent to the fringe, and the only stability I've ever found satisfying is in the constant unpredictability that creation affords. From when I was a kid, up to now, I fantasized about people and places that couldn't exist in the confines I knew, and through becoming them, I could go anywhere, always thriving on that novelty and hoping it never expired.

I suppose what I and my characters want is a life in which settling is not for a lack of energy or prospects, but in the discovery of something so thrilling that every moment brings a thousand opportunities, so that to leave would only turn us back towards paths we walked before.

Cue the Aerosmith soundtrack video for "Armageddon."

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Looking For Beta Readers!

It's been fun tinkering around the ever-busy blogosphere, building some great contacts while making my work and style more visible, and what I need most right now are beta readers to help me prepare my epic fantasy novel, A Facet For The Gem, for the public eye.

I "finished" it over a year ago, a year I spent editing, polishing, and re-polishing it into the ballpark of 127,000 words (if the length is daunting, I'd be happy with giving you just the first half and seeing if I've still got your interest afterwards).

I'm confident spelling, grammar, and syntax are sound, and most interested in feedback along the lines of:

Are plot flow and the writing itself smooth, gripping and coherent?

Are the characters well-built, and is their development convincing/compelling?

Are the different settings well-constructed, or lacking something?

Anything that feels out of place, or tedious.

And especially anything you think might improve a particular scene, dialogue, description, whatever input you want to give.

Of course I'm willing to reciprocate, too, if you've got something you want to throw my way. My earlier posts should give you an idea of the experience I've had writing over the years, and if you're wondering whether our work could be a good match, I also showcase some choice excerpts and illustrations in the four page tabs above, intended to give a taste of my novel's core substance.

Thanks a lot to any takers. Basically, I want people to tell me if I write good, if my book is inter-resting, and to give me sujestions on how I mite make it more better.

And if you're reading this now with a smile instead of slapping your forehead, there's a good chance you get me on a number of levels, and might really enjoy reading more.

...just let me reiterate in a friendly postscript in case that went over anyone's head--those spelling/grammar errors were a joke.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Friends Become Enemies; Enemies Become Friends

A scene where two bitter enemies go head-to-head can bring a hair-raising adrenaline rush, no question. You've followed one or the other, or both, listened to their traded barbs, weighed their merits and likely chosen a side. Now it's time for each to dig his heels in and draw as you feel your pulse rise, hoping only one leaves blood on the ground.

But... what about bitter enemies who used to be dear friends? Friends whose days of glory together you happily watched unfold, thinking them inseparable? Now it's not so easy to root for any particular side, and the fight becomes exponentially more riveting. Two hateful rivals with no amicable history make the stakes quite simple, leaving you little reason to wonder what might be going through their heads. But two who only one book or movie before would've died to save one-another, now at each other's throats, have undoubtedly got you leaving one monster Venn diagram of a sweat mark in your seat.

Which of them strikes first? And is it a halfhearted strike, meant to show the other a flame of hope that their fractured bond might be renewed? Or do they hold nothing back, swinging hard for the fleshiest, veiniest areas, each blow casting every echo of laughter and loyalty further from memory?

If only one winner emerges here, it still may feel as though everyone lost. If neither wins, well either you've got yourself a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions or a stalemate from which both go their separate ways, building tension that could escalate to an even more climactic confrontation later on. But, if both could somehow win... that scenario seems rife with complex, sidewinding possibilities, serving up a potent, well-blended cocktail of unpredictable action and inner turmoil that I for one would like to taste.

My book's second half centers on the friendship of two characters: Morlen, my protagonist, and the eagle, Roftome, who is highly disdainful of all men after watching them venture into the mountains to seat themselves onto the backs of his kind. But, after Roftome is badly wounded in battle, his perspective changes when he finds himself hoisted from blood-stained snow on the shoulders of a man, Morlen, the first to treat any of his kind in such a way. From here their relationship grows, with trust and dedication uniting them through many adventures against an array of harsh challenges, and the strength they draw from one another enables them to face down overwhelming danger and certain doom.

Book Two, which I've been conceptualizing for years but only started writing, opens with these two companions in better form than ever, solidifying their joint reputation as a force to be reckoned with from land to land. But, there are others lurking in the shadows that harbor far more dire purposes for eagles than mere riding, and when Roftome is captured, Morlen embarks on a quest deep into their desolate, mountainous domain to get him back. In this corrosive atmosphere, teeming with ghoulish creatures that once called bright clouds their home, Morlen's only fuel is the hope of regaining the one taken from him, and his worst fear that when they finally meet again, neither will be able to recognize the friend that was lost.

I've always planned this as a series of four books, hinging upon these two characters' triumphs and conflicts. With the transformation of their bond, I mean to illustrate that, after one looks long enough, hard enough to recover a missing piece, nothing fits as it once did.

But, in time, even the most jagged fractures may one day become aligned.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Burying Gold In Thin Air

SPOILER ALERT

This post gives away major "big reveals" for the popular works it references, but most of them have been around for so long that, if you haven't heard of them yet, you were probably never going to. So really I'm doing you a favor. You're welcome.

Scabbers the rat (yes I'm a grown man referencing Harry Potter) is just a tertiary comic relief that squeaks, nips fingers and knocks things off shelves whenever J.K. Rowling sees fit to deviate from more compelling action, and you quickly forget about whatever minor appearance he makes after reading on for five pages. He's been a treasured pet in Ron Weasley's family for twelve years, because they're poor. It's cute, we get it. Moving on... but wait, as it turns out in Book 3, the real traitor who sold out Harry's parents to their deaths got away with it by going into hiding for twelve years in the form of a tiny, furry, what! Are you shi**in me!?

Kyle Reese travels back in time to save Sarah Connor from the Terminator because she's supposed to live on, find a nice man, and give birth to mankind's savior before a nuclear holocaust leaves the earth fodder for menacing machines. Soon, their riveting high-speed escape from the shotgun-toting, motorcycle-straddling Schwarzenegger fades behind their mutual vulnerability, and a passionate love story takes center stage in a way so authentic that it lacks the contrived feel of throwing you a pen to connect the dots. And when you finally see a pregnant Sarah driving off into the unknown before the credits roll, you know Reese got the job done in every sense.

When Hannibal Lecter cunningly bludgeons and slices his way through his cage and its two inept guards, still in a building crawling with cops, you know there's no way he's getting any farther. The boys in blue charge into his quarters with guns drawn, finding one of their own hanging disemboweled on display and the other sprawled on the ground, face shredded, barely breathing. The camera stays on him as he's whisked away, convulsing on a stretcher and crammed into an ambulance that hauls past every road block and security checkpoint, until, after the cops find a corpse in Lecter's clothes, missing its face, the hospital-bound guard sits up in perfect health, removes his mask of loose bloody flesh to reveal himself as none other than...? You mean... he was right under everyone's nose the whole time, wearing a dead guy's face? That's so Lecter.

Kevin Spacey's portrayal of Verbal Kint, the meek, ineffectual "gimp" member of The Usual Suspects serves to describe to the cops, and to us, the ever-present, ever-threatening devil in the shadows Keyser Soze who purportedly slaughtered everyone who ever wronged him or interfered with his business. His story is so convincing that they release him, and, well, by the trend of this post I'm sure you get the common thread I'm highlighting, but this shocking revelation was so well-done that subsequent stories (like Fight Club) whose final twists hinge upon characters being someone else entirely, were noted as pulling "the Keyser Soze move."

Darth Vader... enough said.

And to quote The Lonely Island, "When Bruce Willis was dead, at the end of 'Sixth Sense'..."

I've always considered it the mark of a master to dangle something so powerful and essential to a story right before the audience's eyes, keeping them on the hook with enough bait but never letting them piece together the secret being exposed inches in front of them until finally, at just the right moment you hit them with it so seamlessly it's like your hand was never even there, and they reel back amazed that they didn't catch it sooner.

If executed properly, it can unify what seem like arbitrarily scattered fragments into a bright mosaic that slaps the confounded viewer with a gratifying kiss not soon to be topped.

It's a jarring impact that will make them share your work with their friends just to re-live the wide-eyed, sweaty "No way!" that it brings.

So, is this a technique I've woven throughout my own book, learning from the best to conceal a world-shattering secret in plain sight of both my protagonist and audience until the most climactic delivery its buildup could support?

God damn, what a let down this whole post would be otherwise, like "Contact" where you're following along with Jodie Foster the whole time just to see the aliens, and it turns out to be her father's ghost or something... I didn't actually see it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Splitting ONE In two

One year ago I called my fantasy epic "finished" at 128,850 words after ten years of development, and launched a spirited campaign pitching it to literary agents. One year ago I was certain that in one year, I'd be well on my way to getting published. Ain't that a B?

Finally finding an agent kind enough to give me advice after she initially rejected me, I learned that traditional publishers are more than likely to shun any work over 100K words from a new author. Still clinging to the notion that those publishers were my only route to a broad readership, I knew I couldn't cut 30K words (about 90 pages) from my novel, so I decided, maybe it could work as two?

Yeah, maybe it could. That approach worked out all right for the "Kill Bill" movies, originally intended as one film, then separated into two volumes due to length. Each functions compellingly as a self-contained story, together feeding a larger narrative. A sizable portion of moviegoers would have probably passed on a film in excess of four hours, no matter the reputation of its creator and key players, so this seemed like a prudent move to get as many consumers on board as possible.

Applying this same principle to my book, I've found that aside from my grandmother, who read the whole bastard in all its glory in about three hours after a copy arrived on her doorstep, much of the rest of my family seem daunted by the size. Either that or they think it blows and want to shelter my feelings, but I doubt it. So, I thought, maybe the only way a bunch of total strangers will give it a shot is if it's broken down into a couple more compact reads.

It's already divided into four main parts with a natural halfway point, which comes at my protagonist's tumultuous departure from his father, leaving off on a cliffhanger brought on by a major decision that sets his trajectory for the latter half. With two very distinct progressions of his growth on either side of this break, each with its own beginning, middle and end around full-fledged relationships, trials and tribulations, they could both be self-sufficient.

But, thinking back to when I was writing it, I realized, never once for even a split second did I think this was two books. It was always one, from the moment its microscopic beginnings hit me at thirteen to when I typed THE END at twenty-four. All kinds of subtle details woven throughout the first half work to enhance the significance of the second, creating an intricate tapestry that, if torn, would leave loose, tattered threads dangling aimlessly towards each other across a wide disconnect.

Sure, if the first volume did well enough, there would be that loyal handful closely re-reading every word the day before the second came out, having it all fresh in their minds, but still, maybe some of the magic in reading it the first time might be lost, and maybe a great many others will only rely on their memory of reading it a year before.

While just beginning to learn about the prolific opportunities offered by e-publishing, as well as the successes of many independent authors of books much larger than mine, who refused to mutilate or mold their work to fit a business model proven to sell, I'm encouraged that any well-written, memorably marketed book will gain momentum with an audience it deserves.

Thinking about seeing my book published as "A Facet For The Gem: Vol. 1," and, "A Facet For The Gem: Vol. 2," I hoped that, if both were successful, they could eventually be re-released as one, like I originally intended. Instead, I think I'll be true my creation from the get-go. And if I've done my job right, when people read A Facet For The Gem from start to finish, they'll take to heart one of its most central messages, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

It's A Fight Scene Day

Remember in the late 90's/early 2000's when your favorite shows would sometimes devote an entire episode just to highlights of earlier episodes to distract from a lack of new material, before Youtube and Netflix ruined that cop-out for them?

Anyways, that's not exactly what I'm doing right now, but, this being my tenth post and all, I wanted to make it special and showcase a few of the fight scenes from my book.


Here's a clip of one near the end of Chapter Six, between father and son:

“I doubt you have worked much with a blade,” Matufinn began, “but not to worry; much more than mere swordsmanship will be tested here.”

Unable to breathe a sigh of relief, Morlen said, “As long as this is the day’s last lesson.”

But in response, Matufinn’s eyes gave a stinging rebuke, “The lessons reveal themselves for the taking, some today even when we were not expecting.”

“We?” Morlen emphasized. But it went unheeded.

“Ready your sword,” said Matufinn, offering no quarter.

Morlen dug his feet, clinging to the steel tightly with both hands as if it were timber in a flood. When Matufinn swung down vertically, he quickly raised it above his head to parry, receiving a blow that shook him to his core, reverberating through now jelly-like arms to his buckling knees. The sword swung again at his left this time, bouncing just a few inches from his head as he darted to block, ringing with a deafening note that numbed his face. Then Matufinn’s blade swept towards his right leg, whose worn out cloth narrowly escaped a new shred as he swung dangerously close to defend.

“Faster,” Matufinn urged as their blades met, thrusting forward now to stab. Sweeping across his front, Morlen knocked the strike aside, leaving Matufinn’s guard open.

“Good. Attack!”

With all his might, Morlen swung down diagonally, connecting with nothing but air as Matufinn dodged so quickly he all but vanished, coming at him again as though to fell a tree with an axe. It took all his strength to block the tremendous blow, staggering several feet backwards from the force.

“Again,” Matufinn spurred him on. “Attack.”

Tightening his grip, eyes like daggers, Morlen charged forward unafraid, aiming the point of his blade at Matufinn while his feet stamped the ground, closer, closer, and then… an airy thrust countered by a kick to his backside that sent him stumbling. Turning around in confused frustration, he saw Matufinn glaring at him with that look he despised so much, trying to make him feel an inner presence he was now at a loss to detect.

“Are you trying to fight me with your sword? With your arms?” Matufinn mocked. “These alone will not help you.”

Morlen grunted scornfully through another advance, swinging the blade his entire arm-span in yet another disheartening empty slice as Matufinn seemed to flow like water around his guard, shoving him aside.

“Do you think your blade is a threat to me?” Matufinn jeered from beside him. “Do you think I will waver beneath the force of your stroke? I am already gone before it is thrown.”

Anger building, Morlen thrust his elbow upward towards Matufinn’s biting voice, hitting nothing yet again as a painful kick to the small of his back scuttled him forward.

“No, Morlen,” Matufinn said sternly.

The day’s throbbing bruises to his patience were finally seeing formidable contenders upon his flesh. He was simply not fast enough, not strong enough. Whatever speed Matufinn demanded he summon, he surely could not. But, he yearned, if only…

Matufinn’s sword swooped in again, its cold clang against his own sending a comforting bolt of gold bursting through the recesses of his soul, offering strength, speed, all that he needed to change, to be better.

He could feel its soft metal cradled against him, pulsing with his splintering breaths. He was not strong enough on his own, not fast enough.

“Morlen!”

Suddenly the flash vanished from his mind as he frantically ducked Matufinn’s blade, barely keeping his ear unscathed. Lunging forward again on the offensive, he held his weapon close against his body this time, anticipating Matufinn’s quick evasion. As though preparing to swing forward, he reared back but only half executed, and Matufinn took the bait, bolting behind him directly in the path of his deliberate strike, which he quickly had to block off-guard. Stumbling ever so slightly, Matufinn tried to pass it off as a sidestep, but Morlen was not fooled.

Sensing this, Matufinn gave him the faintest nod, face still hard as stone. “Good,” his voice rose. “Now, faster!” He charged forth and struck high, driving Morlen to duck again with a low swing and bitter grimace when the flat of Matufinn’s blade painfully whipped his back in an easy hurdle over the jab.

Quick to regain his footing, Morlen spun around to find Matufinn coming at him again and aimed to meet him head-on, striking only to be knocked aside. Turning once more, he sent sparks through the air with a sonorous clang that blocked the fast-returning blade, then lunged forth with a mighty slam of his shoulder into Matufinn’s chest, throwing a whistling upward slice that took off the bottom inch of his beard.


Here's part of an airborne fight from Chapter Sixteen:

“Down!” Morlen shouted, though Roftome was already well on his way, swooping below the molten volley to see that hundreds of Ferotaurs were resuming their smothering advance against Valeine’s cornered force, giving him a most creative idea as the initial blast faded to thick smoke without having followed their position.

“How would you feel about letting it have a better look at us?” he asked boldly, and Roftome’s pointed head turned upward to send him a suspicious look, one that slowly sharpened to clear understanding of his purpose in such a stunt.

“I feel it would be most unwise,” Roftome answered. “If you don’t keep your head low.” Then, without hesitation, they ascended closer to the approaching dragon, whose immense head cut from side to side through shrouding plumes in search of any telltale movement or scent, neither of which came until they darted directly in front of its face, and Roftome left no uncertainty to tales of his unmatched speed when they whipped around and shot in a flattening dive with the dwarfing predator holding tightly to their trail, its heart-stiffening call of death threatening to bleed their ears, though still unable to stall them as they led it over the snapping enemy masses, which pressed forward thirty yards or so from Valeine and her men.

“Ready… be ready…” Morlen’s voice rose while they bolted vertically down towards the flowing horned tide, feeling cold as the nearing creature sucked in all wind around them.

“Kill them!” blared Felkoth from above. “Kill them at once!”

Hearing the building storm at their heels, Morlen gripped hard to Roftome’s sides and acted quickly, “Now!” he yelled, and Roftome’s wings spread wide to level them out in a parallel run just over the charging line of Ferotaurs as the bubbling jet of flame struck exactly upon their abandoned path of descent, pulverizing scores of foes to ash at impact while obliterating hundreds more while it followed desperately behind their course, which skimmed above as many as possible despite the stifling heat at their backs, creating a high fiery blockade between the city’s defenders and all invading ground forces, whose middle ranks hollered when they found themselves trapped against their engulfed front.


Here's one more, from the book's climactic battle in Chapter Seventeen:

Needing not one second’s rest, Valdis released a deep guttural shout and threw a deadly slash that Felkoth held inches from his own throat with a ringing parry while pushing hard to wedge a gap between them, being shoved backwards himself as Valdis moved forward with a whistling slice of the spear’s base that flew just over his head when he ducked, stabbing out with the Dark Blade whose course Valdis batted narrowly past his flesh with a sweeping vertical block.

Thrusting down to impale Felkoth’s crouched form, Valdis’s attack only touched snow when Felkoth spun sideways to stand again while bringing the Dark Blade crashing down towards his head, meeting the Crystal Spear, which pried the sword wide off guard as Valdis then smashed his white-clenched fist into Felkoth’s pursed mouth, knocking him flat on his back.

Dazed by the unanticipated blow, Felkoth was quick to sit up with a disdainful spit of blood, but Valdis meant to finish him before he reached his feet, swinging the spear’s sharp-horned end like a swift axe for his skull, only for it to become entangled in slick black tufts of hair as Felkoth urgently dodged. Dragging him in like a netted fish, Valdis braced the spear between his left arm and body to pull Felkoth’s writhing head upward and drew a dagger sheathed at his hip, aiming its point for his captive’s exposed throat when Felkoth’s hand darted to take out a knife of his own, cutting his long knotted hair free while whipping his leg around to bash Valdis’s feet off the ground, dropping him with a loud clatter.

Raring on all fours to pounce, Felkoth prepared to drive his knife into the plated chest lying before him when Valdis kicked it out of his raised hand and rattled him sideways with the butt of his spear, both of them rolling fast to get up before the other.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Mountains Over Matter

*Seinfeld voice* Ever notice those majestic white-speckled mountain ranges in the background of every epic fantasy movie ever made? Whadda they all go to the same spot in New Zealand and just edit out the frame that captures "Frodo Was Here" written in squiggly letters in the snow?

*Back to me now*

Towering in stoic silence over all the scattered throngs fussing around in commerce and war, never purely decorative, mountains taunt characters and readers alike with beckoning razor-edged paths that wind away from all guarantees of normalcy, up and around the very curtain closing them off from the unknown.

Exemption from worldly snares suddenly permeates a cutting breeze when one ventures high enough, hearing the bustling noise of all below abruptly fade in a deafening quiet that leaves only a pulsing, unrestrained awareness, as felt by my protagonist in this short scene:

"Morlen looked down on the highest peaks as Roftome defied repellant winds, carving their own undisputed domain above winter’s heavy shroud, where all was blue, and warm.

Every tree or hill in whose shelter he’d ever lain knew nothing of such open altitude, with each given ray drunk pure from its source, undiluted by cloud or flake. 

Filling his hands with the rising breath of all mortals inhabiting the earth below, he for one fleeting second counted himself apart from them, invulnerable to dust or decay."

A recurring motif in my novel, like in many epic fantasies, mountains surround my characters' world, some offering open havens for wild, immense creatures where men venture at their own risk, and others where men would never dare go, because those who went before them were never seen again.

But the forbidden, daunting path is always the most interesting...

And the proverbial climb, while coming in many different forms, is essential to any character's growth. My story's hero treads those mountains deep in darkness, too, tearing his skin over burning cold rock that drains the life directly from him while sinister, ancient voices whisper to him from the shadows.

Every painstaking ascent elevates his consciousness, revealing a scheme of bright and terrible forces between which he must find a thriving balance, or be crushed.

And he learns, being one of the few to brave the un-mapped trails on both ends of the spectrum, and come back... no one ever comes back the same.

Friday, May 23, 2014

What Really Happened

My parents named me Charles after my dad's grandfather because, aside from the name's refined masculinity, he was by all accounts a highly cool, strongly built, intelligent guy who busted hump his entire life to provide for his family. Working as a blacksmith (among other trades) in Priest River, ID, he hunted to put food on the table, made shoes for all his children, and was never reputed to lose his temper except on one occasion, when a neighbor stole and sold off their stockpile of winter firewood, before hopping a train to skip town. Tracking the thief to the train before it took off, Charles grabbed him by the ankles and dragged him out on his back, extracted the wad of cash collected for his rightful property and returned home in time for supper, where no one dared even look at him the rest of the day, or so my grandpa's brother recollected.

I remember my dad telling me that one of the stories he admired most about his grandpa Charles was that he rode a mule from Missouri to settle in the Pacific Northwest, an arduous trek through over 1,500 miles and harsh elements that few today could even comprehend. But, years later when I asked my grandmother to expand on that, she told me that wasn't Charles, but my grandpa's maternal grandfather, Michael, who'd immigrated from Italy.

So, in just five generations of stories being told, passed on, and retold within the same family line, two different figures had been melded together, with one being credited the acts of the other.

Comparing this against so many beloved tales and doctrines copied and translated and passed down through hundreds of generations into thousands of different versions over thousands of years, all I could see was the classic "Telephone Game" playing out in a ninth grade English class, where the teacher whispers, "I enjoy reading," into the first student's ear, to be whispered verbatim up and down the rows, and by the time it reaches the ears of the final student in line, he relays back to everyone, "Let's give Roy a beating."

Stories passed down over gulfs of time become dancing shadows whose original sources fade farther and farther behind our sight. Changing hands and marked by more fingerprints from one century to the next, they undoubtedly gather subtle alterations that blur each figure they immortalize with many others, whose acts and words are often wrongly attributed or manufactured in the retelling. 

I used this to pull myself out of a nasty jam with my own book years ago, when it was still coming together conceptually. Initially building it in my mid-teens around elements of Arthurian mythology, I finally came to my senses and realized I couldn't have an organic, rich story that was truly my own if it were indentured to pre-existing characters and plot points.

Taking advantage of this gaping disparity between our presently accepted fables and their vanished source material, I wrote characters who reach with bleeding hands for meaning and fulfillment before their memory becomes distorted and lost, and decided, my story can be "what really happened," that long lost gem we'll never quite know.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Why Fantasy?

Scientists experiment with cloning, stem cell therapy and robotic prosthetics because they envision the human condition extending in a very real framework beyond the parameters and provisions that most would call realistic. One in which a person with cirrhosis or heart disease need only make a withdrawal from their refrigerated safe deposit box at the organ bank, and have their doctor pencil them in for a two o'clock transplant. One that sees amputees fitted with new limbs that respond to neurological commands as adeptly as real flesh and bone, and genes that are conducive to crippling disease de-bugged like substandard programming.

By that same token, fantasy writers want to show the human race what it could, and would do were there enchanted portholes to carry us from one world to another, invisible beings walking beside us since the beginning of time who finally revealed that they're here and pissed off, a fountain of youth to which one must make a Faustian bargain before drinking, eagles to ride, sandworms and sea serpents to flee or harness.

We stretch the elastic human spirit with an unnatural pull, and see what weaknesses and strengths poke out through the threads. We provide our characters a palette of colors that can't be found on our earthly plane, and see if they paint something that can.

And sooner or later every dragon or flesh-eating monster displays beneath its mythical shell the worries and misery towards which we're constantly darting eyes over our shoulders, while every "Dark Lord" seeking a hidden weapon to dominate his enemies becomes a world leader in a crisp tailored suit with his finger hovering over the button. The battles our heroes wage against them, whether ending in victory or defeat, can enrich us here with new tactics we may never before have considered.

My protagonist is born with supernatural abilities, and, repressing them his whole life throughout ridicule and isolation, he becomes hopelessly reliant upon an old treasure that promises all the strength he'll ever need. But, the more he accomplishes, the erratic surge of his inner power conflicts with this dependency, culminating in a final, crushing decision he has to make between the two, with his life in the balance.

Fantasy is what enabled me to build my story's hero, with all his wounds and aspirations, in all his tumultuous relationships with humans and beasts alike, around this question: If you had to decide between all the power in the world, and all the power in you... which would you choose?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Growth In Fiction, Not Fictional Growth

How do I authentically flesh out a human being on paper and take him on a compelling, transformational personal journey when I've only begun my own? Through towering snow-covered peaks, verdant multi-colored forests and deep jagged caves where I've never been? Beset by trials and tribulations I've never experienced?

I endow him with my own shortcomings and fears, put him up against pains I do know very well, send him to all the places I wanted to go but didn't, and let him show me what I've been missing.

Creating characters is like digging for treasure, opening the bejeweled chest buried six feet under and finding it holds a doorway to a secret mine of wonders right next to a sewer. The deeper you delve, the stench gets a little stronger, but it makes your painstaking discovery of beauty beneath the dirt that much more rewarding.

And sometimes, the progress these characters make in their lives becomes stitches and gauze for open wounds in our own.

My protagonist, Morlen, is a son, helping three different fathers along his quest. and each of the story's three central parts is built around his relationship with one of them: The Father Who Hides, The Father Who Weeps, and The Father Who Waits. By acquiring a certain understanding of them, helping them fight their respective battles, he's better-equipped to face down his own demons and forge a path for himself.

Now, I'm sure that when I do get published, every review is going to open with some snarky variation of: "All right, let's just get this out in the open first thing--this guy has some major dad issues."

But that's exactly what I needed to write about: something real, that never completely goes away.

And growth manifests itself like outcroppings carved by time through soil: when characters you introduced as trembling with indecision let firm conviction permeate even one line of speech; when they stride over holes that would've easily sunk them chapters before, bringing others with them; and when you no longer find yourself having to think out the magnitude of what they're going to gain, and see that when it naturally comes, it dwarfs anything you could've prepared beforehand.

What about you writers out there? What were some favorite ways your characters' evolution brought out your own?


Monday, May 19, 2014

A Kind Of Alchemy

Manipulating an arrangement of inner particles to transform a dull, base substance into something pure, noble, becomes the very elixir of life so many artists find perpetually sustaining. By this practice we pry apart our dimming internal constellations and re-order them in a sequence whose altered gravity rejuvenates us as we never anticipated.

Yesterday's dark, looming moons can be whisked away by the orbital pull of today's creation, becoming tomorrow's underlying clusters that new rising discoveries leave behind. What was familiar, chart-able, is broken down and scattered to every empty corner, birthing unpredictable organic links.

Recurring obstruction and unbalanced negativity are magnetically repelled around a core of invention, by centrifugal fields of fresh thinking, while habitual fixation becomes unstable and bonds with flowering arrays of patient focus.

Anything shed is not lost, but re-purposed, feeding the crystalline spread it once hindered across the space between a thousand nothings, revealing the unfurling canvas of an intricate, unified, something.



Saturday, May 17, 2014

That Sweet Lightning

It's that gorgeous girl you've always wanted from afar, ready and willing at your doorstep. She didn't knock. She didn't need to--you heard her saunter up the steps, can feel her boiling expectation when you wrench open the cumbersome barrier to meet her face to face. And in this encounter, you're not clumsy. You don't trip over words. You know what she wants you to say when her lips breathe it into yours, and your synchronous delivery pulls her in tight, her momentum feeding your own till you forget your name, your station, every worldly shackle, and awaken clean, weightless.

It's that secret trail splitting off from steel and stone, past buzzing hives of insult and injury to a place you've seen in a thousand short blinks but never touched. And when you get there, you know there's nothing to follow back the way you came, no prints left behind you'd recognize as your own.

It's that supercharged current lifting you from stifling repetition, careening you crisp with hairs on end over the erected hedges of routine to see an untamed frontier at your feet.

Maybe it strikes so erratically because, were it to become a common, predictable thing, it could be purchased, sold, cheaply induced. Maybe it seeks us when we haven't sought anything in a long while, and the repressed soul, demanding to be heard, sparks and brews the beginnings of a storm.

Some of the most satisfying pieces of dialogue I've ever written hit me in the middle of a monotonous day job. Characters I'd loved and cultivated for years had met hundreds of times in this vivid, clear-cut vacuum to which I could never lend proper sound. And then, one day, as I was pushing around a mop or picking up trash, the lines just came, rhythmic and lyrical with force that refused to be forgotten.

The words were there, buried in fully-fledged throats aching to be coughed free, and only needed me to allow a bit of thunder in to crack the silence.

And, as quickly as it swoops in, it dissipates, leaving you to ride the ebb and flow of new waters that babble in laughter while you search for its immediate return, instead of searching here, now, so far from where you were.

It will be back, when the static is palpable and your inner clouds take on a restless sheen promising to burst.

It will be back.