The Asymptotic Ending

asymptoteAs I come to the end of my novel I find that the effort required to write is increasing exponentially in proportion to how close I am to the end.

All of the threads in the story are coming together and my mind is working overtime to hold all of them in place.

Plus, I have a fear that the story will not come to an organized end.

The last two scenes of The Tome of Worlds are an epic city siege of Koronan and an exhalation of sorts before the second novel begins. Even though I know how the battle turns and how the story concludes itself I find myself not wanting to put the protagonist, Aedinn Finn, into the fray.

These fears remind me of an awful story I wrote years ago called Threads of TimeI wrote the story during the summer of 1999 while I was working at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Sign

Los Alamos National Laboratory Sign (Photo credit: Cavalier92)

I had just won an award for science fiction writing at MIT, and I thought quite well of myself, so I tackled a story I had wanted to write for some time on the question of faith–God, destiny, and all of that.

In Threads of Time, the protagonist, let’s call him George, started to have dreams about a place that existed outside of time. The place he imagined outside of time was a bar where notable figures from throughout history came and mingled with each other. Each person within the bar thought they were dreaming, but while they were there they were inspired to the achievements for which they became known.

Einstein was there. Newton. Hemingway. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but that was not the point of the story. Threads of Time was about an approaching nexus.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I went with the idea that every time we make a decision, two possible realities are created–one reality for each decision you could have made. With billions and billions of people throughout our history there would be an exponentially increasing number of threads in the human existence.

In Threads of Time a nexus approached where all of the threads created throughout human history were coming together to one point.

Much like my novel.

In Threads of Time George had to push the human race through the nexus through an act of faith.

I was hoping I could do the same with The Tome of Worlds.

Threads of Time was a good short story idea, but in the end I could not bring the story together.

Oh, I finished it. Wrote an ending, but the ending was not satisfying. The story was my attempt at dealing with my own questions about and issues with the subject of faith.

As you can see, I didn’t deliver.

And now, as I come to the end of The Tome of Worlds, I feel that the curse of Threads of Time is coming back, but in a bigger way since The Tome of Worlds is much more massive.

If only I could dream of the bar, go there, and be inspired to finish the story.

Writing the penultimate scene as I wrote the rest of the novel, on faith and instinct, isn’t going to work, I realize. I have to organize the last battle, something I loathe doing, but I see no other way around attacking the problem.

Yesterday I drew a map of Koronan, which I had yet to do, because up to this point the only part of the story that took place in Koronan was the beginning when Aedinn Finn was imprisoned in Kol Uthera. He never went outside the Tower. epic battle scene

I needed a battle map, similar to the maps I used when I played Dungeons and Dragons and Mech Warrior with my D20 dice.

Up to this point I had avoided any advice on writing, because I’d had my fill of writing advice. I have stacks and stacks of writing books that I read long ago. The last thing I wanted to do was read another piece about writing, but I needed a nudge.

I came across this site on writing fantasy battle scenes.

http://www.stormthecastle.com/mainpages/for_writers/writing-a-fantasy-battle-scene.htm

Common sense, really. Just organization, but I needed to see the advice even if I knew what I needed to do.

The point of my rambling in this post is that even though I have well founded fears about the end of the novel the way to attack those fears is to just write. Just do it.

Even if I go back and scrap the entire final battle scene just write it.

I wish a bar would open in my dreams and help me finish the novel, but that’s not going to happen.

However, I will go to a real bar when the novel is done.

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Unintentional Love Stories

Nothing But YouWhen I started to write my novel, The Tome of Worlds, I had no idea where the story would go.

You see, years ago I wrote an opening to the novel where a Jaunter (a person who can travel from one place to another instantaneously–see The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester) has come to the faun village of Biggleswade to investigate the disappearance of their statue, The Lady, who had been sent to guard their village after the fall of Panthea of Old, also known as The Four Mountains, the faun home created by Pan.

So much has changed since I wrote that opening scene.

Now Aedinn Finn wakes up in a room in a tower not knowing who he is or from where he came, but soon he is drawn into the mystery of why the disease that befell the fauns long ago and drove them out of their ancient homeland has returned.

I let Aedinn Finn find his way out of that room, and what happened from there on was a story that grew all on its own.

The Stars My DestinationFrom that beginning somehow a love story developed. I won’t name the names or tell too much about the circumstances, but the love story spans time and multiple dimensions, or as I call them, tapestries. The love story is not the focus of the novel, but Aedinn Finn’s love is what drives him to figure out his place in The Nyre Lands.

I wonder.

Long ago, before my accident, I wrote a short story called The Prometheus Decision. The story is about a teen-aged boy who lives in a near future where a conscious artificial intelligence tells you what you should do with your life based on what’s best for the human race. The AI has the common good in mind, so every decision it makes is based on the need for the human race to survive and excel. When teenagers reach a certain age they make a symbolic trip to the Prometheus and ask what they should do with their life. The story was inspired, I think, by the classic science fiction movie Colossus: The Forbin Project.Coloussus: The Forbin Project

I thought The Prometheus Decision had a good premise. I knew where I wanted to go with the story, but as with The Tome of Worlds, the story took on a life of its own.

Hector, the main character, had a love named Julia. For the story I knew it was important to convey how Hector felt about Julia. To that end I read a short story collection called Nothing But You: Love Stories from The New Yorker. I studied how masters of literature wrote about love. 

My takeaway from reading all of those short stories was the advice every writer receives. Show. Don’t tell.

I wrote and rewrote the scenes with Julia until I was exhausted and didn’t want to look at the writing anymore. To this day I feel that those scenes are some of the best I’ve ever written. But here’s the thing. The focus of The Prometheus decision was supposed to be about the society where an artificial intelligence answers the question most of us have at some point in our life, “What am I supposed to do with my life?”

Instead, the story turned into a love story focused on how Prometheus’ decision affects Hector and Julia.

How did that happen?

I wrote the story at a time when I was wondering what I should do with my life, but I guess I also had love on the brain. Or maybe Hector did. Who knows what I was thinking 14 years ago? I sure don’t. I don’t even remember what I had for dinner a week ago.

I wonder.

Maybe I didn’t have love on the brain. Maybe love simply finds its way into stories that move us? Even if the love story isn’t the focus of the novel or story you are reading you see love in virtually every story, The Dark Tower series. The Forever War. Even in YA books you see hints of love to come. Harry Potter. The False Prince. The Book of Three. 

Do stories have to have love in order for the story to move us?

 

A Review of The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

From the book description courtesy of Goodreads:

The False Prince

THE FALSE PRINCE is the thrilling first book in a brand-new trilogy filled with danger and deceit and hidden identities that will have readers rushing breathlessly to the end.

In a discontented kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.

An extraordinary adventure filled with danger and action, lies and deadly truths that will have readers clinging to the edge of their seats.

As with all of my reviews, no spoilers.

The False Prince is a fun book with a twisty ending that might cause sleep deprivation if reading before bed is your habit. I have a set time I go to bed because I wake up early to write. Jennifer Nielsen’s The False Prince foiled me three times last week, keeping me up way past my bedtime.

What kept me reading were the mysteries that were added with each chapter. Question upon question. Not only was there the overarching question of who would become the next prince, but you come to wonder what happened to the previous prince? The royal family? Then there are other questions. Who are these boys Conner has chosen? What’s Conner’s motivation? All of these questions are layered on chapter by chapter.

Still, the mark of a good story is how you come to feel about the characters. In The False Prince you come to care for Sage and the other boys who are recruited to play the role of prince. Their lives do not improve after leaving the orphanage, because while they have better food and clothing, the possibility of death hangs over them all. The supporting cast charms you as well, propelling interest towards the next book, The Runaway King.

The real find, in my opinion, is the protagonist, Sage,  a witty, funny boy, with a depth that unfolds over the course of the story, and though you might think you know how the story will end, you will be surprised. At least I was.

For me, characters make the story. I don’t think we’d care much about Hogwarts or Diagon Alley if Harry, Ron and Hermione had been written as flat and uninteresting. Jennifer Nielsen has created characters you will come to enjoy (or loathe).

In fact, Jennifer Nielsen’s writing reminds me of JK Rowland’s in that the only details given are those needed to advance the story. Her characters shine through. That’s the strength of her writing, in my opinion.

The False Prince is a fun book for all ages. I say if you like Harry Potter, give The False Prince a try. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Why only 4 stars? I was left wanting to know more about the world Jennifer Nielsen has created. She gives just enough to get us through the story, but I wanted to know more. I come from reading novels by Patrick Rothfuss, Terry Goodkind, and Raymond Feist, where maybe too much meat is given. It’s a hard balance to strike, and I think Jennifer almost got there. I imagine more holes will be filled in with The Runaway King.

Great start to a trilogy.

Finding the Time: Full Time Writing in a Full Time Life

A couple of days ago The Huffington Post put up an article on the daily rituals of famous authors such as Joseph Heller, William Faulkner and Maya Angelou.

William Faulkner, 1954

William Faulkner, 1954 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Faulkner worked as a nightshift supervisor at a university power plant. Wrote in the afternoon. Took cat naps when he needed them.

Joseph Heller wrote for 2-3 hours a night for eight years to finish Catch-22. By day he worked in the advertising departments of Time and McCall’s.

Maya Angelou checks herself into a spartan motel or hotel with a bible, a deck of cards, a dictionary, and a bottle of sherry and writes from 7 am until 12-2 pm. 

I won’t pull out his memoir to be sure I have this right, but Stephen King spoke about how early on he and his wife lived in a trailer and he would type out his novels while bouncing their baby on his knee.

I don’t pretend to be in their league, but reading about how legendary authors lived their lives made me think about how I fit writing into my life. I have a full time position at the Lockheed Martin Skunkworks here in southern California, but I am also a full time dad, especially on the weekends. Full time job. Full time family. How does writing, which should be considered a job, fit in?

At first I didn’t even try to fit writing into my life. I always intended to write a novel, but once I had kids I put the idea on the back burner and told myself I would come back to it when the kids were older. And then, in the summer of 2012 I asked myself, “Why are you waiting?”

I mean, I do have leisure time. I’ve spent HOURS playing video games like Lord of the Rings Online, Dark Age of Camelot, Skyrim…Oblivion. I love role playing games. I love the story. But always in the back of my mind there was a voice asking, “What are you doing? You have a world in your head. Play in that one.”

Well, last summer I decided to start writing. Seriously. Oh, before last summer I had written about the lore of The Nyre Lands. Had written about Aedinn Finn. Janus Riberin. I’d even written the prologue to the story. But all of that writing was intermittent. Sporadic.

Last summer we went on vacation to La Push, Washington, where Alefiya and I were married in 2008. At La Push I started writing in a journal while listening to the waves crash onto the beach. Very peaceful. I wrote early in the morning or when Conor needed a nap. After we returned from our trip, I started writing 4-7 days a week, but we were no longer on vacation. Writing daily became a challenge, so I had to figure out how to fit writing into my life.

How’d I do it?

Organization. Scheduling. Obviously, but I’ve never been good at organizing my life. I waste time with the best of them. Procrastinate like a pro. But I realized that if I wanted to write, be a writer, I had to write every day. The best time in our house to do anything where you need quiet is in the morning. Again, I was never a morning person, but morning was the only time I could count on having the peace and quiet I needed for writing. So, I started waking up a 4 am. At first it was tough, but over time waking up that early became a habit. Since then I’ve conditioned my body to wake up at 4 am EVERY DAY. Nowadays I am often up before my alarm goes off.

Here’s my schedule: 

4am: Up and in the shower
4:30: Bulletproof coffee made and I’m at the computer
4:30-5: Manage social media empire
5-6: Write
6:30-4: At work
4-7pm: At home with kids
7-8pm: Hang out with Alefiya
8pm-9pm: In bed, reading

During lunch at work I write a few hundred words. Sometimes I write in the evening if Alefiya and I have decided to do separate activities, but I try to be in bed by 8pm, which doesn’t leave much time in the evening to write.

Of course that’s my schedule. When you have a family your life can’t be that structured. You can’t count on having the time to write. Usually the kids sleep until at least 6, but there’s no guarantee that’s going to happen. If Isabella is up before 6, my writing ends then, because quiet time is over. Now it’s kiddo time.

Up until about a month ago I would become frustrated when Isabella woke up early. Dumb, I know. She’d come in to where I was writing, usually when my mind was locked in, seeing the other world, thinking a character’s thoughts, and she’d start talking about her night, the dreams she’d had, and how she now wanted food. At the time all I wanted to do was finish my thought. So, I would become frustrated.

In hindsight, silly. Isabella is 3 years old. She has no concept of the idea that dad is in the middle of something. I’ve now accepted that when Isa wakes up, the writing is done until there is another pause in the action that is life. Plus, there are going to be times when the kids are sick, or Alefiya is sick, or I am sick, or all three. When one of those things happens, writing is damn near impossible. We went through a patch during the winter where at least one of us was sick. I didn’t get much sleep when that happened, and consequently I didn’t write much.

Something else that’s dawned on me is that my kids aren’t going to want my attention forever. There’ll come a day when Isabella will be up and out the door, wanting to hang out with her friends, not needing or wanting anything from me. I need to savor these times.

What most people who pursue dreams have to realize is that the pursuit of that dream has to fit into your life. The pursuit has to fill in those nooks and crannies that life gives you from time to time. Never should you be bored when you pursue your dreams. Maybe if you land that big contract you can do what Thomas Mann did and close the door to your study at 9 am and refuse visitors, phone calls, or messages until noon. No noise allowed. But until then, the art finds its place.

Writing a novel is a marathon, a journey. Over the past year life has happened. In between, in those gaps where one would normally breathe, pause, I’ve been writing. And now I’m on the last leg of the race. Passed the quarter pole. I have something that’s looking like a novel, and along the way I’ve learned a few lessons. The most important is that patience is king. And if you ever read my novel you will see how patience (take a deep breath. Piecemeal), plays a very important role.

Do you want to know what my dream schedule looks like?

4-5am: Manage social media empire
5-9am: Write
9-11am: Nap, shower
11am-bed: Interact with the world

And now, off to work.

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Aikido and Its Role in The Tome of Worlds

If you’ve read the post How The Worlds Within Came to Be, you will know that Janus Riberin, and subsequently the whole setting for The Tome of Worlds, came to me after a bicycle-vehicular accident.

Before that accident I studied in an Aikido dojo in the Ravenna area of north Seattle. A couple days a week I would roll around the mats and practice throwing and being thrown. There is a dance, a movement to Aikido that is elegant and beautiful. Aikido is a peaceful martial art. Not violent. You dance with your opponent, bring them into your sphere and push them out. The Aikido philosophy is akin to meditation. Acknowledge your opponent (problem) and push it out of your sphere.

A classical aikido throw being practiced. Tori...

A classical aikido throw being practiced. Tori maintains balance and structure to throw uke, while uke safely takes a forward roll (mae ukemi). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Aikido is the basis for the fighting and philosophical bent of the Jaunters in The Tome of Worlds.

I did not set out to use Aikido as the philosophical core of the Jaunters, but as I was writing, particularly the fight scenes, I fell onto Aikido.

Jaunters engage in staff fighting, and Aikido’s movements are based on ancient spear and sword techniques, which translate over to staves. In fact the weapons training we did in Aikido used staves. 

jaunter staff

The protagonist, Aedinn Finn, has been thrust into an altogether foreign world, and he has no clear memory of how he got there. How did he deal with being in The Nyre Lands? How did he make it through those first few weeks, especially as the Tower of Kol Uthera tortured his mind? Aikido.

Aedinn Finn does not remember that he learned the philosophy of Aikido, but its ways are imprinted upon his mind, and combined with his innate resiliency, he is able to deal with being thrust into a new land with no idea of his place.

Aedinn Finn takes to the staff, and at times he questions why he is a natural with the ways of Jaunter combat. He wonders how he learned to fight with the staff. How he is able to take problems in, acknowledge them, and then shrug them off. His innate sense of how to deal with problems, of how to be a  Jaunter come from when he studied Aikido in our world.

Aedinn Finn is younger than me. More rash. More prone to wading into conflict without a second thought. But in other ways he mirrors me. I took to Aikido like I had grown up practicing its ways, and its philosophy has served me well not only in the time right after the accident, but also in my day to day life since then.

aikido

If you want to learn more about Aikido without taking a class I recommend the book Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere. I quote its teachings throughout The Tome of Worlds, and I do not believe Aedinn Finn would be as sane as he is today if he had not spent time in that Aikido Dojo.

It’s a Second Job, Not a Hobby

Since I put my mind to the task of writing the story that’s inhabited my mind for over ten years, the process has gained momentum, and for me it has become a second job that I squeeze into the moments between the rest of my life.
A.K. Anderson encapsulates almost everything I have to say.

Alicia K. Anderson

The topic for this post came about after talking with some of my writer friends about the work we do after-hours. Many of us are in the same boat, we work all day, then we come home and write.  It also came about because we’re goal-setting at the office for 2013, and I’m not sure what to put in my self-development category.

My long-long term goal is to not have to do SEO anymore professionally. I want to get to a financially stable enough place that I can write full time, and what hit-and-miss market-dependent income I make that way will be supplemental for the household.  My long-term plan is to be a writer.

The only way to make this career shift happen is to work both jobs in tandem for a while, and to take the writing portion as seriously as I could consulting work or other moonlighting gigs I’d…

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Traditional or Self-Publishing…that is the question

The lead-in question has been on my mind a great deal over the past couple of weeks. Why? Well, I’ll get to that, but first the journey…

Next (Journey album)

No, not that Journey.

Over the weekend I caught up in transcribing my handwritten journal, a task I set myself to with abandon with my wife away for the weekend, because I have been frightened over losing the journal, and with it all that I have written.

Finished with the task I now sit at over 114,000 words, which, depending on how many words you assign to a page (I’ve seen a range of 250-400), my story spans between 280 and 400 pages.

What does page count mean? Squat, really. The story will end when it ends, but when I tell people how many words I’ve written they almost always ask me to translate the number into pages.

If you read the blog I posted several days ago about my trip to UCLA you will know that I now see the scenes on the path to the end. I call them waypoints. Probably from playing all those video games. As I talked to myself on the way to UCLA that day I found out that my mind had been doing work behind my back. Lucky for me the novel gnomes had been busy and finished the rest of the novel for me. Now I just have to put words to paper.

What does this mean for me? The end is in sight. Sure, there will be a part II. Again, my mind has gone there already, but I see a resolution to the current conflict and that’s where this novel, Part I, will end.

Oh, and I have a full title for the novel,

The Tome of Worlds, Part I of The Worlds Within

OK, now what? Where will I go with the manuscript after it’s done? Well, it’ll sit in a drawer (folder) for at least a month while I write a science fiction short story that’s been eating at my mind in parallel. After a month I will pull the novel out of the drawer and revise with what I hope is a fresh(er) eye. Then the novel will be seen for the first time by eyes other than mine. Several people have volunteered to read the manuscript, and I have an online group to which I can feed the novel. From there I will look at it again with my own eyes, revise, and then send it off to a copyeditor.

And after that copyeditor? Well, there’s the lead-in question.

I’ve read many points of view on the debate, but even some of the most die-hard self publishers say you should query agents. I will query agents, of course, but I am aware of the lottery I am playing, which is why I am proceeding along as if I am going to self publish. I am looking at distribution models, data analytics, and cover art.

Sad to say, but unless I do research all I have to go on is what draws my eye, and what draws me to novels is great cover art. Even if by some miracle I am picked up by an agent and publishing house I will still have to promote myself, and great art depicting scenes from my novel will help with promotion.

To that end I have asked family members who are talented at illustration to draw characters, landmarks and scenes from my story, which I will publish on my various social media sites when the illustrations are done. Also, I’ve started the search for cover artists, and so far I have two prospects, whom I’ve linked below. If you have an opinion on either one I’d love to hear it.

http://www.aaronbmiller.com/

http://steve-roberts.artistwebsites.com/featured/enchanted-princess-steve-roberts.html

But back to self publishing and the great debate (at least in my mind). Someone, somewhere attributed a quote to Louis CK, the comedian. I cannot verify if Louis CK did say this nugget of wisdom, but the words are stuck in my mind. I paraphrase:

“If you are good enough, you should go it alone. Own your work. Be your own publicist. Be your own agent. No one will have your passion. And if you aren’t good enough, no one will want you anyway so you might as well go it alone.”

Unless you sign your life away with an agent or publishing house, I don’t see why you can’t go promote yourself and have an agent and publisher. Publishing houses and agents open too many doors to be ignored. Besides, I have a family and a full time job. Even the limited amount of social media that I have been pursuing is eating up more time than I would like. I cannot imagine how I will organize my life if I have to self publish. Read Catherine Ryan Howard’s blog, Catherine, Caffeinated. She has a great post on the work you should be doing if you want to self publish.

On the other side of the coin, querying agents and publishing houses take time. You have to be patient. Can I be patient? I can. Scott Southard, who just released A Jane Austen Daydream, told me that an author querying agents should set a time limit for himself. If after 8-12 months you have not had success, self publish the book and move on to the next project.

51OzLx+mrNL

And that’s where I stand now. Scott’s advice sits well with me. The first draft editing process has yet to begin, but my mind is at ease knowing that I have a plan.

What did Robert Heinlein say?

“Certainly the game is rigged. Don’t let that stop you; if you don’t bet you can’t win.”