A Summer Update, and Writing Monoliths

I am working on an espionage novel, trying to get it into shape for submission. That’s my big summer project, along with promoting the new novel Haxan. When I am finished with that I will turn my attention to writing a new Haxan novel in the series. I think I have a weighty enough idea for that.

When I first began to write I was worried I wouldn’t have enough ideas. But the nasty secret (and it’s not so secret) is you come up with too many ideas. So you have to pick and choose which ones are worth your time, and which ones are not.

I am reminded of the enigmatic Monolith in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The idea behind the aliens was they cultivated intelligence where they thought it might take root, and when necessary dispassionately weeded the growth.

Writing ideas, and how they take root in your mind, are a lot like that. Not all ideas are created equal. You must pick and choose which ones are worth your time. I will come across an idea and think, “No, I will let someone else write that one.”

Not because I think a particular idea is beneath me. I determine someone can do a better job with that idea than I can. I have to maximize my time with ideas that excite me. If I think I can do something interesting then I am on board. If I think it will be another average retelling…I cull it out.

So, yes, ideas are very important. Not that short stories can’t be weighty. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” comes to mind. But you need an idea that holds up over the length of a novel. “The Lottery” works as a short story. I am not certain it could work as a novel. Similarly, Moby-Dick is an excellent novel and would be difficult to present as a short story. (Although I have tried.)

So those are my summer plans. I’m in the thick of them as we speak. I’ll let you know how things develop.




CZP Bought My New Haxan Novel QUATERNITY for July 2015!

A lot of good news on the writing front, recently. Haxan has just been published by CZP last week, and I also learned they want to buy PulpFiction_112013_DSCF0017Quaternity for a July 2015 publication date.

As followers of this blog know Quaternity has a very special place in my mind. I wrote that novel, all 85,000 words, in 19 days. I mean, that was after about a year and a half of starts, stops, thinking about it, etc. Border trips, which I blogged about, and other research and fact finding trips.

Then, suddenly, the flood gates opened and it poured forth. It was an amazing experience in many ways. and as a result the novel became personally important to me. Yes, I think it’s my best. I tried to do something very different in that novel, both substantively and personally. I set out to write an anti-western, even an anti-mythological western. A complete break with the cliches and mythology that has held much of the western genre back for over a century.

That’s what I wanted to do. I will flat out say I think I have succeeded.

Those who know me know I don’t say that lightly.

I knew it was a big goal when I started the project. I was never certain I would find the key to unlock what was holding me back. After all that time spent and no real pages to show for it, I never quit. I never for one moment thought the story idea and what I was trying to accomplish wasn’t worthwhile or didn’t hold up.

That’s not always true with every story. Sometimes a writer learns when to walk away from a story. I never felt that with Quaternity. I always believed there was something special there, if only I could tease it out.

If only I could find the key.

I did. I finished the novel in 19 days and was floored at that process. Submitted it. It went through a couple of rewrites, and now CZP wants it for next year.

I couldn’t be happier!

It’s a validation. A big one. Yes. It’s that important to me.

Valkyrie Artwork as Reflection for “Remember Me in the Halls of Valhalla”

When I was working on a story entitled “Remember Me in the Halls of Valhalla” I wanted to portray the Valkyries as true death-maidens rather than generic (and cliched) fantasy figures.

In my search I landed upon some artwork on the Internet. Just wanted to share some of them with you here. I never used them as inspiration. I already had that. But I looked at them closely after I had written the story to see if I could find inklings of that fierce death-maiden aspect I was going for.

Ride of the Valkyries by Miss Velance

Ride of the Valkyries by Miss Velance


Valkyrie by Avery Annarose

Valkyrie by Avery Annarose


The Dises by Hardy

The Dises by Hardy






I have no credit for this last image, but it brought to mind the tone and darker atmosphere I was searching for in the story.

The Eyes of the Valkyrie

Several days ago I finished my new Haxan short story “Remember Me in the Halls of Valhalla” and I think it came out okay.

Eyes of a Valkyrie

Eyes of a Valkyrie

I had a scene where I wanted to show these Valkyries were unlike the common blonde-haired, blue-eyed fantasy figures you often see. These were more like true death-maidens (though still beautiful) which is how they are portrayed in the Elder Edda, and other ancient sources.

In one paragraph I had the chieftain. Kara Wind-Travel, looking over the iron rim of her shield at Marwood as she recognized who (and what) he really was.

So I needed a pair of eyes.

Writers always steal body parts from other people. It’s a not-so secret thing we do. Truth is, most people never see themselves in fiction anyway, because as you write you tend to change other parts as well. Hence, the organic process that is writing…and most art in general.

But I really needed a startling pair of eyes to get me to bring out a very important part of the chieftain’s fierce character, and her emotion.

So I contacted a friend and asked if I could borrow her eyes for the story. She said yes, and the rest is history.

You know, sometimes being a writer is really pretty damn cool. You can make people kind of happy by doing what you do, and get a good story in the process.

But more importantly, you just kind of make your friends happy.  🙂

Reflection on Story Present

I’ve been struggling with my new story “Remember Me in the Halls of Valhalla” for several weeks now.

To put things in perspective I haven’t been writing a lot lately. Personal stuff has roared in and stolen much of my time. It happens. But I have kept this story on the front burner in my mind.

Several nights ago I had a breakthrough on the plot. I usually have a vague idea where I want to go and what direction a story should take. I knew where I wanted to go with this one, but the direction was shaky.

I always believed writing is an organic process. I knew a solution would come. I slept on it and the idea continues to hold up. I need to be careful, though, because the “reveal” which is part of the story could overwhelm everything else.

So I’m going ahead with this idea and see where the remainder of the story lands.

For future projects I’d like to get one or two more short stories written and then move ahead with a summer project I’ve been planning for months now. More on that later. Maybe. Not trying to be a tease, I’m not 100% certain I will tackle it, or that I will have the opportunity.

But I think I will, and the idea excites me enough to see where that story might go. For me, that’s the fun part.


Water Reflection

Quaternity and Haxan Update

Still have some personal things on my plate which take precedence over everything else, but I wanted to catch you up on my

Busy writer is busy.

Busy writer is busy.

writing so far.

I finished the second draft of Quaternity and sent it to the publisher for review. I thought they had a lot of really good advice for me and I believe the novel is that much stronger for it. I feel I am lucky they took the time to critique it at this depth and commit so much time to it. They didn’t have to do that.

I added about 3,000 words to the original manuscript and now it runs about 78,000 total. Fleshed out some characters and brought Marwood more to the forefront in key scenes where he was something of a background character. I’m happy with how things have progressed regarding this novel. If you’ve been following this blog you know how much trouble I had with this book until the flood gates opened and I wrote the entire novel in 19 days. Pretty crazy, but I still view this novel as the best thing I have ever done. I raised the bar on myself a lot with this book and I was glad I met my goals.

I’ve also got news in the upcoming days regarding the novel Haxan which will be published by CZP in May of this year. Please, keep checking back.


The Writing Log Jam is Finally Breaking Apart

I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough on the short story I’m working on. It’s called “Remember Me in the Halls of Valhalla”. I started this story at writer-smoking-pipe.jpgthe last WorldCon in San Antonio.

I knew if I thought about it long enough, and talked to a couple of writers and bounced some ideas, something would come to me. I think I see a way out. I like the direction that is starting to take shape in my mind for this story. I’m kind of eager to see how it will all turn out, assuming I sit myself down and actually write it.. I’ve also had a helpful idea or two regarding the hobo novel which I put aside. I am hoping these log jams are starting to break up and I can start producing work again.

In other writing news I heard from CZP and sent them some marketing stuff for the upcoming Haxan novel which will be published next year. I had a good time working on that because it got me to thinking about the novel again, which I haven’t done much lately. I have  a tendency to put a story behind me completely when I’m finished with it because my whole process is “Start writing the next one.”

Everything else being equal (which it never is) I’m okay with where my writing is at the moment. I’d really like to finish this particular short story, though, because I want to find something else to work on.

Short stories are fine in the interim. But I want a bigger project to occupy my time.

My New Story Coming from Frontier Tales, and a Discussion of Character Motivation Revealed by Voice and Style

Frontier Tales has accepted a new Haxan story from me. It will appear in September. Magra Snowberry must get home to find the man she loves. Standing in her way are four horsemen.The title is as yet undecided.

I’m really excited about this story for many reasons. It features Magra Snowberry and tells the story how she tries to get home to the man she loves. Standing in her way are four peculiar horsemen, and a ferryman who tries to help her.

I wrote this some months after I finished the Haxan prequel Quaternity. Some of the stylistic language is similar, along with a decidedly literary bent. I did this for a purpose. I no longer write stories only to transcribe action. I now try to write for the ear as well. I write for the voice.

How a story sounds is just as important to me as how it reads. I wasn’t always that way. But I am fully wedded to that philosophical idea today. I think the Rubicon I crossed was with the short story “Fishing the Styx” because in that tale I went far the other direction from a simple retelling of action.

I do this because I have never viewed my role as a fiction writer coupled with that as a stenographer. Right or wrong, I view my role as a writer more important than that. I view fiction as more important than that. Of course, I always try to be careful to avoid pretension. Stories that rely on that dynamic alone always collapse under their own weight. So it’s a balancing process…and one I admit I have yet to master.

But I think I’m getting there.

While I like the story as is, it remains for the reader to decide for himself whether my stylistic choices, and my philosophical choices, work.

I tend to like stories that take chances and I took a few here. I hope you like them.

Magra Snowberry has always been a character who intrigues me in a very different way than, say, Marwood. John Marwood brings his own identity to each and every story. But I have always thought Magra was more malleable. Not in a sense of weakness. Her malleability comes with her innate ability to adapt.

Magra is more philosophically fluid, if that makes sense, than Marwood. Or, perhaps, anyone else around her.

Also, when push comes to shove, she’s as willing to take the long red road of violence to achieve her ends as Marwood. I think the difference between her and Marwood is he sometimes tries to couch his actions within the framework of the law. He’s not always successful.

Magra, on the other hand, isn’t so wedded to thoughts of justice or the arc of law. She’s not more nihilistic than Marwood. She’s more practical.

She’d rather be left alone. But if you keep getting in her way there’s going to be pain involved.

A lot of pain.

It’s very easy to write about Marwood. You always know how he’s going to jump. I don’t necessarily view this as a point of strength. I’ve had characters say in several stories that Marwood never changes. “The west is changing, but you stay the same.”

It’s not a compliment. It’s an indictment of his lifestyle. It’s a warning to him (and people like him)  a rigid worldview is not going to hold up to the pressing arc of history.  Other people see this. He can’t. He never can. At the moment it’s his strength. But he’s not stupid. He realizes the inability to change or adapt will, one day, prove disastrous.

Simply put, Marwood is unable to learn from the history he has lived. He doesn’t look back and he doesn’t look forward. He is trapped in the now.  He is trapped by Fate.

Magra, on the other hand, views life and death in longer terms. This comes from her ability to night-walk along with her powers as a bruja.

She is not trapped or limited by Fate. She weaves Fate.

When I first started writing these stories Magra didn’t have the elevated position she now holds. I think in some of the very early stories she comes across as the damsel in distress. I changed that forever with the story “Vengeance is Mine” published in the anthology Beauty Has Her Way.

I originally wrote that story from Marwood’s perspective, but the editor, Jennifer Brozek, made me see the story would be more powerful and possess more emotional resonance if viewed from Magra’s perspective. This made me take a long and serious look at Magra and forced me to elevate her place in the pantheon of Haxan characters. Who, for the most part, tend to be broken and flawed people trying to survive in  a violent world.

Magra was always important, of course, and especially strong-willed. But now she had to take those characteristics and apply them in a way that would make the fiction interesting and memorable.

Magra came into her own in the short story “Vengeance is Mine” and she’s never turned back. I’m pretty happy about that because it makes her a viable character with her own stories to tell.

This new story is a continuation of that. When the story comes out I’ll link it here on the blog for you.

Hope you like it. 🙂

In an upcoming story Magra Snowberry meets four horsemen. This can't end well.

Looking at a Story with Fresh Eyes

I’m a couple of chapters into the new novel.Sleeping and looking at the story later always works for me.

After I wrote the first chapter I was pretty okay with it. I knew it wasn’t perfect but there was enough there for me to feel it was well within my ability to fix.

After I went to sleep and looked at it the next morning I saw it afresh. This helped a lot. It always does. I experience this quite often with my writing and I know other people do. It never ceases to interest me, though. I can write a story and put it away and when I look at it again I see it in a whole new light.

I see things that were hidden to me and I can fix them. I like when this happens. I’ve been working on the opening to this novel since Monday. It’s still not perfect but it’s better than it was.

I’ll take that kind of progress any day of the week. 🙂





Writing What Makes You Uncomfortable

About a week ago I was emailing a writing friend of mine who was having trouble generating story ideas. That got me to thinking about something I wrote on this topic a while back, and I want to revisit it because I think it’s one of the strongest things any writer can do.

This conversation we had puts me in mind of a story I toyed with years and years ago but was never able to make it come together. I was attending a pool party one weekend and the host and hostess (who were both over 50) had a baby. One of my friends said, “I don’t think that’s their baby” but I knew it was and they laughed and said, yes, “God played a trick on us.”

But as a writer I got to thinking. Where’s the story potential in something like this? On the face of it this is a yawner. They had a young daughter, maybe she was 14 or 15, I can’t remember. But what if that baby was HER baby and thy parents were pretending it was theirs to protect her, or whatever….especially if she had been raped by someone maybe…especially if the father of her baby was HER father.

So there you have it. An innocent and happy experience I had at a pool party degenerated into something dark and depraved. Hooray!  I was a happy writer with a brand new idea.

So, how to write the story?

I thought about this father being a government official and he takes in a spy who is resting up after a tough mission and the reader the spy’s eyes,Dig deep into your imagination to find the best stories. discover the secret. Then I thought it could also be written from the daughter’s POV, which would be better, with her taking care of what is ostensibly the parents’ baby while the party is going on.

The theme of the story would be how we all wear masks to hide our true selves from others.

I tried several starts at this story. It never came together. So I moved on to other ideas and other stories.

But this conversation I had with my writer friend also got me to thinking about how sometimes I scare myself with my own imagination. Sometimes my own imagination is my own worst enemy.

There have been times I have imagined something happening to people I know that just scares me so much it feels like I am on an abyss. Now, I know intellectually these things aren’t going to happen. But that doesn’t mean my imagination takes a holiday.

So, not to make this all about me, but my point being with is when you think of one idea it can lead to something else, which leads to something else, etc.

I can’t tell you how often  meet people who want to write say they have a story idea and they tell it to me and there’s nothing else to go on. It’s just one idea.

You may not think that’s much to quibble about, but I’m telling you as a professional seeing how you can take one idea, and elaborate on it and use that to generate something else, trust me on this…that’s a pretty important tool in your toolbox.

Find what makes you uncomfortable. Always. Discover what you want to say about that idea and how you need to tell the story.

Use your imagination. Scare yourself.

You can thank me later. Or blame me. For writers, this is also a win-win. 🙂

Coasting Downhill

I finished reading my new novel Quaternity aloud.

This exercise was very helpful. Not only because I found some little mistakes, but I found places where it didn’t “sound” right. So I made the appropriate changes.

Truman Capote once said he wrote for the ear. There’s some truth in that, I think. Hearing the words read aloud brings the story into a new perspective for me. I’ve done this with parts of short stories, paragraphs, scenes. Never the entire novel. But this was something I decided to do a long time ago when and if I ever finished writing the novel.

I felt it was something necessary because I knew from the outset this would be a difficult novel to write. Since that was the case I figured I would have to go an extra mile to make sure it “sounded” right to the ear.

And, from what I can tell, it does.

All I have left is to write the synopsis and send it in to the publishers. Then I will read through the novel one last time, but that shouldn’t take long at all. It’s all downhill from here.


Seeing Your Story in a New Light

Today my writing buddy, Melissa Lenhardt, was editing her novel on hard copy. That’s right, she was using real sheets of paper.

I had almost forgotten what that stuff looked like.

We got to talking and she said it was very helpful to see her story on hard copy rather than a computer screen. It was like seeing in a different light, or venue, and she could find things wrong with the storycropped-writer-smoking-pipe.jpg she hadn’t seen before.

I have noticed this, too. I don’t know what it is about our brains, but when we read something online compared to a printed sheet, we read it differently. Or perceive it differently, or something.

I don’t know what’s at work here. but I have noticed when I am editing my own story it helps to look at it in these different ways. When I first started writing everything was on paper. We wrote, edited, and read the stories on paper. That has changed. But going Old School to edit your stories somehow gives you a different perspective.

I’m not arguing it’s a better perspective. I often find things cropping up on the computer screen I don’t find on hard copy, and vice versa. But I  think, for me at any rate, having that tactile sensation and handling hard copy when editing a story fires up different neurons in the brain. Or whatever it is that gets fired up in the brain. At the very least, because it is a different, we connect, react, and interpret things about it that are themselves different.

It really is like seeing your story in a new light.

I hope this isn’t coming across as one of those “Things were better in the Olden Days” posts. That’s not how I feel. But I have noticed when I look at something written on the computer screen and then hard copy, I perceive it differently. And it’s almost as if the information I glean from both media is itself different in some way and I integrate that into a whole.

Anyway, one thing I have also noticed, and this part never changes, which I think is a good sign. When I do see one of my published stories either in print or online, I always have the same reaction: Satisfaction.

And when you get down to it I guess that’s what we are working toward to begin with. 🙂

Setting Aside Ego for the Benefit of Story

A writer friend of mine, Paula C. Brown, asked how I go about writing notes for a novel. She wanted to know the method I use because Writing is mostly mental,not physical. Work on that part more than the other and you will be successful.she was having a little trouble getting focused.

This is a problem I run into myself when it comes to finding focus and generating ideas. I don’t have a secret recipe or magic key. Mostly I try and ignore it and hope the problem goes away.

This rarely works, as you might suspect. So I do try some of the same exercises each time. They usually do work. Or at least they work for me. Every writer goes about this game differently. I’m only going to relate what works for me.

When I start a story, or more specifically a novel, I make a brief outline. And by brief I mean brief.  I hand write out quotes, bits of dialog, ideas, characterizations, and research notes on a yellow legal pad. I almost always kick-start this process by coming up with names for the characters. If I can give a character a name I can visualize him better and imagine what types of situations he might find himself in. The story outline will then unfold from that initial process.

One of the reasons I do minimal outlining is I like the freedom it gives me. I knew a writer who made extensive notes on 3×5 cards, even to the point of working out the genealogy of characters who would never appear in the story. This worked for him. That would never work for me. I would find it too restrictive.

I like having a general direction, but nothing more than that. I have a theme I start with on, and everything else, names, scenes, plot, spirals out from that.

So that’s how I do it. Nothing special as you can see. I have a beginning, middle, and ending, but it’s always sort of hazy and I am not above changing everything if I believe it will benefit the story.

I’m not locked into anything when I write a story. I always put my ego aside. I do what is best for the story.

I admit working this way might be viewed as difficult for some. There are writers who want a lot more structure before they begin. But I have structure. It’s a bit hazy, like I said, but it exists. I simply do not set down every little jot before I begin. I have a direction, but the journey I take to get to the end….that’s a process I prefer remains organic.

Even as I work deeper into the novel I keep writing down ideas and notes as they come to me, and as I do more research. I may change names, settings, ideas, but the one thing I almost never change is the original theme.

More than anything else the theme is the first “idea” that comes to me. Everything else spirals outward from that.

On Pushing Your Writing Beyond Safe Boundaries

A writer friend of mine, Sandra Wickham, was trying to brainstorm ideas and found herself, in her own words, “floundering.” She wondered aloud if people had any tips on how to dig deep for a big idea.

I expect she got lots of good advice, because if writers have anything in over abundance it’s advice. Myself included. But, here is what I told her:

“Take chances. Push the envelope. Think outside the areas you are comfortable in and imagine what makes you uncomfortable.”

This fits in with my own philosophy about writing. I don’t believe in playing it safe when it comes to writing. I don’t know if that has ever been part of my makeup when it comes to writing, but it may have been early on before I wised up. I grew up a big Henry Miller fan and he was a huge inspiration to me when I started to write in a serious way. You can’t delve into Miller and come away with the thought process that your writing should be dull and uninspiring. You may not like Miller, but you can’t argue he ever played it safe.

Remember Marathon Man, that movie with Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier? There’s a chilling scene where Hoffman is asked over and over again by Olivier, “Is it safe? Is it safe?

As a writer I believe you should ask yourself the same question about every story you write. If the answer to any part of the story is Yes, it is safe…then you should probably pass it by unless you have a very good reason not to.

Here’s the reason. Let other writers write those safe stories. You need to concentrate on thinking outside the envelope and pushing past your comfort zone. It’s easy to write the same story over and over. But here’s the problem. Many other writers are already doing that. So you might as well take a chance and break out of that mold.

Sandra also mentioned in a conversation that she felt if she were a “real writer” she should have lots more ideas waiting to be written. As someone who has done this a long time I know from personal experience it’s not the number of ideas you have, it’s the quality.

And the quality comes, I believe, when you push yourself and try to work outside your comfort zone.

Some years back I used to train in Shotokan Karate. I got pretty good at it and was a final test away from getting my brown belt. But as I trained I learned it benefited me more to practice the things I wasn’t really good at more than the things I could do well. Writing is the same. There are probably many things about writing you can do well. So you need to work on your weaknesses instead. This is the mark of a good writer. This is the mark of a writer who grows.

Writing is hard enough without making it more difficult. A lot of these things come with experience and a belief in yourself. You gain a levels of trust and confidence within yourself as you advance. As you write and publish more stories you will become more secure in your abilities to take on new problems. Your writing will get better, and readers will definitely respond.

Or, you could write the same old safe story over and over again. You know. Like a lot of other people are doing.

Writing is an art form. Like all art you can be part of a crowd or break out. I once half-joked with another writer that if you’re not ticking someone off you are doing something wrong. But I was only half-joking, I think. Or, maybe, knowing me deep down, not joking at all.

I’m not saying it’s easy. I probably don’t succeed myself half the time. But the point is I try. And when I fail, I keep trying because the only other option is to play it safe.

That, more than anything else, is really what separates writers.

“Is it safe?”

Writing is the Art of Reality

I believe writing is the art of reality.Do you want your reader to read the same old boring story?

Writers paint in words. We use the world around us to create, and we create immense worlds. We aren’t constrained unless we let ourselves be constrained. We can take as much as we want, or as little, depending on the story that wants to be told.

We are in complete control. The only limitation is ourselves.

I was talking to a writer friend yesterday. There’s a person in her writing group who does not accept criticism of his work. Every word he writes is gold, every sentence glitters. In his mind he’s a writer, and everyone else, especially the reader, is always wrong.

I don’t have to spell out to you how toxic this is.

Earlier this week I followed a link to a writer’s published work. It was bad. The dialog was cringe-worthy. I honestly felt embarrassed for the writer.

How does stuff like that get past agents and editors? Seriously, how does it? So much for the vaunted gatekeepers.

But these are extreme examples. Most published writers are technically able to turn out a readable story. Readable, yes, but not memorable.

Or maybe the readers keep reading them because that’s the only option they have?

I have wrestled with this my entire life. I always try to challenge myself. If you follow this blog you know my peculiar philosophy. I’m not saying I am successful. I fail more often than I succeed, but I keep trying.

I love and respect writers who elevate their craft beyond the mundane. I like seeing genres grow out of their cliched roots and welcome new readers. That can’t happen unless writers are constantly challenging the status quo, however.

I don’t think I am alone in this. I believe most writers want to write well. I think they want to bring something new to the reader, and I believe the reader wants to be challenged and entertained.

But when writers take the safe path  everyone loses, and the genre is watered down.

Then again maybe I am wrong about every blasted thing we have talked about today. Maybe writing is not art. Maybe it’s only a method to shovel thoughts and ideas down to the reader. But I don’t believe that in my heart. I don’t believe most writers think that way about their craft, and I don’t believe readers think that way, either.

Meanwhile, a lot of people are getting published.

But, by comparison, I am seeing fewer writers in the process.

So my advice, FWIW, is take a chance. Stand out. Separate yourself from the pack.

Look, if all you want to do is get published, if that is your goal…well, anyone can do that. Nowadays it’s not difficult. But if you want to be a writer? That’s something else altogether. You will have to work to accomplish that goal.

Trust me. It’s worth it in the long run. You won’t always be successful and there are never any guarantees, especially in this ego-shattering profession. But when you are able to pull it off….man, is it ever worth it.

Tension and Compromise, the Charybdis and Scylla of Art

Speaking only for myself, but I find it’s important to find a workable balance between perfection and compromise. I was responding on a Finding a balance between compromise and perfection is a necessary ingredient in your writing.classical guitar forum earlier tonight and it got me to thinking about this problem in more detail. Not only how it affects facets of our lives, but, since this is primarily a writing blog, how that dynamic between perfection and compromise can affect our art.

This came home to me last week before a guitar lesson lesson. I was home practicing “Malagueña” in the bedroom. Someone poked their head in the door and said, “That was really good.”

I thanked her and said it was kind of hard for me because of all the triplets. But later I wondered about this. She was being honest. She thought it was good. But for myself…all I could hear were mistakes.

Later, I had a lesson with my classical guitar teacher and related this experience. He said it was normal and while he didn’t use the phrase “find a balance between perfection and compromise” he meant as much.

I told him all  could hear were the mistakes. I told him all I ever heard were the mistakes. He also said ordinary people listening to you play the guitar don’t always “hear” the mistakes you make. Not in the sense you, as the player, does. That’s not what they are listening for. He told me a story how he had performed on stage and honestly believed he had played the worst he ever had. Yet people in the audience, and one of them was a Big Names Musician, told him he was very good.

I thought about this and I imagine there might be some truth to it. Of course, you will always have severely critical people who will find fault with everything you do. I am very critical of myself as I related earlier. When it comes to writing, or playing the guitar, or anything else, you have to find a balance between perfection and compromise.

An excellent example of perfection gone wrong is when you meet a writer who has been working on the same story without moving on. They keep rewriting it, editing it, “perfeFinding a balance is necessary in art. cting” it. The result is the story never gets finished and never gets sold.

And when it doesn’t get sold it doesn’t get read.

Now I am not saying you should write a story and throw it out on its little baby feet and expect it to run a marathon.  But there comes a point in editing and rewrites where you reach diminishing returns.

Every successful professional writer I know, every one of them, writes a story, makes it as good as they possibly can, and then moves on. They never obsess over that one story trying to perfect it into a diamond. Yes, they spend time on it, they sweat blood and tears over it, they open their hearts to it, but they reach a point where they know it’s time to move on and they do.

Every successful writer I know writes a story so he can move on to the next one. That’s their main goal. The next story. That’s what they are always thinking about. That’s what is always on their horizon.

I think it behooves us as artists to be aware of our limitations and strive to correct them and work through them. That’s what I’m trying to do right now with my classical guitar playing. I already do it with my writing.

I am not always successful, but I am going to keep trying. If you truly believe in your artistry, failure is not an option. It can’t be.

Chopping Out the Undergrowth of a Story and Revealing Gold

Today I will start the third (and I hope) final big edit of the new Haxan novel, Quaternity. I plan to read the novel out loud, as I mentioned before in this blog, and am eager to see (hear?) how it sounds.

I’ve been a little stuck on another short story I finished editing, though. After the initial big edit of this shorter piece (which I finished last year, Editing should be more than taking a hatchet to your story!that’s how long it has been sitting fallow) I saw it could again be edited one of two ways. I could change the whole meaning and structure of the story if I cut out some pieces. I don’t know if I want to do this. Yes, if I go that route I think I can probably find one or two magazines that would publish it, no problem. But if I leave those parts in (mostly heavy dark fantasy) then I might have to do a little homework to find a good place for it.

Which is fine, I have no problem doing that. What interests me most about this particular short story is how I can change it so dramatically by careful editing. Which, come to think of it, is probably always the case with any story I write. It’s just very blatant in this case. At least to me.

That is why I haven’t finished the final edit of this particular and as yet unamed short story about Magra Snowberry from Haxan. It could go either way. My philosophy about this has always stayed the same. I want to present the best story I can. That’s why I am on the fence as to which way to edit this thing. Even my instincts, which I always trust, says it could be a coin flip.

I think I am leaning toward keeping the very dark fantasy elements in it. The new Haxan novel Quaternity works variations on some of those familiar themes without the elements I use in the short story. So that is good.

I am probably over thinking this as I often do. But this is something I have to get past because it is hanging in the background like a flag demanding attention.

Thus, writing.

There might be blood. But then we’d have to swab it up and who wants to do that?

I am finishing the second big edit of Quaternity. This morning I finished fixing some pieces in the story that had been bothering me. I think I mightCurve be reaching a point where I am starting to do more harm than good. Too much editing can have a negative impact on a manuscript.

I am not saying the manuscript doesn’t need work. It does. But I am becoming aware I am reaching a point where I have to be careful. There is always a cost-benefit analysis you have to be aware of when editing. It’s an asymptotic curve. You get closer to the point but you never reach it. There comes a time when you have to cut your losses.

Meanwhile I am working on a short story and completing a list of the conventions I want to attend this year. I’ve got a lot planned for the year and I am curious to see how it all pans out.

Finished the First Edit of Quaternity

Today I finished the first edit for the Haxan prequel novel. The title of the novel is Quaternity. There is a sub-title The Sunset of Destruction, the Ashes of the West.

I think it went pretty well. As I have mentioned this is not like anything I have ever written before. When I first thought of the story I knew it would be difficult to write and would be outside my comfort zone. Which is what drew me to the project in the first place.

This is no longer outside my comfort zone. This is my comfort zone.

I didn’t come across many places where I thought it was messed up beyond redemption. Most of the stuff I found were little things which needed attention. There were a handful of plot points I had to correct or shape up. There remains several more I have to go back and pay attention to anyway. But they are small and I saw no gigantic structural problem which stopped me in my tracks.

I can catch up on those little things later. A couple of characterization notes, not much else. Making sure I have the specific points of the history or culture in line. Given the kind of novel this is, I actually have a little running room in that regard. This is not a history book. It’s a novel.

It went pretty well. I started this rewrite on Christmas Day and finished it today. I will probably take a couple days off before I do a cold read through to see how it holds up in fresh light.

I am well within my timeline to get this finished by March. I am not worried about meeting that goal at all.

I am beyond the light at the end of the tunnel. I am standing at its terminus.

Second Day of Rewrites and Edits … and Pizza Awaits!

Sixty pages today. The rewrite and edit is going well. I work through the morning into late afternoon. At night I read through what I have done without stopping. This is to make sure it all hangs together and is cohesive. Problem spots are ironed out.

This piecemeal way of doing things appears to be working all right. Later, of course, I will read the entire novel through, coming at it like a fresh reader, looking for any place that needs work or elaboration.

Now for some dinner, salad and pepperoni pizza.

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