shoreless seas and stars uncounted

A Blog on Writing Fantasy Fiction

The Unfolding Abyss

My hiatus from this page is due, in large part, to wrangling with the fifth Abyss novel, which I blogged about restarting a few months ago.

Thankfully, I’ve landed this one at last, which is the longest I’ve worked on a novel, or about eighteen months, if you count the false starts and the rewrites. All but one of my other novels were written in a month or less, and while I would like to blame that on the expanding setting, the truth is that I am more interested in rewriting than writing, and I find myself developing the bad habits of my younger days, such as continually stopping to rewrite and rephrase, and not being able to pass even so much as a stray typo without fluttering over the arrow keys to correct it.

I haven’t done Nanowrimo in three years, and I may do it this year to go back to basics in terms of discipline. I.e., being able to write a fast first draft, being able to skip over typos and other errors in order to keep my eye on the big picture, the beginning, middle, and end. Turning off my inner critic, and so forth.

As for the novel, it’s shaky, but I’m happy it’s finished. I wrote an epilogue to it about a month ago in the hope that it would serve as guiderails or a target to get me to the end, and much of that will have to be revised, but I’m glad to say that the trick worked. It may actually be the first chapter of a subsequent novel?

What also helped me get to the finish line was stepping away from two other novels, the long-stalled sequel to The Eye of Wysaerie, and the fourth novel in the Alsantia series. The Alsantia novels, my latest series, still have tons of momentum and are basically writing themselves, so that two weeks ago, when I focused on finishing my fifth Abyss novel, I was writing about 1600 words for Alsantia and about 100 each in the other two, just to keep my hand in. Suddenly it felt immensely important to me that I finish the fifth Abyss novel, bringing a conclusion to the first series in that setting, and opening a door to a subsequent series. So I just put the blinders on and headed for the finish line, which works. What an immensely satisfying feeling to complete a series! I’ve never finished a series before.

While working on multiple palettes is great for revising novels, it’s not good, at least for me, for producing first drafts. Going forward, I may continue writing one first draft at a time.

New Novels Now Available on Amazon in Print and #Kindle

My new series, The Chronicles of Alsantia, comprised so far of Pretender’s Reign, Savage Gardens, and Siege of the Shadow Worlds is now available on Amazon in print and digital.

The series begins in Pretender’s Reign:

In the brownstone temple of The Mansion of the Shining Prince, Loren, Berangere, Lucien and Aito discover a mystery surrounding their cat, Oji, and perhaps some answers to the question that’s nagging them: are they living in a cult?

A tale of urban fantasy, high fantasy, parallel worlds, and talking animals that flips the script on the Chronicles of Narnia.

It continues in Savage Gardens:

As Oji squirms under Queen Suvani’s thumb, Isola and her new friends from Earth flee the Alsantian armies advancing toward Ephremia.

Then in Siege of the Shadow Worlds:

As the woodland paradise Teriana is besieged by Alsantian hordes, Vieno and Oji awake in a laboratory on Earth, and Berangere and Loren have slipped through to Havala, a world on fire. Only the Albatron has its eye on everything, including which is the true world, and what repercussions this suggest for all realities.

Throne of Glass

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (Review)

While her reputation as the world’s best assassin survives in Endovier’s slave mines, and calls Prince Dorian to recruit her for his father’s tournament, Celaena has been harrowed and spiritually crushed by her captivity, and Throne of Glass, in the main, narrates her uphill climb from a bedraggled, whip-scarred mass murderer who would like to sheathe a dagger in any of her supporting cast, to a strong, puppy-loving hero beclouded by sentiment for some of those aforementioned human dagger sheaths. From a princess suite guarded by sentries, Celaena receives the Captain of the Guard, the royalty of two lands, and the puppy, whose non-participation in the plot marks his introduction more as a sign that Celaena’s heart has regenerated, as well as the moment that the budding Disney Channel romance between Dorian and Celaena has flowered.

While there is full-blown romantic tension in a well-crafted love triangle between Celaena, Dorian, and Chaol (the Captain of the Guard), there isn’t much tension in the action/adventure plot, which is mainly fueled by dream donations from a dead queen / fairy godmother, and a heavy—the king—steeped in the traditions of fantasy literature, which is to say that he is a straw-man fuhrer whose magic ban, fairy extermination, and wizard genocide don’t prevent people from showing off their Wyrdmark collections or upstaging climactic duels with blatant prestidigitation. Not to mention the other heavy, who you would instantly recognize as a thinly-disguised jock bully even if he wasn’t named after the archetypal murderer Cain, or didn’t summon demons, have a tragic monologue addiction, or prefer overstaged, supernatural murders to an easy death blow.

If I blow past these lamentable faults, my experience of Throne of Glass was similar. Quite unlike my enjoyment of a good novel, but not unlike my appreciation for good television, in which we forgive the flaws even as we are carried forward by the well-crafted characters, I found Throne of Glass mainly enjoyable. Even as my left hand was ticking off the faults, my right hand was turning pages, which left the rest of me nowhere to go but to dive into the setting and the exploits of the characters. If the plot was paper-thin, the characters were likable, and, most important of all to the fantasy genre, the setting seems a real place, waiting to be lived in.

The most believable and enjoyable element of Throne of Glass was its hero, Celaena. Despite the formulaic ingredients in her backstory—e.g. she is a Bloodbath Orphan, which she shares with Bruce Wayne, among many others—she has emerged from them as a well-rounded character who thinks not only of how many ways she can do someone in, but acts in other ways like the mildly narcissistic teenager that she is, absorbed not only by her romantic attachments, but her admirable struggle to stake out fashion choices and a social life when more or less pinned down at all times by the king’s guards. I will also admit to being partial to heroes who read, and I appreciated not only the many scenes in which Celaena is asea in her bed with open books, but that Sarah J. Maas allowed her fictional library to live in the story, with the characters commenting on the books they were reading.

While a good plot may compel me to return to a narrative, a good character is an even better hook that will drag me through a series, and I believe that I will return to Celaena’s adventures for further installments.

P.S.–my novel A Spell Takes Root was released on Kindle and in print on April 16th. You can find it through this link.

A Spell Takes Root

Writing Fantasy: Course Correction

A few weeks ago I lamented having to sink about 25,000 words of my previous version of the fifth novel of The Tree of Five Worlds. (You can read about it here: False Starts.) At that time, it felt like I was starting basically from scratch, which was somehow less frustrating than bewildering, considering my good luck with first drafts up to that point. I have better news today, being back on track, through course correction.

One of my first and favorite posts on this blog points to how I got through to the other side, where I am today, with around 19,000 words of a new fifth novel. In “Assiduity,” I remark how inspiration is all well and good, but assiduity has more constant and faithful rewards. Or as I said then: “While the inspired have the fickle rewards of inspiration, the assiduous have the constant rewards of assiduity.

I’ve often thought the concept of inspiration was a miserly one, as if inspiration was like a utility company metering out ideas. Basically, the reverse is true: lightning strikes all day long. The more you’re sitting at your computer, or holding your pencil or pen, the more opportunities you have to collect that lightning. Sure, some moments are more serendipitous than others, and we have our low gears and our high gears, but mainly creation is energy or effort applied to time. Some days you have the energy, other days you bring the effort.



A Line Edit

A line that gave me more trouble than most, despite being very simple on the surface:

“Young prince, many of the gates between your world and ours are of my devising.”

I considered all of these variations:

“Young prince, many gates between your world and ours are of my devising.”

“Young prince, many of the gates between our worlds are of my devising.”

“Young prince, many gates between our worlds are of my devising.”

“Young prince, I devised many of the gates to your world.”

“Young prince, I devised the gates between our worlds.”

“Young prince, I devised the gates connecting our worlds.”

“Young prince, the gates connecting our worlds are of my devising.”

“Young prince, the gates between our worlds are of my devising.”

Here is a case where the content matters little; what counts here is the psychology of the speaker. While she may be proud of creating the gates, she’s also remoreseful, a doubled consciousness of her invention that would no doubt manifest in passive voice, a deferred responsibility that manifests in the inverted subject and object; this is no doubt why I really want to retain the “are of my devising” structure.

Would this insincerity cause her to drum up the roundabout style of the first draft, i.e. “”Young prince, many of the gates between your world and ours are of my devising.”” is overtly prosy, and at least the “your world and ours” might be condensed, although I doubt she would want to lay claim to ALL of the gates between Earth and Alsantia, given their problematic existence in this narrative. So “many of the gates” rather than “the gates” seems more psychologically true here.

I’m going with: “Young prince, many of the gates between our worlds are of my devising.” “Young prince, I devised the gates between our worlds.” may be the cleanest and most direct edit, but it is entirely too arrogant and bold, given her implicit remorse.

Writing Fantasy: Perspective Alters Description

Having restarted my fifth Abyss novel, I’ve come to a point in the narrative where I’d like to reuse some description. While I’ve already stocked this setting with fauna and flora in the previous version, and I’m very happy with those scenes, I’m finding them unusable for my new version of the novel. As it’s an interesting problem that may be instructive to other authors, I’ve tried to describe it here.

In the original version of the novel, the scene is quite shocking to my protagonist, as he’s just traveled through a Doorway from one world to another world. My new novel begins in media res, with him already there, so any astonishment is muted. Just as those living near giant redwood trees see them differently than those who see them for the first time, in my new novel the setting seems more backdrop, and less foreground. While I’d very much like to translate that vibrant foreground into the new version of the novel, I’m finding that perspective alters description.

While you may already know this if you’ve tried to describe a single scene from two different points of view, making a Rashomon sandwich if you will, what you may not know is that this also holds true if you attempt to describe the same scene when your point-of-view protagonist is in two different moods. This is true in real life, as well—the same scene, described at two different times in your life, will have differing details.

That setting has its subjective side should not surprise us, not when a petty argument can taint what should be the joy of leaving for vacation. It should come as no surprise that a vulture might see abundance in a desert, whereas a staggering, thirsty human will be scrounging for water.

While setting is extremely important to me, and I’m fascinated by fantastic scenes, I haven’t struggled to build a setting since I began to focus on character. Similarly, if you’re having trouble in worldbuilding, or simply in staging a scene, ask yourself who is seeing this? What is their mindset, and why are they there? Perhaps your struggle in building that scene is that no one is there.

Think Your Own Thoughts: Against Rationalizing and Persuasion

Rationalizing, as opposed to actual rationality and reasonableness, is the process by which you suggest that what is evil and wrong is good and right. While the need to persuade yourself that you’re doing the right thing should be a clear sign that you’re doing the wrong thing, rationalizers become addicted to rationalizing because it feels like freedom.

“He’s dieting, so I’ll eat this slice.”

“He doesn’t like to socialize as much as I do, so he’s not missing out if I lie about where I’m going.”

While rationalizing is evil, it is not an unnatural process. It stems from the desire to be good. All of us wish to be good. We so wish to be good, even when we know we’re being bad, that our first impulse is to persuade ourselves that we are actually being good. “It isn’t hurting him if he doesn’t know,” they say, denying that lies are a pernicious and grievous disloyalty that attack the root of a relationship, and hence are the most profound hurt of all. Gluttony will masquerade as charity (“I’m doing him a favor by eating this…”), selfishness will masquerade as selflessness (“…he doesn’t like X, Y, or Z, so I’m saving him from this…”), and so forth. Rationalizing is a sign that your demons have the keys to the asylum. You’re not only bending over backwards for the disgusting parts of yourself, you’re listening to their excuses.

Just as rationalization is persuading yourself that evil is good, persuasion is rationalization for others, an attack on the morals of the persuaded. Why does the persuader want your agreement? They want you to do as they do. Often the persuaded doesn’t know they were persuaded. Just as you rationalize to persuade yourself, persuaders so rationalize to you that you think you thought of it. They suggest their ideas to you in such a tailored way that you take ownership of those ideas.

Ironically, by adopting those ideas, you become an extension of the persuader’s personality. You lose much of what makes you you. Deep down, you still know what is bad, and what is good. After all, you needed to be convinced by this wicked person. But by giving into the temptation, you stopped thinking for yourself. If you stopped thinking for yourself, who’s thinking for you? The persuader is thinking for you. As I’m not suggesting telepathy, only salesmanship, this is not a metaphor. When Jim Jones persuaded his followers to drink the kool-aid, their mental processes could no longer be honestly called thinking. Following, believing, yes, but not thinking. They weren’t holding the reins, having handed the cult leader their heads. Just as rationalizing feels like freedom, so does persuasion feel like truth, so many of these people (the ones not persuaded at gunpoint) were no doubt euphoric about their choice.

Not only is the persuader thinking for you, but you’re no longer thinking your own thoughts. If you’re no longer thinking your own thoughts, how can you hear your conscience? The persuader is not only living their evil desires through you, they’re no doubt laughing about it.

Two Line Edits

A line edit from Siege of the Shadow Worlds (The Chronicles of Lamuna Book Four).

“Her smirking eyes might have been dark brown, but they were bright as hellfire.”

This is pretentious phrasing, as there’s no “might have” with eye color.

“Her dark brown eyes were bright with smirking hellfire.”

Do I go with the unique-sounding juxtaposition of “smirking hellfire,” or this more reader friendly line?

“Her smirking, dark brown eyes were bright with hellfire.”

This is a tough decision, as “smirking hellfire” is a great descriptor for Suvani. As the latter also falls flat a little, I’m going with the former.

An edit from The Tree of Five Worlds #2:

#1 “Eurilda saw that she was still squeezing Khyte’s letter in her left fist, and when she unballed her hand, the fingers were white and sore, and her fingernails had dented the skin on her palm. The letter was creased, crushed, and streaked with palm sweat, and she opened it carefully.”

#2 “Seeing Khyte’s letter squeezed in her left fist, Eurilda unballed her white and sore fingers. The letter was creased, crushed, and streaked with sweat, and her fingernails had dented her palm.”

#3 “Eurilda unballed her white and sore fingers. Khyte’s letter was creased, crushed, and streaked with sweat, and her fingernails had dented her palm.”

Some Thoughts on Dragons

Considering how acquisitive they are for human artifiacts, I have often wondered why more dragons don’t reside in human cities.

Spell-using or shapechanging dragons would live the majority of their lives in human cultures, and would have to be rooted out like vampires, considering how avaricious, covetous, and jealous they are of human treasures and the human way of life. Dragons with enormous hordes would aspire to be property owners. Like cuckoo birds or fairies, perhaps they could even pass off their shapechanged offspring as human.

Even dimmer dragons would slither into sewers, from which they would peer enviously at the humans.

Why are dragons so thirsty for human artifacts? Have they no culture of their own? Why not mint their own coins, with their own faces? Any intelligent being that is so parasitic of another being’s effects desires to be that being. We’re talking serious self-esteem issues, and an inferiority complex, of all things, in dragons. While they have teeth, fire, wings, scales, and tens of thousands of pounds, they must feel dwarfed by human culture. It’s not greed that fuels dragon avarice, it’s envy; they want the treasures of the ages because they have no ages of their own. Imagine living for centuries and not building your own culture, but desiring nothing but the commodities of the short-lived vermin making bricks out of mud. After a few centuries of blending in, and not showing their true faces, such intelligent, shape changing dragons would open antique shops and forget their own language.

Writing Fantasy: False Starts

I suppose I have been lucky thus far, having completed four novels in The Tree of Five Worlds, four novels in my Chronicles of Alsantia (Volume one of which is on Amazon), one novel in the Chronicles of Lamuna (on Inkitt and Wattpad), and another novel, The Dragon’s Dollhouse (on Inkitt). I only have three unfinished novels at this point, the sequel to The Dragon’s Dollhouse (which may never be finished at this point, as I have lost interest in the setting and characters), the second part of the Chronicles of Lamuna (The Dragonbone Petticoat, on Inkitt and Wattpad, but unfinished), and the fifth novel in The Tree of Five Worlds. Since I’ve started writing novels, I’ve never had to scrap a book and find a new starting point.

Until now.

Jean-Paul Sartre’s essay “Bad Faith” (Being and Nothingness) has been invaluable in helping me understand my misgivings about my fifth novel in The Tree of Five Worlds. More or less, the fifth novel is a product of bad faith, as I don’t believe in it. I may never have believed in it, and consequently, while there are good lines, and interesting staging, it doesn’t feel as real as my other novels. That you may continue writing a novel while not believing in it, both before and after you realize that you don’t believe in it, is a simple product of being able to muster belief, or a passing version of it caused by bad faith.

It sucks, in that I’m around one hundred pages into the fifth novel. This is entirely my fault, for while at no point did I ever believe in it to the degree that I did while writing its predecessors, or my other novels, I kept going. I thought—and this may be the occasional drawback to a “flying by the seat of your pants” writing approach (or perhaps it’s more than an occasional drawback, and I was only very lucky)—I’ll find my way as I go, and fix my misgivings in the revision. Unfortunately, misgivings are intrinsic problems, not extrinsic problems. No amount of revision will repair my conviction that what I’m writing is flawed, and serviceable at best as worldbuilding or research into what may well prove to be the most difficult novel in the series. I would like to explain why getting a grip on the fifth novel is so comparatively difficult, but…spoilers.

One of the must-haves for an author is the ability to commit. I would like to say this is entirely an asset, but in that I so committed to this false start that I took it through a second draft first before deciding to start over, makes this decision even more painful, especially considering so many of those aforementioned good lines became even more dazzling in the revision.

While I would like to be able to shrug my shoulders and spout some nonsense like “it’s a good problem to have,” I’m sure that any reader that comes here looking for advice would want to smack me for saying something so pretentious and unhelpful, and they might be justified. If you came here for anything but understanding and sympathy, I am sorry to disappoint you, but the only solution is to open a new file, or sharpen your pencil. Perhaps your original version will be helpful as a source for flashbacks (if you decide to start in media res, which I am considering), or you might choose to restage some of the better dialogue.

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