Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yonder Day 3

I am pleased.  Today's scene (in yellow) rolled fairly well, pretty much as I had planned it, although I wasn't certain when I began just what Nathan was going to say to get under Azariah's skin.  Granted, the 'coward' line is cliched, but it remains the sort of thing that one does not say.  Since I envision Azariah being quite like Conan in his brooding condition, it's easy to imagine the kind of response one would get telling Conan he's a coward.

I want to reserve for the moment any discussion of what Nathan means by there being no "afterlife."  It is meant to draw the curiousity of the reader, and throughout the novel I'd like to stave off explaining about the various elements until the novel itself explains them.  I can say for the moment that the discussion of the "gramen," and the suggestion that a fight is coming, is a very central theme throughout the book.  Azariah's childhood as a miller ought to be important later (though for the moment I don't see how) as is Nathan's father being a maker of pots.  Hell, every prop and bit of information can be utilized as foreshadowing for something in the book ... all the writer has to do is keep this sort of thing in mind and then write towards it.

Getting my hand in with a quick description of a very fast fight ... there's meant to be a lot of fighting coming, and I admit that its something that concerns me.  I'm anxious that every exchange like this is clear and concise, something the reader can picture and latch onto.  Otherwise, the fighting scenes throughout the book are going to be the failure of the work.

Oh well.  More tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Yonder Day 2

This may be an odd way to publish this, but I hate the format of a blog for a novel, so I am gathering the whole novel - as I write it - into this post.  The latest addition to the novel will be highlight in yellow, and to enable people to follow along with comments about the novel I will date the parts.  This way, if anyone feels a desire to read the novel from the beginning, they are not leaping from post to post.

For me, introducing Nathan at this point is introducing the conflict.  I have given Azariah his own demons.  My problem is to emphasize those demons without expressing directly to the reader what they are.  I want the reader in the dark for now.  By avoiding saying what exactly the conflict is I give it power in the reader's mind ... so long as in the long run I live up to the expectation.  Obviously, Azariah can be worried whether or not the horse has been fed.

Heh heh.  I have something in mind.

Mostly all I wanted to start with this passage was Nathan needling Azariah, which I've given a lot of thought to this last few weeks and which is the part of this chapter that worries me the most.  Does it sound like needling?  Does it work?  Does it seem to be getting under Azariah's skin, or does the whole thing seem too constructed and obvious?  There's never any easy answer to these questions.  You trust that you can do the best you can for the first draft, and it is this sort of thing that's meant when an author talks about "getting some distance" on their work.  The hope is that if a few months go by before looking at this again, I can read it as someone who didn't write it and recognize immediately if it flows or if it sounds trite, cliched or too 'clever clever.'  My point here is that I'm thinking of that as I write it, but I'm also aware that I'm too close to the material to trust my instincts one way or the other.  It may not have even occurred to the reader that there was any problem.  But I won't know myself for some time after today.

So, plans are to write more tomorrow.

Yonder - All

He upended his cup. He marked the wine as it spread, staining the wooden table, flowing into the cracks and then dripping beneath the floor. The act came of impulse. He did not care about the wine, there was more. He did not care about the cup. With his arm he swept it away, and the wine flask besides. The stoneware flask struck the stone floor and broke. The wooden cup bounced and came to a stop on its bottom.

Azariah put his head in his hands and wept.

It did no good. It did not wash him clean of his misery. It did not change his condition. It did not bring comfort. He grew aware of his elbows resting upon and damp table and lifted them, wiping them clean across the belly of his doublet. He stared helplessly over the table and into space. His gaze could not help turning to the parapet next to the table, to the town that spread out beneath the citadel he sat upon, and to the line of the road that curved from the high valley, past the town, and through the flat plains beyond. Dust hung in the air, obscuring the horizon, so that the brown of the plain mixed with the pale sky.

He could hear the panicked trundling of the untold hundreds who made their way away from the valley along the road. He watched the overloaded wagons and carts scurry along the ruts, wheels bouncing over things that had fallen from wagons that had gone before. Between the animals pulling these loads were other animals, driven sheep and goats, squawking chickens, heavily laden donkeys and mules. Here and there the occasional camel carried goods. No animal carried a rider ... every man, woman and elder child walked, trudging their way, shouting at their animals, fighting with them, beating them with sticks to drive them forward or dragging upon reins to keep them moving. Some ran from the road after livestock that sought its own direction. The faster refugees clumbered off the road and kicked up dust along the shoulders, screaming curses at their slower fellows, then having to slow or stop as something of value fell from their own vehicles that demanded attention. Then, with the road barred by a slow traveller, and the side barred by fools, the train would stumble to a forced halt that would carry its way for half a mile, backing up the road.

Azariah sat and watched as a fight broke out between two groups of men, children watching, women daring to step between the combatants and thrust aside or struck. Azariah was but a few hundred yards away, forty feet above the empty streets of the town, which had heard the news and had left in most part the day before.

Gramen were coming.

He did not care. He chose to let them come. It was not the refugees he wept for, nor the oncoming horde with its will to tear and destroy. They knew nothing. But he, Azariah, knew more than he wished to know.

A scream rose from the trap door that linked the roof of the citadel with the tower rooms below. He paid it no attention.  It was not the first.  He judged it would not be the last.

The fight had settled itself out, and now the participants gathered things together and heaved them up once more upon their carts. The women drew their veils back over their faces against the dust and again began their march, the children falling in behind them. A young girl carried a duck in her arms. A boy of fifteen led a donkey, his hand hooked around the animal’s bridle. A father with an infant on his shoulders, small hands clutched in his pater’s hair, dragged a loaded gig as an animal. The parade steadily moved forward.

Hands appeared upon the ladder that rose out of the trap door, and a lean, dark-tanned man climbed upwards and onto the roof of the citidel. He wore only a shirt and robe, the latter that reached only to his knees. His shins were bare, his feet shod in sandles that tied around his ankles. A belt hung over his shoulder and fixed on the belt was a short, curved blade with a hooked handle. Over his wrist was hooked a loop of hemp, and hanging from the hemp a flask of wine. Azariah did not watch him, but turned away.

Azariah knew him . His name was Nathan. They had travelled and killed together for past seven years, and still they did not particularly like each other. It was a circumstance that Nathan was apt to find amusing, and when not at a risk to his own life, a circumstance Nathan would exploit.

Seeing the cup laying on the stone, Nathan moved forward and scooped it up. He placed it on the parapet, uncorked the bottle and filled the cup. He gazed at the people below and smiled. He drained the cup, tilting it back into his mouth. He filled it again, turned about and sat on the stone edge, his back to the fall.

“Do you suppose it would help if they knew?” he asked.

Azariah did not answer.

“You are right,” said Nathan. “They wouldn’t understand, would they? They have their fantasy and it brings them comfort.” He paused. “As it once did us.”

“Do not speak of it,” warned Azariah.

Nathan sipped at the wine. He watched the scene. “They don’t look comforted.”

Moments passed, with neither one speaking.

“Perhaps if I were closer,” observed Nathan, “I could see that they were actually happy.”

“Be silent,” warned Azariah again.

"Were you, when it was before … were you happy?”

Azariah did not answer.

“I do not think I was happy,” said Nathan. “I think I believed … I am certain I did. I was told as a boy and from then I always believed. I am not certain that the belief brought me comfort. It did not make me happy.”

Azariah grumbled.

“You were told as a boy,” answered Nathan. “Like me, you believed. And it did not make you happy, like me. Isn’t that interesting?”

His fists on his knees, Azariah pressed his fingers tightly together. He considered his own sword, hanging from the belt around his waist, the tip in its scabbard resting on the stones.

Nathan finished his wine and poured himself more. “When the gramen come, I wonder. Will we fight them? Because you know, if we die, that will be the end. There won’t be an Afterlife. And that is why I wonder. If this is all we have, this here and now, will we still fight. If we had known all those years that there was no Last Kingdom, would we have become mercenaries? Would I know be a soft-footed shopkeeper, trimming my wares and setting them out for the customers in the morning, chasing my sons out of my workspace, resting with my wife in the glow of the fire at the end of the long day, as my father had planned for me? Would I have thought the road less desirable, would I have loved metal pots and kettles more, would I have applied myself in my apprenticeship instead of slipping away to the rivers and forests to practice my bow?”

He moved forward to Azariah’s table, and sat on the wall next to it, setting his feet where the wine had begun to dry in the warm day. “And you, my friend. What would you be doing now? I remember when we met, the confidence you had, the certainty of our becoming rich, of the enemies we’d slaughter together. And always the way you would laugh at death. Would you laugh at death now, Azariah? Knowing at last, for certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that death is for certain.”

Azariah sat bent over, his head inches above the edge of the table, his hands clenched over his knees, his breath growing heavy.

“What were you before, my friend?” asked Nathan. “A miller’s son, you said. Were you a quiet boy? Would you have grown to be another man? A humble mover of sacks? I don’t doubt it. But would you have been so foolhardy as you’ve become in your later days? Tell me, Azariah, you were a brave man. If you had known, before ... would you now be a coward?”

With a roar Azariah exploded to his feet. The sword came easily to his hand. He lunged with his arm to unbalance Nathan upon the wall, and swept the sword at him, to break his shoulder and send him reeling from the height.

But Nathan was not there. Azariah’s arm touched nothing. His sword, sweeping across, touched nothing. Then Azariah felt a blow land across his forehead – the pommel of Nathan’s sword. The hit clouded his vision, his sword swinging high and still hitting nothing. Another blow with the pommel fell upon the soft flesh beneath Azariah’s ribs. Then Nathan’s shoulder caught Azariah in the side, and Nathan’s foot behind Azariah’s heel brought him down to the ground, onto his back.

As Azariah’s vision cleared, he found his sword arm, hand still clutching his weapon, under Nathan’s foot. The point of Nathan’s scimitar rested delicately upon Azariah’s throat.

“On any day when you are not an ox,” said Nathan, “you would chance to kill me. But not on this day.”

Monday, July 25, 2011

Yonder, Chapter One

Find the beginning of the novel here.

Here we have the beginning of the novel I am for now calling Yonder.  The title fits marvelously, even into the first 500+ words above, and the stage being set.  An horde is coming from yonder.  The refugees are departing to yonder.  The various events that Azariah finds himself in the midst of are moving apart from him, and at the same time he is possessed of some trouble that clearly he has no control over; so that too is a problem that might be described as 'yonder.'

I will confess, the title struck me as I was watching the dream/explanation for the motives behind Snape during Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.  This book has nothing to do with that book, and it would be difficult to indentify why I latched onto that particular word at that particular time ... but inspiration can come from anywhere or anything.  I once got a title from a PSA denouncing prostitution: Somebody's Daughter.

I'm unhappy with only one thing that I think requires some interjection somewhere in the above, and that is Azariah's size.  In keeping with the templates set in other fantasy novels, I see him as my 'huge' character ... which I want to balance the novel opening with him weeping helplessly.  I think cinematically that's a very strong image, and I confess to writing most of my novels with a cinematic bent.

The vision of the table, the wine, the expanding out to the town and the refuges, that's all camera-shot techniques.  Even when I write I still think in movie frames.

I feel confident about at least the beginning of the book, and I hope to write five hundred words every day for as long as I have the structure in my head.  For the present, I feel pretty certain of the first two chapters.  I hope I can have the third and fourth mapped out in the next couple of weeks, which should carry me to around four weeks of continuous writing.  After that, I might choke out or not ... I know where it ends and so on, but the reality of writing anything is that sometimes it doesn't pan out to being as interesting or as organized as you would hope.

In the meantime, it would be nice if my trials in this could be something other writers could relate to, and take ideas from.  Please remember, this is all my first draft.  I have not right now written the material that will appear in tomorrow's post.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Worth Writing

Yesterday, the novel went off to Arsenal Pulp Press.  There won't be any word from anyone for months, if at all.

On the brighter side, I think I've solved the plot problems - and the ending - of the novel I discussed here, almost a month ago.  As I said before, the ending is the most important part, since you must know where you are going.

In all, I see six main characters now.  I'm not going to talk about how they fit into the story today; I expect I may be writing some of it - or perhaps all of it - online, which I think would be interesting.  At present I have a greater concern about it, that being that the story idea I now have may not be one that could be sold.

Whether or not you care about the marketable qualities of your writing is a matter that is best left up to you.  Every professional writer must necessarily give consideration to it.  As a young person it is all very well to preach about the ills of 'selling out' and the evils of compromising your artistic integrity for the sake of money, but as we know from getting older and having to buy our own food and pay for our own lodging, that compromise becomes more realistic.  For seven years up until the great Recession of 2008/09 I wrote monthly articles for several magazines which all happened to go belly-up within a few months of one another.  They had been paying me 30 cents a word, which was fairly nice, since it was a steady gig, but I have to confess that with a few exceptions, the work that was required was execreble.  By that, I don't mean the writing was bad, I mean the content comprised of things I confess I have little or no interest in.  Now and then I was entitled to produce a bit of humour, which was great fun and which gained me the greatest notariety among the readers, but the rest of it was all trade-focused and just boring as hell.

I have these last two years considered seriously if the money was worth working for a trade publication any time in the future.  I wouldn't want to.  And yet if I want to go on writing, and not working for trade magazines, then anything I want to write in the future had better appeal to someone willing to pay me money.  As such, writing a novel that has no fiscal value is a questionable luxury.

The book I am now sending to publishers is, I am certain, very marketable.  It's funny, it's dramatic, it has great, likeable characters and it follows a subject - music - that fascinates a wide-ranging audience.  The book I am considering right now isn't funny at all; the characters would be largely unlikeable and the subject would be violence mixed with philosophical metaphysics.  Moreover, the setting I have imagined is one associated with fantasy, the realm where people expect material that isn't heavy or introspective.

And still, great works are written by paying no attention to the rules whatsoever.

Consider Peckinpah's film, The Wild Bunch.  For most people, not a traditional ending.  A bit of a downer.  For most people, the debate and discussion about the rigors and pointlessness of the outlaw life is a bit of a downer.  I don't imagine the movie was an easy sell; I'm sure that Peckinpah had to shout, wave his arms, pull favors and extort wherever he could, particularly when cornered with his own premise.  "They all what at the end?"

If you think you have a story that is unique, and which you have the ability to tell, and which you feel might affect the reader in such a manner as to make them sit up and think, the question is this ... are you prepared to starve, if necessary, in order to tell that story?  Are you prepared to put the story over and above your own personal welfare, even if it means the possibility no one will ever read the story because it will never, ever get published?


Yes, I think it's worth writing.  I don't think it matters that it can't be sold.

Thinking the way I do, however, it might explain why I haven't had a book published yet.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Not Writing

Since I'm not writing, let's talk about not writing.

I've touched on the subject before, but one of the interesting things about not writing is that as a writer you can pretty much talk about not writing all day.  As in, "Why am I not writing," and, "I need to be writing," and, "I'll feel better as soon as I start writing," and finally, "fuck it."

As a young writer I heard about writer's block and naturally interpreted every hesitation to write as some kind of potential problem that would stop me forever from being a writer.  If I didn't write for as long as a month, I would be certain the spark had died in me ... since hundreds of TV and movie examples of writers seemed to have those writers getting freaked out and frustrated after what appeared to be onscreen for a very short time.  Even now, it is a constant cliche to open a movie or a book with a writer (or some other compositional artist) who can't write.  Lo and behold, as the story goes on, a new spark infects the writer's life and he or she begins writing like the possessed caricature the actual writer of the story probably wants to be.

It is certainly easier to write about someone who is able to write with fabulous ease, than to do so.  The fantasy to write like that is, among writers, so pervasive that it's hard to think of a story about a writer who doesn't at some point become gifted with the genius of continuous wordspitting.  In fact, why write about a writer if you're not going to write about the natural internal struggle that a writer experiences, AND it's cure?

For real life actual writers, the quest for this wonderful fantasy spark encourages them to do most anything.  Another standard trope is the writer who quits work, leaves family, leaps into the wilderness and sets up a NON-electric writing implement in a rustic old cabin so they CANNOT be disturbed.  This always amuses me.  The cliche usually continues so that the clock is ticking, the birds are pecking at the window, the wind is blowing through windchimes conveniently located near the front door and so on.  I wonder why the writer doesn't simply bury themselves in a bank vault somewhere, or build an impenetrable bomb/writing shelter in their back yard.

I can't relate, since I've long since gotten used to writing amidst fifty or sixty people either in the process of chattering on phones and calling out to one another, or in restaurants with waitresses periodically serving me coffee and cleaning up.  I only need quiet when I'm editing, which means I'm fixing problems ... and the bedroom with the door closed seems to be sufficient for that.

The most important advice I can give anyone - the advice I forced myself to take - is that if you don't feel like writing, don't write.  Seriously.  It is going to be shit on the page anyway.  You're wasting your time, you're undermining your confidence in your own writing and chances are you'd rather be out bullriding or para-sailing anyway.  Go do that.  Do enough of that and you'll start to feel a desire to write about it.  Problem solved.

I've always said that writing is an input/output equation.  If you are not putting out material, you're dry and you need more input.  When you have enough input, you'll swell from everything you're holding inside and it will pour onto the page.  It doesn't take a spark.  You're just short on experiencing life.

Of course, if you rush out and experience life, and you still don't feel like writing, I suppose that must be telling you something.  Nyet?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Beginning of Pete's Garage

After a week at work, my book, Pete's Garage, is being mailed out today to its first potential publisher:  Anvil Press.  The research I've done suggests it would be a good match - Canadian press, publishes fantasy and urban themes, accepts unsolicited manuscripts.  Or so I hope.

I try not to get too worked up about it.  Publishing in my experience has been entirely a crapshoot.  For twelve years now I have occasionally been able to get something published through mailing out blind, and I continue to think that someday someone somewhere is going to read my book and recognize that I can, in fact, write.  We'll see how this latest round goes.  Part of what I want to do this time is keep track of having sent it on this blog, for posterity if for no other reason.

Frankly, I'd love it if I could be one of those nephews or cousins or daughters of publishing executives or business owners who could have their stuff published without any of this throwing my bread upon the waters necessity, but c'est la vie.

Because I am somewhat tense, I might just as well talk a bit about the project, just to get it out of my system.  For those who might be interested, the novel begins thusly:

"I have had a few perfect things. A friend-infested dive a few blocks from home with good music and an open mic. A car that ran ten years without repairs. A bratwurst I ate for free on a downtown corner one winter when it was freezing, granted by a woman who had known Annie Lennox as a little girl. And a building. The one I found at the corner of Buford Road and Seventh Avenue, on the Jersey shore west of Staten Island. Once, it was a hotel. Now it was my hotel. A crumbling three-story shell, it was as much empty space as I could want."

I must admit, I have struggled with the Annie Lennox reference since the beginning.  The book is about musicians and the lives around musicians, and a musical reference fits.  Ms. Lennox must be as significant a past musical personality as any popular singer.  And I did, in fact, once know a woman who had known Ms. Lennox as a little girl ... that was Katherine, who when I was 23 was 64 years old.  It would make her 88 now, if she was still alive.  88 is my lucky number (if that's even relevant) so maybe that bodes well.

It was funny how we found out our older friend Katherine knew Ms. Lennox.  We had Katherine over for dinner, and somehow had gotten onto the subject of musicians - this being back in '87, when my wife Michelle and I were in a choir with Katherine - and had mentioned Annie Lennox in passing.  Katherine, who was as British as it is possible to be, perked and mentioned that she had known an 'Annie' with that last name years ago ... but Katherine did not listen to modern music in any sense of the word, and did not know who the Eurythmics were.  But as chance would have it, we had a video of the Eurythmics on VHS and we popped it in to see.  And sure enough, Katherine recognized "little Annie" instantly, as Katherine called her.  She was astounded to see what Ms. Lennox had become - the video we played, I remember, was Missionary Man.  But Katherine was pretty cool for what I thought of then as an 'old person.'  Apparently, as a young girl Ms. Lennox had always been in love with music, which Katherine remembered very well, and she had trained to play the flute as a young girl.  My wife's minor at that time was in flute, so it just seemed one of those moments with connections all over.

As a writer, I feel you have to take these things and put them together with an image that fits into your story.  My main character, Pete, spent some time living on the street ... and although this is only alluded to in the story, I like the image of him desperately needing food and being given it by this vendor who - as it happens - has something to say that would really, really matter to Pete.  There isn't any need to go into further detail.  Anyone who read the novel, and who came again to this first chapter, would smile.  That is enough for me.

The opening paragraph is thick with that.  None of it is precisely explained in the opening, not even why he wants the hotel.  By the end of the first chapter, you know how he bought it and what its for ... but I have no reason to tell the reader this right off.  I want the reader to keep reading.  My themes are all in place: music; comaraderie; overcoming hardship; and rebirth.

It's very important in the writing that the reader never sees any of this.  So if you, the reader, didn't see it, then I am doing exactly what I'm supposed to.  I'm trying to pull you into a story you haven't read so that you'll keep reading ... and so the theme can sneak up on you and grab you before you've realized you've finished the book and you're only now getting it.

I've been told that this is a good opening.

I hope the publishers think so.