Saturday, November 5, 2011

Typical, typical

So, last time I mentioned how a name came into my head and I carried a baby into the future and brought her up to be a teenager meeting another character and, well, I had to write it down.  After writing much of that scene I returned to another story I was writing which was of the parent of the child, a short time after birth… and then to try to keep on track with publishing my stories I went back to another story and found myself at the honeymoon of this parent.  (Obviously, I’m not running into writer’s block.  I just wonder if other writers have this difficulty… that of having so much of this story to write that it comes out in spurts and streams and explosions… which means I have to exercise the one trait hardest to come by: focus)
Bringing up this trait points out the fact that I’ve been neglecting it, just as I’ve been neglecting what I meant to focus on in this blog which is the books that led me into writing.  I meant to… really… I started reading the next of the Witch World series by Andre Norton and then picked up one of Charles Williams books, Shadows of Ecstasy and started reading that (due to an untimely snowstorm in the area I had no power and was reading by flashlight and candles and thought I’d get a lot done).  A friend was reading a more contemporary book (though itself a period piece) The Alienist by Caleb Carr, so since I had a copy on my shelf waiting for me, I started reading that as well.  This is the kind of book where, if you really love details and specifics and getting every detail of the flavor of the past brought up to view (the atmosphere) alongside of the story, you can take your time and read.
Personally I love details and getting the flavor correct to carry the reader into the story… giving the reader a taste of where they are.  The problem in current genre fiction (which is what I seem to be writing) is that carrying the reader along with the story is done immediately and not worked on page after page, if you see what I’m saying.
I had a writing seminar with a bestselling author once and she looked at the story I was working on at the time and told me the beginning was too long, too wordy, what I spent 20 or 30 pages on she would have said in 5 or 10.  Of course when she pointed it out and mentioned the reasons, I had to agree… so I worked on it and I think I actually discarded most of what I’d written and gave the same details looking over the shoulder of my main character in the first three or four pages.  Also, I believe I engaged the reader’s emotions and curiosity as to what happens next (at least of those readers who have discussed it with me) in the same length of space.
Most of what’s published currently is meant to engage the audience by presenting something so well known (almost a universally accepted idea) and showing all the new and interesting characters with all the variations that make them unique (not so strange that you can’t relate to them, though) and have you halfway through the story before you realize you’ve heard it all before.  The books I look back to are no different… there is nothing new under the sun… there are only different ways to express it.
Then yesterday I was leaving the library and found a book in their free book box (a little too worn for the book sale I think – or it’s missing pages I haven’t got to yet) and I started reading that; The Quest by Wilbur Smith.  I picked it up because it’s a story of ancient Egypt (I believe he has a series of that era) and it has magic and caught my attention.  I also grabbed it because of another series I love, which is by Elizabeth Peters, with her character Amelia Peabody Emerson as an archaeologist in Egypt, which are mostly murder mystery/adventure stories.  The Emerson family is perfectly delightful and I still haven’t read them all.
So as far as focus goes, I’m without, with four books to read, one in my car that I listen to while driving, three or four or five notebooks I’m currently working with (writing) of the same series, creating the covers to the ones I’ve finished and working at various necessary support plans… maybe it is focus but it’s on multiple targets…
And then this blog…
I meant to recommend the book by Charles Williams in this post, I still do… it is good… I simply have not finished re-reading it for the occasion.  Power was out at my house for several days and reading by flashlight and candles seemed more difficult than it should have.  I like a lot of light when reading, writing or drawing.  (I found I could not work on my cover drawings with only candles or exterior light)  Then there were the withdrawal symptoms from my TV addiction.  I can read very well with the television on… and write… and draw.
In any case Shadows of Ecstasy by Charles Williams is written with the British flavor of English and one must be able to grasp that to enjoy the story, to have it flow easily.  C.S. Lewis has the same writing style but that stopped no one from enjoying his stories.  The difference is that Mr. Williams’ writing is on an adult level, the concepts and form are offered with no secondary explanations to qualify the storyline.  He takes for granted that you have an understanding of the world, the ways of the world and the fact that there are mysteries that men prefer to avoid rather than admit.  This is the one aspect of his books that I found remarkable when I first read them, he confronts the mysteries and brings them to light… it is up to the reader to accept and believe or disbelieve.
Hopefully, when I present my next offering I will have finished reviewing another of the past books I mean to…

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Something Different

I know that I wanted to write about the books that inspired me or books that I liked a lot, but there are other things about writing that I like to talk about as well.  Well, when I get on the subject of writing I do like to talk about what I’ve done and I can talk about it quite a bit… not quite endlessly.
Anyway, I was spending most of my time working on my stories when I should have been working on the covers so I could publish them as e-books.  Because of that, my thoughts were mostly on my stories during the rest of the time every day.  Which brings me to an instance of inspiration… it was while I was writing in one of the stories of my The Merged Worlds series.  When I write I’m always in the future from the last story.  The series carries two main characters through their interconnected stories to… well, to their future…  So I was writing one of these stories and I needed to have the name of a particular baby and for once the correct name came to mind immediately.  I had known the need was coming up (I knew the baby was coming) so somehow the name had grown in my mind… somewhere.
I know it might sound odd to some of you, that such a datum was created in my mind and was available when I needed it, but so it was (is).  A lot of the creation of my stories develops because of the character dealing with the issues of the situation.  In other words the character comes to life in my mind and tells me the story or shows me as I come to understand what’s happening.  It is hard to explain, though I don’t really let the character run away with the story, even though some try.
Back to the name… the baby’s name was there in my head and then in the story at a specific point in the timeline.  So, in the way I think about these stories, I was considering a different character’s tale up the timeline.  Then, all of a sudden, that character was being followed by the character with the new name… the baby had grown up and was now in the story with the other character… as a teenager.  They were talking… the younger had been following the older and made contact, wondering why the one was acting this way.  They hit it off and I listened as the two carried on this long conversation, comparing their similarities and differences and becoming friends.  (I know it’s a little vague but I don’t want to give away any spoilers… in the off chance that someone will actually read my stories and this blog)
Then, since this was all going on in my head, I had to write their meeting down in the appropriate notebook and work out some of the specifics.  In the series there are witches, vampires, werewolves and all the other fantasy types that make up this genre but there are twists in types unique to my stories.  When these two characters become friends they are bringing a standard, though powerful, magic type into contact with a strange magic type.  It develops from simple contact and friendship into a strong bond and, later, a working relationship.
The series of stories had built up in the timeline to a specific confrontation of traditional magicals, as I call them, several books before this one.  At this meeting point on the timeline there is a developing conflict between traditional magic and the strange magic. (This strange magic rears its ugly head in the upcoming book of Stacey’s in the series, to be titled Artificial Magic).
This kind of development (the meeting of these two characters in my mind and their conversation) is one of the things I enjoy in writing.  Not only do I create the worlds, histories, characters and situations, but I get to see them come to life.  Okay, I know that I’m bringing them to life but the fun part is when they are so real that their reactions to situations come automatically.
I’ve written character studies (by which I mean creating several characters with defined pasts and psych profiles and setting them in specific situations of emotional stresses) that equal thousands of pages of stories and will likely never see the light of day but have enhanced my style and understanding of what needs to be written to achieve particular results.  It has also taught me when to let go of control and allow the character to guide me in which direction is logical.  In one sense I have parameters that define the story and let the characters play within the boundaries.  Occasionally they let me know that my original plan is too restrictive, completely wrong or silly, or it reveals a complication that I had forgotten to include or consider.
When I’m writing a story I already know the story, I usually don’t do an outline but the bare bones of the story get rehearsed in my head.  If I’m using a familiar character the character’s voice usually helps me define what he or she will do in any particular situation.  Generally I rehearse the story a few times, or a few dozen times, before I get into the actual writing of the tale.  At that point I know what the story will be, beginning to end and as I write I enhance what adds suspense, conflict or the emotions needed.  There have been many times when I’m reading a story I’ve set aside for awhile, as I worked on something else, and I’m surprised (don’t laugh) by foreshadowing that I hadn’t realized I’d included back when I first wrote it.  Or there are twists to the story that I don’t remember, even though I know I’m the one who wrote it. (Yes, I sometimes amaze myself)
And, no, I’m not generally forgetful.  Most times I remember my stories, the characters and data, enough so that I can pick it up and start writing if it has sat for six months or more.  I remember stories that I wrote thirty some years ago, though as I once mentioned, I’d need to rewrite them to be worthy of publication.
The important aspect of the story is the voice of whoever is telling the story, whether it’s me or a character.   So when a scene with a strong voice, like the meeting of those characters I mentioned before, starts up in my mind I pay attention and play with it, bringing it more into the open, making it real.  Then I write it down so I don’t lose the flavor or tone.
Yes, I do use notebooks and pens.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Next in Line

I like to read books in the order that the author intends, if those books are part of a series.  Even when books are singles, reading them in the order the author published them can be interesting.  Since I started with Witch World by Andre Norton, I continued reading the series, turning to Web of the Witch World which was copyrighted in 1964, a year after Witch World. 
Most of what I observed in the first book was the same with this, as far as my memory of it.  I remembered scenes and characters and the events as I read… it was interesting.  On one hand it showed how healthy my memory was and on the other it made me wonder how many times I’d read these books in the past.
One of the writing structures evident in Ms. Norton’s style is the arrangement of words in a manner giving the flavor of a different culture.  The style is most noticeable in the dialog, but descriptions of the world carry the same flavor forcing the reader to think that this is alien… almost to think as an alien.  I know this is called the voice of the author and I believe Ms. Norton had it mastered.  She taught us all by taking us into the world… with witches.
I’m not certain that today’s readers accept such a strong, alien voice when they’re reading.  There have been quite a few recent popular books that have had a voice that was annoying rather than engrossing. Most times it appears that the voice must be simplified, or the author thinks it must be.  I may as well admit here that my analysis of an author’s style is quite imperfect, even when I read a book five times with the sole intention of understanding why it grabs me… I fail.  The book grabbed me, carried me along through the story and simply ended, leaving me wanting more… somehow forgetting that I’d intended understanding how the author did what he did.  I can’t say that it’s ADD since I had to read the entire book to realize I forgot to focus… and then again.
So, I’m not the best at giving anything more than my own opinion of a book and how it’s put together but I know what I like and if your interests parallel mine then I hope you can look into the past of books with me as I go on at my slow pace.
Since I’m a writer I’m spending a great deal of time working at other writings than this blog, editing what I’ve written, preparing to publish other books of mine and creating the cover art for them as well.  Besides all of that I have a real job to deal with.  I won’t go into my addiction to TV…
While trying to improve my writing skills I’ve looked at quite a few how-to books.
One of those that I liked was On Writing by Stephen King, subtitled ‘a memoir of the craft.’
I’m not certain that my grammatical ability is as sharp as it should be, as sharp as Mr. King’s. I simply attempt to communicate what my imagination conjures using the words that I know.
Mr. King, in his book On Writing, says that to be a writer you must Read and Write… that’s a must do.
I wanted to quote the book but that would be reproducing without permission, so I merely recommend it.
When Ms. Norton began her writing career the realms of science fiction and fantasy were young, not infantile, but young.  She was a pioneer, who, along with (seemingly) a dozen or so other authors created the foundation for what we have today.  Over time these realms have been expanded and redefined until they bear little resemblance to what came before.  Some of these changes were due to the evolution of society and technology, others were due to the accepted foundations laid.
I don’t know which writers inspired Ms. Norton, but there were many to choose from.  Many of these writers I found later.  George MacDonald published a book called Phantastes in1895 which inspired a great many fantasy writers, he was a friend of Lewis Carroll (Alice from Wonderland is one of the most popular characters in fiction, as are the supporting characters from the story).  C.S. Lewis was particularly impressed and inspired by Phantastes, the works of C.S. Lewis are some of my favorites, fantasy and non-fiction.  Charles Williams published a set of books in the 1930’s  including War in Heaven, Many Dimensions, The Place of the Lion, The Greater Trumps, Descent into Hell, All Hallow’s Eve and others, each of which touched me and proved that what’s invisible in this world can be brought to life, or at least brought into sight.
If you like to read, enjoy great stories and can adapt to the very present voice of these authors, be they English or Scottish, I hope you will seek them out.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Continuing at the beginning

Last week I mentioned the book Witch World by Andre Norton as one of those inspiring me to write.  Maybe that dates me a little bit, the book was copyrighted in 1963, but I can’t be certain when I read it.  Likely it was some years later.  In my previous blog I also made the mistake, due to memory compression in my head, of setting the two words of the title into one… Witch World… two words, not connected, sorry. 
After I posted that blog I realized there was a lot more of the story that stuck with me, used as soil or fertilizer to nurture my imagination.  The essence of the story involves a guy who is trying to escape the untenable situation of his life, leaving the mistakes or triumphs of his life when everyone else turns against him.  None of this is elaborated and you don’t know if he’s a good guy or bad, but you have the feeling that he’s good.  That is what is interesting about the story; there’s enough data given that you gain a feeling of what he is… a good guy.  Even though he is on the run you take his side.
As faulty as my memory has proved, I’m fairly certain that in the sixties the idea of using the anti-hero as the protagonist was rarely used in genre fiction… not to the extent it is today, for sure.  In those days the good guy was good and what secrets he harbored were for good reasons.  White hats and black hats, easily recognized characters.
Maybe that was part of my basis for assuming that Simon Tregarth was a good guy.  A soldier who killed for the sake of duty or to protect the unnamed woman being hounded in the new life he found.  Good.
She was a witch and introduced us all slowly to the facts of the Witch World… Even after reading the book again there was only a loose sketch of a world.  This was something else that worked well for Ms. Norton… the worlds she created did not need details of their economic structure, caste system, politics, and astrological information to work.  Of course the details emerged to the extent they were necessary, within the narrative.  She didn’t swamp readers with facts, details or extensive exposition.  There was enough detail to hold the reader and keep them in the moment.
I believe her method evolved over the years but the essence of her storytelling remained the same.
I can’t say that my writing makes use of all I appreciate of Ms. Norton’s.  I know primarily that her books got me started.  I still have many of the early stories I wrote and hope to have time in the future to rewrite and edit them to where I feel they’d be ready to publish.  Some of my earliest attempts were so close to pla… copying others… that I trashed them.  It took time to create my own style.  Of course my style has changed over the years.
Over the years I didn’t focus on any attempt to publish my material, occasionally I would try directly or try to find an agent.  With the current market so tight I chose to publish my stories as Ebooks, trusting that those who find them… readers, like myself… will enjoy them and perhaps tender some feedback.
Currently I have three of what is called Urban Fantasy… (Urban Fantasy is something I prefer to call Monsters Among Us, since that’s mostly what the distinction is, US being our current civilization)… this series is called The Merged Worlds.  The first book of the series is Too Much Magic, introducing Pepper Paull, a good witch.  The second is Vampire’s Magic with Stacey Bowen as a vampire.  The third goes back to Pepper in Pepper’s Magic.  In science fiction the first book of a series which got labeled Sea Scape, is titled Sea’s Dance, it is set in the far future and the next, Sea’s Turn, is coming out soon.
Yes, I am promoting myself here for a minute since while I make the claim to be a writer a blog is not sufficient proof; therefore the above mentioned books establish the fact.
            While I have a rather large collection of books of the physical-paper-pages-between-two-covers type of book I think that ebooks are the logical next step.  That doesn't mean that I'll give up on paper but I noticed a lot of old books are coming out in this format and for the sake of the stories it is a good thing.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

books that got me started

            Since I've been writing for as long as I can remember, or at least since I was around fifteen years old, I often look to the inspirational factors that keep me going.  It wasn't like I looked around and said that I'd write about specific events in my life, that didn't seem like fun or of any interest to anyone else.  Mostly what inspired me were the works of other authors.  The very first book I remember was called Ghosts, Ghosts, Ghosts and it was a collection of, obviously, ghost stories. 
           The books that really caught my imagination were science fiction and fantasy tales.  I read everything I could get my hands on, the school library had a very small section, though.  In any case one of the books I remembered occasionally was Andre Norton's Witchworld. I read all of her books that I could get my hands on, they were fun.  But it was her Witchworld series that moved me to start writing.
           I don't really know why I began writing, except that I knew that reading was fun but it always came to an end sooner or later... but I wanted it to continue.  The only way that a story could continue was to take charge of it, to make the heros, heroines and antagonists your puppets in the unfenced depths of your mind. 
Andre Norton's stories were all of that to me, tales that ended too soon.
          When I decided to try my hand at blogging I thought that digging up some of the books of the past, my past, would be an interesting topic.  So I dug out my copy of Witchworld and re-read it.  There is a difference between how I remember the story and how it is in the book, which I thought was neat and revealed again how poor my memory of specifics can be.
          I'd forgotten that it was arranged as short stories that were connected to make the entirety, but as soon as I started reading I remembered the story, again not with every little detail but I would see the situation developing and say 'ah ha, I remember this,' or 'this is gonna happen next,' and it would.  It was fun.
More than being fun though I realized that some of the elements she used in her stories are still used today, that's not unusual, I suppose, but it is interesting.
         I'm reading more of the Witchworld stories and I hope to give more details and come to an opinion of whether these tales are dated or if they compete with current fantasy literature.  I've always valued them and I hope others might take a chance and look into the past for some good reads.
         I've never really kept up with authors, except to read their books or maybe find out what they were writing next.  Today it's easier when most writers have websites or something and you can simply access them to find out personal details if you want.  I was only interested in reading their stories... for the most part.
One item I seem to remember (hope I remember correctly) is that Andre Norton had to publish under a male pseudonym Andrew North, since women couldn't break into writing back in those days.  Fortunately, she could use her own name and inspire others, male and female, as time passed.  I appreciate that she partnered with other writers and opened the galaxy to witches, star traders and aliens, leaving a trail of ink for us later explorers.