Writing Process Blog Tour

Yesterday, author Robert Mullin kindly tagged me in a blog tour going by the name of The Writing Process. I got to know him over Facebook, and he has become a close friend of mine. A writer and adventurer, he is the author of Bid the Gods Arise, an excellent novel that deftly blends science fiction and fantasy. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m very enthusiastic to read more of his work.

So, here are the tour’s questions:

What am I working on?

My writing projects are currently twofold.

One, of course, is The Wolfglen Legacy, the epic fantasy series I’ve been working on for the better part of a decade. I’ve pitched it, edited it, had friends read parts of it…but then I realized it hadn’t matured quite enough. I need to finally write books 2, 3, and 4 (pieces of each do exist already), so I’ll see if I can finish the first book by summer this year.

My second project is the serialized science fiction thriller Arrivers. The first three installments are on Amazon Kindle for a buck each, and a fourth entry is underway. I’d love to see where this story goes and get a chance to spend more time with Sergeant Tobias, Reverend Rousseau, and the strange woman who calls herself Jezebel.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Apart from games like World of Warcraft and Dungeons and Dragons, I don’t know of any epic fantasy that includes dinosaurs. Or elves who wield flintlock pistols, and treat them with the same deep honor and reverence as Samurai treat the katana. Or a villain who appoints himself as rescuer of mankind, who feels going to war is a necessary step to rescuing us from our own flaws and mistakes.

More than that, however, many new fantasy novels wade in moral ambiguity, Game of Thrones style. It makes for frustrating tales that don’t really celebrate or condemn anything. I want to tell stories that have moral complexity. There’s still a difference between right and wrong, even if they can tie knots around each other.

When it came to the Arrivers stories, I grew weary from seeing one science fiction story after another that was overtly materialistic. You know, the stories told by the likes of Ben Bova and Isaac Asimov, that go out of their way to say religious people are morons, science eradicates miracles, and God no longer has a place in the cosmos. So I wanted to write a science fiction story that wasn’t “religious,” but still admitted there’s more to the universe than particles and natural laws.

Why do I write what I do?

If someone tells me I take my writing too seriously, I’ll take it as a complement. 🙂 My goal is to make someone feel like they are peeking through an interdimensional portal, witnessing events in a universe just as real as ours. Neither characters, nor story, nor world will be ready until it seems they’re entirely real. It’s not quite enough for me to try telling “a good story.” That’s the house’s foundation, so to speak.

How does my writing process work?

A few things help the writing process. Coffee with hazelnut creamer, concept art from movies, reading other novels, peace and quiet, and successfully resisting the siren call of Facebook. Still working on that last one….

I’ll often start with an idea and a paragraph or two, and build it up from there. Normally half of my edits happen as I’m writing the “first draft”. Supposedly this is a big no-no for writers, but it’s ended up helping me more and more with my own work.

Tagging Other Authors

For passing along this blog tour, I’d like to tag “Zombie Rob” Killam, another close friend of mine with an incredible talent for humor and witty dialogue. His upcoming zombie novel is called Apocalypse Springs.

The second writer I wanted to tag is my friend Joe Dorris, starring on the show Prospectors on the Weather Channel and fellow novelist who just released Salmon River Kid. He even paints his own cover art! How cool is that?

And here’s a third: mother, duchess and epic sci-fi author Ashley Hodges Bazer. I’m grinning at the prospect of reading her tales that encompass many worlds and have the kind of big-scale stories that deserve a movie or TV series. Here’s to much success, Ashley!

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The Joy of Writing: Robbed and Regained

Like many fantasy writers, I get a ton of inspiration from J.R.R. Tolkien. The more I read his work, the more quotable he becomes. He has left quite an impression on my work and imagination, even in the reasons I write stories.

This will just be a brief instance of that procrastination known as “writing about writing,” before I finally return to the long-neglected bliss of rewriting that fantasy novel and bringing out what I pray will be the story it was meant to tell.

When people began trying to equate his stories of Middle Earth with contemporary events or themes or hot button topics, Tolkien bristled at the notion that he was writing commentary. He was fine with applicability, but current events were not the point. Tolkien had what he described as a cordial dislike for allegory. “I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers.”

That’s largely my perspective as well. He weaved together this world of Elves and Hobbits and noble Men, and made his stories about the characters and their situations. Not about “the dangers of power” or “relationships” or “self-sacrifice” or the other themes some writers will obsess over. Fiction loses something important when it angsts more about theme/meaning than what its particular characters go through. You can’t quite escape from this world when that happens. Fiction loses its intended illusion of reality.

Perhaps I’m too sensitive, but the fact is my jaw sets, and my enthusiasm and imagination begin to shrivel, when fellow readers and writers spend more time discussing the “themes” or “meaning” of a story than they do discussing the tale itself. I had far too much of that in college, where nearly every professor read ideologies into the text, coldly dissecting it and scrutinizing it like a crowd of microbes in a petri dish.

And then I fell into the creative deathtrap again with too much time on my hands after graduation, taking to the blogosphere and reading deconstructions of movies that only served to rob my enjoyment of the movies themselves. I got fixated on the themes and elements and meanings and cinematography techniques when I wanted to focus on the story. Maybe it’s a side effect of ADD. I don’t know.

Thank God this doesn’t happen to everyone, however! One of my friends told me about how this same practice of dissection and examination can enrich his enjoyment of a story. And more power to him for that!

Being a writer, I still have the responsibility to study the craft of storytelling, and knowing how to tell good tales in satisfying ways. For some reason I enjoy that part of the process.

When I’m learning how to improve my own stories, and when my reading of fiction is done not to scrutinize but to enjoy, I get inspired rather than frustrated. That diminished capacity for joy begins to regain its life and color, and its roots plunge deeper. That frame of mind reminds me how much I love creating new worlds and characters.

Don’t ignore the components of a great story, though. If you are a writer, don’t skimp on technique or think that inspiration is all you need. That’s not what I mean to convey. I only mean to say this: Don’t forget the joy of escaping into another world and making new friends through the pages of a book.

New Paintings, and I Got Interviewed!

"Budding for Spring." 4 x 6 inches.

“Budding for Spring.” 4 x 6 inches. Done as a birthday present for my wonderful mom.

Good morning everyone! I have a couple of new acrylic paintings to share. Sorry I haven’t gotten much writing done, but that’s changing this afternoon, God willing. There’s stories to be finished in them there hills.

In other news, I got interviewed about my artwork by the New Falcon Herald, a local newspaper. The article should appear in their April edition. It was a very welcome surprise, and will hopefully lead to more commissions. Might even be able to support myself with the artwork, sooner or later!

"Sentry." 4 x 6 inches

“Sentry.” 4 x 6 inches. Donated to Crosses for Losses.

I am also working on a fourth science fiction story for Amazon Kindle. It’ll be the fourth episode of the Arrivers series, which is made up of the three stories on my Author’s Page now.

Happy Friday everyone!

Climb

Another weekend, another painting done. “Climb.” Acrylics on watercolor paper, 4 x 6 inches.

This one took about 6 hours to make.

This one took about 6 hours to make.

The two figures at bottom right are Kedil Ahmlen (left) and Sathra Wolfglen (right), two characters from my books. I might find a place to put this scene.

The slope climbed up and up, bordered by steep ridges that protruded like harsh granite ribs around the mountain’s belly. Snow swept back and forth between the ridges in a white river. Nearer to them, the occasional pine tree poked up from the frozen plain. Perfect place to get caught in an avalanche, Sathra thought.

A blue guard tower that must have stood a hundred feet high rose against the nearest fold of rock, a lighthouse about to be toppled by a brutal wave. Every window was alight, and Sathra entertained the fantasy of stopping for the night. She shivered in her cloak, colder for tempting herself.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Kedil said, drawing her own cloak closed with a shaking hand. “We cannot stop. Tonight, we must climb.”

Copyright, of course, belongs to me.

Shared Thoughts on Privilege and Political Correctness

I’m still using this blog. Sorry I haven’t posted lately. I’ve also been writing a few things for Bubblews. A hard-to-pronounce name, I know. So lately, I’ve been blowing off some steam (and still trying to be nice about it) regarding the political correctness-style bullying I was subjected to a short while back. Wanted to rant here, but I’d just be repeating the things I’ve already written. I’ll just offer the links, if you’re interested. On Privilege, the Racebending Incident, and the fact that “sensitivity” has nothing over manners.

Hope you had a very Merry Christmas, and happy New Year!

And if Foz Meadows and/or anyone at Racebending actually reads this: I hope you all had a Merry Christmas, too. May your next year be full of joy, wisdom, and many more smiles than frowns.

“Salt Flats” is Out! (Plus In-Progress Painting)

Hey, everyone! Sorry I have been gone for a while. But I have good news. The third story in my serialized science fiction tales, “Salt Flats,” is now on Kindle! Today through Wednesday, the first two installments, “Escaping” and “Refugee,” are free, and the new one is just $0.99. It took a while to write this one (it’s slightly longer than the first two combined), but I did love writing it, and mean to keep the series going.

The synopsis:

The battlecraft Aphrodite has crash-landed six miles from the city of Elm’s Corner, the one refuge its survivors can take from an Arriver attack. Isolated from the crew, Sergeant Tobias Carter is left with a choice: run or fight. He and Reverend Rousseau have never met an enemy so fierce. And something about the Aphrodite has attracted the attention of more than just the Arrivers….

If this sounds like your cup of sci-fi tea, three stories for the total price of a buck is a good deal. And whatever you think — good, bad, whatever — feel free to write a quick review on Amazon or Goodreads. Reviews, of course, really help.

On another note, I have gotten more painting done, including my first foray onto a large canvas. It’s just beginning, but here’s what I have so far:

Snow goes on next, then I'm putting a city in the valley.

Snow goes on next, then I’m putting a city in the valley.

I hope you all have an awesome Thanksgiving, and get plenty of time with your loved ones. Catch you all later, and thanks for dropping by!

A Plea for Reason in Sci-Fi/Fantasy “Discrimination”

Edit: November 2, 2013: Don’t like what’s said on this post? Fine by me. But if you choose to mistake maturity for being “oblivious,” then there’s not much I can do to help you. I could go off on another rant, but I’ll defer to Brad Stine on this one.

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Lately I’ve been seeing quite a few accusations of discrimination being flung around the sci-fi/fantasy community. Mainly, it focuses on the fact that many of the writers are white males portraying white male protagonists.

Sorry, what? I must have forgotten to change my race and/or gender before I embarked on writing sci-fi and fantasy. My bad.

Forget about telling me that my “white privilege” is showing or I’m “mansplaining” things to you. I’m addressing you all as human beings, created as equals in the image of God — no more and no less. Look, can everyone quit the mud-slinging for five minutes and just admit this for what it is? If sci-fi and fantasy have somehow been overwhelmed by white, male protagonists/authors (and to a certain extent, that is true), that doesn’t mean it’s racist or sexist. It’s just boring. Well, it’s boring if skin color and gender of the protagonist(s) are a huge deal and determine the quality of a story.

I’m not arguing to keep things the way they are. By all means, let’s start increasing the variety of characters. But it’s nowhere near as important as crafting a good story and fascinating characters to drive it. Aren’t those the basics?

Honestly, I don’t care what the author or character’s race or sex is. I just want the story and the people it’s about to be interesting. In my experience, the only people who have cared a great deal about things the author and character cannot help, like their melanin content or chromosomes, belong to one of two types:

  • Those not-too-common actual racists or sexists — immature people who try to ruin others’ experience with science fiction and fantasy by belittling their race or gender (though I have hardly met any of them)
  • Equally immature people with notes from their classes in race studies or gender studies constantly on the brain, worrying about different types of humans and whether they are “represented” equally among authors or characters, and who think an under-representation of any group is a miscarriage of justice that MUST be addressed (I have met plenty of these, and would rather hope to not run into them again)

Last time I checked, writing classes and books didn’t have much to say on the subject of race or even gender, though that could easily change in the Age of Political Correctness. I don’t care one bit that Avatar: The Last Airbender or The Legend of Korra hardly have any “white” characters. I don’t care that Korra is a girl. I love both series, because the characters are well-developed, and the stories are amazing. And the fight scenes are mind-bogglingly awesome. That too.

But I also don’t care that many of the other stories I love, from Star Wars to Lord of the Rings to Jurassic Park, happen to have a lot of white, male characters driving the story. Because those are exactly the traits of human beings no one should be making a big deal about. What was that Martin Luther King, Jr. said, about people being judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin (or the arrangement of their chromosomes, for that matter)?

Female protagonists are supposed to have strength of one kind or another and be proactive, not because they’re female, but because they’re the protagonists. That’s why. There’s nothing in the chief character’s sex that robs him/her of the need to be decisive and proactive. No one except for the aforementioned groups is going to care how light or dark an author’s or character’s skin is. Most of us just want a great story, featuring interesting people and created by someone who knows what they’re doing.

Now can we please get back to having fun, writing the best fiction we can and sharing it with the world? Thanks for your time.