Short Stories

The other day I was approached by Chris Rosser, amazing author of ‘The Weaver’s Boy’, Book One in the Lords of Skeinhold, about the possibility of contributing a short story to an anthology project* he was considering.

*N.B. This is all hypothetical with a very specific theme, don’t go bombarding Chris with your short stories!

Now, why would he approach me, an unpublished writer, you might wonder? Well, he is currently beta-reading my WIP, so hopefully that means he thinks my work is good enough that a short story of mine would be enjoyable reading. It is a huge compliment, but alas, I have been focusing exclusively on novel writing – and having been ‘working on’ ‘The Blood of the Spear’ for ten-ish years (and world building t for even longer), I’ve never written a short story in my life.

I haven’t even read many. My reading habits, again, tend to focus on novels – big epic tomes at that – because I like to sink into a story, a world, and really get to know characters and I just somehow assumed that short stories couldn’t get me there. That being sad I have read shorts by GRRM set in Westeros, and shorts by Janny Wurts set in the wider universe of Paravia.

However, more recently I have been branching out reading, being (forced) by both Chris Rosser and Deck Matthews, to read their novellas and short stories. As I said, I haven’t read many previous, and I have never looked into the art of writing a short story or novella.

Now, I have some discarded prologues from ‘The Blood of the Spear‘ that I have put into a folder called ‘Shorts’, with the idea that I might revisit these and expand them some. Or at the very least, turn them into character sketches that might get released one day. But I really don’t have anything ready now, or that I could even work on at the moment as I continue to think about BotS and the greater series.

But Chris’ question got me thinking. What could I write a short story about? Or even a novella? The answer came to me fairly quickly as the muse would have it. I have two characters in BotS who turn up approximately halfway into the story. They are important characters, and as they join my main cohort their back story is left as rather mysterious. Not in the ‘what’s the secret’ kind of way, but more along the lines of ‘there is a story here’. Yesterday they, the characters, gave me the bare bones of that story and I have started a new document in the ‘Shorts’ folder with the notes on how they met and why they travel together.

Now, all I have to do is look into the art of short stories (and given I take after GRRM with the whole ‘ten thousand words is me clearing my throat’ thing, it will likely be a novella) flesh out the bare bones into an actual plot and get some writing done.

It always reassures me when the idea for a new story comes to me. Often time writing BotS I will become so immersed that I wonder what is next and panic, thinking I have no other story in my mind. But then I remember my ‘Shorts’ folder, and my ‘Future Projects’ folder, and my head is again filled with ideas. It’s exciting!

2019 – The State of Play

Welcome to another year! I was looking over old emails today and noted that I sent my WIP – The Blood of the Spear – out to its first beta-readers back in 2013… time goes by so quickly.

Last year, after extensive re-writes I sent the 7th draft out to another round of beta-readers. I understand this is not the most efficient way to do things, it also gets a bit silly calling people who are reading your book beta-readers when they are more like gamma-readers by now but whatever. I have to say though, that I learnt more about what I need to do to a manuscript before I say, ‘the end’ then I have in the last 5 years of ‘rewriting’ (which basically amounted to me pushing words around).

I have learnt that I need to read the whole manuscript out loud to myself before I show it to anyone.

I need to go through the whole thing and cut (most of) the filter words – I DID NOT KNOW THIS WAS A THING! One of the consequences of being self-taught, I guess. But in 2018 I discovered these and now they are on my radar! Cutting these filter words reduced the size of the manuscript from about 206K words to 194K.

It’s only after then that I should hand it out. Although my alpha-reader gets to read it before all this happens. Eep!

I also learnt that my grasp of grammar was much poorer that I had realised. It was pointed out to me rather ungently, but once I’d picked up my fragile self-esteem I was able to see some of the things this person was talking about and was able to adjust my manuscript accordingly. Or at least make it better. I think/hope? Regardless, I learnt that this beta-reader is also not the right fit for me, so silver lining.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not averse to criticism, but when it’s presented in a way that is not helpful it can be hard to take. But, possibly good practice for if I ever get published and someone writes a negative review?

So, what does 2019 hold for me. Well. I currently have folders for five WIPs, all of which are set on Sobia, the world I have been building for the last 27 odd years.

1. The Blood of the Spear, book one in The Eye of Eternity.

Marked once the saviour and twice the destroyer, the Phoenix Lord must know himself before he can be reborn. He must descend before he can begin to rise. He must kindle the flame before he is risen.

This is story of two half-brothers touched by prophecy and destined to save or destroy the world. I am currently finishing self-edits based on beta-reader feedback and will be sending it off to my editor in April.

After that will start to hunt down look for an agent.

As a first-time writer I am somewhat apprehensive that a manuscript weighing in at 197K words will just be a bridge to far for a publisher to take a risk on. Yes, self-publishing is certainly a viable option, but this is a (planned) seven book series (at least) and I want to give it the best chance of being read as I can, so I might put it aside and work on something that I will deliberately make shorter, which leads me to:

2. The Path of Stone, book one in The Hand of the Earth series.

At its roots this is the tale of a princess who had chosen to renounce her royal heritage and swear service to the Elder God of the Earth to become a Guardian of the Emerald Fire. But on the night she is to take her final vows, she is betrayed and exiled into slavery.

This is set about twenty years before events in the Eye of Eternity and is loosely connected.

I am thinking this is a four-book series, and the challenge is to bring them in under 150K words each. Well, at least the first one 😛

3. The Tower of the Stars, book two of The Eye of Eternity.

This is in the very early stages of the first draft. I haven’t even finished the prologue and want to sit down and properly plot this one out (I didn’t do that with TBotS).

4. The Heart of the Grove.

A girl’s quest for the truth, a sorcerer’s lust for power.

This is a standalone and happens in the same time-frame as the events in The Blood of the Spear – again this is linked to the Eye of Eternity series but is not required reading.

5. The Five Dragons.

Set in the Crescent Cities, if follows the bitter struggle between two women intent on taking control of one the world’s greatest mercantile dynasties.

Again, this too is planned as a standalone novel. It is set in the same world as The Eye of Eternity series but isn’t (at this stage) connected to the Eye of Eternity series in any substantial way.

Will I get all of this done in 2019? Roflmao.

No.

But I plan to make a good start on both The Tower of the Stars and The Path of Stone.

I am also commissioning an artist to transform my map of Ath’may, the Broken Continent (where my stories are set), into a map worthy of going into a book. I am excited about this and know who I am approaching, but that will wait until later in the year when my cash flow is more robust.

Oh! And I have plans to get a ‘proper’ website happening, but that is well and truly on the back burner until such a time as I get closer to publication.

Happy 2019 everybody!

The Importance of an Editor – and a Manuscript Assessment

I have been reading for years (and years), have beta-read for other authors and review books frequently, but when it comes to writing itself, I am very much still learning my craft for a reader does not a writer make – at least, not entirely. 

Being asked to beta-read has taught me how read critically, to recognise ‘good’ writing from ‘poor’ and to be able to identify plot structure and characterisation rather than just enjoy the read (or not) without thinking any more about it. But identifying issues within your own work is a challenge, especially when you know story, because sometimes what is in your head is not on the page but you can’t see that it’s missing. 

Like any aspiring writer I want to give myself the best possible chance of getting my work published. Working in the bookselling industry I am lucky enough to have a number of contacts who will look at my work – but that is no guarantee of an offer.  So I decided that when my manuscript was ready for beta-reader feedback it would also be ready for an assessment by a freelance editor.

Some writers bulk at the expense of hiring an editor to assess their manuscript. After all, isn’t it the job of an editor at a publishing house to go through your work and make it better? Well sure, in a perfect world. But few editors in a publishing house have the time to give a manuscript from a new author that sort of a love and attention. If you want your work to stand out – and to be considered publishable at all – then you need to go the hard yards, and invest in yourself, to polish it within an inch of its life.

I sent my precious manuscript to Abigail at Bothersome Words and the entire experience has been fantastic. I now have an assessment that is making me look at my work through ‘new’ eyes – and furthered my education in the art of prose which I will take with me when I begin the first draft of my next book. I have a detailed and unbiased analysis of the plot and of each character, as well as notes on pacing, questions on world building, examples of showing and telling (and overwriting) in my prose as well as points on its overall cohesion.

Getting an assessment of my work has helped me craft a plan of attack for my 5th (and final – I hope) draft and pointed things out to me that I was just too close to the work to see. Seeking assistance from someone who works with the written word for a living has benefited me in ways that have already changed how I approach each stage of working on a novel – not to mention in ways I have not even noticed yet – and I highly recommend it. I will definitely be working with Abigail Nathan at Bothersome Words again.

Remembering Sara Douglass

I can recall picking up Battleaxe on the day of its release. Having always been an avid reader I visit the local bookshop every lunch time with an eye for something new. And back then there was not nearly as much to choose from as there is today. References on the cover comparing to Robert Jordan peeked my interest and I took it home (paying for it first). Those comparisons are not accurate to my mind but it didn’t matter, I quickly engrossed, lost in a richly imagined world of magic, adventure and wonder.

Anyone well read in genre fiction will be familiar with the story being told. It’s not that it is unoriginal – there is much originality in it – it’s just familiar. In a good way. You know what you are getting but you know the way you are going to get it and Douglass twists that familiarity in a gritty melding of bloody battles, sex, betrayal, magic and greed. The fact that Battleaxe is still in print 20 years after it was first published says a lot about how well it continues to sell and gain new fans.

Battleaxe does have its flaws but Douglass’ gift was that her writing, her story telling, is so enthralling that you just keep reading. Many books can be described as page turners, keeping you up late into the night – Battleaxe actually did this to me. I just needed to know what happened next. That it was the first in a trilogy was even better because it meant that there would more books. Battleaxe holds a special place on my bookshelf as the book that broke Aussie fantasy to the world opened the doors for the likes of Kate Forsyth, Jennifer Fallon, Ian Irvine and Karen Miller.

Where’s the next book? And a Review

So James Rollins aka James Clemens, has another new book out –The Blood Gospel.

And yet there is still no sign of the next James Clemens book in the Godslayer Chronicles. Much like there is no sign of the next book in Eric van Lustbader’s Saga of the Pearl series.

James Clemen’s with his Wit’ch books, the Chronicles of the Banned and the Banished, and the first two books of the Godslayer Chronicles pushed himself high on my list of favorite author’s very quickly.

That he can’t be bothered to go back to an unfinished series now his mainstream adventure fiction novels are doing well is so disappointing.

For what it’s worth – Shadowfall: A Review

Godslayer Chronicles #1
by James Clemens
In a genre fit to bursting with divine wars and magic Knights, Clemens walks familiar territory with the first book in his new series Godslayer. But, with a deft hand, he weaves a tale that has far more originality than is at first apparent. 
In the world of Myrillia, the gods walk amongst men. 4,000 years ago, the Heavens were Sundered during the War of the Gods and they fell to the earth. Binding themselves to the land to offset the madness that was falling upon them, the Gods are confined to the kingdoms they have chosen, or which have sprung up around them and have brought peace and prosperity to mankind. They have taught their Hands – men and women specially trained to serve them – how to harvest the humours of their bodies (Blood, Masculine Seed/Female Menses, Sweat, Tears, Saliva, Phlegm, Yellow Bile and Black Bile) and trained Alchemists make of these humours Blessings that, when applied to either a mortal or inanimate object, instil that human, or object with ‘Grace’.
Among the Graced are the Shadowknights of Tashijan, a military order whose knights are the most sought-after guards, bodyguards and couriers in the world. Tylar de Noche is a disgraced Shadowknight. Betrayed by those he held dearest, he has been stripped of his Grace and had his body broken by a sentence of five years amongst the slave pits and gladiatorial circuses. Trying to hide away and forget his past life in the small realm of the Summering Isles, he is caught up in intrigue and darkness when he comes to the aid of a woman being pursued through the city’s dark alleys. Arriving too late to offer her help, he comforts her in her final moments, only to discover that the woman is Meeryn, the Goddess of the Isles. With her dying breath, Meeryn gifts, or curses, Tylar with untold Grace and charges him to find Rivenscryr. 
Apprehended by her late-arriving guards, Tylar is charged with slaying a god. Discovering the terrible Grace that Meeryn has bestowed upon him, Tylar manages to escapes a fate worse than the torture of the slaves pits and sets out on a desperate quest to find out who had the power to kill a Goddess and to uncover the mystery of Rivenscryr; a journey that will lead him back to the Citadel of Tashijan and the women whose testimony had him cast out of the Order five years before, the woman he loved, and into corruption hiding in the heart of the First Land itself.   
Clemens skilfully weaves various characters and storylines together creating a fast-paced page-turner. Unafraid to explore the darker aspects of human nature some scenes will make you squirm, yet they hold that inexplicable attraction similar to being unable to turn away from viewing an accident scene. Shadow Fall  is fantastic. I highly recommend it!

A Memory of Light – Musings

A Memory of Light
The Wheel of Time #14
By Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

Well the Wheel of Time never stops turning but it has come to an ending in Robert Jordan’s world.

I completed the final book today. Yes it’s taken me a month to get through it – and unfortunately not because I was stopping to read ever word over and over (I did a lot of skimming) but because it wasn’t anywhere near as compelling as I might have liked, or expected after 20 years and 13 previous volumes.

Unfortunately Jordan passed away and the work has had to be finished by someone else. Now don’t get me wrong . I admire Brandon Sanderson greatly, I don’t admire or respect the reasons he’s publicly stated as to why he took on this project, but I do respect his work. In worlds of his own creation. Namely, and actually only, the Stormlight Archives. But that’s just me.

He did a great job, he really did, and I think it’s more a testament to the size of the work and the story threads that needed to be tied up than Sanderson’s ability as a writer, as to why I was not completely engaged in the final book. And that, if nothing else, is something I will need to watch out for in my own epic work.

Was the final book satisfying? Yes it was. A lot of threads got stitched together, some cut off abruptly (although well done for all that) and a few not answered at all (unfortunately).

The Wheel of Time is certainly a worthy edition to any fantasy collection, and despite any flaws in execution at times I think the first seven books are brilliant. It has been the single biggest influence on my own development as a writer and though I have the books to re-read again and again (and I will) I can’t help feel a grief at its conclusions that I have not felt since the news of Robert Jordan’s death itself.