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The New Year is starting off with a bang! While my packing up the place in Parks is going slower than planned due to the fact that I have a cold, I may already have a buyer. I also got a confirmation call this afternoon for a gig playing at an attorney’s conference in February. (Things are finally starting to move on the music performance front. Woohoo!) And, though I haven’t been working on the novel at all lately, I had a major plot breakthrough this morning. Evidently my subconscious has been toiling away on it, unbeknownst to me.

The unexpected gift from my deeper mind was particularly exciting. The two closing scenes that it delivered up to me as a sort of “mental movie” as I groggily awakened solved several character motivation problems and tied up some loose ends in continuity – no mean feat when you are dealing with beings that bend time and travel between different dimensions. I was ready to start writing immediately, but had to limit my enthusiasm to some brief outlining. Snow is expected here in the high country and I’ve got waaay too much packing and cleaning to do before I have to beat it back down to Phoenix on Friday morning to stay ahead of the approaching storm.

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My Half-Novel

The critiques of “Return of the Shadow Lion” that I have received so far are fairly consistent and there is a relatively simple solution to 90 percent of the difficulties my dedicated readers had with the story. All I have to do is stick Books Three and Four in the series together, and “Presto!” the problem is solved. I should be happy, right?

I am, actually. It’s just that I am feeling a bit daunted at the thought of what I have to do to implement this wonderful solution. Book Four is written; Book Three is not. That means that I really only have half a novel written (where I thought I was just looking at a rewrite) and there will have to be some changes (relatively minor) in the points of view in Book Four to make it fit together with Book Three.

In my efforts to follow conventional wisdom about writing (and selling) stories in the fantasy genre, I planned to divide my epic into a series of fairly standard lengths. I broke the story line at what seemed like logical points. Now, Book Four has proven to be too dependent on story material that is contained in Book Three. Oops.

It seems my decision to start “en media res” was ill-advised, or at least miscalculated. I started Book Four in the middle of a lifetime, forgetting that the whole series spans three lifetimes of the main character… Reincarnation really complicates things.

Of course, by starting the novel at the beginning of [one of] the protagonist’s life/lives, the reader gets to learn about things as our hero grows up and discovers them. All of the details of the society – it’s religion, culture, mores, and history – can be divulged in a much more leisurely way. Believability problems with both story line and character development, particularly with my villains, disappear when I can take more time to reveal incidents and indulge in more descriptive detail.

The more gradual approach takes a lot of the complexity out of understanding an alien world. It also flies in the face of some of the early advice I got about writing to sell: Do not write about a protagonist’s childhood, do not start at the beginning, do not, do not, do not…

Scroom. I have thrown all that nonsense out. Now, my constant question to myself is, “Does this serve the story?” Let the story dictate how it will be told. I’ve spent too much time and effort trying to make the story fit into some supposed profile of saleability and the story has suffered because of that. Odds are, it will never sell anyway. If I’m going to spend the time on it, it jolly well better be for the art and the heart of it!

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I’m so confused…

Having dedicated readers from an online writer’s group critique one’s novel is a whole new experience for me. I’m not sure what to do with all of the ideas, suggestions, corrections, and criticisms. Each person has had something valuable to add; each person has also at some point missed something that I thought was startlingly obvious. My knee-jerk reaction is to rework everything to try and make it clear to everyone, but after much thought, it has become plain that that simply is not possible.

The assessments are in some cases diametrically opposed to one another. I made some changes based on one early reader’s comments – cutting out some episodes with minor characters to simplify a overly complex story line – only to have a current DR wonder where a certain group of characters were…why weren’t they represented? They were, until I cut them out to make more room for the main story line.

In another instance, a DR chided me for the quick emotional turnaround of the main character, thinking that it was an unbelievable episode because it happened in a matter of minutes.  It would have been quite unbelievable if it happened in such a short time.  I thought it was clear that the story had progressed from the middle of the night to morning. Several transitional sentences used a change in action and a visual description of the sunrise to cue the reader.  Or, so I thought.

Such misunderstandings leave me to wonder if my writing is that unclear, or if readers are skimming or simply not picking up on the clues. I sincerely want to write well and plainly.  I want to get the story across in an interesting way that does not underestimate my readers’ intelligence or offend their sensibilities overmuch. At the moment, I’m stumped as to what to do to accomplish that.

Overall, the increase in detail on this last rewrite has gone over well.  Except for the sex. One reader said, “Too much.”  Another said, “Too little.”  Another one said, “Wrong kind.” I throw up my hands and say, “I have no idea how to write sex scenes.  If they weren’t integral to the story, I’d cut them all out!”  Kind of hard to do when the story revolves around the trials and tribulations of a couple of soul-mates, so I’d better learn.  Sigh.  Let’s not even talk about how I need to do a better job of making the physical details of an alien race’s sexual mechanics understandable…much less the differences in mores and cultural expectations.

It’s a good thing I’ve got 157,000 words down in a fairly readable form. I’ve gone too far to turn back now!  And, really, much of the critting of the manuscript is spot on and useful.  Several of the DRs put in considerable time and effort.  Wrestling with their critiques will make me a better writer and will improve the story.  It will also harden my writerly hide and force me to make some tough decisions about how to best tell the story.

For now, I’m considering all the different viewpoints and letting it cook while I wait for the last few crits to come in.

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I’m still debating whether to take on NaNoWriMo this year.  I want to, but I am still up to my eyeballs with moving and jobbing and everything else I’ve got going.  I wouldn’t even consider it, except that “RSL” is complete and being critiqued. I don’t expect the crits to be done before December, so I have no other writing projects going right now. My fingers itch for the keyboard…

Will this blog be enough?  Oh yeah.  Flamencophile.com languishes for lack of attention, too.  Maybe not.

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NaNoWriMo Looms

Ah yes, NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writer’s Month – lurks just beyond the horizon. I got an email that they are reworking their website in preparation for an October 1 kick off.

Has it only been a year? Close to it, anyway, that I scrapped the screenplay I was writing and started fresh with the novel that is currently being read and critiqued. Wow, a lot has happened in one trip around the sun.

Guess it’s almost time to pull out the outline and notes for one of the other novels in the series and see if I’m up for another round of the insanity of writing 50,000 words in one month.

NaNoWriMo is what convinced me that I actually could write and that I had enough material to push ahead and attempt a novel. Wonder what I”ll learn from it this time?

More writerly news: Another blog carnival – the Happiness Carnival on thinkhappythoughts.com – has one of my posts listed. This time it’s “Jump. Fall. Fly.

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Love and Promises

Writing is what’s on my mind today. My post, Nakedness, is listed on the Personal Power Blog Carnival at Pinkblocks.com. Last night I sent out my revised Part One of “Return of the Shadow Lion” to my Dedicated Readers, or DRs as they are known in Critters.org/critique.org lingo. The critiques, or crits, that came back off of last week’s submission of the Prologue and first three chapters of RSL were very helpful and gave me a lot to do and think about during the revision. The “Critters” (another critique.org term) not only made great comments, and asked insightful and pointed questions, they also gave me an unexpected gift.

After I sent out the first section, I sat back and reflected on what I’ve learned so far. That’s when I saw the real theme of the fantasy novel that has consumed so much of my time lately. Love and promises. Oh, I’d known that was in there, but several sub-themes and the necessary obsession with detail that is required for the editing process had distracted me from the primary point.

For all of the ordeals that I put my characters through and how much they suffer for their goals, this one thing became quite clear. Down to the last malakh, good or bad, honorable or scoundrel, the quality of their lives and their legacies is determined by one thing–whether they act out of limited self-interest or for the good of others. Their fates are sealed out of that fundamental choice of whether or not to live out of love. All else, their promises and commitments, and how they choose to fulfill those, flows from the fount of what lies deep within their hearts. And it isn’t always black and white, or obvious, what drives some of them. That’s the suspense and the surprise of it. It’s also a lot of the fun of the writing of it, too.

It is often the ones that suffer the most for their choices, lose their lives for their commitments even, that have the highest quality of life. They are the ones who love well and deeply; they die the same way. Their legacies are all different. They may come to their demise with grace or groveling, end up variously respected, vilified or redeemed, but the one constant is love. Love and promises.

Whatever happens with this book, whether it eventually finds a publisher or languishes on a CD-R in my office closet, matters a lot less to me at the moment than my happiness over having written something with a transcendent message. I do feel some obligation to help it find a larger audience than just me and half dozen critiquers, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the message it contains won’t allow itself be limited by either the vagaries of the publishing industry or the limits of my writing skill. Heck, it isn’t limited to the written page at all. That’s just this one messenger’s particular medium. The message itself flows into, fills, and overflows all of our little boxes, just as it flows into, fills and overflows our lives–if we let it.

Those are my thoughts on this blustery morning in Parks, Arizona. It rained last night and the San Francisco Peaks are sporting a wreath of clouds as I write this. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the first snowfall of the season dusting the higher elevations once the clouds lift. Today, I’ll be immersed in more editing and hammering away at flamencophile.com. I may even get a few boxes packed. Until next time, this Ariel Laurel Strong for the Cloud of Unknowing on WordPress.com. Posted on Sunday, September 23 at 18:59 UTC.

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My more usual optimism has returned this evening, leaving the melancholy of midday to fade away into memory. As I drove to Flagstaff to have dinner with my friend Margie, I realized how reclusive I have become the last few months – two trips to Flag in a week feels positively extraverted. Between the novel edit and the intense effort on developing the Drupal-based websites, I’ve spent many, many hours at the keyboard lately. Despite Elmo the Wonder Cat’s attentions, I was in real need of human contact.

I realized some other things today, too. As one of my correctives to the earlier mood, I looked back some more over the last year and thought of all that has happened. It wasn’t so much a “count your blessings” sort of thing, though that was part of it. It was more of an evaluation, an assessment of how far I’ve come, in an effort to have more perspective on how far I have yet to go. I’ve been so busy projecting into the future and seeing how far I had to go to reach my goals that I was a little overwhelmed. The glance behind gave me a much needed shift in point of view.

Wow! A year ago I weighed 37 pounds more than I do now (down another pound this morning, in fact) and I still had several areas of complete numbness on my right leg and foot. Today, there’s only one little spot left on my big toe and even that has some feeling that has come back. I still have to work around the residual nerve damage at times, but it gradually continues to improve.

A year ago I had a regular job that I enjoyed and which paid alright. It only used a fraction of my skills, however, and would prove to be short-lived. Today, I work for myself. That demands every bit of skill and knowledge I have to grow my business. It’s fun, exciting, worrisome at times, and definitely a challenge. By the hourly rate, it’s great compared to my job a year ago. Now I just have to get more hours…

A year ago, I was into the fourth week of the beginning flamenco dance class at Coconino Community College and having a blast. I’d just been down to Tlaquepaque to see Mosaico Flamenco perform; I came back all enthused and determined to study guitar again. This past Friday, I accompanied the class for the first time, using what I’ve learned in taking guitar lessons from Gaetano, the lead guitarist of Mosaico. I had some trouble keeping the Sevillanas even at the slow speed and I’ve got quite a ways to go before I will feel comfortable accompanying the baile, but it’s a start and something I had no idea would come out of signing up for a dance class. I’ve gotten my guitar dreams back and even had a couple of performances in the last few months.

A year ago, I had a bunch of scenes strung together in a somewhat confused and disjointed screenplay and no idea what to do with, about, or to it. Today, I have a novel written and the first few chapters out to an online critique group. I’ve received some encouraging feedback and concluded that it’s less than half bad. The hours and outlines and preliminary writing on the other novels in the series start to look like a semi-reasonable investment as opposed to an insane waste of time.

A year ago, I never would have guessed at all that has happened since. As I look ahead to my move and all the uncertainties of the coming year, reason tells me that I am in the same position once again. Who knows what the year ahead will bring? After seeing how far I’ve come in the past year, the distance ahead doesn’t look that far after all.

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