Boulders and Hills

I was quite struck by this video. The phrase ‘exploring the wilderness of your intuition’ especially caught in my mind. I have been thinking a lot lately (maybe to a slightly unhealthy degree) about failure and how we know when we’ve failed at something. How do we know when the better course would be to accept defeat? I suppose the message in Fired on Mars is that defeats, even large ones, can still be spun into opportunity.

On Writing Excuses recently Mary Robinette Kowal drew a distinction between ‘mistakes’ and ‘failure’, where a mistake may well be the doing of something wrong, or poorly, whereas failure is repeating the same error, over-and-over, without learning from it. This distinction has given me a framework to dwell on. I wrote my first novel manuscript twenty-odd years ago. I’ve been writing fiction consistently since then. I passed the ‘million words of awful’ line years ago. I must now be approaching ‘two million words of awful’, I suspect. I’ve written every day for years at a span. I’ve read other people’s stories extensively. I’ve pulled other people’s stories apart to try and work out how they knit together. I’ve read books on craft. I’ve been part of multiple workshops over my last twenty years. I’ve written stories that were mimicries of other voices. I written stories totally from my own heart, without reference to any other notions of narrative. And you know what? I still can’t write a decent story to save myself.

I enjoy the act of writing fiction. I really do. I feel a happier, better… more full human being at the end of any day in which I managed to scribble just a few short sentences. But there is a point where it becomes hard to keep going. The overwhelming feeling that I’m simply going to repeat all the mistakes I’ve already made, and that for some inexplicable reason, I have a block against learning how to do this right… it is a hard thing to fight past.

This isn’t to say I’m at the point of giving up. As I said, I enjoy writing. At worst, I may have to accept that I am writing stories for myself and the crickets, post them to various places, and try not to pay too much attention to whether or not they ever get read. I’m okay with that. In a similar vein, I also do some amateurish oil painting, but I’ve never tried to sell a canvas to anyone. I give them away, when finished. I usually discover at some later point that the canvas is bundled away in a cupboard somewhere. But that’s fine. I shrug and smile and keep working at making the next painting a little bit better than the last one.

I think the way forward may be to foment a similar mental attitude to writing stories. It’s okay to try and fail, and fail again. Just as long as there is some, even incremental, improvement, and as long as it is still possible to enjoy the creative process. That seems okay to me. So perhaps this isn’t a matter of accepting failure, so much as accepting that the task I am engaged with is a Sisyphean one. As long as I still enjoy pushing the boulder, perhaps it doesn’t matter so much if I never reach the top?

Something to think on.

A House of Snow & Apples

02_HOUSE_OF_SNOW_smashwordsI have, at long last, released the second tale in The Winter King. This has taken quite some time, and much longer than I anticipated. Largely, the delay is because I wrote an entirely different book, A Charm for the Nameless Child, which was supposed to be Part Two, and ended up being a little too disjointed from the first novella to make for an easy readerly transition. The solution, as strange as it may seem, was to write a couple stories to slip in between A Treasure of Bone and Promises and A Charm for the Nameless Child. And so, here we have Part Two: The House of Snow and Apples. Hopefully, anyone who enjoyed the first book will find this latest part to their taste. We rejoin Caewen and Dapplegrim, just a small time after their adventure with the Wisht-Folk.

I’ve uploaded The House of Snow and Apples to Smashwords, Amazon and also Drive-Thru Fiction. Each of the first two stories in The Winter King are simply too short to justify setting up two separate print editions, but once the third story is finished, I will bundle all three into a printed book, very likely via Ingram Spark. I have also been quietly looking at illustrators, and I may approach an illustrator to pay for some interior art at the same time. We shall see how things pan out.

Cover: The House of Snow & Apples

HOUSE_OF_SNOW_01_smashwordsI’ve just finished a (perhaps still slightly rough) copy of the cover for The House of Snow and Apples. This will now be Book Two of The Winter King. Book Three will be Fair Upon the Tor (incomplete). Book Four will be A Charm for the Nameless Child (complete, 100,000 words).

I didn’t really do a lot to the tree that forms the core of the picture. After photographing and importing into Photoshop, I erased all the white background, but found I was left with a reasonably nice looking pencil grey sketchy tree. I opened this in Corel Paint and added some touches of grey, streaking in some black and greenish colours, mostly using gouache brushes at about 50% transparency on the layer. Because apple tree bark is more grey than brown, I didn’t want to add too much brown. This might be confusing, maybe, for readers later on as a grey tree on a white background appears as a heraldic symbol in A Charm for the Nameless Child. Maybe I can come up with some in-universe excuse. Maybe the family who inhabit the House of Snow and Apples are a long sundered and lost minor scion of the Grey Tree? It would sort of make some sense, so, yes, perhaps I’ll go with that (if anyone should ask).

Updates and Suchlike

Just a quick update to say that Allie Sumner posted a very thoughtful review of A Treasure of Bone & Promises at her book review site Allie’s Opinions.

House_of_Snow_01I’m still some way off having The House of Snow and Apples ready for release, although I have at least started in on the cover art. I’ve uploaded a image of the greyscale, non-coloured early draft of the art. This was sketched on paper with an HB pencil, photographed and then manipulated in Photoshop (mostly just deleting background grey colours, adjusting levels didn’t work so well here). The next step is to import into Corel Painter and start bringing it up with scratch with some painterly work.

The House of Snow & Apples: Second Draft Complete

I’ve now finished taking my on-paper edits and using them to make changes into the Pages file for The House of Snow & Apples. It’s only a 40,000 word novella (or novelette? I can never remember the divisions and categories), so it didn’t take nearly as long as a full 100,000 word novel would have. One thing I noticed that I haven’t quite been aware of before: it seems I’m much less content with my dialogue than my exposition. In places where the text was dialogue-heavy, I made substantially more changes than in the exposition-heavy areas. I don’t know if I’m being more critical of the dialogue, or whether I’m just getting more attuned to the tweaking needed to separate out character voices. It’s something I’ll keep an eye on.

At any rate, I’m going to take a short break from the Clay-o-the-Green. By my calculation I have written about 220,000 words in The Winter King over the last year and a bit, plus multiple edits and drafts. I need a short break, a palate cleanser. The spirit-haunted landscape of the Clay-of-the-Green is starting to infiltrate my dreams. I need a brief respite.

So, to that end, I’m going to try to not think about the Clay-o-the-Green for a week or so. I have 2-3 contemporary short stories I’d like to write, which will make for a nice change of pace.

And finally, at long last, I’ve set up a dedicated Gmail account. If you want to reach me for whatever reason, the hobgoodfellowe@gmail is now active.

Edits, Edits Everywhere

It’s a hot day outside, the sky a sort of molten, carved-out sapphire blue. It’s one of those days that you either need to embrace fully with a trip to the beach or sitting under a tree in the local park, or failing that, hide from in an air-conditioned space. I have edits to wade through, so I think I may be stuck in the ‘hide from’ category today.

My immediate, if still somewhat vague, plans are:

  1. Finish the second draft edits on The House of Snow & Apples
  2. Produce some cover art
  3. Record audio files for A Treasure of Bone & Promises, post here
  4. Complete a read-aloud edit for The House of Snow & Apples
  5. Hopefully, go straight to an audio recording for tHoSaA too

I should be getting back to the edits now. Onward, and so forth.

Second Drafts & Colours

I’ve finished the on-paper edits now for The House of Snow and Apples, and am slowly transferring them across to the Pages document I write in. It’s now sitting at about 40,000 words, though cutting and adding may change that slightly.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about lately is racial diversity in fantasy. I mean this first at that basic level that there should actually be people present who are not white, blonde and blue-eyed in a fantasy world, and working in a setting that is a riff on Medieval, or Dark Ages Europe does not preclude diversity. In actual historical Europe there was quite a lot of diversity, as invasions, migrations and empires tends to mix people up a bit.

But in fantasy, we can be yet more imaginative. I’ve been thinking about the colouration in our closest relatives, the (other) apes and the monkeys, and looking though images of primate faces. Although I’m not sure that I want to add in human peoples that have red and blue posteriors to match their noses, the diversity of colours is interesting, and if sexual selection or natural selection had run another path, red eyes, bright yellow and black markings, purplish-grey skin, or soft grey skin surrounded by a flair of red hair could all, potentially, be human traits. Of course, there’s a risk that the people no longer come across as ‘human’ in a story if they get a bit too far removed from what we expect to see. The key would be to make sure they are presented as human, and maybe play it subtly for a while before introducing any really unusual colourations? At any rate, I feel this is something I’ve been doing badly so far in The Winter King stories, so it is something I’d like to play around with and address.

The House of Snow & Apples: First Draft

Well, The House of Snow and Apples, Book Two of The Winter King, is complete as a first draft at 39,000 words. I just typed the last line. It took me longer to get to the end, and the story is much longer than I initially estimated. Certainly, when I started the story in mid-January I did not expect it to be any longer than 25,000 words, at most.

trollwife_07I’ll print out a copy tomorrow and start the first edits. I’ve been reading and editing as I’ve been writing, so the editing process should (hopefully) not be too arduous. I might even end up with something like a finished manuscript sometime in the next 2-3 weeks.

I’ve been playing around with colouring my little practise pencil sketch in Corel Paint too. I’ve attached an image of where I am at now. A long way from finished, but it is starting to develop.


Endings & Other Stuff

It tends to be something of an truism in writing fiction that authors will eventually discover they have a problem with the beginnings or middles or ends of stories: very few people are good at all three. My largest stumbling block tends to be beginnings. It’s taken me a long time to even work that out. The story will be all clear in my head, and I just want to leap in and get it rolling, and that tends to mean my beginnings can be confused, not obviously interesting, dull even. It means I often have to rewrite the first 10% or so of any story from scratch three, four or fives times after I’ve finished it.

Lately though, I’ve been noticed that I have a bit of an issue with endings too. Not that I don’t know how the story should end–a personal rule that works for me is never to start a story unless I already know the ending–but rather, I don’t seem to be able to judge exactly how long an ending will take to roll out, and I seem to be reluctant to end a story, writing in smaller and smaller snippets as I approach the final sentence. This is a long way of saying that the story now titled The House of Snow and Apples, which was meant to be about 25,000 words is now 35,000 words. I think I’m about 2-3ooo from the end, but I thought that was true when I hit 25,000 words, so what do I know? It won’t blow out into a full novel at least–I know that much. The story is winding down, it is just taking longer to resolve matters than I thought it would.

In other newtrollwife_06s, I’ve been playing around with a new, faster method for colouring hand-drawn work. Below is a partly coloured pencil sketch, The Trollwife’s Bargain, which I’ll post updates of as I complete it. Basically, instead of scanning, I photographed the sketch, then played around with levels in Photoshop. After that, I imported it into Corel Paint, but am working just with Gouache at 25% transparency above the pencil layer. So far, it’s creating a nice waterpaint/dilute ink feel, although I’ll probably add layers at 35% or even 50% to get some darker colours in there too.

Will update as the image moves along (the troll’s left hand is in the wrong place, incidentally, though I’ll be able to fix that up a bit with the colouring).

I’ve also created a gallery to house the cover art I’ve been putting together for The Winter King. The images end up so small on the covers that they are hardly visible, which seems a pity given the time that’s gone into them.


Thoughts on Titles

Well, I’m now nearing the end of the first draft on what will now be the second book of The Winter King. The manuscript is sitting at about 25,000 words, so a medium to long novella. In an earlier post I discussed the (somewhat) confusing reasons why the release schedule I had so carefully laid out has gone into a state of turmoil. I think though, that slipping two new stories between what was to be Books 1 and 2 will make for a better overall arc.

I’m now left pondering titles. The working title for Book 2 was The Wolf at Winter’s Door. I like the slight poetical slant of that title, but I think it performs its job badly for two reasons. One, the series is called The Winter King, and mentioning ‘winter’ in a title implies that the Winter King might actually turn up–whereas what I’m actually doing here is playing a very long game. Yes, there are references to the long story in this manuscript, but some of them are subtle enough to be missed entirely on a first read-through. The Winter King certainly doesn’t appear in person for quite some time yet. The other problem is that the title emphasises the wolves in the story (there are wolves in the story), and I don’t really want the emphasis to fall there. This leaves me considering other options. The House of Snow and Apples is my current second favourite, though it has the disadvantage that it might suggest to someone this is a Snow White retelling, which it is not. Titles make promises about the story, and even very short titles can convey a huge amount of information about what a reader can expect. By attempting to make my titles lyrical, for example, I’m implying you’ll find at least a little bit of lyricism in the story itself, and if you don’t like that sort of thing, then probably this isn’t the right book for you.

Toying around with other things, thematically similar… The House on Appletree Spur. WinterfruitThe Snow Orchard. Actually, I sort of like The Snow Orchard. I think the best titles sound like books you feel you ought to have heard of, but for some reason the book must have slipped past you somehow. I should check to see if it is already another book: seems not to be, although there is an art print by that name. But would I personally read a story called The Snow Orchard, and does it give the right feel? Probably not on both counts. There isn’t enough magic in the title to really convey that the book is fantastical, which could mislead readers, so it might need to be nixed also. Winterfruit perhaps isn’t bad, but has the problem of using the word ‘winter’ again.

I’m circling back to The House of Snow and Apples. Though I’m still leery of making some readers angry by tricking some of them into thinking it is a Snow White retelling. Something to think on.