Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Books as poems

I finished the first draft of my next novel. I took a week off from writing and now I'm working on some random stuff in between. While riding the train tonight I decided to start writing some poetry. Japanese style.

Car comes roaring forth
Rebecca rescues the girl
The Knights keep them safe
Flee from the Thralls to China
Confrontation in Scottland

Those of you familiar with my first novel ("Sorceress' Blood") will probably find the narrative of this poem familiar. Yes, I've summarised my novel in a five line poem called a 'tanka'. Why? Because I can!

Then I did it again with a book I read recently called "Storm Front".

Dresden needs some cash
Corpses with exploded hearts
A missing husband
Shadowman sends a demon
Chicago needs a wizard

"Storm Front" is by Jim Butcher and is the first novel in the Dresden Files series of books (Named for the main character: Harry Dresden). And while I'm sure everybody knew about these books before me, just in case, you should go read them. They're very good.

Note that these are tanka and not haiku. A haiku is a very constrictive three line poem focused on imagery, nature and the seasons. I wrote one of them too:

Cool winds bring Autumn
My ruffled notebook pages
Scattering my thoughts

If your haiku doesn't include imagery, nature and the seasons then it's not a haiku. It's something else. A senryu or a tanka missing its tail. We need a name for tanka missing their tail. Any suggestions?

I'm not usually comfortable writing poetry. I don't consider myself a poet and I acknowledge I'm not very good at poetry. But it's always good to challenge yourself and work outside your comfort zone if only for a little while.

It's also fun to reduce the plots of books down to five lines of verse. Have a go at it and see what you come up with.

Friday, February 8, 2013

What I Learned From Writing Sorceress' Blood

1. If you have passion for your story, it will be much easier to write. If you genuinely want to tell a story then you will tell that story and you'll know way ahead of time that the end is within your reach. There's no substitute for this.

2. Writing a novel is exciting, exhilarating, boring, difficult, painful, amazing, joyous, awe-inspiring and there is no feeling quite like it that I have ever known.

3. I could have kept writing, rewriting, editing, revising, updating, remaking, adding and subtracting for the rest of my life before I completed Sorceress' Blood and there are people out there who will think I should have. But there comes a time when you have to let go and see what happens.

4. On a similar note: Perfection is unattainable. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try, it just means that you need to know when you've hit your limits. With every subsequent novel and story, your limits should increase and you should come closer to perfection - I know I have. If I'd written Sorceress' Blood today, I would do it differently. But I didn't. I wrote it in 2009 and revised it and edited it between 2010 and 2012. Under those circumstances I am proud of what it is and what I did. But part of me will always wish I'd just done a little more.

5. You have to keep going. Grin and bear it, bite the bullet, roll with the punches - Nobody said it would be easy. And other cliches like that... There will be setbacks while writing - at least once my computer caused me to lose a big chunk of what I was writing. Oh that sucked. But I got back on the horse and kept on keeping on. There will be nay-sayers, critics, haters and those that just don't care. I think it's the ones that don't care that get to me the most. I know some people don't like me and some people don't and won't like Sorceress' Blood but at least I've made an impression on them. And you can't please everyone. The harsh critics make me want to try harder, the people who enjoy my writing make feel better and the ones who don't notice me make me want to shout and scream and cry. But no matter what, you just have to keep going. Keep creating, keep improving, keep selling. Your audience is there waiting for you.

6. I think a lot of the best parts of Sorceress' Blood were actually the result of working with Jim Parsons. He was worth every cent I paid him and more helpful than I ever could have imagined he would be. Sorceress' Blood is doubled in quality after he'd gone through it. The original version of Sorceress' Blood was just a little retarded in some parts and he did a great job of telling me when I was talking out of my ass. I know I caused him more than a little frustration, too, and I'm forever thankful for what he's done for me.

No matter how harsh you think you are - and trust me on this, I'm one of the harshest critics I have - you NEED professional help if you want to be professional. Find the money and get an editor.

So it's really no surprise that I should have learned less from Sorceress' Blood than I did before then. I look at Sorceress' Blood as a kind of practical application of everything I learned up that point. This isn't so much lessons in writing as it is being a writer. I didn't learn nearly as much as I should have about writing while working on Sorceress' Blood.

A lot of these lessons are about taking a chance, seeing it to the end and living with the consequences - good or bad. Whatever you do in life, come to terms with it and right or wrong, be at peace with your choices. I have no regrets about what I've done - that doesn't mean I think all my choices in life are good, only that I'm content to have made them.

I'm currently working on a book under the working title "Pilgrimage". I already know it's better than Sorceress' Blood and I have learned so much from writing this that I didn't take the time to learn from Sorceress' Blood. I look forward to the day it is done and I can look back and write all the lessons that have come to me with this project.

Until then, I've got a couple of other things in the works that I'll be talking about soon. I'll see you then.