As is often the case [and as my Beloved can attest] I have no memory of any of the specific details. I don’t remember the name of the city, or the name of the reporter, or the name of the country it took place in. All I can remember is the shape of the story.
A city on a crossroads, a mix of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. Musicians found each other in tiny bars, in parks, in hidden nightclubs. And they played. They combined their styles into something new, a new song, a new kind of music. I remember it sounded like a kind of heartsick jazz, but electric and wandering. A crossroads of melody, an exploration more than a fusion. It was new, so new — and it only existed in one city in the wide world.
Then the War came. I don’t remember the dates or the enemy or the cause. The musicians fled, or hid. Their religions or creeds or skin colors a danger. And the new music was gone.
War crushed the music under his boot.
Years later, a wanderer came to the city. A woman, a musician’s child. She stumbled into an antique store to buy a mirror, a memento of her journey. Her father came from this city and had filled her young ears with tales of the time before, and the music he had once played. The peddler wrapped the mirror for her and the woman told him about her father. The peddler stopped and laid the mirror down on the counter. He vanished into the back room and returned with a box, a box of old photographs and sheet music.
[Almost none of this was in the broadcast, this is what I saw in my head while I listened.]
“I played with your father,” the peddler said.
And the woman had an idea. She asked the peddler if he knew if any of the old musicians were still in the city. He did. Her idea grew brighter.
Phone calls and letters and emails and the woman’s feet pounding down the dusty streets of the city.
The musicians came together again. They came together and they played. For the first time in decades.
The new music, the melody of the crossroads, the forgotten jazz of the dusty city.
The NPR story played clips of them performing in New York, apparently they’ve been touring for the past several months. But that’s not the point of this story.
The point is why I had to turn my head away from my carpool buddy, so they wouldn’t see me tearing up. This story got me, even though I can’t remember any of the details.
Because the shape of the story is this: the Music won. Just like it always does, like it always will. War and Death and Time and Decay and Rot lost. They fucking lost. The primal powers of the cosmos defeated by a melody. The last magic in the hands of the human race, the best product of our wayward minds and stutter-light souls.
And that’s why it moved me. The NPR story that I barely remember.
I don’t talk about my beliefs. But let me say this. I believe in the Music.
Let all we make be the Music, that turns aside the grip of the universe, that outpaces the weapons of War and Death, and shines brighter through Time and the Dark.
I like my book a lot. More than I did Spell/Sword the first time I read it.
Now, the caveats. I am obviously the least objective reader this novel will ever have. The very first draft of Spell/Sword was an unqualified mess. I had never writtena book before, after all! I wrote it in sequential order from beginning to end, with only a very loose idea of where I was going and what I was doing. I write in third person – limited omniscient — but my character POV/ focal point would wander like mad. I didn’t write in chapters, just one long narrative, with horizontal lines when I hit the end of a scene, or the location shifted. The jokes were terrible — or rather, it sounded like me telling the joke, instead of the characters. The plot stutters along in fits and starts, and only really gets cooking half-way through the book. [It’s when Jonas and Rime wake up in the caverns, if you’ve read it.] I had no idea what the Gray Witch was about, or the Brothers Jack, or my fixation with wyverns.
But I loved it of course.
And hated it, too. That’s how my brain works. My normal relationship with any art that I make is to despise it and beat it into shape via cruelty and malice. [Ask anyone who’s been in a play that I’ve directed.]
So, I edited. For months on end, and then I sent my darling into the caring hands of my Alpha and Beta Readers. They liked and hated it too. I learned more from their feedback, suggestions, and — let’s be honest — frank corrections than from any writing tutor or English Professor. Probably because many of my Alpha/Beta Readers are writing tutors and English Professors. I moved chapters and deleted chapters and chiseled and filed.
This is to indicate, that a lot of the reasons why I’m so happy with my second book is due to the lessons I learned the first go-around. I’m reacting primarily to the absence of the same stupid mistakes I made when writing Spell/Sword. For starters, The Riddle Box had a structure from the beginning. When writing a murder mystery, you kind of need to know whodunit from the outset. Then you reverse-engineer the plot to reveal the suspects, clues, red herrings in a semi-logical fashion. I purposefully wrote in chapters. I had a very specific – GASP – theme that I was trying to get across. This is a very personal book, in a very strange way. [I’ll save that topic for further woolgathering at a later date.] The first draft of The Riddle Box is a book instead of just a pile of pages, I feel, and that makes me very proud.
I was very worried that there wasn’t a big fight early in the book. I think Spell/Sword readers will expect a certain level of skulduggery and action from the sequel, but it just didn’t serve the narrative this time out. [*pushes up monocle*] There’s a murder right off the bat, of course, and plenty of Agatha Christie intrigue — but no standup fight until about 1/3 of the way through. After the first read, it didn’t feel like a long time before the first true fight, so that pleased me. And don’t worry, the last third of the book is non-stop He-Man Action Figure smashing time.
Also, no Random Encounters this book. I loved fighting the dinosaur and the frog-men, but all of the combat in this book is against named characters and directly serves the plot. I know. I’m disappointed in myself too.
As opposed to the first book, which is a ‘road picture’. The Riddle Box is a closed-room murder mystery. The entire novel takes place in one location, over one night. I kept the location details fairly consistent throughout, but I marked tons of places to double check. For example, mid-way through the draft I started referring to the ‘black and white marble floor of the Lobby’, but I had been very clear at the beginning that it was all white.
Need to work on character voice. There’s a lot of characters in this one, and some of them I didn’t find their voice until near the end, I need to go back to their first appearances and keep that voice consistent. Also, character voice got very wonky during the MAD DASH, need to polish those sections as well, especially the big soap opera moments.
The Mad Dash: The draft is 160 pages long, I wrote the final 60 in a week. It was the most startling experience, and I loved it — but there are some dodgy, dodgy bits. Mainly some of the chapters are more than a little breathless as I tried to write and stay on top of the wave. Some sections it adds, but the climax and the denouement need some room to breathe.
Speaking of soap opera! I love the trappings of Victorian and Agatha Christie mysteries — and I also have started to embrace the need for some light romance in my genre fiction. CALM DOWN. Whatever you are thinking, I didn’t do that. Jonas and Rime are never getting together. I introduced some potential crushes for our heroes and watched to see what happened. In brief, it was fun times. I need to work on the resolution of Jonas’ romance subplot though — it is super damn creaky. The intent is correct, but I was throwing bricks at the hoop for that section of dialogue.
Aufero World History: I’m mostly pleased with the world-building stuff I put in this book. Lots of stuff about the Precursors, the further history of Aufero, Wood Elves, Sea Elves, the Nameless God, Gilead, bards, and the Seafoam Trading Company. As with everything, there are some creaky bits, but I wanted to give plenty of nerd fodder for the readers who wanted more world information. It still is secondary to the plot, where it shall ever remain in Swordpunk.
Back Story: Huge reveals for Jonas’ dark past! I was surprised by what I wrote down, which is always a neat feeling. I knew the basic outlines of course, but a couple of salient details completely floored me. Oh, Subconscious — you are a tricksy devil.
Jonas’ Master – I love names. I love coming up with good names. I’m more than a little proud of the names I come up with. I AM HAVING A TERRIBLE TIME COMING UP WITH THIS VERY IMPORTANT CHARACTER’S NAME. I used a placeholder, Sir Bentwight, in the draft — but I am having a miserable time with this one. To me, names are very intuitive. I think of the character, and make an empty place in my head – -and generally a name falls right in. But not this time, man. I can be a little metaphysical about my craft – so maybe it’s not time for me to know this character’s name? Maybe I’m forcing it?
I really like all of the new characters, even though I kill off a fair amount of them — even my favorite. 😦
It works. The theme works. The machinery of what I want to say is there. Just got to make it look prettier.
There is a character in this book that I am literally terrified of. I can’t say more until people have had a chance to read the book, as it is a major spoiler. Here’s how scared I am of this character: Soon I will be recording an audio track of the draft to help me with editing. I honestly don’t know if I can read this character’s lines.
I high-fived myself four times while reading.
Beta Readers better get ready — I am very, very eager for feedback and praise. And critique! I will be lurking in your shrubbery watching you read.
“I was born on the water, with three dollars and six dimes—,” Talitha sang with her back against the comforting wood-grain of the deck and her hands folded behind her head. “Wait.”
She crossed her right foot over her knee, eyes still idly tracking the clouds that moseyed across the sky. “Is it ‘born on the water’ or ‘born underwater’?”
A growl and sigh crinkled her nose. Her eyes closed as she tried to remember the last time she had heard the song. She hummed the tune, two or three times, replacing and slotting the lyric with each attempt.
“Hey!” Talitha yowled, leaning her head up. ” Is it ‘born on the water’ or ‘born underwater’?”
Lucas stuck his head out of the wheelhouse. He had his thumb stuck into a massive book, bound in simple red leather with neat silver letters stamped into the spine. “What?”
“That song. That song that Elora sang that time.”
The boy blinked. His threadbare doublet was neatly buttoned and his dark hair carefully cropped. He looked as out of place on the deck of the airship as he had three years ago when he had first stepped aboard. Lucas was two years older than his captain.
His captain rolled up from her prone position on the deck, hands resting on her ankles. Talitha shook her hair out, it was matted with sweat and oily with infrequent washing, but it still resisted turning into proper skull-locks, much to the blonde girl’s displeasure. A captain of a pirate ship had a certain glamour, a certain aesthetic she felt — and the long strands of yellow-gold were absolutely unacceptable. She scratched her stomach and glowered at the silent scholar across the deck.
“That. Song. When we were in Pice.”
Lucas blinked again. With exaggerated care he opened his book back up and slowly slid back out of view.
Pointed silence filled the deck like a fog.
“LUCAS.” Talitha pulled her legs close to her body and pushed herself up into a leap-frog stance.
“I am the captain of this ship, and you will answer my questions about song lyrics with promptness and all due deference. That is a” her voice dropped into gravel-drama. “a direct order.”
Still nothing from the wheelhouse. Talitha stood up and stretched, her blonde hair trailing in the wind in a most un-piratical fashion. She was wearing a stained tank-top and baggy red pants held on with a a motley assortment of straps and purloined zippers. A brown cord was tied around her wrist. She was thirteen years old and captain of the Lodestar, the fastest ship in the world. And that was a fine thing.
Talitha Brown was a legend in Aufero. At the age of ten, she had helped the previous crew of the Lodestar stand against the world-obliterating terror of the Shadow Plane, learned from the greatest heroes, walked in places that most could only dream of. The armies of devils rode forth in the Thirteen Day War and she had stood in the vanguard of the forces of Light. She had sung the Song of the End and brought the lost city of Kythera to its knees.
But then the War was over. Good won. Her family, her Heroes had gone on to serve the shattered world as best they knew how. And they left her in charge of the fabulous airship, left her to wander where she will. The whole of the planet was hers to explore.
But, in the time-honored fashion of thirteen year-olds, she was vaguely dissatisfied.
The problem with Good triumphing over Evil is it really cuts down on the opportunity for Adventure. The liches and mummies scurry back into their tombs, the ghouls and gremlins retire, the gibbering insanities that hunger for blood grumble off to the hidden places of the world to wait out the term of the current administration and quietly plot to vote the Darkness ticket the next electoral cycle. The planet still teemed with wonders, but Adventure requires conflict. A Villain, a Beast, a Plague on Common Decency, at the very least. And those malevolent ingredients were very difficult to find of late.
Talitha knew. She had looked.
Compounding this issue was a further problem. When Great Heroes triumph over Evil, the word tends to spread. And when the Great Heroes have a very distinct and memorable craft, say a unique flying ship of unmistakable design, a picture of that craft also tends to be circulated in all of the most prestigious Evil Publications. The blonde adventurer could run out of fingers counting the number of times she had flown the Lodestar to investigate a rumored monstrous outbreak, only to have the monsters flee as soon as they caught sight of her ship. A small red dragon had even offered to surrender on one occasion to her undying irritation and mortification.
And the few times I actually found a fight to get into…Talitha sighed. Her family were all too quick to arrive, to protect their little girl. She would be two steps into an old crypt, or forgotten fortress of evil, and in a flurry of well-meaning axes, fists, swords, claws, fire, and ice, her Heroes would barge in and stomp on her Adventure with both feet and whisk her off for pancakes and finger-wagging.
“I was born underwater, with three dollars and six dimes.” Talitha sang again, then put a foot up on the stone rail that surrounded the deck. It glowed a faint magenta, the the strange technology that kept the ship afloat working perfectly.
“I’m so bored, Lucas. Lucas. LUCAS,” the young captain didn’t look back to see if he was listening, it had become a habit to antagonize her bookish crewmate, even if he wasn’t paying attention or even present.
“You know what I think,” his voice came from the empty window of the wheelhouse, Lucas was sitting on the floor reading, as was his habit when taking watch and steering.
“I know!” Talitha kicked the rail with her foot. “We could get into more trouble if were weren’t in this ship.”
But the Lodestar was home. And it was the fastest ship in the world. And despite her mad wanderlust, Talitha knew she couldn’t leave the ship behind.
“Exactly. It’s too distinctive, with all the Precursor technology and that huge blue flag.” Lucas clucked.
“I know, I KNOW.” Talitha tugged at her lip and stared out into the blue.
“There’s nowhere in the world we can go that we won’t be recognized. Do you remember the time that goblin tribe called Agnar to apologize when they dented our hull?” Lucas stood up and leaned on the window of the wheelhouse. “That was really embarrassing.”
Precursor technology. Nowhere in the world. Talitha grinned. A wide, dangerous grin. She turned and let Lucas drink in the site of her smile.
Lucas blenched. “Oh. No. Whatever it is. NO.”
The captain of the Lodestar winked and skipped across the deck to the stairs leading down, down into the belly of the ship, down into the secret heart of the ancient technology that powered her ship.
“Just need to have a quick talk with our engineer,” Talitha called. “Don’t fret!”
She grinned again. Fret. Fret your ass off, book boy. The Captain has a cunning plan.
This will probably be boring. This is one of those ‘announce publicly my rough schedule and plan so I feel obligated to stick to it’ sort of posts. It may be helpful to other writers or indie-publishers who want a window into the behind-the-scenes process, or if you’re just curious where my next book is on the assembly line.
Finish rough draft of The Riddle Box. [COMPLETE.] – 9/24
Revamp of print and Kindle versions of Spell/Sword
Contact and recruit Copy-editing Strike Force
Print/order copies of Spell/Sword for copy proofing.
Distribute to CSF, then collect edits when complete
Enter corrections into CreateSpace template, then submit to service for re-release and update of Spell/Sword.
Print Version first, then Kindle, so there is always one version available for sale during review downtime by CreateSpace and KDP.
Contact prospective Beta Readers for The Riddle Box
It will be nearly a month before The Riddle Box is ready for review, but some may need time to make sure they’ve read the published version of Spell/Sword.
Also, consider inviting a Beta Reader who has not read Spell/Sword, to see how well the book plays without preamble.
All of previous steps must be complete before beginning to edit rough draft. [!]
Rough Draft Editing
Print out paper copy and read with a brightly colored Sharpie in my hand. Story edits, logic fixes, detail matching. Cut or add to draft based on this pass.
Read updated draft and record audio. Listen to audio while editing. Major grammar problems, sonic issues, repetitive language, wonky rhythms, things that just sound stupid when said out loud. Cut or add to draft based on this pass.
Depending on severity of changes, potentially re-record audio for new/fresh pass.
Cry for a little while. Quietly and softly.
Distribute to Beta Readers for review. (Give readers a deadline?)
Anxiety Demons Jamboree [!]
Contact illustrator and cover designer to begin work on new cover art and cover layout.
Respond to edits submitted by Beta Readers, update the draft.
Place Final Draft on CreateSpace template for print.
Distribute template to CSF [Copy-editing Strike Force] for Quality Control
Submit Final Print Edition to CreateSpace and KDP for review and publishing.
Promote launch of The Riddle Box.
Begin work on third book, Asteroid Made of Dragons
Well, the first draft anyway. I’m flabbergasted, exhausted, and other adjectives. I’ve written 62 pages in the past 11 days, and I freely admit there are some dodgy, dodgy bits in that last sprint to the end — but it’s all there. It’s a complete narrative, it works how I wanted it to, ends how i wanted it to. On Spell/Sword it took me longer to edit than to write, so I take comfort that I can take as long as I need to fix all of the fiddly bits. I’m tremendously proud of this one, I have no problem saying [believing] that this book is better than the first. I’m going to put in a drawer for a couple of weeks and let it cool down and come back fresh — I’m sure then I’ll be singing a different tune, but for now LOVE AND PEACE.
Here’s some crunchy numbers:
In published form: 52,000 words
The Riddle Box
Rough Draft: 65,000 words [21% longer!]
Started Writing: 4/26/2013
Finished Rough Draft: 9/24/2013
YEAH! Excited and a little exhausted. I’m going to unplug my brain and put it in a nice cool cup of yogurt for a while.
Labor Day Weekend and some change. It coincides neatly with my trip to Atlanta for Dragon*Con — I’ll be wearing my Self-
Promotion Helm of Shamelessness +3. I’ve printed up a ton of business cards to give to people letting them know about the deal.
The ebook has always been free to Amazon Prime members, and DRM free to boot — but now I’m doubling down. Anyone and everyone can own my book at no cost other than the time it takes to download it. Even if you don’t own a Kindle, you’ll be able tor read it on your Mac, PC, iPad, smartphone, tablet, etc — via the free Kindle app.
I’m too busy learning lines to work on Riddle Box this week, I’m behind schedule and that sucks for me.
But it’s good for you — I’m talking to you, the Joe Abercrombies, Neil Gaimans, and Patrick Rothfussessess of the world.
I’m giving you a break – I’m slowing down my minotaur-octane fueled march to genre supremacy, for like two weeks or
something. You have some time without me BREATHING DOWN YOUR NECKS.
Use it wisely. Build the walls of your worlds tall and strong. Give your protagonists the most fiendishly devised magical weapons, backstories and clever sidekicks. DRAW A FANCY MAP OF YOUR BEAUTIFUL CITY WITH ITS RICH PAGEANT OF HISTORIC LORE SO I CAN KICK IT DOWN.
Because I’m coming. Me, Jonas, and Rime. And Sideways. And the pigs. And the magic chickens. And my rock and roll bard crooning on his ebony guitar, Lady Moon-Death.
WE ARE COMING. SWORDPUNK IS AT YOUR EXQUISITELY CHISELED AND WELL-WRITTEN GATES.
[Hey, remember that book you’re working on — remember that?]
[You seem to be spending a fair amount of time on this side project. Shouldn’t you…?]
[SHUT YOUR FACE.]
The Ferris Wheel waits, a grand circle enclosing the horizon.Even the children who have never been to the Fair can recall the grand spectacle when it is operational. A thousand lights and the turn of the wonderful machine.
The Midway leads to the Wheel, a hundred blind alleys and elaborate devices of fun and excitement that could hide a furious overweight green-guard and his allies.
“Of course it still works,” Crim laughed. “It’s robot-steel, nothing can break robot-steel. And we’re going to get a bunch more closer. The toy cart with the unlocked door, where I found all my stuff. It’s right at the base of the Wheel.”
“Must. Get. Toys.” Mark’s hands clutched the air with desire.
The portly guard pounded through the streets of the Fair after the children, but soon lost them. He leaned against the side of a Funnel Cake stand and panted and wiped runnels of sweat off his brow. The silver name tag on his shoulder gleamed, the name “KANLEY” neatly etched.
Two more guards pounded into view. A tall, lanky man who was a friend — and a broad, bearded man who was not.
“Kanley, you alright?” his friend asked with diffident concern, trying to avoid the anger-fueled gaze of the bearded man.
“I’m….fine….Jak.” Kanley panted.
“Fine. I’ll show you fine.” the bearded man, who was his superior officer, slammed a hand into Kanley’s shoulder. “A Rune-discharge? Here?!? At a bunch of ragamuffin children?”
“I’m sorry sir. There was a cat, and the running, and I thought…”the fat guard began.
“You thought nothing. Like you always do. Private Jak. Pull up your fat friend, Private Kanley, by the buttons if you have to, but get moving. Find those children. They have no idea the danger they are in. We must find them, and find them now and remove them from harm’s way. If they encounter the Target…” the bearded man pulled the communicator from his right breast and barked into it. “All units, scramble. 5-8 minors have been spotted in the Fairgrounds, must be detained and removed to safe distance. Priority One. Keep an eye peeled for the Target, and don’t take any risks – but we have to get those damn kids out of here on the double.”
The anger-gaze turned back to Jak and Kanley, the latter weakly tried to snap to attention. “You’ve put those children in danger with your incompetence, Private. We’ll speak more of this at the barracks. But remember, nothing will save you from me if anything happens to those children. Dismissed.”
“Yes, Sgt. Towerlock!” the two guards cried in unison.
The green-guards moved quickly, eyes darting as they searched the Fair. Hands checking their runes at every dark alley, at every can that rattled in the wind. They did their best to cover the vast area of the Fair, but they were stretched too thin.
They feared to find their quarry, and they feared that they would not find the group of children that had wandered into the fair at the most inopportune of times.
“Hey, look!” Nora pointed. “A node!”
A blue Observer Node appeared, a few short steps away from the gazebo.
Today on Runeclock [collaborative writing experiment]:
The children turned to consider the thin girl with the skinned knees. Mark looked skeptical, but was so eager to be off that he made little opposition. Crim shrugged, and the others made warm welcome to their new companion in ‘banditry’.
The steel-touched boy yelled one last time to the moody boy watching from the boardwalk. “So are you coming, Seven? Huh, Seven? SEVEN. Well, we’re going to that place, catch up if you want.”
An apparently older girl that was painting nearby crinkled her nose in …frustration, delight? It was difficult to discern.
The six children and one dubious dog departed en masse, attitudes of vast stealth were adopted and executed. To Hibba’s relief the group made their way under the boardwalk, well out of the gaze of the two guards that still lingered there.
Crim lead them along the shore until they reached the grand wall of tall green planks that surrounded the Fair. He pulled his toy ray gun and held it up in preposterous vigilance, looking north and south, east and west. At last he laid his rusted hand on a plank marred by a single slash of red paint, that appeared to have been dribbled by a careless workman sometime in the past.
The Fair, as it is known, is the realm of lights and machines, the excited whirring of summer and life and memory. The roller coaster jostles, but stays on the track — the smell of popcorn and fried sugar waft.
To the children whose parents could afford the nominal fee, it was a bastion of games and running, of music and tiny teddy bears won by skill and craft. The calliope moan of its vast midway, the shadow-heart of the funhouse, the songs of the travelling bands that did their best to fill the thousand-seat bandshell that even in the height of the busy season only ever saw a few dozen guests.
Above it all presided the Ferris Wheel. A circle of light that spun like the hands of a clock, perfect and real. To ride to the top of its globe was to catch a glimpse of the entire island, to peek beyond the edge of the known world.
The children had no inkling that the Fair was a second-guest, a second layer. During the War, this place had served as the main harbor and command center for the fleet, battleships and rune-lords hurling themselves into the sea and the air. At War’s end, the aching metal had come here to rest, and in a brace of years had been sold to an enterprising soul. The Fair’s master beat the swords into roller-rails and corn-dog stalls, into benches and organs.
The children also had no inkling that at this moment, unexpected men were moving their way through the empty Fair. They wore the green tunics of guards and seemed to be searching for something or someone.
Crim pulled back the board, revealing a gap and a medium-sized pipe that had once served as some sort of drainage.
“Up the chute, geemos. Right into the splash-fountain. Come on then, come on then.”
He rested his silver weapon against his cheek and struck a pirate smile.
It was at that moment that a red Observer Node popped into view directly in front of the pipe.