Catastrophes

In the last couple months I finished a couple books: The Magicians of the Gods and America Before, both by Graham Hancock. Magicians is the book to start with.

But before you read it, make the time to watch the video linked below — Randall Carlson on Joe Rogan’s podcast.

The discussion is wide ranging but it centers on catastrophes and how impacts (meteors, comets) have radically affected life on Earth — and not just in the distant past, but as recently as ~13,000 years ago…and even a few hundreds of years ago. But watch the video. I can’t do it justice. Carlson’s breadth & depth of knowledge is impressive.

Hancock has also appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast. Those interviews are equally intriguing.

Hancock posits the existence of an advanced human civilization that predated the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Mayans, Incas, Olmecs, etc. This civilization, if it existed, may have been wiped out in one of the catastrophes Carlson describes. But, some of those ancients survived…and maybe what we consider the beginning of our history is actually its rebooting.

But, start with Carlson.

#501 Joe Rogan: Randall Carlson
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R31SXuFeX0A

Summer reading…

So, spring’s been a real drag. Lots of real life stuff getting in the way of my writing time — enough that I pushed my end of April deadline to late August.

When I have time to write, the overhaul of the book is moving. Slowly. But it’s moving.

At night I’ve been working on my Lit-RPG idea — outlining, developing plot and backstory, revising my notes, etc., with pencil and notebook. The change of medium is nice since I’m drawing crude maps as I go. It’s also nice to not stare at a screen.

So far I’m creating my own RPG game system…which is totally derivative (how could it not be), but I do have some interesting twists on the conventional class tropes. IMO 😛

There is a way to use D&D 5th Edition rules via their open gaming license: check it out here. I’m hesitant to do that b/c of legal stuff…and if I spend the time reading TFMs then that’s less time making stuff up. For now I’ve decided not to decide.

Speaking of reading you can see the tome The Viking Way by Neil Price pictured above. According to the publisher’s site, the book “examines the evidence for Old Norse sorcery, looking at its meaning and function, practice and practitioners, and the complicated constructions of gender and sexual identity with which these were underpinned.”

Cool stuff.

I first came across an excerpt of Dr. Price’s work and was intrigued…and then I stumbled across a lecture of his in YouTube which was fascinating. He’s an archaeologist so his take on Norse myth is informed by dig sites, etc.

I usually try to wrap these posts up in a tidy fashion but today…I got nothing. Enjoy the summer! Or winter (if you’re on the other side of the equator)!

I bent my Wookie…

And then I broke my book. Here’s how.

My editor had said that my manuscript was pretty solid overall. Scattered throughout the chapters, though, were comments like “how does this advance the plot?” or “how does this complicate things for XYZ?”

Oh my darling…

For example, I have an encounter between Odin and a woman who’ll be important in Book 3. I like that scene for several different reasons, but it doesn’t really move Odin’s plot forward in the second book. I’m still wrestling with how to fix it (if it’s even possible).

Oh my darling…

Here’s another example. Toward the end of the book while Odin is spiraling downward into his “black moment of despair” he has a somewhat light-hearted conversation with a giant squirrel named Ratatoskr. There’s a lot of worldbuilding in the scene, good dialogue and some humor.

But the tone puts the brakes on Odin’s downward spiral. It relieves reader tension rather than intensifying it.

When I started trying to fix that scene I attempted to bend it to my will. Odin must speak to Ratatoskr! (Because I like the scene.) He must! It’s IMPORTANT! (Because I like the scene!)

Okay, fine, bending doesn’t work. It might be a good scene, but it’s in the wrong place.

The ripple effect

So I moved it. But that caused more problems: It had to be tweaked to reflect its new place in the book, and then I had to shift other scenes and tweak those, etc.

And then I had to solve time & place issues. These are particularly thorny because several events can only happen at certain times because, in part, it takes an established amount of time to get from Gladsheim to Helheim at a normal pace (three nights). I fudged it slightly b/c it could plausibly be done faster if you’re in a rush — but not twice as fast.

And when Hel and Hermod converse, Odin needs to be with or near Heimdall so that he can find out about it. And then they need to get word to Frigg which only Odin can do.

Yep, busted.

So, that’s how it gets complicated…and that’s how I broke my book.

Here’s the question, though, was it broken to begin with and I just didn’t realize it? My guess is “yes.” My editor spotted those flaws — maybe for a different reason entirely — pointed ’em out, and when I pushed on ’em…they crumbled.

With all that said, the book IS fundamentally good. I feel it in mah bones. But I need to set those bones and let ’em heal over.

And to put all of the above a different way: Kill your darlings.

After Ragnarok

I started writing in 2013. At that time I hadn’t ever read the Poetic Edda or the Prose Edda. I’d maybe read Padraic Colum’s book…maybe…and maybe some other secondary / derivative kid-focused books along with Simonson’s Thor stint, of course.

The Post-Ragnarok World

So when I read Voluspa (followed by the other Eddas) I was blown away for lots of different reasons. For example, I not only learned how the gods would die but that there was a world after Ragnarok. 

This post, then, provides an overview of what that world looks like based first on the Voluspa and then on a stanza from the Vafthruthrismol. In the former, Odin summons a volva (yes, that’s the word. It basically means “seeress”) from the grave and asks her questions (see the footnotes for an intriguing, alternative interpretation of that poem). In the latter, Odin engages in a battle of wits with the wisest Jotunn, Vafthrudnir. 

The Voluspa

The poem can be found here. There are online sources, as well. So it’s clear, my commentary (though it’s hardly sophisticated enough to merit that word) precedes the quoted stanzas. I don’t do justice to the poems or their nuances so I encourage you to read them.

Stz 59 describes how the renewed earth rises from beneath the waves. This is after Surtr burns the whole shebang. The “I” probably refers to the seeress. The alternative interpretation referenced below suggests that the seeress has summoned Odin and is interrogating him. I need to read that paper again b/c it’s a really neat way to interpret the poem.

59. Now do I see | the earth anew
Rise all green | from the waves again;
The cataracts fall, | and the eagle flies,
And fish he catches | beneath the cliffs.

In Stanza 60, the gods meet in Ithavoll which is the original area where they had met pre-Ragnarok. However, the gods meeting after Ragnarok are only the survivors: Vidar, Vali, Magni and Modi, Baldr and Hodr. There may be more gods who survive but they are not named.

The “terrible girdler” is Jormungandr — the Midgard serpent; Loki’s son. He kills Thor. The “ancient runes of” refers to Odin.

I don’t understand that “golden tables” reference except that it probably means the surviving gods have reclaimed and/or found some of the old wisdom.

60. The gods in Ithavoll | meet together,
Of the terrible girdler | of earth they talk,
And the mighty past | they call to mind,
And the ancient runes | of the Ruler of Gods.

61. In wondrous beauty | once again
Shall the golden tables | stand mid the grass,
Which the gods had owned | in the days of old,
. . . . . . . . . .

In Stz 62, we learn that Baldr and Hodr come back from Hel to dwell in Odin’s “battle-hall.” Also, the fields are fertile and “all ills grow better” – describing a new fertility after the fire and flood. Note that the “would you know yet more?” is a repeated refrain. It’s almost a taunt, as if the seeress (or Odin) is saying “can you handle knowing more?” Also note that virtually the entirety of the Voluspa prior to these stanzas has dealt with how the world is destroyed and how the major gods die.

62. Then fields unsowed | bear ripened fruit,
All ills grow better, | and Baldr comes back;
Baldr and Hoth dwell | in Hropt’s battle-hall,
And the mighty gods: | would you know yet more?

Who-nir?

Stz 63: For me, the meaning here is obscure since “Hoenir” is only referenced a few other times in other sources. In those references he’s associated with Odin but it’s never really clear exactly who Hoenir is. This line also says that the official brothers of Odin – Vili and Ve – live in “the Home of the Wind” now…but we’d no good idea of where they were prior to Ragnarok. Or does Vindheim perhaps mean “heaven” (as the Bellows notes state) meaning that the brothers are dead?

63. Then Hönir wins | the prophetic wand,
. . . . . . . . . .
And the sons of the brothers | of Tveggi abide
In Vindheim now: | would you know yet more?

In Stz 64 the seeress describes a hall “roofed with gold” which is where the righteous rulers dwell, and happiness will be there. Then in Stz 65 she continues saying that a mighty lord will come to rule in the hall upon Gimle. This sounds very Christian to me – which is what the footnotes in the Bellows translation suggest. But even that’s not entirely clear. In fact, the Bellows notes state that there may have been significant “interpolation” here and perhaps throughout the Voluspa (and other eddas). This simply means that new material was inserted at some point.  

64. More fair than the sun, | a hall I see,
Roofed with gold, | on Gimle it stands;
There shall the righteous | rulers dwell,
And happiness ever | there shall they have.

65. There comes on high, | all power to hold,
A mighty lord, | all lands he rules.
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .

The Corpse-laden Dragon

In Stz 66 the dragon Nithogg flies from Nidjafjoll (the Dark Crags) with the corpses of men on his wings. Creepy and brutal. 

Overall, I read it as Ragnarok happens, the world is roasted, flooded, some peeps and gods survive, re-emerge into a fresh new world with the best of the old world preserved…only for the dragon of death to make an appearance. Which is to say, sure, it’s good now, but just you wait…implying, perhaps, a cyclical view of time. 

The Voluspa concludes with the seeress saying “but now I must sink” — i.e., back into the grave from which Odin summoned her.

66. From below the dragon | dark comes forth,
Nithhogg flying | from Nithafjoll;
The bodies of men on | his wings he bears,
The serpent bright: | but now must I sink.

The Tale of Vafthrudnir

I immediately liked Vafthrudnir; just a cool character. Which, I guess, is why he made it into my books. The poem itself is a battle of wits in which Odin learns about the world from someone who is wiser than he. And then Odin pulls a fast one, wins the duel and Vaft loses his head.

In Stanza 45 of the Vathruthnismol Odin learns that “Lif” and “Lifthrasir” will emerge into the world after Ragnarok and have the morning dews for meat. The Bellows footnotes state that this pair are Life and Sturdy of Life, presumably male and female (and perhaps the same as Askr and Embla?). It is implied (imo) that this pair repopulates the earth.

Vafthruthnir spake:
45. “In Hoddmimir’s wood | shall hide themselves
Lif and Lifthrasir then;
The morning dews | for meat shall they have,
Such food shall men then find.”

In Stanza 50 Odin asks Vafthrudnir who will rule when the fires of Surtr have receded. Vaft answers indirectly saying that Vidar and Vali will dwell in the gods’ home afterward. And then he adds that Thor’s sons will have Mjolnir.

Wait, Who Dies?

When I was building my timeline for my books, this question implied that Odin already knew that the world was going to end…which meant he’d already spoken with the seeress in Voluspa. But, my hypothesis is contradicted elsewhere. Also, the first two lines are repeated throughout the poem.

Othin spake:
50. “Much have I fared, | much have I found,
Much have I got of the gods:
Who then shall rule | the realm of the gods,
When the fires of Surt have sunk?”

In Stanza 52, Odin asks how Odin dies in Ragnarok. Again, this question implies that Odin has already spoken to the seeress. Is he checking his sources against each other, looking for inconsistencies? Maybe a way out of his doom? /wink

Vaft answers, saying that Fenrir will kill Odin and that Vidar will avenge Odin’s death.

Vafthruthnir spake:
53. “The wolf shall fell | the father of men,
And this shall Vithar avenge;
The terrible jaws | shall he tear apart,
And so the wolf shall he slay.”

The final stanzas involve Odin pulling a fast one and Vaft losing his head over it. Think Biblo versus Gollum and the “what do I have in my pocket” question? It’s a cheap question, but the rules of the duel permit it.

Othin spake:
54. “Much have I fared, | much have I found,
Much have I got from the gods:
What spake Othin himself | in the ears of his son,
Ere in the bale-fire he burned?”

D’oh! 

In Stanza 55, Vaft concedes. But, for me the “thou” on the second line makes me think that Vaft knew he was dueling Odin either for the entirety of the poem or at some point midway thru (I’ll have to read it again to try & pinpoint it).

The “fated mouth” makes me think that Vaft had foreknowledge of this duel. the Bellows notes suggest that Vaft only figured it out at the end of the duel and now he knows he’s going to die. (In Crawford’s translation it is “doomed mouth.”)

Vafthruthnir spake:
55. “No man can tell | what in olden time
Thou spak’st in the ears of thy son;
With fated mouth | the fall of the gods
And mine olden tales have I told;
With Othin in knowledge | now have I striven,
And ever the wiser thou art.”

I think it’s cooler if Vaft had Odin pegged from the get-go and went thru with the duel anyway.

Free will vs Fate / Doom / Wyrd

All of the above, and more besides, has had me thinking hard about free will versus determinism / fate. To the point of watching random YouTube videos about the topic.

I won’t go off the deep end into those topics because this post is way too long as it is and I haven’t figured out how I want to incorporate this theme of free will versus fate into my books. It’s central to Norse myths and Odin”s character arc…and my second book. 

 

Note: Drinking from Odin’s Pledge, Henning Kure, 2006, is the paper that provides an alternate reading of the Voluspa.

It’s back!

I got my manuscript back this past week. The verdict? It’s good! In fact, it’s so good that I may have clawed back some production time — maybe get it published this summer or early fall versus year-end. Which means BK3 gets started that much sooner.

And, yes, I think I’m going to write BK3 before branching out into side stories. A complete three-book series is a better foundation to build on even if that third book will take a couple years to produce.

Spoilers ahead!

Srsly, I’m gonna spoil some stuff in broad strokes….

srsly.

yep.

OK.

High-level spoilers

Kinsmen Die established the conflict between Aesir and Jotunn while also working in the related players…the Svartalvar, the witches, the Norns and the wyrm. And it shows that Loki and his need for revenge is a key factor.

Among other things, Dark Grows the Sun puts that conflict with Loki on centerstage while stoking the conflict between Aesir and Jotunn as a backdrop.

Book Three is the culmination of all of the above. But, it is not Ragnarok…though it’s gonna feel like it. BK3 details the events that transform the Aesir and Jotunn and all the related players into the myths that we have today. Mostly.

Actual Ragnarok in my universe happens much later.

Related stories

After BK3, I have a quite a few books/stories in mind:

  1. One that dives into the Svartalvar via at least one POV character. At the moment, this story is both a prequel to Kinsmen Die and runs concurrent with those books. And, these books are mostly written (though they’d need heavy reworking).
    • The ultimate fate of these Svartalvar books depends on what I end up writing in Book 3.
    • Beyond the Svartalvar books I already have in mind, there’s a whole series I could write about my imagined civil war among the Alvar that ends up in the division between the Light Alvar and the Dark Alvar. This would be a prequel on the Aesir side to the Kinsmen Die books, but would enable me to dive into the Vanir gods — Freyr, Freyja, Njord, Skadi, etc.
    • My Vanir are very different culturally from my Aesir, so it’d be pretty refreshing to develop that sub-universe.
    • The Alvar, light and dark, are prominent in both KD and DGtS so it’d be a pretty easy to build off of those references.
    • And then there’s the Aesir-Vanir War. That’s at least one book right there. It’d be cooler to write that from the Vanir perspective, though.
  2. I have another book in mind (and partially written) that follows Vafthrudnir after Book 3. His story is interwoven with the Svartalvar and then ties back in with Odin’s at a later date.
  3. A series that deals with us humans, one in particular, that takes place in a near-future setting. A good chunk of this series is already written as a portal fantasy. And, this is the series that I could re-write in the lit-rpg genre and then blend back into fantasy / space opera. Maybe. There are some big downsides to genre blending not the least of which is subverting reader expectations in a bad way. I do have a cool idea for how to work it, though.
  4. And then I have the book about Hyrrokin which would fill in some detail about my Jotunn world. A solid chunk of it is written since I pulled it out of KD and DGtS. Her story pertains to the Jotunn worldbuilding some of which is alluded to in Dark Grows the Sun. Her timeline is concurrent with the Kinsmen Die trilogy…and then goes beyond it to tie in with Vafthrudnir’s story if I want to expand her story.
  5. I really like the part in Snorri that describes Hermod’s right down to meet Hel. Hermod’s entire plot was cut from Dark Grows the Sun, so I’ve a good framework for a standalone, short novel.
  6. And then there’s a whole series of books that become possible AFTER Ragnarok happens. Actually, that myth would be a good subject for a future blog post…particularly since I heavily reference it toward the end of DGtS.

But for all that to be written, I gotta get through the next couple books. So much to do…so little time 🙂

It’s away!

This morning I finalized the “first” draft of the Dark Grows the Sun (DGtS) manuscript and emailed it to my editor. Wewt!

The book clocked in at 87,390 words which is right about where I want it. I expect the final version (which is a long ways away) to be roughly the same word count.

The edits will be…

I’ve hired my editor to provide two rounds of developmental editing and one round of line editing. Parlance can vary, so here’s an overview of what I’m getting:

  • Developmental edit: recommendations for the underlying structure of the story, including plot, character motivations, conflict, point of view, dialogue, and more.
  • Line edit: line ­by ­line recommendations on usage and style, including extensive edits and comments designed to polish the writing while respecting and preserving individual voice and style.

Gonna take some time…

This is going to be a lengthy process. I’ll get the first round comments back by the end of January. (I want them now!) From there, we’ll figure out how long it’ll take to do the first revision. All of the editing on her end will take about 3 months (2 rounds of developmental plus 1 round of line at one month each).

So best case, I’ll be able to publish DGtS by year-end 2019 or maybe early 2020. We shall see.

A 3rd book? I don’t think so…

My “And the Heavens Burn” series will have a third book. But not for a while. There are two main reasons:

  1. KD isn’t selling (yet). I’m assuming DGtS won’t sell, either, UNLESS I do something different. I’ll be researching what to do this month (Jan 2018).
  2. I want to write different stuff…change it up a bit. Keep it fun.

And by different I mean…

I want to write shorter books that are focused around a single main character. By shorter I mean about 40K words.

A few reasons for that:

  1. It’ll be fun to dive into a single POV and run with it whether it’s written in first person or third-person limited.
  2. I think I can learn more by writing more, shorter books than fewer, longer books. I’d like to get better at POVs for one thing.
  3. Shorter books should take less time to write and cost less to edit. That means more books written in the roughly the same amount of time for roughly the same cost. (1 book @ $1200 editing costs versus 3 books at $400 editing costs per book. Numbers are for example only).
  4. Cover art! Covers are cool. Sure I’d be spending more on covers but there are some great premades out there for not a lot of cha-ching.
  5. With more books out there, I have more to market and bundle and sell.

Genre jumping

A few weeks ago, I knocked out a ~1200 word “chapter one” that’s best described as Lit-RPG. I don’t remember why I wrote it except that I was having exceptional trouble working on DGtS, my mind wandered and out came that lit-rpg story.

I sent it to a few friends and they liked the concept. Incidentally, the story was written in first person POV and it flowed quite naturally. Fun.

I don’t know if I’ll pick that story back up again, but it might be fun to tinker with. And I can leverage my existing magic system & worldbuilding.

I envision my Norse-inspired world on a continuum that runs from fantasy to sci-fi / space opera to dystopia / post-apocalypse. Heck, I could even do a thriller set in the Norse world. Or a Holmesian mystery.

So rather than shackle myself to a third epic fantasy, why not explore other genres? The writing needs to be fun!

Other characters…

I also have a few characters that I’ve cut from KD and DGtS whose stories I really want to explore. Hyrrokin tops the list. And I think her tale is perfect for a 40K book.

Vafthrudnir is another example. I cut him from DGtS, but his backstory could be a prequel. And his future adventures could bridge into the whole Jotunn story that I’ve only hinted at yet.

And then there’s my Svartalvar characters about whom I’ve written at least ~150K words — they’re mostly crap words, but hey, I really want to get to them. Their stories tie directly into the events in “And the Heavens Burn” trilogy and then go beyond it.

If I proceed linearly, then it’ll be a decade before I get to them. But if I go short and hop around, then I could publish their stories in a couple years.

That sounds a whole lot more fun. And, I really don’t want to just impact on the surface. Ouch.

One step forward…

So this morning I was working on a scene and none of it went as planned.

First, we had a snowstorm Sunday into Monday so the kids were off school all day Monday. That ate into writing time. Second, the school lost power so the kids were also off today (Tuesday). So, lots of distractions.

Anyway, I had about an hour to write this morning and as is my wont, I skimmed over what I’d done yesterday, made some minor edits to ease into the flow and then let my subconscious guide me. I ended up at a scene in which Frigg flies back from one small town to the big town of Ifington.

An Odin scene precedes this one with Frigg. In his, he fought a coven of witches who’d attacked Gladsheim. I decided it’d make sense for witches to also have attacked Ifington (for reasons) and the timing worked out well b/c Frigg was heading back there.

So, the scene is meant to accomplish a few things:

  1. Show bad things happening in several places which leads to stuff
  2. Solve timeline issues which require Frigg to be in Ifington so that Odin can get a message to her
  3. Character building for Frigg — she’s directly involved in helping her people and taking charge
  4. Introduce some world building — what the city and countryside look & feel like.

As I was going thru the scene it was pretty “meh” — several people just reporting the bad news to Frigg. Very passive and boring. The scene also didn’t describe anything at all. Mostly just dialog and some tags.

So the scene sucked but the idea was ok.

I decided that I wanted to get Frigg seeing columns of black smoke rising above the city, fires raging, burned out husks of buildings, people hurt, cats and dogs living together, etc. And then she’d swoop down and help out. And then she’d get reports on what was happening as the scene progressed. Above all, I wanted it to be visceral.

So I started in on that … and then I screwed up.

As I was describing Frigg’s flight in, I had to decide which side of the river Ifington was on…and how the city had grown to incorporate another river. And, wait, did it make sense for rivers to branch like that down at the sea? And what did the coastline look like? And if the river branched, then what else was there? Farmland? And where did the river that did the branching come from?

If I’d stopped there, I might’ve been ok. But, I didn’t. I tabbed out and started searching rivers that branch (the Nile is a good example). And then I was worried that the topography didn’t make sense particularly based on what I’d already described so I started searching topographic maps. For the Pleistocene. Because reasons.

And then I went down additional world building rabbit holes, since I had to establish why the Aesir ended up at Gladsheim while the Jotunn ended up at Ifington. Which led to writing a short descriptive piece about how everybody got where they were.

Why did I do all that? Sometimes my brain won’t let me get past minor details until I have them figured out. Fair enough. The rest falls under the “I should’ve known better” category.

As in, never, ever tab out. Just keep writing.

Most of the times I don’t tab out. But this morning?

Sigh.

Got some good world building done, at least. Hopefully. I haven’t looked at it again.

Tomorrow morning, though, I have about an hour between getting home after dropping the kids at school and starting work. I haven’t been successful in using that time for writing…but tomorrow I will. I will!

Maybe.

🙂

Only 30ish years late…

I just finished listening to the Thrawn pentalogy by Timothy Zahn, voiced by Marc Thompson who did an amazing job.

WTF didn’t Lucas/Disney turn these books into movies? If done well, they’d be a thousand times better than the trash they’re making.

Apparently these books were made “not canon” when Disney crapped on the franchise. But with Star Wars: Rebels (which is actually pretty good), Admiral Thrawn is back in. And given the rebranding of the books (check Amazon), I wouldn’t be surprised to see more Thrawn in the future.

Here are the books in order because the titles are confusing:

Heir to the Empire trilogy = Thrawn Trilogy
  1. Heir to the Empire
  2. Dark Force Rising
  3. The Last Command
The Hand of Thrawn = Thrawn Duology
  1. Specter of the Past
  2. Vision of the Future

So, why are these books worth reading/listening to?

  1. The stories are enjoyable — space opera in the Star Wars universe. You can actually listen to ’em with your kids (if you have ’em and they like SW)
  2. Familiar characters — Han and Leia…and their kids, Luke, Lando, Chewy, etc.
  3. Cool new characters — Mara Jade, Talon Karrde, Thrawn
  4. The voice acting is excellent. (Minor annoyance: the “alien” sounds worked into the speech…animal grunts and groans and whinnies and FM enough already.)

Personally, I need to re-listen to the books because of Thrawn. He’s positioned as the infallible admiral…a grand strategist….totally amazeballs.

So, how?

But you go into the books knowing that the New Republic wins. Because…duh. If Thrawn is all that then….how?

So, as a writer I’m interested in how Zahn:

  1. Makes Thrawn awesome and compelling and brilliant
  2. Without stupid plot contrivances

I haven’t figured out quite how he did it. I have a few ideas but no specifics.

Lose!

In my books I have a somewhat similar situation in that I have powerful characters that need to lose — but do so in convincing ways. What I’ve done so far is try to:

  • Show them doing all they can, but it not being enough
  • Show them doing all they can but making mistakes b/c of bad info or not enough info or just b/c people make mistakes
  • Something legitimately new that they couldn’t have conceived of being introduced so that the tables are upended
  • Introduce malicious, hidden action/schemes by third parties

Pretty much all of the above I think you have to make sure the reader knows but the characters don’t–or, maybe better said, the readers figure/find it out first and then sh!t happens to the characters.

This all seems like pretty standard stuff — which I’m only assuming b/c I thought of it (ie, nothing special about me). And by standard I mean that I’ve absorbed the above by reading / watching stuff. And I also guess that the above are somewhat similar to how try/fail cycles are pulled off.

All of the above is why I need to re-listen to the Thrawn books. I’ve been winging it, as you can tell.

Progress!

You’ve heard the “writing is a muscle” expression before, right? Well, my experience over the past couple months has definitely proved it true.

Another saying that’s been going through my head of late is this: “do you want to be a writer or someone who’s written a book?”

Believe it or not, answering that 2nd question was kinda tough. It was easier to go through the motions…to say “meh, writer’s block” and quit after an hour or so of staring at the keyboard. And after a few months of that, well, you start to wonder — is this effort worth it? I could be doing other stuff with my non-family, non-job time.

What are you prepared to do?

But I kept coming back to wanting to create something. And I’d only just started…and I don’t like quitting just because it was tougher than I thought it would be. And, I have enough regrets in my life.

So back at the beginning of September, I decided to be a writer.

Step one was to quit playing WoW. Just doing that reclaimed a ton of time and dumped lots of stress.

Step two was to throw myself back into my 4 day a week writing habit. And by throw I mean omg it sucked.

I didn’t look forward to writing. The words weren’t flowing. Those that did were junk. I couldn’t move past the first third of the book — just kept going over it and over it and over it.

And, gradually, I was over it.

I was able to think more clearly about the book — timeline, plot, scenes I needed, scenes I needed to excise. I got past the first third of the book.

I wouldn’t say that things are amazing now, but I can feel the “flow” … time drops away and good stuff’s produced. Or at least good bones to hang stuff on.

So here are a few examples of what my progress looks like.

Stable word count ish

The book’s still hovering around 80K words which is my minimum word count goal for this book. That’s progress b/c despite the stuff I’m removing, I’m replacing a roughly equal amount of content…which, to me, means that the book’s concept is ok. And nothing plot-wise has changed since I went through that outlining process with my editor a year ago.

Moving past the beginning

As I said, I was stuck on the first third of the book. Never felt right. Too choppy. I couldn’t figure out how Frigg, for example, moved through the city and got into a bad situation (thanks to Loki). Nor could I figure out how she got out of that and then met up with a returning Odin. Nor how Loki stirred up trouble and planned future trouble before presenting himself to Odin and Frigg toward the end of the first section.

Well, now I have. Here’s an outline of how the first section of the book goes:

  • The book opens with Odin riding up from “Hel.”
  • Heimdall sees and hears him coming and, in Frigg’s scene, tells her that he’s coming. And he tells her that Thor is nearly to Gladsheim.
  • Loki presents himself at the great hall expecting to encounter Frigg. But, she’s not there. So Loki says he’ll stop by later — which gives him time to start trouble.
  • Since Thor’s not there yet, Frigg has time to speak with Hodr…and sets up her next interaction (with Thor).
  • Loki’s off starting trouble…which doesn’t pay off till later.
  • Frigg’s asked Thor to check out what Vidar found waaay up north. He agrees. And then she takes him to Baldr’s body…which puts her back near the great hall. Thor splits b/c he doesn’t want to see his father (which reinforces the bad blood between them).
  • Frigg goes into the hall, is told that Loki stopped by and will do so again later. She’s relieved b/c she didn’t want to deal with him w/o Odin. And, she’s told there’s a crowd gathering outside. She goes out & confronts the crowd.
  • Loki followed a crowd of people leading back up to the great hall, sees the crowd causing trouble for Frigg and decides to make it worse. As you do. Toward the end, he sees Odin riding up the road. Time to jet! But not before making it worse for Odin.
  • Cut to Odin riding up the hill, and then dealing with the fresh mob violence Loki just instigated.
  • Cut to Loki heading back down to a meeting with a certain someone. This clarifies a few things for the reader and sets up some future events.
  • Then cut back to Frigg in the aftermath of Odin dispersing the mob and then a new sequence that alternates between her and him — with a couple Loki scenes thrown in to build tension.

There’s a bit more to the book’s first third, but even writing this outline out fresh for this blog post it feels like it flows pretty well. (If you disagree, lemme know!)

Fixing later sequences, etc.

As with the above list of fixes, I did similar things later in the book to smooth events out. Some of this involved (and will involve) writing new scenes to flesh out sub-plots that are primarily there to give more depth to Odin, in particular, and to set up events in Book 3.

And best yet!

My editor checked in with me yesterday to make sure I was on track for the first round of manuscript evaluation on Jan 2.

I wasn’t sure, so I updated her on where I was and asked: Does my progress thus far match what you were expecting?

Her answer: Yep. This first critique will focus on the bigger picture stuff (plot, scenes) rather than the nitty gritty.

Phew. Like srsly. Phew.

And I got an extra week b/c she’s on vaca. Even better.

So when I hand the book in on Jan 7, it will be in pretty good shape. Not as polished as the first book I sent her a couple years ago but unlike that book, this one — Book Two — won’t be seeing massive plot shifts. I squared all that away last year. And like I said, it hasn’t changed.

I still have a ton of work ahead of me. And will do again come February.

But for now, it feels good to be a writer again.

 

Random thoughts on: The Expanse

So I’ve just finished binge watching The Expanse, thanks to it being available on Amazon Prime. Damn it was good.

TLDR: Go watch it.

I watched it when it first came out and was pretty “meh” on S1. Watched a couple episodes of S2 and then kinda forgot about the show. Fast forward to about a month ago and I am SO glad I went back to it. I really enjoyed the books — but I’ve only read/listened through Cibola Burn (Bk 4). Which is apparently what Season 4 of the Expanse will cover when the shows airs on Amazon Prime (SyFy canceled it).

So, here are my random thoughts on the show/books…loosely organized.

Scene and Setting and Plot

The story’s a bit gritty and realistic, but not over the top brutal. The mystery is compelling. The science/physics/astrophysics is really good, as is the CGI and the sets.

I’m still not entirely sold on the actors picked to play Amos and Avasarala, mainly because they don’t look like I pictured them (or how they were described). That said, those two actors are doing a good job.

They made lots of changes to the plot, characters, etc., when translating the books to the screen. Some of it annoys me but only b/c I know the books. It probably looks/feels pretty seamless to someone who doesn’t.

The Characters

The Expanse has lots of great characters. Take Miller, the detective, played to a “t” by Thomas Jane. So tragic and lonely and sad and so well written.

Bobby Draper — the hard-chargin’ Martian marine. Great in the books and equally so in the show.  The actress playing her does a great job. Probably one of my favorite scenes in the show is when a few Martians who were saved by the crew of the Rocinante try to take over the ship.

An unsuspecting Bobby walks into the middle of it. Alex is being held at gunpoint. The entire scene is sold, imo, by the young male Marine and his immediate respect for Bobby as well as Bobby’s annoyed patience with the woman holding the gun to Alex’s head. Love it.

Crisjen Avasarala. She’s probably one of the best characters I’ve ever read. An Indian woman who’s probably in her 60s. Gray haired. Small. And holy shit she’s a force of nature.

One of my favorite scenes in the books that, imo, was not well translated to the screen was when Avasarala and Bobby narrowly escape gettin’ blowd up and are saved by the Rocinante. In the books, Avasarala runs roughshod over the crew and basically takes over the ship. Holden spends half his time bewildered by her and pulled along in her wake. Just great.

In the show, however, they reduce Avasarala to pleading with Holden to please oh please do something. She was too reactive. It felt like they sidelined her to focus on the assault on Io and saving Prax’s kid.

Again, this is maybe only bothersome b/c I’m familiar with the books.

Amos. He’s awesome. And again, well written and well acted. The actor chosen doesn’t quite fit the mold but I think he nails it. Also, the voice actor in the audiobooks does a wonderful job of putting a rough-edged nuance into his voice when he’s Amos. Super enjoyable.

And at this point I’m embarrassing myself with all this gushing about the series.

So, here’s a few things I didn’t care for.

The Less Good

Melba: I couldn’t stand that character and storyline in the books. Felt like filler…and bored the shit out of me. In the show, it’s not so bad b/c while she plays an important role there’s less time devoted to it.

Same goes for Anna Volovodov. The series kinda butchered much of her plot points which is fine b/c I skipped through them — the ones when she’s writing the speech for the UN dude.  Zero interest.

When I relistened to the book she’s in a few months ago I also skipped her scenes. Yawn. They also felt like filler.

I disliked how they made Captain Ashford more sympathetic while splitting the Bull character (from the books) into Naomi and Drummer. Mostly b/c I really liked Bull. But, I also liked Drummer, so it’s all good.

The Even Better

I’d basically stopped listening to The Expanse with Nemesis Games (Bk 5). And since I have no memory of it, I’ll be relistening to it once I’m done with the second book in Timothy Zahn’s Hand of Thrawn series. The Thrawn trilogy is good stuff. And if you read/listen to ’em you are then allowed to geek out when Thrawn appears in SW: Rebels — a show which I found enjoyable…to my amazement.

So…aside from all that…what’s even better is that there are a few more books in The Expanse for me to get through:

  • Nemesis Games, Bk 5 (soon to be in progress)
  • Babylon’s Ashes, Bk 6
  • Persepolis Rising, Bk 7
  • Tiamat’s Wrath, Bk 8 (March 2019)

I’m intrigued by the names of those last three books and they mythos/culture to which they are linked. And that ties into another book I’ve been reading — Magicians of the Gods by Graham Hancock. That book and the stuff related to it deserve a post of their own.

Looks like I have my work cut out for me!