Update

Read-through of First Six Chapters of Book 5 Complete

I finished the first draft of the prologue and chapters 1-5 of book 5, and so it was time to do a read-through. I found the same things as usual such as logic errors, plot errors, pacing issues, presentation order tweaks and the like. It takes some time to write five chapters, so plot lines, where people are, what they know, and so on, can get fuzzy from earlier chapters. That’s why I like doing a read-through once I complete around five new chapters or so. A read-through takes only a few days, so everything stays fresh and it is easier to spot those kinds of errors.

Anyway, that’s my quick update. There’s some good stuff going on in there. Can’t wait to get on with the rest.

Happy reading!

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Like Grass in Winter

I noticed something while writing book 4, Of Gods, Trees, and A Sapling, that is happening again. Namely, writing the start of the book takes a bit longer than writing the rest, on a per-chapter basis. In book 4, I thought it was because I was struggling early on to figure out how a god would feel and see things when trapped in a mortal’s body, struggling with how to get it on the page, but that couldn’t be the only reason the beginning chapters took longer to write because it is happening again. I am not certain the same thing happened in previous books, they were written years ago and a lot has happened since then, but I get the sense that I did struggle early on with each book. Why is that, I wondered. Why is starting a book as difficult as getting out of bed in the morning (at least for me)? In this new book, I realized that almost the entire reason has to do with working out specifics.

My outlines help work out and point the direction of the plots, give broad strokes as to what is happening and why. When I get down to the actual writing, however, I need to know exactly why a person feels a certain way or why a person does or says something. Much of that comes from their background. Businesses, agencies, history, and even the environment may also need specific ‘reasons’ for why and how they are in the current day of the book’s setting if a part of a person’s character is based on any of them or if any events are predicated on any of them. Why? So that the person or event makes sense. One of the things I absolutely hate is when a book, a TV show, or a movie throws something at you that makes zero sense. Why would the protagonist do that, have that, or know that? Same thing with the antagonist. Characters can’t just miraculously know, have, or do something at the last minute. Things need to make sense. Incidentally, as I mentioned in a previous post, I kind of broke that rule with a certain lightning bolt, but 1) I made it make sense later, and 2) as a sort of punishment, I made certain there were consequences.

It has been some time since I completed the outline, and yet I only just finished the first scene of chapter five, the beginning of the sixth chapter (if you count the prologue as a chapter). It’s because much like grass growing and spreading its root system during the winter with not much leaf cover being added, I’m having to work out the details of new people, places, and things, as well as add details to existing ones so that hopefully everything makes sense. I’m laying down a nice root system, so to speak, a nice base upon which the plots will rest and grow. I’m confident that as in the past, once that root system has been laid down, once the first few chapters are done, the remaining chapters will follow along a bit more swiftly.

Well, back to writing chapter five for me. In the meantime, happy reading!

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That Feeling When Your Hard Drive Dies

Ugh. I’ve been spending a lot of time recovering from a failed boot drive on my computer. I’m still trying to find out which files I’m going to end up losing, but I was able to recover all files in My Documents (As far as I can tell. Because the drive was failing, some of the files that were backed up may have been corrupted already). I copy my writing work to a thumb dive daily as a backup when I finish for the day, so that’s always safe.

My computer had been acting odd, slow and stuttery, and then the other day as I was turning it on, the power on self test (POST) screen stayed up. It normally flashes by pretty darn quick, but it sat there and I finally noticed a message at the bottom that said a drive (it listed some sort of numerical identifier) was going bad and that I should back it up and replace it. I hit F1 to continue and tried to figure out which drive was failing, hoping (to no avail) that it was one of the ‘extra’ drives. After a lot of research and learning way more about the drives than I ever wanted to (manufacturers, volume ids, serial numbers, physical drive numbers, etc), I found out that it was the main drive where the OS is located that was failing. At least with the warning I was able to backup the My Documents folder before the drive gave up the ghost. I removed the bad drive and spent almost an entire day reinstalling and patching Windows to one of those ‘extra’ drives which is now the main drive. I have to set up my email accounts in Windows Mail again and reinstall all the applications I use like my accounting software, Spotify, Chrome, iTunes, the Adobe apps I use for creating covers, and I don’t even know what all else yet. Right now I’m restoring music, photos, and downloads from backups, but those are from the end of last year, so I’ve likely lost some things that I’ll need to replace, if that will even be possible. But at least I do have everything though that date.

Take my misfortune to heart and backup, backup, backup. It likely won’t prevent you from losing every single file, but it will at least get you back to where you were at the last time you backed up.

You know what the worst part is? All this wasted time! I want to get back to writing. 😦

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First Draft of Book 5 Started!

I have begun writing the first draft of book 5 in the Dragonlinked Chronicles series. In fact, I finished the last scene of the Prologue yesterday and started on Chapter One today. I’m looking forward to all the interesting stuff coming.

In the meantime, happy reading!

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Quick and Dirty Book 5 Update

Things are going well on the outline for book 5. I’d say I’m about 85-ish percent done with it. Lots of thinking, research, more thinking, and staring blindly at things to let thoughts bubble and churn into interesting ideas has gotten me to this point.

Anyway, that’s it for the quick and dirty update. For book writers interested in a tip I learned (or fans who like this kind of thing), keep reading.

As part of writing the outline this time around, I’ve tweaked the way I use my outline spreadsheet. As I’ve mentioned in a past post, when outlining, I set up a spreadsheet with three tabs, Outline, Timeline, and Brainstorm (I now just make a copy of the last outline spreadsheet, clear out what is unneeded, update the calendars to appropriate Letheran months, and start there). The Outline tab has the outline, Timeline has a calendar with several months on it (not in list form but in actual calendar format using square cells for days in the month with day numbers and chapter numbers in them, so I can see when things are happening and plan accordingly), and Brainstorm has lists of brainstorm ideas and details of promising ideas.

So, what changed? Well, I now use 5 columns labeled Plot (plot line number), Chap (chapter), Scene (within the chapter), Scene Description, and Notes, in that order. Plot is still where I put the plot line number, and I still use different numbers for each plot line. So for instance, the main plot might be numbered 1. But now, I use that same number on every row having to do with that plot. I used to use thousands to represent various plots, so the main plot might have been 1000, and the Plot column would have 1000, 1010, 1020, etc, to organize its scenes in order, and I had overall timeline numbers to organize scenes into their book order. Well, that got to be entirely too cumbersome to maintain with the amount of switching around of scenes I’ve been doing to keep things interesting. Instead, I now use Chap and Scene to do that. So, let’s say that I decide a certain scene should appear two chapters later (or earlier) than where it currently is. The old way would have required me to renumber the Plot column numbers for that plot line (and the Timeline numbers of ALL scenes between) from the current location down (or up) to the new location. Now, I just change the Chap number of that scene, and I only have to redo the Scene numbers of that one destination chapter based on the order I want its scenes. But the biggest time saver is when I decide to add or remove a scene. The old way required a renumbering of the Plot or Timeline columns for every single scene from its added (or deleted) point to the end of the book. And let me tell you, I am adding lots and lots of scenes right now as I outline, so it was just horrible. The new way is much faster and easier. Plus, Sort can still be used to arrange plot lines the ways I want. If I want each plot separated into their own groups so I can just focus on outlining a particular plot, I sort by Plot, Chapter, Scene. If I want to see all plots mixed together as they will appear in finished form, I sort by Chapter, Chapter, Scene. Why do I do Chapter, Chapter, Scene? Because OpenOffice Writer usually remembers Sort settings used, and this way, I only have to change the first sort field between Plot and Chapter, instead of selecting all three fields every time.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Do NOT use the scroll wheel of the mouse to change sort fields! Always click-and-choose. If you accidentally over-scroll up, the instant you hit the ‘-undefined-‘ selection, ALL field selections below that one will be cleared. I did this a few times before I learned my lesson. Note number two: When you bring up the Sort dialog, you may have to click the Options tab and select ‘Range contains column labels’ so you see Plot, Chap, Scene, etc, instead of Column A, Column B, etc. Note number three: Always select the entire spreadsheet before sorting. A fast way to do that is to click the grey square at top left, the one next to A and 1. Oh, and Note number four: I use Chap 0 for the prologue scenes.

Happy reading!

EDIT: Ignore Note number three! Do NOT select the entire spreadsheet before sorting! Calc auto-selects pertinent cells for you if your click (or are already in) a cell in the data and just go to Data->Sort from the menu. And in fact, if you DO select the entire spreadsheet first, Calc sometimes forgets the ‘Range includes column headers’ option. It has done that to me a few times and my best guess as to why is because the number of rows with data changed from the last time I sorted. For some reason, letting Calc auto-select the data block seems to keep that option, at least so far. Note that for its auto-select to work, the data you want to sort must be all together in a block of cells with no empty rows or columns within, and anything you don’t want sorted (like results cells, etc) must be separated from the data block by at least one empty row or column.

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Creating Conflict, or in This Case, Finding It

Like with most of the books in the series so far, I had an idea of what I wanted to address (protagonist’s desire) before I started writing this next book, book 5 of the Dragonlinked Chronicles series. I also know a lot about the two main characters (new) involved with one of the subplots. My trouble has been with the conflict for the main plot, which is to say, conflict about the thing I want to address (and hopefully resolve). For the past two months I’ve been researching and filling in my “Outline/Timeline/Brainstorm” spreadsheet for book 5 (well, the Brainstorm part, anyway). The spreadsheet has three tabs, Outline, Timeline, and Brainstorm. I throw all kinds of ideas on the brainstorm tab: what can dragons do that is new? what things are ongoing from previous books? who are some potential antagonists and their motivations? what are some new technologies/spells or evolutions of existing technologies/spells? what are some problems on Lethera right now? and what kinds of things, crazy or not, could happen to mix things up? (Incidentally, that last column about crazy things is where Chanté came from for book 4. “You broke your rule about not having miraculous ‘saves.’ Someone has to pay. How about Ulthis?”) The brainstorm tab was full to bursting with sub-plot ideas, but I hadn’t been able to get very far with an outline because I could not start on a main plot outline.

I did have an idea for a main plot antagonist, which I thought of while doing research on our own history in two areas, but for the life of me I could not find a nice, strong motivation for antagonist. I couldn’t figure out how to put antagonist in conflict with the main thing I wanted to address (apologies for being vague on that count, but I don’t want to give away too much right now). Getting strong conflict about that main idea is something akin to conflict on our world about, say, cherries being tasty. Most people would agree that they are tasty, so where’s the conflict? I’d been wracking my brain day after day, drinking coffee and staring at the screen, trying to figure out how to drum up conflict about ‘cherries being tasty.’ I did come up with ideas about things that could happen in sub-plots, but I needed something for the main plot so I could start on deeper outlining. Then, I got to thinking, what if antag doesn’t hate cherries because people think they are tasty? What if antag hates cherries because someone precious to antag was hurt because of cherries, or directly by cherries, or something like that? Antag hates cherries for something other than ‘main thing,’ but that still puts them in conflict with cherries and makes antag want to crush them. That led me to a pretty good idea for antag motivation that also ties in to previous books.

Why did I have so much worry about the antagonist’s motivation? Because the antagonist is just as important as the protagonist. Both have to feel real. Both have to think that what they are doing is right. Without good, believable motivation for the conflict, your antagonist will feel like one of those mustache-twirling, two-dimensional bad guys that no one would feel anything about. And just as with the protagonist, if readers don’t care about the antagonist, they won’t care about the conflict. They won’t care about the book.

So, if you are having trouble finding or creating conflict about the main thing in your plot, think about it another way. What about tangential conflict? Could conflict come from another angle? Antag could fight main idea/person/what-have-you for a completely different reason than direct opposition. Heck, antag might not even be fighting protag’s desire at all, but instead, their actions could merely interfere with protag’s desire and cause conflict.

At any rate, now that I have a general idea of the whos and whys of the conflict, I can finally start expanding the outline and filling in the various plot lines. And speaking of which, it’s time for me to get back to work.

As always, happy reading!

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Research, research, research

I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday break. I spent some time up north with family for a bit of a vacation and to hopefully get some cold-weather research in, as snow isn’t something one sees very often in central Texas. Alas, in the week and a half I was there, there was little to no snow in the part of Nebraska I stayed at. There was one evening of light snow a few days before the end of my vacation. It left less than an inch on the ground, and locals scoffed at the amount, but I was pleased to have been able to see the white stuff falling and the thin accumulation on streets, sidewalks, yards, trees, and on the frozen lake we visited a couple of times. Walking atop that lake was enjoyable, though alarmingly slippery, and something entirely new to me. All in all, it was a good trip. I had fun and got some insights that will help with the next book. Though I didn’t get to enjoy deep rifts of snow as I have in the past, I was able to experience just how terribly cold it feels when temperatures approach and go below zero degrees F, and think about just how difficult and dangerous life in those climes can be.

Now that I am back home, I’m doing research that is much more mundane using my trusty assistant, Google. The research concerns other matters that may impact plots in the next volume: technology advances during the industrial revolution, arctic ecology, history, and the like. A bit boring, perhaps, but essential to understand how we as a people progress and fall back, and how greed, fear, the desire for progress, and such, propels individuals.

Time to get back to it. Happy reading!

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Trade Paperback Version of Book 4 Now Available

Trade Paperback Cover for Book 4

Of Gods, Trees, and a Sapling, trade paperback version cover

I just received the proof of book 4, Of Gods, Trees, and a Sapling, today and it looks great. I chuckle every time I glance at it because it’s so darned big. At any rate, I have approved the proof so the trade paperback version of book 4 is now available HERE from CreateSpace.com. It should be available at Amazon.com within 3-5 business days and will be accessible at the same link as the kindle version, you’ll just have to select the paperback version in the ‘other versions/formats’ section. Once Amazon has a direct link to this version, I will update this post with that.

Please note that the price for the trade paperback version of this book is more than previous books because the minimum price allowed by CreateSpace is higher due to how long the book is–at 773+ pages, it is about the size of books 1 and 2 combined.

Happy reading, all.

UPDATE: Amazon now has a link to purchase the trade paperback version, if you’d rather buy it from them instead of CreateSpace. You can do so from HERE.

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Of Gods, Trees, And A Sapling Now Available in eBook Format!

It took some time, but the eBook version of the latest book in the Dragonlinked Chronicles series, Of Gods, Trees, And A Sapling, is now available at Amazon.com (and all amazon sites, actually). The trade paperback version will be available within the next couple of weeks, depending on shipping times and whether I have to make adjustments based on the sample.

Many apologies for how long it’s taken. There are two main reasons it took as long as it did for me to finally finish this book. The first is that my life has been ridiculously hectic these past eighteen to twenty months or so. I won’t bore or bring you down with the details, but suffice it to say I wore black a lot and made a few trips to visit relatives in the hospital. There were a lot of days where I struggled to write.

Now, the biggest reason it took so long–and I mentioned I had suspicions about it in a previous post (which turned out to be true)–is the length of this book. In between uploads to Amazon after tweaking the format and fixing the two spelling errors that somehow sneaked through, I started work on another document, the trade paperback version. My preliminary pass at formatting that version indicates that, in print, this book will be seven hundred and seventy-three pages long. That’s more than double the length of book 2. I suspected it might be longer than book 3 based on how long it was taking me to complete a read-through, but it didn’t feel that long to me while I was reading it. My test reader’s only comment that was even remotely related to the length was that she couldn’t stop thinking about getting back to reading it in between her job as a substitute teacher, working on starting her business, and picking up her kids. So, she apparently didn’t think it felt long either.

At any rate, here you go. ENJOY!

(And for those of you who want a physical copy, I will continue working on the trade paperback version tomorrow, I swear!)

P.S. OH!  If any of you followed me on my Amazon author page and you did NOT get notified about the release, could you please post a comment below? If some of you were not notified, I want to speak with Amazon and find out if there is anything I can do to fix it. Thanks!

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Final Draft of Book 4 Manuscript Complete

I just completed a pretty darn clean read-through. All I found were minor word-choice issues, and in one ‘action’ scene, I made some minor tweaking to the order of sentences for pacing. As much as I dislike that it’s taken two months to get to this point, what has transpired has only reinforced my assertion that you should never, ever discount the value of doing your own read-throughs nor should you discount the value of test readers.

Performing your own read-throughs of a complete manuscript lets you get a feel for the entire thing, see its flow, see the various plot-lines and how they interweave, and see how the multiple story arcs progress all together. I have read the complete manuscript six times since the first draft was complete at the end of August,  and in every read-through prior to this last one, I found something fairly big. Particularly with how a certain investigation was progressing, I found places where what was in my head had not made it clearly to the page. I found places where in my zeal to describe a cool new thing, I gave away too much ahead of time, and so when the character ‘realized’ something about it, that realization made no sense because that something had been described prior. And when I decided to add a little scene near the end to give a certain character a chance at a bit of payback, I realized a major plot had a major hole. All those things I corrected.

I also got my test reader feedback. Fresh eyes see things that the author’s do not. So many things. Wrong character name used in speech tags, a case of the wrong verb tense (I change sentences around a lot and sometimes forget to check if a verb tense needs changing based on the new structure of the sentence), confusing sentences (this is sort of a period piece, so the language used has a hint of that, but sometimes just saying it simply is the best course), and the most important thing found was just a ridiculous over-usage of a certain action tag. Like a speech tag, an action tag ties a character to a piece of dialog, but it does so with action (an example with a different action tag: Aeron blinked. “You want to do what?”). It took me something like three hours to search that tag out across the entire manuscript and decide whether to keep it as it was, to replace it with a different tag, remove it completely (just leave the dialog), or to rewrite that part a bit. It took so long because I had to be careful not to over-use the fixes for the over-use. At any rate, I addressed all the feedback in one way or another.

All of that means the manuscript is complete. Now, I just have to come up with a cover blurb (working on that), finish the cover (98-ish percent done), and decide whether what I have now as a title will remain the title (no spoilers!). The trade paperback version will take at least a week longer because I have to get a physical sample of the book shipped to me so that I can check the printing of the cover (including alignment on the front, back, and the spine, and where the cover image is cut at the edges) and the interior before approving it for sale. BUT. I should have the e-book version on sale by the end of the month. I have been working really, really hard to make that happen. Along with familiar faces, there are some new characters that I think you’ll like a lot, I know I do, and I can’t wait for you to meet them.

Anyway, enough blabbing. Back to finishing the book!

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