Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007

Scarlet Blog Tour

Scarlet continues to excel. The vile and most foreign French continue to behave badly. The noble and almost pure Welshmen continue to needle the sides of the invaders. I'm continuing to work my way through this book at a slower than usual pace but I can assure you that it is worth your time.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Paradox Editor Interview

As some few of you may remember, I submitted my story "Such Great Faith" to Paradox magazine. I found a good interview with the editor, Christopher Cevasco. I think everyone who's interested in the mind of an editor should read both Day One and Day Two at Favorite PASTimes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My New Favorite Song

Sometimes we're lucky enough to see true beauty, like the faintest glimpse of what Heaven must be like. For me, it happened recently on the five hour drive back from Long Beach. Towards the end of the trip we were losing our patience and getting into a general grouchy mood. The kids were unruly and the baby was more fussy than usual. Just then my daughter decided to sing to him. After a few rounds of "If You're Happy and You Know It" and "Jesus Loves Me" she struck upon a song that still rings in my mind. She just kept singing 'everything is magical and wonderful' again and again and again. That was both the lyric and the chorus. It went on and on.

With her cute little six year old voice and wide open belief that everything was magical and wonderful, it's one of the few times I wish the car trip could have been just a bit longer.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Just Like That II

And so just like that I'm finished with the rough draft of this new Roman Empire story. This weekend we packed up and went down to my mom's cabin in Long Beach. My first morning there the story snapped into place, the characters firmed up, and about 1700 words flowed like oil from Saudi sand. Now I have to fix the beginning where I was floundering around and waiting for a story to appear.

I love it when the writing comes this easy because those times are few and far between. I was practically giddy when I typed in the last words. I really like how it turned out. Not only that, it freed up the rest of the weekend to play Civilization IV.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Just Like That

And just like that I'm in Barnes & Noble last night and I see a new book called Decline and Fall. It's about the downward spiral that Europe finds itself in today after hundreds of years of ruling the entire world. So now I will have to find a new working title that I can change at a later date. "The Roman Story" just doesn't do it for me but that might have to stick for a while.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

New Writing Project

The winner of My Next Writing Project is a story set in the last days of the Western Roman Empire. Right now I'm calling it "Decline and Fall" but that will surely change. This is the second story I've written that requires a good deal of research into all things Roman. The thing is, I could literally spend all day reading about the time period I've selected; and I've narrowed it down to somewhere around 380 to 400 AD in northern Italia. I'm trying to get the history of the setting correct because if I don't, there are plenty of people who will point it out. It's not a straight historical piece--there will be elements of the supernatural in it--but the intent is to be accurate. That gives me all kinds of excuses to waste time on 'research.'

Friday, November 09, 2007

Michael Ehart, Part Five

What was the process of getting the stories collected together with the new novella?

It was all Bill Snodgrass’s idea! (Ed. note: Bill is the founder and editor of The Sword Review.) I ended up writing five stories in an arc for The Sword Review. The second story was even better received than the first, and the next three let me build on some ideas about redemption and sacrifice that I had wanted to explore. Bill suggested that we issue them as a chapbook, which seemed like a pretty good idea, but in the months between I kept writing Servant stories, two of which are included in the book. I tweaked the shorts a little, and put one of the new stories and the novella “The Tears of Ishtar” in the middle, and added an epilogue which turned the book from a collection into an episodic novel.

At what point did you start thinking and writing with the entire arc in mind? How much revision needed to happen to make them flow?

Right after the second story, when I realized that I had a lot more to say. I realized that the Servant herself would not be able to say some of the things I wanted, and that it might be interesting to see her from another perspective. By adding the adopted daughter, it let me do a number of things, including add a glimmer of hope to the story, and work the contrast between the nine year old girl and the 600+ year old murderess. The arc pretty much created itself after that, once I decided exactly where the story needed to go. I had the foresight to leave substantial time slots for other stories, so later, when I added the novella and the new story that takes place just before the meeting of the Servant and her daughter, it was easy to plug them in. It helps that I did actually think out the time-line ahead of time. The main revisions for the book involved small continuity details and trimming some repetition in the stories that was needed as stand-alone shorts but redundant in an episodic novel.

How much collaboration did you have with your editors and illustrator?

Bill Snodgrass, the editor, has been great. I have already mentioned how this project was his idea. He also made some excellent suggestions for the novella, which he rightly saw as a chance to do what he calls “God pointing”—illustrating and conveying elements of our Christian faith without beating the reader over the head too brutally. The Servant lives and travels in Old Testament times, and is able to re-tell some of those stories in an oddly charming idiosyncratic manner.
A couple of months ago I had the most amazing experience. I first envisioned the Servant over 10 years ago, with that scene of her sitting on a rock, weeping and bleeding. When Rachel Marks, who did both the cover and the interior illustrations, sent me the first drawing, I was expecting something nice, but what I got was overwhelming. There on my computer was the scene, exactly as I had pictured it years ago. I was nearly in tears.

Rachel has done a fantastic job, both with her visions of the characters and situations, and in making sure I was comfortable with what she has done. She is a careful reader, so there wasn’t much that needed to change, other than a few small historical details. She was an absolute joy to work with, and I cannot imagine more exciting illustrations than she has provided. The readers of this book are really getting something special.


And so that's it. Many thanks to Michael for participating. Now everyone needs to go out and buy The Servant of the Manthycore next week, and I know you're out there because I've never had more hits on this blog than during this interview.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Michael Ehart, Part Four

Where did you come up with a Manthycore for your antagonistic force? What is the legend behind it?

The ancient story tellers loved any sort of chimera, or beast made of the parts of different animals, like the Sphinx, Pegasus, fawns, and centaurs. I needed something that was more horrible than just getting whacked by some sword babe. The word manticore (I just used an archaic spelling for no better reason than I liked how it looked) is very old, and actually means “eater of men.” Some of the legends, which stretch in origin from Egypt to India, have the beast so ravenous that not a single trace is left of its victims other than their clothes. From there it was a short trip to making the beast a fastidious eater.

How did the series grow beyond the first story?

I honestly thought I was done. “Voice of the Spoiler” came from the single scene at the beginning, with the Servant sitting on a rock, weeping among the bodies of the slain, and a desire to tell a story about how love can sometimes make people do incredibly dreadful things. The scene was so powerful that I spent a couple of days working it out in my head how she got there, then decided to write the story in that same circular fashion.

More stories came because people liked it. It was a top ten finisher in the 2005 Preditors and Editors Poll, and a few folks emailed me and asked to see more. At first I couldn’t think of anything more I wanted to say about her, but then realized that even the slightest variations in the monotone of her pain and despair would stand out, and there might be more things that she could tell me. The funny thing is, the more I write about her, the more things I see that deserve to be told.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Michael Ehart, Part Three

What prompted you to select the ancient Near East as your setting for 'Servant'?

I became aware of the changing face of ancient history about 15 years ago, when a friend of mine gave me a subscription to Biblical Archeological Review as a birthday gift. This marvelous magazine was full of glossy color photos of artifacts and digs throughout the Near East. I was enthralled, and soon was raiding used book stores and abusing the inter-library loan program for anything on the subject I could lay hands on. The more I read, the more fascinated I became with the bronze age and the amazing civilizations that thrived there.

The first few books of the Bible are another great source, both in historical detail and in inspiration. It is hard for me to imagine a richer time and place in which to set a story. Our earliest myths and legends come from there, as well as the beginnings of law, mathematics, medicine, science and literature. The Epic of Gilgamesh was the first story we know of to be written down, and I remind everyone who will listen that it was a Sword and Sorcery tale!

How historically accurate do you try to be and do you consider 'Servant' to be historical fiction in any way?

In that I try to be as historically accurate as I can be within the framework of the fantasy story I am telling, yes, this might be considered historical fiction. I do take liberties occasionally, though, because the story is the thing. For instance, in one story chickens are mentioned, even though they were not domestically kept until a few hundred years later. But the line “You are not the man with the chickens!” delighted me. Sometimes I have changed the spellings of places or people’s names to make them more friendly to the modern eye. And in one story I moved a city to the other side of the Euphrates simply to streamline the narrative.

On the other hand, I spent a very enjoyable hour or so researching soap, none of which actually made it into the story except that a character was bathed and smelled good after. There is so much strange and wonderful stuff out there about the period, and it really has been under-utilized.

Do you plan on drawing anything further from the time period? Another series of stories perhaps?

There are a couple of minor characters that have appeared who may have their own stories to tell. Right now, though, I am buried under the novel based on the novella. It is kind of cool, because instead of working on the usual sequel, this timeline goes at right angles to the main story arc. The two additional stories (not in the book) that will appear in November in other magazines, “Stand, Stand, Shall They Cry” for Flashing Swords #8 and “Who Comes For the Mother’s Fruit” in Every Day Fiction both are following the new arc of “The Tears of Ishtar” and have a slightly different feel.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Michael Ehart, Part Two

The story continues...

When you decide on the ‘statement’ that your story can make how deliberately do you work it in?

Always, the story is the thing. It has to be entertaining enough to hold the interest of the reader and to be honest, my interest as well. I am a fiction writer, not a polemicist, plus I am writing in a pretty narrow genre, with a certain expectation of action and pacing. I certainly cannot go all expository on my readers.

At the same time, the thought is always in my head of what true thing am I trying to say here. Unlike Epic Fantasy, in Sword and Sorcery our protagonists are seldom trying to save the world, so making the stakes high enough lots of times involves a moral dilemma of some sort. Just as in most of the other pulp-born genres, there is usually a poor decision made, followed by the protagonist’s struggle to rectify the mistake, whether the story is a western, hard-boiled detective, noir or S&S.

I've seen you refer to your stories as 'inventory'. Do you then consider writing a profession or a hobby?

I think that comes from my years of writing freelance non-fiction for newspapers and magazines. The only way for a freelancer to make any money is to be prolific, and treat it like a job. And in truth, most people who write with the idea that it is a hobby will tend to produce hobby-quality work. As a reader I have very little time, and I want to feel that regardless of how much I paid to read something, or how much or little the writer was paid, that what I am reading is a professional-quality story.

What sort of process do you follow, beginning to end, for your stories?

There are two things that I need to have before starting a story. One is at least one interesting idea of a scene or a character in an uncomfortable position. The other is an idea of what truth there is to be told from that situation. It sounds corny, and a little contrived, but I really think that for any story to really have an impact it must tell the reader something deeper, in some way illuminate the human condition.
The process itself is pretty simple. Because I have very little time, the main obstacle is slotting in writing time. Fortunately I am a pretty fast writer, and having spent some time as a reporter I am not one to agonize. I do almost no re-writing; usually one draft and a clean-up.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Michael Ehart, Part One

Here is the first installment of my interview with Michael Ehart, author of The Servant of the Manthycore. I'm really jazzed about this collection of stories set in the ancient Near East and highly suggest that anyone interested in fantasy get a copy of it.

What path did you take toward becoming a writer?

It is a family curse!--- my mother is a romance writer, and like most kids, I thought what my parents did was perfectly normal. I sold my first magazine story at around age 15, nearly 40 years ago and made my first international sale around the same time. I’ve taken occasional breaks for the purpose of actually making a living, but I have also supported myself as a newspaper reporter, a technical writer, and for several years had a movie review column that ran in a dozen papers.

Is it a difficult transition to go from reporter to fiction writer?

In the end it all comes down to words in a line. The skills involved are not exactly the same, but the ability to write good sentences arranged in coherent paragraphs that tell a story carries over. The most valuable skill involved has got to be the ability to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Many writers, especially those starting out, tend to overwork and over analyze what they write. While it is important to fix persistent mistakes, you can pretty easily suck the life out of a story through too many revisions.

What changes have you seen in your early writing and what you're doing now?

I like to think it has improved! Early on I wrote very little fiction. I discovered that in the non-fiction world you could pre-sell a story to a magazine, which was enormously appealing, especially when I could look at my mother’s experiences in the realm of fiction. Rejection is a writer’s first experience, but you can gather a lot more of that rejection experience very quickly writing fiction.

In terms of the stories I tell, there has been a considerable growth in both how I tell a story and the risks I am willing to take with characters and situations. I have a lot more in life experiences and observations to bring to the table than even ten years ago, and therefore write with a much more confident voice than I did. One of the kindest things that anyone has said about my writing was in Michael Moorcock’s foreword to The Servant of the Manthycore, where he said, “The genre story usually dodges the facts of genuine tragedy while the myth, or the story which retains the quality of myth, does not.” Even ten years ago, in many ways I was faking it. Now I am more likely to have a foundation of real truth in the tales I spin.

It's Michael Ehart Week! Tune in tomorrow for the continuation.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Writing Lessons About Potential Readers

My wife and I rented the movie Next last night. It is very good by the way, especially if you're a fan of Nicolas Cage. What struck me as interesting was the way we tend to watch movies. I sit down and remove all distractions. I watch the opening credits and let myself get into the feeling and the flow of the movie. I pay attention in order to soak in everything that the film maker was trying to present. My wife, on the other hand, messes about with some mail on the coffee table, clicks over to a couple of things on her laptop, gets up and walks into the kitchen for something to drink, you know, does everything except pay attention. This has been standard procedure for almost twenty years now.

It struck me that there are people who read like this as well. While some will read with careful attention to your words, others will traipse through your prose like an unmedicated bipolar patient. Long, complicated sentences that are designed to evoke emotions from the depths of one's soul are probably lost on them. (My wife, however, is still more emotionally attuned than I am, so maybe this lesson just falls flat in her regard.) I suppose the thing to remember is that what you set up in Chapter 1 may have been glossed over and forgotten by the time we get to Chapter 10 so don't assume that your readers are following you. I'd advise sticking in a reminder or two along the way. Kind of like stopping the movie after an hour and saying, "No, he only sees two minutes into his own future."

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Scarlet: Opening Remarks

The first few chapters of Scarlet are proving that the book is sure to live up to high expectations. There are a couple of things I've noticed that I can comment on now. First, it's written in both first and third person. It is the tale of Will Scarlet who's in prison awaiting the hangman's noose because of his association with Rhi Bran y Hud, otherwise known as King Raven the Enchanter. Will is reciting his story to a scribe who's been assigned to take his confession. The first person narration is a combination of standard narrative and 'meta narrative'; the first is the story the scribe is writing down and the other is Will and the scribe talking about writing down the story. Then after a couple of chapters Lawhead switches to third person and follows some other characters for a while. It is an interesting POV choice and I think it works quite well.

The second thing is that I was completely wrong when I thought Will Scarlet was actually King William the Red. The King is still in the story but he is not the title character. Will Scarlet has the given name of William Scatlocke and he is of Norman and Saxon lineage. His tale begins when he leaves his landless lord in search of this mysterious phantom that menaces the greenwood on the marches...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

NaNoWriMo: Reasons For an Early Failure

Once again it is NaNoWriMo time and once again I have considered participating. Instead of actually trying to accomplish 50000 words in one month I would much rather put my time into surrendering faster than the French Army against [insert opponent here].

1. When I write I like to think that maybe the first words I put down are publishable.
2. When I write I like to think that maybe the first words I put down are coherent.
3. There are so many other things I could fail at this month and all of them require less effort.
4. I think it would only take eleven days before I did nothing but type "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy" and that can't possibly be good.
5. I'm good enough at ignoring friends and family right now, thank you very much.
6. The NaNo site is probably down anyway.
7. 'Motivation' and 'inspiration' will sometimes come to me through randomly flailing at the keyboard but experience has shown that it doesn't happen often enough.
8. Why participate in a good thing when you can ridicule it and still improve your self esteem?
9. After a few attempts at writing a novel have fallen flat I'm wondering what the advantage is to rapid failure with no hope of recovery vice slow progress that retains the glimmer of possible success.
10. Who are we trying to kid, 50000 words isn't really much of a novel.

Other reasons you may think of will be gladly reviewed and likely satirized.