IWSG July 7, 2016 – The Best Thing Someone has Ever Said About Your Writing

Today is IWSG day. Come join Alex J. Cavanaugh and all the other writers who support each other, make us all smile and think in this monthly hop. No one is mocked or sneered at. All are welcome. We have all been there.

The awesome co-hosts for the July 6 posting of the IWSG will be Yolanda Renee, Tyrean Martinson, Madeline Mora-Summonte , LK Hill, Rachna Chhabria, and JA Scott! 

Visit the website and look around: http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/

This month’s question is:

What’s the best thing someone has ever said about your writing?

I was lucky enough to receive two new reviews on one of my books this past week.  They were both good reviews, not too long, but each one ‘got’ the core of the story, expressed its connection to his or her enjoyment and said that they were eagerly awaiting the next installment (which will be coming out sometime early next year.)

That was a wonderful surprise, since I don’t haunt my listings looking for reviews, and since I have been out of circulation for two years due to family concerns.  But the best thing someone said about my writing happened over twenty years ago.  I was fresh out of college, had been working for maybe two years, and had started writing what would become A Killing Among the Dead, the last book in my Memphis Cycle.  It is based on a great tomb-robbing scandal during the last dynasty of the New Kingdom, and edges into fantasy in some areas.

I have written since I was nine years old.  This story, however, which came to me during my ancient history studies, was my first serious attempt with an eye to publication.  I was polishing (and polishing and polishing) it, and I took it with me on a vacation to my family’s cottage in the New York finger lakes.  My father’s cousin, Sally, was visiting with her children.

I liked Sally.  She was a fun person, though sometimes pedantic, being a teacher of sorts –  a professor, actually.  That’s about all I knew about her, except that she had written a book about growing up in the fingerlakes.  She learned that I was ‘writing a book’, asked if she could look at my manuscript, and (surprisingly) I handed it over and went off to enjoy sailing, fishing, driving through the upstate New York.  Several days later she handed back my manuscript, which she had marked up, and told me that she enjoyed reading it, but she had a few suggestions, and hoped that I didn’t mind.

I think at that point I had begun to realize that my flying fingers did not automatically put out fabulous writing, and this story, which I had overhauled, was in need of more work.  I thanked her, chatted with her and her kids, enjoyed the rest of my vacation, and looked over her comments when I had a moment.

Sally had some suggestions:  ‘Instead of ‘digging your own grave’ you might want something more in period such as ‘carving your own tomb’.  There were others, but her notation at the very climax of the story actually blew me away.  The hero, thought to be dead, has returned to his command after spending several weeks in a tomb hunting the robbers and, finally, destroying them.  He dreams of the gods and the Land of the Blest.  And when he returns, his men are taken aback.  He has changed…

Sally noted in the margin that I wasn’t quite saying what she thought I meant.  That maybe I should read T. S. Eliot’s Return of the Magi, especially the last stanza.  She thought it maybe expressed what was in my mind:

but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

In a sentence or so she had put her finger on what was at the very heart of my story, at the change in my main character, the change that he undergoes in the course of his struggle and his ultimate victory.  She ‘got’ the story and she was able to unlock it for me.  I now know that it was very rough – and she saw the gem within it and helped me to shape it.  It was a magnificent gift.

I learned years later after her death that she had been the coordinator of the Syracuse University Creative Writing Program for many years while Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff were in residence.  Her credentials were very impressive…  And she had spent her time on my little effort.  She had ‘gotten’ the point, and she had shown it to me.  And she had enjoyed the story.

That was the best thing anyone has said about my writing.
        He walked past the bodies without another glance and continued toward the tomb entrance, waiting for the echo of the warning trumpet.
        The echo never came.  Instead, faces appeared at the tomb entrance and people stepped out into the sunlight to watch his approach.  He could hear excited whispers, and then his guardsmen came forward, their bows in their hands.  They, too, were staring with a mixture of awe and fear, and some of them raised their hands to shield their eyes, though the sun was behind them. 

        Wenatef could see Ramses standing high on the hillside.  The young man raised his hand in greeting and then hurried down to the tomb entrance.

        Wenatef paused to look up at them and note their expressions, then squared his shoulders and began to ascend the hill toward the opening.  Several of the men fell to their knees, their hands about their protective amulets.

        Wenatef saw the motion and paused.  They don’t know, he thought with a sudden lurch of his heart.  They will never understand, even if I explain… 
Thank you, Sally.

Progress on my WIP

From my latest WIP, due to come out February 2014, God willing and the creek don’t rise.  ( © 2013 by Diana Wilder)  Good Day’s work.  Now to fiddle with it…

     ——  ***  ——

The main character, Hori, has spent four years as an acolyte at a temple.  As Crown Prince, he has been summoned back to court by his father, who is planning a campaign that will lead to the first international treaty in history. The scene opens with him leaving the army barracks (he is a general) and returning to his quarters to prepare for a state feast. 
Hori could hear the roar of the feast in the distance.  Drums, flutes…   Laughter….
He spared a thought for the silences at Opet, the calm courtyards at the Temple of Ptah.  Or the ringing, clear skies on the coast of Byblos…  The stillness was still there, somewhere, if only within himself.
**   **   **
     “That is much better,” Neter said. Hori was wearing the lion-head pendant Gold of Honor his grandsire had awarded him after that difficult fight on the Libyan border. A cylindrical necklace awarded by General Djedi during Hori’s second campaign sat at the base of his throat.  He shook his head at the broad collar.  Too heavy, too ornate. 
     He slid a pair of plain gold armlets up either arm as Neter clasped two bracelets on his wrists. 
     Neter was frowning around the room.  “Your diadem, My Prince—  I don’t see it.”
     “I will go bare-headed,” Hori said.  He had tucked the jewel away in one of his chests just that morning.  “It is late.  There will be other feasts – and the wind can stir my hair tonight.  There will be precious little wind in that throng otherwise!”
     Neter smiled and shook his head.  “There will be wind of another sort,” he said.  “Your Royal Highness is wise.” 
     He is growing old, Hori thought, remembering how he had seen Neter serving his grandsire during the years Hori had been trained by King Seti.  He had some wealth of his own.  He could settle Neter in comfortable retirement when the man wanted it…
     Neter unstoppered the small carnelian flask of kohl and inserted the rounded stick.  “It will take a moment to refresh the kohl around your eyes.  Do hold still this time, Highness: I don’t wish to have to explain to His Majesty why his eldest son has to wear a patch over his eye!”
     Hori closed his eyes and raised his eyebrows.  “It would tend to skew my archery,” he said through his teeth.
     “Indeed it would.”  Neter put the flask away.  “You are ready, My Prince, although others will no doubt be wearing tunics of royal linen.”
     “The more fool they.  They think layers of cloth hides flabby stomachs.  I have nothing to hide.” He grinned at Neter’s suppressed smile. “Thank you. Get some rest, yourself. I’ll put myself to bed when I return. And do you go to the master of the feast and tell him I have requested that you be given food and drink.” He took the small ring from his finger and gave it to Neter, then waited as the man swung the door open for him.
     He seemed for a moment to be facing a long path that arrowed before him into the distance.  He had not yet set foot upon it and at that moment he had the sense that once he took the step forward that would set him on that path, he would have no way to turn back, then or ever.
     Behind him lay the aftermath of a tiring, satisfying day.  Before him lay…  He did not know, and it was for him to bring it into being.  And yet—
     He could turn back.  Remain in his rooms, plead fatigue, plead—what? The press of duty?  Where did his duty lie? 
     Did he truly have to ask?
     He drew a deep breath and stepped into the dim hallway.  The door closed softly behind him.
**   **   **
     His Majesty had set the feast in the palace’s western gardens, to catch the last glint of the sun upon Imhotep’s masterpiece. Hori moved softly along the dim walkway, his bare feet thudding upon the sand-cushioned ground.  The afternoon breeze had risen and he could see the whirl and sweep of swallows chasing insects.  One passed so close, he could feel the light breeze from its wings.
     He could see the doorway in the distance.  Dark wood doors firmly closed upon intruders, even as the Temple of Ptahwas giving a gala dole to those who were in need. 
     No doubt, Hori thought, remembering the years that he had been present at the dole in Opet. 
     The cool of the evening was yielding to increasing warmth.  Hori could feel it building as he drew near the door, like the strengthening current of an unseen river.  Warmth from the press of bodies, the air passing in and out of active lungs, the warmth rising from movement, from the blood pulsing through their veins.
     What had seemed a murmur when he stepped into the hallway had grown to a rising hum.  He could see a thread of light through the closed doors.
     He hesitated.  The air would be hot and stale, full of the fumes of beer and souring wine…
     He took a step, another, and in his mind he could see himself turning away, moving down the hallway toward increasing brightness and his own rooms.
     A thread of incense touched him and he could hear the wheedling of a flute beyond the doors.  He paused, biting his lip.  He suddenly knew that if he went through that door, it would be to step into a changed life.
     You must lead yourself, Hori.  If you do not go forward, you must go back.  An army must move or die.  His grandsire, King Seti, had said that while they were perched on the battlements of that fortress in Kush.  And, truly, the thoughts of others, the way they see you, do not depend on you.  Move on. 
     “My Prince!”
     He turned to face Neter, who was panting behind him, clutching a pair of gold-adorned sandals.
     “My prince—! Barefoot!  It will not do!”
     He took them from the man.  “Thank you, Neter,” he said. 
     The man smiled, bowed, and turned away.
     Hori frowned at the rich, chased leather and then, casting a quick glance behind him, tossed them into the dimness and faced the doors and the two guards flanking them, so silent that Hori, battle-trained as he was, had not seen them.  They dropped to their knees, hands to chest, bowed, then rose and swung the doors wide.
     The roar of the feast surged toward him in a swell of sound.  He let it eddy around him and stepped forward into sudden silence.
     A guest straightened and squared his shoulders.  Another set down his cup with a click.  Cuts of meat fell back into serving dishes.  Servants straightened and stared 
     The silence deepened.
     Ye gods!  Have I stepped on the hem of my own kilt and pulled it off?  Am I stripped to my shenti that they should gape so?
     He lifted his chin.  He would be damned if he peered down at himself and tweaked his garments.  And if I am, then so be it. 
     A murmur grew. He heard his name, repeated and repeated until it was a roar itself.
     He moved into the throng.
**   **   **
     Nefertari, smiled at the servant, shook her head at the wine, and nodded at the ewer of water, accepting a full cup a moment later. Her eyes were dry; she closed them and held the pose for a long moment. That was better.
     Her husband was watching her. “It is hot,” she said.
     He frowned and nodded to two servants bearing feather fans.
     Rai and Mayet were sitting together, both smiling, though from Mayet’s straight smile and the stiff set of Rai’s shoulders some sort of quarrel was brewing. Was it too soon after Mayet’s confinement? Iyneferti might know. But from the way Rai was ogling that dancer- She blinked as he threw another ring and watched as the girl put it down the front of her loincloth.
     She suppressed a chuckle, caught her daughter’s eye, and had to look away. The girl made her giggle like a new wife. Most embarrassing!
     “Wine, Majesty?”
     She frowned at the ewer. A sip would be wonderful. “Yes, thank you, good Tuti,” she said, and sipped. She looked up to see her husband smiling at her. The dancer was on her knees, bending back…
     A hand closed around hers. She met her husband’s smiling gaze, relinquished the cup, and watched him turn it to sip from her side and hand it back under cover of the music.
     She lowered her eyes. After five children and twenty years wed, he could still make her heart flutter even as she thought Oh, Ast, please: no more babies!
     The cup was in her hands. She turned it, sipped, and set it down.
     Movement at the doorway – a flurry among the servants, the doors swinging wide –
     A man strode into the hall, tall, broad-shouldered with sun-browned skin and back hair. Gold glinted from wrists and upper arms, warrior’s gold hung at his neck and lay flashing against the satisfying swell of his chest.
     The room was silent. He stepped forward into a sudden roarof sound, the crash of applause, a rising, wordless murmur that built to a crescendo, as palpable as a wall of water.
     The man faltered, his dark eyes beneath straight brows flashing for a moment before the shoulders squared. He moved through the throng in the sudden silence, his eyes on hers –
     Hori! Her heart leapt with delight. Her son – and such a son!
     She beamed as he approached, rose as he went to one knee, his hands at his breast, his head lowered.
     Her husband had risen and was speaking measured, warm words of greeting that she could not hear through the glad singing of her heart.
     “Welcome home, my son!” she said to him as he raised her hand to his lips.

This is scheduled to be published early 2014.  We’ll see how I do.,,   Deadlines can be exhilarating – or truly annoying,

It ain’t over…

…till it’s over.  (Thank you, Mr. Berra.)

Done, finished, ready.  Well, almost.  This story is set to be released May 31.  Just over 24 hours from now, give or take.  It will be out of my hands.

…And I still have to finalize the Afterword.  All my books have Afterwords.  With historical fiction (which I claim to write) you absolutely have to explain where you have strayed from the conjectural into the invented.  (For example, one person in a main character’s life, mourned by that character as dead, historically outlived him…)  I have some words…where the story came from, why it had to be written.

It would be interesting to say what I have found to be true: that once you have written something in a universe that you have created, it is set in stone.  The presence of a specific character in the last book, chronologically, of this series – ‘The Memphis Cycle’ – mandates the occurrence that is at the center of this story.  …And then there are my thoughts about what, who, how, why.

Should I write it?  I think perhaps.

I’ll miss this one.  It’s a ‘bright’ story.  There is no mystery in it, nothing dire underlies it.  One of mine is a romp – the characters make it so – but the fact behind the story is a tale of treachery, rapaciousness and self-embraced evil.  This one has a love story, and – a blessing that I had not expected – it has a character whose ultimately bittersweet fate, followed through the entire course of my writing this, suddenly turned, rather like the Mississippi changing its course.  I was left standing there, ankle deep in the tide, filled with delight at the way matters fell together, threads were joined, and the flow of the Cycle went on.  I can only say that while I wrote the story, this character’s fate followed its true path.

There are some truly amusing sections for me, and some quotes my characters came up with that I found touching:

“Our children sometimes leave us too soon,” he said, looking down and away from the sparkle of tears in her eyes.  “You can give them birth, or cause them to quicken in a womb…  You give them the best childhood you can, try to be the father that you should be.  But, ultimately, they will leave you.  A month, a year…  Through marriage, through distance-you do lose them, or part of them you loved.  All that you can do is hold to what you did have, and remember the care you gave them.  And the love.  And also remember, for we sometimes do forget, that what we gave was the best we could at that moment.  And it was sufficient, no matter how we may dream of what we might have done, if only we had known.”

Or this, with (perhaps) a bow to Shakespeare:

Seti looked up at him.  “‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’,” he said.  “You say that too often.  Let me tell you, Djedi, you need to hoard your tomorrows, use them wisely, for tomorrows will run out and you will be left with only yesterdays, wondering where the tomorrows went and desperately wishing to have them back, just long enough to say a word, make a gesture, bind a wound, give one last kiss…”

There is this final worry.  (You may laugh at me – go ahead, guffaw, snicker, tee-hee, snort, chortle…)  The thing is too darned short compared to my usual output.  It is (ahem) only 84,700 words compared to my stripped-down 125K. 

Hah!  I’m going to bed!  24 hours!  Afterword or not afterword… Yikes!



Interview With My Main Character

I have the pleasure to interview His Majesty, King Seti of Egypt, today.  His Majesty has graciously agreed to answer some questions about his role in my latest book, Mourningtide, which will be published May 31.  If it please your majesty-

Please call me Seti.  A character never outranks its author, and I am a character that you created, based on a man in history.  We are not the same, and Mourningtide is not a textbook.  You diverge from what is known in one or two regards, but you do cover those episodes in an afterword, do you not?
I certainly do.  Well…Seti…  I thought it would be interesting to speak with you about the events that are covered in Mourningtide.
By all means.
Tell us about yourself.
I was named for my grandfather, who was a troop commander in the Royal Army.  I came from a non-royal family that had spent generations in the armies.  We did have some wealth, and ours was a position of increasing influence.   By the time of the book – according to the reality of the book – I had succeeded my father, who had been named by Horemheb as his successor, and had ruled for a year.  At the opening of the story, I had been King three years.  Two of those years had been spent on campaign, winning back territory and allies Egypt had lost.  I was in my early fifties with four children – two sons and two daughters – and six grandchildren, with two due to arrive at any moment.
And you were expecting a prosperous reign?
I was hoping for one.  I was ready to do what I could to achieve it for my people.
And your son died through an accident.

I’m sorry.

Don’t be.  He disregarded the warnings of another, more experienced man, walked into a dangerous situation with his eyes wide open, and was killed.  It happens, as we both know.  I was overset for a time, and Mourningtide tells the story of my healing.  You have chapters up for review on your site.  Did you wish to go over the story itself?  Or did you want to chat about other things?

Let’s chat about other things.  This is not your first appearance in one of my stories. 
No, it is not.  My very first appearance in something of yours was a mention, almost in passing, in Pharaoh’s Son.  Prince Thutmose entrusted me with a secret which I, in turn, entrusted to Ramesses as I was dying.  His Highness the High Priest had some very kind things to say about me.  My second appearance was in The City of Refuge. In that story I led a division of the Army of Lower Egypt that served as guards and laborers for Lord Nebamun’s mission to Akhenaten’s capital city. My father and Lord Nebamun were good friends.  I knew nothing of this at that time.
You had quite a large part in that story, didn’t’ you?
It was large enough.  I was considered a major character.  Enough happened to make it clear that Lord Nebamun – the hero of that story, along with my good friend Khonsu – was capable of running rings around anyone who came up against him.  I was thoroughly embarrassed, though I did mean well.  Reading over the book, I found myself laughing.
I enjoyed writing the book.

Did you have to have me locked in an escape-proof courtyard on a stormy night?

I did.  It worked.  

Let me ask you: will I be appearing in any other stories of yours?

You appear as a memory several times in Kadesh.  As to other stories with you as a living person…   I don’t know.  Your conflict was handled in Mourningtide.  There may be other stories, I can’t say.  But not now.
Let’s talk about objections people have to books set in Egypt.  The unpronounceable place and personal names-

I beg your pardon?

Kealakakua.  Angkor Wat.  If we are speaking of strange or unpronounceable place names, they might fit.  Or, to go ‘across the pond’ as you Americans and British say it, how about ‘Worcestershire’ – spelled ‘Wore SES ter Shyre’ and pronounced ‘Woostersheer’.
Well, I-
Or Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch (or Llanfairpwllgwyngyll)  That may be cheating, perhaps, since the name is a sentence describing the location, but it is on the maps.  Looking at it syllable by syllable, I can pronounce it.  Try Pontchartrain.  Neuschwanstein…  How are they worse than ‘Waset’ or ‘Men-Nefer’ or ‘Iunu’?
Those who read fantasy books have no problem with ‘Gormenghast’, ‘Minas Ithil’, the Baranduin, or Dol Amroth.  Prince Imrahil is one of my favorite characters, but his name is no easier  to pronounce than my son’s.  And added to my objections is the fact that modern society does not know how my language sounded.  Like the Hebrew writings, we did not supply vowels.
I see your point.  But some of the Egyptian names can be difficult.  Like Amunhorkhepechef.
Be careful: you are meeting yourself coming.  You said that name was easy to type.  And you know better.  It is a ceremonial name that means ‘Amun Mighty in Battle’.  Your own sources have indicated that that name was altered depending on what city was home for that prince at any given time, so that if he was residing in Iunu (Heliopolis, if you wish), he would have signed his name ‘Rahorkhepechef’, and if in Khemnu (Hermopolis, if you are not a purist) he would have been Tothorkpehechef or Thuthorkhepechef.  You were right to give him the nickname ‘Hori’, by the way.  That’s what they called him.
Speaking as an experienced father, a person’s name must be something an angry parent can yell at the top of his lungs while running after a naughty child.  Amunhorkhepechef does not satisfy that requirement.  Ergo, it was not the boy’s actual name.  It is as silly as someone thinking that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of England – may God bless her! – answers to ‘Defender of the Faith’ when that title is used by a grandchild at the dinner table. 
Good point.  Do you have anything else to say on the subject of language difficulties?
Yes.  A Elbereth, Gilthoniel!  Silvirin penna Miriel-  You are laughing!
You meant me to. You read Tolkien!  (ahem)  Let’s talk about that ‘weird Egyptian culture.’
The problem with that perception is that all they know of my era… or, let us say, 85%, comes from tombs and the items taken from them.  I wonder how archaeologists of the future might view North Americans and western Europeans if their only source of information is what they find in Forest Lawn Cemetery or Westminster Abbey.  In fact, there is a hilarious book by David Macauley with the title Motel of the Mysteries that explores what future archaeologists think of a dig in North America.  Their interpretations are very amusing – and they are in line with the folly I see pertaining to my own culture.

Tell me about the hero of your story.
The hero?  There were two.  My son, Ramesses, is one – he showed himself to be like a bell that rings true no matter how you strike it – and Djedi, the young man of the small village that sheltered me.  He saw a need to protect his town from attackers, and he set out to do so.  I helped him as much as I could. 

They had no idea who you were.

Correct.  Lord Nebamun met some ghosts from his past through my inadvertent actions, but he won through, though he did give me a piece of his mind when I returned.
But you were not the hero?
I was the main character, the protagonist.  I did experience hardship and change – but I was not heroic.
We will have to agree to disagree.
You will have to agree.  I did what I always did – though I did mourn the loss of my son.  I had no heights to scale, and falling in love with a wonderful woman required no heroism on my part.  No, Djedi was my hero – and Ramesses.
Djedi.  You helped him.
Yes.  How could I not?  He needed to be coached, they needed to be protected, and I had the experience.  And they were my subjects, after all.
What about Ramesses?
He became the man who would be ‘Ramesses the Great’.  That name is spoken with curled lips by some.  It seems that a great man  or woman is always the target of sneers.  People seem to want to see them taken down, their reputations sullied – their clay feet in evidence.  Ramesses was great.  He ruled for nearly seventy years, and his rule made it possible for that part of the world to enjoy peace and stability in what truly was a golden age.
You started it.
Perhaps.  But my reign was not long, and Ramesses stepped in and did his magnificent best.  Poor lad.
‘Poor’ lad?
Yes.  He is to be pitied.  Think of it:  he saw the deaths of all he loved.  His four oldest sons – three of them serving as Crown Prince – died before him.  Hori after thirty years, Rai – another Ramses – after another twenty-five, Khay (Khaemwaset – one of the heroes of ‘Pharaoh’s Son’)- after another five, when he himself was old.  He watched his children – the children of his youth and his loves – die one after another, themselves old men.  And then he began to fail, himself.  Those people who like to examine corpses and do DNA testing and x-rays have shown that Ramesses had arterial occlusions that probably led, late in life, to senility.  There was, I know, a moment when he stood aghast and realized that he was failing, growing feeble…  I was spared that.
I am sorry.
Don’t be, Diana.  There is nothing to weep over.  All hurts are healed now, but we would do well to take that lesson with us.  There.  You are smiling again.  What else do you wish to ask me?
As a character in historical fiction, what is the one thing you would like to say.
I would say that people don’t change:
You are an historian, as I was (at least in your novel).  In your studies, have you found that people have changed at all?  Time has given us ways to kill more people, or heal more people, ways to suppress our imaginations – all the imagining seems to be done for our children now – but as a species, if you will, there is no change to our fundamental nature.  There is a song by Neil Diamond, with the title, I think, of ‘Done Too Soon’ that ends with this verse:
They have sweated beneath the same sun,
Looked up in wonder at the same moon,
And wept when it was all done
For being done too soon…
For being done too soon.

You make a good point.  And I thank you for spending time with me.    I assume you are going back..?

Yes.  To the place you left me this morning.  The village is fighting off the attackers, Djedi leading under my eye.

Does he know you are king?

You must ask him.  And now, if I may, he is down with a spear in his side and I am holding him…

Will he die?

You are the author.  You know already. And if I told, you would never let me forget it.

Probably not.  Thank you for stopping by and speaking with me.

It is not for a character to object to its author’s actions.  Adieu-

To Err is Human. To Really Foul Up…

Finish the sentence…

(Hint:  …Requires a Computer…)

It is very true.

I was up till 1AM last night updating A Killing Among the Dead (which, by the way, is free today through Saturday on Amazon – Grab a copy HERE   It’s part of my wind-up for the release of Mourningtide  at the end of the month.  Next week I’ll be interviewing the Main Character.  Should be interesting: he’s a King) and I started getting messages from my computer – amazing how smug they sound, too –

We Cannot Display The Website…

(…and you know darned well that they are adding the inaudible rider You Blithering Idiot…  )

WHAT???  (I am never at my best at 1AM)  I have everything done right!  Can’t you READ CODE???

It seems to be resolving without my having to resort to hurling my laptop out the window, but at the moment a cruise to the South Pacific might just be what I need to chill out.

What was I doing?  Adjusting the cover graphics for my book. 

Here it is.

(Sigh.  And to think I consider writing relaxing and graphics work energizing…)

Have a wonderful day, folks!

Polishing a Draft

So, you have finished your story.  It is complete.  The tale has been told and was done rather well, if you say so yourself.  You ‘compile’ the manuscript (for, after all, you are using Scrivener) and you then print the thing.  The result is a two-inch thick pile of bright white paper with printing on it.  The manuscript.  Finished!  Hurrah!

Wordsmithing as I do it.  The logic is hidden by the lack of prettiness…
The delight lasts only as long as it takes you to flip to a random page, and read…
“Did I say that?  What a passive construction!  What was I thinking?
You seize a pencil/pen/whatever, circle the offending phrase, write in what you should have written if you had not been under-caffeinated, and then sit back, scowling, and look at the rest of the manuscript.
…And now you are in ‘polish’ mode.
It’s been a while since I did this, and I had forgotten how enjoyable it is.   Wordsmithing, pure and simple, is a pleasure in itself.  It is, however, annoying when you have been envisioning a finished manuscript and, looking down at it, pen in hand, realized that the thing is anything but.
So you sigh, assemble the things you will need, and go to it.
What do you need?

Just the basics, ma’am, but in all available colors…
Pens.  Lots of them.  They tend to grow legs and walk.  I have one that was made by an artisan using chestnut wood salvaged from an colonial-era house on the seacoast.  Chestnut isn’t seen any more since the blight destroyed most of the chestnut trees.  That’s a pity because the wood is very rot-resistant and has a wonderful color.  Then there are the gel pens that are a delight to write with and have thick, visible ink.  The problem is that the ink tends to sink into paper and go through the other side.  Not pretty. 

Authentic Marvin
the Martian Pen

I also have a special Marvin the Martian pen I bought years ago at a Warner Brothers store and carried to various meetings over the years.
You need highlighters in various colors.  Why?  Well, what if you highlight something in pink and then think of something else that needs to be done with the highlighted passage, but is different?  Pink won’t work, it’ll be confusing.  Besides, hot pink is something of which I can only stand so much.  Purple, I think.  Or maybe blue…
Post-it notes, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, are very useful for marking places (‘Oh – that’s right!  I edited to here!’), marking thoughts (make sure you don’t get cheap imitations because they’ll fall off, and you will face your greatest fear: that your inspired edit will be lost forever and your powerful intellect, having decayed rather badly, will not be able to retrieve the perfect word in the perfect location.)
But you go cooking along, making corrections – until it suddenly occurs to you that the reason that the beginning of the novel seems to plod just a wee bit, with lots of information being made available rather quickly is that you have been going about it the wrong way, and it would work out better if you start in with the third chapter, scrap the first and second chapters, and then adjust as necessary.  You greet this revelation with a cry torn from your very entrails as you realize that the entire beginning of the @#$%! story has to be reworked.

Is it a disaster if it makes the whole story better but drives the writer mad?
You brew another cup of tea (did you read my post about tea?), get out the materials, and go to work, muttering under your breath even as you see that it truly will do better.  You bid farewell to the end of year release, the editor’s feedback, the new story that has been nudging at your elbow and presenting lusciously tempting scenes…  You buckle down –

Will pester for catnip…
And pray that your work is not interrupted by the dreaded ‘attractive nuisance’ that likes to grab your hand as you mouse…

On hold…

So… Manuscript is at nearly 90K words. Filling in and expanding where necessary will bring it in target. I’m sold on the story, like the characterization – In other words, I seem(ed) to be clicking along on all cylinders, allowing for flexibility in polishing.

But still, while the projected release date of November 1 is gone by the way (I decided to retain a cover artist whose credentials and work I really love, and to hire a line editor for this one, so that pushes things back…) I thought a 2012 release was not out of the question. Just in time for Christmas.

And the story was heartwarming (I thought, at least).

But then…

I was pushing on with the initial polished (draft=> first finished draft=> polished draft=> final MS => OMIGOSH ICAN’TBELIEVE IFOULEDITUP SOBADLY!!!

=> final polished manuscript [friends and relatives having tied the author to a chair and taken matters into their own hands. “It’s FINISHED, Diana! You CAN’T edit any more!!!”] )

I was, as I said, pushing things along, but I wasn’t happy with the setting of the first chapter. Father leaving for a protracted journey, leaving eldest son in charge. Eldest son voices dissatisfaction with this state of affairs. Father gives good speech. and leaves.

The story is about the eldest son’s decision to get out of there and leave his brother to run the family business. He gets killed, and his family and loved ones pick up the pieces… It actually is a bright story.

I was scowling at the first chapter, which seemed lifeless –  I sat back with a mingled groan and wail.

Start the story with the son out of the country progressing toward his death, which happens within the first chapter – second at most. Backstory can be put in there easily. THEN switch back to the threads of the younger son and the father.

Groan! A rewrite. Admittedly, it doesn’t alter the true meat of the story, which kicks in around chapter three, but still…

Well… I could still retain the cover artist, I suppose…

*sigh* And I said I LIKE writing…

The Hyphen is Mighty Indeed

I just threw out five brand new copies of one of my books that I had ordered for a GoodReads giveaway.   They were free, a  perk for finishing NaNoWriMo.

I  had updated the book’s cover.  When you do that, you have to resubmit the text.  And there was the rub:  there had been a problem with the text: my laptop had been stolen, and with it my final version of that manuscript.  (Yeah, I know.  I’m backing everything up now.)

It’s easy to retrieve the text of a Kindle book, and I retrieved the MS that way, plugged it into the book setup, did a perfunctory final text check – the text had been fine before, and I had simply updated the cover image – and gave the go-ahead.  Then I ordered my five copies for the giveaway.
I’m beta testing a new feature for manuscript editing on CreateSpace.  It’s a good feature, and since I had this book up in the  program, I went through that manuscript.   I sat back and went to one of my favorite scenes, one toward the end where Ramesses the Great, having extricated himself from arrest ordered by his eldest son, arrives at the palace to get some answers, is denied admittance by an over-zealous servant who isn’t aware who’s waiting outside the door, pulls out all the stops and, in the scene, is questioning the servant, a man he’s known for fifteen years.  The scene is related from the servant’s point of view:
“Let me see if I understand you,” Pharaoh said thoughtfully. He raised one long fingered hand and ticked off the points as he spoke. “One  the Crown Prince has gone haring off to parts unknown. Two  you have no idea where Prince Khaemwaset is, but  three  you do know that he tried to drug his brother, and  four  a spy sent the Crown Prince’s ring back to him as a sign of urgent danger to Prince Khaemwaset. Five  the army is in a state of alert, and  six  the city of Memphis is virtually under siege. Am I correct so far?”

It took me a moment to realize what was wrong with the text. Actually, it doesn’t look so bad, even now, but I’d placed hyphens in to highlight the way Ramesses was ticking off the points on his fingers. And the hyphen between ‘long’ and ‘fingered’ described the sort of fingers he had on his hand. Without it, His Majesty had a long hand equipped with fingers.

It should have looked like this:

“Let me see if I understand you,” Pharaoh said thoughtfully. He raised one long-fingered hand and ticked off the points as he spoke. “One-the Crown Prince has gone haring off to parts unknown. Two-you have no idea where Prince Khaemwaset is, but-three-you do know that he tried to drug his brother, and-four-a spy sent the Crown Prince’s ring back to him as a sign of urgent danger to Prince Khaemwaset. Five-the army is in a state of alert, and-six-the city of Memphis is virtually under siege. Am I correct so far?”

In looking things over I discovered, to my dismay, that the file transfer from Kindle to print had stripped every hyphen from the text.  And I hadn’t caught them.
I started looking for them.  I went to another scene where the servant, newly captured after a battle between Egyptians and Hittites (his country), gives everyone a piece of his mind using a coarse expression that draws a parallel between their sexual propensities and Oedipus’.  (I am not going to quote it here; it’s about an eighth of the way through Chapter XIX; the bottom of page 121 if you have a paperback copy of the book.)
In my defense, the text had been perfect when I sent it to Kindle; the manuscript in my (stolen) laptop had been lost, I had retrieved it (I thought…) and simply plugged it in.  But my father always told me never to make assumptions.
Ultimately, I pulled up the adobe document for the manuscript and manually searched it for hyphens.  When I found one, I went to the manuscript and replaced it.  I was able to do global searches for set expressions, but when I relied solely on that method, checking afterward, I kept stumbling across hyphens that needed to be inserted.  (To be honest, I would never have found Mutallish’ epithet directed at Pharaoh if I’d done a global search and replace for commonly used hyphenated words.)
Things were fixed.  Finally.  It was too late to cancel my order of the printed books.  So what to do about them?
Well, they’re defective.  I’ve read enough diatribes on the subject of defective books, whether self-published or not.  These are all, every one of them, being consigned to the trash.  Sigh.
Lesson Learned.

The Ghosts of Older Editions

Once upon a time, a long time ago (like, over a decade), an aspiring writer who was heartsick from her dealings with a dishonest agent, who is now featured in ‘Preditors & Editors’ (no, that is not a misspelling) read about a (self) publishing company that was stepping into the very new world of electronic publishing.

She thought it might be something to explore, so she sent her novel there, and it was placed online.  Later, she was contacted about publishing a paperback version of the book.  Although sales weren’t stellar (sales?) she went ahead and paid for the process.
The book was published with this cover (left), and remained in circulation for over ten years.  The edition had all sorts of typesetting errors; it was a mess. 

The author sat up after ten years, looked at it, and now that things had changed in various ways, opened her manuscript, edited it, tightened it, changed it and, now that the publishing industry was in a state of change, decided to put it on Kindle.  She also examined the paperback possibilities and issued an ‘Updated and Revised’ edition through another publisher, with a far better cover (right).

  She contacted the first publisher and terminated their relationship, and she received confirmation of their actions.  It was quite a relief to be rid of the older, terribly done edition.  The book was made available on Kindle and in paperback, and was listed on various online sites.  Sales were fairly good.

This author had also written another book, published with the same group.  This book was put out with this cover (left).  Typesetting was equally atrocious.  She reviewed, revised, updated, and improved the text.  She also had another cover designed (she is a graphic designer) and, satisfied with it, placed it in the market both in Kindle/Nook and in paperback.

     As with the first book, she contacted the original publisher, directed that all publishing by them be stopped, and terminated their relationship.  After all those years, and after learning of the sort of operation that they were, she was very happy to have the relationship end.  Things were going well, she was now satisfied (as much as a writer can be) that what was available to her readers was the best that she could produce with those books.
And then, going through an online library site, she was astonished to see that the older editions were being listed as the primary ones, and that people were putting them on their ‘to read’ lists.

It was nice to see that people were interested in those books, but the thought of those poor people, expecting a good tale (and, dare I say it?, getting one but an earlier, rougher, poorly typeset version) made her cringe. 

I suppose it’s something we learn to live with, but if anyone has one of those earlier copies, the author hopes that he or she will contact her.  She proposes to sell a paperback at cost.  Or lower the Kindle price as low as it will go.  Or something.

NaNoWriMo – Roller Coaster

I was reading some emails and came across one from Flylady (an excellent, motivating group for those who need to organize and get their houses in order). She was talking about something called NaNoWriMo, a group endeavor (I can’t call it a competition, exactly, because you’re competing with yourself) that takes place in November. From November 1 through November 30 the participants buckle down and write a 50,000 word novel.
After looking into it further, I signed up for NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month just for fun.  The premise was interesting:  the novel didn’t have to be finished or polished, it just had to be fiction and have at least 50,000 words.  (50,000 words equals about 150 pages in a standard, smaller paperback.)
Considering the length of fiction that I’ve written (admittedly not within thirty days) I thought it would be easy.
Rules were simple: you could not start writing your novel until November 1.  You could:
jot down character information
jot down plot thoughts
do research and make notes
do a lot of thinking
The actual composition started only on November 1.
I’d had an idea for a story arising out of my Egyptian cycle.  It involved an uprising in Nubia and the way several people handled the matter.  I had an array of interesting characters:
Maya, a master artist
His young apprentice
Merneptah, an Egyptian prince, in Nubia under training by the Crown Prince
some other folks, bad and good
I had my research set out, character notes, lots of thinking…  But I didn’t write it.  It didn’t seem right.
I did no writing on November 1, or not much.  I was visiting family, and the great snow catastrophe of 2011 slammed my area.  No power for a week, Not a lot of writing done.   The folks at the Office of Letters and Light (which holds NaNoWriMo) have a handy little calendar that shows a writer’s output during that month: 
The red spaces show no writing.  Orange is very low.  Green is cooking right along.  Yellow is so-so.
I scrapped the Nubian story and went with one that popped, like Athena, fully armed into my head.  It has the working title of Mourningtide.  It flowed nicely, though I really had to push to get any momentum after the disruption of the blizzard and the forest of broken trees.
But – I finished!  
It’s a wonderful thing to work under pressure and discover that if you don’t have the opportunity to laze around and write a bit here and a bit there you can nevertheless produce the bones of a very good story within thirty days.
But Mourningtide is another post…