Category Archives: Between Sand and Sky

Weekly Goals for 3/04

This week is much the same as last week. I’m still working my way through Beyond Sand and Sky, which is coming along very well. Unfortunately, this phase of writing is fairly slow, because I’m actually doing a lot of rewrites along the way. Just about every sentence in the story is being reworked for quality, coherence, and length. A lot of the sentences were just too long and too convoluted, owing to me going through a phase of wanting more complex and interesting sentence. It sort of worked, and sort of didn’t. I did eventually manage to move away from curt, clinical sentences and develop better writing skills, but the more immediate results included a novel with lots of bloated and confusion sentences. So, I’m taking my current skill level and working to bring the writing quality in this slightly older story up to where it should be at this stage in my development as a writer.

I’m also looking into ways to get more promotion for Eyes of Diamond, Hair of Gold. I gave away 50 digital copies of the book to interested readers at Library Thing, which I hope will result in a bevy of reviews and some much-needed attention. Another thing I’m doing is contacting websites that review indie books and seeing if any of them are interested in reading it.

Well, those are my two main goals right now: get more people interested in my last book and finish up work on my next book.

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Weekly Goals for 2/25

Eyes of Diamond, Hair of Gold is now finished and available for sale. This was a big project for me, not necessarily in length or the complexity of the story, but in writing a sequel that would continue the tradition set by the original story and exceed it in the ways that it needed to be exceeded. I feel very confident that I was able to do that. If you’ve not gotten your own copy yet, you can find the Kindle version on Amazon and the paperback version on Create Space [links are available on the right side of the main page and in the book specific tag at the top of the main page]. If you’ve already got it, read it and enjoy it!

As for what I’m working on this week, I’m going back to a fantasy story I wrote some time ago and then set aside for a while. It’s a dark fantasy odyssey called Between Sand and Sky about an exiled prince’s search through a desert wasteland for his long-lost sister. It’s a story I’m particularly proud of, because I put a lot of work into creating characters that felt unique and compelling and then giving them ample opportunity to be developed over the course of the story, particularly the relationship between the prince and a slavegirl he rescues along the way. So, for now, I’m getting it all fixed up and fleshing out this rough draft into something that’s ready for people to read it. Hopefully, that won’t take too long.

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Obsessed with an Idea

Exactly seven years ago tomorrow, I wrote a free-form poem called Iron Town. The basic idea and image of the poem was of an industrial nightmare, a city of rust and decay and pollution where haggard workers toiled day in and day out without purpose or joy. In a word, bleak. During this period, it was contrasted by the City of Crystal, a metropolitan dream filled with glass towers and blue skies. But Iron Town was the end result of that particular story. Around the same time, I also wrote a short story, as part of a series of connected stories, that touched upon the fall of the City of Crystal as it collapsed into Iron Town, the City of Rust. As in the story, it was the image of Iron Town, and what it stood for, that stuck with me.

Not long after this I began an attempt to write a story about Iron Town, taking the name of the city as the name of the story. It carried on the industrial nightmare theme, taking on the idea that Iron Town was beginning to die as all the available resources in the area were rapidly running out. The story centered around a young factory worker, who dreams of leaving his dangerous job, and Iron Town, behind. But the catch is that no one ever leaves Iron Town. This story never went beyond three pages and a simple idea. In the shuffle of other stories, it was eventually lost and forgotten.

Four years passed as I worked on other things, mainly The Martian Empire Trilogy. Having finished that trilogy, I started working on some short stories. One of those stories was called The Blasted Lands, which will appear in my short-story collection, Fragments of Mind. The bulk of the action in the story takes place in Iron Town, which rests amid a vast desert land. This time, however, the city was no longer an industrial nightmare, but rather a city of strange monsters and horrible curses; bloat, avarice, and excess abounded there. Far more fitting a fantasy story than something resembling modern day. But the basic idea was the same. Dark, depressing, and dangerous.

After writing a number of short stories, I began work on a new novel, which I called The Jester and the Thief. In the story, a young, exiled prince escapes from a prison in Iron Town with the aid of a crazy old man. Iron Town, however, despite appearing early on, faded away after the first few chapters. In looking back at the finished story, I lamented that it had gone too far afield from the original idea, which was to focus on Iron Town and its bizarre peculiarities. In the end, I put the story aside. However, the basic concept, characters, and world remained.

Several novels later, I began working on a new novel, borrowing liberally from The Jester and the Thief. I called it Between Sand and Sky. I kept the exiled prince, the crazy old man, the beautiful but strange princess, and the assassin. I kept Iron Town. I kept the great desert waste where the city itself was located. I kept the story of the prince searching for the men responsible for his exile. But a lot of things changed. Rather than an escape from Iron Town, Between Sand and Sky was a search for Iron Town. By this time, the more fantastical elements of Iron Town had fallen away, leaving me with something that was much more realistic and, in a way, much more sinister.

More recently, as in just a few months ago, I laid the foundation for a new novel called City of Crystal, City of Rust. As of this moment, there’s really nothing more than a vague idea and an opening paragraph. The thought I have with this is to either retell or write a sequel to The Blasted Lands, focusing on the story of The Traveler and his dealings with the aptly-named City of Rust.

In writing this post, it became even more clear to me that Iron Town and what it stands for is the most enduring theme in my writing. But why? I think its because Iron Town, in all its many appearances, always represents one very simple concept: the sum total of the worst of humanity. People who are absorbed in their own pursuits without a care for anyone else, the turning of a blind eye to the suffering of others, rampant disease and poverty, torture and slavery, and the terrible irony of urban isolation. All the characters who enter Iron Town have to somehow survive its many horrors, but are often changed by their experience regardless.

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The Importance of Setting

It turned out that my mention of setting in a previous post, and about how I like to draw up a map before writing, proved to be quite interesting, I’ll go a bit more in depth on the concept of setting and how it’s important to the overall work in this blog post.

To put it simply, the setting is the place where everything happens. Easy enough. But that could be a single room, a town, or even an entire world. It could be place that exists now, a place that once existed, or a place that has never existed. I usually like to employ the latter, since it gives me a great deal of flexibility to pick and choose the aspects that I want it to have. The port town in Murder at the End of the World is a bit of a fusion of HP Lovecraft’s dour early-20th century Northeastern port cities with late-19th century Britain. Then I worked with the details to make the city very unfriendly and very, very isolated. The city almost begins to take on a life of its own as a character in the story, shaping the events that take place and molding the central mystery by its very nature. If the setting is moved to a much nicer, more open, and friendly city, then the central mystery changes dramatically, as does the overall tone.

However, this does not mean that using a brighter, friendlier setting must necessitate a brighter, friendly story. Such a setting might actually be used as a contrast to the darkness present in the story. If the purpose of the story is to showcase the dichotomy between expectations brought forward by the nature of the setting and how the story actually goes, then such a setting can work with a story of a darker tone. Strangely enough, I don’t usually go for the bright, friendly setting. I’m more likely to create something positively dour and unfriendly. Not exclusively, as some of the settings I use are much more “normal.” However, you’re more likely to see a vast, featureless desert or the ruined remains of some ancient city than anything else. Those are the locations I like to read about, so I just naturally gravitate towards them in my own writing.

So what makes a good setting? That’s a hard one to answer, but there are many different kinds of settings that can all work very well, settings that may have nothing at all in common. The only thing I can offer here is to say that a good setting is one that works with the kind of story being told. A dark, paranoid port city works well with my murder mystery and a dangerous, bizarre desert land works well with my story of a young man’s desperate search for his missing sister. There’s no one setting that will work every time, either you must tailor the setting to fit the story or tailor the story to fit the setting. The key is in understand how those two aspects of your novel work in tandem.

In the story I’m currently finishing up, The Eminence of Bardon Roket, makes use of a city that bears a striking resemblance to New York City just after the turn of the century. Steam power is prominent, airships are common, and gasoline autos are first making their appearance. It goes well with a story that pokes fun at corporate and political culture, but by avoiding the use of a real city from a real time I have the flexibility to tweak things just a bit for the purposes of the story. It’s not a real city, but it feels like maybe it could be.

The price of creating your own unique setting is that you must come up with everything from your own imagination. If you’ve got a very vivid imagination, this can work out very well for you. However, that doesn’t mean that you can just slack off and spit things out when you feel like it. The real world has cohesion and small details that work towards crafting the bigger picture. The old city of New York grew naturally over time into the current city of New York, all sleek and modern. It didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t happen by accident. The city has a long history. That doesn’t mean that your unique setting must have several centuries of detailed history, but inserting some history here and there can make your setting that much more alive and that much more realistic.

With The Stone that Disturbs the Water, the first entry in a fantasy series that I’m writing, I sat down and spent some time coming up with the history of my world. I came up with previous cultures that no longer exist, the sad history of a country that now lies in ruins, kings and rulers from the past whose contributions to the world helped shape it into the form it’s in now. Little pieces of history scattered around, nuggets of information that give just a bit more life and realism to a world that exists only in my mind.

Coming up with the setting on my own saves on research, but that doesn’t mean its an open invitation to throw everything into a big pot and hope it cooks into something worthwhile. Work is still necessary, even work that your readers may never know anything about.

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Filed under Between Sand and Sky, Fantasy, Murder at the End of the World, Mystery, Satire, Science Fiction, The Eminence of Bardon Roket, The Stone that Disturbs the Water, Writing

A Personal Comparison Between Then and Now

Everything changes over time, that much is certain, but how much? Let’s find out.

Then:

After about 20 minutes she reached the top. She walked over to where here telescope sat and began to search an area to the south-west of the city. Nothing. Whatever, had been out there was gone now. Either it had been moved by someone, or something as was more likely, or it had been covered by the shifting sands of the desert.

It was already beginning to get dark so she hurried down the stairs to her jeep. She drove about a block to where there was a building whose front had been blown off. She parked the jeep inside the building and walked across the street to where her house was. It was a small house, consisting of two rooms. The living room in the front opened into a small kitchen area. A door on one side of the living room led to the bathroom.

It wasn’t much, but it was home. She sat down her bags in the coffee table in the living room and then walked into the kitchen to get something to eat. The cabinets held a wide variety of canned foods, all of which tasted basically the same. She chose a can of corn and then as an after thought grabbed a box of dehydrated potatoes.

There had definitely been something out there, of that she was sure. She had clearly seen sunlight glinting off of something metallic out in the desert, but what it was and where it had gone were a mystery. She got up and turned on the radio. Most of the news was the same as everyday, which was to say just about nothing interesting, but there was one story in particular that got here attention.

A Martian cargo ship was schedules to land at the Dallas Spaceport. Martian ships didn’t come to Earth very often, but when they did, they paid high price for anything dug up out of the ruins. Kara got and marked the date of the ship’s landing on her calendar. She hadn’t been making much money recently, but she had been saving a few things and now would be a good chance to get some money for more supplies. She switched off the radio, put up what was left of the food, and promptly went to sleep.  

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That’s right, bask in the shame of it all. There’s certainly enough of my personal shame present in these five paragraphs for everyone to suitably wallow in. In a word…it’s bad. Very bad. This was something I wrote about 8 years ago. I wasn’t being particularly serious back then, but I was trying. It wasn’t fanfiction, so that was something that I could feel a small measure of pride about. That’s about the only thing I can feel pride about. It was a start, a beginning. Not the first thing I’d ever tried to write, but the first stab at doing an actual story with chapters and a plot that extended beyond a few events tossed together in a blender and then spilled out on the carpet.

Stiff writing, repetition, and way, WAY too much passive voice going on here. Some of those sentences are rather convoluted, as well, in part because of lackluster use of commas. I still get tripped up by commas. How do they work? I don’t understand! But it was far worse here. Missing words, too. Misspelled words. Sloppy. Some of that did eventually get fixed over the course of the next few years, but not enough of it. The Martian Empire trilogy is best left as an object lesson and no more.

Now:

Kalis shifted his pack, relieving one shoulder at the expense of the other, and then came down from the outcropping, moving slowly along the exposed rock. It was well into the afternoon when he reached the village. By then, the inhabits had come out of their shelters and were milling about, seeming uncertain as to what they ought to be doing. Many of them cast sidelong glances in his direction, others ignored him entirely. None spoke. The creak of a wooden sign, painted in garish colors, drew him towards what roughly approximated the center of the rude village.

A large tent had been set up there and the sign informed weary travelers, through crudely-drawn pictures, that food and drink might be purchased within. Kalis expected nothing beyond the bare essentials and was not surprised to find that the merchant’s supply consisted mainly of dried camel flesh and stale rainwater, collected when and where it could and then stored in large, wooden barrels.

The merchant himself, a tired-eyed man moving past his prime, accepted a few small copper coins in exchange for refilling Kalis’s canteens. Kalis asked his usual questions, but the merchant barely seemed to hear. Even the prospect of payment couldn’t roust his interest. The merchant didn’t know, didn’t care. The canteens returned to the pack and Kalis left.

A gaggle of children, laughing now that the storm was over and gone, ran past him. One child carried a brightly-colored bit of paper with a long, thin string attached and the others chased. They were carefree, unworried by storms or desert sun. A faint gust of wind tugged gently at Kalis’s long cloak and then caught the colored paper, pulling it high up into the air. The children laughed all the harder and the one child struggled to control his drunken bird as it bobbed and weaved. Soon enough it came crashing to the ground as the wind subsided, but the children did not mind. They retrieved their paper bird and continued on towards the other side of the village, full of energy. How many years now since Kalis had laughed as those children laughed?

But the sun would not wait for him to reminisce of better days. Kalis left the little village behind and traveled deeper into the desert. By his reckoning, he was less than twelve leagues from Sirtan, one of the desert’s few cities. He hoped to find some information there, but Sirtan, like the other cities he’d already visited in the past year, would likely yield a similar result. And he would be left to wander further, deeper into the desert, deeper into that sun-blighted wasteland. How many more days? How many more weeks? How many more months? The answers he sought could come tomorrow or never.

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Much better, no? Years of writing will do that. More variety on sentence structure, less of all that passive voice nonsense, better descriptors, less mistakes. Those lines are probably about a year old, written during a second attempt at writing a storyline I had in my head. The first? Went far afield, I’m afraid. Poor story choices doomed it to a swift death. Best forgotten, as well. But I get better and I get better because I keep writing. Right now we’re looking at seven years of progress, of making attempts and failing spectacularly. Each failure was a lesson learned, each success was a mountain climbed. I wish it could all have come easier, but it never does. You work and work and work and eventually you get there.

Have I finally reached that magical nirvana where every sentence I spit out is solid gold? No. Far from it, in fact. My writing is still too stiff, still too plain, still too filled with mistakes. I still want to get better. So I keep writing.

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Coming Soon

Just thought I’d give everyone a little head’s up about what I’ve got going on. First and foremost is Murder at the End of the World, it’s not my first novel but it will be the first that anyone actually has the chance to purchase and read. It’ll be going up on Amazon and Barnes & Nobles e-book stores very soon, likely within the next seven days unless something wild comes up. But what else have I got? Well, here they are:

~Almost Ready~

  • Murder at the End of the World – A mystery novella tinged with the dark, isolated paranoia of HP Lovecraft
  • The Stone that Disturbs the Water – The first part of an epic fantasy series
  • Between Sand and Sky – A dark fantasy odyssey through a very strange and cruel land

~Needs More Work~

  • The Eminence of Bardon Roket – A satire of business and politics courtesy of a twelve year old genius with delusions of grandeur
  • Dead Eye – A scifi-western that takes place after the end of the world

~No One Will Ever Read This Ever~

  • The Martian Empire Trilogy – A scifi trilogy that was the first full-length story I ever wrote, but you’ll never read it because it’s really quite terrible. Sorry.

~Rough Ideas Yet Unwritten~

  • Arthur Ronix: Hero for Hire – Fantasy satire in the vein of Terry Pratchett
  • Beyond the Far Horizon – A woman goes in search of lost treasure
  • Dark Science – A young genius uncovers a bizarre plot in a steampunk world
  • Winter’s Eve – Another Allison Newberry mystery, strange things are happening in a farming town
  • That Place We Dream Of – Scifi detective novel
  • Prison in the Sky – The inhabitants of a space station are trapped when nuclear war erupts
  • Military-Industrial Complex – Political satire

As you can see, I’ve got a lot on the docket for the coming months. Hopefully you see something in here that interests you, and keeps you coming back to see what I’m working on next. Personally, I’m excited about how things are going. I’ll finally be able to have people actually read what I’ve written, even contribute a tiny bit of money for the effort I’ve put in, and hopefully I can take that and write even better stories in the future.

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