NANO is coming…

I know. It’s still six weeks out. But the time to prep for National Novel Writing Month is now, while it is six weeks out. Writing a novel is a serious endeavor. It takes effort. For many of us, it takes planning. Even if you’re a “pantser” who’ll start on November 1st with a blank page and an idea (or even just a blank page…) you need to do some planning for the time and resources you need to write 50,000+ words in a month.

In my case, I’ve got most of the people around me trained not to bug me during November (at least until Thanksgiving (I usually have the draft done by then though…)). I have my idea in place and know most of the main characters. But I haven’t announced my story yet, I should really get my home office cleaned up (I’ll be living in there for a few weeks…), and I need the local bottler to deliver at least a pallet of my favorite writing fuel.

I’ve ‘won’ NANO five years running and I’m convinced that a major reason for that is the prep I do before November starts. Having plans in place for how and when I’m working and having things in place to execute that plan is at least as important as having an idea or outline. If you haven’t put in the work to have the time and space to write you won’t do it. And if you don’t write, you can’t finish.

Well, dear reader, speaking of finishing… I should get my plans shored up and make sure I’m ready. Good luck with your own writing. And, I’ll see you next post.

Improving your stories (Part 3)

Well dear reader, as promised this week I’m resenting a revised version of my story Life, Death, and Mr. Boggs. I won’t claim that the new version is perfect (After NANO, when I’ve worked on my world some more, I’ll probably want to change it again). But I think this version is a lot better.

I’ve said it before. Editing is an important part of the writing process. And being honest with yourself about the story is an important part of editing. With this story, that meant admitting to myself that I had things to fix.

So on with the story. And, just like last time, this is my work (and I hold the copyright).

Life, death, and Mr. Boggs

Maria’s eyes swept the room one more time. Just because I don’t see any of them doesn’t mean they aren’t here. I mean, Elaina found me. And, if my cousin’s here, there are at least two teams from the family.

Whoever ran the place had gone to lengths to make the taproom seem intimate. The tabletop candles provided just enough light to see the others at the table and allow the staff to maneuver between the hushed conversations. The place was a good choice, but only if the uncles weren’t aware of their presence. And that doesn’t seem likely.

Elaina’s part of the family. She’s the one that found me. I can only hope she understands. “I’ll die before I marry him,” Maria said

Across the table, Elaina flinched. The white widow’s peak in her glossy black hair shifted. Is it really there? It didn’t seem to be an illusion. She seemed to wear her actual face. But the widow’s peak was new. So was the scar on her cheek.

“Do you know what they’re asking?” Maria felt her eyes bulge. I know she knows. She has to.

“I do.” Elaina sounded cold, clinical. She held her emotions in check the way they’d been taught. Still, something about her felt different. And the widow’s peak didn’t seem like an illusion. “I also know why they’re asking.”

Even in the near dark, Maria felt eyes on her. She looked around again. She cast a simple detection. No magic sensors, at least none that I can spot.

Elaina shook her head and sipped her drink. She held the glass up and peered through it. “I wouldn’t worry Maria. I’ve taken steps. The family wouldn’t expect either of us in such a low establishment. And the owners are friends. Part of my husband’s team.”

“Your husband’s?” the thought didn’t match reality. At least not the one I understand. Maria surveyed the darkness again. I have to find somewhere safe. But where?

“Really,” Elaina said, “There’s no reason for concern. The owners work for my husband. And some of the staff…” She nodded to a passing barmaid. “… work for me.” With a poise more natural than trained, Elaina shifted her posture just slightly, and leaned in over the table just enough. Even a passing barmaid wouldn’t have overheard her. “I’ve gone through some changes since we last met.”

“You look different,” Maria said. And my detection would have spotted an illusion.

“I’m far more secure than I used to be,” Elaina said, “more comfortable with myself too.” It showed. “I thank my freedom.”

Freedom?

“And my husband.” Elaina played with the golden ring on her finger as she spoke.

Maria leaned in a bit. “I thought your husband was…”

Elaina smiled and licked her lips. “My first husband was a convenience, a pretense for the uncles to have someone in a given place at a given time. Rather like your own engagement, I suspect.”

Maria nodded. Her eyes searched the surrounding darkness.

“You won’t find any agents here,” Elaina said, “I’m the only one here that reports to the uncles.”

Will she send me back? I won’t go.

“And,” Elaina said, “I only report to them when I want to.”

Hope appeared for a single heartbeat. Then the image of the uncles’ enforcers scared it away.

“My first husband was no help to me,” Elaina said, “and could have done less for you.” She smiled a wide and satisfied smile. “My second husband has done so much more.”

Second husband. I won’t let them do it to me twice. I don’t want them to do it once. Maria leaned back, away from the table.

Elaina caught her hand. “My second husband wasn’t an arrangement of their making. It’s an arrangement of our own.”

Of your own? How? “Elaina?”

“The church and the family didn’t,” Elaina said, “Not until we made them. And the way things happened, they didn’t have much to say. After Heber’s untimely death, I’d fulfilled my marital obligation to the family. And the church couldn’t ignore their own precedent.”

Maria nodded. The church couldn’t ignore precedent. “But the family, Elaina? They deal with those who break faith. The assassins-”

Elaina shrugged, pulling Maria tighter against the table then releasing her. “It’s been tried. Repeat performances are not recommended.”

“But… Our assassins are relentless.”

“Fortunately,” Elaina said, “Someone else tried first. And, for once, the uncles learned from someone else’s example.”

“But…”

“Third party interference,” Elaina said. She leaned back. Her face faded into the darkness “They don’t like the story getting out.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Frankly, I’m not too fond of it either. The results, yes. The story, no.”

So…?

Elaina glanced quickly at the tables to either side. “Witnesses don’t entirely matter,” she said, “Those who need to know already do. And everyone else, what could they say against my own story? But, I don’t need it spread around either.”

Maria nodded

Elaina began the tale:

My father and the uncles, developed an interest in expanding into a little town close to the mountains, somewhere they could further draw the local miners into the family’s coils.

“You understand that part, don’t you?” Elaina asked.

Maria nodded. I heard. And it’s what they wanted from me.

Elana clicked her tongue and continued.

Unfortunately for me, sending a gifted overtly would have drawn unwanted attention. Vimbarge hadn’t quite fallen into chaos yet and they, or one of the other city states, might have taken notice.

There was no gifted in town to whom I could be wedded, just the ‘celibate’ priests in their overbuilt church. But there was a tavern master in search of a wife.

Heber was a petty and boorish man, and drunk more often than I deserved.

Elana sighed and pushed her glass farther from her. “But even he didn’t truly deserve what happened. It was just fortunate enough for both of us it happened the way it did.”

For both of you? Maria nodded, and bent in so she could hear more clearly.

For two years I played wife to him. For two years I reported to the family. And fended off his advances. Dealt with my husband’s demands.

Maria shivered. I heard rumors about mine too.

Finally, they decided the village of Haystack was ready for occupation. But they also found themselves wrapped up in the ongoing drama of Valle Dios.

Elana made a sour face.

The city of the pass was far more important than Haystack. So, the uncles ordered me to precede, but gave me no assets to work with. I was left to seek resources on my own.

That meant making alliances with certain forces. It meant reaching an agreement with breakaways from both the city folk and the nomadic tribes. I even had a troop of Horde Born and one of the lesser giants dancing to my tune.

And that led to attention, from other elements, both from the city states and from my true husband.

Maria blinked. Two husbands…

Ulbrect was at loose ends already. His first wife was in the Raven folk’s secret home, or so he thought. He and his associates were working to improve Ulbrecht’s new headquarters, and finding it slow going. They agreed with the town elder to face off against my allies directly, in exchange for information and needed supplies and labor.

They won too. Ulbrecht can be unfocused. But he’s no fool. He’s just got multiple interests, which occasionally conflict.

Elaina smiled. “That’s why he needs me here. To take some pressure off.”

Elaina… Maria searched the room again. Two husbands… Uncles would never allow-

“Maria,” Elaina said, “Try not to jump ahead of the story.”

Maria nodded and sipped her drink.

While Ulbrecht and company were putting my ‘allies’ down, some people from Vimbarge got involved. The city state faction wasn’t stupid. They kept their identities quiet, or tried to at least. They sent Mr. Boggs.

“Who?” Maria asked.

Elana Shrugged. “There’s no particular reason for you to know the name. He was just a second-rate necromancer from Vimbarge, before he died that is.”

Mr Boggs was a lesser gifted, a wizard more interested in death than life. Like most of his kind, his interests killed him. Unlike most of the others, he found some measure of power before he died. He made dead men walk. He made them serve him.

He pressed on and found greater secrets before the end. Secrets that weren’t meant to be known; secrets that killed him. But death only made that power stronger. He had well over a dozen zombies with him when he arrived, including the two brutes he brought with him into the tavern.

“Into the tavern…” They attacked you on your own ground?

“That was when I first noticed him,” Elaina said, “When he came into my tavern.”

He was surrounded by a pall of stench and darkness, a side effect of his life’s, and death’s, work. The smell of his two rotting ‘companions’ didn’t help matters any.

Boggs was an intelligent undead, a walking corpse with both mind and purpose. He kept his magic and his desire for power.

His desire for power drove him. He envied those greater than himself. He coveted anything of beauty or value. Even though he knew he would corrupt them.

He spotted me immediately. And I saw desire in his dead eyes.

Desire. The uncles said the man I’m to marry wants me, desires me. They also said… Maria didn’t finish the thought. Her husband to be was a Vimbarge native too.

The two he brought with him had been humanoid, but not human. Their rotting forms were taller and thicker than a man’s. Their heads resembled those of pug dogs as much as those of human folk. Honestly, I think they might have chewed on themselves at some point.

I knew what they were, what they’d been while alive. Ogres aren’t hard to recognize once you’ve seen one. I don’t know if the others recognized them or not. But once the brutes started breaking bones and tearing bodies, it didn’t really matter. Death is death.

Elaina leaned back, melding with the shadows. She sat, for just a moment, with her hands folded on her lap.

“Elaina?”

Elaina reentered the light and shook her head. “Nothing to worry about. Memories I hope you never have to face.”

Boggs came straight at me. The pawl of darkness around him slackened. The smell did not.

His robes hung in shreds and tatters over his desiccated flesh. The dryness of his meat might have disturbed me, but the maggots seemed to find it pleasant.

He headed right for me.

No one tried to stop him.

I felt him come closer as much as I saw him.

“Have you ever been alone? Really alone?” Elaina asked.

Maria searched her memory and shook her head.

“Family marriages make you feel that way sometimes,” Elaina said, “That’s part of why I’m not turning you in. I don’t want you to feel the way I did.”

Maria let out a long exhale. She felt the tension drain from her body.

“Sometimes people can surprise you,” Elaina said, “sometimes the husbands the family gives us are more tenacious than we think. Even the weak ones.”

I was sure no one would help me. But then it happened. Heber stepped between me and Boggs. I think the poor fool was more afraid of having to explain himself to the family than the dead man. It was a mistake, but I’m grateful for it. I’m grateful poor Heber stepped in to protect his prize possession.

Possession… Maria’s eyes searched the darkness, looking for family assassins, and would-be suiters.

“I have no intention of letting that happen again,” Elaina said, “Not to you, me, or any of our daughters.”

Daughters… That would be a whole new level of the problem.

Elaina shook her head. “Not if I can stop it.”

Heber valued me as a possession. And I valued him as a tool, an expendable one. Still, in that moment…

I watched.

I saw.

I saw every detail of Boggs’s hand, every shred of desiccated flesh and every bit of unwashed bone, as he wrapped his hand around Heber’s throat and drained him.

I saw my husband’s eyes glaze. I watched the last spark of life drain from him.

Then Boggs came for me.

For some reason, I still couldn’t bring myself to move. I’m usually quite level-headed. You have to be to survive in our family. But in that moment, I couldn’t move at all. All I could do was watch Boggs come closer.

I heard him come closer too. At first, I thought it was creaking leather and the click of hobnailed boots against the floor. I realized it was the creak of long dead flesh, and the clack of his foot bones against the floor.

I couldn’t move. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. Boggs put his hand out. The same hand he killed Heber with. He kept coming.

I couldn’t pull away. Boggs wrapped his hand around my throat. And his touch was cold.

Maria’s hand slipped to her own throat.

I felt my life draining out of me and into Boggs. And that was when it happened.

The flash.

The shock.

That was the moment I died.

“Elana, you’re joking.” It couldn’t be.

Elana shook her head. “No Maria, I’m not. In that moment, I was dead.”

“You couldn’t have been,” Maria said. You’re right here.

“I was.” Elana shrugged. “I didn’t learn the rest till after.”

The next thing I knew I was upstairs in my former bedroom, in my former bed. Ulbrecht was looking down at me. He was standing over me and wearing an expression as confused as my own.

“I’m sorry I had to do that,” he said, “But if Boggs had killed you, you’d have risen as one of his minions. I had to kill you first. The rest of it, well, that’s a bit harder to explain.”

“Elana, you said he killed you.” Maria shook her head. “I mean, he couldn’t have killed you.” Not if I’m talking to you.

“No,” Elaina said. She took a long breath. “I’m not. Ulbrecht killed me and then raised me from the dead.”

“That can’t be.”

“It is.” Elana picked up her glass and held it up to the light. “It’s not really as simple as it sounds. The specifics of how, the complications after, those are stories for another day.”

“Complications?” Maria asked. She backed away from the table.

Elana set her glass down and laughed. “Nothing like that. I won’t bite you. I’m not some member of the undead. But Ulbrecht’s wife, his first wife, had just been through an ordeal of her own. She was in an odd spot and had some odd ideas.”

“Odd ideas?”

“She was the one who decided Ulbrecht and I should marry,” Elana said.

“She decided?” She decided? What…

Elana nodded. “Her ordeal made bearing children… Complicated. At the same time, she was rather fixated on growing her little family. And she thought I owed her husband, you know, for preventing my unwilling induction to the ranks of the undead.”

“Owed him,” Maria said, “But…”

Elana shrugged. “We both know polygamy isn’t unheard of among the gifted. At least one of the major churches actively supports it. And it just so happened that the arrangement solved problems, for all three of us.”

Elana smiled. “Four if you count yourself.”

“Me?” Maria gasped. “I can’t… I couldn’t.”

Elana’s eyes narrowed. “No, you couldn’t.” She shook her head and smiled. “That’s not what I’m asking. Neither Ulbrecht nor I would consider it. Esperanza, the first wife, wouldn’t consider it. In fact, I wouldn’t even think it around her if I were you.”

“Then…?”

“Ulbrecht is building his fortress in the mountains,” Elana said.

“You mentioned that.”

“He also has an estate here in the city,” Elana said, “having no one to look after the place bothered my husband, and our marriage gave him a solution. It gave me a private domain much more to my liking.”

Maria nodded. You always preferred the city. And if your husband isn’t here…

“Ulbrect has someone to watch the house” Elana said, “Esperanza has someone to raise the children. And I have my private domain. Ulbrect and Esperanza are willing to let me run my own operation so long as I keep marital and fiduciary fidelity. And the situation keeps the uncles, or anyone else, from trying to marry me into some less satisfactory situation.”

Maria nodded. A marriage of your own. A marriage you chose. But…

“As it is,” Elana said, “I’m free to hire servants, and others, as I see fit. But our happy little city is decidedly lacking on one key aspect.”

One aspect? What do you…?

“I need a second,” Elana said, “officially a maid servant or lady-in-waiting. Someone who understands me, my thoughts and desires, and the way Ulbrecht and I run things.”

Father always said one stands or falls on the strength of those around you.

“It also helps,” Elaina said, “that you understand how the family does business.”

“Me?” Maria asked.

“You.” Elana said. She smiled. “You’ve run off already. You abandoned your arranged engagement. No one knows you’re here, and we can keep things that way.”

A second? In our own operation…?

Elana drew Maria’s hand across the table. “You’re the perfect choice,” she said, “Unless you’d rather I drag you back to your arraigned marriage.”

Maria smiled and interlaced her fingers with her cousin’s. “For you, cousin? Anything.”

“For me,” Elaina said, “And for your freedom.”

My freedom…

Want to understand your language? Learn another one…

As a writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about language. It’s something writers do. One thing that’s helping me think about language right now is thinking in a different language.

People in high school or college language courses say, “I really didn’t learn English until I tried to learn (insert foreign language).” In a lot of ways, that’s true. As a high school or college student you’re working on the mechanics of English and learning another language makes you think about the basic mechanics. But there’s a deeper level.

The basic mechanics “learn English by learning another language” method is great for reminding you what a noun is, what a verb is, and maybe even the clinical definition of an adverb or gerund. There’s lots of “Ok, this piece goes here…” But if you want to really learn language and learn to use your language, take the next step. This piece goes here, but why does it go here.

I’m not quite six months into learning Japanese. One difference between Japanese and English is that in Japanese you don’t use you or I as a sentence subject unless it’s really needed for clarity. Which leads to asking “Why is it necessary in this case but not that one?”

Japanese uses different accessory words. It takes a while to figure out why you’re using HA in one instance and GA in another. ‘O’ is easy to cope with (at first) it replaces HA in some situations and you just go with it until you realize there are other situations where O is correct and you’re not sure why.

Learning a new language can strengthen not just our basic understanding of the mechanics of language, but add to our thinking about why we use particular words in particular places. It helps us consider which word to use, in which place, and why we’re doing it.

To really understand a language, you need to learn to think in that language. Learning a new language gives us a basis for comparison for thinking about and thinking in our old language(s). it helps us to do the meta thinking about how our language works and primes us to think about different, and possibly better ways of saying what we want to say?

Better ways? Yes, better ways; ways of saying what we mean in the best way possible. That may mean being more succinct. It may help us paint word pictures with increasingly evocative imagery. It may help us find ways of communicating that stand out from what everybody else is doing.

When we learn a new language, we think about words, communication and how they work. When we ‘get out of the house’ and learn a really different language (one that has a different alphabet maybe) we expose ourselves to true diversity in thinking. When we explore ‘close to home’ languages (say a Spanish speaker learning French or Italian) we strengthen our ear and ability for fine grained nuance, for the things that are just slightly different but make such a big difference.

Leaning a new language is an excellent tool for expanding and refreshing our understanding of the words we use every day. That said, I should get back to learning Japanese. Good luck in your language adventures dear reader. I’ll see you next post.

(Now seriously… why does Japanese use a different numbers when you’re counting glasses versus when you’re counting forks…?)

Improving your stories… (Part 2)

In the spirit of show don’t tell, I put up one of my stories here on the blog last week with a promise that I would put up both my list of things to work on and a rewritten version of the story. This week I’m presenting my ‘fix it’ list and talking about some things that need to be changed and why.

The story Life, Death, and Mr. Boggs isn’t a complete failure. It succeeded in several ways: I needed to get a story out and I got one, it introduced some players to a role playing campaign I was launching, and it helped me set (and tell about) some history and doings in a part of my world of Midwol. There are things that I like about the story. But there are definitely things that need to be fixed. In particular, I will work on:

  • Character motivations
  • Point of view
  • Choppy flow
  • Assuming too much reader knowledge
  • Sticking the ending.

The story did some things I wanted it to. But it could be so much more. So, let’s look at my ‘fix it’ list …

Character motivations

The only character in the story whose motivations are really clear is Mr. Bog, and he’s there because somebody paid him to show up and make a ruckus. Elana’s motivations become somewhat clear, she wanted to get out of a bad marriage and hires her cousin as part of her operation, but that’s all shallow stuff. And speaking of the cousin, why’s she involved at all? Elaina tells us an answer, but we never really get to see it.

The first step in the rewrite is thinking about why the characters are doing the things they are and what was behind their previous actions. Much of the rewrite (especially sticking the ending) will come from this.

Point of view

One of my first realizations while rereading the story is that I didn’t really establish point of view until somewhere on page 3. I need to establish point of view on page 1.  But that’s not the only issue.

I made another mistake that’s easy to fall into, I wrote the story from the perspective of the character I knew best (Elaina). But, between the cousins, Elaina is really the low stakes character. She knows her story with Mr. Boggs. She’s establishing her own little empire. She’s consolidating her power. Her cousin Maria is much more vulnerable. In many ways her reactions, and her story, can be deeper and more interesting.

Maria’s got the most to lose at the moment. So, I’m going to rework the story from her perspective. That will help bring the action and resolution into the stories present instead of losing it in the story within the story. It will help bring in some needed immediacy to the narrative. More work, yes. Better story, probably. I’m looking forward to finding out.

Choppy flow

I was trying to control story flow… I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. So, since I’m pulling things apart anyway, why not rework things into a smoother form? Chop can be useful, but I have to remind myself to only use it on purpose, and where it’s really needed to make my point or lend to the feel. Too much kills those things and makes the story harder to read. So, time to break out the verbal sandpaper…

Assuming reader knowledge

Part of the point of the story was introducing people to my world. But I’m feeling like I may have done too much too fast. True, the characters would know all the geography and place names involved, but the reader doesn’t. While I want to include some world building and orienting data, I don’t want to be that one teacher (You know, the  one who says, “for tonight’s homework read chapters 1-17 and be ready for a quiz tomorrow!”).

So, I need to make sure that there is some world specific information in there. But I need to make sure it’s relevant to the story. Other stuff can come along in other stories and at other times (ya gotta have faith in your readers…).

Sticking the ending

Ok… So… Elaina died, but she didn’t… And then she got remarried… And then what happened? The story within the story resolved, but the immediate story didn’t resolve in a satisfying way. Elaina offered Maria a position in her organization. But did she take it? Why or why not?

Stories with a memorable, impactful, ending work better (remember the series ender for the Sopranos? Or, how about the awards scene after Luke and company blew up the Death Star?). In the rewrite I want my immediate ending (the one for the characters present when the story in the story is told) to pop and be satisfying. In part, I’m doing that with my point of view shift and improved understanding of character motivation. But, even with those fixes, I need to make sure the ending works. It needs its share of the attention too.

So, that’s my planned list of fixes for Life, Death, and Mr. Boggs. Do you have any ideas? Want to disagree with mine? Leave a comment. Constructive criticism is always welcome.

From here the next step is to rework the story. And then, in a couple weeks, I’ll put up the new (revised) edition. And then talk about why I did what I did.

As writers building our craft is necessary for success. Most of the greats never stop (and you can tell when one does…). Thank you for joining me in this foray into improving my craft dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.

Improving your stories…

Writing teachers always say, “show don’t tell.” So, why not do that here in the blog? Initially, I was going to talk about improving our story skills. And then, an older story I need to revise popped up. So, rather than just preaching about developing our skills, I decided to show an example of changes in mine…

This week, I will present the story Life, Death, and Mr. Boggs as written. Next week, I’ll share some issues I see with the story.  I’ve already presented the story and you, dear reader, have had a chance to think about what I did wrong (and right!) and will be able to compare your thoughts to mine. (if you really have issues with the story or my opinion of what to do with it, leave a comment or DM me…). Then, in a couple of weeks, I will present a revised version of the story that addresses some of the original’s faults.

Life, Death, and Mr. Boggs is my work and set in my world of Midwol (I hold the copyright to both…) I welcome any commentary and (constructive) criticism you may have (there are very few harsh things I haven’t said to myself over the years…).

So, here is Life, Death and Mr. Boggs:

LIFE, DEATH, AND MR BOGGS

by Farangian

“I’ll die before I marry him.” Maria’s eyes were already wide. They went wider when her cousin flinched. “I mean, do you know what they’re asking?”

Across the well-worn wooden table, Elana nodded. “I know exactly what they’re asking. I know why they’re asking it too.”

“Elana…” Maria scanned the room around them. Even in the noisy dark of the tavern there was danger. The family had agents everywhere.

Elana shook her head and took a sip of her drink. She held the glass up and looked at its contents by the light of the single candle on their table.

“I wouldn’t worry Maria,” she said, “I’ve taken steps. The family wouldn’t expect either of us to be in such a low establishment.” She shrugged. “Technically, they don’t even know where I am. You wouldn’t know where I am, if I hadn’t spotted you in the market.”

Maria’s head bobbed. “You look different.”

The differences were small, but significant. A scar ran across Elana’s right cheek. A brilliant white widow’s peak stood out in her glossy black hair. Somehow she stood taller and yet seemed more relaxed. The poise she showed was a natural manifestation, not an act played by a daughter of the Pollona family.

“They say beginning a marriage is beginning a new life,” Elana said, “They also say ending a marriage is beginning a new life. In my case, that’s a literal truth.” She set down her drink. “Both are literal truths in my case.”

Maria scanned the room again.

“Don’t worry,” Elana said, “the owners of this place are friends of mine. Partners, you might say, working for my second husband, my real husband.”

“Second husband…” Maria’s words were barely audible.

“True,” Elana said, “The church doesn’t take such things lightly, but there were special circumstances.” She shrugged. “And after Heber’s funeral, there was nothing to be said anyway.”

“But the family…”

“They had little to say either,” Elana said, “As I said, special circumstances. It took them a while to understand, but eventually they realized it was for the best. They leave me to my business. I can still fulfill my duties, better in fact. And I am much happier than I was with Heber.” Elana chuckled. “Much happier.”

Maria maintained her wide eyed look. She also shivered. “Was it that bad?”

“It was,” Elana said, “My ‘husband’ wasn’t even a gifted. But the uncles had aspirations in the area, so having a family presence was necessary.”

“Necessary,” Maria repeated. She scanned the room again.

“There’s no need to worry,” Elana said, “there are no family agent’s here, except for me. They steer clear of this place, and anywhere else we’re operating. It’s part of our arrangement.”

“Arrangement,” Maria repeated. She shivered again. Her ‘arrangement’ was a marriage to a wizard of some minor family.

Some other puny group the uncles want to ensnare… At least Maria’s is a gifted… My task was much worse… Until HE came… Now Ulbrecht and I make our own arrangements…

“The family’s hold isn’t nearly as strong as they like us to think,” Elana said.

“But if they send assassins…”

Assassination was part of the family business, one line in a much larger business plan.

Elana shrugged. “It’s been tried, repeat performances are not recommended.”

“They tried to kill you?” Maria asked.

“The family?” Elana smiled. “Not after what happened. They weren’t ready to press their luck.”

“They weren’t?”

Elana drew in a long deep breath and expelled it slowly. I suppose I really must tell the story…She took another breath before beginning.

My father and the uncles developed an interest in expanding into a little town close to the mountains, somewhere they could use as a base to further draw the local miners into the family’s coils.

Maria nodded.

You understand that part, don’t you…? It’s more or less how your own ordeal started…

Elana clicked her tongue and leaned over the table. She kept her voice low. This wasn’t a story for others, even here where the proprietors knew the whole tale.

Unfortunately for me, there weren’t any eligible gifted folk in the area and sending a wizard overtly would have drawn unwanted attention. Vimbarge hadn’t quite fallen into chaos yet and they, or one of the other city states, might have taken notice. And that would have involved others in our business.

There was no gifted in town to whom I could be wedded, just the ‘celibate’ priests in the town’s overbuilt church. But there was a tavern master in search of a wife.

Heber was a petty and boorish man, and drunk more often than I deserved.

Elana sighed and pushed her glass farther from her. “But, even he didn’t truly deserve what happened. It was fortunate for both of us it happened the way it did.”

Maria nodded, and bent in so she could hear more clearly.

For two years I played wife to him. Suffered his advances and kept up appearances. For two years I dutifully reported to the family. Finally, they decided the village of Haystack was worthy of occupation.

Unfortunately, they also found themselves wrapped up in the ongoing drama of Valle Dios.

Elana made a sour face.

The city of the pass was far more important than Haystack. So, the uncles ordered that we advance our holdings, but they gave me no assets to work with.

Maria blinked.

“No assets at all,” Elana said, “Just me and whatever I could come up with.”

I was left to seek resources on my own. That meant making alliances with certain forces. And that led to attention, from Ulbrecht and certain elements in Vimbarge.

Both factions reacted in their own way.

Ulbrect was at loose ends already. His first wife was in the Raven folk’s secret home, or so he thought. He and his associates were working to improve Ulbrecht’s family seat and finding it slow going. Loose ends indeed.

They agreed with the town elder to face off against my allies directly, in exchange for information and needed supplies and labor.

They won too. Ulbrecht and company can be annoyingly successful, sometimes despite themselves.

While they were putting down my ‘allies’ the people from Vimbarge got involved. They didn’t act directly.

They sent Mr. Boggs.

“Who?” Maria asked.

Elana Shrugged. “Mr. Boggs. There’s no particular reason for you to know the name. He was just a second-rate necromancer from Vimbarge, before he died that is. Death seemed to increase his abilities until Ulbrecht got hold of him. My memory of precisely what happened is a bit gappy, I’m afraid. Complications of my part in the story.”

Maria nodded as if she understood.

Mr. Boggs’s greatest achievement, his most favored skill, was raising the corpses of his enemies to serve him. And death only made that power stronger. He had well over a dozen zombies with him when he arrived, including the two brutes he brought with him into the tavern.

“Into the tavern…” Maria’s eyes widened again.

That was when I first noticed him. When he came into my tavern.

He was surrounded by a pall of stench and darkness, a side effect of his life’s, and death’s, work. The smell of his two rotting ‘companions’ didn’t help matters any.

Boggs was no mere zombie, no mere corpse raised for a mission. He was intelligent. Somehow, he kept the gift of magic. And he spotted me immediately.

He sent his companions to deal with the others.

I realized what they were; taller than a man and more muscular, muted rotting features on heads as much like a pug dog’s as a human’s. Honestly, I think they might have chewed on themselves at some point.

The stench of death was overpowering. It overrode their natural stench, which is impressive since ogres aren’t exactly known for bathing. But, I suppose, when the flesh falls off the bone…

I knew what they were. The rest of them, the customers and barmaids genuinely had no idea. Not that it would have mattered. They were as good as dead when Mr. Boggs unleashed the brutes.

Meanwhile, Boggs came right toward me. With every step his desiccated flesh, black with age and corruption, became clearer. The shreds of his once fine robes hung in bits and rags, bearing testimony of his time in the grave, and the fate of those who’d tried to stop his progress.

He headed straight for me. At first no one tried to stop him. Not that the village folk had much fight in them, Boggs and his creatures had already killed the sheriff and his men outside.

Actually, more than killed them. Ulbrect killed the sheriff for a second time when he arrived.

Elana shrugged. “Could have been worse. It almost happened to me.” She shook her head. “Ulbrect has a strange sense of tactics. He truly does. But I’m glad of it.”

The ogres’ dead hands made short work of the others, the guests and the bar maids. Meanwhile, Mr. Boggs came straight toward me. Don’t ask me why I didn’t run. I’m not sure either.

Somehow…

Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. And that wasn’t the only surprise.

Heber played the hero.

The boorish simpleton stepped between me and Mr. Boggs.

I know it was because he viewed me as his. He’d always viewed me as a prized possession. And he was afraid of what would happen if the family found me dead and him alive. But in that moment, I was grateful. He stalled Boggs just long enough. Any less and Ulbrect wouldn’t have made it in time.

Maria blinked again.

I watched.

I saw.

I saw every detail of Boggs’s hand, every shred of desiccated flesh and every bit of unwashed bone, as he wrapped his hand around Heber’s throat and drained him.

I saw my husband’s eyes glaze.

I watched the last spark of life drain from him.

And then Boggs sent him to deal with the last of our barmaids.

And then Boggs came for me.

I still couldn’t bring myself to move. I’m usually quite level-headed. You have to be to survive in our family.

But in that moment, I couldn’t move at all.

All I could do was watch Boggs come closer.

I heard him come closer too.

At first, I thought it was creaking leather and the click of hobnailed boots against the floor. I realized it was the creak of long dead flesh, and the clack of his foot bones against the floor.

I couldn’t move. I wanted to, but I couldn’t.

Boggs put his hand out.

The same hand he killed Heber with.

He kept coming.

I couldn’t pull away.

Boggs wrapped his hand around my throat. And his touch was cold.

Maria gasped.

I felt my life draining out of me and into Boggs.

And that was when it happened.

The flash.

The shock.

That was the moment I died.

Maria’s eyes went even wider. Then she shook her head and laughed. “Elana, you’re teasing me.”

Elana shook her head. “No Maria, I’m not. In that moment I was dead.”

“You couldn’t have been,” Maria said.

“I was.” Elana shrugged. “I didn’t learn the rest till after.”

The next thing I knew I was upstairs in my former bedroom, in my former bed. He was looking down at me.

“He?” Maria asked.

Elana nodded. “Ulbrecht.”

He was standing there over me and wearing an expression as confused as mine.

“I’m sorry I had to do that,” Ulbrecht said, “But if Boggs had killed you, you’d have risen as one of his minions, at least that’s the hypothesis. The rest of it, well, that’s harder to explain.”

“Elana, you said he killed you.” Maria shook her head. “You’re teasing me.”

“No,” Elaina said. She took a long breath. “I’m not. Ulbrecht killed me and then raised me from the dead.”

“That can’t be.”

“It is.” Elana picked up her glass and held it up to the light. “It’s not really as simple as it sounds of course. The specifics of how, the complications after, those are stories for another day.”

“Complications?” Maria asked. She backed away from the table.

Elana set her glass down and laughed. “Nothing like that dear. I’m not going to bite you. I’m not some member of the undead. But Ulbrecht’s wife, his first wife, had just been through an ordeal of her own. She was in an odd spot and had some odd ideas.”

“Odd ideas?”

“She was the one who decided Ulbrecht and I should marry,” Elana said.

“She decided?” Maria’s eyes went wider than when she’d heard about Mr. Boggs.

Elana nodded. “Her ordeal made bearing children… Complicated. At the same time, she was rather fixated on growing her little family. And, she felt I owed her husband, you know for preventing my unwilling induction to the ranks of the undead, that sort of thing.”

“Oh,” Maria said, “But…”

Elana shrugged. “We both know polygamy isn’t unheard of among the gifted. At least one of the major churches actively supports it. And it just so happened that the arrangement solved problems for all three of us.”

Elana smiled. “Four if you count yourself.”

“Me?” Maria gasped. “I can’t… I couldn’t.”

Elana’s eyes narrowed. “No, you couldn’t.” She shook her head and smiled. “That’s not what I’m asking. Neither Ulbrecht nor I would consider it. Esperanza, the first wife, wouldn’t consider it. In fact, I wouldn’t even think it around her if I were you.”

“Then…?”

“Ulbrecht is building his fortress in the mountains,” Elana said.

“You mentioned that.”

“He also has an estate here in the city,” Elana said, “having no one to look after the place bothered my husband, and our marriage gave him a solution. It also gave me a private domain much more to my liking than some inn out in the sticks.”

Maria nodded.

“Ulbrect has someone to watch the house. Esperanza has someone to see to raising children, and raise them safely away from the ongoing complications of the fortress,” Elana said, “And I have my private domain. Ulbrect and Esperanza are willing to let me run my operation so long as I keep marital and fiduciary fidelity. And the situation keeps the uncles, or anyone else, from trying to marry me into some less satisfactory situation.”

Maria nodded. You could still see the questions in her eyes.

“As it is,” Elana said, “I’m free to hire servants, and others, as I see fit. But our happy little city is decidedly lacking on one key aspect.”

“It is?”

“It is,” Elana said, “I need a second, officially a maid servant or lady-in-waiting, who understands me, my thoughts and desires, and the way Ulbrecht and I run things. It also helps that you understand how the family does business.”

“Me?” Maria asked.

“You.” Elana reached across the table and took Maria’s hand. “You’ve run off already. You abandoned your arranged engagement. No one knows you’re here, and we can keep things that way.”

Elana drew Maria’s hand across the table. “You’re the perfect choice,” she said, “Unless you’d rather I drag you back to your arranged marriage.”

Maria smiled and interlaced her fingers with her cousin’s.

You need both…

I’m currently reading Wired For Story by Lisa Cron. I’m also paying attention to what’s going on outside my cozy little office. And in the wacky world of life imitating art imitating life, there are some things we definitely need to understand.

Because this blog is about writing and publishing, we will stick to talking about writing and publishing. But… I bet people could apply some of this to real life if they try (I’ve just got that feeling).

Whether you’re a “plot person”, a “character person” or some other variation, when you’re writing fiction there are two things that need to be presented in a story, emotions and facts.

One reason we read (and write) fiction is to experiment with emotions in a safe place. This is a theory that I came to years ago, studied as an undergrad and graduate student (Psychology with an English minor…), and I still find valid today.

Because a purpose of fiction is exploring emotion, we need emotion in our fiction, but we can’t have emotions without facts. Our minds need something concrete that we can lock onto. And we all feel emotions differently.

As a graduate student, one of my professors challenged my class to define the word table. It took a whole room full of very intelligent people more than half an hour to come up with a reasonable definition of the word table, even though a table is something we’d all experienced. Even though a table is a physical object that we can see and touch. Even though we were sitting around one as we discussed its definition.

If it’s that hard to define a physical item or class of items that’s right in front of you, how do we define something like anger, or pleasure, or depression, that can (sort of) be observed in behavior but not examined directly?

We need facts in our stories so our minds have something tangible to anchor too. But, it’s really hard to write a story that’s just facts and not emotions. We are social creatures. We have feelings and emotions and most of us are wired to seek the feelings, emotions, and emotional states of others. If stories without emotions were a thing, then the instruction booklet that came with my new USB camera would be on the best sellers list…

We need facts in our stories. They give us something solid to hold on to while we’re exploring the events, ideas, and emotions that we’re interested in; while we explore the things that catch our attention and draw us into the story. We also need emotions in our stories (like I said they draw us into, and keep us reading, a story). We need to find a balance between the two. We need to learn how to work with both.

Now, how we deal with facts and emotions depends on several factors. Different genres have different rules. Different time periods have different facts (and ‘facts’) and different cultures deal with them in different ways.

Characters and cultures deal with emotions in different ways. In some cultures, it’s appropriate to describe depression with physical complaints, while in others it’s acceptable to just come out and say “I’m depressed.”

Our fiction becomes interesting when we communicate how the facts and emotions of our stories interact. That means we have to learn about and understand our own facts and emotions; learn about the facts, cultures, and characters in our stories; and then figure out how to communicate all of it to a reader who has her/his own facts and emotions to deal with.

It’s a process. It’s something we have to learn.

We can gain some insight and guidance by reading the works of others and studying our genres. But our emotions are our own. Our situations are our own. And, since we’re creating and writing about our characters (remember we’re talking fiction here) their emotions and facts belong to us too. We have to figure out how our characters deal with them, while understanding that the emotions and facts of our readers and other real people belong to our readers and other real people (meaning we don’t get to control those (it can be a pain in the !@#@!#!!@#!!! to even predict those sometimes…).

It ain’t easy, but it’s what we have to do to succeed. So, be brave dear reader, and develop your understanding and communication skills for facts and emotions. I’ll see you next post.

Into the breach… Or, hoisted by my own petard!

I just had to talk to a new couple I ran into. The husband had traveled in some of the same areas I have, and we shared a few interests. The wife also shared a significant interest of mine. She’s also a writer. And that’s where the trouble started.

She asked a question, “are there any good writing groups around here?” We agreed we hadn’t found and that it would be nice if someone started one that better fit what we want to do.

After saying our goodbyes, my wife got into the act. She pointed out that running a writing group sounded like something we (meaning me…) should be doing.

I countered with the usual: “I don’t have time”, “I’m not really the group leader type” (I’m not…), etc.

She countered that it sounded like something I would do under my FMP aegis. She even pointed out it fit our mission statement (I knew I shouldn’t have worked on the mission plan while she’s around…).

I couldn’t argue against that. It was my mission statement. I wrote it.

So, I (he who doesn’t play well with others) found myself planning and organizing a writer’s group.

There are pluses and minuses to belonging to a writer’s group:

It’s a social outlet. (not sure if that’s a plus or a minus)

It means there’s even more to read and critique. (a plus and minus)

It means I get more input on my work. (ditto)

It means increased accountability. (as a writer putting pieces out, it’s a plus. As the guy who has to run the thing, it’s a minus (I also have a YouTube team I’m trying to run, and a gaming group, and…))

The truth is. I firmly believe that writing groups and the writing group experience is what the members of the group make it. That’s part of why building the right writing group is important. The decisions and energy you bring to the group impact what you get out of the group.

The people you associate with affect your experience.

There’s no single way to run a writing group. Different people have different needs and objectives. Our best bet is understanding what we’re looking for and finding (or building) a group that fits.

I’m looking forward to my first foray into running a writing group and recounting our adventures (along with other topics) here on the blog.

That’s it for today, dear reader (those group rules ain’t gonna type themselves up…). Good luck in your own writing. And I’ll see you next post.

A (previously) undiscovered barrier

This month it’s time to work on my business plan for the coming year. In the process I discovered something interesting, a barrier to entry into the writing business that I hadn’t considered: the need for a good work flow.

Work flow development isn’t one of the more commonly discussed barriers to entry. But an efficient workflow is something you need as a writer or publisher. Without a solid work flow and some real commitment to the process. You could end up the way a lot of would-be writers do, piddling around on the same project and never really getting anywhere. (I’ve nearly succumbed to that fate and I’ve been working on my work flow since I was 12…)

If you’re going to write and publish or sell your work, you need to do some thinking about you workflow before you start. And you can’t assume that the workflow will be the same from project to project.

For a given kind of project the workflow will probably be similar. But often there are differences between similar projects. If you’re current novel is meant for the YA market and your next one is for an adult market, you may ask different people to read your work. You may work with a different publisher, or editor, or marketing people. All those people have their own ways of doing things and that can affect your work flow.

Problems and changes happen over the course of a long project. Understanding your work flow and how you succeed is a big part of success.

Even bigger differences in work flow occur between different kinds of projects. A video or nonfiction book probably has a different team than your novel does. Your 750 word blog post probably has a different (and much smaller) team than your 50,000 word anything.

For the novel, nonfiction book, or movie, you just about have to have a team (success on your own is unlikely) for a blog post, you can probably do that one on your own in an hour or two. And that’s a different work flow.

And then we get to the big campaign. You know, the one where you’re doing blog posts, videos, press releasees, articles, and excerpts to support the book you’re publishing. Each of those things has its own work flow and you have to coordinate them all into one big, efficient machine if you want your book to hit big!

The good news is things can happen concurrently. If you have the time and the team, you might shoot the videos and take the pictures for that how-to book while you’re writing the text. Your editing team and the cover art team may be able to work at the same time. But if you want your teams working concurrently, you’d best put some thought into the whole flow and process before people start work. Otherwise you may have to stop work in one area because you’re missing elements in another.

The solution is education and planning. Learn what goes into the stuff you want to write, then figure out how those things fit together with the way you work and the resources you have.

Things will still happen. Challenges will arise. But when you think about these things up front, you can reduce the number of problems (and hopefully kill any ‘show stoppers’ before they show up in the first place).

That’s it for this one dear reader. Think and learn about what goes into what you write. Figure out your best plan/estimate of how the work flow will go. And then test it out and keep track of the similarities and differences between your plan and reality.

Over time, with continued learning and planning, you will develop a work flow that works for you and your team.

Good luck with your work flow. If you’ve got any helpful tips and tricks for work flow, I’d love to hear about them!

See you next post.

Wow… Has it been that long???

Ok, I knew I wasn’t on the blog last week. Apparently, I wasn’t here the week before either. But have no fear, the whole crew is alive and well (a few dents and bruises but still qualifying as alive and well). At this point I’m still sharing my office with my wife (which increases traffic flow) and pushing hard on projects; some are near completion (with new ones jockeying to take their place) and others are definitely “coming to a middle”.

With all of this going on it’s been hard to come up with a post for this week, so I’ll ask a question (two actually):

1: What can I do to improve your reader experience here on the blog?

2: Are there topics you would like me to cover?

As usual for this time of year, I’m seeking to improve what we do here and I have some ideas, but I’d love to hear what you have to say. So please comment or email, and I’ll see you next post.