Draconian Aria cover


Draconian Aria, pt. II of Draconian Symphony, has a cover. Hopefully we’ll be able to provide a release date soon as well. aria


Looking Then and Now

Perhaps its just the wake of New Years but I find myself struck by a brick of nostalgia for my childhood tales.
Animals of Farthing Wood, Bre’r Rabbit, Animal Ark, The Faraway Tree, The Wishing Chair, Malory Towers, St Claire’s,

I sure read a lot of Enid Blyton, huh.

I consider K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs a prominent early feature of my lifelong feast of fiction but this is the first time in a long time my thoughts have turned to the things I read before.

What to make of it, though? I have glimpses and shimmers of those fables, but it was all so long ago that I don’t dare pretend to know how these early tales informed my world.

Lots of parables of hubris, and bold girls, and why people do what they do, and of Faraway Tree in particular the notion that many other worlds run on many other rules. I don’t dare to pretend such is true, but looking back I hazard a guess that these might have been seeds from which branched further appetites and attitudes. Just a guess.

I don’t have any wisdom or advice this night, but on the wake of everyone’s morning after, looking back at what halcyon was and halcyon is, I hope we all have a good year.

A Poor Sell

You’re talking to someone about books, they mention something that you haven’t read, and when you say as such their eyes suddenly light up and the next fifteen minutes are filled with them gushing about what a magnificent must-read this is. By the time they’re done this book sounds like an amazing life changing experience.

You go home, get your hands on a copy ASAP, settle in to read and…everything is incredibly flat. The main character, the setting, the prose, nothing clicks. It can make you wonder if this is even the same book they were telling you about.

There might be a strong enough urge that you tough it out to see if it gets better, and maybe it does, but most people put the book down and write it off. That’s fine, that’s normal. You’re not wrong for not wanting to read a book you’re not enjoying and they weren’t wrong for enjoying a book you don’t. Odds are you just overestimated how much overlap there was in that person’s taste and yours.

However, if you’re a writer, then by and large you are wanting to write books that you and people like you would like to read. So the jarring dissonance of a recommended book falling flat presents a gilded opportunity to pin down why and how the book failed to hook you, what the book was missing for you, to raise your awareness of what your own book needs to become a book you would love to read yourself. When you recognize a technique or element you’re sick of seeing, that informs you that you, as a reader, would like your book more if you, as an author, made sure to avoid or even oppose that.

I’ve mentioned the importance of beginnings before, but this has more to do with identifying and appealing to your target audience. What, by your design, are the selling points of your book, and are they presented in such a way that people looking for that kind of content are able to identify your book as ‘for them’ from the get go? Beyond such broad labels as ‘genre’, at the core of your book there is a certain niche craving you want it to satisfy. What that craving is deserves the spotlight, even if its not for everyone.

Beware Strangers Bearing Books ‘Written By A Friend’

Well I feel like a right rube. What I thought what the pimping of an indie published author was just the pretense of a local Christian cult conning me into reading their rapture fanfic.

He told me it was an apocalypse story. Should have googled the author’s real name sooner. It was obviously about the Rapture from page 1, but I figured I’d give it the benefit of the doubt. It was when a lesbian decided that her lifelong defense of her sexuality was in the same boat of stubbornness as those prejudiced against her that I realized it was off. That and complaining about the ‘Jewish controlled world banks’ a page or two later. Like most proselytizing fiction it gave up on presenting any kind of persuasive rhetoric about a quarter of the way in and resorted to the ‘because I said so’ position.

Turns out the group formally disbanded six years ago too, so I don’t know where this guy got recruited from.

Either way, if you’re in Sydney and get approached by someone offering a book ‘written by a friend’ and asking for ‘just a few cents to cover printing costs’, be advised.

The Power of Lists for the Methodical Writer

An itinerary is a great thing. A lot of authors talk about how they just write as they go along with not much plan, how you just have to keep writing, but that advice isn’t very useful for people who need a plan, the methodical writer. That’s where an itinerary comes in.

Start off with a simple dot list outlining what you ideas are so far. The beginning, end, important scenes, main themes, characters, any recurring imagery, whatever you have.

Once  everything you do have is written up in front of you it’s easier to identify what you’re missing. Do you know what your character arcs will be? Do you need to come up with some red herrings? What research do you still need? How familiar are you with your genre and are there any ‘must reads’ you need to have read before diving into it? How about some writing exercises to get a better grip on your character’s voices or to flesh out your setting? Work out a to-do list and expand your notes as you go through it.

Remember that most of your notes neither need to nor are likely to become explicit in the text, but having a solid grasp of how everything works beneath a surface makes for much more vibrant characters and settings.

Once you’ve gone through most of your to-do list, whip up a summary for all your chapters. Three to seven sentences outlining what will happen in each chapter, as well as what the overall tone, theme, or mood each chapter should reflect. Be it paranoia, newfound trust, thrill of adventure, betrayal of expectations— something to keep in mind to avoid mood dissonance. If you’re not sure exactly what will happen in a chapter, just a vague result or action, that’s fine for now. Put down what you have so far like ‘the hero is framed and ends up imprisoned’ or ‘the sidekick’s trust in authority is shaken’. You can come back and flesh it out later.

If you haven’t already, this is probably the best point to begin working on your first draft— or resume work on your current draft as the case may be— and remember that you don’t have to write in order. If you have a stronger conceptualization of some scene than others, go ahead and write them first. If your story has flashbacks, is about uncovering a mystery of the past, jumps around the timeline, or is otherwise told in a different order, then consider writing everything in chronological order first then rearranging it during your editing.

When you do get to editing, further itinerary does help. List everything you want to avoid or remedy. Ways to condense sentences without losing meaning, places where you can add more meaning by using a synonym with more applicable connotations, reduction of passive voice, consistency in descriptions and symbolism, said-isms, clichés, double checking that a word means what you think it means, all kinds of stuff. If you’re not sure what you should be looking for, it’s pretty easy to look up the common pitfalls to be wary of. You can also show some of your work to a friend or a writing community and ask them to identify what they feel is your prominent weaknesses.

Often editing doesn’t come until even later. There’s no limit to how many drafts are flat practice runs to be thrown out and rewritten from scratch, but with both full overhauls and plain editing you need to be careful of not falling into a perfectionist cycle. You can always do better but sooner or later you need to put a lid on your project and declare ‘it’s done’ (and then make a few sneaky fixes over the following two weeks because you suddenly realized mistakes you’d somehow only just considered during your shower) but ultimately, editing can only go so far before you start to see diminishing returns on the work’s improvement.

And if you get stuck, make a list of why you’re stuck so you can isolate the problem and figure out how to fix it. In the end, remember that you’re setting your own course. If some part of your plan just isn’t working, or you wanna try something else, go right ahead and change it.

Beginings and Language

Good prose can salvage a bland beginning, and an interesting beginning can bolster dry prose, but if nothing interesting has been said or done by chapter 3 you’ll be hard pressed to read anything further.

If it starts interesting then has a dry patch there’s at least that promise of things to come, a precedence set by that rich opening that adds color to the dry spell. Or if the use of language is a delight to read in itself you can get away with writing about nearly anything, for a while at least. If there’s neither, though, that’s just an open invitation to find something better to read.

Above all else a good beginning should strive to demonstrate that the main character and premise can and will be entertaining.

House of Leaves: A Book You Can Really Get Lost In

Recently I had the pleasure of re-reading Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and it’s every bit a treat as when I first read it some years ago. It’s a masterstroke of decompressed storytelling, thought provoking analysis, and pervasive psychology.

To begin talking about House of Leaves, one must first set the table. There is a man called Will Navidson, he recently purchased a new house and has decided to film the process of settling in with his family at their new home, and when things take a turn for the weird, he keeps recording. His footage became the basis for a film called The Navidson Record, an extremely controversial and ground-breaking piece of cinema that led to a great many attempts at analysing it.

There is an old man named Zampanò, he was attempting to put together a deconstructive essay regarding the Navidson Record when he died in his apartment. Zampanò relied on quite a few specialists and stenographers to work on his magnum opus.

There is a man named Johnny Truant, who was living a listless life of menial work and late night parties when he discovered Zampanò’s work, splayed about the dead man’s apartment in unsorted pages, who decided to assemble these loose leaves into a proper book, while adding some commentary of his own.

The book jumps up and down these levels, you might see a scene from the Navidson Record, the opinion of professional critics regarding that scene, what Zampanò thinks about their critique and what he thinks they missed, and then Johnny trying to make sense of it while drifting off into tangents about his own life and excerpts from his own journal, and even an occasional editor comment on Johnny’s comments. Often it is less straightforward than that.

House of Leaves in an extremely in-depth look at the idea of labyrinths in human culture, relating it to an enormous breadth of conversation regarding addiction, direction, mythology, fear of the dark, fear of being discovered, fear of parenthood, fear of adulthood, fear itself and far too many topics to just list here.

The typographic techniques are also remarkable. To just say House of Leaves makes good use of color and page layout doesn’t do it justice. A page can be a maze, with blocks of ‘clutter’ text trying to lure you away from the path the prose goes down, or a page can be a peephole where you can just barely see six words in front of you, or a page can be a tunnel, showing paragraphs you’ve already passed and paragraphs to come. Footnotes can span for several pages and usurp the role of prose entirely, then vanish with the turn of a page.

It’s gripping, witty, insightful, and a profoundly unique experience I can’t recommend enough.