Achievement … unlocked!!!

Okay, some of you may have noticed the little word meter on the upper-right side of the screen:  if not, take a look at it now:

That’s “write” – I’ve filled it all the way up!  I set a goal of 250 words per day when I made my New Year’s resolution, and that came to 91,500 words (366 days x 250 = 91,500 … gotta love leap year).  250 words may not seem like a lot, and it’s not, but it’s a very achievable goal that keeps me moving forward, in large part because it’s so easy to reach.  Success encourages persistence, after all (you can read a more detailed explanation of my reasons here).

I am VERY excited about this, clearly.  It represents a very big milestone, a massive success, a real sense of sticking to my goals.

So the question is, ‘What now?’  Do I just keep adding my word count to the word meter, happily zooming above 100%?  Or do I set a new goal, and create a new word meter?

I may end up doing the last one (if so, I’ll set it at 250 words x the number of days remaining in the year), but I worry that it will suck some of the fun of my success away, by moving the goal lines just when I reach them.  The point of this is psychological reinforcement (morale) as much as actual word count, so I have to be careful to play this right.

So for now, I’m just going to enjoy my greater than 100% word count, with a smile on my face.

 

Later!

On Symbolism (Part 1 of 2)

I’ve been thinking a lot about symbolism lately, and the different forms it can take, specifically, how to do it well or poorly as a writer.  Of course, I’m writing this with myself in mind: your mileage may vary, I am not a lifecoach, etc… but this is what I like to read and how I like to write.

People sometimes like to read a complex symbolism into every possible detail of a story.  That’s fine, if they get more out of the story that way, but I don’t think writers should necessarily write with this in mind.  For example, Flannery O’Connor was once interviewed by a reporter who seemed fixated on the color of Misfit’s hat (in the short story A Good Man is Hard to Find).  He kept asking, rephrasing, and re-asking why the murderous man wore a black hat, until O’Connor famously replied, “To cover his head!”  Sometimes a black hat is just a black hat, to paraphrase Sigmund Freud.

That said, symbolism can be a good thing, since it can add complexity and emotional depth to a story, if it’s done well.  Basically, there are two ways to do symbolism: internal and external symbolism (I believe these are my terms, but I may be borrowing them without remembering where I heard them).

External symbolism involves the use of common symbols, colors, visuals, etc. that will hopefully convey meaning to the readers.  This would include such things as the color of a character’s hat or eyes, meaningful character names, etc.  Generally, this kind of symbolism is the only kind available to artists, poets, songwriters, and others who work in direct media.

External symbolism can be powerful, if it is used well.  Sometimes it works perfectly within the setting: Benedict wears a long, black coat to conceal the weapons he carries, a completely practical reason.  But anyone who’s ever heard Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” (which itself references John Milton’s Paradise Lost) or Bob Dylan’s “Man in the Long Black Coat” will recognize the similarity.  Everyone else will see the resemblance to the black cloak worn by the grim reaper, the black coats worn by gunslingers in old western movies, black as the color of mourning and grief, etc.  Long black (coat/cloak/dress/veil) represents death, but from Benedict’s perspective, he just needs a place to hide his guns and machete.

Naming children after saints was a common practice in the Middle Ages, and so we have Benedict, Augustine, and Juliana.  I almost backed away from this, because ‘meaningful’ names are just about the most hokey and overused piece of external symbolism out there.  The truth is, I couldn’t imagine any other names for them.  These were their names, and everything else seemed terribly false.  Still, I tried to stay away from anything symbolic in other characters’ names.

I believe that authors need to keep external symbolism on a short leash, because it has the tendency to get very hokey and pretentious very quickly.  However, as fiction writers, we have the power to use internal symbolism.

Internal symbolism involves things that are symbolic to the characters:  A pair of ravens follow, haunt, and help direct Benedict, so he nicknames them Memory and Thought, after the two ravens that attended Odin … and because memories of what he has lost haunt him, and thoughts of revenge drive him onward.  He buys a pair of high-powered pistols, and has them engraved with silver raven’s heads and wings, naming one Memory and the other Thought.

You could even call Benedict, Augustine, and Juliana’s names examples of internal symbolism: their parents named them after saints, hoping to encourage righteousness and (perhaps superstitiously) to ensure good fortune, borrowing a bit of the saints’ surplus grace and favor with God by attaching their names to their children.

At first this seemed to be going well: Benedict was a womanizer, but he was a strong man, a warrior, and possessed enough tactical and logistical sense to take over the knightly estate when his father passed.  Augustine was studying to go into the priesthood, since rules of primogeniture meant the elder son (Benedict) inherited the entire estate, and Augustine just got the family name.  Juliana wanted to join a convent, but had submitted to her father’s will that she marry another nobleman’s son, to help unite their fiefdoms and build their fortunes together.

Then it all fell apart.  Juliana was murdered, Augustine became a vampire lord, immortal and incredibly powerful for a millennium, and Benedict swore revenge, if it took a thousand years.  Now, Juliana is dead, Augustine is a creature of darkness, and Benedict is a vengeful, wandering killer.  That they carry the names of the saints is a bitter irony, especially to Benedict, who once believed in the church with superstitious fervor (clearly, that belief didn’t extend to sober living or chastity, but that is so often the case), and now finds himself as alienated from church and God as his brother.

Well, this has turned into an unusually long post.  I’ll leave it here, and perhaps return to it soon.  I haven’t touched on the symbolism in The Red Lands yet, and I haven’t given any advice on where the line is between too much and just right (in part because I’ve hardly “proven in” enough to be giving advice, and in part because that line is pretty subjective).  I’ll try to tackle that in my next post.

Reference:

I’ve heard about this from a number of places, but the source that really taught me the most is James Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Novel.  I ordinarily don’t recommend books on writing by people who aren’t currently making a living as fiction writers (Frey is making bank from writing books about writing now, and to the best of my knowledge hasn’t published any novels in over a decade), but this is a good book by a novelist who did quite well for himself for many years, written when that fiction success was still quite fresh.  In some ways, it’s a bit dated, and in others, I just outright disagree (Rewriting is not writing.  Period.  It’s editing, and not all writers are good editors.  Dean Wesley Smith is 100% right on this one).

Red Lands!!

I am SO excited about this.  Last year, I wrote the first “Red Lands” book, a novella called Toward Darkness, but, of course, I didn’t release it anywhere (I plan on putting it up on Kindle and Smashwords by the first week of May).  I also started writing the second book, but ran into insurmountable obstacles, based on inexperience on my part and general lack of clarity as to what I wanted the main story to be.

Toward Darkness (Red Lands Book 1) begins the story and introduces the characters through a fast-paced, horrific journey through a road between worlds, a hellish echo of a normal subdivision populated by some of the ugliest creatures from the myths of the English and Scottish borderlands.

City of the Dead (Red Lands Book 2) slows things down just a little, exploring the characters in more depth, employing a more lurking horror, more survival-oriented issues (including natural hazards such as feral dogs) in a city that has been completely emptied of human life.

Well, for the last few weeks, I’ve returned to Red Lands Book 2, and I finally got my head on straight about what I’d wanted to do all along.  I had to cut a lot of material out (most of which will be used in Book 3, rather than discarded – the problem was too much in one story, not bad material), and I had to write a lot of new material as well, to finish the story.  But it’s done, and it’s ready to pass on to my first reader.

I am so excited, I just had to share it here.

 

Modern-Day Fairy Tale

First, let me apologize for the inexcusable tardiness of this post.  I try to do one every Monday, and, well, it’s nearly 2 am on Saturday, and I’m just starting this.  Life has been a bit crazy, and I’ve been spending every possible moment I could steal for writing on a new story I’m writing.

Without giving too much away, it’s a second action-horror series called “The Red Lands,” and it combines Celtic and Arthurian legends, survival horror, and the kind of world-traveling dark fantasy found in Stephen King’s Dark Tower and Roger Zelazny’s Amber series.

It also draws heavily from that most ancient of horror-fantasy stories, the fairy tale.

Let me be quick to say I’m not talking about sanitized kid-friendly Disney-style fare (though I have a soft spot for Beauty and the Beast and the furry Robin Hood, and I never miss an episode of Once Upon a Time).  I’m talking about the old tales, the ones that delved, uncensored, into the known and unknown darkness, illuminating not only the evil that lived there, but the hope we have of defeating it.

As G.K. Chesterton famously said, “Fairy tales do not give a child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.”

I’m talking about Orpheus in Hades; Gilgamesh and Enkidu; Inanna’s descent into the underworld; Parcival’s grail quest; Dante Alighieri’s walking tour of hell; Alice’s passage through the looking glass; Dorothy’s struggles along the yellow brick road; Gulliver’s travels among the Liliputians and Brobdingnagians; Sam and Frodo’s journey into Mordor; Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter’s journey through the lantern waste and into the heart of Narnia, where is was always winter and never Christmas; and Harry’s many trips to Platform 9 3/4.

In the archetypical fairy tale, a relatively normal person is drawn into a very different world, where everything he (or she) is, believes, and holds dear will be sorely tested.  Victory may come, but it will not be without price, will not be without sacrifice.  A boy may enter the other world, but a man will return.

The Red Lands is a fairy tale, a survival-horror retelling of the legend of Sir Gareth and the Knights of the Red Lands.  It’s the story of Garrett Maines, who steps into the dark world of his own free will, to save the life of the woman who broke his heart.  It’s the story of eight other innocent men and women who were swept along.  It’s the story of a curse, a Red Plague, that plunged one world into living death and is now threatening to spread into ours.

It’s a story of valor, of sacrifice, of coming to terms with what must be done, and still finding a way to show grace, to love mercy, to keep one’s soul together…to face down those who worship death without bowing at the reaper’s altar.

And I am incredibly excited about it.  If you have half as much fun reading it as I’ve had writing it, you’ll be a very happy customer.  Oh, don’t worry – I haven’t abandoned Benedict.  In fact, Blood Oath Book Two: Blood Guilt is waiting on my trusted first reader as I type this.  But I’m bouncing off the walls about The Red Lands.  Not only do I have another series in me, but it’s one I really like.

And Garrett is so different from Benedict, it’s amazing.  Getting to write such radically different lead characters, loving them both in all their flawed, ultimately well-intentioned selves, is a blast.

It’s good to be me, sometimes.

Meet the Cast: Ramsey Duvall

Sometimes opposites attract.  Maybe that’s why Ramsey and Benedict became such fast friends.  Ramsey is everything Benedict is not: fun-loving, dashing, charming, a little vain, and utterly un-tortured.  A former musketeer, Ramsey served King Louis XIV in life, and has continued his swashbuckling ways since … to the point that someone (perhaps Ramsey himself, perhaps a mortal) wrote a series of dime novels inspired by his life and exploits as “The Immortal Swordsman.”

While Benedict is driven by an oath of vengeance and protects the innocent almost incidentally, Ramsey lives by a sense of chivalry more at home in an Errol Flynn movie than a European battlefield (no matter what year).  He enjoys everything about his immortality, from the consensual blood-taking intimacies that sustain him to the strength that allows him to defend the weak, challenge the cruel, and come away laughing.

Ramsey wears his hair long, dresses finely but flamboyantly, and covers the scent of death that clings to all vampires with Farina’s 1709, Napoleon Bonaparte’s favorite cologne.  He’s quick with a laugh, almost annoyingly charming, lethal in a swordfight, and he smells like violets and oranges.

But Ramsey Duvall is not completely devoid of sadness.  Like all his kind, he passed through the ceremony of innocence; no one becomes a vampire without shedding innocent blood, without becoming a murderer.  True, that was nearly three hundred years ago, and he has mostly forgiven himself, but that shadow will never completely pass.  Likewise, he may never completely get used to the modern world, changing so rapidly, leaving the flintlock-and-aristocracy world of his mortal life in the dust, racing toward a mechanized and post-industrial future.  To Benedict, technology simply means more weapons in his thousand-year war; his oath is the one true constant, and everything else is just a means to that end.  But Ramsey actually lives in this world, and seeing it change so quickly can be dizzying.

Still, Ramsey presses on, holding his head high, keeping his sword-cane within reach, and smelling like violets and oranges.  I think that’s why I love writing him so much.  He’s going to be a part of Benedict’s story to the very end.