About four months ago, I wrote a post requiring a lot of humility and courage, because if my kids ever read it, they will know I chewed tobacco for years and years. Perhaps I was being a good parent by not allowing them to see the huge mistake I made and kept making. Either way, I never looked forward to seeing the disappointment or even anger in their eyes.
I have not touched any form of nicotine or soda, diet or otherwise, this year. If I ever claim this is a result of my iron determination and strength of character, please remind me that it is in fact a miracle and a blessing. I attempted to quit so many times before. I tried everything I could. Apparently, January 1, 2015 was just my day to really make a change for the better.
Each day was hard for a while, then it got a bit easier except for trigger events, like having to work a shooting call or an abduction. The thing about any addiction is the total irrationality of the problem:feeling bad? Make it better with chew. Win the lottery? Celebrate with chew. Too tired to make the drive home? Pop that can open and get some nicotine power in your veins. Chewing tobacco is your friend. It's not that disgusting.
So I am doing well, only struggling a few times a week, more or less.
This weekend I will attend the OWFI writers conference in Oklahoma City. Guess what I did a lot when I was there on two previous occasions. That's right, chew on the drive, chew all the time that I don't have to worry about my family seeing me do it. Chew because I am happy to be a writer. Chew because I am stressed about pitching a novel.
Please wish me luck. I don't want to fall off the wagon. If you have beaten your personal addiction, congratulations and God bless you. If you are struggling, understand that it can be done.
Like any good author in his mid-forties, I have read The Talisman. Being me, I've also listened to it. Two things drive me to write about this book, one of King's best in my opinion. The first is that I am listening to the audio book again. Frank Muller is the narrator; his incredible performance may be responsible for my ever-increasing love of the audiobook medium, but I digress.
At the same time, I have been reading an ARC of Book Architecture by Stuart Horwitz. He also wrote Blueprint Your Bestseller, so I knew I was going to learn a lot of good technique in his most recent work.
So here it is, the laydown, the straight dirt. The Talisman contains so many powerful Series that listening to it while studying Book Architecture seems like proof of divine intervention, or at least some kind of fate. (If I can pull from one of my recent blog articles--The Pale Horseman--"Destiney is everything.") There is a reason King rose to the top of popular fiction. He can make multiple timelines and back story dance, two things that few writers do well. The secret, whether Mr. King and Mr. Straub know it or not, is in their mastery of Series.
According to Horwitz, a Series is something that repeats and varies in a way that develops the theme or a character arc. It something like a "through-line" but for some reason I am able to get my head around the concept of Series easier (at least the way he explains it). When a writer does a good job of foreshadowing, he is using Series.
I am not really doing Book Architecture justice at this point, but will try to review this very interesting writing tool. The examples that Mr. Horwitz uses really show how an emotionally powerful story uses Series, whether intentionally or not.
I can't help but think my writing life would have been a lot easier had I known the concept years ago. (Now I know it, but must fully understand and master it--can anyone say practice, practice, practice?)
My favorite Series in The Talisman is what I call the Travlin Jack Series. If you have read the novel, then you must be familiar with this often repeated phrase. Speedy Parker, Jack's mentor, says it all the time. There are many Itertations of this Series (repetitions and foreshadows). The Travlin Jack Series is an easy example, because it obviously means more than hello.
Jack is going to travel between worlds and across the United States during his adventure. The catchy phrase runs like a lifeline through all of Jack and Speedy's scenes.
"Why I got me some company. Good ole Travilin Jack. Little Travlin man he is. Speedy done some travlin his-self, he has..." (This is an approximate quote from memory; no offense to Mr. King or Mr. Straub if I got it wrong. I figure there is no harm done, since I am praising their story craft from here to there. And, I’d like to do some travlin myself, I sure would, see the Territories that’s true.)
Another Series is the My Mother is Dying Series. This has an obvious cause and effect on the plot. There are several other Series that I have began to hear clearly as I listen. Currently I am on chapter four and The Talisman Series has just been identified.
This series will end, you guessed it, when Jack finds the Talisman, learns what it is for, and uses it. A lot of really bad Stephen King stuff will happen to Traviln Jack along the way.
Stephen King is a self-admitted, non-planner. His book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is still one of my favorites, even though writing by the seat of my pants had gotten me in a mess of trouble from time to time.
Perhaps Book Architecture will allow me to write freely again and still make sense of the imaginary places and the people I find when I hop-scotch across my own version of the Territories.
Please leave a comment on what you think of The Talisman. What is your favorite character, scene, phrase, item or place? If you have questions about Book Architecture I would be happy to share my experience (though I do recommend reading the book yourself as well). Or, if neither The Talisman nor Book Architecture interests you (gasp!) please say hello. I'd love to hear from you.
Last but not least, I just learned that in 2014, King and Straub announced that they are working on a third book in the Talisman trilogy. This, dear readers, is good news!
This is my third blog post regarding The Pale Horseman (book two in the Saxon series by Bernard Cornwell). I began with observations on character and the complex protagonist that is Uhtred of Bebbanburg. In summary, I found that while I liked Uhtred from the first book, I was developing a strong desire to punch him in the face, or worse yet, quit reading. I persevered, which is a good thing, as I will discuss later.
The second article on The Pale Horseman discusses the voice acting skills of Jonathan Keeble. Summary: he’s awesome. Very powerful and expressive.
Now we have arrived at the payoff. Why describe the story arch and character development as a payoff? That makes it sound shady, doesn’t it?
Bernard Cornwell developed all of the characters in this book honestly, except for some of the cookie cutter priests--minor characters without much spine or depth. But I digress.
Uhtred, Son of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, is a twenty-year-old saxon raised from the age of ten by Danes (called Vikings when they are raiding from the sea). He’s seen his father die and fought in the shield wall. Over the years, his survival has depended on his own strength and cunning. He is proud, violent, and a pagan like the Danes who raised him. The tender years of his youth were spent looting churches and killing priests.
Why wouldn’t he be a total barbarian? (I’ve always liked barbarians in stories, but Bernard Cornwell has a talent for showing how brutal life was in the 9th century, regardless of who you were or what God / gods you worshipped.)
By the end of The Pale Horseman Uhtred earned much more of my compassion and made me want to see more of his journey. I cared about the people he cared about, admired his strength and courage, and began to hope he will reclaim his ancestral home of Bebbanburg.
Readers who enjoy George R. R. Martin (The Game of Thrones) or Ken Follet (The Pillars of Earth) won’t go wrong picking up a copy of The Pale Horseman.
Some weeks are harder than others--full of bad news and unexpected expenses; you know, dropping your smart phone in a puddle during a rainstorm, learning that the vehicle you just paid off has a cracked radiator, power steering leak, and main oil leak. You work long hours and get nowhere.
But as we all know, life is full of ups and downs. The older I get, the easier it is to recognize that better times are just around the corner.
I have been struggling with several major writing projects and revisions. Thus, I was totally jazzed when an advanced reading copy of Book Architecture: How to Plot and Outline without Using a Formula, by Stuart Horwitz, arrived in my in box.
You’ve got mail!
Yes. Yes I do.
As you might remember from Blueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise Any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method, also by Stuart Horwitz, there are three foundational concepts used in book architecture: scene, series, and theme. I remember reading Blueprint and then watching World War Z. The plot points were perfect and I suddenly had a better understanding of why I loved the movie so much.
I knew about scenes, and thought I knew about theme. Horwitz explained both in a way that opened my eyes to new things. And I got to learn about the series concept, which was the first new thing in books about writing that I have seen for a while.
I haven’t decided if Blueprint made writing easier, but I know it helped me grow and improve. I’ve never shied away from working hard, as long as I’m working smart. Blueprint definitely gave me a lot more bang for my buck, as in, the time I invest in every novel.
I can barely wait to read Book Architecture and apply it to my current project(s).
In the previous post, I discussed the characterization of Uhtred, Son of Uhtred, of Bebbanburg and his tendency to act rashly. Today, I want to switch it up a bit and discuss a topic near and dear to my heart--the audiobook version of The Pale Horseman as narrated by Jonathan Keeble.
I listened to the sample of Jamie Glover reading this book, and thought it sounded good--a style and cadence of speech that I could listen to for a long time. Ultimately, this is the litmus test for audiobook readers.
The version I am listening to, however, is read by Jonathan Keeble, who burst into my favorites list like an axe wielding Viking of the vocal world. He doesn’t just read, he acts. It really sound like he is putting body-English and facial expression into the microphone.
This blog article is particularly meaningful today, to me at least, because I am listening to the final version of one of my own books, Son of Orlan. Most writers dream of seeing their books in print. That definitely gets me jazzed up like a monkey full of Starbucks go-juice, but hearing a talented professional narrate my stories--well, it’s like going to Disney Land after winning the world series.
Many, many times I have blogged about my love of the audiobook medium.
Why so serious?
In the past, I’ve talked about convenience and how great it is to listen to a book on a long drive. Yes, yes, that is true. But there is a lot more to my obsession. I think the spoken word is good for writers; storytelling began as an oral tradition of great importance to the tribe. When done correctly, the rhythm, range, and tension of the narrator brings good (and sometimes bad) things to life.
All of this, I have said before. This morning, it occurs to me that there is a much simpler explanation. When I hear an audiobook, I slide effortlessly into the story world. It relaxes and excites me, encourages visualization, and takes me away like a genre-hopping time machine.
Audiobooks are great. I hope you will try one out, and if you do, look for my top seven list of great narrators (which is kinda-sorta in order by the voice actor, not the actual stories):
The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell (as narrated by Jonathan Keeble) (The Last Kingdom is book one in this series),
The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen (as narrated by Henry Strozier),
Cop Town by Karin Slaughter (as narrated by Kathleen Early),
The Pillars of Earth Ken Follet (as narrated by John Lee),
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (as narrated by Roy Dotrice),
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian (as narrated by Simon Vance),
Wool by Hugh Howey (as narrated by Amanda Sayle)
If you listen to the above series, I am confident that you will share my deep appreciation for the spoken word! (I have no financial affiliation with any of the above works, just a deep affinity for awesomeness and the need to share what I like with you, dear reader. If they wanted to send me a check, I wouldn't say no, but I ain't holding my breath:)
I also have three audiobooks available thanks to the talented new voice actor and musician, Reece Allan Morse: Dragon Badge, Dragon Attack, and also Enemy of Man. Son of Orlan will be available soon.
The more traditional versions of my science fiction and urban fantasy books are available here. The Kindle editions are available through Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime as well.
Thanks for stopping by,
The Pale Horseman (book two in the Saxon series by Bernard Cornwell) continues the bloody life chronicles of Uhtred of Bebbanburg. Why does this matter? Is this just another book review?
Let me address the second question first. This is the start of a book review; I will be sharing my thoughts as I venture through Cornwell's books. He is one of my favorite writers of historical fiction. Today, while listening to the audiobook on my way to a second job, several things struck me about The Pale Horseman.
This matters because Uhtred is a complex protagonist. He has many traits that are common to heroes in other books: strength, bravery, a vicious brand of loyalty, and a sense of justice that should make him easy to appreciate. Yet he is not always likeable. In fact, I would say I dislike him more often than not--and yet I continue to listen to the story.
The Pale Horsemen starts with Uhtred foolishly drawing his sword on his rival, Ealdorman Odda the Younger, during a religious ceremony, thus offending King Alfred and violating the king's laws. Uhtred is not dumb. He should know better, but his "monstrous pride," as Cornwell describes it, constantly gets Uhtred in trouble. By the end of chapter one, he has committed an unjustifiable murder (both by modern standards and the laws of the time) and put himself and his household in danger of retribution. Why did he commit such a crime? Because he was pissed of and full of, you guessed it, pride.
This is good for moving the plot and keeping "tension on every page," as Donald Maass, author of Writing the Breakout Novel, advocates. It is not good for my feelings about the protagonist. I'd like for someone to take Uhtred in hand and teach him some humanity. Yes, he is essentially a Viking and their moral code at the time of the story is different than mine. Yes, he is true to his character and possesses many positive traits.
I still struggle with the heartless brutality of Uhtred. It is kind of a love-hate relationship with this character that drives me to read on. So in the grand scheme of things, Bernard Cornwell has again proved himself a master writer.
Please check back for future articles on The Pale Horseman as I strive to improve my writing, and possibly share some useful information on anyone thinking of reading the Saxon series.
My science fiction and urban fantasy novels are current available here.
This one goes out to my fellow writers. Do you have a magic trick to increase productivity? How about a daily goal?
The most common goal, promulgated by Stephen King and his book, On Writing, is to craft a certain number of words each day. The master of horror reports to write 3,000 words every, single, day. Do the math; that's a lot of words at the end of the year. Over the course of a career as long as Mr. King's bestselling super-stardom, the total creative output staggers the imagination.
And I say it's totally doable.
Another method of prompting productivity is to track time. I was at the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Incorporated (OWFI) 2013 where a bestselling romance author mad this claim: "Show me a writer to writes twenty hours a week, and I'll show you a New York Times bestselling author." She went on to clarify this meant actual writing time, measured to exactitude, and not fiddling around with quasi-writing activities. "Time yourself, and turn the timer off when you get up to go to the bathroom..." (When I get home, I will dig out the workshop handout and credit the author who said this.)
For the last several years I have strictly logged word count and writing time. At the zenith of my efforts, I was putting in twenty-eight hours a week. Daily word count averages went up and down, depending on the level of editing I was doing. (I had negative word counts during many editing sessions, which I countered by writing a little something new on the side when I could.)
About six months ago, the numbers started to slide--twenty eight hours a week to ten hours a week, sometimes less. At first I blamed this on a change of work schedule, yet I had also resigned from two parts of my job that subjected me to call-outs anytime day or night. It had been my goal for nearly a decade to normalize my schedule, get into a steady routine, and really start to follow my dream. So now I have the same days off every week, at the same time each day, with one of my days actually landing on a real weekend (Saturday).
Where has my time gone? Why is it so much harder to get a couple, or perchance a few, hours of solid time at the keyboard each day? There must be thousands of writers with the same challenge. I'd love to hear from you if you are one of them.
In the mean time, I am sitting down with pen and paper to simplify my goals in life. Stephen Covey would be so proud. I have been very goal oriented since grade school, so it amazes me that I haven't gotten this right. Perhaps I have too many interests (duh).
Today I will consider things I really need:
1) I need to spend time with my family,
2) I need to pay the bills,
3) I need to write,
4) I need to read,
5) I need to exercise,
6) I need to study martial arts (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu).
This is as short as I can make the list today. Unfortunately, number 2 takes a disproportionate amount of my time. Welcome to the American Dream, right?
Please leave your comments bellow. I'd love to hear from you. If you have time and are looking for something good to read, click on the Scott's Amazon Author Page button above.
Thanks. Have a great day.
Life is an adventure. I read to expand my horizons and write because I must.
- The Craft of Writing: 7 Magnificent Books
- Use of Force Myths
- A Really Useful Tool
- Project Rotation