ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
Dinosaurs and MammalsYeah, it's an overused metaphor, but it's still a good one. The publishing industry is in the middle of an immense change just now, and the similarities to the last years of the Cretaceous era are hard to miss. I had a reminder of that -- more precisely, two very neatly juxtaposed reminders -- this afternoon. 

Reminder #1 came from Tor Books, a sub-subset of the vast Macmillan publishing combine and one of the very few big-name science fiction and fantasy presses that will bother to look at a writer's work if said writer doesn't have an agent. (I don't; I've worked with agents twice, and in both cases it was a complete waste of my time.) Just over a year ago, I submitted my novel The Shoggoth Concerto to them. I never heard back. After a while, I went digging through their website and found the place where they cheerfully admit that they lose manuscripts all the time, and that you should mail the thing in again if you don't hear back after so many months. So I did up the cover letter and outline and sample chapters and self-addressed stamped envelope, and sent it in again.

That was last fall. Today, as I'd more than half expected, the self-addressed stamped envelope came back with the rejection slip headed "Dear Author." Someone took the trouble to scrawl Re: Shoggoth Concerto across the top, which I thought was a pleasant courtesy; it's certainly closer to a personal response than you can expect to get from the average huge corporate press. 

Again, I'd more than half expected that. The Shoggoth Concerto is an odd novel, a good 90 degrees off the lines of standard modern fantasy fiction; it's set in the fictive universe of The Weird of Hali but isn't part of that series' story arc; it's a story about love, death, classical music, and shoggoths, without even a nod of acknowledgment to whatever the latest fashions in the fantasy mainstream might happen to be. I'm quite prepared to believe that, as the rejection slip indicated, it didn't meet Tor's needs at that time; I'm quite prepared to believe that they didn't think it was any good  What's more, I've received scores of nearly identical rejection slips in the past -- I got my first one in 1979. If you're an author, you get those, and if you're a big corporate publisher, you send them out by the bushel basket every single day. 

Mythic 9Reminder #2, though, came from Founders House Publishing, the firm that's bringing out The Weird of Hali series. Founders House isn't a huge corporate press; it's a small firm, a little family-run business taking advantage of print-on-demand technology to carve out a niche market under the feet of the huge corporate presses. Yes, that's when I thought of the metaphor of dinosaurs and mammals. 

The message from Founders House's publisher and general jack of all trades, Shaun Kilgore, was twofold. The first was a friendly note to let me know that the latest issue of MYTHIC Magazine, his fantasy and science fiction quarterly, has just been released; that note was partly because I've been a fan and supporter of MYTHIC since Shaun first mentioned he wanted to publish an equivalent of the pulp magazines where fantasy and science fiction first stretched their wings and rocket nozzles respectively, and partly because one of my Owen and Jenny Lovecraftian-mystery stories, "The Mummy of R'lyeh," appears in it. (It looks like a really good issue, btw -- you can get e-book copies here, and print copies will be forthcoming shortly.)

The second half of the message was a note about some of the steps Shaun's making to grow MYTHIC into the kind of community of readers and authors that Weird Tales was back in the day. He's offering deals for subscribers, of course, but he's also got a Patreon page set up here, with various tiers of support -- one of which gets you personal feedback on short stories, by the way.

The contrast between the two reminders was, shall we say, striking. What's more, it reminded me of a detail of history, which is that science fiction and fantasy had their golden ages when they were mostly being published by little firms who could afford the time to deal directly with their authors as people. The first golden age of science fiction and fantasy was the era of the pulps, when the big pulp chains filled roughly the same role that the big print-on-demand presses fill now, and little editorial offices with half a dozen people in them put together the monthly issues of the magazines that reshaped the modern imagination. The second golden age of science fiction and fantasy followed the paperback revolution of the late 1950s, when scores of small presses flooded the market with cheap first editions of the books that now count as the hoary classics of both fields. In both cases, countless writers flocked to the new venues because the established firms of the day weren't interested. (Ironically, Macmillan, the parent company of Tor, was one of those established firms in both those previous eras. I guess third time isn't the charm...)

C.L. Moore and Clark Ashton Smith (among others) made a beeline for the pulps, and Roger Zelazny and Ursula Le Guin (among others) made a comparable beeline for the paperback presses, instead of trying to write for the big established publishers of their day. It's ironic that those few of the old paperback firms that survive are now wholly owned subsidiaries of big established publishers, but it's a kind of irony with which history is well supplied. Still, this last turn of events has finished the process of helping me make a decision I've been pondering for some time now. Since that first submission to Doubleday back in 1979, I'd always had the idea that eventually I'd get my fiction placed with one of the big presses. As a writer, though, it simply isn't worth my time to try that at this point. The contracts offered by the big presses are increasingly predatory, the level of support for backlist titles embarrassingly low, and based on what I'm hearing from other writers, the level of personal attention to the needs of authors you can expect from the big boys, even if they publish your work, is right around the level of personal attention you can expect for your manuscripts. ("Dear author..."). 

So I'll be placing The Shoggoth Concerto with a smaller press. You can find me scampering off underfoot with the mammals, as the dinosaurs lumber off to their place in the fossil record. 
ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
midwife woodcut Once you've got one scene, why, you've taken the first step toward your novel. What do you do next? Another scene, of course! Write one scene a week, with 1500 or so words in each scene, and in a year you have a finished first draft. Yes, it really is that easy. 

Here's my second scene. It follows directly on the first, which you can find here. Just as your first scene doesn't have to be the beginning of your story, your second scene doesn't have to come directly after it; you can scatter scenes at random through your story, and then fill in the gaps between -- I do that as often as not. This story seems to be coming together in a more or less linear fashion, though, at least for the moment. 


The two of them had just finished washing up after a breakfast of barley gruel when the knock came at the door. Embery stopped in the middle of a word, made herself go to the door and open it. The face that turned up toward hers belonged to a boy not much older than Tay, tow-haired and pale-eyed, in plain homespun trousers and shirt not too different from the ones Tay had on.  From his look, he must have run all the way up from the village.

“Mistress Embery,” he said, panting. “My ma—her water’s broke, she says the baby’s coming.”

Eman, she recalled, Sullamy’s oldest; he’d been four when she’d settled in the little shack above the village, and she’d brought him through a bad case of quinsy the following year.  “Then I’ll come at once, of course,” she reassured him. “Let me get the things I need.”

A few moments sufficed to gather herbs and cloths, stuff them in a satchel of coarse cloth, and tie a sturdy white apron over the front of blouse and skirt alike. “Tay—”

“I can go down to school now,” he said.

“Please,” she said, smiling.

Out the door the two of them went, into the gray morning, and followed Eman down the track that led past thickets of heather and gorse, past gray masses of stone where the bleak skeleton of the land showed through what soil there was.  High clouds streamed overhead like locks of long white hair on the wind, reminding Embery of a story she knew better than to tell anyone but Tay. Around one shoulder of stone, the broad dark roofs of the monastery spread alongside the stream; around another, and the village lay below, the thatched roofs of the cottages huddled on either side of a single unpaved street, the gray stone walls dividing the fields spreading out to either side like fishes’ bones. Eman hurried ahead, his shoulders drawn up with worry, but Tay stayed close to her, took three steps for every two of hers.

Familiar noises rose around them as they reached the village: voices mingling in conversation, bleating of goats as they waited their turns for the morning milking, and off at the end of the street furthest from the dark walls of the monastery, where the smithy was, the hard steady beat of hammer on hot iron. As soon as they reached the foot of the street, Tay turned to her; she bent to accept his kiss, gave him one in return, and went after Eman as Tay made off toward the monastery gate. 

The door to the cottage Sullamy shared with her husband and five children gaped wide, and the wooden shutters on the windows had been flung open as well: grandmother’s wisdom, that, to make the doors of birth open just as wide. Inside a gaggle of women milled about.  Three of the women started talking to Embery at once, but she wove her way past them and got to Sullamy herself, bare from the waist down and perched on an old oaken birthing stool, her yellow hair dissheveled and her breathing ragged from the pains.

It took only a few questions to be sure the baby was close, but someone had already had the good sense to get water boiled, and so Embery got one set of herbs steeping for a potion for Sullamy to drink—this one to calm her nerves, that one to give strength to the womb, this other to keep fever from getting its claws into her—and another to wash mother and baby with once the birth was over. It was familiar work for Embery: sorting out tasks so the young women who didn’t know what to do had something to keep them out from underfoot, encouraging Sullamy when the pains started coming quick, then kneeling between her thighs and pushing sleeves up while two sturdy old women braced her from either side and the others began chanting one of the old birthing-songs, slow and solemn, so mother and baby would have luck in the world.

Sullamy cried out then, her voice rising above the song, and a moment later so did the baby. “A fine boy,” Embery said, lifting him for everyone to see. “And his da’s gray eyes, too.” She gave him to two other women to wash in the warm herb water, got a bucket in place for the afterbirth while they toweled him dry and set him at Sullamy’s breast.

Soon enough Sullamy was washed and dried, too, and tucked into bed with the baby in her arms. The women bustled about, closing windows and door to keep the baby now that he’d arrived, and talking about how puny and weak he was; that hadn’t the least truth to it, he was big and pink and nursed greedily, but it was more grandmothers’ wisdom to say that, so the spirits that haunted the wind wouldn’t be tempted to take him away with them. Embery rinsed arms and hands in more herb water, dried them on a cloth, took off the apron and folded it up for washing, and made another cup of potion for Sullamy.

The herbs still hadn’t finished steeping when someone pounded on the door, and a man’s voice followed it. Embery couldn’t make out the words, but she recognized the voice and the irritable tone at once. She winced, but there wasn’t anything to be done about it. She turned her back to the door, finished the potion and took it to Sullamy as the door opened.

“I’m told there’s a child to be delivered,” the newcomer said.

“Why, then, someone told you amiss, Master Merimer,” said old Damma, who was Sullamy’s oldest aunt.  Embery, who was coaxing Sullamy to sip the potion just then, allowed a smile; the sharp edges of Damma’s wit and tongue were known and feared in more villages than one. “The baby didn’t need any delivering.  He came all by himself, and we but had to catch him.”

That got a laugh from the other women, but Merimer said sourly, “Very witty! But birth is a serious matter, you know.”

“Oh, we know that, Master Merimer,” said Damma. “Better than any man.”

“Best I see how the child does,” Merimer insisted.

“And ask how many silver pennies for it? No, no, best keep your skill for those who can afford your hire.”

That earned Damma a moment of hard-edged silence, and then a nervous laugh from one of the younger women. Embery, her back still turned to the door and the man who stood there, needed no second sight to picture the scene behind her: the doctor standing in the door in his black coat, pale young face framed with pale hair, and no more expression on him than a block of wood might show while he brooded over what to say; Damma, red-faced and stout, hands on her hips and chin thrust forward; the other women nearby, gathered around as though they watched a dicing-game or a cockfight.

“Why, then I won’t trouble you more,” said Merimer, in a tone that put a scraping of pleasantry over cold fury. “If mother or child needs my help, do send for me.” The door whispered shut.

“The nerve of the man,” one of the women said, and another: “Silver pennies!  I trust you won’t be taking up any such fashions as that, Mistress Embery.”

She turned, managed a laugh. “Good earth, no. I’ll settle things the old honest way while the spirits leave me breath.”

All things considered, she thought, that was the better choice for more reasons than one, as one after another of Sullamy’s kinswomen came up to her and named their birthing-gift:  from one, two sacks of meal from the monastery mill; from another, a loom-length of good woolen cloth; from a third, wood for the stove, and more, enough to keep Embery and Tay fed and clothed and comfortable for a good while even if no babies came and no one took sick. Sullamy’s kin were as close to comfortable as anyone in the little village, and only one of the women there, thin brown-haired Issa in her patched dress, had to say, “Why, I’ll have to see what my Perren brings home,” which was the polite way to say she didn’t have anything to give—true enough, too, for her Perren drank away most of what he earned from the work he did, which wasn’t much anyway.

“Don’t you worry about that,” Embery told her, and saw the flicker of shame and relief in the woman’s eyes as she made a little bobbing curtsey.

Soon enough it was time to go. Embery filled her satchel with the herbs she hadn’t used and the cloths and apron she had, made sure that Sullamy was comfortable and the baby fine and healthy, chatted a little more with the women, said her farewells and made for the door. Damma bustled over to her before she could get there and gave her a plump chicken, already plucked and cleaned: a fine parting-gift, and more than so easy a birth really deserved, but Embery took it with thanks.

As she got to the door, Issa came after her, followed her outside. “Mistress Embery,” she said, “I know well this isn’t the first time I’ve had nothing for you, and you so good to little Beshy when she had the fever last winter, too. If ever you need something from me, or if ever I can find some good thing to do for you, why, you’ll have it.” Embery thanked her, too, and went back out onto the street that ran through the middle of the village.

The morning hadn’t changed much since she’d hurried down through the gray dawn. The smith at the street’s far end was pounding another piece of hot iron into shape; goats bleated one to another, and villagers did something not too different. As Embery turned toward the path back up the hill, though, she saw Merimer the doctor, standing out in front of the monastery gate, and he saw her at the same moment. The wintry look he sent her way told her, not that she needed any reminder, that he knew perfectly well who Sullamy’s kinswoman had sent for that morning, and why; told her, also, how much he resented it. She put a bland pleasant expression on her face, left the village as quickly as she could without seeming to hurry.

ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
hand writingOkay, now it's time for the first scene. You don't have to have answered the questions you came up with to write the first scene; you write the scene to come up with the answers. Just start writing, without trying to edit as you go, and see what comes out. 

The first scene doesn't have to be the beginning of your novel. It may not even end up in your novel at all, and if it does, it may be edited out of all recognition by the time the manuscript reaches its final form. The point of it is to start the process of turning all those daydreams and ideas and questions and possibilities into the thing that matters: written prose

I usually write in scenes of between 1000 and 3000 words. Your mileage may vary, but try to make it enough to tell the reader a little bit about your characters and a little about their world, and to leave the reader wondering what's going to happen next. 

Here's my first scene. It's a good deal smoother than I expected it to be, but then I suppose writing professionally for twenty-two years has had some impact on my writing style. 


The door latch clattered. Embery looked up abruptly from the heap of vervain on the table, then relaxed as the door swung open and the boy came in. Late, she thought; the great iron bell of the monastery in the valley below had sounded the call to evening prayers not long since. He was muddy again, too, red clay streaking his trousers and shirt, tousled black hair badly in need of a comb’s efforts.  At least he’d had the good sense to wash his hands and feet in the creek.

“Tay,” she said, reproving. “You should have been home long ago—and just look at you. I’m minded to have you scrub your own clothes for once.”

The boy hung his head. “I’m sorry, Mother.” Glancing up: “I’ll do the wash if you ask.”

She tried to keep her frown in place, failed. “You can help me with it. Now get yourself into something a little cleaner, comb your hair, and tell me how school went.”

He gave her a hug and a kiss and trotted over to the far side of the little shack, where a wooden chest next to the smaller of the two beds held his clothes. While he dressed, Embery got up from the table, went to the battered iron stove, got a kettle heating and then checked the soup on the front burner and the iron pot of healing salve simmering quietly in back.

By the time she’d finished, Tay had donned a clean shirt and trousers that didn’t have too many patches, forced his hair into some approximation of order, wriggled into his chair, and propped his chin in his hands and his elbows on the table. She settled into her own chair and said, “Now tell me about school. Was the brother instructor pleased with you?”

Tay beamed and started chattering about his time at the monastery school, the lessons he’d recited with the other students, the little events of the day. As she listened and made herself smile, Embery picked up another branch of vervain, picked off the whole clean leaves to go into a wooden bowl, set aside damaged leaves, stems, and the like in a pile for the stove. The familiar task helped chase away her worries for the moment; helped distract her, too, from her own bitter memories of the monastery school.  It worried her when Tay headed up into the hills the moment his lessons were over and stayed there until close to sundown, but she couldn’t find it in her heart to blame him for it.

By the time he was finished the kettle had begun to whistle its shrill note, and she got up and made a pot of tea—not real tea from far Oriam, that cost more than she could afford, but good plain betony leaves from her own garden tasted almost as good and were better for a growing boy. Once she poured it and the air in the little shack filled with its scent, she told Tay to recite his lessons, and he stood, put his hands behind his back, closed his eyes, and repeated the table of sums and the names of the kings and queens who’d sat on the high throne of Raithwold from King Brandel on, with scarcely a pause. He drew in a breath, then, and stumbled his way though a noticeably less exact repetition of the Fourth Litany of Penitence.

She praised him anyway, told him to work harder on the Litany the next day, and sipped her tea. The boy pondered that, dark eyes watching her over the rim of his teacup. “Is any of that true?” he asked finally. “What the Litany says.”

“Don’t you worry about that,” she told him firmly. “You need to learn it so the brother instructor will let you pass to other lessons.”  His slight smile told her he’d heard the words she didn’t dare say aloud.

Later, after they’d finished their tea, the last daylight faded out and she lit the one little oil lamp that was all the light her purse could afford.  By that flickering glow she dished up two bowls of soup and cut slices of coarse brown bread for their supper; by that light they ate, and then washed up the dishes together in a tub of water heated by the last dying coals in the stove.  Once they’d both visited the outhouse out back, she barred the door and the windows, put out the lamp, and found her way by feel and long familiarity to her bed, while quiet sounds told her of Tay undressing and settling into his.

“Will you tell me one of the old stories?’ he asked then.

“First you must say the words,” she said, smiling; the exchange was freighted with years of memories.

“I bind myself,” Tay said then, “never to tell the old stories, nor speak of them even, without asking leave first of the one who told them to me, that the secret be not betrayed and the memory of the land we do not name be forever lost.”

“Do you mean that, Tay?”

“With all my heart.” It was true, too.  Embery could hear that in his voice, and remembered the more clearly all the times she’d said the same words, lying at night in Neely’s cottage below Crannach Mountain, waiting for the old woman’s voice to come out of the darkness.

She took off skirt and blouse and shift, set them folded on the trunk at the foot of her bed, tied a kerchief about her head to ward off the night’s chill and slipped under the threadbare quilts. “It happened once,” she said aloud, “in the days when gods and goddesses lived with us, when the six cities still rose white and golden against the blue skies that bent over the land we do not name, that the nine voyagers set sail from the harbor of Golin to seek the havens of the Sun on the eastern shores of the world. This is one of the things that befell them as they sailed.”

Long before the story wound to its end, Embery could hear Tay’s breathing deepen into slumber, but she finished the tale, as much for herself as for her son. In the bitter chill of a Raithwold night, with the worries of another day waiting for her once the northern sun rose pale over Mollory Edge, it helped to think of the golden sunlight on the hills of far Amalin, the land whose name she never spoke aloud.

In a day or so I'll post some details about why I did what I did with it, but you can also ask any questions that come to mind. A reminder, though: as i noted earlier, I'm not interested in critique. The only people whose opinion concerns me just now are acquisitions editors for publishers of fantasy novels -- and if you're one of those, please drop me a message and I'll be happy to toss you a manuscript or two. ;-)
ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
Snoopy let's begin. 

One of the questions most authors field all the time is "Where do you get your ideas?" Harlan Ellison, if I recall correctly, had a snappy comeback for this one; he used to insist with a straight face that there was a little old lady in Poughkeepsie, NY who would mail him a manila envelope full of story ideas on alternate Thursdays, or something like that. 

The fact of the matter is that getting ideas is the easy part of writing. it takes a little practice, that's all. If you have a facility for daydreaming -- something any would-be writer needs to cultivate -- and omnivorous tastes in reading -- something else any would-be writer needs to cultivate -- once you get the habit of thinking about potential stories, you'll have more of them than you know what to do with. 

May I insert a parenthetical comment here? If you ever want to give a writer something to chuckle about in private, or in conversations with other writers, come bustling up to him or her and insist that you've got a really great idea for a story and you're looking for someone to turn it into a book, and you want to split the profits 50/50. This happens to most authors all the time, too. One writer of my acquaintance likes to respond to it by saying, "Tell you what -- instead, we'll split the profits on an hourly basis; your share will be based on how long you took to come up with the idea, compared to how long it takes me to write the book." That ends the conversation neatly, which is of course the point. 

Story ideas are easy. Every writer I know has more ideas for stories than he or she will ever find time to write. If you have a good story idea, great; you've taken your first step toward writing a novel. If you don't have one -- why, that's easy to fix. 

Get some paper and a pen, or open a file in your word processing program of choice, or what have you.

***No, really. Stop reading and go do this, right now. The whole point of an exercise like this is to do it, and learn from the experience.***

Ready? Okay, now as quickly as you can -- without stopping to think or edit or critique what you've written -- write a brief (twelve words or less) description of a random character in the kind of fiction you like. (Examples: "An orphan boy living in a tree in the forest." "The illegitimate daughter of a medieval baron." "A blacksmith in a deindustrial dark age village.") Now, just as quickly, write nine more of them. 

Turn the page (or scroll down a ways, or what have you). Now in the same way -- without stopping to think or edit or critique what you've written -- write an active verb in the third person singular, with whatever follow-on words English usage requires. (Examples: "discovers." "goes in search of." "escapes from.") Okay? Now write nine more. 

Turn another page (etc.,) and now write down a brief description of something interesting that relates to the kind of fiction you like. Do it, again, without stopping to think or edit or critique. (Examples: "a map of pirate treasure." "a city at the edge of the world." "an army on the march." Now write nine more. 

***Have you done this? Don't read any further until you have.***

Okay, now combine one character with one verb and one interesting thing. Repeat until you've got ten characters with ten verbs and ten interesting things. (Examples" "An orphan boy living in a tree in the forest discovers a map of pirate treasure." "The illegitimate daughter of a medieval baron goes in search of a city at the edge of the world." "A blacksmith in a deindustrial dark age village escapes from an army on the march." Got it?) You now have ten story ideas -- or, more precisely, you've got the seeds from which ten story ideas can grow. 

Okay. Now go back through them again, and assign different verbs and interesting things to different characters. (Examples: "An orphan boy living in a tree in the forest goes in search of an army on the march." "The illegitimate daughter of a medieval baron escapes from a map of pirate treasure." "A blacksmith in a deindustrial dark age village discovers a city at the edge of the world.") You now have ten more story ideas. 

Note the second example in this latter set:  "The illegitimate daughter of a medieval baron escapes from a map of pirate treasure." Your first reaction was probably something like "That's silly -- why would someone want to escape from a map of pirate treasure?" Answer that question and you've got a really original story idea. Here's the baron's illegitimate daughter -- we'll call her Sylvie. Here's a map of pirate treasure. She sees it -- we can fill in the details later -- and immediately up and runs away from home to get away from it. Why? What could be written on a map of pirate treasure, or what could be implied by such a map, or what might other people intend with that map, that would make Sylvie stuff a few prized possessions in a satchel, slip out the window into the night, and hurry away into the darkness with no intention of ever coming back? As you think up answers to these questions, you turn the seed into a full-blown story idea. 

Every novel involves at least one character who does something (thus the active third person singular verb) about something interesting. Of course you can have more than one active character -- in a novel, normally much more than one! -- and they'll probably all be doing things about a variety of interesting objects. The basic situation that drives a novel, though, can usually be summed up in exactly the form I've sketched out. "A hobbit sets out to destroy the accursed Ring of Power." That's the basic situation that drives The Lord of the Rings. "The heir of an interplanetary dukedom flees from his father's killers." That's the basic situation that drives Dune. I could go on.

Of course there's more to it, but the rest evolves from the situation as you ask yourself questions, like the ones I asked about Sylvie. How did the hobbit get the Ring of Power? Why does it have to be destroyed? Who made it? etc., etc., etc. 

There are three ground rules I want to introduce here, before we get to the exercise. We're going to return to them over and over again, so get used to them. 

Rule #1: Give your writing permission to suck. Your initial attempts to come up with ideas, write initial scenes, assemble them into a story and then into a first draft, will suck. Mine always do, and so do everyone else's. (Your library can probably get you a copy of The Return of the Shadow, the volume of The History of Middle-Earth that includes Tolkien's very first drafts for The Fellowship of the Ring. They suck. In fact, they suck, bite, chew, and spit out what's left. Read that if you have any doubts about Rule #1.) Quality comes into writing as you revise. Don't worry about it now. 

Rule #2: Your first thought is probably a cliché. We've all got imaginations stocked with other people's stories, and that's what comes to mind the moment we start trying to imagine our own stories. There's a simple way around this: write down your first idea, and then do something else. Your first thought about why Sylvie is fleeing from that map of pirate treasure probably comes from somebody else's book; note it down, and then come up with some other reason. Better still, come up with half a dozen other reasons, and choose the one that makes you blink with surprise. 

Rule #3: Nothing's set in stone until the first copies come back from the printers. You can change anything and everything as you go. Aragorn son of Arathorn, the last heir of the Kings of Numenor, first appeared in the early drafts of The Fellowship of the Ring as a hobbit named Trotter. Sauron the Dark Lord started out in Tolkien's writings as an evil magical cat named Tevildo. Don't worry about getting it right the first time around. Start, and make changes as you get a clearer idea of where you're headed. 

Okay, now here's your assignment. Come up with a character who interests you, an action that looks like it'll kickstart a story into motion, and an interesting object for the action to be about. To keep it lively, make it an unexpected character doing an unexpected action about something you don't usually see in the kind of novel you like to read. Once you've got your character doing whatever it is about whatever it is, start asking those questions; why is the character doing it? Where did the thing come from, and where is it going? What else is going on in the world where the story is taking place? There are no right answers and no wrong ones. Give it a try, and write everything down; you may discard it all as you proceed with the story, or you may not. 

Give it a try, and see where you end up. In a couple of days, I'll post what I've done along these lines -- and no, it won't be about Sylvie and the pirate map. Stay tuned!

ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)

Once Upon a TimeI’ve been brooding again over how to teach writing, and how not to teach it, and a possibility occurs to me.

I like to teach by mimesis—by doing something, showing how it’s done, and saying “You can do this too, if you want.” It’s a very unfashionable approach to teaching these days, and we could have a long conversation sometime about the number of people in today’s America whose life seems to revolve around finding some gimmick to tell other people what to do—usually, of course, telling them to do something they’re not doing themselves. (Gay-bashing fundamentalist preachers with boyfriends on the side, and social justice warriors screaming hate speech at people who use hate speech, I’m looking at you...)

 I’m not particularly gifted at most kinds of teaching—in particular, I find that I’m usually at a loss when I try to critique somebody else’s work, literary or otherwise, unless it’s either really good or really bad—but I find demonstrating something and encouraging others to follow along fairly easy, and at least some of my readers seem to find it useful. That suggests an option:

Would it be at all helpful to the aspiring authors among my readership if I were to write a novel right out here in public?

I’ve done online novels before, one scene at a time—my novels Star’s Reach and Retrotopia came into being that way—but I’m thinking of something even more transparent: here’s a scene; here’s my notes on how it came together and why I made the choices I did; well, that didn’t really work, did it, so let’s revise it, and so on. If that’s something that people would find helpful as well as entertaining, I can make a start next month.

Oh, and there’s a catch. (You knew there would be a catch, didn’t you?)

If I’m going to do this, I’m going to challenge my readers to write their own novels as I write mine. In public or in private, take your pick, but one of the points of the project is encouraging you to do the same thing, and why not now?

Let me know. Interested?

ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (JMG)
And another one! This isn't exactly new, but the first volume of my seven-volume epic fantasy with tentacles, The Weird of Hali, has just become available in trade paperback format, after more than a year in fine hardback:

It's currently available on Amazon here, and will be on its way through the usual distribution channels shortly. I'm delighted, to say the least.

Meanwhile book 5, The Weird of Hali: Providence, is in final edits, and book 6, The Weird of Hali: Hyperborea, is 90% finished in draft. The saga slithers rugosely to its conclusion... ;-)
ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
...and another book of mine hits the shelves. I know, they're coming fast and thick just now.

This anthology contains all the short fiction from my former blog The Archdruid Report -- the three midwinter tales from 2006, "Adam's Story" from 2007, and all the rest of it, except for Retrotopia and Star's Reach (which of course have been published in book form already). I'm very pleased with the collection; it includes some of my best writing, and now that The Archdruid Report is going away, this is where you can read these stories should you want to do so. Copies can be ordered from the publisher here.
ecosophia: Weird of Hali: Innsmouth (Hali)
Me chatting about my fiction with host "Sully" Sullivan of The Podcaste, a DC-area podcast -- a pleasant conversation with someone who's as much of a fraternal order geek as I am (we met at a Masonic meeting, if that tells you anything). Check it out:


ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)John Michael Greer

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