Frame of Reference

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Autumn is usually my favorite time of year.  The cooler weather, the blushing trees, the omnipresence of corn stalks and apple cider and even pumpkins, although they actually taste vile to me.

I get creative in the autumn.  There’s something about the exuberant last celebratory display of nature before it curls up and goes to sleep under the snow that makes it almost compulsory to tell stories, and I have always done my best work in October and November (thanks in no small part to NaNoWriMo).

This year is a little different for me.  It has been full of distractions, conflicting priorities, and anxious circumstances.  My day job is getting more complex, I’m starting to get competitive with archery, and I’ve got a lot more travel on my schedule over the next few months.

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Worst of all, my lovely cat companion Oliver has recently developed some very serious health problems that have taken up all of my attention and changed my outlook a little bit.

I haven’t been wholly there – or wholly anywhere, really – for quite some time.  The almost-finished first draft of Dark the Wayward Dawn has gone untouched for days, then weeks, then months at a time.

I only have one scene left, but I just can’t seem to make myself sit down and finish it.

It’s not just because I’m busy and stressed or that I don’t care about bringing these four books to their rightful conclusion.  I haven’t lost interest in these characters or their struggles, and I haven’t abandoned the idea that there is some cosmic reason why I feel compelled to share them with a very small segment of the world.

It’s mostly, I discovered this morning, because I just really don’t like the way I’ve written it.  I hate the way it’s turning out.  I’ve managed to put my characters in a really stupid situation that gives them no plausible way to triumph without making everything even stupider.  I will have to rewrite a fairly large portion of the ending in order to put everything to rights.

And I’m thrilled to say that.

I’ve written before about how much I love eureka moments, when everything becomes startlingly clear and you can finally move on from a problem that’s been plaguing you.  I don’t know exactly how or when I will be able to address the situation, but it’s a major relief to know what is holding me back, at least.

I hope to use NaNoWriMo as a catalyst for revision and finishing the draft, even if I don’t commit to the full 50,000 words this year.  A little progress will be better than nothing, and hopefully set me on the right path again.

I can’t promise a publication date for the last book, for those two or three people who are still interested, but I can promise that it will happen at some point.  I’m committed to that, even if it takes me forever.

So it’s onward and upward, slowly but surely.  Thank you for your patience with me.  I hope it pays off some day.

 

 

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Water Usage Skyrockets as NaNoWriMo Novelists Take Extra-Long “Thinking Showers”

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Public officials brace for peak November demand as participants attempt to meet word counts.

BOSTON — Town and city water departments across the country have been unsuccessful in their quest to stop WriMos from overusing public resources during long, leisurely novel-plotting showers, news outlets reported this week.

With several regions of the United States suffering from drought conditions exacerbated by excess bathing and a marked increase in coffee consumption, officials in New England are even considering instituting mandatory restrictions.

“We would like novelists to limit their shower usage to one plot twist per day,” said the Boston Water Department in a press release.  “If you’re really stuck on how to get your main character out of a deadly situation, running a bath actually uses less water and is likely to produce the same ‘aha moment’ results.”

“But ideally, writers should consider procrastination and thought-generation alternatives like leftover Halloween candy binges, sitting sadly in the corner of a coffee shop staring at a blank screen, or deep-cleaning household items they wouldn’t ordinarily touch with a ten-foot pole.”

WriMos have lashed out at the recommendations, calling them creatively limiting and potentially catastrophic for earning their winner’s badge.

“I do my best thinking in the shower,” complained Harvey Purdue of Allston in a blog post.  Purdue typically grabs a towel and scurries over to his laptop while still dripping wet to sketch out his newest ideas before he forgets them.

“It isn’t fair to expect us to act like normal people during NaNoWriMo,” he said.  “Admittedly, it’s a stretch at any time of the year, but it really is different during November.”

Local businesses, like Wilson’s Bath Shop in Woburn, MA, are also opposed to the proposed reduction in shower-related thought time.  “We always hit our loofah sales quota by the end of the first week of November,” said manager Meghan Boyle.  “It’s really good for our employees.”

“And some of the scented shower gels just fly out the door,” she added.  “Outer Space Breeze, Triple Berry Mango-Dystopia, and Unrequited Love Triangle seem to be the most popular this time of year.  We don’t start selling too much of our Smell of Desperation product line until after Thanksgiving, but the lines wrap around the block when the holiday is over.”

In a statement released by non-profit organization WriMos for a Sustainable Future, spokesperson Cathy Georgio called for compromise.  “Just close your eyes and pretend you’re standing under the hot water,” she suggested.  “Think about it really hard.  You’re a writer, aren’t you?  You should be able to use your imagination.”

At the time of publication, neither Purdue nor Georgio had hit their wordcount goals for the day, prompting observers to question whether they had spent too much time procrastinating by drafting statements in response to a non-existent issue for marginally humorous effect.

Enter to Win a Signed Copy of Dark the Chains of Treason!

chains1Morning, ladies and gents!  This is your captain speaking.

Did you know that from now until August 24, you can enter to win a signed copy of my latest novel, Dark the Chains of Treason?

No?  Well, maybe that’s because I’m just telling you right now.

But it’s true!

The winner will receive his or her copy via overnight mail, so you actually get a few days’ head start on the rest of the pack.

And if you’re not sure it’s worth investing all that typing energy to enter a contest for the third book in a series you haven’t read yet, just remember: the first and second installments of The Paderborn Chronicles can be had for mere pennies on Amazon.

They’re really good.  I promise.

You’ve got one whole week to get those entries in, so let’s get started!

Music to Your Ears: The Soundtrack of My Fictional Worlds

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Final edits are finished for Dark the Chains of Treason!  You can still pre-order your Kindle copy on Amazon, or you can snag a paperback on August 29.


There are two main types of writers in the world: those who need absolute silence when they are putting words on the page, and those who can’t create anything without a little bit of background noise, whether it’s coffee shop chatter or their favorite songs on repeat.

I say two main types, because I’ve actually been both.  Right now, I need a quiet environment to concentrate on my work.  But during my misbegotten youth, I couldn’t function without my carefully curated playlist.

When it came to writing creatively, I tended to listen to classical music – Beethoven and Mozart especially – or lose myself in the seamless, ethereal repetition of Gregorian chant.  I was a nerd, okay?  I’ve made my peace with it.

Music set the tone for my characters, inspired my landscapes, and soothed my anxieties when some bit of plot wouldn’t click into place.  Silence during the creative process seemed unnatural and unnerving in some way – like those moments in a movie when you realize the soundtrack has stopped, the only noise is the ragged breathing of the main character or the furtive footsteps of the serial killer, and something very bad is about to happen to someone you like.

The comparison to movies isn’t anything new, of course.  I know a lot of authors who listen to music while writing specifically because they view their novels like films that just happen to be printed on a page.

These authors would scribble song titles in the margins if they could – I’m sure some probably do in their rough drafts – and get frustrated when it becomes difficult to directly translate the sights, sounds, and unspoken gestures of a visual scene into a written one.

The difficulties of going the other way, from book to screen, are well-known to anyone who has been disappointed by a film adaptation of their favorite story.

The cinematic approach isn’t a bad thing at all.  It’s perfect for many types of stories.  Thrillers and romances, of course, rely on a film-like progression of actions and a sharply delineated character development arc that fits right in with what you would expect from the movies.  Certain sci-fi and fantasy styles also very episodic, and mesh well with visually-driven entertainment.

The serializable nature of many popular speculative fiction books and movies (and the many crossover content streams available from properties like the Star Wars and Star Trek universes, for example) shows just how must interplay there can be between media types.

Sure, many of the novelizations or TV pilots or seven-part film sagas are just about making money for the production company that owns the story rights.  I’m not saying it’s always a great thing.

But it speaks to the general cultural perception that many books could easily be movies, and movies are sometimes just visual books, and both types of stories often rely very heavily on similar conventions to highlight character traits, set up plot points, and prepare their readers/viewers for what’s going to happen next.

The point is that many popular fiction titles are very strongly informed by the way movies work, and that often includes the fact that authors tie particular songs to particular characters in order to paint a mood or capture a feeling.

I don’t think my novels are overly cinematic, but I do the soundtrack thing, too, even if I never meant to.

It wasn’t until I had written and published The Last Death of Tev Chrisini that I realized some of my new favorite songs fit in with certain characters so well that it was almost eerie.  I’m sure there was a subconscious thing going on, but it’s still weird to realize it.

After I wrote The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun, I came across a handful of songs that matched the plot and tone of the novel almost exactly, which further freaked me out.

By the time I got around to starting Dark the Night Descending, I had moved away from listening to music while writing, but also embraced the idea that collecting a soundtrack as I went on wasn’t such a bad idea.  After all, the title of the book was inspired by an Iron & Wine song, so it was only natural that music would play a role in the rest of it.

The Paderborn Chronicles are a little darker and grittier than my first books.  I started the series after a very rough period in my life, wherein I lost some of my illusions about the fundamental goodness of the human spirit and gained some new perspectives on what purpose novels should serve in the grand scheme of things.

These books address some difficult themes for me, and there is plenty of brutality to go around, both given and received.  It’s a very dangerous world filled with selfish, cruel, ruthless people (and not-quite-people), and happily-ever-afters are not easy to come by.  That isn’t to say no one can find redemption, but it’s a little harder than in some of my earlier works.

The music is a little sharper, too.  So as I get ready to release Dark the Chains of Treason, I thought it would be fun to share a few of the songs that have shaped the series so far.

In no particular order, here are a few of my favorites:

Bilgewater – Brown Bird (Salt for Salt)

Freedom Hangs Like Heaven – Iron & Wine (Woman King)

Beat the Devil’s Tattoo – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

It’s Only – ODESZA (In Return)

Whistles the Wind – Flogging Molly (Within a Mile of Home)

Wake Up – Arcade Fire (Funeral)

All these links will take you to Amazon’s music service, which will only let you hear a preview (unless you’re a Prime member) instead of the whole song.  As an independent artist myself, I like to make sure people get paid for their works, please do buy them legitimately from Amazon, iTunes, or elsewhere if you decide that one of them strikes a chord.

Happy listening/reading/watching!

Pre-Order Dark the Chains of Treason for Kindle!

Hello there, guys, gals, and other individuals!  I may have been very quiet so far this summer, but it’s only because I’ve been working hard.  No, really.  I have proof.

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Yes, that’s right.  You can now pre-order a Kindle copy of Dark the Chains of Treason before it becomes generally available on August 29.  Paperbacks will be available for sale on the release date, as well.

So why should you pre-order?  First of all, it’s literally only one click, so that’s easy.  Second of all, it’ll make sure you don’t forget.   You’ll simply wake up on the 29th with the book in hand, feeling all magical and powerful.

And third of all, it’ll give me and my Amazon book ranking lots of warm, fuzzy feelings without actually costing you anything extra.  If those aren’t good enough reasons, then I don’t know what are.

This is, of course, the third book in the Paderborn Chronicles, and so you may not be feeling particularly excited or interested if you haven’t read the first two yet.

But you’re in luck!  Dark the Night Descending and Dark the Dreamer’s Shadow are both free through the Kindle Unlimited program, and just 99 cents and $2.99 respectively to purchase if you’re not a member.

Paperback copies are also available for $12.99, which is pretty darn economical for all the heart-stopping action and explosive thrills of following a hopelessly unlucky character who has absolutely no idea what the hell he’s doing at any point in time.

I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s pretty much just like looking in the mirror.

If you’re still on the fence, you might want to stay tuned for the next week or two so you can enter my next Goodreads giveaway.  There may be extra super prizes involved, too!

Alert, Alert! Imminent Kindle Book Giveaway!

Tired of reading about how quickly the world as we know it is coming to the end?

Want to regain a sense of perspective by reading some escapist literature about a universe that is definitely much closer to collapsing under the weight of impending doom than our own?

Click here to download for Kindle

Well, you’re in luck!  Because next week the first two books of The Paderborn Chronicles will be available for free on Kindle!

That’s right.  From Monday, June 27 until Friday, July 1, you can snag Dark the Night Descending and Dark the Dreamer’s Shadow for free on Amazon.

It’s the perfect chance to dive into the series for the first time or refresh your memory before Dark the Chains of Treason hits the virtual shelves this August.

If you can’t wait that long, you can always read any of my novels for free with a Kindle Unlimited subscription or pay just 99 cents to get your hands on the first volume of Arran Swinn’s five-star adventures.

Click here to download for Kindle

No matter how you acquire your copy, I will once again do what all authors must do and beg you, abjectly and on my knees, to leave a review when you’re done reading.

Honest feedback is worth more to me than the royalties I might get from a full-price purchase, so don’t feel awkward about writing a review if you get the books for free next week.

There will be more reminders forthcoming on my Facebook page and Twitter account in case it slips your mind over the weekend.

Download!  Read!  Have fun!  Do it for free!  Write a sentence or two in a review on Goodreads or Amazon and I will be eternally yours.