Life Could Be a Dream

No, this isn’t a dream diary. Most people’s dreams aren’t as interesting as they think they are, including mine, for the simple reason of perspective. A dream is VR in a way that current VR tech can only envy: Fully immersive. Sight. Sound. Taste. Touch. All that is vivd to the dreamer in a way it’s never going to be to the one hearing about it. “I went flying last night! It was wonderful!” and we all go, “Umm, yeah, that’s nice.” Unless we were the ones doing the flying. Quite often without a plane. Exciting? Sure, to the one doing it. Fun? Likewise. Interesting to others? Not so much. Rather like vacation photos. (Disclaimer: There are exceptions. I did say “most.” No, I’m not going to name them. You can assume I’m talking about you.)

Rather, I’m thinking about dreaming as it relates to the writing process. I’ve dreamed complete, wonderful stories that–see above–turned to complete dross in the morning, rather like fairy gold. Even when I remember one in every detail, by morning I realize they make no sense at all. None. And they don’t work. The unusual thing is when they DO work, and I’ve found that the ONLY time a dream suggests a real, workable story to me is not when it tries to hand me a plot. My dream plots are complete nonsense, and those never work. Sometimes I’ll get a workable image, but only now and then. What does work is when the dream hands me a character. And even that doesn’t happen very often. But I can think of three very — to me — notable exceptions.

1) Treedle. This character appeared in “What Power Holds,” an early story published in Dragon Magazine back in 1994. He only appeared in the first one written, but the series he sparked is still going on. The last short story in the series was “The First Law of Power” in RoF in 2001, but it was also the genesis of The Long Look and Black Kath’s Daughter, and whatever more books may come.

2) Golden Bell. I don’t even remember much of the dream she came from. What I do remember was her standing before me, saying, “I have a malady of music, a fever of poetry that consumes me.” That line made it into the story almost unchanged, which was “Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Zeng.” Published in the first issue of Black Gate, and also the first piece of mine to ever make it into a Year’s Best compilation.

3) The Lady Scythe. Dreamed her exactly as she was in the story, down to the no-nonsense work clothes she wore underneath her ceremonial attire. She was the Emperor’s executioner, set in the same universe as A Warrior of Dreams. She looked a lot like a cheerful high-rent tavern wench. In actuality she was a psychopath with a heart of ice. Came with the job.  “Courting the Lady Scythe,” in Paper Cities, said book being the winner of a World Fantasy Award that year in the anthology category.

Only three times so far. And in each case, the character with the dream origin is NOT the main character, even though they are responsible for the story coming into existence. This may mean something. Or not. But it’s fun to think about, at least to me. If not for the rest of you, well, dreams are a tricky subject. 🙂

Bits of Pieces

This is going to be a sort of general update post. It’s not that a lot is happening, but some things are happening, things that, for a change, don’t have a lot to do with the daily grind of getting all the things done that I have to get done before I can do the things that I wanted to do in the first place. If you understand that—and I’m betting that most of you do—you’ll get how even a few changes can nudge the needle past So? all the way to Hey! Worth Noting.

First of all, after floundering for a bit (okay, five months), I’m starting to make some headway on the sequel to Black Kath’s Daughter. I still have a long way to go, but forward motion, believe you me, is an improvement. And if everything works out the way I think it’s going to, I’ll finally make a proper connection between the Amaet who was the bane of Tymon’s existence in The Long Look with the Amaet who is the creator of The Arrow Path and the bane of Marta’s existence in Black Kath’s Daughter. And vice versa, truth be told. The working title is: Power’s Shadow. Subject to change, being a working title and all.

The Yamada novel (To Break the Demon Gate) is still on track at PS Publishing for release early next year. So is the Prime Books collection of Yamada stories, Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter. One interesting thing when working with a smaller publisher is that sometimes you actually have some input into the cover design. Not always, but sometimes. I found the image we used for the first mockup of the Yamada collection, but the consensus (and I agree with it) was that it was both too modern and too “horror.” Yes, there are demons in the Yamada stories (and ghosts, and youkai, and…well, lots of such things, and anyone who’s read them knows that already) and they can be dark at times, but definitely not horror, so that’s not going to work. We’re still looking for something with the right atmosphere, and finding just the perfect thing is going to be tricky. When the cover is set I’ll put it up here as soon as the publisher okays it.

A couple of final notes—“In the Palace of the Jade Lion” from Beneath Ceaseless Skies #100 got a Recommended from Rich Horton in the October  Locus Magazine. It’s not as if that’s the first time I’ve gotten one, but it’s always cool. And the most recent Yamada story, “Three Little Foxes,” is due to go live up at BCS in the next few days. I’ll post a link here when that happens.

Apropos of Not Much

This is the jacket copy from my first novel, The Long Look. Why? Because I always liked it. And just because.

Everything you know about evil magicians is wrong.

Tymon the Black is the latest in a long succession of magicians to suffer under a curse called “The Long Look.” He gets glimpses of future horrors, horrors that will almost certainly come to pass unless he acts. When one such glimpse prods him to arrange for the murder of a headstrong young prince, he sets a cascading chain of events in motion that could lead to a future even more terrible than the one he tried to prevent.

Now all he has to do is hang on to a friend, train an apprentice, prevent a prince obsessed with revenge from destroying himself and his entire kingdom, help a princess come to terms with guilt and grief, make sure a wedding happens, make sure a war doesn’t, and send a creature of ultimate darkness back to the void from whence it came.

All in a day’s work for the world’s most evil wizard? Not quite. There’s also a goddess to contend with, and there’s nothing like attracting the interest of a goddess to upset the balance of any evil scheme. No matter. No one ever said that the life of a fiend was an easy one.

THE LONG LOOK is a fantasy novel with a unique blend of action, introspection, speculation and humor that should keep any reader both involved and confused, but don’t worry. It all makes sense. Eventually.”

Rambling Status Update

Today’s post really is all about me, so fair warning. If you’re not in the mood for narcissist on parade, bail now.

The new Yamada story has gone through a couple of revision passes and was safe to hand over to First Reader. Likewise for the “Voodoo Christmas” story, which turned out well enough that it might be worth trying on places that do seasonal pieces. Regardless, everything gets at least one revision pass because, except for me who has no choice in the matter, nobody sees my first drafts, not even First Reader. They’re generally a mess, since I give myself permission to write awkward transitions, to ramble, to write things out-of-order, whatever it takes to get the story out. In revision, all those permissions are revoked, and the offenders will be ruthlessly hunted down. I’m still in the habit of printing out a hard copy once a story first draft is finished, so if there ever comes a time when anyone cares, they can read them after I’m dead. Maybe.

That catches up the short story projects, at least until First Reader reports back on the Yamada story. Once I’ve attended to that, it’s time to decide what’s next. At some point this year I’d like to get back to work on the sequel to Black Kath’s Daughter. At the end of BKD Marta had only found three Laws of Power, and there are four to go…well, four that she knows about. Up until BKD, all my novels had been stand-alones. The sequel definitely won’t be. While on the surface the only connection between The Long Look and BKD is the setting (500 years later) and the Power called Amaet, there’s more to it which will come out in the third book. Still, you can read BKD without reading  TLL and it’ll make sense. That probably won’t be true with the third. The working title is Power’s Shadow, but is of course subject to change.

Yesterday I got a clear reminder that the best advertising of all is a happy reader championing your work. Writers need champions. Probably because, when we do it ourselves, nobody really believes us. That’s sensible because, sure, what else would we say? Yet we have to do it anyway, since usually we’re the only ones who will. Though it is nice, every now and then, to be able to say “Don’t take MY word for it….”

In the last year I’ve done three signings, which is three more than I usually do. I don’t know if this is a blip or a trend, but time will tell. I’m actually in danger of running out of books. I’m still on track next year for a novel and a short story collection, so that should help. I’m also thinking of doing a print version of one other ebook this year. Just the one, though, so I have to decide which one. Right now I’m leaning toward A Warrior of Dreams. There are a couple of pending reader reactions, so I’ll make up my mind when the votes are in.

That is all.

Janiform – When Looking in One Direction Just Isn’t Enough

 It’s a new year, and it’s time to look ahead. Which I will now do by looking backwards. It’s not as much of a contradiction as it seems at first glance. How do we know where we want to go if we don’t look at where we’ve been? So now I look backward. Just a bit.

When I think about my first novel, The Long Look, it still scares me a little to think of how much I put into the book without being consciously aware of what I was doing. Now, I do have to make a slight distinction here. I was conscious of the story elements in a procedural sort of way, but if you’d asked me what this or that bit was about, why it was there, I probably couldn’t have told you, I only knew it had to be there. It wasn’t until I’d read the manuscript for possibly the fifth or sixth time, cold, during the line-edit phase that I finally realized what I had done, and was able to express it with any kind of coherence.

The Long Look bears some resemblance to Rashomon in that it has more than one character viewpoint on a series of events, but at heart it is two separate but intertwined narratives about those same events. The first narrative is a (relatively speaking) conventional fantasy adventure story with a quest, battles, magic, and a love match with just a tad of a complication. Ok, so it’s a pretty big complication. Yet this is the story that will become part of the history of the Twelve Kingdoms. Within the context of this universe, this will be the story that “everyone knows.”

The second narrative is something else again. It’s the story of what really happened. And how much work, danger, and adventure went on behind the scenes in order to make the first narrative unfold the way it should. I can’t say any more about it without getting into spoiler territory, but that’s not really the point. Those who read it will see what I mean. Or not.

What might happen is that those who read it for the first narrative are going to wonder what all the rest is about and why it’s intruding into their adventure story. Those readers who (am I kidding myself here?) are expecting something more along the lines of the second narrative from me are going to wonder what all that rubbish about alarums and excursions is doing taking up space and distracting from the real story. Thing is, both narratives together are the “real” story. The way the story appears, and the aspects of the story that must remain hidden below the surface narrative for all time.

The funny part is, that’s the book I meant to write. And yes, I feel a bit like the cat slamming into a plate glass window, then casually grooming its fur with an attitude of “I meant to do that.”  But I did. In the three years since its initial publication the book’s done all right. It sold out its hardcover run and moved on to ebook form. It hasn’t been to everyone’s taste, but what book is? I’m happy with the way it turned out, and enough reviewers and readers have reported in to let me know that most of them feel the same way. I did ok.

Maybe next time I can even do it on purpose.