Idyll Chatter: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

I want to apologize in advance for letting my blogular presence slide over the last few months. I’ve been really buckling down and focusing on finishing the last revisions of IDYLL, Book 3. I thought I was doing really well, finishing the first draft in mid-December. But for some reason these last few rounds took a really long time.

I’m thinking about redesigning the covers for all of the Idyll trilogy. What do you think of this new logo style?

Probably the biggest factor was work, which has been crazily busy over the last few months. I’m working after-hours more than ever, and that’s certainly been cutting into writing time. But I have to admit there was a period there where I got complacent (about 75% into my final set of rewrites), and I slowed my pace. Also, I’ve been thinking more and more the next series I want to write, and there’s been a few hours of writing time that I’ve devoted to outlining and world-building on that series.

After two years of straight writing on THE WILDS and EXILE, I needed a little break from the planet of Idyll, and I think those little bits of break have helped me re-approach the IDYLL finale and re-excite myself about the whole series. I’m really pumped about the way the Idyll trilogy ends, I can’t think of any other heroes who have had their story end in quite this way!

How will Samuel, Walt, Miriam, and Virginia ride off into the sunset? Will ALL of them make it to that last ride? I’m proud to announce that readers won’t have to wait long to find out. The manuscript is now finished, and EXILE should be released by May 16!

Also, I’m planning to release the entire series to Kindle Unlimited, so if you’re a KU subscriber, you’ll be able to check out the entire series for free. Stay tuned for more news.

And thanks so much for visiting and reading!

The Pulchritude Award: Inflammable

Nick_RivieraHi, everybody! The Pulchritude Award goes to words that don’t sound like what they actually mean. Today’s winner…

In the immortal words of the all-too-mortal Dr. Nick: “Inflammable means flammable? What a country!”
‘What a country,’ indeed, Dr. Nick. And what a word!
Or should I say ‘What a prefix?’
Or should I say ‘What a series of prefixes?’
Or should I just shut up?

You see, there are a couple of ‘in-’ prefixes, that come from a variety of Latin roots. Most obviously, ‘in-’ can mean ‘un-’ or ‘not,’ as in invisible, incredible, or inadequate.

But there’s also an ‘in-’ prefix that means ‘in,’ ‘into,’ or ’toward,’ as in income or inundate. This is also the prefix for inhibit, which comes from Latin roots that roughly mean ‘hold in.’ Therefore, uninhibited is not a double-negative. That’s also where inflammable comes from—an adjective that means something is liable to burst ‘INTO’ flame.

Now if someone could just explain why invaluable is better than valuable!

Past winners of the Pulchritude Award are:
Alacrity and Phlegmatic

A Writing Tip That Ruined Me: Prologues

prologue_114378562What do agents and editors have against prologues? Several times, at conferences or online, I’ve heard publishing experts recommend against starting your novel with a prologue. Also here. And here. And here. The prevailing wisdom seems to be this: “If your prologue is important enough to be in the book, make it your first chapter. If not, then cut it.”

I guess if I were filtering through a slush pile of 100 submissions a day, and a mere 10% of them began with prologues, I’d get pretty sick of them too. But if I analyzed that irritability, I think I’d draw the conclusion that the slush-pile/submission process is stupid, not prologues.

I think I read a LOT of books, for the average person—which is to say maybe 30 books a year. In the last year, have I read a book that begins with a character waking up? Not that I can remember. And if I did, would I have rolled my eyes and immediately judged the book to be not worthy of my time? Absolutely not. But according to industry wisdom, that’s another one of the unforgivable cliches that should never open a book:

– The main character waking up
– The main character dying (then coming back in subsequent chapters as a ghost, or in flashbacks)
– The main character looking in a mirror

Does anyone outside the established publishing industry care or notice if a book starts in one of these ways? I don’t think so. Just jaded, bleary-eyed slush-pile readers.

As a casual reader, I love prologues. They create an air of mystery. The add suspense, or foreshadowing. They can lay groundwork for the themes or the character arc of the book. They’re typeset in all italics! What’s not to love? I recently read a book, Blue Remembered Earth, that began with an all-italics, nearly incomprehensible frontispiece, and followed that with an eight-page prologue. And I loved both of them. And then the all-italics tone reappeared at the end of the book, creating a perfect wrap-up. Voila! Great!

In fact I’d probably read a book that was all prologues, kind of like how Kentucky Fried Movie was mostly movie trailers.

Once-a-Book Word: Sanguine

Like Mr. Miyagi teaching ‘the crane’ to Daniel-san, I will now teach you your own ‘special move’—a once-a-book word that will awe and befuddle your readers. I beg of you: Use it sparingly!

Sanguine: You have to love this adjective. Depending on your context, it can mean either cheerful or murderous. Who among us hasn’t been to a family reunion that starts off sanguine and ends up sanguine?

I just read: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai

twelve-kings-of-sharakhai-final-sm2This book didn’t really grab me until the midway point. I loved the idea of the Arabian setting, which was not the standard Medieval European backdrop that we see in so many Epic Fantasy books, but the main character, Ceda, is a pretty standard protagonist, who checks off on a lot of the typical Fantasy tropes:

– Orphan with a mysterious past
– Obsessed with revenge/redemption
– Ceda is pretty much a Mary Sue (She’s a world-class gladiator who beats men twice her size, and a world-class spy/courier. Add to that a knowledge of magical pharmaceuticals. Also, she’s gorgeous enough to catch the eye of royalty)
– And, of course, she eventually realizes that she is innately, magically ‘Special.’ She’s the only person in the realm perfectly suited to defeat her home city’s twelve evil kings. Jeez, she might as well have a lightning bolt scar on her forehead!

We spend the first half of the book rolling around in these tropes. Then, finally, Ceda finds a way to infiltrate the palace’s all-girl death squad, and that’s when the book gets interesting. I’m a sucker for a good spy story, or a ‘palace intrigue’ story, and that’s what we get here.

The best part of this book were the titular villains. Ceda is on a mission to kill the nearly-immortal Twelve Kings. Each king has a singular magical speciality, and a unique secret weakness that Ceda must find and exploit. It’s a conceit straight out of an old Kung Fu movie, or a boss-battle video game. Awesome.

I wish more of the book had focused on Ceda as a traitor in the midst of these kings, and there had been more on her discovering and solving the riddles that reveal their weaknesses. It’s hard to keep track of the twelve kings’ names and their specialties (also the names of all of their female bodyguards, and the deities that start to show up), but that was a minor quibble. A ‘palace intrigue’ story should be complex, with a lot of characters to follow.

A bigger problem I had was how ‘laissez faire’ the villains are with Ceda, once she joins up with them. Most of the palace guard don’t trust her, as a mysterious newcomer; in fact a few of them try to kill her (acting against the kings’ wishes). But then she’s also allowed to escape the palace during an attack (and to return without being punished), and then she’s allowed an apparent conjugal visit with the men who are conspiring with her. This kind of erodes the earlier tone of the book, where the palace-guard is presented as this super-efficient, super-ruthless operation. As soon as Ceda joins up, she is easily outmaneuvering her targets at every turn.

But still, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in Book 2. In fact, I almost wonder if a reader would enjoy the series more if they skipped the set-up in Book 1 and went straight to the additional king-slaying that will hopefully occur in Book 2.

I just read: Habibi

img_1514 Habibi is easily the thickest graphic novel I’ve ever read. The blurbs on the back of this 670-page hardcover do a pretty good job summarizing some of my impressions. A ‘Orientalist fairy tale.’ ‘A modern Dickensian saga.’ ‘A parable about the divide between the first and third worlds.’ If any of that sounds interesting to you I’d say Habibi might be worth trying.

Here are some of my other thoughts:

Despite the book’s length, it is not a dense or a difficult read. In fact the story flies by, flitting between time jumps and Biblical allegories. If anything, I lingered on pages to savor the beautiful art. Craig Thompson fills each page with sinuous, flowing inks or intricately tight hand-drawn patterns. On an art level, the book is truly a black-and-white masterpiece.

img_1515Mostly, we’re following the story of a beautiful young Arabian woman, Dodola, and a younger African slave, Zam, that she takes in and cares for. Both Dodola and Zam have brutal backstories. They’ve both been born into impoverished, third-world cultures that marginalize women and blacks. They essentially have no one else in the world to care for them, and after Dodola escapes from a slave market with Zam, they become each others’ only family. Mother and son. Sister and brother. As Zam reaches puberty, his feelings toward Dodola grow more complicated, and that is the catalyst for the major conflict of the story. That and Zam’s discovery that Dodola has resorted to prostitution to bring them food.

The story is definitely not afraid to ‘go there’ when it shows the readers the brutality of Dodola and Zam’s world. In the first few pages, we are shown the aftermath of the consummation of a child-bride’s marriage. Then we’re seeing white slavery, a medieval attempt at abortion, rape, castration, infanticide, and a harem where women are callously murdered once they’ve lost the interest of the Sultan. Later in the book, Thompson spends a chapter explaining the horrors inflicted on a shantytown when their water supply is tainted by industrial pollution, sewage run-off, and even floating corpses.

img_1516Apparently Thompson chose to set Habibi in an anachronistic, allegorical sort of Arabian world, where skyscrapers and Western tourist co-exist with slave markets straight out of Roots or Game of Thrones. This to me was one of my biggest disconnects from the story. “Wait, was that guy driving a motorcycle? Now he’s throat slit by a nomadic tribesman?” I felt like it cartoonized the book’s depiction of the third-world. Surely there’s enough going on there to be frustrated or shocked by, without adding halberd-bearing assassins or pedophiliac slave traders.

But there are other parts of the book where its epic, allegorical vibe works well, especially when Thompson digresses into explorations of Arabic calligraphy, geometry, and ancient science. I found a lot of this stuff fascinating, in a numerology/astrology sort of way. And it’s always cool when comic artists find ways to work visual concepts or symbolism into their storytelling.

Overall, Habibi is a magnetic, beautiful, if sometimes confusing experience. The strong arc of Dodola and Zam’s relationship throughout the book (and as they come of age) helps to keep the story on track. I haven’t read Craig Thompson’s other graphic novel ’Blankets,’ but I’m looking forward to checking it out in the near future.

 

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I would have words…

Lately I’ve been watching the show ‘Spartacus’ on Netflix. I’m thinking about writing a fantasy book set in Bronze Age-type book series once I finish IDYLL Book 3, and a sword-and-sandals saga seemed somewhat similar to the setting of my story. (Sibilance!)

spartacus batiatusQuestionable research techniques aside, I’ve been enjoying Spartacus. Yes, it’s cheesy at parts, but I think the first season was very well done for what it is—a bloody, lusty soap opera with lots of good twists and over-the-top characters.

To help convey a sense of Old-Old-Worldiness, the ancient Romans talk in a sort of overly formal, faux-Shakespearean phrasing. That’s probably better than having them talk in the original Latin! And the writers have done a good job of using that style to make the simplest lines of dialog sound interested.

For instance, “We need to talk” becomes “I Would Have Words…”

The overwrought language can also seem surprisingly colorful and visceral. As in “You will do as commanded, absent complaint, or see flesh stripped from bone.” Or “There are many words I would use towards your description. ‘Fool’ lives not amongst them.”

The problem for me is that I think that style of speech is slipping into my writing. My characters are speaking a little too formally.

I find my characters saying things like:
“This all that remains.”
“Granted, it was a poor choice.”
“I’m pleased to hear it.”
And granted, my characters are sci-fi cowboys, but still this style is too anachronistic, even for them.

This isn’t the first time that some sort of media I enjoy has seeped into my writing style. I’ve found I can’t read a present-tense book while I’m doing my first draft, or I’ll write whole passages in the wrong verb tense.

How about the writers out there? Are there any writing styles or tropes that unconsciously slip into your writing based on what types of books, shows, or music you’re enjoying in your free time?