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Typing. Deleting. More typing. More deleting. MOAR typing. Delete delete delete. Delete it all. Every last word, comma, and period.

That was yesterday.

I was working on an essay for this blog and … it wasn’t going well. I was working on a topic that had been rolling around in my head for a month. All my arguments and counterarguments were lined up. I even had a catchy title … well, I thought it was a catchy title, until I googled it and found a hundred thousand other uses of it (including one by Garrison Keillor, which I discovered in a moment that was both uplifting and depressing).

Anyway, for hours I wrote and deleted in precisely equal measure, and in the end I was left with the same blank page I’d started with.

At which point I stopped and wondered: why was I having so much trouble?

The answer was obvious: I had no passion for the topic.

Not anymore, anyway.

Oh, when the idea first struck me, I was all fired up and ready to unleash my staggering intellect upon the world. See my reasoning and despair! But now, a month later, things have changed. Not externally. The premise still stands, the argument still works, and I can find no flaw in my logic, but internally … I just don’t care about it anymore.

This is not a bad thing. (more…)

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———
the tiny blade
twice my age
still has a bite
that shaves red cedar
from my blunted pencil
to reveal its black heart
and sharpen my wit
———

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Last week we screened Logan, the latest movie starring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. (I was on vacation … don’t judge!) You all know I’m not a big fan of comic-book-inspired films, but Jackman has always surprised me with his talent — in comedies, musicals, and dramas alike — and from the trailer, this one looked interesting enough to warrant the rental. As it turned out, it was worth both the time and the money, but more than that, it reminded me of the harshest criticism I’ve ever received on one of my novels.

Back when I still had a New York literary agent, I turned in the manuscript of my new historical fantasy, Ploughman’s Son, in the hopes that we might begin shopping it around to publishers. I’d worked on it for a long time, bringing it from a weird idea to a published short story and then, following months of research into 9th century Brittany, Europe, and medieval life, I’d forged it into a fantasy novel unlike any I’d ever read.

It was historically accurate from a societal, cultural, and political perspective. It depicted the incredibly harsh and violent conditions that most people endured in what we call The Dark Ages. The pantheon and legends it explored were some that I’d never encountered in other fantasy novels. And yet it also included the basics of the genre, tropes that were familiar enough to engage fans of fantasy, but different enough to keep them interested.

My agent read it, and responded with her opinion. (more…)

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A follow-up on my previous post about character names.

It’s clear from comments — here, on Facebook, etc. — that some readers disagree with my characterizations of the names I’m using.

Not a problem. And absolutely expected.

When I spoke of, for instance, Eleanor as a name that evokes impressions of “a longer view, a queenly aspect, strength, confidence, patience,” I should have said that those are the impressions the name evokes for me.

Your impression of Eleanor, the name, will definitely be different from mine, perhaps radically so. You may have had an evil twin named Eleanor, she may have been your overly strict second grade teacher, or a particularly nasty girlfriend. Or it may be that, try as you might, when you hear the name, you can only think of the ridiculous novelist, Eleanor Lavish, from A Room with a View.

That’s all fine.

For me, the name Eleanor conjures up images of Mrs. Roosevelt; Henry II’s wife, Eleanor D’Aquitaine (my 24th great grandmother, as it turns out); and the homophonically named Elinor Dashwood from Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

Those are my Eleanors, and they match well with the character I want to bring to life in this book.

Naturally, I cannot expect my impressions of that name to be yours as well. No writer can expect that, even if we use a name as well known as George Custer (as I did in my Fallen Cloud Saga).

No, my job is to make sure that my Eleanor comes across with my impressions intact. I must show you, through her actions, how she is patient, thoughtful, perhaps even regal in her quiet dignity. Then, maybe, the next time you hear the name Eleanor, your first impression will be more like mine.

For my current purposes, I need to have a name that fits the character I want to create. That is true, I believe, for almost any writer.

Onward.

k

Puget Sound

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It began, as it often does, with Sam and Janet.

Sam and Janet, the couple of the oft-mocked enchanted evening, are a regular starting point when I’m trying to pick character names. I begin with these two because, frankly, I’d never use them.

Setting the names of my main characters is a crucial early step in my writing process. I have two main reasons for this. (more…)

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Ever since publishing my last post, in which I stated publicly that I was gearing up to break my four-year-long novel-writing dormancy, I’ve been in a dark blue funk.

It took me a while to figure out why. Well, to be honest, I didn’t figure it out. A fellow writer (Todd Baker: grillmaster, metalhead, and memoirist par excellence) commented on my post, and his reflections shed light on my own internal strife.

I was suffering from “The Dread.” (more…)

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You might have noticed a bit more poetry on this blog of late. There’s a reason for this.

If I’m to be brutally honest, these past four years I haven’t been much of a writer. My last novel came out in late 2012, and since then — aside from the posts, vignettes, and poetry on this blog — I’ve only written one short story.

A lot happened to us in those four years. All of our parents died which meant funerals and family strife and estate stuff. We invited a young woman in need to stay with us for a year while she reestablished herself. I had an emergency appendectomy and my wife had an emergency cholecystectomy. Our only car died and needed to be replaced. I grew deathly sick of my job and tried to switch careers. Not all of it was bad (we paid off the house, and for our 30th anniversary we bought a classic sports car), but all of it, even the good stuff, sucked up a lot of time and energy, and brought a great deal of stress into our lives.

All of which sounds like a bunch of excuses and, for a long time, I viewed them as such. Now, though, I see them as reasons.

Am I splitting semantic hairs? Perhaps, but hear me out. (more…)

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