What’s that Strange Quiet?

You ever notice how when you’re around an intrusive noise–the washing machine out of balance and thumping, your neighbor using a chainsaw next door, the kid in the airplane in front of you screaming nonstop because his ears hurt–that when it stops, the silence is loud?

Monday was the first day in months that I had time and space to write but didn’t.

Boy, was it a lazy day. I kept wondering why I had so much time to get things done.

“So,” you ask, “after all the shit you’ve given us about writing every day, what are you doing not writing?”

Well, I have an excuse. It’s part of “the process.”

On Friday, I finished the first draft of Sir Kay. Now it has to sit for at least a week before I pick it up again. Get a little distance. Then I will read it critically with a red pen, marking everything that needs changing. Content–errors in the plot line, low tension, boring sections–as well as noticeable weakness of wordcraft (I don’t do all the polishing during the read by any means. Just mark the places that need it). Then begins the 1st rewrite.

Before then, I have only 2 tasks to accomplish:

  1. Get a copy ready to read. That means amassing all the comment’s I’ve received in one document and printing it out. With Avalon, S.C. I started with SusanH’s infamous ‘green edits’ and typed in Kate’s comments plus everything I’d gotten back from writers’ groups and first draft readers into that document. Plan to do the same thing this time. However, I can’t really do it this week.  I’d be evaluating the comments, which DOES NOT qualify as getting some distance. So that will be the first chore next Monday.
  2. Deciding what I’m going to write next.

I don’t really have a hard deadline to finish #2, but I should be starting outlines and character sketches for the next book next week. So it’s a pretty high priority.

I have it down to two choices, I think. One is to revise Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail and make it available for publication. It needs a rethink with my current “state of the writing art.” I’m simply better as a writer than I was when I touched it last. But an ever bigger problem is that it doesn’t gibe with the last 3 books. Halfway through Sir Kay, I had to rewrite the “History of the Holy Grail according to Rusty” so I could use it in that book and not destroy the entire premise of Bradley Schuster. Now I have the itch to get it done.

The other novel has been simmering in the back of my mind for months. The heroine (yes, she’s female) was the narrator of the book that I began before Avalon, S.C. and abandoned because it was far too serious and I wasn’t having fun writing it. You may have noticed that I don’t do serious all that well. But I really like the character. In the meantime she’s gotten mixed up with the Arthurian legend (I warned her, but typically she paid no attention) and acquired a pet.

Can I write a 1st Person novel with a female narrator? I have nightmares about having it seem authentic. Stella is phlegmatic (or maybe she is merely being encouraging). “You wrote Amy and Morgan 1st person in Strange Bedfellows. What’s the big deal?”

Here was the opening for that novel, by the way.

Call me Ishmael.

That’s not my name, of course.  But when you’re writing the Great American Novel and you’re not sure how to start, stealing a successful opening from somebody else is better than writing your own lame opening line.  And it seems more appropriate than “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” even if my name isn’t Ishmael.

If this weren’t supposed to be the Great American Novel and I was more like Emily Dickinson and less like Herman Melville–not that I could be much less like Herman Melville if I had a radical Melvillectomy–and writing a chapter in my memoir that would only be read by people who loved me and not literary critics looking for something new and insightful to poke a hole or two in the Great American Novel, I’d just start off by saying: I remember just like it was yesterday the first time I saw Joan.

That much at least is true.  I remember just like it was yesterday.

My name is Gwen, by the way.

Hopefully my subconscious is working dutifully on this problem. That’s where all the big decisions get made.

And no, she probably can’t keep the name ‘Gwen’ in an Arthurian-linked novel. That name’s taken (plus it was used sort of in Return from Avalon (and Points West).

call me ishmael2call me ishmael4


That Troublesome Last Chapter

Unless my characters rise up in revolt today, I’m finishing up the last chapter in my latest novel, for which SusanH has suggested the title, Sir Kay’s Last Quest. The question for me always is: how the-end-is-heremany loose ends to tie up?

In the editing process of Return from Avalon (and Points West), my editor “suggested” that I get to the end quicker after the climax of the story. When I went back to work on it, I discovered that there were 21,000 words after what most people would regard as the climax. Holy crap, that’s 20% of the book! I painstakingly cut 7,000 words. 7,000 very good words that I’d lovingly crafted in the first place. If I ever become rich and famous as a writer, after I die somebody may be going through my papers and discover those missing 7,000 words. Then there will be a big brouhaha over them and a new edition published with the “lost words,” sort of like they do with long-dead TV series, and then everybody will have to buy a new copy and of course you can’t get that one signed by the author since I’ll be dead. Maybe I should sign a bunch of labels in advance and store them with the lost words. Except that nobody keeps papers anymore, just 40 different versions of manuscripts in digital form. And who would be going through that!

In Strange Bedfellows, you’ll remember (well, probably you won’t. But I’m reminding you so you’ll remember), there were 4 final chapters, one from each characters’ point of view. A tidy little 5500 words. During which we got the happy family moved to the Caribbean, engaged, J.G.’s little girlfriend confirmed to have extra-sensory powers and still around, a messy threesome with Morgan/Tig’noire, etc.

In Avalon, S.C. there weren’t that many loose ends. J.D had been left on the island; Rick and Sabrina had moved from semi-platonic to fully-lubricant lovers. What more was there to wrap up? Adeline offered Rick the job of staying at the cottage as caretaker, they agreed on their story to tell the Sheriff about J.D., Sabrina wasn’t pregnant, plus a nice teaser that ties in with Return from Avalon (and Points West) and sets up a potential novel where Sabrina goes to Wales and meets Vivian and Meg. 1,948 words and we were outta there.

Sir Kay’s Last Quest  has a lot more loose ends. I’m just not sure how many of them to tie up and how many to leave loose. Like the Holy Grail: touch on, or leave hanging? Morgan’s redemption? The upcoming discovery of Lancelot and Guinevere tryst by Aggravaine and company?

Sometimes books have an epilogue where they list the major characters and tell what happened to them. This is a frequent device in military books where a platoon fights together, then disbands after the war (or in the case of Vietnam, rotate home). Curiously, everybody is a success at something; nobody ever lives a life of bleak mediocrity where they lose the house due to mortgage foreclosure. But using that device for an Arthurian book would be even worse:

  • King Arthur: dies in the battle of Camlan
  • Sir Kay: dies in the battle of Camlan
  • Sir Gawain: dies in the battle of Camlan
  • Sir Aggravaine: dies in the battle of Camlan
  • Sir . . .

Hey, I didn’t write the original story. And some things you just can’t up and change. At least with Morgan, we’d have a different fate.

  • Morgan le Fay: learned how to jump into the bodies of “special nieces” to avoid death. Last seen in the 21st century in the body of an 18th century voodoo priestess.


First Draft Readers

My writing partner just made the HUGE step of sending out copies of her first draft to a small number of first draft readers. Well done, SusanH.

“So what exactly is a first draft?” you may ask. “And why do I need first draft readers?”

If you follow the Rusty Rhoad school of writing, the first draft is where you get the story down. The characters should be virtually complete, the plot lines tight, and story compelling. Oh, there will still be a lot of work to do. Things inevitably change as you write, and you’ll have to fix all of those. You never want to go back and rework the beginning of a book while you’re working on the first draft–that’s negative progress. So you’ll have all that to be cleaned up. Plus the language still needs to be polished. As you rewrite, you’ll find better ways to say a lot of things. Probably 25% of your words will change, maybe even half. But the story will be mostly done.

So why would anybody want readers at that stage of the process? Shouldn’t you wait until it’s as good as it can get?

Absolutely not.

Beginning writers in particular need a lot of feedback. Ideally, a little bit of that should be critical. Someone who can (and will, so probably not your mother) tell you if your story is dragging, if it’s not believable, if they hate everybody in the book and just want them to all die. But more than that, beginning writers need support. Their number one problem is typically a lack of confidence; hence, their number one need is someone to tell them that they’re doing good. Someone to help inspire them to keep going when it gets rough. Plus someone the writer feels responsible to. Someone who will ask what’s going on if they haven’t seen a new chapter in a week.

As you mature as a writer, your needs change. I no longer need the confidence injection–at least, most of the time (occasionally I wake up in the middle of the night wondering if I can still write. But usually that’s because I ate too much chili and beer too late the night before). Now I mostly need high level feedback: how much (or how little) they’re enjoying the story and where the weak points are.

But I still have my first draft readers, and I treasure their opinions.

So, if you’re asked to be a first draft reader, what should you do?

  • Be supportive.
  • Be honest.
  • Don’t let your writer get away with slovenly work habits.

Think that just about sums it up.

writing partners2



Update on Sir Kay

Keeping you up to date, since you have a vested interest in this.

The Life and Adventures of Sir Kay (Working title; you’ll soon help me find a better one) is almost through first draft. I’ve completed 51 chapters and 98,000 words. Sir Kay finally slept with the right woman (sleeping with the wrong woman seems to be a unifying theme of my novels). Unless one of my characters throws a fit (or my writing partner, more likely; she’s very fond of the cast and wants them to keep going a little longer), the next chapter will be the last.

So what happens after that?

First, I let it sit for a week or two. During that time, I try not to think about the book. My creative time should be spent finalizing what I’m going to work on next.

Second, I take all the comments I’ve gotten back from my writing partner, my first draft readers, and my various writing groups and collect them all in one copy. Then I print that copy out (that means a trip to OfficeMax; can’t ask my poor printer to do that).

Third, I read the entire novel in two or three days, making copious notes in red. Always in red. Reading a manuscript in a short period of time is a critical step, because you catch a lot of things that get forget writing a chapter or three a week.

Fourth, I begin the first rewrite. Half for content, half to improve the language.

AND (herald, sound the horns), I start posting chapters here on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

This novel may have one additional step: I may write 3-4 new intermediate chapters before I begin the rewrite. Depends on what I think in the critical read.

So looking at my calendar, I should start posting chapters February 10th, maybe? I keep you posted (no pun intended) as I get closer.

In the novel, Sir Kay is 45 and Princess Elaine, the woman whom he falls badly for (or should that be madly), is 52. SusanH sent me this picture of what the two of them together might look like to inspire me. Actually, move the garb back 1500 years and it’s probably pretty close.

Kay and Elaine

New Cover Art!

Once again, the cover artist at Soul Mate Publishing has outdone herself. Just got the first cover art draft for Strange Bedfellows, and not unexpectedly, I’m absolutely delighted.

I asked Debby (Founder and Senior Editor) if the cover artist was the same as for Return from Avalon (and Points West), but she is typically busier than a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest and hasn’t answered yet.

So without further ado, here it is.

Strange Bedfellows CoverMy only comment back, besides how much I love it, was:

The love potion is in too big a container (a ‘flask’ instead of a ‘vial’). There should only be enough for a single use. It’s distilled down, so it should look thick.  Here’s my vision of a vial, although I’m definitely not hard core about this (think the neck adds more interest than just a straight glass vial).  I like the cork a lot, so it could go in the vial.

Definitely my fault. I indicated “bottle of love potion” as one of the key objects in the book. Here’s the image I included in the email.

vial Strange Bedfellows is due out in March. We’re well along in the editing process, so I don’t expect any hitches there.

ON AN UNRELATED TOPIC: If you haven’t checked out the 3-author interview series that Stella is writing for the Examiner, you need to. The interview format has become more interactive, more snarky, and more fun. This week we’re writing a fiction vignette with the 3 (or maybe 4?) of us alternating paragraphs. That’ll be out this coming Sunday.

Examiner Article 1-12-14


Everybody’s Looking for Something. Huh?

Philosophers look for the meaning of life. Alchemists look for the philosopher’s stone. Citizens in Colorado look to get stoned.

Physicists look for dark matter. NASA looks for water on Mars. Biochemists look for ways to snip in bits of DNA to make cancer-seeking viruses. The Marine Corps is looking for a few good men.

Writers are looking for stories containing universal truths that they can sell for a 6-figure advance. The only difference is that writers are looking deep inside their own subconsciousness. That’s also where psychiatrists are looking for answers, except they’re looking in our subconsciousnesses instead of their own.

Everybody’s looking for something. So what are linguists looking for?

One group of them is looking for Universal Words. A word that is universally understood across all countries and cultures. OK, at first glance, that doesn’t seem as significant as universal truths or dark matter or a cure for cancer or even the perfect high. But hey, they’re linguists.

The closest they’d gotten was “mama.” But the evidence was “less than convincing” (I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I’m passing it on anyway).

And now they’ve found one. Drum roll, please. A team of linguists at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics published a paper last November in the Journal PLOS One announcing that “Huh?” is a universal word.


huh-111113“Huh?” is a member of a family of word and expressions used to elicit clarification during conversation, a function that linguists refer to as “other-initiated repair.” Other members of this family were also examined, but only “Huh?” met the strict criteria (which must be pretty strict if “Mama” didn’t qualify).

The team of linguists, working long hours, examined “Huh?”–which they define as “a simple syllable with a low-front central vowel, glottal onset consonant, if any, and questioning intonation”–across 10 languages including Dutch, Icelandic, Mandarin Chinese, the West African language Siwu, and the Austrialian aboriginal language Murrinh-Patha. And they all understood it! Eureka!

You heard it here first (unless you happen to subscribe to PLOS One, or read a newspaper, or frequent more up-to-the-minute blogs than this one).


A Perfect Summary of the Year So Far

At one of my writers’ groups last night, member Jeanne Edmonds shared this piece with us. It’s a perfect example of pacing–a semi-stream of consciousness flow driving the piece. Plus it neatly wraps up the year so far. So I thought I’d share it with you.

* * * * *

Treatise on Football Bowl Games

There are thirty-five bowl games that end the 2013 season. Actually, twelve of those are in 2014. Leonard, the football nut, pointed that out. Who cares? Anyway, he said it was all about money, the big bucks. One game, the BCS, that means Bowl Championship Series, is for all the marbles, as they say, and winning means being the best college team in the country, after everybody plays all those games and beats each other up, broken legs, concussions, etc., with coaches then fired because they lost too many games, which I don’t understand because they didn’t play one second, just stood around with mean looks on their faces and screamed and cussed and spit. Well, back to the games. In the Sugar Bowl, I love that name, it’s so sweet, ha, ha, Oklahoma plays the ex-number one team in the country, Alabama, who lost one dumb game in the last minute to Auburn, who also lost one dumb game but came out ranked better. Go figure. My sister loves Oklahoma because she lives there. Mercy, she was born in Texas! So she wants “her boys” to whip the Crimson Tide. Leonard says “no way” and Oklahoma ought to just forfeit and go back to Norman. Then Texas is playing Oregon in the Alamo Bowl, where else? Gosh, Texas has an 8-4 record, big deal, but Leonard says they needed a Texas team to play there and they have a big steer following, you know, that ‘Hook ‘em Horns’ thing with the fingers stuck out. And Texas Tech meets Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl, that makes sense, and between them they have eight loses! I guess that bowl was hard up. Mr. Football, that Texas A&M player who is rich and wild, will be running around in the Chick-fil-A bowl game. I told Leonard I was going to call a bunch of those games the “Geography Bowls”—the New Mexico, the Las Vegas, New Orleans, Hawaii, Texas, Heart of Dallas, in Dallas, of course. Now get this, there come the food bowls! We have the Potato Bowl—fried? mashed? baked? who knows?—and the Orange Bowl, my favorite the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Little Caesars, I like pepperoni and olives, the Gator (yeah, people eat that, ugh!) and does the Fight Hunger bowl count? Don’t forget the flowers—the really big one with the parade and the floats that go on forever for over a hundred years, not the parade. I mean the tradition, of course. That’s the Rose Bowl, and there’s the Poinsettia Bowl. And does the Cotton Bowl qualify? It’s fluffy and grows on a stem, doesn’t it? We must add the bank bowls, those bastions of integrity, like money bins, Capital One and BBVA Compass. How could they miss the chance to show all those commercials, so people will forget how they got robbed and mortgages went underwater? Gee, I left out Pinstripe and Russell Athletic and Musk City and Sun and Liberty and Outback and Fiesta and GoDaddy.com and Armed Force and . . . I’m tired of this. I don’t even want to watch the games and all those silly players crawling around and knocking each other down in piles and trying to catch the ball and dropping it. The bands are good and the marching. Leonard can sit all day and all night, while he drinks beer and eats chips and yells at the T.V. I’m going to read a good book.

Bob Stoops

Arthurian Literature Quiz

So far, everything I’ve written has an Arthurian connections. I’ve read a lot of fiction (virtually everything I’ve been able to find), a fair amount of non-fiction, and taken a directed studies in Grad School. But by now it’s pretty much mixed up in my head, so I don’t really consider myself an expert.

How much do you know? Today, I offer you a fascinating quiz. The answers are at the bottom, so no peaking.

1.  Who was King Arthur’s mother?

  • a.  Yvaine
  • b.  Igraine
  • c.  Elaine
  • d.  Oraine

2.  Who was Arthur’s foster father from infancy until he pulled the sword from the stone?

  • a.  King Pelinore
  • b.  Woody, a simple woodcutter
  • c.  Sir Ector
  • d.  Merlin

3.  Who wrote the first major work that featured King Arthur as a major figure?

  • a.  Chretien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances
  • b.  Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur
  • c.  Geoffery of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain
  • d.  Henry of Huntington, Historia Anglorum

4.  sword in the stoneThe sword that King Arthur pulled from the stone was named:

  • a.  Caliburn
  • b.  Excalibur
  • c.  Guinevere
  • d.  It didn’t have a name

5.  Where did the Round Table come from?

  • a.  Arthur stole it from the dwarves
  • b.  It was a wedding gift from Guinevere’s father
  • c.  Morgan le Fay fashioned it out of a single piece of oak
  • d.  Merlin had it built by Irish stonecutters

6.  One of the seats at the round table had to remain unoccupied until the Grail knight came to claim it. That seat was called:

  • a.  The Hot Seat
  • b.  Siege Perilous
  • c.  Place de Grail
  • d.  The Empty Chair

7.  If Arthur was a historical figure, he would most likely have lived during the:

  • a.  12th Century
  • b.  Late 10th – early 11th Century
  • c.  Late 5th – early 6th Century
  • d.  7th Century

8.  According to different traditions, 2 different knights were names as the Grail knight.  Those knights were:

  • a.  Tristan and Galahad
  • b.  Gawain and Percival
  • c.  Galahad and Percival
  • d.  Percival and Lionel

9.  Which knight did Arthur command to return his sword to the lake as he was dying?

  • a. Sir Bedivere
  • b. Sir Lancelot
  • c. Sir Gawain
  • d. Sir Lucan

10. According to Malory, the severely (mortally, perhaps? Ah, it is not certain) wounded Arthur was taken away in a boat that contained 3 Queens and a lady.  Which of these were NOT in the boat?

  • a. Queen of the Wastelands
  • b. Nimue
  • c. Lady of Astolot
  • d. Morgan le Fay

How comfortable do you feel with your answers? Any pure guesses? Like the SAT’s (boy howdy, was that a long time ago), I’d say most of you know enough to have been able to eliminate an answer or two. So here goes.


1.  King Arthur’s mother was b. Igraine. She was married to Duke Garlois, one of Uther’s allies. Uther became so besotted with her that he went to war with her husband. Then he pleaded with Merlin for help. Merlin disguised Uther as the duke, so Igraine received him into her bed. Garlois was killed in battle hours later and Uther married Igraine, but Arthur was illegitimate because of the circumstances of his birth.

2.  In exchange for this deed, Uther promised Merlin any child born of that affair. Merlin took the young Arthur to the home of c. Sir Ector, to be raised in foster.

3.  Arthur had been mentioned in passing in a number of histories, poems, and chronicles. But the first time he played a major part in a work was in c. Geoffery of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain. This was not a history as we would consider it, but part history part legend. And the book that launched Arthur as a major literary figure.

4.  The sword that King Arthur pulled from the stone was d. it didn’t have a name. After he broke it in battle, the Lady of the Lake gave him Excalibur (or Caliburn, as it is known in some traditions).

5.  The Round Table, along with 100 knights, was given to Arthur as a wedding present from his father in law, King Leodegrance.

6.  b. The Siege Perilous, as named by Merlin, had to remain unoccupied until the one destined to find the Holy Grail came to claim it.

7. If Arthur was a historical figure–and there is only the faintest of evidence that he was–he would have fought the Saxons in c. the late 5th – early 6th Century.

8.  Galahad, Lancelot’s son, is the Grail knight in English/Welsh traditions. Percival is the grail knight in German and some French tellings. So the correct answer is c.  Galahad and Percival

9.  Arthur command his lifelong friend, a. Sir Bedivere, to return Excalibur to the lake, where the hand of a lady reached up and grasped it.

10. In addition to Queen of Northgalis, the boat contained all listed except c. The Lady of Astolat.  The Lady of Shalott, as she was later known, died of a broken heart because Lancelot rejected her love, long before Arthur’s last battle. She is shown below in a famous John Waterhouse painting (1888).

shalott6It is permissible to brag about your score.

I Resolve . . .

2013 was a remarkable year for me, and for many of you as well.  I confess to being a little sad to see it go, but like somebody once said (I think it was Chaucer’s wife, but experts are of mixed opinions), “Time and Tide wait for no man.” So, bye 2013.

Welcome, 2014. Wonder what you’re gonna be like? Can hardly wait to read the headlines.

“Congress Republicans and Democrats Agree, pass long-needed legislation!”

“Peace treaty signed between Israel and Pakistan!” 

“Scientist explains what makes women tick!”

I’m guessing, probably not. But hey, you never know.

So . . . made any resolutions? I mean besides losing some weight, working out more, spending quality time with family and friends, those old standbys. Looking for some ideas? Here are a few.

1.  Read more.  Used to be, people who had to wait read. Airports, doctors’ waiting rooms, waiting in cars for their kids to get out of school. Now the mobile device has rendered that obsolete. Now in your average airport waiting area, 99% of the travelers are staring at their phones. Yes, I understand, Candy Crush is so compelling. But that’s so 2013.

2.  Read something different.  It’s easy to get into a reading rut. 41 straight Sci-Fi novels, and picking #42. Try something different for a change. Maybe set a goal for 4 during the year.

3.  Write.  If you’ve never indulged in the dark arts, set a modest goal.  A short story by Easter, a poem for your significant other’s birthday, and a 4-page memoir to send out with your Christmas cards. What the heck, you’ve always wanted to. 2014 may be the year.

4.  Finish that novel.  Bruce, this Bud’s for you. And SusanH. And Heather. Lisa and Nick. And a lot more of you I don’t know about. You’ve all positioned yourself to meet this astonishing goal. 2014’s your year. I can’t wait to celebrate with you. I’ll even bring the champagne.

I intend to finish 2 novels in 2014, although there’s a 50-50 chance that one is a rewrite. The first is a no-brainer: I finished Chapter 46 this morning, and the word count eased up over 89,000. Not sure what’s coming next, but I have a novel waiting to get out plus a hankering to rework Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail and get it out there.

I resolve that my next novel is going to have a pet in it. Probably a dog, but it could be a cat. Not sure if they will have their own internal dialog or not; have to wait and see.

My friends, it’s gonna be a great year.