Sir Kay: Chapter 2

I awoke to a steady drizzle and feared for The Queen’s picnic, but it all blew over in favor of blue skies and sunshine by nine. The bards sing that there are laws governing the weather here, which of course is total male bovine excreta. Even Merlin at his best couldn’t control the weather, much less a mere decree by Arthur. But perfect days happen when you need them so often it does make you wonder.

Oswald was waiting outside my door, sipping a cup of warm broth and holding one for me. When Merlin returned from the Middle East and showed up at my father’s doorstep, he brought a supply of the most wondrous beverage imaginable, which he occasionally shared with me. He called it kaffka, which sounds more like a symptom of consumption than the beverage of the gods. By which I mean the little-g gods, those who look down from Olympus and eat ambrosia and drink kaffka, not the big-G God that the Christians worship.

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A Sidekick

One of the items on my writing bucket list was to have a sidekick. I didn’t know it was going to happen in this novel, but I had it on the  checklist to consider as a possibility. And then Oswald happened and suddenly it was a reality.

DEFINITION: A sidekick is a close companion who is generally regarded as subordinate to the one he accompanies.

Wikipedia has this to say about sidekicks:

Sidekicks can provide one or multiple functions, such as a counterpoint to the hero, an alternate point of view, or knowledge, skills, or anything else the hero does not have. They often function as comic relief, and/or the straight man to the hero’s comedic actions. A sidekick can also act as someone that the audience can relate to better than the hero, or whom the audience can imagine themselves as being (such as teen sidekicks). And by asking questions of the hero, or giving the hero someone to talk to, the sidekick provides an opportunity for the author to provide exposition, thereby filling the same role as a Greek chorus.

I think Oswald performs a lot of those functions.

So who are our favorite all-time sidekicks?

TV: Barney Fife to Andy Griffith, Ensign Charles Parker to Lt Cdr Quinton McHale

Movies: Tonto to the Lone Ranger, Goose to Maverick

Literature: Sancho to Don Quixote, Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes, Samwise to Frodo, Fridy to Robinson Crusoe.

Comic Books: Robin to Batman, of course.

Wikipedia further notes that in contrast, “a villain’s supporters are normally called henchmen, minions, or lackeys, not sidekicks. While this is partially a convention in terminology, it also reflects that few villains are capable of bonds of friendship and loyalty, which are normal in the relationship between a hero and sidekick. This may also be due to the different roles in fiction of the protagonist and the antagonist: whereas a sidekick is a relatively important character due to his or her proximity to the protagonist, and so will likely be a developed character, the role of a henchmen is to act as cannon-fodder for the hero and his sidekick. As a result, henchmen tend to be anonymous, disposable characters, existing for the sole purpose of illustrating the protagonists’ prowess as they defeat them.”


The answer is: I didn’t plan it that way. I’ve really liked my kid characters, especially Meg in Return from Avalon (and Points West) and Jonah/J.G. in Strange Bedfellows. But Oswald was merely making a spot appearance when he successfully auditioned for the part of sidekick. Not to mention winning the hearts of all of my first draft readers (and perhaps a touch of mine as well).

When they start teaching my novels in Modern American Fiction courses at all of the best universities, one of the first essays will be to compare and contract J.G. with Oswald. Strangely enough, they are the same age. Again, not by design.

And won’t Oswald make a great character when Sir Kay comes out as a movie?


Sir Kay: Chapter 1

“The queen requests that you attend her, sire.”

The cherubic little page, with his pure tenor voice, scrubbed face, and velvet livery, looked totally ludicrous amidst the rancid sweat and drunken clamor of the Old Boar’s Head. I shook my head at Father Gascon, who was intently studying the chess board on the stained and marred oak table between us. “By the name of Jesus and all the other gods, is this what we’ve come to?”

Gascon tut-tutted me for my irreverence without looking up from the game.

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What’s Going On?

Today’s post will be an update of the things going on in the writing world of Rusty  Rhoad. As Jerry Lee Lewis would say, “There’s a Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

FIRST: The Adventures of Sir Kay. I will begin posting chapters TOMORROW, and continue on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays until it’s done. The critical read and notes for rewrite are completed, as is the rewrite of Chapter 1. Tell all your friends.

Sir Kay will also be getting a real title soon. I think he’s due, don’t you? After bumbling along all these months on a makeshift title. My latest candidate (not the final choice, just my favorite so far) is: Kaffka, the almost-Holy Grail, and a Woman that Reads: The Quests of Sir Kay.

Strange Bedfellows #3 copySECOND: Strange Bedfellows has a release date: March 5th. Yikes! That’s next week! I’ve done a lot to get ready, but there’s still plenty more to do.

*** IF YOU HAVE READ STRANGE BEDFELLOWS, please post a review on Amazon shortly after it is released. Early reviews are important in how a book a touted, listed, etc.

I’ve ordered new business cards with both novels on them. Got word today they’ve shipped, so I should have them in time to hand out at the party this time. Party, crap. Add that to the list of things to do. Hey, if you get a book published, you should have a party. No excuses.

business cardTHIRD: I have made a decision that my next project will be to rework/update Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail. That novel has holy grail 1been sitting around far too long. I will be starting the critical read (the latest critical read–there have already been a half dozen) as soon as I press the “Publish” button for this blog.

FOURTH: Avalon, South Carolina (that is the final title, although the “South Carolina” will be in a smaller font) will be released this summer. Rick, Sabrina, and Chai are ready for their 15 minutes of fame.

FIFTH: Return from Avalon (and Points West) should be coming out in paperback within the next month. That means I can sign copies, make guest appearances, and all that stuff.

As part of the promotion package for Strange Bedfellows, Return from Avalon (and Points West) will be offered for free for 3 days next month. I’ll let you know, although all of you should already have a copy.

SIXTH: The combination of all those things means I’m going to have to get my web page up and running. I’ve have reserved for more than a year now, but didn’t think it would add anything of value until I had two books out. So that moves way up the priority list.

throw up in your mouthSEVENTH: I have finally accepted the fact that I’m going to have to have a presence on Twitter (pardon me while I go get some water; I just threw up in my mouth a little bit). I still don’t get it. But I had some working sessions on building a web presence with somebody who knew a whole lot more about it than I do and, yes, Twitter is the next step.

I’m going to try to get by on 5 hours a week on social media, but frankly, I’m not optimistic.

So there’s a lot going on. But writing is still my first priority (if you’re a writer, it damn well better be).

See you with Sir Kay, installment one tomorrow.

Jerry Lee Lewis2For your entertainment, here’s a video of Jerry Lee Lewis at age 22 (1957), perfoming Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

Rusty’s World of King Arthur: When?

I talked a little bit on Tuesday about “where” Rusty’s realm of King Arthur is located (more about that later). An equally important factor is “when.”

The French Romance writers, notably including the 12th century Chrétien de Troyes, place Arthur and his knights in contemporary times. Thomas Malory, writing in the 15th century, follows that practice. Of course, we know for a fact that if King Arthur really did live, it couldn’t have been during these times. The history of the Middle Ages is too well known. We know every king of England and surrounding territories during that period, and Arthur is not one of them.

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) places Arthur in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. That tradition is much more popular with modern Arthurian writers, although using literary license to move it around a century or two is not uncommon. Geoffrey traces the legend back to a British king named Vortigern; there is reasonable historical evidence that Vortigern was a real person. According to Geoffrey, Vortigern invited the Saxon brothers Hengest and his brother Horsa to Britain and gave them land in exchange for their sister is marriage and fighting to defend his kingdom–an early historical case of hiring the fox to guard the hen house. Vortigern’s rule is thought to have begun around 455.

Vortigern also instigated the murder of one of King Constantine’s three sons, Constans (Constantine was apparently a rival for the position of high king, which didn’t really exist at the time). The other two sons, Ambrosius Aurelianus and Uther Pendragon, escaped to Brittany. They later returned to take vengeance on Vortigern. Ambrosius ruled as high king until his death, and was then succeeded by his brother Uther. And as we all know by know from my Arthurian quizzes, Uther was the father of Arthur.

So here, then, are some key dates from Rusty’s Arthurian Timeline.

457AD: Vortigern is killed, beginning the reign of Ambrosius and then Uther 9 years later (Uther would have been 28 when he became high king).

459: Igrane married Gorlois. In the next 3 years they have three daughters: Elaine, Morgause, and Morgan le Fay.

467: Sir Kay is born (there were no stars in the east to mark the event).

469: Arthur conceived; Uther marries Igrane 13 days later. 9 months after that, Arthur is secretly taken away by Merlin and left with Sir Kay’s father, Sir Ector, to foster.

475: Elaine and Morgause are married off because of Uther’s inability to keep his prick in his pants around his step daughters. Morgan is sent to a nunnery. 4 years later, she escapes and ends up in Fairie for 17 years (as told in Strange Bedfellows).

480: Merlin returns from the Middle East and begins the education of Arthur in the art of kingsmanship, and Sir Kay in mathematics (as told in The Adventures of Sir Kay). He is also carrying with him the Holy Grail (as told in Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail).

485: Uther dies; chaos reigns until . . .

487: Arthur draws the sword from the stone and begins his reign. It takes him 3 years to finally put down the warring kings who refuse to accept him and assume the role as well as the title of High King.

491: Arthur begins the Saxon Wars. This lasts until the Battle of Mount Baden in 498. The battle may have been a real battle; if so, the date 498 is accepted by some scholars as the best estimate of when it took place.

496: Morgan finally escapes Fairie and comes to live with the Lady of the Lake. 4 years later she finally makes it to Camelot. Within a year, a jealous Guinevere has engineered for her to be married to the brutal King Uriens (story told in Strange Bedfellows).

504: Nimue uses her necromancy skills to place the dying Merlin in suspended animation. George Foster sees the pregnant Nimue for the first time.

505: Monsignor Dagrezia, along with Fathers Gascon and Ignatius, introduce Christianity to the Court of Arthur. NOTE: this is very ahistorical–the Christianization of Britain didn’t begin until the 7th century. But religion plays a huge part in the Arthurian legend, so I applied some of that literary license.

508: The first Grail Quest begins, but is unsuccessful.

509: George successfully makes the permanent transition to Avalon and becomes Nimue’s mate.

512: The Adventures of Sir Kay begins.

516: JD is left on Avalon as a potential sacrifice for the following year.

516??: The Battle of Camlann, in which Arthur is critically wounded and Mordred is killed. But maybe not? Perhaps the sacrifice of JD puts this off for a while. Not likely, but I haven’t made the final decision yet.

A notable and commonplace activity of the Knights of the Round Table in all of the stories stories from Chrétien de Troyes to Malory is jousting. Jousting was a sport that began around the 11th century and flourished through the 16th century. But it could NOT have been a sport during Rusty’s Arthurian timeline. Why, you ask? Because the armor of the times simply wasn’t good enough. People would die regularly if you jousted in chain mail. Plate mail, followed by full plate armor, was still several centuries away. To keep the fun, I have invented an early forerunner of jousting for our knights. You should be reading about it a couple of weeks from now.

knight in plate armorKnights in plate armor–as well as their horses–were well protected against harm in the joust.


The Keys to Avalon

In my Arthurian Quiz II post on Friday, I included a picture of the castle ruins at Tintagel. That picture brought about this comment exchange:

STELLA: Question: Have you been to that castle? If not, do you plan to go? How much/many of the things you weave into your story (on the historical side, not the contemporary) have you visited/seen?

RUSTY: While it seems like a simple question, the answer is long and convoluted. So I think I’ll post on that very thing on Tuesday.

STELLA: Oh! I can’t wait to see it!

OK, Stella (and those who are also waiting on pins and needles but didn’t comment)–your wait is over.

Back in 2008 (I think), I went to our chemical plant in Wales on a business trip. It was summer–weather was nice, timing was right–so I invited Kate to meet up with me on Friday and spend a long weekend sightseeing. A week in London 14 years had been our only trip to the UK before that.

Three days to sightsee in SW England or Wales! What did I want to see? Arthur sights, of course. Glastonbury, for certain. Tintagel. Caerleon. Months before the trip, I began researching in earnest about how best to use the limited time.

About that time, my friend Heather (same Heather who comments here occasionally) gave me a book called The Keys to Avalon. It is deep and scholarly, but Arthurphile that I am, I couldn’t put it down.

There were two basic premises for the book. The work that “launched” Arthur as Britain’s foremost myth was Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain, written in Latin c. 1136. In the introduction, Geoffrey stated that Walter the Archdeacon presented him with “a certain very ancient book written in the British language,” and that he translated that book into Latin. This has long been considered a literary device to give credibility to the book rather than a true statement.

A handful of Welsh translations of the History exist from the period shortly after 1136. But here is the strange thing: all of the Welsh manuscripts contain material that is not in the Latin version. Hmm, the authors thought. What if the Welsh version was the original, and that is the ‘ancient’ book that Geoffrey used?

History of the Kings of Britain locates a number of events in relation to “the wall.” It has long been assumed that this refers to Hadrian’s Wall, a Roman fortification that runs from sea to sea between England and Scotland to keep the Picts at bay. That makes Arthur’s realm the whole of England. Unfortunately, it would have been impossible to maintain a kingdom over that large an area in the 5th and early 6th centuries. That lends evidence that the entire account is fictional.

But the History refers to “east of the wall” and “west of the wall.” Since Hadrian’s Wall runs east-west, those references don’t make sense. The second premise of The Keys to Avalon is: suppose “the wall” doesn’t refer to Hadrian’s wall but rather the Wall of Severus?

The Wall of Severus is more commonly known as “Offa’s Dyke,” an earthen ditch and rampart that runs along the border between England and Wales. It has long been attributed to Offa, an 8th century king of Mercia. But it is highly unlikely that either the technology or the social structure existed in Britain during the 8th century to accomplish that task. So historians also consider that the wall may have been built by the Romans during the reign of Severus, 193-211.

united_kingdom_map2Map showing the locations of Hadrian’s Wall and Offa’s Dyke

Offas-DykeRemnants of Offa’s Dyke as it exist today (I have been there)

When you put these two premises together, it shifts the landscape of Arthur 90º from the whole of England to Wales. Then the story matches the capabilities of the time, and the reference in Geoffrey’s work begin to make sense.  The authors worked to verify their premises by locating and translating old Welsh poems that existing in single copies in various churches and abbeys in Wales.

By the time I had finished The Keys to Avalon, I was totally convinced that the historical Arthur was a Welsh king or war leader, not  English at all. That made Tintagel a tourist trap rather than a must-see pilgrimage for the true Arthurphile.

Kate and I ended up spending our days in the UK exploring Neolithic ruins instead. Tombs and cairns and standing stones dot the Welsh landscape as well as much of southwest England. We ended in Avebury, which is featured prominently in Return from Avalon (and Points West).

And that’s why I’ve not been to  Tintagel.

Rusty’s Arthurian landscape expands Arthur’s realm out of Wales to take in SW England, including Bath, Glastonbury, and other parts of Sommerset. But that is acceptable artistic license, don’t you think?

PembrokeshireThe stunning Welsh Neolithic Cairn Pembrokeshire

Arthurian Quiz No. 2

I’ve been critically reading my latest manuscript, which is the first thing I’ve ever written not set in the 21st century (well, more or less. Most of the action in Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail takes place in the 1970’s. But close enough). But the ** Adventures of Sir Kay ** (working title) is set in the 6th Century, and follows Rusty’s version of the Arthurian Legend.

However, as is true of all Arthurian stories: you can’t appreciate the delicious changes to the legend unless you know something about the legend itself. Otherwise, how will you know how deliciously different it is?

So, another Arthurian Literature Quiz today. Much of it focuses on Arthur’s early years. These answers all come from Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur unless otherwise indicated.

1. Who was Arthur’s father?

  • a. Vortigern
  • b. Merlin, the sly dog
  • c. Uther Pendragon
  • d. Ambrosius Aurelianus

2. What favor did Merlin do Arthur father for which he promised to give him his first born child?

  • a. Saved him from poison that Morgan le Fay gave him.
  • b. Disguised him so that Arthur’s mother would sleep with him.
  • c. Killed Arthur’s mother’s husband, the Duke Gorlois.
  • d. Foretold that his son would kill him unless he did.

3. Where was Arthur conceived?

  • a. Tintagel
  • b. Camelot
  • c. Glastonbury
  • d. London

4. Arthur had three half-sisters. Who were they?

  • a. Morgan, Morgause, and Anna
  • b. Morgause, Anna, and Elaine
  • c. Elaine, Morgause, and Morgan
  • d. Igraine, Morgan, and Morgause

5. Arthur’s mother’s husband, Duke Gorlois, was killed on the night of his conception. How much time passed before his father married his mother?

  • a. 24 hours
  • b. 13 days
  • c. 1 year and 1 day
  • d. They were never officially married

6. Where was the famous sword in the stone located?

  • a. Tintagel
  • b. Glastonbury
  • c. Canterbury
  • d. London

7. What was the sword actually stuck into?

  • a. a block of stone in the church courtyard
  • b. a tombstone in the church cemetary
  • c. an anvil
  • d. a barrel

8. Why did Arthur draw it?

  • a. Sir Kay left his sword behind at the inn and needed one.
  • b. Arthur wanted to be king.
  • c. He wanted to test his growing strength.
  • d. Merlin told him to.

9. What happened to the sword that Arthur drew from the stone?

  • a. Sir Bedevere threw it in the lake when Arthur lay dying.
  • b. It broke.
  • c. Morgan le Fay stole it.
  • d. Arthur gave it to Mordred for safe keeping.

10. How many children did Guinevere’s lovers father (total)?

  • a. None
  • b. One
  • c. Two
  • d. Three

11.  And a bonus question: a brachet frequently appears in the Arthurian tales. What is a brachet?

  • a. a dog.
  • b. a thick medicinal plant that grows wild in Wales.
  • c. a hunting bird akin to a falcon.
  • d. a thick band that goes around the wrist.

Many of these questions are relevant to ** The Adventures of Sir Kay. And the answers are:

1. Who was Arthur’s father? c. Uther Pendragon. This question is a gimme; if you missed it, you need to be boning up on your Arthurian reading. Vortigern was the high king before Uther who invited the Saxons to England if they would fight for him.  Ambrosius Aurelianus was Uther’s brother.

2. What favor did Merlin do Arthur father for which he promised to give him his first born child? b.Disguised him so that Arthur’s mother would sleep with him. Uther fell hopelessly for the lovely Igraine, and could not wait to have her. So Merlin disguised him as her husband, thus allowing him access to the castle and her bed.

Tintagel3. Where was Arthur conceived? a. Tintagel was the Duke Gorloius’ castle, where Igraine lived. The ruined castle as it exists today is shown to the right.

4. Arthur had three half-sisters. Who were they? c. Elaine, Morgause, and Morgan. Morgan le Fay is the villainess of many of the Arthur stories. Morgause was the mother of 5 knights of the round table including Sir Gawain. Elaine is never mentioned in more than passing in any of the stories.

5. Arthur’s mother’s husband, Duke Gorlois, was killed on the night of his conception. How much time passed before his father married his mother? b.13 days. Uther was mad for Igraine, and married her as quickly as possible. However, Arthur was conceived before and thus officially a bastard.

6. Where was the famous sword in the stone located? d. London. The Archbishop of Canterbury summoned the kings and nobles to London. There, the found the sword outside “the greatest church of London, whether it were Paul’s or not the French book maketh no mention.”

the-sword-in-the-stone7. What was the sword actually stuck into? c. an anvil.  So why isn’t it called the sword in the anvil? Poetic license, I suppose.

8. Why did Arthur draw it?  a.Sir Kay left his sword behind at the inn and needed one. He sent his squire Arthur back for it, but the inn was locked. Arthur saw the sword in the church courtyard and drew it out for his foster brother to use in the upcoming tournament.

9. What happened to the sword that Arthur drew from the stone? b. It broke, and was replaced with Excalibur, given to the young king by the Lady of the Lake.

10. How many children did Guinevere’s lovers father (total)? c. Two. Arthur fathered Mordred with his half sister Morgause (they did not know that they were kin at the time). Lancelot fathered Galahad with a different Elaine (there are a lot of them in the legend).

11.  And a bonus question: a brachet frequently appears in the Arthurian tales. What is a brachet? a. a brachet is a dog. According to Wikipedia, it is (obsolete) A female hunting hound that hunts by scent. In the Adventures of Sir Kay, I am more liberal with the definition (as was Malory, I’m sure); the brachet Miffy is NOT a hunting dog. Or as Elvis would say, “Ain’t nothing but a hound dog.”


The Critical Read

A key part of the writing process–a very critical part for me (no pun intended), certainly–is the critical read.

A critical read is when you sit down with your novel in one hand and a red pen in the other and read it cover to cover in a relatively short time. Pretending that you didn’t write it. Looking for every possible shortcoming, plot weakness, inconsistency, and problem. Along with all the places that the writing could be improved (although that’s not the focus on the 1st rewrite). You don’t FIX everything, just NOTE everything.

It took me a lot longer than I expected to incorporate all the changes, suggestions, etc. into a single draft, convert everything to black so I wouldn’t have to pay $1/page to get it printed out, and get a clean copy. So I didn’t start the critical read until yesterday.

When I went looking for a red pen to get started, I found a green one there in my drawer. I thought it might be a sign that I should pretend I was SusanH as I was reading the draft. Gave me the willies for a moment. But I couldn’t find a purple pen, so I decided it was mere coincidence. Whew.

I started The Adventures of Sir Kay (I’m going to have to come up with a better title pretty soon) back at the end of June, 2013. I was posting Chapters 16, 17, somewhere around there, of Avalon, S.C. on my blog for you to read. Yeah, that long ago. That’s about how long it’s been since I read the opening chapters.

Now matter how fresh you try to keep things in your mind, June was a long time ago. Reading a novel in a few days is a much different experience than reading it over 8 months as you write it. For one thing, the flow is VERY different than you think it is.

In a very telling introduction to Buffalo Girls (as I remember it), Larry McMurtry noted that as a writer, you spend an inordinate amount of time reading the words of the same author–yourself. And after a while, it all seems stale. But I am happy to report, that is NOT my experience as a writer so far. And it certainly hasn’t been true for Sir Kay.

One of the very, very best things that happens to a writer is when you read something that you wrote a while ago and it delights you all over again. So far, that’s been my experience with Sir Kay. There are obvious holes, and things that need quite a bit of work. But there are also those moments of joy when something that I wrote several months ago makes me laugh out loud.

And the conversation between two middle-age geeks when he meets his lady love the first time . . . ah. Sigh.

And falling for Oswald all over again.

It’s been a fun couple of days so far. And unlike the unfortunate Sir Kay, who got to sampe the delights of kaffka when Merlin brought some back from the Middle East but it’s long since gone, I get to drink coffee as I read.

I’m still a couple of weeks from beginning to post. Maybe the week of Feb 24th. I’ll keep you posted.


Writers You Admire

This blog post is an extract of a larger post that’s coming out in the Examiner on Sunday. If you haven’t read any of these posts, go check it out–they’re a lot of fun.

The last post was a writing exercise where three of us alternated paragraphs in a short “story,” A Man Walked Into a Bar.

I’ve only extracted my answers to the questions; you’ll have to go to the Examiner on Sunday to get the other author’s wit and wisdom.


STELLA: Who are some writers that you really admire? Why?

RUSTY: “Admire” is a tough word to pin down. In 2013 I read both The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises. Those books are stunningly brilliant.

But one can only admire Hemmingway from a distance. I could never aspire to write like him, because he is a genius and I’m simply not. Even on my best days (although on my best I days I can pretend that I am).

Over the years dozens of authors have made it to my ‘A List.’ That means I actively pursue and read every word they’ve written. Two of the writer’s on Will’s list of ‘Mainstays’ (Will Graham is one of the writers who participated in this article), John D. MacDonald and Ian Fleming, were both on my ‘A List.’ I liked John D. MacDonald so well that I named my firstborn Travis after Travis McGee, his best character.

But for the purposes of this article, I’m going to define ‘admire’ as ‘admire a writer as a personal role model.’ And for me, the three biggies are Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, and Christopher Moore. They helped me define my writing voice.

STELLA: Have your favorites changed over the years? What brought that about?

RUSTY: In high school, I considered Steinbeck the greatest 20th century author. He was more accessible, and appealed to my teenage angst more than, say, Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby has gotten a whole lot better since I read it in the 60’s).

I was introduced to Vonnegut in 1969 when Cat’s Cradle was assigned in my college freshman English course. Thus began a life-long love of his novels. I read Timequake in 2005, which Vonnegut called in the Prologue “my last book.” Two years later he was dead. At least I had Timequake to say goodbye and those last couple of years to get used to the idea.

Robbins and Moore replaced other writers as role models as I recognized what I could do relatively well (offbeat humor) and what I couldn’t do at all (serious literary fiction) as a writer.

STELLA: If you could write like any one author, which one would that be?  If it’s not the same ones you listed above, why this one?

RUSTY: J. K. Rowling, maybe? She’s sold 400,000,000 books in 16 years and earned an estimated $800,000,000 in royalties. I don’t really write for the money, but it’d be kind of fun to get a 7 figure royalty check once in your life.

(OK, that answer is totally cheating. I knew it when I gave it. So I’m going to ask a related question a different way and not duck the answer this time).

IMAGINARY INTERVIEWER: Let me ask a different but related question. Suppose you could have been the author of just one book that has ever been written. Which one would you choose?

MILDLY CHASTENED RUSTY: That’s a really tough question. I could say Cat’s Cradle and be really happy with that answer. My “favorite” book ever in The Magus by John Fowles; I would certainly be satisfied if I had written that book. The book that I have read more than any other is Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising (except it might actually be Cat’s Cradle). I’d be happy with that, even.

But since I get to pick from any book that’s ever been written, I’m going to take To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Unquestionable greatness. I love the characters, particularly Scout. To have been read and admired by that many people, well that’d be hard to beat. So I’m going with that one.

admired book collage

Editing: A Love-Hate Relationship

I’ve just moved from doing a lot of writing to not doing much writing at all, and at the same time poised on the edge overlooking a great chasm . . . of editing.

I have a true love-hate relationship with editing. You can’t be an effective writer without being a good editor, so you’ve got to suck it up and do it. And do it well. Without whining and bitching about it. But.

What I love about editing:

  1. I love good writing. A well-written sentence is a piece of dark chocolate wrapped in a rainbow and sprinkled with a twist of imagination. I love to read something I wrote sometime in the past and think, “Hey! This is good!”
  2. There is something immensely satisfying in completing a good rewrite and knowing that what you’ve finished is way better than when you started.
  3. My father taught me to appreciate good craftsmanship. I’ll never be as good as he was: don’t have the patience. He could take more time sanding a drawer front than I was willing to spend on an entire piece of furniture. But I learned to appreciate the beauty of something done well.
  4. Editing happens in big chunks. You can see real progress in a hurry. It puts you closer to publication in steps that you can immediately appreciate.

What I hate about editing:

  1. It’s not writing. It takes away writing time and spends it on something that isn’t writing.
  2. It’s simply not as creative. The best sentences that comes out of a rewrite are every bit as creative, and take every  bit as much imagination, as those that come out of a first draft. There just aren’t as many of them. For me, anyway.
  3. Expanding on #2. For me, editing doesn’t consistently engage the subconscious. Your invisible friends don’t get to run and frolic in the meadow. Mostly it’s you and your English teacher, although some days it’s Spring and you get to hold class outside.
  4. It’s not writing.

The Adventures of Sir Kay will be fun to edit. I have some fundamental problems to work out. The conflict between Kay and Aggravaine needs serious expansion. In the first draft, the reader doesn’t appreciate how screwed up Kay is; that, for the first time in his life, he doesn’t have any idea how to accomplish something. More tension. Etc.

But it has good bones. And a lot of really good sentences already. Just needs some love.


And then on top of that . . .

If my next project is to rewrite Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail, that will be 20% writing and 80% editing. Back to back! Aargh. And worse, no matter when I decide to do it, it will always be back to back with something.

I can’t imagine being able to juggle revising Bradley Schuster and writing a new novel at the same time. I know, I’ve been editing one book while writing another for several novels now. But it’s going to need my undivided attention, at least for a while.

And then the final straw: I just finished the second pass of edits on Strange Bedfellows with my editor.

I hate editing.

Good thing I love it.

ps: if your retirement account needs a little boost, buy some stock in a company that makes red ink.

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