I have now seriously started The Wizard in his Keep. It is most likely to be the next novel I publish. Though AeroQuest 4 and Hidden Kingdom are both in the running. But I have already gotten the tingles from this new work in progress. It is beginning to feel like a good story. It is rolling out of the word processor as easy as pouring hot molasses from a glass jar. And it smells just as sweet. (Wait, do novels have smells? I think they must. This one is green apple, caramel, and molasses.)
I already wrote about the three main characters in the above illustration. So, you should probably already know that they are Mortie, Daisy, and Johnny Brown, the orphaned children of the late Stacy and Brom Brown.
The two characters in the new illustration at the start of this post are Hoodwink and Babbles. They are not so much real people as they are non-player characters in a virtual-reality video game. The program behind the game has slightly too much intelligence for a computer thingy. But that’s what makes it ripe for an unexpected intrusion of fairy magic and the wizardry of the game master, Milt Morgan. It results in a boy named Hoodwink and a Kelpie named Babbles that are a little bit more than merely human.
I could tell you more, but I actually need to save it for the rough draft. This story has a tingly feeling about it that it shares with my best work.
“So, Grand Admiral Cloudstalker, how does it feel to be in command of an entire Space Navy?” Tron asked, only half in jest.
“Grand Admiral? Really? Aren’t we being a touch pretentious here?”
“Arkin, we started a rebellion against the Imperial Order. We have to have a new order ready in case we actually have to run an interstellar empire.”
Arkin was wearing a white cowboy hat from his Pan Galactican days. It was pulled forward and down enough to make him look angry when he glared directly into your eyes. Or, rather, one real eye and one prosthetic. Tron blinked his real eye.
“I have every confidence in you, my friend. You started the Lady Knights from scratch. You designed and built the first White Sword Corsairs. You recruited all the best female star pilots that the stupid Imperium wouldn’t even look at. You fought the Faceless Horde for a decade and never really lost a battle.”
“We didn’t lose because when we didn’t have overwhelming odds in our favor, we ran away like cowards.”
“You were a privateer, for gawd’s sakes,” swore Tron with a rather lame swear. “You never swore an oath to die in battle for old Tang when all you stood to get out of it was what money and tech you could loot from the enemy. And those Faceless Scondians didn’t have anything we could use once we looted it.”
“You didn’t swear an oath either Tron, and you lost an eye and nearly lost your beloved Maggie. Razor Conn lost his entire goddam home planet, along with all of his family.”
“But you do have to admit, we were all space warriors from birth. We did it because it was what we were born to do. Scondians and Imperials be damned!”
“Yeah, I suppose you have a point. You designed and created Pinwheel Corsairs, and old Razor made the first Blackhawks.”
“We put together some really fine fighting forces, didn’t we? You with Apache Scout and Tabitha Blue -Arrow, me with King Killer, Elvis the Cruel, and Scheherazade.”
“Now, right there is one of the things that worries me most. We were in the middle of a life-and-death fight when we picked out the cream of the cream. These alien rookie-things that are supposed to fill our new fleets… I mean, can King possibly train them in simulators to a point where they will survive a first battle with the fleets of the Imperium when we face Admiral Tang?”
“You know I believe in King Killer.”
“But these green alien troops? Rock men? Squid men? Goofy-looking, big-finger men?”
“Well, if humans can do it…”
“But these alien pilots can’t. They do fine in the simulators, but then they get into a starship made with Ancient technology, and the first thing they do is crash into each other, blow up the ships, and die a horrible death.”
“Well, the humans from Don’t Go Here…”
“…Can’t fly worth snergle poop either!”
“But the original crew of Megadeath…”
“Have you talked to those morons in person, Tron? They are the dumbest collection of numb-noggins in the universe! And that Vince Niell! He is a pilot only because his ship does most of the hard flying for him.”
“So, what you are saying is… our rookies are all too smart to be piloting these Ancient-tech starships? We need to be training them to be dumber and let the ships do the hard parts?”
“Hmm… now that you mention it, that is sorta the one thing we haven’t tried yet. We need to train them to empty their minds and not overthink things. Let the starship do its own thing?”
Both Tron and Arkin stared at each other in horror at the revelation. They had been going about it totally wrong. Pick dumber guys as pilots. Tell them to think less and let the ship itself do more. Could it really be that simple?
Of course not! Are you dense, dear reader? They merely thought it was that simple.
If I am ever going to sound at all like an author talking about his craft, then I guess there is really no better place to start than with character development.
One of the most important factors in starting a new novel is how you put together the jigsaw-puzzle pieces that are the characters. I have had the characters in my head since about 1974. Daisy Brown and her two younger brothers, Johnny and little Mortie (short for Mortimer Snerdly Brown, named after his Great Grandpa Mortie and his Grand Uncle Snerdly) are the three characters that the story starts with on the night of the car accident.
Notice that the plot throws the three children above directly into a conflict right from the start. They were all in the back seat of the car. Their parents were in the front. Dad (who’s name is Brom, short for Bromley Mortimer Brown) has a bad reputation for reckless driving and being an alcoholic. He is driving. But he is sober. Mom (who’s name is Stacey Clarke Brown) is in the front passenger-side seat. Both of them are killed in the wreck. (Ironically the young man who hit them also dies, but he is the one guilty of drinking and driving on the night of the accident.) Some of those details come out in the first two chapters. Some of those details never actually come out in the course of the story. That’s the thing about characters, the author must have an idea of all the important details of their lives from early on in the creation process. But many of those details are not necessary to use in the story. You just need them so that you sound like you know them as you write about them.
Let me start by describing the development of my protagonist, Daisy Stacey Brown. She has been the protagonist of this tale since 1974. She was originally based on the younger of my two younger sisters. That is where the adventurous spirit comes from. And the slightly ditsy quality of her highly-imaginative inner monologue comes basically from my sister’s daughter who was born about 1993-ish (and the story, of course, happens in 1996, so it is based more on the present form of my niece shoe-horned into Daisy’s fifteen-year-old skinny body). Daisy is followed as the focus-character in a third-person-limited-point-of-view narrative. Here is a sample of that described in the story’s opening and filtered through Daisy’s unique brain;
The sound of the ambulance siren was raucous behind the car, like someone trying to play an AC/DC medley with a circus air-horn. And a clown playing it who was drunk on too many pre-show hits from the gin bottle in the straw at the bottom of the lion cage.
It kinda made Daisy smile to think of that analogy. She needed something like that to get her mind off what hadhappened that horrible night, a mere half an hour before.
I haven’t given any physical descriptions of Daisy in the first chapter of the story. Those things are slipped in later in nearly unnoticeable bits and drops. The fact that she has strawberry-red curly hair doesn’t get said until well after the reader sees it in the black-and-white illustration. Her skinniness, pale coloring, and awkwardness will be in descriptions that happen later in separate and isolated spots.
Far more important is the way her mind works, which I try to show rather than tell. She is one of those people who is both innocent without being ignorant, and imaginative without being merely random.
Other characters will be established too with an eye on what they are like at the beginning, and a mindfulness of what they will become as the plot changes them over time.
Johnny is a sad-sack introvert who blossoms as he overcomes problems associated with the initial tragedy. He grows as he proves to himself that he is neither a coward nor a fool.
Mortie is unflappable from beginning to end in the way small children often are. He possesses a powerful sense of wonder that overwhelms fear and sadness over his losses.
That is probably enough of an insight into how I am shaping these characters for now. If you look inside this process too closely, and compare it to my last post, I run the risk of letting you see how I may be using this story to process my own upcoming loss of a parent. The pandemic and my father’s Parkinson’s disease ironically is hitting this story with enough irony to iron out more than just the wrinkles. It may well iron me flat.
It is getting harder and harder to climb the new day’s hill to get to the summit where I can reasonably get a good look at the road ahead. At almost-64, I can see the road ahead is far shorter and much darker than the highway stretching out behind me. It is not so much a matter of how much time I have spent on the road as it is a matter of the wear and tear the mileage has caused.
This weekend I had another depressing free-book promotion where, in five days, I only moved five books, one purchase, and four free books. I have made $0.45 as an author for the month of June.
I was recently given another bit of good advice from a successful author. He said that I shouldn’t be in such a rush to publish. He suggested taking more time with my writing. Hold on to it longer. Polish it and love it more. And now that I have reached sixteen books published on my author’s page, I have basically beaten the grim reaper in the question of whether or not he was ever going to silence me and my author’s voice. I can afford to live with the next one longer.
But the last one, A Field Guide to Fauns, practically wrote itself. It went fast from inspiration to publication simply because the writer in me was on fire and full of love and life and laughter that had to boil over into hot print exactly as quickly as it did. The additional writing time afforded me by the pandemic and quarantine didn’t hurt either. Once in print, my nudist friends loved it.
This next one has the potential to boil and brew and pop out of me in the same accelerated way as that last one did. Of course, it has been percolating inside my brain basically since the Summer of 1974. So, this is no rushed job. The Wizard in his Keep is a story of a man who tries to take the children of the sister of his childhood best friend to a place of safety when their parents are killed in a car wreck. But the only safe place he has to offer is in the world of his imagination. A world he has bizarrely made real. And that best friend comes searching for the children. And so does a predator who seeks to do them all grievous harm.
In many ways, it is a story already written.
So, I am rekindling the flame that keeps the story-pot boiling. And more of it is already cooking. And I am recovering from the cool winds of disappointment, as well as the dark stormclouds of the nearing future.
Things were a bit crazy on the surface of Outpost as the airless planet began preparing for the coming space battle with Admiral Tang and the Imperial Fleet. But King Killer was certain it had to be like eating cake and ice cream down there compared to what he had to do up in orbit.
He paced back and forth in front of the ten pilots he had lined up on the flight deck of his command ship.
“You men are the cream of the crop of new pilots. You are already designated as wing commanders. And the ranks of ship captains and vice admirals above you are completely empty and waiting to be filled. And yet, between the ten of you, you have already crashed twenty ships. And you are lucky those were these bulky Triceratops cruisers. Their Ancient tech makes them practically indestructible and easy to repair. Every pilot who has crashed a Pterosaur fighter so far, all two hundred and fifty-three of them, are dead. And their ships are destroyed.”
All five cavemen from Don’t Go Here, and all three M’uduai from what King was calling Squidworld, and the idiot from Geogenesis, and the rockman from Dekastria nodded their stupid heads at the same time.
“Do you actually understand me? Or do your heads just do that because you see the others do it?”
“Yes, Admiral Killer, Sir!” they chimed in unison.
“Zukkuua. Kuakuua Killer, Kua!” shouted the rockman who didn’t know Galactic English yet.
“You mean, yes, you understand me? Or, yes, you are just imitating the others?”
“We understand you, Admiral Killer, sir!”
“Slikka ku Kikk kik?” said the rockman. Then he appeared to be thinking about it. “Zukkuua, Kuakuua Killer, Kua!”
“What did he say?” King asked.
“He said he understands, but wonders if you understand him?” said the caveman in the thick reading glasses.
“Teach him Galactic English, dammit!”
“Uh, yessir! Admiral Killer, sir!”
“Okay, now, these men will be your teachers, as they are some of the finest pilots anywhere on the frontier.”
King indicated the three pilots standing behind him.
“Elvis the Cruel has more kills in battle than any other pilot I have ever heard about. With the Pinwheel Corsairs he has killed more than nine hundred space ships and more than a thousand ground targets.”
Elvis stepped forward, gave a jaunty salute, and then said, with a cigarette stub hanging off his lip, “Thank ya, thank ya very much.”
All ten pilots clapped.
“Apache Scout has been the number-two pilot in the Lady Knights Corsair Band for fifteen years. He was one of the most effective fighters in the First Battle of White Palm. He also helped plan the overall battle plan for that invasion.”
The huge, well-muscled descendant of old Earth Apaches stepped forward and saluted with a stern face.
The pilots all saluted back and then clapped.
“And I hope the third trainer, Vince Niell will be the most help to you. He started as a rookie pilot from Don’t Go Here. He took up piloting aboard the first starship designed by Ancient technology, the Megadeath. He has swiftly become a peerless pilot, maneuvering that ship in ways I have never seen done before.”
Vince, still wearing his mirrored sunglasses inside the spaceship’s fighter flight deck, stepped forward and saluted.
They all saluted back and clapped.
“Perhaps, Admiral Vince, you can tell us a little bit about how you learned to pilot your ship in combat?”
“Um… yeah, well, you see, sir… um… Actually, the ship kinda taught me herself. I kinda developed a close working relationship with my baby and she sorta does whatever I can picture in my head for her to do.”
“Wait a minute!” King’s head was suddenly swimming in a sea of shock. “You mean your ship is telepathic?”
“Um, yeah. I think it’s kinda a feature of all these Ancient starships. The Triceratops I tried out after Tron first brought them here seemed to read my mind as easily as the Megadeath does.”
King Killer hit his own forehead with his gloved fist. Why was he just now hearing this? He had a sudden urge to punch Dr. Hooey in the face again. Too bad the stupid Time Knight was not present. And too bad the problem wasn’t really his fault.
“Willy! Willy Culver! Get out here this instant!”
The man who wasn’t supposed to survive the imprisonment on the planet Stanley came out of the tool room obediently. King punched him in the eye and knocked him out cold. King knew there was a good reason he had saved that man’s life.
“Okay. You all heard Admiral Niell’s advice. The next time you fly, think at your stupid starship until the damned thing thinks back!”
Posting every day keeps the imaginary writing muscles toned and renews my basic energy levels. But it also becomes a chore on certain days. Like today. The weather has got me down with arthritis woes. Typing like this is it not as easy as it should be. And when I have to labor at it to make the paragraphs flow, sometimes I just turn it all into rambling babbling. I spin my mental wheels and get nowhere.
I can use this post to tell you, however, that I have now started a new work-in-progress. I have already pounded out the first four thousand words of The Wizard in His Keep.
This is the final story in the arc of the character Milt Morgan. This story has been gestating in my brain since 1995. Though, if I am honest, it began with fantasies I had back in fifth grade. The main character, Milt Morgan, is half me and half the other Mike from our gang back in Rowan in the 1960’s. Back when Mike and Michael were sometimes good friends and sometimes the brains behind evil plans and terrible tricks. He supplied the devious know-how, and I provided the creative spark that lit the schemes on fire.
But this story is advanced to the computer age.
In 1996, Milt Morgan was a 34-year-old video game designer living a double life in a high-tech, state-of-the-art computer lab. It is then that he mysteriously kidnaps the three children of his child-hood friend’s sister and takes them away to a magical world that only two people in the entire world have the keys to. Milt is the Wizard. The other Key-Master is Daniel Quilp, the Necromancer. A battle for the soul of the world must take place, and Daisy, Johnny, and Mortie Brown are a part of it.
Anyway, the words are beginning to pile up again. And again I have made something out of nothing. My book promotion is still going on until tomorrow. The link above can still get you a free e-book copy until after midnight tomorrow. And nobody, it seems, still wants my book for free. (How’s that for a pathos pitch?) We’ll see how it all ends tomorrow.
I am running another free-book promotion this month, once again for Recipes for Gingerbread Children. Same song, third verse. It seems no one wants this book. I can’t even give it away for free.
I suppose it might have something to do with the fact that there are nudists in the story. It’s true, the Cobble Twins are teenage girls who love to be naked. And in the story, they spend time at Grandma Gretel’s house walking around with no clothes on. And when they get their junior high friends to visit Gretel, eat her gingerbread cookies, and listen to her stories, they also try to convince their friends to get naked too. But, really, it is a part of the charm of those two characters. It is not a pornographic story, and they basically fail in promoting nudism among eighth graders.
But nudism has a slightly different meaning for Gretel Stein. She barely escaped the showers at Auschwitz. It is the hardest story she has to tell.
I am roundly disappointed. I have every reason to believe I am a good writer and this is a good book. But how can I get people to agree if no one is willing to read it? I have to just keep trying. The book is still free until Tuesday midnight.
Yes, this post is a shameless promotion. But this is a good book that not enough people are reading to truly appreciate that fact. When I was a boy in the 1960’s, there really was an old German lady who lived in a small tar-papered house, all ginger-brown in color, which we all called the Gingerbread House. She really did love to give out sweets and cookies and popcorn balls to the kids in our town. And she really did love to talk to people and tell them little stories.
Her name, in real life, was Marie Jacobson. She was, in fact, a survivor of the holocaust. She had a tattoo on her right forearm that I saw only one time. Our parents told us what the tattoo meant. But there were no details ever added to the story. Mrs. Jacobson doted on the local children. She regularly gave me chocolate bars just because I held the door for her after church. But she was apparently unwilling to ever talk about World War II and Germany. We were told never to press for answers. There was, however, a rumor that she lost her family in one of the camps. And I have always been the kind that fills in the details with fiction when the truth is out of reach.
I based the character of Grandma Gretel on Mrs. Jacobson. But the facts about her secret life are, of course, from my imagination, not from the truth about Mrs. Jacobson’s real life.
Marie Jacobson cooked gingerbread cookies. I know because I ate some. But she didn’t talk to fairies or use magic spells in cooking. I know because the fairies from the Hidden Kingdom in Rowan disavowed ever talking to any slow one but me. She wasn’t Jewish, since she went to our Methodist Church. She wasn’t a nudist, either. But neither were my twin cousins who the Cobble Sisters, the nude girls in the story, are fifty percent based on. A lot of details about the kids in my book come from the lives of my students in Texas. The blond nudist twins were in my class in the early eighties. And they were only part-time nudists who talked about it more than lived it.
But the story itself is not about nudists, or Nazis, or gingerbread children coming to life through magic. The story is about how telling stories can help us to allay our fears. Telling stories can help us cope with and make meaning out of the most terrible things that have happened to us in life. And it is also a way to connect with the hearts of other people and help them to see us for who we really are. And that was the whole reason for writing this book.