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.
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.
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.
Like any Indie writer who has had enough of paying publishers to publish my work, any tiny bit of success is immediately seized upon and cherished, and immediately all goes into my head to swell the ego and make me strut like a rooster in the barnyard who doesn’t realize the next step for him is either the stew-pot or the oven.
I have read enough Indie books to realize that a vast majority of them are written by strutting roosters that, once their head is removed, still won’t realize that they are not the greatest writer since Hemingway and Faulkner. (They can’t compare themselves to Donald Barthelme, or James Thurber, or J.D. Salinger because most of them have never heard of those writers, let alone read anything like City Life, My Life and Hard Times, or Franny andZooey.) I confess… At least I know I am no Hemingway or Faulkner. But I continue to protect my delusion that I am a good writer of young adult novels.
But this week I got more sugar pills for the ego in the form of reviews and evidence that people are actually reading my books.
My teacher story, Magical Miss Morgan got read at least twice on Amazon Prime, one of those yielding another 4-star review. And A Field Guide to Fauns got its first review, a 5-star review, that can be seen here;http://tvhost.co.uk/april-and-may-reading
That review is written by a fellow author whose novels also contain nudist characters like the Field Guide does.
So, a little bit of success like that makes the old heart keep pumping with hope. But I am still a long way from any kind of financial proof or critical acclaim sort of proof that I am a successful writer. Any notions of success are still all in my head. And that’s where they really ought to be. After all, it is only my belief that my writing is worth doing that will cause any more of it to happen. And more of it should happen. Otherwise my head might explode. And wouldn’t that be a terrible mess?
It is a fairly difficult thing to face a blank page every single day. I usually win in the battle to write something every day. But not always. Some days it is just too hard. Some days I am not well enough to make my stupid old brain spin up a spider-web of words. Some days the words are just Teufelsscheiße (poop coming out of the Devil in German).
But staring at a blank page today got me thinking about the process again, how the words come, where they come from, and why.
I just finished the most successful free-book promotion I have ever had. I gave away more books than ever before, and I gave some away every single day of the promotion. Some who downloaded the e-book even thanked me and told me they would read it. One even promised to read it right after he finished reading one of my other books.
Of course, you can see that this novel has nudist characters in it, and it is even set in a nudist park. So, naturally, the copies were mostly grabbed by members of the Twitter-nudist circle of friends and acquaintances I have on Twitter. But it is thrilling to know someone is actually going to read one, or even two of my books. I haven’t gotten enough of that feeling as an author. It is one of the main purposes of my writing, to have readers.
But this post is supposed to be about process, not publication. So, how did I come to write this thing? This nudist novel and this blog about writing it?
Well, like most real writers, I choose to write about what I know. And I am acquainted with naturism. I had a girlfriend once whose sister lived in a nudist apartment complex in Austin. I was inside that place a dozen times or so. I have also been to the nudist park north of Dallas. I have experience of nudists and at least some idea of what it is like to be one.
And the characters in the story are all based on real people. The main character is at least fifty percent me. The other fifty percent is a member of my family. The stepmom in the story is a combination of two former girlfriends. Her twin girls are partly based on my twin cousins (who have never been nudists) and on twin girls in my class in the 80’s (who lived naked at least once in a while, if not as much as the twins in the story).
But the critical themes in the story are not really about being a nudist. Naked is a metaphor for honesty, being able to hide nothing because you no longer wear the armor that you once used to hide from repressed memories of abuse. The main character, Devon, is battling depression and suicidal thoughts brought on by a life full of abuse. And he learns to overcome these life-threatening things by being honest with others, especially by being honest with himself. A little bit of naked honesty turns out to be the key that unlocks his prison cell.
As I put words and stories and blog posts together, I invariably find myself writing about certain things over and over and over again. They are the things I wrestle with daily. I write to keep my mind active, and to keep my heart and soul alive.
It isn’t too much to expect to look at a blank page every day, and to find there the words that I need to say. It is daunting, but doable. And it gets easier with practice.
Canto 90 – Little, Medium, and Big Are All the Same (the Blue Thread)
Unlike other impending revolutions, the upheaval of the planet Djinnistan was so far overdue that the inequity and inequality between races was laughable.
The gigantic Afrits were all treated as machinery rather thinking, feeling, sentient beings. The Faulkner Genetics executives who ruled the star system felt that someone with artificially limited intelligence didn’t have to be treated as equal to anyone. They continued to follow orders blindly because they were simply not smart enough to question them, although there was no doubt about whether there was suffering going on in the Afrit community. No one bothered to suggest to them that they might vomit lava on their oppressors and be easily done with them.
The tiny Peris had an opposite sort of problem. They were child-sized even as adults, and though they were highly intelligent, some of them more intelligent than their corporate masters, they were easily frightened and intimidated by the security beasts (basically genetically enhanced primates in Nazi uniforms who were excessively violent, limited in thinking ability, and fond of the taste of Peri children).
The security beasts themselves enjoyed conflict and violence. They understood two-word sentences like, “Kill Peris,” “Eat children,” “Throw this,” “Scare Peris”, and “Hit that.” A few were genius enough by comparison to understand, “Hit that hard!” But they, themselves, were unjustly tormented by bosses that starved them on purpose to make them fiercer. And they were not smart enough to realize they could do to their corporate masters the same things they did to Peris and Eaglemen because they were so physically more powerful.
The winged Djinn, also called Eaglemen, were of average intelligence. They were mostly manipulated by the genetic coding that made them docile unless their masters needed them to be warlike, and then code words could instantly turn them into crack shock troops.
This was the situation Arkin Cloudstalker found himself in as he, Lazerstone, and Black Fly sat down to a meal with the leaders of Djinn Rebellion.
The meeting was held in a huge light-blue desert tent. In the far corner sat a group of three Afrits, keeping their distance from everyone to avoid choking them with the natural Afrit corona of sulfur and black smoke. A smoke-hole had been placed in the tent roof directly above where they sat.
The head table held a party of Eaglemen, ten male and five females. There were exactly two Peris at the table, a male and a female, both of indeterminate age.
The head Eagleman stood and introduced himself. “I am Alsama’Alzirqa’. I am the sultan of the enslaved ones. I lured you here because agents of the White Duke have been urging me to rebel.”
A second Eagleman stood and spoke also. “I am Mutasabiq Alsama’. I am the sultan’s adversary. And I am disappointed that you did not arrive with an army.”
Arkin didn’t have much of an idea what was expected of him, especially in the matter of what to say next. Both bird-men stood looking at him expectantly.
The male Peri then stood.
“Ahem! I am Another Danged Boy 152. And, yes, that really is my name. I am brother to the famous Another Danged Boy 143, may he rest in peace. What the sky-guys are trying to get across in their bird-brained way is that we know the White Duke wouldn’t have sent you, specifically, the three of you, unless he thought you could solve our problem.”
“Ahem, also!” said the female Peri. “I am Pretty-in-Patches. That is also really my name. I am the sister of the famous Uggo Uglygirl. And I am here to come up with a creative solution if you goony birds fail to figure it all out.”
“Um, yes, I see,” said Arkin. “We are supposed to help you rebel against your corporate masters. The trouble is, I really don’t know anything about you people or your world.”
ADaB (Another Danged Boy 152) then spent twenty minutes recounting all the information about Djinnistan that I have already explained earlier, so you don’t need to worry about his recitation of it. Besides, PiP (Pretty in Patches) spent considerable time and effort in contradicting and correcting him, so I will try not to bore or confuse you more than I already have.
“So, if I understand everything rightly, you outnumber the bad guys by a thousand to one, but you simply can’t take the fight to them because you are scared of the security beasts.”
They all looked at Arkin with some surprise registering on their faces, partly because Arkin had understood ADaB perfectly, and partly because PiP didn’t believe she hadn’t worked hard enough to fudge up ADaB’s explanation.
“Okay… But you still don’t seem to have an army to solve our problem with,” said ADaB.
“We do have an army,” said Lazerstone.
“We do?” asked Arkin.
“Plenty of harmonic crystal out there in the sand, yes. But also, look at them.” His sweeping gesture took in all the Freaks present. “They can take this planet by sheer force. They just have to be willing to try.”
“We can trap Dr. Bludlust in his lab easily, if we just don’t have to worry about the security beasts,” said ADaB.
“Would the Afrits be willing to aid us in battle against the security beasts if Lazerstone and I took them on by ourselves?” Arkin asked.
“You are powerful enough to do that?” asked Alsama’ Alzirqa’.
“Are we powerful enough?” Arkin asked Lazerstone.
“Uggo Uglygirl?” Black Fly asked PiP.
“Daddy had just endured a twenty-five-year run of only daughters, and he was desperate for another son.” “Okay, then, let’s get this battle underway,” said Arkin.
Canto 89 – Back to Darker Skies (the Blood Red Thread)
Ham finally had the Leaping Shadowcat reloaded and ready to return to space. It was a pleasant thing to take part in celebrations for a new government, but the reality was that soon the rot warriors and death commandos of the Galtorr Imperium would be descending. Admiral Tang would hear about Ferrari’s victory and wish to turn it into an ultimate defeat.
The Imperium could bring far more warships and troops to bear than a single planet like Farwind could possibly hope to possess. The only real hope was to activate alliances with other planets.
There was always Coventry. The high-population world was Ferrari’s home planet, and likely to be even more easily swayed to Ferrari’s cause than Farwind had been.
Ham’s crew was reassembled. Duke Ferrari would return as astrogator and navigator because he knew the routes to Coventry better than the rest.
The two Lupins, Sinbadh and Sahleck Kim, would continue to serve as stewards. Sinbadh would be the cook and sometimes the copilot. Sahleck was the cabin boy and did the cleaning.
I was back aboard as the ship’s engineer and chief mechanic. I could also lay claim to the job of Science Officer, though nobody really took a Star-Trekky job like that seriously in the modern universe. Space travel had never truly been imagined right by the movies and TV.
Besides, I was one of the few that really took Astrophysics and Xenobiology seriously. Most spacers would much rather kill it than study it, regardless of what it was. The Kritiian Bugbright was left in charge of the revolutionary government, and we took off on a new mission.
The Leaping Shadowcat rose smoothly through the bright blue skies of Farwind. It was basically a water world, only a few small islands showing on the surface of the ocean-covered blue planet. I watched the planet become smaller below us as I looked out through the viewport on the bridge.
I knew that Coventry would be far different. It was a planet with practically no oceans. Ninety per cent of the water there was underground, or contained in sealed water systems. When you looked at a smoggy brown high-population world like that, all you really could see was a vast, seamless cityscape. I didn’t relish the idea of going there.
“Are we gonna have to make another commando raid against impossible odds when we get to your homeworld Duke?” Ham asked pleasantly.
“I hope not,” Ferrari answered. “You probably noticed that I am no good at such things at all.”
“How do you plan to reconquer it?”
“I don’t really know. Maybe we can luck into something as we get there. Like we did on Farwind.”
“I think…” I said, offering vast wisdom on the matter, “I think we should seriously list those who are on our side in the area.”
“Well,” said Ferrari, “I know we can’t count on Galtorrian or Fusion troopers to aid us this time. Coventry has three different Imperial Training Academies on the planet, all of them fiercely loyal to Slythinus. The local pirate or corsair forces are the Monopoly Brigade, and we’ve learned from Tron Blastarr that their leader is dead set against us.”
“Well, that’s two definite no’s,” I commented wryly.
“How about the White Duke?” offered Ham.
“He’s powerful throughout the sector with gamblers, smugglers, and thieves, but do we really want them on our side?”
“Are there many Unhumans in the system?” asked Sinbadh innocently.
“Mostly as part of the downtrodden under classes. The Imperium treats sentient aliens almost as badly as the Classical Worlds do.”
I had to shake my head on that one too. Genetic freaks were also abused in the area as far as I knew.
“Are there any allies for us there?” asked Ham, concerned.
“Not really,” said Duke Ferrari. “The people loved me when I ruled there, but I championed them and alienated all those who had power. It was the beginning of my downfall.”
“I thought the Imperium was not a republic or a democracy,” offered Sahleck. He was a bright-faced boy for a Lupin. I had always thought Lupins were thoughtless brutes before.
“That’s true,” said Duke Ferrari, “but even a cruel tyranny like the Galtorr Imperium has to have the consent of the governed to rule.”
“Maybe,” said Ham, “that is precisely what we need. The people are behind you, Han, not the current rulers. We just have to let them know what the Imperials tried to do with you.”
“Well, I be hornswoggled!” said Sinbadh. “Ye have found a solution Ham-boy!”
The simpering Lupin lackwit had suddenly reversed my opinion of Lupins once again. The Shadowcat, now fully prepared, but not fully confident, embarked through jump space for the next fateful destination, the planet Coventry. If only we had failed to tell Captain Dalgoda and the First Half Century where we were going!
I have not yet finished AeroQuest 3 : Juggling Planets, but the groundwork is being laid already for part 4 in the AeroQuest Saga. The series is, after all, the rewrite of my out-of-print, 2007 novel, AeroQuest. So, the overall structure of the story already exists. I am merely expanding and revising that 350-page book into a better series of four or five books. In fact, there might have to be even more than that. I basically am too inventive for my own good, and there are just too many characters and plot threads for one book. And it may take six books to work it all out correctly.
This, then, is not so much a novel project as a hobby. Or maybe an artifact of an old hobby.
You see, AeroQuest was a story made from the notes I kept of my ongoing Traveller Role-playing game of the 80’s and early 90’s. Hamfast Aero, a main character, was a player character created by one of the first gang of players I had in the 80’s. In fact Ged Aero, Trav Dalgoda, Tron Blastarr, Xavier Tkriashav, Vince Neill (the player’s misspelling, not mine), Cold Death, King Killer, and Duke Han Ferrari were all player characters and strongly reflect the personalities and style of their original players. The plot is bizarre because of some of the creative problem-solving decisions made by the group of nerds who played the game. It had to be a comedy because we always had that over-the-top jokeability as a guiding principal of game play.
I am past page 100 in Book 3, and I have passed 27,000 words. It will end up being at least 135 pages and at least 35,000 words when it is finished. Book 4, if it ends the series, will have to be more than twice that. That’s why I am thinking five books instead of four.
The inspiration for the book was the foolish idea of combining Douglas Adams’ Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy wackiness with Frank Herbert’s Dune huge-book-with-many-short-chapters style. I guess the rewrite has given up on the Herbert format, if not the multitude of characters and subplots that went with it.
Anyway, I will have Book 3 published before I move on to the next writing project. The goal has never been to make money and be famous as a writer. But telling stories and writing them as novels has never been a choice. And, as painful as some of it is to give birth to, there is fulfillment to be had just from the simple act of writing.
No, I am not breaking out of quarantine. And I am not about to die. It is the final day of writing my novel, A Field Guide to Fauns. I will have the manuscript complete before the day is over, ready for editing and proofreading tomorrow… or in a day or two.
I can say I will finish confidently because I am absolutely certain there is no more than two or three pages left in the story plan.
But writing my novel is not the only useful thing I have been doing. I have been solving endless plumbing problems in our old house. I have also been doing yard-work in between bouts of rain. And I decided to break out an old Christmas gift from my sister, given to me in the 80’s, and put it together.
You can see from my progress pictures that it is definitely not the last day for this particular project.
I was able to successfully move my recent painting projects, including the Toonerville Congregational Church, to their new location on Fireplace Mantle Street.
So, as with all of life, as one thing ends, other things continue. And some even begin.
Canto 83 – Star Nomads Revealed (The Silver Thread)
Artran Blastarr, the eight-year-old son of space pirates, and Tiki Astro, the robot-boy, stood holding hands on the docking bay floor next to the somewhat unreliable yet amazingly effective Bill the Postman (Scarpigo Snarcs in his current secret identity).
From the portal opposite, on the far side of the docking bay, three gigantic humanoid figures dressed in metallic armor of some kind emerged.
“Who… who are those?” gasped Artran.
“Those are Star Nomads. If I don’t miss my best guess, it is the Black Knight, the Dark Traveler, and the Magnificent Wanderer,” said Bill.
They slowly approached, each a massive figure in armor that completely covered their entire bodies, completely obscuring even their faces, no matter what race or configuration they actually represented. The Black Knight was all in gleaming black armor with a razor-edged hook for a crest on his faceless helmet. The Dark Traveler was all decked out in metallic green armor. And the Magnificent Wanderer, as Bill pointed out, was armored entirely in gleaming silver.
Drawing close enough to speak, the Magnificent Wanderer’s voice boomed out like a thunderclap on a rainy planet. “So, you have brought us the chosen one, Scarpigo Snarcs.”
“Yes, oh Magnificent One. But please refrain from using my real name in front of those who might not be stupid enough to misremember it.”
“I will never fully understand why demi-humans like this one insist on their comic prevarications the way this one does,” said the Dark Traveler.
“Indeed,” said the Wanderer. The Black Knight remained silent.
“Who is this chosen one?” asked Tiki Astro meekly.
“The human child born on the planet known as Outpost.” The Traveler nodded at Artran.
“Me?” squeaked Artran.
“Of course, you,” said the Wanderer. “We need an authentic discoverer of worlds for our purpose.”
“…And you know the boy thinks that’s the silliest thing he ever heard,” said Bill.
“Of course, he does. We pulled him out of the time stream well before he was ready to set foot on his first planet. Who better to use for the purpose, than the one fated to it?”
“Yes, you are right,” admitted Bill quickly. “You are always right.” Bill rolled his eyes when the Wanderer’s featureless face was turned away.
“So, Tiki and I are supposed to be here? This wasn’t just an accident?”
“The robotic child-construct is fated to be elsewhere. You alone are the chosen one, Artran Blastarr.” The Wanderer pointed his armored finger at Artran’s breastbone.
“No! I won’t go anywhere without my friend Tiki!” Artran began to leak emotion-induced wetness from his childish eyes. Of course, the Star Nomads would never give in to any such emotional nonsense.
“The Metaloid boy belongs to the White Spider,” said the Black Knight in what can only be described as a dark black voice. “He must be there when the critical time comes. The universe decrees it.”
“You can count on me,” said Bill, not actually adding, “because I must be some sort of human abacus.”
“You are not actually human,” said the Wanderer, apparently answering Scarpigo’s thoughts.
“What if I don’t agree to go to this White Spider?” asked Tiki.
“Then we invoke protocol alpha in your programming,” said the Wanderer.
“Oh. Sorry, Artran. I have to be going. It’s a robot thing.”
By this time Artran was beside himself with misery. “Bye, Tiki. I love you.”
The real boy and the robot boy briefly hugged before Bill (Scarpigo) the Postman led Tiki Astro back to the X-boat.
Artran looked up at the Wanderer with tear-filled eyes.
“So, are you gonna eat me now?” he said in a fully resigned voice.
“We no longer consume food of any sort. We will now take you to civilized planets that you will learn about and then give to the newly-formed alliance that is to become the New Star League.”