New Novels Now Available on Amazon in Print and Kindle

My new series, The Chronicles of Alsantia, comprised so far of Pretender’s Reign, Savage Gardens, and Siege of the Shadow Worlds is now available on Amazon in print and digital.

The series begins in Pretender’s Reign: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07X2CGLF7

In the brownstone temple of The Mansion of the Shining Prince, Loren, Berangere, Lucien and Aito discover a mystery surrounding their cat, Oji, and perhaps some answers to the question that’s nagging them: are they living in a cult?

A tale of urban fantasy, high fantasy, parallel worlds, and talking animals that flips the script on the Chronicles of Narnia.

It continues in Savage Gardens: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07WZB6J3F

As Oji squirms under Queen Suvani’s thumb, Isola and her new friends from Earth flee the Alsantian armies advancing toward Ephremia.

Then in Siege of the Shadow Worlds: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07WPR38BJ

As the woodland paradise Teriana is besieged by Alsantian hordes, Vieno and Oji awake in a laboratory on Earth, and Berangere and Loren have slipped through to Havala, a world on fire. Only the Albatron has its eye on everything, including which is the true world, and what repercussions this suggest for all realities.

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The Eye of Wysaerie: Deleted Scenes

In King Algus’s chapter, I would have loved to use this internal monologue, but the chapter definitely ended before it: “ She was naked in the bed as if she had used it every day for its fictional purpose of receiving gentleman callers, and was less familiar with its real-world purpose as a theater prop. The king found the reversal stimulating, but he also shuddered to think how many had enjoyed these sheets and covers between performances, each thinking they were the only ones so clever as to make practical use of the prop. This fictional whorehouse would be as close to a real cathouse as he would ever get, thank the gods.” None of it was necessary, and it provided too much anticlimax to my preferred ending.

I’d still like to squirrel this passage in somewhere: “Seeing Lady Venihault, Algus remembered that she was the one Gaspar fancied, inspiring him to learn Klyrnish, and later become selected as the king’s envoy to Klyrn. So indirectly, she was also a cause of this war. A blameless cause, perhaps, but a cause nonetheless.”

This was too much, so after revising this section, I deleted it: “Natural griffins don’t eat cooked meat, but to the shape-shifted wizard, the smell of the sizzling man flesh overpowered his griffin stomach and any remnant of human taboos. While he would tell himself later he hadn’t intended to eat the man, he never mentioned it to any who would tell the tale.” This is a case where it’s better to trust the reader’s imagination.

Two washer women discussing Shaul, when I’ve established that none of the other servants have their own mind. While this is good dialogue, and I like the detail that the wizard washes his own robes, this conversation would never happen:

“Where’s he going with those sacks?”

“What’s in the sacks? A body?”

“The upshot of some experiment?”

“The wizard’s laundry? He never lets us touch his blue robes.”

There’s also no reason to hang laundry at the base of the mountain, when there’s a castle at the top! So I cut these lines: “When she arrived at the base, two ensorceled women hung washed table linen, towels, and bedsheets. She regretted that the women were beyond saving simply because she did not love them, nor did she know whose mothers or wives they were.”

Horror and Wish Fulfillment in A Spell Takes Root

Horror and fantasy are deeply entangled in the unconscious, where both are different takes on wish fulfillment. “Be careful what you wish for.”

(Spoilers for A Spell Takes Root below)

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While Khyte in love with the flower, he wins the tree, and groks the horror of his victory.

Then you must consider his romantic history. The difference in scale between Khyte and Inglefras being even more disparate than that between himself and Eurilda is less irony than black comedy, colored by both the toxic sweetness of the new dryads with Inglefras’s face, and his dismay that he can’t extricate himself from a fate he wanted. The adored face and desired caress have multiplied to monstrous proportions, and become a perilous attraction, not unlike a pitcher plant.

A Spell Takes Root Available for Presale on Kindle

While I’ve moved this blog to keithghendricks.com, I wanted to remind those of you who are still here of my new blog site, and also let you know that my book, A Spell Takes Root, is available for presale on Kindle through this link:

Again, thank you for your interest in my writing, and check out my recent posts on keithghendricks.com, including reviews of some of my favorite fantasy novels, like A Wizard of EarthseaThe HobbitThe King of Elfland’s Daughter, and more.

It was supposed to be a simple adventure: Rescue the princess. Slay her captors. Grab the loot. THE END.

She was never supposed to start a war. And he was never supposed to fall in love.

Everybody underestimates a barbarian.

But that suits Khyte of Hwarn just fine. Better that his companions, co-conspirators, and partners in crime take him for a muscle-bound oaf instead of the warrior-poet he aspires to be. Brainy heads tend to lose their necks, and Khyte wants to keep his at all costs—at least long enough to enjoy the loot from his latest adventure.

So when an old goblin friend tricks him into rescuing a dryad princess, Khyte assumes he’s being brought along to play his usual roles: thief, assassin, and pure dumb muscle. But as soon as he lays eyes on the lovely Princess Inglefras, he succumbs to her seductive spell—and realizes that this adventure will be far more than a simple rescue.

Bewitched by love, bedeviled by his conscience, and betrayed by his friends at every turn, Khyte finds himself fighting not only to bring his new love to safety, but to keep his head on his shoulders. Can our barbarian-turned-hero survive this deadly game of swords, hearts, and interplanar politics? Or will Khyte become a mere pawn in a game he cannot possibly perceive—a sacrifice in service of a goal he could never understand?

A Spell Takes Root is the first novel in the Tree of Five Worlds series.

Fans of Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett, The Name of the Windby Patrick Rothfuss, A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony, and Dune by Frank Herbert are sure to love this book.

This book is for anyone who likes:

    • Adult fantasy
    • Barbarian heroes
    • Magical conspiracies
    • Dryads
    • Interspecies romance
  • Fantasy adventure and romance

Story-Sequel-Syntax

Recently I’ve been reading Roland Barthes’s Image-Music-Text, in which he writes how a novel follows a syntactical structure modeled after a sentence. Moreover, each segment of the narrative also has its own syntax, not only chapter, but scene.

Even the banal causality of James Bond lighting his cigarette possesses a narrative order in which the story finds its way.

It’s a striking metaphor for critical analysis. While usually I enter a more reflective and theoretical frame of mind when I am positing revisions in subsequent drafts, this has been helpful as I am coming back to The Dragonbone Petticoat, my stalled sequel to The Eye of Wysaerie. While I’ve been busy with other manuscripts that currently have a higher priority, I’ve also had problems returning to the world of Lamuna due to flaws in the sequel.

The main issue seems to be–and Barthes’s writings on narrative syntax may have helped me see this–that this is a kind of a siamese novel, or two novels, happening more or less simultaneously, that are each struggling to be whole with more force than I can make them cohere. These two novels are easily distinguishable in terms of their temporal syntax, that is, each of them not only follows a different sequence, but has its own timing. First, there is the Elessa thread, most of which transpires, so far, over her first day in Ardem; second, there is the thread containing all the various malefactors and heavies, a kind of villains’ anthology, which takes place over many days, if not weeks.

Even if these are two separate novels or novellas, I could always join them, Tolkien style, under one cover.

Other projects: having finished the second drafts of the second and third Alsantia novels, and the fourth Abyss novel, I’m currently writing the first drafts of the fifth Abyss novel, and the fourth Alsantia novel, as well as the aforementioned sequel of The Eye of Wysaerie. I’ve posted a new chapter to The Dragonbone Petticoat on Wattpad and Inkitt.

More Editing

Four days ago, I finished the second draft of The Flowering Abyss, the fourth part of Five Worlds in the Abyss. By November 1st, I should have finished all the drafts I’ve been working on, except the second draft of the third novel in my middle grade fantasy, The Chronicles of Alsantia. Alternatively, as I finish the others, I may concentrate on that one. My goal is to be able to participate in Nanowrimo this year, although I haven’t decided if I want to write the fifth part of Five Worlds in the Abyss or the fourth part of The Chronicles of Alsantia.

The second draft of my unfinished sequel to The Eye of WysaerieThe Dragonbone Petticoat is nearly finished. I’ve edited up through chapter seven, and only chapter eight is left for editing. You can find the new versions of the chapters through here on Wattpad: https://www.wattpad.com/570935286-the-dragonbone-petticoat-chapter-one

One thing is certain: After several months of editing, I’m looking forward to some new stories.

Line Edits #6 / Notes From Editing Pretender’s Reign

What you need to know: Loren was born a talking animal, a fox to be precise, enchanted at birth into the form of a girl, and raised in a cult on Earth called The Mansion of the Shining Prince. Kidnapped by her birth mother (another talking fox, obviously) from Earth and brought to a remote shore on the magical world of Alsantia, Loren is reeling from the doubled shock of learning that she is not only not human but on another world. To complicate matters, Loren has never eaten meat, and…

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Tht lks wndrfl!” Vieno growled around the dangling bird in her mouth, leaped from the tangle to Loren’s feet, where she dropped the gory fowl, then spurted upwards in a fountain of flesh and fabric to her true form—no, that’s not right, Loren told herself; though this austere, cruel-eyed lady was the Vieno she knew, this was the false Vieno.

Could you change back to a fox?” Loren averted her eyes.

It’s easier to clean a bird with hands. And a knife.” Vieno produced a bone-handled knife and commenced ripping and snapping the dove.

I’ve never eaten meat before.”

It’s not meat—it’s poultry. And we’ll each only get a mouthful, anyway. You can manage a mouthful, I think.”

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I want to remove “anyway.” But it seems to work? While it doesn’t add any meaning, it’s an example of a cushion word used by rationalizers the world over to make what they say seem reasonable. If Vieno was trying to be sincere, I would say no, but this is a moment of full-fledged hypocrisy we’re talking about here, so it works. Same with the “I think.” A trim version of the line would look like this:

Meat? This is poultry. Not that we’ll each get more than a mouthful. Can’t you manage a mouthful?”

This takes a mollifying and mollycoddling line and turns it into a bullying and intimidating one. Vieno might take the latter tack in certain instances, but I’m not certain that it works in this instance. I do like the trimmed line, though.

More #Editing

The second drafts of chapters two and three of The Dragonbone Petticoat are on Wattpad and Inkitt.

I’m about a month in on editing my 2018 stories, with about 240 pages of second draft revised between the four novels. While there’s a lot more to edit, I should finish all the editing by Nanowrimo, and hope to participate this November.

https://www.wattpad.com/578825058-the-dragonbone-petticoat-chapter-three

https://www.inkitt.com/stories/fantasy/221036/chapters/3

Line Edits #5

Some line variations:

“You did such a good job walking the arboreal route I forgot who I was talking to.”

“You did so well walking the arboreal route I forgot who I was talking to.”

“You walked the arboreal route so well I forgot who I was talking to.”

“You walked the arboreal route so well I forgot you weren’t a raccoon.”

While I don’t end sentences on prepositions in descriptions or summary prose, people do end sentences with prepositions in conversation. While grammarians would call this always incorrect because people should not speak that way, linguists would acknowledge and insist that it is correct because people do speak that way. Linguists assume valid any speech with a population of real-world speakers. While I took one linguistics class, and am aware of the linguist’s position on spoken language, I took many, many English literature and creative writing classes, and my awareness of written language tends to dominate my awareness of spoken language. One of my temptations is wanting to fix prepositions as I’m editing dialogue. Sometimes during the battle of grammatical torment I do find some good alternatives, like #4 above. This does satisfy both my desire for grammatical prose and also creates a line that sounds natural.

The speaker of this sentence is giving Conrad a backhanded compliment, however, and #4 diminishes that cut a little. However, this does fit in with his development in the rest of this novel, as well as the next novel. (This is one of the realizations that can result when you’re editing two novels in sequence at once.) While he started out as mean and sarcastic, that fades as I develop him in both novels. For the sake of consistency, I can even that out as I’m revising this chapter.

(Excerpt from Pretender’s Reign.)

Grammar Has A Sense of Humor

Grammar has a sense of humor. Also a sense of horror, menace, or whatever else you want to inject into your novel. 

Joining two sentences with a comma, for instance, can add levity, just like a punch line also depends on causation. An example: “At the sight of fire streaming and smoke flowering into a gusting wind drawing the smoldering fumes away from the Zalgyne’s wrecked tail, Jezera’s gigantic impact sent Edrin rolling into a curled ball.” The connection between the two events is humorous. When the comma is removed, the resulting two sentences are grimmer, and have a bit more menace and adrenaline: “Fire streamed and smoke flowered into a gusting wind drawing the smoldering fumes away from the Zalgyne’s wrecked tail. Jezera’s gigantic impact sent Edrin rolling into a curled ball.”

Change the tense and add a comma and the atmosphere changes. During your revisions, while you’re dogearing your thesaurus, don’t forget that rephrasing sentences can add even more emphasis.

(Excerpt from Savage Gardens.)

Line Edits #4

As you’re reading these variations on a line, you may wonder why I kept “ossifying” in the line. The character is changing into a unicorn horn, so that word works in context with the rest of the paragraph.

You can see how the Latinate word distinguish morphed to the Anglo-Saxon “taken for.”

While I’m not one of those writers that run in fear from Latinate words, in this case the Anglo-Saxon word works better, especially given the ambiguity of “taken” within the context of the story. Speaking of context, this line is from my short story, “The Fade.”

In this ossifying mirror, his brief human life was so stretched that he could not distinguish it from a mayfly or a unicorn.

In this ossifying mirror, his human life was so stretched that he could not distinguish it from a mayfly or a unicorn.

This ossifying mirror stretched his human life until he was indistinguishable from a mayfly or a unicorn.

This ossifying mirror stretched his human life until he could be taken for a mayfly or a unicorn.

Editing

I’ve shifted gears back to editing, as my most recent period of first draft production resulted in five shaggy novels in need of a trim.

This includes The Dragonbone Petticoat, my sequel to The Eye of Wysaerie, as while I have not finished the first draft, I’m feeling the need to step back and look at the big picture. Inconsistencies are here and there, such as the dean of Ardem having different genders in chapter one and chapter seven.

I posted my second draft to chapter one today. You can find it at https://www.wattpad.com/570935286-the-dragonbone-petticoat-chapter-one

Another Novel

Two days ago, I had a colossal writing day, hitting 7000 words, 4800 of which were the finish of my third Chronicles of Alsantia novel, which I have titled Savage Gardens. This was the longest of the three, hitting 60000 words. You can find a chapter from it through this link.

I may be near the end of this spurt of first draft production, as I’m enjoying the editing that I’m doing these days more than the first draft writing, which is taking on too many characteristics of performance, as I am heavily invested in measuring my production by not only word count, but other subjective criteria, as if I’m holding up so many scorecards at the end of each day’s run.

With five new novels written this year, it feels like it’s time to tuck into editing. However, I feel like the fourth Alsantia novel might be right behind this one, so to speak. So, we’ll see…

Writing Fantasy: History as a Resource

In reading Xenophon’s The Expeditions of Cyrus, I was struck by the passage that describes a small skirmish in Cyrus’s army. Not between his army and another army, but between two contingents in his own army. As they’re literally hurling stones at each other over nothing but hurt feelings, this was as amazing for me to read as an account of two modern platoons having a shoot-out over a case of candy bars. Mind you, I’ve never read about the latter.

This reminded me that Tolkien also had the historical wisdom to show friction between the orcs and goblins, and also made me realize that so many fantasies conceive of their armies as fairly sanitary physical forces that push and blow like a wind in the author’s hand, but not without any volition of their own. The mistaken assumption that vast warlike powers will maneuver like machines is no doubt due to our living in a time when discipline and education are fairly common, a time in which everyday people are accustomed to feeling like cogs in the machine. Even great writers make this mistake, not that I want to name any names. It may also stem from a desire to minimize the backdrop, and maximize the action in the foreground, which stems not from heroic fantasy but from fairy tales.

From here, I realized that an army moving through Alsantia (in my Middle Grade fantasy series) should also have this problem, as it is an even more balkanized army than Cyrus’s, with not Egyptians and Persians in its ranks, but werewolves and talking animals. Just as it occurs in Cyrus’s real history or in Tolkien’s fiction, the violence dissipates quickly, but with an effect on the narrative.

I particularly recommend Xenophon’s The Expedition of Cyrus for writers of fantasy, as it describes not only how ancient armies moved, and how they were motivated by their leaders, it also describes some of the clever instruments of war that they used, like the “scythe chariots.” We often remember the sixty Spartans that fought off a vast army with their spears and hoplite shields; we don’t as often remember the scythe chariots fielded like so many lawnmowers by Cyrus. When you read Plato, you have the sense that the ancient Greeks were reasonable people; when you read Xenophon, you realize they had a strong Mad Max component to their national attitude.

Excerpt From The Chronicles of Alsantia

Today I’m going to share my first excerpt from The Chronicles of Alsantia, the series that began with Protect the Prince earlier this year. This is the third chapter from the third novel, which is currently untitled.

Some things to know: Alsantia is like a Third World Narnia. There were no interloping witches or Telmarine invaders in Alsantia to blame for the dark turns their world took, and the Alsantians are not only responsible for their own history, but many times, the agents of destruction in Alsantia.

Oji is the rightful crown prince of the talking animals, and in this chapter, he is in the captivity of Queen Suvani, the teenage tyrant of Alsantia.

While the first novel in this series is Urban Fantasy, novels two and three are more of a straight fantasy with some quasi-steampunk (i.e. Gaslamp Fantasy) elements, as this is a Many Worlds Fantasy and the heroes of the first novel–raised on Earth–have passed into Alsantia. The fourth book should mark a return to Urban Fantasy, although with another subgenre shift.

It was fun to write the dialogue for the sphinx and the griffin.

Untitled Third Alsantia Novel, Chapter Three

When he awoke, he was crammed into the corner of the cage, so that the dangling square was tilted into a diamond, and somehow, perhaps through yawning, unconsciously batting dream birds, or thrashes of his tail, it had built up some considerable swaying momentum, so that he swung back and forth like a pendulum. As he gripped the brass wires, his claws extended by instinct, and he stupidly hissed at the ground, as if he in that bleary-eyed moment of absent consciousness, he actually expected it to mosey off and leave him suspended in space.

“Don’t move. You’ll die of fright if you don’t stop, kitten.” The laconic voice was so deep that at first Oji thought a storm was stirring up above. Through the tiny brass wires he could see the iron bars crossing overhead, and through that he could see many cottony clouds, but none that were scrawled dark with rain. Hearing no threat in the voice, but rather a curious but amused note of thoughtfulness, Oji settled back into his haunches, feeling like his eyes, heart, and lungs were all swirling into one hot cup of nausea.

The cage whistled near, but not as high, as its last arc, and swerved back and forth nine more times before the chain’s energy was spent, and the cage twirled in a tight circle until Oji clambered up onto the rocking wires. When this imparted a gentle spin to the cage, the cat prince received a panoramic tour of his neighbors in that split second. Not that Oji hadn’t already scoped out the surrounding beasts, having had a number of opportunities the previous night due not only to the queasiness of his footing which kept him on his toes until very late, but also because of his restlessness to be gone and find justice. But now the light of sunrise was glinting on the steel bars above, the bizarre leaves looking like so many orangish-green triangles pressed together here into parallelograms, there hexagons, there octagons, and there a kind of siamese diamond conjoined at two tips, and on the long-thorned bushes that seemed to crouch, admiring their own cruel claws that waited for passersby to be caressed by their wicked scratch, but also on the rarest of Alsantian beasts. Hanging in an identical cage next to him, no doubt intended for mockery, was a puddlegulp, that species of animated river clay whose living purpose was in mockery and spiteful mimickry. Now it aped Oji perfectly, down to the last detail, with the only revision being that he imitated Oji in death, not in life, showing the limbs at freakish angles and his eyes glazed, a deathly jest upon him. Alsantian scholars often wondered whether to classify the puddlegulp as alive or undead, for the clay beast could imitate both states perfectly, and not only escaped true death at times by miming it, but would disconcert its prey and predators alike by mocking the image of the other’s dead body. In choosing to do this to Oji now, of course, there could only be spiteful cruelty in its enchanted heart, and Oji wondered how Suvani had put the speechless, thoughtless beast up to such hard-hearted theater.

There were the unicorns, a male and female cruelly stabled in separate cages, so that their ceaseless passions would struggle forever to join despite the bars interceding. The Earth people had unicorns all wrong, having neglected, slain, and forgotten their own long ago, for the unicorns were only pure in instinct, being single-minded beasts driven only by one thing at a time. While the keepers had installed a black curtain between the stallion and the mare to curb their restless desires, in Suvani’s last passage through she had left it raised, whether as purposeful torment or unmindful indolence, Oji knew not. Oji supposed it might do the poor beasts some good, as restrained from all but a handful of their natural impulses, they had become great gluttons, and had waddles under their necks and gigantic bellies.

Other than the unicorns, Oji noted a theme in the menagerie. Every other creature in captivity was a cat, or a creature with a partially feline appearance, or part of the human mythology pertaining to cats. She had long labored to prepare this elaborate practical joke for Oji. It infuriated him, but more for the fact that she was so certain of his capture that she had not feared the expenditure.

Most offensive of all was the cage-city of talking mice constructed in the shape of a titanic scratching post, the top of which towered just near Oji’s cage, and with which his cage had nearly collided that morning at the top of its arc. As the mice were kind, respectful, and gregarious, and moreover, a constantly circulating village, he kept his displeasure at the insult to himself so that he might continue to enjoy their countless tiny personalities. As they sent a different representative every day to inquire as to his needs—needs that they could never gratify in deed, being too many inches separated by their bars and his—Oji knew their excessive respect stemmed as much from fear as awe at his rank and celebrity.

The beast who had spoken was the sphinx. Native to Ephremia, the winged lion had a woman’s head but a man’s voice, with which it had an irritating tendency to loudly and pompously declaim all matters of common sense as if it had just then committed them to holy writ. Sphinxes were terrifying and terrible creatures that, unfortunately for them, had an easily manipulable soft spot in their unwavering sense of honor and good gamesmanship. When Suvani proposed a riddle game to the creature with the stakes being his freedom and her life, she won so handily that it was rumored that she was half sphinx herself, a rumor that evolved every day, with the spiteful and foolhardy adding such extra ingredients as siren, dragon, and harpy.

Oji liked the griffin the best of them all, for his pleasantries seemed the most honest, as the beast was apathetic and listless, and waiting for the end, when its novelty fizzled out and its head and paws on a wall would satisfy Suvani’s pride. While sentient, griffins had no interest in humanity, other than as the subject for their comic poems. Most times, their wit was more ripping than their claws, but the spiritless griffin was disinclined to tell what words had incurred the wrath of Queen Suvani. While the griffin was hard to understand through its constant trill, which made the beast sound like its voice was passing through an Earth electrical fan, Oji had reason to be patient in his current predicament, and he smiled on the griffin as he laboriously chopped up a twelve syllable sentence into about thirty with his lilting buzz. What was more difficult to forgive was the griffin’s unfortunate tendency to speak in verse. To be honest, it wasn’t a tendency, it was a certainty. And while griffins were compelled to speak in verse, Oji was not accustomed to thinking that way, so it might take him a moment longer than normal to compose a reply. Naturally meditative, this was not difficult for the cat prince, but it was about twice as annoying as when Njal had accidentally squeaked the chalk on the chalkboard in Worlds class.

One creature that so baffled Oji that he could not form an opinion was the perfectly ordinary cat hanging in the cage next to his in an indifferent contrast to the prince’s, for that resident was so accustomed to its captivity that as it slept long hours proper to a cat, neither the cage nor the chain ever quivered. That it could not be a talking cat Oji had decided due to its waking absorption in everything the mice did, so that its eyes were either squeezed shut in catnaps or wide open in predatorial interest and naked appetite.

Thank you.” Oji’s purr was pure scorn. “But I had already come to the idea myself, and I will thank you not to call me kitten, but your highness.”

If you wish.” The sphinx’s voice was clear and proud. “I thought it might remind you of that which you shall never have.”

What is that, pray tell?”

Your majesty.” The sphinx looked at Oji with such cruel regard that while he thought of pretending not to know what the monster meant, he simply settled on his haunches and tried to immitate the calm composure of the cat next door. Suvani would only keep Oji captive for so long before a public execution to lay to rest any lingering doubt of the number of crowns in Alsantia. As he would never be ‘your majesty,’ the sphinx thought it cruel to dub him ‘your highness.’

Thank you for your thoughtfulness,” Oji said with as much caustic sarcasm as he could muster, feeling as he did a troublesome swell in his throat, “but I am a prince. My duty is both my people and my life, and I would honor neither by pretending. So long as I have breath, I will remain worthy of the noble pelt.” At this, the puddlegulp splashed into another image of corpse Oji, this one with blue lips and ears and bulging eyes, as if to show that it had achieved a state of perfect and deathly breathlessness.

Have you not learned to ignore that creature?” spat the sphinx with contempt. “It is only a jester, and one that jests only by instinct.”

Oji thought of saying mildly that a riddling instinct trapped the sphinx in its current predicament, but having, indeed, not learned the trick of ignoring the puddlegulp, he was too preoccupied by the image of his own death to do other than turn his head and sigh.

You speak well,” said the sphinx. “You shall have my fealty, your highness. As you say, you deserve your fate.”

An elegantly feathered red-lettered hate

condemns the soft-spoken prince’s fate.”

Speaking of jesters,” muttered the sphinx. While the sphinx was good at giving others imponderables to stop their tongues, only the griffin seemed to have the power to do the same to the sphinx, and the griffin indulged his own wit mercilessly, taking advantage of the mighty cages that prevented it from becoming a physical contest between a gigantic winged monster with many good points at the end of its claws and beak, and an even larger winged monster with one less good point, due to its weak human chin and neck.

An eloquent boor

has a mouth full of spoor,

a brain chomping riddles

and slop in its middles.

Wanting Suvani,

now you’re her pony…”

The sphinx turned at this with rage sizzling in her eyes, but stopped just short of the bars, which it would no doubt have burst into a rattling pile of steel. It seethed as it glared at the griffin. “What’s half a lion short of courage and half an eagle short of nobility?”

A perplexed poser poses for its own leisure,

the surplus loser is swatted by its own teaser.”

Oji realized that the griffin was no longer playing to him, but the sphinx, as the complexity of its rhyme had increased with the addition of a riddle-like structure. Oji thought the griffin meant that the sphinx’s riddle could just as easily apply to her, but he couldn’t be sure. As the argument continued, Oji was of the opinion that the sphinx’s riddles were becoming embedded in the griffin’s wide-ranging verse, but again, he wasn’t certain. It was too exhausting for him. Maybe he was just a kitten, he sulked glumly, and as he turned to the other side of his cage, it swung a foot towards the tower of mice, which had him again scrambling to find a balance.

How can I help you, your highness?” came the tiny squeak. It was one of the mice that they kept stationed in the top cage. While these guardians always had respectful faces, with ears that didn’t shake, whiskers that didn’t quiver, and eyes that stared unblinking, he knew they were there to keep an eye on their cat problem, to make sure it didn’t become a cage collision.

Are you good at wishing?” asked Oji. When the unblinking mouse sentry blinked once, but did not reply, Oji continued. “Wish me out of this cage, and yourself too, why don’t you.”

As you wish, your highness,” said the grave sentry with only a hint of levity.

What’s your name, soldier?”

Chep, your highness.”

Chep, you’re terrible at wishing. I’m still here.”

As am I, your highness,” said the sentry. “If we must be caged, my prince…”

Chep, if you’re going into a redux of your usual song and dance about how proud and unworthy you are, my tolerance for tacky and insincere oxymorons is at an all time low, although I’m sure that you’re an incomparable yes man where you come from.”

Would that not make me a yes mouse,” said Chep gravely. “Your highness.”

Of course it would. Chep, I’ve been living among humans for more than ten years. No offense, but if a mouse of your caliber is correcting me, my brain must be more cheese than cat.”

With all due respect, your highness,” said the mouse, his tiny hackles rising into most catlike points, “the mice are an ancient and noble race.”

I know it,” sighed Oji. “I’ve heard all the myths, Chep. All of them. We did nothing but learn myths some days. If I smile less to you and yours than I do to silent mice, it’s only that mouthfuls are more appealing than backtalk.”

Your highness!” Chep’s impassive face became slack as his jaw hung agape, his ears drooped, and his whiskers sagged. “I would not admit to eating unspeaking cats.”

You wouldn’t admit? Then you have eaten a cat?”

Your highness!”

You sound like my advisers, Chep. Things don’t become moral when they’re discreet—they simply become secrets. If I carry my deeds close to my chest in an egg carton, they’ll all crack when I fall, and the rotten will get mixed up with the good.”

What’s an egg carton, your highness?” Chep’s face was again frozen, this time mid-blink.

Having shivered his cage to a stop, Oji gingerly curled up facing away from the mice tower. “It’s nothing like a nest, except that it holds eggs. Good night.”

It’s only morning, your highness.”

Oji did not answer, and mimed such an exaggerated snore that his chest puffed out like a football. When Chep tried to continue conversation, Oji went on ignoring him.

At the clatter of the menagerie gate, all the beasts turned to fix a sullen stare on the small and lumpish figure that entered. While she had a most distinctive appearance, with a nose so downturned and crooked that it seemed to curl, hair so pale that it seemed more glass than gray, and a shape that blurred somewhere between her belly and knees, so that she seemed to be some kind of occult toadstool topped with a knobby head. Each hand balanced a heaping bushel of food, one on its wartish head and the other on its lumpen stomach, so that after the creature had stepped inside, it was a few moments in unlimbering its baskets before locking the door.

“Grub, my kitties!” cackled the old woman.

To be fair, Oji reasoned, Gandra may not be old. He had no clue as to her real age. If she was indeed a very yoing woman, but burdened with these appearances of decrepitude, she had been short-changed at the turnstile of creation. Young or old, Gandra always looked like she was falling apart, and at the present looked like a trash pile heaped up ceiling-high, a doddering wreck staggering as she picked back up one of the baskets with a hunchbacked stoop and began doling out its contents to the beasts. As she was not unintelligent, and started from the biggest creature and worked her way down to the mice, so as to relieve herself of the largest helpings first, as she proceeded, she walked straighter and taller.

“What looks like turf, tastes like paper, and smells like sawdust?” riddled the sphinx mournfully as she picked at her dry mound of meat. While raw red meat was supposed to be moist, this was clumped and crumbly, like a square of reddish sod. Despite himself, Oji’s heart went out to the waspish beast.

My meal is grown from the same bone garden,

Under the dry eye of our queenly warden.”

The griffin sniffed at its helping of the shriveled meat, then seemed to deflate on the spot, lolling on the grass and its nose tapped to the bar of its cage. At the end of its dramatic and indolent descent, the griffin was so relaxed that it looked like it was mimicing the still-dead puddlegulp. As the griffin’s exaggerated pose continued, Oji began to see a resemblance to the heap of meat, although the griffin seemed much more relaxed than the meat

With full troughs, the unicorns turned from their bars and forgot their mates as they choked back the fodder. The puddlegulp’s head swelled to the size of the sphinx and leaned up from its body–still dead, and still in the image of the diminuitive ginger prince–to chomp its food in one bite, then shrunk back to Oji’s tiny death’s head.

When Oji felt the contempt bubble up, he raised himself slowly onto his haunches and allowed the indignation to wash over as he looked again at the unicorns’ troughs. “You know that you shouldn’t give unicorns meat.” While Oji stated it as fact, he inflected it lightly as if he was questioning the woman. When he moved his eyes from the vile meat to the woman, it seemed that his revulsion increased, not for her slovenly appearance–she was, after all, human–but for a moral ignorance that was repulsive to a point beyond the pale.

“While I haven’t been barred from speaking with you, ginger, I’m not to call you–not to think of is what she said, actually–prince or your highness.”

“She permitted you to speak to me? I’m not surprised.” Oji’s ears flattened in displeasure, as he was certain Suvani saw this vile keeper as a subtler torture than the dangling cage.

“She did, but in a way she didn’t, as my tongue is tied from not knowing what to call you.”

“I don’t mind if you do your job quietly.” Oji shrugged. “I’m sure we’d all prefer it. But I’m not above you calling me cat, as it’s what I am.”

“I’ve worked around the queen long enough to know that was a slight, cat. You’re insinuating that you don’t want to hear your name come out of my mouth.”

“I’m sorry,” said Oji. “That was rude; I shouldn’t leave you hagning like that, so I’ll not insinuate any longer. Here’s my request, clear and unequivocal: don’t say my name. You can call me Oji when you stop putting meat in the unicorn troughs.”

“You want me to starve them?”

“You know what I mean.”

My mistress is also clear and unequivocal, cat. She orders it thus, and calls it science.”

As the rain fell, the smell of earthworms and dirt mingled with the sorely dated meat, curdling Oji’s already acidic stomach. “Science stinks, then.”

I’m no scientist. Not even a scholar, cat.”

Don’t sell yourself short, Gandra. Perhaps by some transitive property—for if science stinks, and you stink, then perhaps you are a scientist, and simply don’t know it, just as the most reeking culprits don’t know their own stink.”

Gandra threw a wad of meat at his cage, thus not only spreading the moldering stink of the flaky, gamy meat throughout Oji’s fur and clinging to the bars of the cage, but rocking the cage three times: first, from the spattering impact; second, from his confined pounce, which recoiled along all four walls and made the cage jump up a few inches; leading to the third shiver, when the chain snapped back with a shuddering swing. As meat fibers slid down the bars, and Oji gripped the greasy cage, and watched with irked anxiety as the mice again scrambled up and down their cage city in fearsome anticipation, and the ponderous heads of the griffin and the sphinx turned their heads.

As Gandra laughed, her belly jiggled and the basket sprinkled meat flakes, which the unicorns, having already gorged themselves on their troughs, strained at the bars to get, so that their heads seemed half-gagged by their gluttony, and the rest of the way gagged by the bars, which admitted their heads, but not their shoulders, as if Suvani had incorporated the possibility of strangling them in her wicked design, just as she had inconvenienced every beast in the menagerie. Oji was only now beginning to feel on top of the learning curve of his own cruel confinement, so that if he was fully awake, which he now was, he could bring the swaying box to a near stop in under a minute.

Your attitude isn’t very princely, cat, but it sure is rich.”

Aren’t you going to sweep that up?”

Not my job,” sniffed Gandra. “I’m no maid or stablehand, but the keeper of the menagerie.”

They’ll choke themselves!”

Maybe they will. If they do, I’m not to interfere.”

Those are rare beasts, keeper! There can’t be more than a hundred unicorns in all of Alsantia.”

Where did you get that number, cat?”

Oji creased his brow and scowled. Gandra may not be a scientist, but that was a properly skeptical question for which he had no ready answer.

Cat got your tongue?” Gandra snickered.

Oji hated that idiom. It had been particularly annoying that, despite a conspicuous absence of talking cats on Earth, the idiom nonetheless had currency there. He hated it even more than ‘cats always land on their feet,’ for that particular bit of wisdom was at least right more than half the time.

When none of the others interceded in his behalf, Oji was not surprised, and nor did he blame them, for Gandra was vindictive and spiteful to an extreme, and had been known to embed splinters in the griffin’s or the sphinx’s meals after hearing a verse or a riddle which she found offensive for being so thorny as to be unbreakable.

Having finished portioning the first basket, she lifted the second, and came to stand just under Oji’s cage. He thought about venting a yellow stream of his annoyance on the ugly-hearted woman, but held his bladder and otherwise contained himself as she slid his meal through the slots for that purpose. While he was by instinct delighted to find that his share was moister and more appetizing than the other’s, he restrained that impulse as he saw the envied looks of the neighboring cat, the sphinx, and the griffin, and then the puddleglum, which for an instant was aflutter with naked outrage before becoming a mirror to his worry.

What wounds by lack, breaks on the selfless, and is wielded by giving?” While the sphinx also seemed ruffled by the prince’s tasty meat, she settled into a meditative squat and eyed him coolly.

The answer came to Oji unbidden, as if it was passing from the sphinx’s eyes through his own to splash up from some deep abyss in his unknowing brain: resentment. Oji saw at once that either Suvani or Gandra sought to torment all the denizens of the menagerie at once with one princely meal. When he next realized that the staring sphinx expected him to spill his dainty treat onto the ground, he felt the resentment spill into his heart and stomach, filling him with a sour regret, a consuming desire to taste the delicacy, and a dread for the hunger that would be sure to fall, for they were only fed once per day.

Oji sighed. For fear of enraging the ugly zookeeper even further, he waited for her to see to the needs of the neighboring cat, then tipped out the meal.

When it clattered to the ground, Gandra chortled without turning. “We thought you might do that, Oji, and decided you should at least see such a good meal enjoyed.”

Oji’s nostrils flared on the rich aroma of the meal she now slid into the cage of the neighboring cat. This flavorful scent—a melange of tuna and chicken, as well as some gamy morsel which undoubtedly only accented the dish with its pungency—was then doubled when she tipped another helping into the puddlegulp’s cage, so that the cat prince seemed to see a double image of himself bending to the meaty dainties. The puddlegulp no longer pantomimed a dead cat prince, but reflected something much more untrue: the image of Oji possessed by an exaggerated relish for the savory meat, a wild passion which Oji had never exhibited in his life.

Oji scowled. If they had meant to break his spirit with this scene, watching the animal submission of the beasts, compounded by the patently false show of the puddlegulp, only strengthened his resolve.

If the unicorns were striving to reach the old meat, they were clamoring at the bars of their cages to reach the fresh, wet meat, their horns clattering against the steel in the violence of their frustrated gluttony; if the sphinx and the griffin sunk into a sullen funk at the sight of Oji’s special meal, their resentment now beamed from their faces through wide eyes, bared fangs, and clicking beak. His denial of his meal had not made any difference, as through the petty schemes of Suvani or Gandra, his image was still at center, and regardless of how well-bred the beasts were, they might not be able to keep themselves from holding this against Oji.

“What is a fool thrice over?” muttered the sphinx, although she avoided his eyes as she settled back into her squatting position and laid her head on her front paws. Oji wondered how she did the mind-reading trick—was he simply that easy to read?

When meat is jealous of meat, the worm is most proud;

when we measure pleasure by heartbeats loud

and strong, we love and hate our hearts;

we live and die in parts.” The griffin’s sympathy seemed more honest, but then he never seemed excited by his meal, as if he was waiting on the end by starving himself to death.

Gandra unlocked the gate, then bowed over her armful of stacked baskets before backing out into the garden, where the aromas of roses and tulips wafted in over the loamy scent of turned earth. Topping her sloppy curtsy was a sneer that wrecked all pretense toward meeting the needs of the confined beasts, that said that she had served misery in their bellies and rancor in their hearts and was glad.

When she closed and locked the gate, Oji settled into his long and hungry day. Usually he liked to wait until the other beasts were napping to void his bowels into the sandy patch below him, but there didn’t seem any point in postpoing his humiliation today, as they were already looking at him with contempt both involuntary and deliberate, for how dare he merit a better meal even if he scorned it? So after doing his reeking business into the litter, he set about the even more unpleasant task of cleaning his coat. While he was a talking animal, he nonetheless had the instincts and capacities of a cat, and though it was revolting to pick out the flaky meat from his coat, he had to do it. As a shapeshifter that might bolt the instant they lifted the latch of his cage door, the chance of him getting a bath, even a quick dunk, was uncertain at best. As he tasted the flung meat, he squinted, then closed his eyes, and wondered what the good cuts tasted like.

The neighboring ginger fell asleep first, and the puddlegulp flopped down into a perfect imitation of the gently purring cat. Then the sphinx grudgingly ate her share, occasionally flicking a glance upward either to see if Oji was looking, or—more likely, if she was telepathic—she wanted him to know that his darting peeks were indeed detected. When the griffin oozed upwards out of his limp and drowsy funk to scarf down his portion, it slunk back into its original position with not a hair or feather out of place, as if it was some sort of apathetic elastic. When the only shreds of food remaining were the dumped food in front of the unicorns and the tatters clinging to Oji’s cage, the beasts became restful, and fell into their mid-morning nap, until the only noises were snores, purrs, titters, and the chuffing and puffing of the unicorns, until they too fell into a depleted exhaustion.

Only Oji was still awake. He had only been there a few days, so his imprisonment was still fresh in his mind, and moreover, he was so enraged at his tormentors that he could think of nothing else.

“Was she here before she left?”

Oji’s heart skipped a beat. Not only was it Suvani’s voice, but as he lifted his head from his paws—his whiskers still drooping in a most feline sulk—it was Suvani from head to toe, dressed in a violet halter, black slacks, and polished black boots with golden buckles. To complete the effect of a queen deigning to work her own gardens, she wore a white half-apron around her waist, which, most hypocritically, was not marked with even the slightest speck of dirt. Waiting dutifully behind the queen and leaning their gardening implements a few inches to the right as if they were pikemen at parade rest, were a half-dozen gardeners, and two armed guards—with real pikes—at their backs.

“I’m not in the mood for your jokes, Suvani.”

A grimace slashed the queen’s eerily wide smile downward, and seizing a servant’s hoe, she rang Oji’s cage with the implement, so that for the fourth time that day, Oji felt the surge of fear as the world swung and spin.

“Haven’t you learned the consequences of running your little mouth?”

If Oji felt sorry, it was only because the rest of him could not run as fast and as far as his mouth at present. If his feet were free to run where they will, then his mouth could escape conseuqnces along with the whole cat.

“Will you be so courteous as to answer?”

“Forgive me, Queen Suvani.” Oji could not bring himself to address her as majesty, and he hoped she would not mind this stiff form of address. “My rattled brain has already forgotten your question.”

“Was she here?”

“Gandra?”

Suvani swung the hoe over her head, then slashed downard again, but stopped just short of striking the wobbly cage. Perhaps she had realized that this was a perfectly natural assumption, given that Gandra had arrived, then left shortly thereafter, and therefore seemed a fitting answer to her question. Perhaps she had taken pity on Oji, who had just reasserted his footing in the shaking cage. Or more likely, Oji reasoned, she simply had lost interest in tormenting Oji, who had so far refused to give her even the smallest satisfaction, never crying out and only presenting expressions that were sarcastic and scornful of the queen. “Not Gandra, you twit—Isola.”

Oji thought back. “You mean your serving girl? Why would you give her a key to your griffin and your sphinx, both of whom hate you almost as much as she does? That girl wants to kill you. I can see it plain as day.” Realizing he might be setting himself up to be struck by the hoe again, Oji forced himself to be diplomatic, dredging up what little charm remained in his bedraggled fur.“If she does come by, what should I tell her?”

“She’s gone, that beastly little girl. I’ve given her so much, but she’s still an ungrateful rebel. She’s like you, I suppose. Though I could kill you whenever I like, or order the death of every talking animal in my kingdom, you choose to defy your queen.”

Privately, Oji thought it would be good riddance for all of the filthy collaborators who were getting fat on the bones of the poor talking animals that wouldn’t pay Suvani’s tribute and swell her armies. Since he wasn’t sure whether the griffins or the sphinxes had sided with Suvani, and because he didn’t want to get struck by the rake again, he kept his opinions to himself. “You have something else you want to tell me, Queen Suvani.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not. Even now, I could go either way.”

“On what?”

“I had hoped you might bond with this poor beast”; here, Suvani gestured to the ginger cat dangling in a cage identical to Oji’s; “but now I see that’s unlikely to happen. He’s lost whatever you may have once identified with, you see.”

“What does that mean?”

“For shame, Prince Oji.” Suvani’s smile twitched. “Don’t you know your own subject?”

Oji was confused; while it was ancient dogma that talking animal royalty also held sway over dumb animals, even if they would never be able to speak to that fact, Suvani seemed much too happy to have only caught Oji in a pedantic political point. Glancing over, Oji saw nothing special about the ginger. If he was a little rangy, his hair was sleek, and his coloration was good. If his thumbs…Oji stopped. Only talking animals had thumbs. How had he never noticed that before?

“Forgive me, good beast.” Oji bowed his head respectfully. “I had thought you mute. What is your name? Fear not to speak to your prince.” When he darted a wary look at Suvani to check on the effect of this pronouncement, he saw her gleeful eyes, and one hand struggling to suppress a laugh.

Not only was Oji not amused, he was full of regret for ignoring his poor subject, who no doubt thought his prince haughty and self-absorbed. In his defense, the ginger had acted like a normal cat—even now, avoiding not only Suvani’s stare, but his own eyes, as he licked himself clean, then went on to roll onto his back, and wiggle gently along the bottom bars of the cage in a most undignified manner.

When Suvani’s laughter belted out loud and long, he stared at her angrily, and she only whooped louder, only stopping to catch her breath, after which she hooted some more. During this humiliating tirade of mirth, the cat acted so blissfully unaware that Oji began to suspect that he was not unmindful, but as insensible as a normal cat.

“Ha ha,” he snorted scornfully. “Very funny. Though I’ve observed its animal habits these past few days, you had me going, and I thought it might speak at any moment. How did you give it hands?”

While Suvani tried to match this very serious statement with a sober look of her own,

instead she tittered some more, then howled with laughter, only stopping to squeal. he thinks he’s in on the joke!” In acting out their own exaggerated mirth, her servants and guards dropped their hoes, rakes, and pikes.

Oji felt a sinking feeling as he again scrutinized the neighboring ginger. Aside from the hands, this seemed a perfectly ordinary cat, graced neither by speech nor intelligence; while speaking animals were, as a general rule, bigger, the other ginger’s size was tough to gauge from one dangling cage to another, and even if he was somewhat small, Oji was also on the small size for a talking cat. Hands notwithstanding, its feral behaviors screamed ordinary cat. But it couldn’t be, Oji reasoned, not when Suvani was screaming with laughter.

“You didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?” Suvani eyed Oji. “Just what do you accuse your queen of doing, rebel? You had best be clear if you mean to foment rebellion.”

“You know what you did.”

“Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I don’t. You’re a speaking animal, Oji. Use it or lose it—and as you can see, I have the power to enforce that.”

Oji quailed inside. “You took his power of speech.”

“That would only be torture, cat, it wouldn’t be just. I simply made him as nature intended him—as a dumb animal, subservient to humanity.”

Oji couldn’t have opened his eyes wider, and when his whiskers sagged and his tail drooped, he struggled to pull them back into proud alignment. As he lifted them by force of will, he became animated by a righteous rage, so that he felt as light as a feather and electrically charged, as if his whiskers and tails were wires channeling wrath from the heavens.

Suvani continued, either oblivious or unimpressed by this reacion in Oji. “As you can see, he doesn’t know any better. There’s no torment to his new life, other than wanting to roam free, which I may allow him to do, once I forgive his past life. I think you’ll agree that this is not the same legal entity as the rebel that I captured. If I wasn’t so spiteful, I would have already relented. Then, of course, there was his value as a lesson for you, ‘my prince.’”

You mutilated him!”

Suvani scoffed. “I did nothing of the sort. He still has his hands, his feet, and his tail. You can count his whiskers if you’d like. It’s only his mind that I removed. My theory is that animals minds are only vestigial, anyway.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you’re going to lose them anyway in a generation or two.”

“That’s ludicrous.”

“So say many of the eminent sages, and while the ones that I’ve collected have published retractions, there are a few still running free that disseminate abominable little tracts that accuse me of adapting the facts to fit my vision, as if any great philosopher or wizard doesn’t do just as she likes.”

“It sounds like they’ve convinced you.”

“Motivated, perhaps, to help my theory to its fulfillment. If talking animals are so truculent that they won’t serve the interests of science, then science—and Suvani—will give them a tweak.”

“They’ll fight back, Suvani.”

“They’ve already started, although they’re such a rabble, ranging through my kingdom in packs like the beasts they are rather than uniting in a proper army that I could crush decisively.” Suvani looked at him with a coy smile which seemed to conceal another wicked joke. “Actually, you could help me with that.”

“I would never help you, Suvani. But if you call leading an army against you help, I’m game.”

“Hear the rebel speak,” Suvani said with some venom, pacing around his cage. “Then we have an accord, because I’m willing to set you free.”

Oji could not believe his ears. Was she that egotistical? “I don’t believe you. Can we just cut to the part where you sneer, cackle, slam the cage door, and leave me to my nap?”

“But I’m deadly serious. All you have to do is eat all the mice.”

Oji rolled his eyes. “That will never happen. I told you that you were joking.”

Suvani stepped up to the mouse tower, which now seemed to be aquiver with squeals of frightened mice and the shiver of running mouse feet. “That is a tall order, isn’t it? There must be hundreds in there. You’d be here for weeks, then leave a fat little ginger, no longer fit to lead the beasts against my armies.” While Suvani seemed to mull it over, Oji laid his head on his paws and rolled his eyes in digust at the overacting queen.

Suvani turned back to Oji. “How about three mice? Just to show me that you’re motivated enough to be my loyal opposition and put up a good enough fight to cement my reign in the history books? Call it a kingly test?”

“You’re not serious, and I don’t believe you, so why don’t you just whack my cage again and leave me be?”

“Of course I’m serious.”

“If this isn’t a joke, then why are you asking me to eat my subjects? That’s ridiculous.”

“But cats do eat mice, Oji. Besides, I don’t need them anymore. They’ve served their purpose, or rather, they haven’t, as they were intended to annoy you, not befriend you.”

“Kings don’t have friends.”

“Then you’ll do it?” Suvani’s wicked smile spread like a disease, first widening from one ear to another, and then spiking up by way of the dimples to the points of wicked mirth in her eyes.

Oji pondered only for a moment. While he had been tempted by the constant presence of the mice, if he did not answer her in less than a few heartbeats, the uneasiness of the mice would became distrust, and distrust was a verminous thing that spread by rumor and might eventually corrupt his reign before it started.

“Since you won’t go away unless I answer your question, how does ‘no’ strike you?”

While Suvani did not seem displeased or surprised, her smile died a little, descending from its grotesque leer to a smirk of contentment. “I should have liked to see you eat the mice. I had hoped to see you eat a dozen of them before passing out, then starting fresh tomorrow.”

“If wishes were fishes and so forth…” muttered Oji.

Wishes: nine parts prideful and vicious,

one part insightful, in whole delicious.”

When the griffin spoke, Suvani’s eyes flicked over to it, and her smile faded. “Could you stomach a griffin, Oji?” When the cat only shrugged, and did not otherwise dignify that question with a response, she continued. “This beast is more like you than you know, Oji. Because it thinks itself unbreakable, I must exhaust my invention in various torments, both slight and huge. I wonder if it might eat a mouse for freedom?” When the swatting of the idle griffin’s tail stopped with one final flick against the ground, and the griffin’s wobbly eyes fixed upon the queen, she snickered, and said, “only a hypothetical question, mind you.” Suvani smacked herself on the forehead. “I have just the thing, Oji! While your conceit is that you’re the prince of the talking animals, surely you don’t have any sovereignity over a monster like this.”

Bringing her feet together and raising her arms wide, so that she took the rough shape of a wineglass, Suvani intoned dark gibberish, and as the verse went on, her hands swirled, and a black fire crept along the fingertips. With each verse, her voice ascended to a crescendo, until she reached a resounding exclamation point, at which point her arms whipped down and a cascade of the eldritch energies consumed the griffin.

The flung fire produced neither smoke nor more flame, but immediately seemed to dwindle with the diminishing form of the griffin, until it puffed away into nothingness, leaving a mouse in its place.

“What about this faker, Oji?” Suvani reached between the bars, seized the stunned mouse, and gripped it so cruelly in her hand that its tiny head turned blue.

“Please don’t kill him,” said Oji.

“Of course not! You’re going to kill him, Oji.”

I would never!”

“Not only is he not a real mouse, he’s not your subject, either. You get to satisfy my peculiar request, I get to satisfy my wicked desire to see the rebel prince eat a thinking beast, and we both get the righteous battle that we crave. It’s perfect, Oji. Eat him!” Picking up Oji’s food tray from the ground, Suvani wiped the moist meat onto the grass, then used it to slide the griffin-turned-mouse into Oji’s cage.

If Oji was frightened before, it was nothing compared to the terror he felt now, seeing the queen’s power. While Oji himself had mastered the shapes of both cat and human, Suvani’s magic was so mighty that she had perfect transformation, able to shift not only her own form, but that of any other, and even take a fabled beast like the griffin and dissolve it into a measly mouse.

But even louder than his heart-pounding terror was his revulsion for Suvani, who was less interested in magical transformations than in moral transformations; while flesh was clay to her spells, she wasn’t happy unless her grasping spite was wet with moral clay. She hoped to bend Oji into a cannibal, a monster that ate another thinking being. Even if he knew that the griffin had eaten talking animals and humans when it could get them, he still would be loath to devour another thinking being, no matter how crude the personality. And somehow he doubted that a beast who denied himself food for so long, who thought nothing of hunger so long as it was enslaved, would have ever eaten another person.

Have you had your fun?” Oji asked. “I’m not hungry. Moreover, I’m not evil. Go away.”

“Not hungry. Not evil. You’re not even a cat! Not for long.” While Suvani smiled, it seemed only her plastic default, for her eyes were burning, and when she pointed her finger at Oji, it was so hyperextended that it nearly bent double, and with its cruelly sharp red nail at its tip, looked like a tiny bloodied scimitar. As the spell bubbled out of her mouth and fizzed around Oji, he absurdly tried to shake his fur, as if he could scatter the transforming fire like rain, but it was to no avail.

As he shrunk and contracted, the bars became like rails, and greased as they were with Gandra’s meat missile, when his mouse feet straddled them, he worried that he might slide right through them to the ground. He had heard that mice can survive much higher falls, but did not want to test that theory, not when Suvani was so dead set on proving her own vile theories.

When the Alsantian queen’s gigantic head came under the cage, her nostrils gaped into snaky depths, and her gigantic mouth was twisted in pleasure. Pinching him between forefinger and thumb, she plucked him from between the bars so quckly that he felt their clench drag at his legs and ribs.

As I said—art value aside—I have no use for mice.” Suvani plucked the other mouse, which shuddered with terror notwithstanding that until minutes before it had the heart of an eagle, the paws of a lion, and the languishing soul of a poet. “And I’ve never taken back a gift—although, just as I like to redistribute nature’s gifts, I might regift a rudely received present.”

Reaching up to the other cat’s cage, she tipped in the squeaking mouse, which was received with the lazy relish that you might expect from a recently fed cat. When the squeaks became pinched, pitiful whistles, Suvani’s smile dried up at once into a grim satisfaction. “He knows how to enjoy a gift. He’ll play with that one for a while, I think.”

When Oji squirmed in her grasp, her smile again blossomed like a snaky, ghastly weed, and she leered down at him pinned to her palm under her nails. Gagging on the odor of her resinous violet nail polish, which mingled with her palm scent, some sickeningly sweet lotion redolent with lilacs, and the mousy smell of his own fur—an odor still appetizing to his feline memory, and churning up saliva and an urge to chew—Oji the mouse felt his gorge rise with each wriggle of his body. “Don’t fret, mouse prince. You’re much too rich a gift for such a plain tabby.”

Taking Oji to the cage door of the scratching post tower, she unlocked it, flicked it open, and cast Oji inside. “Don’t think of it as home, Oji. I certainly didn’t intend to lodge these vermin on their own account. Without a cat prince as the centerpiece for my exhibition, I see it as more of a dustbin, and these rodents might as well be dust mice for all I care. But for the sake of the cat that you used to be—who, no longer with us in the flesh, is more ghost than memory—I’ll let the dust settle before the trash fire. So settle in, my prince. It won’t be long.” Suvani locked the mouse tower and stepped toward the menagerie gate.

“What bites with pleasure, circles like a vulture, and screeches like a harpy?” Although the tragedy thus far had passed in miniature before the sphinx, with one noble frienemy under the paw of a merciless and mindless cat, and her newest neighbor swept in with the verminous crumbs, her face now loomed up in large before the queen. If murder was a measuring cup filled with brooding, the sphinx’s glowering poured in a half-cup at one glare.

“What gusts like wind, speaks its catty mind, and is locked in with a riddle?” Suvani cackled at last, making Oji a prophet but no less a rodent tumbling down the neck of a tube of meshed cages, deeper and deeper into the upcoming stage for the queen’s mouse inferno.

First Drafts: The Taskmaster

When you’re writing novels, remember who’s in charge.

If this seems obvious or nonsensical, let me ask you: how many words a day must you write to feel happy? Would you be happy with 300, 600, or 900 words? I’m guessing that most of you would say no, no, no, so that it would sound like “Bohemian Rhapsody” here if I could hear your responses. What magic word count apparates you from the Dursleys to Hogwarts?

Obviously, there is no right answer to this question. I ask it so that you can remember that you’re not only the producer, but the taskmaster. You set the standards for your achievement.

While having high daily goals can be inspirational, they can also be grueling, and as you’re the taskmaster, it’s up to you to know when to tell him to take a day off or change his criteria. If you leave him in charge, you turn into a peon piling up words, and this takes the fun, the play, the energy, and the craft out of writing. You also may miss the signals coming either from your work or your brain that it’s time to shift your attention from the first draft to the second, or possibly to hear the clamor of the other novel that you put on the backburner.

Of course, the taskmaster gets installed during editing and revision as well, and he can be just as domineering then, but as long as you remember that he’s on a two-way line of communication, not only giving but receiving commands from you, you remain in command.

If you find yourself at the mercy of your taskmaster, and can’t get out of the rut of hitting your arbitrary goal, you may want to take a wide angle view of your productivity. If you’re not happy with what you’ve written for the day, dwell on how much you’ve written for the month or the year.

If I wrote 186,000 words in first drafts this year, and 160,000 of them since the end of April, I should be happy by any standard even if I only wrote 1850 words yesterday. That this is not the case shows the power of the taskmaster, especially when he’s governing first drafts, for writing new novels is such an enthralling activity that once you’ve found the rhythm of creation you want to continue forever. But even this flow of sparks can turn into a grind if you let the taskmaster hold your nose to the grindstone. In this case, because my arbitrary daily goal is 2000 words, and I was 150 words short, I set myself up to get chewed out by the Taskmaster.

Make no mistake: The Taskmaster–or rather, the complex of disciplined habits that this imaginary character represents–is an important collaborator for a novelist. If you want to finish what you start, you do want to create a Taskmaster, so long as you establish his role, change his criteria for success when your happiness is at stake,  and know when to change his role whenever it suits you. In plain English, this means that while you’re disciplining yourself, always remember that you’re the disciplinarian, the decisions you made for that daily discipline were established by you to guide yourself, and every now and then that discipline may need to be adapted, or shifted to an entirely different stage of the process.

First Drafts: Difference Without Discrimination

It’s harder than it sounds, especially to a white male like myself, who is no doubt still deaf to certain things from living inside the envelope of institutional racism embedded in what white people consider to be Default Americana.

One of my teachers told us (a scientific approach would expect me to divulge that she was a white female teaching an entirely white class that was about 75% male) that “if your character doesn’t have to be a white male, try something else.” She didn’t say dogmatically that we had to change their race and gender, she simply suggested trying something else. I’ve come to think of this as allowing different actors (entirely mentally constructed) audition for a role in my novel. I recommend this process wholeheartedly; sometimes I like to fall back on my original concept, but sometimes in exploring an evolved version of that concept I come across an entirely different character (or even a new story). In such a fashion, your cast will quickly multiply. And sometimes my second idea for a character is better than the first idea. Before you react against this as somehow going against the grain of inspiration, I reassure you that this is entirely natural. Art progresses through a series of first natures, second natures, third natures, and so on, just like the surrounding world. We don’t live in logs, we live in houses; we don’t eat raw wheat, we eat sandwiches. The notion that first things, including your first ideas, are sacred, is drivel; anyone who has a baby knows that they should never be allowed to do the first thing they think of with a loaded diaper.

Of the problems related to description of racial and gender difference, that is so entwined with your own background and your authorial voice that I won’t presume to recommend which words to use. In the first draft, though, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Writing to the audience happens in the second draft.

First Drafts: Don’t Be the Coyote

I finished the sequel to Protect the Prince today. Currently dubbed Pretender’s Reign, this one is also a Middle Grade fantasy, but with a subgenre change. This is the second first draft I’ve finished of the novels I started in April.

I was so engrossed in the action for Protect the Prince that I was aware of ongoing timeline problems as I was writing it, all of which I swept under the rug until I finished the first draft, a practice I highly recommend. As I’ve written before on this blog, stopping for any reason gives a chance for the boulder of writer’s block or any other boulder-sized creative anxieties to come crashing down on your head. Don’t be Wile E Coyote, be the Road Runner.

Although I’ve written two novels in this universe, my notes file for it is still fairly small, indicating that much of the worldbuilding is going on simultaneously with my fictional production of said universe.

One of the main shareable intuitions about writing the first draft that I derived from writing Pretender’s Reign is that while focusing at times has helped to figure out the direction of the novel, sometimes a creative loss of focus results in my producing ten pages before I know what I’m doing. For instance, between today and yesterday I wrote almost 8000 words, and aside from a few paragraphs of notes to serve as guard rails which I wrote today while I was prepping the conclusion (only necessary because chapter seven and chapter eight are mirror images of each other), much of this was unplanned freeform writing, so that it felt less like writing than happening.

I’m not knocking a focused intelligence; I edited five novels in 2017, and know that lens is necessary. However, having that glaring lens in front of you all the time can bend and obscure the big picture view, as well as the free flow, of your fictional universe. So if you’re ever at a point where concentration and thought seem to be doing nothing for you, try shifting that focus. While you don’t want to permanently lose it, but only tuck it away in your toolbox for  later, you do want to move it to some invisible or shadowy portion of that toolbox, so that you’re not tempted to reach for it and start cutting the wood before it has time to grow.

As to the how, that is probably an idiosyncratic choice; everyone has certain music they listen to for drifting off and other tunes they listen to for pumping up. Similarly, you no doubt have certain activities you use to abate your edge. Not that you want to distract yourself from your novel by running off to other pastimes, but it is that habit of mind you want to duplicate. Yes, this is a very abstract recommendation, but as it’s an abstracted state of mind in which you are more conscious of your setting and characters than yourself, the path you take to get there is very subtle.

New Site, New Novel, New Chapter

I’ve created a new site over at keithghendricks.com. It looks a lot like the old site, and I’ve transferred all the old posts. I’ll keep updating both sites for the interim, but if you currently have this page bookmarked or followed, please add my new site to your folder or follow list.

One of the projects I mentioned the other day is complete–the next installment of my Abyss series.  I finished it today, and I’m really pleased with the ending. The strongest first draft I ever wrote is still probably The Oasis of the Abyss (In the Abyss part 2), but I’m very excited for this one, which I can only call The ________ Abyss. Although I haven’t done any editing in over a month, I still feel like I’m in first draft mode and may move on to finish the first series, bring some attention to my short story, or double my efforts on novel projects B and C.

You’ll find a new chapter of The Dragonbone Petticoat on Inkitt and Wattpad.

Many Worlds in Zyzygy: Working on Multiple Drafts

The other day I coined the word Zyzygy to describe an alignment of parallel worlds, to distinguish it from the awesome real science word Syzygy, an alignment of real celestial bodies. So if you clicked on the title to post your corrections in the comments, you have only found a neologism. Sorry, not sorry.

Zyzygy also describes my first draft activity these days, which is spread across novels in multiple universes. Project A is nearly finished; Project B is about half done; and, Project C is about a quarter of the way done, but longer than B, because B is a Middle Grade novel. I coined Zyzygy for project B.

I have often been reluctant to work on multiple novels at once in the thought that I might confuse the setting or that they might blend into each other, but I am not having that issue. The issue I am having is that of a parent’s guilt when I feel like I’m spending more time on one of these stories than the other ones. For instance, Project D, a short story that I’m pretty excited about is at a standstill right now, despite thinking about it nearly as much as my other projects.

One of these projects, a continuation of The Eye of Wysaerie (Project C above, The Dragonbone Petticoat), is currently being posted on Wattpad. It’s also available on Inkitt, as I linked my Inkitt and Wattpad profiles. Speaking of Inkitt, The Dragon’s Dollhouse is now complete on that platform.

 

The Dragon’s Dollhouse is on Inkitt

I’ve been posting chapters of The Dragon’s Dollhouse on Inkitt over the past week. 

If you’ve visited my other blog, Board of Life, you’ll already know that I love tabletop games. One of the chapters I posted to Inkitt today concerns board games in a fantasy setting: “Tossing the Board.”

In addition to this Inkitt project, I’ve begun posting the sequel to The Eye of Wysaerie on WattPad. Tentatively titled The Dragonbone Petticoat, the first chapter lets you know what Elessa and Gaspar have been doing since The Eye of Wysaerie wrapped.

 

I’m on Inkitt

I’ve now moved entirely from editing to writing new novels. Currently, I have four going right now, plus one short story. I don’t like talking about first drafts until they’re finished, so no hints.

One project that has stalled amidst all this creation is my second novel, The Dragon’s Dollhouse. While I finished a third draft of it, then edited 6000 words of the sequel that I started in 2016, this dragon is not budging from its lair.

In the hope of waking up this dragon, I’ve placed the first four chapters on Inkitt, another writer’s platform like Wattpad.

I plan on publishing the whole novel there over the next few weeks. You can find The Dragon’s Dollhouse at https://www.inkitt.com/stories/fantasy/217597

 

Thoughts on Children’s Literature

Although I read The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler at least a dozen times, and have a deep nostalgia for the book, I haven’t read it since junior high. Whether this was a result of my having sufficiently absorbed it or the side-effect of wanting to read about older protagonists as I grew older–as the children’s literature scholars tell us, despite the popularity of Harry Potter–I moved on from this book for a while, though I occasionally thought of it, and always fondly.

Cut to 2018, when I started reading it to my daughter and son, who are close to the ages of the protagonists, and my mind was blown. For this was a book that had, in a way, formed part of my adult consciousness.

Not that I ever ran away from home to live in the MOMA like Claudia, but I have had a lifelong love of art museums, and when I finally arrived at the MOMA in 2009, I had a feeling of homecoming. This might have been partially attributable to seeing textbook Picassos in the flesh, but now I see that the seed was sown by E. L. Konigsburg’s little Newberry winner.

As I reread the favorites of my childhood, I have had a similar feeling of connectedness with my child self. The feeling is so delightful that I wonder why I have been prolonging my reintroduction to these works. Sometimes, I believe it to be the fear that they will no longer live up to my memory.

This is probably the case of Choose Your Own Adventure books, for which I had a ton of childhood nostalgia, but was completely unwilling to return to the series for over thirty years, dreading that they would not be as good as I remembered. When I started reading CYOA to my son, I was surprised to see how well they held up after all these years. While they are sorely dated, the free will effect is compelling after all this time, and the stories are possibly better than I remember. While this series never aspired to be classic children’s literature, they very much aspired to be the new children’s literature, and succeeded so well that despite many of the dated references, they still have that charisma of the new, so that they may have arrived at the status of cult classic children’s literature and achieved a posterity in literary history by that angle. To CYOA I attribute my tendency for my characters to look for alternatives, and use those excluded middles as routes to the weird.

While I get a lot out of my other reading, in rereading books from my childhood I not only dust off the details of a beloved story, I connect with the material that formed the mechanism of my mind. It is interesting to think of how these early influences formed me as a person and a writer.

Fantasy: Escape or Attack?

Is fantasy an escape from reality, or an attack on reality? A disintegration of reality? A moral disintegration of reality, if you will. Is the author leading his readers in an escape or is he saying “this won’t do at all, try this instead”, or “if you like these dark days, dose yourself with my darker timeline.” Is the author of fantasy trying to narcotize the reader or produce a moment of “cognitive estrangement?”

Not that I wish to denigrate escapism, when Ursula K. LeGuin so eloquently defended it: “Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”

I feel one foot on both sides of this question, as allowing my characters to be entangled by causality, consequences, repercussions, and politics isn’t the same as the escapist instinct that started my novels.

Switching Gears

While my second draft of Protect the Prince is very fruitful, I seem to be unable to stop myself from popping the tab on first drafts. I started another one tonight. While I can’t say this one was unwilled, like Protect the Prince, I have denied myself the pleasure of writing this one for a while, and when the thread moment presented itself to me, I gave a good yank and pages tumbled out.

Not that it isn’t a good feeling, switching gears from editing to first draft writing. It’s a great thing to watch fantasies grow.

While my editing habits have to be restrained again, they don’t have to be unlearned this time around so much as smacked with a whip and backed into a cage. I’m feeding it some critical theory here and there to keep it satiated, and so as to keep it sharp for when I want to let it out.

 

First Drafts: The Importance of Fresh Starts

From August to February marked a period of nonstop editing for my novels. During most of this period, I was revising four different novels at once, and resisting any thoughts of starting new novels. What changed in February was that, entirely against my will, I wrote Protect the Prince. As I explained in a previous post, this was the by-product of releasing my dark fantasy series, Five Worlds in the Abyss, into the world. For a few days, I was too excited to do any intellectual activity so rarefied as revision, and instead poured out my creativity into a new story.

So one subject I’ve mused about is the creative differences between new writing and revision. While there may be many psychological differences—a transition between Freud’s different psychosexual stages, possibly—or even biological differences–such as the bicameralism of the brain–I’m not concerned with those things here, but only the life of the writer.

While in revision you look for new angles and fresh perspectives on the scenes of your story—things you hadn’t considered the first time through, in your haste to follow your protagonists—editing mainly consists of taking your first draft, which amounts to a meditation on your fictional world that you wrote to yourself—and rephrasing it in conventional, even conservative, ways that everyone can understand. While the first draft has original ideas, it also errs in its self-absorption; in the second draft, your novel casts off its selfishness by dressing in more common language. Revision marks the progress of your novel from selfishness to selflessness.

That said, it is a wonderful feeling to uncork a new first draft if you’ve been denying yourself that privilege. I started two more stories the other day—they will probably be short stories—and as I wrote, I strung imagery from such uncommon juxtapositions of words that I could never have arrived on those sentences and paragraphs solely from the editing process. While you might see that first draft as incomprehensible as glossolalia right now, the important thing is that I understand it, and that those original elements are produced. Even after I’ve polished those up for human consumption, many of those unique elements will remain.

What’s even better is that editing is a lot more fun when I have a first draft burning. It’s like a light had dimmed, and fanning that new fire brought illumination to bear when revising my novels. Less like a torch than like the controlled explosion in an engine.

So while there is a lot to recommend in committing to editing for months at a stretch, I’m glad that I stepped out of these editing rituals into some new stories. A good first draft engine is like a trained beast, and you have to let it out to romp every now and then.

If you haven’t yet, please nominate The Web of the Abyss on Kindle Scout. Here’s the link: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/265E01BTF7773?ref_=ks_ad_tl.

Also, the first novel in this series, In the Abyss, is available on Kindle now for 2.99, or free on Kindle Unlimited: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BTY5F5P.

Line Edits #3

Here’s an instance (from Protect the Prince, my Middle Grade urban fantasy) when I’m uncertain of choosing the prosier first draft or the tighter second draft. Economy of language can also establish tone. I’m still undecided on this passage.

It was a cool night in early autumn, and the breeze swirled the fallen leaves on the grass, leaves as dark as coffee grounds between park lights, then blazing brown, orange, and autumn reds under the lampposts, their stems tracing a light green handprint through the dry leaves, all of it as bright as the tips of crayons. As they crossed a playground, lamp light fell on dark red trails over asphalt and grass.

The cool September breeze swirled the fallen leaves; leaves as dark as coffee grounds between park lights, then blazing bright as the tips of crayons under the lamps, their stems tracing light green handprints through the dry browns, oranges, and autumn reds. As they crossed a playground, lamp light fell on dark red trails over asphalt and grass.

The Web of the Abyss is on Kindle Scout

The Web of the Abyss, Five Worlds in the Abyss Book 2, just hit Kindle Scout.

https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/265E01BTF7773

As before, you can read the excerpt on the Kindle Scout page, or download it in a Kindle friendly version. In Book 2:

When Huiln must persuade the elven High Tzhurarkh to side against the dryad despot Inglefras, he uncovers many byzantine coups, each swallowing the other like nesting dolls. Huiln wears many hats in his journey to the Elven World: confidant, military advisor, madman…battering ram. Though the conspirators have it in for him, his allies are scarier: the Lovecraftian elves, the turncoat sorceress, his flip-flopping, homicidal blood brother, and the Spider-God.

Some non-spoilery information about The Web of the Abyss and how it relates to the series follows:

As Book 1, Part One was from the perspective of Khyte, and Book 1, Part Two was from the perspective of the giant sorceress Eurilda, Book 2 is from the perspective of Huiln the goblin. Which is not to say that Khyte and Eurilda aren’t featured heavily in this novel, though Eurilda reverts to her antagonistic role, rather than the antiprotagonist I made of her in Part Two. (Everyone is a hero in their own mind.)

Each section of Five Worlds in the Abyss details one of the Worlds. In the Abyss Part One, A Tree in the Abyss, is mainly set on Nahure, the Goblin World; Part Two, The Oasis of the Abyss, is mainly set on Ielnarona, the Dryad World; and, The Web of the Abyss is entirely set on Alfyria, the Elven World. Not that these are Tolkien elves or Elfquest elves. In the blurb, I describe them as Lovecraftian elves due to their weird architecture and alien outlook. While Khyte was at home on the Goblin World, and Eurilda was an unwanted guest on the Dryad World, Huiln is out of his element in every way on the Elven World.

If you missed the news, Amazon is closing Kindle ScoutThe Web of the Abyss is among the last round of novels going through that platform.

As before, your nominations are appreciated.

The Shadow-Synopsis

One of my current projects is writing a synopsis for The Dragon’s Dollhouse. This, my second novel, came with more pain than my other novels, and this discomfort has continued after I finished it, as I have only been able to comb through it twice, compared to four drafts for my other projects. As I’m self-conscious of it, and two or three characters may need surgical removal from the novel, I only send out queries regarding it with trepidation, and only a handful of times all told. Having just finished the second draft, I’m engaged in writing the synopsis to raise my consciousness of the book as a whole.

I dislike writing synopses. While they have a tremendous organizing influence on your thoughts of your novel, this may erode the author’s negative capability, the creative chaos from which worlds and ideas emanate. My main reason for disliking them, however, is that they are inherently dishonest. Obviously, you can’t sum up a three hundred page novel in one or two pages. To be expected to do that is more than disingenuous, it is an expectation that you perform an activity altogether different from summary: salesmanship. You’re not really creating an outline, you’re aiming to wow, to shock, to collate the talking points for your prospective agent. You’re sweeping up all your book’s good points into a pretty pile of glitter. So it’s not really housecleaning so much as decorative disorder, or like the rainbow-vomiting gnome from Gravity Falls.

As I create the synopsis for a novel, I am always conscious of the shadow-synopsis, the vast majority that didn’t get into two pages, as that is what conceals the unfinished future of a fictive world. The synopsis is a snip of unreality compared to the reality principle in the shadow-synopsis,

While defining the plot arrow, the character arcs, and the selling points may give you an x-ray on the book’s skeleton, bones do not breathe, and your book’s pulse is not in its transparency, but in its imagery and shadows, playing in setting and scene.

That said, writers must write synopses. Someday, I might have something positive to say about them, and on that day, you might get a more instructive post. You may understand my pain when you write your own synopses.

In the Abyss is #Free on #Kindle Through April 5th (UPDATE)

While I’m not yet breaking any records, In the Abyss is finding a niche on the Amazon store. Currently, the book is #27 in Dark Fantasy and #30 in Sword and Sorcery in the Kindle Store. That’s pretty decent for three days.

Yesterday, I created my BookBub author profile (https://www.bookbub.com/profile/keith-hendricks). Today, I started researching how to create a GoodReads profile, and was pleasantly surprised to see that In the Abyss was already there: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39696695-in-the-abyss?ac=1&from_search=true

Any reviews and ratings on Amazon, GoodReads, and BookBub are appreciated.

In the Abyss is Free on Kindle Through April 5th

As the title reads, my novel, In the Abyss, is free on Kindle through April 5th. If you nominated my Kindle Scout campaign, this is my way of saying thank you. Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BTY5F5P

The paperback of In the Abyss is also available (through this link). This is not free, although purchasers of the paperback can get a free copy of the Kindle edition as well. That free period does not expire.

 

In the Abyss is Available on Kindle

Have a gander at In the Abyss and my new author page, both now on Amazon.

While you can go over now and snag it for 2.99, or for free if you’re a member of Kindle Unlimited, I’m running a free promotion from April 1st through April 5th. This is my way of getting a free copy into the hands of those that read my blog or nominated my Kindle Scout campaign. Also, consider this the Advance Reading Copy period for all would-be reviewers. Please review my novel!

 

Line Edits #2

I finished the third draft of The Eye of Wysaerie Chapter Six today.

I really liked revising this chapter. Ilmar (in the magical guise of the courtly sir Stanton) and Adelae talk in a more aristocratic register in this scene, and that was fun to write. Though I think chapter fifteen is funnier, there is some comedy in this one, and there’s lots of magic.

Some drafting notes from this revision:

A visor was bolted to the edge of a steel frame mostly concealed by the bird’s scalp that had become both helm and headdress.” This is an awkward sentence, but it is important to show the reader that Leonidas is not only wearing bone and skin, but a full helmet. If I simply say that it was bolted to a steel frame, I’m giving the reader x-ray vision. For now, I’m going to leave this line in the novel. The nice thing is it is functional now, although I’d like something more aesthetically pleasing. With this line, it’s important to pay attention not only to the grammatical structure, but the semantic content of the line.

Original line: “His palm burned through its demi-gauntlet, and his fingers were blistered and peeling where the red-hot halberd pulled skin in its flight.”

Alternate line: “and in its flight, the red-hot halberd pulled skin from his blistered fingers.”

Final line:  While his palm burned through its demi-gauntlet, the rest of the hand was a ball of fire; in its flight, the red-hot halberd had pulled skin from his blistered fingers.” 

The original line is redundant, with “peeled” and “pulled skin”: “and his blistered fingers peeled where the red-hot halberd pulled skin in its flight.” Also, peeling from a blister doesn’t sound nearly so bad compared to a hot steel weapon stuck to your fingers pulling skin as its thrown. The original line sets up one expectation and then explodes it before the end of the sentence.

Last Day for In the Abyss on #Kindle Scout

The Kindle Scout campaign for In the Abyss will close at midnight tonight. All nominations are appreciated! You can nominate me through this link: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/author/campaigns. If In the Abyss is selected for publication, all nominators will receive a free Kindle eBook of the novel.

Those who nominated In the Abyss will know of Amazon’s decision around the same time I do, as Amazon sends notifications to all nominators.  Amazon’s exclusivity period is a 45 day window, or two weeks longer than the campaign, so we may not know tomorrow.

 

 

 

Three Days Left for In the Abyss Kindle Scout Campaign

The Kindle Scout campaign for In the Abyss ends on March 12th, 2018, and every nomination counts. If you haven’t nominated In the Abyss yet, follow this link to nominate.  Or, you can copy and paste this link into your browser: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2JSO3EROXQGX7

Also, every Facebook, Twitter, or WordPress share–or any other type of social media link–is greatly appreciated.

A New Novel For Me And Some Writing Prompts for You

I finished my sixth novel today, the working title of which is Protect the Prince. While all my previous novels have been intended for adults, or somewhat mature teenagers, I wrote this novel with a Middle Grade audience in mind. My thoughts were that after writing five novels my kids can’t read, I would like to write one that they could–also, I felt a need to pay back all the great Middle Grade books I read as a boy, not only the usual suspects of Lewis and L’engle, but The Wizard of EarthseaMrs’ Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The White Mountains, Operation Peeg, and The Book of Three.

Which is not to say that I intended to write this one. When I posted In the Abyss on Kindle Scout, I was too excited to do any revising for a few days, and found myself starting a bunch of new things instead, and this is one of the projects that got lit by that fire.

I did give myself some guide rails this time. Usually I write off the cuff, by my nerve, by the seat of my pants, or whatever other inane description one uses to describe unfiltered first draft production. Wanting to write something fairly positive that was also true to my own principles, I started with the following prompts:

Religion is Sinister = The World is No Paradise = The World is Not Enough = When We Trust People, They Often Help = Friendship is The Greatest Good.

What sort of novel would you create with those five prompts? (Yes, I know the second and third ones are very close, but both seemed important the day I started writing Protect the Prince.) The fourth prompt was difficult, though by qualifying it with the word “often,” I arrived at the qualified optimism that I wanted for my children’s book. Later on, this evolved in dialogue to “When you’re victorious, trust no one. When you’re lost, trust someone.”

Another first for me is that Protect the Prince is my first urban fantasy. If you’ve been following my blog, you might be surprised by this, given my thoughts on urban fantasy. Nope, nope, don’t want to talk about it, na na na can’t hear you.

I would love to give you some details, but I have yet to write a proper synopsis, and I have some thoughts for how things might change in the second draft.

I’ve also finished the third draft of The Eye of Wysaerie Chapter Four, “The Falling Skins,” and if you haven’t nominated In the Abyss on Kindle Scout, it would be greatly appreciated.

 

Line Edits #1

“Deviled eggs occupied the eye sockets, and the mouth, horribly distended by a broken jaw, accommodated a red wine of respectable vintage.” (The Eye of Wysaerie, Chapter 4, “The Falling Skins.”)

One concern with this line is whether people see wine in a bottle—my intent for the line—or wine poured into the mouth. Common sense would dictate that the word “vintage” would connote a bottle, as you can’t tell the vintage of a mouthful of wine, once it’s in another person’s mouth (and dead, at that) very easily. Still, you can’t control what people see in a line, outside of the words you use, and vintage is a subtler modifier than red, which is attached to dominant visual cues. If I say “red wine,” people will see red wine poured out, not in a bottle, unless I use the word bottle. I’m trying to avoid the word bottle, because it would be either “red wine bottle of respectable vintage,”—which would make the modifier red a bit of a dangler, as it could be construed to modify the bottle, i.e. red wine bottle instead of red wine bottle—or “a bottle of red wine of respectable vintage,” which puts two ofs too close together for my taste. My solution:

Deviled eggs occupied the eye sockets, and the mouth, horribly distended by a broken jaw, accommodated an uncorked red wine of respectable vintage.”

Using the word “uncorked” adds additional imagery, and inserts an unambiguous modifier that directs the reader to the bottle. Moreover, “uncorked” is kind of a funny word, adding, I hope, to this chapter’s strain of black comedy.

Religion and Gods in #Fantasy #1: Gods in In the Abyss

You still have twelve days to nominate my novel, In the Abyss, on Kindle Scout. Currently you can find a free 5000 word excerpt of my novel there, and upon selection by Amazon, all nominators will receive the novel for free.

As a bonus for those following my blog, today I have a “special feature” of sorts to share.

As I’ve been writing my fantasy series, Five Worlds in the Abyss, I occasionally put together glossary entries as a way to keep details consistent, so as to enhance the fictive reality of the setting. While I don’t intend on publishing these, it struck me that they might be instructive for those creating their own fantasy settings. (BTW, I recommend keeping a glossary for as long as it is a useful activity, because you often generate a lot of useful information while you’re writing one. Especially when it comes to the characters, minor and major, who you can in your glossary define as objects in your narrative. While your characters are always moving around in your novel, in your glossary you can pin them down better–at least, until they outgrow that definition, hence the limitation of a glossary, and why I am no longer keeping mine up to date. Material for a future post…)

My main thoughts on religion while I was writing the Five Worlds setting is that I wanted to create a universe where “god’s will” was a negative; where gods are exactly what logic tells you they are: lurking voyeurs living vicariously through their puppets. Note that these are thoughts on a fictional religion, not my thoughts on Religion with a capital R. I’m sure Michael Moorcock doesn’t proselytize for Lord Arioch.

Today, I’m sharing you the entry on Lyspera, the Spider-God. It also discusses the other major deity in this dark setting, the nameless God King aka The Divine Atheist.

Lyspera, The Spider-God. Just as a spider is minuscule compared to a human being, so too does the spider-god compare unfavorably to the creator of The Five Worlds. Unable to create worlds of her own, Lyspera stole the Five Worlds as playthings.

There are certain theological sophistications—such as those of the giants of Uenarak—that say the creator allowed her to steal The Five Worlds, because they were imperfect worlds, abominations that he desired purged from creation. Allowing her action spared his smiting hand.

As it would be difficult to steal Worlds from an omniscient deity, either the creator allowed it (which draws a picture of a pretentious, deceptive creator), or the creator was sleeping—which feeds into the dominant Uenarakian theological premise, of the sleeping atheist god-king that languidly abnegates his own creation through ennui. “Yes, I’m god,” thinks the Divine Atheist, “but my being, and my entire creation, are only a dream.” An omnipotent and omniscient being, of course, would have no objectivity, but be pure subjectivity, as there are no fixed points of reference to such a being—any such “fixed” point of reference could be altered at will, just like a lucid dreamer’s dreamscape. Hence the navel-gazing god of the giants.

Lyspera is a spiteful and petty god. Any in the Five Worlds who feel her influence do not derive any benefit. Therefore divine will in the Five Worlds is thought to be like the webs from a spider’s spinnerets, ensnaring or reeling in hapless souls. And so, those that aspire to be good in The Five Worlds desire to be free from divine will, from the webs of Lyspera.

Though a tiny, petty god, Lyspera nonetheless ensnared Five Worlds and drew them into what is essentially a pocket reality, so her power is still unlimited and absolute to the human mind

Read In the Abyss on Kindle Scout

My 99,700 word fantasy novel, In the Abyss, is on Kindle Scout until March 12th, and you can nominate me through this link.

While a 5000 word excerpt is available for free on the Kindle Scout page, the full 99,700 word eBook will be given to all those that nominate my novel, if Amazon selects it for publishing.

Those of you considering your own Kindle Scout campaigns may be interested to know that WordPress is one of the more effective platforms for promotion, along with Facebook and Reddit. WordPress is surprisingly effective even considering that Google chooses not to index this site very high in search results (especially compared with my “resting” blog, Board of Life, which gets tons of Google traffic), and 99.9% of Shoreless Seas and Stars Uncounted’s traffic is from WordPress Reader. Perhaps because WordPress is a community of readers as much as it is a community of writers.

Imaginary Libraries

I’ve completed the third draft of chapter three of The Eye of Wysaerie, “The Care and Feeding of Griffins.” You can find it through this link.

One of the pleasures of revising this chapter is that it contains references to three imaginary books in my fantasy world: The High Earth and the Quaking Sky, The Lies of Anduil Mabrook, and Vanoori Menagerie. Don’t bother Googling or Wiki-ing them, as they only exist in The Eye of Wysaerie.

I’m a big fan of imaginary literature. Not only does it give your characters a different angle on their ‘headspace,’ it also textures your setting in a different way. Even if they only exist on the spine of a book, or in conversation, they give your characters something to talk about outside of the plot, and instantly make your setting seem that much larger–and more impartial or objective to your characters.

Of course, I also love to write passages from imaginary books. One of them precedes this chapter, an entry on griffins from Vanoori Menagerie. One of the challenges of providing an excerpt from imaginary literature is writing an in-world description with not your own authorial voice, but with a fictional authorial voice. In this case, this required some actual research of terms, some making stuff up, and a lot of getting into the character of a fictional academic. In a world without a printing press, she (the fictional author, Eriva Kamadne) is writing to an audience that is either at leisure, in a library, or in a university. In a world without a publish or perish imperative, academic reputation is everything. Though self-promotion won’t help her publish any books, being both authoritative and entertaining will still make her name to the limited reading public of her age. So “authoritative and entertaining library reference book” was my note to myself revising this passage.

There are also imaginary books in In the Abyss, currently on Kindle Scout (please nominate me!).

Read Me On Kindle Scout #3

Just a quick thank you to readers of Shoreless Seas and Stars Uncounted that clicked through to my Kindle Scout novel, In the Abyss. Thank you very much. It’s much appreciated.

As Kindle Scout only updates its statistics once a day around four in the morning, my campaign was live for almost a day before I saw any numbers. This means the first visits I knew of were the ones I tracked from this blog going to Kindle Scout, and it was nice to see you open the door, so to speak, and cross over. My experience of WordPress is overwhelmingly positive. It’s a fantastic community of readers.

If any of my WordPress readers are curious as to what Kindle Scout is like, my first two days there are also overwhelmingly positive.  As I have a fairly meager social media presence (c.1K followers on Twitter and less than a hundred on Facebook), and it was my first time contributing there, I was dreading my first day’s stats, only to have 339 page views the first day, and 662 total in two days. Though nice people have advertised to me that I could buy page views and nominations, I haven’t done this. Buying views seems counter-productive, as I can see how many of my views are coming in from referrals to Kindle Scout, so that it seems that Amazon would have an idea if my numbers were skewed or honest.

Not that I haven’t promoted myself on WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, and Wattpad. Also my wonderful wife, Julz, and my other family members and friends that are expanding the reach of my Kindle Scout campaign with a share or a retweet. This is wonderful stuff which makes a difference, and I really appreciate it. Thank you!

My first takeaway is that it took me one day to get as many Kindle Scout views as I have ‘reads’ on WattPad.  Not that a Kindle Scout page view is necessarily equivalent to a read chapter on WattPad, but if we look at it as traffic only, and not a measure of content consumption, it marks a much larger migration of readers. Many, many more people should be familiar with In the Abyss than The Eye of Wysaerie by the end of the month.

Though I’ve been writing a lot about page views, in the end what matters is not page views but nominations.  As Kindle doesn’t share nomination data, I don’t know the current number of nominations. All that I can say is thank you for every nomination.  Thank you all once again. If you get tired of my campaign posts or tweets, I apologize, and it will be over on March 13th, 2018.

https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2JSO3EROXQGX7

 

 

Writing the First Draft: Find the Thread, Turn Off the Critic, and The Affecting Moment

Bringing another novel into the world through Kindle Scout is so galvanizing that I’m having an interesting problem—rather than editing part two of this series, I’ve moved on to first drafts of parts four (the second half of book two) and five (the first half of book three). As I’ve been actively resisting the call to the first draft due to my desire to find an agent and/or publisher, this was noteworthy. I’ve been all about revisions. I don’t want to write any more first drafts until I sell a book; so why am I writing new novels? Believe me–I am not willing it.

As a writer, knowing where first drafts come from and how they start is, of course, of intense interest to me, so I’ve been examining this catalytic moment. It may be that since my eyes are open for shareable writing tips for this blog, that I have found something useful for my own authorship. (Though I initially wrote the previous sentence in reverse, it is more true in the revised order, as I have found everything that works for me by necessity, and not by intent. Blogging has actually been fairly useful for me to codify my technique.)

Finding the Thread

In the past, the only necessary part of writing the first draft of my finished novels was what I call “Finding the Thread” of the novel. That is, in “Finding the Thread,” I start burning lead (or keystrokes) the instant I see the opening scene of my novel. Sometimes I visualize a few thematic moments prior to writing, and I’ve learned that however important these moments are—and they’re often very important–these are not the thread-moment of my novel. My unfinished college projects were usually attempts to piece together a novel patchwork from elaborating these thematic moments that I’ve imagined. I do not recommend writing a novel this way. You may be saying, “that’s fine, then tell me how to find the thread.” I may be able to give you a clue—the thematic images are usually more embryonic, possibly just a character, whereas the thread-moments have not only a character but the trace of a staged scene.

If you have a hard time finding the thread, do more worldbuilding. Though if we’re focused on the imagery bubbling up from our subconscious we can find it quicker, the good news is that you can find this scene by conscious work as well. Sometimes you find the thread with practically no work, like finding a four leaf clover by chance, and sometimes you have to dig and dig for it. (Really, in both instances the writer is working, and in the former case, the writer’s subconscious got there ahead of their conscious mind.) In this case, the digging is worldbuilding. By posing questions to your setting and your protagonists, and bringing them more and more into focus, it will also direct you to your stage. My second novel took more digging than the others.

Turn Off Your Critic

Not a necessary part of writing the first draft, but a vastly helpful trick to producing one, is being able to Turn Off Your Critic, so that you can create non-stop for as long as you’re sitting down to your novel. Though people have written entire books on reaching this stage of flow consciousness, Buddha Mind, or not-thinking Zenness, it’s really just as simple as turning off your critic. But yes, the idea is to be in a state of not-thinking, because that is what creativity is—unfiltered mental productivity. Once you start filtering it, that’s thinking, and you’re feeding your internal critic.

All five of my novels were written with a combination of Find The Thread and Turn Off Your Critic.

The Affecting Moment

The ones I began today were greatly facilitated by this other influence, what I’m calling The Affecting Moment. That is, a state of feeling is sublimated into first draft production—new novels. I may actually have been using this all along as first draft fuel—when I was writing my first novel (The Eye of Wysaerie, on Wattpad), it was with the sense that I was participating in Nanowrimo, a social force larger than myself, and I really bought into that; my second novel was written amidst preoccupations of mortality brought on by my father’s illness and my own worsening vision; my third novel (In the Abyss, on Kindle Scout) was written during another Nanowrimo; my fourth novel was written the month of my third child’s birth. My fifth novel breaks that streak, as I simply wrote it because I felt the third installment in my Abyss series coming on. There may be something like that happening today, as well.

But I do recommend using those Affecting Moments, bad or good. You don’t want to be an ambulance chaser of your own sorrows and excitements, but when you do sit down and write, allow those Affecting Moments in your life to prop you up so that you can write with more power.

Read Me on Kindle Scout #2

My fantasy novel, In the Abyss, has launched on Kindle Scout.  Here’s the URL: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2JSO3EROXQGX7

Amazon was so good as to list it in the first page of their Science Fiction & Fantasy section. If you read the excerpt, thank you. (To read it, you simply scroll down my Kindle Scout campaign page and hit either “show full excerpt” or “Send excerpt to Kindle.”) All nominations, page visits and word of mouth are appreciated.

If you like what you read, and want to read more, I am looking for first round readers of the novel. You can use the contact button on this blog if we’re not connected on other social media.

Read Me on Kindle Scout

The Kindle Scout campaign for my third novel, In the Abyss, starts this Sunday, February 11th, 2018 at 12 AM EST. Here’s the link: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2JSO3EROXQGX7

From this Sunday until March 13th, 2018 at 12 AM EST, the first 5000 words of the novel will be available on Kindle Scout, with the option of sending the excerpt to your Kindle. Kindle collects nominations during this period to determine which authors they will offer a publishing contract. Until then, you can meet Khyte and Sarin Gelf, and get your feet wet in Hravak, The Human World, and the Abyss between the Five Worlds.

From the Kindle Scout blurb:

On a pentad of stolen fantasy worlds in a pocket universe created by a jealous god, friendships disintegrate as civil war foments. When Khyte is sent on a treasure hunt to The Goblin World, and his faithless collaborators entice him to rescue the dryad Princess Inglefras, it leads to betrayal, pursuit, a fall into giant hands, and a pledge to a deathless beloved.

I wrote the first half of In the Abyss in November 2016, and the second half in early 2017. It is 99,700 words. This is a darker fantasy than The Eye of Wysaerie, for although it is not as gory, there is more death and a grimmer backdrop. In terms of genre, you could find it on the intersection of Sword and Sorcery / Dark Fantasy / High Fantasy / Science Fantasy / Sword and Planet (e.g. A Princess of Mars).

Revision: Dialogue Discloses Character

Brevity is an excellent tool for shaping your descriptive passages, but with dialogue, thre is the additional problem that the words your characters speak are their most fashionable dress. Watch as Mrs. Drumm, by a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde style literary transformation, morphs from a kindly lady to a combative ghoul.

Bless the woods for that little sense, though you won’t get out of the rain to enjoy my split pea soup,” said Mrs. Drumm.

Bless the woods for that little sense, though you won’t get out of the rain,” said Mrs. Drumm.

If you had a little more sense, you might get out of the rain,” said Mrs. Drumm.

If you had more sense, you’d get out of the rain,” said Mrs. Drumm.

Get out of the rain, fool,” said Mrs. Drumm.

You might say that all these parallel world versions of Mrs. Drumm are saying the same thing, though some are more discursive and others are more direct. This isn’t exactly true, as the shape of the dialogue also discloses the feeling of the speaker to her audience. Though the meaning is more apparent when the sentiment is scraped away—all of these are disparaging statements—in the beginning, it is cushioned by hospitality and cheerfulness, and by the end, it is contaminated by contempt and command.

There’s a big difference between being hit with a pillow and brass knuckles. Too much economy in your prose style might make your characters not only sound pugilistic, but like they’re out for blood.

Don’t Procrastinate

Though there are several types of procrastination for authors, they can usually be reduced to one of two maladies: 1) you’re writing novels, but not querying agents and publishers, or 2) you’re not writing your novels. Though I have a feeling you already know any kind of procrastination is bad, and even know the reasons why, let me spell it out for you.

Death

If one of your childhood friends has passed, this is probably the easiest reason for you to grasp. Tumors, strokes, aneurysms, and undiagnosed heart defects can befall anyone, yourself included, not to mention ordinary stress, car accidents, or a loose shoelace and a flight of stairs. You will not write your novels if you’re dead, so why not begin while you’re alive?

If you can’t hear the voice of your own mortality, here’s an exercise. Turn off your phone, your TV, your Google Home, your iPad, your kindle, your PS4, your Switch, and any other source of social media, TV, anime, games, comics, novels, and manga. Once all the exquisite distractions in your life are silenced, ask yourself, “what will I leave behind when I’m gone?” In the echo of your mortality, start writing your procrastinated novels.

Disability

One thing that precipitated my descision to participate in Nanowrimo 2014, after many years of journalling ideas and occasional poems, was a sudden loss of vision in my left eye.

When I went to an eye-doctor, they told me I had a retinal detachment. Though this was partially fixed, my central vision in that eye is screwy–it’s like a wrinkle in an unmade bed, only the bed will never be made, and it’s in my eye. Cataracts are common after a retinal reattachment, so I have that to look forward to. Also, as one eye doctor colorfully put it, “eggs in the same carton have the same expiration date,” meaning that I could expect an eventual detachment in the right eye. As I’m writing this, there are floaters in my vision, and I have the page magnified to 210%.

It should be obvious to you that writing your novels when you’re in your teens, twenties, or thirties, is a lot better than writing it with the things age does to you regardless of diet and exercise.

Which isn’t to say that poor vision, or even blindness, are a bar to authorship (Dr. Samuel Johnson and John Milton come to mind), or, for that matter, any disability resulting from age, just that any author beset by these difficulties would rather not be. In my case, it was the perfect antidote to my procrastination. After my detachment, I wrote two novels before the surgery, and three afterwards.

But don’t be like me–write your novels now.

Ageism

When you tell yourself you will write your novels later, the only thing that will definitely happen is that you will get older. And as you get older, you may experience the branding-centered book market, in which you’re expected not only to be a writer, but a “brand-creator,” as fueled by ageism. This is because agents and publishers are hunting not only books but the next hot new faces to put on their books. We live in a time when sharable images are a click away, and a youthful appearance is more of a commodity today than ever.

Don’t procrastinate. No matter how old you are now, you’re just going to get older.

Changing Tastes

While I have always wanted to write fantasy, this has varied from Tolkienesque high fantasy to dark, Moorcock-ian fantasy to Zelazny-ian science fantasy. As I have never wanted to write urban fantasy, scrolling through Query Tracker and other agent listings can be somewhat daunting, as a large percentage of the agents there only want to see fantasy if it’s urban fantasy.

Don’t prcocrastinate. Write your novel when your preferred subgenres are in vogue.

Disappointing Friends, Family, and Yourself

My dad, who passed in 2016, never read one of my novels. I can only blame procrastination and myself. When I examine my feelings about this reasonably, I know that I feel less that I disappointed him in this regard than myself.

Though I hope to succeed in traditional book media, I published my most accessible novel on WattPad. Digital publishing has this to recommend it–it feels like an accomplished, finished novel. It can even be read like one. WattPad in some form may outlast me; even if the site folds, there’s always the Internet Wayback Machine aka the Internet Archives.

For these reasons, while we all dream of getting a big advance from a print book deal, I do recommend that you experiment with online publishing. That you have at least one complete book for anyone to read can be an awesome thing, especially for introverted writers that want their work to speak for them–in 2018, with the push of a button, that’s a reality.

Don’t Please The Asshats

You know the people that say you can’t do it? Those asshats are bottom-fueled by schadenfreude, and the longer you procrastinate, the more they feel justified. You won’t prove them wrong until you write your novel(s).

Revision: Passive Scenes

I’m going back and forth between my third and fourth draft modes–timeline and scene expansion and auditory revision--in my revision of The Eye of Wysaerie. I’ve more or less finished the first chapter, and today started on the second chapter, which opens with a more or less passive scene that was a little more problematic to edit. I thought I might share my editing notes from today for those of you that might find this instructive.

Basically, the problem with editing a passive scene is that you must resist the temptation to make it too concise. Conciseness works great in action scenes, suspense scenes, and comedy scenes, but in “pan and scan” scenes where the reader’s perspective is meant to lazily drift across what is happening, making it too terse can sabotage this ambiance.

There’s also some extensive commentary on the reworking of two sentences, in which I am trying on different phrasings.

So that you can follow along with these notes, you can bring up chapter two in another tab through this link.

Excerpt from my book journal for The Eye of Wysaerie:

Chapter Two is proving a little resistant to the auditory edit, as the verbosity is working for the tone of this scene in the novel. Conciseness seems opposed to the breezy departure. Anything flabby, of course, should be trimmed. This is difficult, though, as it’s neither an action scene or a comedy of manners, here, but a simple slice of a day. I could say, in the first sentence, that they forgot their charming acquaintance, rather than acting as if they did, but it’s dishonest, as they are acting here, and haven’t really forgotten it. I could say “like perfect strangers” rather than “like the strangers they were,” but “perfect strangers” is hackneyed; or, I could end on “distance” in that line. I might remove “imagined audience of,” though that is an effective and imagistic trope here, summing up their self-consciousness.

I kept the imagined audience phrase, but replaced “disinterested wife” which is a real audience, and not an imagined one, with “mythological self-esteem” which is a great, oxymoronic yet ironic (oxym-ironic?) juxtaposition in this context. I have this image of Gaspar’s self-esteem, hiding like a unicorn in a thicket, and refusing to come out due to how mortifying it is to be attached to its owner; I’d like to use this image, but maybe later, as this paragraph is already a little too stately. Plus if I use it later, it provides continuity of this new trope.

 

As to Renae, she preferred to stage carnal adventures with husky barge hands than to give the slightest thought to the shadow-play of repressed affections between her brother-in-law and a farmgirl whose name she had forgotten.”

Cage match, not shadow play; alternatively cockfight. Cage match is too serious, I’ll go with cockfight. Cockfight may be too funny, though, and shadow-play does connect better with repressed, not to mention the title. I’ll stick with shadow-play.

As to Renae, she preferred to stage carnal adventures with husky barge hands than to give the slightest thought to the cockfight of repressed affections between her brother-in-law and a farmgirl whose name she had forgotten.”

As to Renae, she preferred to stage carnal adventures with husky barge hands than to give the slightest thought to the repressed shadow-play of her brother-in-law and a farmgirl whose name she had forgotten.”

As to Renae, she preferred to stage her own carnal adventures with husky barge hands than to give the slightest thought to the shadow-play of affections between her brother in law and a farmgirl whose name she had already forgotten.”

The shopkeeper tallied his ledger cross-legged and propped against the barge wall. “Cross-legged and propped” doesn’t work in this line.

The shopkeeper tallied his ledger cross-legged, his back propped against the barge wall.

The shopkeeper sat cross-legged, his back propped against the barge wall, as he tallied his ledger.

The cross-legged shopkeeper propped his back against the barge wall and tallied his ledger.

Gaspar crossed his legs, propped his back against the barge wall, and tallied his ledger. I like this one, although Gaspar suddenly taking action when everything else is currently in “pan and scan” mode seems abrupt; the idea of the reader happening on him cross-legged seems more natural than having him cross his legs. Otherwise, we wonder what he was doing beforehand. Also, “the shopkeeper” seems more faithful to the scene at this moment, as he is doing shopkeeping things.

Ruffled” could take the place of “ran his hand through,” although ruffled is too affectionate, not something one does to oneself.