Naming Characters

Suzanne Johnson posted today on Roni Loren's writing blog, Fiction Groupie1.

Suzanne is discussing picking names for your characters. This is a topic relevant to EVERYONE and a particular challenge to fantasy authors who so often create cultures from the ground up and can't name their protagonist Joe despite how awesome people named Joe are.


Despite tradition, I am not writing this to disagree with Suzanne. I agree with most everything she says2. No, I am writing this because I DO agree with (most of) her and there is a process I use for naming conventions that I thought I would share. I also have a warning, and we're going to start with that first.

We're in a current Live imitating Art imitating Life loop. We're moving away from the more classic Judeo-Christian names. Unfortunately the rediscovery of some Old World classics that were smothered by Biblical names has reintroduced some names that were lame even back then. So if you're naming your daughter Madison, KNOCK IT OFF! It means "Son of Maud" so think on that a little before you try to preemptively make your kid cool with an uncommon name.

Okay, now to the positivity. Names are a big deal. They can really draw a reader into your character, establish him/her in the same was as pages of prose, and add a degree of atmosphere to your setting. This last bit is what I find most important about names. They establish setting. I don't just pick names that sound cool. I pick names that communicate culture. You won't find a hodgepodge of names in my books, cherry picked from any resource that I find supder-kewl-dude-omg unless the country is a melting pot, a la the US. Instead, I will choose a regional theme and apply it to the entire setting. I find Behind the Name3 incredibly helpful in this regard.

So for example, I chose Scandinavia to be the cultural influence for the kingdom of Reliarach (in my novel, THE TRIAD SOCIETY and its sequels). Most names come from Sweden, but I'll look in Norway, Finland, and Denmark too. So lower class people and a number of places I took from Germany, and for the rural folks that migrated to the city looking for work, I used Polish and Russian names. Not casting aspersions on the Polish or Russian readers out there, just wanted something similar but clearly distinct to my originating Swedish names.

I also like using those names because they're foreign to US readers to make them sound fantastical, but still rooted in something recognizable so they don't struggled to identify them. Fantasy authors frequently violate this rule. They make names so complex and unpronounceable that the first thing the reader does is come up with a nickname. They read the first one or two syllables and skip the rest. You're wasting your time and theirs making the super big Bobomastidonaramanustra. They call him Bob from there on out.

So go! Be more consistent in your naming conventions. Remember, that you lay the first blocks of your setting with the name you pick.

And stop trying to make your kids cool with their names. You don't have to name them all Joe, but it works for boys and girls and peopled named Joe are awesome. Remember that.

1 If you are blogging and include a ton of links like I just did, be sure to add a "target" to your html code. A target dictates where a link opens. In this case we want links to open in a new tab/page so that the user can continue to read our blog without having to navigate back and forth. To accomplish this, we do the following: [a href="URL address" target="_blank">URL name[/a]. Replace [ ] with < > and you're good to go.

2 Despite its numerous Hs, Cthulhu is not hard to pronounce. It's also a dangerous point to make as taking such an iconic figure from fantasy/horror will bait the nerds to argue your nominal point rather than focusing on the larger point being made. And come on, Cthulhu? Really? Out of all the fantasy names out there, that's the one you pick as being hard to pronounce?

3 While I rarely use it, there's also a Behind the Name for surnames!

The Red Pen

Your pardon at the quality of the pictures, but I took those with my phone which does not have the best camera. They get the point across, though. I received feedback from an agent awhile back, feedback I was uncertain about. I never rush right into feedback assuming that a person is right or wrong. I weigh everything on a case-by-case basis. In this case, she pointed out a "defect" that wasn't actually a defect because it was intentional (I had intentionally slowed the pacing as a parallel to the bureaucracy of the setting).

Not to dismiss this feedback out of hand, I pondered on it long and hard. Not just long or hard, but both long and hard together, which is proven to yield better results. What I found was two things. 1) She was correct that, regardless of the atmosphere of the setting, there was an element of the craft that needed improvement. I could do better. 2) Whether I write it intentionally or not, slow-paced books are not the way for a first-time author to get published.

All this meant little until I realized a mistake I had made. I made it in the original draft and thought I fixed it in the final but never went far enough on the correction. This was the key! Not only would I fix the error, but I would improve the pacing and everyone would be happy.

So that's exactly what I did. I set about taking a comb a la Spaceballs in the desert scene. I chopped something like six-eight thousand words, combined chapters, rewrote two entirely, and in the end, the story was so much stronger for it.

So I go back to said agent and say, madam you are wise and virtuous. I have followed your inspired criticism and proffer to you a better draft, should you be willing to accept it. Her response was: send me the first three chapters.

You know that sound effect where the car tires screech and then there's a loud crash? Yeah, that happened in my brain. The first three chapters? But my revisions start in chapter 4!

Again, not to dismiss things out of hand, I ask myself, could these chapters use attention as well? I had already cut some five thousand words from them just during my normal revision process (yeah, they were big). Looking at the word counts and previous feedback, it seemed like chapter two had room to give. There was a lot of cool stuff that established character background and setting but didn't do a lot for the story.

So how do we approach this? I mean, this is serious. This is the time. Make it or break it. Do it or die. We need...THE RED PEN!

I don't use hardcopy much any more. I'm 100 times faster on my computer. I write on my PC. I revise on my PC. I revise again on my PC. But sometimes there is a time when things are important enough that I have to go old school.

Now very few of you (and by few I mean 1, unless you came over from Book Country where I reviewed some others) have ever experienced my critiquing. To put it mildly, I am ruthless. I don't normally offer to review other people's work for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is that they don't like me when I'm done. (That might be an exaggeration. I made one guy cry, but we became very close after that.)

What those people don't realize is that I'm equally hard on myself. And so you don't have to take my word for it, here is my long-form photographic evidence.

Here we go, making changes.

Wow, this needs tightening. Move stuff. Get rid of that. And that.

Okay, really? What they hell were you thinking. Just no. Don't do that.


Ooo New Name

I don't spend a lot of time on series names. Sometimes I see people get so consumed with the idea and scope of their trilogy/series that they don't actually focus on the novel in front of them and actually write the damn thing. They're too busy thinking theirs will be the next Wheel of Time or something. But, when I have time to think on it, I'll come up with a name for no other reason than to have a folder to keep all my files in.

For THE TRIAD SOCIETY and its two sequels (THE RED SOCK SOCIETY and THE HOOK AND HAMMER SOCIETY), I had been calling the trilogy "The Reliarachic Societies." Reliarach is the kingdom these books take place in and having the adjectival be "Reliarachic" seemed appropriately difficult, much like the kingdom itself. But even I'm having trouble pronouncing it and was thinking of changing it to Reliarish or something like that.

Then I'm rereading THE TRIAD SOCIETY (damn that's a fine story) and I read a line that I wrote, "If this keeps up, they'll call us the Reliarich Society" and the lightbulb turned on bright and blinding. Well, duh. Society should be singular! Reliarach Society! That's perfect!

I like when I have a name that fits. It's like a warm blanket on a cool autumn evening.

Do I Still Count?

When was the last time I wrote something original? I'm trying to remember and quite frankly, I can't. I edited the TRIAD SOCIETY then I revised JEHOVAH'S HITLIST then I started rewriting WANTED: CHOSEN ONE and now I'm doing yet another pass on JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. Somewhere in there I wrote six chapters of THE 7TH SACRIFICE but I honestly can't remember when that was. It must have been January because I remember finishing JH right before Christmas.

It's been two months since I wrote something for a brand new story. The last time that happened it was the beginning of '09. It feels weird to have that absence, like I've given up being original and just dwelling on work I've already done. But that can't be, JH is a brand new story! It's never been queried. But I finished it in December. Hell, I should be 2/3 of the way through a new draft of a new story!

This is so outside my normal method of writing that it doesn't feel like I'm writing at all. I write [edit] every day but it doesn't feel like I'm doing anything at all.

Rewriting is HARD!

I revise. I rarely rewrite. In fact, the only thing I've tried to rewrite is 7TH SACRIFICE and I scrapped the entire incomplete manuscript, so that should almost be called writing, as there isn't much "re" involved.

Coming on a year ago, I finished the manuscript for WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING. I got feedback from an agent who said he would have preferred the story if Bastin and not Nashau had been the main character. This was similar to feedback Elizabeth Poole gave me. But I didn't want to rewrite with Bastin as the main character. Bastin's story's been told before. Nashau's story hadn't. So I tabled that feedback and went on with my other works.

Then THE TRIAD SOCIETY was a near miss. Some of the feedback was there was a particular section that seemed to ramble. In truth, that section had been a shout out to WANTED. The stories are in the same world even though they're not in the same kingdom or with the same characters. I wanted to show the world evolving based on the impact of the stories. Now, I could cut this section, but there are other parts in that section that play directly to the ending (which I don't think the agent ever got to), so I'm averse to cutting it for the moment.

My plan had been, and why I kept that section in there, was once the agent said she wanted to rep TRIAD, that I had another story in that setting that would do well to come out first (yeah, I know publishing doesn't always work that way, but it couldn't hurt to try!). She passed on TRIAD, though, and this was devastating1. I didn't quite come to terms with getting so close and coming up short like I usually do (granted, I don't think I've ever been that close). So I begin scheming, as hobbits are wont to do. If I can't use TRIAD to sell WANTED, maybe I can use WANTED to sell TRIAD2.

I go back and ponder--yet again--what WANTED would be like with Bastin as the main character. But I don't just ponder, I start rewriting it. I delete the first four chapters and look at the story anew.


Holy crap, this is better.


Holy crap, this is so much better. So I began the rewrite. WANTED wasn't bad before. But in hindsight, it had some water weight to shed. It's the difference between being chubby and being svelt. I've cut 21,000 words so far (actually more than that, but I've written a few thousand new words). My final word count will drop from 150k to something more around 125k maybe 130k. While the reduced word count has diminished the world building slightly, it's a much tighter story in all.

BUT (you knew there would be a but, right?), REWRITING IS HARD! Sure revision is hard, but rewriting is HARD. You have to approach characters fresh. They might not be the people they were before. You need to remember to incorporate the details that your brain is telling you you've already included. You need to not repeat yourself, keep the new plot straight compared to the old plot (chapter 32 is now chapter 12, that impacts everything in between). ANNNND, you have to come to terms with you're writing a first draft of a completed manuscript. How hard is that? You're going to be upset when the stuff needs more polish and you're all like, but I already finished this damn book. It shouldn't be sucking.

But it does suck my friend, because rewriting is hard. Breathe, count to 10, and put your nose to the grindstone. In the end you'll be a noseless author with a rewritten manuscript and a bloody grindstone.

1 Whenever you're sad after a rejection others tell you that it happens to everyone and to keep on going. This is absolutely true in every sense. BUT, do not think that does not mean you're not permitted to feel down. Absolutely feel down. It's called disappointment for a reason. But you're only allowed so much time to feel down. After that, either start writing or start scheming. I recommend the former.

2 Look, remember that part you thought was rambling? Make sense now?3 Wheeeee!!!!

3 It would have made sense before if you had finished the damn manuscript. *pout*4

4 Stop pouting and acting like a child. Go write your fucking book.

The Waiting Game

So you've written your novel, you've revised it, you've received feedback, you've revised it again, you've written a query, you've revised it, you've received feedback, you've revised it again, you've queried, you've paced madly worrying about rejection, you've been asked for a partial manuscript, you've revised the partial in fear of it not being good enough, you've submitted it, you've paced madly worrying about rejection, you've checked your email obsessively, you've paced madly worrying about rejection, you've been asked for a full manuscript, you've revised the full in fear of it not being good enough, and you've submitted it.

What happens now?

You wait. And wait. And wait and wait and wait and wait.

It's a common enough topic among writing blogs. Don't wait for a response on your current work. Move on to the next one. Publishing is a lot of hurry up and wait. You'll revise your entire book over the course of a weekend to make it as perfect as you can and then nothing.

It can be hard to deal with. The closer you get, the harder the rejection is, and the harder it is not to make it back to that level again. If you come close to touching the sky, nothing short of reaching your hand up into heaven will do. It's maddening to not achieve your goal no matter how hard you try.

But wait you must. Good things come to those that wait. ...crappy things too, I can attest, but nothing good comes from something rushed (just ask my previous girlfriends).

The first time I had a full manuscript (BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE), I was told to expect a twelve-week response time. I was mortified when twelve weeks passed, thirteen, fourteen. Were they JUST about to get to my manuscript? If I asked for an update when they hit delete and tell me to sod off? Was it all a test to see if I would be a low-maintenance client and not pester them a thousand times a day with inane questions?

Finally at fifteen weeks, I emailed to confirm the file had been received and asked if they needed any additional material. That's the polite way of asking, "Hey what the fuck?" They confirmed that they had received the manuscript and apologized for the delay. The assistant was super awesome and I like her a whole lot. She was never anything but professional with me.

In total I received an eventual pass 7 months after I sent the materials off. They offered feedback which was awesome. I never expect feedback on a query. I don't expect it on a partial (though it would be nice). While I don't expect it on a full, after waiting so long and having invested so much, it certainly would be nice for even a paragraph of feedback. But hey, we're not entitled and that's not a statement of how things should be. I got it on my first two manuscripts, though, and it was incredibly helpful.

I thanked the assistant and the agent for the pleasure of working with them and the feedback. I then said I had finished another novel while I was waiting and asked would they like to see it? Sure it was a dig, but only a little one. I really had finished a second novel (and not first draft, the thing was done and in the can). I queried the second one (HELP WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING) and we went round and round again.

They passed and I think it was for the best. This agent wants a manuscript ready to shop as soon as it's submitted. While I hope to be able to produce such a manuscript eventually, it doesn't seem like I'm producing them yet. I'd like an agent who not only points out what (s)he thought was weak but how that could be improved.

Which brings me to the current manuscript (THE TRIAD SOCIETY). This is with a different agent, one that I think is exactly the person I would want to work with. When they asked for my full, they said to expect a turn around time of two months. This is a third less than the previous agent but nothing says it won't be another seven months. Except for my experience with this agency. I queried (twice) my first two manuscripts (for a total of four queries) and they were prompt and always beat deadline. Two months is up Saturday. Of course, that two months covered Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and the general winter holiday.

This brings us to what I'm calling Injury Time (watch soccer to get that joke). Given the number of holidays that occurred during that stretch of time, I really don't think the two-month mark hits until February 5th, three weeks later. If they replied to me within that time, I would still consider it at or less than two months.

Now like I said, that's just an estimate. Things come up, emergencies with existing clients, illness, family emergencies and the like. If it takes seven months it takes seven months. I have finished the second draft of JEHOVAH'S HITLIST and sent it to beta readers for feedback (could use a few more if you're in the mood for adult, dystopian, alternate-history science fiction). I'm also working on the first draft of THE 7TH SACRIFICE. I've got plenty to do. No resting on my laurels here.

BUT, like I said earlier, this folks have always come in before their deadline. The arrival of injury time means that it's likely I'll hear back from them soon.


You can tell yourself not to obsess, not to worry, but really, I consider all this anxiety part and parcel to my ambition. I want this and have wanted it for decades. This is my life's goal and I've taken as many steps as I can take without an agent. That's the next step. That's the next step in my publishing plan. I could query publishers directly or self-publish, but there are other blogs for that kind of thing. Here in the Inkwell, we follow the traditional mode of publishing and we plan on ruling that bitch with an iron fist!

I won't even begin to tell you how many times I've checked my email just writing this post. Granted I have a smart phone so all I have to do is glance at it and see if it's blinking at me. That only enables the obsession.

I started actively tweeting and blogging about my writing before I was published not only to build platform but to document how hard it is to try and achieve your dreams when you can send off a completed manuscript and not hear anything for months and months and months. When I'm the flipping Clint Eastwood of fantasy, aspiring writers will read these early posts and see all this desire and anxiety and worry and think to themselves, Clint Eastwood? Really? I would have gone with John C. Reilly.


The Known Unknowns

Between my own experiences in the industry and the years I've spent participating in various industry blogs (pubrants, the Bransford, etc.), I am not too worried about what will come after I get an agent and sell a book. Or at least, I feel like I have a pretty solid understanding of most aspects.

Except one. The next book. Sure agents talk about the challenges of a sophomore offering and the effort people put into it and the mistakes people make because of the pressure and blah blah blah. All fine and good. I can't speak to pressure until I'm feeling it and I can't feel the pressure of a sophomore book until I've published the freshman one.

What I don't know about the next book is the next book to the agent. I've heard so many conflict things and agents seem to rarely speak on that part of the process. I've heard proposal used as the nonfiction alternative to a query, but then I've also heard it as what a represented author sends his/her agent for new story ideas. And pardon me, but a proposal sounds like a query and by god, I never want to query again once I get an agent.

I've also seen some authors that send the agent an outline. An outline? I don't outline. I never outline. I took half a page of notes yesterday and that's HUGE. I'm a pantser. I write by the seat of my pants. I write by the seat of my pants so much that there are holes in the seat of my pants from all the writing I do there. I can tell you the beginning (though it might change) and the ending (though it might change) and maybe a few ideas of the middle (though they might change). How the hell do you expect me to write an outline? That will destroy my process?!?!?!

So yeah, this is a known unknown. I get representation for, let's say, THE TRIAD SOCIETY. I already have two other novels that did not attract an agent. Given some blog posts, I think he or she might read them just as a matter of form and tell me if they can be revised to publishable quality or just need to be permanently shelved. But I'm also finishing a new wip right now and will have another one in a few months. What do I do with those?

And I even read once that an author would pitch a book to the agent before it's written and if the agent said no, the author might not even write the thing. I don't think I've ever written a book that was so much like my original proposal as it was when it was finished. Not writing it at all seems like a horrible presumption. And even if that's a good method, I write two novels a year. Can't I just write one of whatever I want and one that gets a thumbs up? I mean, some people take five years to write a book, so I can see why it might be important to figure out its saleability beforehand. I wrote THE TRIAD SOCIETY in three months (to the day1). I'll write ten novels in the time that other guy writes one, so can't I write the quirky thing that I love even if no one else will?

Some of this is probably exaggeration, but this really is the one topic I've never seen covered on any of the blogs I follow.

1 Actual writing time was less, as I started on May 25th and I took off most of June because I was working my ass off at my really real job. I finished the first draft on August 25th, though, and I think that's pretty awesome.

Wind Sprints

I wrote the first draft of THE TRIAD SOCIETY. I didn't like it. It wasn't bad necessarily. It just wasn't the story I set out to write. The story I had planned was this huge intricate intrigue that spanned the politics of the university, the city, the kingdom! And in the end, a meeting made at the beginning of the book would afford the hero an opportunity to make his case and win the day.

In the first draft, he fills out the paperwork for the meeting and then it's never mentioned again. The story took a MASSIVE left turn and finished in half the word count I originally expected. After what I felt was the success of WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING (in terms of story even though I never landed an agent), finishing THE TRIAD SOCIETY with such a mediocre offering really brought me down.

So, I broke my routine. Normally, when I finish a manuscript first draft, I will take a few weeks off and read a book or three. Then I'll go back and revise. This time, I read a couple books, but then I started work on JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. I usually start a new manuscript while the previous ms is with beta readers. I'll then stop and revise for the third draft. This means I'm only about 12,000 words into a manuscript.

Instead, I wrote 32,000 words before even starting on the second draft. What happened, though, was THE TRIAD SOCIETY went from mediocre to solid. I still like WANTED's story more, but Liz tells me that she likes TTS better. After struggling to find my rhythm and pacing, I wrote another 25,000 words on JH before revising TTS again.

So now we're done with TTS and it's ready to go to agents in its awesome state. The longer break, I think, saved an average manuscript from remaining average. HOWEVER, it's also affected the newer manuscript in a negative fashion. It's hard to bounce between voices, especially when one is a bureaucratic fantasy and the other is an anarchic sci-fi. It's even harder to do it twice!

If writing is sunshine, revising is sunshine bent through a magnifying glass that burns the ant in the driveway. It's a complete immersion in a manuscript where you question every word choice, sentence structure, and plot point. You can't just revise an entire manuscript and then go back to another manuscript that's 2/3 finished. At least, I can't.

So once again, I find myself without momentum on JH. Maybe I really should stop and try something else for awhile. In addition to breaking the rules, it feels shitting to stop working on a manuscript that is 30,000 words from the end. What I really need is a jumpstart. I'm not having trouble writing JH. I know what comes next. But the motivation is gone. I feel like I should still be working on TTS or even (in total violation of the rules), it's sequel THE RED SOCK SOCIETY.

That is when I thought of a new exercise. Wind sprints. Run, stop, run, stop. Get your heartbeat up before basketball practice where you'll have to run up and down the court and Joe is a chubby little kid and sucks at running, so he needs all the warmup he can get.

I have a number of stories on deck: THE SEVENTH SACRIFICE, WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR?, THE RED SOCK SOCIETY, and THE HOUSE ON SANDWICH NOTCH LANE. Plenty of things to dabble in. And dabbling is exactly what we're going to do. I'm going to write the first chapter on all or some of these but not commit to writing any of them. Basically, I'm doing writing wind sprints. I need to get my writing heart rate up so finishing JH doesn't seem so laborious. And, it lets me create some new things with new voices and just revel in creativity for creativity's sake.

Two posts following this one will have chapter 1 of 7Sac and CROOKED. I may post more later if the need arises or I may hop back into JH and finish that thing off.

The Tlot Thickens

As I mentioned on Friday, my productivity fell to shit when I joked about being the anonymous subject of an agent's impending rejection. I checked my email over and over and over again until the day came to a close, and it was time to go home.

Of course, there was no rush to go home since my wife was in New Brunswick. I decided instead to walk across Boston Common and take in a movie at the AMC1, 2. When the movie was over, I bust out my Palm Pre (smart phone of champions) and check my email to see if my wife had the results of her competition3. She had not, but the agent had.

OH NO! The rejection, it came! Calm down Mr. Pessimist. Maybe they're asking for a full. Ha! Yeah right! This is the agency that holds my personal record for fastest rejection to a query ever4. Of course it's a rejection.

Walking out of the theater, I open my email...


Now, I could in all haste send them the finished manuscript. I'm a professional. I wasn't so foolish as to start all this without finishing my work. BUT, this is a big flipping deal. When once this blog held a list of agents I wanted to work with, these people ranked number one. You don't just send a manuscript all willy nilly because they want to see it. You go back over that shit and make it shine like a diamond, like your combat boots with the drill sergeant waiting to look at them. You'll be able to see your reflection in this manuscript when I'm done with it.

So I go back over it. Again. All weekend, this is what I did. I sat in front of my computer, and I pored over this thing to find every typo and unnecessary past progressive verb. Moreover, the super fabulous awesome Elizabeth Poole, beta reader extrodinaire, went back over it in a single day to offer me new comments. (My favorite of her comments was "The tlot thickens!" Of course, this was followed by my own typo, "What he wouldn't give for a clean shit." Awe yeah. I'm a professional.)

A half hour ago, I sent in the revised revised revised manuscript along with a stylesheet (not asked for, but I think they're helpful). I now begin the nerve wracking two-month wait to hear whether they want to rep me. Liz tells me the thing is good, but is it good enough?

We'll find out. In the interim, I will return to JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. That thing is only 40k away from an ending. It would be fun to say "I finished another book while I was waiting for your response. Would you like to take a look at it? (I'm a show off like that.)

Wish me luck.

1 $11.50 for a movie? Are you crazy? I'll stick the the weekend morning shows for $4. Get off my lawn!

2 I saw "Unstoppable" with Rosario Dawson. Helllooooo nurse!

3 Her quartet moved up two spots to 6th place out of 30 something quartets. Phenomenal for their second year together.

4 3 minutes5 in case you're wondering, and you know you were.

5 Yes, you read that right. Minutes. Not days or months. Minutes.


I was kind of down on the way home today. Thinking about my (very few) experiences with my father. Specifically, when they took me to the hospital to see him right before he died. I was three years old and he was in the ICU. Children aren't allowed there because they're petri dishes of germs. They told me I needed to stay behind my sisters so as few people saw me as possible. Why, I wanted to know. Well, because you're not supposed to be here. You have germs adults don't and there a lot of sick people here. You could get them sick and they could die.

In the mind of a three-year-old, these various bits of information added up to me trying to kill my father because I was different. I didn't buy that I had germs any different than anyone else. I didn't get sick more or less than they did. They thought I was some sociopathic kid bent on fulfilling an Oedipal impulse (okay, I didn't know sociopath or Oedipus, but on an emotional level, that's where I went). I was intensely pissed off until I went into that room and saw my father totally zonked out on morphine. Then I was just scared shitless and had no problem hiding behind anyone.

This spiraled into a lot of other morbid thoughts during the drive home and I was pretty down by the time I pulled up to my home. I grabbed the mail and sifted through, looking for a letter I had been looking for for awhile, one with my own handwriting on it. BAM! There it was. I had queried JABberwocky Literary on THE TRIAD SOCIETY and here was the reply I had been waiting for.

They rejected the query.

And I felt a lot better. You'd think I'd be bummed. One more to add to the pile, but I felt quite good. It grabbed me by both my ears and pulled me back to the present. What's done is done and there's not much point in worrying over the frustration of a three-year-old. Plenty to worry over here in the present, like getting published. :)

Rejection, a much needed slap upside the head. :)

I'd like a #3, super sized.

LurkerWithout reads a billion books a month. This is why I value his feedback as a beta reader. He reads a book a day, so I consider him a measure of the purchasing public. He's the target audience I'm aiming for, people who like to read fantasy. I have no delusions of being the author that makes fantasy sexy or being some phenomenal cross-over hit. I just want to grab the fantasy niche and make it mine. (If that niche gets bigger because of me, I won't complain, but it's not getting the attention YA, urban fantasy, or paranormal romance are, so let's be practical.)

Lurker just finished his read of THE TRIAD SOCIETY and he commented that Otwald's decisions as the story's protagonist are not driven by any fundamental virtue, but by noblesse oblige, his sense of noble duty. While I did not necessarily set out to make it so and it certainly doesn't hold any subtext on class structure, I can tell you that I am bored.

I'm bored with the same people being heroes all the time. We've created McDonald's heroes where you can order off the value meal menu. #1 gets you Captain America, the forthright and virtuous son of virtue who virtuously fights villainy. #2 gets you Deadpool, the wisecracking anti-hero who does what's right because of a pervading sense of guilt or convenience1.

I wanted to make a protagonist who didn't relegate the world into good and evil (or varying shades of kryptonite). And I didn't want a slippery snake oil salesman. I wanted someone who had chosen a path and walked it regardless of how difficult it was. Nobility has a specific meaning and he would be an example of such. That might not always sit well with other nobles as no one likes to have someone demonstrate their own shortcomings.

Noblesse oblige is used sardonically with growing frequency, but at the root of the phrase is the classic "power/responsibility" relationship, something that Otwald takes to heart more than anyone else in the story (except for a very minor character who gets a larger role in later stories.)

I like Lurker's assessment. I like Otwald. I don't find him to be a value meal hero, and that makes me happy.

1 This is why I didn't want Bastin to be the main character of WANTED. He's a #2 protagonist, the charismatic flimflam man who feels responsible for the death of his surrogate father. SEEN IT!


Next time you're listening to an audio medium (such as the radio or a podcast), listen to how the person speaks rather than just what they're saying. Much like "he said" as a dialogue signifier, there are certain sounds that go along with actual words that our brain just ignores. The inhalation at the beginning of a word or the exhalation at the end are prime components.

When you translate all this to an audio file, it offers representation to these various elements of speech. A sound wave spikes from volume and different mouth formations (the plosive, P, throws a blast of air against the mic--it's the fastest way to spike your sound chain). In addition to the word, though, you see little squiggles before and after someone speaking. Now, little squiggles can represent a lot of things. It's a light sound, like noise in the background or the chair squeaking or your throat clearing. When a person isn't speaking, you want their audio wave to be flat otherwise it can distract from other speakers.

First-time podcasters often make the mistake of silencing the squiggles that appear before or after someone speaks, assuming that it makes for a clearer file. When you listen to it, however, it actually sounds worse. We expect to here someone inhale and exhale. Not only that, the vocal chords are still vibrating at the end, mixed in with the inhalation, and it can sound like someone has stopped speaking in the middle of the word even though the word is technically finished.

This is called clipping. If you listen to a sound file where all the inhalation and exhalation is removed, the speakers sound like robots. We've developed social cues to tell others when we're going to speak, and as a listener, when those cues are missing, it just sounds like a bunch of words being mashed together rather than a conversation. The more seasoned you are at podcasting, the more annoying clipping can be (nails down a chalkboard, really).

I bring this up because I started reading THE TRIAD SOCIETY. I don't know why. I was struck by an overwhelming need to receive a full request from the partial that's out there. I wanted to make sure the three chapters that I sent are the best they can be. So I popped open my nook (I have a copy of the manuscript on there) and began reading with full confidence that I had knocked things out of the park. I received great feedback from beta readers, and I felt that I had really improved things before sending it on. I revised, I reread, I gave everything the thumbs up.

But you can miss things when you incorporate changes from multiple sources. Things blend together and even though you reread it, your brain might fill in holes with stuff that isn't there any more. Or you may change something and then change it again, not realizing that the second change doesn't quite fit.

I found three instances where the scene is clipped. I chopped stuff that had been too long, but now without any content, the transition doesn't make sense. It's not horrible. You can continue reading, but it's not smooth. It's clipped. And because this reading was spurred by a powerful need to succeed, my reaction is equally powerful. Oh no!!!1 Fingers crossed that the overall worth of the work survives the clipping.

As for you, give it a try next time you listen to DJs on the radio. You'll hear them breathing. It's a transitional sound that our brain recognizes even if we don't realize it. Make sure you have something similar in your writing after you edit.

1 OH NO!!!

Fried Ocher

I was talking to Elizabeth Poole yesterday who had been absent for a week because she thought she deserved to vacation in another state rather than hang out and talk to me over IM. Silly girl. Anyway, she asked me for an update on JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. I didn't have much to report. I had invoked and then rescinded rule 2a. I had decided to embrace the crapitude. There were certain things I was stuck on. I felt that Jehovah accepted the Hanged Man's orders too early. That I hadn't properly established what a great threat the HM was or why Jay would fold so quickly. I still had (and still do) have issues with the climax and how I use elements I really enjoy (like Jesus Street) that currently just seem to be there for set dressing.

But mostly, every time I thought on JH, I would immediately think of THE TRIAD SOCIETY. I've never received beta feedback only on a partial before. I'm in third-draft mode trying to work on a first-draft story, and that's difficult. VERY difficult. What's worse, I'm not just thinking of TTS. I'm thinking of THE RED SOCK SOCIETY and the whole Reliarachic1 Societies trilogy.

There is another rule I did not include in my list of ten because it only applies while I'm not published. Rule NP1 is don't work on sequels. What's the point of writing TRSS if TTS never publishes? You can't have an Empire Strikes Back without Star Wars2. I think this is good advice even though there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of authors selling their series in multi-book deals3. I don't care. I have plenty of other stories I want to tell, so what's the rush to dive into a series? It's why I'm focusing on individual novels rather than my ginormous series of trilogies, The Third World4. There's a catch, of course. When I finish one manuscript, I usually have a few false starts before I find another to work. When I finished WANTED, I had a few false starts before finally starting on TTS, which some might think is a sequel. It's set in the same setting, but on the opposite side of the sea. You can read one without the other, so I don't consider that a sequel. TRSS most definitely is a sequel. It worries me that I keep gravitating back to this world. I have other stories I want to tell, dammit!

ANYWAY, so last night I'm reading SHARDS OF HONOR, the first half of the omnibus CORDELIA'S HONOR by Lois McMaster Bujold, my favorite author. I read CORDELIA'S HONOR once a year, not intentionally. I just get in the mood for that story again. Specifically SHARDS OF HONOR, which is my favorite of the entire Vorkosigan Adventures series. There is a scene where Cordelia is returning to Beta Colony, a desert planet, and a cloud is described as ocher. I'm horrible at non-standard colors and even though the context tells me what the color is, I want to know the actual definition. Easier than you might think when one reads on an e-reader. It includes a dictionary. Aside from not having to lug around paper books, having a dictionary on hand is my second-favorite feature. I read the definition of ocher and it's like a stick of dynamite set next to the crack in my creative dam.

There are mistakes in JH. I rushed Jehovah agreeing to work for the Hanged Man. The climax needs some work. But who gives a shit? First draft. Embrace the crapitude. You know what the next 30,000 words are supposed to be so what are you waiting for?

It was the end of the NaNo'd chapter. It was too sucky. It was so sucky as to only reinforce my poor opinion of NaNo. It needs to be fixed.

The entire setting is in a refugee ghetto called the Nation. 53 blocks representing the 53 states of the United States of America when that nation collapsed and refugees were ferried to Africa when the waters were rising. The city is built beneath a giant platform city, one so large as to block out the sun. Instead, there is a giant array with lightbulbs to make it bright as day. The move in stages, increments of 30 minutes. First and second position, the first hour of day, are considered dawn. Jehovah arrives at the DMZ at dawn and I NaNo'd the scene.

Ocher is the key. Dawn shouldn't go to full brightness. It should be at half-power. There would be a dull yellow pall over everything. Ocher. Capital Center at Philadelphia Park shouldn't be a big crater. The crater should be on the inside. From Lazarus Street, he should see the front of the Offices of he Judiciary and walk around to the Offices of Refugees Advocate Authority when he sees that a big fucking bomb went off right in the middle of it all. It was all backward. It was too short. And it was the wrong color.

I revised the end of the NaNo'd chapter into non-NaNo being. I'm about to finish that one and start the next chapter fresh, to which I expect to successfully write the next 30,000 words without stressing on the final gun battle between the Kansas City Park Family and the deputies or of how I can tie Jesus Street back into things, because I honestly don't know if I can.

For now though... #amwriting. Bam said the lady.

1 I originally chose the word Reliarachic while writing WANTED as a means of showing just how overly-complicated that society was. Its own adjective was hard to say. Now that I have a novel set there, though, I'm thinking I might need to change it to something like Reliarish or something similar.

2 You thought to yourself "You mean 'A New Hope'" and you are wrong. There are only three Star Wars movies and they were named Star Wars, SW: Empire Strikes Back, and SW: Return of the Jedi. This whole renaming and numbering thing is crap, made only more crap by the absolutely horrendous prequels that would have existed if Lucas had ever been dumb enough to make them. Thankfully for all of us, he left the original trilogy untouched and unchanged5.

3 Pat Rothfuss sold his books as a trilogy, having written all three over the course of ten years. Given that original effort, he's still spent almost half that time over rewriting the second in the series because the original offering was so bad (per his own description).

4 Seeing what happened with the Wheel of Time and how long it takes Martin to produce another Ice and Fire book, The Third World is a setting explored in trilogies. There is a trilogy of stories with a meta-arc, and each trilogy's meta-arc combines to build an epic arc. That way if I ever die, at least the trilogies are complete. You can imagine why I'm not rushing to write something of such tremendous scope considering I haven't even been published yet.

5 Han shot first.