A Triumphant Return

So here I am. :) The busy season has passed. At least until it arrives again (which for me will be January). This year (in my new department) hasn't been even half as bad as the two previous where I was expected to work 14-hour days with weekends and basically go balls to the wall until the summer was gone. I love New Hampshire weather because it has four seasons, but I was skipping one of them and that wasn't as much fun.

I have continued to write, another thing that was difficult in the summer. I have been rewriting Wanted: Chosen One which is now titled With a Crooked Crown. Let me tell you how much work that has been. I thought it would be an up-front slog while I bent the first half of the book like a contortionist and then just some mopping up to clean up the dust. Not so! Change the main character to a person that was a secondary character and that takes a lot of work. More over, change one of the negative characters to someone less negative and you start to realize he had to get his bitch on in every chapter he was in. Every time I say I'm almost done, I have to stop and rewrite entire chapters.

This weekend I did some prep work on my next book. I don't always do character designs and such before I start writing. Often I don't know the characters to be involved and those I think will be of use end up never fitting into the evolution of the story. But I have a very clear picture of this story. Very clear. I already have names for ten characters and that never happens! So that's kind of thrilling and kind of frustrating at the same time because I can't work on it until I finish my rewrite. So close! So far away! (I spent the morning rewriting a chapter and have spent my lunch hour rewriting the rewrite to change the POV to a different character. :)

And I will leave you with this. My wife just read A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, as we are both fans of the series (books--we haven't seen the HBO show yet). By the end of A FEAST FOR CROWS I had picked up on Martin's chapter template: introduce characters, eat/describe what they're wearing, have something important happen. So I would read the first page to see who was around and then the last two pages of a chapter to see what happens. I'd skip all the description because after four books, I got it.

Well, according to the missus, he's actually increased his description of food, which may be difficult to comprehend. Her question was obvious? Why?! To date, I had just assumed it was his style, but then I wondered, is he doing this on purpose?

The answer slapped me like a person that's been sitting next to you on the couch for the entire movie and you didn't even know they were there. Yes he's doing it on purpose. In the very first book Ned Stark says people aren't saving enough for winter. Summer had gone on too long and people forgot how much food they needed to save for winter. So here is all this opulence, all these people feasting and gorging and being all disgusting. Why? Because the next book is named THE WINDS OF WINTER and you want to guess how hungry they're going to be then? It's a 50-calibre metaphor shot through five books so the sixth one can properly juxtapose their situation.

It's the opposite of the soft touch. It's the jackhammer. Or it's just his style. We'll see.

Turning it down from 11

Sorry I haven't been posting much lately. You know how they always say publishing is slow during the summer? Yeah, not so much if you work in production. I am currently the busiest I'll be all year (most likely) and while I'm not as crushed as I was in my old department, I am merrily occupied from start to finish. It makes blogging at work a little challenging. But here I am! Taking time out just for you! I missed you so much.

So what's going on with me? Well, aside from having one of the best Independence Day celebrations I've had in my life (swimming, grilling, fireworks, oh my!) I'm still hard at work on a rewrite/revision. AND not only is this manuscript better than it's ever been, but it has a new title as well.

I mentioned WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING a little while ago, saying that I was taking an agent's advice and changing the main character of the story. I cut some 30,000 words and have put back in 10,000. My "scraps" file I use to keep track of everything I cut (in case I want to use it elsewhere) is currently at 175 pages long (double spaced, courier new)! That's HUGE!

My previous rewriting attempt choked on itself. I slashed so deeply that I nicked an artery and killed the story. I realized my error and have rewritten one of the POVs. I can say, without a doubt, this is the best shape this story has ever been in. I'm really enthused at what the end product will be. I may have even started on a quality query. Who knows. (If that's the case, the world is coming to an end. Run!)

I felt that this new direction required a new title as well. WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING was clunky and while the story started tongue-in-cheek, it quickly evolved away from that. Also, whenever that phrase appears in the text, it always begins "HELP WANTED..." So that seemed an appropriate addition. I'd name it HELP WANTED: CHOSEN ONE. That rolled off the tongue better. But then I remembered the very first self-published novel I downloaded (it was thankfully free) named HELP WANTED: HERO. It was atrocious. This not only spoiled the new title, it spoiled the old title as well. I need to remove any kind of similarity between the two. I didn't want any of that stink on me.

So...we need a new title! Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm. Come up with a bunch of crappy options. I have four characters, an underlying theme that doesn't work well as a title, and plenty of secrets. In the end, I decided to take inspiration from the end of the story. The new title is WITH A CROOKED CROWN, which I like a whole lot. (Google tells me this is a song by Bonnie Raitt, which means the last three titles I've chosen have been named after a song or a music album--I think there may be a blog post there.)

I'm only 81 pages into the revision. I've finished most of the rewriting. There's a collection of chapters coming up that will need some realignment to conform to this new approach.

The biggest work I've done so far? Changing the early plot path for my two prophets. Their introduction and the beginning of their quest leads in the same direction but is handled in a much more succinct manner. More importantly, one of the characters has seriously mellowed out. Now, he got shoehorned into this whole thing and didn't want to go. He has all kinds of secrets he doesn't want to come out and was frequently obstinate. Okay, he was a dick. But in an attempt to speed things up and change focus to the new main character, my original rewrite turned him into a HUGE dick.

And unless you're reading about porn, no one wants to read about a huge dick. I wrote the thing and he was pissing me off. He went up to 11 and he needed to be around a 6. So this new rewrite he got a serious overhaul. I don't think anyone would have read past page 50 in the previous iteration of this manuscript. He was that much of a jerk. Now I'm enthusiastic. I certainly hope others like it once I start querying. Current pace says that'll be at the end of July or so. Ugh. This thing is so big! (That's what she said.) It'll be worth it once it's done. (That's what he said.)

Why Oh Why? Oh Me. Oh My! (...times seven)

It's hard to keep track of topics when you're on a variety of soap boxes. I've written in two different live journals, hosted a podcast, and now how this blog/journal. Sometimes you think you've written about a topic when you haven't. Or, you think you've written about it in one place when really it was in another and no one is going to see it. Today's post may or may not be a redux. I'm not copying/pasting, but I know it's at least a topic I've covered on the PodgeCast, so we'll call it a redux nonetheless.

I have been pondering the rewrite of HELP WANTED: CHOSEN ONE for awhile now. An agent who read the manuscript suggested I change the main character from Nashau to Bastin, the latter being more energetic and overall more likable. I was unsure of this, because the story I was telling was most certainly Nashau's, but since I already had multiple POVs, it seemed a better way to hook the reader into the overall story. Once I made some cuts, I saw that he was right.

But something happened when I changed the main character. All of a sudden motivations I never had to explain to the reader became necessary. And those motivations seemed pretty thin. You might get away with a second character coming along because of a curiosity or amusement or the adventure of it all. Main characters need more depth than that and Bastin was my main character. So I needed to articulate the reasons he was doing what he was doing.

Now, keep in mind, I'm not making up excuses for why he's doing what he's doing. If you get to that point, your plot is too thin and you need to back up and really take a hard look at things. You should never make excuses for your characters. They do things and they do those things for the reasons they do them. You may feel it, like they do, but given enough time, you should be able to adequately articulate the psychology behind it without making an excuse. If you ever say "just because," you are required to slap yourself in front of a mirror. If your reasons make someone's eyes roll (especially our own), you have to let that person slap you.

But you don't want to be slapped! Neither do I. So it's best we find a way to articulate our characters' motivations. How do we do that? you ask. We ask the Why Tree.

The why tree is not some ancient being of untold knowledge, it is the question "Why?" asked over and over and over again. (I generally recommend seven times for those people that need a rigid number to properly implement such a stratagem.) Write the question why then draw a line to possible answers. Draw a line from those answers to another question why and so forth seven times. The ever expanding list will take on a Christmas tree-like shape. It's a Why Tree.

Bastin is my main character
Bastin will participate in the quest the prophets claim he is chosen to complete
To make amends to his adoptive father
Because he betrayed his adoptive father
He was young and dumb and didn't trust anyone
His mother was a prostitute and he ran with a street gang
His mother died, leaving him on the street
She had no family to care for him and didn't know who his father was

This has given me all the information I need. When the prophets coming looking for the descendent of a famous count, I have a con man who also doesn't know who his father is. He may or may not be the actual chosen one, something to reveal at the end.

It also gives him the motivation to pursue this quest if you throw in a well-placed "How?"

For all the whys, the HOW? is the really important question. How does all this stuff influence Bastin so he decides to go on this quest? And that's what was stumping me on this rewrite. What was Bastin's motivation that he would risk his life? Amusement? Boredom? May play for a secondary character, but you need something better for a main character. And that's when I keyed on to his adoptive father. I already show Bastin trying to make amends, repaying the money he stole that landed Jin in debtors prison where he eventually died. The thing Bastin can't do, however, is restore Jin's reputation. But here he is being offered a chance to participate in a prophecy. All he need do is tell people it was Jin that did the deed instead of him and all of a sudden, boom! reputation restored. The one thing he cannot do he now can. This doesn't just offer him motivation, but the level of emotional attachment to brave dangers without quitting and an end goal that is worth the risk.

Get excited!


Because this story is gonna rock your face!

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. Just no. Don't do that.


Pacing, Fantasy, Authors, and Agents

I received feedback on one of my manuscripts from an author. She said the pacing at the beginning was too slow. It had been an issue during earlier drafts and I had thought I had resolved it to my satisfaction. I do not immediately agree with feedback from an agent and I don't believe you should either. You should take it for the seasoned, experienced advice that it is and then decide what's best for your story. In the end, you're the author after all.

But remember, they are seasoned and experienced (assuming they are seasoned and experienced, otherwise I can't help you there). Do not dismiss their comments because it doesn't jive with your original vision. An agent's feedback is A-list beta reading. Think of it that way. A strong recommendation to help you make the best choice possible.

It took me awhile to see it, but I finally saw where I went wrong. The pacing was off and I knew just which chapter needed to be rewritten to fix it. In fact, I there must have been a concern there from the beginning because some indescribable concern I had about that part of the book resolved itself as soon as the chapter was rewritten.

The trick is, while the agent was correct that the pacing was an issue, I don't agree with the degree to which the agent said content needed to be cut to resolve the pacing. That's making me nervous. I'm about to go back to the agent and say, "I've rewritten this part of the story and tightened things up, really improved the pacing." But if she does not agree, then that is the end of the line with that opportunity (and it's a good opportunity which is why I'm nervous).

The trick is, I know this is right. I've ditched some setting background, a little more than I would have liked, but it does improve the pacing. A lot of it was able to be shucked off and some can be introduced in later books if I have a chance to write them. Even if this opportunity ends, it made for a better book. The best book, really. Without concrete feedback that says x, y, z, I have reached my capacity for abstract revision. This is the story I want to tell.

It reminds me of a blog post Kristin Nelson made last week about her feedback to an author and how she could not quantify her concerns for the pacing. Ted Cross mentioned in the feedback that fantasy was getting shoehorned into pacing models for other genres. While I'm hesitant to allow an entire genre be an exception to a rule, in this case, I agree with Ted. At least somewhat. There are plenty of anecdotal examples of slower pacing still available in fantasy, but rarely are those examples first-time authors. New fantasists have a run-and-gun structure to their stories. Is it because of the stories we grew up on? The MTV effect? Or is it the industry imposing those standards on a genre? Or is the fan base of said genre wanting something new?

It could be all or none of those things. Sometimes I wonder if agents who represent multiple platforms might have some leakage, some preconceptions based on their work with MG/YA that imposes itself on fantasy where the world is sometimes as important as the story. (Incidentally, I don't like those books. I want the story to be more important than the world.)

I don't think it's one thing. I think it's a lot of things. A big Venn diagram of things. But I lament the difficulty of creating a slower work. Sometimes it's good to feel a story inhale and breathe life into a whole new world and culture.

For those of you who read fantasy, have you noticed anything similar? And for those of you who read other genres, have you noticed anything like that in your chosen genres?

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.

Holy Balls!

I have been pondering it for months and I finally made a decision. An agent gave me feedback on WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING. He wanted Bastin to be the main character rather than Nashau. I've discussed that here before. Bastin is clearly the most likable, charismatic of the group, but the story was Nashau's and I didn't want to give that up.

So after a lengthy amount of pondering, I finally saw the story as Bastin's while keeping Nashau's subtext. Thus, I chopped off the initial four chapters (which were all Nashau and Podome) and condensed them to a single chapter 2. I kept the alive/dead juxtaposition that I loved in the original draft (something you won't understand unless you've read it, but take my word for it, it's awesome) and have moved on through chapter three.

You know how people often say they can't go back and read their own work? That they find it embarrassing? Not me. I LOVE this story. LUVRE IT! I wrote the damn thing and after watching Bastin hoodwink Farmer, I was just bouncing up and down on my seat. Holy balls this is a good story!

I will revise Podome/Nashau's story and hopefully inject more of Bastin's early energy later into the story. And then the hardest part: I'll need to write a new query for it.

JEHOVAH'S HITLIST will be the next story I query once I get beta reader feedback, but this one will follow shortly thereafter. I consider it a significant enough revision that requerying is appropriate. I have tentatively changed the name to FLIMFLAM just so I can keep the two stories separate. Not sure if I'll keep WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING as the final title. It seemed to turn some people off.

(This means I'm suspending work on 7Sac for the moment. I'm having a crisis of confidence following my rejection and can no longer manage the pacing. I'll need to get my feet back under me before I can continue on that one.)

Find the Fun in the Boring

I wrote chapter 2 for 7Sac today. This is a big deal because it's the first fully original chapter of this version. Pieces of chapter 1 got held over from my first attempt and much more of it came from the wind sprint I wrote. Chapter 2 was wholly fresh. I actually tried to write a little at the party last night, but how lame was that? And I got stuck on a naming convention (which I figured out either late last night or this morning, I can't actually remember). This morning, though, I knocked out the whole chapter and I am quite enthused.

I am enthused because so much of the chapter was unexpected. I started in a tricky spot with one of the main characters at a gate to a city. Oh how many D&D adventures annoy you with guards who are all flippant and bossy. But at the same time, there isn't a lot of use starting an early chapter with crossing a gate unless it's going to build character or somehow affect the plot. In this case, I quickly recognized the boring that was starting to spread. Cliche and unoriginality threatened to ruin my attempt, and I don't think the story is strong enough to survive a failed chapter this early on. I needed to rescue it. How do you resolve a character vs. gate guard situation without one of them acting a dick or both of them being polite and the scene becoming completely irrelevant?

Introduce another character! Hence Knight General Merchel arrived and saved the day for March Lord Albrecht. We got to skip past the guards and learn a little of both characters. More importantly, they stopped for coffee at a shop and I got to describe people and culture from the Waodian Republic. This is something I had never done in the previous draft and had no thought of doing in this draft. It's awesome that it happened, though, because one of the characters that gets introduced later is Waodian. Woo hoo! Laying the foundation baby!

Mostly, I love writing a chapter where all of a sudden a new and awesome facet of the setting comes into play totally without any planning. And it's rich and involved and I just love it and am so pleased and it gets me all excited.

So...um, yeah. Happy new year.


I'm not keen on giving up on a manuscript, but sometimes a thing is broke so bad it can't be fixed1. THE SEVENTH SACRIFICE was a manuscript I abandoned because it was all wrong. There were a few chapters I enjoyed (the introductions of the tinkers), but it boiled down to Cheshire getting off his wagon and then getting back on. 27,000 words of a whole lot of nothing. AND, where I wanted to take the story was near impossible because of where I started the story.

So, when JEHOVAH'S HITLIST is finished, I'll take another crack at it. It seemed like a good story to use as a wind sprint.

Now aside from my own rules, there are some fundamental rules to writing. You know when people say, "All writing is subjective." That's crap. Don't listen to those people. They don't know what they're talking about. Your enjoyment of writing is subjective, but there is a craft to what we do and any craft has rules.

But rules were made to be broken! Yes they are, but you have to know them to break them, which is why we study our craft the way we do. You have to know what the rule is and you have to determine how you can break it well. Just breaking it to break it won't get you anything but a broken rule and you'll look like an amateur. [/tirade]

So, one of these rules is not to start your manuscript with a fight. Why? Because the reader isn't invested. Fights are usually detailed things. You don't just say "they fought." You choreograph. You build tension. There's a winner and there's a loser. But if it's your first chapter, who the hell cares? The reader is not invested in any of the characters and their life or death is irrelevant to the course of the story so far because there hasn't been a story so far.

With THE SEVENTH SACRIFICE, I set out to break that rule. Mostly because I didn't want to dwell on the combat (which I failed at since speeding it up wrecked the pacing of the chapter). More over, I wanted to portray the good guy as a bad guy (which I succeeded at, but possibly succeeded at too well). I also better incorporated the song as a feature of the story. The song appears frequently throughout the book and is pivotal to the ending (which I wrote in the first draft and we're keeping it because that thing is solid gold!). Originally, the first chapter just started with the word "Singing:" a la John Cleese in the Eric the Half a Bee sketch. That didn't work, so I finagled something new.

Now this is a first draft. Really, as a wind sprint, I think it counts more as a zeroeth draft2. It'll get a full pass again later once I take up the manuscript in earnest. Still, your comments, criticisms, and questions are always welcome. The excerpt comes after the footnotes so those of you that want to read the footnotes but not the excerpt don't have to go to the bottom. I'm nice like that.

1 Bonus points if you can name the show and episode I took that line from. It's one of the greatest episodes of television EVAR! So if you haven't seen it, you should go watch it.

2 For the life of me, I can't find my post or Liz's post on this concept. Someone help me out!




Cheshire couldn't remember much of his father. Given enough time and enough distance, memories blended together. Things like eyes and hair became meaningless. Things like a smile for one's son after a hard day's work became priceless.

Cheshire's strongest memory of his father wasn't of his father at all. It was Netty, their plow horse. And not even of the mare herself, but the song his father used to sing about her. When the sun was high, the clouds absent, and the furrows rocky, Cheshire's father sang about the old gray mare.

These many decades later, when Cheshire couldn't have picked his father out of a crowd at a tavern, he still remembered that song. He sang it himself, from time to time. Whenever things got difficult, he sang until they weren't difficult any longer.

“These old legs
They're not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
These old legs
They're not what they used to be
Soon they won't dance no more.”

Morningtide at Field House was the preeminent ball of Grafton County. Lilian Enright was the weakest of the Pretenders which meant she had to throw the most extravagant parties, remind the other nobles of the county who was in charge. Remind them who was queen now.

Cheshire loved to dance and Morningtide hosted the best musicians. Add to that the most exquisite delicacies and the most beautiful women, and the affair was the grandest in the entire Kingdom. He had a special set of dancing shoes made special just for the event. He polished every piece himself: the black leather, the square silver buckles, even the wooden soles. That was his secret, one he did not share with the younger fellows. When they stared and tried to figure how this man thirty years their senior flowed about the floor so smoothly, Cheshire took advantage of their pause to introduce himself to their dancing partners.

That secret was was about to kill him. Cheshire's foot slipped off another rock. He caught himself, abrading his hand, saving himself from a more severe break. He needed to get off these rocks before it was too late.

“These old eyes
They're not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
These old eyes
They're not what they used to be
Soon they won't see no more.”

He had seen her there, at Field House. She said her name was Elisabeth. He said his was Edward He had danced with half a dozen other women, but when he took her hand in the middle of a wheel, he had known she was the one. He took her card away and ripped it up. She would dance with no other than he.

Let her other hopeful suitors complain, and complain they had. He a week before his fifty-ninth birthday, she a week after her sixteenth, it was the scandal of the ball, and her eyes sparkled for it. A dark blue-gray like the ocean in the midst of a storm, she smiled and she laughed with those eyes.

They had danced together until the midnight bells rang. And while other young women bid their partners farewell and returned to their chaperons, neither Elisabeth nor Cheshire would leave each other's side.

He whispered in her ear, and she laughed. He told her there was a full moon, and they should walk on the beach together. Her eyes sparkled like stars and they escaped out the servant's entrance.

Her parents would search the crowd for her, but on the beach, no one would hear her scream.

“These old ears
They're not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
These old ears
They're not what they used to be
Soon they won't hear no more.”

The beach was beautiful, he knew. If only he could get to it. A rill of stones separated the Field House with its manicured lawns from the ocean with its unending waves. It was impossible to walk across with waxed shoes, even harder to do so with haste. The roar of the ocean told him it would be faster to press on than to try and return the way they had come.

The ocean seemed nothing more than a painting from within the Field House. The crash of the waves was turned away by the rocks. What little made its way up the hill was overcome by the orchestra. Here, alone on the beach, he could not even hear himself breath, the waves were so loud. He most certainly could not hear her.

Cheshire climbed atop a boulder the size of a mastiff. It crowned the rill and gave him a clear view of everything. The rocks continued on almost to the waterline, but the tide was leaving and the sand reappeared. In a little while, the beach would be three times as large. That did him little good now, of course.

He should not have let her get away from him..

“These old hands
They're not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
These old hands
They're not what they used to be
Soon they won't fight no more.”

The full moon lit the beach in its entirety, but the clouds raced across the sky, and shadows danced everywhere. Cheshire turned every which way, trying to find Elisabeth. He could not let her get away. He would not get another chance at this if she made it back inside. The house was still full of boys with swords playing at being men. If she sicked them on him, he'd be a fox to the hounds.

The waves lulled, and he heard the crunching of rocks from the other side of the rill. He turned about, pulling a knife from his sleeve. Elisabeth ran atop the rill and vaulted into the air. Steel glinted in the moonlight, a blade twice the length of his knife.

Cheshire lifted his knife above his head. Metal clashed against metal as he turned the blow away. His waxed shoes slipped out from beneath him, and he fell off the boulder. Elisabeth wasted no time in striking a second time. The dagger slid just past Cheshire's neck and tore off his favorite earring.

She bounded away just as quick, melting into the shadow of a passing cloud.

“Tell me your name, girl.” His voice cracked. As did the rest of him. Near on sixty years, only the Pretenders could say they were older. Cheshire wondered if their bodies were falling apart too.

“But Edward, you know my name. I am Elisabeth.” She raced by and struck a glancing blow. Again he turned it away. She was gone before you could counter. She was faster and stronger than her size suggested. He could not hope to best her on these rocks.

Cheshire kicked off his shoes and pulled himself up. The rocks were cold through his silk stockings. He stepped aside, putting the boulder between them.

She came again. He waited to see if she went left or right. She leap, ball gown and all, onto the boulder. He took one step back, but gave her no more room to dive atop him. He thrust from the elbow, striking for her ankles. Her leap thrown off balance, she pushed herself back off the rock and slid to a stop amidst the stones. She skipped back out of his reach. Cheshire found the largest rocks he could nearby and began weaving a path toward the sandy beach.

“Is this how you get your jollies, Edward? You wander the counties in search of balls where you can seduce young women?” She made a zigzag of her own, keeping the beach always parallel to them. “Has your manhood finally whithered and now you think to take it out on me?”

Elisabeth held out her off-hand, palm downward, two fingers up. She lifted her right knee and raised her dagger above her head. Cheshire couldn't help but smile. She knew Quintal's Offensive. The master swordsman's Fivefold Strategy had been revolutionary in its day. It had fallen from popularity three decades past. If there had been any doubts whether this girl was the one he sought, that satisfied them.

Cheshire put his left foot out, touching the rocks only with his toe. He twisted to the side, keeping his blade-hand parallel to his leg, Quintal's Defensive. It was a humble swordsman that designed the counter to his own maneuver. Cheshire had always admired that about Quintal. The girl approached. He turned, countered, turned, and riposted. The girl slapped his blade away at its last breadth. It sliced open the side of her dress.

“Want me naked too? Dirty old man,” the girl spat.

Cheshire laughed and smiled at her despite himself. The last one had been younger, scared. It had been quick and easy. Easier than any of the ones before. He had forgotten how much he enjoyed the challenge. Something beside his bladder stirred inside him. Purpose—

“Ow, damn!” Elisabeth's blade slid across his elbow, and opened the flesh to the bone. Cheshire dropped his knife. His left hand shot out and caught it by the hilt before it fell to the rocks. His back popped a staccato beat as he whipped himself sideways.

He held the blade up less confidently than a moment before. He looked between his exposed elbow and Elisabeth who smiled at him viciously.

“This old elbow, it's not what it used to be, not what it used to be, not what it used to be.” Blood was coming on faster than it should. He'd had too much to drink at the party. He'd need to finish this quickly. “This old elbow, it's not what it used to be—”

He leaped forward from large rock to large rock, bringing his knife down like an ice pick. It wasn't graceful, but his size and power finally tipped her balance. She stumbled on the rocks.

Cheshire seized the opportunity to find a path to the sandy beach, making a wide arc across the largest rocks.

“Soon it won't... what? Bend? Soon it won't bend no more? That's a bit boring, don't you think, dear?”

Elisabeth raced toward him, Quintal's Charge. He needed his right arm for Quintal's Shield, but there were other methods to counter Quintal's Fivefold Strategy. As she closed, he kicked. The sand exploded in a cloud. She jerked back, and he put his bare foot to her face. His hip popped.

Her nose cracked and blood spurted down her face. She fell back and dropped her dagger. Cheshire dug his foot into the sand beneath it and flung the weapon into the water. He moved in behind her while she rubbed her eyes clean. He wrapped an arm around her neck like a snake around a country mouse.

“Tell me your name, girl,” he growled. “Or this old arm will snap your fucking neck.” He gave her a hard jerk just so she knew he was serious.

“You bwoke my node.” The girl pawed at her face over Cheshire's arm. He would pin her hands, but his right arm couldn't stand the pressure. It would need stitches when he was done here. He certainly wouldn't be able to bury the body in this state. He was glad he was taking this one with him.

“I'll break a lot more than that if you don't tell me. I won't stab you in the appendix, not this time. I'll cut your arms and legs off and bury you back in those rocks. I'll leave you trapped in that husk of a body until I have the rest. Then I'll know one way or the other.”

Cheshire bent her sideways until her arm was pinned agianst the beach. He pressed against her elbow with his knee and leaned forward. She breathed hard and blood showered across his sleeve. The shirt was already ruined. She panted and grunted but didn't speak. He jerked forward and felt the arm snap. The girl screamed, thrashed about, but he kept his grip firm. She clawed at his face with her good arm, but he bit down hard on her fingers.

“Tell me.” She only screamed louder. He broke her other arm. He let go his choke hold and stood. Her feet dug into the sand as she tried to push herself to her feet. Without her arms to lever her up, she just dragged her face across the sand until blood mixed with the grit and turned into a thick gristle.

Cheshire cut into her leg. The knife point stuck into her bone.

“Helb!” she howled. “Domeone helb me!”

“Scream all you want.” Cheshire circled her but she rolled in the sand, hiding her one good leg from him. “No one can hear you over the rocks.”

“Helb! Helb!”

“Tell me your name!” He kicked her in the side, rolled her over, and cut into her last good appendage. She lost use for speech then. She began a caterwaul louder than a mountain lion with its tail caught in a trap. That was the answer he needed.


The sand beneath the girl was wet and mucky, not only from the tide but from the blood that spilled out of her. There was but a trickle left, squirting out in pathetic bursts, but still she howled. She thrashed and screamed and kicked. Life leaked out of her but still she moved.

Cheshire wiped his knife clean with a rag. He had no idea why. He was not done yet. It felt like this last act deserved something extra. He walked up behind her and grabbed her hair with his bad arm. His elbow burned hot and fierce, and he felt a little light headed, but he was strong enough to manage this. He stretched her neck to the side, then opened the bottom of her throat with the dagger.

Her howling disappeared. She tried to scream, but the air only gurgled out of the hole in her throat.

“That's better,” he said. He wiped the knife clean a second time, then slid it back into his sleeve. He took the cloth and wrapped it around his wounded elbow. With left hand and teeth, he managed a knot.

“Stand yourself up,” Cheshire said. She gave him an incredulous look. “Drop the act, Howler. If you were still Elisabeth, you would be long dead.” She did not move. “You can walk to the wagon and lie down, or I can lash you to the back and drag you to Four Corners. The choice is yours.”

Howler mouthed a litany of what Cheshire assumed were curses, but her throat only gurgled.

“Forty-nine years,” he said. “I've hunted demons for forty-nine years. It will all be over soon.”

When still she did not move, he found a large rock nearby and struck her over the head. He hoisted her up onto his shoulder and carried her down the beach away from Field House.

A wagon was parked where no one would see it. He threw her into the back. Cheshire hopped up onto the buckboard, took the reins in his good hand, kicked the break free, and gave his horse a snap. The wagon pulled onto the road and headed inland, away from the peacefulness of the ocean.

The Hard Part

I got a pass on WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING today. This particular agent has looked at BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE as well and is very good about giving feedback with rejections. What struck me today is that his comment was very similar to a comment Elizabeth Poole gave me when she beta-read the story.

Bastin is a more likable character than Nashau or Podome. This isn't disputed, trust me. Bastin is your classic high charisma, high energy flimflam man you find in many fantasy novels. That was one of the reasons he wasn't the main character. I've seen him before. Or at least, I've seen other characters with that attitude (Bastin keeps himself out of the cliche gutter, I think). And regardless, it wasn't his story I wanted to tell. It was Nashau's. It is a story about unemployment in a fantasy setting. I saw the story I wanted to tell and I told it.

But here is the feedback, this story would be better with Bastin as the main character. A story may be better with Bastin as the main character, but that story wouldn't be this story. And there's the hard part.

Completing a novel is difficult. Revising that novel is challenging. But rewriting the novel? That's flipping hard.

Revising makes a story better. It fixes flaws, improves weak structure to make it stronger. It's an essential element of professional writing. Rewriting is taking the fundamental aspects of a story: it's plot or theme or characters or setting, and telling a whole different tale.

Now, the agent did not say "If you rewrite this with Bastin as the main character, I will represent you" which saved me a lot of hand-wringing. But the implicit statement of "I'll look at this again" was (I think) there.

Since I received that email, I have pondered and pondered and pondered whether or not I could tell WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING with Bastin as the sole main character rather than 1 of 4 (with Nashau being the primary main character of the group with Jara being second). The first half is easy. There's a lot of stuff early on with Nashau and Podome that could be cut. If they're not main characters, those chapters are unnecessary. But that leaves me with stuff later...well, those chapters balance because of the foundation I built with those early chapters. I don't think I can revise my way to a Bastin-centric story. I'm too attached to the story I told and still believe it is better the way it is.

What happens when this happens later? What happens when it's an editor and I'm contractually obligated to deliver and they say something like this? I'm terrified. I've always known it's a possibility, but was able to ignore it because I'm still looking for an agent. It's hard to stifle that gut reaction of, "No, it's better this way" just because that's the way you told it. Really, rewriting is asking for a different story than the one you've told but with the same stuff included. Ugh! That's so hard!