The Pieces I Have Lost

Writing requires a certain amount of editing. I have done a lot of editing in my writing life. I have edited out characters, scenes, and subplots to make books more cohesive and, perhaps, coherent.

Some of my editing I don’t regret. One of my characters, Josh Young, was young and whiny when I first wrote him. He’s older now, somewhat more mature, and a far better and more complex character. You’ll find him in Gaia’s Hands.

Photo by Ann H on

Also, in one incarnation of Gaia’s Hands, there was a secondary love affair between two characters. Eric and Annie were interesting characters, but their arc was too much for Gaia’s Hands to handle. Eric remained; Annie did not.

Lilly and Adam’s relationship in what became Apocalypse (which will come out in the next year) was a lot darker, somewhat superficially. There was a lot of sexual obsession, which can be a good thing, just not for that novel. When two books got merged to make Apocalypse, I lost the goth feel but kept some of the edginess. There are some brilliant arguments in Apocalypse. I also lost the (also whiny) character James, and some subplot, but again I ended up with a better result.

As I got to writing more, I have edited out pieces less. Whole characters, subplots — heck, whole chapters — no longer get discarded by the wayside. Extensive editing taught me to write with less editing necessary.

There are pieces I miss, though. The chaste sexual obsession of Lilly and Adam was fun to write, but I don’t see room for that anymore. James dying and turning into a ghost cat (don’t ask) was fun for all the catlike manipulation he added to Apocalypse. Eric and Annie make a good couple, if only for a short story, but Annie’s place in the series has evaporated. Maybe the pieces will end up in a short story somewhere. Or another novel in another world.

Rebeginning a Project

What a fine time to get inspired

There’s nothing like feeling inspired just as the semester is about to get busy. Tomorrow is the first day of the semester, where I have two classes to teach and office hours and all the little things to take care of, and I want to play with the next book. I hope this goes away, at least for a week, so I feel like I’m beginning work instead of devoting myself to my sideline.

What’s the book about?

The name of the book is Maker’s Seeds, and it concerns the Archetypes that show up in Apocalypse and Whose Hearts are Mountains. The Archetypes are, for intents and purposes, humanoid immortals, and they exist to hold humans’ cultural memories. If the Archetype dies through violence to their hearts or heads, their people will die because of the death of cultural memory.

The above books (none of which I have published) focus more on the human (or half-human) point of view. Maker’s Seeds looks at the Archetype point of view, concerning their Maker’s decision to slowly remove the responsibilities of holding humans’ cultural memories from the Archetypes. The result is a race of powerful immortals choosing sides in a schism, fighting in battle to the death — before the Maker has divested most of their cultural memories, thus endangering much of humanity.

The two central figures of the story are Luke Dunstan, an Archetype and Leah Inhofer, a seventeen-year-old human. The opposing viewpoints between the two — old vs young, Archetype vs human — make for drama as they try to prevent the Battle between Archetypes and the potential annihilation of millions of humans.

That being said …

I’m not ready to write it yet. I’m not willing to let loose my creative mind before the semester starts. Maybe I will this weekend, although I have lost my coffeehouse home because of closure (RIP Board Game Cafe). I hope to reconnect with writing soon.

Photo by Luca Nardone on

Try, Try Again

One friend liked my pitch (no, don’t like pitches if you’re not an agent!)
Three followers (also not agents) liked my pitch
One indy publisher with a suspicious business model liked my pitch
No agents liked my pitch.

What is the next move? Right around September or so, I can start pitching the new improved Apocalypse with its new improved query out to agents. I can research small presses to see if some tend more toward traditional and are looking for my kind of stuff. I can look at Manuscript Wish List to target agents to look at my stuff.

Lots of people retweeted me, especially the pitch for Apocalypse. So there’s hope if people recognize its worth.

I’m not quite ready to self-publish yet. I have doubts about my ability to market (which is why I’m wary of “hybrid” presses as well.) But I’m not giving up, because publishing is just the cherry on top.

Really fluffy towels

This is the Grotto (spa) at The Elms in Excelsior Springs, MO.
I wish I was there right now.

Editing Apocalypse (for the fortieth time) is a real bear.

One moment I think it’s looking good, the next I know I’m feeling discouraged. I feel I have it all together, and then I think it’s missing something. I forget I’m reading for character and start changing grammar in sentences.

It’s a frustrating time.

I think it may be time to go on to something else. I need to make a poster of my latest research for an online convention poster session. Great idea, I think. My mind is tired of six hours of reading a day. Of course, it will take me at least six hours to do this poster, so …

Sigh. I need to take a break. One that involves a spa and really fluffy towels. 

A Slap

So these last few weeks have been a great growth time for my writing. I have revised two out of my four novels (Whose Hearts are Mountains and Prodigies) to give more of a development of character at the beginning instead of barreling into the plot immediately. I am working on a third, Apocalypse for the same, and the fourth, Gaia’s Hands, is going to require a lot of work, especially now that I know it’s a romance novel. 

And I would never have known to do this without rejections from agents sending me to developmental editors and beta readers and books about writing. I haven’t been revising just to pay my dues; I really feel like I have a better product because of it. 

My mother once told me it took two people to paint a picture: the artist and the person who slaps the artist when they’re done. At this point, I feel like I need a slap. I need someone to read something and tell me if I’m done. 

And then, in my next set of queries, what if I don’t get accepted by an agent? What’s next? I have really no idea to be honest. I suspect it will feel like a slap in the face.

Reattempt at first chapter of Apocalypse

This is a potential first chapter to Apocalypse to set up a feel for the characters and the setting — the “before”. One of the big problems is that I’m not a big description writer — I try to do those things as concisely as possible and I’m not sure they’re enough. Sigh. 

At Barn Swallows Dance, the sky was still deep indigo and the air slightly damp when life began to stir. The early risers made coffee in their homes’ small kitchens; the late risers slept blissfully unaware of the small commotions of the dawn.  

Micah Inhofer, as farm manager, showed up to the farm half an hour before his staff, checking his phone in his makeshift “office” just inside the sheep barn, surrounded by friendly bleats from the Welsh Mountain flock. He ran a long hand through a shock of black hair and consulted his notebook. The cows would be milked, and the milk pasteurized for the collective to drink and make yogurt from. The eggs would have to be gathered, all the animals fed, the produce picked. 

In the commercial kitchen that served the whole sixty-odd members of Barn Swallows’ Dance, Mary Rogers, dark and slender in white chef’s gear, poured beaten eggs into the line pans of old bread drizzled with cinnamon syrup to make french toast casserole. 

Nearby, Shelby with her blue spiked hair cut up a large bowl of strawberries and added sugar to them. Early breakfast was more than just breakfast; it was the ritual that not only started the day, but cemented the residents’ sense of belongingness. 

“How are the raspberries doing? Have the birds gotten to them yet?”

“They’re doing fine, and we should have some in a couple weeks. They’re in the Garden. They’re protected from the birds there.”

Mary nodded. The Garden took care of its residents.

Outside, Jeanne Beaumont-Young, stocky and grey-haired, pulled coffee out of the solar roaster, taking a whiff of its richness, and brought the bowl inside to be ground and drunk. The early morning was like church to her, and coffee was its sacrament, which meant she was its priest. She smiled at her metaphor and put it away, feeling more comfortable with the science of roasting coffee beans.

Her husband, Josh, meditated in the Garden as he did every morning, a slight young man in the orchard entwined with vines and surrounded by herbs and berry brambles. A practitioner of Shinto, he focused on the spirits of the garden that Jeanne had designed and the collective had planted. The spirits, he believed, tended the two acres of orchard and food plants from the moment it had begun to grow. Now it was the Garden, and one could hear the capital G in the way people spoke of it. 

He heard a rustling of leaves and smiled, knowing he was welcome in this clearing in the orchard, which he considered the heart of the collective.

Gideon Stein strode back from the shower house he had built next to the small collection of tents that housed summer residents, feeling the chill against his bare torso and legs and a twinge in his back he attributed to middle age. He entered his own ger, a white conical tent with blue markings he had painted himself. He changed out of his shorts into jeans and t-shirt, then braided his long brown hair into a plait that hung down his back. He reminded himself that he needed to look at the latch to the pasture the sheep and goats shared at the moment, because the goats had managed to almost break the latch in their attempts to break out of pasture. He couldn’t help but admire the goats’ chutzpah. 

He thought about his former life as an architect and his most renowned work, the Frazier Dream Bridge in Vancouver. He couldn’t live that high life anymore, because the costs of stress were frenetic energy alternating with crippling, deadly depression.

 He had come to Barn Swallows’ Dance to recuperate, perhaps even to hide from the press that had named him a dangerous visionary. 

Sometimes he wondered what he was called to do.

In a house at the other edge of the collective, Rita Yilmaz looked down in fond exasperation at her oldest, Ty, who sprawled across every inch of his bed, still asleep. The twins, silent as always, stood behind her; she knew they smirked at their unruly brother. Her children’s hair, flaming red unlike her own black curls, reminded her of her long-gone love and the message he had just sent her, to meet him that night behind the Commons. Perhaps there would be another child. Perhaps he would leave again in the night. Zoi was a force of nature, and an enigma, she thought. 

“Ty!” she shouted. She prodded Ty’s shoulder and Ty, tall and slender like a sapling, grimaced and opened his eyes.

Ilsa Morganstern, general director of Barn Swallows’ Dance, downed her morning medications as she sat on her bed. There seemed to be more medications every year; by her early eighties, that meant a lot of pills to swallow. 

She thought about her morning announcements to the collective for early breakfast. Nothing too pressing: a pothole had opened on the north exit, there would be make-your-own sundae for dessert that night, the women’s rugby team from the university would arrive the next day for their summer session; Gideon and Larry had pitched their tents in the tent camp. 

No crises, Ilsa noted with satisfaction. No fires, no tornadoes, no crop failures thus far.

She knocked on wood.

Laurel Smith hadn’t slept. Like every morning, she put on her coveralls and checked the pockets to make sure she had the keys to her small house in the collective. She would milk the cows before early breakfast; after breakfast she would muck out barns. She regarded her deceptively petite build; she could shovel manure faster than the men in the barns; her strength had always been her most employable trait. 

She could remember nothing of her other skills and education before the attack that left her without memories, without a past, without an identity. She would skip early breakfast, to avoid revealing these secrets about her life.

Elsewhere, in a place where daylight and night had no meaning, Adam sat in a vast expanse of a room barely lit by a glow that emanated from Adam himself. The walls were uneven banks of tiny black crystal, the floor a flawless sheet of milky white that seemed almost a molten blue in the shadows. 

Adam himself looked human, if genetically blessed; his long black hair flowed like water across his shoulders, and his fine-boned Asian features possessed uncommon beauty. He wore black jeans and a t-shirt, clothes that mimicked the humanity that he watched over, and perhaps envied.

This was InterSpace, the place where Archetypes lived, maybe barely existed, in the space between atoms, as beings of energy who could shape their space with their will. Adam’s world, at that moment, consisted of the walls and floor and the comfortable leather chair he recreated from a memory of Earthside, out of the stuff of InterSpace.

In his hands, Adam held a lock of hair braided into a circlet — golden blonde, the pure tones of an Archetype like himself. A contrast to his own jet-black hair. A memory of love, however brief; something that Archetypes were not supposed to experience. 

A memory from six thousand years before in a life left waiting for something.

Waiting for the legend to come full circle, when he could reveal himself again.

Luke Dunstan, an Archetype, rued giving in to the Triumvirate.
He sat down heavily, appearing as a man of average human height, with flaxen-blond hair and a weathered face. He stared at the perpetually burning bonfire outside the vast cave his consort Su had constructed from the matter of InterSpace. The limitless space held the appearance of stars in a night sky. However, no artifice would make the formlessness of InterSpace more like the warmth of Earthside.

The fear that usually lay quiescent in him burned cold like the bonfire — a fear for humanity, the humanity that the Archetypes had been created to protect from their harsh tribal history. He buried his head in his hands, feeling every minute of his six thousand years of existence. 

Luke remembered the discussion, thousands of years before, with the three fellow Archetypes who called themselves the Triumvirate. The four sat in a room with a long marble table traced with gold, conjured up in InterSpace from a memory of Earth. The walls stood as  black crystalline arrays and the floor as milk-white glass, the natural state of InterSpace. 

“You tricked us. We meant to steer humans’ destiny,” the pre-Etruscan, with his waves of chestnut hair and pale skin, stated flatly, pounding a fist on the gilded table. Light emanated from his fist, from all the men, leaving the rest of the room in shadow.

“Humans are meant to lead, not be steered,” Luke, new to his life as an Archetype, countered, heedless of the chasm opening up before him.

“So you believe,” the Ubaidian debated, materializing a goblet in his hand. He drank of it deeply. “I disagree. They quarrel with each other and strike each other down. They do not learn. They need to be led, and you have destroyed our chance to lead them.”

“They should be allowed to find their own destiny,” Luke argued. “You cannot do it for them.”

“I think you will find that we can and we will ultimately guide humans’ destiny, and that the Council of the Oldest, whoever they are, will not interfere.” The pre-Etruscan smiled. “It’s only a matter of time.” He leaned forward. “You may play games, but we do not. There are three of us, and only one of you. Three against one — we could end you … “

Luke capitulated out of weakness, the weakness of a newly born, unworldly Archetype. He made the bargain to save what he treasured most, without seeing the loophole that put all of humanity in danger.

Luke remembered, and spent his long life ever vigilant for signs the Triumvirate would gain control.

And nobody, not those who slept in nor those who worked before dawn, nor those who lived in a world without sunrise, knew how rapidly their lives would change in the subsequent days.

Monday Morning

Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

Monday morning, which seems a lot like every other day in this pandemic — I have two cats at my workstation (the corner of the loveseat in the living room), and I’m drinking coffee.

Today is work (the ordinary type where I have to grade final exams for classes) and work (the writing type where I look at what I’ve written and what it needs). I’ve done fixes on Whose Hearts are Mountains and Prodigies, and it’s time to apply it to Apocalypse.

You see, now I know what my problem is. I started right into the action and didn’t give the story its moments to develop characters and scene.  I hope I’m doing it right this time.

Writing about Pacifism (Personal)

What is Pacifism?
One of the topics I write about is pacifism. Pacifism is the belief that violence is wrong. By violence, we don’t only mean war, but knife and gun fights; not only fights, but belittling and demeaning words. Individual stances reason through situations where violence, carefully tailored, is the lesser of two evils. 

Why write about pacifism?
I write about it because I think contemporary fantasy has a responsibility to write about those people not normally written about. In an increasingly militaristic United States, pacifists are seldom heard from and are relegated to the fringes.

Who’s a Pacifist?
It’s a minority belief in the US, held widely by Friends/Quakers (I am one), other peace churches like the Mennonites and Amish, and some Buddhists. 

What would you do if … ?
Having a stance like that alarms other people, who counter with what they feel would be “aha” questions. Pacifists have generally reckoned very well about what they’re willing to commit to under which circumstances, so they answer “aha” questions easily.

For example:
“What about World War II?”
I point out the historical conclusion that we didn’t get into WWII to save the Jews; in fact, the US turned Jewish refugees away from their borders. We could possibly have liberated the Jews without all-out war. Wars are fought for political reasons, and people die en masse for political reasons.

“What if a school shooter invades your classroom?”
I’ve thought about this carefully, and realize that the protection of my students outweighs my pacifism. So I plan to grab a chair and wield it against the attacker, throwing it if necessary (and hoping adrenaline will be on my side).

“What if someone attacks you?”
I’ve taken a dirty streetfighting defense class. The idea is debilitate and run. Again, this is an imminent situation and fighting may be the lesser of two evils.

“What about a gun for protection?”
This is the slippery slope. When one has a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When one has a gun for protection, everything looks like an assailant. Child deaths and suicide are more likely in a household with a gun. A gun is symbolic of what we want to avoid in pacifism.

“Why are martial arts different?”
I would distinguish here between martial arts with a philosophy that one avoid conflict if at all possible and more aggressive martial arts. Asian martial arts, in particular, emphasize the former. If I were to learn a martial art, it would be aikido, one which uses the force and impetus of the assailant against him.

In the End
I sometimes wonder if setting Apocalypse in a pacifistic setting (the ecocollective Barn Swallows’ Dance) is a bad idea for publication. As much as writers are exhorted toward originality, the noncombatants trying to save the world might be too much for mainstream audiences. But I have to remain true to myself, and writing what I know is part of that.

Dreams vs goals

I’ve been pretty mellow lately about my writing, getting my enjoyment from editors telling me how to improve. This is my most noble self, but my sanguinity even in the face of rejections doesn’t motivate me to push myself — for example, I haven’t sent queries lately. I haven’t finished editing Whose Hearts are Mountains (although that may need a developmental editor). 

I still daydream about getting a novel published, even though I understand how hard it is, and I know I’m not a literary writer but a genre writer, and my stuff seems like it needs an endless amount of improvement …

I need to set some goals again. I’ll make them SMART goals — specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound.

  • Write/submit 5 short stories/poems/flash fiction by December 31, 2020
  • Get Whose Hearts are Mountains into developmental edit by March 1, 2020
  • Send 50 queries for Gaia’s Hands by February 1, 2020
  • Send 50 queries for Apocalypse by August 1, 2020
Note that my goals are in terms of what I will do (submit) rather than what might happen (publication). It’s not realistic for me to determine someone else’s actions. 

I suspect I will be successful in fulfilling these goals — in general I’m very goal oriented. What I don’t know is if they’ll yield dreams come true.

Rebel Rebel

I’ve decided to be a rebel for NaNoWriMo.

What that means is that the participant does anything but write a novel in those 30 days*. I have two books I’m editing, the problem child Gaia’s Hands (which may be a novella by the time I’m done with it) and Whose Hearts are Mountains when I get it back from my dev editor. 

It feels odd not writing a new novel, but it’s not the best use of my time. I need to get this backlog dealt with and ready for possibilities. When these are done, I will have five completed novels (or four and a novella): Whose Hearts are Mountains, Apocalypse, Voyageurs, Prodigies, Gaia’s Hands. (There’s one more novel, Reclaiming the Balance, but I despair over that particular one, and there’s Gods’ Seeds, the one I’m not finishing for NaNo.

It’s time for me to edit. It’s time for me to write shorter items and try to get those published (I have one short story and one flash item published so far, Flourish and Becky Home-Ecky.) It’s time for me to try something else for NaNo.

* The way one counts progress when editing in NaNo is 1 hour = 1000 words. Which is about right, except when I get really stuck.