Finding an old friend

While rummaging through my shelves and crates to find empty three-ring binders, I found one old binder stuffed full with notes and drawings for an old novel in progress under the working title of Interregnum. Nestled among the pages was a printed copy of the story. This particular copy of Interregnum was the last complete draft printed, dating to 2005. Ten years ago.

Past the sharp scents of old paper and aging plastic, I recalled sitting in plazas and study rooms during my last university years and scribbling down the editing notes that litter the lines of text. A story I once knew came to life again as I flipped through the pages in my rapid reading. The writing was rougher than I liked, but it bore my basic rhythms of prose. I’ve learned a great deal about writing, including things like pacing and tone, since then. Characters long forgotten bantered in energetic exchanges. Main and secondary characters all possessed unique voices, especially when they teased and ribbed each other. Even the mercenary captain, who became increasingly dour during the waning drafts, was allowed to have some fun and have fun poked at her expense.

This draft suffered from the traveling bug, spending far too much time on the road to get from point A to point B, yet rushing through for the sake of expediency. My notes remark on this, advising to spend some time at certain locations. Show the mercenaries earning their pay, show the lost princess gaining and honing her skills, show the mercenary captain in command. Illustrate the duality of hard power and soft power through the approaches of the mercenary captain and the lost princess. Let the mercenary captain and lost princess make mistakes and figure out how to recover from them. Show the core characters bonding with one another. Spend the time to make it work.

However, that wasn’t going to happen. I wasn’t the sole writer in this project. There was a co-writer involved and she had different priorities. The waiting political drama took precedent over the journey. Here, the tone changed from my punchy prose to the co-writer’s aspirations of loftier lines. It made sense for the tone to shift with the focus and reflect the machinations of refined nobility. My words still wove through those sections to prevent a hard jarring of the reader, but the change was still noticeable. As the next draft progressed, the mercenaries were pushed further and further back, while the political drama consumed all of our collective resources.

My notes in the two years after this printed draft show a great deal of struggle with reconciling the elements of the story, even as I admitted to myself that Interregnum had morphed into two different tales. The first book should have been nothing but the journey, then the second focusing on the political drama. That’s a more experienced eye, clarified by hindsight, and has no bearing on the past. Scattered among the notes are multiple attempts at rewrites, a few as fresh starts to help cast new perspective. Those clusters of notes through 2007 show a great deal of frustration, both at fixing the pacing and reconciliation problems and at my co-writer’s growing disinterest. As Interregnum languished, I realized that I could be spending my time working on other projects.

Driven by the need to be working on some sort of original writing project and unwilling to break apart Interregnum after laboring on it for so many years, I started to craft a new story. I threw so many ideas at the proverbial wall, hoping one would stick. One did and that idea grew into the Black Mark series. Interregnum was ultimately broken and abandoned, though the circumstances of that sad event is another story.

As to those empty binders I was looking for, I found them after spending a while on my office floor and revisiting some old friends.


Writing to entertain

My first priority with the Black Mark series is to be entertaining. Not to show off my amazing ideas or world building. Not to spread a message. Not to prove something to myself or anyone else. My prime directive is to entertain myself first. If I write something I like to read, then there should be others who will like reading it, too.

However, I didn’t realize until I was halfway through writing the third book that I had plotted out a crucible story. Yeah, let’s make a crucible story entertaining! Let’s make a dieselpunk fantasy cognate of WWII North Africa a ~fun~ and ~magical~ experience! I’m good, but not that good.

So, I looked at my first draft and thought that I might be nuts and bit off more than I could chew. I ended up blowing my deadline goal by about two months, trying to make this story into something that wasn’t a hard sit. The last thing I wanted was for someone to think that this was getting too heavy and put it down. Because once the book is put down, there’s a risk that it won’t be picked up again. I know that there are plenty of people who like grimdark and the like, but that’s not what I’m aiming for. I’m aiming for the old pulp action adventure novel. Those ten-centers with the WTF covers.

Eventually, I reworked the trouble spots and shifted some focus around. The beta reader receptions that I got were all pretty positive with only a couple of minor, fixable quibbles. A sigh of relief from me. I can deal with little fixable quibbles. That’s usually me forgetting something in between drafts, because I suck at linear writing. I’m too easily distracted.

If you want to check out what I’m talking about, I have some sample chapters for each of the available stories under the Black Mark menu above.

Number four is on the way and I’ll just say that the Indiana Jones theme was playing on loop in my head while outlining it.

I’m sure someone will think that I should have stayed on the grimdark path, but I think that grimdark and angst are like powerful spices. They are best when used sparingly.

What is Young Adult fantasy?

So, I’ve got more than one person telling me that the Black Mark series could fit into the Young Adult classification. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I never intended to make YA material out of this series. On the other hand, it can’t be worse than Twilight and its many clones.

Which brings me to the question: What puts a book in the Young Adult fantasy genre?

So, I go to the Interwebs and seek the collective knowledge of the English speaking world. Almost every definition of Young Adult fiction ran very fast and loose. Then there’s the offshoot category of New Adult, which is aimed at the 18-25 (or 18-30, depending on who you ask) age range.

Here I am, staring at these categorical lists and thinking, “Aren’t most books supposed to fulfill these requirements?” Other than deal with issues that are mostly unique to teenyboppers or proclaim to aim to a teenaged audience, that is. On top of that, these lists seem limited to Young Adult Literature, which is a slightly different beast than Young Adult Fantasy.

Again, I’m brought back to a question. What is the difference between Young Adult Fantasy and the rest of the Fantasy genre? Is it only the age of the protagonist, limited to under the age of 18? Is that all to it?

If that’s the only factor, then Black Mark is not a contender for the YA label. The protagonist is 17 for all of a few chapters in the beginning of the first book and he’s in his early twenties before the series ends.

Is the age of the protagonist really the only difference between YA and the rest of the genre? Or is there something more?

Fragments of Memories


Hedgemage was my main character from first day I logged on to the end of days in City of Heroes. He was an Energy/Energy blapper that I had fun running epic adventures with. I always figured that his nemesis would be Circle of Thorns or some other magic-based group. Instead, he was always tangling with Devouring Earth. “Hippies with the brains of rocks! Even rocks!” He was the sort of guy who would be on his way to pay the rent, have an alien invasion drop on him, beat back the invasion, and then continue on to City Hall to drop off the check. That really did happen in the game. I still find it funny. “I just wanted to pay the rent!”

I was browsing a folder of old writing bits and found this fragment amongst the files. It’s a piece I wrote during the City of Heroes 2009 Halloween event. It’s short and I don’t remember what the next part was supposed to be, but I got all nostalgic reading it. You can find it hiding under the cut below:

Continue Reading →