New Walls

Moving into a fixer-upper is a lot different than buying one and working on it while living elsewhere. We bought our new house on a land contract and had two weeks to get it ready to occupy. With the rest of our savings and the help of some good friends we got moved in just before my wife had to go in for major surgery. For several weeks we lived in the guest bedroom, half of the bathroom and part of the kitchen while the rest of the house was either packed with boxes or getting renovated.

Part of that renovation was tearing out old drywall that had black mold and putting up new drywall.

We made a lot of discoveries in the process. The previous owners sealed up four windows, a doorwall and a hidden room behind the bathroom that was soundproof and had curious eyebolts on the wall and a padded area in the back. Now, I haven’t read 50 shades of anything but my mind went right to a gimp box or a screaming closet. Anyhow, the windows are uncovered and the hidden area is opened.

Nearly every wall has been replaced, taped and mudded, painted and trimmed out. Gone is the 1970’s paneling and in with a more modern paint scheme.

Like the novel that I’m working on. I wrote an original version fifteen years ago and now the only thing that remains the same is the title and one character. And I’m about to change the title.

Like the walls in my house, sometimes it’s best to tear out all the old moldy crap and start over. The new rooms look fantastic. Now we sleep in a spacious master bedroom and there are times I find myself looking at the walls, the perfect ones as well as the ones with nicks and dents. I know these walls like I know my characters inside and out.

To date we have put up 85 sheets of drywall and we will probably need another 40 sheets more before we are done. The old sheets went into a dumpster, totally useless, but old stories still have their place.

I’ve began posting stuff on Wattpad. I won’t get paid for them, but hopefully I’ll attract more readers. We’ll see. If nothing comes from it, no big loss.

If you want to see an example of my style, here’s the link to Idol Hands:

http://www.wattpad.com/story/30354074

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Trunk Novels and Abandoned Gardens

 

Sometimes you lose. Be it in writing or gardening, nothing is guaranteed.   Sometimes a garden no longer works, is destroyed or in my case, lost.

Like so many home owners, I fought the bank over an upside-down mortgage for the past few years. I lost. The garden I spent seven years nurturing is no longer mine. It’s like discovering that a novel I’ve worked on for seven years was just published by someone else.

Novels get trunked every day. Any novelist that has been at it for any length of time will have a couple of novels in the bottom drawer, or in my case on an old floppy disk. Just as most gardeners will have left behind some earlier attempts at horticulture.

It is a bittersweet thing. I hate leaving behind something I put so much of myself in, but at the same time, the garden had reached its limits. I yearned for more land to try out different plants, more space to spread out than a few hundred square feet to grow in.

I now have a few acres to work with. The possibilities with this land are endless. Visions of my own personal Eden taunt me. Starting from scratch fills me with both joy and dread.

But all of that will have to wait. The new land comes with a house that had been empty for five years and has more challenges to not only bring it up to code, but make it ours. The past four months have been packed with projects, daily visits to Home Depot and acting as my own general contractor.

The novel I have been working on has been on the back burner until now. This month I plan to dedicate half my free time to home renovation and the rest to completing the book. The garden might seem to be a distant project considering all the work that’s needed inside the house, but it’s not. Far from it.

This garden, possibly the last garden I will create will be a part of the house – somehow. I don’t really know what I’m going to do in it just yet.

For now, this blog that has been neglected for too long, will change it’s POV from one that grows words to one that builds stories.

Worldbuilding 6: The Trouble with Prophecy

 

I love a good fantasy or space opera that has convoluted plots filled with twists and reversals that all lead up to a satisfying ending.  Invariably such epic tales almost always involve a prophetic book or story about ‘The Chosen One’ or something like that (Dune, Harry Potter, Star Wars, the Matrix, Buffy etc…).

The problem with prophecy is this:

  1. If you have foreordained writings, in order for them to be actually prophetic, they have to come true.
  2. If they don’t come to pass, or the Chosen One somehow prevents Armageddon from happening, then the prophecy is false and that negates the Chosen One.

This all goes back to a long standing debate as to whether the universe is predetermined or if it allows for free will. Now, my world is predetermined, it has prophecy.  The characters know about the prophecy, they act according to what the prophecy says.  Some don’t believe in it, but don’t actively work against it.  Every bit of the prophecy has to come about the way it says it will.  No one can change it.

That can sound very restrictive, but it isn’t.  Some have different interpretations of the prophecy, some believe that it came about already or is many centuries ahead.  No one is absolutely sure and that’s the way prophecy should be seen in fiction, the same way it is seen in reality.

All too often I read or see prophetic stories that use it as decoration.  Everyone in that world believes in the prophecy completely.  The beginning of the prophecy comes about exactly the way it says.  And invariably, the hero gets to change the part of the prophecy that predicts the end of the world.  That doesn’t work for me.  It’s simple and contradictory and frankly unforgivable for a writer.

Quite frankly, prophecy in fiction is cheating.  It gives away the story, it tells the story now show it.

But there are exceptions where this works to the writer’s favor.

Take the recent re-launches of characters shows like Hannibal or Bates Motel.  Everyone knows where Dr. Lecter and Norman Bates end up.  We know they become psychopathic killers.  The fun part is seeing how they got there.

My novel deals with the War in Heaven, the prophecy speaks about one who will try to wrest the throne from God.  No surprises there.  The fun part is how I get a third of the angelic host to turn on a benevolent God and make it seem like a good idea.  My characters have to struggle with accepting or rejecting the prophecies and deal with disappointment when they don’t come to pass the way they think they should.

The real challenge when writing about prophecy has nothing to do with the Chosen One preventing the Thousand Years of Darkness from creeping over the face of the earth but how the Chosen One reacts when he realizes that he is responsible for that darkness and there’s nothing he can do about it.

There’s no Writers Block in Gardening

So, I’ve been stuck on one scene for the last three weeks.  I should have blasted past it and finished a couple more chapters but I can’t move past it.  I could ‘hang a lantern on it’ or type out a paragraph of blank lines to be filled in later, but I’m not that kind of writer.  I go to sleep at night with the scene in my head trying to make my unconsciousness figure it out.  I have tried those wonky methods to break out of the block, but I have worldbuilded my way into a corner.

In gardening, there are no blocks.  Nature does not allow it.  You have to plant in the spring.  You have to water.  You have to weed.  Your personal life doesn’t matter to the plants, they need care.  Sure, you could throw in the trowel and go play Xbox but then you wouldn’t be a gardener.  Not writing when you have a block is an excuse not to write.

I’ve written two short stories since the blockage and I like them.  I thought they would get me over the hump but it didn’t pan out.  Getting something done while the scene remains dead gives me a sense of accomplishment but it’s just a panacea.  I still feel stuck in my novel.

Normally, this time of year I’d be getting the seedlings going inside, but with this cold, I could probably put that off for a few more weeks.  Timing is everything in gardening.  Starting plants too soon leads to leggy, weak plants.  Starting too late leads to buying tomato plants at Home Depot.

Writing a weak scene leads to rewriting more scenes later on, more editing, more plot holes and basically starting the chapter all over again.  I used to joke to my writing group, when someone was faced with a block, to throw a few zombies at it.  So, it’s a good thing that my world has plenty of undead in it.  I’m hoping those slouching eating machines can tear through my block and get me back on track.

Extreme Heterozygotes

If you were to take an ordinary apple, remove the dozen or so seeds and plant them, you’d get twelve completely different apple trees, not a single one would resemble the apple it come from.  Growing an apple tree from seed is like playing the lottery or writing a bestseller, it’s a longshot that you’d get anything edible.

Ideas are like apple seeds, especially ideas for stories.  They can come from any source, a song, a familiar smell, a random thought.  But what happens from there is where the idea turns into its own.  And like the wild apple trees, most wild ideas are not fit for human consumption.

Sometimes I think my idea for a story is dull or contrived, that it’s just a bad idea.   I’ll put that idea in a dead end file, usually a few lines, sometimes just a title to a story that sounds great but I have nothing to put beneath it.  Occasionally, I’ll need a good character to throw in a piece so I’ll sift through that dead end file. And often times I can graft that character onto the story with wonderful results.  The same way they take a branch from a Golden Delicious tree and graft it onto the root of a wild tree.

The wild apple trees were cultivated in the early United States for making apple cider more than for eating.  The tart juice was often fermented into hard cider or freeze distilled into applejack.  What would normally be useless became indispensable.  Wild ideas can sometimes yield the best stories.

The thing about wild ideas is that we have a tendency to try and rein them in, make them conform to expectations.  I had an idea for my novel that involved an aqueduct.  I worked on that concept for weeks, studying ancient and modern aqueducts, getting the details of my waterway down perfectly.  As grand and complex as it was it still seemed no more than a municipal construct.  Then a wild idea came and that open-aired pipeline became The Great Aqueduct, a thousand mile long waterway that fed a hundred cities and countless farms.

I abandoned the storyline in my novel, but I’ll never forget the moment I realized my concept was too small, too normal.  Our worlds should be filled with great wonders and extreme heterozygotes.  And maybe one day, in another novel, I can write about that captain who guides an ice-barge down the Great Aqueduct and his wild adventures.

Worldbuilding 5: Economics

You can’t get something for nothing.  Not in the real world or in a magical one.  A sure sign of a novice fantasy writer is the way they treat their economics in their world.  Everything is traded in gold coin just like in the video games.  That’s because they have borrowed their economy from the same video games.

I had a tough time working out an economy in a utopian society (Heaven before the Fall).  I asked myself how would someone buy an apple in my world?  How would they buy a house?

We use stuff (metal coins and paper) to represent money.  In fantasy worlds it is preferable to use things that have real value to represent currency.  Historically people have used other things in lieu of coin.  Roman soldiers were paid in salt, that’s where we get the word salary.  Spices like pepper, cloves, and cinnamon were more valuable than gold.

And then there’s the economics of writing itself.   Yes, everyone wants to get rich by selling their story.  Only a handful of people actually get rich writing books.  You have a better chance of being a professional athlete than being a professional writer.  So why do it?  I’ll tell you why.

Writing is the hobby of a cheapskate.  It costs nothing to sit for hours pecking away at a keyboard.  Who knows, maybe one day, one of us blind monkeys will tap out the next billion dollar franchise.  No other past time gives so much joy, causes so little physical pain and has better odds at making money than the Lottery.

Even gardening cost more money to grow your own veggies than it does to buy them at the local BigBoxMart.  I confess, I have spent thousands in my garden over the years.  And the seed companies know this.  Here is a single week’s worth of catalogs I’ve received.seed catalogs

Growing fresh fruits and veggies is its own reward.  Writing is just as rewarding, but even if it doesn’t cast much, it ain’t free either.  Your time has an intrinsic value.  The time you take to write could be used to sell crap on Ebay or sell pencils on the street corner.  And even if the chances of making it big are less than it is getting struck by lightning, it’s still worth something to me.      

Worldbuilding 4: Physics and Magic

I screwed up.

The greatest problem I have with my current world is that it defies the laws of physics.  Much of the story takes place inside a giant hollow sphere (aka the Hollow Earth theory or Pellucidar to us Edgar Rice Burroughs fans).  The inside of a hollow sphere has no gravity, or I should say the gravity inside a sphere pulls towards the center.  That means my characters would spend the whole time floating in space and I can’t have that.

Now, I could ignore the laws of physics.  Most people wouldn’t catch onto the gravity bit so long as the story is good (and it is).  The thing is, it disturbed me.  I couldn’t get past it.  So, I made it a part of the story.  And it is a very cool part – at least it is in my head right now.  There is a very specific reason why the laws of physics have been broken and at one point reality reasserts itself and the laws kick in.

Magic systems need rules too.  I tend to see two types of magic in books, free magic and good magic. Free magic is abundant and simple to use.  It requires very little.  A spell, a potion, a magical object, is all that’s needed to perform the act.  Harry Potter is such a magic system, but HP isn’t about magic so much as it is about Harry.

Good magic always has a cost.  The first time I saw this was in the movie ‘The Golden Voyage of Sinbad’.  In it, the sorcerer Koura (played by Dr. Who’s Tom Baker) ages every time he casts a spell. koura By the end of the movie he’s an old man, each spell seems to take ten years off his life.  Koura old

Now that’s a high cost.  And magic should have a cost otherwise everyone would be using it for everything.

In Physics, every action has an opposite and equal reaction.  If your magic follows this rule, you will have a balanced system.  Say you want to heal a mortal wound?  What if that meant transferring the wound to another living being?  Or if you want a mage to throw a fireball, the thrower should suffer from hypothermia.

Whatever world you build, magical or otherwise, keep in mind that you can’t get something from nothing.  Everything costs something and the most important cost should come from the actions of your characters.  If your character oversleeps, there is a cost.  If she gives a bum a dollar, there needs to be reaction to it.  If not, then there’s no reason to write about it.