The Road of Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick’s Day Checklist:

1) Get up, remember the date, find green.
2) Put on green.
3) Feel smug for being part Irish while everyone just wishes they were.

All was going according to plan until I got an email from a friend with a brief summation of Patrick’s life, then had to add another number.

4) Admit to self that you know almost nothing about your Irish heritage in general and St Patrick in specific. Feel like dirt for being smug in the first place.  Fix problem by educating self.

In the process of said education regarding St Patrick, what struck me the most was that he was a slave for six years in Ireland. Six years. And then went back. Wow.  Slavery is a terrible thing, so terrible that the word “terrible” doesn’t even come close to describing it, hence the overuse of the word terrible. Then I come to find out after achieving freedom through God, he felt called to go back and preach salvation in the land where he was held captive and convert the nation…which he did.  Spectacularly.

Put in modern vernacular: respect.

That journey got me thinking in an oddly metaphorical way about slavery not in terms of bondage but in being bound, by which I mean being enslaved to a set of thoughts, ideals, or habits. In this respect, we are all slaves to something. For myself and my family, that slavery is (though soon shall be was) debt. Thanks to some solid advice by people who have been there and come through it, we have been able to pull ourselves out of that bondage and back into freedom, where we hope to remain forever. It wasn’t easy, but like any road you set yourself on, the key is to power through the rough stuff and get to the end.  For us, the end was freedom and room to breathe, room many others don’t yet have, so for our freedom we are both thankful and humble.

Slavery is such a loaded word in America that I fear to use it, but since fear itself is a form of slavery, I feel I have to grit my teeth and say what needs saying instead of dancing around it like a group of lost British boarding school children around a campfire: we are all of us, every one, enslaved to something, most of us to many somethings. We are slaves to our emotions of anger, jealousy, and smugness; slaves to physical pleasures of eating, drinking, and the multitude of questionable “adult” desires; slaves to our time spent in pursuits of “needs” which really aren’t. Slaves, in other words, to those of the Devil and his kin. With he and his, there is no freedom, no room to breathe; when the Devil comes, it is always with chains.  Find those chains, pray for them to be broken, and set yourself on the path to freedom from slavery.

My (bowler) hat off to St Patrick, may he pray for my soul, and the courage he had to face down his past and turn towards a better future. May all of us have his strength of conviction, both today and beyond.

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Paralyzed by Perfection

Writing is hard. Very hard. Really hard. Well…technically I’m a liar; the actual act of writing has never in history been easier. No stone plates, no clay or wax tablets, no scraping of vellum or pounding of papyrus, no sir, none of that here. WordPress on a Kindle fire, that’s the way to go (though as a side note, this replacement fire is f’ing up, but that’s another story).  No, the real barrier…my real barrier…is the pointless pursuit of perfection

I can’t speak for anyone else, but the thing that keeps me from doing anything new, anything tough, anything remotely difficult is the fact that it won’t be perfect. Oh, that’s not what I tell myself. What I hear inside my head isn’t that it’s not perfect, it’s that it’s not good enough, especially when compared to that guy or that author or that artist or that blogger or or or….  The pursuit of perfection, as it turns out, paralyzes. It’s so bad that upon entering that last word of the previous sentence (paralyzes) and having it flagged by spellchecker, I actually retyped the word 8 or 10 times before hitting online sources to make sure I was right.  3rd person in case anyone’s curious.

Those who know me know I’m nowhere near perfect by appearances, but I’m starting to see that’s a defense mechanism. If I can’t have my space perfect, why try in the first place?  I don’t have time to be perfect, so why spend the time doing it right in the first place?  Stupid, right?  Agreed, but that’s the way my brain works.  Then the guilt kicks in. “You know, Colin, if you’re not going to do it right and you’re not even going to get started on it, that must mean you’re a total failure.”  Now I’m really off to the races. “Oh crap, I haven’t done anything.  I’m a failure. Why bother setting goals if I only miss them?  Why step onto the court if I’m only going to make bad passes?”  And now I come to the real meat. “Why bother writing if it’s going to suck? Why publish if no one will read it?”

The pursuit of perfection causes paralysis, period.  When every “why bother” becomes another arrow in my potential body of work, when every second of writer’s block booms in my head like a cannon from the “1812 Overture”, when I feel like every genuine compliment is actually hiding the ‘other shoe’ just waiting to be dropped, it’s no wonder the only credit I have to my name is something cowritten. 

So enough. Enough of perfection, enough of striving for the best it can get, enough of writing and living such that only the awesome gets celebrated and the decent work gets thrashed. I want to learn to celebrate the the badly written lines done while my kids tear around the room as much as if not more than the five excellent pages written during an orchestrated day of coffee house writing. I want to pen a blog that no one reads but that gives me a happy inward glow. I want to do what I can when I can as well as I can instead of doing nothing because it isn’t as good as the other guy. If it sucks, who cares?  At least I finally got some something done. 

It might not be perfect, but it’s the best I had. Know what?  I think I’m fine with that.

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Writing “Blood Ties” Part 6: The Music

So far I’ve written a little about the fruits of the creative process, but have kind of skirted talking about the actual writing. The hardest thing for me isn’t finding the time directly, it’s disciplining myself to use the time I have. Artificial deadlines don’t generally cut it for me; I need something more positively motivating. I tried the whole I’ll-write-for-45 minutes-then–play-15 minutes-of-GAME reward trick and spent 4 hours getting just one more level. I tried having people “support” (read: bug) me, but those always ended up as sessions in philosophy. In the end, the answer boiled down to straight music. Just put on my headphones, find something that matched the mood for the piece I was writing, then go to town. I’d say the results were pretty good, but they led me to an interesting discovery: books go better with music.

I totally used to jam to a tape of radio mixed music while reading Robert Jordan as a kid, but I never realized just how much it enhanced the mood until I reread certain parts of my book and found it less rewarding to read than it had been to write. Plug in the right music, though, and the thrill bounced back to its original high. Tempting as it is to insert some kind of metaphor involving drugs and that first high, I won’t bother; it doesn’t really wash, you know? Instead, think of it as watching your favorite movie but with the sound off. It’s fun to see and you completely enjoy it because you know what’s happening, but when you put the sound back on, it really pops. That’s what writing with music is like to me: good without, sometimes necessary, but oh so awesome when it’s included.

It can’t just be any music either, by the way. I use specific pieces of music for specific scenes. For example, the original prologue was told from a completely different side originally and detailed the final battle between the two cultures in this eight year war. For the scene, I have The Final Fight from Buffy the Vampire Slayer as my background music. I can see the entire (compressed) battle in my mind from start to finished. Certain scenes match up with certain movements. Sadly, however, it just didn’t serve to set things up for the remainder of the book like we wanted it to, so we changed the scene to show the same battle but from a totally different viewpoint. I miss the scene…it was a really great battle…but we’ll work it into the next book. Do I always use scores? Nope, Chapter the Eighth has several songs attached in my mind, all of which are lyrical. Linkin Park’s “In the End” was pretty heavy there. I used their “Nobody’s Listening” elsewhere too, come to think of it.

I could go through and give my entire song list, but that would take way too much time. Besides, discover them on your own; it works better that way. Next time I’ll discuss schedules, delays, and successes.

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Writing “Blood Ties” Part 5: The Plug

The time has almost come for you to pull up your Amazon account and punch in “Blood and Honor: Enemies Within” for purchase! Why should you consider spending your hard earned money on our untried writing style and story on July 15th? Here’s why!

  • Clocking in around 145,000 words, Blood and Honor: Enemies Within is almost as long as the first two Harry Potter books combined! Talk about bang for your virtual buck!
  • I co-wrote it. That’s got to be worth something, right?
  • If you’re reading this, you probably have a direct connection to me in some way. Haven’t you always wanted to ask an author what comes next or why someone did what they did? Now you can!
  • Characters actually make meaningful decisions that are based off their experiences and desires. Face it – how many books do you read where that actually happens? Yeah, probably lots…but not at this price!
  • Show it off to your friends and tell them, “I know that guy”, then use that information to become more powerful in their eyes.
  • We’re cheap. Really cheap. We won’t stay that way forever (we hope!), so get in now while you can.
  • Read a fantasy novel in which there’s no magic. What, no magic? Then why call it fantasy? Two words: The Blood. Read it to find out what that means.
  • Stoke my ego. When we hit 1,000 copies, I’ll take it to an agent again and say, “See how fast this sold? Don’t you want to give it another look?”
  • Did I mention the cheap part?

Blood and Honor: Enemies Within will be released for public consumption on July 15th. I’ll be at home obsessively clicking “update” on my Amazon site to see how long it takes sales to breech 10. When that happens, I can afford to take my darling and lovely wife out to a movie. Come on people, make it happen!

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Writing “Blood Ties” Part 4: They Evolve

I quickly realized that despite my best intentions, I had no control over my characters whatsoever. They took charge of their own lives and lived them to the best of their abilities.

 

It’s not like they appeared to me in dreams or anything…though that would make compelling stuff…it’s that I found myself thinking, “Riordan wouldn’t do that” or “When did Tiernan start sounding like that?” Looking back now on the character profiles Kevin and I wrote for the characters, they look nothing like their final selves. For example, Riordan, “Helped bring together all clans to fight last battle”; that quickly turned into “Led the Warriors during the last few years of the War to final victory”. Tiernan, “On his last trip to neighboring clan, met a woman (name to be determined) and fell in love.” In the final version, there’s none of that. Did we consciously change the characters to fit the scope of the book? Not so much. In reality, the characters grew into their own to meet the needs of the situations which we were writing about just as people in real life grow to take on greater responsibilities. No first time parent is really ready for their children, but they grow into it (if they’re good, that is).

 

Building a character is tough. I don’t know everything about the character when I make them, only enough to get them going on the page. I let the characters evolve as I go. After a long enough time, I have a picture of them in my mind that I can use to write with, and I go from there. Keeping each character separate can be tough, so I try to give each one some outstanding characteristic that helps them really ‘pop’ in my mind. Riordan is a natural leader. Tiernan has a huge phobia. Ainseal has a unique past. Shannah is an independent woman in a society of men. These things help keep the characters separate and interesting. From there, they evolved into what they are. Riordan isn’t just a natural leader, he’s a man who knows that leading sometimes means following. Tiernan doesn’t just have a phobia, he has a phobia of something that keeps him from entering a society where his place at the top of the societal structure is practically assured. And so on, and so on, and so on….

 

One of the things I like most in the series I enjoy (shout out to Steven J. Brust and Robert Jordan) is that each character has his or her own voice, something with which I can use to identify them. I know they’re different people because of the way they talk. In real life, we can generally tell people by the pitch, tenor, and cadence of their voice. On paper, all we have to go by is their sentence structure, word usage, phrasing. This, in case you’re wondering, is not an easy thing to keep in mind when writing. The only way I found to achieve it was to actually pretend (yep, I’m crazy) that I was in the middle of the scene watching what was happening. If I’d done it right, the words flowed well. If not, they didn’t. If I tried to force a character to say something that didn’t match the mental picture I’d built of them, the words fell apart; if I let them speak, the words flew across the screen.

 

Tomorrow for Part 4, we’ll actually announce the release of the book!

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Writing “Blood Ties” Part Three: Hashing out a Storyline

We had the idea, but where did we go from there? Great question. To start things off, we had agreed that each of us should do a profile for a few of the important characters. We had hammered out an extremely basic outline (which I won’t give away) and decided that we needed to know the characters better before going any further. I see it not like a giant Tetris puzzle but more like one of those block puzzles where you move the blocks around to make a channel for a ball to exit, only instead of using the preset blocks, you’re shaping, sizing, placing, and moving ones of your own design. Once we had the basics of the characters (which are totally unrecognizable from what they are now), we were able to move on with the story.

We knew the basics of what we wanted. The book needed to have several concepts. One was about how a society adjusts after ending a “long” war in which societal barriers are broken. Another was how a son who is strong in his own right escapes from the shadow of his extremely powerful father. Another was how far people are willing to go to protect the past they think is perfect or enter the future they believe to be better. One quick word to the wise: NONE OF THESE ARE OR WERE POLITICAL!

Anyway…we had our themes, so the challenge was to hash them out into a storyline. The way we chose to do it was to sit down and scribble out a few paragraphs of where we each wanted to go. We developed some of the themes around the characters and tried tying them together. This did not work well. We tried bouncing basic ideas around involving the themes and how to make them go further. This did not go well either. If profit is in the process, we earned our keep during that time because, well, damn…it was hard. Success finally came when we started off with a basic premise and a basic ending place and tried moving the characters through the story. The characters drove the story, and we hit our stride. Things moved easier after that…much, much easier. This is when we realized we were on to something for sure. We cared about the characters so much that they actually told us what they wanted to do. It’s like they spoke to us and told us where they wanted to go next. I knew Shannah would do this because we had developed her character. Riordan didn’t speak like that, so he wouldn’t do this, right…but his friend Sean would. Ainseal didn’t speak like that, he spoke with more authority. Ainseal evolved and a new character was created to take his place. On it went, and we finally had an outline. Once we had that, we didn’t really stray, we just kept refining and refining until we had something we liked, something that felt true and real.

Tomorrow for Part 4, I’ll discuss character creation, evolution, and finding their voice.

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Writing “Blood Ties” Part 2: Finding a Partner

Let me start off by saying that I hate group projects. Always have. There’s just something painful about having to rely on another person for your grade when you can’t do anything to move that person along. Let me also say that I love working with the right people in an actual team; just that when you’re working with people you’ve been assigned to or you choose because you’re friends, you may not get the best results. Working with like-minded professionals = good; working with the girl next to you because you’re hoping that somehow everyone else will cancel on the group meeting except for the cute girl you want to ask out = bad…at least the way I did it (I never got the girl).

Working in retail is really a crapshoot. Maybe you’ll be working with like-minded professionals, and maybe you’ll be working with people fresh off the street who like to work because it means they won’t be rained on tonight. I wish…I
wish…I were kidding. I got transferred a lot, which tends to happen when you tell your boss things like, “I don’t want to join the stock purchase program because I like having my money in my pocket instead of in the company’s”, but I digress. During one of my transfers, I happened to step into the best working environment I ever had at Walgreens. Someone set up my dream team. Everyone there was smart, worked hard, and understood the value of true teamwork. I got comfortable, and as I tend to do when I get comfortable, I started talking to people. One of the EXA’s (level above me in management) seemed like a pretty cool guy who knew his way around sci-fi and fantasy, so I started bouncing ideas off him. Nothing serious at first, just stuff to pass the time with while stocking cereal and processed ham. As the days moved on, though, I found myself pondering the idea of my Shamans and their outfits. With no idea at the time as to what I was doing, I asked the guy what he thought of the idea. I don’t remember what he said exactly, but what I do remember is that the day flew, work was done, and I was pissed that I couldn’t stay and hammer out the idea some more. The manager turned into my coauthor Kevin. The idea turned into Blood Ties. I’d say that in the end Walgreens was pretty good to me that day.

It wasn’t as simple as that, of course. We bounced ideas off each other for close to a week before I asked if he was interested in helping with a storyline. I had previously written another book (which isn’t ready to publish yet) and didn’t want this to be a carbon copy of it, so having additional input was helpful. His ideas were so fun that eventually I asked if he’d be interested in working on it together. My recollection is that he thought about it for a day or so then came back with yes. I could be wrong, but it isn’t vital. The point is, we started working together.

Six years later we had a book.

Tomorrow for Part Three, I’ll talk about the actual process of hashing out a storyline.

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