Saturday, December 25, 2010

Season's Greetings

Wishing everyone all the best over holidays general and specific -- Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and an Enjoyable Lengthening of Days. May you be accompanied through the winter by wonderful books.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Last weekend, this weekend, and bonus features

Getting caught up here, in a bit of a promotional whirlwind at the moment. Last weekend's book signing at Bucknucks Books in Cobble Hill was a fantastic experience all around -- the owners were wonderful hosts, providing me with a table right up front, plenty of food and coffee, and great conversation in the lulls between customers. I sat, I signed, I sold (Can I get that translated into Latin?). I chatted about the book with old friends and with people I'd never met before. There'd been a write-up in the local paper about the event, and I'd slipped a plug for it into a radio interview I did on the CBC a few days earlier, so a lot of people knew about the signing and stopped by. Bucknucks sold 28 copies out of the 30 they'd ordered, and everyone went away happy, me most of all.

Up next, in a few short hours, I'm flying over to Vancouver (by sea-plane, which excites me as much as anything else about the trip) to attend VCON. I'll be taking part in their multi-author book launch tonight at 7pm, and then roaming the rest of the weekend. The book dealer for the event, White Dwarf Books, will have Stuff of Legends for sale, and I'll have bookmarks to give away and a ready pen to sign any copies of the book that cross my path.

As a tangent, I'm really pleased with the bookmarks. Last week, after the realisation that I had no tangible self-promotion material to hand out, I spent a few frantic days designing bookmarks and business cards. I think the results are pretty spiffy, so I hope I can spread them around.

Lastly, the Stuff of Legends facebook page has recently passed 100 Likes, unlocking special bonus content! Pop on over and you'll find two deleted scenes, a character sketch of Kess and Eliott, and an early scribble of an outline for the first act. I'll add more as we go along.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Upcoming Events

I'm stepping into new territory. I'm doing a book signing at Bucknucks Books, and going to a sf/fantasy convention in Vancouver (VCON) to promote Stuff of Legends. What exactly this means I'll be doing, I'm not sure. Okay, I can probably work out the basics involved in the book signing, but self-promotion in general comes about as easily to me as consistently posting blog-content. It's part of the business of being an author, much like auditioning is part of being an actor, but to steal from a bumper-sticker, I'd rather be writing, and if I am writing, I'd rather it be about imaginary places and people far more interesting than myself.

On the other hand, both of these events have the potential to bring me into contact with readers and fans of fantasy, who I've always considered to be some of the most interesting people out there. A voracious imagination is a wonderful thing, and listening to someone talk about what they love, what they hate, and how they are inspired by someone else's fantasies is like a drug to me. No, correct that: it's like a wintergreen candy to me, simultaneously refreshing and causing sparks.

So, come see me at one of these events, I'll do my best to convince you that you want to buy Stuff of Legends (It's funny! It's rollicking adventure! It's got these... words... and things...!), and we can chat about your favourite fantasy stories or whatever fires your imagination.

September 26, 1pm - 5pm
Book Signing at Bucknucks Books
47-1400 Cowichan Bay Rd, Cobble Hill
*Books available for purchase on site, or bring your own copy

October 1, 7pm
VCON Multi-Author Book Launch
Vancouver Airport Marriott Hotel, 7571 Westminster Hwy, Richmond
*I'll be around the convention all weekend, if you miss me on Friday.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Truth and The Trespassers

Freshly back from the dress rehearsal of The Trespassers, by Morris Panych, at the theatre where I work -- blown away by this production. The design elements, the chemistry between the performers, the casting choices -- all top-notch. The script is brilliant in the way I've come to expect from Panych -- fragmented, skewed, and reflective in unexpected ways, like a shattered mirror reassembled into an indescribable three-dimensional object and then put under stage lights.

The Trespassers is a family drama about a fifteen-year-old boy, Lowell, who comes under suspicion during a murder investigation. Lowell tells his story in pieces, and we have glimpses of his relationship with his mother, his grandfather, and his grandfather's girlfriend, as the police try to sort out the truth. Truth is the big theme here -- truth, lies, bluffs, secrets, and how they all relate to each other. Sometimes we get to learn the truth, or think so, as Lowell tips off the audience to what he was really doing when he's told his mother he was staying with a friend (an imaginary diabetic Mexican Jehovah's Witness). Some truths are left for the audience to sort out for themselves from the pieces Lowell provides, knowing that Lowell himself is an unreliable narrator: he has his reasons to tell stories.

The plot is underpinned by a murder mystery, but I didn't care about solving it. I cared about this boy and his family, and the story he so obviously needed to tell me. I wanted to know about these relationships as soon as they were introduced, and in every sense, the script and the performers delivered. Tonight, I was told a beautiful, sad, occasionally hilarious story about four people. I can't wait to hear it again.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Slow ahead

Things in my brain are taking a nautical turn, as I progress deeper into the sequel to Stuff of Legends and our heroes set sail. Currently reading and dissecting Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Terror, the ship-board sections of A Song of Ice and Fire and several Terry Pratchett novels, and Robert E. Howard's Queen of the Black Coast. Also re-reading Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but that one's mostly unrelated to what I'm writing. At the moment, I'm focusing on a pirate attack and looking for an opportunity for Eliott to learn to splice a snotter.

On the other side of things, response to Stuff of Legends continues to be encouraging -- many nice emails from readers, some phenomenal reviews, and some good feedback for me to keep in mind from a few more critical reviewers. I'm being added to at least two public library systems, and this morning, I had my picture taken to go with a review in the local newspaper (link to come when that's up). I'm arranging a book signing next month, and have approached the organizers of a fantasy convention in Vancouver about participating in one of their author events. All this is rather more of a challenge for me than the writing was, but still a great deal of fun.

The mental wind seems to be favouring a return to the pirate attack, so I'd best get back to it.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Back on the blog

So this has been a whirlwind couple of weeks! Stuff of Legends is on the shelves everywhere -- I've been sent pictures of it in Las Vegas, Vancouver, hiding out among the romance novels in Seattle (apologies to anyone who picked it up from that last; Jordan the Red is regretfully past his bodice-ripping days). There have been blogs, reviews, a radio interview, and more well-wishers than I know what to do with -- except to say thank you to each and every one who's given this silly fantasy of mine a moment of time.

But now that Stuff of Legends is out there in the world, my attention is back on the sequel. I'm not quite at the point of spilling all the details, but it's coming along well. This weekend, in addition to attending a fantastic party, I spent an hour-long ferry ride re-drafting the outline of chapters five and six. Rough patches have been shaved down, the origin of a plot-significant artifact has shuffled into a later chapter, and someone almost gets eaten by a fish.

And on that pleasant image, back to work I go!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Countdown Complete!

And I managed to squeak in under the deadline, too. Stuff of Legends will be released this Tuesday -- and the revamped website for Stuff of Legends the webcomic is up and running! After all this build up, I wish it was more dramatically different, to be honest, but I'm not much of a web designer. I am pleased with the individual character portraits on the top of each page, though; again, much praise to Brandon Dorman for his cover art on the novel, which inspired Jordan's new look and pose on the front page.

In other news, I now have a facebook page set up for the novel, which I hope you'll Like. Take a peak and tell me what you think of that one, too. I'm hoping someone heard my CFAX interview this afternoon and can tell me how it sounded; I was in a vet's office with an ill cat at the time the interview aired, and didn't think to ask if they had a radio.

Now, back to work on the sequel... or as the current part I'm working on could be called, the Adventures of Giddy and Drippy. Don't ask.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Books, Blogs, and Buzz

This box arrived on Friday, meaning that my weekend was, for the most part, one long buzz of excitement as I pressed these copies on friends and family.

The note in the corner says, "Congratulations, Ian, it's a book!"

This Sunday, July 25, I'll be on the radio, talking with Scott Walker about Stuff of Legends on CFAX 1070 in Victoria. If you're in earshot, tune in around noon. I've had several more reviews on and elsewhere, ranging from ones that make me absolutely giddy to a couple that definitely leave me thinking about how some of the characters need to grow and mature in future books. touch on that further, because I can't resist a digression, one of the difficulties I had to work around was how much the main characters annoy each other. I'd chosen early on to use a focused perspective for each section, staying in a single character's head each time. But as I wrote, the more it occurred to me that this would colour how the non-focal characters appeared. Eventually, I decided I'd just go with it: When Jordan was my focus, I'd write Eliott as immature and foolish as Jordan sees him; likewise, when Cyral takes the perspective, Jordan becomes more stubborn and crotchety and unhelpful. Whether this was the right choice or not, I'll leave up to the readers, but I'll continue to analyze the technique and decide how or if I want to use it in sequels.

In other news, I've begun a revamp here on the blog. Take a look around at the new pages, and feel free to drop in suggestions for layout or design. I'm a clunky hobbyist when it comes to this sort of thing, but I'll keep at it until I have something I like.

...hmm, sounds rather similar to my approach to writing.

Less than one week until Stuff of Legends hits the shelves. If you haven't already pre-ordered a copy, check out Buy the Book at the top of the blog. Spread the word!

(Countdown: 1. No, it's not until Stuff of Legends is released. You'll see this weekend!)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Where We Are Now

One month until Stuff of Legends hits the bookstores, and a new player has emerged: Rosanne, the publicist who will be working with me. I say emerged because she's been doing a great deal over the last couple of months that I've been entirely unaware of until now: getting galleys to her contacts, creating a list of reviewers who should see the book before the release, things of that nature. In the first week of July, the finished book and press material will be going out to the media -- I'm adding my local contacts to Rosanne's broader list right now.

(While I'm dropping names, I should mention the ongoing help Danielle, my wonderful editor, is still providing, and point out that the cover art for Stuff of Legends was provided by the very talented Brandon Dorman.)

One new bit of self-promotion, which you might notice here on the sidebar: I'm now on twitter as /IantheAuthor, running a series of Jordan the Red facts from today until release (July 27th, but currently available for pre-order). If the tweets attract an audience, I have some ideas for continuing to use the medium afterward.

I've been making headway with the sequel to Stuff of Legends: a few revisions to the outline, making the climax more dramatic and adding more significance to a couple of elements; put another thousand-word chunk together from somewhere in the middle of the thing, too. This is a fun stage, where sections of the jigsaw puzzle start to make miniature pictures of their own.

Two more early reviews:

"Stuff of Legends is a refreshing amusing fantasy" - Alternative Worlds

"If you enjoy fantasy humor, then you should give it a try" - Amazon Vine Reviewer

And for those of you keeping track, Countdown: 2.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Early Reviews

The first reviews of Stuff of Legends are starting to appear, and I'm absolutely thrilled by what's being said:

"...Gibson is excellent" - Grasping for the Wind

"...funny more often than not ... MUCH more often." - Amazon Vine Reviewer

With just over a month to go before the release date (July 27, 2010), this is an exciting time. I'll expand on what else is/has been going on behind the scenes a little later, but right now, back to work.

(Countdown: 3)

Monday, May 3, 2010

New arrivals!

Not pets, not babies -- books! The galley proofs for Stuff of Legends arrived today, all emblazoned with big red notices: Not for Sale, Uncorrected Proofs for Limited Distribution. Six have come to me, and one is being sent out separately to one of the arts reviewers at the local paper. I'm trying to decide where the rest should go, though one of them is going into my box of treasures.

Everything looks very much as it appeared on the earlier version of the cover and in the .pdf proofs I was poring over last week -- with two exceptions. On the back of the cover, there's a new tag line that (again) I wish I could claim I'd thought of myself:

"Not your average old legend."

That's Jordan the Red right there in a nutshell (or close to it; when Jordan was actually trapped in a nutshell, in the "Rotwood Saga", he was much younger. Also much angrier. A nutshell is not a pleasant place to be, and causes famously bad dreams. But I digress).

On the front of the cover, there's a quote from Publishers Weekly. "A winning fantasy...satirical, rollicking adventure."

Now, this is a quote from when the novel was reviewed for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, last year; I'd like to think the novel has improved, through all the editing and attention it's received since then. But once again, it brings back to me how important and career-shaping that contest was for me -- my novel, whatever else may happen with it, has a Publishers Weekly review quote attached to it.

Exciting times. And now, back to work!

(Countdown: 4. Getting curious yet?)

Friday, April 30, 2010

I'm still here!

Still busy. I finished proof-reading Stuff of Legends in time for my deadline, but it was a near thing. Interesting process -- the hardest part was resisting the urge to tinker. At times, I was convinced that this was the most wretched, clumsily written thing in the history of novels, but if I just changed a few turns of phrase, shifted focus a little bit here, trimmed some dialogue there, it could be brilliant . . . but that's what I think every time I read my own writing, whether I'm able to edit it or not. I'm going to have to learn to let go of that impulse.

I did end up with a list of a dozen changes or corrections; mostly minor, but there was one embarrassing instance where I'd inverted the name of the wizards' conclave and gift shop. It was there back through every draft, and I can't count how many times I haven't caught it. Hopefully, there aren't any others I'm failing to see, or if there are, that nobody else will every realize they're there either.

Word from my editor is that she's got a full-colour galley of Stuff of Legends on her desk. Before very long, I should have one of those on my desk, too... which means I should clear some space for it to dock. This will be a challenge. I like a tidy desk with plenty of space, but rarely manage to achieve such a thing. I blame the migratory herds of books that fill my house -- they keep returning here as to a spawning ground, and where they go, flocks of paper follow.

Less progress than I'd like on the sequel. Some sketching -- or more accurately, doodling -- which is my ur-writing technique for figuring out characters and scenes. Oddly enough, the sketch that came quickest and easiest to me is the one I've included with this post.

Next on the list of things to do in preparation-for-publication: Get an updated author photo (I've said I'll send it off on Monday) for the author page I'll be getting on penguin's website, and get a Self Q&A done up for handy press-release material (suggested by the publicist who'll be working with me as the book nears launch). The photo and anything else I can come up with will also get added to my amazon page, this blog, and various other places. To market, to market . . . myself.

Speaking of amazon, take a look at the page for Stuff of Legends. They've got the cover. This makes me happy.

Countdown: 5

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Piling Up

The proofs for Stuff of Legends have arrived. I have one week to look them over for any typos that I don't want to see when the novel hits bookstores. At the same time, I have ten days to finish processing the stacks of season ticket renewals pouring in every day at the theatre, before a tax increase hits. On top of doing my own taxes. On top of working on the Stuff of Legends sequel. On top of the secret project I've been teasing you all with by counting down towards it.

In other words, the rest of this month is going to be fun.

That said, I'm not the only set of eyes on these proofs; a freelance proofreader from Ace is also going over them. Nor am I the only one working through the stacks. There's a real temptation to feel like the weight of everything in all worlds rests on me -- that I am that solitary legume under a hundred mattresses, trying to feel up the princess called Success. I wouldn't be a writer if I didn't have some isolationist tendencies, that urge to work in solitude. But I'm not working alone. I just need to remember that.

Now, back to work! (Countdown: 6)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Re: Nightmares

Another blog I read offered a challenge recently to write a short story of 500 words or less on the topic of a character experiencing a nightmare. As my current work-in-progress uses a lot of dreams, I thought I'd give it a shot, for practice. This one dips back into Stuff of Legends, and is less of a funny piece than my usual; feedback is welcome. (Countdown: 7)


In his dream, Jordan the Red is a young man again, the hero of song and story. He is walking along a country road between rows of poplar trees. The rustling leaves sound like the ocean, and the sunlight slanting through swaying branches lays waves across the road: light, dark. Light, dark. The tide carries him forward.

His pace is leisurely, as if there is no necromantic horror waiting for him. By the time he reaches the boneyard at the end of the road, it will be night; setting demands that he face the field of erupted graves by moonlight. He knows this, but cannot force himself to walk faster. All this is a matter of record. His feet can only move at their historical speed.

He wants to grab himself by the shoulders – turn around, fool. Run away, as fast and as far as you can go. But he has no power over himself, and cannot change his course. A glimpse of hell is ahead of him, a hell that is indeed other people: the ones he cannot save. The dream may end before he looks through that gate, or it may not, but the prospect of it does not scare him half so much as being trapped in his own body as it strolls inexorably toward his destiny of the month.

His lips part. He tries to make them scream, but what comes out is a cheery whistle.

The notes blend with the wash of the leaves into a serpent's whisper:

“Remember, you wanted this...”


Jordan doesn’t scream as he wakes; he has woken from this nightmare too many times before. He shakes out his blanket to lift the familiar sweat from his skin, then closes his eyes again.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Viking Oath: By Ography!

This late at night, that's what it sounds like to me, anyway.

I found my way onto's Author Central, a new resource utility for authors to promote themselves and their books. It provides a page where all your books are available in one easy location, space for a blog (or an RSS feed to your existing blog), events tracking, author photo, and of course, your biography.

I have trouble with biographies. Whenever I try to write one, it falls into one of three categories: unsatisfyingly short, excessively long, or sounds like it belongs on a dating website. When my editor asked for one to go in Stuff of Legends, I think I spent more time stressing about it than most of the editing suggestions. Still, that one is done and finalized -- short, as requested, and very plain. For Author Central, I'm going to try to be more creative. Wish me luck.

So, for those of you who've already worked out a good biography that you're happy with, my admiration. Any tips?

(Countdown: 8)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pitching Tips

After mentioning my pitch in the last entry, I thought I should expand on that a bit. Last year's ABNA contest was the first time I'd ever been asked to pitch my work, so I spent a fair bit of time researching how to write a good one ("researching" in this case being synonymous with "worrying myself sick over"). The ABNA forums were helpful, as were any number of other writers' blogs, but there's a lot of conflicting information out there. In the interests of throwing a little more into the mix, here are a few bits of advice that worked for me.

1. Know your story's most unique feature. Stuff of Legends brings together fantasy heroes and talent agents, so the opening of my pitch was about the setting: picture this world. If your story's best feature is the strength of its characters, don't hang the pitch on that alone -- sell what makes them stand out from everyone else's strong, well-written characters.

2. Let your style show through. If you've written a serious literary piece, show that you can turn out a smart phrase. Pitch comedy with a bit of humour. Example from my pitch: "Eliott wants an adventure with his hero, Jordan the Red, whose greatness rivals Beowulf and sliced bread."

3. Don't tease. Anything that boils down to "and if you want to know how it ends, you'll have to read the book" should be lanced. You don't have to spell everything out, but most people on the receiving end of a pitch have so many to choose from, they don't have time to be teased -- they want to know that you can bring the book to a strong conclusion before they commit themselves to reading it.

4. Clarity. Okay, this one's a tip from my theatre days, but really, a pitch is a lot like an audition, so it applies: Whatever approach you take to pitching your work, whatever you may choose to say, be clear. Say what your story is about succinctly. Cut out any details from your plot synopsis that veer away from the core storyline. Choose each word for the precise meaning it needs to convey, and have clear in your own mind the exact impression you want each word to make.

Writing a good pitch isn't easy. If I've learned anything from my research, it's that there's no magic formula; what will hook one reader may be rejected out of hand by another. But if I'm that reader, those four tips cover the areas where a pitch will catch or lose me.

On the creative side, I discovered a new character for the next book today: Caulix, the Halitotian (from the island of Halitos).

(Countdown: 9)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Getting Descriptive

Those of you obsessively refreshing the Stuff of Legends page at (okay, that's just me, isn't it?) may have noticed a small update: I now have a Product Description!

A true legend rescues maidens...pillages temples...and slaughters evil hordes...

But what does he do when all the fun is over?

When an annoyingly eager young man by the name of Eliott, his elfish guardian, and a bard-for-hire magically drop into the life of former hero Jordan the Red, the aged warrior wants nothing to do with them he's had enough of battling the world. But Eliott wants an adventure with the legendary, sword-swinging soldier of fortune-and this hero is about to be forced out of retirement.

Now, to be clear, this isn't something I wrote. It isn't even something that was run past me. I was sent some very similar wordage recently, but only for my own information (I have no idea what the folks at Ace would have done if I'd hated what they came up with, but luckily that's a non-issue in this case). There are also a couple of typos in the amazon write-up ("He's had enough of battling the world" should be its own sentence, "fortune-and" should be something other than hyphenated) -- but all that aside, I'm thrilled to see this. This is how someone other than me has chosen to describe my book, and y'know, it's not that far off the description I used to pitch Stuff of Legends in the first place, last year in the ABNA contest.

So what do you think? Does it do its job?

PS: Starting a count-down from today's blog post; keep watching. (10)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Edits and new perspectives

Lately, I've been seeing a lot of discussions floating around about how much a writer should be editing as they go along -- whether 'tis nobler, in the early draft, to suffer through the imperfections of phrase and content, or to take up the red pen against the offending passages and by opposing possibly rob oneself of momentum. Personally, I'm of the mind that there isn't a correct answer -- go with whatever gets you to the end of the first draft. But the question has made me look at how I'm working, and I noticed a technique I've been using to edit on the go without letting the small details hang me up.

(This does, by the way, mean that I'm making headway, even against the tide of form letters. Yesterday: 735 words vs. 33 letters.)

I have a scene early in the sequel to Stuff of Legends, in which Eliott and Cyral meet up in a tavern. For days, it's been troubling me, because their dialogue hasn't sounded right, and there's nothing that stalls me out worse (as a writer or a reader) than clunking dialogue. I know where the scene goes. I know where it starts. But each time I sit down with it, something goes astray.

Rather than take sandpaper (or more accurately, a chisel and a big hammer) to the phrases that aren't working, or ignore the clunk for now and push on, my answer has been to write a different scene. A scene that just happens to start and end the same way, with the same characters in the same location.

There's an improv game that works like this. Those of you who watched "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" may know this one: two performers talking, with a third one in the wings saying "change" at random moments. When he says "change", the performer who just spoke must immediately say something else that replaces her last line, and the scene continues using the replacement. I'm editing in the same way: Cyral's pleased to see Eliott. Change. Cyral's annoyed to see Eliott. Change. Cyral is preoccupied with his song and tries not to let Eliott distract him. Change. Each of these generates a mini-draft of its own until it reaches the end of the scene; then I look at it, see what works, where the dialogue sounds right, if there's another approach I'd like to try. After a few of these, I have enough pieces that the truth of the scene is showing up.

Plus, one or two juicy phrases that I'll fit in because I like them; they may not last the next major draft, but again -- good enough for now.

The key thing at this stage is assembling all the pieces. If I had to give one piece of advice from this (admittedly novice) stage of my career, it's Never Throw Anything Out. The mini-drafts each live in their own separate document file; stray paragraphs that need to be cut go into a scrapbook of clippings. With all the parts and perspectives and possibilities written down and visible at once, the final (first draft) version of the scene rattles out as easily as that one anecdote you tell at every party. Eliott and Cyral sound right, because they've been talking through a half-dozen conversations already. Things flow, because whatever snags I've hit in one mini-draft, I've avoided in one of the others. Without feeling like I've cut anything, I've re-written my way through -- and I now have a folder of potentially usable snippets of dialogue and description that may be useful later on.

So there's a glimpse of my approach. Again, whatever works to get to the end of the draft.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Running Tally

Words written for the sequel to Stuff of Legends today: 265.

Form letters folded and stuffed into envelopes: Somewhere in the vicinity of 350.

My other life is winning.

Don't get me wrong, they're both good lives; the one in which I sit in an office and sell tickets to people simply happens to be drawing on more of my time and energy lately than the one where I take up words against a world of wizards, pirates, and elves. Office-life is also not the one from which I blog (though if anyone wants to learn the minutia of thermal ticket stock ordering or building a complimentary childcare matinee, let me know) -- hence the lack of posts here lately. One day, it'll be really nice to catch myself wondering how I could fit in a couple hours of office work between chapters...

But yes, the writing carries on, in stolen moments. The writing about writing catches what grains of time slip through that thief's hands.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

After an Intermission...

I'm back here again. It's been a rough few weeks, as work (my other work, in the Box Office) and a general replacement of energy with stress have put a damper on both my writing and my desire to take my thoughts out for a walk around the blogging neighbourhood. But I'm writing again (5,000 solid words into the sequel to Stuff of Legends, plus a couple of short oddities), and I think I'm regaining some of my mirth.

So, to ease back into things, no deep thoughts today, but a link for that mirth thing. It's Shakespearean -- make of that what you will.

Copyediting Shakespeare

Monday, February 22, 2010

An Inspired Day

Today was all about getting things done: cleaning off some desk space, taking out the trash, following up on things I've let slip lately. I was expecting it would be a writing day, too -- I figure getting things done earns me a stretch of uninterrupted creativity, and I was looking forward to it. Ideas have been buzzing in my head lately.

But to my surprise, I couldn't get myself typing. Sitting at the computer, staring at the screen, rattling the keys, all of it felt like the wrong approach today. So instead, I stretched out in the sunlight, with fresh air blowing in through the windows, and started drawing. Pencils first, starting with the lightest 4H scratches until I had an idea of what I was putting down, then working my way up through the ranks of my Staedler-Mars box. As soon as my hands realised they had a reprieve from typing, they became exceedingly cooperative. The old strokes, lines and curves came back to me through the fingertips of memory. An hour or so later, I had a Stuff of Legends comic strip ready to be inked. This evening, the inks are dry, and two more pencil drafts are ready for their turn.

Tomorrow, I'll be back to the keyboard (I had to bargain with my hands for a blog post today; the rest of this comic strip story-arc will be hand-lettered instead of machine-done). The comic strip (of which I include a sample here) will appear over at the Comic Genesis site, and most likely I'll be working head-first whether I'm drawing or writing.

But some days, it does feel good to let inspiration take you by the hands.


PS: Publishers Weekly ran an article about the ABNA Contest; I'm quoted in it, if you're interested in such things.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

It's late and I'm tired... today's post is simply a link to an aptly-named podcast I enjoy.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Rant, Because I Haven't Done One Yet

I found these linked on Neil Gaiman's blog:

There's some good advice in there about how to write, the best of which (in my mind) boils down to "Write". What I don't like is when advice gets set down as Rules. Writing isn't a game, and there is no all-hallowed Book of the Laws; you win no points for every page you complete without the use of adverbs, and your book will not be the subject of an exorcism for excessive description.

Now, before I go any further, I will clarify: I'm not talking about how to get writing published, or how to write better (which I define as writing for clarity of intent, for the greatest level of literary telepathy between author and reader). Those things, I'm still learning, and there may yet be gold-lettered Rules on iron tablets somewhere. But in the act of writing itself, there are no rules, only guidelines and suggestions, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something.

To be a writer, you sit down (or stand up, or lie down -- your choice) and write. Pen, paper, keyboard, typewriter, it doesn't matter -- your real tools are words (learn as many as you can, their meanings, uses and implications) and ideas. Find a coherent path from beginning to end and tell that story. That's it. Put aside any other worries about whether you're doing it right, and tell the story. Once the first draft is down in words, and likely the second and third drafts after it, then would be the time to start thinking about your favourite author's tips and tricks, or the house style of your ideal publisher, or the literary trends of the current era.

And I do mean, think about them. Understand and acknowledge why these writers, or readers, or editors make their suggestions or injunctions. Early drafts exist to be improved, and (to come full circle) there is a lot of good advice out there.

But don't just blindly follow the Rules, and don't let a fear of doing something wrong stop you from getting that first draft written.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Story Skeletons

The weather, though much improved, continues to be over me, and so my quills continue to be more DayQuil than ink-dipped. When I'm writing stuff like that, I know I shouldn't be working on any of my real writing. So, instead, you get me here on the blog.

Today, a glimpse of the bones beneath Stuff of Legends. If you've read the comic, you've already seen a bit of it. No, not the characters or the backstory -- I mean the outline. Turned sideways, it was the background for the last series of strips, starting here.

I work a lot on outlines before I start to write. It's a fairly new development, after a lot of years of improv-writing that started strong and went nowhere, but I'm hooked on it now. I start with a one-paragraph outline -- who are the characters, what do they want, what gets in their way, what do they do to overcome it.

  • Eliott wants to have an adventure with Jordan, but Jordan is retired, so Eliott teams up with Jordan's old agent, Glister, to force an adventure on Jordan.
From there it expands. How can I give it an act-structure? What would be a really cool scene to write? Most importantly, how does it begin and end? I do this a few times, each one in a fresh text file or on a new, blank page, re-writing everything each time, until the outline is a page or two long. By this time, most of the characters have appeared, and the scenes I'm looking forward to writing -- there'll be a dragon, and side-track through a forest that involves goblins -- and I have a clear idea of where the story starts and what the individual and overall resolutions are. Some bits are still vague -- "Jordan nearly gets to fight the dragon, but it escapes" -- but even if I don't know exactly what happens, I still know there's a scene there I'll have to write. If a line of dialogue has jumped out at me, I bracket it and put it in -- Eliott meets Jordan ("I want to be just like you!").

The next phase is, again, an expansion, but this time I'm splitting my outline up into what I imagine will be chapter breaks. I'm frequently wrong, and the breaks dance like amoebae at a jazz club, but they're a good starting place. Each would-be chapter gets its own paragraph, with as much detail as I can assign to it. Some fill out because of the scenes I want to write, some balloon into being because I'm rushing too quickly from one scene to the next.

Once the chapters are established, I finally begin to write. Because everything is laid out in front of me, I usually pick a scene that sounds like fun and start from there; the first thing I wrote in Stuff of Legends was what is now Chapter 5, in Glister Starmacher's office. A now-cut introduction scene before Eliott appeared in Chapter 1 came soon after. The flesh grew onto the bones in bits and pieces, wherever caught my interest on a given day.

Having a solid structure provides me the freedom to write non-sequentially, and lets me imagine my novel as a sort of reverse-zombie. I wouldn't want it any other way.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Language of Fantasy

First, a warning: I've come down with an obnoxious head-cold, and anything I write is already labouring through DayQuil and the stuff of sinuses. Take it all with two grains of salt, and I'll proof-read it in the morning.

One of the last pieces of editing I did was in response to my editor querying if a line of dialogue, spoken by the leader of a pack of goblins, was still in Goblin, or if he had switched languages. This gave me a bit of difficulty, because while I knew what language the goblin was using, I didn't want to come right out and name it. As I've said before, Stuff of Legends is set in a medieval pseudo-Europe, a place where real dragons and wizards exist alongside the legends of Charlemagne and Atlantis, and the characters are more likely to vacation in the south of Spain (I hear it's lovely) than in the starlit fields of FantasmoriƩn or Ulth (of which I know little). The problem with this is, it's hard to convince people that, if there even is a common language in this pseudo-Europe, it's not English or (Tolkien-forbid) Common. French or Latin, possibly, but what would you think if, halfway through the book, I dropped it on you that everyone had been speaking French this whole time? I don't want anyone to be abruptly pulled out of the story by having to think about the languages.

Because the language the goblin is speaking as he barters with Cyral, the language everyone speaks, is the one you hear in your head. Headish is the universal language of readers, the default for all fantasy speech, and in my opinion, the less attention paid to it, the better.

My trick, in the end, was to tag the goblin's speech as "a passable mimic of Cyral's own voice and dialect", which I think successfully dodges the issue. Now, hopefully, by the time you're reading Stuff of Legends, you'll have forgotten all about this post, and won't get distracted by wondering if that dialect is French.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love of Words

I received a gift today: a brand-new, 15th edition, Chicago Manual of Style. I may not be online as much for the next few days.

I've spent many happy hours browsing the Q & A section of CMS Online -- I highly recommend it for insight, technical expertise, and dry wit.

Happy Valentines' Day to all, or for those who prefer, Happy Day-Before-Cheap-Chocolate. (If you don't like chocolate or Valentine's Day, then have a Happy Day, because we all need more of those regardless of calendar date.)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Whose Head Am I In, Anyway?

Lately, I've been reading samples of writing from other peoples -- friends and acquaintances and that strange demographic of hopeful new writers who think I can offer helpful advice -- and I'm fascinated by how many people start off with an obscured narrator. The first character I'm introduced to is simply "He" or "She", or an undefined subject such as, "With the sun coming up, all that was left to do was hide the body." And this can stretch out for paragraphs, even pages, without giving me anything as solid as a name to latch on to.

Now, as a style choice, I won't say it doesn't work -- I picture it like a cinematic sequence, where the camera avoids the actor's face. I see his boots, the back of his head, the crowd moving around him, animals reacting to his presence, but I have no idea who he is yet. It puts me in mind of assassination plots and thrillers -- the longer I read without learning a character's name, the longer I assume there's a reason it's being concealed from me, that this is a ghost or a spy, and very likely the scene will end with a muted gunshot -- pvvvft.

What I will say, though, is that the technique doesn't work for me. I need to put a name to my characters, and I need to get it onto the page early on. I want to know in the first paragraph whose eyes I'm borrowing when I'm reading or writing about the scenery. If at all possible, I want to slip in a few physical details in the first page, especially if my focal character is an elf or a dwarf or a seven-eyed spider-rabbit -- it doesn't need to be a self-examination in a full-length mirror, but at least give me a hint (the best writing, in my opinion, includes these details so subtly that I'm not even aware of them until afterward, when I suddenly wonder why my mental image of the character is what it is).

I'll throw this out to everyone reading: Do you ever write with an intentionally obscured narrator? Does the technique work for you, as a writer or a reader? How long do you let the opening of your work go on before you introduce the character from whose point of view you'll be telling the rest of the story/chapter/scene?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sir Not Appearing In This Book

As I'm feeling a bit under the weather today, and my brain is slightly fuzzy, I won't try to impart any useful information about being an author or getting published -- you have been warned. Instead, I'm going to ramble about two characters who didn't make it from the webcomic into the novel -- two of my favourite characters, who I was sad not to be able to make room for: Bard the bard, and Alec James of the Physicians' Guild.

When I originally wrote Stuff of Legends as a webcomic, it was an ensemble piece. The early strips are just Jordan and Eliott, but all the characters were there -- Kess, Alec, Bard, even Glister (though not Cyral... more on him later). I found the characters as I discovered how to draw them, feeling out their personalities as I worked out straight or curved lines; how their hair fell; the shape of their noses. By the time I drew the first strip, I already had the lead five planned out and knew how they'd play off each other. By the time Cyranan de Bergerat had added his smug piccolo to the strip, I couldn't imagine working without the harmony of all their voices.

But the novel needed a different balance, and six was more than a crowd.

I knew the story was going to be about Jordan the Red and his relationship with Eliott, so they had to be there. Kess, as Eliott's magical helper (don't get me started on "the Monomyth"), had to be there to set things in motion -- and originally, that was going to be it. Those three voices, in a love-triangle not with each other but with the ideas of stories and adventure. I was deep into the third draft of the outline before I discovered that I needed a fourth voice, a snarky professional to balance the triangle when Jordan the Red stepped away from it. I almost brought Alec James back to fill that role.

Now, Bard the bard, I'd excluded almost as soon as I thought of converting the comic to a prose novel. A character whose gimmick was that he was incomprehensible to everyone around him (including the readers), who was at once feral and street-wise, and who generally lived in his own substitute reality, struck me as too much of a challenge -- and too much of an infringement on a certain bibliophile orangutan. Since then, I have thought of at least two possible ways to deal with his mumbling, and a fairly nebulous idea for a story about his journey back from the Entertainers' Guild to his adoptive yeti parents in the pseudo-Himalayas, but that's getting ahead of myself.

Without Bard, Alec James was only half of an odd couple. He didn't fit in as novel-Eliott's personal physician, and no one else seemed in need of a doctor. What he did have was a dry sense of humour and an attitude towards his job that was six parts grudge to four parts defiance of anyone trying to stop him from doing that job. So, like the good doctor he was, he became a personality donor for the one major character created new for the novel, the freshly-minted bard, Cyral Gideon. Cyral is my Frankenstein's monster of a character, when I look at him closely (or as Alec would suggest, dissect him). His first name, and most of his physical traits come from Cyranan de Bergerat. His personality is stitched together from Alec James and several 18th century explorers I'd researched for an earlier (abandoned) novel, with a dash of the previously-hinted-at Cyrano de Bergerac in his melancholy. His face is borrowed from Keats. His last name is a nod to Gideon Spilett of Mysterious Island.

Despite the excision of Alec and Bard from the key cast of the novel, however, I couldn't resist slipping them each in for a cameo appearance. They're still in the adjusted universe of Stuff of Legends, and in due time, their story will be told.

This has gone much longer than planned -- I did warn you it would be a ramble -- but I'll end it with what may be an authorial tip after all: like the "Little Darling" phrases that so often need to be cut out of a manuscript, if something isn't working in a story, don't be afraid to remove a favourite character. Some harmonies are better with fewer voices.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

These Things Don't Write Themselves

Another element of the business of turning words into a shelf-occupant has been revealed to me recently: getting the cover blurbs. I'm not sure what magic I'd thought caused these wondrous commentaries to appear on back covers -- perhaps, in my naive imagination, famous authors and critics spend their free days wandering through quaint, cramped book-repositories until some imp of serendipity pushes an unsung novel off the shelf; the author seizes upon it, reads it, falls in love with the words and simply must write to the publisher of such a jewel, singing its praises.

Apparently not. If there are such imps, they are firmly in the employ of my publishers, and they work very hard to get the blurbs. "Approach" is the word my editor uses: she's going to approach a number of authors on her list. We'll try to make contact. We'll see what a certain highly-recognizable-name author might be willing to provide. The amount of networking going on behind the scenes to garner the quotes I've previously taken for granted is daunting, and I'm certain that I'm seeing only the smallest fraction of that work. I'll be receiving some copies of Stuff of Legends in pre-galley form (we're apparently in a rush) to distribute myself, which makes me regret not having a close circle of author-friends to call on for blurbs. I fear I'm not going to be help at this stage, unless I can find a bottle with one of those imps in it...

On the more creative side of things, last night I believe I found the key to the opening scene of my sequel: re-telling the epilogue of Stuff of Legends, from Kess's perspective as she re-visits those events in a lucid elf-dream. Personal moment of literary satisfaction: re-using the same line of dialogue with a completely changed meaning by framing it differently within the dream. I have no idea if this conceit will survive to the second draft, but it's good enough to keep me running, and to quote Jordan the Red, "it's working for now, and now's all that matters."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Funny Fantasy

This morning was business: redrafting the look of my website over at Comic Genesis, posting on forums, getting my name and my book a little bit farther out there into the web-consciousness. It's not as much fun as sitting down with Kess and Eliott and plotting out their ongoing adventures, but it's all part of the process.

One of my posts was in a thread about comedy writing on the ABNA discussion boards, where I described Stuff of Legends as "funny fantasy", which I'm told is the correct term for that odd fantasy/humour hybrid where someone getting eaten by a dragon makes you laugh. This made me think about my automatic assumption that everyone who reads this blog or hears me refer to Stuff of Legends knows that it's both of those things -- because, hey, I know everything about this book, so of course you do, too.

Silly, silly author.

So, for the record and pending an official cover blurb, Stuff of Legends is a satirical fantasy about heroism and celebrity, in a pseudo-Europe-ish world where sword-swinging dragon slayers not only defeat demon armies but also have their deeds orchestrated and marketed by talent agents and bards. Jordan the Red was one of these heroes, until he retired and went into hiding. Twenty years later, his past catches up with him in the form of fifteen-year-old Eliott, his greatest fan, who brings Jordan back to the attention of his agent, Glister Starmacher. With Eliott's best friend and former babysitter, Kess, and newly-certified bard Cyral Gideon along for the ride, Jordan must once again defeat evil wizards and dragons, this time to save the very people responsible for creating his legend in the first place.

I hope you'll laugh at the dragon.

Monday, February 8, 2010

An Introduction

Today, I sent what I believe will be the final draft of my first novel, Stuff of Legends, to my editor. Six months from now, I will be published. The reality of this is still sinking in -- characters I first created as sketchy doodles and a story I jotted down in three paragraphs one lunch hour will be sharing shelf space with Tolkien's hobbits, Terry Pratchett's wizards, and George R.R. Martin's sellswords. I will be able to open a crisp, trade paperback copy of Stuff of Legends and breathe in that new book smell.

This blog will be about that experience, and the path that has brought Stuff of Legends -- and me -- from idea to publication. I'll be writing about the technical aspects when those are at the forefront of my thoughts, and about the creative process and the wild ideas that tumble over the waterwheel of my brain during the long stretches where I'm not actively needed in the publication process. I'll try to answer questions, if this blog draws an inquiring audience. I may even post some of the sketches, doodles, and pseudo-strips I used as writing tools during my first drafts, though those will be back at the original home of Stuff of Legends: the webcomic, back at Comic Genesis.

I'll end with a Publication Process Quote of the Day, this one from my editor: "I think that's it."

Sincerely, your scribe,

~Ian Gibson