Get the Words Out!

The podcast is being unleashed this weekend. It’s something I’ve been turning over in my mind for a few months, and the planets finally aligned for me enough to get the first two episodes launched.

I’m focusing on the task of creation in the craft of writing. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on creativity, characters, plots, setting, word counts, and how to break the logjam in your head.

Episode One is an introduction, but I hit the most frequently asked questions about writing that I find on the Internet.

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-rpfe9-b32b2e

Episode Two is a discussion of different ways that people try to write and how I think it can be improved. There’s a writing prompt in this episode and I plan to follow suit in most episodes moving forward.

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-upxfa-b32b26

Writing is not a spectator sport. You have to practice your craft to improve, and there’s no time like the present.

I’ve uploaded these first two episodes to Podbean.com. They should be available on iTunes and anywhere you get your podcasts within a few days.

If you’d like to know more about the podcast, please check out my patreon.com page…

What’s in a name?

One of the hardest things for me to do when I’m being creative is to name that thing which I have written into existence. Many times I search Google on prospective names, and most of the good ones always seem taken. Then we go through the mediocre and/or bizarre stuff, and I either can’t spell it, don’t like it, or won’t remember it.

Left-handed Blarg-eater

The same goes for NPC names and encounter town names. Names for inns and names for shopkeepers. Yes, I keep lists and stats and such like, but without my notes – I’m doomed. Doomed, I tell you.

Numbnutz Inn

And where did I put those notes? I’m quite sure they are with the map I can’t locate…..

On the way to West Coast Bay?

Enter: Hillport!

As you sit in your fishing dingy offshore on a lazy summer morning, Hillport rises to the North.  The expansive bay shelters commercial and fishing vessels, with their triangular sails and mysterious cargoes. At the pier for the ships and the fishing docks are shrines to the Master of the Void, as he is also known as the Lord of the Waters. People line up to placate him with offerings of fish (as if he didn’t have enough of those handy anyway).

Just offshore to the west are the merchant district and the most expensive markets.  To the east and below the river are the common folk and slaves, sheltering in their modest homes and quarters. Their life is not always easy and the streets are not kind. The military sweep through to try to arrest mischief-makers with few results.

The main body of Hillport rises behind the port, into the dim distance beyond. You can almost see the expensive estates with their colorful banners and greenery, beckoning to each other across the bay. Above the estates rises the highest temples in Hillport, monuments, and the capital buildings, gleaming in the rising sun.

The people are increasingly repressed and fearful. Hillport seems to be quite in control of the larger region. Blurred family allegiances among the nobility have created a climate of political inability. Some merchants who are able to, have already left for southern climes or they have sought out less known (and more dangerous) trails through the mountains to the east. This has left the Hillport armies in a position to sponsor merchants to stay, and leverage to muscle merchants opposed to them.

The merchant class and nobility wear loose pants and oversized shirts or blouses that are not tucked in, and come down mid-thigh. Brilliant colors speak volumes about the owner’s financial prowess, as many tints are expensive. Shirts and blouses are often highly decorated with needlepoint. Hats are fashionable, and might be either silk or leather. Ladies’ bonnets often boast huge brims (to show off how much they could afford of course) unless it is windy. Winter brings out knee-length sweaters and overcoats.  Shoes are unwieldy platforms of six inches or more in height, the soles primarily composed of selected hard wood with brass tacks in the bottom for extra noise. Even though most urban streets are paved and sewage is available, evidently they have an aversion to getting into any sort of street muck.

Those who can afford it are also driven around in large chariots. These large two-wheeled carts are easily pulled through the streets, and can usually be parked anywhere. It is common to fit the driver in front of the compartment, with room for four to be seated inside. For stability, some of the larger versions have a third wheel toward either the back or the front to even out the load. Chariots are pulled either by slaves, or by draft animals (with similar attitudes and treatment dished out from the passengers toward either).

Architecture

These folk live in sturdy homes of humble sorts – rectangular log and sod construction (like a log cabin). Upper class neighborhoods will boast at least two floors, and especially around Hillport you’ll find many homes of several stories and large yards and gardens.

Concrete is becoming a common building tool, but there is no consensus on how best to reinforce it. Concrete is used as statuary, pools and fountains, sidewalks and streets, and as a buttress. It was heavily used in the raising of the aqueduct that satiates Hillport’s thirst and need for cleanliness.

Cut glass of many colors and designs are used to highlight windows, show off hanging mobiles, and any manner of globes, beads, cameos, and sometimes inset into furniture.

Music

The two main forms of music in this are are martial and folk.  Martial music is heavily drummed with horns, and began as a means of keeping the armies moving along.  Folk music is a more broken rhythm with lilting flutes, often with softer drumming.

Armor

The Hillport army uses a banded bronze plate that is somewhat heavy, to cover the shoulders, chest and back. This is worn over bronze mail that extends down the arms and to mid-thigh. Depending on the season, leather leggings are worn with bronze greaves, or the greaves by themselves in high summer.

Shields are made from leather reinforced wood or wicker, both square and curved, giving ample canvass to the markings appropriate for the regiment and unit.

Bronze helms have cheek guards that come down to the jawline, and centurions and higher-ranked individuals will wear various crests of colored feathers or fur.

Weapons

Military weaponry choices will vary considerably, depending on the opponent.

Against civilians, ruffians, runaway slaves or other unarmored peoples, soldiers will use their short swords and shields. They will form ranks and lock shields, clearing streets of brigands and anybody else in the way.

Since bronze swords are not effective against armor, against an armored opponent the military will use a hook and punch combination.

Hook – a bronze arm reinforcement worn on the off-hand forearm. It has two large hooks or fingers on the end. These tines are anywhere from 6” to 18” long, and usually curve downward. The hook is used to get one or more of the hooks under the opponent’s armor and hold them in place for a more directed punch attack, and to fend off attacks from opponent melee weapons.

Punch – a very stout puncture weapon worn over the hand and forearm. A punch is a somewhat short but thick blade or spike of bronze. When the opponent has been ‘hooked’, the punch finishes them off at a very close range. The blades are not necessarily sharpened, but the point is always well maintained.

Spears, crossbows, axes, and staves are also used. Swords or whips are only normally used against unarmored people. Since there is no plate armor, pole arms are not really needed.

Hillport is walled with a series of great stone rings. The gates are bronze-plated and watched closely by guards that are rotated regularly. Watch towers appear above the walls at a distance of about two bowshots between them. The main port has a very tall stone tower that also serves as a lighthouse, where men with telescopes can view a wide expanse of the sea.

As the first experimentation with a Republic concept in TIRRA, Hillport is a large capital set amid the hills and peninsulas on the northwest coast. Claude, the Proconsul, rules Hillport with political help from his cronies in the Senate. Nearly twenty decades ago the Republic was founded with a great deal of internal fanfare – and much ridicule from its neighbors.  Kevis  had many uneasy days after the founding of Hillport until he committed suicide by drinking poison after the eighth year anniversary celebrations.

The official Hillport boundary is known by the Bertram River to the east; the Baldtops to the north; and the sea along its coastline – between two peninsulas.

Hillport is ridiculously wealthy, since it has mineral wealth.  The heavily fortified mines are in the hills, and they are a carefully guarded state resource. Most people who venture there don’t come back – or they end up working in the mines to ensure the state secrets. The streets of the capital are lined with statues, temples, obelisks, and opulent decorations for the purely decadent at heart. The local gold coin (the “wheel”) is proudly on official Hillport banners. Their bathhouses are elaborate miniature palaces, fit for socializing or entertaining.

With that wealth comes a large army and navy for an area that is essentially a city-state. This is strange since there are few rivals and no nations are threatening war. The old men are gossiping about war these days.  They fear a possible invasion of Malthos or Kaloram.  Hillport troops also roam Narzil, providing all defenses for that small country.

The wealthiest live in villas that are warm in the winter and breezy in the summers. The floors are built up so that the servants can make fires below to heat the floors and outer walls, which also provides hot water for the baths.

The other thing going for Hillport is their invention of concrete. With this strange mixture they are now able to build arches, streets, buildings, columns, and other more artistic pursuits. The secret of the concrete is being jealously guarded and each mixture of the substance borders on being a religious ritual.

The sad thing about Hillport is that they have leveraged their way into taking people into servitude from outlying areas that are poorly defended. Some people are outright slaves due to inability to pay real or imagined debts, and others are working off debts that were incurred and sadistically increased due to government sponsored merchant dealings in the area. These are the miners, street sweepers, house servants – performing all of the mean, dirty jobs nobody else will do. The life of a slave in Hillport, while often degrading, is usually secure from being tossed into the Coliseum or some other entertainment venue as a laugh for the mobs.

Oh, for a clump of Dup cheese!

A dup? And what is this about cheese?

Dups are used as pack animals and as dairy or meat sources from Hillport to Eaglebrook.Think of something between an American bison and a rhinocerous, and that is getting close to what a dup looks like. The legs are quite stout, and the shoulders mound up behind the head. Wool hangs down in huge hunks of molding hair, which is gathered and prized in the spring to make great sweaters! These beasts are slow moving unless they are provoked. The males have horns that jut out forcefully from the skull, and they are not afraid to use them – especially in rutting season.

The tundra nomads breed dups in the far north. The dup diet is vegetarian. It’s a little bit troublesome because sometimes dups are finicky eaters when traveling, so don’t plan on them eating provisions you brought along. Also, plan on quite a large volume of food for each dup. They always like their tundra grasses though, as long as they can dig down to them through the snow.  They travel better in the mountains than some pack animals, but they are much more adapted to the plains.

The shaggy coats are allowed to shed in the spring. Nomads don’t like to try to shear them, preferring to remove the shaggy wool from nettles and trees where the animals rub themselves to be rid of the heaviness before the summer heat arrives. Perhaps it is better to say the dups don’t like being sheared.

When dups are in the mating mood (early autumn), make sure you are some place else. Both sexes can be very difficult to keep under control at that time. Males will butt heads constantly until one backs down or is killed. Calves are born in the late spring, which is when the tundra is coming to life a little bit for a brief, warm summer.  They are full sized and ready for mating in 2 years. The lifespan is quite long – 25 to 40 years is not uncommon.

Yummm! Cheesy!
What dup cheese might look like?

Nomads use the milk of the dup females to make a strong cheese that smells a little bit like somebody vomited. It tastes pretty good though – especially on a cold day when you’re really hungry. Dup meat is quite rich and fortifying. One animal can feed a tribe for several weeks as needed. The meat is usually boiled down until it is very tender, and seasoned with heavy dollops of garlic, herbs, and other vegetables. The meat can be a little gamey, so additional spices are usually used. It makes for a very hearty stew!

South of the Northern Rim, dup meat is treated much the same as any other meat – jerked, smoked, fried, ground or in large cubes held briefly over a flame and consumed nearly raw.

Most of the animal can be used – including the hide, bones, teeth, horns and wool. Several internal organs are also consumed by the nomads. Perhaps if you travel there they may share their recipes with you?

Why the Age of Swords?

In the continent of TIRRA, I am setting the world notes in the Age of Swords. Why did I choose that era?

The ages each have meaning. TIRRA is lacking in iron, and therefore must make do with copper, zinc, nickel, and tin and so on. Swords made of bronze may look impressive, but they really just don’t hold up very well against an armored opponent.  Unless you are very good at only attacking soft spots on your opponents armor, your sword will dull and/or break eventually.

Which is why swords are reserved for unarmored opponents, and are becoming a symbol across large swaths of TIRRA as symbols of repression.

This then is the age when governments are sometimes finding advantage in slavery, and in forcibly keeping populations at fearful and oppressed.  Who will win – the swords or the peasants?

 

TIRRA Kickoff

This blog has lain fallow for nearly a year. Creatively I was just in a place where I didn’t have anything to say – due to a lot of reasons that should probably be left unsaid.

But, yes, it’s a nice sunny warm Sunday, and I’m inside pretending I’m very far away.

I’ve dusted off a creative project that has been neglected since January 2004. In those seven years I think I’ve made great strides in both writing and graphic editing. I plan to prove it – to myself if not to anybody else.

TIRRA is a continent on a planet in some other place. I’m setting up a detailed continent for RPG gamers and fiction writers.  Following the world book will be a rule book and a critter compendium of some sort. A lot of the groundwork has already been done over the years – stretching back to the 1980s!  So now it’s a matter of cleaning up loose ends, fixing up a few illustrations, and finding somebody to do some book covers or something.

Ideas are welcome, but please let me post a little bit more about what’s going on before we all get too excited. In some ways this is FAR bigger than a novel, with tons more information. In other ways it’s a place for me to put creative bits that I have not found a home for elsewhere. Besides, my writing style is best at characters and setting – I never really did master the whole ‘plot’ idea – so perhaps this is down my alley.

I’m not sure how much of the sun I’ll be seeing this spring….  But don’t worry, I’m having fun.

On Journaling

I’ve had a long flirtation with writing implements and papers. If I just don’t like the pen or the paper, I may as well play Solitaire because I won’t get anything significant done.  Yeah, I might be able to write a little, but I might as well toss it sooner rather than later.

Also, trying to write with somebody else’s pen or a borrowed bit of paper is like wearing somebody else’s underwear or using a strange toothbrush.  It just is not natural!  The media has to fit the message. I can’t write a novel on a chalkboard any more than I can put a dictionary on the back of a postage stamp.

About a hundred years ago, I was working in the broadcast industry during my college years. In those days there was a news machine in the hallway (or several) with rolls of paper inside.  When it was time to clear the machine and sort through the material, the paper was ripped off along a clear plastic edge and then further ripped between stories.  I used to liberate the bitter ends of the rolls of paper, and I gathered them in my dorm.  I taped the ends of the rolls together to make one really huge roll of paper.  I hung this roll of paper on the back of my typewriter when I was feeling somewhat manic about writing, and I could go for miles (well, feet anyway) at a time without reloading my typewriter with paper.  This was not the writing that would win the Pulitzer prize.  This was me just exploring my own creativity or dashing out a draft for a paper due in a few hours that needed to be retyped anyway onto regular paper.  I found the process to be fairly efficient compared to miles of liquid paper, retyping pages, and making rather a larger mess than I had to.

Part of my collegiate experience was keeping a journal. In those days it was a spiral bound notebook, and I had to turn it in for review by one of my writing instructors.  I write quickly by hand, almost in a code, and it can be difficult to read. Yes, these journals were also crap-filled but they did help me explore my thoughts a little more slowly and methodically than dashing things out on the everlasting gobstopper roll of newsprint.

I’ve tried fountain pens, felt-tip pens, ballpoint pens of all sorts. With a few exceptions, I really don’t like pens.  I fell in love with mechanical pencils instead.  A mechanical pencil does not need gravity, ink, time to dry, and the carbon lines do not smear very much.  Plus the eraser is a bonus.

I find that there is something in actually writing something by hand first that cements the ideas a little better for me. Plus, I find that when I’m drafting an early stage of a work, I NEED to doodle.  I draw little pictures in the margins, bits of maps to explain to myself how things are oriented, and I literally connect dots between thoughts.  There is no “doodle” function in Microsoft Word, in iWorks Pages, or in Open Office.  I know because I’ve searched in vain.  When I’m exploring an idea I don’t even really like lines on the paper because an occasional sentence may need to run down an edge, or a parenthetical thought may need to be skritched on.  Yeah, skritched.  Especially if I’m trying to get a bit of poetry right or a more sentimental narrative.

I’m convinced that sometimes you must slow down a little and write things by hand.  Would Thomas Jefferson have been as eloquent writing the Declaration of Independence if he were constrained to 140 characters at a time?  No.  Instead, he had the luxury of dipping his pen every few words. This gives an added bit of time for crafting what must be said instead of just blurting out something.  Perhaps today’s youth, on the other hand, are so tied into the digital world that this isn’t going to be an issue for them, and it is a conundrum for old fogies such as myself.

So, at the urging of a friend, I’ve returned to journaling.  I ordered two Moleskine journals and I’m going to see how that goes.  I’ve not really been on a creative streak for quite some time – both due to pressures on this side of the keyboard that keep dragging me back into reality, and a lack of anything to say.  Yes, they are rather a bit expensive for doodles and thoughts, but it is also a reminder to make the time count.  Wasted pages is wasted money and wasted time.  Get focused! Stay focused! Keep writing!

I also find wonderfully coincidental that I find this blog entry today as I’m writing this post [via Rachelle Gardner on Twitter]. I’ll be looking for more by Christa Allen.  Her post is about journaling, and she mentions Natalie Goldberg, who has gotten me out of more creativity jams than anybody else on the planet through her books.  Writing Down the Bones and the Wild Mind are highly recommended – you can find them in the same volume on Amazon.

When writing isn’t easy

I find my muse in the closet, behind the spot where the cat hides in storms, behind heavy coats, in the darkest safest place. She looks up at me above tear-streaked cheeks, with more moisture rolling down rosy tender curves.
I'm not working at that office today. I can spend some time with you. Are you doing okay?
A blank stare.
I need to do some writing, can you please come out for a bit?
Nothing.
I need you to not be afraid. There are no protests in Iran today. Can you come out?
A reluctant pout.
Is it Michael?
Nod.
Is it Farrah? Is it Ed? Is it David Carradine?
Nod. Nod. Nod.
Or is it Neda?
Sobs.
Hiding here in my closet won't make it feel any better. Would you like some chocolate?
Shrug.
Do you need more time?
Nod.
I understand. I really do. I'll just have to see what I can write without you.

Where do you find characters?

I've taken a nearly 30-day hiatus from this blog while I got heavily involved in this writing project. I don't always multitask well, so I felt it was better to streamline the number of pots I was putting my fingers into in any given day.

I even abandoned Twitter for the duration, which was actually kind of a relief.

But that's not what you're here for, is it?
Characters: Where do you find them?  

For today's thought, let's think about Serendipity.  
I often go people-watching.  I go with a purpose – not just to kill time.  Most recently I was in a coffee shop / restaurant, and decided to grab a large coffee and sit for a bit.  There were not many people in there at the time, so I selected a group of older women as my eavesdropping target and sat three tables away.  They had scrunched three tables together, and were chatting away animatedly with gales of laughter and titters of giggles.  This should be good, right?

I estimated that these ladies were in their 50s or so.  For all I knew it was the leftovers of a church prayer breakfast, a community social, or maybe an extended group of long time friends.

I was fully expecting conversations about kids, grandkids, husbands, jobs, the economy, politics, or the weather.  The bits of conversation I got initially were kind of confusing.  I stared out a window so that I wasn't looking at them, letting their words draw pictures for me in the sky, listening to the banter and the occasional giggles.

"Well, when I got busted, it was not like that at all!"

What?  These ladies were comparing arrest records and cop stories!  I listened longer.  There was a brief debate about some court procedures, and then the subject changed to an event they were planning.  I had missed the meat of the conversation.

But it got me thinking, I certainly would not have expected that conversation – which brings me to the power of surprise.  How many times have you written your fiction so that your characters always seem to be doing exactly what you would expect a person to do in that instance?

Real creativity lets you break out of conventional expectations and surprise people.  It should be just as full of surprises as life itself.