Haiku Sunday – Hunt

“Hunt”

Scouting the terrain

from selective vantage points

to find nesting ground.

Steve D

I’m not a hunter, by the way. The wife and I have started exploring specific areas of Maryland to identify neighborhoods we like for our next house — we we intend to be our “forever home”. We’re not ready to buy, unless we find the perfect place, but we’re enjoying casually looking with no strings attached or expectations. And it gives us an excuse to take the toddler and the dog on mini adventures in random parks we find.

July Write Day: Summer Writing

June was a solid month. We’re already a week into July, so I don’t have many other reflections. Let’s get to it.

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Write 9,000 words.
  2. Spend more time outside.
  3. Read 3 books.

So how did I do?!

Write 9,000 words?!

Can you tell I’m excited about this one? I did it! All it took was a ridiculous surge of 2,100 words on the last night of the month, but I did it.

I started off the month really strong, for once, but started to fall off about halfway through. The final weekend we were at a family wedding, so I have an excuse there. Otherwise, I left too many gaps between writing sessions. Even one or two additional sessions of a couple hundred words would have made that final night far less grueling. But once I got close, I couldn’t not finish.

That gave me 15 days of writing, with 18 total writing sessions. Those three broken sessions where I started writing and then came back later to continue in the same day were strangely helpful. I was also pretty good about writing immediately after work to not lose motivation, even if some of those only took small bites out of my word count goal.

The Herb Witch Tales Progress

It’s been a while since I’ve really talked about my work-in-progress, so I just want to touch on it for a moment. I’m on my second rewrite and third draft of Uprooted, The Herb Witch Tales #1. I knew I had to rethink some of the big plot points, and there have been some substantial changes. This story may end up ending differently, or maybe even longer than I had intended.

I currently have 22,000 words of what I had aimed to be a 35,000-word novella. But at two-thirds the way there, I don’t think my characters can make it to the original endpoint. So I’m debating whether Uprooted needs to be longer, or if it maybe needs to end in a slightly different place.

I know where I want the characters to end up eventually, but maybe they don’t get there until part 2. I’d be okay with that. Right now, I’m trying not to box myself into a specific ending or a specific word count. I want to finish the story, however I get there. That just means I’ll have even larger changes to make to part 2, which is still in its first draft.

I’m really enjoying the process, though.

Spend more time outside?

We haven’t gone for any hikes yet, but I feel like we’ve spent a fair amount of time outside. We’ve hit the record-breaking heatwave part of summer now, and the toddler is not as interested in going outside. He’s definitely an autumn/winter kid.

On Father’s Day I took him to a field near our house where he literally ran back and forth for 30 minutes.

But with storm season in full swing, it looks like we’ll get a few days where the heat breaks and it will be bearable for a hike in the woods.

Read 3 books?

GoodReads says I finished three books in June, but it was really more like four. I finished reading The Return of the King towards the end of the month, then spent another few days reading some of the appendices, which carried my finish date into July. Considering I finished three other books in June, though, I don’t care too much about the timing. One of those was the very long In the Land of Time: And Other Fantasy Tales, an omnibus of Lord Dunsany’s work edited by S.T. Joshi. That took me several months to get through, although I took a pretty long break from it.

I enjoyed it overall, but wasn’t a fan of the narrator. I think I need to buy this volume in print and spend more time with it, maybe reading one or stories at a time and letting them stew a bit.

Goals for July

  1. Write 10,000 words. This is my goal for Camp NaNoWriMo, and last month gave me confidence that I can actually achieve it. With all of the changes to Uprooted, I know there will be even more to my unofficially untitled part 2, and I want to be able to bring both to conventions next year. I really need to accelerate my writing progress the next few months.
  2. Read 3 books. I like this as a standard goal.
  3. Enjoy parental leave. We’re due to have our second child at the end of the month, so… that’s exciting! I’ll be taking three weeks of leave to be home with mom and baby, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Steve D

Book Review: BALANCED ON THE BLADE’S EDGE, DRAGON BLOOD Book 1

I was in the mood for a new (to me) fantasy series, and Audible happened to read my mind in that moment and present me with the Dragon Blood series by Lindsay Buroker. This omnibus includes books 1-3 in what is evidently a 7-book series. It was free, so I figured why not? I decided to give book 1 a shot.

I had no expectations going into Balanced on the Blade’s Edge, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a fun fantasy story with an interesting premise and solid protagonists.

The book opens more like a military fantasy, which I was not expecting, complete with all the trappings of a troubled soldier heading into a meeting with a superior officer.

Ridge appears at first glance to be a typical bad-boy cliche of an officer and a pilot, but ends up being more likeable as the story goes on. He’s prideful but tries to do right by those under his command. Sardelle is a little more cunning than her bookish personality would make her out to be, and Jaxi really does sound like a teenager trapped in a soul blade.

I was also not prepared for the more steampunk setting, replete with blimps, open-topped “flyers”, and cannons. This type of technology felt natural for the story, so that I didn’t even realize it was steampunk until I saw the term used in a different review.

There was one particular romance scene that was a bit more than I normally would have looked for, but it also served the plot and the characters.

Overall, I enjoyed this read, and I’ve already decided to give the second book a try.

Steve D

Story Lessons from THE LORD OF THE RINGS, part 3

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

After some lackluster reading recently, I am embarking on an epic quest: to reread The Lord of the Rings! I will not be reviewing these stories in a critical sense, because how could I? Instead, I will share some storytelling insights I pick up as I go along.

This will be primarily focused on the books, but I will also reference the films by Peter Jackson to compare the stories as they are told between these two media. See part 1 and part 2.

It’s been nearly two months since my last entry in this mini-series, so I thought I’d provide some additional thoughts. I am almost halfway through The Return of the King and only just now realizing that I read through all of The Two Towers without a single post like this. Oh well. I’ll try to highlight some story lessons from the last book-and-a-half and then perhaps wrap up this mini-series once I’ve completed book three.

Like last time, I’m just going to jump in. I’ll try to keep these in chronological order relative to the sections/chapters that inspired them.

Glimpses of the Wider World

Tolkien is obviously known for his world-building prowess, but I think there are several examples of this that are not talked about often, and which particularly intrigued me.

The first is several references between books 2 and 3 to the “war in the north”, a large assault that Sauron sent from the Black Gate to the kingdoms of Dale and Erebor, where the descendants of Dane and Bard had to hold their own against virtual annihilation. I haven’t yet read the appendices at the end of The Return of the King, but I know this is referenced somewhere in there.

Still, it’s astonishing to me that a massive part of the War of the Ring is mentioned only in passing. I want to read about the war in the north! Can you imagine how long this series would have been if Tolkien had actually included the different battlefronts? That would have been at least two additional books.

Anyway, I think this point is lost on movie viewers. Peter Jackson’s films, by necessity, focus on the immediate battles shown in the books, but to casual viewers, it makes it seem like the war was fought and won in exactly two battles — four if you count the skirmishes between Faramir’s forces and the Haradrim, and the last defense of Osgiliath.

The second time I really felt the wider world was in the third book when the Rohirrim are marching to Gondor. They apss through the woods, where Wild Men guide them in secret past additional forces Sauron had sent into Rohan, thus allowing them to reach Minas Tirith in the midst of its siege.

Story Lessons

  1. Demonstrate scale of events, not just place. In a previous post I mentioned the sense of scale of the world itself, such as a 10-day journey to pass over/under one mountain. The first example I mentioned above, the “war in the north”, lends scale of a different sort to the story. This is a scale of events. This massive war, the one that would define the end of the Third Age of Middle Earth and set the stage for the Fourth, had to have more than just a few battles or a few primary actors. Even though we don’t get much detail about the defense of Dale and Erebor against Sauron, the fact that we hear about it tells us that this is not just a war for Gondor. It truly is a war for all of Middle Earth, and the Free Peoples are too scattered to fight side-by-side. This is a war of immense proportions, and Tolkien allows the reader to imagine what that looked like.
  2. Diversity within smaller geographic regions. I think this is a point that a lot of fantasy misses. Most peoples in a given region or “nation” are shown as monolithic cultures with little internal diversity, unless the story is specifically detailing internal political strife between different groups. “The Ride of the Rohirrim” shows us that although Rohan is a powerful kingdom, they are not the only cultural group within their own borders. The Wild Men have a history of conflict with both Rohan and Gondor, but they find common cause against the orcs that are rampaging across Rohan.

Characters Who Feel Too Small for the Moment

In the chapters leading up to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, both Merry and Pippin express to various characters that this coming war feels too big for them to have any real part. This is exemplified in Pippin’s offer of service to Denethor, where he admits that his service may be of little use to the Steward of Gondor, and when Merry pleads with Theoden to allow him to ride with the Rohirrim to battle and is subsequently denied.

Not only did these characters feel the dread leading up to the battle, but they also could not believe their experiences after the fact. Pippin sits with Merry in “The Houses of Healing”, where Merry expresses his own insignificance in this war:

Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could tend his garden in peace but for them, whether he knows about them or not.”

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Return of the King, Ballantine Books, 1965, pp. 179.

Story Lessons

  1. Allow your characters to feel emotional distress in the moment. Even in the lead-up to the war and the immediate aftermath, when there is still much for the characters to accomplish, these moments of both vulnerability and uncertainty of their own place in the story makes them feel relatable. How could we expect a hobbit from the cozy, protected country of the Shire to fully grasp a conflict of this scale, even as they are witnessing an event as momentous as the return of the King to Gondor. I think this is what endears the hobbits to readers so much. They are the most human of all the characters because of these vulnerabilities.
  2. Allow your characters to feel the weight of their actions after the fact. I always enjoy retrospective moments from characters in stories, a chance for both the character and the reader to process what has happened. These scenes often reveal much more about the characters than the more action-packed scenes that usually precede them. I think they also help maintain the emotional tone of the story. After several chapters of speeches and foreboding and war songs, a simple conversation between two friends helps the reader marvel at the previous 100+ pages of politicking and battle.

I intended for this post to be shorter than previous installments and it somehow ended up longer. I’m cutting myself off.

Steve D