Category Archives: Art and Craft of Writing

I’m Teaching Classes on Novel Writing and Self-Publishing

I’m teaching a six-week class on the basics of novel writing at the Gig Harbor Campus of Tacoma Community College starting October fifth. It’s Novel Writing 101 with a focus on writer craft and editing.

I’m also doing a half-day class on self-publishing on October 14th for Poulsbo Parks and Recreation. This class will go step-by-step through the process of publishing an ebook and print book on Amazon.

If you know anyone who might be interested in either of these, please mention it to them.

 

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Fact and fiction in Magellan’s Navigator

Magellan’s Navigator sticks closely to the known facts of Magellan’s voyage. The dates are accurate. Every person named, with one exception, did have a part in the first circumnavigation of the world. There was a master gunner named Andrew who was from Bristol and who died of scurvy soon after leaving Guam. However, Andrew’s wife, Ana Estrada is my invention. On the other hand, Fidelia was Ginés’s wife and believing he was lost, she did remarry before he finally returned.

I used Albo’s logbook to fix the time and place of the fleet during its voyage. Antonio Pigafetta’s Report on the First Voyage Around the World gave me an eyewitness report of the people he met and the places he saw. My descriptions of the rajahs Humabon and Almanzor are from Pigafetta’s book. Also borrowed from Pigafetta are the lengthy lists of gifts to the rajahs. I am indebted to the late Tim Joyner for his book Magellan. His meticulously researched book uses Spanish and Portuguese sources, unlike many other books about Magellan. His fleet rosters are by far the most complete I’ve seen.

So what is fiction? I really don’t know because the events as told in Magellan’s Navigator are both plausible and possible. Historical sources contradict one another about the details of some events, like the mutiny. For example, while my explanation of the San Antonio’s capture during the mutiny can’t be proved, it also can’t be disproved. It is known that for some reason one of the mutineer ships floated helplessly to Magellan’s ships, and Albo could very well have been responsible for that happening.

I did have to simplify things by focusing on a limited number of crewmembers. I did that after early drafts thoroughly confused readers when I included all Albo’s shipmates. I apologize to Leone Pancaldo and the others who deserved to be mentioned, but had to be excised from the story for readability.

One issue I’d like to address is Albo’s ethnicity. Wikipedia lists Albo as being from Rodas, Spain. This is questionable. The Spanish roster simply lists Albo as being from Rodas with a birthplace of Axio. This is consistent with my having Albo being born in Thessaloniki on the Axios River in Greece, and his being most recently from Rhodes (Rodas.)  Roses is evidently an alternative spelling of Rodas. There is a small port of Roses in Catalonia, but I see no associated place name of Axios, which argues against Albo from being there. Andre Rossfelder’s In Pursuit of Longitude  makes the argument that Albo was from Roses, but concedes  he does not know whether Albo was Greek or Spanish. Numerous Portuguese and Spanish historians over the centuries have called Albo a Greek, so I went with the preponderance of opinion. In addition, S.E. Morison in his The European Discovery of America, the Southern Voyages cites a source that claims a survivor of the circumnavigation sailed with Piri Reis, the Ottoman admiral. We know what happened to most of the survivors afterward, except for Albo, who disappears from history. His being from Greece is consistent to his returning to the eastern Mediterranean and working with Piri Reis.

I hope you enjoy Magellan’s Navigator. It is available in print and paperback on Amazon. Just click the photo above.

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Genius, a movie about Maxwell Perkins and Wolfe

Genius, a movie about the great editor Maxwell Perkins (think Fitzgerald, Hemingway and more) and Thomas Wolfe is coming out. That will be a must see for me. If such things interest you, the following link will be of interest.

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/interviews/article/70466-four-questions-for-max-perkins-biographer-a-scott-berg.html?utm_source=Publishers+Weekly&utm_campaign=2edddcb834-UA-15906914-1&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0bb2959cbb-2edddcb834-304609113

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My First Take on the Pros and Cons of Scrivener

There’s more to writing a book than putting simply putting words into digital memory. Most novels have characters, plots, settings. Nonfiction books often have even more things to juggle. In the past for me, that’s meant each work-in-progress folder contains separate Word, Excel, and other documents. That’s cumbersome. If I forget the color of my Otto’s eyes, I have to leave my manuscript and search for the Otto character sheet, which slows down the writing process. This has become more important to me now that I have multiple books in the same science fiction universe.

Scrivener solves this organization problem by “binding” together your manuscript and various source documents so you can complete that “awkward first draft.” One, not multiple, mouse clicks will bring up any document you want.

I’ve now worked a bit with Scrivener and have a preliminary assessment.

Pros: The one click organization is a huge plus, although it takes some effort to get everything into the Scrivener software. The software also helps in the organization of your manuscript and makes it easy to move chapters around. This will probably be of more use to seat-of-the-pants writers as opposed to writers, like myself, who plot out their novels beforehand. It’d also be very useful to non-fiction writers.

Another pro is the cost. Scrivener regularly goes on sale, and with a little persistence you should be able to buy it for around $20.

Cons: There is no editor and I miss it. I personally try to write a reasonably clean first draft and appreciate Word flagging my misspellings, passive sentences, and grammatical monstrosities. However, for writers who focus on simply getting words to paper in the first draft, the lack of an editor may not bother you.

How I plan on using Scrivener? I think I’ll still do my manuscripts in Word. However, I’ll use Scrivener to organize all my background information. I’ll bring up Scrivener before I start to write, so then my character sheets etc will be at most two clicks away for reference. If I were writing a nonfiction book, I’d probably try doing the manuscript in Scrivener.

However you use it, Scrivener is well worth the money.

 

 

 

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Across a Billion Years by Sci Fi legend Robert Silverberg

Across a Billion Years is a first contact novel written by sci fi legend Robert Silverberg back in 1969. It’s interesting how some sci fi holds up well over the years, while other sci fi falls apart. Dune, for example, reads as well to me today as when I first turned a page in it forty plus years ago. It’s setting in a rather fantastical future helps. Sci fi that is more predictive, like Across a Billion Years, can more easily become book wormed with age. Fortunately, Across a Billion Years generally escapes this fate.

The year is 2375. Mankind has fast interstellar propulsion and interstellar communication via telepathy. (Space Sci fi requires both in some form or the author is severely limited.) The protagonist Tom Rice is a newly minted college graduate on an archaeological expedition to dig for artifacts on Highby V relating to The High Ones, who left their mark across the galaxy a billion years earlier.

The discovery of artifacts propels the plot as they attempt to discover the fate of The High Ones’ civilization. A subplot is the internal strains within the team brought on by racial tension between its five humans, five other alien races, and one human android. Another subplot concerns Rice’s romantic interests. Rice is initially quite naïve, and, although he doesn’t realize it, pretty opinionated and bigoted. He shows quite a bit of character development over the course of the novel.

The novel is presented as Rice’s communication to his sister as stored in a memory cube. That wouldn’t be my preference, but it works reasonably well.

The plot and subplots worked for me as did Rice’s character development. However, the book is more contemplative than action-packed. I thought the book floundered some at the end, and found the ending not satisfying. The secondary characters were rather lightly drawn, and more caricatures, than characters. I was particularly disappointed that the androids persona was explored more. Some of the science that was cutting edge in 1969, and that Silverberg spends many words on, is obsolete today, and not of interest to the modern reader.

Overall, the book was a quick read for me at 232 pages and maintained my interest. I rate it four stars considering its vintage. If it were modern, I’d knock it down a star. Personally, I think its regular Kindle price of $7.99 is too high, but I purchased it on sale via BookBub.

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BACKSTORY: INTRIGUING OR BORING?

writing clipartI like to write characters, or read about characters, with a rich backstory. I know writers who construct elaborate backstories for all their major characters. The question is then how, or even if, this backstory is revealed to the reader. I think this is best done slowly

That’s how Brandon Sanderson does it in his sprawling, wondrous Stormlight Archive series. He has two main protagonists Kaladin, an enslaved warrior, and Shallan, a minor noble lady with a gift for drawing. Sanderson’s treatment of them was masterful. When I finished a chapter, I never knew if the next page would carry the story forward, or reveal a peek at Kaladin or Shallan’s past. While I wanted to know what the future held for these characters, I also wanted to know what had led to Kaladin becoming a slave and Shallan who she was.

By comparison, I recently started the first book in science fiction epic series, which will remain unnamed. One chapter consisted of a two-page data dump of the character’s backstory, and then a page of largely forgettable action not essential to the overall story. Soon afterward, I gave up on the book for this and other issues despite liking the co-protagonists. Please, authors, don’t dump backstory on me. Tease me with it little by little.

Backstory fascinates me so much that I made it the crux of my upcoming book Mindfield. In it, the reader and the protagonist will discover his backstory at the same time.

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Looking Back at a Year of Writing

For me 2015 was a good year for writing.

In a nutshell:

Over 100,000 net words written
One book published: Truth-Teller Revenge
One book completed: Magellan’s Navigator
One book in beta edits: Mindfield.

Writing:

2014 was a year of learning how to edit and hone my craft. For this I give thanks to my traditional publisher’s editor. I spent 2015 using my improved craft.
The year started out in a frustrating way. My trad publisher punted the copy editing of Truth-Teller Revenge, so my wife Teresa and I edited it under a tight deadline. That completed, I rewrote my first novel, a historical fiction work about Magellan’s voyage of discovery. That book represented several years of research that I wasn’t willing to flush. Originally, this book was 120,000 words, had multiple points of view, and was too boring. I rewrote the book as an 80,000 word “discovered” memoir of the armada’s navigator and am now proud of it. That took until summer, when it went off to my wonderful beta-readers Dave, Kerry, and Laura. In the fall, I reedited it based on their recommendations. I’m now flogging it to agents as Magellan’s Navigator.
I conceived Mindfield in February, thanks Pam for the title, and started writing a few months later. I had a decent draft by October and edited it through year-end. It’s now in the hands of my beta readers. Final editing will start soon. I’m excited about this book. It’s my best book of the six I’ve written.

Publishing and Promoting:

I made a few baby steps in learning the world of publishing and book promotion. It began in frustration. Truth-Teller Revenge, which as a traditionally published book I have no control over pricing, bombed. I discovered promoting on my blog and to Facebook groups doesn’t cut it. My self-published thriller Download substantially outsold and outearned Revenge even though I had Download at a lower price point.
A glimmer of hope came when an author friend, Ann Roth, got me into an indie publishing Facebook group. What an education. Thank you, Ann. I’m now much better equipped to navigate the publishing world, be it traditional or self-publishing. It’s still a steep mountain to climb, but now I know where the path is and what boots to wear.
This year I’ll write Mindfield’s sequel and get Mindfield and Magellan’s Navigator published. It should be another fun year.

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