Category Archives: News

Running After Very Truly Run After

Some while back I said that I’d finished my next book, Very Truly Run After…and then I sent it off to Julie and discovered that I hadn’t.

Most authors have first readers. My process is a little different. As I’m writing the book, I read the new material to my wife Jane and my friend Ian. Reading it aloud is immensely helpful: prose that doesn’t flow sticks out and begs to be repaired, and anything that simply doesn’t work gets caught pretty quickly. But on the other hand, that means that Jane and Ian hear the story over a long period of time, and they aren’t likely to catch problems that are evident during a more normal reading.

By the time I finish the first draft I’ve got a list of small things to fix; and so I go back over the whole thing, fixing the problems and checking for typos, continuity errors, and bad phrasing. And then I’m “done”: I’ve done everything I know to do. And that’s when I send it off to Julie.

And then Julie started diffidently asking me questions. What about this? And that? I didn’t buy this part of it. And that second act drags something awful. Oh, and I liked this and this and this.

There are two ways to respond to this kind of criticism: you can get your knickers in a twist, or (if you trust the critic) you can set out to improve the book and deal with the problems. Now me, I’m a software engineer by profession. I expect feedback on my software. I expect users to tell me what works and what doesn’t work. I expect the testers to do their darnedest to break things. I don’t simply expect it; I rely on it.

So I took Julie’s feedback, and I looked things over, and gosh, she was right. All through the second act, whenever there was an opportunity to amp up the tension I preemptively figured out why everything was going to be OK, and put that in the text. To put it another way, as the plot unfolded I was more or less inserting big flashing neon signs saying, “Nothing to see here! Carry on with your reading, nothing bad is going to happen!” Because, you know, I like my characters, and hate to see them abused. Which might be charitable on my part, but doesn’t make for a good story.

So I’ve spent another two months making things better; and now I’m waiting to see how I did. I can’t wait to learn how it all comes out.

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photo credit: By Gleeson, Joseph M. (Joseph Michael), (1861- )? [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wodehouse and Haggard and Adams, Oh My!

Julie Davis has written a lovely review of my new book, Through Darkest Zymurgia!. You should go read it. (And the book, too!) Here's the money quote:

Through Darkest Zymurgia! is what you'd get if you crossed P.G. Wodehouse with H. Rider Haggard and sprinkled a generous dose of Douglas Adams over the whole.

I'm a little blown away by this. It would never have occurred to me, in any of the publicity for Zymurgia, to compare myself to either Wodehouse or Adams.

The comparison with Haggard is certainly apt; I set out to write a book of exploration and adventure in remote corners of a faux-Victorian fantasy setting, while Haggard wrote about exploration and adventure in remote corners of a real Victorian setting—and let me tell you, if you've not read King Solomon's Mines you should read that immediately after you read Zymurgia. Not that the two books are related in any way, but it's Haggard's best book, and you really should have read it by now.

But Wodehouse and Adams, I'd never have done that, and for several reasons:

  1. I've read a number of books by authors that were billed as the next Adams or Pratchett. They weren't.
  2. I think the book is funny…but then, I would. Whether you'll think it's funny, how can I tell?
  3. Is it as funny as Wodehouse or Adams? That's a really tall order. And then, although I'm quite fond of Wodehouse (the book contains two distinct homages to him) I wasn't trying to write like him; and I'm insufficiently madcap to write like Adams.
  4. I'm an engineer, and I completely lack the marketing gene. I can't perpetrate marketing hyperbole without feeling bad about it.

So there are no references to any of these three on the cover of the book, not even Haggard.

But Julie, on the other hand, isn't me, which is to say that she can be objective—and while her tastes and mine aren't identical, she's an insightful reader and a book reviewer of long standing whose reviews I've learned to trust. If she says my book is what you'd get if you crossed P.G. Wodehouse with H. Rider Haggard and then sprinkled Douglas Adams on top, then that's what it is, and it would be futile to deny it.

I'm glad to have that settled.

The Year of the Catholic Conspiracy

Today is the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena, which means that The Catholic Conspiracy has been trying to set the world on fire for a full year as of today. (Are we what we should be? We’re trying, at least. Sometimes we’re very trying.) (Rimshot.)

In honor of this achievement, we conspirators are hosting a giveaway. The winner will get a variety of books and suchlike from the various conspirators, including a brand-spanking-new paperback of Through Darkest Zymurgia! Check it out on the main Catholic Conspiracy page!

photo credit: DaPuglet Santa’s Little Pug Reindeer via photopin (license)

Through Darkest Zymurgia!

My latest book, Through Darkest Zymurgia!, is now available in print or as an e-book. It’s a Ripping Yarn of Exploration and Adventure in a faux-Victorian world with some surprising features and a good deal of understated humor. You’ll like it, I promise.

It’s cheaper as an e-book, but buy the print edition—it’s gorgeous.

Book News

Two quick items: first, I’ve completed the revisions of Very Truly Run After, the sequel to Vikings at Dino’s; it’s time to begin thinking about publication. This is very cool, and also means I can start thinking about the next book.

And second, we’re moving forward on the publication process for Through Darkest Zymurgia!. The cover and internals are complete, and I’ll be sending them to the printer for proofing some time next week. The above is the front cover, courtesy of Jason Bach and Julie Davis (on whom be praise!).

O Frabjous Day, Calloo, Callay!

As of this morning I have completed the first draft (106K words) of Very Truly Run After, the further adventures of Michael Henderson, much to the joy and delight of my first listeners.

Most authors have first readers; I have first listeners, which is to say a couple of folks I read the book too as I go along. I find that reading prose aloud is the best way to make sure it flows smoothly, and it means that I catch fragments and repeated words and the like sooner rather than later.

My first drafts are fairly complete as they stand, since I'm writing by the seat of my pants and since I usually begin a writing session by revising the work of the previous session. But there's still a lot to do. I need to re-read it for consistency, so that I don't change eye-color or given names in mid-stream; I need to clean up typos and peculiar spellings; and I usually end up adding a little color and description to scenes as I go along.

Nevertheless, this is a major milestone—the major milestone, really—and I'm quite pleased.

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photo credit: John Tenniel, public domain.

Christmas Break

This year the chief joy of my Christmas break from work, apart from Christmas itself, is that I can get up first thing in the morning, before anyone else is up, and work on Very Truly Run After. That's the best time of day for writing, for me, especially if I know the night before that that's what I'm going to do. My subconscious gets to chew on the story all night, and in the morning I make coffee, say Morning Prayer, and get to work. And because I'm not going into the office, I have both the time and energy to make something of it. I'm now at about 87.5K words and heading into the last act.

So, here's to hoping that your Christmas break is as pleasant and creative as mine!

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photo credit: DaPuglet Santa’s Little Pug Reindeer via photopin (license)

NaNoWriMo!

National Novel Writing Month is an event I usually honor in the breach; I begin a new novel when I have time, energy, and an idea I’m sufficiently intrigued by to want to chase for six months or a year. On top of that, the idea of completing a novel in one month is looney tunes; I seem to do most of the interesting work in my back brain, and that requires time for stuff to simmer. I usually manage one to three writing sessions a week, which three being the least usual; but I don’t necessarily get more down in three sessions than in two.

All that said, I’m glad to say that I’m now over 70,000 words into my current work in progress, Very Truly Run After; and that I plan to be working on it regularly throughout NaNoWriMo.

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photo credit: Marcin Wichary via photopin (license)

Draft Cover Art for Through Darkest Zymurgia

The publishing process for Through Darkest Zymurgia is proceeding apace! The layout of the inside of the book is complete, and now we just need to get the cover squared away. This is the current draft of the cover image, featuring professors Thintwhistle and Carbuncle and their dog Bruno investigating a new find, courtesy of Jason Bach.

The book is the story of a scientific expedition from Glastonbury University in Angland to the fabled land of Zymurgia. The world of Angland and Zymurgia is rather different than our own, being flat, unbounded (so far as anyone knows). Prof. Thintwhistle has this to say:

It is thought by the simple that if one were to ascend to the top of a sufficiently high tower, equipped with a sufficiently powerful telescope, that one would be able to see the entire world. This is, of course, absurd, and any child with an ounce of sense can see why. If the world really does stretch infinitely far in all directions, and there is no reason to believe that it does not, any tower of finite height is but a minuscule bump. At a sufficient distance from the tower, even a low range of hills would hide many details beyond. Foreshortening would have muddled all detail long before that.

Somewhat more lofty objections are made, late at night, by the sophomores at Glastonbury. “Well, now”, one would ask, “if you did, just for the sake of argument, ascend a high enough tower to see beyond the edge of the Known World, what would you see there? Nothing! It’s unknown, innit!” “But would it be blank? Or would it become Known as you watched?” Someone else would point out that the Lands of Fable lie beyond the Known World; it wouldn’t be blank, just uncertain. Eventually someone would drag out that horrid old chestnut, “If a country is inhabited, but nobody observes it, does it have a culture?” Yes, I am afraid I remember those days very well.