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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Recent Research – Language of the 20s

I recently read an article about how some language research used some analytics acquired through Google Books to compare the scripts from Mad Men to actual phrases in use at the time. This inspired me to reread some period literature from the 20s to identify phrases that we don’t use any more, and phrases that we still use. I’ll use this research in East of Yesterday to make sure the speech of my characters who belong in the 20s is authentic. Because this is a time travel novel, my main characters, Mike, Adele and Brad, will speak like they are from modern times–at least at first. But characters from the 20s should sound like they are from the 20s. African American characters should sound appropriate as well, but I will not attempt to use dialect. I thought I’d start with The Great Gatsby. Next, I believe I will read Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, because it, like Gatsby, was published in 1925 and probably has a good deal of dialog and slang. Lots of things have stayed the same, and other things have changed very subtly. You might get “tanked up” instead of drunk, and you would say “oughtn’t”. You would still use phrases like “Don’t you think” and “if you know what I mean.” Men refer to each other by their last name. It’s always Gatsby, almost never Jay (for men) unless you are a relation. Terms like “gypped” were still used, and men are still “crazy about” certain women, and vice versa, or maybe you “can’t stand” someone else. You might get “roaring drunk” and “have a gay time”. You would say “excepting” instead of “except” and you would still use the word “fortnight.” It’s a “gasline station” as often as it is a “gas station”.  Did someone thank you? A polite thing to say would still be “don’t mention it” or “don’t give it another thought”. And you would replace “whatsoever” with “whatever”. That’s all I’ve collected so far. Notice these aren’t necessarily slang–just common phrases that have change or may not have changed. I enjoy language research; I think it goes hand-in-hand with being a reader and a writer.

A Pre-Publication Summer

I thought you might be interested in all the little (and big) things I had to do with Carina Press in order to get Face in the Magic Mirror ready for publication next February.

  1. Review the contract. This took time. It should always take time. I went over it line by line, noted all the differences between this contract and my last one, and made sure I understood them.
  2. Developmental Edits. This is the first round of edits for major revisions. Alissa had a lot for me, and then as I went through and did the edits, I had a lot of other things I wanted to change. I had tight deadlines and had to keep Alissa informed of any delay. It was very much like having a second job.
  3. Line Edits. During this second round of edits, Alissa went over the story line-by-line. This is the funnest part of the edit process, because she puts these hilarious little comments in the margins about when things don’t make sense–or about when she especially loves something. I make revisions, respond to comments, and send it back. Then, she looks over the changes, responds to my comments, and sends it back to me again for one final look-through. And as the manuscript goes back and forth, comment threads actually develop.
  4. Copyedits. This part is still forthcoming. Another editor goes over it line by line once again, checking for continuity and basic grammar and style.
  5. Title Worksheet. This part was new to me because they want to change the title, and for The Sevenfold Spell, they kept my original title. I was never wild about “Face in the Magic Mirror” myself, so I agree that the title needs changing. As I completed the worksheet, I did come up with some titles that I liked much better, but I can’t share them with you now because none of them are official.
  6. Cover Art Worksheet. This is a lot of fun. In included a photo of a German farmhouse in it, along with some photos and paintings of Rhineland towns, my character descriptions, mood descriptions and story synopsis.

Still to come: the next step in of my title selection (now sure how that will work), the writing of the cover copy, review of the cover art, marketing plans, receipt of the review copies, and I am sure I’m forgetting something. A couple of months before publication date, it will appear at Amazon and elsewhere. Maybe it will be picked up by Audible, and for translations.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out compared to The Sevenfold Spell.

Laws of Physics, Adapted to Fiction

Because I thought it would be a fun and geeky thing to do, here are the laws of motion and friction, as applied to fiction. The cool thing is that the laws of physics totally apply–if you give them a little twist.

Every plot continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless compelled to change that state by external forces acted upon it.

All plots begin at rest. It needs that external force to get it moving. That force is conflict. Conflict is the energy (or fuel) that powers your novel. Even in a scene between two people who get along well, there must be some conflict, possibly in the form of an outside goal or problem, or a disagreement on how to solve it.

Forces must not only move it it a straight line, but other forces must provide those intriguing twists and turns necessary to keep the story going. The reader should not be able to see the ending from the beginning.

And just as in the real world, your novel does not float in a vacuum. There is a force acting upon it  that will drag it to a halt unless you apply more conflict. For that, we have the second law:

A plot will grind to a halt unless additional force is applied to it.

The time that it takes to read your novel acts as friction. Just as your car will roll to a stop when you run out of gas, your story needs fuel to keep it going. You can rely on  momentum for moments of backstory, but only make it a moment here and there, like bumps in the road, in order to maintain momentum.

For that reason, you cannot have backstory in the opening pages of your novel. At that point, we don’t yet have momentum, and the backstory will just keep the story at rest and make your reader set it aside.

If you decide you do need a hill of backstory, you must provide even more conflict to get us over that hill. So make your backstory count, and make it worth the fuel.

For every plot action, there must be an equal and opposite plot reaction.

Everything you do in the story must not only have a good reason for being done, but it must have a result. If someone does something, there must be a consequence. It is OK if that consequence does not occur immediately, but it must occur. And if it does not occur immediately, give a clue that it will happen. Otherwise the reader may stop reading.

When I was reading the 2nd book in The Deed of Paksenarrion, there was a spell placed on Paks that caused her to change her goals. For the reader, it was a rather abrupt change, and I didn’t know that she had a spell placed upon her. However, there was also an intriguing encounter with the elves, and it was enough to make me suspicious. I kept reading, and many chapters later, when I had put that encounter out of my mind, it came back, with a full explanation.

Here’s a twist on that law, as applied to revisions:

For every revision, there must be an equal and complementary re-revision.

If you change something in one place, you almost certainly will have to change something else in another place. When I make a tweak, I almost never make it in one place only. It always affects something else. So if you change something, go ahead and think about what it changes elsewhere. I usually plop a bookmark in my story (in the form of a special word style that shows up in the Navigation pane), find the other thing to change it, and change it right then and there. If I don’t change both places right then, I will forget to do it later.

If it changes nothing, then the scene is probably unnecessary. Consider scrapping it.

Just for fun, can you think of any laws of science that can apply to fiction?

Upcoming This Week, plus LinkedIn Question

Gosh! It’s dusty around here. I’m sorry about that! I don’t have an excuse for you, but I do have some reasons. Synonyms of the same thing? Perhaps!

On Monday, I have a fun little post called “Laws of Physics, Applied to Fiction”. It shows ways you can apply physics to the art of fiction–more specifically, the laws of motion and friction. They really do apply! Come back tomorrow to see how.

On Tuesday, I give you my litany of excuses reasons about what has kept me so busy since my list “gosh I’ve been busy” post about the cruise. It’s about the edit process for Face in the Magic Mirror, plus more.

And on Thursday, I have a “Recent Research” post prepped on language–something we all, as readers, just love.


On a personal note, my new job started last Monday, and this past Friday, I officially completed or transitioned all my business analysis stuff. So tomorrow, I will be a Product Manager 100% of the time. Some of you have found my LinkedIn identity as a Product Manager and requested a connection. I’m afraid you might find that connection a little dull, because it is only about my day job, all the time.

I’m thinking about starting another LinkedIn identity for my identity as a blogger and a writer. I really do need to keep the two worlds separate. But if I do, I think I violate LinkedIn’s term’s of service. I am already violating Facebook’s terms of service by maintaining an account for family stuff and another account for readers, author buddies and publishing folks. I don’t know why there is a rule against this.

Starting another account feels a little redundant, but LinkedIn offers stuff that Facebook just doesn’t have and as far as I’m concerned, Google + seems to be a total flop that just gives people more ways to spam you.

Do you use LinkedIn for publishing and writing connections? And do you think I’m wrong about Google +?

Game Review – Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny

Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny
Origin, Systems (now Electronic Arts)

Available through as part of a bundled set for 5.99.


Yes, I am reviewing a game that is over 25 years old. Hang with me here.

Ultima 5 is quite possibly the greatest computer game ever written. It was also the first computer RPG I ever played. Did that make me biased? Maybe. But I have played MANY games since and none comes close, except maybe Ultima VI.

I’m told Ultima VII is even better. I never got a chance to play it, but maybe now I will. You see, through an agreement with Electronic Arts, all the old Ultimas–plus many, many other good old games, are now available for purchase at (gog as in good old games). I paid 5.99 for Ultima IV, V and VI.

In Ultima V, you play the Avatar, who achieved Avatarhood in Ultima IV (another good old game, but which feels a bit too primitive even for me). Your task now is to find and free Lord British, the ruler of the lands. To do so, you must banish the Shadowlords, the success of which depends on you retaining your purity as an Avatar.

Unlike many games of today, it is an unabashed quest of good vs. evil. However, there are very intriguing shades of gray. One is the villain, Lord Blackthorn. But Lord Blackthorn is a victim himself, under the influence of the Shadowlords. By banishing the Shadowlords, you free Blackthorn. I don’t know what happens after that. I never played the game all the way to its conclusion.

Why is the game so fun? Let me count the ways:

  • Freedom of movement – you want to travel to the Eastern Deserts? Go right ahead. I hope you’re able to take on those daemons. Any places that are difficult to get to are only so because they are high in mountains, deep in swamps, or down in dungeons.
  • Quests – All quests are linked, and they all have a purpose toward the greater goal. The shrines at which you meditate on the virtues will send you on quests. You must go on quests to locate the objects with which you can banish the Shadowlords. And you must go on quests to prove yourself trustworthy enough to join the Resistance.
  • Awesome! A resistance? It is every bit as cool as it sounds. And getting in is half the fun. Yes, I remember the password for the resistance. But I don’t remember who finally trusted me enough to tell me. So I am going through all the Resistance quests as well.
  • You also have to fake your way into the Oppression. Opposing political factions are one reason this game is so fun.
  • Secret doors. They’re everywhere. Look at walls closely! And some secret passageways are behind fireplaces … which are lit, so you have to take damage to get through them.
  • You can freely raid chests, bookcases and trunks with little fear of punishment unless someone sees you do it. But you will pay a price in your Virtue score.
  • Ships! Horses! Magic carpets! No walking everywhere.
  • Speaking of ships, I am now prowling the coastlines, trying to tempt pirates into attacking me. If I can defeat them, I can take their ship.
  • You’d better take notes. There is no auto-journal of any sort. It’s up to you. If you forget who sent you to talk to someone, you’ll have to go back and get the clue all over again. I have a steno book dedicated to the game.

Here are some screenshots from my game:

Oh, good. I have reached Yew on my magic carpet. Yew is an excellent place to buy magical components, plus I need to ask someone here about the Resistance.

Dang! An “air of falsehood”. Dead giveaway about a Shadowlord being in town. I’d better prowl around the forests and kill orcs for a day, and maybe try again tomorrow.

The graphics are definitely 80s, and so is the interface. But the story is absolutely excellent, and I play these kinds of games for the stories, yanno.

Tips if you play:

  • When you use a moongate, keep track of the phase of the moon and where the moongate took you.
  • When someone gives you a clue about a particular city, go to that city’s page in your notebook and write the clue there, along with who sent you.
  • In each city, you’ll need to find the virtue, mantra for the associated shrine, and power word for the associated dungeon.
  • Buy vast quantities of food, ginseng, garlic and silk.
  • When entering a city with an “air of” something bad, immediately turn around and leave.

If you can get past the 80s graphics, you will find this game great fun, with hours of play. The balance is just right, without endless hack-and-shash, except maybe in the Underworld. Now if I can just figure out a way to get those daemons to stop teleporting in other daemons.

It is definitely worth the 5.99, because then you get to play Ultima VI, in which you are the hero from Ultima V!