Monday, December 5, 2011

Progress Report: 12/5/2011

Uh... yeah. I've been out of touch a bit.

So the main news is that I'm shopping for a new agent. The best advice seems to be at this point to wait until January because, as it is for most of us, December is kind of a crazy month for agents.

It's sort of a bummer to have to go through this again. My agent was never a specialist in my genre, though. She was trying to break into new areas. A first time author with an agent out of her normal depth... that's a bit of a steep hill to climb. We tried it out, it didn't work, so we decided to part ways.

Page-a-day writing continues to be a good solution for keeping the momentum going. I suspect some significant editing is going to be needed before what I'm writing becomes good finished material. That's not the important part right now. The important part is to keep writing.

Father-in-law is still hanging in there. He's beaten the doctors' predictions by a fair amount, and we're looking forward to our traditional Christmas visit.

And work is unbelievably frantic. I don't think anyone comes here to read about my work life, so I don't really bother with much detail on this blog, but... damn. The things you gotta do to survive in this economy. Sheesh.

I don't know how much more blogging I'll be able to do before the end of the year, so if I don't check in for a while... happy holidays, everyone! And the much ballyhooed 2012 is almost here. Let's see if there's anything to the hype this time...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Progress Report: 10/10/2011

It's been an emotional roller-coaster ride this month.

The big event, which has exerted its gravitational influence on everything else, is that my father-in-law is quite ill. We made an emergency trip out to Nevada to see him in the hospital, because at the time we thought we were going to lose him. After a few weeks of touch and go, he's still hanging on and has even rallied. He's in home hospice now, and... well, we're not sure how things are going to go from here.

That's the very short version.

The long version is more than I want to write about at the moment. It's been a strange and overwhelming time. For the moment, we're back home and getting back to normal life, and he's stable and cruising along. We're told we could get "the call" at any moment.

Through all this, I've been writing, page-a-day style, making progress. Is the writing good? Can't worry about that now. The only days I've missed have been the ones when we were driving 14 hours, so I think it's going well.

Anyway, that's it for the moment. I'll sign off with a quote from that fountain of wisdom, Marvin the Paranoid Android: "Life. Don't talk to me about life."

Monday, September 5, 2011

Progress Report: 9/5/2011

I have a new strategy.

My old strategy for writing, which it must be said has served me fairly well for many years, was to carve out a chunk of time when I could, write my buns off when I had the chance, and then stop either when I was out of time or out of steam. I have had many a productive session that way.

But for whatever reason, that isn't working now. It has a lot to do with how frantic my work life has been for a sustained period of time. I've fooled myself a number of times with a "Oh, next month looks like things will get back to normal!" At this point, I have to basically admit that what is "normal" has changed, and I'd better get used to the idea.

So here it is, the new strategy: one page per day.

Not an average of one page per day. Not, in other words, seven pages a week. Not "I'll get four pages done today so I don't have to worry about it for the next few days." Not "I missed my page yesterday, but I can do two today and make up for it." And, at least for now, not "I'm on a roll, I'll keep going and do some more pages tonight!"

One per day.

And after about two weeks of this, I must say I am extremely pleased with the results. I look forward to writing every day now, because in many it takes the stress out of it. When I was trying to carve large blocks of time in an increasingly busy schedule, I was putting pressure on myself to get a lot done at once... because who knows when I'd have time next? But one page is easy to find time to do.

What about my old friend, that muse known as momentum? This method provides a different sort of momentum. Granted, I have to put the brakes on a scene when I'm getting revved up, and once I get the hang of this maybe I will go back to taking advantage of larger blocks of time to write more. If I do, any extra pages I write will not "roll over" and get me off the hook for the next day's work.

But meanwhile, I'm sticking to the one a day thing. And I'm very much enjoying myself. Sure it means the book is creeping forward like a tortoise instead of taking great rabbit-like bounds, but we all know who wins that race, right?

Anyway, one per day for now. And in a month or so, if this is feeling good, maybe two per day? I think it's worth a try. Let's see what kind of pace we can this tortoise can sustain.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Progress Report: 8/22/2011

Have you ever been writing a scene that kind of gets away from you? It happens to me sometimes, and generally it's a good thing. It means the characters are taking on a life of their own, and that's always a fine moment. But recently I was writing what I thought was a conversation, and suddenly there was seduction imagery popping up all over the place. It kind of weirded me out.

I mean, in thinking about it, it's a perfectly appropriate subtext for the scene, but if I want to keep the novel in the Young Adult category, then I need to go easy on that sort of thing. Yikes.


What have I been reading lately?

Well, I burned through Jim Butcher's latest Harry Dresden novel, Ghost Story, devouring it as I might a particularly tasty sandwich after a tiring hike through the mountains. What's going on in the series is kind of cool... for about a dozen books, Butcher established a certain kind of status quo. Oh, it wasn't static, like a series where you can read it all out of order and not even notice, but there were certain foundational pillars to the setting, characters, and situations that you started to take for granted. Now he's knocked most of those pillars down. It's a bold move, and I'm keen to see how far he takes it. In any case, I enjoyed this last book a lot, which is pretty much par for the course with the Dresden series.

Now I'm in the middle of George R. R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons. And... well, I'm not burning through this one.

One might hypothesize that this is a case of me savoring the experience and making it last, since if the pattern holds it seems like it will be a long wait for the next book. But that's not really the case. Fact is, I can only take so much at a time.

It's grim stuff.

Terrible things happen, terrible people abound, and by this time we've got the idea with Martin that even when a good thing happens, it's going to eventually rebound and become a terrible thing. It's kind of the horror funhouse experience where you expect something to burst out of the dark at you at any time, but he's too good at making you care for the characters (most of the time), so it's not a funhouse at all.

I'm trying to talk about the book in the abstract, since it's just out recently and I don't want to throw out any spoilers. I'm also only halfway through it. One of the things about this book is that we know it's #5 of 7, so it's not like I'm expecting anything like the relief of resolution by the end, just another series of heart-rending cliffhangers and a character or two that I love getting the axe. This is what I have to look forward to.

Am I enjoying myself? Well, with Martin it is always top-notch writing, and I am certainly invested enough to keep going. Nothing has happened to keep me from wanting to see it through to the end yet. But we are in the middle territory of the hard slog, and it ain't easy going in here.

I think it is very interesting that right now, my wife Candi is tearing through a number of Stephen Ambrose books about World War II, reading at the blistering pace that only she can manage (seriously... she's a phenom). So here we have a historical story of a real-life dangerous, dark, and uncertain time... and it's nowhere near as grim as A Dance with Dragons. That's because in the midst of the expected turmoil and bloodshed of war, what shines out are these moments of completely unexpected humanity and decency. Unexpected, yet far more numerous than the cynic would ever guess. These moments occur, as expected, between comrades and arms... but also between those who are enemies.

Tolkien got it. The darkest part of the Lord of the Rings books is Sam and Frodo's last agonizing trek across Mordor. Yet even in the bleakest of all places, in the heart of evil, we see these moments. It's in the deep bond between Sam and Frodo, or the way Sam's tiny prayers are answered in unexpected ways, the little synchronicities that allow them to keep going, or a glimpse of the stars in the sky that remain untouched by the turmoil below.

This is what I feel is needed where we are in A Dance with Dragons, and what we aren't getting.

But hey, I'm only halfway through. I'll let you know how it went when I get to the end.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Progress Report: 8/1/2011

Back from vacation!

And no, as generally happens on summer vacation, it was not a time for much writing. It was, however, time for a lot of reading, which is the primary fuel for writing, and something I haven't had anywhere near as much time to do as I'd like.

I returned home to find our local Borders is shutting down, which in turn led to the knowledge that they are all shutting down. Borders has thrown in the towel.

It is somewhat sad, though it was the predictable end game of their extended struggle with the changing economy; it was not a well-managed organization. Hadn't been for a long time. Still, for me it means that the nearest bookstore (apart from the used bookstores) is now about a 30-40 minute drive away. Not something I ever expected to see.

From a writer's perspective, this isn't all that big a deal in the big picture. Fact is that while Borders is going away, and many other bookstores with it, people still read as much as ever. It's only the delivery system that is changing. A good story is still a good story.

And I am not willing to say that the bookstore -- and, more significantly, the physical book -- are yet on the cusp of extinction. The landscape is shifting, and the age of the bookstore's primacy has certainly reached its end, but they still have a place and (I believe) will for some time to come.

As for the paper book itself... well, I don't own an e-reader yet, though it is assuredly inevitable that I will. My biggest barrier is the way the screen strobes every time you turn a page. I find it annoying -- for my wife, it's a sure road to a headache, and probably to having the thing chucked across the room in a fit of irritation. So for our own corner of the world, we are still purely paper-readers.

The world is moving on.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Progress Report: 7/11/2011

The lack of updates here is mostly due to a focus on work, where things are extremely busy right now. Disproportionately so. In fact, it has gotten to the point where we are having special meetings now to address what has come to be called the "Overwhelm Issue." So it's not just me.

And that's all I really want to talk about on that subject. This blog isn't about my work life or home life, it's about my writing life. These various lives are not isolated from one another, but I do try to maintain some degree of focus.

I have still managed to eke out a bit of writing in this period of several frantic weeks -- meager progress, but infinitely better than nothing.

We have a vacation scheduled at the end of this month. Every time I look at a calendar, that week seems to fluoresce, emanating a golden radiance that beckons me on with its promise of... well, if not salvation, then at least of peace. As a trend, I haven't actually made much headway on writing on vacation, unless it a dedicated "writing retreat." Nevertheless, this time may prove something of an exception. I'm looking forward to finding out.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Progress Report: 6/20/2011

I carry on! In spite of what was one of the busiest weeks on record at work (my manager was on vacation, and thus I got to do the work of two maxed-out people), I managed to get some good writing in.

Translating Thunderstruck to prose has really given me an appreciation of how much flexibility the comic form gives you. There are some really cool things that you can do in comics that have no direct analogue in prose. I mean, this comic for example:

Comic 56 from Chapter 3...

I like that one. You get an ominous feel for what Grandma is up to, all done in pictures. Now, I can think of a way to describe those scenes of Grandma's and make it work, but the way they're plopped into the middle of Sharon and Gail's conversation is just not a thing that will fly in a prose context. Then you move on a few strips to something like this:

Comic 59 from Chapter 3...

And that's pretty much a wash. There are literally ten scene jumps on one page. You can make that work in a comic (I thought so, anyway), but in prose it would be a mess. And yes, there are plenty of solutions for getting across the same point. It's just interesting to appreciate how much freedom for certain things that the comic form allows.

Prose, on the other hand, has its own strengths, like I said in my last post. The translation between the two is giving me a new appreciation of both.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Progress Report: 6/6/2011

Let's see, starting off with an "At the Movies" segment...

I would highly recommend X-Men First Class. I went in with moderate expectations and was really impressed by the performances, the treatment of the characters, and the high level of quality of the whole thing. I am pretty sure that someone who has never read an X-Men comic would still enjoy it. It's my favorite big movie of the year so far.

Lousy batch of previews, though. I was never into Green Lantern, so it's kind of hard to get excited about a CG-fest like that. Saw the first trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and I couldn't swallow the premise. The idea is that a bunch of CG apes gain super intelligence, enough to wield spears and pick locks, and this somehow leads to them taking over the world, I guess. Here's a pro tip for would-be supervillains: if you're going to raise legions to conquer the planet, do not start with a species that is already endangered. You run into a real numbers problem. Also, intelligent enough to wield spears is inadequate. If this was Rise of the Planet of Raccoons Who Build Force Fields and Laser Cannons, that's starting to seem more plausible. And as you can see, I'm setting the bar really low here.

Okay, enough of that. In terms of writing, it was a really good weekend. I got a lot done, so much that I'm taking one of my "must spend" vacation days to work on more today.

What, you want a sample? Oh, very well. Thunderstruck readers will know the characters here:

"It would be natural to assume that Psyche was not the sort of person cut out for surveillance work. Taller than most men, with rare violet eyes that could stop a young man’s heart and a body that any Hollywood starlet would kill to match, she did not fade into a crowd. She moved with tigresses’ blend of grace and vitality, possessing a beauty that could make a poet throw aside his pen in despair. Psyche should have drawn the eye of every man and woman within a thousand yards; her face should have branded itself into the memory of anyone who chanced to look at her.

In fact, the opposite was true. Most people barely noticed she was there.

The eyes of onlookers widened for just a moment as they lit upon her, as if for the briefest of instants the one who saw her recognized what she was. Then the harassed glaze of the modern urbanite dropped back into place, and their eyes slid away to settle on something they could accept and understand. They shifted and moved aside to let her pass without realizing they had seen her, unconsciously withdrawing deeper into their cocoons of self-absorption so they would not have to feel the stirrings of something ancient and primal as they entered her presence.

There were times when she needed to be noticed. She had to make a conscious effort to diminish herself, to become more mundane and acceptable for as long as it took to buy a meal or ask directions. They gawked like moonstruck fauns and stammered their answers at her when she addressed them, then forgot her seconds after she turned and went along her way. The brighter Psyche shone, the more they closed their eyes against her. And so she walked among them, rendered invisible by the corona of her own radiance as she passed.

But Gail Curmen had sensed her."

Back to work...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Progress Report: 5/21/2011

I suppose one can say it's progress to have survived yet another apocalypse. How many is that now? I've actually lost count. It's kind of a heroic feeling though, kind of like being a superhero!

Seriously, I didn't even know about this one until the day before when my neighbors suddenly mentioned it. Silly things, these predicted apocalypses. You would think the 100% track record of failure would put people off this particular game, but no. I suppose the temporary boost of attention is the underlying motive, even if you end up looking like another poser the morning after.

The Rapture version of the apocalypse, to me, boils down to a desire to be proven right. Hey, we all want to be right, I get it. This is just an extreme hankering for that particular human need, where the Ultimate Authority descends from the sky, says "You were right all along!" and then for good measure points at everyone who ever disagreed with you and says "You were wrong and you will be punished for it!" I suppose the theory is that you could surf on the splash wave from that moment of cosmic satisfaction for all eternity.

Is the next one actually December 2012, or do we have another interim apocalypse to get through?

The 2012 one is not, of course, a Rapture prediction, though I suspect there will be some Rapture-seekers willing to co-opt the date as another chance to have the Judge of Heaven call a final winner in their eternal argument. The Mayan 2012 prediction, as I understand it, wasn't even necessarily an apocalypse, but an "end of an age" prediction. Also, they ran out of room on their stone tablet. I mean, how much calendar do you really need to get by? Comes a point where the speculation game is a little to abstract to warrant the constant meticulous chipping and carving you need to make a calendar back then.

Anyway, I'm sure that when we hit 2013, we'll have another apocalypse prediction to look forward to. After all, that buzz you get from surviving the end of the world is too good to give up.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Progress Report: 5/16/2011

About pushy characters...

In my experience, when a story is really on track, it has a life of its own. You end up writing things that surprise you. Characters take on their own identity and begin to do things that you didn't really plan for. They become pushy. This is a good sign.

Thunderstruck readers may be surprised to hear that Gail was one such pushy character. Way back in my original conception of the story, it was about Sharon's journey, and she quickly left her entire family behind. She had this sort of irritating religious sister who was, I am not terribly proud to admit, a pretty shallow figure... practically a caricature. They had some arguments about miracles, then Sharon found out some important things and pursued them on their own, bye bye family.

Only that sister, that stubborn, pushy sister, refused to just be one-dimensional. She had no interest in parroting simple-minded beliefs. She was a deep thinker, and her faith was something she wouldn't let me write off. Nor was her love for her sister... and Sharon, the troublesome creature, loved her back with just as much ferocity, despite their differences. Suddenly I had two central characters, not one, and I had to think a lot more about Sharon's whole family. And Thunderstruck became a hell of a lot more interesting.

The trouble with characters like this is they mess with your plot. They don't go where they're told, or do what you ask, or disappear when you want to be done with them.

I'm dealing with such a character now. He refused to be the simple jerk that I wanted as a plot device, he doesn't want to go away, and now Gail has decided she likes him. He's messing with my script.

So an author has the ultimate power and can force characters to behave however he wants, but I really think that severs your fundamental connection with the story and characters. The story breaks, perhaps irreparably.

But what you can do is kill a character. I think it's often a good idea to dust a character that the audience likes early on in order to show that the stakes are high. An early sacrifice. And I think I've just found my lamb.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Progress Report: 5/2/2011

Hi everyone. Still writing, still trying to get a handle on all my new responsibilities at work, and this month an unwelcome visit from some microscopic friends has helped make things even more interesting. The cold season has gotten an extension, it seems. So without much in the way of news to report, here's something I've been thinking about as a writing matter.

We're three installments into HBO's Game of Thrones series now. I'm enjoying it, but it does make me wonder a couple of things.

1) How is it for someone who hasn't read the books?

I often wonder this about these kinds of adaptations. The Potter movies, for instance, seem like they would lose movie-only fans on some pretty significant plot points. For Thrones, I wonder how hard it is to keep track of all the characters, 'cuz there are a hell of a lot of characters to get straight. Perhaps someone who hasn't read the books but who's watching can tell me. My hope is that it would inspire you to read the books.

2) What is it that a visual medium does better than print?

This is a question near to my heart, because I am grappling with it as I adapt Thunderstruck to its new novelized form. Certainly when you have visuals, you can choreograph certain kinds of scenes (action, especially) with more ease, but I think that a good writer shouldn't be hindered by that. It's fun to see a full artistic realization of a landscape, a castle, a suit of armor, yet I find that as often as not, even big-budget movies don't add a whole lot to what I've already imagined for a book I really love.

I'd say the biggest advantage that film has is actors. The subtlety of expression and inflection that a good actor can bring to a role are things that a writer simply has to hope the reader can fill in for themselves. Writers who try to spell out every detail of their character's facial tics, body language, and vocal emphasis tend to bog down their stories. An actor can, with a very minor change of expression, convey a whole world of information. To an extent, a drawing can do that as well.

(For Game of Thrones, I'm thinking particularly of the actor who plays Jaime Lannister. I'm really enjoying his performance.)

Now, a writer has all sorts of other tools and advantages that a visual medium lacks. It's a lot easier to fill in backstory and track the internal thoughts of a character in writing, and these are things that I definitely feel are missed in the Game of Thrones show. Still, it's nice to see good acting for characters I know and love (or love to hate). It adds a new dimension.

The other thing that films have as an advantage is the soundtrack. There's not much answer to that as a writer, unless you want to say "play this CD while you're reading."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Progress Report: 4/11/2011

Well, things are busy and interesting at work. The short of it is that I got a promotion, which is quite gratifying. Also involves a lot of new duties and some fair amount of ambiguity.

I have had some time for writing. Huzzah! I find that when I've been away from the fiction keyboard for a few weeks, my first stabs at writing tend to be very melancholy in tone, with characters who feel very isolated and fundamentally lonely. I don't necessarily think that it makes the best reading, though. It's something I need to get out of the way before I can write something that's more fun and (frequently) true to the character. It's worked all right for writing Sharon's wheelchair life, but really it doesn't fit Gail very well.

But I've gotten my depressing draft out of the way, and the writing is going much better.

In terms of reading, I'm done with A Wise Man's Fear. I think it was something of a sophomore slump for a talented author, and as a case study it contains a lot of valuable lessons for writers. And... I think that's about all I'll say.

Here's the colored version of the next Rose & Jade picture. With the dragon and everything.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Progress Report: 3/21/2011

Sometimes, work life kind of takes over. This year it's been especially true, for a variety of reasons. This isn't really a blog about my job, though, so suffice it to say that it's been the experience of running uphill during a mudslide the last couple of weeks.

Which has left little time for writing. Things even out over time, and I've got the itch to hammer away on my keyboard, so I certainly hope I can get things under wraps here soon.

I am reading The Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss. It's a book (and series) that seems to create a certain polarization amongst fans. Some folks really love it, and others really hate it. I'm enjoying it so far, though the pace is... hmm... leisurely? I think that fits.

I recall Stephen King saying on several occasions that the destination isn't what matters, it's the journey. There is something to be said for that, and I think authors who live by that maxim like to take their sweet time getting through a story (hence King's history of writing books that look like cinder blocks). Sometimes it's fun to mozy toward your destination and enjoy the sights. Other times, it's fun to put the hammer down and burn up the road.

Anyway, here's the line drawing of an illustration I'm working on for Return of the Dragon. That's Rose Gallagher again. Odd knife she's got there, isn't it?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Progress Report: 3/7/2011

Right now, work life is squalling and demanding pretty much all my attention. It's a good thing overall, with pretty good developments at work that I may be able to talk about later, but they're taking the lion's share of my energy. That, and taxes. Yeeeuch.

Here's an image I made for Return of the Dragon, featuring our protagonists, Rose Gallagher and Jade. I will be making a website for promotional stuff, and it's a nice thing to be able to provide my own illustrations. More to come later.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Progress Report: 2/21/2011

Proposal is done!


As with the query letter, everyone has a somewhat different idea of how to make a proposal, what should go in it, and what a publisher wants to see. One suggestion that I didn't take was a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. Not unfeasible for my book, which has 19 chapters and a prologue, but I've known some writers who use very short chapters and rack 'em up by the dozens. If someone really wants to see such a breakdown, I'll write it.

So I've got more to do, but for now, I can enjoy the sweet feeling of accomplishment. Now let's hope it's an effective proposal...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Progress Report: 2/14/2011

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Today I have more from my proposal in progress. Below is a brief accounting of the main characters in the story. Not all proposal sites/sources suggest that you do this, but I rather like it as an addition to the story synopsis. It lets me get in a few details and flesh out some of the character motivations without bulking out the synopsis itself.

Many thanks to everyone who responded with comments & critique on the synopsis. And I welcome more thoughts if you see something you think is good, bad, confusing, awkward, and so forth.

I hope to get a working draft of the whole proposal to my agent within the week. Truckin' along...

Return of the Dragon: Main Characters

These are the main characters in Return of the Dragon, listed by order of appearance:

  • Jade: A young dragon of the ruling bloodline, Jade is chosen to bear the monumental responsibility of re-awakening her people. Jade is unusual amongst dragons for her ability to form deep connections with others—most of her kind are fiercely independent. Though she is capable of magical feats that dazzle her human friends, Jade herself is equally impressed by human “magic” of abstract thought, technology, and social cooperation.
  • Rose Gallagher: A 13-year old high school freshman who lives with her father in the small town of Boulder City, Nevada. Rose is a self-sufficient and artistic—her great passions are drawing, horses, and geology. Her greatest gifts are her compassion and courage, and both will be tested as she is faced with decisions that could change the entire world.
  • Clay Ostrom: Rose’s classmate, friend, and neighbor, Clay has been obsessed with fantasy all his life. When he encounters a living dragon, it as if his dreams had come true—yet this awakens in him a dangerous hunger for more magic. Still, Clay shows that he his both intelligent and resourceful when faced with the perils of reanimated dinosaurs rampaging in the Lost World casino.
  • Sam Gallagher: Rose’s father is a rock-solid pragmatist who is a senior engineer at the Hoover Dam. He has a difficult time connecting with his daughter, though he loves her dearly. His rational view of the world prevents him from seeing or accepting that Jade is anything other than a human girl until the very end of the story.
  • Trevor Wallace: An athletic, somewhat bullying boy in Rose’s class, and her main rival at school. Trevor appears only briefly in Return of the Dragon, but will play a greater role in the next book in the series.
  • Mrs. Doris Jersey: A dynamic elderly woman who has settled into retirement in Boulder City, Mrs. Jersey is well-traveled, perceptive, and a believer in magic. She is versed in a wide variety of practices such as shamanism, Western mystery occultism, and divination through the Tarot cards. She is an invaluable mentor to Rose and Jade.
  • Rex Triumph: Though he appears as an extravagant casino owner and Las Vegas celebrity, Rex Triumph is really a dragon in human guise. He holds humans in contempt, and when he realizes that the Harbinger has finally surfaced, he will stop at nothing to restore dragonkind to its rightful place in dominion over the world. Rex is bold, cunning, and ostentatious—a weaker breed of dragon than Jade, but far older and more experienced in both magic and combat.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Progress Report: 2/7/2011

In the post below this one, you will find the first draft of my synopsis for Return of the Dragon.

So here's what this is. When you're submitting a book to a potential publisher, you put together a proposal that contains a number of components. One of these components is a synopsis of your novel. Opinions differ about how long this should be, and I decided to try for a relatively short version that weighs in at about 2 pages.

I thought it would be cool to see how this reads to a fresh audience, since its purpose is to spark the interest of someone unfamiliar with the story. So, what do you guys think? If there are any parts that seem confusing, dull, awkward, etc., please let me know. I want to get this sucker right.

Book Proposal: Synopsis Section

Return of the Dragon
YA Fantasy, 99,000 words

A real, fire-breathing dragon turns out to be only the second-most important thing Rose Gallagher discovers one fateful day in April. The dragon would change Rose’s life forever—but the odd green stone she finds in the desert threatens to bring chaos to the entire world.

Like most of us, 13-year old Rose believes dragons belong only in myths and fantasy tales. Yet the dragon she stumbles on just outside her home town of Boulder City, Nevada is no daydream—and in the face of the creature’s massive claws and rows of dagger-like teeth, it’s understandable that Rose’s first instinct is to run away screaming. As frightening as it looks, though, the dragon means no harm. And when the creature magically transforms into a young human girl called Jade, Rose realizes that she has found a new and extraordinary friend.

Jade may look like a girl Rose’s age, but she is far from normal. She speaks no English, and is dazzled every time she encounters a new aspect of the modern-day human world. Rose desperately wishes for someone to help her figure out why Jade has appeared to her—yet she cannot confide in her logical-minded father, whose ordered world has no room for magic or dragons.

Torn between wanting to keep Jade a secret and needing to find help, Rose turns to an elderly substitute teacher named Mrs. Jersey. In spite of Mrs. Jersey’s suspicious reputation around town, she turns out to be versed in the mysteries of the occult—precisely the ally Rose needs. In hopes of finding a way to communicate with Jade, Mrs. Jersey performs a mystical ritual in the remote Keyhole Canyon. There, Rose and Jade become blood-sisters, and through this mysterious bond they gain the ability to understand each other’s language.

This is when Rose realizes she has made a terrible mistake.

The strange stone she discovered in the desert is called the Harbinger—an object of unthinkable magical power that Jade has been entrusted with for the sake of all dragonkind. In her ignorance, Rose gave the stone to her father. With his subconscious mind rejecting all magic, Rose’s father seeks to destroy the Harbinger by throwing it off the Hoover Dam. Rose and Jade fly to the dam in a desperate attempt to save the Harbinger, coming a hair’s breadth from being smashed by massive jets of water from the dam’s overflow system. They recover the Harbinger, though Jade is either unwilling or unable to say what it is for.

Even the witnesses who saw Jade fly over the dam choose to believe it was a glider instead of a dragon—except for Rose’s fantasy-obsessed friend, Clay Ostrom. Clay discovers Jade’s identity, and through his carelessness, the word that there is a living dragon in Nevada reaches a dangerous figure. Soon, Rose and Jade receive an unexpected invitation from Rex Triumph, a flamboyant Las Vegas multi-billionaire who owns a dinosaur-themed casino called Lost World. In spite of their misgivings, Rose and her friends agree to meet with this mysterious mogul who seems to know more about Jade’s mission than she does.

Rex Triumph turns out to be a dragon masquerading as a human—or rather, a dreaming dragon. As he reveals to Rose and Jade, dragons once ruled the earth millions of years before mankind, creating a civilization based on magic instead of science. When their existence was threatened by the same comet that wiped out the dinosaurs, the dragons devised a plan to enter an enchanted sleep, one so deep that their very bodies merged with the elements as they slumbered. A dreaming dragon like Rex Triumph could project a phantom version of himself into the world, but Jade was the first dragon to awaken fully in 65 million years. Given to her was the sacred task to use the Harbinger to awaken the rest of her kind.

Rose is terrified of what might happen if dragons and humans fought for control of the world. Jade has no desire for such a war, yet she has been charged to carry the hopes of her people. She agrees to use the stone to awaken Rex Triumph, who plays upon her uncertainty to drive a wedge between Rose and Jade. Mrs. Jersey and Clay are no match for Triumph’s enchantments, and Jade is tricked into abandoning Rose so that she might fulfill the purpose of the Harbinger and awaken the rest of the dragons.

When all seems lost, Rose is able to use her special bond with Jade to break through Rex Triumph’s beguilement and call her friend back to her side. Yet Triumph has stolen the Harbinger for himself, and his attempts to use it cause chaos to erupt in downtown Las Vegas. Clay and Mrs. Jersey flee for their lives as the animatronic dinosaurs of Lost World come to life and run rampant through the casino, and law enforcement is powerless to restore order in the face of Rex Triumph’s magic.

Rose and Jade challenge Triumph to a duel to reclaim the Harbinger. Though Triumph is of a lesser breed than the fire-breathing Jade, he is much older and wilier. The two dragons battle over the Las Vegas strip as a sandstorm rages below, with Jade’s fiery power pitted against Triumph’s speed and cunning. The battle is decided by a factor that Triumph could never have predicted—by combining the strengths of Rose’s rational human mind with Jade’s draconian magic, the two friends create a weapon capable of bringing down even the mighty Rex Triumph. The defeated dragon returns the Harbinger to Jade, along with the burden of responsibility it represents.

Jade has a duty to her people, yet she has grown to love the world of humans, especially her new blood-sister. As Rose and Jade ponder how to solve this perilous dilemma, Rex Triumph begins to hatch a new scheme to awaken the dragons—and challenge humans for dominion of the world.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Progress Report: 1/31/2011

Hi everyone, long time no see. Like I said, January is a brutal month, made even more difficult by the pesky and persistent microbes that have run rampant at work and at home.

Anyway, I did have time to write the short piece below. I know I've talked about Rose & Jade a lot on this blog, but of course not many people here have had a chance to read the story. To help it be less of an abstraction, I decided to write a few stories set in that world as bonus material, just so you could get to know the characters and setting a bit. This one is about Rose herself.

By the by, the working title of the book has changed to Return of the Dragon.

Short Story: "The Dragons She Has Known"

Rose knew the names of many dragons before she met the one that would utterly change her life. There was Smaug and his golden hoard, five-headed Tiamat, little white Ruth and his brethren on Pern, and many others. But her first, as for so many of us, was Puff.

She first met Puff when she was three years old, as the dragon frolicked forth from the speakers of her mother's venerable record player. They had CDs and cassettes in the house, but her mother's old favorites were all on pressed vinyl, with their distinctive pops and scratches still intact. The care with which these large black discs needed to be handled told the young Rose that they contained the most special music. The one she requested more than all the others was the Peter, Paul, and Mary record with the bright red label that told of Puff's adventures with the young Jackie Paper.

From this song, Rose formed two mistaken impressions that persisted for some time.

The first was that there existed a substance called "ceiling wax." She grouped it in her mind with the floor wax that her mother used in the kitchen and the car wax that her father applied every month to her mother's sporty little Volkswagen. And since it was "fancy stuff," she reasoned that only rich people used it. To this day, Rose carries around an unexamined belief somewhere in one of the lower recesses of her subconscious that there is a special substance used to polish the ceilings in wealthy estates.

The second mistaken impression was that Jackie Paper stopped coming to see Puff because of an illness.

This idea formed because she misunderstood her mother's explanation about the end of the song, which puzzled Rose when she first heard it. Why did Jackie stop coming to see Puff? "Because he grew up," her mother had answered. But the answer didn't quite make it intact through the noise of the running dishwasher, and what little Rose heard was: "Because he threw up."

This made perfect sense. Rose had plenty of experience with throwing up in her three years of life. And so she understood that Jackie Paper ate something that made him sick, which caused him to stop visiting his magical friend. She also assumed quite naturally that, once Jackie felt better, he must have resumed his visits to the land of Honalee, and that Puff was assuredly happy to see him back healthy. With this happy explanation, the song's inherent melancholy rolled off her like water off a waxed ceiling, and she cheerfully drew pictures of Puff's further adventures with Jackie Paper (and often with a little dark-haired girl alongside them).

It was Clay who explained what really happened a year after she first met Puff.

She often played with Clay when her family visited the Ostroms. Clay's sisters were too old to care about Rose, but Clay was her age, and for the most part he made an excellent playmate. He didn't share Rose's passion for horses, which she found mystifying, but he did love dragons. He even had a stuffed dragon that he had won (or, more likely, that his father had won for him) in one of the carnival games down the Excalibur, and together they decided he should be named Puff. They even tried painting his wings, though watercolors on plush felt do not yield very inspiring results. Stuffed Puff was the centerpiece of many of their play sessions, but early on, Clay made his feelings very clear on the subject of Jackie Paper.

Jackie had left Puff. He had grown up, he had moved on to other things, more grown-up games like baseball or basketball, and he had stopped caring about Puff. The word "traitor" was not in four-year old Clay's vocabulary, but had it been, that would have been the epithet that described the execrable Jackie Paper. The only circumstance under which Clay could bear to mention the name of Jackie Paper was when they cast the fictional boy as the villain in their playtime or in their crayon-illuminated storybooks. Rose did not care for these games and stories. While she agreed that it was a rotten thing to abandon one's friends, she could not muster the equal of Clay's bitter, bitter hatred for the boy who had been Puff's friend, nor did she share his need to envision act of vengeance.

Rose stopped listening to "Puff the Magic Dragon" when she was five years old. It was not because she had outgrown the song, though that time would assuredly have come soon enough in the normal course of events. It was because the record player and all the old vinyl were her mother's, and they were all packed away when her mother died.

"We don't want them to get broken," her father said as her gently lowered the old turntable into a trunk, one that he would fill with old effects that once belonged to Rose's mother. The trunk was rarely unlocked, yet Rose felt its presence in the attic the same way that a compass needle feels the location of the North Pole.

She only heard "Puff the Magic Dragon" three times after that day.

The first time, it came on the radio on one of her father's oldie stations as they were driving down into Vegas. She saw his right hand lurch, as if it wished to dart out and change the station, but he snatched it back before it could touch the radio. Rose watched him as the song played, watched how he kept his eyes fixed on the road. She could see his jaw muscles taut under his cheek, and saw every swallow that forced its way down his clenched throat. He did not weep, as he had the day that her mother had died. Rose found her own cheeks were wet when the song was over, but did not remember crying.

The second time was at summer camp when she was eight years old, and one of the counselors played it on her guitar. They sat around their little fire under the glittering night sky, the smell of creosote and Joshua Trees mingled with the remaining scent of roasted marshmallows, and Rose sang along until her throat would not let her sing. Then she just whispered and wiped her eyes, and that night she dreamed about her mother.

The third time was when she was thirteen, and it was very different.

When "Puff the Magic Dragon" floated in over the speakers of at the tack store, Rose froze where she was, her fingers still inches away from the snaffle bit she was about to pick up. This time, the old song did not make her think of her mother. This time, she was powerfully reminded of the dragon itself who had lived so vividly in her young imagination. She thought of the dragon's shattering roar that could strike fear into the hearts of the most savage pirates, and of the creature's majesty that drove kings and princes to their knees in homage. Rose's eyes shifted to the window of the store, looking out into the desert beyond the parking lot, and for a moment she thought she could see the dragon there, rising from the heat shimmer in all of its glory, spreading painted wings into the sunlight.

The song ended, and Rose snapped out of her reverie. Then she thought of her mother, as she always did when she heard the old songs—Greensleeves or Red River Valley or Country Roads. That familiar sense of loneliness filled her mind like an autumn mist that obscured the momentary vision of the dragon, and she thought no more about Puff.

Not until three days later, when she met a dragon in the desert.


Rose Gallagher is the protagonist of my first novel (working title: Return of the Dragon).

Monday, January 3, 2011

Progress Report: 1/3/2011

I'm back.

I did manage to get a fair amount of good writing work done over vacation, though it's really not the best time. I was laid up quite a bit with a nasty stomach virus (lovely), so I had plenty of time to stew in my fevered delirium and think about story ideas.

Which is good, because I realized I needed to get a lot more clarity about Book 3 before I could make any more progress on Book 2.

Anyway, January is a viciously busy month to start with, but by the last week and into February it tends to settle out. Shouldn't be long before serious writing gets underway.

Happy new year, everyone...