Blood of the Tracks

Holy moly, has it been a week since I’ve posted?  Sorry gang.  I’m going to talk about a book, but in the effort of keeping this more natural and less stuffy, I’m not going to use the book format I’ve used in prior reviews.  Instead, it will just be a candid dump of thoughts on the book.

The book is called “Blood on the Tracks” by Barbara Nickless.  It’s the story of a railroad cop that’s putting her life together after her Marine tour in Iraq.  She’s constantly haunted by the ghosts of her past, and when a hobo known as “The Burned Man” is getting booked for killing a young woman the hero needs to face both her past and her present to try and solve the case.  Her companion on this journey is a faithful canine who served in the war with her.  The book was one of six options provided by Amazon for my prime membership.

At this point, I’d like to warn anybody that keeps reading that you will encounter spoilers.  None will be specific, but if you spent time thinking about them, you could reveal quite a bit.

Disclaimer complete.

The book is first person, so a lot of the prose is immediately not helpful to me.  My book is 3rd (indeed, most of my planned books are 3rd).  I’m trying to get some good 3rd person limited books (hint, if you know one, volunteer it!), because I’m trying to find the right balance in the writing of personality vs detached fact/narrative.

What this book did really, impressively well was its Red Herring.

As the hero digs into whodunnit, we get two possible threads:  One that ties into her backstory as a Marine, and one that ties into her backstory before/after her time in the Marines.  I won’t reveal which is the Herring and which is the Plot, but she does a great job playing with us.

She dances with both topics enough that either seem plausible.  However, as we begin to investigate one path, we start uncovering clues that really help settle that the Herring is in fact the Herring.  At that point, I expected Left Field to hit and we either get some third path all together, or we jump back to what we had dismissed as Herring.  Instead, she lets the Herring stay the Herring.  We pursue the Plot with gusto.

The Plot stays exciting and fresh, lots of things escalating and boiling to the surface… And just as we draw in for a breath of air, Herring comes looking for us!  The Herring is still a Herring, but now it’s a pissed off Herring that doesn’t take no for an answer.  Despite the fact that it’s a Herring against The Plot, it’s something we have to be alert for over the rest of the book.

At this point, we have what I’ll call the Wilson Moment.  I get the name from House, MD… One of the few TV shows that’s been on after 2005 that I’ve watched.  House is a doctor whose best friend is another doctor named Wilson.  The episodes all follow the almost exact same plot.  Somewhere around the 75% mark, House has a conversation with Wilson unrelated to the main plot  (We sometimes mix this up with other characters or his other patients, but Wilson is going to get the credit).  During that conversation, House has a revelation that lets him solve the case.

In Blood on the Tracks, our hero is recovering from some injuries and has a conversation with her Grandma about a topic that’s realistically unrelated, but told me immediately who was responsible.  Plot pushes on, suspicion confirmed…. But really, no hard feelings with the book/author.  And even after we finish the book, the Herring has created a perfect setup for Book 2 (or later).  I love how well this was executed, from introduction, to building tension, to herring, to severe side plot that keeps us tense the whole time.

All in all, a great read in exchange for my Amazon Prime membership.

Novel Word Count: 20,893

Being Sentimental

I’m fleshing out my female protagonist now, giving her some additional wants and desires, hobbies and activities, etc.

She’s a bit sentimental.  Her mother and father are both gone (mother more recently and inexplicably vanished, but she was closer to her father who died several years prior)…   Events are taking place that cause her to reflect on them more, and that’s going to be a constant clip in her thoughts.

Being a dude, I have the emotional range of thimble comparatively, and even when I have those rare moments of heartache, I can’t recall them… So I turn to you all.

What would a princess in a (more or less) medieval setting be sentimental about?  What would remind her of her parents and make her miss them?

I know a lot of answers are dependent on so many things, but since this stage will mostly pass after the first 25% of the book, I’m pretty flexible on what I write in there.  I have included a quilt that her father got her when she was a small girl, childish in the patterns, but she has resisted every attempt to take it away as she’s gotten older.

Any other ideas?

Novel Word Count: 18536

Fantasy Books of the Decade

As I finish my scene outline and start to dive into the meat of writing, I’d like to take advantage of Stephen King’s second most important thing to do when you want to write (with #1 being “to write”):  Read more books… And not cliche and cerebral books on how to write (although I’ve read plenty of those and actually would still advocate reading them), but read the stuff you want to write…

Which brings me to the point of this:

You guys are my social network.  What authors/books can you recommend?  I grew up on Christopher Stascheff, Alan Dean Foster, Robert Aspirin, Anne McCaffrey, and Mercedes Lackey.  In my adult years, I’ve added in LE Modesitt Jr, George RR Martin, and Patrick Rothfuss.

If I’m looking for fantasy, who else should I be checking out?  I’m comfortable with Teen or Adult assuming it’s good.

Novel Word Count: 17,000

Scrivener vs yWriter, the Revenge

A while back I had set a goal of going through and mass updating all my old posts to try and take advantage of what I’ve learned over the years.  While I don’t anticipate that I will do that, I did want to take a moment and call out one that I have updated.

My most frequently hit page is my comparison of yWriter and Scrivener.  Both are great writing tools, and although I personally use Scrivener right now, I think either is an excellent choice.

Since this page is frequently hit, I thought I’d give it a few small updates to show individuals a true comparison of the tools, plus add some bullets into the descriptions that let users understand them better.

If you haven’t checked it out, feel free to click the link above and see for yourself how I stack up these two outstanding writing platforms.

Novel Word Count: 15,619

In Defense of Plotters – Scene Design

At this point, I’m about 1/3 of the way through fleshing out my scenes, and I felt the need to have a throw-down in defense of all the plotters out there (vs pantsers).

Opponents of plotting cite the following reason as the biggest reason not to plot:

Plotting takes away the ability to be spontaneous.

Or does it?

I’ve plotted out around 20 scenes at this point, and I have to say I’ve learned some pretty new things in the process.

  1. A character I thought I was cutting needs to come back… He is going to serve a really critical role now, and helps make one of the main characters far more richer and interesting.
  2. The majority of my story takes place within a single kingdom… But there is a character from another kingdom traveling along.  Her home kingdom now has an interesting superstition and cultural trend for young girls that I had no idea would have existed.
  3. A scene I had originally imagined inside a room suddenly finds itself set on a platform over water.

When plotting, I’m presented with puzzles to make the scene fresh, exciting, and compelling.  I want my readers to be drawn in, and that means creating threads that I can plan where and how they weave into the story.  However, some of those threads won’t be easy to tie in… In those cases, I get just as creative as any pantser, and all sorts of interesting things come out.

Plotting doesn’t destroy the capacity for creative input and spontaneity… It just ensures that as you find those things, you are going to have the benefit of not throwing away piles of words that no longer work because you’ve written yourself into a corner, or because a scene was so tangential to the story that it ends up being filler or a waste of time.

Let me know if you are plotter or pantser… If you plot, what’s been your experience with characters and events taking you unexpected places?

Novel Word Count: 14696


Glad to be back in the world of flash fiction with my favorite weekly writing prompt over at Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers.  Hope you guys enjoy this one!



“We’re losing elevation, Tom.”
“I know Ben.”
“There are cars in those streets, Tom.”
“I know Ben.”
Tom had never flown a chopper before. He still wasn’t sure how Ben had talked him into being the one to do it. Ben was always setting him up. They had been planning the heist all summer. Weeks, even months of effort would be wasted because Tom couldn’t maintain altitude. Assuming they weren’t killed. Even if they somehow survived, the consequences would without question last the rest of their lives. There’d be no leniency.
“Tom, you’re going to crash!”
Tom panicked. He pushed down hard on the stick and the chopper lurched violently towards the ground. Too late he remembered he should have pulled back.
“Oh no oh no.”
There was a terrible grunt as the thing hit the asphalt. Cars shrieked as their drivers slammed on brakes and horns alike in a futile effort to avoid this sudden invader to their streets. Time stopped for Tom as his world crashed down. In that frozen moment, a single car dodging the pileup managed to break through and run right into Tom’s chopper.
And crushed it.
It was Dad’s favorite.
Dad was going to be pissed.

Word Count and Other Odd Thoughts

I’m sitting here working on Maega (and writing a blog post, shame on me!)…

My goal is to get 1,000 words per day.  Ambitious, I’m sure, but if I have a target novel length of 70-100k, that will get me finished in 2-3 months.

Or will it?

For instance, I’m going through scene by scene right now (up to scene 8) and fleshing them out in a lot more detail.  In this post, I talked about how I wrote a narrative of the whole story, and then split the narrative into scenes.  Each scene then has probably a paragraph (4-6 sentences) of description.  This method is usually taking the scene and writing a narrative of just that scene.  Then I go back and delete the old one.

Unfortunately, that’s knocking down my word count.  I push forward 200 words, and then delete 50 of them.  That hurts.

Then to is the subject of Back Story / Setting Descriptions / Character Summaries / etc… Not to mention plotting.  The plotting I’m listing above is technically not  going into the final draft so obviously it won’t count for my overall word count… But should it count for my daily?  It took time to write them, time that hopefully is well spent as it will speed my process along.

In doing this ironing, I also wiped out an entire character.  It’s tragic, and I really don’t want to do it (He’s the former head of the exiled faction… A kindly old man that demonstrates to the reader that the exiled faction isn’t all bad).  However, he ends up adding no real content, and his scenes are somewhat boring.  I’ll keep him in the back of my mind, but for now, I think he’s gone.

Do you care about word count?  Do you think it’s a good measure?

Novel Word Count: 13,025

Developing a Story Concept

I want to take a moment and discuss my approach for writing Maega.

The original premise was a “Coming of Age – Young Adult” story.  Boring and overdone, but it was a starting point.  I had a Princess that Would Be Queen.  I started her as a spoiled brat with a self-entitlement mentality, and my story would pull the rug out from under her and let her learn how to truly be a leader for her people starting all the way at the bottom.  After coming to grips with the fact that I’m not good enough yet as a writer to properly create a spoiled brat that we want to read about, I made a few tweaks.  She got a bit more agreeable, but now what she lacked wasn’t moral character so much as time.  She is getting made queen way ahead of schedule, and she doesn’t feel ready for this.

Still wanted to pull out the rug, but now just losing her kingdom wouldn’t be enough.  Since she’s a bit reluctant, losing the monarchy (while certainly devastating on some level) may end up being a strange relief.  I needed to take more from her, and I needed to add enough so that losing the monarchy is unacceptable.  She has to fight to get it back.

This brought me around to magic.  If I made her a spell-slinger of some sort (and a frightfully powerful one at that), and then took her magic away, she’s really gotta figure things out from the ground up.  And thinking about magic… What if magic is hereditary?  What if her mother had the magics too, which makes taking her away doubly painful:  We lose the only person relate-able to this much magical power, and we now face becoming queen before we’re ready.  Sizzling.

This got me toying around with magic:  I wanted something where males and females leveraged magic in different ways.  Females were true spell-slinger wizardy types… The males I decided were item crafters… And Mom overthrew wicked male item-creator government to install an army of women spell-slingers.  Let’s say that’s how she’s losing her throne now… The exiled men have returned, and mom isn’t around to protect them.  This completely negates mom’s work.

Oh.. And one more thing.  Since I now have two halves of magic, I feel the need to add a second main character, a new POV with his own storyline.  Let’s have a male join the story to show his struggle.  For fun, let’s make him the half-brother of our Princess… Except he’s not poised to inherit anything.  For more fun, rather than sharing the queen as a mother, they share the same father… A father who happened to be part of the now exiled prior regime.    This adds all kinds of new layers to explore.  And as I pursue each of their stories, I want to show them each on a mirrored path, but where one learns and grows, the other slips into ruin.

This is the baseline of how I came up with the story.

What are your thoughts?  Too cliche?

How did you start your stories?

Novel Word Count: 12,006

Starting the Novel

I want to take a moment and talk through the process I’m using to write Maega.  It began with a premise surrounding what I wanted to do with magic (I’ll do a post with how the lore evolved).  After this premise, I thought about protagonists.  I decided there’d be two, a male and a female.  Each would have their own story that crossed over with the other continuously.

I started with two new documents, labeled Gavin and Luan (my two heroes).  Within each of these documents, I wrote a summary of their stories.  If the mood struck, I threw in a little dialogue.  Primarily however, I was doing the most raw form of “Tell” imaginable.  Although Gavin and Luan have definite overlap in their stories, I still listed each independently, gathering thoughts or impressions when they pushed to my fingers.

To do this, I leveraged Scrivener, a purchase I still have no regrets for and love.


This ended up being about 1500-2000 words per character.  After the character outlines, I started breaking these into scenes.  Scrivener makes this easy with CTRL-SHIFT-K, which splits a document.

This gave me the 50+ scenes that are going to form the framework for my book.  Whenever Luan and Gavin had overlap, I merged those scenes.  Then I went through and assigned a POV for each scene.  The POV could be Gavin, Luan, or “Either.”  Scenes.png

I don’t have all the names of the characters yet, nor the towns or locations, but I have a general framework of what I’m going for with the story.

Next steps:

  1. Flesh out my characters with backstory and bios and settings with maps and history.
  2. Take each scene and build a larger summary of each, trying to cover some of the specific details.
  3. Anywhere during the process, if inspiration seizes me, I’ll explore it, whether that’s making a new scene, changing my plan for a scene, or even a theme for the whole novel.  To be safe, I’ll make a snapshot (backup) of the scene before I make changes.

I’ll let you know how those go!

Word Count: 10,504

Kicking it off

I labored a bit over this post.  I feel like I need more preamble before I dive straight into my story chronicles.  I should deliver some kind of haughty details or powerful and/or inspirational messaging…

If I wait for that, this isn’t happening.  So let’s talk core details.

I’ll note lots of things as I go here:

  • Strategies and approaching I’m leveraging
  • Specifics related to the technology I’m using

More than that, I also intend to include items specific to the story itself:

  • Character details
  • Plot issues I’m working on
  • Scene breakdowns and listing

In all of these, I’ll also try to list a word count.  I think showing a word count will help me feel more accountable.  We’ll see.

So, some specifics:

I’ve chosen to resurrect “Truth of Power”… Which I’m adjusting the Code name to “Maega”, which will be book 1 of “Legacy of the Aether.”  The book is a complete stand-alone, so if the story ends at 1, it’s no biggie, but part of my twisted mentality is seeing all the stories down the road that could be brought into it.

I’m starting this book over.  There are a few scenes I’m keeping, but on the whole, it’s a clean re-write.  Most of the characters remain the same, and the most basic of the architecture, but a lot of details and plot threads are receiving facelifts and overhauls.  My next post will talk to how I’m structuring.

As an additional, I think reading books on writing keeps me motivated, so I recently picked up Holly Lisle’s Create a Character Clinic.  So far, it hasn’t been a bad read, but there are a few line-items I’m dubious on.  It’s riddled with typos, and I definitely feel like it’s dramatically overpriced (@ $9.95 on the kindle!) compared to other books of its type.

Has anybody else read Holly Lisle (either fiction or non-fiction)?  Impressions?

Also, what are you working on?

Maega Wordcount: 9377