Saturday, 25 January 2014

Aiming for elegance

Here's a revelation for you. I used to be a computer programmer.

Okay, probably not the most earth shattering news you've ever heard. You've probably already got the sense that I'm a bit on the geeky side, from the posts here and possibly my books as well.

Bottom line is, I was never very good at it. My brain didn't quite work in that sort of way, and as things got more complicated, and especially as technology and associated methodologies got more complicated (don't even start me on object-oriented programming) I pretty much bailed out. Luckily, I did manage to find other stuff I was better at, and have managed to forge a subsequent non-programming career.

But there is one concept I have taken from my brief stint as a programmer. One idea that I've actually found to have relevance to my writing, and that I try to apply to every story I create.

That concept is elegance.

It's a big thing in programmer-land (or at least it was back when I was in residence - it's possible things have changed since then). I'll try to explain it...elegantly. Consider that any computer program is designed to solve a particular problem. It's likely that there are multiple ways this problem could be solved. But a good programmer always seeks to find the most elegant solution - the one that solves it as neatly and cleanly as possible, using the least and most efficient code.

That's an approach I definitely take to my storytelling. As I've mentioned before, I tend to see storytelling as aligned with problem solving. I create problems for myself, i.e. challenges for my characters, and then try to work out how I (they) can solve them. Maybe there are multiple ways I could solve my storytelling problem, but I always strive for the most elegant way.

So what features describe elegance in storytelling. I see some of the key elements as:
  • using as few words as possible - finding the simplest way to tell the story
  • writing descriptions that ring - not too wordy but making an impression on the reader
  • writing dialogue that sings  - helping to move the plot along while revealing character at the same time.
It's an ambition I'm not sure I always achieve, but it seems like a good thing to work towards. Hopefully I'll get there in the end.
Have a great, and elegant, week. 

Saturday, 18 January 2014

My brain is a chest of drawers. Everything has its place

Okay, I suppose my brain isn't exactly a chest of drawers. After all a chest of drawers is a piece of furniture, while my brain is a complex piece of anatomy composed of a combination of neurons and glial cells. Also, while my brain actually fits quite nicely inside my head, I have a feeling I'd find it a bit of a struggle to fit a chest of drawers in there. But let's forget about being literal just for a moment and go with the analogy.

I'm really busy (I know, it's something I go on about all the time, but at least it helps provide fodder for these posts ). At work, I generally have at least five and often more projects on the go. As for writing, at the moment I would say I officially have six projects at different stages, some with different publishers and others I'm managing myself. Then there's the family and regular life stuff. How on earth do I manage it all?

That's where the idea of the chest of drawers comes in. One thing I seem to be quite good at doing is organising these projects and finding a drawer I can stuff each one into. Whenever I need to, I can open that draw, ferret a little to find what I need, and get on with doing what I need to do. Then, when I'm done, I can close the drawer again, completely switching off anything relating to that project, and leaving me ready to open another drawer and get on with something else.

And my chest of drawers is even more sophisticated than that. It's divided into clearly-marked sections - work, writing, home. When I get into work, I switch over to the work section, so I can easily access all those work related drawers. But once I'm out of the office, that work section gets closed off and thrust into the background, so I can focus on other things.

Similarly so for the writing folders. They're front and centre when I'm home and sitting at my computer, but I make sure to put them away so they don't distract me at work (actually I suspect that's not really true - I think they're always accessible to some degree, whatever I'm doing - but that's what being a writer is all about). And whichever story I'm working on, I usually seem to be able to focus on that one alone while keeping the other ones at the back of my mind, ready for their moment in the sun.

So there you see it. My brain truly is a chest of drawers. Sometimes it doesn't work as well as I'd like. Sometimes, the drawers get stuck and I can't seem to get access to the things I need. And sometimes I misplace a drawer completely. But generally, it seems to manage itself, enabling me to chuff forward with all the things I need to do. 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Cover reveal for Intisar Khanani - Thorn

Today I'm pleased to have a special event here at Dag-Lit Central - a cover reveal for Intisar Khanani's new novel: Thorn.



Amazon  |  B&N  | Apple  |  Diesel  |  Sony

For Princess Alyrra, choice is a luxury she’s never had … until she’s betrayed.

Princess Alyrra has never enjoyed the security or power of her rank. Between her family’s cruelty and the court’s contempt, she has spent her life in the shadows. Forced to marry a powerful foreign prince, Alyrra embarks on a journey to meet her betrothed with little hope for a better future.

But powerful men have powerful enemies—and now, so does Alyrra. Betrayed during a magical attack, her identity is switched with another woman’s, giving Alyrra the first choice she’s ever had: to start a new life for herself or fight for a prince she’s never met. But Alyrra soon finds that Prince Kestrin is not at all what she expected. While walking away will cost Kestrin his life, returning to the court may cost Alyrra her own. As Alyrra is coming to realize, sometimes the hardest choice means learning to trust herself.

Cover Designer

About the Author

Khanani_Author_PhotoIntisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. Born in Wisconsin, she has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. She first remembers seeing snow on a wintry street in Zurich, Switzerland, and vaguely recollects having breakfast with the orangutans at the Singapore Zoo when she was five.

Intisar currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two young daughters. Until recently, she wrote grants and developed projects to address community health and infant mortality with the Cincinnati Health Department—which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. 

Intisar’s latest projects include a serial novella project titled The Sunbolt Chronicles, about a young thief with a propensity to play hero, and her arch-nemesis, a dark mage intent on taking over the Eleven Kingdoms. She’s also developing a companion trilogy to her debut novel Thorn, which will feature a new heroine introduced in her free short story The Bone Knife.

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Saturday, 11 January 2014

I have no idea what this post was meant to be about

I know, it seems like an odd title for a blog post.

Here's the thing. I'm really busy. Between work and family and writing, I have far too many things keeping my mind occupied. I have to be really well organised when it comes to rationing my time, or I won't be able to get anything done.

Which comes back to this blog post. I while ago, I decided that I needed to be more efficient when it came to blog writing. I was spending far too much time sitting in front of a screen, trying to figure out what to write, especially when a few days earlier, I might have had a really good idea for a post.

So what I began doing was scheduling my ideas when I had them. As soon as I thought of a brilliant (or at least passable) idea for a post, I'd immediately go into blogger and schedule it, putting in some rough approximation of the idea for a title. Then, some days later when I actually had time, I'd go back in and write the post.

This all worked fine. I actually got really efficient, to the point where at times I had five or six ideas queued up - enough to keep me going for well over a month. There was just one problem.

Sometimes, I got so far ahead of myself, and had scheduled things so far in advance, when I went back weeks later to write the post, I couldn't make any sense of the title I'd put in. In short, I'd completely forgotten what the post was meant to be about.

And that's what's happened here. I'm sure it was a great idea. Maybe something about the challenges of writing: the intricacies of plot development or the difficulties in coming up with just the right mix of characters. Or perhaps it was one of my more random posts, where I take some idea or concept and just run with it in a quite surprising and delightful way. I wish I knew.

Anyway, I'm sure I'll do better next time. I have a really amazing and clever and funny post scheduled for next week. I really hope I can remember what it is.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

A new beginning - and lots of endings too

Well here we go again. Another year has gone. Another new one is just beginning.

Seems like just yesterday when I was farewelling 2012 and ushering in 2013. Now 2013 has sailed off into the sunset while 2014 is rapidly taking over.

What a year 2013 was. I feel like I've barely stopped to catch a breath. Work has been busy, but manageable and rewarding. I've managed to keep my job for another year (which always feels like an achievement) so there'll be a roof over my head and food on the table for now.

This year has been especially memorable as I managed to fulfill one of my long-standing dreams by taking my family overseas. And we survived, and we're still talking to each other, and we actually had a really great time. Maybe we'll even do it again some time - who knows?

So onto the writing (what's a post in Dag-Lit Central without some sort of reference, however obtuse). Given that my number one goal was to have another title out this year, I guess I didn't quite make it. However, I don't look at this year as a failure, writing-wise. In fact, I have to say I think it's been a particularly successful one for a number of reasons:
  1. While I wasn't able to get Neville #3 (Scrawling) out as I had hoped, it's very close to being ready - just needs one more round of editing and a final proofread. I figure I'd rather take the time to get it right, rather than rush to meet an artificial deadline.
  2. I've made substantial progress on my detective thriller. Actually managed to get two complete rewrites done on it, and I'm very pleased with how it's progressing. I think there's a good chance it could be out in the next 12 months too.
  3. I signed a contract with Evolved Publishing to release my first picture book, Thomas and the Tiger Turtle. It should be out in May. 
  4. I also signed with Booktrope to re-release Magnus Opum. Will keep you informed on a release date for that. 
So all in all, a highly successful year I believe. Seems like lots of projects coming to fruition. Which means I need to find some new things to work on.
I'm thinking I might give Neville a well-earned rest. One thing I'm keen to look at is working on more picture books. I also have a couple of other projects in the works:
  1. I'm thinking about another social satire/fable type of thing like Flidderbugs - but maybe dinosaurs instead of insects this time (I've always loved dinosaurs).
  2. I also have my YA fantasy story thingy to progress. I finished a first draft back in 2012 so am ready to get back into it. It needs a lot of work.
So lots of stuff planned for this year. Hope your 2014 is a great one too.