Sunday, December 20, 2015

Doesn't Look Like I Am Going To Make Deadline

I wanted to get this done by Christmas really, really badly. Unfortunately, I have been diverted by yet more vehicle trouble, and another plumbing leak in this old house. Among other things. All I can do is apologize and say that Recompense is 98-99% written, and the editing is about a third done.

Drat. I really wanted to finish it by Christmas. But I refuse to put out crap.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Content Editing

Pruning. Rewriting. More pruning. Compacting. Rectifying inconsistencies. More pruning. Smoothing rough spots. More pruning.

Argh! I need more coffee!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Still Crawling Forward + A Minor Rant

Word count for Recompense is now up to 271,200. I need to pull back and exercise some self-discipline. I intend to start a new trilogy, or at least add more books to the series anyway, so there's no point in trying to write it all at once.

Meanwhile, I am trying to make sure that my characters maintain consistency, and remain at least halfway believable. This is the foundation for today's rant.

I was watching Grimm last week, the last episode before it goes on Christmas break. I am wavering on whether to even bother picking up the show again after the first of the year. The wildly unlikely personal interactions and behaviors are getting painful to watch.

It's not like this is new knowledge. Every speculative fiction writer. I mean every speculative fiction writer knows that the more improbable the setting is, the more realistic everything else has to be. Otherwise people will snort and turn to something else. You have to make your characters REAL. You have to make your characters someone that the reader/audience will give a rat's backside about. Like them or hate them, they have to ring true to life.

Once again I say, as I have said so often before, that every story at its most basic heart is simply a case of 'once upon a time something happened to someone and this is what came of it'. Stories are about the characters, and what happens to them, and how they react to what happens to them. Without interesting characters that the reader/audience/listener can identify with, all you are doing is writing a dry recitation of events. Rather like a newspaper article.

Either that, or you are writing a (grimace) literary work. Which means that you are not really telling a story at all, just spewing out some verbal self-indulgence all over the page.

Friday, December 11, 2015


Final climax draweth nigh. Currently at 265,351 words, but that is after I did some heavy pruning of unnecessary dialog. The trigger confrontation for the final showdown is done.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Yet Another Snippet

Just to prove that I am honest to goodness still working on it. Currently at 262.824 words and climbing rapidly: 


Recompense is approaching publication, and all preview excerpts on this blog have been deleted. However, any confirmed reader who leaves a review for either Athame or Wrath is entitled to a free preview of Part One of Recompense. Just leave a review and send me an email to morganalreth (at) gmail (dot) com with the link, or if you already have reviewed, just end the link. I will return a preview file in either PDF or Kindle format, as preferred.

Monday, December 7, 2015

It's Going To Be Close

I dearly wanted to finish Recompense in time for Christmas. I don't know if I am going to make it or not. In keeping with my time honored tradition, this book is growing larger than I expected. The plot is more complex than anticipated, but it's necessary in order to avoid making it seem forced.

I intensely dislike books where the plot points are shoved down the reader's throat 'just because the author says so'. My plot points happen organically, or that's my intention. When something happens in one of my books, it is my intention for it to be a natural outgrowth of the character's nature, past history, and personal intentions.

And while I try to figure out how a book will end before I start writing it, my story conclusions are not based on forcing the characters into any particular configuration. The characters will end up being whoever they end up being. I only pre-plan the big events. Wars, rumors of wars, famines, pestilence, earthquakes in divers places, etc. Characters happen as they happen.

So, for example, I need Pete and Jess to take a trip together in the last part of the book. The trip is absolutely required in order for the plot to finish up properly, and for the story to reach its inevitable culmination. The handwriting was on the wall for this back in book 2, Wrath, so I am not forcing this ending. It is happening just as it is supposed to happen.

But the loving couple is being contrary. They like where they are at the moment. They don't want to travel. They're tired, and they're busy, and they are telling me to shove it. They have better things to do than go wandering off. So I have to lure them out, like trying to lure squirrels with a handful of peanuts. They are grumbling, but they are moving. Slowly.

I just don't know if they will get there before Christmas.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Magic v Science v Semantics

Arthur Clarke is usually credited with saying that a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I think it may have been Larry Niven (I am too lazy right now to look it up) who came out with the the corollary, that any sufficiently rigorous magical system is indistinguishable from technology. I personally do not even try to distinguish between them. To me, it's all semantics.

The way I look at it, if you understand what, how, and why, then it's science. If you understand what and how, but not why, then it's an art. If you understand what, but not how or why, it's magic. Gunpowder used to be magic in Europe. Until people figured out how to mix it up for themselves. Then it became part of the Art of alchemy.

Alchemy is the perfect example. To many people in Europe, alchemy was magic, pure and simple. White magic or black magic, depending on who you asked. But magic. To the alchemists themselves, it was The Art.  They knew what to do, and how to do it, in order to make some things happen. They had even started to figure out a few basic rules and principles. But still, they didn't know why some thing happened in certain ways when you mixed certain earths in particular proportions. They just knew that they happened. Even in the 18th and early 19th century, people who called themselves chemists were, in many cases, operating by guess and by gosh with their fingers crossed. Finally, people started learning about molecules. Light began to dawn, and alchemy became the science of chemistry.

Medicine is another prime example. Up to the nineteenth century, tribal healers in rural areas often used herbal remedies that were sneered at by European doctors and their colonial offshoots. In both cases, the healers, tribal and Euro, were practicing an art rather than a science. Neither of them had a clue as to why some people got sick and others didn't, or why some people got better and others didn't. The difference was that in many cases the tribal healer was more adept at the art and, instead of acknowledging this, the city dwellers sneered at the tribal healers art and called it magic. Thereby shoving it into irrelevancy.

Then that pesky French guy, Pierre Louis, had to ruin things by proving statistically that the time honored and slmost universally revered tradition of bloodletting was not just useless. It was killing people. Shock and dismay ensued. What?! One of medicine's most cherished rituals, one that had been practiced for an unholy number of centuries, was actually mere superstition?! Blasphemy!

Ignaz Semmelweis later proclaimed that if doctors and nurses washed their hands, it would keep disease from spreading. If I am not mistaken, there is something about ritual cleansing after handling sick people and such in a book called the Old Testament. Since the ancient Egyptians are reported to have successfully conducted trepanning, oral surgery, amputations, and cured a variety of communicable diseases, I suspect a lot of this had been well established as part of the medical Art for a while. But Europe got ethnocentric for a couple of millennia and preferred to use traditional magic. While the tribal healers were in fact practicing an art. It wasn't until somebody started processing the data with numbers that it all turned into a science.

You know, like him or hate him, Robert Heinlein was right about one thing. If it can't be expressed in numbers then it isn't science. It's an opinion. The corollary of course, is that if it can be expressed in numbers, then it is science. Not art or magic. If someone makes a categorical statement, and cannot show the numbers to back it up, they are chanting an incantation.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Another One About World Building

One of the issues with writing fantasy is the difficulty of being believable. I don't mean making your fantasy world believable. It can sometimes be even more difficult to convince the reader that the mundane aspects of your character's existence are true to life. It can be accurate, it can be completely true to life. But if the reader doesn't accept is as truth, facts become irrelevant.

A big part of the problem is that many people, mostly city dwellers, are either uninformed or have distorted ideas about what life is like under primitive conditions. And many people nowadays are sadly bewildered when it comes to low tech. Because relatively few people actually use low tech tools now.

Even people who do a fair amount of camping have only vague ideas of how much water has to be hauled in buckets for cooking and washing dishes, much less laundry and bare minimum standards of personal hygiene. It's a constant job. And the firewood cutting never stops either, winter or summer. Not even for a day. And almost no city dweller in the US has actually used a washboard.

I have in my possession a wooden shucking peg, made by my grandfather. It's about seventy years old. I have yet to show it to anyone under the age of fifty who knows what it is or what it's for. Obviously, if for some reason I wanted to write a story where one of the characters was shucking corn by hand, I would have to gloss over the details or risk befuddling most readers. And people in general seem, to me, to be getting less familiar with the old ways with each generation. I also have a hay fork, only the Creator knows why. I actually enjoy showing that one to people. The expressions are hilarious.

You can't describe many of the day to day activities of people in a low tech society in any detail without getting into a long, involved description that would throw off the flow of the story. Usually that's fine. Unless you want to include a plot detail that depends on that particular activity. That's where it gets challenging. Oh well.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Need For Self Restraint

My book, Recompense, is going to be slightly longer than I had planned. Just slightly longer. Just means that I have to put in more late nights, I suppose.

I wrote another scene last night, one that isn't, in the strictest sense, required by the plot. Although it does tie in with something later that is plot critical. Yet I think it adds a valuable piece of texture to the world and also fleshes out the main characters.

Mark Twain, during an article where he disembowels a book he emphatically did not enjoy, described one of his problems with it by saying an author is supposed to make the reader love the good people and hate the bad ones. But in the book he was criticizing, the reader hates the good people, is indifferent toward the bad ones, and wishes they would all get drowned together.

I interpret this to mean that the reader is supposed to identify with the protagonist and want them to succeed, because they see themselves walking in the protagonist's shoes. But none of us lack flaws. It comes back to making both the protagonists and the villains human. The hero and heroine need to face internal challenges and prove their mettle. Or fail to prove it, and thereby show that they, too, are mortal.

In this latest scene, one of the protagonists does something with honorable intentions. In fact, with the intention of saving the life of a beloved friend. Yet the action, if the friend learned of it, would cause the friend to recoil in revulsion, and might even end their friendship. The action also has the potential, in fact the near certainty, of causing serious consequences later on. 'The road to hell in paved with good intentions,' etc.

But it was a cleft stick situation. Not taking the action would have meant letting something else happen. Something that would have been, in the opinion of the protagonist, even worse. A major moral quandary. Just like we all face sometimes.

And now that I think about it, I can see how it will have a major effect on the plot after all. Not the plot in Recompense. The plot in the next book after this series is done. One rock can start an avalanche.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

World Building

I filled in one weak point that has been bothering me for years. Why would anyone voluntarily become one of the undead? They are horrible creatures, and I don't care what Hollywood says. The whole effort to take shuffling zombies that drink blood to sustain their unnatural existence, and transform them into sparkly sex objects has always puzzled me.

There are undead in my universe, and I am a stickler for logical internal consistency. Or I try to be. I believe I have explained the ghaunts, finally. But the vampires were still nagging at me. I can see why victims become vampires, if the disease is communicable. But where did the first vampires come from? What caused it to come into existence, and why did it happen? Then it hit me.

Maybe the vampirism wasn't the objective? Maybe the vampirism was simply the price of doing business? I plugged it into the story and it actually fits. Hm.

New Word Count

I'm currently up to 252,773 words on Recompense. That's after some more editing. I am stumbling forward. It's going to be close to the wire whether I make my self-imposed deadline and finish it this year. But I won't stop trying.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Progress Report

Just checking in. I have been averaging about a thousand words a day for the past three or four days. Right now the count is about 249k words, because I have also been doing some editing as I go along. I am still shooting to have it done this year. If I live, and retain my sanity, and the electricity doesn't get cut off, etc.

Harend is being difficult, though. I thought I had him settled, but he is getting fractious and causing more trouble than I expected. Stubborn, refuses to give up. Have to kind of admire his persistence, but this is getting to the point where he has gone beyond the pale. Too bad, but there it is. Time for some tough love.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Male versus Female

Periodically I come across an article or a forum post that touches on the ancient question of gender differences in the way writers express themselves. Do men and women write differently? If so, are the differences inherent or learned? The argument has been going on a lot longer than I have been around, and no doubt will continue as long as we continue to have two genders.

I have written characters of both genders many times. I've never had anyone complain that my characters don't ring true. In fact, I have had several members of  the opposite sex tell me that my characters are "amazingly" accurate. I have no idea how, unless it's the fact that I don't write characters who are men or women. I write characters who are people. The fact that those people happen to have certain types of plumbing installed does not change the basic fact that they are all people.

I think that there is no question about males and females acting and reacting differently, at least part of the time, to equivalent situations. My theory is that there are basic inborn differences, but that the way we express those differences is a matter of cultural conditioning.

It's also true that all of my characters are written from the viewpoint of my attitude and world paradigm. This inevitably spills over and is expressed through their eyes, and thoughts, and choices. Even allowing for gender variance, an American man and an American woman are going to look at the world, and react to the world, in a similar way. And it is quite possible that their differences will be less than their similarities when compared to, for example, an equivalent pair from China or Iraq.

So, are there any points of variance that are consistent between men and women of all cultures? Probably. Am I going to express my opinion on what they might be in a public post? Not for all the coffee in Columbia. My secret weapon is to hunt down as many beta readers of the opposite sex as I possibly can and get them to tell me if I missed the target. If anyone knows a better way, I am happy to listen.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

I'm Hitting A Wall

Mark Twain said he let the partial draft of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court sit in a pigeonhole on his desk for several years because he ran dry. The Maestro advocated stepping away from a book when you hit a wall like this and letting your mind do other things. Since I regard Twain as the Supreme Authority on All Things Authorial, I have been doing some housekeeping, gaming, and generally catching up on a few long neglected tv shows.

But I'm still spinning my wheels. Which is stupid. I know what's going to happen next. Recompense is in four parts. Parts 1-3 are complete except for editing. Part four is somewhere between three fourths and seven eighths done, and the final three scenes are already written and set in stone. All I have to do is put in the intermediate work and I already know what is supposed to go in there.

What is my subconscious trying to tell me? This is maddening. And there is not a drop of vodka in the house. Rum, we got. But no coke, so what good is that?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Why Not? Here's one more Snippet

Another snippet from Recompense, just for the heck of it:


Recompense is approaching publication, and all preview excerpts on this blog have been deleted. However, any confirmed reader who leaves a review for either Athame or Wrath is entitled to a free preview of Part One of Recompense. Just leave a review and send me an email to morganalreth (at) gmail (dot) com with the link, or if you already have reviewed, just end the link. I will return a preview file in either PDF or Kindle format, as preferred.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Another Snippet

From Recompense:


Recompense is approaching publication, and all preview excerpts on this blog have been deleted. However, any confirmed reader who leaves a review for either Athame or Wrath is entitled to a free preview of Part One of Recompense. Just leave a review and send me an email to morganalreth (at) gmail (dot) com with the link, or if you already have reviewed, just end the link. I will return a preview file in either PDF or Kindle format, as preferred.

Never Surrender

The last few months have been woefully painful. Between the heart, blood pressure, and spinal problems I haven't been very impressive about writing output these last few weeks. Not to speak of everything else that's going on with the family.

But while the fingers have been relatively idle, the mind has been whizzing along like a racehorse with a jalapeno up his ass. I am bound and determined to finish Recompense before the end of the year, hopefully before Christmas, or fall asleep trying. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

I Hate Rat Mazes

Hate 'em, no matter what kind of narrative they are in. What does this have to do with writing books? More than you might think. The one thing any story teller does not EVER want to do is become tedious. Forcing the player/audience/reader to wade through fluff simply in order to pad the product and make it look fatter is tedious in the extreme.

Computer RPG designers do it by making dungeons into rat mazes that have no narrative purpose for being there and/or have no logical justification for being laid out the way they are. In books the approach is a bit different, but the effect is the same. The purpose is to artificially lengthen and expand the narrative and try to fool the customer into believing that they are getting more for their money than they really are.

What provoked this particular rant was my recent spell of playing an RPG with a dungeon of surpassing annoyance. The rat maze syndrome is not uncommon in games by this particular company, but this one got under my hide for some reason. It was supposed to be a vast underground city, abandoned by its makers centuries ago, There were the obligatory primitive interlopers and relic mechanical defenses of course. But the main problem was the layout.

Several different zones exited into a vast central area at different elevations. Problem is, you were supposed to dutifully follow the trail of bread crumbs through the twisting passageways back and forth and around and up and down and back again, climbing ramps and stairs until you finally got dumped back at the central area again. Whereupon you would find yourself facing a broken bridge or a sunken walkway, which inevitably forced you to swim, jump, or otherwise strain yourself and risk life and limb in order to make it to the next doorway. Then you went into the next zone and picked up the trail of breadcrumbs again so you could continue onward in your intrepid quest for the cheese.

I hate that kind of layout. I hated it when the original Doom for DOS did it. I hated it when the original Hexen did it. And there is no reason on earth for any gaming company to still be doing it now. The hardware and software limitations of the early eighties simply do not apply anymore. This is intellectual laziness on the part of the game designer, pure and simple. It griped me to the point that I got maybe a third of the way through it before I gave up and used cheat codes to hurry up and find the cheese so I could get out of there.

Writers of books and short stories have their own version of the rat maze. One favored narrative tactic is so common that it has a technical term among writers. It's called the Idiot Plot. The name means that the plot only holds together because all of the characters are idiots. It's the romance story where, if the hero and heroine spent five minutes talking to each other and comparing notes, there wouldn't be a story. Or the mystery novel where none of the supposedly wise and experienced investigators have sense enough to consult a high school chemistry text book. Or the thriller where none of the campers have sense enough to consider that humans started living together in tribes because there is safety in numbers, and it is really dumbass to split up in the middle of the night when you KNOW that there is something out there with sharp teeth.

Back to my little RPG. There's nothing wrong with wanting to give the player/reader an expanded amount of content. That idea is laudable. But the way they went about it is simple laziness. Just like an idiot plot in a book is laziness. Instead of putting their minds to work, the designers cut and pasted a bunch of pre-designed graphics and slapped them onto what looks like a standard set of corridors. Then they tack a wad of them together in a semi-coherent mass, all wrapped around a central opening. Paint on some underground texures and there you go, instant underground city. Sprinkle in a few ugly NPCs for a modicum of challenge, and pour out the bread crumbs. Then proudly point and say, 'look, a challenging adventure'. Right.

Instead of wearing the player out from running back and forth through an endless series of identical hallways, the game designers could have added death traps, or an unstable ceiling that might cave in if the player hit the wrong spot, or leftover machines that might have unstable power supplies to blow up if they were messed with, or a hundred other things. But that would have required time and effort.

Just like it would take effort to throw in third party villain to deliberately misinform the bewildered lovers, or have a crooked lab tech give the clueless detectives false information, or maybe have the secret monster be smart enough to set the cabin on fire and force the silly teenagers out into the night. ANYTHING would be better than simply insulting the reader's intelligence and wearing out their patience with fluff.

Monday, August 17, 2015

It's OK To Make A Villain Human, But They Still Have To Be A Villain

There is a tv fantasy series that has been on for a few seasons. As is typical of network television in the US, the quality of the writing is embarrassingly bad. So it will probably stay on the air for a few more seasons. I won't name it. I don't want to make those poor staff writers feel worse than they already do, and I don't want to get sued or harassed.

The reason I mention it is that the producers cannot seem to force themselves to label anyone as being bad. The leading villain was an evil sorceress. The woman was, literally, a bloodthirsty mass murderer.  She kept an entire cellar full of her victim's body parts for souvenirs. Once, when asked about the people she had killed, she snapped that she had never bothered to keep track. Yet by the end of the second season she was apparently redeemed. You see, she had adopted a kid and decided that she was "really-very-sorry". Plus she came from a dysfunctional family. So that made everything all right.

There are other characters that are equally screwed up. The thing they all have in common is that ultimately, nobody ever does anything unforgivable. Except failing to forgive, which is a paradox. One guy, for example, had a wife that ran off to see the world and left him to raise their child alone. He didn't forgive her, which made him a bad guy. The guy she ran off with, a murdering thief, is a nice guy because he's "really-very-sorry". At least for a few episodes.

The eldest prince in Kulhn is not sorry about anything. He believes his actions are fully justified. That's not to say that he is completely bad. Throughout the course of the trilogy I have tried to show him as being ruthless, selfish, and opportunistic. But he's still human. He has good points, he has people who care about him. He has things that he believes in. Ultimately, however, he is ruthless, selfish, and opportunistic.

That's the whole point of being a villain. The difference between a hero and a villain is sometimes razor thin. One of the central conflicts of my trilogy is the rivalry of two royal brothers to take their father's throne. They are full brothers. Same parents and same siblings. Raised in the same palace and taught the same ethical code. They both want the same thing, and for similar though not completely identical reasons.Both of them are willing to kill to get it. Both of them are willing to kill their own blood kin to get it.

So what's the difference? The youngest prince has an arrogant streak, and he has been guilty of behavior that is disturbingly merciless. He is also a bit judgmental toward those who disappoint him. The elder prince loves and worries about his mother, feels a deep sense of responsibility toward the men under his command and is emotionally touched by their expressions of loyalty.

The difference is where the lines get drawn. There are things that the younger prince will not do. There are lines that he will not cross. Sometimes he will push all the way up to the lines. But he will not step over them. The youngest prince acknowledges that there is a higher standard of behavior than simply his own desire, or even his own personal conscience.

The younger prince says that is is always wrong to kill the innocent, it is always wrong to rob, it is always wrong to kidnap and rape. It doesn't matter why you want to do it. The youngest prince says that there are standards which a ruler may not transgress, He is committed to the principle that a king cannot and must not rule vengefully. The law must always be applied in cold blood, no matter how heinous a crime might be. Nor can a king spare his friends because he loves them, not if they have crossed the lines. If you do something that breaks one of the absolute wrongs, then you must be called to account. Even if you are really-very-sorry.

That cannot be said of the elder prince. To the elder brother, the end justifies the means. He has never heard of situational ethics, but if he had the term would suit him perfectly. He unleashes roaming bands to scour the countryside of his own kingdom, looting his people's homes to provide supplies for his soldiers. He doesn't wish harm to the peasantry, or the weaker nobles. He just doesn't think they matter. His agents have no hesitation about torturing and killing the innocent for information with casual disregard, and the elder prince is indifferent. Again, he has nothing against the lowborn who die. He just doesn't think they matter. Any method, any tactic, is justified if it achieves the goal of getting him what he wants.

And THAT is the short definition of evil.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

New Snippet


Recompense is approaching publication, and all preview excerpts on this blog have been deleted. However, any confirmed reader who leaves a review for either Athame or Wrath is entitled to a free preview of Part One of Recompense. Just leave a review and send me an email to morganalreth (at) gmail (dot) com with the link, or if you already have reviewed, just end the link. I will return a preview file in either PDF or Kindle format, as preferred.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Realism In Fantasy (again)

I flog this tired old nag periodically. It's a recurrent irritation to me. My own fault of course. I started off writing science fiction, which usually requires slightly more rigorous attention to natural laws. So the habit of trying to write in terms that make a story as believable as possible followed me over to fantasy writing like a starving puppy.

This is a relatively new thing, and many people don't share my opinion about this. In the old days of fantasy writing, say anything prior to the twentieth century, fantasy stories were fables, lessons, parables, and the important thing was the message that they were trying to teach. So everyone apparently assumed magic could do anything, and divine power had no limits.Apparently they also assumed that most characters in magical worlds were idiots, too. But who am I to judge? A lot of people today still don't give a care. Or don't give much of a care.

Then there are those of us who strain at gnats. We are the ones who are bothered by the fact that a world where summer and winter are decades long implies an orbit so wildly oblique that it most likely wouldn't develop life at all. And if it did, the odds of anything like a human developing seem slim to the point of ludicrous.

We get antsy, wondering why nobody, not one single member of the Hogwarts faculty, or the magical government, ever considered the advantages of loading up a few shotguns. Or buying some computers. Maybe setting out some usb cameras and microphones. Or a walkie-talkie? If that was too hi-tech for them to figure out, since a rubber duck seemed to floor them, would it confound them to work out the intricacies of cocking and loading a crossbow?

It just bugs me, that's all. One of the reasons that my third book is taking so long to complete is related to this issue. I know what is going to happen. In fact, all but one of the main conflict scenes are already written. But I need to make it the plot develop and work within the context of the magical system that I already have in place, while at the same time not insulting the reader's intelligence. I also need to avoid making it look like the main characters have suddenly been beaten senseless with a stupid stick.

Kulhn is not the land of Oz. People bleed in my world, and they go hungry, and they get cold, and stuck in the mud. Nor do characters in Kulhn get the privilege of 'traveling at the speed of plot', to quote an online writing acquaintance of mine. Horseback and cargo wagons take time. Magic can supplement speed, but there is a cost. If you run, it drains you because you are pushing your body beyond its natural limits. If you cast it on your horse, it kills the horse. There is always a price.

Maybe I'm just weird for caring about those kind of details. But that's me.  Oh, well.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Health Status

Got back from the hospital Thursday after some more testing. The old carcass is a train wreck, but it's not quite dead yet. I am feeling better, at least well enough to put in some more hours on Recompense. All of the major confrontation scenes that cause pivots in the plot are written. All but one of the fights are written. Almost all of the character development is done, including supporting and incidental characters.

All I have to do is glue them together and edit them. And not a drop of booze in the house.

Friday, July 3, 2015


I just finished a critical scene, and second guessed myself with every word.

One of the primary dangers of my world are the ghaunts (ghastly haunts) that infest Kulhn's southern forest. They are a breed of undead totally unlike anything seen before. I introduced them in book one, and added some more background along with a few hints in book two. Now, late in book three, I finally revealed not only their ultimate origin, but exactly what the protagonists needs to do to defeat and eliminate them.

My issue is that I am worried it all may have come together too neatly. But every bit of foreshadowing has led up to this moment, and I can't think of any other way to move things forward. From here, the reader will know why the ghaunts exist, why the protagonist is honor bound to deal with them, the only method that will work, what it will cost the protagonist, and why his family is having a fit over him being willing to pay it.

It also explains several mysterious items that have been in the background over the past three books. I'm just iffy about it.

But then, it's the first draft. I will let it cool a while and then do some critical re-reading before I make a final decision. I just wish I could dig up another beta reader.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Fermi Paradox - A Philosophical Straw Man

We who write speculative fiction have to deal with esoteric philosophical concepts all the time. It’s part of the job description But some of them just make me tired. 

A couple of days ago I was reading a news article, that had a link, that mentioned a reference, that had another link, that led to yet another article, that lured me into a story wherein was mentioned one of my least favorite debating points. Namely, the Fermi Paradox. A topic which invariably provokes indigestion for me. 

The Fermi paradox is almost certainly familiar to anyone reading this. But just in case some innocent traveler got lost in the woods and stumbled into this If you have any sense, RUN. Otherwise, here’s the gist of it. Enrico Fermi was a nuclear physicist who, back around 1950 or so, was sitting around having a bull session with some of his colleagues. ‘Bull’ session is the perfect description for it, in my opinion. 

In fairness, old Enrico was a number cruncher, which means a left brain thinker by definition. It’s not his fault that he stumbled over some basic common sense issues. But people are still poking at it after all this time, which I take as evidence that some people really need a new hobby. 

Anyway, the gist of the Fermi Paradox is this. Our star is pretty boring and typical. There are lots of other stars like ours out there. So there should logically be lots of other planets with people on them. So where are they and why haven’t we heard from them? After all, the universe is billions of years old. There’s been plenty of time for the neighbors to come calling. But they haven’t. 

Hence, the paradox. 



Okay. Without staining my underwear, I can reel off a library full of different explanations for the known data, or lack of data. It all ultimately comes down to the fact that We Don’t Know Crap About What’s Going On because we haven’t gone out there yet. So sitting around with our thumbs in our randomly selected orifices is a bit useless. But here’s a few reasons why the Fermi Paradox is a waste of mind space, in my opinion. Just a few reasons off the top of my head. 

1) Earth has had life for billions of years. Earth has had intelligent life for maybe one million years, plus or minus. Intelligent life on Earth has had the capacity to make its presence known to any other planet for less than a century. Basic math here: 100 years / approx 4,000,000,000 = a teeny weeny fraction of a percentage of time during Earth’s life bearing existence that we have been even faintly detectable. And even then, we would only be detectable to someone within a hundred light years. By the time our radio signals get a thousand light years out, they will be so weak and garbled that background radiation will effectively destroy them. Even if the galaxy is chock full of other worlds like us, how could we possibly hear them? 

2) Intelligent life is not necessarily a desirable survival trait. The shark is a fish so ancient that it doesn’t even use bone. It predates bone. It uses cartilage. It predates modern fishes, it predates the dinosaurs. But it still rules the oceans as king predator. The scorpion was the first animal to crawl up on land, according to my training. Scorpions are still pretty much the way they were hundreds of millions of years ago and going strong. Ditto for spiders. And ants. And mosquitoes. Crocodiles were here with the dinosaurs. So were ferns. Every other life form that ever lived on Earth (countless numbers of species, literally countless) never bothered to develop intelligence, yet they seem to keep trucking right along. In many cases still going strong after hundreds of millions of years. 

An intelligent brain is quite expensive to feed. Which means that an intelligent life form would just about have to spend most of its time looking for food, even if it is an omnivore. Our ancestors did. Many of us still do. A big brain also has a dismal tendency to go off-kilter sometimes. Plus, a big brain means a big head, which causes issues with reproduction. So even if life is ubiquitous, there is plenty of evidence right here that intelligence is a highly unlikely direction for life to follow. Our ancestors only went there because they had no other real option. 

If we knew how many species of life ever developed on Earth, we could calculate a realistic probability of intelligence developing. But we don’t have that information. All we CAN say with confidence is that even on a biotic world, the odds of developing an intelligent life form are several million to one, and that it is not likely to happen in less than four billion years..

3) Even if the galaxy is teeming with life, and even if I am wrong and every living world develops an intelligent race sooner or later, what are the odds that they all develop at the same time? Billions of years, remember? There is no inherent reason that an intelligent life form could not have developed just a few million years ago in Mesozoic times, if it had not been for the random element of that asteroid strike. Even a spacing of one million years, which is proportionately an eyeblink in the scale of galactic time, could result in two races never meeting each other.

4) Which leads into the conviction that some people hold, about interstellar colonization being inevitable. One of the recurring points that people bring up about the Fermi paradox is that after all this time, why haven’t we been colonized? Someone even went to the trouble of calculating how many thousands or millions of years it would take for a race to colonize the whole galaxy. 

Horseshit. There have been numerous human cultures that weren’t big on colonization, not even of their neighbor’s island. If we have that much variation within a single species, why does it necessarily follow that IF a world develops intelligent life, and IF that life happens to develop anywhere near the same time period that we do, and IF they happen to use tools, and IF they happen to be interested in learning how to fly, and IF they happen to decide that space looks kewl and want to go see what’s out there, and IF they decide that it’s worth the trouble to develop interstellar spaceships.... 

I got side tracked. Where was I? Oh, yeah. With all of that, it still doesn’t necessarily follow that they would be the kind of people that like to horn in and steal other people’s land. And IF they are the kind of aggressive, expansionist race that tends to spread out and glom onto anything they happen to think looks attractive, what are the odds that they are also belligerent and quarrelsome? Which means, warriors. Which means, they would probably fight each other, and any other warriors they come across. Which reminds me of the Biblical adage, "...they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." In other words, an aggressive race that sets out to colonize the galaxy would most likely self-destruct. Which I suppose is sufficient to answer the question as to why they aren’t here. 

Now if I could just answer the question as to why I bothered to spend time and energy pondering this, and give myself indigestion again. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

More Background Information

If anyone is interested in reading some more backgroud information about the kingdom of Kulhn, I just posted a page titled Technology and Culture in Kulhn. You can find it by clicking the tab at the top of the page where is says Kingdom of Kulhn, and then dropping down the page to the link. There are a few other links there as well.

I have been slow about getting these pages finished. The third book, and another series that I was already hip deep in, plus other whining excuses, have slowed me down. I'm sorry it took so long.

Flogging My Characters Into Submission

My characters have taken the bit between their teeth again. They do that periodically. To a limited extent I don't mind. As I keep saying, a story is "something happened to someone and this is what came of it". In other words, the characters drive the story, the plot doesn't form the characters.

But sometimes I have to herd them back into the corral. Or at least back into the right pasture. If I let them wander loose I would be writing the same book when I die of old age and my kids would have to finish it. As it is I added a fourth section because it just made sense to break the narrative that way. What was intended to be a fairly brief concluding section is now headed for an in-depth undertaking.


What are you going to do? It really does belong to the characters. If I'm not willing to let them tell their story they way it actually happened, then there is no point in bothering with it. So back to the keyboard. I have an execution to describe.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Military Ranks In Kulhn

I have been working on a major battle scene recently, and it has brought home just how incoherent the military ranks in medieval Europe and post-medieval armies really were. Some of them are ancestral to modern ranks. For example, a commissioned officer was someone who had received a royal commission. A warrant officer was someone who had been given a warrant by a commissioned officer. And so on.

But each country had their own system, and none of them were as detailed as a modern army. Even in the early years after the medieval period, it was still a case of the local lord marching off to battle with whatever few peasants he could gather up. The knight or baron would say something like, "John, you take Tim and Will. Go hide behind that hill with your crossbows while we drive the enemy to you." Or the functional equivalent. Most permanent fighting forces were mercenary companies, who had their own systems for organizing things.

Kulhn is different in that it does have a standing army. It has to have a standing army, because the Lertolian empire, which owns the western approximately four fifths of the continent, has an advanced and well organized military machine. The only reason that they haven't bothered to finish conquering the rest of the continent is the expense of fighting their way over the mountains. And then, of course, the aggravation of needing to administer the place. Especially with Kulhn's haunted forest in the way.

But the presence of the Lertolian empire has made it imperative for the eastern kingdoms to tighten down their military arrangements, just to survive. Kulhn's land army is organized in a way that is not nearly as rigorous as a modern military, but still tighter and more efficient than medieval Europe. I won't get into their navy here, which is basically an afterthought at this point in their history. Kulhn is not a naval power by any means.

The royal army in Kulhn consists of primarily militia and a small percentage of regular soldiers, with the rest being provided by the most powerful nobility from their personal household troops. The royal regulars are maintained, fed, housed, and supplied through taxes levied by the throne against the noble houses. The militia maintain themselves, based on whatever arrangement they have worked out with their local lord. There are no slaves or serfs in Kulhn, and many of the peasant militia are small landholders themselves. However, no one is required to supply a levy of troops unless they own more than a square league of land.

The ranks are not patterned after the Lertolian model, since the Lertolian legions are much larger and more diverse than anything east of the Nahksaur mountains. Military ranks in Kulhn start at common soldier, then squad leader (commands five), then sergeant (commands five squads), then team leader (varies), then commander (might be either a squire or a knight, might command team leaders in field, or might operate in administration), then captain (usually a knight bachelor who does not own land, usually part of general's staff), and ultimately the commander general.

Above the commander general (aka  just 'the general') are the highborn. These are the nobles who bear kinship to the throne in some way, as well as the royal family itself. If a member of the highborn is present, they always take command by default, with relative authority being decided by birth rank.

Hopefully this will clarify things a bit for anyone who reads Recompense. I estimate it to be about 85% done, after last weekend's marathon writing session.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

One More. What The Heck.


Recompense is approaching publication, and all preview excerpts on this blog have been deleted. However, any confirmed reader who leaves a review for either Athame or Wrath is entitled to a free preview of Part One of Recompense. Just leave a review and send me an email to morganalreth (at) gmail (dot) com with the link, or if you already have reviewed, just end the link. I will return a preview file in either PDF or Kindle format, as preferred.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Another Scene


Recompense is approaching publication, and all preview excerpts on this blog have been deleted. However, any confirmed reader who leaves a review for either Athame or Wrath is entitled to a free preview of Part One of Recompense. Just leave a review and send me an email to morganalreth (at) gmail (dot) com with the link, or if you already have reviewed, just end the link. I will return a preview file in either PDF or Kindle format, as preferred.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Minor Stroke

That's what the doc called it. Some nerve damage to one leg. I can walk now. Have feeling in most of the affected are except for the foot. It has hampered my creative juices a bit. Not to worry, though. Like I said before, the book is already written in my head, and pretty much outlined in blocks throughout the existing file on the system. I just need to go through and expand the outlined sections into full sized narrative text.

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor busted plumbing shall keep me from the eventual completion of my trilogy:)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Oh Well, Why Not?


Recompense is approaching publication, and all preview excerpts on this blog have been deleted. However, any confirmed reader who leaves a review for either Athame or Wrath is entitled to a free preview of Part One of Recompense. Just leave a review and send me an email to morganalreth (at) gmail (dot) com with the link, or if you already have reviewed, just end the link. I will return a preview file in either PDF or Kindle format, as preferred.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Just To Prove I Am Still Working


Recompense is approaching publication, and all preview excerpts on this blog have been deleted. However, any confirmed reader who leaves a review for either Athame or Wrath is entitled to a free preview of Part One of Recompense. Just leave a review and send me an email to morganalreth (at) gmail (dot) com with the link, or if you already have reviewed, just end the link. I will return a preview file in either PDF or Kindle format, as preferred.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Temptation Toward Verbosity

I used to be a pantser. Meaning I wrote by the seat of my pants. I never bothered with anything resembling an outline, I never even bothered figuring out in advance what the story was really about or how it was going to end. I just sat down and turned my subconscious loose. Some of my favorite authors are reported to have written that way. Rex Stout. Mark Twain. Just to name two.

But as I got older and my stories got more complex, I realized that I had to either impose some kind of order on them or resign myself to writing stories that would ramble on for years. I personally think it's self-evident that Robert Jordan was a pantser. Poor guy. Although considering the cash he no doubt piled up, sympathy may be misplaced. But his story even outlived the author, and somebody else had to finish it. That's kinda sad.

I (briefly) tried the rigid outline approach. Huh-uh. Not for me. What I do now is figure out who the story is about, get a rough idea of the situation they are in and what they are facing, and pin down how things are going to turn out for them. Then, and only then, do I turn my subconscious loose to fill in the details. Sometimes it works.

Other times, like with my current book, it needs tweaking. As I have found while I am in the process of content editing parts one and two. There are too many side trails and fascinating little snippets that distract from the plot. They provide background on the main characters, and they help flesh out the world. But they are irrelevant to the plot of a book that is already longer than I had intended it to be. They are going. I will put them in the next book, instead.

What I am doing to bring myself under control is inserting mini-outline notes as I go along. In each section when a scene, or a group of scenes, will be needed in order to balance out the plot I write a summary and insert the note at the place where the scene will go. Then I make sure that the notes are arranged in correct order and start writing. If it doesn't make the cut for a summary note, it doesn't go in. That still leaves me with the task of chopping out the underbrush that I have already planted, but it should keep more from sprouting.

I got this trick from Holly Lisle's website, where she describes using index cards to do essentially the same thing with hard copy. Anyone who aspires to be a writer would do well to stop in there. She teaches paid courses on how to structure stories. NOT how to create them, but how to make them coherent and internally consistent, and to make them flow well. She also offers a lot of useful free advice.

Meanwhile, I have a battle to finish. Back later.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Law v Morality And The Conflicts Thereof

Laws do not define the behavior patterns of a society. They reflect the behavior patterns of a society. This, to me, is blatantly self-evident. A majority of the people are already acting in a particular way. A smaller portion is refusing to comply with the majority's defined standards of 'appropriate' behavior. So a law is enacted that gives the majority the official power to smack the minority into line and make them march to the tune of the proper drummer. If/when the minority becomes the majority, the law either becomes unenforceable and ignored, or it gets repealed. I don't understand, I guess I will never understand, why so many people get enraged when this idea is presented.

My male protagonist, Peteros, is trying to change the behavior patterns of his society. As a prince, and a member of a dynasty that has ruled long enough to be regarded with awe, he has a lot of influence. But there are limits. There are also differences in the behavior patterns between the classes of a rather clearly stratified power structure. He's running into trouble.

So how do I present this in a realistic and reasonable way? I am looking at our world and trying to find situations that I can adapt. There are a lot of prime examples here in the US. I don't even need to get into the politically provocative ones like gun control, or abortion, or drug Prohibition. There's a long list of minor laws that illustrate this. I don't need to find something in our world that causes major upheaval. I am looking for insight into the way people in groups think and react under circumstances like that.

One example is the highway speed limit. Originally it was set at 55 mph. It wasn't a bad idea, in theory. Most cars and trucks really do get better gas mileage around that speed. But people didn't like it so they ignored it. For a while it was a windfall as the local police made out like bandits writing speeding tickets. But it soon became a running joke everywhere across the country. Especially in places where towns might be scattered 50 to 100 miles apart. Eventually the cops stopped paying much attention once their ticket quota was full, unless someone was driving recklessly. Then the speed limit was raised to 65 mph, and then in some places even higher. The law had become effectively irrelevant because the behavior patterns of the majority had rendered it null and void.

The nifty idea of switching the US over to the international metric system was another case. For a few (brief) years road signs started displaying speed limits and distances in both miles and kilometers. Whereupon, as Dave Barry pointed out, the American people promptly shot them full of holes. The law was allowed to die of neglect.

The majority had an established behavior pattern. The government attempted to change the behavior patterns of the majority by decree. It didn't work. I have spoken to immigrants from China and Viet Nam. They tell me that even under oppression, people merely render lip service to the almighty state, then go back to doing whatever the hell they want, They just make sure not to get caught.

This also ties into the principle of jury nullification. Although in my kingdom trials are not conducted by juries, so this doesn't specifically apply. But in practical terms, if whoever is in charge of a trial, be it a jury, or a judge, or a magistrate, or a prince, decides to find the accused innocent then that's all of it. It doesn't matter whether they did it or not, if they don't get punished the law has no teeth and is irrelevant.

One more complication for Peteros is that what he is trying to do, while it complies with established civil law, is in direct defiance of religious doctrine. This does tie in with current controversies about abortion, and marriage rights, and posting the ten commandments in schools and courthouses, and prayers before legislative sessions, etc.

The difference is that the people of Kulhn are members of a society that is just coming out of the medieval period. They, like people in many places in our world, believe in their gods with all of their hearts and trust their priests and priestess to be the living mouthpieces of the dieties. To them, their religion is not a theoretical matter for debate. It is Truth to live by. To defy the will of the gods is functionally equivalent stabbing yourself in the guts. So it's going to get ugly.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sleep Deprivation

I noticed that my last post used the old, obsolete title when citing my latest book. That's what I get for trying to function on three hours of sleep and four pots of coffee.

The title is "Recompense". If I refer to it by another name again, just assume that I haven't taken my medication.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Human Psychology

My two primary beta readers for "Recompense" (corrected)  are moving with glacial slowness. Understandable, given that they both have lives and kids to care for. The only solid feedback I have gotten so far is that I need to trim some fat. Um... yeah. I figured that.

My main concern with this one is the villain(s). The reason I waver on single or plural is tied into the concern. Many of my antagonists are sympathetic characters in their own right. Or I think they are. They are doing reprehensible things, sometimes for reasons that most people here and now would find unacceptable. But they are not really evil. Well, one of them is. Ok, two. But even with those two, one of them is less evil, and more amoral. Like a cat. He's just out to survive and devil take the hindmost. Kinda like a U.S. Senator.

To me it's self-evident that nobody is bad or wrong in their own eyes. If they thought they were doing bad things, they wouldn't do them. At least in most cases, again excepting politicians.

The challenge I face, that every fantasy writer faces, is to craft a world with an internally consistent ethical system that is similar enough to our own to be comprehensible. Yet, it also has to leave room for behavior patterns that would get someone either arrested or shot in a heartbeat here and now. Slavery, summary execution by the nobility, religious persecution. Even things like officially sanctioned torture, which still happens under our current system, has to be presented in terms that make it seem different enough to belong in another culture.

The overriding theme of "Recompense" is a conflict between established power structures, who will go to any ruthless extreme to hold power, and an uprising by a long oppressed group who are equally willing to do anything, absolutely anything at all, to gain the revenge that they call justice. But neither group see themselves as evil, and both groups see their enemy as the distilled essence of darkness.

My individual antagonists are ruthless, but so are my protagonists. They are simply ruthless in different ways, with different lines that they won't even consider crossing. The target is to write a villain so real that when he/she goes down, the reader feels triumphant but with a tinge of sympathetic regret. Riding a unicycle across a tightrope might be easier.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Plugging away

About 130k in place so far.

Not long ago I finished a scene that filled in an important part of the backstory for Jessera's family. Telesa paid a very old debt. I will merely note that the proverb about revenge being a dish best served cold does not necessarily hold true. Not when the person taking the revenge is a fire witch.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Editing (whew) Recompense

I'm to the point where arranging the scenes in the proper sequence, and making sure that the plot is internally consistent, and polishing the minor characters, and all the other billion and ten things that need done on the home stretch are hammering me upside the head.

There is still some writing to be done, but it's a case of inputting what is already completed in my mind. Which is why I am focusing so much on organization now, so that the new text goes into place at the right location and doesn't need to be shuffled around later.

I finally got around to typing in the scene where the Supreme Council is formally notified that Jess is a witch. That one was fun. Cruel though, since all of those guys are old men who no doubt have weak hearts.

It really is turning out to be the best that I have written. But I need to keep plodding along in order to keep it that way. I'm really sorry it's taking so long.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


I am in the neighborhood of 100k words on "Recompense". The book is effectively done - in my head. The chokepoint is transferring it to the keyboard. I have been averaging 2k to 3k words a day, so things are moving along. I just hope I don't lose the interest of the readers who have been patiently waiting for the conclusion.

I really do think that this one is the best. We will have to see what everyone else says when I get it published. Back to work.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

I ain't dead

I'll not try to imitate Granny Weatherwax's spelling. I'm not up to it. One similarity between myself and Mr. Pratchett's memorable lady is that my mind has also been flying pretty high of late. But in my case not from Borrowing. From prescribed medication.

For the past two months I have been fighting my way through something that started as an upper respiratory infection, then turned into bronchitis, then grew up to become pneumonia. I've been to the hospital twice, emergency care center two or three times, and I am currently on the verge of finishing up my third helping of antibiotics.

This latest type of antibiotic seems to be doing the trick. I hope. Until now I have been literally too weak to pick up a laptop, and even if I could draw a breath I was coughing too much to type. Obviously, not much writing got done since Christmas.

I have set what I hope are reasonable daily goalposts. If I can average a page a day, by the time my granddaughter graduates I should have the first draft of 'Recompense' ready for proofing. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Well, It Turned Out To Be Pneumonia

I went to the emergency room five days ago and got a pile of antibiotics. Kept getting worse. Went last night and was told, 'Yup. Pneumonia.' Breathing treatments, IV, more antibiotics to go with the first batch, along with strict instructions to go home and stay in bed for at least three days. They would have kept me at the hospital but, you see, I have medicare.

Writing on hold. Too bad. That last scene I had just finished typing when this hit was pretty good, I thought. They caught a raiding party and Telesa put the priest.... never mind. I will get to it eventually.