Buk Tri

This morning I started writing the first chapter of “Buk Tri”–book three of The Tales of the Seventh Empire.

Of course, I skipped the prologue–which is going to be epic–because this morning, ShianMai was speaking to me, and as ShianMai is the viewpoint character for Chapter 1, that is where I began. It’s a little unusual for me–typically, though not always, I write in order. Granted, that order frequently changes, particularly come revision time. Being a Discovery Writer, I create as I write. Of course, my co-author is a major Worldbuilder, which balances out my craziness and keeps the plot on track.

I feel like an athlete who hasn’t worked out in a very, very long time, stretching my legs. Truth be told, I haven’t seriously written since finishing the final draft of Buk Tu in August, and even that was revisions. I haven’t written brand-new material since finishing the first draft last spring. Perhaps I should clarify: there were brand-new scenes in the various revisions we worked through. But there’s an entirely different feeling between writing a new scene and fitting it into the current manuscript, and discovery writing, which is how a first draft feels for me.

This long break is due entirely to my personal life. Getting married will do that to you, I suppose! There were a few times during my engagement that I felt the urge to write, but in the midst of planning a wedding, moving into a new apartment, and spending time with my sweetheart (and getting him through Black Belt Testing!), those urges all got soundly buried.

Things have settled at last, and the urge to write returned in full force. I have been nagging Sam for weeks about Buk Tri. There have been many other stories we’ve discussed in the interim, other stories which I do hope we’ll get to in the near-ish future. But with people asking me almost daily about Buk Tu, I realized that we owe it to our readers to finish the trilogy before moving on to other projects. And beyond that, I find myself truly eager to jump into Buk Tri!

It helps that Sam and I had our most productive brainstorming session OF ALL TIME on Saturday. We’ve had a couple of sessions throughout February, but I was determined to sit down and hash out as much as we could this weekend. But we accomplished far more than I could ever have anticipated! In the space of about three hours, Sam and I plotted all the major threads of Buk Tri, and then some. It was more than enough to start writing–it was enough for us to say, “This is going to be AWESOME.”

As one might hear watching an episode of Rurouni Kenshin, “Look forward to it please!”


PS: Quick update on Buk Tu–I’m told that newly-hired artist Jess Smart Smiley has the cover art in progress. Definitely excited to see the results of his labors!


Brainhurts and brainstorms

If you missed my Twitter updates, it might be news to you that I got a concussion last week. It was just an accident during one of my taekwondo classes. But it was a doozy. I’ve had concussions before, but this one was something else. I was majorly disoriented for several hours, and still minorly disoriented for about three days afterward, with accompanying dizziness as well. I’m still getting headaches, although fortunately they’re getting shorter and less intense as time goes on. Needless to say, my writing productivity was pretty limited for awhile. I’m finally getting back into the normal swing of things, which is a relief. It was pretty scary to feel like my brain wasn’t working properly.

This evening, Sam and I had a writing/brainstorming session. I’m seriously considering the purchase of a recording device of some kind. I have occasionally recorded our sessions on my laptop, but that eats my battery pretty fast, and sometimes I just forget. Regardless, I wish I had a recording of our conversations this evening. Although there was a fair amount of silliness, and apparently fried bananas and ice cream are now the lifeblood of our creative universe, there was also a great deal of new–and incredible–ideas.

I wish each of you had the opportunity to listen to Sam when he’s in a creative moment. Especially writers, readers, and storytellers. I sincerely believe that Sam has to be one of the most creative people in the world. He’s a humble man, and always quick to give me the majority credit for our work. But I will always assign him very high value, because he is the fount of ideas from which all our stories spring. He has an incredible gift.

Maybe some time, I’ll record one of these moments. I would enjoy sharing it with you, so you could get just a hint of our creative process. Of Sam’s creative process, really, because he’s the idea generator. All our greatest moments are his. I just write.

PS: Buk Tu is shaping up nicely. We’re on track to have a draft to our beta readers by June 1, which hopefully means a completed manuscript by the end of summer. :)

The Avengers & Hanu Zan the Hero

I went to the midnight showing of The Avengers. I will admit to you, dear reader, that I am a total nerd for superhero movies. I love them. I devour them. Of course, I oftentimes scorn them (and all too many of them deserve their share of scorn) but deep down I am still fascinated by them. Naturally, I had high hopes for The Avengers. I was enthralled by both Iron Man and Captain America, though less thrilled with Iron Man 2, Thor, and either incarnation of The Hulk in recentish years. But Iron Man and Captain American both had a depth and level of investment that I looked forward to being further explored in The Avengers.

Despite the overwhelming adulation that has been heaped upon The Avengers (by my Facebook friends, at least), I found myself a tad underwhelmed. The movie was funny, to be sure, and had its fair share of eye candy. But the depth I was hoping for was mostly absent. At no point during the movie did I feel emotionally moved, which I had experienced in both Iron Man and Captain America. The characters felt superficial, relegated once again to popcorn-movie status. I think if I had not been set up by the fantastic predecessors, I would have been less disappointed. But Iron Man and Captain America, as well as the contemporary Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, have proven that superhero movies can have depth, true character development, and solid plot. Sadly, I did not experience those things in The Avengers. I think I may go see it again, now that I know what to expect, and see if I can enjoy it for what it’s worth.

I suppose I should make amends for our recent absence from the blogosphere, but it has been time well spent. Sam and I have been hard at work on several projects, not least of which is Hanu Zan the Hero. It’s been project that’s spent awhile on the back burner, as we finished Buk Tu, but which has come to the forefront once more. We are very excited to tell the tales of Hanu Zan. Though much of his history is discussed in The Tale of Telsharu, there is far, far more to Hanu Zan than has yet been revealed. Sam and I have been working diligently on the project over the past several weeks, and we are eager to share the results with you, which will be coming in the near future.

Epigraphs, poetry, and rhyming in fictional languages

I have a great love of epigraphs. With my own work, I am particularly fond of fictional quotations or works from in-world sources. For example, The Tale of Telsharu opens with a poem, which purports itself to be a selection from the epic poem “Hanu Zan” by Fao Duman, who is, in fact, a fictional character, writing about one of the heroes of the Seventh Empire.

I first fell in love with the concept of in-world epigraphs as a teenager reading Dune by Frank Herbert. Each chapter of this classic science fiction novel begins with an quotation from a variety of sources, all from Herbert’s imagined future of mankind. Each epigraph gives new light to the chapter, or sometimes a counter-voice to what actually happens. They provide a rich sort of authenticity to the work, and they lend weight to the story.

When I set out to write the Hanu Zan poem (*gasp!* Yes, I am secretly Fao Duman!) I wanted it to match the flavor of the Seventh Empire, which has its roots in Southeastern Asia–Malaysia and India mainly, with some Chinese and Japanese influences. I began researching forms of poetry from these regions, and that’s when I came across the Pantoum, a fifteenth-century style of Malaysian poetry which is the base form of “Hanu Zan.”

With Buk Tu on its way to completion, I have come again to the epigraph. I considered writing another Pantoum-style poem. I also considered a continuation of “Hanu Zan.” After all, Sam and I are already planning to use the poem (and the character of Fao Duman) in the Hanu Zan short stories. But I quickly decided that this book deserved something new. Something of its own.

Back to research. Buk Tu has more Middle Eastern influences, so I started there. But I wasn’t happy with the styles of poetry that I found, nor what they are commonly known for in the real world. I didn’t want to drag any preconceived notions into our book. And the forms simply didn’t feel right to me.

So I went back to Southeast Asia. There were several forms that I considered using, including the Thanbauk, the Ya-du, and the Ruba’i. But eventually I settled on the Pathya vat. It is a Cambodian style of verse, consisting of four-line stanzas in which lines two and three rhyme, and line four starts the rhyme for the next stanza.

I’ll be honest with you, I was not sold on the idea of rhyming poetry, which is why I struggled against several of the forms that I found. My objections are varied – first, I struggled with rhyming poetry when I had to write it during college, and was reluctant to subject myself to it again.

But more importantly, I struggle with the concept of rhymes when the poem is written in-world. Keep in mind that the people of the Seventh Empire do not speak English. When you read The Tale of Telsharu, we hold to the concept that this is a “translation.” That is actually our justification for using in-world vocabulary. We’re basically saying, “There is no English equivalent of this word” or sometimes “The equivalent of this word sounds dumb in English, so we’re leaving it as it is.” Take Khudang-yun for example. The exact translation of it would be “the divinely appointed man or individual.” As much as a mouthful as Khudang-yun can be, it’s a lot better than spelling out “The Divinely Appointed Individual” all the time.

So, keeping in mind that the poem should be considered an English translation of an in-world poem, I initially objected to a rhyming poem. I’m not saying that rhymes cannot be translated. It’s hard, and it’s hard to keep the original meaning of the poem. I greatly admire such translators, who I believe to be equal or greater in skill to the original poets. With that in mind, dear readers, you will simply have to consider me a very skilled translator when you have the opportunity to read the epigraph of Buk Tu.

I #amrevising and I may be #goingcrazy

Revisions have been a roller coaster ride this week.

Six days ago, Sam and I discussed a new scene that we felt needed to be added to ShianMai’s storyline. It was a scene that required some research. For two days, I diddled around and did nothing. Then on Saturday I finally went to the library and got what I needed. But didn’t look at the materials until late Sunday, and then I was too tired to do anything.

Monday night I left work and gave myself an ultimatum. I literally spoke out loud and said, “You are not doing ANYTHING else until this scene is written. No sleeping. No Facebook. No food. Well, you can have these cookies for motivation.”

Five grueling hours and a sleeve of Thin Mints later, the scene was written. 3757 words, which really should not take 5 hours to write, but a scene I was relatively content with.

Now, compare. First I have these days and days of feeling like I’m pounding my head against a brick wall. And then, today.

I woke up this morning feeling totally motivated. I emailed Sam some thoughts, hoping beyond hoping that we could get together today. To my joy, we were able to meet early this afternoon. We had a [somewhat surprisingly] productive couple of hours, and talked through a bunch of strong revision ideas, with feedback from Sam’s wife Ashley, who has started reading the draft. I took detailed notes, then had to head out to teach classes.

Knowing how distracted I get at home, I went to my parents house after work, and spent two solid hours working on the book there. But, my battery died and I had to come home. I spend about half an hour dorking around the internet (curse you, internet!) before I settled back down to work again. After working for two and a half more hours, I had made some major progress. I feel like in this one night, I’ve made up for five days of banging my head against the wall.

Some of these revisions are small. A sentence or two added to a scene, for clarification or emphasis.

Some of these revisions are a lot more intensive. For instance, Xansul just got cut out of four chapters, because we decided he needed to be elsewhere at the time, and Daryun got to go solo. Which meant I had to write four brand-new scenes for Xansul, and insert him into several others, as well as revising Daryun’s scenes to eliminate Xansul’s presence.

Revisions are an adventure. I love having a coauthor, who is able to have a different perspective, and often a fresher view of the text, whereas I get mired in the words as I work with them day after day. We bounce ideas off each other, working out ways to strengthen plotlines, improve pacing, and ensure that the characters are behaving…well, in character. All of it is intended to improve the quality of the book, and make it more enjoyable for you.

Even if sometimes it feels like pounding my head against the wall.

Writing fight scenes

I recently had dinner with a family whose children I teach. Several of them have read Telsharu and were eagerly asking for an update on Buk Tu. In discussing the pieces that still remain to be written, many of them being fight scenes, I mentioned that I have some difficulty writing fight scenes.

One of the children seemed surprised at this, me being a martial artist. You’d think I’d have no trouble coming up with that kind of thing, since I live it every day.

Ah, but that’s the trouble, as I explained that evening. When writing fight scenes, I tend to go into too much detail. I think like a martial artist. I’m technical. I’m realistic. And generally, that just doesn’t play well in written form to a general audience. Most readers would have no earthly idea what I was talking about if I actually described the moves!

For example:

Here’s a moment from an early draft of Telsharu. I literally had to dig up one of the printed drafts in order to find this. I remember it as a particularly embarrassing piece to look back on. I wouldn’t normally share this, but it demonstrates my point rather vividly. Here’s a moment from Aisina’s POV:

Someone bear-grabbed her from behind, pinning her arms. Aisina dropped her weight and threw up her arms, loosening the grip. Her attacker grunted as she struck him in the groin. She slid one foot behind his and popped her shoulder up, sending him tumbling to the ground. Aisina whirled and hit him in the face with her palm.

This scene didn’t even make it into the final version of the book, but if it had, I certainly would have cut this portion. What is described here is an actual move that I teach my taekwondo students. It really works, in person. It really doesn’t work, on paper.

Sam and I have learned that less is more in fight scenes. Most readers have great imaginations. They can fill in the gaps. We’ve learned to give the scope of a scene, to give the flavor of what is happening, and then let the reader imagine the details. By enhancing the texture of the scene, we’ve found that readers enjoy it more, instead of getting lost in the technical details of the action.

That said, it’s still important to have climactic events within the fight scenes. The significant moments that readers will remember–the cool move, the great one-liner, the fatal wound, the final thrust. Whatever it is, so long as it gives the reader a firm grip on the scene and makes it memorable. All fight scenes have the potential to be engaging to the reader, without being overwhelming.

Here’s a moment from the climax of The Tale of Telsharu. (*Small spoiler alert*)

A hurricane seemed to swirl near the center of the bridge, with storm clouds of black-clad Sunga Tobai warriors accompanied by the occasional flash of white-robed monks or black-and-crimson assassins. At the eye of the storm three men stood back-to-back, fighting like an army of themselves. The first was the great Hanu Zan, wearing simple traveler’s clothes of modest brown. The second was Shoi in his assassin’s robes and armor, wielding twin short-swords that carried an Aura of darkness about them. The third was the monk Dao Zhang in robes of blood-splattered white, wielding a staff that could barely be seen for its speed.

“The GaoSiang,” Xansul murmured.

Watching them fight, one could almost see how it had been in the old days, when these three men, with their now long-absent companions, had conquered the better part of the Seventh Empire, bringing those lands once claimed by the First Empress back under the rulership of her descendant and heir, the emperor Kamgue. Watching them, Xansul could see how these men had stood against an army of ten thousand and won. Watching them, Xansul understood for the first time what true shutao could be.

This moment doesn’t have any technical details, but it gives scope to the fighting, to the epic nature of the moment. A lot of the time, we mix up detailed, specific moments with grand, sweeping observations such as this. The mixture of the two–the close-up and the far-away–help to balance the fight scenes, keep them engaging, epic, and easy to follow.

And just so you know–Buk Tu is going to have some epic fight scenes. Just so you know. =)

Rambling thoughts on revisions

If you’re following my Twitter feed at all, you’ll know that I’ve been working voraciously on revisions of “Buk Tu” the sequel to The Tale of Telsharu. A few minutes ago I finished revisions on Chapter 35, meaning I’ve progressed through more than half the book in four days. This blog post is a brief, necessary break to clear my head, and then I will be jumping right back in.

It’s a relief to be back at it–truth be told, I haven’t done much with “Buk Tu” since finishing the first draft late last summer. After nearly two straight years of The Seventh Empire, I was in sore need of a break. But my break turned into a hiatus of much greater duration than I intended. I have struggled with the desire and motivation to jump back into this world. Thus began my re-read of Telsharu. And to my surprise, it worked. Reading Telsharu gave me the motivation I needed to jump into “Buk Tu” full steam ahead.

Revisions are an interesting process, particularly with a co-author. Sam is also currently going through “Buk Tu” and working on his own set of revisions. Sometimes I hesitate to work simultaneously, but with this new gusto I’m experiencing, I dare not wait for Sam’s go-thru to be completed. Fortunately, with our Scrivener-Dropbox setup, we never lose any work between the two of us.

Quick plug for Scrivener: Best. Writing. Software. Ever. I have been using Scrivener for five or six years now, and it is still the best I’ve found. Particularly in this revising stage, the tools are invaluable. I can keep track of which chapters I’ve revised, which ones still need work. I can reorder, combine, and eliminate sections or whole chapters with ease. My notes for each chapter are just off to the side of the prose, where I can keep them in full view as I work. I also keep general revision notes in a separate document, which I refer to regularly.

As far as our revisions process, it varies depending on what stage we’re at. With Telsharu, we went through several revisions. One time, it was a consecutive go-thru, one chapter at a time, tightening and cleaning. Another time, we had determined that Aisina’s storyline wasn’t working, so we ripped out all of her chapters and rewrote every single one. Some revisions are small, others are pretty major. All are done in hope of creating a stronger novel.

My current revisions of “Buk Tu” are consecutive. This is partly because I haven’t even read parts of the book since writing them last summer, and I’m refamiliarizing myself with the text. Also part of my purpose at this time is to gauge the flow and timing of the storyline, and so it’s important to read it through in order, and with a certain amount of speed. I have been making small(ish) adjustments as I go, tightening and revamping bits and pieces. But I have also been taking notes of larger, more time-consuming adjustments I feel must be made. These I will discuss with Sam before moving forward.

I am excited. I am excited to be writing again, excited to be in the Seventh Empire again. And I’m excited about “Buk Tu.” I’m enjoying it more and more. There is still much work to be done. But I am hopeful that, before long, we will be presenting you with a continuation of this story that we enjoy so much.