May Updates

May 31th, 2022 6:16 AM

I suppose it’s odd to be releasing this blog post for May halfway through the month of June, but that’s what happens when you’re already a week behind and then you take a week-long vacation on top of that. Typically, the process I use is to write up the blog post toward the end of the month and then let it sit for a little while before I give it another read, a final edit, and publish it. This reason is why you might see me publishing blog posts for, say, the 28th of the month on the 6th of the following month.

So far, this has been working well enough (though I’ve never been a big fan of that week-long delay), but this time (and I’m blaming my week-long, family vacation to Ocean City, Maryland) it resulted in a massive, two-week delay. I do apologize to any readers who might have been wondering where I went. Don’t worry; all is well…. It’s just delayed. Because of the delay and the timing, I’m going to call this a post for May, but it may also encompass a few things that occurred in early June, too.

The first big update is that I’ve moved on to the developmental edit of The Traveling Academy of Astra. The rough draft was a true challenge to churn out in such a short amount of time, but I managed it. The unfortunate thing about this next phase is that developmental editing takes a long time, and it’s weary, thirsty work. And that time varies from manuscript to manuscript, too. Developmental editing is essentially critically reading the work and looking out for bizarre character motivations, plot holes, continuity errors, and any other examples of the sort of poor/daft things that might crop up when a writer is creating a first draft as quickly (and, often, heedlessly) as possible.

Critical reading… yikes. Lately, I’ve had plenty enough trouble motivating myself to read leisurely, so I don’t know how quickly I’ll manage to get through this rough draft’s developmental edit.

The good news is that what I have managed to polish so far has been enjoyable. I think I’ve struck a good balance in tone, pace, and the like—though of course I’ll have to have discussions with beta readers about that. I am aiming for a novel that mirrors—in style, tone, and pace, at least—some of the later works in the Harry Potter series. However, I know that I am particularly notorious for having a slightly abnormal philosophy on what limits you might need to place on a child. Where one parent might shy away from using a word like “synonymous” or “luminous,” I prefer to offer those sorts of words up anyway, and always with the hope that a child might hear the context and learn a new, cool word. A strong vocabulary, to me, means more tools with which to express yourself. That’s a tool I think all children should have. I don’t worry when a child doesn’t understand, but I try to encourage the child who doesn’t seek to understand. I don’t think it’s a parent’s/adult’s place to arbitrarily assume what a child is old enough to know. Rather, a child’s curiosity should be the guiding force.

Of course, I’m aware of some of the fallacies of this mindset. Every so often, I offer up some knowledge to one of my kids that my wife would much rather me not have shared. While she and I both agree that knowledge is a great thing for children to have, there are certain things that might perhaps go beyond the scope of what many would assume a child might need to know. I have no shame in saying that I believe my children are exceptionally smart (most parents believe that, of course), and I believe that a big driver of my children’s curiosity comes from the way my wife and I seek and freely share knowledge.

In short, I’m aware that my book, which is intended for children, might ask a little more of a child than other books marketed to the same kids. To some, that may be an issue. To others, that might be a point of appreciation. I don’t personally understand the desire to hide big words and certain challenging topics from children, but I do acknowledge that a lot of parents/adults have that inclination, and of course I don’t fault anybody for choosing to parent how they feel is best. There’s a whole discussion to be had about whether big words and complex sentences belong in children’s books; is the challenge welcome or overwhelming? I suppose it depends on the child. What I am sure of is that, when I reach the line editing stage, I will take special care to kill a lot of my darlings, to seek out perhaps simpler words and more straightforward presentations. What I am also sure of is that I will probably not manage to eliminate them all, and so I think a big piece of who I am and how I communicate and tell a story will remain. I look back to the barely comprehensible tales of just a decade ago to offer me some comfort. Children back then somehow found delight in the lengthy, topsy-turvy prose of Lewis Carroll (as an interesting musing, I should note that even though I’ve never counted myself as a fan of Carroll’s work, I suppose I was inspired by it subconsciously, as there are some obvious parallels with Carroll’s tale and my own). I know that the children of yesteryear are inherently different than today’s children, but nevertheless, I imagine a world where today’s children can be challenged with the intricate and elaborate.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking. I suppose I’ll find out eventually.

The other big update for this month is that I very quickly was eliminated from Mark Lawrence’s eighth annual SPFBO competition. A devastating blow, to be sure. In fact, now that I’m writing about it for the first time, I suppose I’m coping with a few emotions which had otherwise been dormant. It is sad to have been eliminated so early, but it’s also perhaps better to know right out of the gate than to have had to wait five months to find out.

I do take a lot of pride in knowing that mine was the first novel chosen by one P. L. Stuart, a fellow author (he is working on his own lengthy series called The Drowned Kingdom) and writer for the popular fantasy blog Before We Go. His review of my work was incredibly generous and thoughtful, and I am endlessly grateful for both the time Stuart spent reading my work and the effort he put into judging it. I am particularly pleased that he thought I handled my themes and characters well, as these, obviously, mattered to me a ton while I was writing and editing the work.

Stuart is not the first to mention that Ezra was his favorite character, and I find that particularly interesting, as Ezra was the character for whom I prepared the very least in terms of backstory and sketching. I had practically no plan for him aside from using him as a viewpoint into the workings of the Isle’s Voice, and yet… he certainly took on a life of his own, so to speak. I suppose that’s what happens when an author writes very whimsically and without the limitations imposed by seeking to honor a character’s traits. If you don’t truly know a character’s traits, how can you let them be anyone but who they are? I suppose what I’m getting at is that Ezra resonates with a lot of people, and I think he does so because he is a more direct channeling of myself. That’s not to say I am the selfish, materialistic, egotistical person that I might call Ezra, but I think I was able to successfully exaggerate those aspects of my personality to create an interesting antihero of sorts. Even I like Ezra a lot. Unencumbered by a desire to fit him to the form I had sketched out for him (because I didn’t sketch out a form for him), I was able to build him more organically, to build him as I wrote him. It’s an interesting theory. Does playing a character by ear make them more organic? Maybe so….

Stuart’s reasoning for not pushing the novel forward came as a painful—and categorically unsurprising—blow: the complex, too similar vernacular that riddles the work. Those of you who’ve read past blog posts know that I’m all too aware of this flaw in the work, and to have this be the reason for elimination is but another reason for me to kick myself for not having been more meticulous with how I responded to beta reader feedback.

The only thing I can do is work hard to avoid similar issues in future novels. For Stuart’s discretion and honesty (as well as his generosity and his affinity for building me up instead of tearing me down) I am so, so grateful, and I plan to pay him—and other like-minded readers—back by listening to the feedback. I will do my best.

Despite the loss, I am quite proud to be sitting on this fellow author’s shelf, and I will be sure to pick up his books and follow his journey in kind. I ask all my readers to do the same. Check out his work! I offer special thanks to P. L. Stuart, the other writers of the Before We Go blog, and to Mark Lawrence for hosting this amazing competition every year.

Look out for another update in early July. As always, thanks so much for reading this blog and being part of this site.