Writer Uses Charts, Is Peculiar

Varying Points of View (Why Would You Make a Chart?!)

Hello to all of you potential readers, similarly foolish writers, and implausibly curious people of the internet.

I have been using Excel to help write my book. (Just with revisions. Sadly, there is no =SYMPATHETICCHARACTER formula).


This year, I’ve had the opportunity to spend my time working on a new book (while helping my wife and daughter work from home down the hall).

My work in progress is a novel written from multiple points of view. For reasons to be described elsewhere, I wrote a couple of these sections out of sequence (after finishing the rest of the book). When all was said and done, I was curious about how it all looked.

This is where spreadsheets came in.

There is a reason for this. Honestly.

Do Not Do This

I suspect that most writers are wise enough not to tangle with spreadsheets. Me? I jumped right in.

I’ve written the book in MS Word and a pile of notebooks. In MS Word, you can insert page count fields wherever you like in the manuscript, flagging each chapter (or each scene if you like). If you’ve called your chapters “Headings” in Word, they’ll show up in a table of contents with the page number tagging along.

I tagged every chapter heading and # in the manuscript on a Sunday afternoon.

~Foolish Author

The stack of notebooks lacked this feature.

It turns out you can dump your table of contents into Excel where you can start to poke at details. Have I left anyone out? Do the wrong characters monopolize the book? Just how long are some of these chapters anyway?

And then, once you’ve done the math, you can turn several months work into a pie chart!

Conclusions (Possibly Spurious)

Having written the book in two separate manuscripts (with only the most general sense of whether everything would balance), I really wanted an overview to work the forest-for-the-trees trick. I’ll probably use the outline dump to help decide where I might want to promote a group of scenes into something more like its very own chapter. (I tend to write without really thinking about chapters, just stopping places. It’s often handy for me to hunt the #s to see whether they need to be promoted).

Off With Their Headings (Spoilers in Fine Print)

Next on my agenda?

With the book all stitched together into one long manuscript, it’s time to hop down from the satellites and peer at the trees again. (I’m fairly certain, for example, that the weather will be hilariously inconsistent from section to section).

Conventionality: Dining Room Table Edition

I’ve taken a break from scribbling at the dining room table to mention that I’m making a couple of brief virtual appearances as this year’s World Fantasy Convention. (Held in that region of cyberspace floating above Salt Lake City).

Anne Groell (my wife, working down the hallway over there), just happens to be the editor guest of honor. (It occurs to me that I may not have congratulated her. I must have, surely. In any case, it’s easy to forget the niftiness of the people that you see every day. She’s pretty nifty. Well deserved). In any case, she will be busy, of course, with panels, a kaffeeklatsch, interviews, and things — almost all of which will be held, at least partially, at this very dining room table (in addition to Salt Lake City cyberspace).

I, of course, have managed to horn in as well. They’ve got me interviewing poor Anne, and, for the last few nights, I’ve been testing her out with questions of the most ingenious cruelty. It’s possible, however, that, on the day, I might go with a gentler line of attack. (Favorite color, current velocity, longest word currently known, tell us about your niceness, etc.).

I appear in one other spot on the calendar. There’s a panel on power dynamics in fantastical worlds. It’s not a lightweight topic, and I’m intrigued to see how the conversation will evolve. It’s been very much on my mind over the last number of years.

In any case, I’ll be here in my dining room with better lighting and tidier bookcases on and off this weekend. (Maybe I’ll see some of you there!)

A King in Cobwebs Hits Shelves

At long last, A King in Cobwebs, the final book of the Tales of Durand trilogy hits shelves today.

In this final chapter, rival factions are straining the unhappy peace that was left at the end of Radomor’s war. The king rants in his throne room with his head full of plots and suspicion. Unholy creatures march from the depths of the forest and the high mountain passes. And, for Durand Col, the ghosts of his bloody past drive him toward madness.

If you’re a fan (or a friend) I hope you’ll pass the word. This one was a long time coming, and I would love for the book to find a home out there in the big world.

Get your copy at https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780765313225

Time of Treason in Trade Paperback

My second book is back today!

This year my publishers took the outrageous step of reissuing my first two novels: In the Eye of Heaven and In a Time of Treason. (The plan is to prepare the ground for the debut of the third novel, A King in Cobwebs, this winter).

Today, the classy new edition of In a Time of Treason hits the shelves.

I couldn’t be happier with the look of the new edition. I am a fan of the original illustrator, the late David Grove, and I was immensely pleased to see his work revitalized in the new trade paperback format.

Irene Gallo wrote a lovely remembrance of Grove on Tor.com, and she included some beautiful examples of his style.

I appreciate Grove’s ability to evoke light and motion with a few calligraphic strokes. We talked a little when he was the cover for In a Time of Treason. And I was very happy when he agreed to sell me the painting for A King in Cobwebs. (It’s here with me in the dining room as I type).

Today’s release, In a Time of Treason, is the second book in the story of Durand Col. Readers get the chance to follow poor Durand’s struggles with loyalty, guilt, romance, sorcery and a good old medieval civil war.

These reprints are an opportunity for a new readership to stumble across these stories. It will be interesting to see how readers will respond in 2018.


Foolish Author David Keck

Foolish Author David Keck

I spent a few hours working over some second-pass queries on A King in Cobwebs this morning.

Holy cow.

First off, I will confess to going through my usual Stages of Taking Criticism thing: it always takes me a minute to get my head on the right way around. There is, for example, a crucial difference between finding fault and catching stupid mistakes before it’s too late. This can take me a few minutes to fully appreciate.

I had some peers peering. Some astonishingly astonished folks. And many a missing word.

My favorite of all of these gaffs occurred during an ostensibly suspenseful sequence. In one five-paragraph stretch of murderous cliffhangers, I chose to begin not three but four out of five paragraphs the word “finally”.

This was a section over which I had labored for what may have been years. It had survived the scrutinous scrutiny of three professional scrutinizers.

In the end, the poor reader began to wonder if the whole thing was intentional. (I picture an extraordinarily ill-judged attempt at something like “The Charge of the Light Brigade” here).

Thanks Heavens for all of the world’s surviving editors, copy editors, and proofreaders. I, for one, certainly need them.

I’m not sure what I’ll hear next from the illustrious team at Tor, but the book is getting very close to its November debut. Finally.

Web World

All of Me Online: Linkkle


The summer provides an opportunity to explore.

For teachers, the summer is the time when you might find a moment to take care of all the things you’ve put off during the year: dentistry, car maintenance, medical appointments, home repair, hair cuts…

For me, the summer is also the time to think a little more about writing. In addition to actually writing a new book, I’ve been poking at my social media accounts.

This morning, for example, I discovered that my nifty “IFTTT” devices that send my Instagram nonsense to blogger and elsewhere had gone haywire. (It’s fixed again).

I was also approached by a sensible person who wondered where they could find my things online. This led me to dig up Linkkle (a very simple service that lets you put all of your links on one place), potentially acting as a quick calling card. (That’s the link I’ve slapped all over this post, by the way).

Social media has, of course, the potential to connect a writer with fans and to showcase work for professionals. (I know that my cartoons have found their way under a few noses because they are available online, and someday something might come of that).

While social media has potential to give our careers a boost, I suspect that for many of us, it’s far more likely to serve as a bit of vaguely work-related procrastination. (Let me see if I can get a few pages done today!)


Getting Ready for Summer

Griffin Visits What Is Clearly Labeled Ancient Egypt and Begins to Feel That Someone Is Having Him On

Determined Fantastical Creature Adorns Empty Hallway Bulletin Board

The school year is rapidly coming to a close in New York. Everyone’s ready for summer, and I’m digging back into my notes.

This July, my mission is to turn last year’s plans into honest-to-goodness pages.

Last summer, I spent a great deal of time outlining a new fantasy novel. I was, however, unable to get a real start on the text before I ran out of time. I’ve got drawings, maps, characters sketches, “mood board” type photographs of the correct locales, and these things will all need to be warmed up soon.

This summer is my chance to get a proper start. For a few weeks, my daughter will be in camp, and I’ll have several days to get rolling. I’ve had these characters running around my head for a few years now, and I’d like to let them loose (and see what happens).

(In unrelated news, my wife is trying to get me to take another shot at a kid’s book. She ran off with some notes of mine the other day. We shall see).


Conjuring the Story

David Keck Draws a Villain for The Serpent’s WalkOld Problem

Writing around a full time job and family is, for me, as tricky as it is necessary.This summer I worked up a pretty meticulous outline for a next book: The Serpent’s Walk. But, since then, I have had no end of trouble getting rolling: an immensely frustrating experience all hemmed in with self-doubt, suffocation, self-pity, distraction, and similar critters.

Today’s Solution

It occurred to me that getting the story to live in my imagination once again might be the key. With that in mind, I’ve sketched the shape of one of the more unpleasant characters. I had been vacillating about exactly what sort of thing he would be. Imagine writing Moby Dick without any notion of what sort of sea monster had got Ahab so irritated. (Clams can be quite alarming. Oh. And squid. No. Maybe it’s a mermaid. Or a vast narwhal….)

I think it helps to have an answer or two about the physicality of the thing swimming at the bottom of the next book….

I think.

I’ll update you soon.

Sisyphus with Oatmeal

The Summer of Plots

Right now, I'm plotting a novel. I want a plan before summer ends. (Ideally, I'd like to have bite-sized pieces to chomp down during the school year).

There are a lot of characters and storylines in my plans, and keeping them all moving onward and award has required a lot of messy pushing. Things slide when I'm not looking.

Grim History of Bug-eyed Doodles

For me, planning has always involved stories and sketches. There are probably still notebooks in a Manitoban basement documenting the adventures of strange (and often heavily armed) creatures.

All of what a person might generously call my strategies return to those notebooks full of pop-eyed adventurers. I draw faces. I'll sketch places. And I suppose the doodling keeps the problem in the corner of my eye (unsuspecting while I sneak up on it).

The Pretense of Order

For years, I've taught (mostly) teens about how to break through tough spots in writing, and I'll teach discrete strategies. Try writing without stopping (or even thinking) for five minutes. Try lists. Try a mind map. Try questions.

In reality, when I'm on my game, these things are much more muddled. In my notebook, there are plenty of "mind maps" with their sprawling arrows and options. But there are also many sentences that are basically me, talking to myself until the problems and solutions start to bubble up. I circle back, I reverse things, I shake my head and see what a long walk can solve.

The process isn't really a set of tidy strategies.

It's much more like wrestling. (Maybe in the dark).

((Possibly with porridge)).

Names to Conjure Without

Names, especially for a writer of fantasy, are a constant source of peril.

Often, it’s people and places that cause the trouble. At this instant, however, I’m trying to name a thing.

We have a set of supernatural wards stretched across the forests. This vast, shifting field of sorcery is anchored to Creation at different nodes. Or possibly loci. Maybe nexuses. But they can’t be called nodes. Or nexuses. (Or noses or Lexuses).

I need something with roots. It may help if you follow me a little with this. Our wards are an ancient force. They were tied to the world by desperate people. The whole thing struggles to free itself like a lashing eel. Like the aurora. Maybe something from the world of shackles or nails, pins, stakes, or palings.

Nothing has presented itself.

On and off, I’ve turned to various species of thesaurus (there are some wonderful word finders out there) and weird old dictionaries. There’s a big book of forgotten crafts full of weavers and unusually shaped ironmongery.

From the shackle world, the word “gyves” had a promising rootedness–and a lovely “y” right in the middle. (All fantasy words since “wyvern” have wanted a strategic “y”). Then, sadly, I checked the pronunciation. (It’s possible that I’d been hearing people fussing about “.gif”), and I learned, to my horror, that we were going with a soft “j” sound with my “gyves”. My characters really couldn’t be walking from “jive” to “jive” with a straight faces.

Fantasy is, at the best of times, only the filmiest of gossamer thingamajigs from utter absurdity. At any moment, I might have to sell the existence of a gnome with a grim backstory and a secret burning love for justice. “Jive” might be pushing it.

I frequently convince myself that my search for the right name is a rabbit hole: a trap to catch the time and attention of the unwary writer. It’s *juste* a *mot*, after all.

But names do have a curious power. The wrong name is bad. It becomes part of the tone of a piece, clanging away every time you strike that note. Conjuring up unintended associations. (Moby Dick, I would contend, was a name to be overcome for old Herman M).

Another word from the chains and shackles world was “bilbo”, by the way. It’s a sort of an iron bar with sliding ankle chains. Very stylish. (I thought this word best avoided).

Bad names are bad. We can agree on that. But nameless things are even worse. They are boxes without labels, or suitcases without a handles. I’m sure that one might find science behind this. Somewhere someone will have put brain to scalpel the butter fingered lobe that cannot come to grips with the slippery nameless things.

(I’ll likely give up soon and throw in a placeholder. “Placeholder” Hmm. It almost works. Better than “loci” and “node”. Never mind).

Wish me luck.

That eel thing has me thinking. Maybe there’s something in a book of knots. That’s next.

(You think I’m joking).