Edits Complete


Curious Keck creatures consider Tor.

Your author considers Tor headquarters…

My third book, A King in Cobwebs, has come through a brief back-and-forth of the editing process over at Tor, and is now finding its place in the future plans of that illustrious publishing house.

Details will follow soon enough, but a cheque appeared in my mailbox this afternoon (hot on the heals of a rather alarming estimate from my local transmission shop).

In the meantime, I may have to think about a new author photo. The old one isn’t exactly an accurate representation of yours truly anymore….

Taking a Punch

Your author may be wrong, but it seems to him that any attempt to defend oneself against criticism in a writer's group is both ill advised and doomed to fail.

Your author may be wrong, but it seems to him that any attempt to defend oneself against criticism in a writer’s group is both ill advised and doomed to fail.

Your Mum is an Idiot

When you hand your shining new story over to a workshop, editor, beta reader, spouse or mum, you may feel a natural tendency to defend what you’ve written.

“Your honest reaction is wrong!” you will think. “You are clearly a fool!” you will think (possibly of your mother).

I have come to suspect that these entirely natural responses are to be rigorously suppressed — because they are quite possibly wrong.

The State of Being: “To Be” or Not “To Have” a Case in Point

I remember a time when beloved fantasy author and one-time writer’s group-mate who shall remain nameless (Steven Erikson) expressed the feeling that I had overdone the passive voice.

Well! I looked closely at the text. I ran the style software over the thing, and I discovered that he was wrong. Wrong! I had not used the passive voice. Never! The fool! (The passive voice is not frequently used by yours truly). I felt vindicated — but I was fundamentally wrong. You see, while the writing wasn’t technically in the passive voice, I had chosen to avoid active verbs every time I could. He was there. She was that. They were boring, boring, boring.

Steve’s reaction? It was worth listening to.

The Information

Every reader’s reaction is information — and information can sometimes be quite useful. (Not always, mind you).

It was my mum who asked, “Don’t these fantasy novels sometimes have women in them?” (The fool). And, while I had a perfectly reasonable explanation for the sausage fest I’d written, I also had to admit that she might have had a point. (Many rewrites later, I’d put in a girl — the third book has three!).

Grin & Bear It

If you want a story to get better, you need to must learn to take a punch. (And respond after careful consideration alone at your keyboard).

Everything anyone says to you in a writer’s workshop (or anything said by a beta reader or mother or spouse) is information. You cannot argue someone out of their reaction. (That horse has already sailed). Ignore the information or not, it’s information.

I have given myself permission to nod understandingly and to ask few unloaded just-clarifying questions (such pain!).

But, once I have gathered the information, then, (after the fits of Faulty Towers clenched-fist rage at the unfairness of such things) I decide what to I must do next…

(You must, of course, make up your own mind).

The Tiny Jugglers of My Mind

Keck Gets Forgetful

From moment to moment, everything is forgotten. I think. (What was I saying?)

It’s not uncommon for writer-types to advocate the carrying of notebooks. Ideas, though they may seem as ineffable as the pyramids of Giza, are effing evanescent. (There’s a line for you!)

Case in point…

I’m clever enough to know that I am often interrupted in my attempts to pen the perfect novel. (I’ll be right in the flow of things when two parent-teacher conferences and a bit of emergency dentistry will pop up and knock the flow off track — what was it doing on the track in the first place?). You would think people would give me a nice smooth two-year patch so that I could finish the job, but do they? (They do not).

So, I write notes. (Sometimes quite dutifully).

In this case, I wrote the following sentence: “The Lady of the Bower gets to the point where she realizes who Durand is — but I’m thinking she……………………”

The dots (above) represent the moment when someone walked in. It was only a moment. But, when I looked back at my page — pen still poised — I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember what, exactly, it was that she…………. And I still haven’t. 

Amatuer students of psychology (with the same possibly-crucially outdated understanding of the field as myself) will recognize the oft-cited George A. Miller’s Seven Plus or Minus Two. I will include a reference to the relevant, ancient study (and not the Wikipedia article where I found it — a guy must have some pride).

For our purposes, it must suffice to say that the little jugglers of our minds can only keep so many big, jagged thoughts in the air at the same time before they lose a finger. And clearly, my little jugglers dropped one. (And I bet it was going to be good, too!)

At this point, I feel that there ought to be some sort of conclusion to this piece — something uplifted about how there are always more, better ideas. What care I for the transitory motivations of fictional persons?

But I had my pen right there! It was poised!

Writing, Guilt, Progress and Dubious Holidays

Keck Works Columbus Day... continuing the forward motion

Keck Works Columbus Day… continuing the forward motion

Keeping the writing warm (on those ever-important back burners of the mind) is a toughy during the school year. Teaching is a busy job that, if done reasonably well, involves a considerable part of a person’s creativity. Still, if that person wants to finish a book, writing must get done.

This year, I am wrestling with the problem in a more bloody-minded way than I have for several years. (The logistics of having a school-age child are getting complicated. Apparently, being somebody’s dad seems to require a little time and attention. Who knew?) I have written on family trips, in a McDonalds on the way to work, and today….

About today. Today, my daughter is in “camp”. The day cost $55. The daughter has a bit of a cough. There will be swimming. It’s probably nothing; she looked a little peaked as I sent her off. (Her friends called her name when she arrived. That’s good, right?)

I am revising page 525 and posting this nonsense on a blog.

(There may be guilt).

The Gnomes of Our Unconscious Mind & Other Nonsense

The author mentions the gnomes of his unconscious mind.

The author mentions the gnomes of his unconscious mind.

Since my last report, I’ve been plugging away in stolen moments. (The best ones seem to be on the weekend– though there is a price to pay for holing up with a keyboard on a family outing while one’s wife entertains one’s five-year-old on a rainy day).

As time gets harder to come by (with the planning and marking and deadlines of a teaching day job crowding things out), I find that the toughest thing is to keep the book clear in my mind so that I know what the next steps were meant to be and what the current puzzles are.

We have all had moments where we’ve been stuck on a problem only to have a light bulb moment in the shower or the grocery store or some other place nowhere near a desk. We fill our minds with our work and then find that the ingenious gnomes who populate the unconscious corners of our minds are working through the night.

My current challenge is keeping my head full and the gnomes gainfully employed.

Wish me luck!

PS: The book is tight to page 504 and we’re in the midst of the most muddled.

Time: I Could Use More

Time I Could Use More

Your author creates a creative graphic in order to complain about needing more time to write.

Revisions of Dave’s Third Book, have reached the middle of the manuscript’s biggest muddle — just as the school year is beginning.

The situation: My characters have blundered into a terribly, repetitive and deeply confusing series of chapters in a haunted forest. Readers are in grave peril (should they somehow encounter the book). The thing needs some real adjustments. I’m cutting scenes, remotivating nearly everything and moving the beginning to the end. (Or nearly).

It’s fiddly work and will take concentration.

The danger here is that, as school sucks up time and attention, the whole project vanished (with the characters) into the mists and trees and repetition.

Is there hope? This weekend, I worked in stolen moments during a little family getaway. (We know these lovely people with a pool and a house in a patch of woods on the side of a hill — it’s a bit of the gilded age up there). This was actually something of a test. I managed to keep chomping through scenes as friends and family swirled around me. (I’m not usually able to do this).

Now, the big challenge starts. School kicks off. I’m already fielding email and sending information to teachers. I’ve got to find a way to hang on (and hit the manuscript daily to keep things alive in my tiny mind).

Wish me luck! (Except reports as news is available).


The Struggle of Stolen Time

Keck Struggles

Somehow your author believes this image represents a struggle of some sort.

The summer of 2014 is coming to an end and with the arrival of autumn I expect a return of the curious version of writer’s block created by the totally-otherwise-occupied mind.

Any of you who has read a little about creativity will have discovered for yourself the idea that people need to keep projects simmering on the various back burners of the brain.

When I, for example, am teaching, I spend a lot of mental energy on teaching. To teach the way I do requires a constant search for resources and the constant development of new tools. (Everything my students do each day is mounted online and loaded with links. They run into video presentations created by their teacher, they find themselves referred to online posters and screens with graphics and all kinds of things mostly designed for them by their teacher).

The back burners of a teacher are often filled with teaching.

This fall, I am very close to having a solid draft of Dave’s Third Book finished. This fall I will be a little better at stealing time.

Dictation Software Surrealism: The Dragon Speaks

Keck talks with dragons. Things get unsurprisingly odd.

Keck talks with dragons. Things get unsurprisingly odd.

Dictation software can be a great help, but I’m not sure that it will ever handle medieval fantasy.

I’ve been in the habit of scribbling scenes directly into notebooks (usually with a lovely Japanese fountain pen!)

The idea was to keep myself away from such distractions as web searching, social media and incessant polishing by taking my notebook and pens up into a park or coffee shop and writing without the aid (or distraction) of modern technology.

My intention was to capture all of this scribbling with a popular speech-to-text package whom I will refer to as the dragon from here on out. 

Sadly, in my haste to go bowling through page after page of scrawled text, I’ve tended to miss those moments when the dragon went wrong. And, where a human secretary might have interrupted me to ask a clarifying question (“I’m sorry, are you insane?” or words to that effect), my dutiful old dragon just kept on going.

The end results adds a touch of surrealism to every page.

A partial list of the oddest is provided below:

I would have you with for your oaths to be if you will.

He took her small head.

Ottawa, he she was booed a dream or two yet.

Hassan is a perilous thing, do you know? They do not warrant a man.

Durand still felt the graph presence of Google

Two of the rats allies detach themselves from the fracas.

He glanced endurance direction.

with manic goals or colors of iron clamped around the man’s ankles.

Antidrug to the ground.

I’m not sure that the dragon and I are writing the same book.

Problem Solving Doodler’s Style

Keck Brainstorms

Keck shares an incomprehensible mind map for some reason. (It includes an irrelevant and toothy monster)

For the last few weeks, I’ve been dealing with mainly small problems in my current novel. (Though some felt large at the time).

When I hit a larger problem (mostly just to keep my mind locked around it), I’ve been using two old tricks. The first (one I don’t often use, actually) is just to start typing my thoughts as quickly as I can think them.
When I teach kids to solve problems and generate ideas, I’ll sometimes throw this at them under a variety of guises, and it can work.
My favorite, however, has long been “mind mapping”. I’m a natural doodler and I like to be able sketch out connections. I find that even the doodling itself helps to keep my teeth in the problem as I worry away at it. My mind maps are often loaded with sketches and almost always dabbed with blobs of grey and colour.
I had a good old-fashioned half hour bash at a plot problem today and, for the heck of it, took a picture. That’s the image heads this post. The one in the pic is actually pretty simple. I started to find a vein of connected ideas that seemed to work for me. But, it’s a big piece of paper and much of the ink is blue.
So there. Now you know.

Revision: A Disturbance in the Plot

Disturbance in the Plot

During the revision process, your author begins to suspect his own motives…

Several times during this big rewrite, I’ve found myself cheerfully writing scene after scene when I begin to suspect that something is not quite as it should be. 

Usually, it turns out that a character hasn’t spoken in forty pages (or the damned horses have disappeared, died and reappeared again). 

It’s the literary equivalent of that “Have I left the oven on?” feeling. 

Most recently, it was motivation that went wrong. After chapters of a building supernatural menace, suddenly everybody became thoroughly distracted by a crucial political issue.

Now, while the political issue was indeed crucial, the original supernatural menace really ought to have been on their minds. (To be honest, it ought to have been burned into their minds in such a way as to defy generations of therapy). But they simply forgot.

It’s this kind of thing that creeps up on you. It’s the growing sense everything is consistent and polished and sensible and solid — but fundamentally and increasingly wrong.

My hope is, it never happens again!

Yours from the last week of summer,