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a mixture of madness


I have been remiss, waiting far too long to post an entry to this blog, but I hope I can be forgiven. And if not, I'll most certainly be ignored.

Since the publication of
A Mixture of Madness last December, I have had a little difficulty striking the flint under the tinder of book three in The Bow of Heaven trilogy. Not only have the vicissitudes of life intruded…. What kind of a word is that, anyway? Vicissitudes. For one thing, it's a word whose final "s" is almost always inextricably wrapped about the "o" in the phrase "of life." For another, it's a word whose meaning has eluded me for the past, oh, 40 years. I thought it meant a necessary intrusion, but it doesn't. It means ups and downs, an alteration or variation in the state of things. It's one of those words that shouldn't have a negative connotation, but does, like "frisbee" or "sherbet."

As I was saying, the
imposition of life, planning a trip to Italy, buying a house, preparing to leave my day job to write full-time, these stressors, while they have not quite given me a case of writer's "b-word," have stolen hours and attention from the keyboard. Once you stop writing on a daily basis, once in fact, that you've left your virtual pen and ink drying in the sun for weeks at a time, is it hard to get started again? A bit, yeah. Especially when you're trying to pull together characters and chronology from two previous novels and 900 pages of narrative.

"Oh stop your bellyaching and get on with it!" That was the imagined voice of George R. R. Martin, who has a tad more to remember than I as he soldiers on trying to stay ahead of HBO.

A nice review came in last week. I mention it because of the odd sensation of vertigo I experienced just before I clicked on the link sending me to the site where I could read it. I wish I was the kind of person to whom reviews were like rain on a duck's beak, or better still, that stalwart sort who, with backbone stiff and chin held high, shuns them altogether. I'm not. I read them and try to learn from them. I will even accept your castigation and admit that when a particularly inspiring review flies across the threshold, the bellows of encouragement begin pumping harder. (Aren't true artists supposed to be consumed by their calling, eating to write, not the reverse? Okay, that's not me either. Guess I'm an untrue artist.)

Last year I was honored with the silver award in historical fiction by Readers' Favorite for
The Other Alexander. A prerequisite for winning an award this year for A Mixture of Madness is a good review from the nice folks at RF. So when the email came in announcing the review's arrival, I found my toes curled over the edge of an egotistical precipice: I realized that anything short of a 5-star review would be bitterly disappointing. Yes, they did like it, it did capture five of the fiery buggers and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. But this mixture of madness (!) must stop. Should I now be crushed if AMOM doesn't do as well as TOA when the awards are handed out? For crying out loud, who gives a flying Fig Newton, as long as a few folks out there are buying the books and enjoying them?

Ahhhh. There's the rub. Awards help sell books. They get you noticed, and help do for self-published authors what the traditional publishing houses used to do for their stable of authors under contract. In the end, however, it is just too crazy-making to worry one way or the other. So my advice to aspiring authors which I must work to heed myself is this: submit your work for the reputable awards, hope your work is regarded with kindness, and keep your head down and your fingers limber. Kurt Vonnegut said it best: "Write to please just one person."

Two Down, One to Go?

I think I got the idea for The Bow of Heaven series back in 2004. This week marks the debut of book two in the series, A Mixture of Madness. (Cue upbeat commercial music. "Look for it in paperback and ebook at!") My goal is to have the third and final (?) novel published by the end of 2014. Three books in ten years. I'm going to have to pick up the pace if I'm going to become the next E. L. James. I'd have to change the subject matter as well.

amom sml
So why all the question marks? (There's another one.) Because I have enough material for a fourth book waiting in the wings. The problem is, it is more back story than continuing narrative of the battle of Carrhae, which is what I set out to chronicle in the first place.

It is fascinating how a book wanders off the page and becomes something unintended while you are not paying attention. Originally, I had meant to tell the story of one of Rome's greatest defeats in two novels: one from the Roman point of view, namely that of Crassus, the old general leading the expedition; and the other from a young Parthian bowman enlisted to become an unwilling hero of the conflict - Melyaket of Sinjar. Well, I've written 900 pages so far and haven't even gotten the two armies to square off against each other. Plus the storyteller is neither Roman nor Parthian, but Crassus' ancient Greek slave, Alexandros, looking back on his life and adventures.

Who's in charge here? I have the sneaking suspicion a writer should be in better control of his characters. You'll tell me in your reviews, won't you? (That's the last one.)