Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Writing Update #18

A weekly progress report as I work through the editing of my current fantasy novel.

This past week was a good one: plenty of turkey, time-off, and writing.

Total page difference from last week was 21, made up of 19 pages edited and 2 taken off the total (through word reduction). That puts me at a current page of 75 out of 370 total pages.

Bottom line: I made my weekly total of 20+ pages.

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Percent complete is at 20.27%, up from last week's 15.05%.

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Total word count went down again, this time to 108,415 from last week's 109,520. A fairly gradual reduction this week, but a reduction nevertheless. I fully expect the total word count to continue to decline up to some point. I know, however, that I need to add some more content, so ultimately I still think it will even out in the end.

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That's it for this time. Good luck with your own writing.

Lord Darcy by Randall Garrett

I picked up a copy of Lord Darcy by Randall Garrett a while back as part of my research into a potential future project that would blend the genres of fantasy and mystery. Lord Darcy is just that: alternate historical fiction blended with mystery. It's a world where Richard the Lion-Hearted did not die on the battlefield, but instead went on to build the foundation of the greatest empire the world has ever seen.

Lord Darcy is Chief Special Investigator for the Duke of Normandy and, as such, he's called in to solve particular crimes perpetrated against members of the aristocracy. Much like Holmes had his Watson, Darcy has his O'Lochlainn: Master Sorcerer Sean O'Lochlainn, to be precise. Magic works in a sort of alchemy meets science manner. There are Laws of Magic and symposiums, all regulated by the government to the point where sorcerers must be licensed to practice else face severe penalties. There is also Black Magic, outlawed and dangerous as one might expect. Rest assured Darcy and O'Lochlainn have a tangle or two with practitioners of the dark form of sorcery.

Lord Darcy is a collection of short stories. While some are clever, others are so brief it's hard to immerse oneself in them. There is the novella Too Many Magicians which I found kind of droll--much of it is told through dialog and it quickly wore me down and I really found it confusing at times.

Lord Darcy (the character this time) and others come across as flat, and I think this is the biggest flaw with the entire collection. The characters have histories--Darcy himself is in his 40's (I'm guessing)--but we're never given much of a glimpse into his past or anything about his personal life. It's all about the crimes and the ease at which he sees what no one else can. This unfortunately is the fatal flaw in this book for me. I never cared a whole lot whether the crime was solved or not, the murderer discovered, or the conspirators brought to justice. Sorry, but that's just not good.

Writing Update #17

By my count, this is my 17th consecutive weekly writing progress update. How's that for some consistency?

Here's what I've accomplished this past week:

Pages edited went up 18 from last week's 38 to a current number of 56. Total page count went down by 5 from 377 to 372. That gives me 23 pages for the week (remember this is editing, so a reduction in total page count works, too. ;-) ). Not as good as last week's 25, but I'll take it. If I'm remembering correctly, I wanted to hit at least 20 pages/week, so I made it (this time).

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Percentage complete went up to 15.05% from last week's 10.08%.

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Total word count is interesting. When I started this second edit, it was at 112,737. It now stands at 109,520. That's good because I think I may wind up adding back in about 2-3,000 words of new material. I therefore like the downward trend, and I think it (hopefully) shows that I'm trimming the fat.

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That's it for this week.

Happy writing everyone.

Beguilement by Lois McMaster Bujold

Last month, I received all four of Bujold's Sharing Knife books from EOS. Their original call for advanced readers was for book four in the series, Horizon, due out January 27, 2009. But they sweetened the offer by throwing in books one through three. I jumped on it, promising to review not just Horizon, but all four books. As promised, here is the first of those reviews.

Like many novels, Bujold's Beguilement is multi-layered. On one level, it is a fantasy novel where Lakewalker patrollers protect the lands from malice. On another, it's a romance novel, where the veteran patroller, Dag, and a runaway farm girl, Fawn Bluefield, meet under life-threatening circumstances and, as one might suspect, develop a romantic relationship with one another.

There are other things going in Beguilement, such as the dichotomy between Lakewalkers and farmers, but, for purposes of this review, I'd like to focus on the fantasy and romance layers first.

First, the fantasy: In this respect, Beguilement is good stuff. It takes place in an unnamed world where Lakewalkers, thought to have once been lords and known to be sorcerers, patrol the lands searching for signs of blight and its cause, malices. A malice is a concentration of energy, what Lakewalkers term 'ground', brought to life under mysterious and not fully understood circumstances. Malices are not good. They bring with them beguilement and death, draining the ground from other beings in order to evolve into increasingly more powerful beings. Worst of all, a malice doesn't understand death. This grants them a certain immortality.

Enter the sharing knife.

A sharing knife is a special Lakewalker weapon that, when used on a malice, 'shares' a death with the creature. This act of sharing is the only way to kill a malice.

As much as the book's title denotes one of the principal powers of a malice, it also refers to the effect Dag and Fawn have on one another. Herein enters the romance.

Dag is a dry-witted Lakewalker, a veteran with over twenty malice kills and a reputation as a capable, resourceful patroller. He has tragedy in his makeup, which I won't say necessarily haunts him, but certainly fills him with a sense of regret. It is this regret which increasingly weighs heavy on him when, out on patrol, a new malice threat and a farmer girl named Fawn Bluefield enter his life. I won't ruin anything about the encounter with the malice, only that both Dag and Fawn survive and go on to become lovers. It's an odd relationship: by custom, Lakewalkers and farmers do not interrelate in such ways. They take this 'forbidden love' back to Fawn's home where much drama ensues between herself, her family, and Dag.

That, in a nutshell, is what Beguilement is about. The story has points of slowness, but I never felt like it bogged down. The writing is excellent and tight; while there are other sub-plots intertwined with the main ones, none of them were a distraction. If anything, exactly the opposite: there's plenty of character-building here, and the characters are grounded, believable, and exceptionally thought-out. Fawn, despite entering the story as a runaway farm girl (which seemed a bit of a stereotype), soon shows us she is much more. Dag, for his part, plays the role of veteran soldier-sorcerer well; it's what lies beneath that draws the reader in and allows us to sympathize with his past and what he hopes for his future.

I found Bujold's system of magic and such concepts as the sharing knife to be original and intriguing. In many ways, it was this intrigue which kept me reading and wanting to know more.

One warning: Bujold leaps from one book to another with nary a break in the story. I imagine her having written all four books at one time (is there a fifth still to come?), then the publisher coming along later and slicing it into the four books we currently have. This probably isn't the case, but that's how one might look at it. With that in mind, if you read Beguilement, you'll at least want to pick up Legacy, because it picks up right where book one left off and goes a long way towards concluding the storyline begun in book one.

I think Bujold delivers with Beguilement and the larger The Sharing Knife series as a whole. Superb writing, well-grounded characters, and a colorful world and an intriguing magic system all come together to form an entertaining, engaging read.

Writing Update #16

I had a pretty decent writing week this past week: 25 pages edited, leaving 339 to go, and I reached my week's goal, exceeding 10% completion of this second pass edit.

Here's the page progress chart:

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% completion trending upward:

imageWord count trending downward.

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This is a good thing.

I'd previously established that, for fantasy, publishers are looking for novels in the less than 110,000 word range. Of course there are exceptions to this, but as a new writer I don't want to give anyone any excuses, so I'll play by the rules. It took some work getting the word count down to this level. When I started, it was upward of 130,000. That's OK, though: One thing I'm learning as I continue to edit is to be concise. Why say something in two sentences if you can do it in one? That, and oftentimes there are 'extra' words that can be whittled down, making the prose more direct.

That's it. I hope to have some more good progress to post next Monday. Until then…