The forest, the trees, and grooming the path

I have been working on my latest manuscript fairly hard over the last two years and been a bit quieter on the posting side, but that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about craft. In fact, I’ve been inundating myself with it as I edit, like a sponge in a soapy sink (yes, I’ve been doing dishes too).

Now that I’m done the manuscript, I’m hoping to put some of those craft thoughts here, although as readers are aware, my life is a bit of a whirlwind these days, with a demanding job, kids, and a desire to actually finish stories on a regular basis.

So back to craft, what do I mean about the forest, the trees, and grooming the path?

There are different skills in writing. It is not a simple craft, although the accomplished make it seem so, and sometimes it is helpful to be reminded that you don’t just need to master one piece of it. Think of yourself as an owner of a nature park in an uncharted area (owner of an idea that you want to write in some cool genre), but at the moment it is just a tangled mess that would require a parachute to visit (like my kids’ rooms. I mean, a vague story idea). No one is going to drive two hours to see your plot of land, much less pay money for it (buy your book).

So where do you start? You have to get a sense of what you want to show your audience. Do you have a vision of a certain hillside shoulder giving a ten-mile view with an amazing pine-scented breeze, or a cool bubbling creek with smooth onyx rocks that people could dip their toes into? Well okay, you have a couple of cool points on your trail that you can work towards, but also require some investment of time (clearing trees to get up the hill, building a neat pine bridge over the stream). These are events along your story and you can sit down with a pencil and paper and map that out somewhat early. Not to say there won’t be unexpected problems in clearing the path or unexpected magical corners of the woods that will call for detours later. But you can plan the length of the trail and how hard you want the climb to be, and even what subtle signage you might plant along the way (manuscript length, genre, and themes).

These are all things that require time and thought, and writers get better at them over time. But what I wanted to touch on today was the grooming of the trail.

I feel like I spent more time grooming the trail on this last manuscript. And this is an interesting decision to make because it is the most laborious and time-consuming of the steps. You can hack your way through the woods with a chainsaw or you can dig out the stumps, set gravel down in spongy spots, and lay smooth cedar boards on top. Cut back roots that could trip the walker and smooth the rail of the bridge to avoid splinters. These things remove the annoyances that could take your nature trail from getting a four or five-star review to a two or three (or one, if that splinter really stung).

But here is the analogy with a book. It takes confidence to want to groom the trail. To read the words aloud, pick the better verb, avoid clunky repetition, and ensure clarity. If you are a beginner at laying trails and you put the path in the wrong spot, or your view overlooks a four-lane highway with smog that burns your hiker’s eyes, no one is going to care anyway. No one will get past the query pitch. It’s tempting to want to do it AFTER you see how people like the trail. But sadly, that isn’t the road to success.

The experienced trail layers worry less about this. They’ve got the five-star ratings, they know how it works, and are sure the effort will pay off.

I put a chapter of my recently completed manuscript on the Online Writer’s Workshop last year. I was thrilled to get an “Editor’s Choice” from Judith Tarr. Definitely made my week. But I found the accompanying review (or at least how I absorbed it) to be very interesting. It boiled down to ‘interesting story, intriguing premise, but make sure you pay attention to word choice and construction’. In other words, I had an interesting beginning to my nature walk, with a cool view and a nice breeze, but I’d left a root that tripped her and some mud splashed her ankle, things that could be cleaned up.

So in this manuscript, including my edited first chapter, I’ve spent more time on this and hopefully improved it.

The path has been swept. The view is revealed. Hopefully, the hikers enjoy.

A new book.

It’s been a while and so I’m delighted to release a new book (and old manuscript) into the e-book universe. Black Diamonds is a book that I started working on a number of years ago and finally cleaned up to my satisfaction. It’s been brushed and scrubbed and hopefully you enjoy!!



Julian Krane has trusted his genius older brother, Devlin, his entire life. But that trust will be tested when their mother is killed by a steel-twisting assassin, the brothers are hunted by a paranoid Emperor, and Devlin comes up with a daring plan of revenge. To succeed, they must infiltrate the Emperor’s deadly school of magic, buried deep in a mountain, steal the secrets of all Four Facets of magic, a crime punishable by death, and turn themselves into something not seen in centuries—Black Diamonds.

Some YouTube sketching fun

I’ve had a bit more free time in the last couple of weeks and have been doing some creative stuff, which makes me happy. 🙂 One of the things I’ve been working on is the front cover for my second fantasy novel, Black Diamonds. I thought it would be fun to do a work in progress video for the sketching of it (and hopefully later the coloring in, as a separate video). You can see it here:


Shaking things up

So what have I been up to?

For those who were following the series of writing technique comments I’ve been making over the last couple of years, as I wrote StoneDragon, you may have noticed the pace of updates has slowed. I think that I’m hitting a new phase and want to shift tempo and focus a bit here. I’m nearly done a second novel, the working title of which is now the First Facet of Magic, a YA fantasy. This is another multi-year project that I’m finally close to feeling is ready for people to see. It’s fast-paced and a completely new magic system, so I’m hoping people like it.

So what is changing?

The biggest shift is that I’m going to mix art and writing thoughts on the website now and be less regular in my posting. Sorry for those that enjoy a steady pace of posts, but at the moment, that doesn’t work with my available time and energy. I think instead, I will post when I have something cool to share and there may be periods of inactivity. Not from me, but simply on the content (whether I’m busy with something I can’t share or other parts of my life suck me away for some period). I think that this may refresh my creative energy, as posting will be less a task and more a way to share cool things when they happen.

So I think there’s some good news for folks: I may produce more art at times, which I feel like people like on the site. But content will be more sporadic and likely arrive in waves. So enjoy it when it comes!

🙂 Adrian.

Mmm, and how does that make you feel?

In the writing journey, one thing that resonates with me and I have tried to get better at is conveying emotion from the character to the reader.

Early on, I assumed that the emotion of the main character should be obvious. Their mother is just killed. Assassins are attacking them. Aren’t the emotions obvious? But one thing that I keep reminding myself is that the answer is ‘no’. Not all people think the same way. And even if they did, a reader is in a somewhat lazy mental state when they’re reading. They’re expecting the author to feed them the emotions of the character. It helps build the connection, the empathy, the basis for which the stakes are built. And stakes are critical for a reader to connect with a book. Without connection, the reader cares less. So emotion has to be communicated, one way or another.

Picture a psychiatrist on couch as you read your chapters, leaning forward after each major action, eyes narrowed curiously. He taps a pencil lightly against a lip.

“And how does that make you feel…?”


I have to admit, the recent weeks of my first manuscript, StoneDragon, has been discouraging.

I haven’t done any marketing, so not saying it’s entirely surprising, but despite a couple of five star reviews and no bad comments, the book is starting to fade out of view, with little take up unless I run a free promotion. And even those, from what I can tell, involve people stacking books in their kindle hundreds deep, for some future free read. I didn’t want to admit it, but that is part of the mental drain recently. Oh well. It is what it is. So now, I’m going to finish off my next re-write, and likely place it alongside StoneDragon (it is a different series, YA fantasy rather than adult) and then consider if I want to spend some time doing animation, picture book, or middle grade for a while.

I have to create; it’s in my my personality, but one thing I’ve noticed with other successful writers is that sometimes switching gears–and content–can hit a pocket of interest that doing the same thing may not. I’m starting to feel a bit healthier, and have a bit more mental energy, and this YA re-write will take at least a few months, but I thought I’d share some of my own ’emotion’. As much as I’d like to be a thick-skinned always-positive soldier of the pen (or keyboard), doing the same thing and expecting something different is also famously described as the keys to the madhouse. 🙂