Doesn’t look very glamorous, and not my greatest photography, but here’s a shot of my workstation for writing The Black Scroll.
Hope you’ll notice the height and no chair. After some back problems from sitting in front of a computer all day, I elected to write standing up.
I’ll admit it took a little getting used to, but I seem to have come over the hump. My brain’s working; the Muses are singing.
The screen on the left is the book itself as I write in InDesign. The laptop screen has my Excel spreadsheet with research including the 500+ quotes I’ve collected. I also do frequent Google searches to research details and fact check.
The eyes of the woman on the screen are Elektra, protagonist of Book Three. The pink towel between the two banker boxes is for my cat who sometimes sleeps there while I write.
Stack of books? Hadrian, The Roman Cavalry, Atlas of Classical Archaeology (for city plan of Leptis Magna) and Sex and Society in Greco-Roman Egypt. Under it all is a binder containing pages of notes.
Hanging above the work station is a photo I took on the Nile, a movie poster from ‘The Eagle’, a map of the Ancient Nile Delta and a map of the Mediterranean. To the left is a printout of an email from my friend Ann Calhoun with much appreciated (and always needed) words of encouragement.
On the far left, taped to a book shelf, is a printout of my favorite cover – but one I’m not using. It’s the Red Mirror with Isis’ eye. I opted for another cover to make the series more identifiable and the covers more cohesive. Could never repeat, no matter how hard I tried, the power of that Eye.
In case you have trouble making out details, standing on the shelf above my head are two sailing ship models, a bust of Aphrodite, Nefertiti’s head, a statuette of Athena my daughter brought me from Greece, a sitting Japanese sage, a carved wooden “Old Salt,” and a bronze figure of Shiva. Oh! don’t want to forget the brass falcon head of a shoehorn.
On the desk always my cup of black tea with milk – or my snifter of brandy or scotch depending on time of day.
The Black Scroll – 84,433 words as of yesterday. 38 Chapters. 261 pages.
People ask me how I write. The mechanics of it. Some authors apparently work 8 hours. Some work with the goal of 1,000 words a day. A chapter a day is my goal. That’s an average of 1500-2000 words, although a long chapter can be 3,000 words. New material.
I can do it in 2-3 hours if it’s action and dialogue. If there’s a lot of detail, special terminology, or facts I want to present in a way that’s not lecturing, it takes me longer. Of course, I usually spend time editing the new material the day I write. That’s on top.
But before I take The Black Scroll into the next part of the story, I go back over the chapter from the day before, beefing up certain parts, sucking as much emotion and eliciting as much drama as I can from every scene. Sometimes I have to do more research, like what kind of weapon would a young Libyan thuwar use – or what handgun would the General gift to Isis?
Then, when I think I’ve got a tight chapter that I’m pretty happy with, I go to my new blank page.
It’s not blank though. It says Chapter 29, for example, followed by XXXXX. On the next line is xxxxx which is a holder for the appropriate Roman quote I’ll plug in. Following that is a new paragraph ‘XXXX.’ This is where the new material begins. The story continues.
I seldom know the title of the chapter until I’ve written a while. Maybe halfway, maybe even to the end. Many authors don’t title their chapters, but I do. I think of each as mini-stories with their own lives. It seems fitting that they should be named, given their own identities.
Sometimes I know right away what quote I’ll use. When that happens, the quote guides the story. If not, from the list of 550 quotes I’ve collected, I find the one that communicates the theme of the chapter I’ve just written. But more often than not, the quote guides me, perhaps acting as a conduit to my sub conscience.
For it is my belief that the sub conscience is the source – the ever-flowing well-spring – of my stories. Where does the sub conscious get the stories? My past? A collective past? Or is fantasy the result of a kind of cosmic alchemy that blends everything I’ve ever read or heard or experienced into my own personal Akashic records? I can’t say with certainty. But almost any writer should say something similar. If they’re honest. If they write original material.
So I have more questions than answers. Pretty typical for me. But so far, it’s working. O Muses! Continue to sing!
BTW, I’m at about 72K words and ready to start page 220, Chapter 33.
For those of you interested in my progress with The Black Scroll, let me say that I’m advancing at a rapid clip. 59,967 words. 185 pages. Ready to start Chapter 29. Ready to visit Alexandria, 130 AD, 15 years after the Great Jewish Revolt that almost burnt the city to the ground.
You might ask how I know the page numbers with such precision.
I gather that I’m an odd duck among writers, as my preferred technique for channeling the story is to manifest the visual form as I create. I write directly into Adobe InDesign. As the words flow onto the page, they look exactly as they will look in final published form. That’s the print version I’m talking about.
Before putting the first word on the first page, I set up the layout, which in the case of The Black Scroll is the same as The Red Mirror and The Emerald Tablet - the first two novels of the Red Mirror Series. I’ve got the header at the top of the 6×9 facing pages with my name or title, book-specific Egyptian hieroglyph, and page number. The margins are there. The title page has been created.
note: As a reminder – or for those who haven’t seen the print versions – the glyph for The Red Mirror is a snake, typically Pharaonic Egyptian to my mind. The glyph for The Emerald Tablet is the owl – for Athena, the wisest of Greek Goddesses. The one I have chosen for The Black Scroll is the lion – Rome – Africa.
The print version must be re-formatted for export into Kindle, so thinking logically, I decided to write The Black Scroll directly into the layout I use for the ebook version. It’s the biggest market, after all.
It didn’t work for me. All those lovely graphic details of layout disappear. The process is no longer visual.
After a chapter or two, I gave up and allowed myself the crutch. Didn’t authors of old write with a favorite pen? Or typewriter? I need my print version InDesign layout for the Muses to sing. And so be it.
I’ve got an art degree. What’s wrong with painting with words?
February 11 was the Monday I started – day after Chinese New Year. Today is March 12. Three days from the Ides. Five days from St. Patrick’s Day. Eight days from my 38th wedding anniversary and the spring equinox.
Goodbye Libya. It was quite a ride. Hello Egypt. I can’t wait to see what happens.
It occurred to me that I’m supposed to be writing here about writing. I haven’t done a very good job with that, so am striving to make some course corrections.
At long last, I got the courage to start writing Elektra’s story. I’ve thought a lot about why it’s taken me so long. Was it fear of writing itself? Of not having any more ideas? Or was it fear of the story that Elektra has to tell? Now that I have begun, I know that this is a story I couldn’t have told without going through the experience of Arab Spring.
You may ask what the Arab Revolution has to do with ancient Roman Egypt? Well, for starters, I wouldn’t have thought to begin the book in Leptis Magna, which is outside of Tripoli, Libya. At least, I don’t think I would have. I will never know, of course, because I chose the path I am on. No one can say where another path would have lead me.
I don’t think Elektra would go off to the Nafusa Mountains to learn the Sacred Arts (magic – or black magic, if you prefer to use its power in that way) if I hadn’t followed battles there during the Libyan Revolution via twitter. I wouldn’t have realized how ancient the Imazighen people are. That’s “Berbers” to those who don’t know that the truly native (non-Arab) North African prefers to be called an Amazigh (singular). Their language is properly known as Tamazight and remarkably close to the language spoken in ancient Egypt.
But I have diverged. There’s more to the Arab Spring influence on my writing than geography. Until I lived the stories coming out of Libya, Egypt and Syria, I had no real understanding of brutality. I knew about it intellectually. I’ve done extensive research on the Roman Empire. I studied Latin years ago. I’ve seen almost every film made on ancient Rome. But there was something about the modern brutality I experienced through twitter that simply brought ancient horrors to life.
When I was writing a couple of scenes, which I believe I portrayed with just enough detail that you can use your imagination to make more graphic if you please, I reminded myself that things much worse happen every day, right now. “No,” I tell myself. ”It’s not over the top.” It happened. Far worse things happened. And it was institutionalized – an accepted part of culture and life.
The Black Scroll, after 27,000 words, deals so far with slavery, the power of magic – perceived or real – and of course, Elektra. Isis has gone back through the Red Mirror to her incarnation in 130 AD, the time of Hadrian. If the book evolves as the other two, I’m not quite a third of the way into the story.
It’s been intense. This book is very different from The Red Mirror and The Emerald Tablet, which are actually different from each other. I think that a trilogy is usually a continuing story with very similar drama. So perhaps it is appropriate, after all, that I have re-titled the group as Red Mirror Series. The modern story is the continuing thread that binds them together. And the characters, of course. The reincarnating circle of souls.
I’d like to think that each book can be read separately. I tried to write them that way. I’ve had some feedback from readers who started with The Emerald Tablet and report enjoying it very much with no issues of ‘feeling lost.’
Elektra‘s story has begun with new characters in key roles. That’s just the way she’s telling it. My impression as I leave ancient Libya to make for Egypt, is that Hektor, the General, Antinous and River God will soon take center stage.
BTW, you’ll notice that I don’t have a new name for River God, aka Black Falcon. I’m waiting for him to reveal himself.
If you’ve ever wanted to follow the twists and turns of a crazy author’s mind, you can scroll through my blog and see for yourself the evolution of my Isis story. After working with a marketing person, I decided that the series needed re-titling. As fond as I am of my three women, their eyes and their names, I never felt I achieved the sense of romantic adventure that I wished to convey. I never created a cover for Athena (now The Emerald Tablet) that quite matched the power of Isis (now The Red Mirror.)
It was a hard decision to dump the eyes, harder than changing the title. But I am content now with the change and hope you are, too.
And, as if the Universe wished to convey its pleasure at my decision, I immediately found this marvelous image of a 2nd century BC Greek snake bracelet from Pforzheim, Schmuckmuseum – more or less the time period of Athena and The Emerald Tablet.
What is truly extraordinary, I had never seen the image before, yet I described it exactly as the bracelet Hektor gives Athena the morning after the symposion in Korinth. I even placed the garnet in the Herakles knot where the tails of the two snakes entwine.
Now I am the first to admit that this is a common enough motif, and that I most probably have seen something quite similar elsewhere. But I’d like to imagine that Athena spoke to me as I wrote, describing the details as she was telling me her story.