Website Upgrades Coming

Since I’m waiting for both my line edits on Untimed and my proofreading on The Darkening Dream, I’m researching website construction. I have to morph, upgrade, or supplement this blog with a genuine author website and I can’t bring myself to hire someone to do it given that I’ve written far bigger and more complex websites and apps. It’ll just annoy me to no end to not be able to control it all myself. But at the same time, old school coding the whole thing manually (I’d probably use Ruby on Rails for that) is overkill and probably too much work.

So I read this Professional WordPress book yesterday and today to see if it would be reasonable to just extend WordPress. I think it is. A few plugins and some custom theme programming will probably do the trick. The problem is that I host on and they don’t allow you to install extra plugins (they have some installed by default) or add any PHP code. So I’ll have to migrate to a self hosted server. Maybe Media Temple VPS? Rackspace? Research. Research. Research. Anyone have any suggestions/experience with the good hosting platforms?

And I have to teach myself PHP, so I grabbed the bird book. PHP is one of those popular but slightly icky languages like PERL and JAVA that I’ve never been very partial to. It’s like Ruby, but 100x uglier and more primitive. I am a LISP (and Ruby) guy after all. Oh well. This is easy peasy programming, so I’ll just suck it up. Using something like WordPress will make my life much easier maintaining the site as it’s choke full of content management features. If I program it myself I have to go and code everything manually, which really isn’t very efficient.

I even wonder if one of these newer WordPress themes/frameworks like PageLines Platform isn’t a good idea. Anyone use one?

More to come as I get into it.

Dreaming Along

I’m plugging away on my “after the gap” read of The Darkening Dream. At the 60% point, so I should hopefully be done by the end of the week. There’s only one scene I need to go back to and give a bit of a rewrite. It’s one that’s always been a bit problematic, where a character tells a bit of a story about a previous encounter with the undead, and while it’s only 800 words (it used to be 3,000 in the first draft) it’s told in dialog. That’s always awkward, and it’s the only place in the book where a happening longer than a couple sentences is dialoged out. I even have to use that long dialog paragraph leave off the terminal curly brace thing. Over the two years since I first wrote the scene, I’ve rewritten it perhaps five different ways. As dialog, as flashback, with sarcastic interrupts, without. It was once a creepy, but over long episode, but now after so much trimming it just lacks punch.

I’ll have to revisit after I get to the end of this pass.

And I finally adjusted to past tense again (only took 20,000 words!). It’ll be interesting to see if my head whiplashes so badly when I flip back to Untimed (hopefully soon). I’m due my third draft notes any day now.

Moving through The Darkening Dream I find it paced like a roller coaster. Literally. Including the slow initial tick tick ascent to the top of the first hill (which crests at about at the 20% mark). The pacing is mirrored by the chapter length and the progression of time. In the first quarter, several weeks pass for the characters and on average the chapters are longer and more linear. Then at the top of the hill, I start to slide in the point of view of first one and the other villain. With that, the chapter length halves and the action is compressed into a small number of hectic and deadly days. Like most stories with a lot of violence, if one actually had to endure the narrative in real life, one would probably drop dead of exhaustion. TVs 24 being the ultimate example.

On a slightly different note, I switched the name on my ghetto cover (my home-brew one on the right, placeholder until I commission a real one) back to “Andy” as opposed to “Andrew.” I keep debating this. At some level it feels slightly odd to be in my 40s, a husband, and a father and not have dropped my nickname. But I just never have, and on the plus side all my SEO points at Andy, not Andrew. The later is what the Gas Company calls me.

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Done Again, Hopefully

My freelance editor, the awesome Renni Browne, has officially declared my novel, The Darkening Dream, done, and ready for agents!

Now bear in mind that “done” is a highly subjective term, and that as soon as anyone gives me an idea worth doing, I’ll probably do it, and that agents and editors are bound to ask for changes. Which as long as I think the ideas make the book better, is a good thing.

The new version is 5.00i, but this is my ninth full major draft. Woah.

I remember reading Sol Stein‘s awesome book on writing, where he mentioned that The Magician took 10-11 drafts (I was then on my second) and thinking: that’s crazy! I guess not. Totally coincidentally, Renni also edited that novel, published in 1971!

So it’s been a busy week, working only on The Darkening Dream (I’ll get back to my new novel shortly). In the last 10 days:

1. We finishing our big line edit

2. I rewrote the ending again.

3. I read the entire book and made minor mods.

4. Renni and Shannon (her additionally awesome co-editor/assistant) reread the beginning and the ending and did another quick line edit.

5. I went over that.

6. I got back a critique on the beginning of the book, and made some changes based on that.

7. This inspired me to write two entirely different beginnings.

8. We eventually decided the original was better, although I moved a few nice tidbits from the new stuff over.

9. I reread the whole first half of the book, and the ending again, and made some more improvements.

10. On Sunday I rested.

So now I return to the agent game (referrals very welcome), and to the agonizing internal debate about the relative merits of self publishing in the modern (and very rapidly changing) market. And back to the first draft of my new novel (about 25% done).

If any of you beta readers want a copy of the new improved 95,000 word The Darkening Dream, drop me a note.

Some Ideas Never Die

I was back at my parents for the ThanksGavin and I noticed the magazine cover to the right sitting in their powder room. This ceramic dog head, it turns out, is an late 18th or early 19th century British object called a Stirrup Cup. These popular objects were used by aristocratic gentlemen and ladies for the purposes of libations (getting drunk) while hunting. They were ordinarily gifts the host offered during the fox-hunt, on the occasion of the final drink, usually containing port or sherry. Now this in itself is normal enough — considering the British — but for me as a History geek I was stuck by its resemblance to the object on the left.

This little fellow, which is known as a Rhyton, is Greek. Probably Apulian from the look of it, meaning made by Greek colonists in the boot-shaped part of Italy, somewhere roughly in the 4th or 5th century BC. 2200 years before.

So what? But I love this stuff. A Rhyton served the exact same function as the Stirrup Cup. You drank from it while hunting. In the case of the Greeks, undoubtedly wine. The lefthand example is typical Athenian-style glazed terracotta.

But the Greeks didn’t invent this form. It’s much older still, of Persian origin. Here are a trio of Persian horns from three different periods of Ancient Iranian history.

The lion in the upper left is Achaemenid, the Empire of Xerxes and Darius, featured as the villains in the movie 300 (boo hiss), and conquered finally by Alexander the Great. This specific vessel (or one like it) actually makes an appearance in my novel The Darkening Dream, as my 900 year-old vampire al-Nasir owns one. He’s partial to gold. And things owned by kings.

The stag is from Parthia, in North East Iran, and probably a bit later. You can see the more dramatically accentuated horn shape here.

This lovely little bovine is Sassanian, the later empire that existed in Persia during the late Roman period and prior to the Islamic conquest. This is the setting for Aladin by the way — more or less.

This form may be extremely ancient in central Asia, possibly going back for millennium and animal shaped drinking vessels have been found from as early as 5000 BC! Horns were probably in use as drinking vessels in the region since Neolithic times or earlier, and terracotta replicas could easily be 10,000 or 15,000 years old.

But how did it end up in Greece?

The Greco Persian War of course — again the subject of 300. Many of these were captured, and the Greeks took a liking to them. So they minted out all sorts of Hellenized versions, usually in terracotta, as this was the typical material for Grecian drinking vessels.

The resemblance is a bit more than coincidental. Athenian pottery in particular was immensely influential in the entire Hellenistic and then Roman world. These vessels remained in use, modeling all sorts of animal flavors from the 5th century BC until the late Roman period (and possible later), circa 3rd century AD.

By the late Roman period the influence of such things such things were undoubtedly well installed in the mindset of many people as part of hunting and feasting traditions. So therefore we find things like this.

These gold examples, in clear imitation of the Greek forms, were found in a hoard in Bulgaria. I’m too lazy to really research it, but I would suspect they are from the Bulgarian kingdoms of late antiquity. They could be earlier, possibly even Hellenistic.

So what happened to the Rhyton during the long dark period of Europe’s middle years. I tried to find out (casually, using only Google). Drinking horns themselves were in great use, particularly among Celtic and Germanic groups. Some retain animalistic features like.

This is not as obviously derived from the same prototype, but certainly could be. Undoubtedly the functional object, the hunting horn vessel never went away. But by the 18th century, particularly in Britain, the Stirrup Cup appears and with it full and intense revival of the ancient form. Is this due to continuos conservation of the form and idea through the entire Middle Ages? Probably not, but more likely reflects a deliberate harkening back to the classical era. All sorts of neoclassical trends were at work during the 18th century. Stylistically the three great trends of this era were: Neo-classicism, Rococo, and Chinoiserie.

This rabbit and fox are clearly the same idea. Like the Greeks before them, the British, with their own thriving new ceramics business, chose the medium of pottery.

Above is an early 19th century example in the Medeval Revival style that is clearly aping the older chicken legged drinking horn, if not the orginal prototype.

The British template made it across the shores to America in the above example, being particularly Southern. I’m sure these were quite popular with the Gone with the Wind set.

And finally, persists even today, in an over-commercialized red-neck variant.