Aura Lockhaven Character Card

Every good fantasy character needs a card. I finally made one for Aura Lockhaven. It’s current through the first six novels and comics.

Character Card

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Why I Write What I Write

Almost every writer has the same reason for writing. He or she is a natural storyteller and just can’t stop. Words flow in the mind like blood flows in the veins. The reasons for writing what we write vary. It is as individual as each writer.

My reasons for writing fantasy fiction are based on two sayings by two different people.

The first saying is by Ann McCutchan, my creative writing professor when I was at UNT pursuing my master’s degree. On the last night of the last class before I graduated, Professor McCutchan said, “Go home and look at your book shelf. See what you like to read. That is what you should write.” To call that profound is an understatement.

I love reading fantasy fiction, as well as the myths and legends of Northern Europe, Greece, Persia, and oh heck, if it has a plucky hero, I’ll read it with relish no matter the culture. They resonate with me. They are tales of strong men and women, doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. They are heroes and heroines, throwing themselves at the face of evil. They fight for family, friends, and village, and not just for king and flag. They outwit or outfight the bad guys. In those stories, the good guys can win.

Besides, I like magic and swords. They don’t really fit well in science-fiction, Star Wars notwithstanding.

That is what I love to read. So, it’s what I write. The Aura Lockhaven stories hearken back to those tales. They are old-fashioned sword and sorcery adventures, heavy on the sorcery as the protagonist is a wizardess. I like reading morally ambiguous stories, such as A Song of Ice and Fire and The Sword of Truth, but I don’t want to write them. Not yet. They are too much like listening to the evening news for me to do more than just read. Old-fashioned adventure is as far removed from the evening news as day from night. In adventure, the good guys can win. In our world, they can’t. Well, I want them to win.

The second saying is by Walt Disney. He said, “I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.” This was his goal with the movie Bambi. He wanted to educate people about the danger of unattended fire in the forest. It astonished Disney that he also cut deer hunting in half in one year. I still hear “I don’t want to kill Bambi” from hunters who will bag anything but a deer.

My stories are entertaining. They are a diversion from the evening news. Right now, America could use some diversion from the evening news, and I could use some diversion from Americans needing some diversion from the evening news. In the process of writing an entertaining story, I underlie it with a philosophical foundation. That way, I hope to educate, enlighten, and encourage the reader. That’s a much better way of exhorting the reader to try the impossible than a lecture.

I won’t go into details, but what my beta reader learned from A Path of Stones astounded me. It was not my intention. It was simply a pleasant side-effect of trying to ground a fantasy in as much realism as possible. That is not unlike Disney inadvertently changing the minds of millions of hunters. I’m interested to see if the story has the same effect on other readers.

How about you? Why do you write what you write?
 

Two Thousand Words Per Day

Stephen King once said that a writer should write 2,000 words per day, if he’s a serious writer.

I scoffed at that. It seemed like such a small number, such an underwhelming goal. After all, I can amass 10,000 words in one day.

When I feel like it, that is. I don’t often feel like it. That word count burns me out after about two weeks. Then, I go for months without typing a single word. It also leaves no room for other important things in my life, such as eating lunch. Novels are not written in such a way.

Novels are written through steady and deliberate progress. It may not look like much on any given day, but slow and measured is how some writers become prolific authors. Ian Fleming wrote the thirteen James Bond novels (as well as a collection of short stories, a travelogue, and Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang) in as many years by writing only one hour every morning, but doing so every day. Kim Harrison wrote the thirteen book Rachel Hunter series within ten years, by writing a little bit each day. It’s how Charlaine Harris wrote not only the thirteen books of the Sookie Stackhouse series, but also the eight in the Aurora Teagarden series, the five Lily Bards, and the four Harper Connelly mysteries. That is a total of thirty novels, all since 1990. George R. R. Martin is not known as the world’s fastest writer, but he writes tomes — tomes, I tell you, tomes — all while advising a major television show, serving as editor for various anthologies, and appearing at most major conventions. He does it all by writing something every day. There is no denying that Stephen King is one of the most famous and most published writers alive. He reached that level by following his own advice, writing 2,000 words in the morning on new Novel C, revising older Novel A in the afternoon, and leaving completed Novel B “baking” in a drawer for six months.

I’ve been writing as a hare, when it’s the tortoises who do all the publishing.

I am taking another hard look at Stephen King’s guideline. It seems to be the cure for my troubles.

There is much to recommend it. Two thousand words per day is about two to three hours of work. That leaves plenty of time during the day for meditation, yoga, weight lifting, going for long walks, and doing other important things like eating lunch. It allows time to revise the writing from yesterday. It also leaves time to work on my 3D art. All before my wife comes home, when I can spend time with her or read instead of working on art or revisions. I can have a life and a healthy one at that.

When one looks at averages, 2,000 words is a considerable amount. It’s eight pages, double spaced, twelve point type; the typical format most writers use for drafts. The average blog post is 1,000 words (this one measures 1,100). The typical short story is 5,000, while novel chapters usually number around 7,500 words. So, in one day, I could write two blog posts, almost half a short story, or a fifth of a chapter.

With five work days in one week, that’s 10,000 words per week. In terms of ink, that’s forty pages, ten blog posts, two short stories, or a chapter and a piece.

Let’s go further. There are 52 weeks in one year. Assuming a few weeks off for holidays and vacations, plus days when depression strikes or the brick factory next door reminds me that I have sinuses, I’ll give an average of 46 weeks for writing.

At the rate of 2,000 words per day, and 10,000 words per week, that’s 460,000 words in one calendar year.

You just arched an eyebrow.

How does that compare into books?

J.R.R. Tolkien’s entire Lord of the Rings trilogy averages 455,000 words. Itty bitty The Hobbit is only 95,000.

A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin, is 248,000 words.

The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks, stands at 265,000 words.

Pawn of Prophecy, the beginning book in David Edding’s Belgariad (itself part of a much larger multi-series epic narrative), measures a tidy 104,000 words.

Terry Pratchett was somewhat Hemingwayesque. His first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, comes in at only 73,000 words.

Robert Jordan’s Lord of Chaos, the longest of the Wheel of Time novels, is 389,000 words.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling, the longest in that series, is 257,000 words, while The Philosopher’s Stone, the shortest, is 77,000.

Wizard’s First Rule, the opening book in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth saga, is 315,000 words.

That’s the fantasy genre, known for its bloated volumes. What about mainstream literature? Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is the gargantuan chart topper at 587,000. Margaret Mitchell came close, but no cigar for Rhett, with the 418,000 word length Gone with the Wind. Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove measures 365,000 words. Herman Melville averaged 206,000 with Moby Dick, while John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath seems puny at 165,000 words. Harper Lee filled To Kill a Mockingbird with 100,000 words, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tiny The Great Gatsby contains a mere 47,000. Ernest Hemingway’s spare The Old Man and the Sea is technically a novella at 26,000 words.

At the pace of 2,000 words per day, the only novel I named that could not theoretically be written within one year is War and Peace, but a tremendous dent could be put into it.

That changes things, doesn’t it.

I like novels in the 110,000 word range. In hardback form, that’s easy to hold. In paperback form, the print is larger. So, using Stephen King’s method, with my preferred novel length, I could write four novels in one year. I don’t know of any writer who is that prolific, including Mr. King. Given my penchant for heavy revisions, at that pace, two novels per year is not unreasonable. That’s a heck of a lot better than what I’ve been accomplishing.

I’m going to experiment with the remainder of 2015. We have 18 weeks remaining to us. Give time off for the various holidays, that’s 15 weeks. Or, in Stephen King’s word count plan, 150,000 words. At that rate, I can finish the first draft of the already started A Path of Stones, and plunge well into the first draft of The Fires of Tallenburgh Hall. Considering that The Valley of the Mystic Moon (book one) is already finished, the opening trilogy of The Chronicles of Aura Lockhaven should be nearing completion by January 1.

That would be a wonderful way to greet 2016.

Shadows Behind the Characters

A backstory is almost as important as the main story itself. In fact, I would argue that it may be more important. Its presence can change the main story in profound ways.

I recently returned to The Adventures of Aura Lockhaven following a six month vacation, during which I worked on an epic fantasy arc.

For the epic, I wrote a backstory. Epics require backstories of, well, epic proportions. They have to explain the rise of empires, the clashes of kingdoms, and include sweeping curses and unavoidable prophecies. Otherwise, they just don’t satisfy. That backstory ended up being a twenty page journal of one of the original participants, explaining a war within a war within a war.

When I returned to Aura, I realized that her story did not have a backstory. She had a backstory, and so did her country, but her magical order just existed. I decided to change that.

As the Aura Lockhaven series is a set of standalone adventures centered around one character, the backstory for the Order of Enchanters needed to be more intimate than that of an epic. I decided on a generational clash within a family that affected her entire order, eventually affecting her. A mere three pages did the job.

That one backstory changed the tone of the first novel, and the entire planned series. Before, The Valley of the Mystic Moon was a charming romp, in which Aura undergoes nine tests to become an enchantress. Now, with that backstory in place, it’s far more somber and dark. The Order of Enchanters is listless and dissolute. The rest of Ayrdland believes the enchanters are extinct because they’re too busy drinking, humping, and fighting each other to bother with the outside world, all because of that family squabble. Aura really doesn’t want to become involved with them, but they can help her achieve her goal of being a better magician for her village. Now, I have some genuine conflict, other than a duel with the villain and fleeing from trolls. The nine tests structure no longer works. In its place, a new one is rising. In the process, the other characters changed to fit. Some became more serious. Others became more humorous. Others became more diabolical. Still others moved from far in the background to up front.

In other words, it is a far better book now, all because of that little three page backstory.

Those Crazy Ideas!

Writers of speculative fiction are often asked where they find their ideas. Pull up a chair, and I’ll tell you where I found mine. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In my case, a picture may be worth 100,000 words.

At the moment, I have four series planned: The Chronicles of Aura Lockhaven, The Geilltiad, Tales of the Sarethian Seven, and one that I’m calling Jenny and Sam. Three of the four began as 3D art renders that I made for entirely different purposes.

Aura was the first, and she still reigns supreme as the queen of my fictional universe. She began as this:

Aura 2010 - 4

I called this one “Miss Barbarian, July, 2010.” Yep, she was supposed to be a centerfold from a barbarian magazine. Obviously, I did not know what I was doing with DAZ Studio at the time, because this render sucks. Yet, of all the ones I’ve done, this one is my favorite because of what happened immediately after it finished baking on screen. As I looked at it, I had this little mental conversation with myself:

“What makes a woman dance nude in a forest on fire?”

“Well, she’s an enchantress.”

“What does that mean!”

“She’s a sex magician.”

“Oh.”

It made perfect sense to me. Yes, I talk to myself. When I answer myself, wonderful things happen.

Within minutes, I named this enchantress Aura Lockhaven; Aura because it’s mysterious and ethereal, and Lockhaven for Loch Haven Park, one of my favorite places in Orlando. Within an hour, I began work on a graphic novel, which I ended up shelving a year later to concentrate on graduate school. That graphic novel provided the foundation for the written series that is underway. One and a half novels later, I have outlines for an additional ten stories, spanning Aura’s first years as an enchantress.

The Chronicles of Aura Lockhaven is based on this one primitive render. The render inspired the character. Once I had the character of Aura, I followed Stephen King’s method of throwing her into an interesting situation and listening to her tell me what she did from that point forward. Aura is still telling me about her adventures.

The Geilltiad is a trilogy that I plan as a spin-off of Aura to provide a backstory for her country. When I transferred Aura from England to the fictional country of Ayrdland, I lost all of that wonderful English history and myth. I had to write my own. Ayrdland was once the Island of Geilltia, and its fall to my version of the Romans is dark enough to warrant a tragic fantasy. It will be my tribute to George R. R. Martin: people will die. Of my four series, this is the only one that has any sort of traditional inspiration.

Like Aura, Tales of the Sarethian Seven began as a render, but this one was more involved and more advanced:

barbarian wall

I called it “Barbarian Wall.” The more I looked at it, the more I liked it. I fell in love with these four barbarian warrior women who protected a queen in a strange land. As a fan of The Magnificent Seven, I decided to add three more characters to the team of barbarians, resulting in “The Rat Hunt”:

rat hunt

For the heck of it, I sat down one morning to write the characters’ biographies, just in case I rendered a few more pictures. I spent more time creating their names than I did on any other project, save the creation of Ayrdland and the continent of Sareth. You can read about naming the Sarethian Seven here. One week later, I had an almost 200 page book of tales about their lives and adventures. I named it Tales of the Sarethian Seven.

I decided to place the Sarethian Seven in Aura’s world, but 1,000 years earlier. I wrote the stories as if told by Henry Lockhaven to his eight year old daughter Aura. The tales inspired her to keep trying when her world turned dark. Tales of the Sarethian Seven is on the shelf at the moment. When I need a break from my big projects, I write another tale. Eventually, I will publish it. I’m not sure if I’m going to leave it as a one volume collection of tales, or break a few out into novels.

The final series, which is filed under the working title of Jenny and Sam, had an even more bizarre origin. It, too, was inspired by a single 3D render:

leopard girl

This one is titled “Leopard Girl.” Originally, the character of Jane Syren (the woman in the render) was a model I developed solely to test different skin textures under different lighting conditions. One day, for a lark, I put her in the Jungle Girl outfit. The result left me howling, “She looks like something out of a B-movie!” Click! I added the temple setting, the giant python, and the gorilla with the machine gun. YES! It needed more, and the result can be seen in the final render above. I made it simply to do something funny. You can read the original concept here.

Once again, a story oozed out of the render. The render quickly became a publicity still from the B-movie Leopard Girl. Who were these people? Not the characters in the scene, but the actors playing the characters in the scene. Jane Syren proved to be the central character. I began writing what I thought was a tongue-in-cheek comedy, but Jane had other ideas. I listen to my characters; they know more about their stories than I do. So, Jane’s tale quickly evolved into a dark fantasy with shades of horror. I am writing the novelized movie script, as a pulp magazine series. It fits within the framework of the rest of the novel, as a story within a story. The main story is about latent hereditary witch Jenny (Jane’s real name), a shaman, a sorcerer, and a demon, all at odds with each other on location with the cast and crew of a movie. Yes, I am keeping the gorilla with the machine gun. As an homage to those wonderful drive-in popcorn movies of the 1950s, I’m calling this novel Leopard Girl. This is turning into an urban fantasy, if it can be called urban in rural Florida in 1957.

Leopard Girl has shot to the top of my project pile. Aura is still the queen of my characters, but I want to give her more time to tell me her story. I’m still not sure Jenny’s life warrants a series, although the character of Sam (the shaman) is my first male character interesting enough to carry his own story. We shall see.

I will not be creating any new original renders in the foreseeable future. I do not need a fifth series in my stack of projects! Instead, I will be “illustrating” the stories I have, mostly for the fun of it. That often helps me design a costume or check a character’s appearance based on how I wrote it. I will leave you with a render showing how that works. Besides, Aura insists. The following render is Aura’s portrait, based on how I describe her in the book. The costume isn’t accurate, but I have not learned the knack of designing clothes for 3D art. It’s close enough. Hey, Aura is an enchantress — she can get away with wearing that. She is a far cry from that original at the top of this post, both as a render and as a character.

aura for picture frame

All names, characters, situations, and artwork are copyright Nathan Boutwell. Don’t even think about it. I have lawyers.