Category Archives: Writing fiction

Drafting, drafting, drafting…

I feel like an old dog that, after laying on the rug half the day, climbs to its feet and shakes off  sleep with a great rattling of fur, ears, and tail.

Just as I arrived at the end of a VAST quantity of editorial work — to give you an idea, I earned as much in a month and a half as I normally earn in a year — I came down with one of the three or four nastiest respiratory viruses of my lifetime. And since my lifetime spans three-quarters of a century, that’s sayin’ something.

At any rate, around the single client project that remained, I’ve been fiddling with a new bookoid. Escapist scribbling, as it were: something to think about that is NOT Donald Trump, NOT mathematics, NOT academic screeds on the subject of how oppressed (fill in your favorite minority or majority group) is, NOT statistical studies of business management or economics, NOT indexes of medieval maritime history….

Drafting of fiction goes very, very slowly for me. Don’t know quite why that is. Maybe it’s that I spend more time visualizing and imagining the setting and the characters than I do actually writing.

Puzzling over this verity, the other day I decided to see how much I really could write in an hour. One hour. Beginning to end. Not much, as it develops: about four paragraphs, most of them dialogue!

Here’s what came of that exercise, draftig, draftig, draftig: set in another time in a galaxy far, far way…. Merren is the head of guard for what amounts to the emperor of the known universe; he is a slave. He has arrived at the home and training academy of Haddam, who turns out high-end servants for high-end clients. Chadzar is the son of Ileite; both are Haddam’s slaves; Chad is being sold to serve as a security guard and valet for the emperor’s unruly and rebellious daughter. Chad and Ileite are Michaians, a race distantly related to the residents of the planet on which they live, pretty much against their will. Merren has offered Chad the loan of one of his own distinctive liveries, exclusive to the emperor’s service, and Chad is trying it on.

“She’s only seventeen, you know.” [Merren said]

“The most difficult age,” Ileite remarked.

He smiled. “Actually, I think that was thirteen.” This line of talk, he thought, could lead him into trouble. Though Ileite and Haddam both chortled ruefully at his remark, evidently having enjoyed thirteen-year-old company themselves, he sensed he’d better direct the conversation away from the Kaina’s behavior, which surely had its moments. This mother sparrow worried about what her chick was flying into, with good reason.

“That sounds . . .” She was interrupted and Merren was rescued by Chadzar’s reappearance, resplendent in the borrowed livery. The mist-blue color made his translucently silver hair stand out in sharp contrast, in a way the standard gray slave’s livery did not. Even his eyebrows and eyelashes, Merren noted, were white. “Oh, my goodness!” she gasped, her eyes widening.

Haddam also looked a little wide-eyed. “Well, my lad,” he said, “you look. . .” he paused for the briefest instant, “very fine!” He smiled, and practically glowed with pride. Ileite blinked back an inchoate tear.

“Looks like it fits him pretty well, Merren,” the old man remarked.

“Not bad.” Merren stepped over and adjusted a loose area. “He’s got about fifteen years of filling out to go, if he’s going to catch up with me.”

Haddam chuckled. “Don’t overfeed him, or he’ll get there sooner than that.”

“We work out twice a day. He won’t get fat too soon, sir.”

“Two workouts a day!” Chad exclaimed. “What else do we do?”

“Well…every day? Target practice. Weapons maintenance and training. Prep for whatever events are coming up. Two work shifts a day. And about once each SECONDARY MOON we host a pow-wow with the police for security, strategy, and intelligence updates.”

“Police?” Ileite asked.

“We work with them all the time.” Ileite raised her eyebrow in Haddam’s direction. He ignored her. “When the Kai — or the Kaina, now — goes to a large event, we hire them as extra staff to help us out.” She making no reply, he added, “It’s good for our guys to spend some time with the hired help — some of us aren’t very comfortable with blacksuits, and it helps to be around them in less formal way. And I think it’s good for the cops, too, to see us as guys like them and not. . .” he shrugged.

“. . . felons,” she filled in his blank.

Surprised, he looked up and straight into her unfathomable, saucer-like blue eyes. The creatures never blink, the thought came unbidden to mind, irrationally oblique to his annoyance. [disquiet, discomfiture, see synonyms] “Former felons,” he corrected her.

Ugh. Talk about “inchoate.” Most of this will unrecognizable if and when it’s finished. But what the heck: at least something is installed in little glowing digital characters…

Image: DepositPhotos, © frenta

Awful Writing

So I’m sitting here editing copy and decide to check one scribe’s pretty darned amazing piece of copy, just out of curiosity, to see whether a passage might be derivative. If it is, I don’t find a source. But I do find a perfectly dreadful account of a fictional rape, just effing gruesome, posted on one of those websites for amateur porn writers. Apparently Author thinks it’s sexy.

Idly, I google “awful writing.” A miracle happens: Google emanates a link to a Twitter site that’s worth your time: The Worst Muse. Line after line of 140-character mock(ing) advice to wannabe writers, laced with inspiration for fine new plots.

“Said” is so boring. You should bring back “ejaculated.”

In the future, the same names will be popular that are popular now, but they’ll all be spelled differently.

You never know what the latest trend will be, so make sure to include every single type of supernatural creature you have ever heard of.

Yes. “Fisting” is absolutely an appropriate word to describe *any* activity involving a fist.

What if the main character were — get this — A WRITER?

Remember: one culture per alien planet. More than that, and you’re just showing off.

Kill your darlings, then immediately bring them back as vampire sex ghosts.

Ha ha haaaa! I’m in love! She’s fiercer than Aunt Tillie and just as smart.

 

w00t!! Great Reviews! Great Price Cut!

With great delight and astonishment, I discovered several reviews of the early Fire-Rider books have gone online, and…a miracle!! They’re POSITIVE! Somebody, somewhere likes this crazy thing.

Amazing.

Yet maybe not so amazing: Fire-Rider was a labor of love. I wrote it during a time when I was exceptionally unhappy with my job. It created a kind of escape hatch into a fully imagined world with fully imagined characters, none of whom was as savage or as deadly as a band of crazed, demoralized academics. Several of the novel’s people — notably Kay, Tavi, Fallon, and Jag Bova — are what used to be called “three-dimensional characters”: figures whose entire, highly detailed lives dwell in the imagination of their writerly creator.

The novel was rewritten at least four times from beginning to end. Between the revisions and the nagging interference from the real world, it took about ten years to put the thing in its present shape.

The book is huge. Truly huge: War and Peace. A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. Oh heck…maybe even both of them thrown in together. If it were printed in a standard trade-book format, it would run well over 500 pages, maybe over 600.

Each of the installments contains several chapters, often about a half-dozen. Average length was around 12,000 words, as I recall. Some are much longer.

So, when I learned that people are serializing novels on Amazon, I thought this is the answer! Like Charles Dickens publishing his dark Victorian novels as newspaper serials, I could dispense Fire-Rider in civilized, READABLE chunks. Readers would not choke or expire from thirst or exhaustion trying to plow through the thing. They could proceed at their preferred pace, and if they decided it didn’t enchant them, they wouldn’t have to buy the whole magnum opus.

But I don’t think even I realized exactly what that meant: EIGHTEEN SERIAL INSTALLMENTS.

This week I decided to accelerate publication of the last four bookoids, so that we could move on to the Racy Books for Racy Readers. We have enough inventory to cover two months, with more incoming.

The Racy Books, it develops, are a great deal of fun to write. All of us here at Camptown Races Press (which, like Plain & Simple Press, is an imprint of The Copyeditor’s Desk, Inc.) hope our Racy Readers find them just as much fun to read.

So, in double celebration of the up-beat reviews and the achievement of mounting all 18 books online, Plain & Simple press is DROPPING THE PRICE ON THE FIRST THREE VOLUMES OF FIRE-RIDER, from $2.99 apiece to $.99. That’s a sixty-six percent price cut!

So, run on over to Amazon, dear readers, and grab the first three volumes while the grabbin’s good:

Book I: A Gift for the Kubna
Book II: The Spoils of War
Book III: The Journey Begins

 

Two Bookoids Down…

Only eighteen more to go! 😀

Last night finished the second of the ten to twenty racey “books” I’d like to turn out per month. “Bookoid,” is what they might best be called. The word length is definitely in the ball park of what’s being turned out. But that word length is not very long: about 7400 words, for this one.

It’s taking a lot longer to write these things than people say they take, or than I planned. I see, for example, by this blog that I thought the present magnum opus would be done two days ago. I completed the first bookoid six days before that. So it’s taking me about a week to write one of these things.

That’s only four a month, and I need a bare minimum of ten.

The big problem is the constant stream of interruptions. Some days it feels like I can’t get ten minutes without SOMETHING busting in to my concentration.

Yesterday, for example, the car had to go to the repair shop — that’s two trips through rush-hour traffic, back and forth. Twenty minutes after the mechanic dropped me off at the front door, the handyman showed up to fix the kitchen sink. He occupied a fair amount of time, though he didn’t charge anything (which was nice….since the car is about to bankrupt me).

Final student papers are coming in. To get some of them to turn in their 10-page exudations early so we’d get a little slack on the awful deadline for filing final grades, we offered them  20 points of extra credit to post their papers before Monday. So naturally, the best and the brightest have begun turning that junk in.

Okay, so the brightest students are easiest to grade, because all you have to do is slap an A on their paper and you don’t have to waste your time justifying WHY you’re giving the person a D (it’s a waste of time because these folks have heard the same stuff a score of times and don’t pay the slightest bit of attention — some of them don’t even bother to read your comments). But it still consumes time to read them, even in a cursory way.

Speaking of exudations, one of the three surgical incisions I came away from the Mayo with is infected. It’s worse this morning, so I’ll have the privilege of spending half of today trying to cope with that, which will entail another trip to the hospital and a trip to a pharmacy and probably some throwing up in response to whatever antibiotic they inflict on me.

The designer called and revealed that he is only JUST beginning to look at compiling the 18 Fire-Rider covers I need to have before I can post that series on Amazon. Grrrr! But when he did that, he also revealed that I must have been in my cups some weeks ago when I sent him the list of books & titles — he thought the title of book II is the title of book I, and from there things went downhill.

So  now I get into my files and see, yes, somehow that list got completely garbled! I’d sent him something that made exactly zero sense.

So that meant I had to rewrite that, try to get it right for a change, and send it to him.

Then there was the back and forth with the web gurus. The exiting guy — alas, this lovely man got a JOB (horrors!) and besides has four kids and a wife he imagines he should spend time with — is going to move the blog empire over to WestHost today. The new guy is going to reorganize it. Among other things, this site (Writers Plain & Simple) will become a subdomain of Plain & Simple Press, allowing the domain name to revert to GoDaddy.

This scheme — converting a number of free-standing business-related sites to subdomains of my main business websites — will save a ton of money over the long run. GoDaddy is now charging several hundred dollars a year for the many domain names I’ve claimed. Speaking of sucks: that’s a money suck.

So I’ll end up dropping five domain names and picking up one new one: Camptown Races Press, the new imprint for the p0rn enterprise. Good. Very, very good.

Because I was waiting for a number of people to call, when the phone rang I had to pick it up. Normally I don’t…when you get to be my age, you get on every predator’s phone list, so every day I get two or three phone calls from scammers trying to victimize old folks. And yes, I am on the National Do Not Call List, a pathetic joke. Sometimes I can tell the caller is a crook — the ones that spoof Directory Assistance are a bit obvious. 😀 But sometimes Caller ID won’t have enough information to tell whether it’s the handyman calling from his cell or what.

The phone kept jangling all day long. Every time I’d sit down and just get focused, BRRRRRIINNNGGGGA! And there’s some moron on the other end.

No, I cannot afford call blocking. The phone company does not want you to block their customers — the people who pay them for your phone numbers — and so they charge an arm and a leg for call blocking. No, the Panasonic phone that lets you block around a hundred numbers is not a practical option: you need a master’s degree in software engineering to figure out how to program it.

Then Semi-Demi-Exboyfriend decided that NOTHING will do but what I have to traipse out to Sun City to have dinner at his house while New Girlfriend is off in Colorado. It’s all very nice that he’d like to socialize with me, but… He invariably wants me to come out there in the rush hour. So to get there by 4:00 I have to leave here by 3:00. By the time I’ve sat around his house until 8:00 or 9:00 p.m., a third of the day is shot!

(Hereabouts, evening rush hour starts at 3:00 p.m., especially during the summer when guys in construction and other strenuous trades start at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. to get around the worst of the heat.)

By way of negotiating this social event, SDXB phoned me…what? Three times? Four? I can’t recall, but every time I sat down to work, there he was on the phone again.

So, what have we got here: TEN ONGOING DISTRACTIONS breaking up ONE day!!!!! Shee-ut! No wonder I can’t get any work done.

Well, it’s after 6 a.m. We can call the Mayo 24 hours a day, so I’d better call and let them know I think this damn thing is infected. That will mean traipsing up there today. If they let me in this morning, then the first half of the day will be erased, for all practical purposes.

If I have to wait until this afternoon, then I won’t be able to go to the writer’s group I favor, which meets at the library of a westside suburb halfway to Yuma.

There’s another time suck. They meet for three hours once a month. It’s an hour’s drive each way: five hours down the hole.

Normally I do not hang out with writer’s groups — they really are an unholy waste of time for someone who already knows how to write and edit, thank you very much. But this group is something else. Most of them are already published, some of them through real presses, some through Amazon. And what they’re interested in is not how to become a Writer with a Capital W, but in how to market.

Marketing is my big weakness. Hustling my wares is far from my favorite pastime, and I’m not good at it. So I see enough value in this group to make it worth killing half a day a month sitting around listening to them.

At any rate, what it boils down to is

a) it’s taking longer to write these things than I figured (original estimate was one every two or three days), and
b) even when it looks like I have a day that’s going to be free, it in fact is a pastiche of interruption and nuisances.

That makes it unlikely that I can turn out ten to twenty bookoids a month, unless I write much shorter. How many s∈x acts can you cram in to 3,000 words? And how much space does that give you to come up with an entertaining reason to present the s∈x acts?

Turning out one a week, which seems to be about the rate we’re looking at, means not doing anything else. I haven’t written the proposal for the Boob Book, even though the chapters, intro, and appendix are ready to go. I haven’t worked on formatting the last two of 18 Fire-Rider serials so they can go online as soon as Gary finishes the covers. Nor, indeed, have I budgeted several hours to sit down and study how to get the things up.

Claro, I’m going to need those four wannabe writers to contribute to this project. So far none has come forward with a draft. It remains to be seen what will happen there. But to get even 10 a month online will take more than one person writing the stuff.

Maybe I should come up with some writing prompts for them…

On the other hand…I have to tellya! Writing this stuff IS a hoot. The one I finished yesterday turned out to be a great deal spicier than the first effort. And in 7,000 words, you can come up with characters that are more than cardboard figures. You can even create a little backstory. These are stories that are probably worth reading for more than just the smυt. But there’s plenty of that, too.

And each of these stories lends itself to a series. Think I’ll go back and forth between them. The next bookoid will be another biker story; then the following will return to the incubus tale.

Speaking of time sucks, now it’s after 7 a.m. Got to water the plants before the heat fries them and get cleaned up lest I have to schlep to the Mayo hospital. Ugh.

First Erotica Novelette in Hand!

Hm. Maybe that’s not a felicitous turn of phrase. 😀

Doesn’t take much of this kind of writing to cause you to hear double meanings in about every third word anyone speaks. Who knew?

At any rate, my first effort at writing erotica — the hard-core variety, I mean — is DONE! And sent off to a couple of writing & editing pals for review. One of these wants to fall in with me by way of seeing how this works; she’s more interested in the standard romance formula than I am, and, we might add, a far more gifted writer of fiction.

She being an MFA type, she actually can crank a piece of lit’rature. Me, I’m lucky if I can write a coherent blog post that doesn’t put the reader to sleep. But on the other hand, what we’re proposing to publish hardly comes under the heading of literature.

It took a great deal longer to write the thing — all of about 7100 words — than I expected, since I was in the hospital for five days and pretty much out of it for a couple days after that. Whether I can actually write ten to twenty of these a month remains to be seen. But I suspect once you get the hang of it, you probably can move along at a brisker pace.

And I have an idea for the next bookoid — a piece of spectrophilia. Yes. Believe it or not, getting it off with ghosts is a fetish. And it’s one that’s been around since humans have been human: apparently it stems from a surprisingly common hallucination caused by sleep paralysis. Weirdly, I haven’t come across a story at Amazon specifically revolving around a succubus or an incubus. But there will be one. Soon. 😉

Today, though, I’m going to read some Anaïs Nin. I downloaded Delta of Venus and Little Birds yesterday. Interestingly, her introduction describes the challenge of writing to clinical details in the absence of anything resembling a credible or intellectually interesting plotline. Her client, who was paying her $100 a month to write smυt for a supposed “old man” (who actually was himself), kept urging her to can “the poetry” and just write “sex.”

If you’re used to doing any real writing, that’s easier said than done. In the current biker book, I found myself developing character (as if by instinct) and building motive. Even though I managed to keep the action going at a fair clip, probably more “poetry” intrudes than is desirable.

Heh.

Oh, sorry.

The point is, it’s harder than it seems to build a story solely by moving puppets around on a cardboard stage.

Nevertheless, probably thanks to “the poetry,” Nin is regarded as one of the finest writers of female erotica in English, even though she thought of the stories as caricatures. Which of course is exactly what p0rn is: cartoonish. Clinically cartoonish.

I, on the other hand, do not care if I’m ever regarded as a fine writer by anyone. I just wanna make a living. And not by teaching freshman comp or greeting Walmart shoppers.

 

Three projects, one day, 24 hours: progress

Five to 9…what is that? A sixteen-hour day? And I’m knocking off early: normally would work till 11 p.m.

LOL! Back when I was a working stiff in the magazine industry, one of my editors used to say that freelance writing was grand because it allowed you to pick your work hours: any 18 hours of the day you please!

With the teaching antics temporarily in abeyance, several whole days have presented themselves for productive work.

And lacking too many interruptions, I’ve been able to do a little on each of the three projects in hand: Writing a new (more or less erotic) novel (shaping up to be a romance!); building a prospectus for the nonfiction Boob Book coping with decisions women have to make when confronted with a breast diagnosis); putting the completed Fire-Rider novel online in serialized form.

So: yesterday I wrote one of the appendices for the Boob Book: how to read a scientific paper. Next segment: a chapter on the screening controversies. Wrote a little on the new book. And spent several hours fiddling with the new template I hope to use for the 19 serial novelettes.

Half of today was consumed with a business meeting and a doctor’s appointment 25 miles from home: lots of time disappeared there. But between 5 and 6:30 ayem, I did squeeze in a paragraph or two of the new-old novel.

Later, back at the Funny Farm: it was back to the project of fitting Slave Labor into the proposed print-on-demand template. And ta-da! by the time the sun had been down an hour or two, the whole (little) book was pasted into the template, formatted in styles, and saved as a PDF.

The result is not bad. Not great, but not bad. It’s marginally professional. The problem is, of course, is that no matter how carefully you choose your fonts, Word is not quite up for the job of typesetting. BUT…for the purpose of cranking 5000-word penny-dreadfuls — many of them scribbled on order by flunkies willing to write erotica at an astonishing 2 cents a word  (!!!!!) — perfection is not a requisite.

Without Adobe Acrobat Pro (which I can’t afford), you can’t generate crop lines, so the PDF doesn’t make it obvious that the template is for a 5.5 x 8.5 trim size.

Joel Friedlander, the guy who cooked up this clever scheme, insists that many PoD printers can handle PDFs that have no crop lines. I’ll believe that when I see it. But if forced to it, probably my sidekick can extract a copy of Pro from her employer, the Chinese government, or the guys down at the FedEx shop will have it. One is never without resources.

Friedlander also has a cover design template, of all the astonishing things. You enter your image on the righthand side, figure and adjust the spine width, and enter your back cover copy on the left, in text boxes. Et voilà!

He proposes that one get an image sized to wrap all the way around, and in a video shows how to do that. Very nice, but I have a front cover image that I’ve already paid generously for, and it ain’t going away. So I figure either to leave cover 4 white, or to fill the spine and back cover with a color compatible with the dominant color scheme in the present design.

It’s going to be extremely interesting to see if this works. They say with the new digital PoD printers, which really are glorified computer printers with some capacity to perfect-bind whatever comes out, open all sorts of doors.

And now…I’m done in!

🙂

Progress Being Made!

At last… In the absence of the late, great teaching hassles, I managed to work on not one, not two, but all three books in progress today!

Holee maquerel. It’s some sort of a miracle. Got a little work done on each of two books and a lot done on the third:

Revised (while word-processing) another chapter from the ancient graduate-student novel, lately retrieved from a dust-covered box in the garage. Contemplated the possibility of spicing it up…a rich possibility, indeed.

Organized research materials for the Boob Book. In the process identified topics that are over-researched and some that are under-researched. Realized the next step really oughta be to draft the appendix describing how to read & understand a scientific paper.

And finally, went through (at endless length) the long, long manuscript of Fire-Rider‘s first installment, did word counts of its 79(!!) chapters, and figured out how to organize it into bookoid-length installments. Discussed this idea with graphic designer; procured his agreement to create “brand name” covers based on the present cover image, at little extra cost to me.

The latter was the biggest project and potentially the most productive. As I thought about the tale of the guy who’s minting vast riches (so we’re told) by churning out 5,000-word “books” of erotica and peddling them on Amazon, it occurred to me that the model could apply to any brand of fiction, even the nonpornographic variety. And, by golly, I happen to have an excess of that laying around the computer drive.

It took all afternoon, but by 7 p.m. Fire-Rider‘s content had tidily coalesced into 18 segments averaging a little over 8900 words. Only one of these runs less than 5,000 words. Interestingly, each section holds together pretty well, and taken together they move the story forward at a nice pace.

This is a book, as it develops, that lends itself to serialization. In one piece it’s impossibly long. But in separate pieces, it can carry a reader along happily.

So I’m thinking for sure that one gets put online in shards.

Ditto, I think, the proposed racy-fied crime novel , which I now think starts out at about  85,000 words. The writing’s atrocious, but at the rate of a chapter every day or so, I should be able to clean it up and zing it up over the course of a few weeks.

If I could break loose enough time every day, seven days a week, for several weeks in a row, I could probably get at least one of these up on Amazon very soon. If I can learn the Kindle conversion software (which doesn’t appear to be very hard), it shouldn’t be hard to mount both pieces of fiction, in serialized format, over the course of a month.

Stoked!

Writing Dialogue: It’s Not All Talk!

(Tips on writing better dialogue.) Whenever you use dialogue, use it to accomplish something. Don't throw it in there because you think fiction has to have dialog.Lately I’ve been reading a lot of dialogue in manuscript. Some would-be famous novelists are better at it than others. Ditto some published novelists.

Recently two things have struck me about the products of people who are developing skill in writing conversation: they either get so baroque with the attributions as to become unintentionally silly (“Let’s go,” said Tom swiftly…or better yet, “Let’s go!” Tom ejaculated), or they go full throttle in the other direction with no attributions (“dialogue tags”) in page after page of back and forth (this is called stichomythia: extended dialogue with no he saids).

Dialogue serves several purposes in fiction. It fills in backstory. It helps to characterize the story’s people. It slows down action. It may deliver the occasional surprise. Whenever you use dialogue, you should use it to accomplish something, not throw it in there because you think fiction has gotta have dialogue.

Dialogue does not exist in a vacuum. People think things while they’re talking. If the scene is told from a single character’s point of view, the writer will share only that character’s train of thought. But everyone’s outwardly visible activities can be shown, allowing us to surmise what they might be thinking. People get up and move around. They sigh. They smile. They frown. They raise an eyebrow. They look puzzled or quizzical. They observe other speakers in the scene. They become momentarily distracted. They indulge an idiosyncrasy. You name it, they do it.

Describe THE WHOLE action, not just the motion of the mouths and the vocal cords.

Here’s a dialogue-heavy passage. Note the parts that are not dialogue but that complement or elucidate it:

Kay and Fallon walked back toward their camps. They were joined by Devey Mayr of Metet, a tough A’oan who, though Kaybrel thought he looked too young to sit a horse, had led his party of fifty men straight through Roksan’s main gate in the minutes after the barriers fell. Devey affected a little strut that made him attractive to women, and sometimes made other men wonder what he was trying to prove.

“So you think the pickings are pretty slim on the coast?” he asked Kay.

“I know they are,” Kay replied. “Well, actually—they say the people in the far south are better off. But about ten years ago Hef of Aber’—you remember him, Fal? He died at the battle of Pakta.”

“Vaguely,” Fal said.

Of course, Kay thought. Fal would have been about twelve or fourteen at the time. “Hef and I crossed the Wammets and reached the coast about as far north as Bose. We damn near starved out there. Didn’t find many people—a few ruins poking out of old silt flats, nobody living in ’em. They don’t have much food, and truly, we didn’t see any decent stock as far as we went. We made it down into Galifone, to a place the locals called Hamun Bay. The ocean is something to see, but it’s not worth driving a whole army over a mountain range.”

“No farms?”

“A few. Not many. Doesn’t rain there much. Most of the seacoast is desert. We ended up having to live off the land most of the way—and believe me, there’s not enough to support twelve hundred men.”

Devey looked disappointed. “I’d like to see that ocean,” he said.

“Yeah, it’s almost worth the trip,” Kaybrel agreed. “But go there on your own. No point in taking a big party. Just go check it out.”

“Maybe next summer,” Devey said. “I’d have to get leave from Bose. And Lhored, I expect.”

“You’ve done your job,” said Fal. “They won’t mind.”

“Wonder if he’d let me and a couple of my guys run over there now. We could probably get ourselves back to A’o before first snowfall.”

Kay laughed. “I wouldn’t, if I were him.”

“Somebody’d have to take my men while we were gone. How’s about you, Fal?”

“Not likely!” Fallon countered. “I’ve got enough chuckleheads to ride herd on—I don’t need more trouble.”

Devey smiled and scratched absently at a half-healed rash on his arm.

“Wait till next summer,” Kaybrel said. “If I come into the field, I’ll take your men with mine.”

“What ‘if’? You planning to stay home next year?”

“Maybe.”

“We need you out here.”

“Well, I’m not so young any more, Devey. Three or four months in the bush gets a little tired, you know, after a while.”

Devey considered this for a moment but couldn’t let it rest. “You’re no older than the brez,” he remarked.

“I’m four years older than Lhored,” Kaybrel said. “Our mothers were the same age. We were both first-born.”

“Lhored is still going strong,” Fallon said.

“Yes. But his time is coming to an end. Just seven more years.”

“Seven springs?”

“Six.”

“Long enough,” said Devey. “You must be forty-two, then?”

“That’s right,” Kaybrel admitted.

Fallon rarely contemplated the possibility that his friend was past the middle of his life. Kaybrel always struck him as vigorous, and Fallon thought of him as somehow near his own age. In truth, Kaybrel had come to the time when six and a half years looks hardly more than a day in the future; to Fallon and Devey, it still seemed a long time.

They passed in the direction of the A’oan campsites. A round, red-headed lad emerged from that crowd, waved, and strode over to Devey.

“Hey,” he said. Devey gave him a rough hug and a playful shove. “Duarto and Guel’ say you brought us a new chacho,” he said to Kay.

“That’s so, Porfi,” Kay replied.

The remark that “Devey affected a little strut…” is what literary journalist Tom Wolfe used to call a “lifestyle marker“: habits or personal accouterments that reveal, sometimes deliberately but often unconsciously, some cast of mind or statement about oneself. Dialogue, like description, lends itself to lifestyle markers. The way people speak and behave while they’re talking often says as much about them or about what they’re thinking as what they say explicitly.

Within the book’s context, Devey is an adventurer; Kay is a seasoned warrior who also has passed some time as a traveler and adventurer; Fallon is Kay’s follower, for whom Kay serves as a mentor. Both Fallon and Devey are younger men; Kay is old enough to have grown tired of war-making. These characteristics are introduced or developed in the passage of dialogue, which appears near the top of chapter 1.

Dialogue doesn’t stand on its own. Let it articulate with the rest of the story, and work in narrative and description to help accomplish that.