Tag Archives: The Crane Girl

Crane Girl research list

Current word count on the first draft of Crane Girl is 97,645 and growing daily. Final word count is tough to estimate, but somewhere in the neighborhood of 130K wouldn’t surprise me. I might actually get this monstrosity finished someday.

Part of the fun of this particular novel is the ridiculously over-the-top amount of research I’ve had to do. (Okay, “had to” might be a bit much. But it’s all useful.) Here is an incomplete list of stuff that I’ve read specifically for Crane Girl purposes. I took notes on most of these.


  • The 1950s, Stuart A. Kallen
  • Point of Order: A Profile of Senator Joe Mccarthy, Robert P. Ingalls
  • Lewis Carroll: Looking-Glass Letters, Thomas Hinde
  • Warriors Don’t Cry (abridged), Melba Pattillo Beals
  • Magic, Supernaturalism and Religion, Kurt Seligmann
  • The Emperor, Ryszard Kapuściński — A biography of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. One of the most fascinating books I’ve read in years.
  • Lewis Carroll and Alice, Stephanie Lovett Stoffel
  • What It Is Like to Go to War, Karl Marlantes — Written by someone who knows firsthand.
  • The Fall of Constantinople: 1453, Steven Runciman
  • In Cold Blood, Truman Capote — A so-called “nonfiction novel,” based heavily on real events that occurred in 1959, the same year Crane Girl takes place.
  • The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges — Hard to know which category to put this in.
  • The Book of Legendary Lands, Umberto Eco
  • The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England, Ian Mortimer
  • Joan of Arc: Her Story, Régine Pernoud & Marie-Véronique Clin — Carefully researched, beautiful, and heartbreaking.
  • The Secrets of Alchemy, Lawrence M. Principe
  • Alchemy & Mysticism, Alexander Roob — An art book: lots of ancient alchemical illustrations, with extensive commentary.


  • Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandThrough the Looking-glass, Lewis Carroll — I had read these before, but I read them again to get them fresh in my brain.
  • Alice’s Adventures Underground, Lewis Carroll — An early draft of Wonderland, with Carroll’s own illustrations and in his handwriting. It’s not all that different from the final version.
  • At the Mountains of Madness, H. P. Lovecraft – Deeply disappointing, but still useful.
  • “Ligeia” and “The Masque of the Red Death,” Edgar Allan Poe

Religious texts, myths, legends, epics, and fairy tales

  • The World’s Great Stories: 55 Legends that Live Forever, Louis Untermeyer — I started skimming toward the end. Not as interesting as I’d hoped.
  • The Annotated Brothers Grimm, Maria Tatar
  • The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism, Daniel C. Matt — A selection of authentic Kabbalah texts.
  • The Quest of the Holy Grail, Anonymous — An Arthurian tale from the 13th century.
  • Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament, Bart D. Ehrman
  • Russian Fairy Tales, Alexander Afanasyev — Of the five tales, the first, “Vasilisa the Beautiful,” is especially good. Stunning illustrations.
  • Faust, Johann Goethe
  • Gilgamesh, Anonymous — I had read it before, but I skimmed over again and took notes.
  • Paradise Lost, John Milton — Likewise, I’d read it before, but I skimmed and copied significant passages.
  • The Song of Solomon (from the Bible) — I read this several times, took extensive notes, and did background research.
  • “Descent of Inanna,” a short (and very ancient) Babylonian poem/legend

Long poems

  • The Annotated Hunting of the Snark, Lewis Carroll
  • Goblin Market, Christina Rossetti
  • The Bird Parliament, Farid ud-Din Attar, the Edward FitzGerald translation


  • 1940 census records for the village of Lorraine, Kansas
  • “The Descent of Odin,” a poem by Thomas Gray — Final lines are “Till wrapped in flames, in ruin hurled, / Sinks the fabric of the world.”
  • Lots of W. B. Yeats poems
  • Lots of nursery rhymes

I also read the first dozen chapters of Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno (couldn’t go on, it’s really just awful); the final two chapters of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur; chapters XIII – XX of the fourth-century Gospel of Nicodemus (containing the first-ever coherent account of the Harrowing of Hell); half of a book about the Tarot; a good chunk of the Mayan Popol Vuh; as much Jung and Campbell as I could stomach (spoiler: it was less than a whole book); large portions of the Persian epic Shahnameh; and a chapter of Wells’ The Time Machine (I had read the entire book years ago).

Also, significant reading about: St. John of the Cross, the Arabian Nights, Robin Hood, various species of wild dog (especially wolves, jackals, and foxes), symbolism, Latin, theology, angels and demons, various religions, various world mythologies, various passages in the Bible, Aesop’s fables, the Reynard/Isengrim cycle, and roughly nine million other topics.

You can hate my book if you like, but don’t tell me I didn’t do my homework. 🙂

Have a good weekend!

The Crane Girl — not dead yet


Despite having a newborn in the house 24/7, I’ve actually had some time lately to work on my novel The Crane Girl again.

Last Saturday (Nov. 5), I decided to try for at least 500 words per day, every day, 7 days a week. (Weekends don’t mean much, anyway, when you have a baby.) So far, I’ve met that goal.

I put a star on my calendar for every 500 words I finish, and right now I’ve got 11 stars. That’s more than 5,500 words in the past week — roughly 22 pages. Good stuff.

I’m doing this part of the book, the second half, a little different than I did the first half. This novel — like other fantasy stories such as Wheel of Time and Song of Ice and Fire — has a number of different plot threads going at once, each focusing on a particular character or characters. Chapters alternate between the various threads. Well, with the first half, I was just writing all the chapters in order. With the second half, I’m writing each thread all at once, getting deeper into the mindset of that part of the story before I move on.

I think I like that better. Hard to say.

Some people actually read books that way. Madness, I say.


I don’t think this was a very interesting post. But they can’t all be winners, can they?

Status Update

  • I’ve started work as a contractor for Dragonfly Editorial – not quite full-time, but a lot of hours, and excellent pay. Mostly business writing. This is a big step up, the kind of break I’d been hoping for. I’m learning a lot, too.
  • Still doing various other jobs, for Creative Sparks Writing and Run Life magazine, for instance.
  • Mr. Trube’s  fractal adult coloring book, published by Green Frog and proofread by yours truly, is now available.
  • Due to growing demands on my time (see above), I am no longer working for Pen-L Publishing.
  • Research and planning for Crane Girl gallops on. My sources over the past few weeks have included, in no particular order: Paradise Lost, the Song of Solomon, the Talmud, Aesop’s Fables, The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England, the Popol Vuh, the Rimas of Becquer, Thurber’s “Many Moons,” the Rig Veda, and so very, very much Wikipedia. Yes, I’m having fun.

The paucity of blog updates lately has been largely due to the business and busy-ness outlined above. Life proceeds apace.

Declaration of Interdependence

At some point in my K-12 education – maybe my high school health class? – they taught us that there are three stages of maturity.

  1. Dependence
  2. Independence
  3. Interdependence

The idea is that you start as a child, depending on someone else for all your needs. As you get older, you learn to provide for yourself. The last stage of maturity is to become part of a larger community or team and accept the idea of give-and-take.

Like all psychological models, it’s an oversimplification. In particular, I imagine many people go straight from #1 to #3. But it’s an interesting idea.

I was thinking about this yesterday as a kind of rough guide for helping me figure out my character arcs in Crane Girl. And it occurred to me that the independence phase can be further subdivided.

  1. Dependence
  2. Independence – caring for self
  3. Independence – caring for others
  4. Interdependence

Or, to use a metaphor I just made up: wolf pup, lone wolf, wolf mother (hunting alone), wolf mother (hunting in a pack).

I suggested this to Betsy, and she said there can be a fifth step, too: a return to dependency at the end of life. Good point, and something we might not like to think about.

Still working out precisely how all this applies to character development in the novel. We’ll see how it goes.

“Crazy” is Lazy

In The Crane Girl, I have a character called the Empress. And she’s crazy.

Basically, this means she’s a typical supervillain – megalomaniacal, power-hungry, cruel, manipulative, uninterested in anybody’s needs but her own. She schemes against the heroes, puts them in danger, moves the plot along.

And she’s boring.

One of my tasks in revision is to make her interesting, which means making her real, humanizing her (though she isn’t, technically, human). And that means moving past the “crazy” label. Because calling a character “crazy,” and stopping there, is just as lazy and shallow as calling a character “evil.” It might be true, for some definition of the word, but it’s not very insightful. It’s a reaction, not a description.

“Crazy,” you see, doesn’t tell you what somebody is. It tells you what somebody isn’t – they aren’t mentally healthy. (As if “mentally healthy” weren’t vague enough on its own.)

Describing a character as “crazy” is like describing a car as “not a Corolla.” It’s just a negation, and not a very helpful one. That’s what I mean by saying it’s lazy. It sidesteps the real work of developing the character, turning them into a genuine person.

Having had mental illness myself, I can tell you that it comes in a million different flavors, and even two people of the same “flavor” – depression, schizophrenia, whatever – will never be alike, aside from sharing certain symptoms.

Moreover, the actions of the mentally ill make just as much sense as the actions of the mentally healthy, in the context of their skewed internal parameters. Staying in bed all day, every day, makes sense if you’re exhausted and nothing you do brings satisfaction. Cutting yourself makes sense if it’s the only way you know to break through a universal numbness. Killing yourself makes sense if every second of your life is torture. These aren’t healthy or wise behaviors, and if you’re tempted, you have to fight that temptation with all your strength. But they are understandable behaviors.

As I mentioned above, “evil” characters often fall into the same boat. Authors slap an “evil” label on their villain, and he’s good to go. Except, nobody’s evil for the sake of evilness. They may do evil things, but there’s always a reason, no matter how irrational or selfish. What’s more, nobody is just evil. Murderers may cry over sunsets and church music. Wife beaters may work sixty-hour weeks to take care of their kids. This doesn’t excuse their terrible crimes, but it hints at the truth: nobody’s all light or all shadow.

We’re all people, with all the sanity and craziness and complexity that implies, and well-written characters are people too. Darth Vader is a cruel mass murderer, but he’s protective of his wife and loves his son and saves the galaxy. The Borg Queen really believes she’s elevating the beings she assimilates. Even Satan is a fallen angel.

So a big part of my revision is about examining my villains, and asking myself: if I know who they aren’t, then who are they?

Come to think of it, that’s pretty good advice for heroes, too.

Wednesday Update

  • Editing – This morning I’m working on a sample edit for a prospective client. Thanks to everyone who spread the word about my freelance business.
  • Writing The Crane Girl – 42,000 words and counting on the first draft.
  • Painting the fence – Almost done! My right thumb is sore from holding the roller so long.
  • Bible reading – Still in Genesis, making progress. Betsy and I are up to Jacob now. I’ll do a Genesis post tomorrow if I have time – they seem to eat up a lot of it.
  • Watching Bob’s Burgers – Betsy is now successfully hooked. Mission accomplished. We’re in season 3.
  • American campaign finance system – Still horrifically broken.
  • Writing this blog post – Done!

The Crane Girl – Spreading Its Wings

The path of The Crane Girl has not been a straightforward one. I wrote 60,000 words on an abbreviated first draft and 7,000 words on a second. (For comparison, a typical novel is in the neighborhood of 80,000-120,000 words.) Then all progress halted for over a year as I recovered from illness.

I started up again in April, rebooting the story, keeping a few core elements but otherwise starting over from scratch. I researched history, mythology, religion, alchemy, tarot, fairy tales, and languages, among other things. I still have plenty of research left to do, and honestly, I didn’t think I’d start writing the next draft for a while.

But ideas turn to characters, and characters turn to scenes, and once a scene comes to life in your brain, it demands to be written. So, two weeks ago, I started the first draft of the rebooted story. I’m up to 13,000 words, or about 50 pages.

It’s good stuff. I don’t mean the quality of the writing – though I hope that’s good too – I mean the act of writing, the process of getting it on (digital) paper. It’s not like it has been sometimes before, where I sat staring at a blank screen, sweating blood, wishing I were doing anything else. It’s fun, and it’s not any more difficult than writing a novel is supposed to be.

To paraphrase Dune: “The words must flow.” And they are. The Emperor would be pleased.

There actually is an Emperor in The Crane Girl, though we haven’t gotten to him yet. His wife, the Empress, is the insane homicidal ruler of the High City – and she’s one of the good guys. Their daughter’s job is to watch and wait for the imminent Last Battle, but she’s getting antsy. Ethan, a boy from Earth, is inciting her to rebellion (and – naturally – falling in love with her too). His adoptive little sister, Sara, is drifting toward omniscience. Meanwhile, back in Kansas, Ethan and Sara’s mother is on the brink of losing it because she doesn’t know where they are – and that’s before she gets her magic powers. It’s all leading up to everyone’s favorite shindig: the apocalypse.

See? It’s gonna be fun. Complicated, but fun.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, chapter 9 ain’t gonna write itself.

The Crane Girl Rides Again

Once upon a time, I was writing a novel called The Crane Girl. I had finished the first draft and started on the second, brimming with excitement and ideas. I had learned so much from my last novel, and I couldn’t wait to use those lessons to make this one better.

And then, sometime in the first half of 2014, I stopped.

What happened? Mostly, depression happened. For a few months there, I couldn’t even write my blog or my diary, much less something as exacting as a novel. Hell, I could barely take a shower. I didn’t care about Crane Girl. I hardly cared about anything.

But nothing is forever, except for taxes – I maintain that death is negotiable – and eventually I restarted my engine. First the blog and the diary. Then the Buffy stories. And then…

This past weekend, I received a visit from that gentleman and scholar, my good friend Ben Trube. As always, he was excited about stories. Stories he was reading, stories he was writing – and stories I had written.

I realized it might be time to go back.

Right now I’m tearing apart Crane Girl and rebuilding it from the ground up. The core feelings and plot elements – and some of the characters – will remain, but everything else is shape-shifting faster than Odo on a warm day. Maybe the biggest change is that I’m thinking of shifting from high fantasy to late-1950s-era real world (with fantasy elements). I’ve never done a novel in the real world, so it ought to be fun. At the very least, I’ll learn a few things about history.

Well, anyway. No matter what happens, it’ll be fun.

I’ll keep you posted.

The Foundations of the Book

As I recover from my illness, I’m gradually getting back into all the things I had put on hold: reading, blogging, spending time with friends…and working on my novel.

A few days ago I sat down and looked over my draft of The Crane Girl for the first time in over a month. It’s clear that revising this first draft won’t just be a gradual refinement of what I have. I need to rebuild it from the ground up. I need to re-work the foundations.

My problem, as always, is the characters.

I like plot. I can do plot. I always end up with a solid, satisfying plot and weak characters. I think it’s because I’m a passive person myself, so my characters become passive too. There’s not enough energy, not enough sparks flying, to make the novel come alive.

So I’ve decided to take each of my main characters and model them loosely on an existing character from a show or a movie. That way, when I want to know what a character will do in a certain situation, I can just think back to the model. Of course, my characters will be different in a lot of ways too, but having a model as a baseline should help mix things up.

I’ll keep the identities of my character models a secret till the book comes out. More fun that way.

Have you done any writing lately? How is it going?

Crane Girl: Flying Higher

My novel-in-progress, The Crane Girl, is coming along nicely. I got 1,800 words in yesterday, which puts my first-draft-o-meter above 60,000 (or about 200 pages).

My process for this novel is different in a lot of ways.

For one thing, I’m reading the novel out loud to my wife as I go. As it’s only a first draft, this is a bit nerve-wracking, but it’s worked out well so far. She’s been noticing the kinds of character issues that are much easier to change early on, and I’m grateful for that.

Another strange thing is that the first draft is already “finished” – even though it’s only 60,000 words right now. That’s because I wrote the second half of the draft in a quick, abbreviated way, leaving out details and sometimes whole scenes. Now I’m going back and filling in the gaps – and making big changes too. So technically I’m on the revision phase now, but it still feels a lot like first draft writing.

Major changes I need to make:

  • Main character needs to be more proactive (and smarter)
  • Sidekick needs to have a more distinct personality
  • Villain needs to be more menacing
  • Latter half of the book needs more conflict

In other words, I need to take it up to eleven.

Still, it’s coming together nicely overall. I get a better vibe from this book than the last. Can’t wait to get it finished and send it out to some agents! I’ve already got a first draft of my query letter ready.

What are you working on these days? How’s it coming?