Today we welcome Ken Scholes, author of the PSALMS OF ISAAK series, which began with Lamentation and concludes this month with the fifth volume, Hymn. I have enjoyed this series, especially its internal mythology and interesting characters.
One randomly chosen commenter will win a copy of Hymn!
The Whymer Maze from Lamentation to Hymn
I think sometime around Canticle or Antiphon, people started asking me about my planning process for the series. Someone, I can’t remember who, even imagined I must have a room with walls covered with white boards and sticky notes and binders full of details. The idea, I reckon, was that it all seemed so complex and convoluted that there must be some kind of plan holding it all together. Or at the very least, I had a document stuffed with notes.
I did not.
The closest I came to any kind of planning tool was a bit of freewriting where I thought the book would go (that I stopped doing after Antiphon) followed up by an Excel spreadsheet that I lifted from John “J.A.” Pitts, simplified heavily for a trailer boy like me. There, I placed marks on the stage — which characters would be in which chapters — to make sure they all got their time. The bits I knew (usually the beginning and most of the end) I fleshed out with a sentence in each cell. Then, when I felt a little lost, I’d stop and look at that map, sometimes pausing in the drafting for a few days to think through a series of scenes and how to best proceed.
Now, when I started Lamentation, I had a rough idea of how it all would end. Some of it changed a bit. Some of it stayed very close to how I imagined it (see the last Neb and Winters’ and last Rudolfo scene in Hymn) and some of it grew into a much better ending than I’d imagined (Isaak, Vlad and Petronus’ endings.) And there were certainly surprises along the way. I didn’t know it would be five books until I was wrapping revision for Lamentation and sketching out some ideas for Canticle — but once I decided it was five, it was an unchangeable truth. And that they would be between 140k and 160k words ideally. With scenes running less than 2k words. I put for more energy into designing the size of bucket I would carry the story in than the story itself. And once I limited it to five books, I was careful to build in room for more series down the road and earlier in the timeline if there is ever demand and if those characters start whispering louder.
And that, truly, is the only trick for me. Listening to the characters. I only write what they understand about their story. What I know of their world is what they know of their world. I learned that tight POV control from Patrick Swenson’s writing class at the Wonder School of the Arts back in 1998 in Seattle’s U-District and to me, it’s the seat belt that keeps a reader strapped into any story. It’s the writer’s seat belt, too, I’ve found. So I listen to them, knowing they may not really know — they just think they know — what’s going on. And as the story unfolds, it intuitively comes together for me.
That said, I never felt like I had a handle on this series. And the more I tried, the harder it got to get my work done.
It was largely swinging a dinosaur around by its tail in the midst of a hurricane of massive life events — death of parents, birth of children, end of marriage — and hoping I’d survive the adventure. Yet, despite not feeling I had a handle, the handle was there and when I was able to write, I go to it and landed a 750,000 word saga in less than ten years. And Leroy, my inner redneck muse, knew his job down in the basement jungle factory of my brain and showed up to do it. I think the only thing I might do differently next time is create my world — like an old D&D campaign — and add to it so that once I’m four books deep into a series, I can find whatever I need and I won’t be haunted by an inconsistent world, reminded by those fans who always notice such things.
But I’m proud of how it’s turned out and I’m glad I stayed with the Whymer Maze until I found my way through it.
When I took a break to prepare for writing the last half of Hymn, I listened to the first four books on Audible and the voice actors somehow helped me forget that I’d written those words. I was swept away by the story for the first time. Up until then, they were just more of my words all bunched together.
I hear they’re done recording the audio for this one and I’ll know I did my job right when I give it a listen. But so far, it feels like I landed the book and series where I wanted them to be and told the story I needed to tell about Isaak and his psalms. I hope if you haven’t read it yet that you’ll pick up Lamentation and give these books a try.
Readers, please leave a comment below to be entered in the giveaway for a copy of Hymn. U.S. and Canada-based mailing addresses only, please.