Writing Novel Number 10, “Medicine Snake”: Week 9

Medicine Snake, an Anasazi Novel

Vision Board for “Medicine Snake”

I’m progressing slowly with this story. Lots of distractions. Lots of contract work, yard and garden work, family events and such. And I’m still laying hard into preparing Price On Their Heads for the next step of publication—mainly reading it out loud. I’m a little more than a third through that.

Nevertheless, I’ve written some intriguing flash, ideas about setting up the story, possible entries into it. Here’s the most intriguing from this week:

Tookya and Pip Flee to the Twins

“There,” said Tookya, pointing.

Pip looked and signed no. He didn’t see.

Tookya stood beside him, head behind Pip’s, and pointed along his arm. From the tip of his finger the Twins rose in the distance, like two fingers of dark gray against a background of diffused gray.

“Oh, I see,” said Pip. “That’s where we’re going?”

In answer, Tookya started walking. He crunched through the snow and stepped high to keep from dragging his feet, but Pip, much smaller, plowed from step hole to step hole behind Tookya. They were high in the mountains, looking down on the Twins two or three days’ distant, no trail, only drift after drift of snow, some thawed and refrozen close enough to the surface to walk with almost a normal swing of the leg, but others, mostly those in shadow from the southerning sun, were loose or, worse, powder. Then they would wallow through the snow, Pip making a swimming motion.

Two days later, Tookya once again pointed, and there the Twins stood above them, backlit by the setting sun, two great sandstone spires pointing to the stars. Tookya had heard of them since childhood, and so had Pip, but neither had laid eyes on them before. The mythical Twins of the First World, now frozen in place in the Fourth. Home of the last skywatcher.

“We can get there before dark!” said Pip.

Tookya held back. “No. Approach is from the south. Up the tilt to the top. Tomorrow.” He began looking around for a place to cold camp. Pip joined him against the base of a spruce, a hollow in the snow, and they shivered through the night, and the next day when the sun climbed to its highest, they entered the lower village of the Twins. Several older boys ran up to them, asked who they were.

“Tookya and Pip from south of the eastern mountains. We seek council with the last skywatcher.”

The boys ran ahead to alert the adults, and soon men appeared, most with tools they could use as weapons if necessary, and Tookya felt they were walking a gauntlet. One man held two large hammerstones, one in each hand, his arms bare to the cold, muscles bulging. Most held sticks. A woman stood with a longbow at her side, the feathers of arrows behind her neck from a full quiver.[i]

A boy about the age of Pip, but longer of limb and his head oversized, arrived to escort them to the big house behind Master Tuwa’s sky circle.

“What’s your name?” asked Pip.

The boy grinned and looked away, bending his neck at an odd angle. “Gawt is my name. Some call me Echo Boy, and I don’t mind.”

“Why do they call you that?”

“Why do they call you that?” Gawt asked, and they both laughed.

Tookya shook his head at the juvenile joke, and at the top he saw a man waiting. He had straight legs and straight back, his hair long and black, and he stood bending his knees, rocking his weight back and forth, as runners do, anxious for the race to begin.

When they reached the man, he thanked Gawt, who slinked away.

“Can I go with him?” Pip asked the man.

Gawt turned and looked. The man made a hand sign to Gawt, who replied that he didn’t mind. “Yes,” the man said to Pip, “go.”

Pip scampered after Gawt and they ducked into a doorway.

“You have been announced as Tookya and young Pip from south of the mountains to the east.”


“I am Ingta. Do you carry weapons?”

Tookya raised his hands and spread his arms. “I do not.” It made him feel naked. He rarely carried no weapon, but he did not wish to threaten in any way the last skywatcher, so he left them below the tilted Twins mesa, stashed behind a rock that jutted out of the snow like a single jackrabbit ear.

“Good. Follow me. We have a fire, drink, food, and then we can have a word with Master Tuwa in his chamber.”

After he had warmed and quenched his hunger and thirst, Ingta led Tookya up a ladder to a flat roof swept clear of snow by wind or broom, and down another ladder through an opening in the middle of the roof. They climbed down into the chamber of Master Tuwa, a great round room, fire in the middle, cleansing smoke trailing up through a square hole of bright light, the early afternoon sun angling from the opening to the floor, smoke and dust swirling in the intense light.

Master Tuwa sat cross-legged on the floor in the oblong square of light. Another man sat in the shadows to Tuwa’s left. At the bottom of the ladder, Tookya followed Ingta, who went to the east wall and turned south, hugged the wall all the way around until they were at the north side, and only then did he introduce Tookya to Master Tuwa.

“Welcome, Tookya of the East. With me is Nanatoona, Master Bone Rattler, of the North.”

Tookya sat and slouched to keep his head lower than Master Tuwa’s. In spite of the bright, cold day outside, the room was warm and still. Dark, but not gloomy, smoky but the air breathable. A young boy tended the fire, and then disappeared into flickering shadows.

“I know you,” said Nanatoona in a high old man’s voice. “You are the only one who spoke against Tumok.”

“That is true,” said Tookya. He knew Nanatoona as well, and he held him in low opinion. The predictions of the old bone rattler were what made Tumok do what he did. “And I will speak against those who guide and encourage him, as well.”

Tuwa sat with a half grin, his eyes half closed. Ingta braced himself with an outstretched leg.

Nanatoona laughed, a wheeze like an old man and tree branches in a stiff breeze. “The bones never lie. But men often do.”

Tookya tensed and straightened. “I do not lie.”

“No,” said Nanatoona. “But Tumok cannot boast the same. You and he are not like the others in your village. They are see nothing and have no motivation, but Tumok sees things and takes them, and you see what is unfair and fight it.” The old man laughed his airy, wheezy way again. “The battle of the ages, between greed and justice. The world will vibrate between those two opposites forever, like these twins that used to stand at the poles and steady the world so that we could live on it, and now they are frozen here forever, letting any tempest blow past without so much as a blink or a nod, even their strength exhausted.”

“What,” asked Tuwa, opening his eyes and looking at Tookya, “is it Tumok has done?”

[i] Kwivi, West, attendant to Sooveni

The Twins is Chimney Rock Archaeological Area near Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

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Writing Novel Number 10, “Medicine Snake”: Week 8

Medicine Snake, an Anasazi Novel

Vision Board for “Medicine Snake”

I sat back and rode upright on the stationary bike when it hit me: Is my intent to have maximum dramatic effect?

I’ve learned, or realized that I really already knew, lots of things about dramatic plot in writing nine novels. It’s less about what happens, and more about why it happens to who. And point of view is an extremely powerful tool. Drama, in fact, is probably the only real storytelling reason to change points of view (comedy could justify it, too).

For instance: Gary and ten soldiers are marching up a hill, tired and hot and grumpy. Over the crest of the hill is a nest of two dozen enemy soldiers, alert and with itchy trigger fingers. If our POV is locked into Gary’s head, then we can’t let readers know a bunch of bad guys are over the hill (unless Gary finds out), and therefore the plot doesn’t thicken, it thins. It supercharges the plot to switch POVs, or go to an omniscient or narrator’s POV to point out the bad guys. Oh no! Gary and his boys are in trouble!

Week Eight: The Hill

Week Eight: The Hill

Also, there’s something deeper. If you’re in, say, third person, can you tell the reader anything about the subconscious of the character? If the character doesn’t know it, then he can’t think it, and if he can’t think it, the reader can’t know it. That’s why it’s so easy to float up into omniscience, which can get a bit freaky for a reader. Suddenly their character is having an out-of-body experience! They even think things about themselves that they don’t and can’t know!

For Medicine Snake, I do indeed want to write it for, if not maximum, at least strong dramatic effect. Hence I need to think more about my POV characters. And why they’re making what happen to who.

Meanwhile, I’m still slowly reading my last novel, Price on Their Heads, out loud as its final polish. I’ve spoken so much of it, I’m hoarse.

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Writing Novel Number 10, “Medicine Snake”: Week 7

Medicine Snake, an Anasazi Novel

Vision Board for “Medicine Snake”

Me bad writer. I spent a total of one hour this week working on my Anasazi historical novel Medicine Snake. Instead, I spent nearly twenty hours editing and reading my last contemporary novel (with an Anasazi angle) out loud, Price on Their Heads, to prep it for publication. I have a very hard time switching from one story to another. I’m a one-story-at-a-time kind of guy. I wish I weren’t, but it’s pretty obvious.

During my one hour, though, I did have a near-revelation:

Week Seven: Darkly Dreaming Ingta

Week Seven: Darkly Dreaming Ingta

One of the things I realize from eight of my nine prior novels is that my protagonists tend to be weaker than my antagonists. Of course—bad guys are more fun to write than good guys.

So what if I flipped that? Made my protagonist for Medicine Snake, Ingta, have a dark side? What if he’s on a mission to take it straight to the real antagonist (Póktu and his master, old blind Molta)?

It’s something to think about. And yes, the “darkly dreaming” is from the book Darkly Dreaming Dexter (link to Amazon), by Jeff Lindsay, inspiration for the TV show Dexter.

I love the opening of the description for that book: “Meet Dexter Morgan, a polite wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Meet Ingta, who is not what he seems.

That’s always a good brain tease for a character.

Goal for next week: Finish jacking with Price on Their Heads and spend more time on Medicine Snake.

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Writing Novel Number 10, “Medicine Snake”: Week 6

Medicine Snake, an Anasazi Novel

Vision Board for “Medicine Snake”

Sigh. Time spent: 4.0 hours. A hundred percent daydreaming, including writing flash exercise scenes.

My last novel came back from my first reader, and I’m going through that. He’s a great reader. Points out lack of character motivation, or things that don’t make sense to him in the bigger story arc. Exactly what I want from a first reader. So I’m going through and seeing lots of shiny things in the story I missed while I wrote the first draft. It’s great fun, very creative, but as a result of spending nearly fifteen hours this week going over Draft 2 of Price on Their Heads, I’ve kind of shorted Medicine Snake creative story development.

I did have a minor epiphany on the workout bike while staring at my storyboard. I’ve written several novels with no more original spark than this simple statement: “Three characters, one of whom wants something very much.” For some reason, that gives my imagination wings.

But I hadn’t really thought about Medicine Snake that way yet. Until it occurred to me when my heart was pumping around 155 beats per minute. A particularly good zone for me, by the way.

I made some storyboard notes about what my main character, Ingta, wants in this story:

Week Six Storyboard

Week Six Storyboard

That helps me think about what the story might be. And prompted me to write a critical flash work scene in which the two antagonists work to throw some obstacles at what Ingta wants:

Week Six Flash: Molta-Poktu

Week Six Flash: Molta-Poktu

Molta – Póktu

Póktu sat turned away from Molta because he knew the blind man could not see his face. Especially in the absence of his grandson, who sat behind the old man and whispered things like, “unarmed,” “been running,” and “angry.”

Molta wanted to be alone with Póktu. In the dark. No torches. No grandson. But Molta heard and smelled that Póktu arrived bearing his own single flame lamp. He tried to admire the noseless boy for his boldness, but in truth it infuriated him. In Molta’s usual, slow way of fury.

“I suppose we can get right to the point,” said Póktu. He had already removed his mask, exposing his nose, cut flat like a rodent’s. Worse. That’s why he wore the mask. And why he could take it off in the presence of a blind man.

“I suppose we can. Which direction do you choose?”

“Northeast,” said Póktu.

“Ah, splitting the difference. And aiming right at the Twins, home of the last skywatcher, your own half-brother. Is that why you’re here? For premeditated fratricide?”

“It has crossed my mind.”

Molta nodded, thinking about the most valuable thing in the northeast. Indeed, in the north or east, with the exception of the turquoise mines to the far east. And that was the long record and predictions of the last skywatcher, Tuwa of the Twins.

“Has it occurred to you, Master Chief Warrio,” Molta said to Póktu with more deference than he felt, “that the more the last skywatcher weakens, the more he will rely on us?”

Póktu shrugged. “I haven’t thought about it.”

“A direct assault on Master Tuwa would be disastrous. Our own people would see the extreme mistake. He must continue at all costs. But a little intentional crumbling around the edges might help push him in the right direction.”

Póktu nodded. Exactly. The old blind man actually showed him the way he could hurt Tuwa the most: take out his right-hand man, Ingta. And then go after the girl, Uva. Póktu allowed himself to grin.

That’s it for this week.

Goals for next week:

  1. More character daydreaming, notes, flash.
  2. Capture more scene ideas on the storyboard.
  3. Keep daydreaming.

The story still eludes me. The setting is clear. Characters are becoming clear. But the storyline has yet to pop in my head. It’s hard not to be impatient. I may have to write a few thousand words into it before the story reveals itself to me. That’s fine. I’ll get there.

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Writing Novel Number 10, “Medicine Snake”: Week 5

Medicine Snake, an Anasazi Novel

Vision Board for “Medicine Snake”

First, time stats for last week: 12.75 hours. All Daydream time, which includes writing flash scenes of characters and character relationships. All daydream, all the time. Not a bad life, eh?

Goals for last week:

  1. Character sheets for main characters (do the ones I least want to do first).
  2. Flash scenes for nearly twenty character relationships.
  3. Capture scene ideas on the storyboard.
  4. Keep daydreaming.

I didn’t do any character sheets. Of seventeen flash scenes I want to write, I’ve completed eleven. I’ve capture no new scene ideas for the storyboard, and I’ve been daydreaming a lot. So, not bad progress.


As one of my flash exercises, I may have found my story opening. Or at least a possible story opening. Here it is as I wrote it in my journal, with a transcription below:

Novel #10 "Medicine Snake" Opening?

Novel #10 “Medicine Snake” Opening?

Ingta stood in the stone doorway with a cotton blanket around his shoulders, staring into the windy, frigid night. He didn’t want to go.

Not just because of the weather. But because he knew what would happen when he went out there. He would be sent away. For his own good. and he would go, but he would not like it.

A boy hustling with a cold riverstone came to the door. “He asked for you again.” The boy squeezed by with his stone.

Another boy from inside came holding a fire-heated stone, several layers of blackened animal hides to protect his arms. This boy, Ingta knew.

“He wants you,” said Hinti.

Ingta pulled the blanket tight and nodded his head to the elements. “I’ll follow you.”

Hinti looked back to make sure Ingta followed, and he took his first step into the middle of winter, about to be sent on some get-rid-of-him mission.

The wind bit into his face and neck and he huddled, his eyes watering. He blinked and glanced up, expecting to see scudding clouds, hoping to argue Tuwa back inside. But the sky, if anything, seemed magnified by the frigid air. That’s why the old man sat in the center of his circle of stones. That’s why the boys scuttled back and forth with the hot stones. To keep the last skywatcher from freezing to death.

Tuwa sat in a tent of blankets, hot stones piled around him, only his head sticking out, his frizzled gray hair twisting in the wind.

“Beautiful night,” he called to Ingta.

Ingta hugged his arms against his chest, the blanket tight across his back. He didn’t want to disagree with the master, so he said nothing.

“There is a man I want you to meet,” said Tuwa.

Ingta waited, politely, for him to add more, wishing he would hurry.

“You won’t like him. Or believe him, I should say. I’m not sure I do, either. But he will make you see and think things that need seeing and thinking.” Tuwa stared without blinking at Ingta, who wondered how the old skywatcher kept his eyeballs from freezing. “Will you do this for me?”

“Yes,” said Ingta. He would agree to a private meeting with the devil Másaw himself if he could get out of the cold wind.

“Good,” said Tuwa. “There is one thing you should know.”

Ingta waited, trying to relax through the shivers that prepared to take over his body.

“He’s a Bone Rattler. Arrived today. Recommended by that potter girl.”

“Sooveni,” Ingta said.

“Yes, Sooveni. She specifically asked him to cast your horizon.”

“She thinks I need guidance from a Bone Rattler?”

“She thinks it would help your judgment.”

Ingta sighed, and said again that he would do it. If only, for the moment, to get back inside and find a fire. He could brood about Sooveni and her lack of trust in his judgment later.

“He’ll surprise you,” said Tuwa. “But whether that is good or bad, I do not know.”

Goals for next week:

  1. Character sheets for main characters (do the ones I least want to do first).
  2. Flash scenes for remaining six of seventeen character relationships.
  3. Capture scene ideas on the storyboard.
  4. Keep daydreaming.

I still don’t quite know what the story is yet. But it’s percolating pretty good, and I expect it to start spewing soon. Meanwhile, I’ve already received my first editor’s review of novel #9, Price on their Heads: a Novel of Income Inequality and Mayhem. I’ll spend more time on a second draft of that this week than on Medicine Snake.

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Writing Novel Number 10, “Medicine Snake”: Week 4

Medicine Snake, an Anasazi Novel

Vision Board for “Medicine Snake”

Let’s start with time:

11.0 hours, about 80 percent research (meaning reading past stories, looking at maps, etc.), 15 percent daydreaming (writing some flash and staring at my storyboard, usually while on my stationary bike), and 5 percent writing this blog.

I had a revelation this week. A few, really.

First revelation!

First is the title. After saying it out loud until it stopped meaning anything, I realized my mouth kept slipping and saying it the other way around: “Medicine Snake,” instead of “Snake Medicine.” I don’t know why yet, but I like it better. Hence I now have a new working title for the book: Medicine Snake.

The second revelation!

Duh! About half the characters in this story could and should come from the first two novels in the series. So I completely reorganized my character mirror chart.

Updated Character Chart

Week4: Updated Character Chart

You know what I mean by mirror, right? See the line of red magnets splitting the character chart up the middle? To the right is the villain and his supporting cast. To the left is the hero, with his supporting network of characters. You don’t have to balance them or anything. Just look and think and daydream. Those are the roots of a good story.

Revelation the Third

Okay, I’m about tired of these revelations. This one’s it: More than I need to write flash scenes with each character, I need to write flash scenes for each important character relationship—two characters together. Their dynamic. Their little secrets and habits and ambitions.

Character Relationships to Flash, Week 4

Character Relationships to Flash, Week 4

So, I did manage to write three flash scenes focusing on a character moment, and I offer my favorite here.

Flash of the Kolitsi Warriors

A Kolitsi Warrior?

A Kolitsi Warrior?

Póktu spotted the skunk men from the third level. Six men plus a leader had their long hair straight up, but loose and feathered, like a skunk’s tail raised in attack. Their hair and faces and bodies were painted black and white. They wore small unadorned loincloths and each man carried weapons in their hands, war clubs and flake knives, with a couple of short bows with arrows.

They marched around through the crowd, people reeling away, but they never approached or threatened any of Póktu’s men.

Póktu adjusted his mask, which he rarely took off, even to sleep. His half-brother, Tuwa, had cut the tip of his nose off, making him look hideous. Even with the mask, people stared. He knew they wanted to see the rabbit-nosed man. Sometimes, for effect, he showed them.

He snapped his finger to get the attention of his daydreaming captain. “Bring those to me.”

“Which ones?”

Póktu pointed with his war club. “The skunks.”

On an elevated platform in his quarters, Póktu received the skunk men, who strutted and stamped in orderly formation in spite of the dozen of Póktu’s largest men who escorted them.

“Sir!” said the captain. “I present Amataq and his Kolitsi Warriors!”

On cue, they spread in front of him and danced like Póktu had rarely seen, all body language of supreme confidence, no shaking or quaking or backing down, all reputation without the need to fight, all daring but without advance.

When they stopped, each man breathing deep but under complete control, Póktu tapped his club on the ground to show his admiration.

“Bravo, Amataq,” he said, nodding. “The perfect show for the kolitsi, the skunks—all reputation and confidence and no fight.”

“Likek the kolitsi, we fight if it is necessary,” said Amataq.

“Without putting up a stink?”

Amataq reached for a small pouch pinched in his waistband. “Few are willing to fight through the stink at our command.” He raised the small sack as if to fling it to the floor between them.

Póktu lifted his hand. “Please. Not here.”

Goals for next week:

  1. Character sheets for main characters (do the ones I least want to do first).
  2. Flash scenes for nearly twenty character relationships.
  3. Capture scene ideas on the storyboard.
  4. Keep daydreaming.


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Anasazi Novels: Writing Number 10, “Snake Medicine”: Week 3

Background and Characters for Snake Medicine

Total time spent this week: 16.5 hours. About half went to reading the first two novels in the series that precede Snake Medicine. The other two quarters went to daydreaming and staring at my storyboard (often on my exercise bike), and to writing up my notes for this diary.

My goals from last week were to:

  1. Read Soo Potter and The Last Skywatcher, the two books in the series that occur before the book I’m writing. I simply needed to refresh my mind and feel the ongoing story again. I didn’t finish. As of this morning, I’m 72 percent through the second book. Nearly there.
  2. Work up character sheets for each character. I accomplished zero on this.
  3. Write flash scenes for each character. Again, zip. Nothing.

But what I did do was discover a cast of secondary characters I had simply forgotten to think about for this story. So I’m collecting them on my storyboard with little sticky notes:

Anasazi Novels: "Snake Medicine" Week 3: Characters from prior books in the series

Anasazi Novels: “Snake Medicine” Week 3: Characters from prior books in the series

Scenes Bubbling Out

And I couldn’t help myself. I began imagining scenes. I jotted notes on two scene cards and stuck them on my board:

Anasazi Novels: "Snake Medicine" Week 3: First two scenes for the storyboard

Anasazi Novels: “Snake Medicine” Week 3: First two scenes for the storyboard

It’s a good time to point out the template of the scene cards I use.

First line: Setting
Second line: Scene Headline
Third line: Active Characters

All I want is an easy way to remember the scenes, scene sequences, and order and progression of scenes. I’ll build about a dozen scenes and scene sequences for each portion of the four-part basic hero’s journey: Victim, Seeker, Warrior, Victor.

That’s a goal of forty-eight scenes or scene sequences that I’ll play with on my storyboard. At 1,500 words per scene/sequence, that’s 72,000 words.


Here’s what my storyboard looks like now:

Anasazi Novels: "Snake Medicine" Week 3: The whole storyboard

Anasazi Novels: “Snake Medicine” Week 3: The whole storyboard

I built it myself, and there are better ways to do it: Big stainless steel sheets mounted to boards that are then mounted to studs against the wall. I didn’t do the best job, but it works exactly like I want it to. A magnetic white board would also do the job. I just wanted something more, ah, quaint. Yeah. Something like that.

This is the third novel I’ve used with a technique like this, and it works well for me. I’ll come up with more scenes as I go, and change them often, but having the cards in order, usually like a deck of cards next to me while I write, helps me write more coherent stories that I like better.

The first time I wrote a novel using these little cards, I told my wife, “This is the first time I’ve felt like I wrote a novel rather than it wrote me.” I’d been a pure seat-of-my-pants writer until then. Now I think of these cards as guides while I’m writing by the seat of my pants.

Goals for next week:

  1. Finish reading all the background.
  2. Character sheets for each character.
  3. Flash scenes for, well, let’s be realistic here: some of the characters.


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Anasazi Novels: Writing Number 10, “Snake Medicine”: Week 2

This week, I focus on creating a list of potential character names. I begin with the list of characteristics on my Story Vision Board from last week.

Anasazi Novel Number 10: "Snake Medicine"

Story Vision Board for Novel Number 10: “Snake Medicine”

Because these are historical Anasazi novels, I use a dictionary of the Hopi language, descendants of the Anasazi, to look up the key words I ginned up last week: Hopi Dictionary/Hopiikwa Lavaytutuveni: A Hopi-English Dictionary of the Third Mesa Dialect. It’s a hard copy I bought for about $85 when it was first published. Used editions are now selling for more than $300, and new ones for more than $600. Yikes! Glad I got mine when I did.

I like to work by hand to get me away from the computer, where I spend too much time as it is. Here’s what my notes look like:

Anasazi Novels Character Names from Hopi Language Dictionary

Anasazi Novels Character Name Ideas from Hopi Language Dictionary

Here’s what I came up with.

East: Contrary Lizard (Victim)

Hopi words for Lizard

Kitsíipu, kuukutsi, mátsáakwa (horned toad), nahu (plateau whiptail lizard)

Possible name derivations: Kutsi, Nahu


Mashurúuta (mas=corpse, derived from Másaw, the god or spirit of the underworld and death)

Name: Mashu


Tuumoklawu (tumok=dream), tumokviptsa (viptsa=perceive)

Name: Tumok


Piptsa=perceive; piptsani=notice

Name: Pip


Tookya=sleep and put out fire (man, I didn’t expect that—to sleep means to put out the fire of wakefulness!), tokva (go to sleep)

Name: Tookya

South: Blue Heron (Seeker)



Name: Wikya


Kwusu (receive, get, accept); kwusuna (receive, in acceptance), nakwha (agree or acquiesce)

Name: Kwu


Hu’wani (permission, consent), hu’wa

Name: Hoowani


Postala (able to see, vision); posta (eye), aw maamatsi (to see as in understand)

Names: Posta, Matsee


Naakuk.wuwa (ponder past events), kuk.wuwa, naawuwa, wuuwa (think, ponder)

Names: Nakuk, Nawoo

Solitary (alone)

Naala (by oneself), súnala (to wake up all alone)

Name: Sunala or Soonala

West: Skunk (Warrior)



Name: Litsee



Name: Kapsit



Name: Amataq


Kwiivi (egotism), kwivi’nangwa

Name: Kwivi


Tuskyapta (charm as in bewitch)

Name: Yapta

North: Contrary Black Panther (Victor)

Black panther

Tohòo, toho, tohow (mountain lion), qömvi (black), qöötsa (white)

Names: Tohow, Qomqoot, Kwamqoot


Tsìikwa (give a decision)

Name: Seekwa

Fear of darkness, death

Qa taala (darkness), mookiwu (death), tsawini (fear), maqasi (fear)

Names: Qatala, Mooki, Sawini, Maki, Sutoki


Sùutoki (become distracted)

Name: Sutoki

Center: Snake

Snake medicine

Tsuu’a (rattlesnake), taawataho (mythical snake), tuhiknanatuwna (practice medicine), ngámoki (medicine bundle), tuuhikya (medicine man)

Names: Soo, Tsu, Wataho, Nanatoona, Moki


Tuhisa (creative person)

Name: Heesa


Mongwi (chief), Tsu’mongwi (leader of the Snake Society), layma (direct, guide)

Names: Soomongwi, Soomong


Somatsi (discerning, astute), wuwni’yta (to discern)

Name: Somatsi


Alöngta (change), -niwti, himunwiti (transform into)

Names: Himoonwiti, Himoon


Wukta (assail with words; stepping or stomping in a dance), tiihu (dancing)

Names: Wukta, Teehu


Uuwingw (flame), qööhi (element of fire), qööh (fire root word), tookya (put out fire, be asleep, extinguish), Kookopngyam (Fire clan)

Names: Ku, Koo, Tookya (again), Oowing, Uwing


Qalaptu (to become healthy), tuuhikya (healer, unspecialized; a general practitioner), tuuhik (healer root word)

Names: Tuhik, Toohik

Whew! That’s exhausting. But I like having a large piles of character names to pick from when I begin daydreaming up a story.

Now I go to my storyboard, a big metal monstrosity I mounted on my office wall for using sticky notes and magnets to organize and visualize my Anasazi novels stuff. First, I lay out all the names on little sticky notes under header cards for each step of the Story Vision Board.

Character names laid out on storyboard for "Snake Medicine"

Character names laid out on storyboard for “Snake Medicine”

After I stare at it for a while and say the names out loud, I pick my favorites. See the magnetic arrows? Those are the winners. Next, I label them so I know which step of the Story Vision Board they go with (E for East, etc.) and lay them out in a balanced cast of characters. I refined this over the course of writing about three novels, but it’s original inspiration comes from the awfully titled but brilliant book on screenwriting, My Story Can Beat Up Your Story: Ten Ways to Toughen Up Your Screenplay from Opening Hook to Knockout Punch. Yeah, that’s what I thought. I wouldn’t have ever bought such a horrendous title except that it came highly recommended in a session of the 2013 DFW Writers Conference.

Cast of characters for "Snake Medicine" laid out on storyboard in a symmetrical mirror.

Cast of characters for “Snake Medicine” laid out on storyboard in a symmetrical mirror.

The idea is that both hero and villain have an equal and opposite cast of supporting characters, a Doubter and a Believer in the area of Trustworthiness, a Feeler and Thinker in the area of Logic, and a Deflector and Protector in the area of Morality. It’s pretty powerful stuff.

Time spent: About eight hours.

Next week: Speed-read the first two novels in this series, Soo Potter and The Last Skywatcher, to get my brain back into the storyline (I plan to publish all three at the same time, followed by two more groups of three for nine historical Anasazi novels in the series). Work up character sheets for the main characters using exercises from a couple of Donald Maass’s books on writing: The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. And then write flash scenes (short scenes or scene fragments) for each character. That’ll be a long week. Might spill over into the next. We shall see. I’ll be finished this weekend with my final comb-through read of Novel Number 9, Price on Their Heads, to send to my first reader, so I’ll have more time to devote to Number 10.

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Anasazi Novels: Writing Number 10, “Snake Medicine”: Week 1

For two years, I’ve devoted myself to the goal of writing ten Anasazi novels as quickly as I can. Why? To learn and improve my skill in creating long-form written stories. And to experience the creative joy of abundance I used to feel about short stories back when I wrote dozens a year. For each of my first nine novels, I focused on what I felt, at the time, was my greatest weakness: point of view shifts, character motivation, dramatic plot development, etc. Last week, I finished a solid draft of Novel Number 9, Price on Their Heads, (yay!) and now, for my capstone effort, I want to try something completely different for a historical novel set among the Anasazi of southwestern Colorado a thousand years ago.

While my wife, Danielle, and friends Jason and Wendi work on their vision boards for 2014, I begin with a Medicine Wheel (link takes you to Wikipedia). I draw Medicine Cards (link takes you to the site that sells these cards) and place them in this order: east, south, west, north, and center.

Anasazi Novels: Writing Number 10, “Snake Medicine”: Week 1

Anasazi Novels: Writing Number 10, “Snake Medicine”: Week 1

I look up each animal card as explained in the Medicine Cards book, and make a list of primary characteristics for each:

East: Contrary Lizard (“contrary” means I drew the card upside down, and the characteristics are the opposite of those for the animal shown)

  • Lives in a nightmare
  • Inner conflict—terror
  • Lack of sleep/dreamtime
  • Lack of dreams for future
  • Lack of imagination
  • Suppressed feelings
  • Resistance to new ideas and creations
  • May dream, but does not learn from them
  • Resistance to shadow, time of no shadow (dusk and dawn), time of possibilities
  • Poor vision
  • Drab colors
  • Cannot shed skin or tail

South: Blue Heron

  • Ability to accept all things
  • Flies over those unaware of who they are
  • Drops a blue feather from time to time, a signal for those below to reflect upon themselves
  • Finely honed self-reflective skills
  • Does not blame others
  • Sees truth of motives, actions, feelings, dreams, goals, inner strengths and weaknesses
  • Sacred water bird
  • Eats small fish, insects, rodents, mammals, turtles, etc.
  • Locate prey by sight
  • Solitary
  • Wade in deeper waters because they stand above the waterline
  • Predators: bears, raccoons, eagles, big owls, hawks

West: Skunk

  • Powerful reputation that precedes it
  • Respectful of getting close
  • Threatens senses more than life
  • Playful, without ego
  • Nonchalant
  • “I dare you” attitude in confrontations
  • Walk your talk, expect respect
  • Powerful body language
  • Attracts some, repels others
  • Charismatic
  • Repels those who sap (take) energy
  • Attractive sexually; sexual prowess; musky

North: Contrary Black Panther

  • See situations in black and white, accepts no middle ground
  • Full of prejudice
  • Reaches half-baked conclusions
  • Jumpy, nervous, confused, paranoid
  • Fear of being alone
  • Fear of “what if”
  • Fear of darkness, of midnight, of death
  • Constantly trying to figure things out
  • Worried about being “less than”
  • Distracted by foolish interruptions
  • In Choctaw culture, black panther symbolizes death; hence contrary black panther symbolizes life

Center: Snake

  • Snake medicine (rare)
  • Ability to resist or transmute poison—mental, physical, spiritual, emotional
  • Ability to shed skin, transform, become renewed, reborn
  • Ability to experience anything without resistance
  • Two snakes intertwined=healing
  • Interconnected male/female=divine energy
  • Universal being (all cultures recognize)
  • Fire energy
  • Power words: passion, desire, procreation, physical vitality, ambition, creation, resolution dreams, intellect, power, charisma, leadership, wisdom, understanding, wholeness, connection to Great Spirit
  • Thought+action+desire=wholeness
  • Magician: transmute poison
  • Dance freely
  • Sensual dance of power
  • Dormant after feeding
  • Precisely follows the path of its head

On a blank mounted canvas, I draw what I think of as my Story Vision Board. After staring at it a few days, I overlay the most basic Hero’s Journey (link takes you to Wikipedia), which I boil down to: Victim, Seeker, Warrior, Victor.

Anasazi Novel Number 10: "Snake Medicine"

Story Vision Board for Novel Number 10: “Snake Medicine”

I still don’t know what the story is, which is a bit frustrating. But the whole thing is slow-cooking in my mind. Feels good and right.

Next week: Create character names. They just don’t come alive for me until I’ve named them.

Total time spent: About four hours.

Jeff Posey is a Managing Editor for Lucky Bat Books, a fee-for-service publisher than never takes a royalty percentage. For a free half-hour consultation by phone or Skype by appointment, send an email here: Free Half-Hour Book Publishing Consultation.

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What’s Your Novel Worth? NPV and Cash Flow

This post has been picked up here: Some Fun Calculations by Dean Wesley Smith and What’s Your Novel Worth? NPV and Cash Flow by Passive Guy. See particularly the comments section.

For better or worse, I have an MBA in corporate financial analysis. That means when I think of royalties earned by an author’s novel, I think Net Present Value (NPV) of future cash flows: your “novel worth” in financial terms.

It’s easiest to imagine NPV in reverse. Let’s say you go to a bank and ask their financial wizard how much you’d have to give them to get, say, a $50 check every month for forty years. The number they give you is essentially the NPV of the future cash flow of $50 per month. NPV has a long track record in business and law.

We’ll make these calculations over forty years. Too long, you say? No. It’s not. Copyright is the life of the author plus seventy years. That’s way longer than forty. But forty is the outside horizon for useful NPV calculations in the business world, and it’s about how long I expect to live. But I have made one grand concession to reality: after twenty years, I assume you’ll stop writing and publishing. A twenty-year run is a good one.

To calculate your novel’s NPV, you have to come up with a few numbers:

  • What is your average monthly royalty per title across all venues? If you guess, go low.
  • How often do you publish new titles? Number of new books published per year.
  • How big a boost does publishing a new title give your existing titles? If you guess, go very low.
  • What is your cost of production? Do you hire or buy anything to publish your book?

From that same information, we can also calculate an estimated net monthly cash flow, though we’ll project only twenty years into the future. Beyond that is rather ridiculous. We’ll see little graphs of those. It’s an interesting curve.

Remember, this is not reality. This is a simple projection. Your results will most certainly vary. And if you’re impatient and want to run your own numbers, go ahead and download my NPV Novel Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet.

Example 1

Let’s say it’s your first novel, you intend to write another one every five years come hell and no water, you’re going to do everything yourself and hire nothing done, you feel certain you can earn $15 per month royalty, and you think there will be so much demand for your literary skill each new book will boost your sales 20 percent.

            NPV: $7,249

That’s the financial value of your novel. If it takes you five years to write, say 250 hours a year, then you are a very slow writer earning $5.79 an hour in NPV dollars. Pretty classy.

Cash flow is even better:

Example 1 Book Net Present Value and Cash Flow

 You’ll live like a fast-food burger-flipper king.

Example 2

A more serious one. You’ve published five books that earn, on average, $50 per title per month average across all sales venues for the past year, you are committed to writing and publishing two books per year, and you spend $2,500 per book on professional production services (editing, cover, print interior design, ebook programming, etc.). Each new book boosts your overall royalty earnings by what you consider a barely measurable 5 percent.

            NPV: $55,618

If it takes you 500 hours total, you’re earning $111 per hour in NPV.

And cash flow gets really interesting around Year 10.

Example 2 Book Net Present Value and Cash Flow

A fellow could live on something like that.

Example 3

You’re a seasoned writer with a dozen books earning an average $150 per title per month and you have perfected the craft of publishing three books per year by spending $5,000 each on high-end production. Also, your accountant claims each new title released boosts overall royalty income by 5 percent—you think that’s way too high and use 3 percent instead.

            Answer: $145,015

Yep. More than $500 an hour if it takes you 250 hours to write each novel.

And those twelve novels already in the hole give you a boost in cash flow.

Example 3 Book Net Present Value and Cash Flow

What NPV Tells You

In each of these examples, the NPV tells you the present monetary value of your intellectual asset if it generates the expected cash flow over the next forty years. It emphasizes the value of long-term steady flows of small amounts of cash, and also helps quantify the value of your time investment (you only have to write a novel once for it to earn income for forty years or more).

What is NPV not? It’s not cash flow. See the next header for that discussion.

Let’s say you’re weighing whether to take a second job and put all those earnings into a retirement account or not take the job and write another book. The money you save for retirement this year is the NPV of that financial asset. Compare that to the NPV of writing another novel.

If you write under, say, two pen names, one thriller, one fantasy, your average royalty is different for each, and you can write only three total books per year: What mix makes the most financial sense? NPV helps you decide.

Also, if a traditional publisher comes calling, you can compare your NPV to their financial offer. Good rule of thumb: Never sell a cash-producing asset for less than its NPV unless you get something you really want in exchange.

And finally, it’s good for explaining to your significant other why you’re sitting alone in a room with a keyboard so much. “But honey, I’m making $106 per hour!” Just watch your checkbook. Cash flow and NPV are not the same thing.

Cash Flow

This is a cumulative figure, meaning if you stick to your plan of frequency of new titles and cost of production per title for twenty years, this is the total monthly cash flow you might see.

It disappoints you, doesn’t it? You want to write a few novels and the money start coming fast and hard. It might. Probably won’t. But if you work at it, find enough people who read more than one of your books and recommend them from time to time (also called a fan base), you can build a nice income. If you’re persistent. Talented. And patient.

Cash flow that arcs up in a graph, that accelerates over time faster than the cost of money (interest rate) is an extremely valuable financial asset. You expect to earn more wealth relative to inflation every year. How many jobs pay like that? Not many.

Most importantly, this whole exercise drives home a message: The most productive thing a publishing writer can do is write and publish. Even in Example 1, you earn nearly $6 per hour in NPV dollars. How much do you earn per hour by “marketing” on Facebook and Twitter (if you’re very perceptive and keep good records, you can figure this out)? And in Example 2, what kind of other (legal) job could you possibly find making more than $100 per hour?

Lesson: Write more, do other stuff less.

Finally, you can discover how much intellectual property asset value you create each year. In Example 3, the author is creating nearly a half-million dollars in NPV asset value annually. In Example 2, it’s more than $100,000 per year.

Try it yourself. Download my NPV Novel Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet and punch your own numbers. What do you get? What is your novel worth? How can you use your Novel NPV to improve your publishing decisions?

Jeff Posey is a project manager for Lucky Bat Books, the kind of publishing company writers want—they don’t take a percentage, ever. He offers a free fifty-minute consultation over phone or Skype by appointment. If you’re interested, send an email here: Free Book Publishing Consultation.


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