Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Reality Knocks

Well, this is probably odd coming after the last post (over a month ago, no less) but I'm having a rough month, writing-wise. I haven't managed to get much down onto the page, and instead was spending much of my scarce leisure time in programming and game-design related activities.

This isn't unusual for me. I tend to do things in spurts - focus on one hobby for awhile, and then another. The difference this time is, of course, that I'm trying to move writing from "hobby" to "income source" and become at least semi-professional with it. However, given that I already have one job and am attempting to finish up this pesky "getting a degree" situation, the pressure to write ended up turning sour on me. I decided to give myself a few weeks break.

Where does this put me? Clanless certainly won't be done by the end of the year, though the next Wandering Tale title will be, and I hope a couple more short stories. We'll see how things go on that second novel, but my headspace is so stuffed right now that scratching and scraping to find time to write was starting to burn me out.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Inspiration Gives You Sentences - Dedication Gets you Books

With the ubiquity of the internet these days, I expected (well, hoped, anyway) some of the more whimsical ideas about creativity to finally die their proper deaths. It seems, however, that the internet is at least as good at perpetuating myths as it is at killing them.

This week, I have encountered not once, not twice, but three separate times (once online and twice in person) a particularly ridiculous idea that I was lucky enough to shed by the age of fourteen or so: "I cannot create if I'm not inspired."

I could throw out plenty of quotes by successful artists about the value of hard work over so-called inspiration, but you can search out those yourself. I'd rather approach this from a more personal vantage.

I have known what it is to be truly inspired. I have felt the serenity of being seemingly guided by some otherworldly force as I put words to the page, and everything that I got out was golden. When I was lucky, this feeling would last for a couple hours, giving me a few thousand words that needed minimal tweaking or editing. They just worked.

The feeling always went away before I had the entire story, though - and usually it doesn't last for hours. Usually it is just for a few moments, and often not when I am actually writing. I need to trust in memory or jot the ideas down before they escape, because inspiration struck in the shower or at work or - most often - just before I fall asleep (I have taken to jumping out of bed to write things down when this happens, now).

These quick visits of "The Muse" rarely garner me any more than a sentence or two, perhaps a quick exchange of dialogue, a plot point, or a visual scene. All these things need to be tied together, made sense of, and elaborated on with sufficient skill as to harness, not detract from, their perfection.

That part doesn't come with inspiration. It comes with work. Inspiration gives you an idea. Work makes it real.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Keep the Shoulder to the Wheel

Well, with the onset of fall and the various things that go along with it, my schedule has tightened up dramatically. I'm trying not to let this harm my writing time, but blogging time falls by the wayside. I'm sure my readers (both of you) are suitably heartbroken.

In other news, I was given a review by an indie book blogger today. Find it here. Pauline has plenty of things to say, and much of it is both valuable to potential readers and to myself as the author. Give it a look!

Her review has impressed upon me, once again, the importance of trusting yourself. Pauline enjoyed the world-building in TWIXT, whereas another of my readers (who reviewed via Amazon) thought it was lack luster. On the flip side, this other reader liked my supporting characters and Pauline seemed to think they were clunky. I have my own opinions on it all, of course, but it illustrates that ten people read one book in ten ways.

Thanks to Pauline for reading and enjoying, and thanks to all others who leave reviews for indie authors! Say what you want about the supposed unreliability of internet reviews - if nothing else, they draw attention. Attention is the currency us indie authors live by.

Well... uh, besides actual currency, which is still, all in all, more important.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

New Article Up At Mythic Scribes

My latest-written article is up at Mythic Scribes, dealing with the importance of showing human weakness in your main characters.

Find it here.

Speaking of articles, it strikes me that the previous series of blog posts would make some pretty good ones. I'm thinking of cleaning and expanding them into a couple to get the most out of the subject.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Nobility in Fantasy, and Why We Love It

This has turned into a series of articles, but this should be the final one. As I mentioned in my last post, I find the concept of nobility to be romantic in fiction, and offensive in reality. I have met several other people who feel the same way.

How do we reconcile the difference? Too: Why do we enjoy the romanticized concept so much?

For the second question, I liken it a bit to how piracy has gained such a romantic interpretation. Fictional pirates are fun-loving, swashbuckling, hard-drinking rascals. Real-world pirates, both of today and in history, are a different story. The truth has been forgotten and the concept idealized. Now when the average person thinks "pirate" they think of freedom from authority, lack of responsibility, wealth, etc.

Similarly, nobility in fiction has had many of its real-world sins washed away. People don't think of the lie at the base of the concept - they think of wealth and opulence, fancy clothing, courtly behavior, and extravagant mansions. However, I think the real change has not been in idealizing away the bad parts of nobility - it has been in falling for the fiction that underpinned the concept all along.

To quote myself from the aforementioned-post (Oh, the arrogance!):
In fiction, nobility is often something rare, powerful, and real: a trait that elevates one person above another, no matter their other qualities.We see its undefinable effects all the time: an aura, a charisma, a strange power over others.
Of course, at one point in history (and, in some places, even now) this wasn't an aspect of nobility in fiction - it was the accepted truth. At least, accepted by enough for them to remain in power. Naturally, things were very different then. There were all sorts of cultural and physical pressures that attributed to the acceptance of some people as "simply better" than others. Ignorance, difficulty of communication... I'm sure the issue has been studied. My point is, what we accept as romantic about fictional nobility today was believed to be factual by the real people in history.

What we've done is simply moved the fantasy to its rightful place. Once safely ensconced in novels, it can even be reinforced, proven, and verified by other parts of the fictional world. In some books, the question isn't up for debate: the nobility really is better, and they deserve/need to be in power for the good of all.

Furthermore, we as a culture like the concept of nobility because it reinforces the notion of some part of the human creature as ephemeral and divine. Even more important to fiction, though, the concept allows us to think that the spark of nobility might lie inside any of us if, somewhere back when, one of these exalted people preceded us in the family tree. What person doesn't secretly wish to be rich, famous, and popular? Wouldn't it be nice if we could reach that dream without actually having to do anything?

Wouldn't it be nice if we were just meant to have it all?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Noblesse Existe?

Continuing on my riff from the past couple of posts, today I'm going to talk about the concept of nobility.

I have always been infatuated with it in its romanticized form (reality is something altogether different, and I'll get to that in a moment). In fiction, nobility is often something rare, powerful, and real: a trait that elevates one person above another, no matter their other qualities.We see its undefinable effects all the time: an aura, a charisma, a strange power over others. It always runs in the blood, passed down from ancestors who were either born with it or acquired it through great deeds.

From a modern perspective, I find the idea absurd - even grotesque. It was and remains a naked mechanism to preserve power in the hands of those who already have it. In the real world, of course, "nobility" (as it pertains to a bloodline) is just a word, completely devoid of real meaning. People "of noble blood" aren't smarter, braver, or better looking. Due to centuries of inbreeding, it is often just the opposite.

On the other hand, "Nobility"-with-a-capital-N is very real. I do not know the etymology of the word - I do not know if it originally applied to the falsely exalted social class or the justly exalted state of being. I do know that unlike a social class, true Nobility is not inherited, and does not exist independent of a person's actions. Indeed, true Nobility can only derive from a person's actions, and can be both gained and lost.

It was perhaps a sign of my maturing outlook when I noticed something odd about my revered idol, Tolkien. He seemingly considered nobility as something that could be passed through bloodline, rather than something only earned through action. The extended mythos of Middle Earth is rife with the concept that great deeds are most often performed by those who are somehow descended from noble blood. With some important exceptions, such as the hobbits (which comforts me: I know that Tolkien didn't really have such an outmoded mindset), most great deeds are done by those descended of kingly or otherwise noble lines. Even Bard the Bowman, who kills Smaug in The Hobbit, is descended from the Kings of Dale.

Furthermore, there is evidence that even misdeeds cannot make one "lose" that nobility. We see this in Gandalf's tale of the slow fall of Gondor (and Numenor before it, but I'll try and stick to the better-known parts for my non-Tolkienite readers). Gandalf states that the Kings of Gondor began to neglect the rule of their kingdom: 
The old wisdom that was borne out of the West was forsaken. Kings made tombs more splendid than the houses of the living and counted the names of their descent dearer than the names of their sons. Childless lords sat in aged halls musing on heraldry or in high, cold towers asking questions of the stars. And so the people of Gondor fell into ruin. The line of Kings failed, the White Tree withered, and the rule of Gondor was given over to lesser men.
 (Quote pulled from the movie, but there was something almost identical in the book)

"Lesser men."

Despite the fact that the stewards of Gondor ruled well and wisely for a long time, they are "lesser men" because they don't have that noble (lower-case n) blood. And despite the fact that the Kings of Gondor fell into folly, they were still "greater men" because of an accident of birth. Actions don't matter, only blood.

How offensive.

It could be said that Tolkien actually meant all this as indicative of the fact that blood-inherited nobility is drivel, because his nobles so often do fall into folly (and some of his greatest heroes who happen to be descended from greatness also struggled through great adversity, such as Aragon, and could have "learned" his greatness through that). I certainly think that he saw beyond an inherent belief in the greatness of noble lines. However, I also think - perhaps because of his own life, being both British and from mid-upper class - that at least part of him bought into it. I see it too often in his writing - doers of great deeds traced back to other doers of great deeds.

This post has already gotten long, so I'll close with one last point and continue the matter some other time: This lineage deal isn't entirely empty, but it isn't primarily because of blood. Some things are inherited, but it is my belief that nurture is the more important half of nature vs. nurture. Greatness of many kinds can be taught, and learned, and it is obvious that the children of Noble people would absorb some of it by the example of their parents. However, the children still need to earn Nobility for themselves (and historically speaking, being brought up as spoiled, entitled little shitbags ruins the lessons).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lineage and more on the Weight of History

I've been splitting my time lately between writing and another of my great loves - game design. Having recently discovered the wonders of pygame (a code library for Python that, amongst other things, supplies graphics rendering and input handling) I dusted off some old design files to see which project might benefit from these new tools. I chose a game that I'm currently calling Patrician, where you assume control of a noble family in a classical-era city state. Think of it as trying to capture the feel of the Roman Republic circa 300 BC.

Reading - and subsequently expanding - the design docs for the game, I realized that my love of that "Weight of History" feeling extends in great part to games, as well. I love strategy games that take place over a huge amount of time, like Civilization or some of the Total War games. I love being able to remember the humble beginnings of my empire and the struggles I had to go through to make it survive and thrive.

My designs for Patrician reminded me of Rome: Total War (which has a sequel coming out soon). In that game - in fact in many of the Total War games - your empire has a leader, who is complete with a family tree. Many of the people in that family tree are also characters you control, generals on the battlefield or mayors in your cities. They had various traits and abilities which were affected by what you did with them.

This family lineage could grow quite large in the end. I vaguely recall a couple of games that I played, start-to-finish, which had four or five generations with a few dozen "characters." You could trace the descent of your current emperor from your first one, whether or not he was a blood relative or married in or even if he was adopted into the royal line (a la Octavian, aka Augustus Ceasar).

These are powerful catalysts for story. History, after all, is story. I intend to integrate the same sort of mechanic into my games where appropriate. Certainly in Patrician, where it will fit perfectly - and  of course, the same sort of thing has its place in stories as well. Inheritance, lineage, descending from powerful legacies, and of course nobility itself are all interesting subjects with a vast amount of romanticism surrounding them. Interesting enough, in fact, that I think I'll need to make them their own post...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Weight of History

If there is one thing that Tolkien is still the unmatched master of (as far as fantasy writings go) it is capturing the weight of history in his works.

Of course, by the time he actually wrote The Lord of the Rings, he had already formulated much of the history of Middle Earth. Doriath, the Dagor Bragollach, and the Fall Of Gondolin were already in his head, and when he referenced them his readers could feel the completeness of them. I remember reading the dialogue between Sam and Frodo somewhere in Mordor, where one of them mentions Morgoth and Beren, saying something like "that was a greater deed in darker times."

Wow. Here I was with the most incredible tale I'd ever read, and the characters within are telling me that Middle Earth has seen worse. Somehow, it did not detract from the present situation. It did not really make it seem lighter in comparison. Instead, the world became just that much more real to me, knowing how much history I had yet to learn.

This has, and likely always will be, one of the feelings I most wish to capture in my own writing. I don't know that there is really any short cut but to simply have that history for my worlds. Not that this is a problem. Practically every writer I've ever spoken to makes up more to their creations than ever makes it out onto a page.

With all this in mind, I sometimes find it amusing that my currents planned novels are largely separate from each other. Except for the Wandering Tale, few of the projects I have planned are interconnected. Clanless is set in a new continuum, as will be the book directly after that. It isn't that I don't want to expand those worlds - I always do. I have a couple "BIG EPIC TALES" that I want to write someday. Their length could easily rival Jordan or Martin (though, being independant, I intend to have them done faster).

One especially has been living in my head for over a decade already, and I have pages of notes, scenes, drawings, etc for it. The history is expanding, growing, both back and forward from the main story. While I tell other stories and sharpen my skills, it ripens, until the day I'm ready to bring it fully to life. Just as Tolkien did.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Misplaced Loyalty

Amidst all the hubbub over the legal proceedings concerning the largest publishers, I remain confused by only one thing:

Why are so many people so loyal to these companies?

Brand loyalty is something I've never really understood. There are brands that I trust, certainly. Brands that I have stuck with for some time because they are dependable or have certain quirks that I appreciate or various other considerations. But am I loyal to them? Hell no.

The closest I ever came was with processors, actually. AMD vs. Intel. I bought AMD processors to build computers with for years and years, but not out of habit. I did it because AMD processors were always the best chip for the price. As soon as Intel managed to catch up in quality for price, I switched. And I'll switch back if it changes again.

I find it funny in sports teams too. People are so rabidly dedicated to a team, and sometimes a player, when the player is usually just in it for the money and damn sure the team is. Sports - both professional and "college" - are just a business. Hell, even the Olympics is these days, judging by the antics in London lately.

...but I digress...

Publishers are a funny case, because they don't really leave a mark on their product - a marketing failing that has been pointed out again and again. I happen to know that Tor published many of the fantasy books I've loved the most, but I would not be able to tell the difference between a Tor title and a fantasy title from any other publisher unless I looked at the logo on the spine.

Furthermore, because I am also a writer and have been studying the publishing industry for so long, I know how backwards some of the practices of these companies are and how archaic their contracts and accounting continue to be. Even before I decided self-publishing was a viable option, I had a short list of "things to watch out for" should I ever get a publishing deal. I knew that publishers will not hesitate to screw a writer. If they have no loyalty to the people who they build their entire industry off of, I'm certain they have no real loyalty to the reader. Perhaps that's why they have so utterly failed to innovate over the years.

Needless to say, I won't be especially sad to see any of these companies die. If they fail to survive in the market, that is exactly what they should do. The ridiculous claims that this will somehow harm the publishing industry make me laugh. No, it will only harm the companies. Others will rise to fill the gaps, because there are still a shitload of people who want to read books, and they are willing to spend money to do it. So long as there is a demand, somebody will find a way to make money from supplying it.

Even more laughable are the claims that the DoJ proceedings will somehow harm culture itself...

Maybe I was wrong. If the Big 6 have managed to make themselves synonymous with culture, then they can't be so bad at marketing after all.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cracked the Surface of Clanless/Other News

I'm finally picking up some momentum on Clanless, which really helps my mood. The final chapters of TWIXT went so smoothly, as did many of the novellas of the Wandering Tale, that I forgot what it was like to really struggle to make progress. I spoiled myself, I suppose. After a few weeks of laboriously scratching a few words out each day, I think I'm finally beginning to peel back the crust of this story and get a real sense for how I want it to shape up.

I'm still trying to switch writing strategies by allowing the first draft to be rougher. I don't know how the experiment will turn out in the end, but I may as well try now. It is difficult to get out of the habit of editing every sentence to death as I write it, but I think that is more due to habit and perfectionism than it is to aversion to trying something new. Of course, if the new strategy doesn't result in higher productivity and at least the same quality, I'll ditch it and either try yet another one or go back to what I know.

This book requires more deliberate world-building than TWIXT, which was always meant to have a bit of a fuzzier, mythic feel to it. Clanless, on the other hand, is science fiction. It not only needs to be much sharper on the world details, it needs to have some reasoning behind it. The hardest part, though, is coming up with names for things that feel natural and blend into the story. Most of the other things I've written required little in naming beyond people and locations. Those are easy in comparison to naming fictional plants and animals. I'm keeping a text file with names and short descriptions, and I imagine I'll be changing some of the more ridiculous-sounding ones. However, I'm not willing to break the writing groove to come up with a good plant name.

In other news, I'm steaming away on preparations to podcast The Swordsman of Carn Nebeth. No details I can safely reveal yet, but for those of you who like audio performances: You may want to keep an eye out.

Friday, July 13, 2012

TWIXT is Half-Off at Smashwords!

I cannot believe I've forgotten to post this until now, but I've enrolled TWIXT HEAVEN AND HELL in the Smashwords summer sale. It is half-off until the end of the month, meaning that you can snag the entire novel for a paltry $3.50!

The Hardest Part of Ending...

... is starting again. Starting a new book is both an exciting and annoying time. Exciting because you'll finally be getting to another in the long list of stories you want to tell. Annoying because finding out where to start telling that story - and the manner in which you want to tell it - is freaking hard.

I've written the beginning to Clanless five times already. I thought I would never get it down the way I wanted it - then I had an epiphany.

I rewrote the beginning to TWIXT twice - after the first draft was done. It was better for that foreknowledge, too. I knew what I had ended up elaborating on, and what I had not. I cut out a lot of parts that seemed neat to me at first, but to which I had never returned.

There has always been a strong streak of perfectionist in me. I write slowly compared to a lot of other people, because I try to get it right the first time. I'm not one of those "real writing is done in revision" kind of authors. I do lots of revision, and editing, and rewriting, but plenty of the "first draft" survives until the end, because I spend a lot of time on the first draft.

Lately I have been considering trying a different tact. Speed through the initial writing and "fix it in post" as it were. I'm not sure that will ever work for me though, for the same reason I have never been able to start a story anywhere past the beginning and come back to write it later, as I've heard some writers do. I need to go in linear order, start to finish.

For this beginning, though, I'm thinking I'll let up on the internal filter a bit. Chances are I will rewrite the beginning, or at least tweak it heavily, once the book is written. I need to let myself pick up some momentum.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Deleted Chapter From TWIXT

Following is an entire chapter that was deleted from the final version of TWIXT HEAVEN AND HELL. It is a pretty good chapter, and written well. However, it did not pertain to the main plot and centered on a couple of relatively minor characters. The subplot is never really revisited, and so I decided that the chapter was too much of a distraction in the book. However, it does explore some more of the characters and the world, so I wanted to make it available to people anyway.

If you have read the book (Hi Mom and Dad!) then know that this originally took place somewhere in the middle. If you haven't read the book, you don't have to worry about plot spoilers. There is nothing in this chapter that will ruin any of the story for you. Enjoy!


Preoccupied with the reports before him, Theodoric did not hear the sound of knuckles rapping upon wood. They sounded again, more insistently, and broke through the general's concentration.
"Enter," he said without bothering to turn. Likely it was just some errand boy.
He heard the door open and shut behind him, but no young voice begged his attention nor was there the sound of more reports being placed upon the table by the door. Theodoric turned, puzzled. Behind him was the Wizard Ethion. Theodoric stood immediately. They had known each other for long enough that such formalities should not have been necessary, but both men were aware that their friendship had soured of late.
"Please, Theo, none of that," Ethion said. He waved a hand and a chair upon the far wall slid close enough for him to sit.
"To what do I owe the honor?" the general asked, sitting again himself. He turned his chair to better face his visitor, knowing that this was not to be a short conversation. It was time to have it out, though Theodoric did not really see the point. Ethion was a wizard, Theodoric merely a general. What point could Theo make that Ethion would not simply overrule with some claim of arcane authority?
"Do I need a reason to visit you? We've both been superfluous since we returned, I thought we could burn a little of our boredom together."
The general swept a hand to indicate the sheets of parchment and hide on his desk. "I have found tasks to keep me occupied. Few of the generals like to bother with reports that aren't of the war itself."
Glory-hounding fools, Theodoric thought.
Ethion only raised an eyebrow, that famous gesture of wizards to let you know that you weren't telling them enough. Nevermind that you usually weren't telling them enough because you wanted them to go away and stop meddling with your business. Business which you could complete better without them around.
"Wanderer reports," Theodoric elaborated.
There had been a time, three hundred years earlier, when knowledge of what lay beyond Bastion's sheltering mountains was well-known. Contact with the tribes and villages that inhabited those mountains, and the grasslands and forests beyond, had been regular. Then came the Angels, and the Demons, and the War. Under the Angels' guidance, the strongest peoples had been united by great leaders in the period known as The Forging, when Bastion had been built and the War had started in earnest amongst the humans.
From that time on, contact with anyone who was not solidly friend or foe dwindled. As new peoples were rediscovered they were assimilated. Most, so awed by the beauty and power of the Angels who came with the men of Bastion, abandoned their villages and migrated to the city itself. The surrounding lands slowly emptied, and knowledge of whatever had lain beyond passed out of memory...
...until the callous destruction of the War demanded that new peoples again be searched out to lend their aid – and their men. Bastion always needed more soldiers than it had available. Some men, beyond the age of normal service, had been sent to explore the wilds and send back word of what they found.
By and large, that word was ignored. Aside from the men that were convinced to come to the city as soldiers, nothing outside the settled lands interested the people of Bastion.
"Is there anything worth our attention?" Ethion inquired.
Theodoric winced at the casual disinterest that had so poisoned the attempts of the Wanderers to inform their commanders of what existed far from the city. He had a surprise for the wizard this time, though. He lifted one of the thin sheets of hide from his desk and held it out.
Ethion took it and leaned closer to the window. The light outside was failing, but only one lamp was lit within the chamber and that was upon Theo's desk. Finally he looked back up with a blank expression. "We have known of these people for some time, Theo, have we not? They are intriguing, I'll grant you that."
New annoyance piled on top of old. Theodoric sighed to relieve the tension, reaching behind himself to grab the wine goblet that sat atop his desk. Ethion's eyes twitched as he did so – it was no secret that Theodoric seemed to have developed a healthy appreciation of wine since his return. Ethion had smelled it heavily on the man's breath when he sat down.
"Not just the people, Ethion. It's those beasts they use, the ones that carry them about. Animals like cattle, but taller, much swifter. There's a good drawing of them here somewhere..." Theodoric trailed off as he searched the stack on his desk. Finding it, he gave that too to the wizard, who perused it as the general continued.
"There's been a few men up with one of those tribes for almost a year now, learning their language, sending more and more to us as soldiers. They have learned a great deal. This is their latest report, Ethion." Theodoric handed over yet a third sheet, which Ethion also took and quickly read. Once more he looked up without understanding. It was just too much for Theodoric, who burst out of his chair and nearly yelled at the man, wizard or no.
"They use the things in battle, Ethion! Or what serves them for battle, skirmishes for food and such. They sit atop those great beasts as they go to war, throwing spears, using bows. Don't you see?"
Ethion was nodding now, but displayed none of the excitement Theodoric was showing. Though Ethion merely thought Theo was being overly dramatic on account of the wine, Theodoric knew better – or rather, he could see better. It maddened him that this man, this wizard who was supposedly superior to him, could not see the import of those reports as Theodoric could.
"You're saying we could do the same."
"I'm saying we should. I'm saying we must, and not just in battle – imagine if our messengers could be carried by these beasts, fourfold faster than their own feet can move them. We could make communication nigh as fast as the Globes to every outpost and fort, no matter how small."
It was a long term vision, Theodoric knew. He also knew it would require a great deal of time and resources, which Bastion may not be able to spare in the mean time. He had already presented this to the High Council, days earlier. They had thanked him for bringing it to their attention, and promptly done nothing. Theodoric expected them to continue doing nothing, and had from the beginning. If he wanted anything done in this matter, he would have to drive it himself. He was a General, after all. When he gave orders, men obeyed.
Contemplating his own plans, Theodoric fell silent, reaching for another drought from his goblet. Ethion sighed as he did so, and found the courage to ask the question he had come to ask.
"What is wrong, Theo? You've never been this surly – and you haven't drank this much since you were fifteen." Ethion should know, having occasionally sneaked drinks with his friend whilst still an acolyte, braving the punishment should he be found out. The ban against wizards imbibing alcohol was not a laughing matter.
Theodoric let the wizard finish, though a scowl grew on his face. He took another drink before he answered, and when his eyes met Ethion's they held anger – and accusation.
"You know well what it is, Ethion."
Ethion's face had hardened, and he spoke evenly, attempting to keep his own temper. "I made the decision I thought was correct. For all I knew - "
"You knew nothing!"
Theodoric's icy calm broke with that outburst. He leaned forward in his chair and stabbed a finger at Ethion as he spoke, his words slurring slightly from the drink.
"You came into my camp and ordered me to abandon an attack that you did not understand! I spent nearly a year there, gathering information, learning the rhythms of the enemy. I knew when they changed guards at outposts, when they sent out patrols. I knew how to take Cairn."
"I did what I thought was right," Ethion repeated evenly, controlling his ire at being shouted at.
His grievances aired, Theodoric seemed to settle down a great deal, settling back into his chair and breaking eye contact with Ethion. His scowl relaxed – into a sneer. "You were wrong."
"Yes. I was wrong. Is that what you need to hear? I'm sorry, Theo. I'm sorry I overruled you. I'm sorry we could not see your plan through. But I will not be made a villain based on nothing but hindsight!"
Shaking his head, Theodoric surprised Ethion by beginning to laugh – though it was a rueful, mirthless noise.
"Do you think this is about me, Ethion?" Theo asked. "About my pride? Yes, the plan was a good one, and I'm very proud of that. But the problem, old friend, is that you dismissed me without thinking. The problem is, you should have left the decision to me. I fought the Council to place the wizards in that army under my command, and only when they relented did I go forward. Do you know why?"
Ethion shook his head, troubled by the turn of the conversation.
"Because I have too often been dismissed by some robed fool who is interfering where he should not."
Ethion finally spoke up in indignation. "We always respect your expertise!" he exclaimed, speaking of all wizards and generals. His words only elicited more laughter.
"That's what you think! You pretend to listen, Ethion. You only pretend, and only here in the city. The young ones are the worst. I've had men half my age ignore my advice, blundering about and getting men killed who should have lived to go back to their wives. Ask any officer – it runs rampant, especially on the border. The wizards claim to keep our experience in mind, but from most of you the claim is empty. Even you, Ethion. You ignored me without a second thought, and you knew what I had gone through to get the Council to place me in overall command."
Ethion had not felt so distant from his friend since their youth. When Ethion had been found a wizard, both boys had known things would change. They had managed to stay fairly close, but now Ethion felt he had to defend his peers against these accusations. He found that he had nothing to say in argument, though. He knew Theodoric was telling the truth. He further knew that he had been guilty of the offense more than once.
In the end, Ethion glanced away from Theo and nodded curtly.
"Perhaps it is something we should bring to the attention of the Council, then."
"Hah! Yes, we'll ask the oldest and most prideful of you whether or not you misuse your authority."
"Come now, Theo. I agree that you have a valid complaint. They can be made to see it as well. You might be surprised by this, but we are all fighting the same war – it behooves us to solve any problem that has us fighting each other."


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Taunted, Teasers, and the Next Novel

Just about to head into week 2 of not looking at sales stats. That link is definitely calling me. I have clicked it out of habit a couple times in idle moments, though fortunately I stopped myself before navigating to the actual report. Gonna break this dang habit!

The TWIXT HEAVEN AND HELL audio teaser that aired on episode 18 of The Roundtable Podcast is also on Youtube.

In non-Twixt news, I have launched into my next novel, which just happens to be the story I pitched to the Roundtable in their second episode. I aim to have it finished by the end of the year, and published not too far into 2013.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Don't Watch the Pot

When I released TWIXT, I decided to not check the sales stats for a week. Then, in a moment of either stupidity or willpower, I bet myself I could go two weeks.

Well, I'm into day three, and I'm getting a little twitchy. The link is right there in my browser history. It would be so easy to click it and check up on my sales. Not just for TWIXT, of course - but all my books...

But I won't. Slavishly checking those numbers every hour is a waste of my time. It's a habit that needs to broken. I will continue my promotion efforts (poor as they are), but I won't try to analyze their results. I don't think I'm at a point where any effort I have will really have discernible results. Later on, there is always Amazon Author Central to track ups and downs in actual sales.

In other news, I'm intending to release a deleted chapter from TWIXT soon, along with the dedicated TWIXT HEAVEN AND HELL book page on the blog. It's a good chapter, but was axed from the book due to having only a tangential relation to the main plot. I think people who read the book will enjoy it.

Monday, July 2, 2012


TWIXT HEAVEN AND HELL is live on Smashwords and Amazon!

I've shown you the cover, and the cover copy (though that has been through some revisions), and talked about it plenty - and now it is out there in the world. Under the judgement of the public eye. As I've mentioned before, though, a poor reception for a self-published book really amounts to no reception at all. The book simply disapears into the depths of the internet, and never makes a splash.

I want to hear a splash, damnit. To that end I've prepared an audio trailer which I'll be trying to get onto various podcasts - fortunately, I have an ally at The Roundtable Podcast, and thus have one venue for the teaser already.

I would also like to thank the adventurous soul who was browsing Smashwords last night when my book first hit the New Releases homepage. Less than an hour after publication, somebody had downloaded the sample, liked what they saw, and purchased the book.

I am still blown away by how amazing that is.

Not merely the fact that somebody decided to buy my brand-new book on the strength of the sample (and, no doubt, the cover), but also by the logistics alone. I had pushed the button to publish only moments before, and then I had my first sale.

To whomever made that purchase, I hope you enjoy the book - and then I hope you tell your friends!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Surprise Productivity

The other night I was reflecting on how busy I've been this year, and lamenting the fact that I have not yet gotten a serious start to my next novel - nothing beyond a few exploratory beginnings.

Then I remembered that so far this year I've written two novellas. And most of a third. And a couple short stories. If I really want to stretch, I've also done major revisions on Twixt which - while cutting 35k words, probably resulted in roughly 3k new words.

All told, I'd estimate conservatively that I've written 70k words so far this year. That ain't half bad. True, not all of those projects are finished, but that is better than I thought I'd been doing. I focus too much on novels as the real indicator of progress, I think. All this writing, and what I've really been thinking is "I've only got one novel."

However, I've got almost a novel-length's worth of new material. That is a pleasant surprise considering I wrote in what (scant) free time I had. Perhaps I've been reading too many blog posts and articles lately on the value of being prolific. Of course, they're talking about full-time authors writing two-to-four novels a year. A part-timer like me needs to keep things in perspective.

I just need to remind myself that I'm playing the long game, here. A novel (maybe 1.5 novels) a year, and a couple short stories and novellas, is plenty to add to my mass of work. Let it build, let it build... and eventually develop - as Dave Robison put it - a "literary gravity"...

... and eventually, maybe I'll catch fire.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Short Fiction

I've never been especially good at writing short fiction, because my ideas tend towards expansive. The smaller ideas, which might take less time to articulate, usually end up getting folded into one of my larger ideas in order to enhance it.

I recently finished a short story that was originally intended for that very fate. It sprung into my mind, then I reworked the idea to be a scene in a novel, and now I've taken it back to stand-alone short status. First draft ended up pretty well, and now it goes into its metaphorical drawer for a few weeks before I edit it.

I'm already wondering what else I could include, or what bits might be expanded on. It is very short, about a thousand words. However it is also tight, and probably doesn't need anything beyond the scope of the story itself expanded on. Better to let readers wonder. Still, my urge is to tell more, write more, give more. Another reason I'm not so good at short fiction. I don't necessarily like leaving so many mysteries, or details, unresolved.

On the other hand, it is always fun to finish a story, and shorts give a little "shot" of that feeling. A friend of mine also raised the fact that yesterday's short story can become tomorrow's novel.

On a somewhat related note, my (free) released short story "Le Morte d'Arthur" has seen some additional success, cracking the top 25 Ghost stories on the Kindle boards. It seems the rapid increase in downloads coincided with the story garnering its first review. Correlation != causation, but I can't help but suspect the former influenced the latter.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Level Up In Editing, and Twixt To-Do

I finished the first draft of Twixt Heaven and Hell in August 2010, if memory serves. My first edit took until some time in November to complete - it was fairly substantive. It had some story changes and some definite improvements - but what it did not succeed at was cutting extraneous words. I only lost about 3k words off the 161k first draft in that first edit.

While there have been a number of edits in between then and now - mostly focused on rewriting particular scenes or expanding on a character's role - I have just finished the second major edit of Twixt. From the previous word count of 158,000 words, the book now sits at 138,000 - a loss of 20k words, and a gain of a much tighter narrative. It makes me wonder what I was thinking during that first edit.

I still have a couple decisions to make before arriving at the final version of the book. There is a chapter I'm not sure belongs in there - though it's a good chapter, and illuminating for a couple of minor character and some of the world, it has little bearing on the primary plot or any prominent subplot. If I decide to remove it I'll likely put it somewhere as a "Deleted Scene" sort of thing.

I ended up re-removing the epilogue I had written (and it needed to be re-written as well). The final chapter of the book ends exactly the way I want it to, and I don't want to change the mood of the ending with an epilogue. That, too, will be put up for free consumption.

I'm still on track to publish later this month or very early in July. The incredible Graham Hanks, who has done the covers for two of my earlier releases, is hard at work on the cover for my first book - the early samples look awesome.

Here's the work that stands between me and the publication of this book:
  1. Make final decision on that pesky chapter (Leaning towards cutting it)
  2. Finalize Cover Art (on track)
  3. Draw a map (I like books with maps in them)
  4. Finalize copy (long and short summaries for Amazon and Smashwords pages)
I would almost include the final version of the epilogue as #5, but that can arrive after the book itself.

I'm not gonna lie. I'm excited to finally put this out there.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Chatting about Chapters

Chapters are a funny beast. Unlike... oh, I dunno, every other aspect of writing, there isn't much in the way of guidelines or rules held up by those who have come before. Long, short, titled or no, labeled with POV or no, etc etc. Everyone just does what they please and nobody tries to claim any one way as a general standard.

At first that was a bit unsettling. Years ago when I went hunting for that exact advice, I couldn't find much. Heck, I couldn't find anything at all. What? A topic that no visionary had expounded on? Is there nothing in the Chicago Manual of Style that could be of use here? WHAT DOES FRANZEN WANT ME TO DO?

In the absence of internet-approved guidelines, I had to formulate some of my own. The breakdown comes in three general flavors: Chapters with Titles, Chapters With POV Labels, and Chapters with Neither Label Nor Title.

The last one is the simplest, as you don't need to think about much when starting them. This is the only chapter type I've used thus far in my own writing. They end up breaking down roughly by POV and chronology, though there are exceptions. I admit it is a bit messy, though it allows for lots of freeforming with the chapter structure itself. Also, my chapters tend to gravitate towards a standard length, though I don't enforce this consciously.

Lately I have been thinking about giving the first option a try, and titling my chapters. This would the benefit of further 'focusing' a chapter on a specific plot point or event or what-have-you, and the hope is that the rest of the book would benefit from that focus. Plus, it allows me to think up interesting and evocative chapter titles. On the downside, thinking up lots of chapter titles would basically be like having to pick anywhere from twenty to forty titles for a single book, and I go through enough mental anguish just settling on one.

The very finest example I have seen of the chapters-with-titles tactic comes from Stephen Brust, in The Phoenix Guards. I will never forget one particular chapter, the title of which made me laugh my ass off even before I began to read: "In Which the Plot, Behaving In Much the Same Manner As a Soup to Which Cornstarch Has Been Added, Begins, at Last, To Thicken." (paraphrased, somewhat, as I do not have the book right here with me). 

The third option is less one of style, I think, and more of efficiency. George Martin beings the chapters in A Song of Ice and Fire by identifying the POV character for that chapter (though he has begun to give them more artful sobriquets than their actual names). This has the advantage of pulling the reader immediately to the memories of whats been happening recently with that character, and also eliminates the possibility of actual confusion - a very real benefit in epic narratives.

While I do not actively label the POV character at the outset of my chapters in Twixt Heaven and Hell, I do make sure to nix confusion by being very up-front about who the scene is centered on (except in rare cases when I want that to be a mystery).

A year ago or so, while working on some ideas for future novels, I came up with a slight variation to POV Labeling that I cannot wait to use. Sadly, the novels I thought it up for are awhile out in my project list,yet... the idea is that instead of simply announcing the POV, I will include some quote or other snippet that not only tells the reader who they are 'with' in that chapter, but also helps to inform the POV character themselves. If the character is a bard, then I might begin their chapters with a couplet or short verse. One character (who already exists in the notes for the novel) is a judge, and his chapters might begin with quotes concerning law and morality.

I think the device has premise, but much like thinking up new titles for each chapter it could get stressful. Setting apart a sentence or two like that means it really needs to shine.

I might have mentioned something about chapters that are divvied up entirely by length, but I can't recall any book where I've noticed this happening. I feel that most authors key their chapters to general events in the storyline and make them as long as they need to be. The above differences fall to style, but will still be guided by the relation between chapter and plot.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Prosaic Formulaic

I just finished reading this article, and I enjoyed it. Go check it out. I'll wait.


Amusing, isn't it? So many people writing How-To's for writing best-sellers and cracking the formula... and not a single one of them has actually written a smash-hit novel. One of them, Donald Maass, is a very successful agent - but not, to my knowledge, a particularly successful writer.

I'm not a statistics guru, but I believe one of the major failings of those experiments, which the author of the article referred to, is known to as 'selection bias' (Don't quote me on that). They picked only the best-sellers and located very general (in fact, too general - I'll come back to that) common traits.

They did not, however, locate these same traits in the books that didn't make it big. I love the description of Baldwin's grand flop (The Eleventh Plague). Could there be a more telling example? The authors studied the 'formula,' collaborated with the 'experts,' and even managed to convince the agents, editors, and big-wigs at the publishing houses that they had a sure-fire success, netting them a seven-figure advance...

... and Plague didn't even crack the NYT bestseller list, let alone become a runaway success.

I do have some theories as to why they so expertly fooled (if it can be called that) the pros of the industry, but I'll leave those for another post. Suffice to say that the most concerted research-driven attempt to find the formula was a huge failure.

How can I say it was a failure when it earned the authors a cool million each?

Because it is likely that the publishing house lost a lot of money on that investment. Whether or not Baldwin went on to publish anything else (a quick Google search reveals that he did), he did not impress the readers. He fooled the false prophets of the industry, and thus made money off them, but he did not actually write a book that millions of people loved.

All leading, of course, to the obvious conclusion: There is no formula. Just write your damn story.

As a final bit of fun, I looked at the ten elements that Baldwin apparently cooked up, quoted here for convenience:
1. The hero is an expert.
2. The villain is an expert.
3. You must watch all of the villainy over the shoulder of the villain.
4. The hero has a team of experts in various fields behind him, etc.
5. Two or more on the team must fall in love.
6. Two or more on the team must die.
7. The villain must turn his attentions from his initial goal to the team.
8. The villain and the hero must live to do battle again in the sequel.
9. All deaths must proceed from the individual to the group: i.e., never say that the bomb exploded and 15,000 people were killed. Start with "Jamie and Suzy were walking in the park with their grandmother when the earth opened up."
10. If you get bogged down, just kill somebody.
My first novel has all of these to some extent. It lacks 5 almost entirely - but you could make a case for a weak instance. 10 sorta happened. 9 sorta happens. All the rest are slam dunks. I looked over some notes for other books I have outlined, begun, or conceived the general storyline for - yep, these ten are found to a large extend in them too.

Seems like writing the formula for a best-seller is a lot like writing someone's horoscope...

Thus, and let me repeat this for emphasis:

There is no formula. Just write your damn story.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Audio vs Video vs Imagination

In spare moments here and there I've been working on scripts for both audio teasers and video teasers for Twixt Heaven and Hell. It's been a lot of fun.

The only problem is, I'm having trouble writing a good video teaser without any "special effects." That means pretty much anything beyond regular people in costume moving about in the woods. I can get a decent ways... but this book is about the eternal battle between Angels and Demons. It has wizards, and magic, and fortresses and a big city and I can't show any of that.

Hmm.... maybe I can still figure something out. Though basically it just makes me want to learn to do CGI.

On the other hand, the audio teaser is coming along well. I've just completed a 'proof of concept' recording that I think will do nicely. Even if I do manage to get a video done for one teaser, I'll definitely release this audio one as well. It has a significantly different feel, and a different narrator. One with wings.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Diablo III, Rant II: "The Lord of Error"

This won't be as long as the other one, I promise.

First of all, I was entirely correct in that, had Blizzard simply let me start playing on a higher difficulty level, I would have enjoyed the game far more.

Perhaps if I had stepped away from the game for a long while and come back and played it on the so-called Nightmare difficulty, I could have gotten a new sense of the story. Much like re-reading a book after many years, when you have forgotten many of the details. However, I wasn't about to do that. It's a new game and I'm gonna play it now.

I say again that the game and story are inextricably linked only on the first playthrough. On subsequent 'runs' nobody cares about the story. They don't stop and listen to the dialogue, and they probably don't even pause to watch the cinematic. Later playthroughs are not about atmosphere, or appreciating the finer points of the game - they are about loot and experience. The faster I can click on the hostile little bundles of pixels, the faster I can gather up both.

I covered a bit of how even the loot system feels cheapened in Diablo III, and I won't rehash the topic. Suffice to say that the blow to the story of Diablo III - which, while actually the least well-written of the three games, is still pretty entertaining - is almost unforgivable. I would have enjoyed it far, FAR more if I had merely been allowed to pick a higher difficulty setting from the beginning.

I know there are reasons for their choice. As a game designer myself I can see some of the logic behind it, but in my own humble, not-earning-billions-with-my-games opinion, I think they did it poorly.

Also, the permanent Battle.net connectivity requirement is a horrible decision as well. I'm basically writing this because I can't log in to Battle.net in order to play the game completely solo - because, despite its flaws it is still a decent game (and moreover, one I sunk $60 to pay for) and I'd rather be playing it than complaining about it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Over My Dead Body

It is Memorial Day here in the States.

As holidays are wont to do, it got me thinking about the reason for the celebration. Various pictures thrown about on Facebook and Twitter kept me on the subject. Even when I wanted to retire into alcohol and grilled succulents, my mind remained on other topics: Death. Sacrifice. Service.

Anyone familiar with the genres of fantasy and science fiction will know that the authors thereof do not shy away from war. In fact, they invite it. Most of our books are set against the backdrop of some world-altering conflict. People die by the hundreds of thousands to give gravity to some plot.

Hundreds and thousands of people. Of course, in our narrative they are not people - they are characters. Not even that, actually. To refute Bob Seger, they are simply numbers.

I wonder, how many authors really think about the number of deaths they invoke a grim feeling in their world? Every now and again, I think about them. The young men who die in my imaginary wars are no different than those who die in our real ones. They feel a sense of duty, either to their nation or to the men and women around them. It keeps them on the line, on the bounce, and on the job.


I have known many soldiers. In my capacity as a martial arts instructor, I have trained many of them. Is there one defining trait I have found in all of them? No. Is there one overriding belief? No. These men and women, who risk their lives for causes both just and unjust, have been as varied as any other class of people I have ever met. Why, then, do they do it?

Perhaps I could try and answer the question, but I will not. I believe that days like to day are best spent not simply remembering - but thinking. I myself once thought of being a soldier. Ultimately, I decided not to enlist. But I have nothing but the most profound respect for those who did, and my conclusion was that the service I owed to those people was to ensure that they never risked their lives for an unjust cause. The only way I can affect that is with my solitary vote and voice. If they are sent to defend something, I mean to make damn well sure it is me they are defending, else they should not be sent.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Music Drives the Mood

I love the internet.

You can get pretty much anything you need on the internet, provided you're willing to be a little flexible. I'm recording an audio book trailer (still hoping to shoot a video one as well, but we'll see) and needed music. Sure enough, the wonderful Kevin McLeod has an entire site packed with high-quality, royalty free music.

Kevin, I cannot thank you enough.

Of course, that flexibility I mentioned comes in when I actually select a piece of music I want to go along with the audio trailer. The music, not the words, really determine the mood of the trailer, and I will need to change my delivery to make them work together instead of clash. No matter. I'm sure that somewhere within that library of work I can find something to match my tastes and deliver the proper feel.

It makes me realize, though, just how large a support network I'm going to need if I want to do this more often and with higher quality. Artists, actors, musicians... and that's just for the trailers.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Some Comments on Someone's Advice

I recently read this article over using the search feature in word processors to find trouble spots in your writing. Some good points, and I especially agree with annihilating qualifiers. Words like "very," "bit," "quite," and "rather" occur far too often in my writing and it drives me crazy when editing.

However, I do take issues with some  of this advice. First, and more trivially, is that in her section on "weasel words" the author uses dialogue to show which of two passages is better than the other. I think it very important for writers to realize the difference between tightening narration and changing dialogue.

Here is the example:

With weasel words: Suddenly, she stood up and said, “Oh well, let’s retire to the drawing room and just stay out of his way.”

Better: She stood and said, “Let’s retire to the drawing room and stay out of his way."
 The problem is that, because this is dialogue, this change isn't a matter of refining the writing - it changes the way the character speaks, and thus how we read her. Dialogue should not be 'tightened' unless it suits the character.

The second point is a battle in which I am ever on the losing side, concerning adverbs. Again, here is the example used in the above article:

With adverb: “I’ll kill him,” she said ferociously. (Really?)

Better: “I’ll kill him,” she said.

To be fair, I don't think we can judge the 'proper' use of an adverb without more context, but taken alone these two are not the same. In the "better" example, she could be saying it calmly, jokingly, in a little-girl sing-song voice, whatever. Details like these could be established before or after the actual dialogue. The fact remains that the adverb changes how we interpret the quote, and thus affects both our knowledge of scene and character.

Adverbs are like any other tool - use them in moderation and they're fine. Use them too often and readers start noticing them. They are make-up: If you use them sparingly they enhance the overall beauty of your work without anyone remembering they were there. Use them heavily and you've only created another flaw.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Diablo III: When Storytelling and Gameplay Clash

*Diablo III spoilers ahead*

I just beat Diablo III. As it came out only a few days ago, and I only played it for ~15 hours so far, I definitely thought it went by too quickly.

It seems that Blizzard has designed this game experience to be like the 'high-level play' experience of World of Warcraft. That is to say - repetitive and grinding. To be fair, I have not looked into multiplayer very far, and know nothing about how PvP might work, but all in all, I admit to being disappointed with the end result.

The game itself was certainly fun, and I'm sure I'll continue having fun playing through on the higher level (Nightmare) difficulty. However, they should have given me the option to skip right to it. I didn't want an easy first run. I want to be challenged. Basically, they set up Normal difficulty as the tutorial - sadly, the tutorial happens to run through the entire game.

Had they let me skip the 'beginner' mode, I would have been far more satisfied with the game. It is hard to take the story (which is okay) and the grandiose cutscenes (which are phenomenal) seriously when I am tearing through the most powerful enemies Hell has to offer with a beam of destruction in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. I'm not even sure my wizard bothered to look at the terrible creatures he was annihilating.

One boss battle in the fourth act was especially laughable. I'm standing in the shattered ruins of Heaven itself while Diablo taunts me and tells me his most powerful servant, the Spikey Minion of Doom, lies ahead to stop me. I walk into the next room and said servant taunts me as well as our fight begins.

Spikey Minion died before his taunt had finished. Of course, the game didn't seem to expect this, as his coarse, arrogant voice kept playing even as I began to grab the magic loot off his spikey corpse. That sort of thing kind of detracts from the grandeur of the storyline. How am I supposed to take the fires of Hell seriously when I can snuff them like a match?

Even when playing through on Nightmare, if I decide to do that, won't restore the feel. I already know the story. I've seen everything the game has to offer. If the challenge had gone hand in hand with the discovery of the story itself, I would have been able to immerse myself in the titanic battle for the fate of all creation. As it was, I paid more attention to the magic items hemorrhaging from the holes I blew in the various demons than the demons themselves, even when they had fancy names and dialogue.

Some might say that collecting loot is what Diablo is all about - I'll even say they have a point. The story would have been great if I'd been challenged on my first play through (which is the only play through where story matters!) but oh well. As long as the rest of the gameplay is involving, I can forgive that failing.

Sadly, loot has been 'streamlined' to the point where it, as well, is boring. Magic items are now part of a harvesting system where you are expected to break most of them down for raw materials. That part ain't a big deal - they were common in earlier games too.

More damaging are the laughably named "rare" items, which by my guess drop about once every ten minutes. At first it was exciting to see those little gold names pop up, wondering what strange and powerful relic I had happened upon. By the end of the game they were no more exciting then any other item. Diablo III had managed to take the fun out of collecting loot. Rarity is a big part of the fun. If you remove that, you remove the whole point.

This post has gotten long... but I'm probably not done venting on the subject. I have been a fan of Blizzard since Warcraft (the original). I remember going to the mall for all seven of Starcraft's release dates. Though I quit World of Warcraft I still think it a well-done game.

Diablo III is, in my opinion, Blizzard's first stumble. Still a good game, had it come from any other company. But the bar for Blizzard is very high.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Getting Past the Big Dumb Thing

I recently wrote an article for The Roundtable Podcast (which should be appearing soon). I had to meander a little bit in order to find my topic, and a couple of those meanders produced some bits I still wanted to share. I turned them into this somewhat disjointed blog post.

We writers of fantasy have a dangerous fixation on the Big Dumb Thing.

BDTs are those objects, locations, and phenomena that carry a feeling of awe and mystery. Larry Niven’s Ringworld, the Monolith of Arthur C. Clarke and The Wall in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. They wow the audience, and provide iconic images that serve as symbols for entire bodies of work.

Furthermore, a BDT can be abstract - such as Robert Jordan's system of the One Power, or countless fictional technologies present in science fiction. 

The one thing a BDT cannot be, is a character - and that means that a BDT can never be enough to drive a story.

You probably already knew this. Most writers of sci fi and fantasy come across this caution early and often - and yet still I meet writers who are ‘building their world’ before they write their story.

Wrong order! If you want to tell people about “your world” then you need to draw their interest with compelling stories and, especially, interesting characters. Until you weave it into a compelling story and demonstrate how it affects the lives of characters we love (or hate), your Big Dumb Thing is just a glorified prop.

Another common stumble for these world-builders is to 'design' their characters just like they design their world (sci-fi and fantasy is overrun with engineers, it seems). If you approach creating a character like assembling a robot, you’ll end up with something that shares a few traits with a machine: artificial, lifeless, and driven by the mission to destroy mankind.

You can't pick a bunch of traits and try to glue them together into a character. You'll end up with a monstrosity of hard angles and poorly fitting parts, where the cracks between his "brutal upbringing" and "love of puppies" are glaringly obvious.

Real people aren’t engineered - they grow. Let your characters do the same. You may have an idea for their personality, but then you need to decide how they got that way. It is a common quirk for writers that they know their characters' back-stories, even if the reader never finds out. This is a quirk of necessity - this history informs the character. In effect, it mimics the natural development of a real person.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

I do not intend to turn this blog into a movie review blog, or anything of the sort, but this movie was so incredible I had to say something about it. I want to find the person who came up with the concept and shake their hand. It was such a hilarious send-up of the horror genre, with so much respect and love for its material, that I was actually cheering at the screen (sorry, other people in the theatre). I cannot recommend it enough.

In fact, it was so brilliant that I can't help but suspect that its areas of predictability (even when they were so-called 'twists') were intentional, and meant to be guessed at rather than truly surprising. Or maybe I'm just smart... either way, go see the movie.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Trouble with the Wandering Tale

It seems I forgot a wee detail regarding my intended arc for these stories. I have the habit of mentioning things in stories that actually regard future parts of the Tale - this has the effect of locking me into certain choices. I refuse to retcon the things. While it might be easy to change small details in the story even after I've published it (seeing as few people have actually read them yet), it seems dishonest to me somehow.

Fortunately, we're dealing with fiction here, and I can change things as I please, provided nobody else has read it yet. The detail in question concerns a certain character who was supposed to feature as the main character in the fifth story of the Wandering Tale. I discovered to my embarrassment that, with the timeline I've set up, he's about a decade younger than he would need to be if I want to keep everything in the right time frame.

Drat. That certainly throws me for a loop.

It is one of the dangers inherent in writing these stories. They are basically stand-alone but with a certain amount of interlink and weaving going on for the (intended) delight of dedicated readers. This means those links need to remain consistent - however, I'm not paying as much attention to them as I would be if it were a single, cohesive novel.

No matter. I've already figured out a path around the problem. I'm the only one who needs to know the path we didn't end up taking.... For those who are interested, that story will still be written, it just won't tie in to certain other events in the way I'd originally planned.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Prioritize Pending Projects

If there is one reason I'm desperate to make a living as a writer, it's so I'll have enough time to write. When I think of all the things I want to write in the near future, I start twitching. I don't imagine I'll ever be able to find time enough for it all, and that bugs me. And then, of course, there are the projects I want to start. And revise. And record.

Of course, when there is too much to do, we need to know what comes first. So here's my list for things I want to accomplish by the end of the summer, sorted roughly by priority.

Write "The Merchant of Menace"
As the next entry in the Wandering Tale, which is the only currently-published example of my work that I know has readers (thanks to all dozen of 'em, too!) this easily takes the cake. It is also a necessary precondition for something further down on the list. It also has a tentative publication date (set and enforced by myself, of course) that I would like to keep to. May 20, if you're wondering.

eBook Publication of Twixt Heaven and Hell
I left it last with some notes for further revisions, but was concentrating on submitting it to agents at the time. I need to finish that as well as do some truly deep editing. I need to get a cover made. I hope to have some kind of book trailer done, either audio or video (those are further down on the list, though). If all goes well, this one will hit the stores in July.

Finish Thirteenth Night
Last summer I began to write a "sequel" of sorts to Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. The original vision for it was a Shakespearean slasher play featuring the abused Malvolio as the killer. Sort of a Hamlet meets Scream sort of thing with a dark comedy vibe. It started out fairly well, and I'd really like to finish it before another summer rolls around...

Get a Serious Start to Clanless
For those of you who missed this post featuring this episode of the Roundtable Podcast - which in turn features me - I was pitching a novel to those fine gentlemen that was tentatively titled Clanless. After appearing on that podcast I got back to thinking pretty heavily about that book and I'm very excited to write it. This one and Thirteenth Night are very much vying for third place on my priority list, because while I want to finish both of them and already have the play started (and some of my friends tell me they want to read it), it is less likely to be published or performed in the near future. Can't ePerform an entire play. Not and do it the kind of justice I would want, anyway.

Film/Record Twixt Trailer
Been mentioning it for awhile, and already have a rough script written. Next step is to write a plan for a video script and then start finding some advisers and decide which format it will end up in. This depends on a lots of other people, else it would be higher on the list.

Finish and Publish the first Wandering Tale collection
I've decided to gather up the first five stories of the Wandering Tale (three of which are published now), and publish them as a single eBook. Of course, there will be additional materials thrown in to make it worth the buyer's money even if they have one or more of the singlet eBooks. Maps, additional history, maybe even a sixth story that caps everything off...

Start Podcasting the Wandering Tale
The very supportive Dave Robison (one of the peerless paladins behind the Roundtable Podcast) has several times urged me to do a recording of The Swordsman of Carn Nebeth. As with book trailers, podcasting my writing gives me one more excuse to perform, and to involve other people as well. It's enjoyable to lift a bit of the solitude from this little hobby of mine.

Aie... I could probably double the size of this list, but I'll be honest - if I'm still just looking at the summer, I've got more here than I can handle as it is. Doesn't mean I won't try to get to all of it - but I have to be careful. I've definitely suffered from project ADD in the past, and I'd very much like to finish anything item I start.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Better Late than Never!

"The Giant of the Tidesmouth" is now up at both Smashwords and Amazon (those are links! Click them! CLICK THEM BOTH!).

If you're the type who likes his fantasy filled with the ring of steel on steel, you're going to like this one. As I mentioned in this post, "Giant" has more fighting than the previous entries. I don't want the Wandering Tale to become all sword-and-sorcery (well, without the sorcery... so just swords-y I guess) but it is an awful lot of fun to write.

I hope you enjoy this latest novella. Even after editing it rang in at 25k words, a good bit longer than the others. You'll have to tell me if you think it's as tightly told as the others!

No, seriously. Tell me. It's so quiet around here...

I cannot be certain about the exact time frame for the next story, but I'm still shooting for a one-month-to-publish deadline - and I think I can make it this time. The next one will be called "The Merchant of Menace" (with apologies to The Bard).

Saturday, April 14, 2012

I Want it All

Aside from being a great Queen song, the title of the post is also how I justify chasing all my dreams simultaneously. I've been putting a lot of time (and what little spare cash I have) into this self-publishing gig lately, and I intend to continue doing that.

Coming up, though, are some auditions for a local professional theatre. The chances of me getting picked up as either a regular or a one-off casting are both fairly slim - NOT because I'm not a good actor (I damn well am, and don't you forget it!) but because, well... let's face it. There's a lot of damn good actors out there, and oh-so-few paying roles.

Either way, I'm auditioning. If a hit a rare confluence of luck and skill, then I'll actually get a role out of it, and that will be awesome. It will bite into my writing time, and maybe even give me some hard decisions about my publishing timetable this year - but ya know what? That's one hard decision I very much want to have to make.

Wish me luck. :)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book Trailers

I cannot tell you how much I love the idea of making a book trailer. Aside from being an author, my greatest dream is being an actor. Furthermore, I know lots of actors, so conscripting some talent wouldn't be hard. Ditto for a lot of the other talent - costumes, props, film editing, etc - that goes into making a film clip of any length. The budget may be tight, but I bet I can get it done.

Even if I can't get a full-on filming done, a voice-only book trailer is also a possibility. While the next story of the Wandering Tale ripens for awhile, that's what I've been doing; writing the script for both a film and pure audio version of the teaser. It's both great fun and very challenging. I discovered when writing the original synopsis and queries and summaries for my book that it's damned hard to just condense 160k words into less than five hundred. The summary you can find in this post is one of the better ones I managed to write, and I'm still not particularly happy with it. It's yet another skill that the indie author needs to hone, but all-too-often isn't warned about until the time comes to use it.

Either way, writing a teaser script is fun. It isn't my first foray into script-writing, at least, and being a performer myself I have some sense of what can and will sound good when actually given voice. That's another fun aspect - I've been playing around with Audacity and my mic, recording the most dramatic lines over and over and adjusting the pitch and what not. It's amazing how much cooler these things sound when you bring the audio down a couple octaves. Deep voices are one way to hack the human perception of coolness, I'm sure.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Giant of Tidesmouth

For anyone who is interesting and/or keeping track: I've finished the next story in the Wandering Tale, titled The Giant of the Tidesmouth. This one is more action-heavy than the previous tales, and the violence is a bit more explicit and center-stage. This is an exception and not the rule. I enjoy writing a good fight, but the Wandering Tale was and is not meant as a gore-fest, nor will it become so.

I still need to do the edits, and in order to do that properly I need to leave the first draft on a digital shelf for a time. My usual time frame for that is at least two weeks (preferably a month) of not looking at the story itself, but I'll be condensing that this time in light of the fact that I am behind schedule. I aim to have the story published in about a week.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Seduced by the Indie Scene

I think I've made up my mind.

I've been studying the publishing industry for years - since high school - because I decided I wanted to be an author. I think I know quite a bit about it. Over the last few years though, it has been changing rapidly. The things I learned when I first started looking at the whole business are beginning to erode.

All in all, I'd rather be on the cutting edge of the new wave than crashing into the beach with the old one.

In other words, I've decided to focus my energy on self-publishing for now. I've got a small list of maybe ten agents I still want to query. After I receive their rejections (just going with the odds, there) I'm done chasing that traditional route. Thus, chances are that I will be publishing my first novel sometime around June-July (by my current timetable). It's a big decision, but to be honest I'm just happy to have made it.

My first novel is titled Twixt Heaven and Hell. It's epic fantasy focusing on the years just after Angels and Demons make contact with the mortal world. Here's one of the query letters I've been sending out to agents:

When the wizard Darius and his elite soldiers, the Gryphons, come across a devastated village deep within their own lands, they do not hesitate to pursue the enemy soldiers who had slaughtered their people. Before they are caught, the murderers disappear in a night of fire – leaving only ash in their wake. The power of the Enemy had grown.
Darius rushes back to the mighty city of Bastion to warn his leaders. However, the High Council - 'wisest' of the wizards in Bastion - are more concerned with keeping Darius in line than in fighting the war. They constantly seek to check him with orders that keep him out of trouble. Fortunately, Darius has never been one to let orders get in his way.
As the War grows ever more destructive. Darius must prevail not only against his own leaders but also against the machinations of the enemy warlord Mertoris Traigan - a former soldier whose cruel brilliance has given him control over a society dominated by sorcerers and Demons. Darius must tread a careful path between disobedience and betrayal as he seeks to unravel the secret of the Enemy's new power, enlisting the help of Angels and men alike. For though Angel and Demon may be doomed to strive against each other for all eternity, Darius dreams of a future without the War. Darius dreams of a day when his people need no longer give their lives to the ancient conflict, or suffer at the hands of their enemy.

Darius dreams of victory - and of peace.
 So... does that sound like something you'd like to read, or should I change my mind again?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Persistance and (im)Patience

Some authors are very vocal about turning their back on traditional publishing. JA Konrath is almost iconic in this sense. Here is a man who has slogged through the mud of the old process, as it were. He went through the whole Published Hero's Journey: The Call to Agents, the Endless Refusal of those calls, the Supernatural Persistence (wrote multiple novels before he was published), Eventual Representation, Continued Rejection (by publishers, this time!), and finally the triumph of netting that big author advance and becoming the real deal.

... and now he's advising people not to do all that, but to self-publish instead. Okay, I don't actually remember if that's what he is advising - I only remember that that is what HE is doing. Has stated he will never attempt to traditionally publish again, because he makes more money as a self-published author.


Now, I'm sure there are still advantages to going the traditional route, even if they all amount to one basic thing: An air of legitimacy. Your work has passed muster with the people who make their living in 'the biz' and that gives you bragging rights.

There is, of course, a fine distinction to be made. Being published by a traditional publishing house means that somebody, somewhere, thought your work would sell.

That doesn't necessarily mean it's good. I'm sure we can all think of some examples.

Without getting too far into what separates the 'successful' from the 'good' (A strong case could be made, I'm sure, that they are really one and the same!) let me just state the point as it pertains to me: Just because something wasn't accepted by the agents and publishers doesn't mean it wasn't good. It means they didn't think they could make enough money off it to justify the work.

Independent publishing changes that. You don't need teams of people. ePublishing, even more so. Now we can publish books with an overhead of precisely nil. Zero. Donut. That means that even modest sales are profit.

There remains, though, that issue of validation. Sure, I can go it alone. Stop chasing the traditional route. Dedicate all my writerly energy to self-publishing. It'd be easier in the short term, certainly. There will remain, though, a question lurking in the back of my brain:

Am I self publishing because I think it is a viable route and better in the long run - or because the traditional industry rejected my first attempts?

After all, I am no JA Konrath. I have been submitting one novel - my first novel. Plenty of other folks did that, got rejected, and wrote their second novel. Then the third, and fourth, and so on until they were published (I will live forever or die trying!).

Then again, if the self-ePublishing option had existed back then, would they still have done the same?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Professional = Deadlines

The Giant of Tidesmouth won't be out on time. "On time" was supposed to be by the end of the month, and the story itself may well be finished by then, but in a completely unedited state. Unlike Three Fingers of Death, which required fairly little editing, I suspect Giant is going to need a heavy hand on the cleaver.

Not that I suspect anyone is waiting for the next Wandering Tale story with baited breath. Nobody will notice if it doesn't arrive on time or get on my case about it. The fact is, the only one setting these deadlines is myself. I'm trying to work my way into the life of a professional fiction writer, and I damn well know that it will help to act the part even before I'm there. Thus, the deadlines, and the desire to hold myself to them.

It's funny - the first time I decided to write something seriously was due to my hatred of deadlines. I wrote a story when I was in second grade, for school, but it was due before I could make it really good (to my seven-year-old mind). I tried again in third grade, and it got a lot longer. Then I had an epiphany: Why bother writing it for school?

I worked on the 'full version' of that story for years. Until I was twelve or thirteen, I think. I abandoned it after realizing that I'd come up with the plot when I was eight, and it was just as derivative and self-insertion heavy as you could imagine. Still, it was a beginning. All without a deadline.

Of course, the reason I was writing it for years without any end in sight is partially because there was no deadline. No deadline means no pressure, and no pressure means it will likely never get done. I will endlessly tinker with a story long after the point when it should have been done, even if I finished the first version ages ago. "Stories are never finished - only abandoned," as the saying goes.

I also know that even a self-published professional author needs to be producing new things if he wants to stay a professional author, and so I thought it a good idea to get into the habit of writing on a deadline more. Sadly, the fact is that because it brings me scant little income (so far...) writing has to be one of the first things that gets pushed aside when other responsibilities await. These last couple of months have been thick with them.

I promise myself, though - or rather, threaten myself - that come summer, I will be keeping to my deadlines. Or else I won't get any dessert.