Archive for October, 2012

NaNoWriMo

Posted: October 29, 2012 in Writing
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NaNoWriMo is coming up and clearly, writerly types all across ye olde internets are all a flutter about it. The first I heard of it was back in 2006 when I got the No Plot No Problem companion book that the National Novel Writing people put out. I was freshly laid off so it sounded like an awesome idea. I rocked it in January what since I didn’t want to wait around until the official date.

Started strong out the gate, but not so much after Act One.

That’s one of the biggest problems I have been working through in general. What goes on after Act One has bogged me down many times. The opening and the scenario swirl around in my noggin over and over, but then I find I’ve used up all my great noodling on that and not the movement I need.

So how have I worked on my Act One problems?

A lot more structure than the typical NaNoWriMo throw down.

Everyone writes differently and I am very much not a seat of the pants writer. I wish I could be, but my stabs at NaNoWriMo are how I found this out. I got through 22k of a formless modern magic thing involving a bartender and the illegitimate heiress to the Brazilian Imperial Throne. I got lost and didn’t know where I was going with it and it fizzled out. When I write now, I’ve latched onto something I just now decided I am calling an evolving outline. I have a detailed outline only for the chapter or two that I am currently working on and leave the rest of the outline as broad strokes. It leaves me a lot of wiggle room in my outline so the story can go in the direction it needs do rather than get shoehorned into an idea I came up with at the start. The outlines actually change a lot and my notebook gets pages X’d out with “Out of date” scrawled across it fairly often.

Anyways. I didn’t start typing tonight to ramble about my outline methods. Yeah. Back to NaNoWriMo.

Am I doing it? No.

I’m participating in NaFiTFuThiMo.

That’s National Finish The Fucking Thing Month.

Why? Well, first I want to finish one thing before I start the next. Second, I have an infant at home so my free time gets limited. Plus, you know, that whole mortgage thing. I think when the kiddo is older and on a proper routine, I will one day make the proper prep and take the time to do it.

But my self imposed deadline for finishing Amity is December 4. Finishing this is going to be my birthday present for myself. It’s still reasonable 36 days out. I have one act left of my novel to go. It’s hard to nail down the word count since I use dead trees and ink, but my estimate is that Amity is around 45k. I think by the time I finish it is going to be around 65-70k for the first draft. So figure I have 25k left to go. That’s half of a NaNoWriMo title. Math tells me that’s 695 words a day which is all of three and a half handwritten pages.

Saying all this out loud is bringing on the agida but you know… motivation in the form of a kick to the pants.

So yeah. NaFiTFuThiMo. That’s what I’ll be doing during November.

A Cover is Worth 1K Words

Posted: October 28, 2012 in Genre, Stuff
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Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. That’s a given. But remember… a picture is worth a thousand words.

The art of our genre has always been a special part of it. The Hugo and Locus Awards have categories for artists alongside the writers. So I decided to pick out my favorite covers from off my shelves. Most of what I ended up with is more modern. Classic fantasy and/or space opera covers get the job done but I’ve seen so many of them over the years, they tend to fade into the background. Case in point, the Honor Harrington books. Great books but the Dramatic Pose and a Ship isn’t unique. So the covers I like the best are usually with books pushing the edges of genre and the art mirrors it. There’s some steampunk, cyberpunk-ish and anti-genre.

Enjoy the art!

6 – Signal to Noise by Eric S Nylund

It doesn’t exactly tell you much of what goes on, but it’s a beautiful cover and has a futuristic feel matching the crazy cyberpunk goodness.

5 – Jennifer Government by Max Berry

It’s simple and very dramatic. The barcode is an actual representation of the main character and some good foreshadowing.

4 – Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

This is the granddaddy of all steampunk books and the cover matches it without being terribly cheesy. Too often steampunk just slaps some gears on things and is done with it. This is steampunk art doing it right by focusing on the character first and gear second.

3 – vN by Madeline Ashby

Back in my post about this book I went out of my way to note that this cover is cool. I find the portrait of the AI sinking into a mass of electronics very haunting.

2 – My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland

The artwork is by Daniel Dos Santos and every bit of it is awesome. Back at Boskone 49 they had the full size four foot high original painting on display. It’s even better life size.

1 – Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

I’ve been unsuccessful in finding a print of this to hang in my office so I’ve been looking for a shadowbox for the book. It’s that awesome. Joey Hi-Fi is the man. Pull up a high rez version of this and just look at the crazy detail on this.

Honorable Mention – Moxyland by Lauren Beukes and The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington

That’s Joey Hi-Fi again on the Moxyland cover, but HM only because I don’t actually have that. The cover on my copy is pretty cool, but not Joey Hi-Fi cool. Grossbart is hard to see small, but it’s an optical illusion. The skull is made by the brothers robbing graves. HM because I don’t own that anymore as I didn’t actually like the book.

Mockingbird

Posted: October 27, 2012 in Reading
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Sequel City again! Today we’ve got Mockingbird, the sequel to Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig. Miriam Black is back in part two of her trilogy from Angry Robot Books. Since it came out a couple months ago, I’ve seen praise all over the place for this book, just like I did with the first. There’s a bit of a different flavor to it this time about though because I know I sure had high expectations coming into Mockingbirds.

No mucking about today! Back of the Book time!

Miriam Black has a terrible talent.

The first time she touches someone, she will see the moment of their death. Still in her early twenties, She’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, suicides and slow deaths by cancer. It is all she can do to keep her talent – her curse – in check.

But when Miriam touches a woman while standing in line at the supermarket, she foresees that this woman will be violently killed – right her, right now.

Cool. Awesomesause. That sounds intense. That’s just chapter one. It’s the first domino on the crazy train we’re heading out on. See, Miriam has evolved from the first book. I use evolve because she’s not really better off than she was before; it’s a lateral move at best. She’s still at the fringes of society and if anything, Miriam is more miserable than ever.

Is this surprising? Eh, not overly. As I talked about in my musings on book one, flawed characters are interesting characters and Thou Shall Be Interesting is commandment number one. What blew my mind was the dark place that Wendig went with Mockingbird. While the first book in the ‘hard to classify’ series leaned closer to urban fantasy than anything else. Mockingbird is still in a weird anti-genre place but it’s much closer to a horror novel than anything else this time around. There are still plenty of moments of levity because that’s who Miriam is with her foul as hell mouth. We’re not rocking a hold-your-breath for 300 pages kind of thing but there were few holy crap moments that rocket you forward another 80 pages before you look up again.

The new tone never felt out of place to me though. Wendig writes Miriam with one of the strongest voices you’ll ever read. It’s not just the swears. (The swearing is glorious again) It’s the attitude behind the swears which lets Miriam into your head. That makes it very easy to slip right into book two even though it had been a few months since the last book.

So now what? Let’s get into the plot, as much as I can without spoiling anything. This book is very stand-alone. Other than the fact Louis is still her beau, there’s not much beyond Miriam herself tying the two books together. That’s a double edged sword. I had no problem with it, but I can see where it may miss the expectations that some people have when it comes to a series. But by being the independent book that it is, my horror buff wife is interested in scooping this one up. Miriam gets a new audience that can jump right into the thick of things.

The only thing I really missed with this book is that I think Louis was a bit of an afterthought at times. It’s a tough feeling because he is around from time to time and helps move the plot forward. In fact, one of the creepiest chapters of any book I’ve read in a while is one of the Louis chapters. It’s Miriam’s book though. It’s her swears, her story, her picture in the kick ass Joey HiFi art on the cover, so I can’t complain too much. Miriam pushes him aside very easy at times and I think he should have fought it more.

I digress with nitpicking. Fast paced swearing will propel you from cover to cover. In that, it is no different than any of Wendig’s other writing from Blackbirds to his blog. For whatever your opinions on the shift of tone from the first book, it’s that kick to the pants that keeps you reading which is the true expectation from Wendig. He delivers. In spades.

The Warded Man

Posted: October 21, 2012 in Reading

The fantasy side of sci-fi/fantasy has been good to me this year. I’ve mentioned that the more traditional fantasy books were what I devoured when I was a kid, mostly stuff written in the 80s and 90s since that’s what my parents were reading. But it got kind of stale for me once I went to college and I kind of stayed away from in for the better part of ten years. But, as you may have noticed, I’m being sucked in because it’s more than just swords and damsels now.

Today’s trip into fantasy is The Warded Man by Peter V Brett. This has been on my radar since I saw the author at Boskone 49 back in February. Through the quirks of book shopping, the novel transferred from the To Buy List over into the To Read Pile only recently. I’ll elaborate that after Back of the Book Time.

Bam! Let’s lookit the back of that book!

As darkness falls after sunset, the corelings rise – demons who possess supernatural powers and burn with a consuming hatred of humanity. For hundreds of years the demons have terrorized the night, slowly culling the human herd that shelters behind magical wards – symbols of power whose origins are lost in myth and whose protection is terrifyingly fragile. It was not always this way. Once, men and women battled the corelings on equal terms, but those days are gone. Night by night the demons grow stronger, while human numbers dwindle under their relentless assault. Now, with hope for the future fading, three young survivors of vicious demon attacks will dare the impossible, stepping beyond the crumbling safety of the wards to risk everything in a desperate quest to regain the secrets of the past. Together, they will stand against the night.

So there’s an important thing to get out of the way with The Warded Man. It’s structured in a way that harkens back to the fantasy books of the 80s and 90s for me. Multiple tangents/POVs that eventually come together. But none of the three protags meet for something like 300 pages out of the 453. This book sprawls. Correction, this series sprawls. Even if I didn’t know that Brett was editing book three right now, you can get the vibe very early on that there’s a lot of meat and potatoes to this book. There’s never a time where the book is padded with fluff, it’s all substance, but it’s substance that sprawls. (Side note, sprawl is my word of the week) It’s not a Song of Ice and Fire kind of sprawl, but there’s enough where I think it’s important to go into The Warded Man with the right mindset because I know people who won’t touch a series until it’s completely.

But if you’re one of those people, you’re missing out. Remember those corelings from the Back of the Book? ‘Course you do, it’s only been a dozen lines. They make for a ridiculously unique setting, and when you’re going to spend so many pages in a genre that’s been around the block plenty of times, it becomes all that more important to stand out from the crowd in your world building. The corelings are an awesome creation in their own right and they’re pwning humanity’s collective face. Humanity has a very fragile defensive magic that lets them do not much more than huddle behind their walls every time the sun goes down. From the little hamlets to the big cities, no one goes outside after dark without a huge chance of a nasty death. There’s a lot of history to this world, which is mentioned in chunks as the “desperate quest to regain the secrets of the past” revolve around offensive magic. I get this far future vibe which I enjoyed a lot. There are lots of secrets about this world ripe for discovering from technology to magic.

Since The Warded Man is a book with a lot of time to move about, we’re allowed to get very deep into the characterization of our three protags. The first section of the book takes us to their childhood, as much as they get, as how it shapes their future. Arlen, Leesha and Rojer are all part of some terrible things from the outset. It goes to some dark places I really didn’t expect it to. Don’t go thinking it’s some sort of ultra grimdark deal though. It’s brutal, it’s rough, there’s tragedy, but it’s appropriate to the world we’re given. I’m dancing around specifics because I don’t think there’s too much about it I can get into without spoiling anything. There were twists and turns going on that I didn’t see coming, so I don’t want to rob that of anyone. I think having all those unexpected happenings are part of why I liked The Warded Man. We’ve all read the easy path out when it comes to this genre and that’s not something I ever felt was going on.

So praises and warnings. What else is there? There’s stuff that doesn’t even come close to getting resolved. I saw that from ten miles away. Even in trilogies I like a bit more resolution that we got. The book as a whole felt like an Act One so I’m not going to fault it like I would a less sprawling book. I think a lot of how people take that will chalk up to personal preference since there’s absolutely nothing written wrong with it. What the Act One feel does, it’s really make me excited for the book two, The Desert Spear. So the book sits well with me just fine. And with the third book due for next year (early I hope), this series is ripe for a nice box set treatment. It’s also ripe for awesome. So there’s that too.

Work In Progress Challenge

Posted: October 16, 2012 in Writing
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The idea for the Work In Progress Challenge came from Kat Richardson via her blog post of the same vein which I happened to see via ye olde twitter. Since I started this website at the beginning of the year, I think this will be the most I’ve openly talked about the novel I’m writing. Putting it out there a bit will help kick my pants into gear and get some momentum behind me.

What is the title of your work in progress?

Amity

Where did the idea for your WIP come from?

This came about from the adoption of my “Write what you know, not who you know” philosophy to writing. The novel I attempted before Amity had a main character just like me and it got real screwed up by that. When you’re essentially writing yourself, it’s easy to overlook details and thoughts that you shouldn’t. You skim over things because you’re so familiar with them. This is why two of the three protags are women in this book. By being different from me, it makes me stop and think. I wrote a thing about writing women characters a while back.

When I started doing the earliest notes for Amity, I thought “Well just what kinds of things am I an expert at?” 1) I work in a shipyard. 2) I know stupid odd bits of history. 3) I like pirates. 4) I happened to be in Ireland when I committed notes to paper. Bam. Done. The scenario for the world Amity takes place in is like the American Revolution meets the Irish Troubles in space. I have elaborate rationales as to why space is dominated by the UN and China and the small players stuck between them. A key part of the history of this universe is how the American Revolution was funded by privateers/pirates funded mostly by Connecticut and Rhode Island. I’ll spare the further history tangent, but it’s there and it’s pretty cool actually. I lifted the pirates as freedom fighters concept for Amity.

What genre does your WIP fall into?

Space opera with some swashed buckles for good measure.

Which actors/actresses would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

This question is harder than I expected it to be. The only one that comes easy is maybe Lucy Liu as Kimiho Okano. She’s got the bad ass wisdom needed. It took a while for me to come up with the perfect actress for my main characters, but Nicole de Boer would probably be it. If you know who that is without Google, consider it more nerd cred. She played Ezri in the last season of Deep Space Nine. She could be Bernadette. I don’t even have a clue who would play Tomas de la Vega.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your WIP?

Shipyard worker Bernadette Hastings is minding her own business welding on the Navy’s newest starship when she’s shanghai’d by pirates and thrown into battles not of her own choosing but too personal to run from.

Is your WIP due for publication or represented?

Ha! I wish. Finishing has to happen first.

How long did it take you to write?

Ugh. It’s been in progress longer than I want to admit. I’m on Act Three though and my goal is to finish by my birthday. That means I have about seven weeks to go. I’ve already arranged to take the day off of work so I expect I will be frantically writing til my hand falls off so I can get to the end before.

What other works in your genre would you compare it to?

I haven’t really read any other space opera pirate tales. I think there’s a bit of A Thousand Words for Stranger kind of feel with the adventurous planet hopping.

Which authors inspired you to write this WIP?

I think that an author can’t help by be influenced a little bit by everything he or she reads. Even if it’s bad you can say to yourself “Not gonna do it like that.” More direct inspiration in regards to Amity? The aforementioned Julie Czerneda series. There’s a bit note from David Weber too. Whenever I read an Honor Harrington book, I get this extra kick of momentum. Harrington is a strong protag, albeit a different type of protag than the more “morally diverse” world I’m going for.

What else might pique our interest in this WIP?

For all that this is the most open I’ve been with talking about Amity, (in fact, I think this is the first time I’ve even used the title on this blog) there’s still some aspects of it I’m reluctant to talk about openly. But I will give a more proper back of the book style blurb…

Bernadette Hastings, welder shanghai’d by pirates. Claire Tew, pirate given a quest on the dying breath of her mother. Tomas de la Vega, intellegence agency investigator sent into deep cover on no notice. Hunted and hounded across space on the Amity, the weight of a rebellion balances on their shoulders whether they know it or not.

What is a useless tidbit of information about your WIP?

The pirates and the ship itself were named after actual pirates from Rhode Island. Thomas Tew was a privateer in the employ of the governor of Bermuda turned proper pirate. His ship was called the Amity packing eight cannons and a crew of forty six. He took an Arab cannonball to the stomach in 1695. In my WIP, Claire Tew is his descendant and has a family crest modeled after his flag.

Bared Blade

Posted: October 15, 2012 in Reading
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It’s sequel time! Not only is it sequel time, this marks the first time I’ve covered both the first and second books on this. Bared Blade is the sequel to Broken Blade by Kelly McCullough. I have thusly decided that thriller fantasy may be my new favorite subgenre. There was no question I was going to read this book. I’ve mentioned before that McCullough is a Shelf of Honor author and if you go back and read the post about book one, I loved that one too. Broken Blade came out over the summer and it was this book I got a whiff of to send me on the track of the first one. I’m going to repeat myself and say it’s a shame this series hasn’t been getting talked about all over the internets, at least not the circles of the internets I haunt. Let’s fix that.

Matching the uptempo pace of the book, we’re rushing off into Back of the Book time!

Former temple assassin Aral Kingslayer is a man with a price on his head and a mark on his soul. After his goddess was murdered, Aral found refuge in the shadow jack business, fixing problems for those on the fringes of Tien’s underworld. It’s a long step down from working for the goddess of justice, but it gives Ara and Triss – the living shadow who is is secret partner – a reason to get up in the morning.

Unfortunately, it’s not a very noble reason. So when two women hit a rough spot in the tavern Aral uses for an office, he and Triss decide to lend a helping hand. But soon their good deed lands them in the middle of a three-way battle to find an artifact that just might be the key to preventing a war. And with so many factions on their trail, Aral and Triss are attracting a lot more attention than anyone featured on ten thousand wanted posters can afford…

Take the praise from Book One and heap it all onto Bared Blade. It’s been a few months since I read the first, and I slid into the second so smoothly, it was like I read them back to back. Take all the things I said about the deft work with the pacing from the first book and apply them here. Repeat for the setting. Tien is a wonderfully formed city. I don’t know why I didn’t compare it to Camorr in Lies of Locke Lamora last time I talked about the city, but I should have. Tien is a city I will look forward to seeing as much as possible, that hasn’t changed a bit. I’m still all up in here with the thriller tropes. The double crosses and layered schemes still feel fresh mixed into the fantasy setting.

So there’s all this stuff that’s still awesome from book one. But writing can’t be stagnant and constantly getting “more of the same” is not really what any writer should be going for. So what’s different with Bared Blade? Where’s the growth.

Well first off, we’ve got Aral again. The character arc across the series and the growth he’s going through is phenomenal. He’s out of the whiskey bottle now but it’s a big temptation to him. His bond with Triss, the living shadow familiar, reflects Aral’s own mental state. We get to see some more of the layers to their bond which were only hinted at in book one. What’s even better, we get to see it actively evolve and grow during the course of this book.

There’s also a sense that Aral is telling us the story over a pint. I think the same tactic was employed in the first one but I feel that it worked better this time. I think this is another reflection of Aral’s mind though. He’s much more coherent this time around now that he’s mostly sober. The storytelling voice stuck with me better this time around.

One of the signs of epic writing for me is the supporting cast. Back in McCullough’s WebMage series, the supporting cast shined, but as it was godpunk, characters like Eris or Odin can with some preexisting baggage. This is one of the areas where McCullough has improved with his writing a lot. The quality, depth and sheer interesting factor of the supporting cast has increased tenfold in Bared Blade. The mage-familiar bond established in the world of these books is unique on it’s own and gets a shot in the arm here. The women Aral backs in the bar in chapter one, Vala and Stel, have extremely unique magic to them. I don’t want to ruin it, even if it is early Act One stuff, because following Aral’s thought process as he comes to terms with it.

The best of the supporting cast is Captain Fei. She plays a role in book one as the watch captain who deals with the underworld to keep it in check for the good of the city. This time we get to find out she’s got layers and a lot of secrets beyond what she holds over Aral’s head in book one. There are a lot of stories waiting to be told with Fei. Seriously. I want to read a novel about Fei. (Really. Can that become a thing?) As is appropriate for the officer in charge of playing with the underworld, Fei plays an important role in Aral’s work again. I hope she shows up again in the next book.

Speaking of the upcoming book… some of what goes on at the end of the scheme is a clear set up for the next one. Ok. That sort of thing is common with second books. Books two and three often tend to tie in tighter than books one and two. That sort of thing bothers some people a lot. While I don’t think it’s a perfect scenario, I’m ok with it in this instance. It plays into the grand series-wide character arc of Aral. The elements introduced into finale are open ended rather than cliffhangers. Aral’s choices are even more difficult than before, living in an area just as grey as the rest of his life. A lot of the choices he made could go either way, gut retching consequences no matter what.

Makes for the best kind of reading.

All the win throughout the book overcome the bumps in the road here. Bared Blade isn’t perfect, but the series is getting closer with each installment. I am excited for the next one and hope some more elements come together with all the things from this book to combine together in the next novel. The possibilities of this series are getting better and better.

Writing Evaluation

Posted: October 5, 2012 in Writing

It’s time for another look at this whole writing thing to pair up with the theory that if I talk about it, I get all motivated with it. I saw this post over at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds and decided to go with it.

How goes the current project?

It’s going. I’ve got a great short story I’m shopping around and I think it almost found a home except for some miscommunication. It’s that one I got personal feedback on and I asked “Hey, there’s a new version? Interested?” They liked it enough to send me feedback so I thought I’d ask. The answer was “Glad the feedback helped. We’d like to see something new.” So I got all excited and off it went again. Whoops. They meant different new. Not updated new. Vagueness sucks and I felt like an ass. But I’m still optimistic that some of the markets the original version of the short story was too short for might be interested now that it’s longer. It’s an awesome story so I’m still feeling positive about it.

The novel is making progress. What with a small infant, free time is very spotty but I think I can still get it done by my birthday. I’m on the cusp of Act Three. It’s hard to tell a word count since I’m hand writing the thing. Why? Because reasons. I estimate it’s around 45k. I think there’s another 20k in it. That’ll be plenty for the first draft even if it’s a bit short for a final count. There are various places where I just make a note to add more and then keep pressing forward. Not constantly going back and editing Act One ten thousand times is a large reason why I’ve been hand writing this right now. There’s lots of room to meat it up in draft two.

The story itself is evolving nicely. It’s taken some unexpected turns from the outline I had been working with. And it’s miles away from the original outline from when I first started this. But that’s good. I want this to move about organically. Within the confines of my direction of course, but I want it to have wiggle room rather than shove it into a box it doesn’t want to go to.

I’ve also found myself noodling about the next novel, the Connecticut godpunk one. I’m actually looking forward to diving into the next book once I finish the current.

How’s the bigger picture going?

Well it’s getting better. My time management still sucks, but I’ve gone past rubber stamp rejections. It’s always nice to get new opinions on the writing. Sometimes a writer gets it in their head that the people close to them are going to always been nice. So yeah. There’s more positivity going on there.

Strengths and weaknesses?

Well I’ve mentioned plenty of times that my time management sucks. I tend to get too wrapped up in beginnings. These things float around in my head so much but it’s always the front end. I think part of it is my tendency to let some things show up organically but it’s a double edged thing. Sometimes thing meander around without ever going anywhere. But I’m getting better at that. Outlines help a lot. When I get off track, I just go back to the next bulletpoint. My outlines change, but they’re still plenty helpful.

Strengths? Time management is getting a bit better. And I think my story ideas are too. They’re evolving. I like what I’m doing with the current space pirate novel. I’m mixing up the perspective with it. Seriously excited for the next though. I’m going to do my space pirate novel justice. It’s been with me too long to consider anything else. But seriously, the next one is going to be intense.

So that’s that. I’m going to use some of this free time I have right now and see about getting some more work done.