Nov 20
2014

How Do You Choose What To Read?

Cover of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, issue...

Cover of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, issue #150 © Marvel Comics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As part of learning how best to market my books, I’ve read many things that purport to tell how people choose books.  The fact that none of these reports, blogs, etc. say the same thing makes all of them a bit suspect, to my mind.  The one I remember clearest right now said that a person had to hear of a book a certain number of times before they’d but it; another that the important thing was to sell yourself not the book; some insisted covers were more important than content . . . you get the idea.

So I got to thinking about the last things I’ve read that weren’t assigned for a review group and why I read them:

  1. Three different M.C.A. Hogarth short stories:  One was a reread, the other two were because I enjoyed that one so much.  So, why did I read the first one in the first place?  It was free, by a self-published author — we need to support each other, and  the premise sounded interesting.
  2. The Name of the Wind:  I saw Patrick Rothfuss on Tabletop and was amused so I found his blog and was amused and very impressed by his way with words, so I read the blurb and sample and then some reviews to make sure the book didn’t start out good but end up horrible and then bought the book.
  3. The newest InCryptid short story:  I’ve been an InCryptid fan since I read the first book after the author described the main character as the daughter of Batman and Dazzler.  I discovered the livejournal post where she said this when a friend commented on someone’s reblogging of it on Facebook.  I don’t think Facebook shows me friends’ comments on other people’s posts any more, so this avenue of discovery is closed.  What keeps me coming back?  The characters are competent, amusing, and flawed — just like real people.
  4. The most recent issues of G.I. Joe A Real American Hero:  I’ve covered before how very long ago I fell in love with Larry Hama‘s story-telling.  So I guess the question here is what keeps me coming back every month.  And that’s a question with an easy answer:  characterization.  Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Duke, Stalker, Storm Shadow . . . they feel more real than some people.
  5. Self-published novel I won’t name because I don’t recommend it:  The blurb made it sound really good and it was free and self-published.

Reading over that list, it looks like for me the key to getting me to read your book in the first place is to make it sound interesting — and there’s no way I could make a list of what criteria do that as sometimes I’m not sure myself what makes one book’s blurb appeal to me while another’s doesn’t — and the key to making me come back is to give me competent, interesting characters; characters that might score high on Mary Sue tests, but who are flawed enough that you still can empathize with them.

Hmm, a list of how I choose to read a book would look like this:

  1. Blurb sounds like it’ll be an interesting book.
  2. Sample has interesting characters, good world-building is a plus, but I can overlook it a bit for characters.
  3. Sample doesn’t have many terrible grammar errors.
  4. There aren’t a lot of reviews saying things like “The first 50 pages are great, but then it’s like the editor quit.”  I have, unfortunately, read far too many books, both self and trad published, that have read like this.
  5. Cover, number of reviews, who the author is, all that other stuff some people will tell you is so all-fired important

So, what about you?  How do you choose what you’ll read?  What keeps you buying an author’s work?

 

Posted in GI Joe praise, InCryptid praise, Kingkiller Chronicles praise | Tagged , , | 2 Comments
Nov 17
2014

Non-fiction?!

This particular book of mine has cheap ftl, aliens, an attacking robot, and giant man-eating insects.  Non-fiction.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 10.25.48 PM

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Nov 15
2014

Interview with me about Jake’s Last Mission and general update

This finally ran today, long enough after it happened that the answer to “What are you working on next?” is inaccurate, so just ignore that part.  The rest is still valid though, so if you’ve been wanting more info about the novella, click here to find out more.  Also, if you follow the link to “Once A Hero, Always A Hero,” please remember it’s now free everywhere but Amazon.

Zemanta continues to be highly amusing in recommending related articles.  Somehow, this post relates to an article called “Does my toddler love me?”

Also, I’m sorry about the lack of posts this week.  Now that I’m finally over my cold and subsequent sinus infection, I’ve been trying to catch up on my NaNoWriMo word count.  I realized Friday I hadn’t made the post I meant to Monday yet and then immediately realized that that meant that the one that was intended for later in the week hadn’t gone up yet either, so I’m just going to skip this week except for this one.

My NaNoWriMo word count is presently 17,095, which is 7,905 behind where it should be for me to finish on time, and 4,905 behind where I wanted to be as a worst case scenario.  ~sigh~

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Nov 08
2014

NaNoWriMo progress and WIP update, November edition

The setup for NaNoWriMo at home, if I need to ...

The setup for NaNoWriMo at home, if I need to be portable. Long exposure lit by sweeping an LED flashlight over the scene. clickthing.blogspot.com/2008/10/tennish-anyone.html (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

NaNoWriMo for me this year is more about developing a regular writing routine that about reaching 50k words.  That said, I’ve not been doing remarkably well at achieving either goal due to starting the month with a nasty cold that turned into a minor sinus infection.  Fuck you, germs.

I’ve gotten 9885 words, a third of which I wrote today.  I’m more than 2000 words behind where I should be by their calculations to reach 50k by the end of the month.  I’m, however, only 115 words behind where I wanted to be at this time, so I feel that I’ve pretty much caught up.

  1.  Bobby’s Daughter

Synopsis:  This is sort of a sequel to the novel I’ll have coming out next year, No More Lies.  Twentysomething years after it, someone shows up on Bobby’s, the main character of both stories, porch claiming to be his daughter.  A bit of self-loathing occurs and disappointment from just about everyone, then adventure will happen.  And a bit of stupidity.  It’s a space opera, though a bit small scale for one.

First paragraph:  The knock on the door surprised me a bit.  Most people who’d be visiting unannounced at that time of day would’ve just walked in.  I slid a knife into my left hand and opened the door with my right, figuring I could never be too cautious . . . especially after the shit with Andrei last year.

Present status:  4,172 words written, have realized a serious plot problem and may have to chalk this up to a neat but unworkable idea

Aiming for:  Novella or novel

  1.  Giant Space Spider

Synopsis:  In a different, more pulpy space opera setting than the other works, a ship goes to investigate a world no ship has ever been able to get past.

First paragraph:  No one knew what lurked beyond Alzas.  Spacer rumors had put everything from ancient evils from before the dawn of time to pirates very determined to keep their stronghold secret.  All that was known for sure was that something was there, and that something didn’t let anyone past.

Present status:  789 words written, possibly stuck

Aiming for:  Novella or novel

  1.  Jake’s Early Years

Synopsis:  This is a prequel to my novella Jake’s Last Mission.  This would be the story of how Jake went orphaned ranch hand to military officer.  It’ll start a space western and shift as it goes on to military space opera.

First paragraph:  “I can quit school.  I already know how to read and do math and such.  I can figure out anything else, Dad,” I said, sounding as mature as I could at eleven years old.

Present status:  Don’t know how many words written as some is handwritten.  I idiotically switched from third to first person, so I’ve got to decide which I’m using and rewrite the rest.

Aiming for:  Novella or novel

  1.  Second Kavaliro Cousin

Synopsis:  Lyndsey and Taliza, the main characters from my novella The Crown of Eldrete, and a team are going to Polthaina to try to secure the space port and naval base with the help of local rebels.  Someone’s been feeding the bad guys intel.  It’s space opera.

First paragraph:  When Lyndsey got to the bridge of the yacht, Taliza was already there and talking to someone.  “I understand that,” she was saying, “but we’re unarmed, so clearly there’s no reason to fire on us.”  Taliza hit the button that let other occupants of the bridge hear what was being said over the comm.

Alternate first paragraph:  Polthaina had been attacked by enemies so often in its long history that the entirety of the world was covered in ruins.  Lyndsey paused to try to read an inscription on a vine and moss covered arch in one of these ruins.  “Hey, Cousin?  You got any clue what this says?”

Present status:  2,553 words written in one version, 363 of another.  The existence of two different versions that are that incomplete should make clear how very badly this story is going.

Aiming for:  Novella

  1.  Lyn, Rek, Ana, and Bobby Have An Adventure

Synopsis:  This is set years before the Kavaliro Cousins series when Lyndsey’s wife, Anastasia, was a Dagger (rebel-for-hire) too.  She and Lyndsey were on a mission when they ran into Bobby (from No More Lies and Bobby’s Daughter) and his best friend, Rek, who are on a mission for the Sweytzian Defense Force Special Forces.  The two groups are targeting the same organization, but for different reasons.  It starts with Rek’s disguise being good enough to fool Lyndsey so she shoots him, and things go downhill from there.  This one is also space opera.

First paragraph:  Son of a fucking bitch! Lyndsey thought as the guard got into sight.  He was looking right at her.  Guess I’m not as well hidden as I thought.  With a quick prayer, she pulled her holdout blaster and shot the guard.  Having not taken the time to aim, the bolt only scorched his leg a bit.  Should at least slow him down some, she thought, quickly hitting a button on her comm with the hand that didn’t have a blaster in it.

Present status:  6,809 words written.  Might need to back up a bit and rewrite from there.

Aiming for:  Novella or novel

  1.  Magi

Synopsis:  Elianthir has just become a mage.  His grandfather died under mysterious circumstances years ago.  His girlfriend, who’s a member of his hometown, just found brutally killed sheep.  An evil mage is somehow involved in all of this.  That’s all I know so far.

First paragraph:  Elianthir touched the intricately carved silver cover of the codex with trepidation.  He knew that once he opened it, all of his grandfather’s hard won knowledge would disappear from its pages.  The words — those the Order of Tylar considered important anyway — had been carefully copied into the Grand Codex of Tylar, of course.  But that didn’t stop Elianthir from feeling like he was about to destroy something of great value, to destroy the last remaining bit of his grandfather, who’d vanished in a cloud of pale blue smoke while fighting a telazir years before.

Present status:  2,619 words written.  I need to do some world-building first.

Aiming for:  Novel or series of novels

  1.  Super Hero Story

Synopsis:  Super villain stole an important thing.  Super hero team that usually deals with such things is too well known to super villain, so they’re recruiting a new team.  I think I was planning to go with something Avengers like . . . new team learning to work together while thrust into the crucible sort of thing.

First paragraph:  The red energy field contained by the pentagon pulsated.  Mona Cathar, known to most as the Pink Spider, studied it from afar, daring not to get close enough to be tempted to try to touch it.  The others present, actual scientists, unlike her, jabbered about “revolutionizing our understanding of Quaglon science” and “non-electrical power” and other such things.  Mona, however, saw one thing when she looked at it:  Money.

Amount already have:  372 words written.  Pretty sure this is stuck, which is sad.  I have the bad guys and their motivations, but the good guys are proving much harder.

Aiming for:  Novel or series of novels

  1.  Viktor’s Life Story

Synopsis:  Viktor has finally conceded to have an official biography written, decades after killing the tyrant Drochslem and bringing peace to the Vorton galaxy.  That’s the frame story to him telling the tale of how he went from quiet bookish teenager to war hero to Dagger to Drochslem’s slave to Drochslem’s killer to crippled bar owner, poet, and professor.  Space opera, needless to say.  Space fantasy to a certain extent too, I think.

First paragraph:  I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d expected Viktor Blue to look like, but it certainly wasn’t the gentleman standing in front of me.  His silver hair, the only part of him that betrayed his age, hung to just past his waist, part of it pulled back in an elaborate braid.  His clothing was much like that his husband normally wears, but tamer:  a loose, long-sleeved white shirt with ruffles at the cuff and collar; a black vest with silver embroidery; black silk pants; and black boots polished to a gleaming shine.  His jewelry was plentiful, but simple and understated, save a pair of silver filigree earrings he absent-mindedly untangled from his hair as he limped towards me.  There was a black cane with a pearlescent handle next to his chair, but he’d left it behind.  He was tall with piercing blue eyes and spoke in a cultured baritone.  He sighed softly before asking, “You’re the Royal Historian, I presume?”  His accent was odd, which I didn’t find surprising since he hadn’t learned to speak Allurian until he was in his thirties.

Present status:  1,111 words written.  Like this story, but am just not feeling inspired.

Aiming for:  Novel or series of novels

  1.  No More Lies

Back cover blurb:  Years ago, Bobby Kavaliro ran away from Sweytz, from everything and everyone he’d ever known, lured by promises of money and power made by the smooth-talking dictator of Anerix.

A few years later Bobby came to realize how stupid he’d been and became a spy for the very world he left.

A spy posing as an assassin.

A spy whose best friend and mentor has just had his cover blown.

A spy who jilted someone who would now like to see him dead.

A spy, in other words, who needs a vacation.  And a spy who is hoping to meet someone to share his bed while on that vacation.

Bobby finds more than that when he meets Karen.  So much more, in fact, that before too long he’s moving back to Sweytz, looking for a job, and trying to quickly learn how to be a responsible adult for the first time in his life.

Meanwhile, Anerix’s High Command, now very much suspecting he was a spy, are sending assassins after him . . . and after Karen.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, Karen doesn’t believe half of what he’s told her about his past, nor is she sure she wants to be with him after she gets to know just how temperamental and immature he can be.

Bobby has to grow up fast to keep her love, deal with everything he’s missed while he was gone, try to avoid being killed, try to keep Karen safe, and try to rebuild his relationship with his family, all at the same time.

First paragraph:  This is exactly what I needed, I thought, as I leaned back against a tree in Thil Park on Sarglerich and began tuning my loothin, a break from sneaking around listening to things I could get killed for overhearing, worrying every second that somebody’s gonna figure out what I’m up to and kill me, and all the other shit that goes along with my job.

Present status:  6,543 words in second draft.  Willing to accept requests to be a beta reader.  Will be resuming editing efforts in December.

Is:  Novel

  1.  Intertwined Lives

Synopsis:  Kayden, Richie, Quinn, and Rusark couldn’t be more different. One’s a future stay-at-home Dad, one’s a minor rock star, one’s a rebel-for-hire, and one’s the newest officer in the Sweytzian Special Forces. One’s quiet and shy, one’s outgoing and hyper, one’s suave and charming, and one’s forthright and pragmatic. This book follows their four, very different, stories as they simply live their lives, lives that intertwine because of family, friendship, and love.

This is a story for everyone who’s ever wondered what the heroes do when they’re not saving the day. This is a story for everyone who’s ever wondered what the ordinary people in a society with epic heroes are like.

First paragraph:  I’ve often thought that one of the cruelest tricks the gods (or spirits or ancestors or whatever) played on me was making me solely attracted to men.  Me, the guy who has wanted kids of his own since . . . I can’t remember when.  Always, as far as I know.  Oh, sure, I could donate sperm to one of my female friends and have them carry my kid, or Reuben could get one of my sisters pregnant . . . if it’s one of the other quadruplets, that would be kind of the same, especially if it was Veronica, since she’s tiny and brunette like me.  But . . . it’s just not fair.  I want a kid that’s mine and Reuben’s.  

Or, since I might change the order of the first two chapters:  Somewhere out there in the tri-galaxies, one of my older sisters was headed home after fighting to free a world from a tyrant.  Somewhere out there, one of my other older sisters was headed home after a bit of smuggling.  I, on the other hand, was in the nursery of my own house, trying to convince my daughters to take a nap.

Present status:  14,399 words, with scattered bits in various degrees of usability spread throughout the previous works that it’s combining.

Aiming for:  Well, it was supposed to be just one novel, but since it’s already 14,399 words and I still haven’t introduced one narrator and am only about five days into a story that’s going to cover a couple of years, I think I might be looking at either a GRRM length story here or a series.  I’m posting it as I go here. (I promise more will be up soon.  See previous bit about cold and sinus infection.  My schedule for the week fell apart.)

Posted in NaNoWriMo, No More Lies, Writing process | Tagged , | Leave a comment
Nov 06
2014

Can we quit saving the universe all the time, please?

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek: The Next Generation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an interesting bit of serendipity, I read a wonderful short story recently, “Freedom, Spiced and Drunk” by M.C.A. Hogarth, that provides a wonderful example of what I was planning to talk about today.

Today’s topic is:  Not every sf/f story needs to be about saving the world/galaxy/universe.

I know this should be bloody obvious, but you’d not believe it from a quick perusal of Amazon or Goodreads.  Look, I love the Hero’s Journey as much as any body, but it’s not the only plot out there!  Can we please have some smaller scale stories, more like Ms. Hogarth’s that concentrate on an individual’s struggle with something other than an overwhelming military force or evil empire or corrupt government?!  I’m really about to give up on my favorite genres because I’m getting so fucking sick of everything being about people saving the whole setting all the time!  I’ve read Dragonlance; I’ve watched Star Wars; I know that story!  Tell me something different!

Wow, I got a bit . . . strident . . . there.  But, really, I’m getting pretty close to giving up on sf/f entirely for a while because I’m so fucking tired of everything being the same overall story.  Or at least being pickier about what I’ll read.  Look, fellow authors, for generations now we’ve had the lit fic crowd saying we’re all writing formulaic, plot driven stories.  Why, why, why are so many of you determined to prove them right?!

My favorite episodes of Star Trek:  The Next Generation weren’t those where the Enterprise was saving the day yet again.  They were those that gave me a glimpse of an alien culture (especially Klingons because I have an extreme weakness for honorable warrior cultures).  Let’s have a bit more of that and a bit less saving the day.

Look at Firefly, undeniably one of the best sf/f TV shows ever.  The crew of Serenity aren’t trying to save the universe; they’re just trying to keep flying and deal with their own problems.

Sf/f should be the genres exploring any “What if?”, any “Wouldn’t it be cool if?”, an author can think of, but lately those elements seem downplayed in favor of author after author giving their version of one of the oldest stories ever.  It makes no sense.

In a way, this ties into another issue I’ve been noticing with sf/f lately:  the lack of “sense of wonder”.  It’s like everyone is so worried about being realistic that they forget that part of the appeal of sf/f is that it’s not real.  Give me implausible creatures, single-climate planets, magic that’s not science . . . all that stuff that I’m pretty sure is why we all fell in love with the genres in the first place.

At least, it’s why I did.

This got kind of rambly and unfocused, but I’ve had a pretty nasty cold screwing with my ability to think all week and this is my fourth or fifth attempt at this post, so I’m going to go ahead and post it as is.  Maybe I’ll revisit the topic some time when I’m able to think more clearly.

I’ll leave you with a quote from George R. R. Martin, one of my favorite quotes ever from any author:

The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake.

Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.

They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth.

originally published in The Faces of Fantasy: Photographs by Pati Perret copyright © 1996 by Pati Perret

 

 

Posted in Firefly praise, Rants | Leave a comment
Oct 30
2014

Five star reviews — Clan Lord: Science Fiction Adventure Short Stories (Life Sticks) by Joel Babbitt

This is a book I volunteered to read and review based on the premise and the first page.  Something about the author’s style drew me in that quickly.

Here’s the description, via Goodreads:

22110577

Science Fiction Adventure at the Edge of a Universe at War! 

The Life Sticks science fiction adventures bring a completely alien culture, a convincingly original alien race, and an intense series of surprising plot twists to the reader through the eyes of a young adult coming of age at the edge of a Galactic War.

Don’t just join the Clan… OWN the Clan!

The story of Razz the clan-less is triumphant, exultant, and redeeming. Once you enter his world, you will never be the same again.

In this pilot episode of the Life Sticks Short Stories, a young outcast from a primitive race fights for his place in the clans of his home forest. But unbeknownst to him, the humans from a distant star have made a deal with his clan lord that will forever change his destiny.

And my review, which sums up my feelings about it rather nicely I think.  My review is rather short, but as the story itself is only 54 pages, that’s fine.:

“The society depicted in this book is fascinating, a far cry from your typical honor based warrior society in sf. The story was also very well written, the plot was enjoyable if a bit predictable, and there were little details of word choice and sentence structure that put me in mind of much older science fiction, like Princess of Mars. Honestly, my only complaint is that the some elements of the plot were predictable enough that I rolled my eyes a little bit, thinking, “c’mon, you couldn’t have come up with something a bit more original?”

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.”

And Zemanta’s related articles are being amusing again.  Somehow one for this post is “What are the best PC games on Steam?”

 

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Oct 29
2014

What bad writing advice really means

For some reason there’s not a reblog or repost or anything like that button on this awesome post, so you’ll have to click the link to read it.  Trust me, if you’re an author or wannabe author, you want to click this:  http://maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/bad-writing-advice-explained/

Posted in Writing process | 1 Comment
Oct 26
2014

Characters, how to make them, and how not to

This is one of those posts that’s probably not going to be very interesting to non-authors.  Sorry about that.

What’s your character’s favorite color?  His favorite song?  His favorite piece of clothing?  Describe his first kiss. Describe his first sexual experience.  Who is his hero?

These questions look familiar to any other authors reading this?  I’m sure they do.  The internet is full of all these allegedly handy character bios/sheets/questionnaires/interviews that are supposed to be THE key to crafting well-rounded, realistically deep  characters.  (Though, to be fair, I am suddenly seeing lots more that say they help but it isn’t necessary to answer every question.)

Oh, excuse me, the ones that specify deep ask things like “What is his long term goal?” and “What is his most horrible vice?” too.

I think my tone makes clear what I think of these sorts of things.

Let’s look at a character I’ve had a reviewer describe as well-developed:  Mithoska Jake Kavaliro. (By the way, if my readers could be so kind as to go click Yes on the actually helpful Amazon reviews of Jake’s Last Mission I’d appreciate it a lot.  Some jerk clicked No on all the four and five star ones, helpful or not, a while back, so what’s showing first by default are the lowest.  I’m pretty sure this has something to do with why it abruptly quit selling.)

I do know a lot about him, but I’m willing to bet I can’t answer most of the things on one of these whatever-you-want-to-call-its.  I’m going to choose one, fairly at random, and see.  (I collect these and other writing tools that I find useless.  I’m not sure why.)

Questions taken from here.

Let’s see, name, that’s easy.  Mithoska Jake Kavaliro.

Nickname, none that I know of, which isn’t to say that he doesn’t have any.

Hair color?  Red that’s going gray.

Eye color . . . green, I think?  Or is it brown?  Never mattered, so not mentioned in JLM.  I probably should try to remember where I wrote it down though.

Distinguishing facial features . . . none.

Birthmark . . . see, this is where I part ways with these things.  It doesn’t matter to me at all if Jake has a birthmark.  It certainly doesn’t matter to my readers.  If I didn’t know him yet at all, would answering yes or no about it help me get a handle on him?  Probably not, because presence or absence of a birthmark does not tend to be a thing that shapes who a character is.

Let’s skip down some . . . “Where does your character go when he’s angry?”  Wow, look at the assumption built into that one!  When Jake is angry, he doesn’t go anywhere.  Generally, he deals with what made him angry in ways that are not always as diplomatic as they should be.

Skipping some more . . . oh, unconventional questions that’ll dig deeper!  What’s in his refrigerator?!  I have no fucking clue!  I can barely tell you what’s in my refrigerator, much less a character that lives on a spaceship currently patrolling several hundred light years from here!  I’m willing to bet I can’t identify much in it.  Making up stuff to be in it could be a neat bit of world-building, but it’s not exactly helpful for building a character.

Skipping some more . . . what smell does he associate with his childhood kitchen?!  Again with the assumptions.  I don’t associate any smell with my childhood kitchen, so I’m not going to think of this.  In fact, due to a lifetime of hayfever and sinus infections, I tend to not remember to describe smells at all because they play such a little part in my life.  Though I am now pondering whether or not the kitchen was even a separate room in the hovel Jake grew up in, so I suppose this questionnaire isn’t completely useless.  But again, that’s world-building, not character building.

That one wasn’t as bad as some, but it’s still pretty bad, and it’s associated with a writing course.  Think about that.

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret about how to make good characters here, characters people care about and can identify with and all that other good stuff:  Don’t build them.  Let them develop organically.  Oh, sure, you can start with some stuff, but don’t bog yourself down with minutiae and deep philosophical questions right off the bat.

Let’s look at Quinn, one of the narrators of my NaNoWriMo project.  Here’s what I knew about him until two years ago, despite him having existed in the rpg version of the setting since 2007ish:  Looks a lot like Antonio Banderas, upper class Ruvellian, walking Ruvellian stereotype — suave, good with a blaster and sword, ladies’ man, Dagger.

After he first made an appearance in something I was writing, I can add:  Ruvellian noble, plays up the stereotypical aspects of his personality, former professional gambler, in love with <spoiler> though he doesn’t want to admit it, non-smoker.

After writing some very short stuff just trying to get a feel for his voice to know if I could write a whole novel with him as a narrator, I now know:  the name of his first love, where he played his first professional card game, and that he’d wanted to be a pirate captain as a child (on Ruvellia this is seen as a perfectly laudable career).  The only thing about him I’ve actually sat down and worked out was how high ranking a noble he was, and a bit about his family, and that was only because I needed that to know how an idea would work out.

I have no idea what his favorite song is.  I don’t even know what his favorite sort of music is.  I know he likes to dance, though that’s never come up in a story, but when it comes to he and music, that’s all I know.  I have no clue about his favorite color, what his childhood kitchen smelled like . . . none of that is things that have ever mattered to me.  If I get to a point where any of that matters, I’ll make it up then.  Or if I ever care, I’ll make it up or figure it out then.

A challenge for the other authors reading this:  Find one famous professional author who does something like those character sheet thingies before they write.  I’m almost willing to bet you can’t.

Posted in Jake's Last Mission, NaNoWriMo, Rants, Writing process | Tagged , | 2 Comments
Oct 24
2014

Super short story: The New Bar

This story is a bit of an oddity in that I know exactly what inspired it.  This song and video:

Vincent is a Dagger sniper/gunslinger turned artist.  He and Bobby met on Bobby’s first day of school and have been best friends ever since, except, of course, during the time Bobby was serving in Anerix’s military.

Bobby is, well, click here, but this story is set a few years before the end of that entry.  In this story, a bit of his past and his refusal to grow up collide.  My upcoming novel, No More Lies, will include an explanation of exactly what transpired between he and Damera.

The reference to Vik being a dandy is because Vincent’s older brother wears silk, velvet, and more jewelry than most think tasteful to play in a bar band.  This short story originally was intended for a collection that had a previous story narrated by Viktor, hence the off-hand mention.

I’m leaving words untranslated, but would appreciate feedback on what you can’t figure out from context.

Now, the story:

“Hey, Vince, whatcha doin’ tonight?” Bobby asked when I answered the comm.

Those words usually mean one of two things: either Bobby’s got an idea that could get us both killed if we weren’t the exemplary specimens of warriors that we are, or Karen’s pissed at him and he needs a sympathetic ear – why he thinks I’ll be that, I’ll never understand. Hell, if I was Karen I would’ve kicked him out years ago. He’s my best friend and always will be, but I can’t understand how any otherwise sane person could stand living with him.

Anyway, I answered with a shrug. I’ve never been one for planning ahead.

“I heard about this great new bar down in Lannik and was thinking we could go try it out.”

I looked at him like he was crazy. “Bobby, I know you’ve suffered a few head injuries in your life, but, damn dude, I didn’t think any of them were that bad. You own a bar, Dumbass.”

“Not one like this I don’t. This place has gambling and dancers. Not just kista . . . real gambling. C’mon, you know you want to go. The Sword and Scroll’s fine, but it’s a respectable place.”

He said “respectable” like it was something you’d scrape off your shoe. He was apparently in one of those moods. Now, being someone with a brain and having seen the inside of more jail cells in my life because of Bobby’s ideas than in twenty years as a Dagger, I should have said no. I knew this, but I thought about it anyway. I didn’t have anything to do. Kanji and the kids were going to a play I’d already seen and hadn’t liked enough to see again, and Walter was studying for an important exam. But, on the other hand . . . “Remember what happened last time?” I asked.

“Don’t worry. Damn, you’re starting to remind me of Vik lately . . .”

I cut him off. That was the magic phrase. Don’t get me wrong, I love my brother. But he’s been a boring old man for . . . hell, decades. Since before his hair started going gray, that’s for sure. “I’ll go. Gimme a few to get ready.”

I scrubbed the paint off my hands, put on my best old jeans, and added my Dethi holdout blaster to the guns I was already carrying – my antique Colt and a cool looking pistol I’d liberated from someone in the Vorton Galaxy ages ago who no longer had use for it, if you care – and headed to Bobby’s.

Bobby was waiting on his porch looking impatient. I took a second to study him, wishing for, I dunno, maybe the ten thousandth time, that he was interested in men. He was wearing a plain black t-shirt that was tight enough to show off his muscles and a pair of jeans that hugged his ass perfectly. That plus his cocky grin and disheveled hair – I began to understand why Karen kept him around.

“You gonna stand there drooling all night or can we go?” he asked. I made a rude gesture and went to his speeder.

When I got my first glimpse of the bar, I began to regret having gone along. It looked like a slightly more up-scale version of the typical cheap starport town bar. Really slightly. And the clientele . . . let me put it this way, compared to them, I look like as much of a dandy as Vik.

I was about to ask Bobby if he was sure he wanted to go in when I noticed that he had a huge smile. “C’mon,” he said. “Quit standing there like an idiot. Let’s get inside and have fun.”

I sighed softly, said a quick prayer, and checked the charge on my blaster. I had a suspicion, born from a long friendship with the lunatic walking beside me, that I’d need it before the night was over.

The night started off well enough. I mean, the beer was godawful, the gambling was so obviously rigged that you would’ve had to be a moron to have played, and the dancers weren’t that good (but they were sexy, which I guess makes up for a lack of talent to some people), but I wasn’t expecting different. Bobby seemed determined to relive the sort of youthful stupidity that I’d outgrown sometime in my twenties, so I appointed myself the Responsible Adult, didn’t drink much, and tried to keep Dumbass out of trouble.

Somehow I got talked into joining him and some other guys for a game of hanjar. A few rounds in, it became clear that one of the other dudes was cheating. I, not really wanting to start shit, kept my mouth shut. Bobby, however . . .

“You cheating bastard!” he yelled at the guy, jumping to his feet and decking him. Even drunk, Bobby’s fast. The crack of his fist across the hurnith’s face was immediately followed by the sound of about one hundred people – damned near everyone in the place – pulling a weapon. Including me. This, as surprising as this may be, was not the first time Dumbass had gotten us into a situation like this. Though this was the most people we’d ever had pointing weapons at us because of something like that.

Several fired at once. Again including me. Bobby, due no doubt to some sort of mystical ninja shit, was able to avoid getting shot despite being really fucking close to three of the guys shooting. I avoided it just by being motherfucking lucky. I tossed him my holdout blaster while yelling “I ain’t fighting my way out of here alone!”

I should’ve known better than to think he’d be much help. Hell, sober he ain’t much of a shot, only being as good as Special Forces requires. I was shooting as few of them as I could while I slowly worked my way to the door. I really didn’t want to go to jail. But, I also really don’t like getting shot at. And if anybody’s going to kill Bobby, it’s gonna be me. It’s my right. I’ve been his best friend for over thirty years, after all.

By the time we got close to the door, we’d gotten it down to about eighty of them versus us, and had managed to avoid more than getting grazed a couple of times ourselves. But, of course we couldn’t get out that easily.

A voice I recognized from my time in the Daggers spoke up from the doorway. “Well, isn’t this a pleasant surprise.”

All the color drained from Bobby’s face. “Fuck,” he said, very quietly.

“Drop your weapons, boys. All of you!” she snapped. I dropped the one in my hand, but left my Colt at my hip. I wanted to shoot her, but shooting the second most powerful person in the Anerix government sounded like a very good way to make my life much shorter and a lot less pleasant. “Why, Taverlot Kavaliro . . . oh, wait, it’s Tafinith Thase these days, isn’t it? How lovely to see you again.” Her grey eyes were sparkling, and she had an evil smile as she looked at Bobby. I mean evil even for her.

“Hi, Damera. Should’ve known this place was yours. It reminds me of you: shitty booze, rigged games, and vrisks who don’t know what size clothing they should wear.” Bobby’s got balls, he may not have any sense, but he’s definitely got balls.

“What would your wife say if she knew you were here?” Damera asked silkily, as she examined a long pointed nail painted a dark blue that matched her hair. “I understand she thinks you’ve completely renounced Anerix’s philosophies. Yet here you are at a bar owned by the Chancellor’s most trusted advisor. Oh, certainly you were stirring up trouble . . . but, that’s what you’ve always done best, isn’t it?” She didn’t let him answer before finishing with, “That man you punched was my husband, by the way.”

Bobby and I both swore under our breath.

“That’s why all of these gentlemen got so harsh with you. You punched someone they’re loyal to. But then, loyalty has always been something you had trouble understanding, hasn’t it, Robin?” she asked, quirking an eyebrow.

I really wanted to shoot her now. But not in a bar full of people who were sympathetic to her. I didn’t survive a twenty-something year long Dagger career by being stupid.

“I’m sorry. You must have me mixed up with someone else. Stupidly following along with insanity is what I’ve never been able to understand,” Bobby said, with a grin and a steely look to his eyes. You see, Bobby used to be an Anerix infantryman, then assassin – which, of course, they officially don’t have – and, at the same time as an assassin, a Sweytzian Defense Force spy. There are some members of Anerix’s High Command that’d dearly love to get their hands on him since the whole spy thing became known. He seems to think if they ever get ahold of him, he’ll end up Greenbriar’s plaything and come out with his brain washed or something. I think he reads too many cheap sci-fi novels and comic books.

“Hmm. Come along, Tafinith. Oh, and you too.” She pointed at me as she reached out to take Bobby’s arm. When he pulled away from her, she spoke to him almost seductively. “You didn’t used to pull away from me like that. I remember a night on Telnarri when you couldn’t get enough of my touch. I seem to recall you begging for me to never stop touching you, in fact.”

My eyebrows shot up, but really, it wasn’t that surprising. With the exception of his wife and the girl he dumped when he ran away from home to emigrate to Anerix, Bobby’d always had horrible taste in women.

He shut his eyes, looking like he was fighting the impulse to do something exceptionally stupid even for him.

“Now, come with me,” she said, addressing us like we were pets. It took all my self-control not to pull my Colt.

“No,” Bobby said, diving for the gun I’d dropped earlier.

I shrugged. If Dumbass was gonna get us killed, I wanted to at least take the bitch with us. I shot her. Bitch was wearing armor under her shirt though.

Bobby was luckier; he shot at her leg and hit it. He kicked her in the head as she stumbled, knocking her out. Guess that ninja shit is occasionally good for something.

Of course everyone else in the bar started shooting at us again, but since we were already practically at the door, it was no problem for the two of us to vault over Damera and run to the speeder.

We got to the speeder, hopped in, and Bobby overrode just about every safety feature on the thing to get us the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

You know what the really bad thing about this is? It didn’t stop me from going along with one of Dumbass’s ideas for something to do for fun about a year later. That one ended up with the two of us spending some time as mechanics’ assistants in an undersea arctic ship. Apparently “I didn’t expect to get caught” isn’t a valid excuse to give Tera when she’s sentencing you.  Nor is “I didn’t think is was that illegal.”  Yep, Dumbass tried both of those.

Posted in No More Lies, Short stories | Tagged , , | Leave a comment