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?”

 

Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment
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
Oct 21
2014

I may never be a best-seller, and I don’t care

My next payment from Amazon will be only 71 cents.  That’s all it is most months.

Now, there have been times when I’ve cried over this, times when I wondered what I could be doing to make my fiction more visible, because clearly people’d be buying it if they knew it existed.  But, tonight that’s not the case.  Tonight, I’m happy with that 71 cents.  After all, it’s 71 more cents than I’d made from my writing at all until two years ago.  Yeah, I’d like for it to be more.  But . . .

I don’t write commercially viable fiction.  I know this, even when I’m thinking lack of visibility is my main issue.  I hate this, but not because it means my stuff doesn’t sell.  No, I hate it because it means that hardly anyone is writing the stuff I like . . . you know, the stuff like I write.  There’s a reason I read so much more modern fantasy than space opera.  For whatever reason, people who want space opera want epic space battles; they want tech porn; they want plot-driven stories . . . I don’t get it, because what’s always appealed to me are the cultures and characters, not the plots and tech, of things like Star Wars, Babylon 5, and Firefly.  Hell, I just read Triplanetary a couple of months ago and the plot is already fading from my mind, but I doubt I’ll ever forget Conway Costigan.

But anyway, plot-driven stuff with elements that I’m not that interested in is what space opera fans want.  So, I could — and should, lots of authors say — forgot about what I want to read more of, what I love, and follow the market.

Fuck that shit.

I’m going to write what I like.  Maybe I’ll never be a best-seller.  Maybe I’ll never even be able to pay the electric bill with my earnings from one month.  But, to me, writing isn’t about the money.  Money’s nice, because we live in a capitalism, and I’m rather fond of having a roof over my head, but if I didn’t have to worry about money at all, I’d put everything up for free.  Because I’m not writing to become rich.

I’m writing because I have to write.  I don’t know when I first started writing.  My mother says I was making up my own versions of things like Three Little Pigs when I was three.  I know that as far back as I can remember playing things that involved using my imagination was my most favorite thing in the world.  Dolls, games of house, GI Joes, those were the mediums I used for story-telling for years.  The first time I remember writing a story I was eight.  I think my longest dry spell since then was a year, maybe two, after a very bad creative writing class.  And even then I tried writing poetry.  By now, I think writing’s probably as much an addiction as a vocation.

The past few months, I’ve lost sight of this some.  Too many bad reviews with the same criticisms shook my confidence, made me wonder if I really knew how to write.  But I realized something the other day:  The reviewers who don’t like my stories seem to be mostly criticizing my plot.  That’s fine.  You see, I realized lots of the bad reviews of some of my favorite books criticize their plots too.

And at least one of those books was an NYT Best-Seller.

I’ve started thinking of some people as belonging to the Cult of Plot.  There are people, I’ve noticed, who will forgive horrid grammar, and worse logic, errors, just so long as the plot is suitably twisty-turny.  Plot is god.  Characterization?  Internal consistency?  Who gives a shit about any of that stuff!  The plot is good, so this book gets five stars!

My other bad reviews focus on how little science, by which they mean high tech stuff, is in my stories.  This is a valid criticism.  If you want nanoeverything and uploading and whatever the hell else is trendy in tech porn circles, don’t read my stories.  Back in the days when I was sharing stuff in the setting on lj and my old, non-professional blog I used to have a disclaimer that said, in part:

This is an unabashedly space opera setting. Scientific realism is tied up in the corner wishing it could remember the safeword.

I decided not to use it in my published works because I thought it looked very unprofessional.  I’m rethinking this now because while it may not be the most accurate picture of the tone of the story you’re about to read, it is a pretty accurate picture of how the author’s mind works, and that alone should make the tech porn crowd run off.  I hope.

Anyway, I wandered off on a tangent somewhere there.  And my cat just tried to blind me by stepping on the screen brightness button and turning it all the way up.  My eyes hurt now.  Please forgive typos from this point on due to that.

Back to what I was trying to talk about:  The novel I’m working on for NaNoWriMo will, probably, even compared to the rest of my stuff have a tiny audience.  It’s a very different kind of story.  It’s not, by the currently in vogue defintion where a plot with conflict is all that counts, even a story.  There are stories in it, but it’s not in and of itself a story.

I’m following four people through a year or so of their lives.  Kayden is a young stay-at-home father with self-confidence problems, Richie is a minor rock star trying to juggle his career and kids, Quinn is a middle-aged playboy who falls in love with one of his paramours, and Rusark is the widowed newest officer in the Sweytzian Defense Force Special Forces who falls in love with someone whose career makes her life expectancy questionable.  How in the hell am I going to connect these guys, you ask?  Easy:  the first two are sons of Quinn’s paramour, and Rusark falls in love with one of her daughters.  Think Days of Our Lives on a planet 600 parsecs away 300 years from an alternate now.  (Their timeline diverged from ours in the early 1990s.)  It’ll be about family, about friendship, about love.  It won’t be about any big threat to anything.  Oh, there might be fight scenes.  Given Quinn and Rusark’s careers that’s pretty much a given, but my focus isn’t their missions.  This story is about what happens in a space opera setting when people are just going about their lives.

I was excited about this story until I made the mistake of googling multiple first person narrators.  Now I’ve read so many things telling me I’m writing something that won’t work that I’m having to work to convince myself that it will.  Then I started thinking and realized it doesn’t matter anyway because no one will read it.

So I brooded for a few days and have probably been absolutely horrible to live with.  (Sorry, hon.)  But I’ve realized again:  It doesn’t matter.  I’m not writing for you, or you, or you.  I’m not writing for the reviewers who want plot and nothing else.  I’m not writing for the reviewers who want tech and tech and more tech.  I’m writing for me.  If I like what I have at the end, then fuck all of ya’ll.  I’ll publish it, and somebody else’ll buy it, someday.

Because, you see, I don’t write commercially viable fiction.  But that’s okay, because that’s not what everyone wants.

Posted in NaNoWriMo, Writing process | 2 Comments
Oct 17
2014

Works in progress, October edition

I’m changing the format to make this easier to read and a lot less stream of conscious.

I’ve made very little progress in anything this month.  That’s a bit depressing.  I’m blaming Patrick Rothfuss.  I keep losing hours to The Name of the Wind.  It’s an awesome book that I highly recommend.  Anyway, NaNoWriMo is coming up, and hopefully I’ll have 50k words added to one of these at the end of November.  Or 25k and 25k more of No More Lies edited.  I haven’t decided which I’m doing yet.

  1.  Richie

Synopsis:  Slice-of-life in a space opera setting about an up-and-coming rock star trying to juggle that with family life.

First paragraph:  Somewhere out there in the tri-galaxies, one of Richie’s older sisters was fighting to free a world from tyranny.  Somewhere out there, another of his older sisters was engaging in a bit of smuggling.  He, however, was in the nursery of his house in Namenlose Province, Sweytz, trying to convince his daughters to take a nap.

Present status:  1,622 words written, possibly stuck

Aiming for:  Novel or series of novels

  1.  Kayden

Synopsis:  Slice-of-life in a space opera setting about a stay-at-home dad, his apprentice jeweler husband, their baby girl, and Kayden’s large family, most of whom are in some sort of exciting career.  Focus would be on the contrast between his life and that of his siblings.

Present status:  Vague ideas

Aiming for:  Novel or series of novels

  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 possibly plotted myself into a corner and need to rethink things

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.  Loving Her

Synopsis:  Renata, Bobby’s sister and Lyndsey’s mother, is stabbed in the lung and nearly dies.  The story contrasts the way her husband of thirty-three years and her “not-a-boyfriend” of a year and a half handle this, and the “not-a-boyfriend” realizing he can’t keep up the charade that he doesn’t love love her.  Her marriage is open, so this has nothing to do with a love triangle or anything like that.  This will be a romance in a space opera setting.  It also will have stuff about her debating retiring from being a Dagger.

First paragraph:  Renata and I had been enjoying each other’s company in my tent when the alarm sounded.  Within moments, ((enemies)) were pouring into the camp from every direction.  The battle was long and hard, but I don’t remember much about it now.  Nothing about it was nearly as important as what happened near the end.

Present status:  2,601 words, and some bits here and there from a writing exercise thing that I might be able to incorporate, written.  This and two of the other things on this list have overlapping timeframes and characters, so I . . . am getting an idea that I’m not sure I’ve actually got the skill to pull off, especially as the plots, themes, etc. don’t really . . . wait, I just might be able to make this work!  Hmmm . . . this, 3, 2, 1, and 12 may all end up combined into one longass, about as many viewpoints as A Song of Ice and Fire story.  Maybe.  Or this could be a “sounds good at 4 in the morning” idea and tomorrow I’ll be like “What the fuck was I thinking?!”

Aiming for:  Novel

  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.  Rusark and Lyn

Synopsis:  Rusark is a widowed Sweytzian Defense Force Special Forces officer.  He’s rather calm, collected, and rational.  Lyndsey is a Dagger fighter pilot/ninja who is considered eccentric, if not outright crazy, by other fighter pilots and Daggers.  The Daggers and the SDFSF are friendly rivals.  They fall in love, despite Rusark not really wanting to be involved with someone who’s so likely to die young.

First paragraph:  My new friends had decided I was going to enjoy myself that night regardless of what I wanted.  It’d only been two sulida since Tanya and I had broken up.  I’d thrown myself into work instead of dwelling on how broken-hearted I was over her behavior.  Dalrek and Harrison decided I’d thrown myself into work a little too much, apparently, and pestered me about needing to go have some fun until I’d relented.

Present status:  2,260 words written.  Have made a previous attempt at it, so the next 6000ish words will be rewriting stuff I’ve already written.  This is what I’m planning to work on for NaNoWriMo, but now that I’ve got that new idea of combining lots of things . . . ~sigh~  I’ve got to do some thinking.

Aiming for:  Novel

  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:  4,111 words written in second draft.  112,000ish to go before I start looking for beta readers!

Is:  Novel

Posted in Kingkiller Chronicles praise, No More Lies, Writing process | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment
Oct 15
2014

NaNoWriMo and me

Bean icon

Bean icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That time of year is nearly upon us again when writers all over the world abandon family, friends, pets, and good sense and attempt to commit to paper (or screen more commonly, I assume) 50,000 words in thirty days.  This will be my third NaNoWriMo.

I can’t recall when I first heard of NaNoWriMo.  I think it was in 2003 or 4, way back when it was nowhere near as huge as it is now.  Long enough ago that I heard about on a newsgroup . . . does anybody else remember those?  I thought it sounded horribly stupid.  Fifty thousand words doesn’t make a novel!  Why, you could just write “the” fifty thousand times and win!  It belittles the noble profession of writing!

Please note at this time I had never finished writing anything that wasn’t for an school assignment.  Yeah.  My ego was a little out of control.

Then a few years later, after everyone and their brother started doing it, I heard about it again.  By then I’d finished a few short stories, all in the under 5,000 word range (even the ones that really should have been longer).  So I didn’t need NaNoWriMo.  I was a short story author.  My novel idea wasn’t suffering from me lacking the discipline to write; it was suffering from me not being able to get it perfect.

(By the way, I blame my drive for perfection in rough drafts on one too many English teachers who told me my rough draft was perfect enough that I didn’t need to revise.  I have since reread some of these papers.  My English teachers didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about.)

Then 2012 came along.  I woke up with an idea one day in late October and ended up writing 10,000 words in five days.  At the time, this was an amazing amount for me.  The longest thing I’d ever finished was only 7,700 words.  I decided I’d do NaNoWriMo, especially once I heard about Rebels, people who did things like work on things they were already working on.  So, I did it, and I learned some very important things about my writing process:

1)  I need to keep my word processor open all the time.  If I close it, I tend to find things to do besides write.

2)  I do best when I don’t let myself go to bed until I’ve written at least a scene a day.

3)  I can start out pantsing, but if I don’t ever come up with some kind of plan, the story will end up a horribly tangled mess.  I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this on here before.

4)  I need to only work on one thing at a time if I want to get anything finished.

That story ended up a mess and too short for me to win with just it, but I was able to finish a novella I’d been working on.

I couldn’t maintain the discipline I’d learned for various reasons throughout 2013, some of which were health related, some of which were pet related, and some of which were just me procrastinating, really.  But I still almost successfully did one of the Camps (I cheated and counted some notes to win, because I would’ve won if I hadn’t come down with some horrid virus from the ninth layer of the Abyss).

Then NaNoWriMo 2013 happened and, though I won, something terribly dreadful happened that has been affecting my writing ever since.  You see, my writing speed had been steadily increasing, from less than 200 words an hour back when I was trying to write perfect rough drafts to an average of about 1050 words an hour, sometimes as much as 1200.  I also discovered that I could keep this up for about four or five hours at a stretch.

So, being an inherently lazy person, I decided that I didn’t need to write every day.  If I could write 5000 words in just five hours, thought I, and I’d set a goal for myself for the month of only 20,000, why then I only needed to write four days a month!  Ignoring, of course, that I’d worked that goal out based on figuring I could find the time 20 days of the month to write 1000 words.  No, I don’t make sense, even to myself.

April started with my spouse needing surgery, so it wasn’t my fault I only got 10,000 words during that Camp.  July though . . . I just kept putting it off because “I can catch up later.”  I know better than this.  I learned time and again in high school and college both that waiting to the last minute is a very bad plan.

But I did it anyway.

I won, once I lowered my word count to 10,000.  I even finally finished No More Lies.

I took a break after that.  A planned one.  I’d been writing the same story for a year, with only small breaks.  I was starting to sound like the narrator, Bobby, in real life, which, as he’s an abrasive jerk at times, was not a good thing.

I have no idea how many words I’ve written in September and October.  I know it’s been a lot of a bit here, a bit there sort of stuff as I tried to figure out what I really wanted to work on next.  I also know it’s nowhere near the amount it would’ve been if I’d just sat my butt down and written five days a week like I always put on my planner that I’m going to do.

So, that’s my goal for NaNoWriMo this year:  Get back in the habit of writing at least three days a week, five preferably.  Because I know I can do 50,000 words in a month.  That’s not a problem.  Been there, done that, twice.  Now I need to develop the discipline to get a respectable word count every month.  Not 50,000.  That is a bit of a stretch for me, involving late nights, even by my standards, and writing during meals and such, but I can do 20,000 easily.  I just haven’t been.

If you want to friend me on nanowrimo.com, my name there is ziresta.

 

Posted in NaNoWriMo, Uncategorized, Writing process | Tagged , , | 1 Comment
Oct 10
2014

Trying something new

I’m shamelessly ripping bits of this off from Mary Robinette Kowal.  Just thought I should acknowledge that first.

I’ve always been a big believer in writing as a solitary process, but it’s becoming horribly clear to me that my stories could stand to have a few more sets of eyes looking over my early drafts, to catch little problems before they become big problems.  I’m not looking for beta readers.  Maybe in a month or so for No More Lies, but not now.  I’m looking for alpha readers for a currently unnamed story, readers who read my first draft and tell me how they feel about the story.  Readers, basically, who maybe can tell me before I get there if I’m about to write myself into a big, tangled mess like I’m getting far too good at.  Readers who can tell me what words I need to define because context doesn’t make them clear.  Readers who can tell me what cultural oddities need footnotes and which ones can go without.  Readers who can overlook typos and punctuation mistakes and concentrate on things like (this is the bit I stole):

  1. What bores you
  2. What confuses you
  3. What don’t you believe
  4. What’s cool? (So I don’t accidentally “fix” it.)

I have a couple of caveats that you probably should be aware of before jumping in and agreeing to this:

  1.  If this proves to stressful for me . . . too many people telling me drastically different things can be hard for me to handle, so if there’s a lack of consensus it could be an issue for me . . . I might cease this.
  2.  If you can’t refrain from giving grammatical and punctuation feedback as well, I will drop you, but maybe keep you in mind as a beta reader.
  3.  I know all too well the tendency of authors to tell how they’d have written something instead of giving their opinion of what they’ve actually read.  Because of this, I’d really like to have some non-writers too.

If interested, comment and tell me.

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Oct 09
2014

Five star reviews — The Enchanted Castle (Shioni of Sheba #1) by Marc Secchia

Welcome to the new feature I promised a few days ago.  Every threeish weeks (I have a rough schedule for my posts, but I’m not letting myself make it a straight-jacket) I will be posting a review for a book I have given five stars to.  Some of these will be books I received free copies of to review, others will just be books that I read.

This first one was one I decided to read and review based on the first few pages of the Kindle sample.  In just a few pages, the author had mesmerized me with his language use and the setting.

Here’s the summary of the book, via Goodreads:

17839726

“A king bent on conquest.
A murderous warrior tribe.
And the slave-girl who dares to stand between them!

Shioni of Sheba: The Enchanted Castle is the first book in a unique African fantasy series set in the ancient Kingdom of Sheba and is written for middle grades/secondary school reading age.

“A cracking story which catches the imagination…” “I was enthralled, each character came alive off the page”

When Shioni, slave to the Princess of Sheba, travels to the legendary Simien Mountains of Ethiopia, she encounters adventure beyond her wildest dreams. Little does she imagine the powerful forces lurking in this jagged volcanic wilderness; forces that could tear the Kingdom of Sheba apart.

Kalcha, the Wasabi leader, has prepared a deadly trap, an evil sorcery rooted within the castle the King has chosen for his fortress. Kalcha is massing her warriors and her giant hyenas, intent on annihilating the Sheban forces.

As the Wasabi attack it is left to Shioni to show the way with courage and the conviction of her heart. Can she overcome the wrath of a lion, outwit the treacherous Captain Dabir, and defuse General Getu’s inexplicable hatred? With the help of her friends Mama Nomuula, Princess Annakiya, and the fiuri Azurelle, Shioni must uncover the hidden secrets of the Enchanted Castle before Kalcha destroys all she holds dear.

Experience the myth and magic of ancient Sheba in this truly African adventure. Includes original illustrations by the Ethiopian artist Senait.”

And my review, which now strikes me as a little light on content, but oh well.  I don’t feel like rewriting it at the moment:

“This book was wonderful. I loved the characters, especially Shioni and Mama Nomuula. The only character I didn’t particularly care for was the villain who seemed a little too over-the-top. It had some of the best similes I’ve ever read, like “Fears like vultures began to encircle her courage.” and “eyes had fairly popped out of their heads, like a snail’s eyes on stalks.” And the illustrations were very nice.

It was not, however, perfect. The pacing was uneven, at times moving along at a nice clip and at others dragging, and that Shioni is mistreated and disliked by some is shown often enough that it got a bit annoying that it kept being told too. So maybe it should be more like 4.5 stars, but since that’s not possible, I’m still giving it five.”

I would probably literally kill to be able to come up with similes like this author sprinkled throughout the book.  I read it months ago and that’s what I remember most clearly.

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Oct 07
2014

Not every story needs to be a novel

Today’s post starts a series that’s aimed at NaNoWriMoers, but should contain advice useful to all authors.  Non-authory content will still be posted roughly once a week though, including a new feature starting later this week!

Today I’m going to talk about story length.  Now, this is a kind of odd thing for me to be talking about, since I am the person who tried to write a 3000 word short story and ended up with a 121,000 word novel, but maybe that makes me super qualified to talk about this, since I learned the hard way not to force a story into a length it shouldn’t be.

I understand the urge to make every story novel length.  I’ve seen the articles about novel sales versus shorter fiction sales too.  The money is in novels.

But the money isn’t in artificially long novels.  If your idea is very simple without a lot of twists and turns, then most likely it would be better served by being a short story, novelette, or novella.  Don’t add padding to bring a short story length idea up to novel length.  It will show.  I mean, if you need to do it just to win NaNoWriMo, that’s one thing. That’s no different than the time I counted my notes for Camp NaNoWriMo when I came up a couple thousand words shy (shhh . . . nobody else knows about that.).  But, please, please, I’m begging you, cut the padding before you publish!  It will show.

Now, don’t think that I’m saying that things like characterization and description don’t belong in shorter works . . . yes, I’ve read advice that says just that . . . I’m saying don’t have things like “Then he walked to the large, upholstered brown chair, and then he sat down in it and put on his left shoe, a brown suede oxford with tan laces, and then his matching right shoe, and then he stood up and walked the three feet to the door.”  Yes, it’s more word count.  Yes, it is more description.  But it’s tedious and boring to read.  (And probably a run-on, but we’ll ignore that for now.  Run-ons are my specialty.)  Especially don’t do that when none of the information contained in that long sentence is remotely relevant.  I’ve read books lately that could’ve lost whole chapters and still told the exact same story.  Not just the same plot.  The same story.  My understanding of neither the characters, nor the setting, nor anything else was deepened by these scenes.  I’ve started referring to these books as “obvious NaNo projects.”  Don’t publish one of those.  It’s one of those things that makes people not take self-published authors seriously.

By the same token, don’t try to force a novel sized idea into a short story or novella because you’re hoping to enter it into some contest or submit it somewhere or whatever.  This is the lesson I learned with No More Lies.  It was supposed to be the story Bobby told in an anthology I was working on, since abandoned.  All of the other stories were around 3000 words, so I wanted it to be too.  The problem was, it was a much more complex story than any of the others, so it ran long.  Somewhere around word 6000, I gave in and rewrote it with the intent it would be a novella, as I’d never written anything more than 40,000 words before.  Soon I’ll be rewriting the beginning yet again so its pacing is appropriate for the novel it turned into.  If I hadn’t tried to force it to be something it didn’t want to be at first, maybe I could’ve spared myself this particular annoyance.

And before anyone chimes in with “This doesn’t happen if you outline” or anything like that, I’m, to use George R. R. Martin‘s analogy, a gardener, not an architect.  At least at the start.  I have to do some planning as I get further in, as I may have mentioned in a previous entry, or I start wandering off after every shiny subplot my brain throws me and end up with too much of a mess for any amount of editing to help.

And in case this didn’t make it clear, I’ll be doing NaNoWriMo.  Contact me through this site if you want to friend me there as I’d like to minimize the number of things connecting my username there with my real name, as I use the same one in other places that I don’t want connected with my professional life.  (Yes, I realize how that sounds.  No, that’s not what I meant.  I’ve just said some dumb stuff on some forums in the past and haven’t gotten around to deleting it all yet.)

Posted in NaNoWriMo, No More Lies, Rants, Writing process | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment