On that list of blogposts — and recommended all over the damned place for all kinds of reasons — is character interviews. So, because I’m enough over this cold from hell to manage snarky quips, but not enough to manage actual fiction or blog writing, I’m going to interview Jake.
Please do tell me if this manages to make you interested in the book. I can sort of see how that might work, but I really, really don’t get how these thingies are supposed to be helpful before I write.
Questions stolen from here.
This is Jake circa Jake Becomes Mithoska, because it’s what was on my mind.
What is your age?
Forty-one, almost forty-two.
Do you have any siblings?
Are your parents alive? Are they married? Are they divorced?
Nope. Momma died when I was little more than a baby; Daddy died when I was about ten.
If you were sent to a deserted island, what three things would you take?
Why have I been sent to a deserted island? A deserted island on what planet? This is really weird question. Is this one of those psychological things that’s supposed to give you some sort of insight into how my mind works? Well, guess I’ll answer it anyway: my wife, my youngest kid cuz she ain’t old enough to be on her own yet, and my ship . . . which means I won’t be stuck on that island for long.
Do you have a hidden talent?
My wife will hit me if I answer that the way I want to.
Do you have a habit you wish you could break?
What features do you like the most about yourself?
My hair gets lot of attention from ladies, so I guess it.
What features do you dislike the most about yourself?
Does my temper count as a feature? It’s gotten me in a shitton of trouble in my life.
Do you have a hobby?
If you were to ask my wife, she’d say annoying her.
Come to think of it, if you asked my closest friend, she’d say annoying her too. Huh.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
If I felt guilty about it, I wouldn’t be doing it.
What kind of music do you like?
I’m not that picky. Not technophonic. ((Technophonic is what happens if you combine the worst of techno, disco, and electronica.))
What is your biggest pet peeve?
People wasting my fucking time.
What is your favorite food?
Pretty much anything my wife cooks.
Do you have a passion and, if so, what?
You really want me to get hit by my wife, don’t you?
Do you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert?
Never really thought about it. Extrovert, I guess.
What is your idea of a perfect day?
I’m serious: my wife is gonna hit me if I answer some of these questions in public.
Who is your favorite author?
Don’t really have one.
What would be the first thing on your bucket list?
I don’t understand the concept. You never know when you’re gonna die, so it makes more sense to me to make the most of each moment instead of having some goddamned list you’re trying to complete.
If I asked you to write an entry in your journal, what would it be about?
Nothing, because I wouldn’t do it. I got too much going on to write a damned journal entry.
Tell me something no one else knows about you.
If no one else knows it, then what the fuck makes you think I’m gonna tell you?
Well, that was sort of fun. Anyone really, really looking forward to reading the book now? I certainly didn’t get any new insights into the character.
I’m sorry for doing more on this theme so soon, but I clicked a link I shouldn’t have clicked, and now I’ve got to vent here or I’m going to go off on an author for a blogpost they made years ago, and that’s majorly not cool. (I was expecting it to be snark-worthy, not infuriating, when I clicked it.)
So, I finally found out what’s behind that “what’s the lie your character believes about themselves?” question that’s suddenly started appearing on character questionnaires in the past few years.
Kurt Vonnegut said, “Every character should want something, even if it’s a glass of water.” For ages lots of authors have quoted this and used it to remind themselves that a good way to write a story is to figure out what a character wants and follow them in their pursuit of it. Well, apparently there’s currently an idea out there that what the main character wants is always something to counteract his inner turmoil. This is what is meant by the “lie they believe about themselves”, that if they get this thing they want, their problem will be solved.
So . . . okay, can’t use Jake for this one because seriously that dude is ridiculously inner turmoil free . . . uhmmm . . . I’ll use Bobby. He’s certainly got issues. Anyway, if I’m understanding this right, the lie he believes would be that if he gets to screw a gorgeous woman without having to pay for it — all he really wants at the beginning of the story, which is where this is established according to this same advice — all his worry and homesickness will go away.
Except I’m not writing a character who’s that fucking stupid. Bobby thinks that screwing a beautiful woman will help him have a nice vacation, that’s it. Yeah, it’ll help him forget about the worry and homesickness, which he does want to do, but he knows better than to think it’ll solve them forever.
So maybe I’m supposed to say it applies to his subconscious desire for stability and peace in his life. Except that’s not a lie. Attaining those really does fix his issues!
And then there’s his temper, but he really doesn’t have the slightest interest in fixing it until Karen tells him she’s tired of his shit. And then, again, not a lie. He thinks if he learns to control himself, he won’t lose her, and what do you know? That’s exactly right!
Now, Bobby does have lies he believes about himself. His tough talk is often to cover up a lot of insecurity. But he has no interest in fixing this, because that would mean admitting to himself that he is insecure, and he is nowhere near that self-aware.
As far as I can tell, to the people who find this sort of advice useful, what would make an interesting story would be Bobby thinking that screwing a beautiful woman would fix his insecurity and pursuing one and then discovering that this didn’t actually make him feel like less of a fuck up. That sounds utterly depressing and terrible.
And this is why I know No More Lies is either destined to be a genre changing success or a total commercial failure! Lit fic fans won’t touch it because not only does it have spaceships and aliens, it’s not all about his inner demons and shit. Romance fans won’t touch it because I gleefully ran from almost every cliché . . . especially the ones for sf romance. Sci-fi adventure fans won’t touch it because I don’t focus enough on the whole “enemy government trying to kill him” bit. And hard sci-fi fans will run from the room screaming as soon as Bobby takes a ship from one star system to another as easily as people can go to another state now. Oh well. I love it, and I’m sure somebody else will too . . . even if it’s just Mom.
Also, lit fic centric advice should come with a goddamned warning. I’m suddenly remembering stories I read during that misguided semester I spent as an English major. ~shudders~ Look, if your writing advice makes people think of horrible literature classes, you’re doing it wrong!
Oh! I also forgot to edit my post from earlier today to add this, so I’ll do it here: I think I figured out how, according to the shitty advice those questions amounted to, Jake Becomes Mithoska should go: I can go ahead and have the bit where he ends up in charge of everything right as everything goes from terrible to “holy shit, how the fuck are we going to win this?!”, but he can’t handle the pressure and makes a terrible decision and the bad guys win and it’s all on his shoulders, and then most of the story is about him watching everything fall apart and angsting over how it’s all his fault. I think he’d get to struggle and fail a few times to prevent things from getting worse, and if I wanted a happy ending — which, as I mentioned, aren’t trendy right now for whatever reason — he’d get to succeed finally, but the ending would be bittersweet because he would’ve lost everyone he cared about. More likely, though, what would make the story best in their eyes would be if kept struggling and failing and ultimately died, because then it would be something deep about the futility of trying to solve problems through violence or some shit like that.
I still think my story is a lot more interesting.
(And my inner Jake would like to smack the shit out of people for thinking Dichidians conquering two or three galaxies and it totally breaking him would make a good story. Good stories are things like the one about his grandpa killing over one hundred heavily armed, armored bad guys with a sword before he finally died himself . . . because he’d sworn an oath to protect a temple to his dying breath, and goddammit, he was going to do it! It’s a sad story, but it’s a good one because it’s about bravery and dedication and honor and all those wonderful things. Jake, amazingly enough, isn’t one of my Proud Warrior Race Guys. He just thinks like one.)
I’m so tired of advice on how to plan stories that assumes you’re writing one of three types of stories: a paint-by-numbers Hero’s Journey, an equally formulaic romance, or the sort of deep, literary thing that’s more about the character’s inner journey than whatever the story looks like it’s about.
I’ve got nothing against any of these story types, by the way. I don’t read formulaic versions of the first two any more and tend to get frustrated with the third, but I know they have their audiences and that the first two sell far better than my weird not quite literary, yet not quite normal sci-fi stuff does.
What I have a problem with is how much of the stuff for writing the first and third assumes that the advice they’re giving is universal. The first is probably self-explanatory, but the third, the lit fic type stuff . . . rather than trying to explain what I find so fucking stupid about trying to apply it to every story, I’ll illustrate, using Jake Becomes Mithoska, which is about a dude suddenly getting promoted to the equivalent of Admiral of the Fleet right as a war goes from terrible to “This is our last chance; if this doesn’t work, the whole galaxy will fall.” These are paraphrased versions of some of the questions on a list of questions that are supposed to be very helpful in planning a story.
- What is your main character’s treasured secret desire?
You remember way back when I did the post ranting about character building questionnaires and I ranted about questions having built in assumptions? Yeah, we’ve got that here again. Jake doesn’t do secret desires. His desires are to minimize the good guy casualties, to have some time with his family and pets, and an endless supply of his favorite caffeinated beverage. That’s it. He’ll tell those to anyone who asks. Nothing secret there.
- (This one I’m not paraphrasing because I need to rant about it so much) What is the worst thing that could (and hopefully will) happen to your hero?
What the everloving fuck?! “And hopefully will”?! No. Just . . . no. The worst does not always need to happen. I repeat, the worst does not always need to happen. Sometimes . . . hell, frequently, in my opinion . . . just the threat of it is enough.
Besides, what’s the worst thing that could happen to Jake? Well, he could survive the war but lose everyone and everything he cares about and, oh, yeah, two — eventually three, probably — galaxies would fall to a species that consider humans cattle. And Jake could survive and live with the guilt that he couldn’t prevent this. And that’s totally a story I’d want to read.
Oh, wait. No, it’s not. I’d much rather read about someone preventing things from getting that bad. There’s enough darkness in the world. How about some of us authors try to put a little light out there? (Also, in the current political climate, I’m really uncomfortable with reinforcing the idea that things have to hit rock bottom before they can get better . . .)
- Why can’t your character live with their conscience if they don’t get what they want?
Because what he wants is the fucking survival of lots and lots and lots of people? Really, if Jake doesn’t get what he wants, his conscience is going to be the least of his problems . . .
- How can you make the temptations irresistible?
Looky, it’s another question with a built in assumption! This isn’t that kind of story. Nothing and no one tempts Jake.
And if anyone tried to, he’d punch them. He’s a really straightforward kind of guy, with a moral and ethical code he does not violate.
- When do your characters realize they’re in danger?
I see this one so often on planning stuff for all three of the types of stories I mentioned at the beginning of this that I can only assume everyone else in the world has forgotten about the fact that stories can start in media res. In this one, Jake does realize during the story just how bad things have gotten, but “in danger”? Yeah, that happened when Sweytz first got involved in the war, about two years before the story starts.
- Do the supporting characters that try to stop your character’s plans know about his secret desire?
You know, I’m pretty sure that the enemy generals really don’t give a fuck what Jake wants. They’re pretty sure he wants their troops dead — that’s kind of obvious from all the shooting at them his ships do — and that’s all they really care about.
But that doesn’t mean that I wrote a goddamned Hero’s Journey story. Not all war stories are the Hero’s Journey. But that’s a separate rant for some day when I don’t need to be getting ready to go to dinner.
- What does your hero expect that won’t happen?
He’s a military commander. He knows better than to expect anything but the unexpected. No plan survives contact with the enemy, and all that.
Then there were follow-up questions about what the hero does and what the antagonist does that makes it not happen and . . . this and the secret desire thing seemed to be really crucial to the sort of story this questionnaire is to help write.
- Try to imagine all of the places your characters can go in the search of their objective.
Oh, Jesus Fucking Christ! All of them?! My setting covers three major galaxies and a couple of satellite galaxies! How about I make shit up as I need it? That work for you?
(Okay, now I think I see the point of this question at least. Apparently this started as screenwriting advice, so you would be more limited than in a book. One of these days I’ll manage my rant about how screenwriting advice doesn’t apply to story writing without swearing and abusing caps lock and bold . . . maybe.)
- What are the social reasons for the antagonists’ actions?
Uhmm . . . they want to conquer the galaxy because their war leader has convinced them it’s a good idea/manifest destiny sort of thingy? Oh, and because they think they’re the only ones who are truly sapient beings. I don’t think this is the sort of thing this question was really aiming for.
- What characters can go through something similar and find a different solution?
What sort of different solution is possible to “let’s prevent the bad guys from conquering everything?” Going “No, let’s let them”?
Well, I guess that is possibly what some would do. No one I’m going to write about though.
- Is the main character naive and/or weak?
This is the first question under the section titled “Character Growth”. I presume I’m supposed to answer yes and then the next questions will show how he grows. I really, really, really wish people would get over the idea that character growth means, well, the Hero’s Journey, ultimately . . . farm boy who knows nothing to savior of everything. There are other sorts of character growth. Like in this, Jake goes from halfheartedly considering ways to get out of running the fleet to realizing that, while he may hate the job, he has no choice but to do it to the best of his ability.
In other words, no, Jake isn’t naive or weak. I mean, I guess since this is technically a later installment in what will someday be a series that takes him from an eight-year-old son of a ranch hand, at the very beginning of his story he is, but he’s also eight. And for an eight-year-old he was pretty strong, ridiculously strong-willed, and smart.
- Are the chances for the desired outcome and the despised one equal?
Nope. Well, maybe, in a “million to one odds happen nine times out of ten” story logic sort of way, but using actual logic . . . nope. I’m pretty sure that’s where excitement comes from. I hope I wasn’t supposed to say yes to this. Though if I was, it could explain why I can’t finish so many books and movies these days . . .
- What feared confrontations does the main character try to avoid or postpone?
Again with the assumptions! Jake . . . well, I’ll just put it this way: his wife makes him swear an oath to his gods that he won’t sacrifice himself unless there is totally and completely no other choice. This is not a guy who tries to avoid confrontation.
Wait, I take that back. He tries to avoid blowing up a pirate ship with a dolt for a captain. Because he doesn’t want to kill people just because they’re serving an idiot. But there’s no fear there. He would have done it in a heartbeat if he had no choice.
- Can the antagonist be made to see the error of their ways through the fear of shame or loss of face?
. . . Hell no. My antagonist is doing this because they want to eradicate and/or enslave other races. They clearly don’t give a flying fuck how others feel about them.
Seriously, have you ever read a book where the antagonist was made to stop being an ass because it would be embarrassing if they didn’t?!
- How should the audience feel when the story is over?
With any luck, they’re chuckling at Jake’s exasperation as once again something keeps him from getting to go home without one last problem. Because I like happy endings.
I know that happy endings are, for some reason, considered horrible by some right now. I don’t give a fuck. I just finished a book yesterday that was wonderful until the end. The end failed, in my opinion, on two counts: 1) it was a fucking obvious sequel hook, and 2) I walked away from the book depressed . . . this is not how a reader should feel after an exciting climactic battle that the good guys won. Especially if you want the reader to buy the next book in the series, which the obvious sequel hookness of the scene made clear was the whole goddamned point. (The previous book in the series ended much better, with a scene after the heavy dramatic, everything changes forever, one that lightened the mood considerably.)
And if you consider it a spoiler that the galaxies won’t fall . . . then you must be really new to my writing. I don’t do depressing endings.
That list of blog topics has as a suggested post “List of words to use in your writing.” Seriously. So, here’s the list of words I suggest using:
Yes, I linked to the Oxford Dictionary. Yes, I’m a smart ass . . . but I’m also completely motherfucking serious. There are no words that are off-limits when you write. Nope, not that one. Nope, not even that one. Nope, not that one either. There are no words that are off-limits. It’s all a matter of how and why you use them.
Yes, I know there are some words that aren’t considered polite any more that used to be used freely. If you’re writing a story that’s set in an era when calling American natives Indians was simply what was done, then fucking use the word Indian. If you call them Native Americans, then you’re going to pull any reader who knows anything about history the fuck out of your story. This applies to terms that are no longer acceptable for other races too.
Tangentially (C’mon, it’s me. Were you honestly expecting me to stay on topic?!), you also need to have correct historical attitudes. Your 1860s protagonist can be ridiculously ahead of their time when it comes to race and gender relations, that’s cool, I can understand why you’d do that, but if your whole cast is then my suspension of disbelief shatters into a thousand tiny pieces.
“But,” you whine, “I don’t want to write about people with horrible beliefs like that!”
Then maybe you shouldn’t be writing historical fiction!
Also, if I see one more person criticizing Louis L’Amour or Laura Ingalls Wilder for accurately portraying how white people saw the indigenous people of North America in the late 1800s, I’m going to . . . I don’t know what I’ll do, but it won’t be pretty and might involve bloodshed. (I’m exaggerating. Possibly.)
And if you think books should be banned for accurately portraying historical attitudes, go fuck yourself. History isn’t politically correct. There are aspects of today’s society that I sincerely hope future generations find as disturbing as we do the treatment of pretty much everybody but cis, white, neurotypical, able-bodied men for most of European and American history.
(And, yet again, the interesting part of this post is where I left the actual suggested blog topic behind. It’s almost like these topics aren’t interesting on their own . . .)
(Seriously, a fucking list of words to use?!!)
I used to do posts about my WIPs regularly, but they seemed to make my blog spontaneously generate problems, so I quit. I don’t know if this will be a regular feature or not. But I feel like doing it today, so I am.
Titles of projects are what the files are named. I am so goddamned creative when it comes to working titles, aren’t I?
Ready To Publish, On Hold For Secret Project:
“Hope” – It’s a story about the power of art and shared misery to heal. It’s probably the deepest thing I’ve ever written. It’s also a story about a painter who used to be a sniper because I can’t seem to have normal characters. You know how usually I say my writing should make you laugh or at least giggle? That’s not the case with this one. If it doesn’t make you cry, or at least sniffle a little, then I fucked up.
No More Lies – My romance for people who don’t like romances is about 10% through what I sincerely hope will be my last revision pass. When I get done with the chapter I’m working on now, I’ll be sending the first chunk to my beta readers . . . which I would very much like to have more of, hint hint. If you don’t know what this one is about by now, just click the damned tag and read my other posts about it.
Jake’s Last Mission Expansion – I think it’s probably going to take three or four passes to get it to be what I want it to. I’ll probably start tackling it when I finish this pass through No More Lies.
Jake Becomes Mithoska – I finished it in November and can’t see much wrong with it at all, which either means I have finally succeeded in writing a clean first draft or that I’m still too close to it and reading what it should say instead of what it does. My money’s on the second, so it’s sitting for a while longer.
Ren and Quinn, Hopefully Final Version – I finally have a completed draft of the story of a fifty-year-old ladies’ man finding true love after years of false starts at the damned thing! And it’s so unevenly paced that it’s going to need major revision. Fuck.
“The Newcomer” – This is a bit of flash fiction that I’m not sure if it’s a stand-alone thing or not yet, so it’s being left alone while I see if I’m going to get more ideas involving the character it introduces. It’s short enough that it’s hard to summarize without giving everything away.
Still Being Written:
Ren meets Vik – I wrote a short story version of this ages ago from Viktor’s perspective and, over time, it had become canon violating in some ways, so it needed redone. I tried redoing it from Vik’s perspective, got a page in and made this lovely note:
GONNA TRY THIS FROM REN’S POV INSTEAD OF VIK’S, IN THE INTERESTS OF NOT DROWNING IN ANGST.
Writing from Ren’s POV, it’s a bit over 20,000 words long so far and I’ve only gotten about one scene farther than what was covered by the 3000 word short story years ago. I wrote about 7000 words of it last week in about four hours, spread out over two days. It’s going very fast. It’s also going to be very long, I think, since I’m only about a month into a storyline that’s supposed to cover a bit over two years! (I’m not sure why it’s called “meets Vik” when it’s going to take them from meeting to their wedding. My brain is weird sometimes.)
Zaphnell Story – This one is completely Ed Greenwood’s fault. I was reading an article about how he’d created Mirt the Moneylender and how he’d developed over time and whatnot. Zaphnell had been a character that had existed in my head but never done anything more than be in the background of anything for years. Suddenly while I was reading the article I knew what he was up to these days and . . . well, long story short, I now have nearly 6000 words of a story about a rebel-for-hire turned “perfectly honest merchant captain” (Zaphnell), a semi-retired rebel-for-hire pilot (Lyndsey, from Crown of Eldrete), her adventure loving uncle (Johann, making his story debut), a very valuable cargo obtained under questionable circumstances, pirates that want the cargo, and a route through an area of space known as The Dead Zone that’s littered with the ruins of whole systems destroyed by unthinkably powerful weapons. Oh, and the “perfectly honest merchant captain” is wanted by a powerful crime lord because of a “misunderstanding.” I am having entirely too much fun writing this. I am, of course, terrified that I’m going to write myself into a corner like I do with everything with an actual plot lately, but I’m trying to ignore that voice and push through.
Vinnie and Henri – The sniper turned artist from “Hope” has a nephew that wants to become a bounty hunter. He’s teaching him to shoot. This one might end up abandoned because I am having trouble getting it to go anywhere remotely interesting. It’s about 3000 words.
The Fairy Story – This was previously known as “That urban fantasy thing inspired by the dream with the purple butterfly-winged fairy and the way Mount Greylock looks on cloudy nights”, or something along those lines. It’s now in a Renaissance flavored setting where fae, known as the Longlived collectively, can, because of a long ago spell that was a REALLY good idea at the time, only walk in the mortal world 50 years out of every 400. So far I’ve written the prologue, which is a telling of the myth explaining how this came about. I’ve got characters that I like. I’ve got a plot that I don’t. So I’m really not sure what’s going to happen with this. It’s only about 2000 words so far, and I know for sure that about 300 of those will be totally trashed. I’m trying not to get discouraged. I’m hoping I’ll be better able to work on it when the weather stops being so dreary. It’s hard to worldbuild a happy setting when it looks so gloomy out.
Unnamed rpg system – I have a stat system! I have success roll target numbers for Easy, Average, and Difficult tasks. I made it so highly competent characters can do Nearly Impossible tasks 97% of the time! Oops. So it still needs a bit of work for harder tasks. I also found a dead mouse in the box my notes should have been in. Turned out I’d moved the notes. So my lunch was ruined by finding a dead mouse when it didn’t need to be. On the brightish side, at least I found the mouse before the entire contents of the box needed discarded. I’m just down a GURPS book I’ve not used in the years I’ve had it, and I need to move my Traveller notes to a new notebook and then set them somewhere to air for a bit. And, yeah, that’s got nothing to do with my WIPs, but I needed to rant.
Little House on Perlithis – It’s Jake as a precocious eight or nine-year-old. His father is poor ranch hand. His grandfather was a warrior-priest who, legend says, killed at least 100 armored and heavily armed men with only a sword. This is the start of a series following Jake from this little boy to the officer we – okay, I, at least – love so damned much. I’m aiming for middle grades level for this one and the next, but might hit young adult accidentally because I never read much middle grades stuff myself, having, as far as I can remember, gone pretty much straight from Berenstain Bears to Little House. To make it distinct to myself that I need to concentrate more on word choice and, especially, not having characters swear profusely, I’m handwriting this one, so I don’t know how many words it is so far. I’m also considering starting over completely because what I’ve got so far is a bit of a mess.
Quinn’s Nephew – I had managed to forget about this one because it got saved to the wrong place. Quinn, the fifty-year-old ladies’ man who falls for his best friend in the cleverly named Ren and Quinn, Hopefully Final Version, has a teenage nephew who is even more of a cad than he ever was. Nephew is a spoiled rich kid who decides to join a pirate crew rather than showing up for work on the family owned merchant ship his father sentenced him to after having to talk one too many angry parents/cuckolded boyfriends and husbands/girls who thought they were the boy’s one true love out of killing or castrating the boy. Imagine Bertie Wooster as a womanizer and you’ve pretty much got the main character. I really should work on this one more. It was fun.
Recently Abandoned, Possibly Previously Mentioned Here:
Lyn Post-Dagger – This is one of those stories that seems to work better worked into other things as referenced backstory. It’s interesting events, in other words, but doesn’t really work as a story.
Possibly Abandoned Because It’s Been So Long Since I Touched Them:
Codex – This one which was about a magic-user whose grandfather, also a magic-user, had died under mysterious circumstances, was going great for a few pages, then I hit a spot where I needed to do world-building to continue and then life happened and, well, I may just have to let this one go. I don’t want to, though. And now my brain is combining this and my WIP rpg system and . . . hmmm . . .
Fantasy Story – For some idiot reason I started this one on the computer and then hand wrote some and keep misplacing the handwritten bit so this one has gone years without anything added to it. Also complicating things was that I knew how it started, dude was the first elven mage in centuries or millenia or something like that and failed to stop a Very Bad Thing so was sent on a quest to stop Very Bad Thing from becoming World Destroyingly Bad Thing, and how it ended – which you can probably guess – but had basically no ideas for what to have happen in-between without making it read like a transcript of a D&D session.
Any of the bits of Intertwined Lives that haven’t been incorporated into something else on this list – I may revisit the concept – everyday life in a space opera setting –of it later, but those exact stories weren’t working the way I’d hoped. I might do something with what’s been going on in the rpg version of the setting the past in-game year because that’s been a bunch of storylines that really do keep ending up interconnected, but I’m not sure.
Rewrite of “Forbidden Love” – The ever-so-creatively named “Forbidden Love” was a short story I wrote in high school. It was a tale of a human princess and her forbidden love for an elven prince. It fairly beats you over the head with the moral that prejudice is bad. I decided a couple of years ago to start rewriting the same storyline but with the prince a cad and the princess one in a long line of naive girls who’d fallen for him . . . pretty much a parody of what I had originally. It wasn’t as much fun as I’d thought it would be.
Anything else I’ve previously mentioned that hasn’t appeared elsewhere on this list except one story that I’m not at liberty to talk about freely because of Reasons – Assume I’ve totally forgotten it exists.
Totally Planning To Write Someday But Haven’t Started Yet:
Story I can’t talk about for Reasons – I really can’t say much more right now, as far as I can tell.
Fantasy travelogue thing inspired by thing I wrote for that horrible creative writing course in college – I still love the idea of a story that’s mostly just following a chef and his wife around as they travel through their world. I just always end up writing something else first.
Kenodori ninja killing one of the Theocrats – For what should be obvious reasons, anything I write right now involving a political assassination is going to be far from subtle allegory or anything like that. So this one is on hold.
So, that’s the end of the list. Anything you’re particularly interested in reading? (If it’s something I’ve abandoned, I’ll gladly send you what I’ve got and you can fucking finish it. 😛 )
(This is not my best cover, but it was the best I could do on the budget I had at the time. I spent a ridiculous amount of time finding the right font to make it look as good as possible, anyway. And the print book does look pretty good, I have to admit.)
This one was hard to pick an excerpt from, as my favorite bit is very near the end and would be a major spoiler. I narrowed it down to three possible scenes and Jaye chose this one. Enjoy!
The trip to Mugdar was uneventful after that, for which Jake was grateful. He wanted very much for this whole thing to go smoothly so he could go back home and retire as planned. I’ve gotten too old for adventures, he thought as they docked at Mugdar’s main spaceport.
His audience with the emperor wasn’t until the next day, so he decided to spend some time playing tourist. Zardel was quite happy to show him around the empire’s capital city, being somewhat familiar with it as she had family who lived there. After several nulaire spent at museums and such, she suggested they get some drinks at a nice little bar she’d discovered the last time she was there.
“Don’t worry. I won’t let you get too drunk,” she said.
Jake shrugged. “Just a couple of drinks won’t hurt. You order for me though; I wouldn’t want to accidentally call someone something rude.”
She laughed. “Your Mugdaran is nowhere near that bad. Just keep your order simple and you should be fine.”
He stared at the drink menu and finally had to concede defeat. He could speak Mugdaran still, but he hadn’t thought to worry about whether or not he could still read it. “Zardel, what do you recommend? I can’t make heads or tails out of the menu,” he finally asked, quietly, not wanting his ignorance to be obvious.
Fighting back a smile, she said, “Order the zitka. It should be mild enough for a Human.”
He sipped at his drink after getting it. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t something he was in any hurry to drink again. Tastes like cinnamon mixed with pepper, he thought.
The evening was passing uneventfully, and then, as Jake was just about to suggest leaving, a crowd of young Mugdarans in uniform came in. One of them saw him – the only Human in the place – and grinned. “Hey, Human,” he said, in rather good Galfarran, poking Jake in the shoulder.
Counting to twelve first, Jake replied, “Yes?” He pretended not to notice Zardel reaching for the knife at her belt, ready to jump to his defense at any time.
“What you doing here?”
“I was having a drink with a friend. I’ll be leaving in a moment though,” he said, and started to stand.
The young Mugdaran grinned big enough that his fangs showed. “Nuh-uh. You hang out in a Mugdaran bar, you got to prove you could be a Mugdaran, right?” His friends all cheered and nodded agreement. Jake suspected from the general look and demeanor of the group that this wasn’t the first bar they’d been to that night.
Zardel growled. The young man looked her over appraisingly. “What’s this pathetic Human got that I don’t, sweetheart?”
“A brain?” she ventured.
“I got better than that,” he said, gesturing to what he meant.
She rolled her eyes. “Jake isn’t my lover. He’s my commander. He’s been the equivalent of a hulvim since you were nothing more than a dream of Belthis’.”
“So he’s old. Thought he might be. Looks out of shape,” one of the pest’s friends added.
“Sir.” Zardel warned as Jake stood up the rest of the way. It wasn’t, he assured people often, that he was sensitive about his weight. He knew he was heavier than he’d been in his youth. He just resented people assuming it meant he was too old and out of shape to still kick ass when called upon to do so.
The young Mugdaran laughed. “How adorable! The elderly Human wants to fight me!”
Zardel said, “Jake …” with a warning tone, but it was too late. He’d already landed the first punch.
Jake may have been in the later years of middle age; he may have been overweight; he may have been drunker than he should’ve gotten as Zardel had been a bit confused about how high the alcohol content of zitka was, but he could still fight. Alas, the young Mugdaran was no slouch in that department either. As those two fought, proving that a lack of honor is not unique to Humans, two of the young man’s friends tried to attack Jake too. Needless to say, Zardel didn’t stand for that. Nor did many others in the bar. In Mugdaran culture, there are very strong concepts of right and wrong. To violate those once you have passed the tagreeth and thereby proven you’re an adult is to invite the wrath of all. Making a fight unfair is one of the wrongs.
When the fight was over, the young men – those still conscious anyway – admitted the error of their ways and promised to refrain from such behavior in the future, or they’d turn themselves over to the gethane
and accept their punishment without complaint. Jake had one eye swelling shut and a nasty bruise forming on his jaw. Zardel had bloodied her knuckles on the belt of one of the youths but otherwise was pretty much unscathed. “Well, that was fun,” Jake quipped.
Zardel sighed and chuckled. “I just can’t go anywhere with you, can I? C’mon, let’s get back to the ship and let Angel take a look at you.”
“Hey, look on the bright side: Neither of us is in jail this time,” he said, referring to what had happened on Gressit after his previous first officer, Gerard, had accidentally been rude while propositioning the king.
And here are the links to where you can get your very own copy of this story! It’s free! And, while I can’t guarantee it’s free from spelling and punctuation errors – I know of one extra comma and one missing one at least – I do promise it’s got less errors than “Once A Hero, Always A Hero” has.
This novella – and the short story in the book as well – are under a Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-commercial, Share Alike license . . . which basically means you can do whatever you want from it, just so long as you don’t charge for it.
Also, an expanded version of this story should be coming out at some point in the next year or so, so if you want to wait for it, that’s cool. The story is still the same, the main changes have been switching it to first person and adding more scenes from Emperor Kristark’s point of view to give a better perspective on what was going on back on Mugdar.
I’m also planning – and have a partially completed first draft of the first few chapters of the first book of – a series following Jake’s life, starting with him as the kid of an impoverished ranch hand on a world that is a multi-week trip from Sweytz. My working title for the first book is Little House on Perlithis, which should tell you everything you need to know about it.
Enjoy. If you want to know why I wrote this, it’s at the end of the story.
It was hard to be the youngest pet in the household, Zarillia often thought. Every time something got broken, it seemed like she was the one who got blamed. The people in the house never acted like the dog or arino could have been responsible. They certainly never considered the thought that one of the older cats might have done it when Georgia and Serena brought Tiger Lily and Hamadryad over.
It’s not fair, the beautiful young cat thought one day as she sat under the dining room table, cleaning her paws. I’m the prettiest, yet I’m the one everybody’s always mad at. I should do something about this.
She was pondering exactly what she should do when Candy — who Zarillia was quite sure was the loudest, most boisterous dog ever — ran in, followed by the equally loud and boisterous youngest of the many, many children that lived in the house. Candy, who was under the mistaken impression that Zarillia was her best friend, rushed over to kiss her.
Ugh! thought Zarillia, backing out of reach of the dog’s tongue. Dog slobber. Ew! I’m going to smell horrible now.
The dog looked upset for about half a piclano, then took off, following the child who was leaving a trail of cookie crumbs.
Zarillia wished her person was home. Viktor was nice to her. Unless she played with his sleeves . . . or his earrings . . . or his hair.
Come to think of it, she realized, he’s not very nice to me either. She walked to the kitchen to see if any bits of the lizard she’d smelled earlier had appeared in her bowl. They hadn’t yet, but Tera was in there, doing something with the lizard on the counter, so Zarillia jumped up to investigate.
“Get down,” the Human scolded. “You know better.”
“Mrrrow!” Zarillia told her, indignant.
“Well, you do,” Tera said, turning her attention back to the lizard.
No one loves me, Zarillia thought as she went to the living room. She jumped in Quinn’s lap.
“Hello,” he said, looking down at her. “I was about to get up, dear.” He very carefully removed her claws from his leg when she tried to convince him that nothing he was planning to do could possibly be nearly as important as holding her and set her on the couch next to him as he stood up.
Her most pathetic expression had no effect on the hard-hearted man.
A few saenead later, when he went out the front door, she darted out behind him. An idea had come to her. She had, of course, been outside before. But — because the people she lived with were horrible and determined to keep her from ever having fun, she was sure — she wasn’t supposed to go outside without being invited.
A lemyrkûn chirped down at her. Obviously it wanted to play. In a heartbeat, she was halfway up the tree. The lemyrkûn had jumped to another tree and was up at the very tippy top. Zarillia yelled at it for not playing nice. No one is ever nice to me, she thought as she headed further up the tree.
Renata, who Zarillia was not particularly fond of right then because of a misunderstanding over the ownership of a particularly comfortable blanket a little bit earlier, looked up. “Zarillia! Get down from there, you damned cat!”
Zarillia ignored her, walking along a branch that led her away from the blanket stealing Human. I wonder what else is up here, she thought, carefully investigating every leaf and flower. There were so many neat sights and smells in the tree! And the dumb Humans are on the ground! I’m so much smarter than any of them, she reflected as she daintily made her way along, ignoring Renata’s tirade about how much trouble she was going to be in if she didn’t get down.
“Zarillia, I mean it! Get down here, right now, or someone’s coming up after you!” Renata yelled.
Zarillia looked at her disdainfully and climbed even further up the tree. Today was the day she’d been dreaming of her whole life: the day she saw what was at the top of the tree!
“I can climb up after her, Momma!” Elizabeth said, eagerly.
“Do it. Don’t hurt her though, young lady,” Renata said to her daughter. Elizabeth would never intentionally hurt a pet, Zarillia knew — the people she lived with were cruel, but they were careful to never hurt her deliberately, at least. Elizabeth, though, sometimes got too enthusiastic and had injured the wonderful kitty’s paw so badly the other day that she’d limped for ages . . . all the way from lunch to dinner! Viktor had been quite sympathetic and given her some super tasty organs from his plate. For a person, she thought, he is pretty nice.
Zarillia sincerely doubted a person could climb a tree as well as a cat, so she ignored the child scrambling up after her and continued her journey to the top of the tree. Maybe I’ll just stay up there, she thought. Those flying lizard things are sure to be tasty. I’ll eat them, and play with lemyrkûns, and not have to deal with bossy people who won’t let me have fun ever again! It was the best idea she’d ever had.
Alas, she had underestimated Elizabeth’s climbing prowess. Before Zarillia quite reached the top, a sudden tug on her tail let her know the child had caught up with her. She hissed in distress.
“Well, if you’d hold still for half a piclano I could grab you by something besides your tail!” the child fussed, scrambling up beside the cat and grabbing her around the mid-section. “I got her, Momma!”
“Good. Thank you. Now, take her inside. If you come back out, make sure she doesn’t follow you,” Renata commanded.
Always so bossy, thought Zarillia. Then she saw her person coming out of the mysterious building in the distance, the one she’d never been allowed in except inside a horrible, torturously small cage. She was quite certain that the people kept all manner of exciting things in there that they were jealously guarding. Someday, she promised herself, someday, I’ll see what’s in there!
But for now, she just wanted her person. Viktor would understand that nobody else loved her. He wasn’t perfect. If he were perfect, she’d get to play with the pretty dangly things in his ears and bat at the lace on his sleeves without getting fussed at, but he was the best person she’d ever known. If anybody was going to take pity on a poor, unloved kitty, it would be him.
As soon as Elizabeth was a safe distance down the tree, Zarillia jumped from her captor’s arms and ran to the best person ever, meowing pathetically.
“I understand you came outside without permission, young lady,” he said to her. She knew he couldn’t really be mad at her, though, so she rubbed against his legs and purred. “You know better,” he went on, picking her up and snuggling her. “Let’s get you back inside. If you can behave, I’ll let you come out with me after dinner, okay?” She purred and snuggled against him. He wasn’t perfect. But he was her person, and he did love her.
And how was she to know that he didn’t want to share the lizard bits on his plate at dinner with her? Tomorrow, she thought from the hiding place under a bookcase that she’d scurried to when she’d been yelled at, tomorrow, I’ll show them what happens when you don’t treat a wonderful kitty like me right.
Where the heck did something like this come from, I’m sure you’re asking. Well, I saw someone requesting stories for a cat-themed sci-fi anthology, and this is where my brain went. I, in case anyone cares, am not submitting to said anthology because the anthology was being put together by a blogger with about the same number of followers as this one who was counting on a successful Kickstarter happening to actually make the anthology happen. I’m pretty sure the odds of that are somewhere between slim and none, and my story is barely sci-fi anyway, so I decided to just share it with you guys. Hope you enjoyed it!
(Why is bubble wrap a suggested tag for this post?!)
I’m doing these, in case anyone is curious, to make revising a little less tedious and boring. Today I will not be revising No More Lies, however. I will be revising a short story about a horribly unloved cat (Her people won’t let her on the counter and the dog kisses her! Can you imagine such a terrible life?!) that I’ll probably post in a few days. Yes, it’s silly.
“Oops.” (I used Undo one time too many and undid pasting the text into a new document.)
“The . . .”
“Zuh-rill-ee-uh.” (I suddenly couldn’t be sure the cat’s name was spelled in a way that made the pronunciation clear, so I had to say it slowly.)
“What the hell is going on now?!” (Okay, this one was more at the computer than the manuscript, but since it looked like my word processor might’ve suddenly locked up for no fucking reason, it counts.)
And that’s it for that story. That hardly took any work. This either means I wrote a pretty clean first draft — possible, it’s barely over 1000 words so there’s not much room to make mistakes — or I missed a lot of really obvious shit.
So, moving on to one of my favorite bits of No More Lies:
“Oh, I spelled that right!” (Associate. It looks wrong.)
Lots of sighing because my timeline in this bit is tying my brain in a knot.
“Ow, that sentence!”
“‘Was’, ‘was‘, what the hell?!”
I laughed very hard at this bit, which is just . . . this is Bobby at the beginning of this story, in a nutshell:
I was trying to figure out what to do with a bra I’d just found in my couch. And wondering whose it was. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a woman over.
“‘Staring to sound’ . . .?”
“I love Bobby.”
(Conversation with cat: “Would you not grab my lips while I’m talking?!” “Mrowwww!!” I think that means “Fuck you, I’ll grab what I want.”)
“‘Her tone’, no.”
“‘Despite’ . . . yeah, ‘despite being a drug dealer.'”
No, I was wrong. This is early story Bobby in a nutshell. This is his girlfriend he’s talking to here:
“I’m not going to catch any rare, communicable, incurable diseases from your bathroom, right?” She sounded sincerely worried. That hurt some.
I decided to try to put her at ease by making her laugh. “None that you haven’t already caught from me,” I said with a smirk.
And now I’m at the end of a scene and tired of the cat grabbing my mouth every time I read a bit aloud to make sure it works, so I’m done for now.
(WARNING: I HAD CAFFEINATED TEA WHILE WRITING THIS AND THIS GOT REALLY FUCKING RAMBLY IN PLACES BECAUSE OF THIS.)
The problem is, to find an excerpt to post I had to re-read it.
I found half a scene I liked enough to share with the world.
Yeah, that’s in a book I’ve published.
And here’s where I relate an embarrassing anecdote, one I’ve alluded to before but never really talked about:
Years ago, as it became clear that there was no publisher who wanted stories of the type and length I write (the market for novelettes and novellas for an unpublished sf author is basically non-existent), I started reading advice on self-publishing. I found out about a blog that was highly regarded at the time. The author of said blog advocated writing and releasing quickly instead of aiming for perfection . . . handling things like the old pulps did (according to him, I’ve since learned this wasn’t universally true), in other words.
The author’s advice — and this was an author who was self-publishing and upfront about how much he was making, so I assumed he knew what he was talking about — boiled down to “write and publish lots of things very quickly, and the money will start pouring in, so long as your stories are pretty free of basic grammar and spelling errors.” (I later learned that he had been trad published and gotten a bit of a fandom years before, which makes his sales atypical.)
It was phrased in a way that made his advice seem logical instead of fucking stupid. And, Jesus Motherfucking Christ, I just realized I fell for a con artist, basically . . . he offered $500+ workshops on various aspects of writing and marketing too. I think maybe his shitty advice, cleverly phrased, was mostly just a way to convince you to take his workshops and buy his writing advice books which were updated and re-released just about every fucking year, so you could learn why the money wasn’t pouring in yet.
Also, I’d spent over a fucking year working on just the original version of “Once A Hero, Always A Hero”. I was so sick of the story by the time I released it that I couldn’t even tell if it was good or not any more. (And that version wasn’t good. The new one isn’t great, but at least it’s good.) The idea that the right way to handle things was to write fast, do one editing pass, publish, and then move on to the next thing sounded fucking awesome. (I should probably mention that at the time I was much more concerned with making money from my writing than I am now for all sorts of reasons that I’m not getting into here.)
In case you haven’t realized it from other things I’ve blogged about, one thing I constantly deal with is the conflict between my being a perfectionist and being utterly fucking lazy. It takes forever for me to get around to doing things, but once I do them, they are going to be done right, goddammit! I’d finally published “Once A Hero” when I ran out of places where I thought I needed to fix the punctuation.
Yeah, I should’ve thought about places where I needed to fix the story instead. I think, honestly, I was so thrilled to have finished something for the first time in a decade that I didn’t even consider the possibility that the story might not have been that good. My beta readers were useless. One knew that she didn’t like it much, but couldn’t figure out why. The other had the weirdest advice, like telling me to use a word that was one syllable shorter in a fight scene so it would move faster, and a tendency to get so caught up in explaining what some of my grammar and punctuation errors were that my eyes were glazing over by the time I got to their feedback on the next sentence. (For future beta readers, your explanation of why I need to use a different verb tense somewhere shouldn’t be over a paragraph. Also, if it keeps showing up in one character’s dialogue, assume maybe it’s deliberate!)
So, anyway, I found the advice that said to, basically, turn myself into a story factory and thought it sounded good. So it took only two months — maybe a little less — to go from a finished draft of The Crown of Eldrete to the product you can buy.
How did I revise it so quickly? I pretty much didn’t. I read through it a few times and fixed the worst errors. There is very, very little difference in the first draft and the version I put up for sale. (I think I’ve made more changes to this post in the past fifteen minutes than I made to that whole novella between first writing it and publishing it.)
This is fine for some authors. Louis L’Amour, who usually only did a single draft, wrote so quickly that he convinced his publisher to put out two of his novels a year instead of the industry standard one. And he’s never been out of print.
But, J. R. R. Tolkien released very few books in his life, and he’s still in print too.
So which is the best way to do things?
There isn’t one. Any author can only answer what’s best for them. For me, that seems to be a quickly written first draft that gets the plot and characters and such in place — maybe more of a zeroth draft, as I’ve seen some call a dashed down first draft that pretty much serves the same purpose as an outline — and then a series of end-to-end revision passes until it doesn’t suck any more. And then another proofreading only pass because, holy shit, I overuse commas. (My wife leaves commas out a lot. I joke that every comma I delete from one of my stories, I add to one of hers.) I hope to streamline this process in the future so I need less drafts because I’ve got so many works-in-progress at any time that I sometimes feel like I’m never going to finish anything, and I’ve done some experimenting with a method that might help — fixing the worst problems while writing my first/zeroth draft — but since none of the stories written that way have gotten revised at all yet, it’s too early to tell if it really will.
But, I stress for the several-th time in a recentish blog entry, I’m not in this for the money. If you’re in this crazy ass career for the money, then I think your best bet is to write and publish formulaic romances as fast as you can. Hell, I’ve considered doing that. More money would be nice, I admit. But I couldn’t look myself in the eye if I did. Maybe, hell, probably, I could do it if it was a choice between that or starving. It’s not, so I can’t bring myself to do it. I understand that this, in the eyes of some, makes me a pretentious ass. Apparently an artist should always be willing to do anything that makes them money from doing what they love. I think that sounds a little too close to prostitution for my liking.
Anyway, the point of this long ass rambly thingy was to say that I’m going to take The Crown of Eldrete down soon, so if you want it, go grab it now. Someday it will get redone in some fashion or another, or the bits of it I like will get incorporated into something else.
If it had sold well, I wouldn’t do this; I’d assume that it had found a market even if it didn’t include me. But as it is, I can account for all but two of the copies that haven’t been free downloads. And there have only been about 100 free downloads . . . many of which, I think based on one site where I can see what it’s frequently bought with, were from people who download every free thing in their favorite genre. Right now, it’s an embarrassment to me that’s probably hurting the chances those 100 people will ever read my other stuff. (The print version will still be available because it’s print-on-demand and it’s, from what I’ve read, a wretch to get CreateSpace to take something down. But I’m pretty damned sure no one but my mother has bought a print copy, so that shouldn’t matter.) So it’s going away.
(This is non-negotiable, by the way. Quite frankly, I don’t give a fuck what you thought about the book. I consider it an embarrassment, and I’m the one whose name is on it. And, because I know there are corners of the internet where any time an author takes down a book with mostly bad reviews, especially an author as unabashedly leftist as me, it’s seen as a sign the author is a sensitive snowflake who can’t take criticism, something something triggered, something something safe space, I feel I must state outright that I’d have made the same decision if all the reviews were five stars. It’s called integrity, something your side of politics is supposedly big on.)
Jake’s Last Mission, which I’m sure most of you have realized by now I consider the best of my published works, is presently #84 on Amazon’s Top Free Kindle Space Opera list. Also on that list are books by E. E. “Doc” Smith, Andre Norton, Edgar Rice Burroughs, M. C. A. Hogarth, and Eric Flint. Okay, they’re all above my book, but I don’t care. I’m on the same best-seller list as five of my favorite authors!
JLM is also #90 on the military science fiction list. There it’s in the company of books by David Weber, John Ringo, David Drake (ahead of one of his!), and Michael Z. Williamson (also ahead of his . . . which is right and proper as I’ve tried to read the book in question repeatedly and never finished it.). None of them are authors I’m particularly fond of (well, like Weber’s fantasy, but I can’t get into the Honorverse books for some reason), but I’m sure they’re authors every sf fan has heard of, so it’s still awesome to be on the same list as them.
JLM is also #92 on the 65 to 100 pages, Science Fiction and Fantasy list. There it’s in the company of H. G. Wells! The first sci-fi novel I ever read — unless you count TSR Endless Quest books — was The War of the Worlds, so he holds a very special place in my heart.
(I know a lot of trad published authors say Amazon lists don’t count; I don’t give a fuck what they think. Their goals and my goals aren’t the same. If they were, I’d be writing novels instead of mostly novellas and doing the whole submitting to publishers and getting rejection after rejection thing.)