Friday, September 30, 2011

Productivity Update

Current Projects

*"Needs Must."  The second Andrew Patel short story slated for my Kennesaw writing group's "Southern Superheroes" anthology.

*Battle for the Wastelands-What will be my first finished novel using my own worlds/characters (i.e. not fan fiction).

Last Sunday, I was up until around midnight writing Chapter 19 of Battle for the Wastelands.  I'd already finished Chapter 20 and Chapter 22, so finishing this chapter helped fill a major gap.  The concept for Chapter 21 I came up with at DragonCon and I plugged in the chapter between what became Chapter 22 and the unfinished Chapter 20.

This chapter was harder to write, since it isn't based on my strengths (world-building, fight scenes)--instead, it's purely dialogue/character development.  Still, a woman from my Lawrenceville writing group liked it, even though I realized after I submitted it that I left out some very pertinent information.

In this one, cowgirl Alyssa Carson flirts with protagonist Andrew Sutter some more, but he isn't interested, remembering his girl from his doomed hometown.  She ends up flirting with his jerkish squad-mate Will, which makes Andrew jealous.  I don't have a whole lot of experience with this kind of drama, so writing it realistically is going to be tricky.

Now to finish Chapter 21, which features the villain Grendel's son Falki ending up in a rather sticky situation...

I've got 20 continuous chapters completed and when I finish 21, that'll be 22 continuous chapters.  Nine to 10 more left, with bits and pieces of material already written.  Got to finish by Veterans' Day...

However, I'm also committed to have two stories completed by either Nov. 1 or Nov. 15 for my Kennesaw writing group's "Southern Superheroes" project.  I've completed and revised the first story "Ubermensch," which was first titled "Andrew Patel's Crisis of Conscience."  The second story is entitled "Needs Must" and features an awkward team-up between the villain Andrew Patel and the heroic Silverbolt.

I've got 4,148 words on that one completed.  Hopefully I'll be able to get it done by Monday or Tuesday and submit it to my Kennesaw writing group for our Oct. 8 meeting.  That'll jeopardize my timetable for finishing Battle, but this whole situation was my idea in the first place, so I really can't complain.

Earlier this month, I also wrote 1,200 words on a short story entitled "A New World To Conquer," which is set in a new science-fiction universe I devised at DragonCon.  I was in a panel that was getting a bit dull, so I started doodling in my notebook.  I drew a roughly man-sized pterodactyl in powered armor accompanied by a human in the same gear.  My mind started whirling--what kind of story would produce this?

I ended up with the basic plots of eight novels and several short stories set in universe where humanity is part of a decaying empire ruled by alien pterodactyl-analogues.  When "A New World" is done, which will probably be after both of my Andrew Patel stories and possibly even after the first draft of Battle for the Wastelands, I intend to send it to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  I haven't sent them anything in quite awhile, since most of the short fiction I've been sending out has been revised older material they've already rejected.  If they don't want it, I suspect by that time, Digital Science Fiction would have reopened for submissions and "A New World" would be a good fit for them.

Of course, I'll run it once through each of my writing groups to make sure it's in the best possible shape...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Review: "Tears of the Sun" (SPOILERS)

Just finished S.M. Stirling's The Tears of the Sun, the newest novel in the Emberverse.  Here's my review...

The Good

*It was an enjoyable book and a fairly quick read.  Always a plus.

*Stirling clearly put a lot of care into the development of minor characters.

*I liked how the Boisean light cavalry gets lured into a trap with the prospect of sheep to steal and gets jacked.

*Good commando raid into Boise and the price that is paid for victory.  Not going to say who, but the cast from the first books is starting to get mighty thin on the ground...

*Nice cliffhanger ending to set up the next book, Lord of Mountains.

The Bad

*Too much description of the food and how it tastes.  I recall the description of the taste of cured meat coming up many times.

*Rudi MacKenzie, Mathilda Arminger, etc. kind of disappear for a long time.

*Too much time, including multiple flashbacks, spent on Mary Liu's treasonous dealings with the Church Universal and Triumphant and how they're exposed and dealt with.  It was good to meet Odard Liu's other siblings and they do get a lot of development for characters introduced (I think) in this book, but still.  I think a lot of this could have been cut from the book and been replaced with battles.  See below...

*We see Rudi and company gathering for war and we later having Tiphaine d'Ath's Mary Liu flashbacks interrupted by the need to assist Rudi and friends organizing a "fighting retreat."  The campaign and the battle that forced Montival's army to retreat don't get described at all.  This is in marked contrast with the Pendleton campaign of the earlier books, in which the campaign and its aftermath make up a significant chunk of the book. 

Given the book jacket's blurb about how Rudi knows he might die in the fight against the Church Universal and Triumphant, depicting him having a close call in a battle we see onscreen would have been awesome.

The Verdict

A good book, but Stirling can do better.  6 out of 10.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Lots of Internet Publicity for "Coil Gun"

Ever since Pressure Suite - Digital Science Fiction Anthology 3, which contains my short story "Coil Gun," debuted, I've been using the Internet to market it.

For starters, since the story is set in a timeline I created on an alternate-history Internet forum, I promoted the heck out of it there.  The threads about it are mostly in forums where non-members do not have access, so here's the link to the actual timeline of the world it's set in.  Go to the very end for some discussion about how just how the Afrikaner Confederation will incorporate much of India and present-day Indonesia--the username whose handle is "gksa" came up with some really interesting ideas I intend to use.

And that has led to further promotion.  Korsgaard, who I know from the forum, wrote a review of the entire anthology on my friend Nick's blog and reviewed "Coil Gun" individually on his own blog.

Then Korsgaard's friend Mitro mentioned my story and got some comments from Digitial Science Fiction Editor Michael Wills and then interviewed me about "Coil Gun" and the craft of writing in general.

And Digital Science Fiction was so kind as to link back to all of them on its own web-site.

Hooray for networking!

And then there's this here, the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.  Not sure who runs it exactly, but it's some additional material on my story.

Friday, September 23, 2011

I Write About Jon Huntsman

Earlier this year, I posted here about why I supported Mitch Daniels as the 2012 Republican nominee.  Unfortunately, Daniels decided not to run this year.

So I set out in search of a new candidate.  Mitt Romney has an alarming tendency to change his views to gather popularity, while Rick Perry doesn't seem to believe in evolution and has interfered with the investigation about whether Texas may have executed an innocent man.  Rick Santorum actually used the phrase "man on dog" in an interview, while Ron Paul, who I once supported quite zealously, said he would not have authorized the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

And then I found Jon Huntsman, who is fiscally conservative but doesn't have social views that would repel a growing percentage of the American electorate.

(Check out the book The Emerging Democratic Majority.  As the U.S. grows less white, less Protestant, and less Christian generally, Religious Right-type views are more and more going to be an albatross around any candidate's neck.)

Here's a column I wrote about Huntsman for my newspaper.

Don't overlook lesser-known GOP candidate in 2012

Let me emphasize this is NOT an endorsement, since my newspaper does not endorse individual candidates.  However, it is a list of reasons why Huntsman would make a good candidate.  And for good measure, I don't take shots at any of the other candidates--instead, I merely explain Huntsman's strengths.

Now to find a Huntsman group in Georgia.  In 2008, there were Ron Paul groups and I was even a member of one.  However, searching found nothing Huntsman-related in Atlanta and Googling "Georgians for Huntsman" only found me an anemic Twitter feed.

The Georgia Republican primary is February 7, 2012.  There really isn't all that much time left.


If you all are ever in Little Five Points in Atlanta, be sure to check out Fox Brothers Bar-B-Q.  It's better than Shane's or any other BBQ place I've even been to.  I especially like the brisket.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

2011 DragonCon #2: S.M. Stirling

One of the panels I had the chance to sit in on at DragonCon was that of noted science fiction and alternate-history author S.M. Stirling.

"Currently, I'm working on a sequel to Tears of the Sun," was his answer to someone asking him about his current projects.  The sequel was originally titled The Given Sacrifice, but the story took longer than he thought.  It is now called Lord of Mountains and it will complete Rudi MacKenzie's story arc--make of that what you will.  He does intend for more Emberverse novels taking place afterward--he and John Birmingham are working on one set in Australia.

"Galleys ramming each other Salamis-style off the coast of Darwin," is how he described that project.  He also made a reference to a future Emberverse novel entitled Eric the Strong, which is (I assume) about the foundation of the Norse-reconstructionist pagan culture that our heroes come across in Maine during one of the later Emberverse novels.

He referred to the Change universe as his Hyborean Age.  Robert E. Howard created the Hyborean Age so he could include things from different historical periods.  Stirling wanted to have knights in armor and cowboys existing in the same world, and voila.

He is also pondering an alternate-history project in which Teddy Roosevelt won the 1912 presidential election.  It will feature dirigibles, biplanes, guys in leather helmets with goggles, and, just maybe, an underwater base.

Stirling also said he may return to the world of Island in the Sea of Time, although he didn't go into detail.  He said he can produce roughly a novel a year, so he only has time for 20-30 novels, barring rejuvenation technology.

Someone's phone rang during the discussion. "Die!" Stirling shouted.  I thought that was pretty funny.

When asked if he has given any thought to opening up his world like Eric Flint did in his 1632 novels, Stirling said he has given thought to a shared-world anthology of Emberverse stories. However, his publisher vetoed it.

Stirling then revealed the Emberverse series has been optioned for a TV program. He warned that hundreds of properties are optioned every year, so that doesn't mean it will be made. He said the series would be like HBO's Game of Thrones, with each book corresponding to a TV season.  He said TV series are more appropriate for books than movies are--a movie is more akin to a short story or a novella.

Stirling also revealed he will have a short story included in a Barsoom anthology timed to come out at the same time as the John Carter film next year.  His story manages to include the Moon Men and Pellucidar. He will also have a Time Patrol story in a Poul Anderson tribute anthology.

"Short stories are sort of a Judas breed these days," he said. "You don't make enough money from them to be worth your time, but it's a hell of a lot of fun."

Ironically short stories used to be bigger sellers than novels.  Robert E. Howard was the richest man in his hometown.

A woman asked Stirling about including maps for battles in his books because the battles were written confusedly.  He said he tries to be as clear as possible when he writes battles.

"It's hard to be both realistic and clear about battles and fights," he said. "Especially on a large scale."

He then said that in real life, actually being a king is boring.  Lots of meetings and reports.  No wonder the fantasy stories end when the hero actually becomes king.

Another participant asked how the Draka series would end, or would the status quo continue for thousands of years.  Stirling said the Draka were alternate-history horror, an "AH Cthulhu mythos."  He said he wrote the series when he was in law school, which would explain why it was full of anger and hate.

He told the participant he was not interested in the Draka anymore, since he wrote the last book over 20 years ago.

He then discussed his life before he made it big.  He spent eight years working odd jobs while trying to write, including picking tobacco and working as a bouncer in a bar for two days.  He sold a short story to a British magazine for a quarter-cent a word.  The magazine went under, but someone bought the rights and the story appeared 20 years later.

"I got my quarter-cent a word," he said.

He told a funny story about how he sold a story to Jim Baen, the founder of Baen Books.  Baen said it was a good story, but the ending was ambiguous--what happened was the last page had gone missing.

Stirling's work began selling after he married.  His career really took off with Island in the Sea of Time and things have been getting better ever since.

"You've got to have talent, you've got to have persistence, and you've got to be lucky," he said.

He said fiction sales have withstood the recent economic downturn well, but publishers have gotten more cautious.  Publishing profit margins are typically three to five percent--people try to get 15 to 20 percent returns and they can't.  Writing is one of the last individual craft industries.  He signed a multi-book contract before the crash and he is safe.

"For people trying to break in, it's hell," he said.

An audience member asked about EBooks.  Stirling said as long as people were paying for them, he is happy with them.  He has a Kindle and it helps him read more, since he spends $6,000 per year on books.

As far as fan-fiction is concerned, if copyright is acknowledged, that's free advertising for him.  There are people who post fan-fiction on his site.

(Hmm...that might be something to keep in mind when I become a novelist.  I got a lot of practice for novels with my Harry Potter fan-fiction and so I couldn't non-hypocritically condemn fan-fiction, but I can easily imagine getting upset if someone wrote Grendel/Andrew slash fiction, romanticized the captivity of Catalina Merrill, or something icky like that.)

I got the chance to ask him a question during the session.  What happened to all the Protestants in the Emberverse?  I asked why it seems everyone in the Emberverse is either a neo-pagan or a Catholic.  Even Frederick Thurston, who was brought up as a Methodist, became a worshipper of the Norse gods.

Stirling said that was  of a joke--everyone he knows who is a member of some exotic religion started out as a Methodist.  Rarely does one see, say, an enthusiastic Orthodox Jew becoming a Wiccan.  He said the "either Catholic or pagan" situation was in the Pacific Northwest only and Iowa is still majority Protestant.

Someone else asked him what his long-term plans for the Draka were--who wins?

"The battle would have continued as long as I wanted to write the books," he said.

He said one doesn't kill off a good villain, unless you give them children.

Stirling then read a selection from Lord of Mountains out loud.  Rudi has had a big meeting at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood and he and a bunch of others investigate a supernatural occurrence nearby.  He gave Rudi and Edain faux Irish accents, which I found really funny.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Anthology Containing My Short Story Is Now For Sale

The third edition of the Kindle anthology Digital Science Fiction, which contains my short story "Coil Gun," is now available for purchase.

Buy it here for Kindle!

Buy it here for Kindle, the Nook, and other formats!

Also, here is some content that my loyal readers might appreciate.

For starters, here's the map of the world in which "Coil Gun" takes place. 

And here's the current version of the timeline leading up to the events of "Coil Gun" and what happens afterward.

I figured you all would appreciate some background material on the world this is set in.  I've got one more completed story set in this world, "Picking Up Plans In Palma," that I hope to submit to Digital Science Fiction when it opens for submissions for the fifth edition.  I've also got an incomplete story set in this universe entitled "Killing The Rijnsburg" that focuses on the spaceplane attack that destroy the titular Afrikaner battle-station (and will also feature the destruction of the Montgomery as well) I can finish and send in.

I've also got some novels that take place during the lead-up to WWIII and during the war itself and its aftermath plotted out, although one won't need to read the short fiction in order to understand what's happening.  Some of the characters in the novels appear (or are mentioned) in "Picking Up Plans in Palma," but that's just "showing" some of their back-story rather than "telling" it--the important stuff will be related in a "telling" away in the novel itself, although I can imagine including "Palma" text as flashbacks.

Also, for those of you who are new to me and enjoyed "Coil Gun," you might want to join my Facebook fan page.

Here's the link.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"Coil Gun" Is Coming Soon

The third edition of Digital Science Fiction, containing my alternate-history science-fiction story "Coil Gun," went to the printer Friday.  It will be available on Amazon this coming week.  More details as they become available. 

My first pro-level sale.  :)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

DragonCon 2011: Talks with Michael Stackpole

During this year's DragonCon, I attended two panels featuring Michael A. Stackpole, a science fiction writer noted for the Rogue Squadron series of Star Wars novels and the Blood of Kerensky BattleTech novels covering the Clan invasion of the Inner Sphere.

The first panel, I did not originally plan on attending because it was part of a series of writing workshops that one had to pay for.  However, Gary Henderson told me that one could attend individual sessions for $10 and since characterization is one of my weak points, I figured this would be a good idea.

The first panel I attended was about characterization.  Stackpole gave a presentation on the different types of characters out there, starting with roman a clef (based on real events and people, like Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics) before moving onto archetypes (stock characters), composite archetypes, and organic development of characters.

"You're going to use all of these techniques," he said.

One easy way to create a character is to combine a composite character is to take a real-world character and add--the example he gave was General Patton if he were a motorcycle-riding bad boy like the sort typically played by the young Marlon Brando.

However, one advantage of organic character development is that there's going to be character growth.

Another technique is deliberate design--Stackpole said it was like a composite characterization on steroids and said role-playing gamers do this a lot.

However, he warned against rigid adherence to a model because it would kill character growth.  "George Patton would never do that" is something one shouldn't ever say.

He also warned against complications--he said many roman a clef novels are written about students getting their master of fine arts in literature who sleep with their professors by master of fine arts in literature students sleeping with their professors and this leads to alienation-of-affection lawsuits and divorces when the professors' spouses read the novels and recognize the scenario.

He also said although archetypal stories are familiar and make readers comfortable, archetypal characters are often shallow and a sign of writers who don't challenge themselves.  Stackpole said he uses archetypes as place-holders and then elaborates on them to create real characters.

"Every character is the hero of their own story," he said.

Although I've most often heard this in regards with the characterization of villains, he said this can be used to generate additional material.  For example, what story would a fantasy hero's loyal retainer tell his children about his adventures?  Many short stories and novellas begin this way.

He then said that organic characterization has a big drawback--it takes up a lot of space/page-count and a lot might end up cut.

He also provided some more concrete advice.  He said if a secondary character begins taking over a story, one should give them their own story later.  He also said if killing off a character hurts you, it will probably hurt the reader.

I remember reading that George R.R. Martin wrote the infamous "Red Wedding" (in which the Freys and Boltons murder Robb and Catelyn Stark at Edmure Tully's wedding to Rosilin Frey, held in the Freys' castle) last of all the parts of A Storm of Swords.  Furthermore, many fans apparently reacted very strongly to the scene, including crying or throwing the book across the room.  I guess this proves Stackpole's point.

Stackpole also said writers need to be able to rationalize anything.  He said in his Age of Discovery novels, he said one race had nine gods in one book and ten in the second.  He fixed this by throwing in that members of said race didn't talk about the tenth god and this became a big deal in the third book.

"I had totally, totally blown that," Stackpole said.

However, he managed to turn it around so a flub looked like something that was planned ahead.

"That happens more than you care to remember and it's wonderful," he said. "It makes you look brilliant."

He then suggested something called "blitzkrieg characterization," a technique he said Stephen King used in From a Buick 8.  Basically, one lists two character traits and then a trait that flatly contradicts them.  The example he used was that of a well-dressed man who attended church on Sunday and Wednesday but should not be trusted with the collection plate.

"What this means is that you as the writer have them," he said.  People will want to read to find out more.

Stackpole ended his presentation with a character growth arc--have the character ask why they are, what they want to be, and what do others they think are.  The first two are connected, while the third can provide pressure on the characters.  I've read some discussion on the Song of Ice and Fire message-boards and they described Jaime Lannister's redemption arc in somewhat similar terms--he wants to be a great, honorable knight (and be perceived as such), but people think him an honorless king-slayer and suspect him of incest with his sister.  The fact his family has a rather bad reputation at this point doesn't help.  Reading the White Book chronicling the Kingsguard throughout history shows him how he's come up rather short. 

This supposedly drives his behavior later on the story, when he ends the siege of Riverrun without storming the castle or killing any rebels, rescues the female knight Brienne of Tarth from a bad situation (before, he was in the habit of calling her "wench" and was generally rude to her) and later dispatches her to find and rescue Sansa Stark, beats a man senseless with his golden artificial hand for insulting Brienne, rescues his brother from being unjustly executed, etc.

The second panel with Stackpole was about Robert E. Howard's Conan and Howard as a writer.  Something I found particularly notable was that Stackpole had written Conan the Barbarian, a novelization of the 2011 movie.  Stackpole is a man after my own heart--like me, he believes the 2011 film is a much better representation of Howard's mythos than the Arnold film.

He discussed how one novelizes a film and how he expanded on Conan's life story between Zym's destruction of his village and when we see Conan again as an adult.  This included consolidating the scene where Zym's minions chase Tamara on horseback--one simply can't write that shot-for-shot in a novel.  To write it, Stackpole wrote in the morning and read Howard's Conan stories and commentaries on them later in the day.  He finished the novel, which was contracted to be 80,000 words but came in after editing at 79,500, in 17 days, writing three chapters per day.  Much of the book is based on material not in the film--if it was solely based on the movie, it would only be 50,000 words long.

Unfortunately, the Fulton County library system doesn't seem to have it.  I'm going to have to order it off