Friday, June 29, 2012

How Fans (And Critique Groups) Can Make You Write Faster

One of my big problems in getting anything significant done in writing is procrastination.  When the "creative bug" comes, it comes hard--when I was in St. Thomas, for example, I wrote 2,000-ish words for a scene in a later Wastelands book in half an hour to an hour--but a lot of the time, it's just not there and writing becomes a chore.  And often when the "creative bug" comes, it's a different idea from my main project.

That's why I've got so many unfinished novels but only one complete (original) one.

However, when I wrote my two Harry Potter fan-fic pieces The Wrath of the Half-Blood Prince and Lord of the Werewolves, one of the things that kept me churning out the chapters (to the point I finished the nearly 200,000 word Wrath in just under a year) was that I had a lot of readers who were eager to see the next chapter.  This kept me focused and gave me deadlines--I had a whole lot of people to please.

I applied this lesson to my original fiction.  Instead of my pack of online fans, however, I had my two writing groups, one in Kennesaw and the other in Lawrenceville.  This got me producing, in some cases submitting them in multi-chapter batches.  In the Lawrenceville group, you have to commit before you submit, so many times I committed to having something to critique in order to force myself to get it done.  As a result, I ultimately finished Battle for the Wastelands and got the much-shorter novella "Son of Grendel" finished within a few weeks.  Possibly less than two months even.

This means this weekend is going to be a busy one.  I've committed to having something turned in for critique on July 8 this Sunday (July 1).  At minimum, it would need to be the first chapter of Escape from the Wastelands, but I've got more of the second chapter written.  And I've got work and social obligations too.  But I'll be moving along on the book.  God willing, if I get an offer for Battle after this year's DragonCon, they might want the second book pretty quickly, and churning out chapters like I do will make that easier.


I just found out that Wrath is listed here, in the "Fan Fic" section of the TVTrope page "For Want of a Nail."  I'm a happy camper.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Productivity Update: June 23, 2012

Just got back from a week in St. Thomas with my family.  Brought the notebook I usually carry in the car with me in case I should get a notion while I'm away from a computer.  I ended up filling up sixteen pages on both sides and a seventeenth page on one.  Wow.

I wrote much of two scenes, one from Escape from the Wastelands (Book #2) and the seventh book, tentatively titled Ruling the Wastelands.  The former is a duel between cowgirl Alyssa Carson and the villainous Falki Grendelsson, while latter is a really good character moment between Catalina Merrill and Andrew Sutter.  Hopefully this one will see the light of day, since it's so far ahead in the chronology.

Also elaborated on several characters and devised the plots for several novellas for e-readers a la Son of Grendel.  Some of them are "historical" (taking place before the first novel begins), while two more are "interquels" (taking place during the events of the novel).  At present, I have just as many if not more ideas for novellas than actual books in the series.  Given how relatively quick they are to write, this could be a way to tide fans over during the waits between novels.  Delilah S. Dawson came up with the idea in her first guest post, so props to her.

(Got to come up with some pertaining to protagonist Andrew Sutter though.  Bernard Cornwell wrote two extra "Sharpe" stories centered on protagonist Richard Sharpe, but the novella plots so far focus on Grendel's sons and the Merrills.)

I'm still waiting on comments from a couple of my betas for Battle for the Wastelands, but between their busy lives and the fact I'd like to have my Kennesaw group critique the whole novel and make the necessary changes before DragonCon this year, time is running out.  My plan is to add the additional Battle material I came up with over the trip, make one more pass for dialogue (one of my not-yet-reported betas had some problems with that), and then send it to the Kennesaw people sometime this weekend.  We'd meet to discuss it in early August and that gives me three weeks to revise before DragonCon, where publishers and (hopefully) agents roam.

Given how I've got a couples shower to attend, the Lawrenceville writing group, church, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, timing this is going to be tricky...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Whiskey on the Rocks: The Soviet-Swedish War of 1981

I had myself blocked from posting on my alternate-history forum for a month to avoid distractions from Battle for the Wastelands, but I do swing by from time to time to see if scenarios I like have been updated and to send personal messages if I just have to comment.

Here's something I found the other night.  It's called Whiskey on the Rocks: The Soviet-Swedish War of 1981.  Basically a Soviet intrusion into Swedish territorial waters leads to a skirmish, which escalates.  So far the Swedes are doing surprisingly well, but the Soviet Union outweighs them so massively that unless the war is brought to an end pronto, they're going to get gorilla-mauled.  Considering the hit the Swedish surface forces have taken thus far, one could argue the gorilla-mauling has already begun.

(And they're not part of NATO, so it's not like the U.S. is going to go to war to protect them, like we would in the case of West Germany.)

I don't know a whole lot about Swedish military gear or the Soviet equipment of that era, so I wouldn't have a whole lot to say even if I could post.  I think my personal-messaging will be restricted to encouraging Jim Smitty to continue the timeline and perhaps start writing fiction (or a fake history book like For Want of a Nail) set in it.  There's not a lot of Scandinavia-centered stuff.  Even if it's not mainstream enough for U.S. audiences, perhaps Swedes tired of their history being ignored might like it.

There is a paying alternate-history magazine accepting this type of fiction now: Alt Hist.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Movie Review: "Snow White and the Huntsman" (2012)

Saw Snow White and the Huntsman with my friends Will and Carol yesterday.  Here's my review.  Keeping it spoiler-free this time.

The Good

*The film's creators have expanded the film and provided explanations for a lot of the stuff from the fairy tale.  Snow White's parents are actually on-screen and do things, while there is a back-story for evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) that is actually somewhat sympathetic.  Just how Ravenna seduces the king is clever, while the addition of the character Finn (Sam Spruell), the queen's brother and general, explains just *how* Ravenna was able to sideline Snow White, the legitimate heir after the death of her parents.

*Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is much more active than the woman of the fairy tales.  For starters, she takes the initiative in escaping rather than being the mere victim of the Disney film.  And although she retains the kindness and compassion of the original, she shows strength and even fierceness in many places. 

*Both the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and William (Sam Clafin), the closest thing to the Prince Charming of the stories, were fairly interesting and elaborate characters.  The two-scene Huntsman of the Disney film has a back-story and an actual personality, while the more-subdued William does a whole lot of cool archer-tricks.  William has been criticized by many reviewers, but I liked him, especially just *how* he sets off to find Snow White.

*There were a lot of interesting visuals, including the Terminator 2-esque Magic Mirror, the nightmare-fuel acid trip Dark Forest that puts the "scary grabby trees" of the animated movie to shame, a village of women who have scarred themselves to avoid arousing the ire of the queen, and a confrontation with a predatory troll.  The troll's introduction was particularly ominous.

*Although rarely does one combine "fight scenes" and "Snow White," there were some good battles.  The fight between the Huntsman and the troll reminded me of the battle between the Hulk and Emil Blonsky (after the initial gamma treatments but before he turns into the Abomination) in The Incredible Hulk.  William takes names a whole lot.  And the duel between Finn and the Huntsman shows just how dangerous Finn actually is.

*There was a good bit of humor in the film, including the Huntsman's introduction and when one of the dwarfs takes a shine to Snow White.

*I liked the inclusion of Christianity into the film.  It's not preachy or in-your-ace, but it does acknowledge the role of religion, especially in a medieval-ish culture.

*And finally, "Breath of Life," the song Florence and the Machine devised for the credits, is awesome.  It's album-only if you search for the soundtrack, but the single is available from iTunes here.  The song is on YouTube, apparently posted there by the filmmakers to promote the movie, so you can see just how cool it is.

The Bad

*Although Kristen Stewart isn't as bad in the role as she has been accused of being, she wasn't as great as some of the film's fans have said either.  Most of the time she was fine, but what was supposed to be a climactic speech really fell flat.

*Charlize Theron isn't nearly as impressive as many of the reviews made her out to be, especially when she goes into harpy mode.

*When Snow White escapes from captivity, she's wearing pants under her dress.  There really is no reason why her captors would provide her pants.  It would have been better if the Huntsman, thinking her royal fancy dress is slowing their escape down, makes her change clothes.  Perhaps the pants could have belonged to the Huntsman's late wife, which would provide more substance to the relationship between the two characters.

*The triangle between Snow White, William, and the Huntsman needs more substance.  There are explanations for why each of the men likes her, but we don't really see much of her feelings for either of them.  She could be torn between the Huntsman's wildness and bad boy attitude and William's obvious devotion, their shared history, and the fact he would make a *much* better husband for political reasons, for example.

*Much of the middle portion of the movie is slow.  Yes, there are interesting concepts and visuals, but to paraphrase Scripture, interesting concepts and visuals were made for the film, not the film for interesting concepts and visuals.

*Although it's clear this world is a Christian culture, the fact the queen overtly practices black magic does not appear to have roused any particular religious opposition.  There's a scene early on where the queen confronts two captured rebels.  If one of them calls her a witch or accuses of her of being in league with the Devil, that would have been a good touch.

The Verdict

An interesting concept that wasn't as good as it could have been.  6.5 out of 10.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Suggestions To Improve "Battleship" (SPOILERS)

Since I don't like criticizing without offering helpful suggestions, here's something for Battleship.

Many critics have pointed out that Liam Neeson, who plays Admiral Shane, does not do a whole lot in the movie.  One of the few scenes he has in the middle of the film is when most of the fleet is trapped outside of the Hawaiian Islands by the aliens' energy field.  It does not appear they're doing very much to try to break through.  There's a federal VIP (Secretary of Defense?) who is pushing Shane to try to probe the field, and after being pestered about it one too many times, Shane tells him he'll order another plane at the shield when the VIP is co-piloting it.

(This is based on a real incident when a Clinton Administration official suggested to General Hugh Shelton that the U.S. could allow an aircraft to be shot down over Iraq in order to have the pretext for war.  Shelton got really angry and said he'd order the mission when the person who made the suggestion--they're not named--was trained to fly it.  That shut them up real fast.)

Although the force field took an aircraft flying into it without being overly affected, it doesn't seem like anyone made any effort to break it afterward.  Given the amount of firepower a carrier battle group has at its command, one doesn't necessarily have to risk the lives of pilots to do this.

While Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) and company are busy fighting the alien invaders inside the energy field, Shane could pull the fleet back and try to breach the field by firing on it with the conventional missiles the fleet's aircraft and missile boats carry.  If that fails to breach the force field, Shane could then request permission to use nuclear weapons.

Given how close the fleet was to the force field--the three destroyers leading the group were cut off when the shield went up--the fleet would need to pull back even farther before even a tactical nuclear device could be used.  And tactical weapons are relatively small as far as nukes go.  The W70 variable-yield bomb could go as high as 100 kilotons, over five times higher than the Hiroshima bomb, while the Tsar Bomba was 50 megatons, 1,400 times the combined destructive force of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs and around a quarter of the explosive force of the Krakatoa volcano.

(Since I assume the force field works by dissipating kinetic force all over the entire surface much like how a bulletproof vest does, and the force field is large enough to enclose the entire Hawaiian chain, it would take some serious nuclear firepower to breach it.)

So we cut between Hopper and his destroyer playing cat-and-mouse with the alien invaders inside the force field and Shane pulling the fleet back a safe distance before he begins nuclear bombardment of the energy field.  Just when the nukes are about to fly, Hopper and the U.S.S. Missouri manage to destroy the emitters on the alien flagship and the force field collapses.

Given how the general public irrationally fears nuclear energy and nuclear weapons (I've seen people suggest using a dozen WWII-era nuclear weapons could cause a nuclear winter when you'd need many, many more powerful modern devices to even get that in theory), this could be a means of building suspense.

It could also get more out of Liam Neeson.  We could see him agonizing about the use of nuclear weapons and perhaps even flashing back to the death of a relative from cancer as a result of exposure to nuclear testing or being part of the American force occupying Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings.  If he's an admiral now, he might be a Vietnam veteran, which would mean his father and uncles would be the right age to be WWII veterans or in the military in the early Cold War, when radiation dangers were not as well-known.

(It would need to be made clear that even if a hole were blown in the force shield, the fleet would need to rush through the blast zone, where the radiation is most severe, in order to have a chance of getting through before the aliens seal the breach.  Thus there's great risk of radiation exposure to the crew.)

Guest Post: Novels, Novellas, and Short Stories, Oh My!

Novels, Novellas, and Short Stories, Oh My!

By Delilah S. Dawson

If you’re on any sort of social media, then you know two things for sure: books are dead, and the zombie apocalypse is on the way. I can’t make any promises about zombies. But I can assure you that books are far from dead, although the publishing world is changing, maybe for the better. 

A traditional book runs 60,000 to 140,000 words for fiction, unless you’re talking George R. R. Martin, and then all bets are off. But traditional books aren’t the only answer, and not all stories need that many words. Stephen King and Isaac Asimov (among many others!) are known for starting their careers by writing short stories, which are generally 500 to 10,000 words. And with the advent of self-publishing and e-publishing, novellas of 20,000 to 40,000 words are growing in popularity. 

I wrote my first novel in 2009 and sold a three-book series to Pocket/Simon and Schuster in 2011. I tried to sell some short stories after that, and although I received several, “Almost; keep trying!” notes, I never managed to break into that market. So when Pocket approached me to write an e-novella, I was anxious to try my hand at a new medium—and also a little scared. After all, I was accustomed to dreaming big and having 100,000 words to explore my characters, set evocative scenes, and enjoy snappy dialog. How could I cut that down to 30,000 words and still feel like the tale was complete?

The answer was: pretty easily, actually.

I discovered that I love writing novellas. While it takes me around two sleepless months to whip out the first draft of a full-length novel and several months to revise, I wrote the 34,000 words of "The Mysterious Madam Morpho" in exactly ten days. The story came quickly, and editing has been a breeze. Because there was less to do, there was less to mess up. As this series is romance, I was able to focus in on the couple and keep them mostly in one place instead of the usual madcap adventure I favor. And boy, did they ever get personal fast. When you’ve only got one third of the time, you have to get busy three times faster!

As far as reading novellas, I’m starting to see the appeal. Buying an e-novella for less than two dollars can be a great way to discover a new author without investing bigger money in a book you might not finish. Or, if you really dig a series and the author has long windows between release dates, you can get a quick fix of your favorite world to tide you over. On the author side, it’s exciting to give characters who might not merit an entire storyline their own little adventure, and it’s also fun to broaden the world and explore new corners. 

Pocket liked my first e-novella enough to contract me for two more. The next step is collaborative as we go back and forth with what they’d like to see and what I’d like to write about. I’m excited to work within their wishes and deliver a story that will satisfy my editors and audience, not to mention entice some new readers into my steampunk paranormal world of bloodthirsty rabbits, dangerous cities, and topsy-turvy caravans.

To aspiring writers, I would recommend trying your hand at a variety of stories and seeing what works best. Whether you want to self-publish, enter contests, or go the traditional publishing route, every word you write is one word farther on your journey. Stephen King once said “The first million words are practice,” but he never said how those million words had to be divided up.

Delilah S. Dawson is the author of Wicked as They Come,the first in a steampunk paranormal romance series from Pocket/Simon & Schuster. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or on her blog. Her first e-novella, The Mysterious Madam Morpho,came out in October 2012.