Monday, December 31, 2012

The Hunters return: The Tea-Maker's Task appears in Black Gate

As a New Year's Eve present, the mighty John O'Niel let me know that my next story, The Tea-Maker's Task, was going to appear early in Black Gate Magazine.  So it goes live this year, rather than early next year.

This story was my first return to the viewpoint of Gloren Avericci, and I was determined that it would establish two things:  first, that the stories were going to be written out of chronological order, and the stories would never reference something that happened in another story.

Writing the tales out of the order they happen to Gloren allows me to flit back and forth along his chronology, writing as I please.  The stories that take place in his youth, before his collaboration begins with Aven Penworthy, are usually marked by his financial straits, and, as those who live in poverty know, there's nothing quite so funny as being poor.  At lease, in fiction.  For fictional characters, being destitute is a laugh a minute.

Of course, writing in this way means I need to keep track of the details somewhere, and that's why I began an extensive compendium for these stories.  Each project I write tends to have one of these, a single place for me to keep notes on the facts behind the characters or settings.  I don't generally list every character's eye and hair color, since readers really don't care, and usually think up an image for characters all on their own, and these, by their very nature, fit that reader's conception far better than most writer's descriptions will.

Anyway, Tea-Maker's Task also marked my return to these characters, and made the idea of writing a series of tales about them more concrete.  Before this, I had but a single tale each from the viewpoints of Gloren and Aven.  But now, having a second successful tale told by Gloren unlocked the floodgates of ideas for stories, and laid the groundwork for the others.

The conception for a series is one thing, and having the genesis of it (in the form of The Daughter's Dowry) is another.  But Tea-Maker's Task was the story that really unlocked the conception, and showed that the success of the first wasn't a fluke.  This is the story that convinced me that there really was a series, here.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Next Big Thing (Week 22)

I was asked by the mighty Alexandra Tys O’Connor to continue the ages-old blog tradition called So You Think You Can Write a Novel.  Alexandra linked forward to me through her awesome Whispering Minds blog, in which she made the entire affair look effortless. How like her that is!

The idea is that we’re supposed to wax philosophical, and reveal the inner workings of our artistic workflows, to the titillation of the multitudes.  For me, this presents a conundrum, in that my methods are terribly mundane, such as using a scrabble set and an old player piano to generate plot twists.

But, beneath the workaday writerly habits like picking words at random from the thesaurus to spice up my manuscript, writing entire chapters that are palindromes, and having the first letter of each line spell out haikus, there’s not much to say, really.  You can only detail the nitty-gritty so many times before the mere mention of quills and papyrus sets heads to nodding.

So, having imposed on your patience long enough, here’s my contribution to posterity:

1- What is the working title of your book?
My current project is a dark fantasy trilogy called Queen of Cinders.  The individual books are Waif, Widow, and Witch.  Currently, I’m wrapping up the first draft of Book Two: Widow.

2- Where did the idea come from for the book?
My oldest daughter is four, and she’s entering the fairy-tale zone.  But, while reading her the many versions of these tales, a number of nagging questions in the setup occur, and won’t let my writer’s mind rest.  All of these stories suffer from huge, glaring plot holes, and these demand answers.  As the most popular fairy tale, Cinderella was ripe for a mature treatment.  While there have been many retellings of this story, my hope was that, by entangling a number of tales, and treating each story with respect, I’d be able to draw adults into them as well.

3- What genre does your book fall under?
Adult fantasy.  Emphasis on the adult.  While not gratuitous, these books are somewhat graphic, and have disturbing elements not really suitable for children.  Of course, if you think about it, the base stories are pretty disturbing on their own.

4- Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
This is really a tough question.  No big names spring to mind for this series, perhaps because the standard “fantasy cast” go-tos are all so obvious, and all so very inappropriate.  I think a cast of virtual unknowns would suit this well.  But the characters all play so many roles in the span of the trilogy that I’d have a hard time casting it.  But they’d pretty much all need to be from the UK.

5- What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Who, really, was that low-born girl that won the hand of a prince and thereby gained a throne?

6- Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’ve got leads on a publishing house, but will also consider shopping for agency representation.  Since self-publication changes so quickly, and the proceeds that writers are realizing are now so significant, self-publication is a real possibility, too.

7- How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
27 days for book one.  Or 27 evenings, really, since my useful writing time starts around 10pm.  But once I start a project, it’s all I do until it gets done.  So why drag it out?  But, even with that mentality, book two has taken me forty-five writing nights stretched out over three clumps of about twenty days each.  These clumps are separated by huge gulfs filled with other things.  My illustration work, for example, has been taking up a lot of time I had earmarked for writing!

8- What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Probably Gregory Maguire’s Wicked.  I’m reaching for that level of definitive reimagining, although the styles are different, as he was channeling L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, a distinctly American take on writing from a bit over a hundred years ago, and I’m going for more the old-world-that-never-was sort of vibe. A more apt comparison might be Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, as the basic story is there, but in a form and level of detail that makes the forest hard to see for the trees, and definitely with an adult feel to it.

9- Who or What inspired you to write this book?
If I remember correctly, I was considering some point brought up by a writer acquaintance on Agent Query Connect’s forum, and I wrote something in response using fairy tales as an example.  In any case, I clearly remember that I continued to think about it afterward, and suddenly had scenes rolling through my head for a true-to-life sort of retelling of Cinderella.  When days pass, and an idea won’t let go, it’s best to listen to your muses.  If they don’t stop talking about something for a that long, it’s a project that’s worth taking up.

10- What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
Even though I write fantasy, these books are the first time I’ve ever had a character that uses magic.  Wierd, huh?  And the first beta readers I’ve run this past didn’t realize the story they were reading, so it stands on its own merits and doesn’t lean on the reader’s knowing the basic thrust of the story in advance.  It doesn’t read like a fairy tale, that’s for sure.

Next week, November 7th, tune in to the awe-inspiring Debra McKellan's The Writer Ambitious blog for our first post-election edition of The Next Big Thing. Also, check out Ian Isaro's blog for another dose of Work-In-Progress goodness, and Dean Rich's practical-minded work at his blog, The Write Time. Those with a taste for road-tested cool can also seek out Peter Burton's blog, and see what the Big Dog has to say.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Daughter's Dowry: Meet the Hunters at last

My short story, The Daughter’s Dowry, has recently gone live on the Black Gate Magazine website.  Though originally purchased years ago, for the print magazine, along with a number of follow-up pieces, the slow demise of the paper-incarnated Black Gate meant that the stories were waiting for an issue that was fated to never arrive.  The issue just before was to prove the magazine’s last.

But the stories have now gotten a new chance at an audience with the start of the online fiction section at the Black Gate website.  Yay!

The Daughter’s Dowry is the first story in a series that details the adventures of Gloren Avericci and his trusted companion, Yr Neh.  Gloren and Yr Neh are gallery hunters: freelance art speculators, archaeologists, and acquirers of rare antiquities.  Yr Neh also happens to be a large, somewhat moody cat.

Dowry was the first short story I produced for a small writing group I helped form in Chicago, and, while I was writing it, I remember knowing that I’d be doing more with these main characters.  At the time, though, I’d never written anything with a recurring cast, so the idea was still somewhat speculative.  But the popularity of the story allowed me to write The Sealord’s Successor a few months later.

Taken together, these stories lay out the major division in the tales.  Some are narrated by Gloren, and reveal less than flattering aspects of his own actions and thoughts during the historical events.  Gloren also relates the tale at hand to other events with which the reader is supposed familiar.  The other half of the stories are told from the perspective of Aven Penworthy, the chronicler who travels with the pair, documenting their daring-do and various triumphs.  Aven, though, has an entirely different social perspective, and also seeks (in his final drafts, at least) to show Gloren and Yr Neh in a uniformly positive light.  It is this instinctive glamorizing that perhaps spurs Gloren to tell his stories directly.

Besides being fun to write, this series has the sort of flexibility to allow a long run, as they traverse not only the length and breadth of the known world, but the vagaries of rising and falling fortunes and the arc from youth to maturity.  This means I can allow Gloren and Yr Neh to change, somewhat, and also serve as the anchors that bind the stories together, as the setting and cast can be radically different from tale to tale.

These stories have taken a long time to see the light of publication, and I’m happy to see them in print at last.  I hope people enjoy them!

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Thundering Dragon of Heaven

I missed the release of this one!  Stupefying Stories 1.7 has been released, with my cover painting for the story The Thundering Dragon of Heaven, by Michael Matheson.  For those who haven't picked this up, I'd recommend it.  That story is lots of fun, and I had a bunch of visual ideas for the painting.

I'd say this was a traditional Chinese version of Steampunk, with machine melded cyborgs and chi-channeling resistance fighters duking it out.  My concepts for this showed a couple of scenes, and I was careful to get the details from the story correct, where they were given.  But composition and clarity also rule the final product.  For example, the warship in the background of the final cover originally had battle damage, but I felt it would get too messy.  The ornate sides of the ship have detail enough, with adding in gaping holes with burning edges, debris falling away, and trailing smoke.  Maybe it would have worked out, but I kept the craft intact instead.

I love visual detail, and had a great time painting the main character's tunic.  Cloth and patterns are lots of meticulous fun to draw and paint, as it allows me to kind of do another piece of art inside the main painting.  And having her wearing something that looks smart and practical allows me to give some indication of her character.  Clothing and item design are very important, and I can't stand the school of thought that says "well, it's fantasy, so anything goes".  Here, I was looking to go for comfortable, and something the character could conceivably wear during the many action sequences to come.

Having the titles behind the clouds was the idea of the all-powerful Bruce Bethke. I'd painted the sky as a single layer, in a traditional landscape-painting sort of style, and I immediately agreed to slip the titles behind the clouds not fully appreciating how this would complicate the task.  I had to manually erase and blur the titles, then basically painting them into the background layers.  A pretty simple task that turned out to be deceptively difficult to get looking good.  At one extreme the clouds ended up looking like translucent milk spills, and on the other they turned into opaque marshmallow fluff.  But incorporating the titles into the art makes a big difference, and I'm pleased at the final effect.

Concept A was basically static, showing the protagonist in the moments before her meeting with the cybernetically augmented Emperor.  I wanted to hint that she was something of a badass, and the electric arc between her fingertips was meant to do this.  This electrical flow was going to provide point light to her face and clothes, drawing attention to it thought it was to remain visually very small.  The elaborate clothes and hair were more examples of clothing design that I tend to like, and provided multiple small panels for stitching art, like the dragon and crane motifs on the cloak's shoulders.  But this one was rejected for being a bit too static, and I agreed with that.

I'm not thrilled with the way the woman's face appeared in this concept, but realized (too late) that I'd left on the mirroring layer I'd used to make sure her features were level.  This is a trick I sometimes do, in which I duplicate and flip a layer.  After adjustments are made (if any), I discard it.  But not here!  And since this is a sketch, her lips end up being too severe, her nose almost pug, and her eyes entirely too symmetrical.  A small error, and not a deal breaker, but it shows the hazards of working digitally.  For every trick it allows. digital painting admits a new, unforeseen risk.  This is the sort of thing that couldn't happen with traditional media.  In any case, the image in my head was far more attractive.  But, as I tell myself, this is just a sketch, after all.

Concept B was the one we went with.  It's pretty close to the final painting, with a few angles and such adjusted.  The airship in, in this version, bristling with more weaponry, and I eliminated much of this from the final version.

The sketch of the airship was itself based on a render of a 3D model I made of the airship hull, to guarantee that the hull design and sail masts would be geometrically correct, given the complexity of the angles.  The task of constructing the curved lines of the hull using traditional perspective methods was prohibitive for a mere concept piece.  All that work, after all, was likely as not to be rejected, and a simple 3D model was the faster and more accurate way to go.  The final painting is, of course a painting.  The dragon, and other details on the hull do not appear in this first concept piece, except as the roughest of approximations.

Concept C was a close favorite of mine.  This image immediately jumped out at me from the story.  The protagonist is facing a huge cybernetically enhanced killing machine, and waits, readying a lethal electrical charge.  This I showed with the power running down the metal, but I added additional arcs from her boots and body to inform the viewer that the power came from her, not the metal she was grabbing.

But this was rejected on the basis that the warmachine was too Iron-Man-like, and I had to agree.  Another concept I worked on featuring this creature was far more detailed, and unique, but, in the end I never sent it in, as the thing was just too distracting.  The simplified form of this concept, silhouetted a bit by the fire on the horizon, was more visually appealing, but perhaps didn't show enough that was unique.  This is the problem posed by conceptual art: you want to give the impression, not do a full-fledged painting.

This concept, however, is still strong, and I may just do the full painting from it, just to do the idea full justice.  And who knows?  the final may end up looking just as generic as the concept did, and wouldn't that just be a hoot?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Beyond the Borders of Fiction

One day last year I was driving along a relatively busy street.  I happened to look over just as I overtook a guy dashing along the sidewalk, chasing after this small dog.  He was running flat out, trying to catch either the dog or, failing that, trying to somehow snag the trailing leash.  He was failing as I passed him by.  The tiny legs of this dog were a blur, and it stayed just out of reach.

I continued up the block.  On a whim, I pulled over at a gas station and ran back, trying to help him intercept this dog, since it was obvious there was no way he’d catch it alone, the way things were going.  It saw me coming, jigged one way, and then, smooth as can be, slipped past without ever breaking stride.

I turned after it, sure I could catch it.  But it was already beyond reach, and my hand barely missed the leash as well.  I took off after it, knowing I’d catch it soon enough.  I was just behind it, after all.  I’m not a slow runner, but that dog kept inches ahead of me, no matter how fast I ran.  I looked back, thinking I could coordinate the chase with the owner.  But he was nowhere to be seen.

Determined, I continued on down the street, alone.  It occurred to me, then, that I had somehow become the strange guy running down the street after a comically small dog, unable to catch it regardless of my effort.  I saw someone up ahead, feet wide, getting ready to intercept the dog as I drove it closer.  With a hop it passed between the man’s arms, and continued on.  He turned and reached for the leash, and, failing that, began pelting after it on foot.

I turned and ran back for my car, thinking I could drive ahead once more, and try again.  For some reason, abandoning the chase never occurred to me.  The new pursuer had followed the dog around a corner, but when I turned my car up that road, there was no sign of either one.  As quickly as the phenomena had appeared, it was gone.

For a brief couple of minutes, I’d been part of a very minor, but completely inexplicable interaction, a side show happening on the street I’d been driving down.  Nobody who saw any part of it could ask for an explanation, and it dispersed before ever being resolved.

That was real life, and yet it was the sort of thing that is forbidden in fiction because it makes no sense.  Real life is like a small dog you have to tame before it will jump through the hoops of fiction.  But, man, do those small dogs run fast.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I the Jury: The Cabin in the Woods

The charges:  Betraying a clever premise, Disappointing resolution, Cliché characterization.

The Verdict:  Not Guilty!

The Ruling:  The Cabin in the Woods is a very clever film, setting up a premise that allows not only the use of horror film conventions at will, but actually executes them very effectively.  It walks that tightrope between being funny and being tense and scary all at once.

Like 1994’s Scream, The Cabin in the Woods knows it is a genre film, even if the characters in the movie don’t ponder this fact as openly.  Every cliché and go-to technique is used, except, perhaps, the cat-jumping-out-of-a-cupboard jump-scare.  But whenever Cabin uses them, it always does so in a way that defeats the expected timing, especially with jump-scares, sometimes to use the very same one traditionally a moment later, when it suddenly works.  Other times, it carefully sets up an expected scare, and then lets it linger, but the jump never materializes at all.

Often this is done through very skilled use of the framing of shots.  The camera’s limited view has served to limit the perceptions of the characters onscreen since the dawn of film, but horror, as a genre, abuses this convention in extreme ways, most of which have become so tired that they have lost their power.  Cabin in the Woods demonstrates that this can still be done effectively, and the technical prowess of framing and composition borders on the ingenious.  The timing, too, is excellent, allowing the viewer to relax just long enough before startling them all over again.

But it also benefits from great writing.  The two technicians in the opening scene, for example, are genuinely witty, and the five soon-to-be-victims, too, are not the cardboard cutouts the audience has so long been bred to expect.  The acting supports this, as each is played very well.  The five youths fit stereotypes, of course, but that’s the entire premise, and when they defy conventions by acting intelligently and planning competent strategies, I found myself relaxing, just a little, not having to maintain an exhausting suspension of disbelief, especially since all five have been shown to be pretty smart.  It’s nice to see their cleverness stick with them when the going gets tough.

The movie isn’t perfect, though, and the extended resolution could have been tightened up, with certain scenes lingering just a tad too long on certain entities better left with less screen time.  But, in general, the movie clips along well, developing expectations and then defeating them, often within moments of each other.

Cabin in the Woods is by far the most effective film of its type I’ve seen in a long time, and will appeal to those who are looking for a flat out good time.  It’s the sort of movie that rewards an enthusiastic buy-in to the premise.  It doesn’t take the audience for granted, but instead takes them on a scary-themed thrill ride, and doesn’t pretend it isn’t just a ride.

The accused is found NOT GUILTY of all charges.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cog Noscenti

April 14th saw the long-delayed arrival of Stupefying Stories 1.5, or, as many have taken to calling it, AIFKAF (The Issue Formerly Known As February). My short story, Cog Noscenti, graces the cover. Yay for me!

I’ve already fielded questions about the cover, and no, I didn’t do the cover painting. This was the formidable David Goodman. I have done my own painting for it, though, and may post it later.

Cog Noscenti came about from a brief premise sent to me by the magazine’s publisher, Bruce Bethke. Could I write a story wherein Abraham Lincoln somehow survives his assassination attempt? Sure, I replied. No problem. Ah, optimism. The problems started immediately.

Of course, the most obvious problem (beyond a hole in the head) was an unspoken question: what would he do? There is little more depressing than a revenant without a goal. So, Lincoln is rebuilt, ala Steve Austin, and sets forth to do...

...what, exactly?

This was a dilemma. I didn’t really want to get dragged into the gritty world of Reconstruction in the South, as that didn’t seem to suit the tone of a Six-Thousand Dollar Man (cost-adjusted, of course). Like Batman’s gadgets, Lincoln’s technological resurrection hinted at a larger strata of agents, able to provide precision machining, medical skill, and a visionary mission that is intact before it is needed. For Lincoln, it would need to be secretive, yet dynamic, able to respond to the unforeseen circumstance of his assassination.

And where there is one secret society, isn’t there always another?

The initial musings I had for the story, swirling in my mind long before I began writing, was that those who had rebuilt Lincoln had done so to serve some secret, illicit agenda of their own. The story would show Lincoln’s confrontations with each, all in differing circumstances. But that, I quickly realized, was not only somewhat cliche and dull, but would require a lot of exposition explaining each motive, and how they all intended to use Lincoln originally. I entertained this idea for just a few hours before abandoning it.

Loaded with uninteresting baggage. Been there, done that, steampunk or not.

And that left me... where? Right back where I started. This, I realized, might have to be a bit more convoluted. I like convoluted.

So we now have an implied team of super agents, each drawn from history, though we only see a few on-stage in this tale. We have a secret society and its nemesis, mirror images of each other but differing in goals and methods. The story should move quickly, but not bounce around too much, and thus I have a chronological salad of events, tied together with a “present” in Paris.

And lots of historical research. Strange as it may seem, this short story took more research than any other project I’ve written. Every character, date, and location is drawn from history. Every reference and object. Every technological implement (except for the steam-borg augmentations) are historically appropriate. There was, in the middle section of the story, a sequence where I’d was checking this or that source with every new sentence. It was slow writing indeed.

In the end, I’m pleased with it, and, as is my habit, I set it up so I could write more stories in this world. Who knows what Lincoln could have done next?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Seven Minutes to Bangor

Stupefying Stories recently published my short story Seven Minutes to Bangor, and I’ve had a few people ask my about it in the past, so I thought I’d give some background for it here. If you have been living without the joys of this story, it’s in the December 2011 issue.
I’m a big fan of the modern holiday of Christmas. As invented in the late 19th and early 20th century, it’s pretty cool. Stripped of all religious meaning, it has become a winter festival of color and light, pushing aside the deary weather and isolation so many dread during the coldest months. It’s got family gatherings, presents, and lots of bric-a-brac. The practical traditions, such as decking out your house with difficult and often dangerous-to-install lights, fragrant and messy wreaths, and tactically-placed mistletoe make it unique in other ways. Just seeing the trappings of this holiday evokes strong memories, even among those who have never celebrated it directly, like me.
But the best thing about it is how completely nonsensical the mythology surrounding it is. It’s unabashed fantasy. A jolly fat man rides in a flying sleight pulled by twelve giant arctic deer, who also fly. He delivers toys to the world’s children*, in a single night. These toys are constructed and assembled at the north pole. By elves.
Yeah, freakin’ elves. Awesome.
How can this be improved upon? Well, I love the adventurous style of this holiday story. It’s got a kinetic frenzy completely lacking in every other holiday. If you think about it, what other celebration is kicked off by such a mythic worldwide race against the clock?
Seven Minutes just looks at what might go into the actual execution of such an absurd event. Who is the man at the center of this whole thing? How can he do so much in one night? And what’s the deal with those elves?
I wrote this years ago, in a writing group I started with some friends in Chicago, and then let it simmer for a while. Santa Clause wasn’t going anywhere, I reasoned, and I couldn’t seem to find the right platform to submit it until I started working with Stupefying. Also, the story came pre-dated, as the whole affair was powered by super technology that would never exist laid over a foundation of the antiquated and the obsolete.
I’m not one to include popular references in my writing, and Seven Minutes is one of the only times I’ve done so. This sort of thing never ages well. But I include a lot of small detail that make the story feel like it takes place somewhere in the early nineties. In the end it won’t matter much, since the story is, of course, about a guy delivering presents made by elves and flying deer. And those never go out of style.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Often unable to save face

Recently, I saw a movie called (uncleverly) Faces in the Crowd, in which a woman takes brain damage as a result of a fall. Brain damage is, as a storytelling device, loads of fun. It allows writers to examine our normal lives through the lens of impairment. In this case, she develops a marked case of prosopagnosia.

Prosopagnosia is commonly called “face blindness”, and there are many levels of the disorder, most of them accessible through brain trauma. Sufferers display varying levels of difficulty in facial recognition. In severe cases, the person may be unable to recognize anyone, even themselves, and must continually fall back on other cues as to who people are.In the movie, of course, the damage was taken while evading a serial killer (what else could it have been?).

So the killer plays a rather unimaginative game of cat and mouse with the protagonist, knowing that she’ll never be able to recognize him later on. In the movie, the prosopagnosia is shown by having multiple actors play each character, with changes of actor coming whenever the character’s face goes out of view.The actors were all similar, of course, but the idea was to make the viewer vaguely uncomfortable, by defeating their natural recognition by continually changing the character’s features.I, however, just barely noticed, and usually didn’t see the transitions at all

.I have prosopagnosia, you see. So the movie didn’t work for me. Sigh, Yet another theatrical masterpiece, spoiled by neurological deficiencies!

I’ve only become aware of this in recent years. I have a lifetime’s irritating habit of monitoring the way my mind works (this goes way, way beyond introspection), and have always known I was bad at recognizing faces. I have memories of saying this exact thing to people at nearly every age.

“I’m really bad at names and faces,” I hear myself say, over and over, “so if I don’t recognize you next time, don’t get mad, or anything.”

“Oh, I’m no good at that either,” was the usual response. But my no good was at a whole other level than theirs, I was almost certain. And I must have been mostly right, because I can’t count the number of times I’ve have strangers walk up to me and greet me by name.

“Hey!” I’d gush, feigning pleasure at seeing them. “How’s it going?” This gambit to learn something that might jog my memory as to who this person might be is pretty weak, since most people just give you a placeholder answer, rather than a fact.

I used to think my poor skill at remembering faces was sort of ironic, given my lifelong interest in portraiture, and drawing people. But recently I’ve begun to wonder if my striving for technical skill in this area isn’t some sort of coping mechanism, a new set of hooks to hang my visual impression on, a way to categorize features so that I might be better at recalling the face as a whole. And perhaps this has worked. Who can say how bad I would be at this if I didn’t have this habit to fall back on?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

First Impressions

November saw the publication of my short story First Impressions in the magazine Stupefying Stories. I've been asked about it by a few people, so here goes some navel-gazing about it.

There are spoilers, though, so if you haven't read it, don't read this blog post about it first. Go buy it! No, really.

First off, this is the first SF story I've ever written that has aliens in it. Yep, I don't do aliens, since people are strange enough. But the entire point behind this story is how aliens are treated by most SF: as surrogates for specific human cultural traits or viewpoints.

I've only read a few pieces that actual make aliens seem alien. Usually, I sort of nod my head, and say, "Yep, those are the samurai. Oh, those are Soviet." or whatever. So many writers crib human cultures its almost hard to remember that it can be any other way. Most attempts to get inside an alien's head reverts to merely examining in painful detail human foibles. Star Trek has this approach down to a science. And most attempts to avoid these pitfalls create painfully awkward and self-conscious writing.

The core idea of First Impressions was to take these traits and run with them. The aliens in the story are completely human, mentally, with only superficial differences. They look like the classic grays, which was my unwritten signal that this was about our collective cultural memes regarding aliens, and not aliens themselves.

The protagonist, Darrel, being primed to meet aliens, is basically taken for a ride by prankish children, who abuse him physically and mentally in a sort of light-hearted game to see who can outdo the other with outrageous acts and still stay in the alien persona they've adopted. The Eisenhower-era characterization of their mother is a nod to the Golden Age of SF, where Cold War sensibilities rule in the far future.

The final entrance of yet another alien, whose thought exactly mimic Darrel's just drive home the point: these aliens are just human minds in other bodies.

Monday, January 30, 2012

January Recap

Okay, for some reason the wheels came off my writing this month. I cranked out the first book in the Queen of Cinders trilogy in less than 30 days. In that same amount of time, I've written one-third as much on book two. Lame! At this rate, I'll be wrapping this book up around April. No way. I've got to speed this puppy up!

If only there were a way to get two extra hours in a day...

I did three speed paintings this month, which isn't quite on schedule, but they're quick, so no worries there. The thing about painting fast in digital is that the medium's shortcomings and strengths become all the more apparent when working quickly. The program's quirks, too, loom larger when time is critical. For example, if something is a problem that can be fixed by fiddling with the tool settings, I'd normally stop working and do a quick "sharpen the saw" session, and adjust the tool. During a speed painting, though, I don't do that. I just let it go. Why? I'm not sure. It's not like I can't pause my timer. But I don't.


I'm also looking into e-pubbing one of my novels, and have been reading other people's notes on how it's going for them, the pitfalls, and so on. It's a lot to take in, but the more I look at it, the more viable it sounds. For the first time ever, going the traditional route (agent, publisher, etc.) seems antiquated. I haven't made any decisions, yet, but there seems to be little to lose, really. Except two novels, of course, if the experiment goes terribly wrong.

And that's it, work-wise. No game news, no new publishing.

Funny, I'm looking forward to beginning the editing I've got slated for February. This will be the first time I've read through my first draft of Queen of Cinders, Book One. I'm not a big fan of editing, so that must say something about what a grind January was. And, the only way I'm going to start editing Book One is by finishing Book Two.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Here We Go Again

2012 is here, and I’m in full swing to start my shiny new year.

First off: Goals
2 novels
Sure, they’re books 2 and 3 in a trilogy, but I’m hoping to knock them out the way I did the first.

12 short stories
And I do mean short. One or two days to write a first draft, max.

1-hour paintings to keep me in the groove and all limber, art-wise. No getting bogged down with these. Just one a week.

App Development
I’ve grown tired of beating my head against the physical market, and have decided to move Bradford Design games and puzzles onto mobile platforms, where appropriate. I have two projects on the starting blocks, and hope they can see daylight before the end of the year.

Look into E-Pubbing
While I’m going to give all of my novels a chance to go the traditional route, I think that testing the e-pubbing option is something worth exploring, even though every fiber of my being protests. It just feels too much like vanity publishing, but maybe I’d better get with the 21st century.

New Web Site (or sites)
Yeah, my presence on the web has really gone nowhere, but that should turn around this year.

Resume contact with the rest of the world
My habit is to work in the evenings, in the two hours I’ve got free, but I need to get back in touch with my friends, too.

And there you have it. 2012’s biggest goals.