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Always count on a lolcat to cheer you up.

Not!

Anyway, the comments from the second Alpha are in, and he liked it. Yay! Now it’s time to revisise and type it all up. In fact I started reading the raw draft the other day and I could not stop reading. Go figure. Am I good or what?

Or what?

Oh never mind. Well, at least the story is good enough that I don’t feel like flinging it to the nearest trashcan, so that’s a plus. So, now I have to schedule my time around working on book 2, restarting book 3 and querying book 1.

Joy!

ūüėÄ

—-

I used this song to set up the mood in the first chapter of the book. Too bad it will have to remove it, because I don’t have the money to pay for the rights to it and I doubt a publisher would take a risk in paying for said rights in a book by an unknown author. Still, it fits so here it is: Living on the Edge-Aerosmith.

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I didn’t know where to post this, if in my regular writing blog or in my sci-fi one, since my current WIP is science fiction, but it is really about writing, so I decided to to split the difference I post it here.

This current WIP is by far the most ambitious I tackled: epic in scope, with lots and lots of characters, political intrigue, detailed world building and multiple POVs. So it should not come as a surprise to anyone that it has been sloooooow going. Lately when I write, if I write at all, I end up writing something that in my gut feels wrong. Maybe it’s the placing withing the plot, or I’m using the wrong POV character, or maybe I started the scene in the wrong place. Feels more like a shore than a joy.

Yet I keep coming back.

Can’t help it.

Cross out entire pages, write some notes to sort myself out and start all over again.

And then something happened yesterday and today. I started the next scene and it felt right. The action flowed, the dialogue was snappy and the story moved forward.

It felt good, really good.

Sure, I’ll have to rip it apart in the re-write, but damn it felt good to be a writer. The feeling of being in the “zone”, pen fluttering wildly, thoughts flowing freely, the narrative coming together.

I missed that feeling.

What will happen tomorrow, who knows and I don’t know how long it will last, but hey, today was a good day to be a writer.

—–

It happens to all of us (writers that is), our minds overload with ideas, jamming our train of thought and skewing our writing course.

Which means, that sometimes you just have to stop, download your brain and keep going.

Yes, download, as in downloading files from/to a computer or server.

Happened to me last week. I was gong through a bit of writer’s block. No, this time around I wasn’t bullying my characters into doing something they didn’t want to do. Instead a set of ideas bubbled up from the ether and into conscious foreground. A figure stood at the mouth of a dark alley, fedora shielding him from the pouring rain and at my feet laid a dead body. Everything was in black and white except for the bright red stain of blood in the corpse’s chest.

I looked at the figure and he said “My name is John Malone, Psychic Detective.”

How can you say no to a guy with a smoking automatic on one hand?

I sure wasn’t going to try.

So the downloading began.

How exactly did I do that? Did I invent a neural interface so that my thoughts would be converted to Ones and Zeroes and travel from my squishy brain to the desktop’s hard drive.

Of course not.

Pen and paper. Lists, time-lines, notes. That’s what I’m talking about. Now, I am not to just start writing the moment an idea seizes me. I don’t keep a notebook under my pillow. I let my thoughts marinate in the deep fryer of my mind for awhile. Sometimes they disintegrate in the slop or retreat back to the ether, but this character just wouldn’t go away.

“My name is John Malone, Psychic Detective.”

Notes, yes notes:

Setting: Grant City, U.S.A. Midwestern City, Alternate Earth, 1920s-1930s.The Great War lasted until 1920 and ended with the occupation of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Anatolia (modern day Turkey). Revolution spreads throughout the world. European Empires bankrupt. Prohibition becomes the law of the land, gangland violence and racial tensions are on the rise.

Main Character: John Malone-Psychic Detective. Psychic powers are all variations of empathy. Also suffers from an extreme form of colorblindness.

Influences: Comic Books, Crime Stories, Early 20th American History, Film Noir, The Dresden Files

Genres: Diesel Punk, Short Story, Alternate History, Science-Fiction, Comic Books (Watchmen and Sin City).

And so on. By writing it down I can clear my mind and refocus on my current WIP. I can also tell if it’s just a straight shot in the dark or something I can work with at some later time. Think of it as a bit of mental (not as in crazy mind you, although…) Spring Cleaning.

Rubbish out, clean air and useful thought patterns in.

At least I hope so. ūüėČ

—–

Final reminder that the “Behind the Headlines” Blogfest kicks off tomorrow, April 5. Can’t wait to read what you wrote.

—–

And now for some music by Chicane-Saltwater:

This is the first  post in the Behind the Scenes series. Each one is a sneak peak behind the world building mechanics of SuD.

All posts marked (WB) refer to world building.

———

What is the Beyond?

The answers to this question are many, and like all answers to the most fundamental questions of existence they are all incomplete and therefore useless. Their only purpose serves to illustrate the thinking of those who give them and she very little light over the subject itself. I can only say that all the things that lie in the Shadows of Men and Things come from the Beyond.

The Beyond is a catchall term for the source of all supernatural things in our world. Depending on who you ask it can be an alternate reality, different dimension, a universe outside our own, Dreamland, Heaven, Hell, Hades,Valhalla, Sheol,etc.  All those places that lie beyond our knowledge or understanding, and where supernatural things dwell.  Spirits or Demons dwell in the Beyond and project themselves into our world (sometimes referred as the Mortal Realm). The stronger the being the more it can impose its will on our world and bend or break the rules, while weaker forms must conform to existing archetypes and labor under the limitations imposed by them.

From a world building point of view, a undefined space for the supernatural allows for all myths to be true thus giving me the ability to have different religious and philosophical traditions  (both real and imagined) co-exist harmoniously.  The key is keeping the different interpretations straight, accurate (up to a point, this is not a post-graduate  theological/philosophy text). The conflicts arise not from the very nature of the supernatural, but of how different individuals, groups and cultures  see it. Another thing to keep in mind is that regardless of their respective mythological sources, the rules under which these entities operate in the Mortal Realm must have some consistency, otherwise it reads off like a cheap excuse for not doing the work.

Well, that covers the concept of the Beyond.

Do you prefer a mix and match of things or do you try to focus on a specific mythos (original, derived or real world)?

——-

A week ago I met a friend of mine for coffee. We talked about life, politics and eventually, writing. I explained the premise of SuD and how it was based on multiple philosophical, religious and cultural references from Enoch to Cervantes. When we got to the part of the “vampires” he stopped me. “Demonkin? Interesting stuff with the Hunger, but why not call them Nephilim?”

And you know what? He had point.

I called them vampires for a lack of a better term, even though they did not fit the mold (deconstruction or not). These guys are not vamps. Leeches of human society, yes, but not vamps. So I went back over the research material (in the web, yes I know) and I found the following:

1It happened after the sons of men had multiplied in those days, that daughters were born to them, elegant and beautiful.

2And when the angels, (3) the sons of heaven, beheld them, they became enamoured of them, saying to each other, Come, let us select for ourselves wives from the progeny of men, and let us beget children.

10Then they took wives, each choosing for himself; whom they began to approach, and with whom they cohabited; teaching them sorcery, incantations, and the dividing of roots and trees.

11And the women conceiving brought forth giants, (7)

12Whose stature was each three hundred cubits. These devoured all which the labor of men produced; until it became impossible to feed them;

13When they turned themselves against men, in order to devour them;

14And began to injure birds, beasts, reptiles, and fishes, to eat their flesh one after another, (8) and to drink their blood.

Okay, so that last bit is vampiric. But they are a) sons and daughters of fallen angels (demons), b) grew to great stature (size, power, wealth), c)born out of lust, d) devourer and destroyer of all things upon the Earth.

Yep, why twist an existing archetype beyond recognition (shame on me for breaking one of my own rules) when another exits that fits even better with the themes in the book?

Which goes too show you, oh gentle reader, that a little perspective is a good thing. Writing is a solitary process, but finding someone you trust to take a peek can and does help. It may be just a name change, but it’s the difference between an awkward term that doesn’t fit and one that embraces the theme(s) central to the narrative.

As that same friend was fond of telling me, “Life is in the details. Because life is made of little details.”

And now for some music:

This is my entry for the February’s Fight Scene BlogFest.

Enjoy!

——–

The afternoon sun beat down on Hadrian’s exposed skin. The harsh light glinted of the naked steel of his sword. The roar of the crowd washed over him. He was their favorite, their champion. He ignored it all by counting the clanks as the portcullis rose before him. Each metallic bank of the hidden wheels counting down to the engagement. Each one bringing him closer to the fight.

Clank

“If you want her, you will have to buy her,” said the jealous lover.

Clank

“Five hundred talents at least, my boy.¬† Enough to make your dreams come true,” exclaimed his manager.

Clank

“Yes, I will leave with you, where ever you want to go my love. Beyond the mountains where the summer’s are cool and the winter’s quite,” said the woman he loved.

Clank

“Not this time. This time you will meet your match. My beast will feast on your bones,” exclaimed the exultant rival.

Clank

“Make it a fight for the ages, and your debt to me will be repaid in full,” said the petulant Duke.

Clank

All the reasons why he was here. One way or another this would be his last fight. Hadrian walked into the arena. He felt the sand between the toes of his sandals. The Duke sat high above him across the oval, surrounded by guards and war wizards. His girth a product of his opulence. He kept the bread and gave his people circuses instead.

And for the last ten years, Hadrian was the main attraction.

No wind blew this summer day. The red main of horse hair on top of the gladiator’s round helm lay limp.¬† Droplets of sweat came down his arms racing down highways of nicks, muscle and cuts. He reached the center of the arena and bowed to the Duke. The fat man smiled back and raised his hand in salute. The motion quieted the crowed. The Duke stood from his bejeweled chair. “Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor and pleasure to present to you the Champion of our glorious city, Hadrian the Unconquered!”

The crowd exploded in wild adulation. Hadrian raised his arms, punching the air with steel sword and bronze shield.¬† “In this most glorious of days, the day our our city’s birth, Hadrian has consented to face his most dangerous foe. A great beast of the North, a Lyndwyrm!”

A hush descended upon the crowd. Once slaves battled beasts but gladiators fought other men. The Church tried to outlaw the games but they only managed to “reform” them. Gladiators rarely fought to the death and fighting animals was rare. Fighting such a dangerous beast could very well mean Hadrian’s death, and they did not want to see that. Not their beloved champion. But Hadrian bowed once again to the Duke and when he raised his head he gave the crowd a wide smile a smile that hid the fear that consumed his thoughts. Faint cries of “No” turned to screams of adulation.

The Duke smiled in turn. “Let the match begin!”

A panel slid open on the arena floor. A gigantic worm slithered from within the bowels of the arena with lighting speed. It’s beaked head raised to the heavens. It gave a ear splitting screech. Hadrian stared his at the dun colored, slime covered opponent.¬† “Not the brightest idea you ever had,” he said at loud.

The beast turned down toward Hadrian. It’s beak like maw split open, spitting twin streams of viscous liquid that met in mid air. The gladiator raised his shield in time to block the attack, but saw in horror as the sun came though the wholes left by the corrosive spittle.¬† He dropped the disintegrating shield just in time to see the wyrm descend upon him. He rolled to his left. The razor beak snapped in the air, spraying sand everywhere.

Hadrian stood with a kick stand, just to be battered by the powerful stroke of the wyrm head. The strike sent him flying against the masonry wall of the arena.¬† Hadrian shook his head, trying to clear his clouded vision before the wyrm’s beak snapped him in two. He danced around the wyrm, using his size to stay under the wyrm body. But his attacks had little effect. The combination of the slime and the beast thick hide turned body piercing stabs into glancing blows.¬† He drew thick, putrid smelling blood where the sand clung to the underside, neutralizing the ooze. Yet each strike only made the lyndwyrm angrier. Hadrian ducked and weaved careful not to slip in the trail of slime left by the wyrm. He ran until he reach the wall beneath the Duke’s seat. The wyrm charged him. At the last second Hadrian moved out of the way. The stadium shook with the impact. The beast reared it’s head, then spit anew. A pair of war wizards gesticulated wildly over a burning brazier. Columns of fire intercepted the acid raining down on the crowd.¬† A guard stepped forward, crossbow in hand. The Duke glanced at him. The guard stepped back but kept the crossbow at the ready.

Hadrian traced the slime path way back to the wooden door from which the wyrm entered the arena.¬† Once he felt wood underneath his feet, he angled his sword to catch the sunlight. The reflection shone on the wyrm’s black eyes. Enraged it dove down on Hadria. He rolled to his right. The worm struck the door, destroying it in a shower of splinters. It thrashed in sheer desperation. Hadrian crouched nearby waiting his chance. As the beast liberated it’s head, Hadrian slashed at the exposed eye. The dark eyeball exploded on contact with Hadrian blade.¬† The beak missed Hadrian’s head by mere inches.¬† Hadrian moved back and forth, taunting the creature by darting away at the edge of its damaged vision. It came down, again and again until Hadrian saw his opening. On the last attack, he rolled on his back and the jumped, holding his sword in an overhead two handed strike. This time the blade sunk deep into the wyrm’s head. The creature tried to pry his tormentor by shaking its head from side to side. Hadrian held on as much as he could. Then he slid down on the wyrm’s back.¬† He landed with a thud on the ground, covered in blood, sand and slime. He turned in time to see the lyndwyrm collapse in a heap a feet away.

He calmly walked to the beast, retrieved his sword and raised it defiantly. The crowd went wild. “Hadrian! Hadrian! Hadrian!”

Every bone in his body ached, but he had won. He would miss the adulation and the excitement, but not the fear.

Undefeated.

Unconquered.

And for the first time in ten long years, unchained and unafraid.

——

Well that’s my entry. I hope you like it.

I came across the Fight Scene BlogFest on Random Writings (hi Carol!) which lead me to Crimso Ink post. The goal is to write and post a fight scene of reasonable length as part of the BlogFest. Since I written about fight scenes before, I thought I give it a try.

Here are the rules:

1) In the next 2 weeks, write a blog post about the Fight Scene Blogfest to spread the word! Why? Because it wouldn’t be very fun if no one knew about it. Duh.

2) Post a link to your blog in the McLinky at the bottom of this post so we can all jump to your blog and devour your Fight Scene!

3) Tweet about it if thou hast a twitter. Remember to use the brand new hashtag: #FSBlogfest
4) Not a story writer? Find your favorite movie/tv/book fight scene. The one that had you on the edge of your seat and wincing when a blow landed.

You should go to the original post (link above the rules) to enter your blog into the McLinky widget. The BlogFest kicks off on February 1st.

Good luck!

And now another AMV from my favorite anime- Samurai Champloo, which happens to have great samurai fight scenes too!

I just finished Elantris by Brandon Sanderson, one of the contributors to Writing Excuses podcast (an excellent resources for writers).  The story centers around the actions of three characters: Raoden, Crown Prince of Arelon, Sarene, Princess of Teod and future wife to Raoden and Hrathen, gyorn (high priest) of the Empire of Fjordell in the city of Kae, the capital of Arelon. The city in turn exists in the shadow of the ruins of Elantris, an ancient city of the godlike Elantrians who fell from grace a decade before. What happened to Elantris then and how that affects the future of Arelon are at the key to the stopping a religious empire bent on word domination.

By faith or by fire.

I won’t do a formal review as I don’t know what that is exactly. I’ll simply lists relevant points about the story and how they apply to writing (specially speculative fiction).

Strong Points:

  • Excellent characterizations: Strong characters you care about. No one is completely good or completely evil, but credible in their actions, word view and emotional states. You care what happens to the characters and the outcome of the actions.
  • Character Driven Story: Although it seems at first to be plot driven due to situations out of the characters control (mainly the Reod and the Dateline), what really propels the characters is their actions and interactions.¬† Each one of the three principal characters works with what they have at hand, many times at cross purposes. It is the mingling and colliding of these purposes that drives the story forward.
  • World building crafted into the plot: Instead of large blocks of obfuscating text the world bulding is subtly worked into the plot, in fact figuring out how the magic of the world works is key to the plot. You catch on quickly to the political, social and magical aspects of the Elantris universe and yearn to learn more about them. For someone who is known for his extensive magic rules and world building, Sanderson managed to write it in with a deft and light touch.
  • Not your standard fantasy setting: Yet it feels both real and fantastic at the same time. Flawless internal consistency and logic through out. The world feels unique in its modernity yet still has enough of the fantasy/medieval tropes to keep it within the genre it explores.
  • Great use of the Multiple 3rd Person Close POV:¬† Creates a nice back and forth between the view, expectations and actions of each faction from their perspective character. Enough is revealed to maintain logical consistency without ruining the future twists and turns in the story, even if some of them are predictable.

Weak Points:

  • Hook but no Line: The story starts with an intriguing hook, but the line behind it doesn’t seem to tug hard enough or with enough pressure to pull the reader along. The reason is that their is not enough tension in the narrative line because the stakes while described at extremely high remain distant. It is not until the stakes became immediate that the pace of the story picks up¬† tremendous speed and excitement.
  • Fantastic Name Confusion: The story has very little in the way of fantastic animals or objects, but the characters names can become confusing (except for principal characters). With some many minor yet important characters, losing track of who’s who happens from time to time. Much frustration ensues.

Well that is all I have to say about Elantris. Overall a good first novel, a strong entry in the fantasy genre and if you can go past the somewhat slow beginning, a rewarding narrative overall.

Oh boy, I’m going straight to Hell, hand me that hand basket, okay, thanks!

Which just show you that writing about religion is hard. That’s why most speculative fiction writers, especially in the fantasy genre/sub-genres avoid it, at least when it comes to Abrahamic religions (it seems Wicca and other forms or paganism are fair game).

The reasons are multiple:

  • The writer doesn’t want to offend anyone.
  • The writer doesn’t want his book to be a dissertation on his religious beliefs.
  • The writer fears that he will get it wrong.
  • Most writers, even if they are agnostic or atheist still come from a religious background (mostly the above Abrahamic religions or sects/cults there in) and unconsciously anthropomorphize the Supreme Deity (God with a capital G for those keeping score t home).

My problem is that, considering the modern concept of what is God (yes, the capital G-man) makes him (or it) to be omniscient and omnipotent, ergo any but the most vague descriptions of the Almighty himself (does not include discussions on the theological/historical/social aspects of religion by the way) will fit the bill. If you turn Him into a character, then he is not longer, well, Him but a lesser copy, thus not worthy of having the title, unless you’re writing in the post-modern tradition of the “Jerk-God” (yes, with a capital…oh never mind).

So what is a writer to do?

  1. Polytheism: Although many fantasy stories are written in a High Middle Ages milieu (knights, stone castles, feudalism) the write creates a cosmology full of gods and goddesses. Most of these act like a combination of Anglo-Saxon, Nordic, or Greco-Roman pantheons, although it is not uncommon for these deities to have “churches”, “clerics” and other attributes of modern Christian (especially Catholicism) sects. Common in D&D and works inspired by it and previous authors, such as Robert E. Howard.
  2. Henotheism/Molotraism: Other gods exist but the story/characters focus on worshiping one above the others, either because it is the patron deity of a city, culture or nation or simply the belief that others are not worthy of worship. Does not preclude the existence of other deities, only the preference/worthiness of these vis-a-vis the chief deity. May be a step toward monotheism. In Urban Fantasy (American Gods by Neil Gaiman or DC Vertigo’s Lucifer) it serves as an explanation of why the old gods have faded from the world but not disappeared completely.¬† Also serves to establish that all myths are true.
  3. Distant God:¬† Deux Ex Machina, God is in the machine or at least he is IT, everything, the All or the supreme architect. He exists but for some reason he is either preoccupied with running the universe or he is everyone/everything and can not be reduced to one person/thing. Basically a cop out by the writer, as in “yeah, it’s there, I just don’t want to talk about it”. The world now belongs to Man and does not need a powerful deity mucking about and interfering with free will.
  4. The Absent/Uncaring/Malicious Deity: God has either moved on with creation, doesn’t care what happens to its creation or set up the whole thing as a great cosmic joke. Mostly a take that against organized religion (think Dogma or for that matter, anything by the late, great George Carlin). Many of these stories pit humanity against demons or the Devil, and the most it can expect from the Powers That Be are a few angels here or there and they may not be good guys or may not even know where their boss is. Supernatural is a great example of this.
  5. Christianity by Allegory: This comes in two forms, Christianity (or the chosen Abrahamic tradition) By Any Other Name or a Thickly Veiled Allegory with symbolic stand-ins for modern religion of the writers choice. The first is common in many computer RPGs like World of Warcraft. You have priest, churches, paladins and priests, and the worship a stand in for God (called The Light or some such). The second may use elements of other mythos or modern analogs to retell biblical stories or the like. C.S. Lewis was a master of this. Yes, the Lion was Jesus.

So, there you have it. Pick your poison. And if you end downstairs before I do, please save me a seat!

And to make sure I get there in style, here is a double dose of Eddie Izzard:

In the spirit of full, honest and complete disclosure, I am a liberal.

Why did I just write that?

Because it informs my worldview and by extension my writing. So does my religion or lack thereof (I am an agnostic).

Anyone that thinks that you can write anything without a trace of bias is deluding themselves. And Speculative Fiction is riddle with great stories written by authors that showcase their religious, philosophical and political views.

Heinlein

H.G. Wells

C.S. Lewis

Rod Serling

George Orwell

These are but a few of the authors who have used speculative fiction to explore and engage their readers along political, religious or philosophical lines. There is something about creating your own world universe that allows the author too expand on his views, mainly because said world works under the rules he created for it, thus it is malleable to his worldview. When done well the author engages in a thoughtful conversation with his audience, one that allows the audience to question the material and engage in their own quest for understanding.¬† When done poorly, the reader feels like the author dropped an anvil on his head while screaming “I’m right! I’m right! I am always motherfucking right, you ignorant turd!” in his face.

So, what is an author to do?

  1. Be upfront about your positions: You don’t need to repeat them every chance you get, but being upfront about them means that you are not disrespecting your audience with some stealth morality lesson or political view.
  2. Somebody, somewhere will disagree: Specially on the interwebs. It’s the nature of the beast. Know how to separate the genuine concerns/critiques from those that use your work as a straw man for their views.
  3. Do the research: If you don’t want to sound like a doofus talking about the evils of Capitalism/Communism/Evangelism etc, do the research, specially if your mocking/criticism those views.
  4. Don’t let your bias get in the way of the story: Story first, second and always. Let the story reflect it’s own values. Write the story, and let the readers figure it out.

Whether you want it or not, and whether you admit it or not, your writing is a reflection of who you are and that means that your views will seep in. It’s the nature of the beast.