Monday, September 21, 2015

Stepping Out

Last time we did some pretty broad strokes on galactic culture as a whole. What we are now faced with is a setting where mankind has spread out among the stars and fractured. Large corporations often have more power than the local government, and opportunities abound for those who are will to exploit the general isolated nature of deep space. Before go further into what this means on a smaller scale, though, it's time to look at some of the history I established in my notes for Tale of the East Wind and build upon it based on recent ideas.

Somewhere around present day plus one hundred fifty years, humanity was on better footing that is has been in a long time. Advances in terraforming technology has stabilize Earth's climate and kickstarted a renewed push into the solar system. After NASA and the European Space Agency collaborated on the first long term habitat on Mars, mankind was ready to truly expand beyond their little corner of the universe.

The success of the mining of near earth asteroids has led to the creation of Bifrost Station by several corporate interests with the backing of the European Space Agency, NASA, the Russian Federal Space Program, and the Chinese National Space Administration. It was to serve as space station beyond the orbit of the moon capable of acting as a shipyard for the various Earth nations to construct new deep space fleets meant to explore past mars. The first ship to set out for the outer solar system was the ESA's Hermes, and when it crossed into the asteroid belt things changed forever.

The first sign that something was off was what seemed to be a malfunction in the sensor equipment, which began to constantly give inconsistent read outs. Then, after a spacewalk to attempt to repair the sensor array, a strange illness began to sweep through the crew of the Hermes that started as a piercing headache before progressing to a fever and chills. Even after recovering, a small percent of those who fell sick continued to report strange phantom sensations. The final event was the finding of the Archive.

According to the sensors and on board cameras there was no Archive, but it was clear to any crew member who looked out a window that the Hermes had just found the first proof of intelligent alien life. Outside those windows was a massive cylindrical ship covered in strange shimmering symbols. The crew wasted no time in trying to gather more info on the ship to little effect. They may not have ever discovered any of the Archive's secrets if not for Lila Utegbe, a French citizen born in Nigeria.

Lila would later describe the process as using an arm she didn't realize she had before. To her fellow crew members there was a noticeable but subtle wave of force that began to emanate from her and her eyes gave off a glimmer of light. The Archive's structure shifted and stretch until it connected to the Hermes via a thin umbilical.  Lila passed out as soon as the connection formed over the airlock.

There were no alien life forms, but the ship had obviously had a crew at some point.  Instead the crew found, bays upon bays of computers the crew was not able to access as well as countless books and manuals. The crew transmitted their findings to the ESA then set about cataloging their findings. When the order came back, it was to abandon the original mission and tow the object back to Bifrost.

The long process of towing the Archive back to a semblance of Earth orbit was a tedious affair, but it gave the crew more time to dig into the contents of the books they had found. There were no linguists aboard, but those who were fluent in multiple languages began to piece together several clues. The biggest was that the tomes seemed to be in multiple languages repeating the same passages. The series always started with the runic script that had covered the Archive's exterior, then continued through what appeared to be at least four distinct other scripts.

Once Lila recovered enough to return to duty, she discovered that she was able to decipher a substantial amount of the rune like script intuitively. Some of the concepts she wasn't able to properly articulate, but it gave her enough of a working knowledge to make an interface with the Archive's computer system. With a connection finally establish, the Hermes began downloading data and transmitting it back to Earth,

The data from the Archive was dense and difficult to decipher, but what the ESA was able to understand changed everything. There was a force out there that was both the key to wonders like FTL, but wasn't fully understood by whoever had actually made the Archive. Just the knowledge that there was intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy drastically shifted the plans for the space agencies.

Plans were adjusted. The exploratory fleets were retrofitted for first contact scenarios. Defense contractors began working on plans for weapons and defense measures. Mankind was going to the stars, and they were going to do so with as strong a footing as they could muster.

With the Archive in orbit, more hands on research continued. Lila and the rest of the crew was kept in quarantine aboard the Archive/Hermes, but that did not stop the sickness that marked the onset of Lila’s powers from reaching out to affect the population on earth. Some showed the intuitive ability for a wide breadth of powers, while others were capable of much larger feats in a more focused area. Mages and Talents had come to mankind.

The chance to revel and explore this new power did not last. Knowledge and the key to galactic civilization were not the only things the Archive brought with it. It also brought the attention of the Masters of the Deep. Their attention was not a kind one.

The first attack came in the form of a rock like projectile launched from somewhere around Jupiter’s orbit that crashed in the center of the Atlantic Ocean. Like the archive it had failed to show up on any of sensors developed at that point. The impact caused tidal waves that destroyed much of the American East coast and the European West Coast. The next strike tore through the Archive before smashing into the Indian Ocean. The third hit the Pacific just north of Australia.

The Earth governments were not prepared for the onslaught and the chaos that it invoked. When the planet’s oceans turned against them things only became worse. The water turned a sickly yellow green from the impact points that spread out slowly. The discoloration soon shifted to a thick toxic fog that would become known as the Miasma. When the Miasma reached the shore, mutated monsters crawled out and began waging war.  It was obvious the Earth would soon be lost.
 The corporate interests that had come together for Bifrost Station began launching their shuttles to the station as quickly as they could. Families were separated in the exodus. Supplies that the ships might need were crammed into every available space, including two prototype terraforming machines. The fleet in orbit did the only obvious thing they could do, they set out as those who could not get away were destroyed by the monsters.
It wasn’t long before the fleet fractured. Ships began to peel off and flee, hoping to find a means to survival out in the void. In the chaos, one of the terraforming machines was lost. Approximately half of the ships were still near the orbit of Mars when relief finally came. The now common sight of a flash of light followed by it collapsing into solid form heralded the arrival of the Klarish Combine.
So what we now have is a humanity that is being ushered into the idea of galactic civilization by an alien based corporation, a terraforming machine that can help them establish a new home world (if the aliens allow it), and several other interests who are going about their own path without that alien guidance and may also have their own machine to make a different home world. This seems like a pretty good history to me for having humanity spread out, but still around on a galactic level. 

Next time we are going to continue the history spit balling and figure out exactly where these two forks of humanity ended up. Hopefully that leads to a good starting point for out main characters and their immediate surroundings.

Friday, September 18, 2015


Today's post is going to have me doing some broad setting brushes on culture out in the cosmos of the Mage Star universe and how it is going to contrast with other space settings people may be more familiar with. I think it will come across as a little more rambling than the previous posts, so I'm just going to go ahead and apologize for that in advance,

When I think about space I think about the separation and isolation that is inherent to its very being. The endless void is not something that could easily be controlled or patrolled without huge advances in long range sensors. This means two things for our setting. The first is that we won't see much in the way of large multi planet empires. The second is that we won't be seeing much in the way of mono cultures that are common in shows like Star Trek.

The reason space makes large empires difficult is multifaceted. When you get right down to it a society is a social agreement among a large body of people. The larger the body becomes the harder it is to maintain this agreement peacefully. The logistics of maintaining it through military might would also be cost prohibitive due to things like travel time and just general resources. This doesn't even begin to deal with the issue of trying to keep a secure border in deep space. 

Conquering new planets to expand their control would also make things more difficult for our fledgling empire. Space does provide the ultimate high ground, so the actual invasion would be easy enough to plan. It is the continued occupation that would smack into the logistics wall mentioned above, especially if the planet proves especially resistant to integration and ties up the empire's resources for long periods of time

This doesn't mean that there would not have been attempts, just that they tend to be fleeting. One rogue planetary governor decides he wants to be king, and then another while the fleet is dealing with the first. It wouldn't be long until an empire would collapse under the weight of its own size. 

A much more likely scenario would be the prevalence of raider and pirate cultures instead of vast empires. The spread out nature means that any alliance of planets or government would have a hard time protecting against harrier tactics unless they already have a sizable security force or fleet. A small fleet of raider ships would be able to thrive if they were smart.

The same factors that make larger governments struggle would be what would cause mono cultural planets and star systems to be unlikely. If you think about just Earth, where we have countless different cultures based on a much more limited geography, it seems obvious that the same thing would happen on any planet over time as the population spread out across its habitable regions.

Faster communications would help stabilize this, but unless we want to jump the communications technology to the point where FTL communications exist, there would still be a delay or very limited bandwidth communicating between planets. People just tend to culturally drift apart the further they are seperated. This means that unless there is an extremely small number of habitable places that are physically next to each other on a planet, there will usually not be one all encompassing culture.

Taking those points in mind, I feel pretty confident in saying that the majority of major power players on a galactic scale would look a lot like multinational corporations today. Their more focused interests combined with the ability to selectively recruit means that a corporation would be able to create more cohesion among its members toward a very specific goal.

This tendency to large corporations wielding huge swathes of power without all encompassing oversight actually makes the Mage Star universe very appropriate for stories in the Cyber Punk sub genre of sci-fi. For those of you who might not be familiar with this particular sub genre, it is usually filled with small groups of outsiders struggling against all powerful corporate interests while addressing themes of advancing mankind through technology and how far is too far. This is something that I will have to keep in mind when I move into the actual plotting stages.

The last aspects of the setting that need to be considered are the actual scale and if other intelligent life should be included besides humanity. The more I think about the idea of scale the more I realize that my sense of scale break down the more cosmic the scope. Just out small star system in a small arm of a single galaxy has more space than I can comprehend. I think it is extremely safe to limit humanity to just a portion of the milky way galaxy. Despite me wanting to encourage a sense of wonder, the idea of mankind spreading out beyond that strains against believable reason.

As far as alien life goes, Just from a probability stand point, there is most likely something out there. What about the Fermi Paradox some of you might be asking (for those of you who don't know what that is, it has to do with the fact that despite statistics suggesting that there should be other life in the universe we have somehow not found it)? I don't particularly want to deal with it, so it's easy enough to go the "wizard did it route." Mankind only found alien life once they figured out magic, which didn't happen until they really set out to the stars.

Now that they are out there its like that scene in the Star Wars cantina. There are all kinds of alien races, some vaguely human others no even remotely human, mingling together with huge variations of personality withing the various species. As a whole galactic society is a pretty cosmopolitan place, although pockets of xenophobia spring up in the less traveled locals.

With that stage set I think next post will be time to look at some history for the human race, and maybe start to focus in on some of the actual details that will have a more immediate effect on the story that is percolating. I may try to flesh out a major corporation or pirate group that is likely to show up. I guess I'll think about it over the weekend. Until next time,though, see you space cowboy. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Forging Stars

With the preamble of history out of the way it's time to move on to the first round of world building. Initially I mentioned that the world I created for Tale of the East Wind was something that has stayed with me over the years. Like our own world the Earth that has been ravaged by the strange horrible Miasma is just a smaller crumb in a larger cosmos. The year's NaNoWriMo novel will be set out in the stars of that universe so it is important that I impart some knowledge about it's inner workings. For a working title I'll just refer to the universe as Mage Star.

Mage Star is very much a science fantasy setting. To help you better understand what I am talking about I want you to think about Star Wars. I can see some of you in the back raising your hands going, “But isn't that Science Fiction?” In truth, if you look at it closely it is a fantasy story with some science fiction trappings. Think about it. Faster than light travel is easy enough that almost anyone can keep it running, technology as a whole starts looking a lot like magical artifacts, and there are mystic powers available to anyone with the skill and the talent to use them. These are the sorts of things I am talking about when I say science fantasy.

A good place to start with any fantasy setting is the magic, and thanks to my work on Tales of the East Wind I already have a foundation to start with. In Mage Star, magic is literally everywhere, and those who can interact with it are broken up into three very broad categories based on the source of their powers. These categories are Mages, Talents, and the Imbued.

Mages are the most abundant and have the ability to manipulate the ambient magic of the world. They can sense, shape, and even summon things into being and have all types of further sub categories and secret orders based on their specialties. This social structure is one of their greatest strengths, since working their arts is often a tiring process for a mage. Alone they can do one great thing, but together they are capable of lasting wonders.

Talents are a rarer breed able to manipulate magic innately for a sole purpose. Some talents are able to bolster their own physical prowess. Others are able to manipulate a specific element or type of energy. No two talents are exactly alike, so they do not have the social structures built around them that mages do. The innate nature of their power means that they are able to come to terms with it faster than those who have to learn to work their arts.

Imbued are those who have been given the ability to manipulate magic through some external means. This could be because they have become bound to some extra-dimensional demonic entity, or found themselves in possession of a powerful alien artifact. At times it can seem like the Imbued have limitless power, but it always comes with a price. They always have a master to serve. The most they can hope for is that it is one that

When you take magic and those who interact with it into account it is important to think about how it will shape the setting. The science fiction trappings of the Mage Star universe means that an easy intersection point is that of technology. If magic exists, then it stands to reason that there will be machines that are designed to interact with it as well. Equipment made for those specifically with the ability to interact with magic, as well as mages who specialize in aspects of technology would both be of extreme importance.

The most important of these would be the mages that are referred to as the Ship Worth or just Worthy. Their specialty is shaping energy, and it is what makes faster than light travel possible. Through will alone the Worthy can hold ships together as they approach the speed of light and their mass starts to spread out infinitely. This talent also allows me to easily explain the energy based weapons so common in many aspects of science fiction that are not as readily possible with our current understanding of physics.

Magic's relationship with technology could also create interesting story possibilities through the way the world deals with it's absence. If magic is required for things like FTL and shields, then the prospect of traveling without a mage to power those elements of the ship become a much longer and scarier process that only the desperate would resort to. Mages become one of the most valued members of the crew, and the constant target of recruitment efforts or violence from rival crews.

Entire industries and corporations would be built up around mages. People would want devices to enhance their powers, ways to replace them in the standard running of spaceships, weapons to counteract their powers, and even ways to create mages artificially. Of course any attempts to replace mages have been largely unsuccessful. Any high yield power cells can only power ship systems in a few very short burst before they need to be recharged. Mage free FTL drives can only be used for one way jumps and don't have a perfect success rate. This gives the layman ways around having a mage, but nothing that is truly as effective.

In addition to the legitimate commerce that would be built around mages, there would be all types of black market dealings built around Talents and the Imbued. This would range from items that supposedly boost someones talent to giving a talent to normal people. Items of power are traded amongst the rich and powerful in the hopes of gaining more power for themselves. All of these deals have been outlawed in almost every system. This doesn't stop government officials from trying to conduct such deals themselves

With the basics of magic and technology covered, the next place we'll be building upon these basics as we start looking at the general state of galactic society as a whole. What sort of major powers are lurking around and what threats might the cast of this year's novel might encounter.  

Monday, September 14, 2015


For the third and final part on my history with NaNoWriMo I want to share a more in depth account of what has proven to be my most successful, Americana Hex, but before I can get into that I have to give some backstory.

There was an idea that I collaborated on with some friends, a group of writers who all thought it sounded like a good idea to come together and create worlds. We wanted to make playgrounds for us to play in and eventually invite other writers to join in on the fun. Each of us came up with a small slate of settings to pitch, and as a group we picked one from each person's slate.

We settled upon three different settings. The first was a fantasy with a more eastern basis, the second was a science fiction setting based around the colonization of the solar system, and the third was my science fiction setting built around earth's far future after things have gone horribly wrong. The initial goal was to have something to work with by the time NaNoWriMo rolled around.

The settings came together in fits and starts. Work, school, and family commitments kept things at a simmer, but the settings were all making decent progress. As they came together, though, I noticed a hole in our settings as well as a deficiency in my own. Thematically the two science fiction settings were proving to be very similar, and we didn't have anything to fill the hole of modern set fantasy like the Dresden Files series.

I told the rest of the group that I was going to be putting my setting on the back burner while I worked out something in time for November. When I made this decision I really didn't have much of a plan. What I did have was a collection of similar things I had been reading and watching at the time. Those things bounced around in my head, colliding with each other until something new came. That new thing was what would become Americana Hex.

Hex started as one third spy story, one third fairytale, and one final third superhero story.
I knew it was a weird cocktail of pop culture, so I would have to be more on top of my prepwork than I had been in the past. I also knew that I would have to use my time wisely. November was only a few weeks away, and I couldn't spend all my time just world building or just plotting.

I quickly learned that by doing the whole modern urban fantasy, a good chunk of the heavy lifting was already being done for me. Instead of having to worry about trying to figure out countries, kingdoms, and empires I could concentrate on the fun things, like how magic works and smaller scale secrets.

I decided early that I wanted it to be about a secretive military styled academy where dealing with magical power was the primary concern, so those were the two areas I focused on. I also knew that this wasn't a story about wizards but instead people more like Greek demi-gods. There weren't going to be classes on spellcasting. Oh no, the classes at the academy would all be about how do you deal with someone who has supernatural speed or strength, and where does that power come from.

With the world of the Stoneman Academy fleshed out to my satisfaction, I next turned my attention to the characters that would help fill its halls. Looking at my past efforts I was very wary of a ballooning cast and the larger scope that it would cause. To combat this, I decided to focus on two characters and give them each a very small and focused supporting cast.

The first character would be the hero who was displeased with the status quo. When it came to inspiration I ended up drawing heavily on my little brother. This meant that he would be an artist, in particular a graffiti artist with an interest in comics. I also knew that I wanted him to be an immigrant, and to give him connections to some sort of myth. I settled on a second or third generation Greek immigrant named Hector Xenakis, or “Hex” for short.

The other character was going to be the Draco to Hex's Harry, so I knew that he would need to be Hex's opposite in as many fundamental ways as possible. This process quickly lead to the creation of Sebastian Shaw. If Hex was a rebel then Sebastian would be part of the establishment. Hex was from a poor immigrant family, so Sebastian would come from old money. The one area I knew I wanted them both to overlap was that they would both be more talented and skilled than most of their peers.

The last step before the actual writing could take place was the plot. This proved to be a more standard fare where I would crib a bit off of the Hero's journey, but I still had to decide on the particulars. What was going on at the school? What would be the crux of the conflict? I was able to fill in these questions quickly and build the framework of a story about rivalry, betrayal, and conflict that wrapped up with a huge dust up in the Grand Canyon.

When November rolled around I found myself the most prepared I had ever been, and it showed in my writing. The words came more reliably than any other time. The usual struggle to keep my interest in a story didn't rear its head. That doesn't mean that it was all easy. No matter what trying to keep up the pace to write the words needed is always difficult.

With the proper prep, though, it turns out it is possible to alleviate the problems that had plagued my past attempts. Now that the history is out there, it's time to turn my attention to that prewriting so hopefully I can get a third story out there in the win column.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

Three Strikes

Apologies if today's post is shorter than I intended. Life happens, I like to spend time with my daughter, and the road is a harsh mistress.

So last time I posted about my first experience with NaNoWriMo which also happened to be a success according to the standards that were set out by said NaNoWriMo. 50000 words written. Sound the trumpets and let loose the confetti. But as I also said last time, I didn't really have a story. What I did have was a hell of a cliffhanger. I kept promising myself that I was going to go back and continue the story, but a whole year rolled back around to November and I really had done much of anything with it. I tried to change that with my 2010 attempt.

Weapons of the Dead was going to be my triumphant round two in a world covered with killer chemical clouds and ships out of a steampunk's dreams. I was confident and ready, or so I thought. Instead, Weapons of the Dead found me struggling to reconcile my new story idea with what I had establish in Tales of the East Wind. The new character I wanted to introduce meant the story was getting further diluted, and I wasn't able to come up with a resolution to the cliffhanger that I was satisfied with.

After 10000 words a combination of factors caused everything to go off the rails. The biggest was that I simply not able to power through the bouts of writer's block this time around. No method that came to mind could make the words sneak around my inner editor and find purchase on the page. Life also decided to intervene and decided to inject what ultimately proved to be too much suffering into someone I cared for greatly. I knew when I was defeated and it was time to move on to other things that were much more important.

2011 rolled around, and I found myself once again gearing up. This time I recruited a cadre of other friends, and we hit upon a weird but fun idea. Leading up to November we would build a world together, and then we would each pick a section and write our year's novel in it to make three independent yet still related novels. The three of this crafted a bizarre pulpy hodgepodge of fun ideas. There were strange ruins floating in the sky, countries that literally shifted position around each other, and what felt like countless mysterious areas on the map waiting for a story to be told.

Strong world building, though, couldn't make up for the fact that all of my effort had gone into world building while neglecting the idea of what my story was going to actually be about. When it came time to put fingers to keys, I only had come up with the most bare of bones of a plot. It was something about a crew of thieves who were under heavy pressure due to a botched job. There was enough to get to the 11000 mark and to make it there fast, but it wouldn't carry me further. Just like Weapons of the Dead, City of Lightning didn't have the legs.

The third attempt and failure is the one that actually puzzles me the most, a weird scifi tale that would have been called Wulf if I ever had been able to get past the first 3000 words. For this attempt I thought I had done everything I needed. I had a strong world and science fiction slant to it, and I had taken the time to work out many of the story beats. I knew what the arc would be for the main character, and how the events of the novel were going to change him and make him grow.

If I had to hazard a guess as to what actually caused it to fail, it would have to be that I was trying to write an ensemble cast without having a good feel for anyone but the principal lead. Everyone surround Marshall were caricatures at best. Since I wasn't able to care about the other characters, I was able to ultimately care about the story.

Each of these stories did manage to teach me something despite the fact that I wasn't able to get the words on the page. There needed to be a balance. World building, a strong lead character, plotting, and past momentum were each only able to bring a story so far on their own. If I was going to succeed again it was going to take a combination of all of those elements. I took stock of what I had done and decided it wasn't working. It was time to change tactics again.

The next year I got remarried at the beginning of November, and wisely decided to not attempt another run at the elusive 50000 word mark. (Although I can't honestly say that there wasn't at least one moment where I almost decided to do it anyway.) I regrouped and recollected my thought. I knew that when 2014 rolled around I would be ready, and I was right. 2014 brought me the closest thing to an unqualified success with writing that I have had yet. It brought me Americana Hex, which if you want to find out about you will have to come back early next week.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The tale of Tale of the East Wind

When last we left off I promised some history of my dealings with National Novel Writing Month, and today that is exactly what you are going to get. For those of you who are uninitiated in the ways of NaNoWriMo as it is often called, I just realized that I failed to explain it in my first post. It is a month, November specifically, with a large group of writers band together as a support group in an effort to each write 50,000 words. This roughly works out to 1,600 words a day. It is not something you can do casually and succeed. You have to throw yourself into it with dedication. My first attempt was caused by a drunken lack of sense in regards to what I was getting myself into.

To rewind slightly, the time leading into my first attempt at NaNoWriMo in 2009 was a more difficult time in my life. Without getting into too much personal detail, I had moved back to my mom's, was listless at work, and dealing with depression. The night before I had attended a friend's Halloween party, and didn't get back home until late the next morning. From what I can recall I was still not entirely in the right frame of mind.

It began when I happened to spot a post on the book of faces by a former coworker who I still consider a friend to this day. He was excitedly working on his novel for that year's NaNoWriMo, and I thought to myself, “Hey I can do that.” I made a post talking about how I was going to write and had a few preliminary story ideas. First I needed to shower though, so I asked my friends to pick one of the ideas. When I came back, they had settled on two. This is how I ended up writing a post apocalyptic story about air pirates.

I spent a few minutes jotting down setting ideas. What had the apocalypse been? Why were there airships? Who were the important characters? These were all answered in broad strokes within the span of an hour. With those notes settled on, I next turned to what I referred to as tent pole scenes. These were big events that I wanted to include in the story even if I wasn't sure exactly how they were going to fir into the over all plot. These were things like a dual on the deck of an airship during a thunderstorm and a brawl during a shore leave gone wrong.

The next step was overcoming my apprehension over the big blank page. Looking back it feels like I stared at the blank white screen and blinking cursor of my word processor software for hours (in truth it was an hour at most). I had an opening scene from my list of tent poles, but I couldn't do anything to get it out of my head and onto the screen. Stilted attempts to write would momentarily find their way out only to be obliterated by the delete key and my inner editor. Feeling almost paralyzed I finally broke free by using what I've seen jokingly called the Ernest Hemingway method of writing. Write drunk, edit sober.

Armed with the new tactic and an adult beverage I dove into my first day's writing in ernest. When everything was done for the day I had approximately 3000 words I didn't hate and enough of a story that I didn't feel the need to hammer my kidneys to silence myself as a critic. Every spare moment I had was spent with my fingers on the keyboard. Time working and with my daughter were the only times I let myself stop thinking about the adventures of a crew of a ship on the run.

By the time thanksgiving rolled around I was far enough ahead of my needed word count I was able to take a break without feeling like my word count for the day was something that was going to overwhelm me. This almost proved to be a grave mistake. A brief road trip to reconnect with friends ate away at my lead until I found myself struggling to keep up.

The last week of writing was a blur. The novel, which now had the name “Tale of the East Wind,” had ballooned beyond the scope of what could be told in 50000 words, but I continued to dash toward that word count. When everything was said and done I completed NaNoWriMo with something in the ballpark of 55000 words. The month was done, but the story was not. It ended on a cliffhanger, and I had no clue on when it would pick back up again.

Life prevented me from coming back to the airship and its crew for a long time, but I did find myself thinking about the story more than most other things I had jotted down in the past. Months later I even wrote a prologue chapter that explained partially where the mysterious sword that held the plot together came from. The idea and the world of the East Wind would just not go away.

Looking back the flaws with how I wrote Tales of the East Wind are pretty apparent. I charged forward with nothing but blind determination. It made a confused mess with too many characters that didn't have time to develop properly. Entire side plots were introduced that would have added to the big overarching story if it would have gone beyond what was written. I was trying to cram a G.R.R. Martin size story into the ballpark of a young adult novel.

It wasn't all failures though. I managed to write 55000 words in thirty days. Those who I let read what I had written seemed to enjoy the story, and no I don't mean in a “I am just trying to be supportive of my friend's work,” sort of way. They still prod me every now and then to see when I am going to pick things back up and finish the big story that had only been glimpsed so far. And the truth is I feel the same way.

The world I built in Tales of the East Wind has continued to grow beyond what glimpses I was able to give the readers. It has become this weird science fantasy setting that I could use to tell countless worlds. One day I will finish the story of Jeremiah Corvus and his strange sword, but this NaNoWriMo won't be that day. I suspect, though, that it will at least be a time to return to the larger universe that it spawned.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Backstory, Inspiration, and a Shout Out.

Lost last post I talked about what my motivations for writing. Inparticular I talked about what I thought the genre had to offer as a whole. This time I thought I would let you know specifically who I am taking many of my cues and inspiration from. This post was originally published on Crossworlds Publishing, a writing venture that myself and two friends have started. It’s still in the very early stages, but feel free to poke around there. New stuff should be showing up in the not so distant future. With their consent I give you the altered version of that post, changed only to fit with the particular purpose of this blog. Now on to the history prelude, or why I got on this genre ship to begin with.

As long as I can remember, I have consumed books with a voracious appetite. I blame my mother and Nirvana. I’m not going to go into all the detail on that one besides to say that my mother always pushed academics and intelligence over sports, and that I grew up without cable due in no small part to a Nirvana music video. This meant that although I would indeed shoot hoops or go throw a baseball around I was directed more towards reading.

Over the years that interest in reading has turned into a raw appetite for new stories and a reading habit that my wife has often called ridiculous. When it comes to writing this post, though, my reading habits have actually made it more difficult. I have consumed so much over the years that nailing down my influences is proving to be surprisingly difficult. That said, if I don’t get it done I’m pretty sure my peers will string me up so here we go.

From the outset the groundwork was laid for me to be a genre fan. Before I could really read myself, my older sister would read greek mythology to me from a glorious yellow book that now sits on my daughter’s shelf. As I got older I would always pick out the fantastical and the science fiction related stories when given the opportunity, especially at school. It was because of this that my 5th grade teacher pulled me aside one day and made a book recommendation that would literally change the way I looked at fiction.

He gave me an old, beat-up copy of Stephen King’s “Eyes of the Dragon.” I was already vaguely familiar with King’s books. My mom had several of his anthologies sitting around on a shelf in her room. He was that horror guy. Cracking the book open and reading about the noble Peter, the weak Thomas, and the vile Flagg was an epiphany. It was a fantasy world, with all the parts that were already becoming very familiar to me, but presented in a new and captivating light. From there I quickly moved on to the beat up copy of “The Gunslinger” that had belonged to my father. King’s take on a mythic west combined with Arthurian Legend sprinkled with random pop culture references is something that to this day manages to spark new ideas.

It was after moving on to a public junior high school from the more relatively sheltered world of private catholic school that a friend of mine introduced the next big influence on my writing, Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion stories. For those not familiar these are a rather large series of fairly pulpy fantasy/sci-fi novels where the heroes are all incarnations of the titular Eternal Champion, trying to act as an agent of balance in the grand struggle between Chaos and Law. Notice the lack of Good and Evil in the description? So did I. When characters took to their quest it was always for personal reasons. Elric didn’t wield Stormbringer because he wanted to be the great hero. He swung the cursed sword because it was what he needed to do to try and save the woman he loved. Hawkmoon only started on his journey that leads to the Runestaff because he was being blackmailed by the Granbretan Empire.

Some of the trappings of the Eternal Champion books are too fantastic to describe, but the motivations of the main character always feel like a grounding anchor amid the fantastic. In many ways Moorecock’s books have become the anti-Tolkein to me. They do not have the binary moral state or the fantasy standards that have become so ingrained in the genre. If you see things in his writing that has become a fantasy mainstay, it is because he put them on the map to begin with or because he was tapping into the well of myth that has feed human storytelling for as long as we have been aware as a culture.

While King and Moorecock both showed me the benefits of taking the pre existing tropes of the genre I love and twisting them in interesting ways, China MiƩville showed me how fantastic things could get when you truly allowed them to go off the rails. Perdido Street Station, the first in the Bas Lag books, features a bizarre landscape of insect headed people, clockwork esque machinery, sentient cacti, and more. It is this collection of strange and wonderful things that manages to stay internally consistent.

After Perdido Street Station, it only gets better with books like The Scar about a pirate city made of lashed together ships and Kraken and its refreshing take on urban fantasy. I’m not going to claim that his books are always easy to read. The City and the City in particular had me doing some mental acrobatics to reconcile the idea of two cities overlaid on top of each other. In all, though, his books have shown me the importance of trying to put out new ideas can be. His ability to present such fresh ideas is something I am constantly striving to emulate.

If you are looking at this and wondering how all three of these will fit together in my writing, the best I can tell you is that you can expect me to be telling stories of personal motivations hopefully bereft of moral absolutes and light on the tired cliches. Will I be successful in this? I honestly have no clue. I will just leave that to you, (hopefully) faithful readers, to decide.  

Next time I post, I will share the first portion of my history with National Novel Writing Month, and how what basically amounted to a drunken off the cuff decision has lead to something more setting up shop in my imagination.  

P.S. If any of my more graphically inclined friends/readers would like to help me with a header image and logo it would be greatly appreciated. It would be really helpful in sprucing up the place.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Take it from the top

As with any type of writing it is often the beginning that proves to be the most difficult. This is no less true for this first post as it is for anything else I have tried to write. There is this current of potential that that you have to fight to fulfill. Worlds are lurking behind this big open sheet of emptiness, and the idea of revealing them is a terrible responsibility. Most writers that I've talked to about it overcome it in different ways from extensive outlining to having specific conditions under which they write. Ultimately whatever it might be, it boils down to discipline and routine, which brings me to why I decided to start this blog. National Novel Writing Month is looming, and I've resolved to make some changes to my habits in the hopes of becoming a better writer.

In the past I've been a discovery or "seat of your pants" writer. I would come up with a some setting notes, a list of characters, and a basic scenario, toss them into a blender, and be delighted to see what came out in the end. My first swing at NaNoWriMo was a success by the standards of the event and written this very way. Every night after work I would sit at my computer and excitedly hammer out a couple thousand words until I crossed that fifty thousand word threshold. In the end, though, I wasn't left with an actually complete piece of fiction. The problem, it turns out,  with this type of writing is that eventually the thrill of discovering the story wears thin. The longer it goes the more difficult it becomes. It was like the drive to finish flowed out into those early outpouring of words. Once that happened progress on my story could only come in fits. I would wait for the muse to come while idly staring at my monitor. This year, I'm determined to do something about that. In the two months I have left leading up to NaNoWriMo I'm going to ruminate on writing in this blog and work through my own take on prewriting with whoever happens to read this thing. I'm hesitant to lay out a schedule for others to see. The pressure of having to meet those external deadlines has stymied my writing in the past. I will say, for now, that I plan to make multiple posts a week and leave it at that.

With that preamble out of the way, I suppose I should explain some of what drives me as a writer so you can decide if the trip is going to be worth it. Fair warning this might involve me talking about some driving beliefs that I usually refrain from sharing in such a public forum. As far as the meat and potatoes of content goes, I think from the title of the blog it should be obvious that one of my big interests as a writer is the triumvirate of science fiction, fantasy, and horror with a bigger focus on the sci-fi and the fantasy. There is something about the trappings of magic, dragons, and ray-guns that appeals to me. Some may look down on it as escapism, but the ability to take someone away from the banality of the modern world is a powerful one. Despite my fondness for the classics, though, I'm usually looking to push things in slightly different directions. You won't see the much repeated Tolkenisms here, if I can help it.  I've always been drawn to the adventure and wonder that is so often intrinsic to these types of stories, but retreading those well worn steps doesn't strike me as the best way to continue to capture those feelings.

When it comes to the deeper layers of story telling, like most other writers I have things I want to say beyond just telling a story. There are themes that call out to me and I hope my readers notice in my words. Things like what power does to someone as a person, mankind's relationship with faith, and how being part of a larger group defines a person as a whole. Science fiction and fantasy writing's extraordinary elements make it ripe for weaving in deeper meaning and allegory more so than other genres. I'm not saying that other genres can't express these things, but I certainly think they are much more tied up in the very essence of the sci-fi and fantasy genres.

The ability to both inspire wonder while also harboring a deeper meaning is something that I think we need to hold close. In the modern world it is so easy to become jaded and cocksure. Stories are a tool that can help us regain that child like awe, and remind us that there is so much more out there than we can learn. There are things in the universe greater than us and beyond us that we cannot hope to understand but should always strive to. The more I reflect the more I think that this is what drives me as a writer, what I want the world to get out of my writing as a whole. I want my daughter and her children and their children to look to what I write and be inspired about what is possible. It is an important task that I can only hope I can live up to.

Now that you've gotten a little glimpse into what some of my motivations and interests are as a writer, the next time you hear from me I'll continue the story of what I've written so far over my past three attempts at NaNoWriMo and some of my thoughts on how I got there, what went right, and what went wrong. I might also post another post on some of my bigger writing inspiration and where I have taken my cues on how to write. Once we have all of those topics covered it will be time to blaze a trail  of story prep. I hope you decide to come along for it all.