Tag Archives: writing

Your Call to Cthulhu is Important to Us, Please Hold

20 Oct

I’m not a big fan of American horror, but I do like the psychological fear (usually present in foreign horror films) element, if it’s done well. Cthulhu touches on that nameless horror, that unseen fear, that tinge that comes right before you turn on the lights. Now put that in a banal setting like your workplace.

That’s the beauty of this short story anthology, Corporate Cthulhu, which deals with that fear of the bureaucratic, the fear of being out of the loop, and the terrible consequences if you DO know.

Of course, I’m prejudiced because one of my stories, Shadow Charts, is part of this anthology. I took my experience from having worked in hospitals for 11 years and put it in a story about an inner-city hospital hiding a strange secret; patients check in, they don’t check out. I actually set it in an old hospital building I worked in (it only recently got demolished)… so I think it works great!

However, there are several other stories I enjoyed in here. Boedromion Noumenia by Andrew Scott was insanely well researched and very creepy. Incorporation by Max D. Stanton was excellent. And there are twenty more of these!

So I really suggest you pick up this book and let me know how my story… and others turned out! By the way, what do you think of Cthulhu as a subgenre? Is it played out, do you enjoy it, not your thing? Let me know in the comments below!

Burke and Elmo are Stalking Me

19 Oct

So yesterday, I wrote a post about how James Burke really changed the way I looked at history, so I had to download a picture of him to explain who he is. Now his picture is hiding out in my picture folder, staring at me, looking at me like I owe him something.

I should be doing something to promote my book, but instead, I’ve got this science reporter staring at me. I feel like James Burke is saying, “Why aren’t you trying to figure out how to drain copper mines in Cornwall?” Well, James, I don’t live in the 18th Century, nor do I work as a handyman at the University of Edinburgh. He’d probably reply, “Not everything is the steam engine,” and I’d agree, and tell him I’ve got fifteen other things to do today. So he keeps staring at me.

Also, Elmo, God of the Ocean is wondering when he’s gonna come out of his electronic hibernation. “Sorry, Elmo, I found your cool picture, but haven’t found a post to go along with it.” So he’d say (in that high pitched voice), “Silence, mortal! You will find room in your blog post for me. Ha ha ha!”

Okay, Elmo, you win. May this electronic sacrifice be pleasing to you on Mount Sesame. Oooh, Sesame Street meets Clash of the Titans. That might be the weirdest damn fan-fiction ever. No… wait, no it won’t. I’ve read Star Wars meets My Little Pony sex fic – nothing beats that. (blink) And now I’m got that image in your head. 🙂

A picture of Conan the Barbarian’s father always has something wise to say, but he’s telling me to teach my son about the Riddle of Steel. I tell him, “I’ve got this picture of him with a sword. Does that work?” Conan’s father looks annoyed. Then again, he never -not- looks annoyed, so… win?

Gee – I really didn’t have anything to talk about today! I must be running out of the topics I’ve been writing down to… well, write down in my blog. I guess I’m a little gunshy after the “controversy” I got over “furbabies.” What topics would you like me to cover? Let me know in the comments below!

Balancing Unusual and Formula

17 Oct

So getting ready for @nanowrimo in three weeks means that I need to get my story idea ready. Although I’m usually a “pantser,” after my last story, I realized I really need to plan out where I’m going with my next story. So welcome to the world of mystery templates.

Because I realized my sci-fi story was turning into a mystery, I figured I needed a mystery template. So I found the “Classic 12-Chapter Mystery Formula” which will give me the structure I need to plan out my story. The first chapter made me realize that “Oh, just shooting the victim doesn’t really help.” Although most of my story was planned to be the chase of the villain, not as much the search, I realized that I need to set up clues for the hero to identify the villain later.

So moving onto Chapter 2 shifted my perceptions on where to start my story. Don’t start it on the frontier planet, with the hero brooding over the victim’s death – actually SHOW the murder, show the world that the hero comes from, show WHY the hero cares. I know – this sounds obvious, but I’ve always found that the hero(s) need to have backstory, which means to me, “Why should I start from the beginning?” I’m always a fan of getting to where the action is, not the build-up. But in mystery, the build-up is ALSO the action.

Then Chapter 3 tells me to start a sub-plot; check, already had that planned. However, I’m not to the frontier planet that I want the reader to go to. So I’m realizing I need a sidekick for my hero as a way to explain to the author how we get from urban planet to frontier planet. It also allows me to develop the hero and start to get to the nitty gritty of what makes this character–and their universe–really cool.

So I need to figure out Act II – direct the investigation towards a conclusion which later proves to be erroneous. My original plan was to make everyone on this frontier planet a suspect, since a) there’s less people and b) why would someone move to a hell planet when you live in virtual paradise? So everyone there is trying to hide from something. Think Alaska. 🙂

This where I’m currently stuck, because this means I need to flush out the folks who live on hell frontier planet. Act III, where the sleuth figures out he’s on the wrong track… that’s going to be easier once I figure out the other suspects.

What do you think? Am I on the right track with this formula? Do you like templates? Do you despise them? Let me know in the comments below!

Unclaimed Territories

16 Oct

While I’m planning for my next story project, I’m realizing that this story is really more of a mystery than just the outlandish sci-fi that I’m used to. So to plan this monster (and make sure I don’t repeat the mistakes of my last book), I have to use a mystery novel template. However, I’m facing a completely different set of rules, and it makes me a little nervous.

It reminds of the term “unclaimed territories,” which sounds more obscure than “undiscovered country” or “unknown lands.” In Maine, most of the thick mountainous, forested land is referred to as the “Unclaimed Territories,” due to the fact that under the (now repealed) Homestead Act of 1862, this land was so difficult to use that no one claimed their allotment… or few stayed on to keep it in their family. So instead of creating vast swaths of national parks (like they did here in Arizona), they just call it “public land” and do the same thing they do here – the state gets to permit logging companies to harvest trees on a cyclical basis.

So how do I claim the territory of “sci-fi mystery?” When researching this, I actually found “Frank Gruber’s Foolproof Formula” first, written by an author of the pulp era, and then I found the 12 chapter template. So let me focus on the tricks first. Well, you need a crime. Check – that’s the motivation for the hero. However, Frank pointed out that to keep the reader’s interest, it has to be unusual. This is an ongoing point – anyone can write murder on the train, but the “why” and “only your sleuth can solve it” is the important part.

So this really inspired me – Gruber goes on to make the point that the hero AND the villain need to be larger than life. They need to be colorful and powerful to keep the reader interested. So that made me realize that I should reframe my characters to touch on that. I’m already creating an ultra-tech universe in which people can be larger than life (and frequently are), why not expand on that?

It’s the term “unusual” that really attracted me. I’m not a big fan of mystery, so for me to pick it up, it HAS to be unusual. Sherlock Holmes is a high-functioning sociopath who gets into drugs when he’s bored. Cadfael is a herbalist monk in 12-century England. I’ve read other historical mystery before because I like the setting – I’m crap at figuring out the mystery. So I’m seriously adapting my story idea to embrace the unusual… which with ultra-tech, isn’t going to be hard.

I’ll get into the 12-chapter mystery plot structure next post, but what do you think? Should I embrace the “unusual” in my book structure? Was my last book TOO unusual for you? Let me know in the comments below!

How Much Tech is Too Much Tech?

19 Sep

Ultratech – going beyond traditional science-fiction, using technology that can’t be conceived for even three generations. The problem is… does the lack of a cultural context alienate your readers?

So I’m struggling with my next story idea. After watching the Cyberpunk 2077 game trailers, I really got excited for doing “_____punk” again. However, I don’t want to do steampunk, I can’t finish my atompunk story, and I don’t have a good cyberpunk story. So how do I play with the ideas of extreme technology and societal collapse?

I made the mistake of picking up Ann Leckie’s award winning series at Book 3. So I had no context for the world she created. There was a human who’s the main character, but she used to be a ship, but somehow she gained command… okay, that I can move past and enjoy the book. However, it was the culture and the terminology that was so alien that I couldn’t connect with it. I finished the book, but I was left with a *bleh* at the end.

I feel like she was trying to do something different and cool but I had no way of appreciating it because I had nothing in the modern world to attach it to. It had something to do with the verbage and how that indicated how they ranked in their slave/less slave society, but it made it difficult to appreciate the story.

Now the best way to handle that is usually to have your point-of-view character be a normal human from our time, but that’s not going to work unless I want to pull a Buck Rogers or Planet of the Apes idea. Another solution is to have the society not changed much, but with the tech insane (this is the Star Trek: TNG theory of “technology changes, but man does not”), but that seems disingenuous and not authentic.

I don’t have to have all the characters speaking in future English or cityspeak: “Monsieur, azonnal kövessen engem bitte!” As much as I love using alternative languages in my writing (my favorite is Oranje = Dutch/Afrikkans with English sentence structure), maybe just using some unusual words for slang can help without distorting my reader’s connection.

Have you got any ideas? If you have a solution – or a similar problem – let me know in the comments below!

Kyoto Protocol – Spy Novel or Rock Band?

7 Sep

Ever look at a phrase too long and start thinking… “That’s a great band name!” Well, since my job involves building an online course for international environmental law, I kept having to research the Kyoto Protocol, so this thought came to me. Apparently, somebody beat me to it.

Actually, my first thought was spy novel. Can Bourne get the US Senate to ratify the document before he’s found by enemy agents? (Hmmm… need a better catch line. I’ll have to work on that one.) If you’ve been anywhere near Malaysia for the past ten years, you may have run into this band. It’s good… it’s got a slightly-harder-than-boy-band sound to it, so in my opinion, it falls under Pop or Light Rock. And of course, it’s in Malay, so… you might still enjoy it, you just won’t understand the words.

This is an extension of the “if you stare at a word too long, it looks misspelled” principle. Or… the problem when you’re trying to make international law sexy. You hit a limit of what you can do with pictures and highlights and start focusing on what you could do if the topic was far more sexy. I’m guessing this is what Al Gore had to deal with in An Inconvenient Truth. So you get a big globe, lots of flashy graphics, and tell everyone they’re going to die.

Oooh! Maybe you could go with a Yakuza story… eh… still like spy novel better.

Sometimes you run into this problem as a writer – you’ve got a cool story set in the… uh, not sexy situation. Such as Other People’s Money, which was a great story about a business takeover, or The Social Network, which is all about people typing on computers. The answer? Don’t make it about the subject, make it about the people. Tell their story, which happens to be set in a not sexy setting.

That way you can take a topic you like (but no one else is going to) and get people really engaged. Mystery writers do this all the time, setting their amateur detectives in landscape design, or on the Navajo Reservation, or even as a 13th Century Monk (those are all actual mystery book/movie settings, BTW). I had this trouble with my most recent writing project. I really wanted to write about merchant marines, but got so caught up in the setting that I didn’t focus on the plot. 56K words and boring as #*$&. That’s gonna sit in the electronic desk drawer until I feel ready to tackle that again. Maybe I’ll have to add so much it’ll get bumped up to 80K!

What’s a topic you find fascinating but others would see as watching paint dry? Let me know in the comments below!

Whale Puke to Ambergris

2 Aug

So I finished the first draft of my most recent novel, and man… does it suck. The plot goes nowhere, the characters are unrealistic, and I’m sure if I look too deep, a dragon will appear for no apparent reason. How do I turn this crap into a spun gold?

When I decided to give my “writing career” another try (a year since self-publishing my last book), I figured that doing the July version of my favorite writing motivator – NaNoWriMo – would be a good way to get those creative juices flowing. And it has! I am feeling much better about myself, I’m expanding my outreach, and even started writing this blog! (BTW, I’m grateful that you’re reading this.) However, as much as I’m happy about expanding my writing opportunity, I’m incredibly disappointed in what I wrote.

When it comes to this situation, I keep remembering a scene from Dean Koontz’ Lightning, in which the main character (an author) is writing her latest story. Her husband comes in and asks, “How’s the story coming?”

She responds, “Ugh. Whale puke.”

He smiles and says, “Great! That means it’ll sell another 10,000 copies!”

Ambergris, one of the precious perfume components and is rather expensive, comes from whale puke. I try to remember that your first draft will never be publishable. What’s important is that you get the words out first. You can polish it all you want before you publish, but if you don’t have anything written at all, you have nothing to polish… or publish.

So the current plan is to throw it in the drawer and not look at it for three months. Give my mind a chance to breathe and try and remember what I liked about this universe and where I want it to go. In the meantime, I’ve got another novel that I need to edit and get ready for publication. I’ve got this audiobook project that I want to make of one of my stories. And… as always, continue to promote the books I’ve already published.

Speaking of which, have you checked our my latest Kindle offering? #shamelessplug 🙂

Do I suffer alone? Do you have finished novels that haven’t seen the light of day in… years? Do have uncompleted stories that you just stopped one day and never came back to? Cry on my electronic shoulder in the comments below!

Hate the Length, Not the Writer

29 Jul

As I’m releasing my short stories on my author’s page, it occurs to me–I really don’t like short stories. I’ve written very few, as compared to the tons of first chapters in my folders that never got anywhere. It occurred to me that the reason was very, very simple.

You simply get no chance to be invested in the story. It takes a while to setup the universe, the characters, to get into the rhythm of the story. Then… it’s suddenly over. Your entire job is to convey one cute concept or rough idea or something you want to discuss. The characters and the universe are irrelevant in a short story. It’s a plot, straight and simple. Take one of my favorite short stories, “The Rule of Names” by Ursula K. Le Guin. Great concept, but apart from the dragon, do you know any of the characters? No… it’s not important. You build up this universe just to abandon it on the side of the road. Maybe the universe couldn’t hold up a whole novel (as has happened to me).

I find this annoying in other forms of entertainment as well. It’s why I prefer TV series over movies. If you’re gonna spend time with characters you care about, you want them be around for a while. That’s why having a universe where main’/supporting characters die is so effective!

But there are exceptions to this. Memes, for example, are easily digestible, bite-sized nuggets of wisdom. Whether they match your wisdom is another question entirely–they’re there to get a point across and leave. They’re also easily shared and travel fast. You don’t have time to make a connection. Blogs are also great for this, because although they’re short, you know the author and make a connection with them instead.

Now I’ve actually sold short stories, and they’re great for anthologies, but those have the same problem for me. Unless you’re following the same characters, I really couldn’t care. Even anthologies from a shared universe are… iffy. For example, Changer of Worlds is set in the Honorverse, which is a series I’ve followed religiously written by David Weber. Three of the four stories are referenced (but not essential) to the plot of other books; three of the four are also written by the author himself, so one wonders why he bothered. Even then, it still took a while for me to read them… even after I bought the book! In this case, I was simply getting backstory… and although that was enjoyable, it wasn’t desirable.

Novellas are the worst of both worlds. I should know, I’ve written two of them. They’re just long enough to convey the story, universe, and characters, but not enough to continue. About 20K words–that was my comfortable spot for many years. I couldn’t write more than that until NaNoWriMo and Grad School taught me how to crank words out. There was one novella I wrote specifically for a contest, so it had to be that long, but it didn’t win… so… poopy.

So when I seek out new reading, I hope for series, I hope for long epic stories, and characters that are worth following. Am I alone here? Do you feel the same or do you crave the nice bite-size morsels of a short story? Or even the single sitting meal of a movie? Let me know in the comments below!

World Building vs. Plot… Fight!

22 Jul

It took me twenty thousand words, but I finally figured out why I was having such trouble with my current work in progress – I was more concerned with the world I was building than the plot I was going to put in it. I guess I just figured that the plot would naturally feed itself, since I fell in love with my idea, but that quickly proved not to be the case.

This particular novel started off with a comment that Peter Gold, a fellow member of The Royal Manticoran Navy (a great fandom), told me. “The
sci-fi writers of the 50s and 60s knew the importance of the merchant
marine during WWII, and wrote sci-fi stories built around merchant
ships rather than the navy.” So this got me researching how merchant marine worked today, watching great videos from mariners on YouTube (TimBatSea, JeffHK, Chief MAKOI), and figuring out how to fit that into a sci-fi situation. Trying to avoid being Firefly, I reused one of my previous universes, shifted it ahead 40 years, and BOOM! I’ve got a great universe.

“Hey, Camp NaNoWriMo is coming up,” I tell myself, “let’s grind this out and write a story in this universe!” I came up with a comprehensive character sketch for the crew members on this merchant ship, so I knew who to have my main character interact with. My main character? Eh… he’s the POV character, so naturally not knowing anything (like the audience) is fine. But then, I never bothered to develop his backstory, or character traits, since I figured that would come out in the writing. (Partly right.)

Now what I should have realized as soon as I started is that all I had in my head for the plot was a couple scenes. Once those wear out, well… I can talk to all the characters I worked so hard to sketch out. Okay… then what? At some point, my main character has to DO SOMETHING. That’s where things got iffy. “Oh, crap! How do I keep my word count up?”

So I pulled a trick that Scott Lynch did in his book, The Lies of Locke Lamora: start in the middle of the action, flashback to the character building later. That worked… let me get back to who this character actually is. Still don’t have a plot, but hey, I’m getting more scenes in. I’m getting a glimpse of where I want to go. But that only lasts so long.

Now I’m at 35,000 words and I realize, “Oh, I have no idea what story I want to tell in this universe!” Now I’ve got 11 more days in the “contest,” I don’t want to stop when I’m so close, I don’t really want to keep writing it either. So I’m left with the realization that I’m going to finish this, a novel that is unpublishable, and it’ll take another month or so to rewrite this into something that I’ll be proud to show. And editing is not my strong suit – and I’m too cheap/broke to hire someone.

Oi.

However, this whole process has taught me the valuable lesson – figure out what story you want to tell first. Even if it’s not completely fleshed out, have a goal that you want your character to reach, and this will go to a far, far better place.

Have you ever had this problem? Most of the time, I’ve given up on the story, but have you just muscled through a story that you knew was going nowhere? Tell me in the comments section below!

Plot Bunnies Aren’t Much Fun

13 Jul

There is a strange inverse ratio–the more responsibilities I do, the more I get inspired to do my creative projects. In the middle of getting a class together, I can suddenly realize, “Oh! Fatebane can realize that Nazar has been the traitor all along!” Meanwhile, there’s a video that needs to get done, and a presentation that needs to be done tomorrow. What to do?!

Of course, I can do nothing about it, and because of that the idea festers in my brain… until I realize it was a stupid idea, or I write it down somewhere. The term for this I learned from NaNoWriMo is “plot bunnies.” Those plot ideas that sit in your head, and if you don’t let them out, they start multiplying, until you can think about nothing else. The best thing to do is to write it down and forget it, so you can come back to a later. Much like Google searches; you’ll be watching a film and suddenly think, “What was the Battle of Ashdown?” (Don’t worry, I did the work for you – click the link.)

This could just be procrastination on a grand scale, but I have the best ideas when I have no time to explore them. You would think when I’m bored, my mind would be desperately trying to come up with a story to entertain me, but no, I’m least likely to write when I have nothing else to do.

At present, I have a my regular job which has two projects I’m balancing between. My wife needs my input with the mortgage refi, the kids occasionally need my attention about Hamilton, the new version of DuckTales (Whoo-oo!) and insert current obsession here. Then comes my extra-curriculars: there’s my D&D campaign on Monday nights, the fan club newsletter that I’m responsible for that’s now two weeks past the drop-dead date for submissions, the unpublished book I’m trying to edit for my new press, expanding my exposure in social media, and then my current novel (20,000 words and climbing, yeah!).

Seriously?

Something’s got to give, right? Thankfully, I’m running a published adventure in D&D, so I don’t have to worry about that until I’m running it. “I promise, I’ll work on the newsletter tomorrow!” I tell myself. I haven’t started it yet. Ick. I haven’t touched my finished novel since last week, and thankfully, my social media expansion only takes between 30-60 minutes a day. But the new novel? The one I can’t stand? Never better… I’m also back on target word count!”

Of course, that’s not counting writing this blog… which I do to get me in the mood for writing my novel. So what do you think? Do you have the same inverse problem or does any work get in the way of sitting down and writing? Put your issues in the comments below!

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