Viciously Good

It’s a cardinal rule of being a writer. You must read in order to write. My only problem is that often, when I am deeply involved in a writing project (or even buried in editing my own work) any other reading I’m doing comes to a complete halt. I seem to be unable to focus on the novel while scrutinizing my own words. In my perusing of Facebook writing groups I’ve found that I’m not the only one with this particular issue. But then, occasionally, I find a book that I can’t put down; one that inspires my own desire to write.

Vicious, by V.E. Schwab is one of those such books. I could list the things I love about this book, but then I would never stop blogging about it and would spoil all the fantastic surprises she tucks in the pages.

And I won’t give a short synopsis, because you’re better off reading the blurb on the back or online. The long and short that Victor and Eli, two college friends, give themselves powers. And not necessarily of the typical superhero variety. These powers cause an irreparable rift between the two leading to an epic confrontation.

The way Schwab begins the book immediately hooks the reader. You are torn between the now and ten years ago and it is clear that the two timelines are going to come crashing together. After only the first two chapters I wanted to know what happened between Victor and Eli to drive them apart and yet force them back on a collision course.

On the greatest strengths of the book is Schwab’s ability to blur the lines between hero and villain. A case can be made for Victor or Eli on either side of the equation and none would be an incorrect interpretation. My favorite character trait of either is Eli’s religious background. It creates an interesting juxtaposition with his desire to play God in both cheating death and his aim once he’s beaten the odds and survived his near death experience.

Another of my favorite aspects is how she incorporates magic/superpowers into her world. As I’ve been working on a short piece that balances magic and technology myself, I couldn’t help but be in awe of how simply she manages this in Vicious. There is no need to explain the gritty details of how the powers come into existence or the reasoning behind them. The main characters are experimenting with the creation and circumstances themselves, so they don’t have all the answers and you never expect them to. It is a genius way to avoid info-dumping and explaining how it all works.

In all reality I could go on for hours about the details I love about this book and how expertly crafted it is. I don’t often find books that I can’t put down and books that I read in less than a week. This was both. The sequel comes out this fall. And I don’t usually pick up books when they’re released, but I will be there day one to see how this saga and these incredibly complex characters continue.

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Original Ideas

There are frequent moments when I hear about Hollywood remaking, revamping, redoing, refreshing, restarting properties, and I wonder why they have to revisit old ideas. When these reboots are discussed on the podcast/internet radio show I’m a part of The Geek Awakens the question often becomes, why can’t they find something new and interesting? And do we really need this new version?

This past winter the cast of The Geek Awakens were invited to do a panel at a small con in south suburban Chicago, Lodgecon. Our topic explored the history and possible future of comic book adaptations to TV and big screen. For part of our panel we each found a comic that we loved and did a fan-casting; who we would like to play the main characters. The first couple ideas I had were sadly derailed after finding out they were already in some stage or development or production. But then, thanks to a friend, I discovered Chew by John Layman. A great original comic that I need to finish reading sometime soon.

Then, yesterday I discovered that the artist on Chew, Rob Guillory was releasing the first issue of a new comic book. I knew I had to pick it up and give it a shot. I made sure to read it as soon as I could and it was absolutely worth it. A quick synopsis: a farmer has discovered a way to grow perfectly viable appendages and organs for transplant. His business blooms, yet buried beneath the surface are darker secrets. What secrets, we have yet to find out considering only the first issue has been released.

But, when I read comic books like this and marvel at the fun and interesting idea I just wonder why Hollywood doesn’t dig any deeper than reboots and remakes to find properties to sink money into. Properties that are likely more interesting and thought-provoking than a rehash of an 80’s movie that should stay in the 80’s or remain the classic it currently is. (In all reality I know it’s about making money on a proven entity, but seriously…)

World-building: Part 1

Since my move to outlining before I start writing I’ve spent more time with what is referred to as “world-building”. It gives me more time to organize my thoughts and ponder questions related to the worlds I’m creating with each individual story. In turn, I feel like I’m creating more complete worlds that exist around my main characters and their particular stories.

The idea of world-building isn’t new by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a necessary part of any work of fiction, especially those existing outside the framework of everyday society. But world building isn’t relegated to just books. Movies are also prime examples of both good and bad, in depth and lacking, world building. And just like everything I read or watch, it becomes a study of how to do this well, and pitfalls to avoid.

My most current brainstorm has me attempting to coalesce science fiction elements with a fantastical magic system. My musings have led me to question how detailed my magic system and the background surrounding the usage and users need to be in order for the story to make sense. At the same time I don’t want to spend too much time hammering out details that aren’t necessary or significant.

World-building, like every aspect of storytelling is a skill that needs to be tried, learned, and practiced. I may never be as skilled as someone like Patrick Rothfuss, but as long as I succeed in creating worlds with more answers than questions, similar to my feelings for the Netflix movie, Bright, I feel like I’m headed in the right direction.

The Process Changes

The more I write and the more I interact with other writers online the more I realize a couple of things. No one writer’s process for creation is the same as another’s. And it is natural and almost expected that it change. How to create characters, their worlds, and the events that occur with and around them is a constant learning process.

I learn more about my own writing with every book and every article about writing I read, every tweet or status update from a writer I follow about how they work, every TV show or movie I watch, even YouTube videos and podcasts. The hard part is mentally sorting through all of that information and guidance and picking out what works for me and what doesn’t.

When I first started writing I learned about the two typical types of writers. Plotters and pantsers. The former plot and organize in a fairly detailed fashion the order and direction of their stories. While the latter, pantsers, fly by the seat of their pants. Until very recently, that described my writing style. I could get the general idea of a plot and my characters, but it all happened when I placed them into the story and recorded what they did.

In January, I started listening to a podcast of indie authors discussing the ins and outs of their processes and projects. They debated the usage and style of outlining stories and novels. An idea I’d been opposed to because I felt it would constrict my characters too much.

This spring as I was working on multiple projects simultaneously I decided I was going to give a generic form of outlining a chance. I would type out a road map, of sorts, for my time travel story before writing it, in hopes that I would be able to draft faster. I kept the outline directed, but open enough to allow my characters to take their own paths to specific points in the story. That story, “Fortune Fated” has been accepted for publication and will available on August 7th.

As I dig back into my self-revision of my novel Hush, I am also in the early stages of another anthology submission. Having learned that a general outline can help me draft faster and produce a stronger story I’m planning to follow a similar direction with this next story.

Never underestimate the opportunity to study and reevaluate how you create. What may have worked in the past, while it may still work, may not be best way for you now. I didn’t and now I feel better off my chances of success on future projects.

Sense of Accomplishment

It has been some time since my last update, but since then, I’ve been productive.

Between April and May I drafted, edited, and submitted two short stories and a drabble (a 100 word story). One story had the deadline extended and I made use of nearly every extra minute given. Of those 3 I’m still waiting to hear back on an acceptance or rejection from only one.

My drabble, was submitted to a new electronic venue for science fiction drabbles, Martian magazine. Their submission window was a week long. I’d never seriously dabbled in drabbles until my attempt for this. Within hours of sending the email, I heard back that my story was rejected. My disappointment was tempered when I found out that after the close of the submission window, they received over 900 submissions and only accepted 58. Hard to be upset when the odds of making it on my first go were that small. But, I’m not giving up on the idea. I’ll hone, tweak, and find other ideas that I can use and submit.

The last of the three stories I finished writing over the last couple months was a submission for the pizza-themed horror anthology, Tales from the Crust. Despite how long I’d known about the call this story ended up on the bottom of the pile. Having mentally plotted it all out ahead of time, I was able to get the whole 5000 words written, edited (and had my wonderful wife and alpha reader edit it) all in the span of a week. I submitted it the day of the deadline and am currently waiting to hear back.

The largest project during the last couple of months has already been the most successful. I plotted and wrote a story about a blacklisted theoretical physicist who creates time travel and attempts to find a way to prove such to his former colleagues and employer. The original draft was around 15,000 words. I took my time revising and doing self-edits. The deadline got pushed back ten days allowing me the opportunity to find an editor willing to do a quick turnaround. I got extremely lucky in finding someone willing to work on such a shortened timeline. But the fun didn’t stop with copy edits. When I sent it to the editor, after a quick read through she suggested that it needed more substantial work than just commas and sentence structure. Together we agreed that, by modifying our timeline, we could sill get the piece revised and submitted in the window. I ended up reworking the beginning and tweaking some other parts to help the story flow better allowing the reader to stay more involved. I got the piece submitted about ten hours before deadline. Last Wednesday evening I found out that my story had been selected for publication in the Fiction-Atlas Press time travel anthology Counterclockwise, which is available for pre-order and releases August 7th.

The work I put into, Fortune Fated, my time travel story, is the most work I’ve done on a single story aside from my novel-in-progress. Knowing that the work paid off and I’ll see another story published is such an incredible feeling.

At this point I don’t have any deadlines looming. The next anthologies I want to submit to aren’t due until September and November 1st, but knowing myself I’m sure I’ll find something else to occupy my time. Until it’s time to start really buckling down on those I’m going to try and finish my first revisions/edits of Hush (like I said, as long as I don’t find other short term projects to distract myself).

Death of a Character

Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of the “Battle of Hogwarts” and has become customary, JK Rowling tweeted out an apology for killing off a character during the battle. This year she chose someone outside the battle, but a character who died to save those who would win. Dobby, the house elf.

In general there seem to be two sides to the thought of killing characters. Either the author should respect the characters and their fictional lives making death only and option when no other is logical, feasible, or avoidable. The second, seemingly championed by George R. R. Martin and Robert Kirkman, is that no one is safe. Any character, at any time could be killed. My own feelings lie somewhere in between.

So far, in my writing, I have only killed off two characters. The first was in a story/book that isn’t finished or published. The second is the main character of a story called “Unfathomable”. While writing this story I speculated and teased the idea that my main character would survive with a horrific tale to tell of the sights he observed, but the more I thought about it the less that path felt right. It wasn’t as if I needed my main character to be sacrificial for the story to work, but in order to create the fear and tension required to put the reader in the small cramped submersible trapped in an underwater cave tracking down an undiscovered creature, his death was the only option.

I respect my characters. I put a lot of work into breathing life into each and every one of them. I strive to make them all unique in some way and doing so means that unless it serves the story I don’t plan on killing them off. But, that doesn’t mean that it is unavoidable. There are times where it will be necessary. And when death comes to a character I hope my readers will understand it wasn’t without cause or reason.

Rowling’s tweet yesterday frustrated me. In order for the Battle of Hogwarts to be epic and hold the weight it did, fictional lives had to be lost. Sad, though they may be. If everyone came out the other side with a few scratches, but otherwise unhurt, the fight wouldn’t have felt as big or as important. Going back now and apologizing for the deaths of characters as she does makes it seems as if she’s bowing to the will of a few disgruntled readers. In turn, compromising the story she wrote and in some ways minimizing the fictional lives and sacrifices of those characters.

As such, I promise never to apologize for the death of a character. If they die. It was necessary.

Moving Foward…Slowly

I am not meant to be a prolific blogger. I have a few weeks of ideas and then I get sidetracked. Either way, I set myself some pretty hefty goals the last time I posted. I buried myself in those pretty deeply during the last two months.

I spent a good chunk of March beginning work on serious edits for my novel, Hush, all with the goal of having a version ready for my wife and alpha reader at the start of April. That definitely whooshed by with the speed Douglas Adams always found so entertaining. I pushed through a solid 75 pages of Hush. If my math is correct (of which there is no guarantee) I’m about 28% of the way through.

Then the beginning of April arrived and I realized that I needed to get started on the two short stories I promised myself I’d write for anthologies due the end of May/beginning of June. In order to have time to revise/alpha/beta/professional edit, April 1st had always been my target for those projects. Fully aware of the snail’s pace at which I am working on Hush and the continued long-term future of that work I switched gears.

Project #1 is a time travel story. My first fully formed idea for this project has now been moved into the mental folder marked NOVEL IDEAS. A great concept that simply got too big too fast. The story I’ve decided to work on for this unnamed time travel anthology from Fiction-Atlas Press is about a rocket scientist who after getting fired and blacklisted buys a junk yard where he finds his discarded projects. His passion is reignited and moves to complete his time travel device to prove that his former coworkers and bosses were wrong to toss him and his ideas aside so casually.

Project #2 is for a pizza themed horror anthology entitled “Tales from the Crust”. From the moment I saw the call for stories I knew I needed to do something. This just seemed too ripe for fun ideas to pass up. I haven’t started writing this story yet, but I’ve worked out the bulk of the plot. I’ll be outlining and filling out the details while I finish drafting the time travel story. Not typical for me, but I already have a title for this one. “Which Pizza?”

The goal is to have these drafted in the next couple weeks to allow time for revisions and edits before submitting the end of May. Once those are sent off I’ll turn my attention back to Hush.

As much as I write I’m continually learning about my process. Each writer is different and has their own. What works for one doesn’t work for another. Taking a break from Hush to create these new stories for anthologies calls was necessary to keep myself from burning out on creative/writing projects.

Needless to say the deadlines I set for Hush two months ago have been shattered, but overall, that is better for my sanity and the quality of the project. The last thing I want is to get to the end of my self-edits/revisions and have a novel that isn’t improved from when I started because I pushed too hard to get through.

I’m going to attempt to update my Facebook page with some tidbits and fun stuff regarding these two short story projects (both of which I’m really enjoying working on) as they get closer to completion.

Deadlines.

For the last year or so I’ve been writing short stories on a deadline oriented basis. All but two stories (I think) written during that time were created with a particular venue in mind. And as such had a very specific deadline attached. The good news is that I completed the work and submitted at or before the deadline in nearly all of those cases. The bad news is that because I don’t have a hard and fast deadline for my novel, it has been continually pushed to the side.

Last night I finished a draft of another story with the deadline for the anthology being February 28th. The countdown is on to get it revised/edited/tweaked/etc. Then I found two anthologies that want submissions end of May/beginning of June, both of which I’ve already mentally committed to concocting ideas for. But as much as I enjoy the challenge of taking those submission calls and crafting a story that fits the requirements, I am going to attempt to switch gears for a few months.

Beginning Monday, in addition to the time I’ll spend revising my newest short story I am going to buckle down and take a good hard look at revising/editing Hush, my novel. And since I seem to work better when I have a hard and fast deadline, I’m going to lay out my current plan for Hush’s editing right here.

By April 1st – Have a revised and self-edited version of Hush completed and ready for my wonderful wife and alpha reader.

By May 1st – Have changes made based on alpha feedback and have a version ready to be seen by beta readers. (Of which I have a couple in mind, but definitely will need more feedback.)

By June 20th – Have a copy ready to send to a vetted/hired a content/developmental editor.

From then on, the process will depend on the amount of necessary work with and from my chosen editor, so as much as I would like to put hard dates on further production goals I’m going to pass.

Nose to the grindstone. Why? Not because I want to be done with Hush. Although a part of me does. But because after seeing the hard copy of my story published in a magazine most recently, I want nothing more than too see Hush in my hands and the hands of friends/family/readers.

And just for the sake of entertainment … a great quote from Douglas Adams on his feelings about deadlines.

deadlines

Make Writing A Habit

Toward the end of 2017 I ran across a group on Facebook called the 365 Writing Club. The idea behind it is simple. Every day in 2018, write. The minimum goal they required was 100 words. Publication, blogging, even completion of stories/novels/poems isn’t the focus. The ultimate goal is the creation of a positive habit for a writer. How can you be a writer if you don’t write?

I took part in a couple challenges of a similar nature in the last year or so, but they were limited to a quarter of the year. This is long term. I know my main writing task for the year is editing/revising my drafted novel, but I am well aware that I need to continue to produce if I want an audience for my writing and desire for that audience to grow. I also know that blogging is a way to attract readers for my fiction as well as interact with other authors. So, after checking the rules (to make sure blogging counted) I signed up.

I had hoped to make it through January and write something everyday. Enough to qualify. (I set my goal at 150 words a day.) I didn’t succeed there, but I have managed 6500 new words on stories and blog posts in 30 days. If I can keep up that pace I’ll come close to my all time high of 80k-ish words in 2016. I can also guarantee, that among those nearly 80k words I’ll have new and exciting stories written that I can submit and hopefully share.

Right now I have no plans to begin writing another novel this year, but if writing every day helps form the habit I hope it does, then who knows. Not as if I don’t have a whole handful of ideas for novels sitting around gathering dust.

Petition to Stop Fan Petitions

This blog inspired by a recent article on CBR.com

Petitions started by fans of particular geek/nerd franchises are nothing new. As pointed out in the article I linked above they have just become exponentially easier to initiate as well as gather “signatures” for since the ease of access to and overabundance of internet connections.

The article proposes that these fan petitions are “ruining … everything”. Sadly, there is no true argument about anything actually being ruined, just the mention of two specific petitions. Now, are the petitions ludicrous? Yes, but their existence hardly qualifies as ruining anything. With all the social media outlets, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., the only thing these petitions seem to bring to light is the number of fans aggravated by a particular nerd/geek/fandom issue.

One such petition is to have a “Zack Snyder” cut of Justice League released and netted over 100,000 signatures. Another collected almost 100,000 fans signatures “demanding” that Disney rollback Episode VIII, stall Episode IX, and remake VIII because they didn’t like it.

Or, when Ben Affleck was announced to play Batman/Bruce Wayne in BVS, petitions began to show up online, the largest gaining close to 100,000 signatures. A quick Google search showed at least 4 other petitions with less that 100 signatures each. None of which had any effect since he’s now played the character 3 times. Having now seen Affleck in the role in 3 movies I will openly admit he’s not my favorite to play the character, but I can imagine worse choices.

I’m not disagreeing with fans ability to voice their concerns or dislike for a particular movie, casting choice, or even change to a character’s mythology, but these petitions give off the aire that fans are entitled to complete control of fandoms. That is simply absurd.

The petitions need to stop. Not because they are futile, but because they are selfish. We should be thrilled that we live in a world where these comic books and superheroes are being made into incredible visual motion picture spectacles. Growing up even 20 years ago these same characters were too geeky and nerdy to be mainstream, to be popular. Now we are getting to see them come to life as we never dreamed. As a whole these fandoms should just enjoy the explosion of geek/nerd entertainment being popular enough for TV and movie studios to keep the train rolling.

As a side note, some petitions shouldn’t exist because at times change is a good thing (i.e. Doctor Who regenerating into a female Doctor) and sometimes, a show was cancelled because it didn’t live up to fan expectations (*cough cough* Inhumans).

I get it. Fans, particularly those of comic books and superheroes, are enthusiastic and extremely passionate about characters they know and love, but these petitions do little more than highlight those same fans inability to see the forest for the trees.