Hey, I wrote a story about that . . .

August 6th, 2014  |  Published in writing

When writing science fiction, every once in a while you will see something that you wrote about actually happening (much sooner than anticipated). It’s weird, but makes sense. But when writing fantasy, not so much. A while back, I wrote a story called The Ash Tree (it’s available for free at Broken ShoresSmashwords, Barnes and Noble, and elsewhere so you should go read it if you haven’t already). It was the first story that I wrote in the Broken Shores setting, and it is still one of my favorites. One of the central elements of the story was the eponymous ash tree in the courtyard of a residential block (thanks Azby Brown for the architectural inspiration) which had many kinds of fruit and nuts grafted onto it. So I was kind of surprised to read about just such a tree the other day. Granted, grafting isn’t exactly new, but some of the early readers had told me that the grafted tree was a little ‘out there’.

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It is June now

June 3rd, 2013  |  Published in announcement

Wow, I’m going to call May a wash. On one hand, I read/listened to a lot of short fiction, some of which was good, some of which was great, and some of which was terrible. On the other hand, between the eight month old child to watch and spending a week in Colorado, I got very little writing done. I’m still working on Assassination, and hope to finish the rough draft of that soon (but no promises), I ended up having to rewrite more of it from scratch than I had originally anticipated, but I’m happy with where it has headed. I also have three other stories crowding my head, largely thanks to the short fiction that I read this past month, and I hope to give those voice soon.

Next week I hope to have a post about logic and literacy for you, and I’ll keep you updated about my progress. In the meantime, if you want something strage, wonderful, and obscene, you should give this bacon filled story a listen: Spar (The Bacon Remix). But enough about that, I’m going to try and get some more writing done before I have to go to work.

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The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved Cover

April 23rd, 2013  |  Published in announcement

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I need to get my act together and do something with some of the stories that I’m sitting on. So today I went ahead and did a cover for “The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved”. I’m pretty happy with it, but may tweak it a bit before I’m ready to stamp FINAL on it (naturally, feedback is welcome). Other than that, I need to take another pass through the story and format it for Smashwords and Amazon. Hopefully I’ll be ready to go with it early next week. I’ll let you know.

The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved

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The Nature of Television

April 3rd, 2012  |  Published in commentary

Let me preface this by saying that I watch a fair amount of TV. Not nearly as much as most of my fellow USians, but a fair amount. I am not saying that no one should watch TV, ever, but that perhaps we should be a bit more critical of it as a society.

Turn on your TV set (or imagine that you are). Find a show that you like that is not a sitcom or news and takes place during the modern era. Now wait for the protagonist to sit down and watch some TV. Chances are, you will be waiting for a while. Those doctors, detectives, scientists that you like so much don’t really watch TV, or if they do, it is to catch the big game or to watch a news snippet. They don’t go home every night and plunk down for an hour or two of TV.

Now, think of how you relate to those characters. At some level, you probably want to be as smart, funny, or interesting as those people. It would be cool to do interesting things, wouldn’t it? So what does that have to do with the amount of TV that they watch? Two things. First, watching someone watch TV is about as interesting as watching them go to the bathroom, less so even, since we see a lot more of the latter. Second, they don’t have time. If they went home and watched TV every night, they wouldn’t have the time to do all of the things that their fictional lives require of them.

What I’m saying is that by spending a lot of time watching fictional characters do interesting things, you pretty much prevent yourself from doing interesting (or heck, useful but boring) things, by definition.

Last year, the New York Times ran a story reporting that in 2010 Americans watched an average of 34 hours of television per person, per week. That sounds like a lot, but it sounds like more when you do some math with it. There are 168 hours in a week. Assuming that people sleep eight hours per day, that leaves 112 hours. Now, if you work 9-5 five days a week, and have a half-hour commute each way (and many work longer and commute farther), that leaves 67 hours. That means that Americans spend 30% of their waking hours watching TV, and over 50% of their free time. Another way of putting this is that Americans watch 4.85 hours of TV per day. On a workday, that would leave you a little over two hours each day to do things like eat or raise your family. Most people probably aren’t that determined to watch TV on weekdays, however, probably clocking in closer to three hours (a guess on my part), which would then mean that they spend 19 hours watching TV on the weekends.

You probably get my point by now. People in the United States watch a lot of TV. Maybe next time my neighbor comments on how much yard work we get done over the summers I will just point to the ever-present blue-white glow of their TV visible through their front window.

I’m going to go do something interesting, maybe you should, too.

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February 29th, 2012  |  Published in Reading

One of the things that I want to do better going forward is to post more about what I’m reading. I had some sort of system worked out on my old site, with a widget that displayed the last ten or so articles that I had shared on Google Reader, but with Reader’s redesign, that appears to be a thing of the past (although I imagine that hivemined will fix that, once it is available). But enough of that.

Back when I lived in San Francisco and listened to a lot of podcasts on my walks to and from work, I heard about a novella by James Patrick Kelly that he had released as a podcast on his site and which went on to win the Nebula. It is called Burn, and it is a far-future science fiction story centered around a world that had been structured around the ideas set forth by Thoreau in Walden. Well, I finally got around to listening to it. It didn’t go into what I expected it to go into, and I’m still trying to unpack how I feel about it, but it was good, and you can get it for free, so you should give it a listen.

Currently, I’m listening to Richard Matheson’s Other Kingdoms, and I’ll tell you how that went in a week or so.

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Cliche and the Use of Language

November 22nd, 2011  |  Published in writing

The dictionary on my computer defines cliche as “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought”. I’ve never heard it used in a positive way, it is always a criticism. There is a good reason for this, prose that relies on cliches is flat, stale, dead on the page. Another way to define cliche is a phrase that is so familiar that it has lost virtually all meaning, it no longer engages the reader in any meaningful way and the work would most likely be better served by a direct statement. In short, avoid cliches.

The opposite end of this is purple prose in which the writing is so ornate as to distract from any point that it might otherwise make. This has traditionally happened in pulp novels, but has also started to happen in literary fiction. When you remove Plot, your only recourse is character and style, and there are only so many books about dysfunctional families that one can read, so it becomes easy to abuse style. (Yes, I do realize that I am painting with a very broad brush here. I am not saying that all literary fiction suffers from this, just some.)

As a general rule, I believe that the effect of any flourish, be it vulgarity or flowery prose, is inversely related to the frequency of its use. Which is really just a long way of saying that the more uncommon an element, the more impact it will have.

All of that being said, I now get to my real reason for writing this post. In my last weeks at Borders, I found an excellent book for adding a little freshness to prose: Merriam-Webster’s Easy Learning Spanish Idioms. It contains common Spanish idioms along with their direct translations and explanations. For example: “ser como en un entierro” which means “to be like a guitar at a funeral” and is analogous to “stick out like a sore thumb”. Obviously some of the phrases can be used verbatim, but I think that to do so exclusively would be to miss an opportunity. Through something like this, you can see how idioms arise from culture and history, which should get you thinking about what idioms arise from the culture and history that you are writing about (I’m thinking of the fantasy genre here, but I think that it applies equally well to the idioms that arise out of something even as small as a town or a family). If you don’t like that one, there are plenty of books about the subject, like I’m Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears and Other Intriguing Idioms from Around the World.

The point is, if you want to write fresh and engaging fiction, there is a whole world of diverse and fascinating people out there to draw on. Just do so sparingly.

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November 7th, 2011  |  Published in Fiction

On Friday I read an article about John Robb about how the use of drones is changing the realities of warfare. Although it was an excellent read (if a bit depressing, especially in context), I now feel that I have to write more in the Uprising setting, which may slow down my other projects a bit. In any case, I’ve posted the first scene of the second part of Uprising (working title: Soapbox). Keep in mind that it is completely unedited (I wrote it about twenty minutes ago), the final version will be more polished.

Ethan knew he was exposed, dangerously so, standing in the plaza surrounded by others doing the same, his peripheral vision full of drones hanging in the space between the buildings. At the same time, looking at the man standing on top of the long-empty newspaper box, Ethan was transfixed. The man was normal looking, wearing a long sleeved thermal against the chill and his breath hanging in front of his stubbly face.

The man had been speaking for the better part of an hour, drawing an increasing number of drones like flies to a wounded animal. “We no longer live in a democracy! Welcome to the Corporate States of America: of the many, by the few, for the few! We must rise up, take to the streets, take back our country!”

With those words, the spell was broken for Ethan. He turned to run, but it was too late. There was a sound like a bottle rocket whistling through the air, then a sound so loud that his ears registered only static and a concussive wave that knocked him forward onto his stomach. He caught himself with his hands against the rough pavement.

It was as though the blast had knocked his consciousness out of his body. He couldn’t hear anything and the pain in his hands and knees felt like they were happening to someone else. He picked himself up and started running again, shielded by numbness and silence.

It may seem a bit dark, and it is (we are in a bit of a dark time, after all), but I assure you that there will be hope at the end of this segment, just give it a few weeks. I’ll post more scenes as I finish them. Hopefully one every day or two until I am finished. If you have any suggestions or questions, feel free to leave them in the comments.

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Caldera Reboot

November 3rd, 2011  |  Published in Fiction

Here is a (very) rough draft of the Caldera reboot that I’m working on this month. Keep in mind that it hasn’t been revised and so there are likely problems with the prose (like bad dialogue and weak description), and there will almost certainly be major changes to the story by the time I am done with it. In any case, here you go:

Caldera Reboot

Rough Draft / 1050 words / 11.3.2011

Caden‘s felt his age in his legs as he climbed the steps carved into the vertical sides of Crest Island. Twenty years prior he would have ran up the steps, and the awareness of his spent youth brought rekindled the doubts that had been smoldering since the beginning of his quest.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Drop the Na, which leaves us with ShoStoWriMo

April 26th, 2011  |  Published in announcement

I realized that I didn’t like the idea of something being National, so I dropped it. In any case, it looks like I’ll actually be doing this, and maybe some other people will, too. If you’re interested, head over to shostowrimo.pawnstorm.net and get registered. I’ll try to keep everyone updated as I go.

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Moral Complexity

May 18th, 2010  |  Published in Fantasy, Fiction, Uncategorized

So, after recommendations by a couple of my coworkers, I read The The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett this last weekend.  The book was good, but not great.  The concept is good, post-apocalyptic fantasy setting in which demons come out each night.  What this means is that the humans as a species are barely holding on, only able to be out during the day, and everything is scarce.  Good so far.

Then we come to the wards.  Apparently, there are wards that can be used to keep out demons (the old combat wards that would allow humans to fight demons on an even footing are lost).  I don’t have a problem with the wards themselves, but rather how they are implemented.  I was hoping for something like David Farland’s Runelords series (where runes are very powerful, but require scarce materials, knowledge, and a donor to work), but instead I get a book where all that is required to create wards is knowledge and time (Arlen, one of the central characters, can do it by instinct before his teens).

This leads to all sort of problems (such as why the wards aren’t tattooed on people at birth), but the problem that I’m interested in is that it is one-sided, there is no sacrifice.  If power can be had without sacrifice, you can rest assured that humans will have exploited it to within an inch of its life.  More importantly, when you have magic that requires sacrifice, it creates moral complexity, and that is one of the things that differentiates between a good story and a great one.

Ultimately, I believe that all storytelling is based on conflict, and that the conflict that we like is the conflict that we can relate to.  You may be asking what relatability has to do with Fantasy.  Well, in this case, I would say that one of the central aspects of every single person’s life is the concept of sacrifice and trade-offs, which we encounter virtually every time we make a choice.  Combined with speculative fiction’s ability to take issues and allow us to examine them without the baggage that we have in reality, you can tell a very powerful story.  In short, when you are creating a fantasy setting, magic needs to be balanced with sacrifice if it is to be at all relevant.

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