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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What a thoroughly odd day.

May 10th, 2014  |  Published in Misc

Today was strange. I was tired all day–exhausted, really–and kind of cranky. On top of that, ShoStoWriMo seems to be fizzling this year, with participation much lower than would be expected from the initial response (I have some ideas on what I can do better next year, though). Finally, I had trouble finding any short stories to listen to at  work (from the Clarkesworld and Escape Pod podcasts) that did anything for me.

On the other hand, today was excellent. I finally got to the point in my follow-up to “There Are No Words” where I get to explore Calvin and Hobbes from the perspective of a guy in a post-literate society (everyone has computers in their heads, among other things). Also, I’ve been thinking again of doing a Kickstarter for Caldera (to have it edited, get it printed, and commission some art), which has a distinctly optimistic feel to it.

In short, I was depressed, but had a blast writing on my lunch break and am optimistic about doing something more with one of my favorite stories. What a weird day.

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How Things Are

April 29th, 2014  |  Published in announcement

Well, I was hoping to have an essay about the unexpected degree to which gamification (most notably in the form of HabitRPG, which you should go check out, right now) has changed my life in a facts-on-the-ground sort of way. But, apparently it hasn’t changed my life that much (fundamentally not bad, as I regard writing fiction as being exponentially more important than writing blog posts). Still, I am writing this now, and that’s something.

The main things that I’ve been working on for the past week have been the followup story to “There Are No Words”, tentatively called “Passport Denied”, which I haven’t yet published, but if you ask I would likely send you a copy. I’m really enjoying the story as it is unfolding and I look forward to seeing it in its final form. That being said, what started off as a short story is now nearing the 12,000 word mark, and will probably end up firmly in novella territory (barring massive cuts during revision). Overall, “There Are No Words” and “Passport Denied” are planned to be opening of a novel-length work that I would like to finish this year but probably won’t.

Part of the reason for that is that May 1st is almost here, and with it, ShoStoWriMo. Preparations are going well for that, and I think that it will be a good year for the event. In any case, I’m going to try and get a little bit of writing in before I go to bed, so good night.

 

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Stories I Probably Won’t Get Around To Writing: The Silent and The Dead

March 17th, 2014  |  Published in Uncategorized, writing

Okay, let’s say that there’s a zombie outbreak and virtually everyone gets infected (99% or more).  What would that look like? I’m going to use Olympia as an example, as that is where I live.

The average population density of Thurston County (where Olympia is located) is 347 people/square mile. This could be better (the average for the US is 88) but it could be a whole lot worse (Los Angeles County has a population density of 2,100 people/square mile). Assuming “Walking Dead” style zombies, with a small group, you should be able to clear a square mile without too much trouble over the course of a week. The problem comes in when people get guns. Something like an assault rifle might be audible as far away as five miles. With sustained shooting, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that you would draw every zombie within a three mile radius. Not so bad, right? Wrong. A three mile radius gives you an area of a little over 28 square miles, with 347 zombies per square mile, you’re talking about nearly 10,000 zombies.

Now, let’s say that you’re a survivalist shooting zombies from their roof. Even with a 100% accuracy rate, you would be talking about 10,000 rounds, and at 28 pounds/1000 rounds, you would be talking about 280 pounds of ammunition, just to give you an idea of the amount of supplies you would need. Furthermore, what would 10,000 zombies look like? Shoulder to shoulder, that many people would take up something like one and a half football fields. In any case, I think that you get the picture. Things would not be good for our lone survivalist with his buried gold, canned food, and mountain of ammunition. I wouldn’t write about him.

Instead, I would write about the sort of group that would survive the math of the situation. They would need to be competent, not necessarily at killing zombies, but in organizing themselves as a group. A disorganized or fractious group of people with weapons doesn’t have many more choices than the a single armed person (in fact they may even have fewer, as their resource footprint would increase with their size). Weapons are force multipliers for individuals. Organization, on the other hand, is a force multiplier for groups.

The group would find a defensible place with a source of fresh water (and as far from survivalist types as practicable), and they would secure that area as quietly as possible, then gradually move out, clearing the area around them.  Once they had carved out a large enough area for themselves, they would create zombie traps, basically pits with sound emitting things (perhaps a shishi odishi for zombies?) scattered around the area’s perimeter. Every day or so, someone would head out the pits, dump in some gasoline, and burn the day’s zombies.

Wouldn’t they need that gasoline for their cars? No. First of all, gasoline goes bad and eventually will not work in your engines (but will probably still be viable for burning some zombies). Second, cars are loud (see the bit about drawing zombies to you above) and require cleared roads or paths. Finally, gasoline production would cease at the zombie outbreak (or shortly thereafter), and the group would soon find itself scavenging farther and farther away just to fuel their vehicles.

So what sort of stories would take place in this setting? First of all, there wouldn’t be much soap opera (which isn’t to say that it would be entirely absent, either), as it requires a fractious group and would likely get everyone killed before long. Instead, the story would probably focus on the various struggles from within the group, such as how decisions are made, and how to deal with divisive issues (51-49 votes are terrible for morale, see congress). The group would have to decide on its relationship to other survivors. I’m sure that there would be plenty of stories to tell in this setting. The main difference is that it wouldn’t be as annoying as much of what you see being made these days, which either assumes that people are basically bad (it seems to me that our world is an example of the opposite) or that people want to watch petty squabbling, or both.

In any case, I probably won’t write this, or at least not any time soon, but wanted to share the ideas anyway. If you do want to write it, feel free.

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Conversational Overload

May 24th, 2013  |  Published in ShoStoWriMo

Sorry about the radio silence, I spent a week in Colorado, which was nice but prevented me from getting any real writing done (although I did produce a bunch of notes for upcoming stories). I did get some reading done, however.

It is often said that Speculative Fiction (and I would argue all of fiction) is one big conversation stretching back to the first time someone said “What if . . .” This conversation isn’t always obvious, there is no comprehensive guide that will tell you what a particular story was responding to or if it was the basis for a new thread of conversation. In my experience, the only way to pick it out is to read a lot of it and tease out the connections on your own.

Anyone who writes a story is part of that conversation, which is one of the reasons that I love short fiction, because you don’t have to write a novel to participate (which isn’t to say that writing short fiction is any easier than writing a novel). This month I have been making a concerted effort to read a lot of short fiction, an effort in which I have been moderately successful (I’ve still been reading an ebook novel before I go to sleep every night, but that is largely because the anthology I wanted to read in that time slot is, somehow, not available as an ebook).

I have read some good stories, a lot of mediocre ones, and a few that have been just bad. The good ones are very entertaining, and the bad ones are unfortunate, but it is the middle category that creates a problem. I have read a number of stories to which I really want to respond, in story form. Of course, I’m already working on something. So I make notes and push them out of my mind. Then my frustrated subconscious starts pushing stories into my head fully-formed, stories which I do not have the time to write at present.

I feel full to bursting with stories, and it is frustrating. But I should stop whining, it’s better than writers block after all. In any case, I should get some work done on Assassination so that I can placate my subconscious before it kills me.

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A First Draft

May 7th, 2013  |  Published in ShoStoWriMo

I haven’t really gotten much writing done this past week. Which isn’t to say that I haven’t wanted to, but rather that I haven’t made enough time to do so (and to be fair, some of this is out of my control). In fact, as I have been consuming a bunch of short fiction, in the form of Diverse Energies, Podcastle, and Escape Pod (and then At The Mouth Of The River Of Bees and High-Tech Gothic), I have had a lot of ideas for stories, which is frustrating as I can only work on one at a time. One of the great thing about Speculative Fiction is that, once you read enough of it, the outlines of a great conversation begin to emerge (a similar phenomenon can be found in philosophy), and the more of that conversation that I see, the more I want to participate (and in the case of short fiction, the more attainable that participation is). At the moment, there really isn’t much to do about it, other than to make notes about the stories I want to write (which are great to have for when you sit down to write but aren’t able to come up with a story, by the way). But enough about that, this post is titled “A First Draft”.

Back when I first started to work on Broken Shores, while I was still figuring out how the world worked (I hadn’t figured out what to call it, if I recall correctly), I wrote a short story with the working title of “Assassination”. I liked this story, but Broken Shores went a different direction, and I shelved it. But I have always wanted to dust it off, and make it work, but every time I looked at it, I was daunted by how much would need to change (almost all of it). Well, fuck it. I’m going to make it work, and you get to see the process. Just remember that what follows is a ROUGH DRAFT, and will be full of errors (continuity, plot, grammar, and otherwise) and represents a direction that the Broken Shores setting could have gone, but didn’t. Really, I want you to go into this expecting less than nothing. If you continue to read beyond this point, you will never get those minutes of your life back, and I cannot be held responsible, so don’t bother asking. Also, although I dislike doing it, I’m going to put a page break after the first scene, which I hope doesn’t mess with the feed/email subscriptions, but if it does I’m sorry. Feedback is welcome, just keep in mind, there is much necrotic tissue that is already marked for removal. Without further ado:

Assasination (working title)

by Tom Dillon

FIRST DRAFT (“here there be errors”) / 6.27.2008 / approximately 6,200 words

“We must never forget our history, what our forefathers went through to ensure our safety.  We have become complacent, and there is nothing to stop another disaster from occurring.  My opponent insists that the time for caution is over, that the threat is past, but it is not.  If anything, it is greater than ever.”  Senator Burien’s words blended into the noise of the crowd as something else caught Devin’s attention.

The man was easy to spot, moving quickly through a crowd that seemed to sway sluggishly in Devin’s ramped-up state.   She didn’t bother to signal as she braced herself, the guards on the perimeter had already done so.  The guards on the stage with her noticed as well, and she heard a series of thunks from their crossbows just moments before a few quarrels embedded themselves in the man’s chest.

The bolts didn’t slow the man down, he kept on dodging through the crowd as one of his hands plucked the quarrels from his chest and the other drew a long knife.  The guards that were closest to Senator Burien bunched up, making a human wall in front of him.  Even if the assassin got through them, they would slow him down enough for Devin and the rest of the guards to do their jobs.

Then the assassin jumped.  His momentum carried him in a smooth arc over the guards’ heads.  He ducked his head and crossed his arms in front of him just in time for the metal plates on his forearms to deflect three or four more quarrels.

He landed to the left of the main bunching of guards, in between them and her.  He ricocheted off of them, heading straight for her.  For a moment, his face was nearly touching hers, and she could see the tinge of blue under a layer of powder.  Then she felt her dagger slide along one of his ribs.  It caught, then he shoved off of her causing the blade to snap off as she lost her balance.

Even ramped up as she was, it was over by the time she regained her feet.  Senator Burien was on the ground, the assassin’s knife protruding from his temple.  It wouldn’t matter how much Ve they pumped into him, there was no coming back from something like that.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Brought to you by the American Guinea Pig Council

April 11th, 2013  |  Published in writing

Last May, for ShoStoWriMo I wrote a short story titled The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, an element of which was the rise of Guinea Pigs as a common food in the US (as one friend said, “I think of that story every time I see a Guinea Pig now.” Sweet savory success.). According to NPR, it seems that I was ahead of my time. Which reminds me, I need to put together a cover for that story and publish it, so that you can read it.

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Short Story Writing Month!

April 24th, 2012  |  Published in announcement

It’s almost here! In the US at least, May is National Short Story Month, and what better way to celebrate it than to write one? Last year I declared May to be Short Story Writing Month (ShoStoWriMo), kind of like a relaxed NaNoWriMo where you write a short story (between 1,000 and 10,000 words) in a week and then spend the rest of the month giving feedback to others who did the same and revising your story with help from their feedback.

Last year it went quite well, with a number of good stories coming out of it, and this year I’d like it to be even better, so you should go and sign up! It’s open to everyone and quite a bit of fun.

In other, more personal news, things have been going well here. I have a Horizon story that needs some work but that will probably be ready sometime in May, and a Broken Shores story that will be ready sometime after that. In any case, I’ll keep you up to date on everything as it happens.

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A humble suggestion for Bantam Books

April 17th, 2012  |  Published in commentary

Bantam is the publisher of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, even if you haven’t read the books, there is a good chance that you have seen the HBO series, Game Of Thrones. The series of books is huge, consisting so far of five thick books with at least two more planned. Each of these books is divided into numerous points of view, and the story itself is getting so unwieldy that readers rarely see their favorite characters. One reaction to this would be to suggest more editorial oversight, but I have little expertise in that department. Instead, I would suggest that the publisher makes sure that they profit from it.

After the series is finished, imagine a massive e-book edition of ASoIaF (call it the Perfect Collection or Ultimate Edition or something) that contains all of the books. Now, let the fans remix the books. Not rewrite them or modify the text, but rather the ability to rearrange the chapters. Imagine reading only the Tyrion chapters or the Jaime chapters, with no interruptions, or only the chapters of peripheral characters. I realize that you could do this with paper books by skipping the chapters that you don’t want to read, but it would be a pain in the ass. In addition, fans could release ‘playlists’ of the book that other people who have purchased the uber edition could then view.

Of course, this wouldn’t need to come cheap, say $50 or $100 per license. Imagine everyone who has already purchased the entire series going out and buying the whole thing over so that they can remix it.

Personally, I don’t actually expect the publishing industry to do anything like this. They will almost certainly say that it is too difficult or too expensive, if they consider it at all. Fortunately, what we are talking about here isn’t video or music, but text, which is notoriously hard to control (or as Cory Doctorow says: “Behold . . . the typist!”), so whether or not Bantam wants my money, I’ll be able to get it.

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Uncharitable Thoughts About Other Writers

March 9th, 2012  |  Published in writing

Some things that have occurred to me recently:

  1. In attempts to make books “Adult” writers often seem to mistake graphic sex and violence for maturity. Making a book suitable for only adults does not make it mature, it is more like an adolescent trapped in an adult’s body. I realized this while reading Crystal Rain and realizing that the characters actually felt like adults (this shouldn’t be so rare, but it is). Remember, sex and violence are tools, and to use them in service to something other than the story is to waste them.
  2. Science fiction writers can be like raccoons. Sometimes they write about concepts and technology so shiny that they get transfixed, and forget that they are supposed to be, you know, telling a story.
  3. A story needs to be anchored in time and space. This isn’t to say that a story needs to begin with a timestamp and GPS coordinates, but that the story’s environment should be defined in some way early on, as should the main character’s attitude towards it.

Enough of that. I’ll stop complaining now.

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