Research is Evil

Ruminations

We’re talking about the joys of research this week, and I can simply direct your attention to the picture accompanying this entry as evidence of the joy of research. Mmmmm. Books. However, there’s a seedy underbelly to research wherein you end up with shelves like this. This is the “Occult Wall” in my office–just the books that reference the occult history of the world.

You can go too far with research. You can wander off into the wilderness and never find your way back, which is detrimental when you have a book deadline.

Most of the Occult Wall was put together while working on Lightbreaker and Heartland, the first two volumes in the Codex of Souls (also from Night Shade Books). More than a few of these books I’ve not read all the way through, mainly because I bought them when I was “doing” research for the book. When the actual plot of the book went in a different direction, well, I still had the research material. That shelf there–the second one down from the top on the far left–none of that made it into the final draft.

For Earth Thirst, I wanted to not stress my bank account unnecessarily, and so I purposefully did only the minimum research necessary to keep the plot moving. Once I got a draft of the book done, only then did I go allow myself to do the heavy research. I still only ended up reading half of the books I picked up, but this time I only bought a single shelf’s worth instead of an entire bookcase. In some ways, this mirrors the respective protagonists of the aforementioned books: Markham lives in a very symbolic world, one that is rich with layers of inference and meaning; Silas is much more pragmatic, only bothering with concrete details that get him from point A to point B.

Midway through writing Earth Thirst, I got a call from Night Shade asking about a series title. “Are we doing a series?” I asked, and they just laughed. They know my predilection for research, you see. They remember the conversation we had one night at a convention where I rattled off the very explicit ten volume plan for the CODEX books, even though they had only bought two. After we settled on The Arcadian Conflict, I yanked about thirty thousand words out of the manuscript for Earth Thirst because, well, it’s plot that can be saved for later.

The other half of the books on my Arcadia research shelf are about dirt. Who knew there were so many books written about dirt?

That phrase comes up regularly during research. Who knew? More than one book owes its genesis to that phrase. Research used to scare me; now, I fear it for a different reason entirely. I have a book to finish. It has a defined scope. It’s supposed to come in at one hundred thousand words. Research can upset all of that.

How many books are there in The Arcadian Conflict? I’m not sure. But let me do a little research and get back to you.

[This post originally ran on The Night Bazaar on December 14th, 2012.]

Knowing When to Fight

Ruminations

Silas, the protagonist of Earth Thirst, is a career soldier. He’s fought in many, many wars, going all the way back to the granddaddy of all conflicts–the Trojan War. He’s been in his share of scraps, dust-ups, brawls, riots, melees, and Stupid Shit That Goes Down Out Back By The Dumpsters. His first (and favorite) weapon was the kopis, the long knife used by the Greeks. He is familiar with the Roman gladius, the Norse arming sword, the Crusader’s longsword, the Mamluk’s sabre, the Zweihänder, the rapier, the epee, the cutlass, the bayonet, the Bowie knife, the tactical knife, the machete, and the Ginsu knife. The firearm list is even longer. As you can imagine, writing fight sequences for him can get technically complicated.

I used to love writing fight sequences because they required little dialogue or plot. They were all about action–moving pieces around on a board. In the last few years, though, I’ve been involved in a project that takes its fight sequences very seriously (the three volume historical adventure novel, The Mongoliad). One fight sequence in that project took us four months, three drafts, and a half-dozen expert consultants to get right. We shot a lot of choreography video for a fight that lasts about a minute and a half. Most of that video is our experts going into the weeds on their various martial arts to illuminate subtle intricacies of the techniques. Hours of video. Hours of work. The fight lasts less than two minutes.

It’s easy to get fight sequences wrong. In more than one hotel room, I’ve pushed furniture around to make enough so that I can step through the physical movements of a fight sequence. I’m not doing yoga. I’m trying to replicate the body mechanics of How Not To Get Hit By A Longsword. I had been vetting sword fights for about a year and a half when it came time to write Earth Thirst, and I was really tired of fight sequences.

But here’s Silas, and as tired as I am, he’s infinitely more tired of fighting. At the very least, it would be a rare fight that would interest him enough to warrant mentioning in his narrative. They were like brushing your teeth, eating lunch, or trying to remember where you put your car keys last night: the banal details of your life that no one cares to read about. And there is an efficiency here, as well. Like all repetitive actions that bore you, you learn to finish them very quickly.

Suddenly, the fight sequences in Earth Thirst became intriguing puzzles. How could I finish them as quickly as possible? What was the most brutally efficient method?

Which is how I ended up with Silas and Phoebe taking on a several carloads of mercenaries with just a couple of handguns and a scooter . . .

[This post originally ran on The Night Bazaar on December 10th, 2012.]

Alternate Earth

Book Talk

Cody Tilson did the cover for Earth Thirst, and to say that I’m thrilled with that cover is to understate how much jumping up and down I’ve been doing. We had a conversation about the art that went a little like this: “We could do X. No, let’s do Y. How about X crossed with a bit of Y? Why don’t you give us a bunch of photo references for the characters. But don’t overdo it as Cody may throw it all out the window and go a different direction entirely.”

He did. I’m pleased.

Poking around the internet the other day, I stumbled upon an earlier iteration that he posted over on Gorilla Artfare. I’m a bit of a process nerd, so I like to see these sorts of iterations. I dig the lettering he did, but I think the decision to go with the block of black letters on red make quite a difference. Plus the fanged T’s make all the difference.

It’s going to be a trend, I fear. The next one will have to have a similarly scripted second word. This is the headache writers have to endure. Not only do you have to come up with snappy titles, but they also have to use the right letters.

On the Danger of Making Things Up

Ruminations

I am not a science fiction writer. My exposure to science is limited to an overabundance of calculus before I knew better and a couple of quarters of dabbling in chemistry before I ran off into the comforting embrace of literature. I did qualify for a Bachelor’s of Science, but I still cannot say, “Yes, I have a B.S. in the Arts and Letters” with a straight face.

It was entirely true though. I made up a lot of stories during my formative years, which makes me a speculatist, at best.

Do you know the difference between fabulists and speculatists? When asked about world-building, fabulists shrug and perform a sleight-of-hand trick that distracts you. Speculatists will drag out an enormous tome, filled with hundreds of pages of hand-written notes that no one can read. “Here,” they say, “What do you want to know?”

Earth Thirst has vampires in it. That makes it urban fantasy. There’s a thread running through it about catastrophic environmental collapse–it’s coming, kids–which is why I like to call it an eco-thriller. There’s a strong whiff of looking at something like the International Energy Agency’s latest World Energy Outlook and positing a couple what if? scenarios. That sounds a lot like science fiction.

The last was brought to my attention by Vlad Verano at Third Place Press. I laughed at first, citing my bibliography as sign enough that I didn’t write science fiction, but isn’t that the basis of imagining what our world will be like in a generation or two?

I didn’t set out to write a cautionary tale of our future, but when the IEA puts out their yearly summary and it contains cautionary discussion of the likelihood of a 3° global temperature increase in our lifetimes, suddenly the Arcadian Conflict becomes something less than pure fiction and more of a metaphor.

[This post was originally published at The Night Bazar on November 30th, 2012.]