Thinking about Harry Potemkin

Book Talk

I’ve turned in another draft of Eternal Queen materials for Worldspinner. This was an interesting project, with opportunities to flex my brain in new ways. The world of the Eternal Queen was reduced to a title card of “Pirates and Sea Monsters!” and I was asked to produce a short story, a dozen points of interest, and a dozen plot starters. The short story was easy. The points of interest were a bit more complicated in that they couldn’t necessarily reflect any given terrain or location as the Worldspinner engine will drop them randomly on the RPG maps when it generates them. And the plots were . . . well, it’s somewhat problematic to tell a writer to generate teasers for plots in less than 500 words. Writers tend to create situations for characters and then we want to spin them up and see what happens. Once spun up, there is a part of my brain that starts squawking, “And then what happened?”

The plots took a little while.

But the value of the whole experience is that I just spent a month or so doing a bunch of world-building for the Eternal Queen, which is going to help me immensely when I get to writing that book. My vision of that world takes place a hundred years after the material generated for Worldspinner. All of the major players will still be around, but a lot of the smaller plots I built will have little impact on the events of the book. I like that the Eternal Queen world will be out there on RPG maps and that people will be playing in it before the books come out. It’s pre-building an audience, if you will. Shamelessly so.

That’s done, and I’m getting back to FERAL in a few days, but I’m spending some of this week mulling over POTEMKIN again. It can still be read in its sprawling entirety at Farrago’s Wainscot, where it ran as part of the inaugural year. We’re still trying to figure out the best way to recreate this experience in a printed book, and the last pass resulted in us realizing that it should be a two-color book, which immediately made it expensive. And then we thought it should be a series of smaller books, nestled inside a box, which also made it expensive. And then we realized there was no real easy way to do hypertext or footnoting in an ebook, and we gave up.

But it gnaws at me still. I want to make a physical version of THE POTEMKIN MOSAIC, but I just don’t know if a) anyone will care, and b) if they do, will it be affordable? We’ve talked about Kickstarter and Patreon as options, but both have their pluses and minuses. And so on and so forth. But what really needs to be settled first is a vision. In a perfect world, what do I want it to look like?

First off, let’s start with the idea that the best approximation of hypertext in a printed format is multiple volumes. POTEMKIN needs to be consumed in a way that allows you to be distracted from where you started, yet still allows you to find your way back to where you were. Choose Your Own Adventure books always move you forward. You don’t worry about where you’ve been, and so “flip to page 38” is a perfectly functional way to explore a book. You don’t run the adventure again until you finish; at which point, it’s a new adventure. With POTEMKIN, what sends you back is your own desire to return to familiar narrative ground. To that end, separating the material into several blocks of text and presenting them as isolated objects allows for the reader to start in one book, reference another as necessary, and even pick up a third or fourth if the notes suggest as much. All without losing track of your place in the first book.

Which gives us:

THE DREAMS. The twelve dream entries in Harry’s dream journal.
THE LEXICON. The alphabetical listing of the various words and phrases that have intent within Harry’s oneiromantic journey.
TH3iR. The marketing material related to the experimental drug Bleak Zero.
THE AMAZON JOURNAL. The fragmented journal of Dr. Ehirllimbal, who ventured into the Oneiroi during a trip to the Amazon.
SAFIQ’S NOTEBOOK. The cryptic pieces from the Book of Dreams, written by the Persian mystic, Safiq Al-Kahir.
TALKING WITH NORA. The material that is mental transcriptions of conversations with Nora, the patient who disappeared into the Oneiroi under Harry’s care.
THE MAILING LIST. The collection of transcripts from the alt.oneirology.entheogens mailing list.

40K for the Dreams. 52K for the Lexicon. 8K for Ehirllimbal’s journal. 18K for the mailing list. And a couple thousand for the rest. All told, it’s about 120K, or 400 pages in a normal sized book.

As a single volume, this costs me about $5.00 a copy to make. A print run of 3,000 costs me $15K. I price it at $20, which nets me around $10, and I have to sell 1,500 of them to break even. And the question that I keep coming back to is: are there 1,500 people who want to disappear down this rabbit hole? And if so, are they going to be happy with flipping back and forth in a single volume, or would they really prefer spreading a bunch of books out on a desk and getting lost?

I looked at Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves the other day. For all his permutations and crawling into the margins, House of Leaves is still a forward moving narrative. POTEMKIN is not. It can be, but it’s not meant to be. Therein lies the crux of the head-scratching.

Anyway, more ruminating will happen. I’d be delighted to hear comments, thoughts, suggestions from anyone who has a reaction to the idea of experiencing POTEMKIN as a print volume. How would you like to see it presented? Would you prefer a halfway solution (a single volume) or would you prefer to embrace the experience fully (multiple volumes)? Would the full experience be something that you’d prefer to be limited, and possibly of higher production value (and cost)? Would you contribute to a Kickstarter for this? A Patreon? Would you like me to get back to you in a few weeks when you’ve extricated yourself from the madness that is Harry’s dreams?

This’ll keep. Or not. Because, as I mentioned, it’s gnawing at me.

Day Whatever

Ruminations

I’m losing them already, not yet two weeks into this new year. Days, that is. I’m losing them. Oh, I know where they’re going; they’re just not going where and how they should. Which is mostly a prioritization issue. I am still on winter hibernation sugar coma brain.

We rounded up the team and dragged our asses back into the collective virtual space that is our daily Google Hangout, and have been stunned and excited to realize that we did, actually, manage to produce six books last year. Five actually came out, and the sixth one–the second volume of the Cady Collection–hit the warehouse on December 30th. Because publishing never sleeps, kids. Never.

Or maybe it does, and we’re still too eager to realize that. Regardless, more books than can be counted on one hand last year for us. That’s something.

And Farrago’s Wainscot relaunches today with issue 13. I had little to do with the stories and the behind the scenes code updating, but I’m delighted that it is the thirteenth issue with which the Old Man decides to return. More wacky experimental fiction.

Last year, I put out a collection (The Court of Lies) and a Christmas novel (Rudolph!). Neither were really on my to-do list at the beginning of last year, but they’re out now and so they go in the WIN! column. Getting content into the WIN! column is all that really matters. The details of how it gets there isn’t important. Well, maybe to me, because the process might have been some terrifying ordeal that I don’t want to repeat, but we are not going to dwell on those things now, are we?

Three issues of Cimarronin came out as well, and the other three have been scripted. It’s taken longer than I would have liked to put out six issues of a comic, but we decided we would re-invent the wheel once or twice along the way. Happily, we’ve got lots of pages for Dean Kotz to draw, so we’re out of the doghouse on that one. Colors for the first issue of the second arc have been making their way through our work flow, and so I’m hoping these issues will be available in the next few months.

I wrote 30,000 words on VERTIGO, 30,000 words on a draft of something else that is going to get scrapped and/or recycled into another project, and a bunch of words polishing material that ended up in The Court of Lies and Rudolph! In the last week of the year, I managed 20K on FERAL, but those words will probably end up in 2015’s count. There’s been about 20K worth of words written for the ETERNAL QUEEN theme for Worldspinner. All in all, about 100K or so words written in 2014 with no new book finished. Other than the three issue arc of Cimarronin in the spring, I don’t have any material scheduled for 2015. Yet. The year is young.

In my notebook, I three projects tagged as having been started at the beginning of 2013: HERE BE MONSTERS, BLOOD HARVEST, and ANGEL TONGUE. EVERGREEN showed up in 2014. None of those books have been finished. New projects are VERTIGO and FERAL. HERE BE MONSTERS has become ETERNAL QUEEN. Otherwise, things are in flux. Life as a writer without a contract. I’m going to label 2015 as the Year of Content. 2013 was the WTF? year. 2014 was Firebird Rising. This year is about making content.

So, yes, I don’t know what day it is, but it’s probably a writing day, regardless.

Moorcock at 75

Author Stuff

I’m going to range a bit, so let’s not bury the lede: today is Michael Moorcock’s 75th birthday. The image topping this post is a random assortment of covers for books that he has written. Books that were highly influential to me as a kid. That are still influencing me now. Thank you, sir. I hope there are many more to come.

I’ve been wanting to write something about the pulps for a little while now. Dean Wesley Smith wrote a blog post a little while back called “Pulp Speed,” wherein he breaks down some numbers for varying speeds of what he calls pulp writing. Let’s be honest. Anything these days that is falling into the category of Indie Publishing Put Food on the Table can probably be short-handed as “pulp.” And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Food on the table is a good thing. When all is said and done, my recent forays into traditional publishing haven’t been stellar in getting more contracts to fall into my lap, but that’s probably due to my lack of eager follow-through as much as anything else. (And I’ve been busy with bootstrapping Resurrection House over the last year.) All of which is to say: yes, pulp writing; let’s do some of that.

Michael Moorcock, over the years, has been outspoken about the pace at which he wrote some of his early books. Many of those haven’t aged well for me (rather, I think I’ve aged out of them), but there is undeniably a time and place and audience for those sorts of books. The fact that they’ve managed to survive at all (and still be in print) is certainly a testament to the underlying energy of Mr. Moorcock’s writing and imagination. Did you know that the origin of the names for the ancient gods of Granbretan (from the Hawkmoon books) are none other than the Beatles? Yeah, totally missed that when I was a kid. Now? It strikes me as a funny riff grabbed out of the ether by a writer who is plowing hard on a deadline. Like, “started on Friday, done by Sunday” sort of deadline.

They call this a working job, I hear. The sort you show up for and spend eight hours or more a day for. Crazy talk, I know. But hours worked = content created = money from readers. It’s pretty straight forward, isn’t it? Once upon a time, we used to ask ourselves whether we’d want be read in academia or be read by millions of paying readers. I was young then, and answered that I’d prefer the recognition offered by academia. So young; so foolish. Nowadays, the lure of the paying reader is mighty strong.

On this occasion of Mr. Moorcock’s 75th birthday, it’s worth noting that this is nothing new. The Paperback Fanatic, a zine out of the UK dedicated to the pulps of the ’60s and ’70s, has been cataloging the back in the day equivalent to the frenzied ebook market of these last few years. It’s still a content creator’s market, really. The trick is, as always, making content.

I’d like to do a little of that in 2015. It seems like a good year to make some books. I’ve got some good role models to follow.

The Immortality of Storytelling

Friends

My dear friend Mark Lewis passed away last Sunday. I wasn’t aware that he was anything other than healthy, and so the news has come as quite a shock. I’ve known Mark for . . . a long time now, and he is—was, Goddamnit—a storyteller by profession and inclination. Hell, go read his obituary at the Eugene Register-Guard. They run down who he was (is! Goddamnit!) better than I can.

He officiated my wedding. Probably the only man qualified to bless the union of a Jewish empath and a pragmatic occultist. On the Winter Solstice, no less.

He believed in the power of narrative, in the eternally magical gift of storytelling. I recall visiting he and his wife, playing Scrabble (and making up words), and listening to him talk about being true to that spark in your soul. He fought hard over the years to do what he wanted as a career, and it wasn’t always an easy path, but he did it. At the time—I was such a young fool—I would occasionally think him a bit mad to hold so tight to that belief. But you just have to look at the list of things that he accomplished to know, without any doubt, that he made a life out being a storyteller.

It is not lost on me that I’ve made some career choices in the last few years that sync up pretty well with that burning passion I saw in Mark. And I don’t find them the least bit mad now. He’d laugh about that. He was right more often than not about the important things.

He played Santa Claus on an episode of Leverage. Though, technically, he played a mall Santa who was unjustly shown the door. The Leverage crew helped out—like they do—and, well, you should go watch it for the last few scenes. Especially with the holidays upon us.

One of the characters in the ETERNAL QUEEN project is the immortal pirate captain, Lucian Moore. Modeled in one part on Francis Drake. I realize now that quite a few other parts are modeled on Mark. And that’s what immortality is, isn’t it? How those dear to us find themselves never forgotten.

Get Your Reindeer

Book Talk

I’ve been remiss to talk up Rudolph! because I’ve been waiting for all the various format releases to get lined up, and that’s taken much longer than I ever anticipated. Now that we’re actually within spitting distance of Christmas, it’s probably time to start that machinery. So, yes, Rudolph! is out. You should go buy a couple of copies because it’s the best damn Christmas present you can get for those in your extended circle of friends.

In fact, it’s available as part of the Holiday Storybundle. Kevin J. Anderson has this great little platform where he offers bundles of ebook content in a very “pay what you will” manner. In this case, you get ten ebooks for around $20, which should be enough Christmas cheer for anyone. I was delighted to be asked to participate in this bundle, more so because, you know, Rudolph!. And it tickles me to no end that one of the other participants in this bundle is Dean Wesley Smith, who actually bought the original version of the opening section of Rudolph! many years ago.

If you prefer to keep your Christmas reading to a manageable level, you can get copies of Rudolph! at just about any retailer you like, physical or virtual. Everyone has copies, so don’t be shy.

If you’re the type who really prefers an audio book, well, you’re on hold. Sorry. ACX has been taking their sweet sweet time. It’s been uploaded and in the channel for nearly two months now, and we’re assured it is “headed to retail,” but that’s nearly as nebulous as “waiting for QA.” I’ll be sure to blast out a note when it is actually available, but trust me, we’re just as frustrated about the delay as you are. Especially since Emil Nicholas Gallina utterly rocked the reading.

Here’s a sample of his work on Rudolph, in fact.

Rudolph! is the first book to be released under my own banner at my own publishing company. This is the first step in the creation of a sustainable revenue stream that is distinct from all the travails and headaches of the traditional publishing models. It’s also an important part of how I get to keep writing as a career option. When folks ask how they can help, this is the answer. Buy an author’s books, especially the ones that generate real revenue for them.

Liking and retweeting and all that social media stuff is great to get the word out, and I love every bit of it that my own extended circle of friends does for me, but likes and tweets don’t pay my mortgage. People buying, reading, and sharing my books does. I appreciate all of your support, and I hope that Rudolph!–as quirky as it may seem–brings you some joy this holiday season.

Cimarronin Issue 3

Books

The third issue of Cimarronin is out this week. You can find it at Comixology or if you bought it direct from Jet City Comics via Amazon.com, you should have it on your Kindle already (via the magic of serialization). Or, if you have been waiting to get the set, you can do that too now with the Comixology Collected Edition.

So, what’s been happening with our heroes? Well, Kitazume is lost in a flashback, Irgen is lost (but not really), and Luis is worried that he has made a grievous error. Or two. And there’s a fight sequence. Or two. But hey, is that the OMVI sigil we see on Father De Viray’s ring? Well now, isn’t that mysterious, especially since we saw it in Luis’s possession at the end of last issue . . .

This rounds out the first part of Cimarronin, known as “A Samurai in New Spain.” Early next year, we’ll be back with “Fall of the Cross,” the second trio of issues with our intrepid players. Until then, enjoy!

NaNo-wayback

Author Stuff

Nanowrimo—National Novel Writing Month—starts in November. A friend recently asked what this was, and I—somewhat cheekily—replied: “It’s what we call a ‘workday,’ but everyone else makes a month-long ordeal out of it.” I re-enabled my account, and discovered that last year’s effort was supposed to be the start of ETERNAL QUEEN ONE, and I logged all of 3K before I wandered off to do something else. And the site design now supports a decade plus of badges and icons and stuff, which makes me wonder how far back my own efforts go.

Spelunking the archives turned up the following conversation in 2004, about that year’s project: I have a children’s book writer who burned out and is living in Montana as a survivalist as my protagonist.  He wrote a series of books about a goat named Barnabas.  His last manuscript (which was never published and is partially why he went nuts) was:  Barnabas and the Apocalypse.  The tagline read:  “Where Barnabas stares into the Great Abyss and the Great Abyss stares back.”

In 2003, I pitched a process blog to go along with that year’s entry (THE BOOK OF LIES). The archives of that effort (called SYMBOLIC) are still out there. THE BOOK OF LIES was something that wasn’t supposed to be a CODEX book, but after a few iterations, I realized it was better positioned as such, and changed some names. Bits and pieces, catalogued as ANGEL TONGUE, still rattle around my head, but they’ve felt like old parts that didn’t fit anymore. However, now that I’m looking at them again (like, perhaps, the entry on the Lunar Society), they may be the right parts for the project and I’ve just been hanging on to the wrong schematic these last few years.

And then I went dark until 2007 or so, and even then it was all CODEX rewrites, POTEMKIN, and unfinished efforts at a SPRAWL book. FOREWORLD in 2010. EARTH THIRST in 2011. It seems like there is other wreckage along the way. Perhaps I will crawl through the archives further. Now is the time to write books, after all . . .

Ghost Games

Occulture

Tomorrow night, the Cabiri begin their run of Ghost Games: 13 Witches, their yearly dinner theater show of spooky tales and aerialist magic. I had a chance to sit in on a pre-performance discussion about the upcoming show last weekend, where we got to see a beautiful performance celebrating the three faces of Hecate. White-gowned initiates spinning and performing on a triangular platform. In sync with their poses and movements until the very end, when they break free and create a form that both rises and descends through the triangular form.

full_altar_lights

All I can offer you is picture of a shadow of the platform and one of the altars. Fitting, I think, for the ephemeral nature of these performances by the Cabiri. This year’s performance concerns the power of witches—thirteen of them, in fact. And yes, as the number ’13’ has been powerful for me this year (offered to me by a Mesopotamian witch, in fact), I suspect this show is going to reach right in and grab my guts. Shake ’em hard.

I had meant to write this post as a call to attend the show, but as I’m gathering links to share, I realize the run has sold out. So, um, well, that’s fabulous. In which case, let me offer you a link to the source material for the story of Erichtho, one of the witches whose story will be told. And Peter Grey’s essay on “Rewilding Witchcraft”, which calls upon us to reclaim our wild spirits before catastrophe envelopes us.

Cimarronin Issue 2

Books

The second issue of Cimarronin is out this week. You can find it at Comixology or if you bought it direct from Jet City Comics via Amazon.com, you should have it on your Kindle already (via the magic of serialization).

We—meaning your earnest team of myself, Ellis Amdur, Charles C. Mann, Neal Stephenson, and Robert Sammelin—take you, our devoted reader, to New Spain, where we discover a bit more of the big picture that Luis is hinting at. His family—scions of Spanish nobility—have a silver mine in New Spain, and it’s constantly being robbed by local bandits. Part of Luis’s job in Manila was to have been hiring masterless samurai (ronin) to help guard the silver caravans. Luis comes back with one: Kitazume. Which doesn’t go over so well with Luis’s brother. But that may be all part of Luis’s clever plan . . .

And then El Gato shows up, and things get complicated . . .

[The whole samurai guarding the silver caravans? That’s all true. It’s the genesis of the project, and you can read about it in Charles C. Mann’s awesome book, 1493.]

Pipedream Comics reviewed the first issue. Their summary: “While not groundbreaking enough to receive full marks, Cimarronin is still a truly outstanding book made from a great script, fantastic art and inhabited by genuinely interesting, three dimensional characters. While it has some flaws in places, these can’t prevent this first installment from being an epic tale which deserves to be read.”

Escapist Magazine says: “It’s not the most outstanding debut issue (a little more background would go a long way), nor it the most deep story, but it is solid fun.”

Both of which I find to be interesting commentary from the comic book world. Novel readers are a little more lenient, it would seem, in waiting for backstory to be presented. We’ll have to see how folks feel as we move along because we dole out the backstory quite regularly as we progress.

Worldspinner

Making Things Up

I have done my time in the basements of friends’ houses, playing endless variants of Dungeons and Dragons. We were White Box kids, and I remember saving my allowance for many many weeks to finally get my own copy. Our copies fell apart from use in a couple of years, and by that time, we had moved on Judges Guild supplements (City Sate of the Invincible Overlord!) and Iron Crown Enterprise’s Arms Law. By the time D&D revved to the 3rd edition, we had all moved on to our in-house variants.

But throughout all this time, maps were always in short supply. We used the CSotIO many, many times. Turning it upside down. Turning it ninety degrees one direction or the other. Penciling things in, erasing them three months later and writing new names. Maps of the terrain outside the city? Crude, at best.

Which is why I’m excited about what Worldspinner is doing with their Kickstarter. They’re building an online tool that creates a fabulously sexy map. And it comes as pre-populated with as many or as few fun things to do as you like. Cities. Points of Interest. Narrative arcs.

“What sort of narrative arcs?” you ask. Well, that’s where themes come in. Themes are premium content that you can layer onto your map. As their Kickstarter progresses through its stretch goals, these themes get pretty extensive. Mur Lafferty is offering Tales for the Stealing, Bill Webb gives us Dragons!, and Lisa Smedman adds Arcane Portals. Those are the goals that have been unlocked already. Goals still to come include, well, me.

If Worldspinner hits $50K, then I’m going to give you pirates and sea monsters. I’m going to turn the world of the Eternal Queen into a place you can visit. Renaissance-style High Fantasy with big nasty things that live in the corners of the map that say “Here Be Monsters” because, well, why shouldn’t there be monsters there?

And as we’re still shopping the Eternal Queen Cycle, this little bump in interest won’t hurt my feelings at all.