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.]

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.]

Tending the Garden

Ruminations

Process-wise, every few hours my buffer runs out and I need to take a break and let it refill. Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to have nearly a week of uninterrupted writing time, and I discovered that I can write for more than twelve hours at a stretch, but that time has to be broken up with hour long breaks. My fingers do eventually catch up with my brain.

So, taking a buffer break this afternoon. It’s as good a time as any to roll up the past week or so into a blog post.

The Mongoliad Book Three has been turned in. Two and a half years of working on that book with six other writers, and it’s all done but for the copy edits. Good thing, too, as it comes out next February. SINNER comes out in a week and a half, and it is the first of the Foreworld Side Quests, novellas set during our extensive chronology. This one takes place a few years before the main action of the The Mongoliad. SEER, the one I’m working on now, follows a few years later. Along with DREAMER, they make for a loose triptych of stories about two of my favorite characters from the medieval era of Foreworld.

Editorial notes for Earth Thirst have come in. I’m supposed to get those dealt with by the middle of September, which should, technically, be the end of the looping hell schedule I’ve been on. But there are two more novellas to write, one to edit and co-write, and the other two medieval era Foreworld books to shepherd along. Somewhere in there, I suspect another book will start germinating.

Chris Randall, one-time leader of Sister Machine Gun and a bit of a 21st Century Renaissance man, has posted a lengthy argument about the relationship between art and commerce in this modern era. He points out that it is NOT a manifesto (more of a mission statement, if you will), but it is certainly a call for awareness. Give it a read: ‘It’s Not A Memo…’. It’s definitely something that I think all creatives–regardless of their industry–should give some thought to.

My schedule over the past year (and in the near future as well) certainly is part of the overall argument that one should ‘shut up and make art.’ There is a lot more that can be discussed about the relationship between a creative and their audience, but fundamentally, it does come down the fact that you must create–often and consistently–before you can really start to consider reaping the commercial benefits of building a reputation garden.

Change Happens

Ruminations

Typically, I ignore the beginning of the year as an externally-imposed Opportunity For Reflection for the obvious reasons, but I have found myself falling into the trap nonetheless. So, here I am, talking about the past and the future.

I’d rather not, really, and the reasons are part of the continuing issue I have with keeping the personal separate from the professional. Blogging, as a writer, is a means of keeping an open channel with the wider world, but so much of the day-to-day is filled with mundane shit that no one cares about, especially when it is of the “I didn’t get shit done, again, today” variety. And the rest is not really of anyone’s business, and I have, over the last year, come to realize that the last thing I really want to do–ever–is process my private life publicly.

So, briefly, 2011 was an incredibly hard year, but it was also an amazing year, and lot of it falls in the category of “Look, ma! Personal growth!” Professionally, I didn’t have a lot of fiction released that I could point to explicitly and say, “Yes, I wrote that,” but I can point to The Mongoliad and say, “Yes, I was key to that happening.”

In 2007, I wrote The Potemkin Mosaic, and it was the hardest thing I had ever done. When it was finished, I vowed to never do anything like that again. Last year, I didn’t; I did something harder. As we wrap up The Mongoliad, I have heard myself say that I don’t ever want to do something that complicated and difficult again, and in 2012, I won’t be. I’ll be doing something harder.

I am very fortunate to be able to keep what is fabulous and enriching in my life, as well as being blessed at being able to let go of what is rotten and broken. Much of the latter was my own attitude about life; much of it was my own fear of change. Change happens; what we do in response is nothing more than seizing opportunities.

Nothing is ever destroyed. It simply becomes something new. It is up to us to decide whether it is an obstacle or a piece of the foundation of something new. Do we keep climbing, or do we get caught up in the detritus of the past?

I’m climbing. You are all welcome to come along.

The Strength of Content

Ruminations

Any large writer convention always leaves me with a flurry of seemingly-unrelated thoughts, and it usually takes a few days before I start to see the connective threads between them. I went round and round on the concept of “buying” versus “shopping,” and how both of these mindsets are equally applicable to the consumer. There was much talk of e-publishing and the new future of books (or the near death of books, depending on who you talked to). And always thinking about content.

Let’s start with a post from a few months ago by John Gruber. I enjoy Gruber’s analysis of all things Apple, and often his analysis extends to the Whys of tech business. His deconstruction of the Kindle Fire announcement, for example. Among other things, he says, “Amazon’s primary business is as a retailer, including as a retailer of digital content.” If you look at the Kindle Fire as a device to consume digital content, then its entry into the marketplace is to compete with Apple, and in that regard, the ubiquitous Amazon Kindle device is simply to facilitate consumption of Amazon-generated content. They don’t make money from the device; they make money from content bought for that device. That’s the long-term revenue stream.

In that sense, Amazon isn’t competing with traditional publishing. By entering publishing themselves, they’re simply creating a content pipeline that they control. Yes, there are concerns about them controlling the whole stack from content to delivery, but you can also argue that optimizing that stack may also mean that distance between creator and consumer is shortened.

Because, let’s be honest, the real death of the midlist author is obscurity.

Additionally, there’s been some animated discussion on the ‘tubes about the relationship between author and publisher (it started with a Barry Eisler post on J. A. Konrath’s blog, which in term referenced a post by Michael Stackpole), and I am not even going to get into a discussion about the language used in said posts because I think the more important thing is the point that was being made: the traditional relationship between author and publisher is heavily weighted in favor of the publisher.

Mr. Stackpole offered a follow-up post after WFC, and K. J. Jeter offered his own commentary on his blog as well as posting some other insight in a guest post at Dean Wesley Smith’s blog. Not to mention Dean’s own observation about the new world of publishing.

Go read, if you like. It’s all useful commentary, and the multiplicity of sources only drives home the point. Which is: content is where the power is. We shouldn’t feel bad about controlling it. And we should make as much of it as we like.

Remember the days when an author was only allowed to write one book a year? Boy, am I glad those days are gone. It’s time to recognize that our audiences are hungry for new content, and the digital age of publishing only means that we, as content creators, are more able to give our audiences what they want. They, in turn, seem increasingly happy to pay us a reasonable sum for that content.

What’s the downside to all this? Oh yes, we have to put our butts in our chairs and write. A lot. Bummer, that.

Listening To The Wind In The Trees

Ruminations

These past few weeks, it seems blog updating only happens when I am at weddings. This time, I am ensconced in the foothills of the Cascades, though on their eastern side versus the normal western side. Again, it is still dark out, and everyone is still, wisely so, asleep. Except for me. Restless brain. After six hours, it seems time to get up. The one trouble is that nothing is open in this sleepy little resort town at 4:30am on a Sunday morning.

Even the guy working the night shift at the lodge was somewhat flummoxed by my appearance and request for coffee.

Anyway, the long summer is over. The rest of the family goes back to school next week, and things will swing back to the more normal schedule. More writing will happen, as well as other creative endeavors. I can give up on getting a three-star score on every level of Angry Birds. And I will spend less time in the car. Huzzah!

One of the scraps of paper on my desk has the opening lines of Angel Tongue scrawled on it . . .

Listening To The Waves

Ruminations

I watched the sun come up this morning on the Oregon coast. It’s been twenty years since I’ve done this, and the last time wasn’t nearly as peaceful. Last time, there was a hellish ride through torrential rain, dodging a rattling truck pulling a camper with a leaky waste valve, and suffering through mild pharmaceutical hallucinations. This time? Yes, much more restful.

An old friend is getting married today, and I saw some faces around the campfire last night that I haven’t seen in close to fifteen years. There was a little video last night, in tribute to the groom, and it was interesting to see a number of people give tribute to this guy who have known him some time, and to realize all of their history has taken place in the time between. And yet, two minutes after seeing each other again, we fell into old routines and the easy laughter was still there.

Funny how things change both so much and so little.

Anyway, the coast is still there. I had wondered.

Blogging Again

Ruminations

At least it is easier to set up a blog this time. I remember the lengthy process of setting up and admining a blog package back in the day. This time, the installation was quicker than downloading the files. Of course, monkeying with the layout will take much, much longer, but getting the framework in place is a snap now. Which strikes me as somewhat funny, as my part of my trepidation about starting to blog again is the underlying suspicion that blogging is still dead. Well, in that sense of a lone voice shouting into the endless emptiness of the Web.

Or is it? In watching the rapid change that is sweeping over traditional publishing, I find myself thinking that we’re about to enter an age where the lone voice can be heard again, when it should be heard. Suddenly, a lot of the stigma of self-publishing has been swept aside by the fact that there is real money in it. Again, the basic rule applies: ninety percent of it will sink over night and vanish, but those with real talent–the sort of talent that traditional publishing would eventually deign to notice–no longer have suffer through an abysmal apprenticeship in the salt mines of MMPB releases that disappear almost as soon as they are printed. If it takes two years for a book that is paid a $5,000 advance to come out, why wouldn’t the writer self-release it, write two more, and do the same with them during that same period? If New York is going to offer crappy terms and crappy money and take forever to pay you, why wouldn’t you do it yourself? And if the boom is good enough for New York to have bought it, then ostensibly, the market would love it to the same amount through the new digital distribution channels. Frankly, they could love it less, but you’d see that return sooner as the payment percentages are better.

Night Shade Books is running a promotion this week on my first two books. $0.99 for the Kindle editions. It’s only been a few days, but already I’ve seen a tremendous spike in the ebook numbers. Yes, I know it is a temporary thing, but if my greater problem right now is obscurity, then this is the best thing. Also, the print sales (through Amazon, at least) have tanked, worse than they’ve been in the last six months. It’s too early to really draw any conclusion from all this, but my gut sense is that the tide is shifting. The cost of doing marketing and PR for a print book is too arduous for a starting writer to manage, but takes a lot fewer resources when you’re working on the Internet. More importantly, they are resources that YOU have access to versus the inaccessible PR wizardry that your old school publisher (might) have.

It still comes down to writing, and writing a lot. That hasn’t changed. And writing something of reasonable quality. But your ability to realize some financial gain from that writing more immediately–and probably more effectively in the area of audience building–is starting to become attainable.