Clean Slate

Book Talk

I’m in the weird post-project stage. I’ve turned in Katabasis, which is the next volume in the Medieval Cycle of the Foreworld Saga, and the Foreworld SideQuests are ticking along without my direct involvement (read I’m not the one doing all the writing). The Skyhorse/Start asset acquisition of Night Shade Books has closed, which means the CODEX books and Earth Thirst will stay in print (yeah!), but I’m waiting for the dust to settle over there before we start talking about the next books in either of those series.

[Oh, yeah, NSB sold their assets. The pertinent details can be read at If you wish to get a glimpse of how that sale went down, check out the related articles at io9. Given my personal relationship with the folks at Night Shade, I have no further comment about the deal.]

Over the weekend, I mailed off a pitch for a new project, and so I’m in wait mode there. Foreworld TV/movie negotiations continue at a pace that is near glacial (more waiting). I’m working on putting together a collection of short stories. Yes, I was surprised to find that I had more than 100,000 words worth of short stories that have published. They add up after awhile. I’ve got an interested publisher and we’re looking at doing something a little different with that release. Beyond that, I’m still mulling over how to make a print edition of The Potemkin Mosaic. That may be my first Kickstarter project.

Yeah, Kickstarter. After CLANG last summer, I became a bit of a Kickstarter junkie. It feeds my desire to be around creatives. It’s really fun to get updates from all these projects and to be a part (albeit a fly on the wall more often than not) of the process. I n fact, one of the ones that I hope will reach its goal is the Radio Free Albemuth theatrical release project. I’ve missed two opportunities to see this edition of Philip K. Dick’s book. Help me out, would you? I figure if it actually gets theatrical release, I might be able to get my act together enough to go.

The Crest of the Content Tsunami

Book Talk

I’ve been a delinquent blogger but a dutiful writer and at the end of the day the latter is more important. That isn’t to say that posting the occasional note to the world isn’t useful; otherwise how else does everyone know what I’ve been up to? Time management is a bitch, and I lose track of time more often than I would like. But it’s all relative, isn’t it? You get done what you can, and keep working.

Next week is the big finale of a year’s worth of work. I have three books being released on Tuesday. One’s a story reprint, but I’m happy to see the story get wider recognition, the second is one of the Foreworld SideQuests, and the third is the last volume of The Mongoliad—a book that is nearly as big as the first two volumes put together. Lots of reading material for folks to enjoy. Between the three volumes of The Mongoliad, the half dozen SideQuests that I either wrote or assisted with, Earth Thirst, and the cyberpunk story reprint, there’s more than 2000 pages worth of content that have come out in the last twelve months.

Oh, and we’ve launched, the official Foreworld churn. Expect a regular stream of talking points to come from there as we expand Foreworld into new eras.

It’s no wonder updates to the blog have been few and far between, and because I am behind on my latest deadline, I’m going to leave you with links to the last few releases.

Cyberpunk: Stories of Hardware, Software, Wetware, Evolution and Revolution. Edited by Victoria Blake, it’s a collection of classic cyberpunk stories. I’m thrilled that my story, “The Lost Technique of Blackmail,” is included alongside some of the luminaries in the SF field.

Seer. The last of the “prequel” SideQuests. 47North is getting away from the term “prequel” as it suggests you need to read these before you read The Mongoliad, but unlike some of the other SideQuests, Seer leads directly into The Mongoliad: Book One as it tells the story of what Andreas was doing shortly before the events of 1241.

The Mongoliad: Book Three. Yeah, that thing.

The Beast of Calatrava. One of my favorite SideQuests to date, and yes, it could have been a full novel. It really wanted to be.

Earth Thirst. My vampire eco-thriller. Reviews are saying that it is more of a thriller than a vampire novel; frankly, how could a vampire novel not be a thriller? Oh, well, yes, if it’s all about mopey vampires, but I don’t have the time for mopey vampires. Do you?

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.

Sinner, a Foreworld novella, is out

Book Talk

The first Foreworld novella, Sinner, is out today via 47North.

This is a story that takes place a half dozen or so years before The Mongoliad, and explores a meeting between Andreas and Raphael, two members of the Ordo Militum Vindicis Intactae who didn’t meet during The Mongoliad. There’s a reference to Andreas early in the first book, when the hunting party that is going east is being selected. It was the sort of passing reference that is there as part of world-building; at the time, none of us expected we were going to need this character.

“But do you suppose we ought to wait a few days until some of our other Brothers can arrive?” one of the characters says. “Brother Andreas, for example. His spear would be a fine companion on a Khan-hunting journey. Plus he knows how to cook and he doesn’t snore like Brother Eleázar.”

But once we started developing the storyline of those who stayed behind at Legnica, we needed a good strong character. We went back to this scene, scooped up the name and the tiny bit we knew about him, and dropped Andreas on the page, and he turned into quite a handful. He was one of those characters who had their own idea about their presence in a book, and the Legnica storyline was the better for it.

When it came time to do the first batch of Side Quest novellas, we wanted to explore the back story of some of the characters, and I leaped at the chance of telling a story about Andreas and Raphael, two of my favorites.

Click here to buy a copy of this story.

Earth Thirst Cover

Book Talk

Here’s the cover to Earth Thirst. Art is by Cody Tilson.

The marketing copy for the book reads:

The Earth is dying. Humanity–over-breeding, over-consuming–is destroying the very planet they call home. Multinational corporations despoil the environment, market genetically-modified crops to control the food supply, and use their wealth and influence and private armies to crush anything, and anyone, that gets in the way of their profits. Nothing human can stop them.

But something unhuman might.

Once they did not fear the sun. Once they could breathe the air and sleep where they chose. But now they can rest only within the uncontaminated soil of Mother Earth–and the time has come for them to fight back against the ruthless corporations that threaten their immortal existence.

They are the last guardians of paradise, more than human but less than angels. They call themselves the Arcadians.

We know them as vampires . . .

It comes out in January 2013. And yes, I am very thrilled to have this as my next book cover.

On 37signal’s Rework: a Writer’s Perspective

Book Talk

I just finished Rework by the lads at 37signals. I’ve used a couple of their products in the past for managing writing projects (the text to note function of Backpack was especially handy), but I’ve lost track of their Signal vs. Noise blog over the last year. They’ve put out a book which is intended for the small business audience, but I found a number of their examples and aphorisms to be equally valid for writing projects. Because, after all, we are but businesses of one, aren’t we?

Planning is Guessing. I’ve come to realize that I prefer writing to planning, and invariably any given outline never survives any contact with the actual writing process. Which isn’t to say that an outline isn’t useful, but it is a guide to where your thinking is right now. This is the direction you point yourself. Modifications to your course must be allowed to happen. If you know the true shape of the book you are about to write before you start, then where is the possibility for discovery? It does depend on your comfort zone, certainly, but part of the act of writing is discovery.

Scratch Your Own Itch. And if you allow that discovery is an important part of this process, then the book is offering you some enlightenment, some realization about your own thinking, or the world around you, or human nature. Yes, Pulp is about entertainment, and pure entertainment has a different reward, but I challenge any writer to not come clean that their current project isn’t scratching some itch of theirs. It may be as simple as a tool by which a specific technique is explored, but ultimately there is some reason the work is being done beyond the fact that it equals a paycheck. James Patterson can, of course, disagree, and I won’t fault him for it.

No Time Is An Excuse. We never get the time we want, and we rarely appreciate the time we have. Incremental work means the book gets done–eventually–versus never being started.

You Need Less Than You Think. Lightbreaker is a bit overwritten because I was afraid I didn’t have enough story to fill out a full novel. Heartland is thirty thousand words longer, and I still don’t know where those words are because I felt like I was dropping every other line out as I was writing it. James Ellroy leaves out 80% of every sentence in White Jazz, and it feels denser for it.

Embrace Constraints. Let’s use White Jazz as the example. Ellroy chose a very idiosyncratic style, and it forced him to write the book in a very distinct way. If you look at the transition from The Big Nowhere to L. A. Confidential to White Jazz, you immediately know the sort of cop that David Klein is on the very first page. You know you’re going to have to buckle up and knuckle down if you’re going to survive the ride. “Downtown. A dress for Meg. I do it every time I kill a man.”

It’s probably been ten years since I’ve read White Jazz, and yet I can still quote those lines (and a few others). Embracing constraints gives the work its own life.

Start At The Epicenter. See Kurt Vonnegut’s Rules For Writing. “Enter the scene as late as possible; leave as soon as you can.” Keep your focus. Know the point you’re trying to make. Trim the fat.

Tone Is In Your Fingers (and Who Cares What They Are Doing?). You can’t NOT be aware of what others are doing, but it is what they are doing and has little relevance to your own work. Your work is YOURS, and that is a large part of why you are writing it. Because you are the best candidate to write THIS book. So, be comfortable in your skin, and let the muse work your fingers. That is the proper way of things.

Launch Now. This one is a bit harder to properly quantify, given that a book does take some time to complete, what with drafting, panicking, trimming, editing, and other fussing that writers like to do. The software world has a theory of Good Enough, which is a call to iterate often. Writers don’t iterate; they finish and move on. To that end, “launching now” may seem to be paradoxical, but more critically, it should be thought of as “Write Now.”

Good Enough Is Fine and Quick Wins (aka Build An Audience). Again, while we don’t have the luxury of iteration, finishing the current book and starting the next one and the one after that is important. A career is not built off one book (statistically speaking). The career rises out of a body of work. A key part of the recent self-publishing success stories is the presence of a body of work. Write Now. Write Often. Finish Occasionally.

Estimates Suck. It will always take you twice as long to write it, and it will also be half again as many words as you thought it would be. This is okay. George R. R. Martin says the book after A Dance With Dragons will be done when it is done, and given the tortuous wait on ADWD, his fans have learned the value of patiently STFU.

Don’t Scar On The First Cut. Their point is more toward the creation of internal policies, but for writers, the same sort of intent is in practice: don’t get sidetracked by the actions or opinions of one person. Stay your course. Correct as necessary. But hold true to your vision.

I wish more books on writing were like Rework, because we don’t need more lessons on how to actually write, we need more observations on how to approach writing.

Do more. Think about what you are doing less.

Waffle Coffee

Book Talk

Little Zee came with me yesterday to the mobile office and charmed everyone. Having a precocious five-year with the biggest blue eyes EVAH tends to endear you to the baristas. She dubbed my “to-stay” drink “waffle coffee” due to the caramel drizzle pattern on top. I’m going to order it that way from now on. “One waffle coffee, please.”

I discovered there’s a tool for importing Livejournal entries to WordPress, and so I’m pulling over the LJ entries and creating a vast swamp of an archive. Mainly because I’d like to keep the content from LJ, but it is getting tiresome to deal with a) the persistent ads that keep interrupting me from doing admin duties over there, and b) the only ones who seem to still be on LJ are spammers. So, over the next space of time, I’ll be tagging and categorizing those entries. I suppose I could also find the old Moveable Type blog archive and import that too. Just to be thorough. We’ll see. It all sounds like avoiding writing to me, but there’s a certain desire to maintain this archive as I do–every once in a long while–find myself looking for a reference that I know I blogged about once upon a time.

I finished Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist last night. A grueling read, and part of the exhaustion was simply that it hit all of my buttons, but the pair also managed to ratchet the tension nicely without ever going overboard. There’s a number of plot elements that get discarded a little too casually for my liking (as well as a couple of annoying issues with the flow of information), and I never quite felt as satisfactorily connected to the characters as I did in Steig Larsson’s books, but overall, it was a mighty fine read.

Scarlet Imprint’s Red Goddess continues to perch on the edge of my desk, and I’m snatching bits and pieces out of it as I have time. Peter Grey has a nice rhetoric that is inflammatory enough to keep you engaged, but not so fiery as to be overbearing. Plus he calls out Christianity almost immediately for stomping all over existing Pagan structures and lumping them all under the heading of “Devil Worship,” which gets a +1 from me.

Summer Is Here; It Must Be August, Finally

Book Talk

Summer–those extended days of cloudless skies and heat–eventually arrives in August, it seems. I grew up in the desert, where summer arrived three days after the wild flowers bloomed in the mountains, and it always throws me that “summer” is always half over before the days turn successively hot. “Successively” is the key word here. We tend to have a half day of rain just as you’re getting ready to mow the lawn.

And we’re fully into the dog days already. Even the cat is too worn out by the sun to put up much of an argument when I shoo him back indoors. Motivation is difficult to sustain, and interest in anything other than wondering when the ice cream man is coming ’round is hard to dredge up. The words, they come slowly in the heat. A good time, perhaps, to go through the old stacks of paperwork that need filing or shredding, or to finally get around to alphabetizing the library. Or even figuring out where everything is. Back in the day, I remember how confounding it was that our European Overlords took August off. There is something to that, I think.

The Rouge edition of Scarlet Imprint’s Red Goddess is out, complete with a lovely cover by Christopher Conn Askew.

The Red Goddess was Scarlet Imprint’s first publication, re-released now in paperback form for those who missed getting their hands on Her the first time around. It was a mighty roar of an arrival, this one, and as Peter Grey says in his introduction, it isn’t necessary to be an old hoary hand at Magick in order to find something new in this book. You simply had to be “young, raw, hungry, and passionate.”

In the summer heat, when motivation comes slowly, one could do worse than to rediscover their muse. Though, as Grey notes, “in the end the words will not count.”

New Books

Book Talk

I stopped in Portland yesterday during a rattling trip down I-5 to find the family, and “accidentally” wandered into Powell’s for a little while. I had been hoping to find a copy of Mary Lovell’s biography of Richard Burton, A Rage To Live (which I did), but I didn’t run for the exit quickly enough.

An hour later, my stack comprised of: the third volume of the Library of America collection of Philip K. Dick novels (because one can never not have enough copies of VALIS floating around); Dave McKean’s erotic art book, Celluloid; Michael Moorcocks’ The Chinese Agent and Modern Times 2.0; and Jean-Patrick Manchette’s Fatale. One of the recent short-term goals is to keep bookstore purchases to a stack that can be consumed within the week. It will still probably take me six months to get around to all of these; any longer and they suffer the distinct possibility of never being read.

The new McMenamins Crystal Hotel is now open, and I stayed overnight. Edgefield and the Kennedy School are still favorites, but you can’t beat the location for the Crystal Hotel. The place was filled with the typical McMenamins charm, and according to a review I noticed in the Portland Mercury, the Zeus Cafe is a step up from the typical McMenamins pub fare (having had breakfast there, I submit that the Mercury is pretty spot on).

And that’s probably the extent of my carefree vacation time this summer. Back to the word mines for me. Chapter 38 of The Mongoliad came out yesterday. After the action of the last few chapters, this one slows down a bit and dwells on characterization.

Written and Read

Book Talk

I’m in that “having written” state again, lolling about and feeling like I have gotten something accomplished. Of course, it is a temporary respite as the weekly deadline continues for another thirteen weeks or so, but for a few moments, there is the lull.

The current light reading is Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist, the latest Swedish import. Written by a pair of literary authors, I’m quite taken how much this isn’t a crime novel, while still adhering to most of the tropes. It’s not that they don’t know how to write a crime novel, the pair comes at it with such an intensity that makes everything vividly raw and fresh. In all the best crime fiction, the crime itself is somewhat beside the point and what keeps the readers entranced is the lives of those who are impacted by the crime, but these two have brought a great deal of emotional intensity to the proceedings. Everyone is falling apart, and it’s heartbreaking to watch how these little cracks in people’s relationships are ruptured into huge fissures.

I’ve also recently finished Will Thomas’ Some Danger Involved, the first of the Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn books. Victorian-era enquiry agent novels, with more than a dash of the sort of flair that a student of the Western Martial Arts will find enjoyable. Barker is enigmatic without being an ass about it; Llewelyn is a much more interesting straight man than Dr. Watson ever was; and Thomas’ love of the era is readily apparent. There’s a half-dozen more in the series on my shelf, and I’m looking forward to digging in to them.

And why is that the Internet at this Starbucks is flakey ONLY in this chair by the window? I will never understand this. Nor will I learn, apparently.