Monday, January 22, 2018

Boskone Schedule (Feb 16-18)

Hey folks-- as I've mentioned before, I'm going to be at Boskone in a few weeks, and now I've got a schedule!  I've been to Boskone twice before, and it's always a really good show.  The overall schedule, and mine in particular, is quite excellent, so I'm looking forward to it.  So if you're in the Boston area in the middle of February, come check it out.

Reading by Marshall Ryan MarescaFormat: Reading16 Feb 2018, Friday 17:00 - 17:30, Independence (Westin)Marshall Ryan Maresca

Fresh Fantasy WorldsFormat: Panel16 Feb 2018, Friday 20:00 - 21:00, Marina 4 (Westin)“High” fantasies in much of western speculative literature lean heavily on the European Middle Ages for inspiration. Pastoral landscapes, Camelottian castles, noble knights, distressed damsels. All much loved — all done to death. (Or killed off by George R. R. Martin.) Why do we still cling to them so? What’s it take to create a fresh fantasy world? Besides European models, what other options are there? And how do you enliven tropes, settings, and situations that have become old hat?Gerald L. Coleman, Andrea Corbin, John R. Douglas (M), Marshall Ryan Maresca, Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Autographing: Jeffrey A. Carver, Theodora Goss, Mary Robinette Kowal, Marshall Ryan MarescaFormat: Autographing17 Feb 2018, Saturday 11:00 - 12:00, Galleria - Autographing (Westin)Mary Robinette Kowal, Jeffrey A. Carver, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Theodora Goss

Parable of the Sower by Octavia ButlerFormat: Panel18 Feb 2018, Sunday 12:00 - 13:00, Burroughs (Westin)Octavia Butler's prescient dystopian novel Parable of the Sower was written 25 years ago. Set in the 2020s, it presents a society beset by climate change, social and economic collapse, corporate greed, wealth inequality … need we go on? What did Butler’s masterpiece get right — and wrong? How do her beleaguered characters cope? And what can the novel teach us today?Jennifer Pelland (M), Vandana Singh, Kenesha Williams, Scott Lynch, Marshall Ryan Maresca

Ending a SeriesFormat: Panel18 Feb 2018, Sunday 14:00 - 15:00, Burroughs (Westin)After writing three novels (or more!), how do you pull all your loose ends together to provide a satisfying conclusion? What are readers looking for in the final book of a series? And if you leave openings for another triptych or two, can it really feel like The End?E. C. Ambrose (M), Marshall Ryan Maresca, Debra Doyle, Walter H. Hunt, Sarah Smith

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Tertiary Characters Taking the Stage

So, I've often said how my time acting on stage has, in part, informed my writing.  Namely, to treat characters as a part that an actor would enjoy playing.  That means, when I bring in a tertiary character, I usually plan to have some fun with them.  Give them a deep, inner life that isn't necessarily on the page.  Sometimes to the point that they take a greater role in the narrative than I ever intended.  For example, when I was writing The Thorn of Dentonhillthe character of Hetzer literally only existed at first so Colin had someone to talk to when standing on street corners or sitting in the turnabout.  But as Colin ran headlong into the big confrontation at the end of that one, I realized Hetzer wouldn't let him go alone, and suddenly Hetzer became a crucial part of the climax.


I had plenty of opportunity for those kinds of characters in Lady Henterman's Wardrobe.  Part of the plot demands that the Rynax Brothers and their crew do a pit of con-artistry, and that means there are always the random people who they do that to.  Be it a guard at the office building they want to get into, a public servant they want to get information out of, or a head butler they want to hire them, they're constantly interacting with people briefly, and I strive to make those people pop.

But, for me, the ones that definitely took a life of their own was a pair of boys on the street.  In Lady Henterman's WardrobeMila continues to have her "Bessie's Boys" to run errands for the crew, be an extra pair of lookout eyes, or whatever else she needs.  In Holver Alleythey were largely a nameless group of young boys she bossed around.  Here, we get to meet a few of them, and two of them-- for me at least-- kept coming back into the plot. 

The youngest, the tiniest of the Bessie's Boys, the twins, Tarvis and Jede.  Both of them, at the tender age of six, are possibly the most savage and cold-hearted little bastards you'd ever meet.  And, oh my lord, were those two just a delight to write. 

And you'll get to meet them both soon enough, when Lady Henterman comes out in March.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Secondary Projects - 2018 Edition

I've always maintained that having secondary projects are an important and valuable thing for a writer to do-- usually as something else to work on when the words aren't flowing on the primary.  And that's a system that's worked for me.

Right now, my head is wanting to run down the road after ALL THE PROJECTS and I wonder how much of that is because it's January and I'm hopped up on allergy meds all the time.  Focusing on one is a bit of a challenge right now.  I think, though, once I clear a few things off the decks, then I'll have a better sense of the landscape and how to focus on multiple things at once.

One thing I am doing right now is focusing on some shorter form work.  Now, I'm still rather longwinded, so I'm talking novellas, not short-stories.  Most of them that I've been fiddling with are on the fringes of the greater Maradaine sequence.  This includes:
  • A story that shows some of Reverend Pemmick's backstory, namely how he knows about Kellirac. 
  • A story focusing on the island Kaiana was born on, after the Druth abandoned it to the Poasians.
  • A story following Phadre and Jiarna as they go to their new academic appointment.  
That's a sampling of what I'm working on right now, as well as edits on the next two novels, drafting the novel to come after those, and...

There's a lot on my plate, and my brain wants me to eat it all at once.

If that's a metaphor that makes sense.

Anyhow, that will give you some sense on what to look for in the future.  But not to the detriment of the planned novels.  Everything is on track for those.  More soon.  For now: back to work.

In the meantime: If you want to stay up-to-date with ALL THE THINGS, I have my newsletter, which you can subscribe to here:


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Leveling Up Goal This Year

So, this is going to sound a bit strange, but my goal for this year, as a writing, is to train myself at being more efficient.

Now, I know some of you are like, "What are you talking about, Marshall?  You put out two books a year, you're a machine." And that pace is going to continue, of course.

And while I like the label of, "writing machine", the machine could be more efficient.  I could do better.  More to the point, I feel like I need to.

As I've mentioned before, I kind of fake being "superfast" with planning and outlining.  There's a long building, planning and germinating process that takes me a long time, and much of that for the Maradaine books was frontloaded well before any of you even heard of me. 

So, some of the building, planning and germination for other projects have now reached the point where they're blooming.  Stories that have been just sort of percolating in the back of my head have now starting coming out.  Of course, I also have to do other work, work that's under contract.  Work you all are looking forward to.  Heck, work I'm excited to finish and get moving on.

For example, this week I wrote several hundred words on two different secondary projects, one of which is Maradaine-tangential, they other is something else entirely.  I've also finished hand-written edits on a manuscript, and I'm about to start putting those into final edits.  So I should be sending a finished manuscript out in a couple weeks.  And then I need to start hand-edits on another manuscript.  PLUS drafting another new novel.

That's a lot of creative juggling.  I can do it, but right now, it's clumsy juggling.  I can do better.  And that's the goal for next year.

So, I better get to that.

Monday, January 8, 2018

OH GOD, YOU DEVIL!: A Bad Movie I Watched Many, Many, Many Times



Oh God, You Devil was the third movie in the bizarrely fascinating Oh God! series, starring George Burns, and for several months, I did not believe it was real.

See, the first time I had seen a commercial for it, I was 11 years old, and it aired during Saturday Night Live.  I had known, in my limited experience with the show at the time, that SNL aired "fake" commercials, and the idea of a movie where George Burns played BOTH God and The Devil was just SO ABSURD that I presumed it was a joke that the SNL people cooked up. 

No, it was real.

So, a bit about the Oh, God! movies, which were a deeply strange vehicle for George Burns, where he plays God.  In the first two movies (Oh, God! and Oh, God! Book II), the pattern is more or less the same-- God shows up in someone's life, and that person is the only one who can see and hear him.  God expects them to act as a modern day prophet, and while they do, it creates enough of a stir that some form of legal hearing is held to determine that person's sanity and welfare, and God shows up at said hearing to show up the doubters, and then leaves the person's life again.

The only real difference is, in the first one, it's John Denver's life he upturns, and in the second, it's a little girl.  Burn's God is kind of a blandly non-denominational, vaguely-Christian God that the kind of person who says "I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual" could be comfortable enough with.  You could even argue that God's choosing a form that would appeal to the middle-American vaguely Christian crowd, but that doesn't necessarily represent who God truly is.  It's a movie that strives not to offend by showing God but being non-committal about it.

The third movie breaks the formula, so you kind of have to give them credit for that.  Instead, it focuses on Ted Wass's Bobby Shelton. You remember Ted Wass fro previous Bad Movie entry Sheena, right?  This was his career heyday, I presume, which wasn't much.  I do have a strong recollection at the time my aunt once declaring, "Why would you make a movie starring Ted Wass?"  This is the extent of his infamy.

We start when Bobby is a little kid and very sick, and his father prays over him.  Said praying means God explicitly watches over Bobby. 
Jump ahead twenty-some-odd years, and Bobby is a happily-married-but-deeply-struggling musician. After missing out on yet another contract opportunity, he mutters the fateful words, "I'd sell my soul for a record deal." 

Enter Harry Tophet, aka The Devil, played by Burns.  He decides to buy said soul, even though the Watched Over By God red flag pops up on his computer. (For real.)  He ignores that and gets on Bobby to make the deal, which Bobby takes because the Devil presents himself as a music agent instead of the Devil.  As soon as the deal is signed, everything changes.

Everything.  Bobby suddenly finds his identity shifts to "Billy Wayne", rock-and-roll superstar.  He's suddenly huge, playing massive concerts, everything going amazing.  Confusing, but amazing.  Everything he wanted.

Except he wanted it as Bobby Shelton.  What's worse, since he's lost his identity, he's lost his wife, which is what he realizes he really wants in life.  He even stalks his wife, finding out she's pregnant, and there's just some guy there who's "Bobby". 

There's definitely some strangeness in this movie that there's a person-- presumably a real person with a soul (within the context of this movie's rules) who WAS Billy Wayne.  Some other person "becomes" Bobby, and...it's just confusing.  But, the point is, his wife isn't actually missing him.

When Bobby wants out, the Devil just laughs at him.  There's no out, because: Devil.  So Bobby prays to God to help him.  And then drinks heavily and takes a ton of pills.
And then we get the Big Scene that we've been building up to: the Split Screen of George Burns playing God and The Devil together. 

It's pretty nothing.

I mean, time freezes where they are, but at the same time we keep cutting to Bobby in his overdose thrashing, to give us some stakes.  But then, that makes you wonder, why is time only freezing in one place?

Anyhow, God and the Devil play one hand of poker for Bobby's soul.  One hand, five-card draw, just that.  So how does God win this over the Devil?  He raises.  He puts all of his "watched over" souls on the table.  The Devil decides that's too much, and folds.  Then God shows he had a busted flush. 
Bobby suddenly finds himself watching on the sidelines as "Billy" is found dead of an overdose.  They even flip "Billy" over to show he has another face, and... who is it?  What happened to that guy?  I'm not sure.  He doesn't matter, because God didn't come save him. 

I mean, God comes off as playing some serious favorites here, I'm just saying.

God chats up Bobby and takes him home, where everything is "normal" again-- his wife knows who he is, and as far as she knows, he went to Billy's concert that night to play in the band.  (Because Bobby, as "Billy", offered a gig to Fake-Bobby, because... reasons?) 
Finally we cut to a few years in the future, where Bobby's daughter is sick, and like his father, he prays for her, and sings "Fugue for Tinhorns" to her, which God joins in on, because that's what God does.

I mean, so much of this movie is all about that poker table scene, and when you come down to it, it's just George Burns doing his George Burns bit opposite himself with a slightly more sarcastic version of the same bit.  I mean, George Burns was a great presence, but he didn't exactly have range, you know?  So Two George Burns isn't really that exciting.

Fun story, this script apparently came about because the studio wanted another Oh God movie, and the writer had an abandoned script about a musician selling his soul to the devil on hand, so he polished it up to make it a movie.  Actual quote: "Not a good play, but it was there sitting on my shelf"

Not good, but it existed. 

That's about right.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Keeping Grounded for 2018

So now the new year is underway, and it's time to buckle down and get to work, and keep my head on straight.  Part of the problem with that is January is such a challenging time for me to do that, for two key reasons. 

Reason the first: I love living in Austin, it's a wonderful city, but in January, the city wants to kill me.  Namely, it releases SPORES OF CEDAR DOOM into the air and it takes high levels of allergy medications to stay functional.  For real.  Five years ago my reaction was so bad it gave me vertigo for two weeks.  I literally couldn't walk, and worse, couldn't write.  It was awful.  Right now, even highly medicated, I've got light congestion and watery eyes.  And I've been indoors most of the day.

Reason the second: For those who don't know, the "day job"-- which i put in the quotes because it isn't just in the day, nor does it have regular hours either-- is running our business Live the Language, where my wife teaches Spanish to children and adults.  Now, if you run any business which provides Service X, where people will say to themselves, "I really should DO X this year", January is when you get ALL THE INQUIRIES.  It's great, it's the very lifeblood of our business, but it does mean my workload right now cranks up.

So, given that's just the normal Things of January, and add in the whole "2017 was a Trashfire Year, what is 2018 going to bring" aspect, how do I keep my head on straight and get work done?
  1. Put some people on your social media who JUST BRING JOY.  I'm talking make sure your feed has someone who just puts gifs of otters playing, or daily affirmations.  Me, I've got a guy, who just plain loves Star Trek.  And I mean, deep cut stuff.  Like he'll post about Ben Sisko's outfits.  But that's what he does, he just LOVES STAR TREK, and man, just seeing that on a regular basis was a great counterbalance to the usual doom-and-gloom of the social media feed.  And so therefore...
  2.  Just stay the heck out of the Social Media.  I mean, yeah: World is a Trashfire.  But I've made peace with the fact that 98% of the Trashfire is stuff that doesn't really mean much to me other than give me something to stress about.  And, I mean, I am stressed, but frankly I don't need to know the minutiae of the Trashfire.  It doesn't help anything.
  3. Watching Superheroes.  I've made no secret that I'm a total superhero junkie.  And in the coming months the universe is giving me not only my beloved CW/DC shows, but adding one more with Black Lightning.  And Black Panther comes out in a few weeks, and Avengers: Infinity War is a few months down the road.  All this stuff is just tank-fueling joy for me.  Sometimes when I get stuck on a scene I'll rev up the Captain America Elevator Fight or Everyone Fighting Nazis and a bit of that just clears my head and gets me back on track.  (And, come on, how can you not love Supergirl saying to her Nazi Doppelganger, "General, would you care to step outside?")
So, that said, time to get back to work.  I got plenty to do, and I'm not going to let this year hold me back.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Worldbuilding: The Advantage of a Big Sandbox

I've made little secret of the fact that I really enjoy the worldbuilding process.  On some level I find it as gratifying as writing in and of itself, and part of my process involves knowing more about the world than, strictly speaking, I would absolutely need to for telling the story I'm telling.  Knowing the whole world gives me a bigger picture, lets me paint small details in the story that I might not otherwise have easily available.

What it also means is, I have a wide canvas to play with.  And sometimes I forget that.  The other day, a certain kind of story crossed my mind (because part of my brain is always several steps ahead of what I need to be writing right now), and my first thought was, "Man, I'd have to build a whole new world to write something like that."

My second thought was, "Good lord, I'm an idiot."  Because of course I don't have to build a new world to tell that kind of story.  I have a whole world that I designed, by its very nature, to tell all sorts of different stories.  Moreover, it's a world filled with potential stories.

I mean, I've done a lot of world building.  Not all to the level of detail we see in Maradaine, but certainly the main regions/states/provinces of every nation, major cities of the world.  And I'm not limited by time, either.  I could tell a story at the height of the Tyzanian Empire, five centuries and half a world away from Maradaine.
I've been accused by some reviews of being unfocused; moving on to one project before finishing the first.  In the case of the various Maradaine series, it's more complicated, since those were designed to be interwoven in the first place.  Doing one series isn't at the detriment of the others.

However, as I like to plan far ahead, the idea of telling a very different kind of story in a different time or part of that world is very appealing.  When The Thorn of Dentonhill came out, it was marked as "A Novel of Maradaine".  I could see we might, somewhere down the line, get "A Novel of The Mocassa", or "A Novel of Secau" or "A Novel of Juna'Pec".  I can tell you at least one of those is already percolating, and I've started laying down the groundwork for that one.

And I can say I've outlined and started writing a few novella length works that have some tangential ties to the larger Maradaine Sequence.  We'll see what's going to come from that.

But my larger point is this: I'm thrilled that I've given myself this larger sandbox, having built the world at least partially from the bottom up, and allowed myself the opportunity to tell a wide range of stories without having to rebuild the universe.