Thursday, October 29, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Technical Difficulties

So, the other day I attempted to upgrade the operating system on my laptop.  One way or another, I messed up-- I think I interrupted the download or some other mistake.  End result, my laptop didn't have a functioning operating system.  It was pretty much screwed up.
Fortunately, I've got Time Machine and a LaCie backup, so restoring the computer is no problem.
Unfortunately, I hadn't done a backup on the LaCie in eight days.  So that means a week's worth of work that was gone once I restored the computer.
Fortunately, I have all my writing work in Google Drive, so everything gets backed up on the google cloud right away. So nothing was actually lost.
Unfortunately, Scrivener and Google Drive kind of confuse each other, in that Scrivener saves all of my stuff as individual rtfs, and then Google Drive is all, "Oh, you've got a different version of that rtf, so here's a conflict version." and Scrivener doesn't care about the conflict version, because it's already looking at the old one.
Thus I had to manually go through the conflicts and put them into my "real" Scrivener files to get everything up to date.
All in all, the set-back was fortunately only a few hours, and nothing was lost.  The worst of it was one scene of Thorn III, where I didn't notice the conflict file, so when I was working on it again a few days later I thought, "Didn't I write more of this scene?  Where is it?"  Fortunately, I found it and all was corrected.
I don't have too many technical problems.  Scrivener, for the most part, is a blessing, including more or less constantly saving the work as I go.  When I've had a sudden freeze-up or crash, I don't think I've ever lost more than half a sentence, and only if I was literally typing it as it crashed.  Plus, Scrivener actually works nicely on my computer.  I mean, maybe I have an old version of Microsoft Word or something, but in and my Apple operating system often act like a divorced couple meeting at a mutual friend's party.  
That's not something I need to deal with when I'm trying to write.
I'll be at Austin ComicCon this Saturday, so come on down if you're in the area.  In the meantime, I've got to put finishing touches on to An Import of Intrigue, and plenty more to work on beyond that.  

Monday, October 26, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Decisions on the Profane

"When this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you're going to see some serious shit."
The script to Back To The Future is a lot like a precision timepiece, so much working perfectly, and most of the times you don't even realize what it's doing.  This line is a perfect example.  It's the first use of profanity in the movie, and that gives the line greater impact.  After 20 minutes or so where the harshest word uttered is "slacker", one line tells you, in ways you didn't even consciously realize, that the rules just changed.  
Profanity can be a powerful tool in your writing arsenal.
Back at ArmadilloCon, I was asked about why I don't use profanity in the Maradaine books.  And while I might argue that's not exactly true, the way I use profanity is, of course, a deliberate worldbuilding choice.
The main thing, for me, was having the way characters swore be their own unique slang.  Beyond that, the slang of someone in his fifties is going to be different from someone in her twenties.  Beyond that, the slang of someone from Maradaine is going to be different than, say, someone from Kyst or Lacanja or Yoleanne.*
Wanting to incorporate all that in led to my use of terms like blazes, bleeding, rutting, rolling and sewage, as well as a few other phrase sprinkled in here and there.  Not to mention steves, facks, birds, slans, and sinners.  Part of that is personal preference, of course.  There are words I simply don't care to use.
The other aspect of profanity is the racial epithet.  Since the ethnicities in Maradaine are all their own, with their own history and context, I had to build all those from scratch.  And in An Import of Intrigue, where there is plenty of interaction between "regular" Druth residents of Maradaine and the foreign enclaves of the Little East, there was ample opportunity to put them into practice.  Especially with less sensitive or genteel characters like Mirrell or Corrie.  Kierans get called piries as a play off the word "imperial", Tsouljans and Lyranans are both called tyzos because the far eastern continent is Tyzania.  
These are the choices I made for Maradaine, which aren't the choices I'd necessarily make for another work.  In my Space Opera work-in-progress, Lt. Kengle swears somewhat prolifically, even though her alien crewmates don't always understand what she means, as translations are imperfect.  One of them wonders why crises always makes Kengle talk of mating.  
I'll be making an appearance at Austin ComicCon, specifically on writing female characters.  So that's this Saturday-- worth checking out if you have the time.
*I've yet to have good cause to drop an all-of-Druthal map or a full world map in the Maradaine books.  But those are all cities along the west coast of Druthal, as you head further south.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Knocking the Characters Around

Last week I talked about how, as an action writer, the weapon choices a character makes helps define them.
Of course, the other side of the action story is being on the receiving end.  As fond as I am of Veranix, Minox and Satrine, they are not infallible, and fight sequences don't always end well for them.
Sometimes quite badly.
The big thing I always have to watch out for is getting too "cinematic" with their recovery from injuries.  Plenty of movies have people get shot, fall off buildings, suffer major head trauma, and then walk it off five minutes later.  It might make for good movies, but it isn't particularly realistic.
Now, how much realism does a fantasy novel need, you ask?  That depends on your rules.
For example, in Maradaine, one thing magic cannot be used for is healing.  So that keeps me from having an easy out when things go badly.
What this means is I have to keep an eye out for the long term consequences.  Scars last.  Some things never quite heal right again. The body will give you a constant reminder that something isn't right any more.
Thinking about that also forced me to tone down certain things.  I tend to avoid characters getting knocked out over the head if I want them to get up again.  A bit in Thorn where Veranix gets grazed by a crossbow bolt was a change from the rough draft, where the bolt goes through his leg.  I decided I needed to avoid any sort "never walk right again", at least at this point.
Of course, those long term consequences can also be character points.  Without delving into spoilers, an injury suffered in one of the books already out provides the seed for a significant subplot in the sequel.
Speaking of sequels, The Alchemy of Chaos is just about three months away.  Both it and An Import of Intrigue have Goodreads pages, Alchemy can be preordered everywhere you preorder books, and we should be sharing a cover for Alchemy very soon.  In the meantime, I've got to get back to work on all the things.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Busy Week For The Writer - Phases of the Manuscript

October has turned out to be much like July was, in that a lot of things are happening at once.  Basically, three different things are in the pipeline in different stages of completion.
Let me explain a bit about the different stages, and the process a manuscript goes through once it's "done" and sold.  
The initial stages of a manuscript, for me, are essentially OutlineRough Draft and Polished Draft.  The Outline is where I figure out the structural bones of the story, sometimes long before I really start the writing process.  It's usually about 1000-2000 words, depending.  Then I turn that into a full 100Kish manuscript, which is the Rough Draft.  (I'm glossing over a fair amount of hard work and daily grind, boiling it down to 'turn that into', but that's the process.)  That goes to beta readers, gets worked over and fine-tuned to become the Polished Draft.  This is what gets sent to my editor.
Now, I should point out that I don't make a big distinction of counting drafts or the midpoints from Rough to Polished.  But I don't want you to think that it's just one round of polishes at that's it.  
After my editor reads the Polished Draft, we talk about it and she gives notes*, and I use that to make it into the Final Draft.  This is also where I usually print out a hard copy and go through it all, making my own notes along the way, which is integral to my process.  Something about the different appearance, the tactile element, makes things pop out in a way I didn't notice before.  So once that's done, the Final Draft is sent back to my editor.
From there, it's sent to the copyeditor.  The copyeditor checks for spelling, word use and grammar, as well as consistency and continuity.  For example, if I use a term with capital letters in one part, and not in another, the copyeditor should catch it and change everything to a single standard.  This is typically where my more embarrassing mistakes are caught.
The Copyedited Draft is sent back to me to approve the changes made.  Most of them I do, because they're perfectly sensible corrections.  Sometimes I disagree, and make a note, and it's fine.  A key example would be in A Murder of Mages, where my copyeditor changed all my uses of "footpatrol" and "horsepatrol" into "foot patrol" and "horse patrol".  This is understandable, as "footpatrol" and "horsepatrol" aren't, technically, real words.  However, I wanted those to be specific in-world terms the constabulary uses, so I made a note and changed them back.  
Once that's done, the manuscript is made into Proofs.  This is a version of how the book will actually look, printed out.  This is sent to me for one final check, and I do find plenty of little minor changes I want to make.  Sometimes a spelling mistake that slipped through, sometimes a preposition change that makes the sentence clearer, sometimes something more absurd that my eye passed over in every other check (such as "a knock came at the door of Professor Alimen's workroom door.")   But this is the last opportunity to catch something before it goes to press.  After having a typo find its way into the printed version of Thorn, I'm more than a little cautious in this part of the process now.
So, what does that have to do with what's going on this week?
Because here's what I've got on my plate, in ranking priority:
The Alchemy of Chaos: Final Proof Check (due in one week)
An Import of Intrigue: Final Draft (due in two weeks)
Thorn III (working title The Imposters of Aventil): Rough Draft (500 words/day to stay on track)
*- A lot of people get what's called an "edit letter"-- a written document of specific notes and changes, etc.  That's not my editor's personal style.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Worldbuilding: How the Arms Make the Character

I write action-filled books, so obviously, my characters are going to be armed.  This is something I put a lot of thought into when first designing the characters and the world.
First off, in Maradaine, I didn't want guns.  They just didn't fit into the mold of the world I wanted Maradaine to be.*  Plus, I don't really know about guns, and when you get that stuff wrong, those who do let you know.  Sometimes quite loudly.  So I avoid that conversation completely.
But which weapons do I give my characters?
For Veranix in Thorn of Dentonhill, I really wanted his weapons to mean something to him.  His bow is to honor his father-- former soldier and leader in the Aventil streets, and then later a trick shot performer in the circus.  His staff is to honor his mother, who a circus acrobat, aerialist and tightrope walker.  Of course, they are also the tools he is skilled with, but that's because those skills were passed on by his parents.
For Minox and Satrine in A Murder of Mages, what I chose for them had to apply to the constabulary force as a whole.  They carry crossbows (usually loaded with blunt-tip quarrels, for an option that is not-necessarily-as-lethal as a pointed ones) and handsticks, The handsticks are, of course, why the constabulary are called "sticks" on the streets.
A lot of the Aventil street gang folk, like Colin, have knives, knucklestuffers (think brass knuckles or this beauty my friend Kat used to carry in college) and cudgels.  Now, I also had to consider what this meant on a cultural level.  Why are people on the streets carrying  this stuff, and what does it mean, legally?  Maradaine is a civilized city, after all, with an established constable force, legal code and court system.  
But Maradaine also has a dark past, where corrupt lords had no checks to arrest anyone they pleased for whatever reason-- or no reason-- as the mood struck them.  So when the founders of the Parliament and other aspects of Druthal's modern government were drafting their Rights of Man, the need to protect oneself from false or unjust arrest was prevalent in their minds.  Thus enshrined in the Rights of Man is the right to be armed, explicitly to protect oneself from unjust arrest.  At one point in Thorn, Colin even mentions it when confronted by a stick. 
These character-based weapon concerns, as well as how old traditions can clash with a "modern" world, come into play in several aspects in Way of the Shield,  a book that I hope to have some news for you about in the near future.  
Also, I decidedly made some unique weapon choices for some of the more flamboyant characters showing up in The Alchemy of Chaos, coming out early next year.  Hope you're looking forward to that as much as I am.  Until then, I have a very full plate of edits, proofs and drafting for the rest of the month (and year).  So I better get to it.
*- Not that fantasy can't have guns.  There is, of course, the rising subgenre of Flintlock Fantasy.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Post-NYCC drive-by post

All right, I'm still in the thick of NYCC type stuff.  My signing yesterday was fantastic.  I don't know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't a line of people wanting to get a signed book.  Today at 11am, if you're in Manhattan (or can get there), I'll be at the Penguin Random House offices (1745 Broadway) from 11am to 1pm, giving away signed copies of Thorn of Dentonhill and otherwise trying to seem cool and awesome while around a bunch of other cool writers like Terry Brooks.
If it's like anything else this weekend has been, it's going to be awesome.
Otherwise, this has been a stellar weekend-- including a couple plays and lovely dinners-- and I'm quite incapable of further rational thought.  Especially since after this I'll be heading

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Characters Out Of Control

When other writers talk about characters "getting away from them" or "out of their control", I have to confess, I'm at a bit of a loss to understand that.  I'm not saying that in a "I'm right, they're wrong" sort of way-- it's just a difference in process.
For example, I write with a well-established outline, so my major character's goals, intentions and actions are largely worked out in the outline phase.  In the drafting phase, none of them are going to "surprise" me, nor do I have a conflict between What The Plot Needs and What The Character Needs, because I've already taken that into account.   If one is more of a pantser, I can see how the process of pantsing a first draft can create these Plot vs. Character conflicts, where what a character needs to do is at odds with what you, the writer, need them to do for the plot.
However, notice I say "major characters".   This is a crucial distinction, because it's the minor characters where those surprises and discoveries can come into play, mostly because they aren't even taken into account when the outline is written.
Take, for an example from Thorn of Dentonhill, the character of Hetzer.  Hetzer initially existed solely because Colin needed someone to talk to in a scene.  I establish that Colin is a street captain in the Rose Street Princes, so I need someone for Colin to be a captain of.  Hetzer was never in the outline.  Nor were Jutie or Tooser, the other Princes in Colin's crew.  So, when I reached the point in the story where Colin makes a crucial decision and acts upon it... Hetzer is by his side.  Hetzer got elevated to being a crucial part of the story-- even being the POV character for a couple scenes-- because it made perfect sense in the moment.  He stepped up in the story because that was exactly what Hetzer would do.
Now, I'm not going to act like this was some sort of out-of-my-hands divined-from-above thing.  This was a realization I made when writing the scene, and that realization made it clear how the details of the rest of the story played out.  I could have ignored that realization, made a different choice.  I know my first choices aren't always the best.*  Heck, a major thing that became a crucial character element for Minox in A Murder of Mages wasn't even in the rough draft.
My point is this: you know who your characters are.  You know what they need and want, and what choices they'll make because of that.  How that manifests in your skull during the process.... that's not for me to say.
What IS for me to say is that I'll be signing at the Penguin booth at New York ComicCon at 4pm on Sunday.  That is LITERALLY the final hour of the con, so if you're there and you still have strength to shuffle on over to the booth, come say hi.  ALSO, as I said before, there's a multi-author Post-NYCC Event in the Penguin Random House offices on Monday at 11am, and if you can come, you totally should, because they're giving away free books, and there are many authors there who are much cooler than me.
*- Back in my theatre days, my usual costume/set/art director had a mantra: "Your first three ideas are wrong."  A bit pessimistic, but it highlights a key point of it being okay to work through bad ideas to get to the good ones.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Worldbuilding: Subcultures and Code-Switching

So, this weekend, I needed to get a lot of writing work done.  Of course, this is true just about every day, but seeing how the previous weekend I was at FenCon, and next weekend I'll be in New York, I needed to make this weekend about getting as much done as I could.  Most of that involved working the edits for the final version of An Import of Intrigue, some business/administrative work for the future books, and a few new scenes in the third Thorn book.
Import is all about subcultures in the city of Maradaine, specifically the foreign enclaves embedded within the Inemar neighborhood.  And, especially on this editing pass, I need to make sure I'm handling that with the care required.  None of the foreign cultures seen in Import map cleanly on to real-world ones, but there are parallels that can be drawn, and with that, there are pitfalls of stereotyping and cliché.  The other important thing to show was how those different cultures clash when they're pushed up against each other, as well as the rest of Druth culture.  The hardest part, for me, though, was in showing how the a lot of the Druth are antagonistic, if not downright hostile, to the foreigners and foreign-descended citizens of Maradaine.  Various epithets are used for different foreigners, but it also matters who uses them, and in what circumstances and situations. Some people use them freely, some only in select company, and some not at all.
The scene I wrote in the third Thorn book this weekend was challenging, and it also involved subcultures, in a less direct way.  If you've read Thorn, you know that Veranix is Racquin-- a semi-nomadic subculture in Druthal of refugees from the neighboring country of Kellirac-- from his mother's side.  In A Murder of Mages, Minox's mother also is Racquin, but Minox was raised in Maradaine by a family that was mostly Druth, while Veranix was raised among the Racquin, save for his father.  Veranix's father's heritage and performance skills allow him to pass himself off as a "regular" Druth on campus and around the city.  
So then, what happens when Veranix is with someone who is also Racquin (and also "passing" in Maradaine culture?)  Code-switching.  They both fall into a pattern of talking like Racquin instead of Druth around each other.  The question on my plate is, how do I make this clear without being heavy-handed?  The main thing I have is very different slang between the two of them, that we haven't seen in the rest of Maradaine.  Does that work, or just become confusing?  I'm still not sure.  That's why it's a rough draft at this point.  
Speaking of, I've still got plenty to do before heading to New York.  So into the word mines I go.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Post NYCC Author Kaffeeklatch at Penguin Random House Offices, Monday October 12th

So, if you're in New York City and you're going to NYCC, or if you're thre and you're NOT going to NYCC, there's a great event with great authors that is free and open to the public on Monday, October 12th, with a whole mess of great authors who will be signing and giving away books.  Check out this list:
Bradley P. Beaulieu, Terry Brooks, Myke Cole, Alis Franklin, Melissa Grey, Susan Griffith, C.A. Higgins, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Sylvain Neuvel, Naomi Novik, Daniel Jose Older, Bill Schweigart, Alan Smale, Shawn Speakman, Erin Tettensor, Judd Winick
Admit it: even if you think I'm nowhere near cool enough to come out for, there's some damn cool writers out there you'll want to see.   And you get to actually see the offices of Penguin Random House.  Isn't that cool?  If I weren't already going, I'd go.
Full Details are here: