Monday, March 30, 2015

Sometimes the bear gets you

Many things are happening right now-- some good, some stressful, some just Work That Needs Doing.  This includes finishing the galley proofs for A Murder of Mages
But that means today I've got to buckle down on several things, so today's blog post is going to be short and sweet.  Pretty soon I'll be getting into high gear with promotion of A Murder of Mages as well as for the Armadillocon Writers' Workshop, which I'm running this year.  The former comes out on July 7th, and the deadline for the latter is June 15th.  There are some other things on the horizon which I can't announce yet, but it's looking like my summer is going to be quite hectic.
Also, tomorrow is my birthday.  If you are so inclined to do something for me in honor of my birthday, here are a few suggestions:
  1. Give someone you love a copy of Thorn of Dentonhill as a gift.
  2. Pre-order A Murder of Mages.
  3. Write a review of Thorn of Dentonhill on Goodreads, Amazon, your blog, as bathroom graffiti, or whatever.
  4. Create a Wikipedia page for me and/or Thorn.  I'll admit, that's something I could do myself, but it feels ever so slightly tacky to do so.
All right, you have a good week.  I'll see you when I dig myself out.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Three Tropes I'm Currently Using

I like to say that there really aren't bad cliches in writing, there are simply tropes that are easy to do badly.  It would actually be very hard for me to pick just three as favorites.  However, here's three that have been on my mind lately:
"One's an X.  One's a Y. Together, They Fight Crime!"
Action Mom
Great Detective
Why these three?  Because they're put into play in a book coming out on July 7th: A Murder of Mages.
Satrine Rainey—former street rat, ex-spy, mother of two, and wife to a Constabulary Inspector who lies on the edge of death, injured in the line of duty—has been forced to fake her way into the post of Constabulary Inspector to support her family.
Minox Welling is a brilliant, unorthodox Inspector and an Uncircled mage—almost a crime in itself. Nicknamed “the jinx” because of the misfortunes that seem to befall anyone around him, Minox has been partnered with Satrine because no one else will work with either of them.
Their first case together—the ritual murder of a Circled mage—sends Satrine back to the streets she grew up on and brings Minox face-to-face with mage politics he’s desperate to avoid. As the body count rises, Satrine and Minox must race to catch the killer before their own secrets are exposed and they, too, become targets.

Now, A Murder of Mages is not a sequel to The Thorn of Dentonhill, but it is also set in the city of Maradaine, and astute readers will see the threads of connection.  But it is its own story, that can be read independently of Thorn.  Of course, my utterly objective, unbiased opinion is that you should read them both. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Over- and Underexposition

We're all familiar, especially in genre fiction, with the Infodump.  The paragraphs on end describing some piece of backstory or worldbuilding information that may (or may not) be relevant to the reader understanding the story.  This is the sort of thing that can easily go too far, as highlighted by the satirical story "How David Weber Orders A Pizza":
120 meters later, he pressed the central pedal on his floorboard and the vehicle slowed smootly to a zero-zero intercept with the pavement. A signpost stuck out of the concrete outside, in front of and slightly to the right of his vehicle. It bore a large red octagon, with the word "STOP" emblazoned upon its center in white sans-serif lettering. The sign was a way of establishing right-of-way rules at this intersection of two streets. The vehicles going his direction, and going the opposite direction on the same street, would both see these "stop signs", and would thus be required by law to stop before proceeding. Vehicles following the street that crossed this one, on the other hand, would not see any "stop signs." They would be allowed to continue across the intersection without changing their velocity. If neither street had displayed any "stop signs", then vehicles following either street could legally cross the intersection at constant speed, resulting in disaster should two vehicles from each street be converging on the intersection at the same time. With the stop signs, the vehicles following the stop-signed street would be required to stop and wait for any such "cross traffic", thus ensuring that both they and the crossing vehicles would emerge from the intersection safely.

As absurd as that is, a lot of genre fiction gives the same level of descriptive attention to the things that would be mundane in their world.  However, judicious editing can easily help solve that problem.  The inverse problem is a little more challenging.
I've talked about the "iceberg rule" before-- keep 90% of your worldbuilding under the surface-- but at the same time you don't want your work to be impenetrable because you've kept everything all to yourself.
I watch several independent movies-- most of which tend to be character studies rather than structured stories*-- and one thing I've noticed as a recurring problem is a lack of proper explanation of character's situation or motivation.  Of course, you don't necessarily want everything spelled out for you, but you see that overcorrection plenty of times, so nothing is explained and the why of one event to the next is utterly opaque.
I understand why this happens, of course, be it in film or prose.  Writers live with their characters and worlds so deeply that why they do what they do and how things work are so ingrained that it's as clear to them as why you stop at a stop sign.  It becomes challenging to step outside themselves and see how it looks to the outside audience.  More than once I've had my beta readers or editor say, "You can tell us more about that."
Which direction do you err in?  Too much exposition, or too little?

*- Which is its own topic.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Rituals and Totems of Writing

For anyone who hasn't reached the point where writing full time is a lifestyle they can embrace, carving out time and space in which to write can be challenging.  This is still true for me, though it's more space than time.  For reasons involving our business (which is what actually pays the mortgage & puts food on the table), my wife and I regularly have to do minor reconfigurations of our home.  So that means I don't have a "permanent" workplace to sit and write.
Which is fine, and while I'd love a wall where I have a giant whiteboard or corkboard to lay out projects and ideas... I can work without it.  I have up until now.
But part of what I need to do is establish a bit of ritual to make wherever I'm working at any given point-- to be my space
The main thing I need is my headphones.  I have a couple pairs of bluetooth headphones (so I can switch when one runs out of power), and that helps me zone out the rest of the world and focus in on what I'm doing. 
I'll admit, my brain is always hungry for input, which can make me easily distracted.  I have a bad habit of reading one more article or just checking one more thing and then I realize I've wasted an hour.  Music-- especially music that stimulates that need for input without also dominating my thought process (i.e., the music itself takes all my attention)-- helps alleviate that distraction.  Usually that means the poppiest of pop music (yes, I'm a 42-year-old man who listens to Taylor Swift) or intense orchestral scoring stuff (the scores of movies like Dark Knight Rises or Avengers is nicely mood setting, or this has been one of my latest).  Get that going, and I'm able to focus entirely on the Work At Hand without a need to check the Thorn reviews on Goodreads "just once more", or some other distracting behavior.
Of course, there's always danger with relying too much on some sort of ritual, totem or other "good luck charm" in your writing-- that you end up fetishizing it and then "can't write" without it.  That's a thing you've got to avoid.  As much as I love my headphones, if I've forgotten them (when working in a coffee shop or such) or I've accidentally let them run out of power or their bluetooth connectivity is being obnoxious... then I have to do without. 
Because one way or another, I need to get into that zone.  I've got plenty of word-mining to do, so it's time to get to it.  See you down there.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Going From Outline to Novel

So, a few weeks ago at Connooga, I got to talk about structure and outlining for novels, which is a thing I love talking about.  Now, I'm a big believer in the idea that there isn't any One True Way to write a novel-- I can't tell you how you write one; I can only show you the tools in my toolbox, and if that helps you built your toolbox and method, then I'm happy to have helped.
The question came up how I structure and create outlines, and how that becomes a novel.  As I've mentioned before, I've got a twelve-part structure to work out the outline.  The brief version:
1. Establishment – Show character(s) and situation.
2. Incitement – Alteration of the status, or new information spurs protagonist out of usual comfort.
3. Challenge – Minor antagonists/obstacles put into play.
4. Altercation – Conflict with minor antagonists/obstacles, ends with degree of success/victory for protagonist.
5. Payback – Consequence for victory; minor antagonists/obstacles failure brings attention of major antagonist/obstacles, allowing a strike back at protagonist.
6. Regrouping – Protagonist reacts to the payback, possibly in an ineffective way.Thinks confrontation is over, relaxes.
7. Collapse – Protagonist struck at in a way that threatens the stability and safety of base situation.
8. Retreat – Protagonist must leave base situation to escape threat from main antagonist/obstacle.
9. Recovery – Protagonist establishes a new situation, enough to be stable and safe.
10. Investment – Personal attachment forces Protagonist back into fray with main antagonist/obstacle—they won’t choose to walk away.
11. Confrontation – Goes after main antagonist/obstacle, partly to reclaim investment.
12. Resolution – Defeat of main antagonist/obstacle, which can create a new base situation or re-establish stability of original one.
Creating the outline involves writing out about 100-250 words for each of these sections, resulting in about 1500 to 2000 words for the outline. 
Of course, the real work is expanding that 1500-word document into a 100K novel. It should be noted that the structure of the outline is almost pure plot-- the character work isn't really in there.  Writing the novel is where that comes in, as well as working out the roles of secondary and tertiary characters.  One thing I realized after writing one of my trunked novels was not to come up with minor characters before working out their role in the plot.  In that trunked novel I had a full compliment of secondary characters who had no purpose other than to mill around in the background.  I came up with them early in the process because I thought I might need them.  But I never did for most of them, and some I bent over backwards to give them a purpose. 
So, when you're deep in the word mines, how do you expand outlines into the finished draft.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Flash Fiction Challenge

I'm a big believer in exercises to keep writing skills fresh, so a bit of flash fiction using six assigned words is a nice break from the usual.
Smell of bacon always brings 'em.
Normally these beasties would be smart enough to stay clear, but a little combustion and pork turns them into zombies, heading right to me like a moth to a flame.  Can't say I blame them, since it's delicious.
But so are they.  Best source of protein on this rock.
The critters come skittering in-- eighteen horrible legs each.  I pick up my knife and get ready.  First one approaches, and I aim right for the top of its thorax.  Piercing the hard exoskeleton, I slice into the gelatinous nerve center-- closest thing it has to a brain.  It goes down fast, which is good, because the next is already right on me.  Another quick stab puts it down as well, and then a third.
Now the scent in the air changes, and the beasts know what's up.  The rest run off.
Three kills.  I can eat well for a couple weeks on that.  Which is good, since I'm running out of bacon.
Six words:

Monday, March 9, 2015


So, now The Thorn of Dentonhill has been out just a bit over a month, and there are a fair amount of reviews out there.  On the whole, I've been pretty thrilled with the responses.  I've shared a few of these before, but I thought it was worth compiling several of them together here.
Tenacious Reader  - "So much of it is terribly exciting and fun."
The Bibliosanctum - "If you’re looking for something fun and adventurous for your next fantasy read, look no further than The Thorn of Dentonhill, an incredible start to a new series, from an author who is clearly on his way to great things."
Short and Sweet Reviews - "This was a great debut novel and I can’t wait to see more of Maresca’s work and what he has in store for Veranix and the gang."
Relentless Reader - "The Thorn of Dentonhill is a light-hearted, fun read and Maresca has introduced a hero with plenty of room to grow... a character that I care enough about to continue reading."
Civilian Reader - "If you’re looking for an action-and-adventure-filled new fantasy series, then The Thorn of Dentonhill will suit very well."
Occasionally Random Book Reviews - "Overall, The Thorn of Dentonhill is a charming fantasy read."   This review has a few critical points, but it shows a tremendous depth of thought into the book, so I deeply love it.  Plus I'm not so egotistical that I don't think I have anything to learn, or that there isn't room for improvement in my craft.
All right, back into the word mines.  Plus, A Murder of Mages is just four months away.  Keep your eye out for that.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Inner Motivation and Inner Conflict

Stories need to be driven by choices and consequences.  The consequences are the external stuff, but choices are internal.
And nothing kills a story's investment like a lack of choices.
Part the key, I think, is making sure the choices your characters make are both A. a legitimate choice between two or more options and B. a logical expression of the character.
The first part of that comes from not making it seem like the plot is just dragging the character by the nose.  If there aren't real choices, then it's old-school video-game plotting.  The character just moves forward from scene to scene, with events dictated to them, rather than having any real impact on the events.
The second part is a counterbalance to that, in that if you're writing the character correctly, it's clear that the choice they make is the only one they really are capable of making.
It's not unlike the predestination/free will argument.  You can make any choice you want, but this is the choice that you are going to make, because that's who you are.
Now, choices tend to fall into three categories: Need To Do, Want To Do and Ought To Do.  Internal conflict sparks from those three things being out of alignment.  Need To Do are the pure survival-necessity choices.  Lizard-brain reaction. "I'm running out of air-- I need to get to the surface!"  "This guy's trying to kill me and I can't get out-- I need to fight back!"  Want To Do are emotional choices-- rational thought is involved, but the emotion behind the thoughts are the drivers.  "My friend's in trouble-- I want to help them!" "That's the guy who killed my father-- I want to kill him!"  Ought To Do are the higher-thinking choices, the moral choices.  "This person is trying to seduce me away from the mission-- I ought to walk away from them."  "Killing him now will put my friends at risk-- I ought to let him walk away."
Now, often the "Ought To" choice is the objective "best" choice... but that doesn't mean it will be the right choice for the character to make.  In fact, good storytelling often comes from characters making the wrong choice, objectively, but the right choice for the character.  That's key: don't have a character make a stupid choice just so the plot can keep moving.
Unless it's right for the character to do something stupid.
See you all in the word mines.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Five People Who Deserve the Campbell (far more than me)

So, the nomination period for the Hugos and the Campbell is just about closed.  If you are eligible to nominate, you're probably wondering who amongst those eligible for the Campbell, you ought to nominate.  Now, I'm on my second year of eligibility, thanks to Rayguns Over Texas, but if I'm being honest, since I put nothing out in 2014, I don't deserve a nomination.  But I'll tell you five people who I think do, if you're voting, this is who you should vote for:
Go vote, if you can.
*- The brevity of today's post is brought to you by the letter "C" for "Con Crud".  I had a lovely time at Conooga, but now I am unwell with plague.  Go Vote.