Monday, September 28, 2015

Obligatory Post-Con Post

So, this past weekend was FenCon, which I enjoyed greatly.  I had a number of lovely panels, including one on worldbuilding where I got to talk about how obsessive I get in the process.  Which, if you've been reading this blog for a bit, you know is immensely obsessive.  I did not bring handouts, though.  I thought about it, but I didn't have time to put them together.
I got to hang with some of the other Texas-circuit regulars, including Mark Finn, Tex Thompson, Patrice Sarath, Mark Carroll (who just made his first pro sale-- good on you, sir), Dantzel Cherry, J. Kathleen Cheney, Rhonda Eudaly, Aaron de Orive, Michelle Muenzler, and several more who I am blanking on right now.  Books were signed, books were bought by people who hadn't heard of me before this weekend, so all is well.
Of course, ConWeekend tends to mean Low Productivity Weekend, so I've got to crank it up this week to make up the difference.
Also, I came home to discover this lovely write-up for Thorn of Dentonhill over at Powder and Page.  Plus, and this was a real shock, a review of Jump The Black, my short story in Rayguns Over Texas.
So I feel pretty good, but I still need to get to work.  So off I go.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Writing Synopses

Synopses are a necessary evil.  You need them to query, you need them to submit to publishers.  No writer I've talked to likes doing them.  They're horrible.
Well, maybe not "horrible", but certainly no fun.
Really, there are two kinds of synopses: the ones you write for the book you've written, and the ones you write for the book you intend to write.  Personally, the second kind are far easier for me.
This is partly because of how I outline.  I usually write out about 1000-1500 words as my outline for a 100K novel, so turning that into a synopses is mostly a matter of changing it from a document only I need to make sense out of into one that any one could make sense out of.  More often than not, my outlines are written in a long form already, instead of bullet points, so this essentially just an editing pass.
On the other hand, paring down a finished work down to around 1000 words?  That puts me in a tailspin.  Which parts are the critical things to highlight?  Which can be ignored for the sake of the synopsis.
I mean, it should be easy, right: Just say what happens in the book.  But it never seems that way.
Best advice I can give is to try and bring some emotional distance to it.  Imagine how someone else might write the wikipedia entry for the book.  What would your average reader take away as the key story points?
(This is an interesting exercise in general.  I find it kind of fascinating which elements reviewers focus on-- and moreover the ones they don't-- for both Thorn and Murder.)
Is there a milestone in one's career where one doesn't have to write synopses anymore?   I don't know.  I'm certainly a ways away from it.

Reminder: I'm at FenCon this weekend.  If you're in the area, come say hello!

Monday, September 21, 2015

FenCon Schedule

Next weekend I will be at FenCon up in the Dallas area.  I'm really looking forward to it, as this time around I get to talk about worldbuilding, space opera, fight scenes and one of my favorite movies of all time.  If you are in the area, come check it out.

Saturday  2:00:00 PM  - 3:00 PM   
Great Scott! It's the Back to the Future 30th Anniversary Panel!   Description: Thirty years since we met Marty McFly - and 2015 was the year he traveled to! How does the trilogy of movies hold up?  Is it destined to stay an SF classic, or end up as just another goofy movie from the '80s? Let's find out! Panelists:
E. Dravecky , A. Hawkes , M. Maresca , E. Nahté , S. Patrick *
Saturday  3:00:00 PM  - 4:00 PM   
What's Space Opera, Doc?  
Description: Who doesn't love a big space battle with missiles and lasers flying everywhere? Our panelists discuss pulp space opera and its modern derivatives.
L. Killough , M. Maresca , S. Rosen , M. Tatum , C. Donahue *
Saturday  7:30:00 PM  - 8:00 PM   
Description: I'll share a scene from The Alchemy of Chaos, and I might be persuaded to debut a scene from An Import of Intrigue.
Sunday  11:00:00 AM  - 12:00 PM   
En Garde! - Writing Fight Scenes   Description: Writing a realistic fight scene is more than just figuring out "guns or knives?" One-on-one combat in fiction is complex and easily mishandled. We discuss how to realistically describe various types of armed and unarmed combat to enhance your story.
L. Donahue , M. Maresca , T. Patterson , A. Simmons , C. Spector , K. Hutson *
Sunday  12:30:00 PM  - 1:00 PM  
M. Fletcher , M. Maresca , T. Patterson
Sunday  2:00:00 PM  - 3:00 PM   
Laying the Foundation: World Building for Writers and Game Designers  
Description: A rich backstory doesn't just spring up in the mind of the writer. It takes lots of research and preparation to create a framework for a fictional world. What elements are required for world building, and when do you quit building and hit the keyboard?
R. Caine , M. Maresca , R. Rogers , S. Rosen , J. Wells *

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Keeping All Those Balls in the Air

As I'm now hip deep into the process of the third Thorn book, I've developed a lot more respect for writers whose subplots "get away from them", as it were.  Because it turns out it's a lot easier for that to happen than I thought.  It's now completely clear to me how, for example, Rowling went from the lean-and-tight Prisoner of Azkhaban to the 800-page beast that was Order of the Phoenix.
Both The Alchemy of Chaos and An Import of Intrigue have bits where minor characters from their respective first books have expanded roles.  Part of this was out of necessity of the plot-- I needed POV characters for a situation where those characters were the best choice.  Part of that comes from enriching the world altogether-- bigger things are happening with the gangs in Aventil, for example, so that means more people and new situations.  
So, the big question: how do I keep that natural growth from getting out of control?  Because as I reworked the outline for Thorn III, it became clear there were things I needed to at least acknowledge that I hadn't planned on before.  Characters who barely existed on the fringes of Thorn now needed a subplot.  How did that happen?  How do I keep that from taking things over and making what should be a lean action-y novel into a doorstopper?
For me, the main thing is pacing: each scene has to have a definitive this-drives-this-part-of-the-plot purpose. If it's not buying me anything, I drop it.  Case in point, in Import, I have a scene where Satrine visits with Sister Alana.  Mostly this is to put a pin in there that Sister Alana still exists and that Satrine has rekindled a friendship with her, because she doesn't really have a role in the plot itself.  But the scene gives character work on Satrine, her frame of mind in the current case, and advances the plotlines of her personal life.  Now, a minor character from Murder who gets bumped up in Import is Corrie, Minox's sister who works the night shift in the Constabulary.  I needed her as a POV character because Things Happen where neither Minox or Satrine are present, and hers was the best fit.  But that meant I couldn't just POV her when I needed her and ignore her at the later. She needed to stay involved throughout.  But, again: it must advance the plot.  I'm not going to check in with characters like Reverend Pemmick or Lieutenant Benvin or Commissioner Enbrain just for the sake of doing it.  
Now, do I succeed with this?  I think most of the time I do.  But that's for you all to judge next year when The Alchemy of Chaos and An Import of Intrigue come out.  
In the mean time, I've got plenty to do in the word-mines, including finalizing aspects of both those manuscripts, so off I go.  See you down there.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Worldbuilding Round-Up

As a result of both my current "crockpot" project being fully in its worldbuilding stage, I've been putting together some of my bottom-up worldbuilding thoughts into a more cohesive form.  While worldbuilding is equal parts art and craft, it does require a fair amount of research and competence in a number of different fields of expertise.
But in the meantime, here are some posts and other resources for the basics of bottom-up worldbuilding:
This is something I happen to have on hand, because it's that important.Groundwork: Geography, biomes and ecology.
My original post on biomes:
World Wildlife Fund's biome page, including info on freshwater & seawater biomes:
My original post of domesticatible plants and animals:
My post on creating new fauna, especially domesticatible ones:

Building from the Dawn of Civilization
My post on transitioning from Neolithic to Agricultural and early civilizaitons:
The Food Timeline:
Points of Origin for Herbs and Spices:
My post on cultures finding every use for a resource:

Creating Civilizations
My post on constructed language basics:
Phonology Generator:
Text Generator (for making words once you have a phonology generated):
My post on Technology Basics, told through Drinks and Weapons:
My post on Levels of Industry in Worldbuilding:
Cultural Rituals of Coming of Age:
Marriage and Other Rituals of Love And Joining:
Rituals for the Dead:
Arts and Culture:
Traditions of Justice and Law:
A brief Worldbuilder's Bibliography:
An older Worldbuiling Roundup:

Hope you can find this useful.  I hope to put this stuff together into a single document in the near future.  Possibly so I can have handouts at panels.  Handouts would make me look extra prepared, no?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Order from my Chaos

Any writer-- especially a genre writer-- is going to have a lot of notes.   Character notes, story notes, location notes, worldbuilding notes, etc. etc.
Keeping track of that all can be exhausting.  I use notes in Scriviner, I use Evernote, I use Excel spreadsheets, I use Photoshop for maps.  I code everything with a three-letter tag for the series and a two-digit identifier for the entry in that series.  For example, The Thorn of Dentonhill was VER01 (First Veranix book), and A Murder of Mages was MCI01 (first Maradaine Constabulary Inspectors book).  Right now I have seven "active" project codes*: four 
Since I'm constantly working on different things, I have a lot of things open at any given time, and the notes, spreadsheets, etc. for those things are incorporated.  
So, a snapshot of what I've got open right now in all my various works in progress and secret projects.
VER03: Third Thorn book, which is my "primary" project right now.  Thus I have with it all my city of Maradaine notes, maps of the city and of Aventil explicitly, a Dramatis Personae and outline breakdown for this book, and my notes on Tetchball.  
BAN01: My still-in-progress space opera.  In addition to the manuscript, Dramatis Personae and outline breakdown, I have notes on the main alien races, as well as the various others which are part of the larger universe but not involved in this story.  I've got the 10,000+ stars of the 'verse on a monster spreadsheet, and some photoshop files that attempt to visualize the 3-D starmaps in a way that makes sense.  
MSD01: Secret Project #1.  Still very much in the early work-in-progress stages, with the requisite Dramatis Personae and outline breakdown, as well as maps, worldbuilding notes on places and flora and fauna, and a long-term plan for that.  There's always a long term plan.
9DE00: Secret Project #2.  It's a "00" because this is something fully in the worldbuilding/planning stage, not actual-manuscript stage.  Here I've got maps-- oh so many maps-- and culture/worldbuilding notes in progress.  I have a lot of linguistic notes, including an excel file with fifteen different phonemic inventories.  I have history notes-- still very much in broadbrush-- and the beginnings of character notes.  I still don't know entirely what this is going to be or the shape it'll take, but I am very excited about what I'm doing with it.
*- Actually, technically, eight, but that eighth one is a Long Plan thing, not something I'm currently writing in any way.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Worldbuilding: How The Game Is Played

So, I'm well into the process of writing the third Thorn book of the Maradaine novels, and part of that involves an ongoing tetchball tournament.  Tetchball had been mentioned in Thorn and elsewhere as a popular sport in Maradaine, but what exactly is it?
The easiest way to describe tetchball is that it's sort of the bastard child of cricket and rugby.
TetchThe field consists of a long rectangle, with the "green" of the field marked with a trapezoid.  The two out-of-bounds areas on either side are referred to as "the yellow"-- and on some fields they will go so far as to paint the grass to mark it.  The field is then crossed with four lines to mark the different sections of the playing zone: The Hold Line, The Jack Line, The Double Jack and the Triple Jack.  
There are two teams of eleven players each.  Each match is played in three intervals, and each interval is split into the Top and Bottom.  In the Top, one team takes the field (Fielding Team) while the other one (Batting Team) lines behind the Hold Line, and in the Bottom they switch places.
The eleven players take the field in their designated places: The Arm in the Arm's Circle, and in the zone between the Hold Line and the Jack Line (First Zone) : The Rail, The Wall, The Close Bumper, The Far Bumper and the Jack Warder.   In between the Jack Line and the Double Jack (Second Zone) are the Tight Double, Deep Double, Left Foot and Right Foot.  Finally, in the Third Zone, between the Double Jack and the Triple Jack, is the Triple Warder.
In each interval, the Batting Team sends one player at a time to the Tetch Rail, a beam of wood about four feet long, resting on two posts.  The Batter stands behind the rail with a Tetchbat, ready to bat.  The Arm takes the Tetchball (a big larger and softer than a softball) and pitches it over the tetchrail for the batter to try to hit it.  The batter gets two pitches to try to hit the ball.
If the batter misses both pitches, they return behind the hold line and the next batter comes forth.
If the batter hits the ball, then the batter will start to run-- first through the rail, knocking it to the ground, and then towards the Jack Line.  Their goal is to run past the Jack Line, past the Double Jack and to the Triple Jack, and then turning around and running back to the Hold Line, all before the tetchrail is restored.  Restoring the rail means that the beam is back in place on its posts, and the ball is being touched to the rail.  Each line cross gains the runner one point for their team, for a maximum of six points for each batting.  
What the Fielding Team can do to stop him depends on where the ball lands.  Players in any zone are frozen if the ball lands past their zone, until the batter runs past that line.  In other words, if the ball lands in the Second Zone (a "Jack Hit"), then the players in the First Zone can do nothing until the batter runs past the Jack Line.  If the Batter hits a Triple Jack-- the ball lands past the Triple Jack Line, beyond any of the playing zones, then all the fielders are frozen until the batter reaches the Triple Jack Line.  If the ball lands in the Yellow, then the Batter must return behind the Hold Line and the next batter comes up.
All Fielders must stay in their respective zones at all times, save the Triple Warder, who can cross the Triple Jack line if they are not frozen.
While the batter is running, four players have a primary goal of impeding his run: The Close and Far Bumpers, and the Right and Left Feet.  If they are free to move, they can grapple and hold the batter to keep him from running.  For the Jack Warder, the Tight and Deep Doubles and the Triple Warder, their primary goal is to get the ball back to tetchrail so the rail can be restored.  Restoring the rail is the responsibility of the fielder playing Rail, though it is acceptable for the Arm and the Wall to assist in this.  It should be noted, though, that any player that is free to move can both handle the ball and grapple the running batter, as long as they do not cross out of their zones.
If the ball ever crosses the Hold Line, then the Hold is broken, and all of the Batting Team can rush the field while the Batter runs.  Only the Batter can score points, but every other player can impede the fielding team from stopping the Batter or restoring the Rail, as long as they do not touch either the rail or the ball.  
The Wall's primary job is to make sure the ball does not cross the Hold Line.
Each interval is concluded when every player on both teams have had a turn at bat.  Once three intervals have been played, the match is concluded.  The team with the most points is the winner.
Any questions?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Keeping Healthy While Writing

The other day I was being asked about my writing habits and discipline-- subjects I'm always happy to talk about-- when I got hit with this question:
"What's your healthiest habit as a writer?"
This is a fantastic question to which I had an immediate answer.  Writing is a business that isn't exactly good on your body.  Let's face it, the best writing advice out there is "Plant yourself in the chair and do it."  However, I'm at that age where planting myself in a chair for hours on end does neither my back nor my midsection any favors.  So I needed to balance between what my body needed and what my work needed.  
So the answer I gave was the solution to my problem:
I have a treadmill desk.
So now I'm able to work while walking at a regular pace for several hours.  I feel better, I tend to be more focused and productive, and my back doesn't scream at me when I stand up BECAUSE I'M ALREADY STANDING.  And it should keep me healthier for a long time to come.
Which is good, because I've got a lot of long-term plans with my writing.  I've got a reason to stick around and keep working.