Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Business of Writing: "On The Books" Does Book Covers

This week's episode of "Geek Gab: On The Books", Dragon-Award winner Brian Niemeier talks with author Yakov Merkin on Yakov's new book, A Greater Duty, and how he got long-time Palladium Books artist John Zelezink to do the cover. In so doing, they talked about commissioning works for your own books, a valuable conversation for all of the independent authors out there looking to actually get paid for their work. Put this in your Watch Later queue; you'll want to revisit it when you're ready for this step.

If you haven't already, subscribe to Geek Gab and click the bell to get email notifications so you don't miss the live shows.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Observation on the Business of Writing

First, I sent off my submission to Cirsova. Fingers crossed. Eyeing a few others that do short stories, so I'll see to sending them something in the near future.

Now, I've been following Nick Cole and Russel Newquist's blogging about the business side of writing, and Russel in particular has had quite a bit to say on marketing yourself and your wares as of it. His most recent post confirmed what I'd suspected for some time, that this is as much (if not more) art than science, and as such I've taken to thinking about how I'm going to go about this thing.

The "do a series" thing keeps showing itself as valid, so that's on the table. Not writing fucking obese tomes of filler is also on the table. I have one manuscript ready for revision into a series, and the new giant robot stories are meant to be a series also; the idea being to come up with stuff that's evergreen for me, and easily forkable should the audience attach itself to something or someone that I did not expect. I'm planning for the unexpected.

But the thing that keeps coming back to me is that novels need to return to the short lengths that they had before the Big 5 had its brains eaten by the first wave of SJWs and suddenly book lengths got fatter than George R.R. Martin. 40-60,000 words is more than enough to tell a complete novel-length story, as Michael Moorcock demonstrated back in his heyday, and as the primary means of book-selling is now digital (be the book itself in print or not), shelf space (the excuse for the fat fucking folios) is not at issue anymore. There's no good reason to not write a lean manuscript. So that's what I'm aiming for. Good enough for Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, so good enough for me.

Time to get on with the outlining.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Greatest Game Goes Universal

Homsar Delgana arrived at the Universal Headquarters for the Patrol, a building as old--yet plain and austere--in its style as his own gray uniform. The white marble made it seem like a ground-level cloud against Terra's blue skies on clear days. A young man, a Patrol cadet, greeted him as he exited the car.

"Good morning, sir." the young man said, saluting while in his full dress black-with-silver trim uniform, "The Grand Coordinator expects you."

"Good morning, cadet." Homsar said with a smile, "Take care. This thing's an antique."

"Yes, sir. Very good, sir." The cadet got in the car and drove into the parking garage underground. Homsar chuckled as he saw the cadet struggle a bit to control the old thing, but the youth got the hang of it fast. Homsar resolved to send a note of appreciation to his commander after this.

Homsar entered the building, saluting the Patrolman on sentry duty. "Homsar Delgana, Unattached. The Grand Coorindator expects me."

The young Patrolman stood ready with a blaster and wore a personal screen over his full dress uniform. He stood there a moment, and Homsar knew that the man had sent word telepathically, as per protocol. Homsar felt the remove presence of the man he came to see, and knew what the Patrolman would say next.

"You may pass, Homsar Delgana. Have a nice day." he said, and the Patrolman took his hand off his weapon to unbar the way.

Homsar passed through the ground floor lobby to where the lifts to various levels went. No doors or cars were part of this system for centuries now, as the lift shafts themselves were open. Homsar turned on his personal inertialess drive, reached inside for one of the handles and pulled himself in and up. Up and up and he went until he reached the top floor a couple of minutes later. He stood at the top doorway for a moment, and then switched off his drive- a habit of his space-faring profession, even when velocities are so low as in personal travel over short distances under controlled conditions.

Homsar threw his announcement ahead telepathically, so the secretary at the door just smiled at him as he entered the room. Homsar remembered to give that girl another date soon as he passed her, smiling at nodding at her, and then he entered his superior's office.

"Homsar Delgana, Unattached, reporting as requested." Homsar saluted and stood at attention.

His superior rose from his desk, itself just off-center of a room design that better resembled a Command Center than an administrative office. The man was white-haired, yet still in fighting shape, and wore the same plain and austere gray uniform.

"At ease, Lensman." the man said, "This conversation is under Seal."

Homsar relaxed into parade rest, and switched from speaking to thinking as a Sealed conversation required.

"I presume this is about my report, sir." Homsar said.

"My sisters and I took to your report with great interest. Complete, concise, comprehensive- and concerning."

"And my proposal?"

The room's screens turned into a series of detailed maps of the galaxies of Civilization. "Your review of the actions leading up to the fall of Boskone, and then the subsequent measures to mop-up the remnants, in like of the position that the Arisians found themselves in prompted Mentor to visit us for the first time in years."

"Openly so?"

"For us, and our immediate counsel, yes. You were away at the time, as were the others I've decided to invite to participate in this operation."

The Grand Coordinator pointed to the screens. "While we reviewed and discussed your report, the stellar cartography scout reports came in. The results for the five galaxies closest to Civilization are on the screens."

Homsar looked at the screens. While it was well-known that the Second Galaxy had uncanny similarities to the Milky Way, most dismissed it as anomalous. But what Homsar saw did not allow for random chance; each of the five galaxies before him were nothing more than variations of the Milky Way.

"Sir, this is not accidental." Homsar said, "Furthermore, this means that the conditions that produced Boskone and Civilization alike exist in each of these near-identical clones of our own galaxy."

"You're correct, Homsar. The scouts, those that survived, did find threats in each galaxy compatible to Boskone."

"Yet we are not expanding the Patrol to confront any of them."

"Not directly." the Grand Coordinator walked up to Homsar and clapped him on the shoulder, "But you're up for the job. I want you to become Galactic Coordinator for one of these five galaxies. Your primary task will be the Mentor to their civilized peoples, and in that way you will be responsible for expanding Civilization- and with it, the Patrol. What do you say?"

Homsar smiled. "Challenge accepted, sir! Just let me read the scouting reports, pick one, and I'll get to work."

"Good. When you and the other four are ready, the five of you will report to Arisia. You're going to need to be Second-Stage Stable to pull this off."

"When do the others get here?"

"They're waiting for you in the War Room."

* * * * *

"Welcome to P-Galaxy Headquarters, Coordinator." a young Patrol officer said to Homsar, "We're at the optimum range for telepathic communication with the other galaxies. Where do we start?"

Homsar looked at a picture of a pyramid-like building with the middle missing. "Here, Lieutenant. The core of our galaxy's corps has to have men like the ones reported at this laboratory. I also want a full investigation of this 'photon' power that they've got here, and see how it compares to something out of G-Galaxy."

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Dance Card To Date

Now that Cirvosa is open for submissions, this is what my dance card looks like for writing projects:

  • Anthology: Waiting for Jesse to get back to me.
  • Cirvosa: Time carved out this weekend to hammer one out.
  • Giant Robot: Still gathering ingredients; there's some world-building questions that need answering and I lack information required to do so, and those answers directly shape the plot's direction.
  • 10K Pots: I figured out how to write the damned thing. Answering that quest solved the structure problem for the book.

And that's not including the ongoing effort to learn the business side of writing, which why when I see posts like what Brian Niemeier put out today at his blog or what Russell Newquist the other day posted at his blog I pay attention and read it at least twice. Once I've got stuff to flog, I know that this will be necessary towards getting people to pay me for it.

Friday, May 26, 2017

In Development: My Love Letter to Mecha & Mythology

Come, witness the ways a writer gets to creating.

I love giant robots. That means I love my mecha anime, and while I got into Super Robot Wars V I began digging into the series mashed up in that game. The Mazinger series got my attention due to their blending of Ancient Aliens with Super Robot tropes, and the excellent blend of that series with Getter Robo got my attention.

I've run around Crazytown for years now. Ancient Aliens, Art Bell, David Icke, etc. are my jam. So, when some of my pals got into Attack on Titan, I--spoiler junky that I am--hit up the wiki and read deep into the lore. That manga, and I presume the anime in time, will reveal the severe conspiratorial element holding up the plot.

So I got to thinking, especially after seeing how well the Titans of the aforementioned comic and series correspond to the Nephilim of Christian mythology and its pagan counterparts worldwide. (Man-eating giants are common mythological elements.) We already had the Godzilla films and Pacific Rim do Giant Robots vs. Giants, and there's plenty of stories about smaller robots and powered armor versus monsters, but if it's well-known it's either old or Japanese (with a few exceptions).

So I got out the metaphorical blender and threw my ingredients together.

I'm still adjusting the results to suit; I want a thrilling and entertaining story first and foremost, so adjustments for that sake are ongoing, but I have a clear plan following a proven pattern. Initially you're looking as something that wouldn't be out of line for an X Files episode, and if I can get favorable comparisons to Bio-Booster Armor Guyver then I know I'm hitting the mark. Each escalation is a defacto genre shift, eventually going full Super Robot.

And no, none of this blackpill despair porn. (Looking at you, Evangelion.) I know my sources, and I know how those end. There will be a future for the loyal, for the faithful, for those that never give up and never give in, but you've got to grit those teeth to get it.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Space Opera Week: The Call Rings Forth Again

The old man heard the rapid footsteps of someone running his way. He put down the tools, got up from his workbench, and walked to the door, meeting the runner at the doorway. It was a boy, about 14 years of age, and his face told the old man enough to skip all of the usual questions.

"What trouble is it this time?" the old man, leading the boy inside and sitting him down.

The boy took a moment to gather himself. "A girl."

The old man took a pair of bottles out of a small refrigerator. Handing one to the boy, he said "That's not unexpected at your age. Slow down, have a drink, and start at the beginning."

The boy took the bottle, popped off the top, and took a big swig. "Dad told me to head into town to pick up some power converters, so I did. I was about to head back to the house when I saw this girl burst into the market square. She had some guys after her, a lot of them. She looked rich, really rich, which is why I thought the guys were after her. Given that they weren't shooting at her, I figured they wanted her alive."

"Rich girl, running from thugs, through the center of town." the old man said, sitting down, "So, what did you do?"

The boy perked up, smiling. "I cut between her and them, knocking a bunch of them down with the car, and told her to get in. Then I floored it out of there."

"Car chase?"

"And how!" the boy said, "They came after us in three cars, and a fourth in a supercar soon joined. Then we had the cops after us."

The old man observed the lack of a rich girl, or a car. "So, what happened?"

"I took them into Beggar's Canyon, and I forced the three cars to wreck despite them shooting at us. The fourth car had guns mount on it, and I didn't expect that. He was good, real good, and he got us when I tried that hairpin turn you told me about. We wrecked, and that's when we got separated."

"Your father's going to be mad about this."

The boy sighed. "I know, but if he only saw her face he'd understand."

"So you came to me first." the old man said, with a chuckle, "Did you get the girl's name?"

The boy nodded. "Better, I got her picture too." He pulled out a palm-sized holoviewer, and he produced the bust of the girl in question: long red hair, about shoulder-length, eyes blue like purest water, and skin like smooth marble. The old man stood there, remembering another like this from long ago, and then blinked himself back to the moment.

"Her name."

"Nadia." the boy said, "She said she's a princess from off-world."

The old man nodded along. "Okay, now what?"

"The last thing she said before we got separated was that if I could find someone called 'The Rose Knight', tell him to look for a golden yacht in the starport district."

The old man went to his safe, opened it, and retrieved an old photo of an armored man and a girl much like the boy's princess.

"You found him." the old man said, "Drink up, we've got princesses to save."

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Putting Together a Brand Franchise

Earlier this week, over at the main blog, I posted about an idea I had in the wake of digging Super Robot Wars V. This is how I would use the idea for the purpose of writing fiction.

It starts as being similar to how I would use it for gaming, but it quickly diverges. The purpose for gaming is to set up a meta-framework for campaign play; the purpose here is to set up Shared Milieu.

You still have Civilization vs. Empire (Law vs. Chaos) as your overarching theme, personified by the Lensman and his enemy counterpart, but after that it's wide open. Were I so fortunate as to have the blessing of the Smith Estate, I would gladly do this openly to establish a franchise that starts with stories ostensibly in separate and distinct genres, but slowly merging over time to mashup into a complete and coherent whole- in effect undoing the splitting and ghettoization of SF/F that happened when the Pulps fell.

I don't, so I'll have to find ways around that to get what I want out of such a structure. An idea like this has an eye on building a brand and a franchise with it, over the long term, something I think a lot of authors in fiction don't think through and suffer for it should they get anywhere (including selling adaptation rights). Most reading this may not realize it, but that is what Marvel Comics and D.C. Comics accidentally created (themselves iterating on Street & Smith's The Shadow, who created all of the core superhero tropes that all of superhero comics use to this day).

In time, this would be something I'd put into my estate (i.e. in a family trust) so that it could continue to produce revenue for my future beneficiaries. (The risk, of course, is that post-mortem installments go the way of Disney's take on Star Wars and just produces sanctioned fanfic. (That can be worked around, but you need a good legal construct for it.)

There is NO attempt at Literary Realism. If I want anything like that, I'll do it as wiki articles; there's no audience for it, and therefore no one willing to pay me to write it. This is a structure for proper pulp stories, the way they used to write, with an eye towards allowing awesome big stories like the aforementioned game. (And it is; at the least, watch some playthroughs and see how they not only blended the narratives of the mashed up shows, but also added the united original elements that ties them all together. Brilliant work.)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Getting Back Into the Review Game

I won a book from a giveaway done by Military History Now done via their Twitter account, and that book--Fort Enterprize, by Kevin Emmet Foley--arrived today.

I mention this because I will read this book, and then write a review of it. It will appear here first, and then I'll summarize it for the book's Amazon listing. The full review will have a section aimed at writers, talking about craft.

Many years ago, I wrote reviews for stuff at RPGNet. That was where I began my writing habit, and man those reviews such balls; I had no idea what I was doing, so I made it all up as I went. 10,000 pots, folks. The early pots will always blow harder than a black hole; just accept that and move on. The same goes with blogging and stories and every other form of writing; you're going to suck early on, so just do it and improve as you go.

Reacquainting yourself with a skill you set aside will go much faster. It's been a while since I wrote a review, so there's some rust to grind off, but it'll come back soon enough and then you're back in the game again. It'll be done when it's done; I have more pressing matters right now, but soon those will end and my schedule opens up. Soon.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Geek Gab Gaiden: "On the Books", w/ Brian Niemeier

Dragon-award winning author Brian Niemeier, one of the triumverate of hosts for Geek Gab, now has his own side-show project that focus on writing:

On the Books will bring you expert writing advice, discussion, and interviews without all the fluff and scope creep. Instead of setting a hard and fast fifteen minute time limit that risks arbitrarily curtailing informative discussion, my goal is to set up a flexible format with a base running time of ten minutes for a solo episode, plus five additional minutes per guest (in which case I get five minutes and give the bulk of the show to the guests).

You can read the full announcement post here, and I encourage you to not only read the full post but to give the first episode a go. That I embedded below for your convenience.

This is a welcome addition. I concur with his assessment that most writers, editors, etc. doing this are going about it all wrong and give bad advice that people looking to get paid and make a living (in whole or in part) satisfying readers (i.e. do what Larry Correia does), instead giving advice for those that preen for the hope of getting table scraps from the SocJus Death Cultists in New York or London.

If you're a working writer, or want to be one, put this in your feed and listen to each episode as soon as you can- live, if you can manage it. Brian's one of the up-and-comers, and he's got wisdom for you to heed. (Oh, and buy his books; they're getting real awards by real readers and real fans for real reasons- and not the fake shit the WorldCon set pushes on you.)

Friday, April 28, 2017

You're Competing with Japan, Not WorldCon

If you think that the Pulps are only in the past, you're not looking east to Japan. There the Pulps are normal, and all of their pop-culture juggernauts have some degree of the Pulp aesthetic to it. Sure, it's Japanese Pulp, but it's still Pulp and you're a fool to disregard it- your young audience doesn't, because that's where they're getting most of their satisfaction these days (and have for many years now).

This is your competition going forward, and not the shit out of WorldCon. Your audience already has established alternatives, alternatives that are masters at audience engagement and understand the psychology of fandom well enough to give Lucasfilm cause for worry. Knowing the past and learning from the masters is good, but that's not enough; you need to get familiar with what the current masters do if you want to bring that Pulp diaspora home.

(Not to knock the European comics scene, but you guys are nowhere near the juggernaut that Japan erected.)

I'm not kidding. Watch that Thunderbotl episode and see how shameless they are in mixing up things that Western authors wouldn't even conceive of doing. Meanwhile, they tell stories featuring women being women (and man, that tatted chick looks like she came out of a Return of Kings article; based Japan is based) and men being men- hero and villain alike. No wonder they have so much pull in the West, such that Hollywood's had to play catchup (and still fail): Japan doesn't lie to the audience.

Nevermind the Big 5. Your real rivals are in Tokyo.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Suddenly, ANTHOLOGY!

I got invited to contribute to my first fiction anthology recently. After a group chat last Sunday, I got clarification that we can talk about this publically now that we're all working on it, so here it is: Six Salvations

Daddy Warpig gave us our prompt last Sunday. Where we've gone with it is very, very different from one to the next. As far as I know, I'm the only one opting for a historical setting. Everyone else is (more or less) contemporary or in the future, and we're going for very different takes on the McGuffin we're given in the prompt and what it means. I'm confident that readers will enjoy our stories, and therefore the anthology as a whole.

No, this doesn't mean I'm benching Blood Moon. After having some beta readers give me feedback, I'm going to rewrite it and the new goal will be to have it ready when the anthology drops so I can take advantage of cross-promotion. After I finish these two stories, I'm moving on to another right away. Dragon Award winner Brian Niemeier has a great post on how the giants of the Pulp Era made their fortunes today, and what that means for me is that I've got a lot of professional development to do this year.

In short, Trad Pub is so wrong that they're not even in the same galaxy as right- and hasn't been for decades. Those who want to prosper need to stop with the obese books and get back to the historical norm--the mean--that is the 40-60K word novel. That sort of length is proven to sustain reader interest, and it's time we got back to it. All of the years I've written for free are finally starting to pay off.

Friday, April 14, 2017

"Blood Moon" Needs Beta Readers

The latest draft of "Lacann Pell and the Blood Moon of Rammagar" is complete. I'm going to spend some time tonight after dinner cleaning it up. I'm soliciting Beta Readers; some of you I'll contact directly when I'm done cleaning it up. If you want to play, drop a comment below.

No, the story is not in a state I would want to publish it, yet. I anticipate one more round of revision, minimum, but no more than three. At this point I'm on paper and it's just a matter of making corrections before I nail that bullseye; I will finish this as a short story, but I anticipate that readers can easily see the potential for this being expanded into a novel of the length Moorcock made his bones writing- or about that Howard did for Conan.

I want to get this done by the end of this month, past which I will want to either find a short fiction outlet to buy and publish it, or finish setting up at Amazon and doing it myself.

Friday, April 7, 2017

"Blood Moon" Almost Ready For Beta Readers

The current draft of Lacann Pell and the Blood Moon of Rammagar will be finished this weekend, and when it's done I'll be looking for some folks to play Beta Reader before I give it three days to cool, then one more round of polish before I start considering my publication options. It's going to come out between 6000 and 7500 words; it's short, but readers should be able to see where the potential for either building this out into a novella or a novel (in the historic sense of about 50K words, not in the current Doorstopper Drek on the shelves) or to make this Part One of a larger novel-length work (ala Moorcock expanding Dent's formula to novels).

I'll start asking some of you if you're game to play the reader roll in a few days.

After I decide what to do (expand into larger work, make it Part One of an old-school serial, or just publish it as a stand-alone) and get on with doing that, I'm going to start digging through the (virtual) drawer to see what's worth my attention next.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Writing Factory Coming Online

Well, it's time to get it done.

I hate bitchwork--that tedious bullshit that gets in the way of the important stuff--so I am quite happy to accept anything that cuts out bitchwork, and for writing fiction that means I would rather study and master proven methods and techniques over flailing pointlessly reinventing the wheel. I am quite capable of learning from others' mistakes, and I am proud of doing so; learning from others' more generally is nothing more than a step removed from witnessing or reviewing said mistakes.

So, when Michael Moorcock's formula for writing novels in three days (meaning 60K word manuscripts for his adventure stories), a formula built upon Lester Dent's 6K short story formula, gets a prominent blog article I paid attention and bookmarked that.

What we've got is proof that the literary obesity that Traditional Publishing veered into as a means of competing by consuming shelf space is just that- arbitrary, artificial, and driven by the egos of corporations and not by actual audience demand. Consider that Moorcock's Elric novels--slim, succinct, and still fucking popular--hit the same notes (however different the path) as E.R. Burroughs' Mars books or Howard's Conan stories in much the same space shows that Moorcock understood the territory even if he didn't like its norms.

As I get older, my tolerance for bullshit--especially bitchwork--crashes like the Hindenberg, and I sure as hell don't want to do it when I'm the other side. Get in, do the thing, get out. Writing lean, tightly-focused, and fast-paced stories of adventure is the thing I am willing to master because I deliver what I desire; it compels efficiency, and efficiency compels mastery. SO yeah, I'm going to use these models for my efforts because they are the right tools for the job. (If I write a book about why John Locke was a shill, that's a task needing different tools.)

So, now that I'm prepared, it's time to get on it with it. Work time blocked out, and when it's done I'll say so here so you folks can lend me a hand on the next step.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Opening Crawl In Practice

As promised, this is the Opening Crawl in the current draft of Lacann Pell and the Blood Moon of Rammagar:

The Privy Wars are over. The Free Lords lost. The Solar Guard is gone. The Electoral Collage is abolished. Only the Usurper Vidun won. In the wake of the death of Duke Navare's death, most survivors ceased overt dissent for fear of retaliation. Those not willing to surrender went underground.

Young Duke Ireton, a Free Lord in exile, joined with a Privy Lord- Duke Farr. They cooperated on a course of action against The Usurper, starting with establishing a logistical network outside of the Usurper's control. Operating from a former Free Lord outpost never discovered during the war, the dukes and their chief allies organized their campaign and dispatched agents to execute it.

One mission is to establish sanctuaries beyond the Usurper's reach. The lost colony world of Rammagar promises to be such a world, if it still exists and if it remains inhabitable. Veteran scout, former Free Lord commando, and Ireton family retainer Lacann Pell traveled to Rammagar in one of Farr's shuttle accompanied only by a pair of automatons. Duke Ireton stands by awaiting Lacann's report.

There you are. The resemblance to what you see in a Star Wars film is deliberate, as was Lucas' use of this device being deliberate invocations of the serials of the 30s and 40s, summarizing what lead up to the events of that episode so if you missed them you weren't a ship out of water. If you're doing things that are fantastic, or you're looking to establishing a mood quickly, spending three fucking paragraphs setting it up isn't a bad thing.

Yes, even if you end up not using it in the final manuscript. Having that crystal-fucking-clear in your mind makes everything going forward easier, because when you cut immediately to the inciting incident (in media res) (which Blood Moon does, starting when Lacann arrives at Rammagar) you will know what to tell the reader and how to say it to hook them into your story as fast as your skills allow. (Ideally, with the first sentence.)

If you do use it, then going in media res is the go-to follow-up technique to use. No need to spend pages doing this when you can skip the boring shit and get on with the adventure that your reader is there for, and that's why I'm stomping about here- it's a very good tool to identify that point and get you (and your reader) there right away (and from there, for you the writer, to quickly outline the rest of your story and know where to do your beats and likely how and why to do so).

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Opening Crawl: Put It In Your Toolbox

One thing I think is interesting is that the Opening Crawl we're long-accustomed to with Star Wars films isn't done in print stories anymore. I think this is a mistake, especially for those seeking to write fast-paced adventure pulps. There's a big reason why, and it's as simple as seeing it used by Lucas and company: it's efficient in setting things up so you can get right to the point. (And its absence in Rogue One is ones of the signs that it's not that good.)

A title and three paragraphs. That's something you can put on one page. That one page can easily provide everything your reader requires to orient himself. There's a catch: this is also where you sell your story, that hook-or-suck point where readers either buy in or get lost. Most publishers put what functions as the Crawl on the back cover, or inside the front cover on the sleeve; it's the same thing, and serves the same purpose, but it's rarely done by you in traditional publishing and it shows.

Not I. It's a one-man-band here, so I don't get that luxury. That sizzle is something I need to sustain interest past the Amazon listing, and that means entire chapters spent setting things up have to get chopped in favor of three paragraphs that sort that out and then get on with it.

The authors who pay their bills with their books get this. The formal language for this is "Find your Inciting Incident, and start your story there." The Opening Crawl is fantastic for doing just that; you use the Crawl to set it up (remember, it's one page, and then immediately get into the action. Even if you decide to not publish that Opening Crawl, merely using it during the drafting process to find your start point is a great idea and it's foolish to dismiss its utility.

Look for the Opening Crawl to my Sword & Planet story, "Lacann Pell and the Blood Moon of Rammagar", by the end of this month.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Writing Updates & New Exerpt

Story update: The outline takes shape. Running into issues in the second act; focusing effort on fixing those. I've had to de-emphasize Homsar from Deuteragonist to Sidekick, but that's an overall benefit to the story; Lacann needs a more wordy companion to play off of when he's not dealing with an antagonist. Act 3 has some issues I need to sort, but that part is in better shape; it's a matter of what elements to put where rather than what elements to use at all.

Business update: The Big 5 look like they're about to have another massive shake-out, with Scalzi's new book already failing to meet expectations and that's likely going to result in Tor's midlist roster getting slashed severely to cover that gap. Amazon's finally telling the romance zombies to stay in their fucking lane, something pissing off the posers in SF/F writing romance in SF/F drag (GOOD!), and the retail scene for Barnes & Noble looks more like Borders did before they collapsed.

I'm sketching out a plan to take some of the better posts at my political philosophy blog and expand them into a book. Cleaned up, properly-edited, and independently pushed. Also, short and written for laymen; SJWs Always Lie and Gorilla Mindset is the model I'm looking to follow and make my own.

Finally, something from the story draft. This isn't getting cut, but it's not the final version either:

"My lord," Homsar said, "Lacann's our best chance to break the enemy that we've ever had. If we can take just enough of those towers, then his allies can get through to us. At the very least, that means we can take to the skies. Maybe we can even strike from the heavens!"

"If what our alien friend said is correct, then we need to remove five of them from specific places. Places far, far distant from here- too far for us to reach by hoof or sail in seven days." The old warlord looked at Lacann, who held up a hand, and nodded.

"Not hoof. Bike." Lacann said, weakly, pointing back towards his wrecked shuttle, "Two bikes. Aft hold. Plenty fast."

The old warlord smiled. "Machines, yes? Capable of great speed?

"Indeed." Lacann made a swooping motion with his hand. "Direct and cover me."

Homsar beamed. "That's where I am most useful!" He turned to the old warlord. "If my lord permits, of course."

"We keep them busy here, while you two slip past and strike at the towers. That's your plan?" The warlord eyed Lacann curiously.

"Yes" Lacann said, "Seen their like before. Know how to deal with them."

"Can you fight?"

"Yes." Lacann said, and then he pointed at Homsar. "With me."

"I'm not certain how you'll do it," the old warlord said, "but I know why you're willing to risk your life trying, and Homsar's good enough for what you need from us. Go, both of you. We'll keep them held down here as long as we can."

Friday, March 3, 2017

Work In Progress: The Set-Up

This is more stuff that I chose to cut out. The reason is that this scene, focused on someone other than the protagonist in both attention and presence, deals mostly in world-building and I don't need this for the story I'm telling. What needs to be present is better executed after the inciting incident; the story begins with Lacann's arrival in-system, and sets up the immediate stakes right there. What I'm putting down below--while interesting--doesn't play into that at all. That's why it got cut.

Duke Far followed Senator Radu into the senator's quarters, meant for the commander of Pell's Cottage. The younger man took his chair behind a desk, while the elder man took up a chair adjacent to it. The lights dimmed, and a holographic map of the galaxy appeared on the desk.

"The matter at hand, Senator?" Duke Far said.

"Briefly, Your Grace." Radu said, "Only so we are certain to discuss later from a point of common understanding."

The old duke nodded and stroked his graying beard. "Very well, then. Proceed, Senator."

"It is my understanding, from my sources, that the Court of Stars has split due to the ascension of the one your faction deems 'The Usurper'." Senator Radu brought forth an image of Imperator Veehs, a still from his self-declared assumption of power, "He, at present, enjoys sufficient noble and popular support that open opposition near the Court itself is suicide."

"Correct." Duke Far sat forward, eying the map. "My sources tell me that the majority of League parliamentarians are dead, imprisoned, or--like you--in hiding while the Imperial Navy occupies your worlds with the aide of local collaborators running puppet regimes."

"True." Radu said, sighing, "It is also true that the Imperator is already radically reorganizing the Imperial military? Not just a purge of those insufficiently loyal, but wholesale turnover of material as well as personnel?"

"Yes, that's been planned. The material will turnover first, with personnel turning over at a slower rate; the existing forces will not be replenished as they were during the war. They will be spent on the occupation and pacification campaigns, replaced by new units raised from newer sources personally tied to--and loyal to--the Usurper"

"And I hear that what remains of the United League military has scattered, scuttling whatever it could not abscond with, but that your final loses were so severe that there wasn't much left to either take or destroy."

"True on the material. Not so with our personnel. Seeing that defeat was inevitable, and knowing what the terms of any peace would be, many of us were ahead of you and your allies in reverting to a guerilla structure."

"But because of what you had to do to escape, your group lacks the means to act effectively."

"And your side, being mostly politicians and other public figures, lack the experience required to lead a successful campaign; you're too long accustomed to delegating such affairs to subordinates, as a class, concerned more about assassins in your chambers than armies at your gates. Or you like the Imperial Order handle it. Either way, you lot talk better than you fight."

Duke Far laughed. "I said as much to the others recently."

"Then we are at a common understanding." Radu smiled, "Good, we can skip to getting organized."

"The first thing we'll need is our own logistical network. Long before we start shooting, we need that sorted, and that means routes and nodes out of the Usurper's notice- like this place."

"Agreed, and also set up using a cell network for compartmentalization." Radu noticed Far staring at the map. "You're beyond that now, aren't you Your Grace."

"We have a window right now to seek out hidden bases, under the cover of seeking out old ones. We should use that."

Radu followed Far's gaze to a place in the map where a planet icon has a question mark on it. "Are you thinking of anywhere in particular?"

"Is your man Lacann the only scout present?"

"No." Radu took off the image of Veesh and brought up a handful of men on base. "I have these men, each able to operate on his own as Lacann does."

Duke Far pointed at that planet icon and several more on the map, all off the main lanes and well away from known areas of operation during the war. "These planets. Send then there."

"Why these worlds?"

"They're all worlds who broke contact with the Court of Stars generations, even centuries, ago. No one knows why, and even before the war the records immediately before they lost contact were sealed by order of the Elector Council. Yet they exist, and if not for the course of both war and commerce they would've been returned to galactic society long ago."

Radu read the man's face. "You're not just seeking open worlds. You're looking for allies."

The old duke gave the young senator a knowing grin. "Of course. We're looking at another war, and soon. At the very least, we need people willing to shelter our people for the duration, if not join their banner to ours."

"And your allies consent to this plan?"

"As much as they have to this meeting, or that yours have, for that matter."

The two men gave knowing looks to each other. "Your Grace is known for acting first and getting compliance later." Radu said.

"A brilliant engineer once said, 'Build it and they will come.'" Duke Far said, quoting Radu's father.

A moment passed, and the mood again shifted. "The first Imperial ships to be decommissioned will be the converted consular cruisers, such as the Gale Wolf." Duke Far said, "Arranging for them to be diverted and disappeared won't be difficult, but I can only get so many that way."

"Right now, Your Grace, any new material sources will do- especially in contacting mysterious unknown peoples."

Duke Far sat back. "Enough for now. Let's recess, dine, and reconvene thereafter. Have your scouts come this time, as I want to get this joint operation moving immediately. Once it succeeds, we can present the results to our allies-"

"-as a fait accompli, which they will accept as an excuse to go along."

"Fortune favors the bold." Duke Far said, and they left for the Officer's Mess.

The following scene I did to explore this went over the other planets, assigned scouts to each one, and gave them the same survey-and-report mission with the understanding that permission to make contact would be the next step followed by a diplomatic mission to formally open relations and begin negotiations. In other words, the reason for Lacann going to the lost colony is part of a larger operation to establish a covert network of guerilla supporters. Not mentioned here, but in the second follow-up is that Lacann's target world is said to be a colony founded about a millenia ago after another galactic war where one of the winning officers refused the Court's order to disband and go home, instead taking his warband with him into exile (and their families with).

But that's not the story. That's the fame around the story, suitable for an appendix entry, but not for inclusion in the story proper. The story is about Lacann's mission to the planet, not the people who sent him there.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Work In Progress: The Sword & Planet Story

I'm still chipping away at this Lost Colony Sword & Planet story. Following my own advice, I've decided that parts of the story that won't make it into the final manuscript will be posted here. Furthermore, I will do this for every story I write going forward. These will be scenes, fragments, notes, and other "behind the scenes" material that will get posted here as it gets chopped from the manuscript.

And so, here's one:

Four men sat in the cockpit of the cruiser Gale Wolf

"Your Grace, we've arrived." the pilot said, and the co-pilot brought the ship out of hyperspace and before them lay a vast asteroid field.

An old man, his hair tied into a top-knot and his beard fully gray, turned to the younger man beside him. "Direct us to your master, scout."

"Comms." the young man said, "Send: 'Pell With Guests'."

The pilot looked at the older man, who nodded. Moments later, a response: "Hold position, Gale Wolf. We'll escort you in."

The old man turned to the pilot. "Acknowledge, Captain." he said, and the pilot did as his master bade him. The ship held in place, watching two contacts from within the field appear on their scopes. They were Hornet-class fighters, giving pause to three of the four men.

"They dare not attack." the co-pilot said, "Not that the war is over."

"Unthinkable." the scout said, and the old man followed that thought: "Our guest's master young, but yet honorable, as was his father. Such treachery is foolish, and he knows it."

"I mean no offense, Your Grace." the co-pilot said, and the old man smiled. "None taken, not with all this treachery since the war's end."

The fighters closed and called the cruiser: "Gale Wolf, stay within visual range."

The old man nodded. "Acknowledged." the captain said, and the cruiser kept close to their escorts through the asteroid field. Despite being significantly larger than the fighters, the ship navigated the field deftly and after a while they saw the place that they came for: Pell's Cottage.

"This was your discovery?" the old man said to the scout, and the scout smiled. "Yes."

The "cottage" was a massive asteroid over a mile in diameter, dug into and transformed into a well-concealed outpost with significant--but not full--spaceport facilities. As they approached, the main hanger--easily large enough for several cruisers or frigates--rolled into view. The cruiser rotated on its axis as it banked inside to land and dock, while the escorting pair of fighters broke off to resume their patrol.

"Impressive." the old man said, "Several lanes are within a short jump from here, and there's a gas giant a short realspace run from here. No wonder we had such a problem with privateers. Well done."

The ship shuddered as its drives powered down, letting the mass settle on the landing gears. The old man and the scout got up and left the cockpit, making their way through the passenger lounge and took the lift outside. There awaiting them stood a young man in the full dress uniform of the now-defeated League of Independent Worlds. Behind him stood a honor guard of the man's homeworld militia, the Radu Guard.

"Welcome Sir Narrada Gahm, Duke Far, Emissary of the Court of the Stars." the man said, and he clasped his hand over his breast in the formal salute of his house.

"We thank you for your hospitality, Senator Radu." Duke Far said, bowing slightly as is his house's custom, "Your man, Lacann Pell, did well in his duty. He is to be commended."

"Come, Your Grace. We have much to discuss regarding our common enemy, and not much time."

"Agreed." Duke Far walked forward to go beside his host, and Lacann walked a step behind them both, heading into the interior of Pell's Cottage.

So, why did I decide to cut this this?

The story is about Lacann's mission to the planet. This? This I wrote so I could start getting into Lacann's head, setting up his stakes and the circumstances he's in; this story is about him--he's the Protagonist--so I did this to get to know him and get a sense for his character. There's more to this (it leads up to him setting sail for the planet, arrival, and subsequent crashing thereupon), but it's not interesting given what I'm out to do. It's like watching the scenes of Luke Skywalker before he leaves Tattoine; you want just enough to establish him as a character, but more than that becomes counter-productive, and I don't like slow starts to stories.

The important parts--why he's there, and who he's doing it for--gets told to the man Lacann meets with on that planet who becomes his ally against a common enemy. This? This is exploratory writing, which helps me get to the end goal but won't be a part of that final product; that's why it got cut and therefore why it's here. Usual "work in progress" disclaimers apply.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Managing Expectations: How You Win, Keep, and Grow Your Audience

While reading this guest post by Karl Gallagher at the Castalia House blog, this comment by Monalisa Foster caught my eye. Specifically, this part right here:

While I don’t disagree, especially about the New Wave, which I hold responsible for the “death” of sci-fi (at the same time that sci-fi books died because of the trick/unexpected ending, sci-fi movies and games took off because they maintained, for the most part, the positive endings), I submit for your consideration, that genre is about setting and endings/expectations.

She hits the core point again here: Fantasy outsells sci-fi and I think that’s because readers know what to expect.

And bookended here:

To illustrate how important reader expectations are, I point out Romance. This is big “R” romance, where the ending is prescribed. That ending is HEA (Happily Ever After) or HEAFN (HEA for now). Readers want to know what they’re getting.

I submit that readers want positive endings, heroic characters, the good guys winning, the bad guys losing. No whiny, depressed losers emoting all over the page. I want to see sci-fi get back to that.

This is not the first time I've heard such observations. Many years ago, Mike Pondsmith wrote this into the Game Master advice section of his Mekton Zeta tabltop role-playing game. He cited (then) well-known examples of fulfilling audience expectations, but not necessarily in the straight-forward manner initially put to the audience. He wrote similar advice for his Cyberpunk 2020 supplement, Listen Up You Primitive Screwheads.

The point here is expectation management. People group things they find to be alike and label them for ease of reference; that's what genres are- groups of stories that deliver similar experiences to an audience. People like familiarity because it's reliable; you know what you're going to get. So, if you want to succeed, you need to deliver on the expectations of that audience. Danielle Steel didn't goat-fuck her readers into a multi-media empire of romance, and neither will you. (You'd think the Big 5's current regime would know this, but we know better; they don't.)

However, fulfilling those expectations need not--and some say should not--be as straight-forward as a drag race. Going back to Pondsmith, his example of making good on expectations in an unexpected manner was the original Super-Dimensional Fortress Macross; the promise was that we Earthlings would defeat this hostile alien invader and preserve Mankind thereafter. The swerve was that a good chunk of Earth got blasted and we ended up having to integrate with their remnants after the war. Sure, Mankind won, but not without sacrifice and not without complication after the fact.

See what I'm after here? There's your liminal space, where you can work your magic and define yourself as a writer. Scott Lynch broke out as strong as he did because his debut novel did just that, on multiple levels; as the protagonist Locke Lamora schemed and scammed his way towards fulfilling your expectations of the fantasy caper he set up early on, so did he pull a swerve on you and got you looking away while he pulled a con on those expectations so that what he delivered when he delivered turned out to be not how you got what you wanted, but you got it nonetheless.

Robert Howard's Conan went on adventures, or had them thrust upon him, that fit a general plot profile; it was how Howard executed it that made him stand out as a writer, and in seeing the difference between two different characters in the same scenario (Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword; Kull: By This Axe I Rule) you can observe how Howard's choices differed even when he adapted the latter into the former.

Now, accomplished authors already know this; they can tell you how they made this happen once they put this knowledge to practical use. But you? You're new, or you're struggling and looking for insight, or otherwise dealing with issues in developing your craft or story (or both). Yes, knowing the structure of narrative is important, but being lazy or incompetent about it means becoming like the folks I rant about over at my main blog and that's no good for you personally, professionally, or artistically. You need to master the tools, not to be a tool.

There is no shortcut to be had here. You have to get it before you can make it. Then you have to get it right, and in time you'll become so good that you can't get it wrong. There's no other way to mastery than to make the work, so go on and get on with making your 10,000 pots; the sooner you develop-by-doing, the sooner you will become wise and skilled enough to translate what your mind imagines into stories that your audience cannot wait to pay you for.

So learn what your audience expects from the story you're writing. Then learn how to deliver on those expectations. Then learn how to make use of the room you have to satisfy without failing that fulfillment promise. Remember: Anakin Skywalker did bring balance to The Force. It's how he did it that makes George Lucas rightly revered, not that he did it at all.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Story Development: Playing The Questions Game

The same premise often results in very different stories when you give it to different authors at different times. The idea I'd been posting about previously, about a scout contacting a lost colony world, could easily go in very different directions depending upon what specific story you want to tell and how you want to execute the telling.

Which is where I'm at right now. I have a protagonist (see previous post), a deuteragonist (see next post), and a few supporting characters. I'm lacking an antagonist, and an immediate conflict. Answering those questions will depend on the what and how of the story I want to tell.

So, what sort of story are we going for? Well, I'm aiming for something in the "Sword & Planet" vein. That means something needs to go wrong for our scout right off the bat, because otherwise his starship and other such technologies can short-circuit the plot. How to deal with this? That's where a habit I picked up from decades in tabletop role-playing games comes up: Villian-driven plotting. Which means it's time to deal with that antagonist question.

Who would want to prevent contact from off-world, and why? Given the premise--the scout's patron believes this to be a colony formed by distant relations--it would be someone hostile to said relations reconnecting to the interstellar community. Also given that the scout's mission comes as part of a larger plan by his patron, this world is not founded as a dumping ground for undesirables. In short, we're not looking at a prison planet.

So, what sort of colonial operation would be launched at considerable distance? Commercial exploitation is well-known, but this premise implies long-term settlement; commercial colonial administrations are known for being short-sighted and short-lived (plenty of personnel turnover). That, I think, can be ruled out. No, I think we're going to think of something more like lesser sons going into the frontier to get lands of their own- a thing often involving religious or philosophical movements.

There's our conflict source: the colony arose from some need to find open land for a religious community. The patron's family would remain a part of that tradition if it still sought it all these years, and some other incident had to occur to lose it originally. I could go with some malevolence native to the world, but just as likely is someone in the colony seizing power and the cut-off is a consequence of that usurpation.

That's our antagonist: the current leader of that usurpation clique. They fear off-world contact because they tried to take control of the colony and lost; they fear contact because they believe contact brings their enemies reinforcements that would finish them off, so they use what they've got to maintain their isolation.

The deuteragonist has immediate ties to the colonial regime, as a soldier in its military, and has faced the antagonist's minions in a recent war, which gives him a reason to be looking out for things like falling stars (crashing ships) and dealing with strangers. So our start is: scout arrives in-system, antagonist detects scout and forces him down, deuteragonist rescues protagonist from minions, protagonist and deuteragonist swap briefs to escape full stakes on table. Proceed accordingly.

I'd thought I'd do this as a short, but I'm thinking that may not be enough. We'll see.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Developing That Protagonist: Lacann Pell

I'd been tinkering here and there with that story fragment I posted two weeks ago. Here's a bit I did about the character I featured:

Lacann Pell is a man from a frontier world with mandatory military service for all men. He's 38 years old at of this story, and spent most of the last 25 years as a solider specialized as a scout and infiltrator. He has some experience in covert operations and diplomatic missions, mostly to support or suppress insurrections. Most of the men he entered service with died in the last war, a galaxy-wide conflict that's resulted in the known galaxy falling under the rule of a usurper tyrant, and his world backed the losing side.

He's on this mission because elements within the winning side already plot rebellion against the usurper, so this is meant to be a mission to garner assistance to that end. Some of his countrymen, seeking to curry favor with the usurper, have already disavowed Lacann and his surviving brothers-in-arms (now scattered and dispossessed). This disavowal threatens his family, especially his wife, and he lacks the means to protect them on his own; in return for his part in this mission, the senator he's working with will aid him in saving his family from his enemies at home.

He's a fit adult man, standing about six feet tall and classically Greek in his mien: think black hair, shoulder-length and tied back in the field; eyes black as his hair. He speaks laconically, preferring to keep silent unless necessary, and efficient when he does speak- this is the sole tell of his education. His long years in military service and martial training forged in him a degree of emotional control that's kept him alive when others died, a fact not lost on those familiar with him.

His skills include one traditional boyhood sport: slinging. He keeps a homemade sling wrapped around his body somewhere whenever dressed, and when he's home he teaches slinging to the boys in his village.

Quote: If.

I have a habit of naming characters in a manner that reminds me of the core traits, a shorthand, and this is no exception. Lacann's now got a motivation for doing this thing and seeing it through. Complicating this? Not hard, but "Hostiles intercept Lacann's scouting mission." is a bit on the nose, and so I think we can do better than that.

That's what the deuteragonist can do: complicate this good and proper. Next week.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Hustling Part of the Writing Game

Independent author and Dragon Award winner Brian Niemeier, again putting down the reliable method for building yourself up in this business:

He would go on to post a link to the book of the man who asked that question, demonstrating the principle in action. Get used to this if you want to be part of this game, no matter what genre or niche you want to be part of in particular. The Big 5 (and their foreign counterparts) are all going down, as are the major bookstore chains that they've long worked with and through.

Even if you're with one of them, they aren't going to hustle on your behalf so you need to do it yourself- and if that is what you need to do, why the fuck are you giving them such a big cut? Go to a smaller house that isn't shambling like a zombie, or go wholly independent, or be like Brian and do both. (Read that post; he's paying closer attention to the publishing work than I am.)

There's more to the hustle than marketing yourself, and that's learning how to make what you write sell. Writing is a craft, and crafts are like any other technology: discoverable, repeatable, refinable, perfectable. For what Brian does, what I want to do, and many others in the genre fiction world we've had some proven techniques for generations now- now being rediscovered and relearned by folks who (a) want to get away from the Pink SF/F pozzed piss-poor pap and (b) want to actually pay fucking bills by writing like Robert E. Howard did nearly a century ago.

Living master John C. Wright did a post on Lester Dent's template for reliably-sale-able pulp adventure short stories, a formula that Michael Moorcock would go on to expand and refine for his novel-length works. Brian would add that Hollywood most definitely uses its own formula, and then there's Campbell's Hero's Journey which George Lucas made famous (because he used them for Star Wars).

And yes, for whatever you want to write you can count on there being a proven and reliable formula for that if you want to actually sell what you write. For self-help stuff, you can see it in how Mike Cernovich and Ivan Throne wrote their books. Comics have their conventions, varying by genre. Romance is so formulaic that there are Mad Lib generators, and some folks use them for something other than a joke. Learn what your niche's formula is and master it before fucking with it. Yeah, it's part of the hustle, and there's no getting around it.

The days of an author being solely a reclusive, introverted individual leaving the tasks of promotion, publication, and revenue oversight to others is done- a temporary state, now disappearing as the mean reasserts itself. Once more, your success is entirely on you to achieve, so get up and lead your way to it- and get used to this being your life.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Story Fragment: The Scout Arrives at the Lost World

Laconn Pell sat at the helm of his small scout ship, looking out the viewscreen into the tunneling spiral of hyperspace before him, when the alarm signalling his imminent return to realspace went off. He snapped back to attention, hands on the controls, and sat ready for what awaited him as his ship decelerated to sublight speed.

"D0, on the sensors." Pell said, and his robot rolled forward. It jacked into the ship's computer system, and moments later a series of smaller robots on the hull detached and moved into position around the planet. The robot ran the ship's sensors, extended by the drones, to sweep the planet. The data read out on a monitor between D0 and Pell, which Pell glanced at as he guided the ship into an approach vector intended to settle into orbit about the planet.

"Readout conforms to the profile provided, D0. Contact the client."

The robot chirpped, and moments later a hologram of an aged man dressed finely. "Senator," Pell said, "I arrived at the coordinates provided. The planet is here."

The holographic man smiled and nodded. "Well done. What is its condition?"

"No transmissions detected. No satellites. No powered flight at all, but we detected fauna likely used for low-level atmospheric flight. World population is low by galactic standards, but appears that a civilization is present. Signs of terrestrial nautical travel are plentiful. Sign of a re-purposed starship wreck confirmed at the center of planetary population density.

The old man nodded along. "Good, good. Anything else?"

The robot chirped, as if excited, and Pell looked at the monitor. "Senator, we have confirmation on the shipwreck. It is your ancestor's ship, and the population around it seems to be a civilized nation comprised of the survivors' descendants."

"Excellent. I'm giving the go-ahead for the contact mission." the senator said, "We'll need them for what's coming. Stay on station until they arrive to relieve you."

"Back-up protocol is approved?"

"Of course. Given our luck, we may well need it. I must go, Pell. The Senate will resume its session soon, and I must be present. Fare well, Pell."

"Fare well, Senator." Pell said, and the hologram winked out. Pell turned to D0. "Track day-night cycles and lunar phasing. I want a window for low-orbit scanning. When the contact team arrives, I want a proper survey ready for briefing."

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Lost Adventures of the Pulps: The Flying Ace

Over at the main blog, I've spent some posts this past week talking about action in tabletop RPGs and why Lucasfilm is in a position to successfully revive the Ace Pilot iconic figure and his equally iconic form of action-adventure. I say "successfully", because there was a failed attempt since the turn of the millenium to do so in the West: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

Sure, I liked this film, but I'm not going to sit here and bullshit you that this film was actually good. It wasn't, and the trailer here was somewhat deceptive as to what the final film's story was about. As is so common with failed pulp revivals, this was an example of a man whose love for the genre overroad his good sense, becoming hubris in the process. That is why he attempted something far beyond his capabilities, turning what could've been another Raiders of the Lost Ark into another Conan the Destroyer.

So, let's take a look at this archetypical character and his typical adventures:

  • The Flying Ace is a man in his physical prime, often right at the confluence of youthful exuberance and age-worn experience. Variations on this character often rely on altering the character's age to adjust that balance of influences. For you younger folks, Poe Dameron of The Force Awakens is so typical of the archetype as to be iconic in its expression.
  • Like his ground-bound counterparts (racers and riders), he's got a competitive streak and a certain penchant for mischief- even as an older, more sober-minded man. This is often the basis for his considerable charisma, as his repeated practice of his core habits and skills instills a mindset of competency in adversity born of seeking and overcoming challenges that test him. He is, very much, an Alpha Male sort of character- and often finds himself in positions of leadership, becoming more formal and important as he ages. (e.g. Roy Fokker of Macross fame)
  • His adventures feature the display of his skills as a pilot, both in the coming and going to the sites of his adventures, but often in the formulation of the conflicts as well as their development and resolution. While he is capable on his feet (and often is quite capable of two-fisted action, good with his sidearms, or both), he's routinely deficient in highly-specialized skills or fields of knowledge that fall outside his core competencies- he's a Man of Action first and foremost, like James Bond.
  • He routinely encounters his opposite number in his adventures, either a literal recurring nemesis or simply an enemy ace pilot. If this antagonist is not the chief antagonist, then he will be one of the major lieutenants to that mastermind and his decisive defeat is often the signal that the climax of the adventure just hit. (Otherwise, it's that of the mastermind directly.)
  • His adventures often involve McGuffin hunts, which drive the plot; this is not a mystery subtype, as the Flying Ace is not a detective. This is often a way to integrate the Ace into an ensemble cast where he operates as an equal on a team instead of a master or subordinate in a (para)military unit. Attacking enemy bases, or defending their own, is a regular part of his adventures; the former as part of the final act, and the former as the initial act if not the inciting incident.
  • Because he's an ace, even if he's using a known real aircraft his specific plane is an "ace custom" model tailored to his specific qualities in order to maximize performance- a real-life trope turned genre fiction trope that carried over to newer forms, such as Mobile Suit Gundam and the many Ace Custom models used by Char Aznable. His counterparts will often also have their own customs; these will routinely be visually as well as technically striking and impressive.

If you want to go digging through the pulps, the serials, and old TV series then do so and learn directly from them. If you want something far easier, then you want to look east to Based Japan, where Flying Ace stories remain regular attractions for well into the present day, and they've done both deconstructions as well as reconstructions of the archetype and adventures over the years so the experiences are varied. Yet the core elements remain, especially in the more popular offerings (popular often for playing it straight). Time to bring this back, because it's a short step from the Wonder of Flight to the Wonder of Spaceflight, and that fundamental innocence--the joy of flight--is something we're going to need going forward.

And I'm tuning my engines.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Don't Hate the Tie-Ins

I've said for some years now that I have no hate for authors who take on work-for-hire contracts to write tie-in novels for popular properties. Some folks I first knew as tabletop RPG people used that opportunity to build up the skills and personal brand needed to successfully transition to selling their original works (because we can't all be Scott "My editor discovered me by reading my Livejournal." Lynch), such as Jeff Grubb- and similarly, I first read Mike Stackpole and R.A. Salvatore through their gaming tie-ins (BattleTech and Forgotten Realms, respectively).

Timothy Zahn? First encountered him when he wrote Heir to the Empire, and gave us the glory that is Grand Admiral Thrawn about 25 years ago. (Never been a big reader of the tie-ins for Star Wars, but I'm familiar with the now-disavowed corpus that was the Expanded Universe due its ties to--and outgrowth from--the original West End Games version of the RPG.) So making tie-ins didn't hurt him, and there is one big reason why it worked: Zahn's tie-ins were faithful, fun, and satisfying reads that franchise fans wanted.

So yeah, you can't just half-ass it and expect things to be golden. You have bosses--and I don't mean the readers--and they have a brand to protect (if they are at all competent), so there's homework to do and meta-narrative concerns to satisfy in addition to just writing a good story, but so long as you can be a team player as well as a good storyteller these tie-ins can help cover two ongoing concerns: making a living, and building your personal brand.

Yes, you should take all the precautions that you would for any other contract offer, and you had damn well be ready and able to walk if that offer doesn't measure up, but if you get a decent deal and your alternative action plan isn't going to give you better results during that same time and resources spent, why not? What you learn therein you can--and should--apply to putting out your own original works.

(Lucasfilm, start using your position to find new talent and break them out writing tie-ins. Your go-tos are not helping with the SJW bullshit they're slipping in, and that also means you have some serious rot in your offices because they aren't doing their job of keep that out.)