Your Guest Post Here? Why Not?

First of all, I'd like to remind you of the (still on-going) contest to win a free book. A lot of you haven't entered, and I don't know why. FREE BOOK, PEOPLE! You don't even have to read the story to get it, just tell others about the contest. So what are you waiting for?

Okay, so. In a couple of weeks, I'll be leaving for the cold, exotic land of the United States of America. I will generally have access to internet in the places I'm staying, but no guarantees on how much time I can give to posting and what-not.

So I'm asking for guest posts while I'm gone. If you're interested in writing something for this blog, while getting a little exposure for your own, write a post and e-mail it to me at adamheine(at)gmail(dot)com. Some anticipated questions:

You want me to e-mail you the whole post?
Yes. I have a lot to do before we leave, and if I get a bunch of promised posts at (or after) the last minute, I might not have time to schedule them.

Will you use it if I e-mail it to you?
Probably, but not necessarily. I don't know if I'll get zero or twenty responses to this, and there are only so many post days to fill. Plus I need to like the post (don't worry, that's not as hard as it sounds).

Wait. So you want me to write you a whole post, but you might not even use it?
Ummm, yeah. But hey, if I don't use it, you can just put it on your own blog and give yourself a day off instead.

Can I use something I've written before, or something I'm going to repost on my own blog?
Sure. This isn't Nathan's blog. We're a small operation, and if you want to send me your favorite post from 2005, I won't complain. Or if you want to repost on your own blog later, you can do that too.

What do I get out of it?
A small amount of exposure (like I said, this isn't Nathan's blog). You also get my gratitude, which can be exchanged for future favors of a similar magnitude, like "Hey, would you mind giving me a day off on my blog too?" or "Could you read this query/synopsis/chapter for me and tell me what you think?", etc.

Okay, fine. What should I send you?
A post up to 500 words (ish -- I'm not going to count). A title. A short paragraph about yourself with a link to wherever you want (e.g. your blog). E-mail to adamheine(at)gmail(dot)com. Topic is up to you, though I'll be happiest if it's more-or-less PG and generally related to my normal topics (e.g. writing, drawing, geekery).

I'll accept posts until May 6, 12:00 PM EST (the same time the other contest ends), or until I have too many posts to handle. Whichever comes first.

Wait, that's it? No post today?
That was a post. But if you still need your fix, try this one about query letters and hell.

Fantasy Slang: Origins of Slang, Part II

Language evolves in interesting ways, often without its speakers being aware of it. Last time I talked about how slang comes from euphemisms, metaphors, and reverse meaning. Today, let's talk about jargon, shortening, and swearing.

Technically, jargon isn't slang. The purpose of jargon is to allow its users to speak more precisely about technical issues in a given field (usually). Slang, on the other hand, is often used to exclude non-members from a group. But the two are closely related, and jargon can become slang over time as knowledge of a field becomes more widespread (e.g. everyone knows what it means to download something now, but in 1980 the word was as obscure as "SNMP" is today).

Jargon can also take the form of a thieves' cant or rhyming slang, where the intent is to exclude. As languages evolves, and these code langauges become more generally known, they can become slang for a whole culture.

Just like their real-world, seaborne brethen, air pirates have their own jargon, some of which has passed to the public. A ship's brig is called the klack (though this meaning now means any prison). Crewmen might be navvies, turners, swabbers, stokers, machinists, gunners, or just plain skylers. And any of those terms have passed into the language as metaphors; for example, a swabber is a generally derogatory term for someone with a crap job.

Language often evolves to make things quicker and easier to say, to the point of obscuring the origin of the phrase in question. "Goodbye" was once "God be with ye". Internet acronyms occasionally find their way into spoken speech. And no one knows what the heck "okay" used to mean, but nearly every language uses it now.

Almost everything is shortened in the Air Pirates' world. I mentioned the term "baron" last time. And hardly anyone actually says "spot of blue in the dark;" they're more likely to say "a spot in the dark," "a spot of blue," or even just "a spot." Likewise, mercenaries are mercs, anchors are anchs, and centimeters are cents. (That last one actually comes from the Thai language, where shortening words is practically a national sport).

Making up swear words is really, really, really hard. That's because swearing is only effective because we decide it is so (or have been taught so). There is nothing inherent about swear words that make them worse than any other word -- only the meaning we assign to them. Most made-up swear words sound silly to new readers because they have assigned no meaning to the word.

If you decide to make up swear words, imagine what kinds of things would offend members of your culture. References to sexuality, feces, or blasphemy work for almost any culture. But if your culture is particularly fantastic, you might decide other things (i.e. things that are normal to us) are vulgar to them.

I didn't get too creative with the swearing in Air Pirates, preferring instead to choose words that sounded like swear words but weren't. Words like flack and tullit. I also borrowed words from British slang like sod and bleeding, once again giving a feel of swearing without actually being offensive to the (American) ear.

Using euphemisms, metaphors, reverse meaning, jargon, shortening, and swearing, you should be able to come up with a number of phrases to make your made-up culture feel more real. It is a lot of work, but you don't have to do it all at once. I'll talk more about that next time.

DON'T FORGET! There's still a contest going on for a free book. Link to the contest post for a chance to win. Read Pawn's Gambit to improve your chances. Contest ends May 6th!

Fantasy Slang: Origins of Slang, Part I

A while ago, I talked about a method to make up fantasy languages that don't sound made-up. Today I want to talk about slang, where it comes from, and ways to make up your own. If you've read Pawn's Gambit (or this old post), you know the Air Pirates' world has tons of slang. These posts are a taste of how that evolved.

Slang is a bit harder to come up with than fantasy languages. A foreign word can be completely made up and still work, but slang often uses recognizable words in unusual ways. Done wrong, it makes the world feel silly. But done right, it not only makes a fantasy culture feel deeper, it can provide clues to the culture itself.

Slang often arises as a roundabout way of discussing harsh or taboo topics. For example, English has a thousand euphemisms for sex and death. Kicked the bucket. Knocked her up. Sleeping with the fishes. Sleeping with each other. And so on.

In the Air Pirates' world, a pirate might "rack" a girl, especially a "woman of easy virtue" (prostitute). Knockers don't kill people, they pack them (why don't they knock them? I don't know. Language is funny like that).

Metaphors -- idioms, really -- are slang's cultured cousin. "Bite the bullet" used to be quite literal, but became a metaphor for doing anything painful or difficult. Criminals want to stay "under the radar," even if they've never flown a plane in their lives.

Metaphor is a powerful tool to make up slang unique to a fantasy culture. There's no radar in the Air Pirates' world, but a good pirate knows to stay "in the clouds" even if they're not in an airship. A "spot of blue in the dark" literally refers to ocean without dark water, but mostly means hope in the midst of trouble.

Remember when "bad" meant cool? How about sick or phat? Sometimes slang is not a new word, but an altered meaning of an old one.

I didn't use this method very often in the Air Pirates' world -- I tried, but the results often sounded contrived. One that worked (for me, anyway) was the term "baron" for a shopkeeper. The idea was that "robber baron" used to be a derogatory term for a merchant who cheated you. Over time it came to be a common title for all merchants, good or bad. When it was shortened to simply "baron", it became almost a term of respect, like a title.

That's enough for now. Next time I'll talk about jargon, shortening, and swearing. Meanwhile, you tell me: where have you seen slang done well? Done poorly? Do you think they used any of these methods, or something else?

DON'T FORGET! There's still a contest going on for a free book. Link to the contest post for a chance to win. Read Pawn's Gambit to improve your chances. Contest ends May 6th!

Pawn's Gambit Contest

It's here! "Pawn's Gambit" has officially been published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. (Read it here. Do it! DO IT NOW!)

(If my self-promoting gets a bit out of hand today, I apologize. I'm just really, really excited.)

This story is set in the same world as Azrael's Curse, the novel I'm currently querying. Though I often refer to the setting as the Air Pirates' world, "Pawn's Gambit" is somewhat pirate-deficient. But it does have smugglers, assassins, and bounty hunters, so hopefully there's something there for everybody. (Read it now!)

In celebration of my publishing debut, I'm giving away a free book. For a chance to win, all you have to do is mention this contest (linking to this post) on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter, and fill out the form below.

If you'd like to improve your chances (while simultaneously enjoying a free adventure story), there's a bonus question requiring you to read the story -- or at least skim it in a fact-finding sort of way. Answer correctly to triple your chances.

Contest is open until May 6th, 12:00 PM EST. So if you don't have time now, bookmark this, star it, send yourself an e-mail -- whatever you need to do so you'll remember to read it later.

That's it. Go read the story.

That Thing Where I Draw: My Nightmares

I also had a dream in which Jennifer Jackson told me that leaving my query letter in the bathroom for agents to read was not a good idea. "Think about what they're doing in there and how that will make them feel about your novel."

Why Agents Should Blog

Some agents have so little information online that I feel like a stalker when I finally come across something. But that's not why agents should blog.

Some agents have so many clients, and are so good at their jobs, that they don't really need to be known. Those agents probably don't have to blog.

Some agents blog about stuff that has nothing to do with submissions, business, or publishing. That's totally cool, but that's not why agents should blog.

Some agents blog about writing and querying and publishing. That's extremely cool (I'm a much better writer for it), but that's not why agents should blog.

I figured it out while deciding which agents would go on my A-list and which on my B-list for querying. After taking everything into account -- genres they represent, deals they've made, stories they like --  I noticed a very strong trend: every agent on my A-list had a blog.

Now, probably, I'm just being a novice about this whole thing. My A-list agents should be ones making the big deals, or those selling stories similar to what I write, right? Then again, for someone who hasn't (and may never) go someplace where writers can meet agents, querying is very scary. And I don't mean the whole oh-my-gosh-I-hope-they-don't-reject-me kind of scary. I'm talking about the fact that I'm basically proposing a long term relationship with someone I've never met, I hardly know, and, let's be honest, whom I've been stalking.


Granted, that's how this business is, and there's nothing anyone can do about that. But when an agent blogs -- even if I only read a few posts before shooting off my query -- I feel like I know them a little better. I feel more comfortable. And in many cases, I feel certain I got their submission guidelines exactly the way they like it.

Blogging is branding (or if we're being technical, brand salience). You know how you'd rather buy Coca-Cola® than Generic-Brand Caramel-Colored Carbonated Sugar Water? It's not because Coke tastes better. Someone who's never had a soft drink in their life will be more likely to buy a Coke than GBCCCSW,* solely because they've heard of it. Because it's familiar.

I'd like to say I'm immune to branding. I'd like to say I choose my dream agents based on purely objective, business-minded decisions. But the truth is it's easier to ask someone out after you get to know them a little bit.

Even if you have to stalk them to do it.

* Also Jell-O instead of powdered bone slime.

Notes to Self: The Cunning, Chapter 3

Sometimes when I'm drafting, I have to do a quick outline or write other notes to myself to figure out what happens next. I guess I could just write the draft and change the stuff that doesn't work, but these notes help me brainstorm. They're also a way to trick my inner editor into thinking I'm not really writing, and therefore don't need his "services."

This bit's from the chapter I recently finished in The Cunning. Suriya and her aunt move to Chiang Mai after the villagers in their last home became frightened of Suriya's strange powers. Suriya's aunt hopes that a big city will be easier to hide in.

The beginning of this scene needed to show the passing of time, what happened for Suriya in her three months living in the big city. I didn't want to start with exposition, but I had to write it out just so I knew what happened. So I did it in a quick outline. As you can see, I didn't trick my inner editor at all (yes, these are my actual notes):

  • Suriya learned a lot over the next three months, perhaps more than she'd ever learned in her life.
    • She learned that Thai food only cost twenty-five Baht.
    • She learned Kham Muang, and enough English, German, and Chinese that she could avoid the kinds of problems so-and-so, the other server, had on the first day they came to the guest house.
    • She learned what a bargirl was.
    • She learned how boring this exposition was. Why? She's just happy and learning stuff, but NOTHING'S HAPPENING IN THE STORY!

Troubles in Thailand

You may have heard about the protests going on in Thailand right now. Basically one group (the "red shirts") wants the prime minister to dissolve parliament, step down, and call for new elections. He's not, obviously, and a few days ago the protests turned violent. Twenty people were killed, hundreds hurt.

Most of the trouble's in Bangkok, so we're largely unaffected. But I did read one story saying protesters had gotten a hold of Chiang Mai Provincial Hall. If so, that's kind of a trip because we just went there to announce Anica's birth. You can learn more about it here or from the video:

It's the same mess that started years ago when the military took the government from Thaksin. Very little has changed except who's in power.

Not to make light of it, but one really eerie thing is that I wrote a scene just like these protests about a day or two before they happened. I really hope I don't have that power. If so, I'm done writing modern-day fantasy right now.

Taking Writing Seriously

Every writer looks at writing differently. Some do it because they love to create. Some do it to express themselves. To entertain. To become famous. To make money. Etc. Most of us write for a combination of these. With the exception of fame and money, these goals can be accomplished without too much trouble (other than, you know, the trouble of actually writing). Becoming famous, in particular, is out of most of our control, so I'll leave it alone.

So what if you want to make money by writing? In that case, you need to take your writing more seriously than most. You need to understand that this is a business. You need to consider yourself a pro.

This was the situation I found myself in a year and a half ago. If I wanted to take writing seriously, I couldn't be subject to ephemeral whims like "desire" or "inspiration" to write. I had to treat it like my job. What would my boss do if I said, "I'm not feeling it today. I'm not coming to work."? Or what if, when asked when I would finish a task, I replied, "It depends on when the muse hits me."?

(I should pause to point out that I still very much am subject to ephemeral whims. Every single day. All I'm saying is I'm not supposed to be.)

And I couldn't sacrifice my real job for writing. As many of you know, my real life is not a job I can walk away from. There will not come a day when I can quit my day job to work on writing for 8 hours a day. Because of that, I need to know that my time is being spent wisely. Of course all of my writing is worth it to help me improve, but when I start selling things, will it be enough to justify disappearing from my family for 2-4 hrs/day?

Like, I've made $7.20 on my Twitter fiction. While it was extremely cool to get paid for writing, I can't sell enough to justify the time. My BCS story got me $220 for about 30 hours of work. That's more worth it -- if I focused all my time on short stories, I could probably justify that amount of time (even if it wouldn't be enough to support my family).

Unfortunately, I want to write novels. Not having sold one, I limit my time. I look at what author's make (on average). I examine my process and keep track of production speed, constantly trying to improve until the day I can produce a novel in (what I consider) a reasonable amount of time. I'm kinda harsh, but I have to be. I want to do this, but there are some costs I'm not willing to pay, you know?

What about you? What are your goals in this writing thing (for those of you who are writing)? What are you willing to give up? Perhaps more illuminating, what aren't you willing to give up?

I've Never Been This Excited About 4,400 Words

First off, a HUGE thanks to agented author and writer of ninja fiction (among other things) Natalie Whipple for the revamped blog header you see above. She has an amazing knack for matching people to fonts. She's like the eHarmony of graphic design. Anyway, the header was the last tweak this blog needed.'s PERFECT.

Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen it.


You also may recall somebody bought a short story of mine set in the Air Pirates' world. Well the date has been set, and on April 22nd you'll all be able to read "Pawn's Gambit" at Beneath Ceaseless Skies (yes, all of you -- it's free).

That's less than two weeks. I am disproportionately (though understandably) excited about this. It blows my mind that somebody liked something I wrote so much that they paid me money for it. I'm still unconvinced that anyone else will enjoy it, so I'm planning a contest to swindle all of you into reading it. Nothing big -- I'm not arm wrestling my sister or anything -- but I am going to give away a free book, so you should pay attention.

Until then, you can get a taste of the story here at the BCS website. Or you can check out the poor man's book trailer: the wordle!

Honestly, if you get anything out of this, I will be both shocked and awed.

Are you excited yet?!!?!


Admirable Sacrifice (or Why Kirk's Death was Stupid)

I hope I don't have to explain who Captain Kirk is. If I do, it's possible you're on the wrong blog.

I will go into how he died a bit though. First, you should know we're talking about the old Kirk -- William "Priceline" Shatner. Shortly after retiring, Kirk is asked to attend the maiden voyage of the USS Enterprise-B (this is Star Trek Generations, btw). On that voyage, they receive a distress signal from two ships caught in a strange energy ribbon. The Enterprise is able to save them, but becomes caught itself in the ribbon. To free them, Kirk has to go engineering and alter the deflector shields.* He is successful, but just as the Enterprise escapes, the ribbon makes contact with the engineering section causing major damage. When the crew recovers, they find a gaping hole in that part of the hull, and Kirk is gone.

That was Kirk's first death. It's not bad (we'll talk about why in a second), but it wasn't his real death. See, the ribbon imprisoned Kirk in a time nexus.* Decades later, Captain Picard finds Kirk and convinces him to return to the present to help Picard stop a madman from destroying the sun of Veridian III. Kirk goes with him and together they are able to distract the villain long enough to thwart his plans. In the process, however, Kirk is wounded (or falls off a bridge -- they tried a couple versions) and dies.

* Star Trek science.

Before I go into why Kirk's death was lame, let's talk about what makes a character's sacrifice work. It's not enough that a character dies for someone (or goes to prison for them, or gives up their chance at becoming a rockstar, or lets them have the last tater tot, etc. -- sacrifice can mean a lot of things). If you want the reader to admire the character's compassion, their sacrifice has to be IMPORTANT, it has to be RIGHT, and it has to be NECESSARY.

The character has to sacrifice for something important. It has to matter, and it has to be in proportion to what the character is giving up. If Jack risks his life so that his buddy Bonzo can win the National Texas Hold 'Em Tournament, that's not very admirable. On the other hand, if Bonzo needs to win the tournament so the mob won't kill him and his family, Jack's sacrifice is a lot more worthy.

The character has to sacrifice for what's right. Readers sympathize with characters that are doing the right thing. Jack's sacrifice for Bonzo's family might be important, but if his "family" is a child prostitution racket, well... no one's going to give Jack any awards.

The character's sacrifice has to be necessary. If there was an alternative, but the character chose sacrifice anyway, no one will admire it. If all Jack had to do was loan Bonzo some money, we're going to think he's stupid, not noble.

Let's look at Kirk's deaths now and see if we can figure out what went wrong. First his death on Enterprise-B. Important? He saved the lives of many people, so yes. Right? The people he saved were (so far as we know) good people. Check. Necessary? The movie set it up such that Kirk had to be the one in engineering (at least, there wasn't time to explain it to someone else -- in any case, if he sent someone else to do it, he'd have been a jerk). Check.

It was a good death for a character as big as Captain Kirk. Later, when you find out Kirk's alive, it's kind of cool. He survived! That's just what such a great captain deserves, right? But then he died again. Was his second death important? Technically. He saved lives, though we were never really made to care about the Veridian people, so it's arguable. Was it right? Again, we were never really shown any Veridian characters. While we assume they are innocents, to the reader they are faceless. Yes it was right, but only technically. Necessary? Arguable. Kirk knew what Picard was asking was dangerous, but from a story standpoint, there's no reason Picard needed Kirk to pull it off.

Kirk's second death hit the right points (important, right, necessary), but it hit them weakly. After all the dangers he had been through, readers expect a death in proportion to the character. A minor character dying for the same reasons might have been a worthy sacrifice, but this was James T. Kirk. It was made worse by the fact that we already thought Kirk had died, and his first death was more worthy than his second.

But it's okay, because we can learn something from it. If you want a character to be admired for their sacrifice, make it important, right, and necessary. And if you bring a character back to life, make sure his second death is more important than his first.

J. J. Abrams, I'm looking at you.

Jonathan Coulton, Re: Your Brains

(Re: my previous post on your ideas never (ever) getting stolen, Writer Beware has some helpful information on copyrights. Of particular note: all original expression is copyrighted the moment it is fixed in tangible form (including all your posts and comments on the internet)).

Okay, so if you already know Jonathan Coulton, just skip to the video and enjoy.

For the rest of you, Jonathan Coulton is very important in the geek world. He's a singer/songwriter in the legacy of Weird Al, but he tends toward original songs more than parodies. His songs are geeky, weird, and often hilarious. If you've been around the internet a while, you may have heard his folksy, acoustic cover of "Baby Got Back." Or the ending credits of Portal -- that was also him.

Probably better than telling you is showing you who he is. This song is about a horde of zombies trying to get at some humans in a mall. One of the zombies is a former coworker of a survivor -- the kind of coworker you want to blast in the face with a sawed-off shotgun (even before he was a zombie).

Here, just watch (lyrics below the video):

Re: Your Brains

Heya Tom, it's Bob, from the office down the hall.
Good to see you buddy, how've you been?
Things have been okay for me except that I'm a zombie now.
I really wish you'd let us in.
I think I speak for all of us when I say I understand
why you folks might hesitate to submit to our demands,
but here's an FYI: you're all gonna die screaming.

All we wanna do is eat your brains!
We're not unreasonable. I mean, no one's gonna eat your eyes.
All we wanna do is eat your brains!
We're at an impasse here, maybe we should compromise:
if you open up the doors,
we'll all come inside and eat your brains.

I don't want to nitpick, Tom, but is this really your plan?
Spend your whole life locked inside a mall?
Maybe that's okay for now, but someday you'll be out of food and guns.
Then you'll have to make the call.
I'm not surprised to see you haven't thought it through enough.
You never had the head for all that bigger picture stuff,
but, Tom, that's what I do, and I plan on eating you slowly.

I'd like to help you Tom, in any way I can.
I sure appreciate the way you're working with me.
I'm not a monster Tom, well... technically I am.
I guess I am.

Got another meeting Tom, maybe we could wrap this up.
I know we'll get to common ground somehow.
Meanwhile I'll report back to my colleagues who are chewing on the doors.
I guess we'll table this for now.
I'm glad to see you take constructive criticism well.
Thank you for your time. I know we're all busy as hell.
And we'll put this thing to bed
when I bash your head open.

Your Ideas Just Aren't That Great

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken, designer of the first automatic computer.

A lot of wannabe authors out there are living in fear. They're afraid someone is going to steal their idea and hit it big before they get their shot. I understand this fear, even shared it at one point. But I am increasingly of the opinion that this is a silly thing to be afraid of.

First of all, there is no such thing as the "Killer Idea". There are great ideas, sure, but no idea is so amazing that it (a) hasn't been done before or (b) can't be done again. Child born in obscurity destined to save the world? Star Wars, Harry Potter, Eragon, Ender's Game, The Matrix. Witches and wizards secretly living among us? The Dresden Files, Witch Hunter Robin, Harry Potter again. Aliens as predatory monsters? Yes. Aliens as friends? Many times. Vampires among us? I think you get the idea.

These are all good ideas, but they've been done before. And whether you like them or not, they'll be done again (I'm doing a couple of them right now). Why can they be done again and again, each time different and many times really good? Because if you give two authors the exact same idea, they will write two completely different stories.

What that means is, even if someone did steal your idea, the novel they'd end up writing will look nothing like yours. And that's assuming they take it in the first place. Cuz you know what else? Anyone with the skill and motivation required to finish a novel already has ideas of their own. Lots of them. And they are probably more in love with their own ideas than they will ever be with yours. Finishing a novel is hard enough, but can you imagine working on an idea you weren't excited about? For a year or more?

Mind. Numbing.

Not convinced? That's fine. Let's say you actually have a killer idea. It's amazing, totally unique. It's going to blow Harry Potter, Twilight, and every James Patterson novel ever written to the clearance bin. Odds of that: 0.5% (that's really generous, guys).

Then someone sees the idea's obvious genius and steals it. Honestly, just saying that kinda makes me laugh. I mean, (a) even the professionals don't know what will and will not break out and (b) potential thieves probably won't even agree with you on what's "good". Not to mention the reasons I've already stated. But I'll be generous again. Odds: 1%.

They write the novel faster than you and better than you. We'll assume we're dealing with a pro here, so odds: 90%.

Although their novel is very different from what you were going to write, it's close enough and successful enough that it ruins the market for your novel. Again, this kinda makes me laugh. Do you know how many Twilight clones are still selling? Generous odds: 1%.

So the GENEROUS likelihood of someone stealing your idea such that you can't do it anymore is 0.000045% -- about the same as the odds of you being crushed to death. And you know what? If this hypothetical thief did all that, I think they deserve the results of their labor. Seriously, coming up with a great idea takes all of 5 minutes. Turning it into a bestselling novel takes years.

So don't be afraid of people stealing your creativity (or of being crushed to death). Publishers don't sell ideas, they sell books. While a good idea can grab a reader's interest, the best idea in the world can't hold that interest for 300 pages if it's executed poorly.

What I'm saying is: worry less about what other people might do with your idea and more about what you're going to do with it.