Showing posts with label writing samples. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing samples. Show all posts

Izanami's Choice excerpt and update

The fine folks at Broken Eye are working on the last edits for Izanami's Choice. Next steps after that are me addressing the edits and then all the fun stuff they get to do to finalize the whole thing and make it a For Real Book.

There's also a cover coming. Watch for that.

Izanami's Choice is my samurai, sci-fi novella set in a Meiji-era Japan that has adopted androids and other ridiculously advanced technology. Here's an excerpt:
The droid was a newer model. It did not wear a wooden mask, nor was its face made of metal widgets that moved to imitate emotions. This thing's skull was covered in a molded synthetic material. The corners of its lips moved up and down in a remarkable caricature of a human hoping to make a good impression. If Itaru were not standing so close, he would've taken it for a human in the darkness. Up close, however, the synthetic features looked fake and unnerving. "What the hell are you?"
The droid bowed deeply. "I am called Gojusan. My full designation is Service Droid I-Ka 53."
"I-Ka?" Itaru had heard of that model, but he'd never seen one up close. The first droids had been western imports using English letters as designators. When Japan constructed their own master machine intelligence—the fourth in the world and the only one in Asia—they used katakana characters for the designs it produced. I-Ka was approximately the eightieth designator in only thirty years.
They're evolving too fast.
"Hai, Shimada-sama." The droid's oversized eyes flicked behind Shimada into his house and back again.
Itaru stood up straight, anxious to get rid of the machine. "What is your message?"
It looked down, seemingly embarrassed. "With great apologies, Shimada-sama, my message must be delivered privately." It gestured inside and bowed once more.
Itaru shivered uneasily. The jinzou's behavior bothered him more than he'd like to admit. He decided that it was simply too new, that he'd never met one like it before. "Fine," he said, grabbing his tamiken from the shelf as he stepped aside. "But make it quick."
The droid bowed again, removed its sandals—it wore socks underneath—and stepped politely inside. "I apologize for bothering you at this hour."
"You said that," Itaru snarled.
The droid clasped its hands at its waist, looking at the door and back, as though it wanted to flee but had decided against it.
Ridiculous. Droids didn't act like this. They followed their orders and programming. If a droid pretended to have feelings, it was because of a human’s order. Either Count Kuroda-sama had given this droid very specific—and strange—instructions or Gojusan's programming was remarkably advanced.
But what purpose would it serve to have a droid act nervous? To set Itaru at ease? It was failing at that. Everything about this meeting made his skin quiver. "State your message. What does Kuroda-sama want?"
It looked directly into Itaru's eyes. "My master is dead."
The full novella is coming soon! If you want to know the moment it comes out, subscribe to the newsletter or follow this blog.

From the Depths: Gold now available

As part of the Kickstarter campaign for Torment, we offered a series of give novellas called From the Depths. The novella I wrote (the Gold one, with super secret hidden title Gate to the Abyss) has been published and is available now.

This marks the second time I've been published (for anything greater than 25 words, that is). Still no novel, but I'm working my way up there! And look: I have two fans!

The enemy of your enemy can still kill you.

After the destruction of Shuenha, Luthiya and the other survivors take refuge in a dessicated land of churning volcanoes and eternal night—the ruins of Ossiphagan. They endure, but barely. So everyday they search the ruins, hoping to find some powerful artifact that will avenge them against the bloodthirsty Tabaht.

Luthiya discovers the fire wights, an ancient race both beautiful and powerful. She's afraid of them, but when the wights scare off a Tabaht scouting party, the other refugees believe they've found their redemption. But are the wights all they seem? Can they be reasoned with or are they bloodthirsty animals?

More importantly, are they working alone?

If you pledged for a reward level that includes the novellas, you can log into our website and download the novella right now.

At this moment, pledging towards Torment is the only way to get the novella. If you'd like to do that, you can pledge toward any of the reward levels that include the novella compilation (the cheapest being just the novella compilation at $15.00). You can do that on the Torment website as well.

Writing Game Dialogue

A lot of you know I'm a multiclassed programmer/writer. Before I drafted four novels and got an agent, I had a Computer Science degree, scripted for Planescape: Torment, and completed a few dozen Project Euler problems (until they got too hard). Unfortunately, since I've been more focused on writing, my levels in programming have gone largely unused.

Until now. It turns out game dialogue is the perfect job for my class combination. It's nowhere near as complicated as writing a program to solve Sudoku, but it's got all the puzzle-solving aspects of programming that I love.

And it's not as hard as it sounds. Here, I'll show you.

Typical dialogue in a novel goes something like this (excerpt from Post-Apoc Ninjas):

     "Tell me who you really are," the Marshal said.
     Here we go. The Marshal had already guessed much. Kai would have to be careful. "As I said, I grew up among mercenaries in Rivaday, though the mercenaries themselves were from all over."
     "Ah, so the story changes. How much did my grandson pay you, then?"
     "Pay me?"
     "In reward. Surely a mercenary would not rescue the Lord of Gintzu and take nothing in return."
     Kai hesitated. Marshal Aryenu was much sharper than his appearance made it seem. It felt very much like talking to Domino. Better to turn the questions on him. "How much of what Lord Domino told me was true?"
     "Your reward, mercenary?"
     Both sharper and more stubborn than his grandson. "Two thousand."

     "A lie. The boy doesn't pay anyone he doesn't have to."

Game dialogue is not so different from this, at least for a game like Torment. Prose-wise, there are only a few changes:
  • Dialogue tags ("the Marshal said") are rarely necessary, since the character speaking is usually indicated on the game screen.
  • The Player Character's thoughts (in this example, our PC is Kai) are not tied to the PC's lines, if they're included at all; sometimes all information is conveyed through dialogue or item description instead.
  • PC lines are typically very brief. (In some games, you don't even get a line, just a motive or emotion that the game designers interpret for you).
  • Any description is written in present tense and second person (though I suppose it doesn't have to be).
So a more Tormenty version would look like this (speaker tags added for clarity):

Marshal: "Tell me who you really are."
PC: "As I said, I grew up among mercenaries in Rivaday."
Marshal: "Ah, so the story changes. How much did my grandson pay you, then?"
PC: "Pay me?"
Marshal: "In reward. Surely a mercenary would not rescue the Lord of Gintzu and take nothing in return." He examines you carefully. Suddenly, he seems much sharper than his appearance first suggested.
PC: "How much of what Lord Domino told me was true?"
Marshal: "Your reward, mercenary?"
PC: "Two thousand."
Marshal: "A lie. The boy doesn't pay anyone he doesn't have to."

Those differences are primarily cosmetic. The real difference, and the most fun, is that game dialogues allow the player to choose what they say.

Marshal: "Tell me who you really are."

[Lie] "As I said, I grew up among mercenaries in Rivaday." 
2) "I'm a ninja."
3) "How much of what Lord Domino told me was true?"
4) Attack the Marshal.

Each one of those choices goes to a different branch of dialogue (or exits dialogue and starts combat, in the case of the last one). It's pretty much exactly like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel combined with a combat mini-game.

But a game should be better than that, no? We can respond, not just to what the player chooses to say, but to their other choices as well -- things they've done in the past, how they've customized their character, who they choose to travel with, etc. We call this reactivity.

Marshal: "Tell me who you really are."

[Lie] "As I said, I grew up among mercenaries in Rivaday." 
2) "I'm a ninja."
3) "How much of what Lord Domino told me was true?"
4) Attack him.
5) (If the PC betrayed his clan) "I'm a ninja, and a fugitive from my clan."
6) (If the PC killed the guards outside the keep) "I'm the guy who killed your guards."  
7) (If the player took the Read Minds ability) Try to read his mind.

And then each of those responses might have reactivity as well. The lie in (1) might succeed if you have a high deception skill, for example. What you learn from (7) might change depending on your level in the ability.

What you end up with is a branching, interlinking dialogue tree, hopefully one that is every bit as interesting for the player to navigate as combat or exploration.

It might seem overwhelming, but really such a thing evolves gradually as you write each line and think about what the player might want to say in reply. In fact, it's difficult NOT to write a huge, unwieldy conversation tree. For me, that's half the fun: trying to figure out how to guide the player to all the information I want them to get, without forcing them.

Here, if you want to play with a free, online example, try this online game where you play a dragon. But, um, don't blame me for any productivity loss.

When You Open Your MS for the 1,000,000th Time and You LOATHE It

Thank you for indulging my forced vacation last week. I actually didn't mean to time it with Thanksgiving (I often forget about American holidays out here), but sometimes things just work out, don't they?

So. You sit down to write. You open the Word doc that you've opened a million times before, see the chapter heading or title page and . . . you hate it. You hate that chapter title, that opening paragraph, that scene that you've revised twenty billion times.

This happened to me a little while ago. I've been revising Post-Apoc Ninjas for like ever, and I was so frigging sick of seeing this screen every morning:

Single-spaced, 10-point font, baby. That's how I roll.

But hey, writing's hard, right? We just gotta deal with it and move on.

But this was affecting my mood (and my predilection toward distraction) every single day. It was making a hard thing harder. So with the help of some basic psychology, I fixed it. Now I see these instead:

Emo Billy, but lots cooler.
Alternate view: a map prettier than any I could ever draw.
I found pictures related to my story, pictures that got me excited about it, and pasted them all over the first page. Now I don't have to see any text until I'm ready (and with the Document Map, I don't have to see the opening text at all, if I don't want to).

So that's your tip for today: When you open your manuscript for the millionth time and you LOATHE it, drop some awesome pictures on the first page to remind you why you still love it.

What about you? When you hate your manuscript and don't want to see it ever again, what do you do about it?

Writing Excerpts

You've heard of this Lucky 7 Meme? I've been tagged for this thing so many times, I actually got tired of not posting it. So lucky you, you get a tiny bit of Air Pirates flavor this morning.

The idea is you go to page 77 of your MS, 7 lines down, then copy/paste the next 7 lines as they appear. Here they are for Air Pirates:

      "You have my stone."
      Sam knelt beside him, picking at the cobblestones with a knife that seemed to come from nowhere. "I do have the stone, aye."
      "I . . ." Hagai sat up straight. "I want it back."
      "Nay." Sam looked at him with those piercing blue eyes. He would see right through Tobin's charade, Hagai was sure. Suddenly he was afraid he wouldn't be able to play it through.
      Well, not suddenly. He thought it was a bad idea from the start.

I'm not going to tag anybody else except for all of you who are reading this. So, you know, if you want to play, go ahead and play.

And here's a bonus excerpt, because Air Pirates is kinda sorta really polished, and the meme is more about drafts, I think. So from my mid-revision WIP, currently titled Post-Apocalyptic Dragon-Riding Ninjas (with Mechs!):
On either side of the iron doors towered two giant mekas—stone replicas of the metal monsters that helped destroy the Old World.
      They had a long ride ahead of them yet. The wall enclosed an entire town over two square kilometers in area, and the road to the central keep was a winding maze to hinder invaders. Domino had plenty of time to figure out what he would say.
      "What does the baron have against you?" Ko asked.
      "I guess we'll find out."

So yeah, you got dropped into the middle of my world-famous weak description. That's what happens with these memes, I guess.

If you play on your own blog, drop a link in the comments so I can read it too.

Describing Beauty

If you don't remember, I suck at description. But that means I learn obvious lessons all the time and can pass the savings on to you!

Today's lesson: describing someone that is beautiful.

My problem was I didn't want to just say she was beautiful (although I did that too). I wanted to show it. But how? What features are beautiful? Long hair? Sparkling eyes? Pink lips?

Turns out (and this will be obvious to most of you, but such are the depths of my sucking) that the specific features don't matter. Like that old cliche about the eyes of the beholder, what matters is how the narrator feels about the character.

And you show that the same way you show any emotion: through comparisons, thoughts, actions, etc. For example:

Sister Victoria was a dark-skinned woman in her forties. She sat cross-legged on her own cushion, wearing the same white robe all the monks wore. Her hair was black as the shadows, curled at her shoulders.

What Hagai noticed most was her eyes. They were alluring in a way that made Hagai uncomfortable, only because she was over twice his age. He shuddered.

"Ten years ago, men would dance naked in the streets just so I'd smile at them. Now," she smiled, "they shudder."
There are all kinds of features here, but we don't really know Victoria is beautiful until the 2nd paragraph.

A red-haired girl in a white robe stood over Hagai. She wasn't much older than Hagai, though she was far prettier. She watched him patiently, her hands clasped beneath large sleeves, a polite smile on pink lips.
 Hagai straightened, scratching his head. "Uh, hi."
This one comes right out and says she's pretty (which is fine too, sometimes), though it doesn't say much about how Hagai feels about her, except that he's a little uncomfortable. Either way, that has nothing to do with her features.

"You're a pirate?" Sam asked her.

"Oy, ain't you the nummer." Then before he could blink, she was in his face with a blade under his chin. "Aye, I'm a pirate. Now give me a reason to cut you."
Bottomless eyes were cents away from Sam's. The smell of garlic and vanilla filled his head. He didn't want her to cut him, didn't want her to back off either.
This one hardly has any features at all (seriously, what does "bottomless eyes" even mean?), but there's no question what Sam thinks of her.

Anyone got any more tips for me?

(And before you go saying, "How can you say you suck! Those are great!" Let me remind you that these passages are the result of gobs and scads of revisions. Whatever good you think you see in them is the result of many fabulous beta readers.)

(Maybe one of these days I'll show you what these scenes used to look like.)

Hook, Hook, Where is the Hook?

The hook is what you say when your friends ask, "So what's your book about?" It's how you tweet about your book. It is the fundamental concept behind the plot of your story, written in such a way as to make the reader say, "Cool, tell me more."

But how the heck do you distill 100,000 words into one sentence of cool? It's not easy. The internet has some good tips already, but I'm going to throw my own version into the mix because with something as subjective as a novel hook, you can't have too many ways to think about it.

I think there are 7 things the hook should have:
  1. Protagonist. Who is the story about?
  2. Antagonist. Who or what is against the protagonist?
  3. Goal. What does the protagonist want to accomplish?
  4. Stakes. What will happen if the protagonist does not accomplish their goal?
  5. Conflict. What is keeping the protagonist from accomplishing their goal?
  6. Setting. Where/when does the story take place?
  7. Theme. What is the story's main subject or idea?
Figure out that information, then stuff it into a sentence. That's your core. The rest of your query, synopsis, and even your novel needs to be focused around that. For example:

A cowardly bookworm receives a package from his supposedly-dead mother, so he joins a crew of air pirates to find and rescue her.

This is the hook for Air Pirates. Can you see the elements? Some are weaker than others, but they're there:

Protagonist: cowardly bookworm
Antagonist: not specified, but implied in the word "rescue"
Goal: to rescue his mother
Stakes: his mother will be hurt or die (implied in the word "rescue")
Conflict: he doesn't know where she is, and presumably someone doesn't want her to be rescued
Setting: implied with "a crew of air pirates"
Theme: a coward overcoming his fears

As you can see, not everything has to be stated explicitly, but the more clear the 7 elements are, the stronger your hook will be. (There's a lot to be said for voice, too, but I'm not dealing with that here).

Also be certain nothing else is included. The more you try to cram in, the more questions are raised. In the example, I didn't tell you about the future-telling stone in the package because, although it is important to the story, it raises a lot of questions. And as far as the hook goes, it doesn't matter what's actually in the package, just who it came from, and that he thought she was dead.

So an exercise for you. Take a look at the (current) hook below for my Shiny New Idea,* and see if you can find the 7 elements in it. Which ones are weakest? How could they be made stronger? (I'm not asking you to do this in the comments, though you're welcome to, if you want).

A fugitive ninja must convince a young con-artist to take the throne, before the nobles kill everybody in civil war.

Then take a look at your own hook and do the same!

* Post-Apocalypse Dragon-Riding Ninjas (with Mechs!). Don't worry. It all makes sense in my head.

(This post is a remix of an older one) 

Flashbacks (and Cunning Folk Excerpts!)

Flashbacks are hard. Why? Because they're about the past and are, therefore, backstory infodump. On top of that, they're really easy to screw up. So here are some tips I've learned to keep from giving the reader flashback whiplash.

Keep it relevant. This is the same as the rule for infodumps. Only tell them what they need to know to understand this part of the story. This is especially true in beginnings, when we don't know the characters or their conflicts yet. The last thing we want to do is jump back into the past and get to know even more characters and conflicts.

Keep it short. Or rather, only make it as long as it needs to be (really, this is just an extension of the first tip). For example, the flashback below (in italics) is only 10 words long:
(from Cunning Folk)
How could Suriya lose control like that? Aunt Pern had told her how, as a baby, Suriya’s fire kept them warm at night, but that was a long time ago. For as long as she could remember, Suriya had been able to control her power, even in her sleep – to the point where releasing was difficult simply because she never did it.

Don't be heavy-handed. When I first started writing, I thought I had to make the flashback obvious. Like this:
Five minutes to curtain, and Steve was nervous. He stared at the guitar in his hand--the same guitar he'd played with for ten years. It reminded him of the first time he played on stage...

Can you hear the Wayne's World flashback sound? Don't do this. As long as the reader can tell you're going into a flashback, you can just jump right in: "Five minutes to curtain, and Steve was nervous. The first time he played on stage..."

Same with when the flashback ends. Don't toss in a handful of sentences about Steve looking at the guitar and "remembering where he was." Jump right in. Have a stagehand or something (who was not in the flashback) say, "Steve? It's time," and then Steve goes on stage to his legions of fans. So long as the present is sufficiently different from the past, the reader will have no problem keeping up.

Don't worry about tense. I mean, do worry about tense, cuz you're a writer. But don't feel like it has to be perfect. Technically, when you're writing about the past of the past, you're supposed to use "had" a lot (past perfect tense, for you grammarians). "Steve's first time on stage, he had tripped over his bellbottoms." But in practice, doing this for every single verb is annoying.

Instead, use "had" near the beginning of the flashback as a clue to the reader, but then don't be afraid to back off. Mostly, you only need "had" when the reader might be confused as to when the action took place (i.e. in the present, or in the flashback). "Steve's first time on stage, he tripped over his bellbottoms." See? No confusion.

Okay, for those of you still with me, I have a (multi-paragraph) excerpt from my current work-in-progress. It's a flashback that uses all of these tips...hopefully. If I screwed it up, acting like a better writer than I am, I'm really, really sorry.

(SETUP: It's Suriya's first morning after losing her Aunt Pern and after being chased by bounty hunters through the streets of Chiang Mai.)

No dreams. Thank God.

When Suriya was very little, they had lived in a village where people knew what she was and for a while even liked her. Because of her dreams.

The village was called Umong. Suriya couldn't have been more than six years old at the time – old enough to realize her dreams meant something, too young to keep them to herself. It started when she saved an old man's life. She dreamed he had been crushed by a falling tree. Later that day, when Suriya saw her dream was about to happen, she cried out.

The tree missed the old man by a hand's width.

He had thanked her. The whole village had thanked her. They gave her gifts and roasted pigs in her honor.

Then they wanted their own dreams. Almost every morning, they came to ask what she had seen in the night. She told them with the innocence of a child.

Some nights she had no dreams, and the villagers' reactions frightened her. Sometimes she even lied about her dreams just to make people happy.

Other nights she didn't dream enough. She had seen one man – she still remembered his name was Danilay – lying dead on the ground, but she didn't know where or how. Danilay got mad. He shook her and slapped her until Aunt Pern had intervened.

They left Umong that night. She never found out how or even if her dream came true. And she never told her dreams again to anyone, except Aunt Pern.

Aunt Pern. Oh, God.

Suriya jerked upright. She was still in the strange guesthouse. A soft light filtered through the curtains. Anna sat on the stool watching the morning news.

“Good morning,” Anna's voice came into her mind. She didn't turn away from the TV.

Notes to Self: In Which I Tell My Inner Editor Where His Advice Can Go

Last time, I tried to trick my inner editor by writing notes to myself, rather than the "real draft", in the hopes that he wouldn't offer up advice. You may recall, it didn't work.

I got better this time. It turns out writing that post helped me identify when my Editor was sticking his nose in (again, these are my actual notes):

  • Anna and Suriya prepare to go to the airport.
    • Suri wakes. Anna has clothes for her, but they're like Anna's -- short. Suri is embarrassed to wear them. Anna has nothing else. “Besides, you'll look more American.”
    • Anna shows Suri the fake passport. It's a US passport with a fake name. In fact, her last name matches Anna's (Pak), implying a relationship. “It won't be enough to fool immigration, but by the time we're in the States, we'll be safe.”
    • Anna has a rented bike to return. They catch a songtaew to the airport. [Boring. Stage Direction.] {Thanks, Inner Editor. Now shut up.}

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.

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!

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?!!?!


Azrael's Curse

Cindy and Anica are home now, which is totally awesome. It also means I'm alternately busier than ever and totally bored/napping (much more the former). And for whatever reason, I don't feel like blogging much about writing. Life just feels a lot bigger right now. Don't worry, I'll get over it.

So I'm cheating today and pasting my query for Air Pirates, also known as Azrael's Curse. Feel free to fill the comments with criticism or praise if you like. Just don't be a meanie head.

Dear Agent:

For Hagai’s twenty-first birthday, his mother sends him a stone that gives visions of the future. But why did she send it, and how, since she was killed eighteen years ago? Hagai’s not exactly a hero -- the bravest thing he’s ever done is put peppers in his stew -- yet when the stone shows his mother alive and in danger, he sets out to find her.

Air pirates and sky sailors are also after the stone, and Hagai soon loses it to a wanted sky’ler named Sam. Sam wants the stone to help him avenge his father, but it only shows him one thing: his own death. Hagai, he learns, receives many visions. So when Hagai tracks Sam down and demands he give the stone back -- politely, of course, because Sam has a knife -- Sam offers him a job instead.

Now Hagai, who grew up wanting nothing to do with sky’lers, is crew to one and fugitive from both pirates and police. He’s not sure he can trust Sam, and the stone haunts Hagai with visions of his own death. Nonetheless, he’s determined to change the future and find his mother, if it’s not already too late.

AZRAEL'S CURSE is a 90,000-word science fantasy novel, available on request. It's written to stand alone but has series potential. My short story, “Pawn's Gambit” -- set in the same world as AZRAEL'S CURSE -- is due to be published in BENEATH CEASELESS SKIES. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Adam Heine

I noticed at least one agent wanted the story described in one single paragraph. So here's the super-condensed version. I think I might like it better, but I'm still too close to it to tell (what with having written this version like 20 minutes ago):

For Hagai’s twenty-first birthday, his mother sends him a stone that gives visions of the future. But why did she send it, and how, since she was killed eighteen years ago? Hagai’s not exactly a hero -- the bravest thing he’s ever done is put peppers in his stew -- yet when the stone shows his mother alive and in danger, he sets out to find her. Hagai joins a crew of wanted sky sailors, becoming fugitive from both pirates and police. He's not sure who he can trust, and the stone haunts him with visions of his own death. Nonetheless, he's determined to change the future and find his mother, if it's not already too late.

My Writing Process

My amazing wife gives me two hours of dedicated writing time most days. One would think I could produce novels like some kind of ninja cyborg with all this time, but for some reason that never happens. As an experiment, I recorded my writing process to see if I could determine where the problem lies.

1:00 - Unplug laptop and bring it upstairs.
1:01 - Open laptop. Go to the bathroom while it wakes up.
1:03 - Wonder why laptop isn't waking up. Reboot.
1:06 - Open manuscript, writing stats, and all the other things I need to start writing.
1:10 - Start writing.
1:14 - Realize I have no idea where I was. Have to reread what I did last time.
1:16 - Well that's just terrible word choice. I can't leave that there. (Edit)
1:18 - Is that what side his eye patch was on? Let me check...
1:23 - (Reading old scene) Wow, I am a TALENTED writer. What was I doing again?
1:25 - It's been half an hour and I haven't written anything. Crap!
1:26 - Okay. (Typing) Chapter 14 - To Be Titled [enter][enter] [left-justify] Hagai... Hagai what?
1:40 - Realize my mind wandered from Hagai to Sam to the climax to my query letter to what I will say when an agent calls me to what I'll post on my blog when I get an agent...
1:48 - Realize I haven't been thinking about writing for at least 15 minutes now, and the last thing I wrote was Hagai.
1:49 - Okay. Hagai peered over the ship's railing at the ocean hundreds of meters below.
1:50 - Hundreds? How high should they be. I need to look this up...
1:55 - Wow. I didn't know H.G. Wells wrote an airship novel..
2:05 - What time is it? Dang it! Okay. I'm not allowed to open my browser again.
2:06 - "Do I have to?" Hagai asked. "Can't make port with firehooks in the hull," Ren said. "Causes all manner of... of... problems? Anxiety? There's gotta be a better word than that.
2:08 - Boy, Open Office's thesaurus sucks. My real one's downstairs. Fine, I'll open my browser again just to check real quick. No Wikipedia.
2:10 - Anxiety, distress, foreboding... None of these feel right. Is this something I could make up a slang word for? What's a good metaphor for unrest?
2:15 - Hm, an e-mail...
2:25 - Crap!
2:50 - Wrote 400 words. That's good for today, yeah? Maybe I can see if any blogs have updated. You know, like a reward...
3:15 - Me: "Sorry I stayed up there late, honey." Cindy: "Oh, that's okay. How was your writing time?" Me: "Good. It was good. I think I'm getting faster."

(Note to Cindy: some events have been exaggerated for comedic effect. Please, please, please don't take away my writing time. I'm totally good for it.)

All of Your Questions Were Misspelled (or Here's an Air Pirates Excerpt Instead)

The title is a vacuously true way of saying that you asked no questions. Therefore I have no answers and am forced -- forced! -- to come up with original content. You are devious blog readers indeed.

Ah, but I can be devious too. Rather than write something new, I will post something I've already written but never shown you.

This is the new beginning to Air Pirates.* It's a prologue. Now, I know the taboos against prologues--I've written about them myself, after all. But I'm doing this one for good reasons (or so I tell myself): (1) to clue the reader in that Sam is a more major player than he appears at first and (2) to add tension to Hagai's trip to the post and first meeting with Sam.

Plus, it's short.

* As of draft 5, beta version 2. This is possibly the most boring footnote I've ever written.


Providence, Yesterday

You’ve been here everyday for a week, mate,” said the shopkeep.

Good stew,” Sam said, keeping his face carefully shadowed. He had thought he could say it with a straight face.

You waiting for someone?”

Sam said nothing, just slurped his stew.

The shopkeep eyed him warily. “You ain’t a knocker are you?”

Wouldn’t be a smart question if I were, aye?” Sam met his gaze, like a wolf eyeing a rabbit. Sometimes it was best to let folks think you were dangerous, as showing them only caused trouble. Other times – and Sam could see by the fear in the man’s eyes this was one of those times – it was best to play it friendly.

Sam smiled. “I’m just drumming you, baron. I ain’t gonna kill anyone.”

Course.” The shopkeep laughed nervously. “But you are waiting?”

Sam slurped again. The silence stretched to discomfort, and the shopkeep soon found he had other customers to tend to.

Sam waited. He waited until the post station closed for the day then went back to his ship. When the post opened the next morning, he waited some more. That boy better show up soon, he thought.

It wasn’t that Sam was impatient. He’d waited four years for the stone; he could float a few days until this Hagai Wainwright picked up his post.

No, Sam was patient as the dead. Others less so: the Imperial Navy, Jacobin Savage… The longer Sam stayed in one place, the sooner someone would find where that place was. That’s why it was best to stay friendly. Folks talked about you less if they liked you.

Morning,” said the shopkeep.

Morning,” Sam replied with a smile.

Got your pepper stew all ready.”

He dropped it on the table. Sam picked his spoon out of the spongy, boiled sludge.

That boy better show up soon.

In Memoriam, Murdered Darlings

I'm more than halfway done with the 2nd Edit, and most of the major rewrites are finished. So now I'm mostly skimming through the remainder and changing references to things that no longer exist.

In doing so, I've had to delete bits I really liked. I'm putting some of them here in memoriam. I don't know how they'll come across out of context like this, but at least I'll know they're here, living forever in the internet.

This is from the first chapter, where Hagai goes to town to pick up the post for Aunt Booker. The village never figured very much in the novel, but I really liked the name.
Hagai hiked down the road to where the village stopped and the shady jungle began. It wasn't far. The village consisted of a dozen buildings on either side of the road. It didn't even have a real name. People called it Ontheway, because it was quicker than saying "those hovels you pass on the way to the Monastery." Hagai only had to walk past Moi's coffee shop, the restaurant that served Anican food, and Teresa's House of Virtue before he was in the relative cool of the jungle.

Originally, Hagai's father was not actually shown in the novel. Everything the reader learns about him, or Hagai's old life on the shipyard, came from little details like the one in this excerpt. Unfortunately, it had to go along with Aunt Booker.
"Who ever knows where they're going?" Aunt Booker turned to arrange some books. "What matters is how you get there."

"So how do I get there?" asked Hagai.

She laughed her loud, hearty laugh. "I ain't an augur, honey. Some things you just gotta figure out by yourself."

"Is that why my father sent me here?"

"Ha!" She whirled to face him. "Your father sent you here cuz you're a lazy, good-for-nothing lump who forgets to even eat 'less somebody tells him to."

Hagai frowned. "Those are his words, aren't they."

"No, they're mine," she said, not unkindly. "Keifer would've said it with more color."

From Sam's first chapter, in which we see him as a little boy asking why his father hasn't come back from the war yet. This was the chapter that got deleted, but I always liked the last line of this excerpt.
"Why're they fighting then?" Sam asked.

His mother sighed. "It's hard to explain. Somebody killed Justitia's emperor, then - "


"Who knows, love? But the Imperium got into it with Salvadora after that."

"I bet it was that piking bastard, Ignacio!" Sam drew his sword and made a couple of slashing motions for emphasis.

"Samuel Thomas Draper! Where did you learn such language?" She crossed her arms. "Is that how they talk in those picture stories of yours?"

"No," Sam lied.

"We'll see," which meant she would probably flip through his Reaper stories the next chance she got. Sam would have to remember to hide issue #8.

This last scene is also from Sam's past. He's older now, almost 18 years, and living in the big city. He works in a machinist shop by day, while by night he beats up on cruel factory owners and corrupt police. He also spends time in bars looking for information about the secret mission that killed his father.
"How'd you hear about this?" Sam asked the barkeep.

"Ain't no pub rumor, s'truth. A piking Imperial Commodore came in here the other day, poured the whole thing to me."

Sam was impressed. It was the first real bit of information he'd gotten since they moved to Grenon. He handed Alton another coin for his trouble. "So why'd he tell you all this?"

"Ah, now," Alton pinched the coin between two fingers, "man's gotta have some secrets. Else who'd pay me for my stories?"

"True enough." Sam took a sip from the cup that'd been getting warm in his hand. "You ain't getting rich from this piss, s'truth."

Early Writings

This free-writing exercise was found in a high school journal, dated March 1994. Edited for spelling and punctuation:

Once upon a time, in a land far away from here (where the grass was green, the sky was blue, and the air wasn't totally lethal), there was a great white castle. This castle was rather happy with its life, as it was just a castle and had very few responsibilities.

Inside of the castle lived a king. This king was not a happy king. His entire family had just died, and he was left to rule the happy castle all alone at 10 years old.

His only joy was his purple mongoose, whom he so frightfully dubbed Erskin. Erskin, however, knew not how to console his forlorn master as he was only a mongoose and, therefore, not very wise in the ways of comforting.

One day, a former knight -- who had been banished from the castle for plagiarism, false advertising, and incest, among other things -- came to the happy castle with 500 extremely not happy thieves. This knight, who also was not too happy, had come to take the castle from the 10-year-old monarch.

This made the king extremely unhappy, not to mention the castle and the mongoose. The unhappy men outside began to ram the drawbridge. This would have hurt the poor castle except the men failed to see the moat and, because of their heavy armor, they all drowned.


Again With the Infodumps

I've been doing some critiquing lately. I think I've critiqued about 8 short stories/novel chapters since I joined, and at least half of them have the same problem: infodumping. (I know I've talked about this before, but bear with me. There's an Air Pirates excerpt a'coming.)

An infodump is when the story stops, to exposit information about the world or the character. This happens a lot in SF/F stories because they involve worlds with which we're unfamiliar. We need them to be explained, but usually not as much as many writers (myself included) believe we do.

For example, in one chapter Sam is in danger of losing his most trusted friends. His pirating used to be an attempt to do good, but Sam has become just as bad as the people he attacks. While his crew celebrates the Winter's Night festival in Savajinn, Sam stays on board his ship to think. The following outline is how the scene went in the first draft:

  1. A paragraph about how Sam's ship was refitted from a merchant ship and the changes he made.
  2. Two paragraphs about Savajinn and Sam's relationship with the town they'd moored at.
  3. One sentence of Sam thinking.
  4. Four paragraphs about Winter's Night, it's origins, traditions, and the differences between the festivals of Savajinn and the Imperium.
At the time, I thought it was all important. No, that's not true. I knew some of it wasn't, but I wanted to share all the cool stuff I'd come up with - like Savajinn and Winter's Night. The problem? Most of it had no bearing on the story. To the reader, Savajinn is just another country and Winter's Night another festival. Unless the details define the plot, readers don't need to know more than that.

In my first edit, I cut the infodumps by half and rewrote the remainder to be (mostly) more connected to Sam. Below is part of the scene - the paragraphs about Winter's Night, both before and after. It's still kinda infodumpy (I bet I could cut the whole thing actually), but it's better than it was. I submit it here with the hopes of helping some of you who may be doing the same thing, but don't realize it:

The sun set alone beyond the sea. It marked the beginning of Amber Winter, when the amber sun eclipsed the warmth of its sister. At the same time, fireworks went off in town, for the first setting of the eclipse also marked Souls’ Day – though in Savajinn, where the monks had little influence, the holiday was still known by the old traditions as Winter’s Night.

Souls’ Day was a day to remember the dead, to celebrate their life and their afterlife. People would feast and pray to their dead relatives, then launch fireworks and hot-air lanterns in celebration. Winter’s Night, on the other hand, was not a night to remember the dead, but to fear them. On Winter’s Night, it was said, the spirits of the restless dead came back to haunt the living. The fireworks and lanterns were meant not to celebrate, but to drive the spirits back to their world.

Same traditions, different meanings. Although the monks did have this much influence on Savajinn: there were no Winter’s Night feasts before the monks came.

Sam watched the celebrations from the prow for a long while. There was singing and dancing, even a parade winding through the streets. Children went here and there dressed as ghosts in what was once a prank to scare older folks, but had since become part of the fun. Some children even dressed as Azrael, for the pirate had become something of an icon to this feast of death.
Fireworks were set off in the town of Chuffton below. Everywhere, people released hot-air lanterns into the air. It was Winter’s Night, when – according to Savajinn tradition anyway – the spirits of the restless dead came back to haunt the living. The fireworks were meant to scare them away, and the lanterns to guide them home, though few took those things seriously. Mostly Winter’s Night was another excuse to get drunk.

Much To Do About Nothing

A random writing sample from highschool. We were grouped in pairs and each given the same opening sentence. The assignment was to write a short story using at least 15 vocabulary words from the year. My partner and I used 51.

Much To Do About Nothing


Getting Critiqued

Chapters Edited: 19
Scenes Edited: 60
Words Murdered: 4493 (6.5%)

Cliff Dives: 1
BASE Jumps: 1
Bungee Jumps: 1
Motocross Flips: 0 (gotcha)

Times I've had to delete the words "He took a deep breath" before a character does something scary: 8 (I'm a fan of breathing, apparently)


I've talked before about how poorly I deal with critiques. It's one of the things that keeps me from thinking like a pro.

I'm thinking about this again because serious critique time is coming. When I've finished editing in a few weeks, I'll have to send this out to beta readers and take whatever they dish out.

I got a taste of that the other day at Evil Editor again, where the beginning of Air Pirates went up (along with a humorous continuation in blue text). I don't mind the comments on grammar, on not telling things twice, on the fact that almost everyone took the first sentence literally - those are easy changes. I see those comments and go, "Oh yeah, how'd I miss that?"

It's the big comments that are hard to hear. The ones that suggest the opening is boring, nothing happens. At first it's hard to hear because I never want to hear what's wrong (which is stupid - that's the whole point of being critiqued in the first place). But once I get over that, it's still hard because I have to figure out what to do about it.

Natalie pointed out to me, quite rightly, that these are opinions - not every book has to start fast and furious. There was even one commenter who really liked it. And I like it, sort of, but only a few pages in, when the slow start pays off.

At the same time, if a lot of people have the same opinion, then it's something I need to consider changing. Can I start closer to the action without losing any of the character development? Probably, but I don't know how yet.

I've also joined Critters, an online critique group for SF/F/H, where I hope to find some beta readers (don't worry, I'll post a call for beta readers here too). It's cool because I'll get practice critiquing, which is helpful for so many reasons even though it takes time. But, like all other requests for criticism, it's really, really scary.

Geez. The things I do to satisfy this dream of mine.