That Thing Where I Draw: Soltree Village

Life has been busy, and I haven't had time to sit down and draw. Plus (and I hate to admit this) drawing something every week stresses me out, more often than not. I may cut back from the once-a-week thing, but I'd hate to stop drawing. Anyway, giving myself more than a week to draw something means I can try some of my more ambitious ideas, instead of slapped-together Photoshop images.

But I still have old sketches to show you. This is the home of my most recent D&D character, Jakk Shadowcatcher:

Unlike most halflings, Jakk has traveled far, trading as a bounty hunter as far west as Dragon's Waste and as far east as Overwatch. But he never forgets Soltree village, where his grandfather raised him and taught him how to hunt. Even though he stays away for years at a time, he still considers it home.

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.

Shout-Outs, Questions, and a Lack of Blog Awards

Some of you may have noticed that blog awards never really appear on this site--especially, perhaps, those of you who have given them to me. I want you to know that it's not that I don't appreciate them or anything jerky like that. I don't keep them on the site because I don't like clutter, and I don't often do the tagging thing because I don't post very often; if I let the blog get hijacked for every tag I got, you'd get bored of my posts right quick.

But I do appreciate the sentiment behind the awards, and that's what this post is about. Blog awards serve two purposes: to shout-out the blogs you like and to get to know the writer you sent them to.

So first to the shout-outs. Not counting industry blogs that don't need my pimping, here are some of my favorite blogs to read:

Between Fact & Fiction, Natalie Whipple. She writes about cyborgs, ninjas, dragons, wizards, and steampunk (though no pirates yet, I notice). And she knows what she's doing. You can get great tips here and be the first to know when her agent--THE Nathan Bransford--sells her ninja story for publication (I've read it; you want to).

Free the Princess, Matt Delman. More steampunk (hm, a theme?), good writing tips, plus video games and a fun community. Check him out.

Kiersten Writes, Kiersten White. Author of soon-to-be-released Paranormalcy and very, very funny. This blog is also the home of the curmudgeonly Laptop, who makes me laugh and also want to hug him, a little.

SM Blooding and Crew. A handful of authors at various stages on the road to publication. Good writing advice and fun stories.

See Sara Write, Sara Raasch. An agented writer who DOES write about pirates. Fun to read, and exciting too as she petitions the internet so she can obtain a picture of Philip Winchester wearing an eye patch. (That hyperlink was for you, Sara. Hope it helps him find you.)

There's more, but I'm running out of space to describe them all! So brief (but no less heartfelt) shout-outs to fellow writers/bloggers/friends: Hilary Heskett, Bane of Anubis, Jodi Meadows (former slush reader), Cindy Pon (of Silver Phoenix), Susan Quinn, fairyhedgehog, and Tobias Buckell (of Sly Mongoose, among others). All of you have contributed to simultaneously speeding and delaying my journey to publication. Thank you.

And just cuz your name isn't on here doesn't mean I don't pop by your blog from time to time. I can't keep up with everything, but I will tell you that every time you leave a comment I'm tempted (and frequently succumb) to follow that link to your blog. When I do it enough, and click with what you're writing, I'll stay. I promise.

Gosh, who knew it was so hard to try to appreciate everybody?

ANYWAY, I said blog awards served two purposes, so if you've come this far with me let's get on with the second: getting to know the recipient of the award. I'm opening the floor up to questions which I will answer in future posts. Just like last time, I agree to answer all of them, however nosy, strange, or inappropriate. I agree to answer with the truth when possible (i.e. when I feel like it) and humor otherwise.


That Thing Where I Draw: Reconnaissance

Inspired by night after night of playing Command & Conquer in the UCSD freshman dorms.

So after an unintentional two week hiatus from writing (which I blame on a broken laptop, a gaming friend come to visit, and (to a lesser extent) the birth of Jesus Christ), I finally got back to Air Pirates this week. That's right, Beta Phase II is over and I have begun the fourth (and hopefully final) round of revision before I send it out.

This round of critiques has taught me yet again that I can't please everybody. I think I've told you before about the dual storyline aspect of the novel. Round 1 had folks that liked both storylines as well as folks who loved Hagai's timeline but not Sam's. Well Round 2 has completed the circle, with betas that loved Sam's timeline but were annoyed with Hagai's.

I suppose I could be depressed about this, but honestly it made me laugh. Obviously SOMETHING is right with both sides of the novel. I just need to figure out how to minimize the annoyance for each camp.

And find an agent who loves both, of course.

A Tale of Two Johns

This is an old story from the computer game world, but there are lessons here for everyone, even writers.

In 1990, id Software was formed by two men: John Carmack and John Romero. Over the next six years, id redefined PC gaming and the first-person shooter genre with games like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. Romero is even credited with coining the term "deathmatch."

(If you have no idea what I'm talking about to this point, here's the summary: Carmack and Romero made really good games; they were kind of a big deal).

The PC gaming world was theirs. Carmack licensed the Quake engine to multiple game developers--including Valve, who used it to make the even more groundbreaking Half Life. Professional gaming began to take off with QuakeCon. Everyone wanted to be id.

(Translation: They made lots of money).

But after Quake hit the shelves in 1996, Romero was fired, though he was going to quit anyway. His plans were ambitious, and he felt Carmack and the others were stifling him. Carmack, meanwhile, felt that Romero wasn't realistic.

(The two Johns parted ways).

Carmack--the technical powerhouse of id--pushed the technical envelope with Quake II and Quake III: Arena. Good games, well-received, and very, very pretty. But where they pushed things technically, their general design stayed the same. To the point where Quake III was little more than a deathmatch arena with no substance.

(Carmack's games were technically beautiful, but not very compelling).

Romero, meanwhile, now had the freedom to be as ambitious as he wanted. He proudly announced his masterpiece, Daikatana, would hit the shelves by Christmas the next year. They would use the Quake engine, so the technical aspect would be taken care of, leaving him and his designers only to design.

(Romero thought he didn't need Carmack's technical expertise).

Christmas, 1997 came and went with no Daikatana. Carmack had released Quake II by then, and Romero realized Daikatana was technically behind. He grabbed the new engine, not realizing at the time that it was so different from the one he knew it would require an entire rewrite of his precious game.

(Realizing his mistake, Romero tried to catch up technically and failed, badly).

By the year 2000, Daikatana had become a joke. It was made worse when the game was released with outdated graphics, crappy AI, and unforgivable loading times.

(Romero's game was super late, ugly, and impossible to play).

There's lot of morals that can be drawn from all this, but I'm going to pull one for us writers.

Carmack's technical expertise is your skill with prose, structure, and grammar. Without it, nobody will put up with your story long enough to see its brilliance.

Romero's creativity is your plot, characters, and conflict. Your prose might be beautiful, but without this nobody will care.

You need both to succeed.

Your World is Boring

I'm always surprised when someone who I know loves fantasy (or just books) tells me they have not read The Lord of the Rings. I mean, this book is fantasy. And it's awesome! How can so many people not have read it? I'll give you three reasons: worldbuilding infodumps, long plot-stopping songs, and unintelligible languages.

Now before you Tolkien fans lynch me, hear me out. I know these things make LotR what it is. These are what make the world so big and so real. For you uber-fans,* the world is what you love the most. But you have to understand that for a first-time reader -- someone who is totally unfamiliar with Middle Earth -- these parts are boring.

Tolkien loved his world. And rightfully so; it's amazing. But the truth is that if Tolkien tried to pitch this today as his debut novel, he'd be told to cut the word count in half, split the story into smaller parts,** and for Pete's sake use a 'k' instead of a hard 'c' in your fantasy names!

Sorry. I'm okay now.

Many of us who write fantasy fell in love with it because of books like Tolkien's. We started creating our own worlds with new races and cultures and politics and histories and languages. We wrote a story in that world. But you know what happened? Our story became more about the world than the story. And it was boring.

Now we're full grown wannabe authors. We know about character and conflict. We're good with pacing and tension. But every once in a while, we start our story off with an infodump prologue, or we toss a 70-line poem into our story just because we love it. Even if we manage to keep the world on a tight leash in our novel, it comes bursting out in the query letter.

People don't want to read about your world. They want interesting characters they can root for (or against). They want compelling plot. Give them these things and only then will they listen to whatever you've got to say about the history of the Sidhe (and why it's pronounced 'she').

If you get nothing else out of this post, remember this: readers that love your characters will love your world, not the other way around.

And if you love fantasy, please read LotR. It would make me feel so much better.

* i.e. Those of you who have read all the appendices, can write your name in Angerthas Daeron, and converse in Quenya as easily as Sindarin. You know who you are.

** Oh wait, he was told to do that.

That Thing Where I Draw: Life and Science

Science is the process of putting things in boxes, and so science is itself a kind of box. But life still happens outside it.

A little Photoshop action for the new year. Which was hard because Photoshop Elements 3 doesn't play nice with new versions of Windows. Anyway, happy new year. I expect to be blogging on a more regular schedule starting... well now, I guess.