NOT QUITE FREE FANTASY STORY!

So, I’m excited to report that with the contract novel delivered to Digital Fiction Publishing League, I’m back on track working on the continuing adventures of James and Harriet, the daring veterinarian (and his lovely assistant witch) of the Evil Dark Lord who rules the world.

Superversive Press, my publisher for this series, has agreed to allow me to post chapters as they are completed, and this will continue until the work is done. And as an incentive to back me on Patreon, I am offering to my patrons the next chapter in James and Harriet’s saga: “The Exanimation Room.”

Now, go patronize me!

Travel, DragonCon, and Why Has The Blog Been So Sparse Lately?

So, this is just a brief note to catch everyone up.

This is a busy time of year for me: the kids are all starting a new school year at a new school, I’m starting teaching new courses at a new school, and for the past three days, I’ve been at a camp related to the new school, where internet connectivity was spotty at best.

This is why there has been no blog this week, and only weekly updates for the past week or so.

In addition, on Thursday evening, I’ll be traveling to DragonCon. Unfortunately, I’ll be going as a fan rather than as a professional, because I didn’t know I’d be going until the last minute. But I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of fellow writers there. And, who knows, I might even run into a fan or two!

So, the good news is that there WILL BE a William Shakespeare’s Dune on Monday.

The bad news is, there isn’t likely to be anything else until well after DragonCon as I adjust to travel and the craziness that will consume my life.

 

A Few MORE thoughts on Worldbuilding with Food, and Art

So, a few weeks ago, I posted some Thoughts on Worldbuilding. And in the natural course of things, another blogger linked to it here.

Now, while it’s always flattering to have people link to your blog, because it means that they found what you had to say worthwhile (or at least, worth screaming about), I fear that my colleague of teh Interwebz misunderstood the technique I was trying to highlight. Because he (or she) had this to say:

“Food is the easiest but only becomes a concern when the characters don’t have a steady reliable supply of it. Or if they are moving between multiple cultures. Art and music are best left for the slower parts of the story and again would only be noticed if the character is operating outside his usual culture.”

And the problem is that this is both right and wrong at the same time. It lacks imagination, and it lacks an understanding of the role of the storyteller.

Now, it’s correct to say that noticing food, art and music are best done in the “slower” parts of the story, but that in itself reveals a limited understanding of pacing. Certainly, you don’t want characters thinking of food, art and music during a gun battle or a chase. But a fast pace, or rising tension, do not have to encompass anything that is literally fast or athletically active. Consider, for example, the dinner-party scene in Frank Herbert’s Dune. The tension rises inexorably as the various factions present do verbal battle for supremacy, and through it all, the food lays out a vibrant background that illuminates the cultures of Arrakis and the Imperium. It has nothing to do with a lack of supply, and little to do with multiple cultures.

But there are always multiple cultures in the act of telling a story. At least, there are two: the real culture of the real reader, and the artificial culture of the work. And even in a contemporary novel of America, food and art and music can be used to signal what things are important to the characters. Is this a man who turns up his nose at scotch improperly oaked? Or a man who enjoys ketchup sandwiches? Does she listen to Rob Zombie, or Pink Floyd?  Or Vivaldi. Does he notice the Warhol print in Wal-mart and spend money on it? Or is he going to snort at that and smugly congratulate himself on his understanding of Pollock?

Now, in F/SF, you have a whole culture to map out. It’s a challenge when your characters are intimately familiar with that culture, and they’re certainly not going to say things like, “Welcome to our home, Bob and Linda! Do sit down and partake of these lovely snarf-burgers, the principal Arcturan delicacy!” But look at what S.M. Stirling does in his excellent book, the Peshawar Lancers. He has to set up an alternate 21st century in which the United States was destroyed, and most of Europe crippled, by a cometary impact. It’s over a century later, and the British Raj is the dominant power. How does he portray this in the opening scenes of the novel?

Well, for one, he has his principal heroine sit down in the lavishly appointed dining room of an airship. She notices all the dishes (because of course we notice what we are eating, whether we are in a different culture or not) and her mind wanders to the huge reproduction of a famous mural that dominates the dining room, portraying the Exodus from England as the government of Great Britain removes itself from the Thames, sailing to Delhi. She then thinks how monstrously inappropriate a scene that includes cannibalism is for a dining room and of the Kipling Cantos that inspired the artist to paint such a thing. And so, in a couple of pages, we are treated to a snapshot of the culture of the 21st-Century Raj combined with a good deal of backstory which the heroine has good reason to be thinking of. It flows with a brilliant ease and never feels artificial, and it all comes from a lady sitting down and dining alone inside her own culture.

I Cast Missile Magicis: Hagrid Edition

You know how Hagrid “bought” Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback from “some bloke in a pub?” And how he always was getting creatures from people?

Yup, that’s right. The Leaky Cauldron is That Tavern where all the Parties get their Quests.

“Why are we going after Black Dragon Eggs?”

“I dunno. Some big guy in The Tavern with more gold than sense is paying top dollar.”

“Is this gonna be like the time with the three-headed dog? Because we lost the bard when we went after the Giant Flobberworms.”

“Are you gonna bring that up again? I didn’t know they didn’t have ears. I thought that’s what the so-impressive bardic knowledge was for.”

“Oh, well excuse me for thinking that a ranger might know something about animals.”

“Go screw a drider.”

 

I Cast Missile Magicis

It occurred to me today that so much  would be explained if Dungeons and Dragons was actually supplying the Potterverse with its stuff. I just picture some Harry Potter wizards accidentally Apparating into a D&D plane and turning it into a gold mine. For example, this is a gelatinous cube:

Image result for gelatinous cube

As you can deduce, it’s a big monster that dissolves things. Swords aren’t much help, but maybe a couple of wizards stumble on it:

“What the hell is that, Nigel?”

“Our meal ticket this month, Rupert. Wands out. And Freezing Charm on three: One… two…”

And a few heavy blows with a hammer later, you’ve got the Acid Pops that they kept selling to the students in Hogsmeade.

Image result for Acid Pops

 

 

Fiction Update: What’s New In My Worlds

I am interrupting your regularly scheduled blog today to bring you news of new and awesome publications!

It’s been kind of a slow year so far for new fiction. I find that frustrating because there’s a whole lot behind the scenes that is in the process of happening, (more on that below) but very little that has actually happened. This means that there’s not a lot new for my readers to read.

So, what I’m doing over on my Patreon Page is I’m launching a new kind of story, a sort of series of humorous vignettes, called “Signs From A Generation Ship.” And we all know the problem: You launch a huge ship across the horrifying void of space on a journey of 1000 years, hoping that your great-great-great-great-ad absurdum-grandkids will get there, but how do you stop them from forgetting they’re on a ship and blowing themselves up when they, I don’t know, try to free God from the fusion reactor, or look for supplies on the other side of that big, sealed double door? What kind of warnings do you post? Here’s a snippet:

Publication BDCH4135M

Location: Helm Station (embedded in the padding, back of helmsman’s chair)

Title: Welcome To The Control Room!

Hello! Judging by the fact that you are ripping apart the chairs, we must assume that you may be the first person(s) to visit the Control Room (or “Bridge”) for quite some time, possibly even for generations. We hope you are literate. If so, please locate a copy of Publication AA1: Your World Is A Ship, hopefully still available in many cabins and public spaces. If you are semi-literate, TAKE BOOK TO READER. DO NOT BURN FOR WARMTH. If not, the flashing red button will play this message in an audio file unless you press it.

This recording is not the voice of a ghost or an evil spirit. It was hidden by your ancestors in case a mutiny or other disaster caused your people to forget their origins. For a detailed description of these origins, please refer to the aforementioned Publication AA1.

In the meantime, the machines surrounding you are very complicated and vital to maintaining your life and that of your children for the foreseeable future, which is why it is so important that you DO NOT TOUCH ANY OF THE BUTTONS OR DISTURB ANY MORE OF THE ARTIFACTS IN THIS ROOM. SERIOUSLY, LEAVE EVERYTHING IN THIS ROOM ALONE! IF YOU TOUCH ANYTHING IN THIS ROOM YOU MAY CONDEMN EVERYTHING YOU KNOW AND LOVE TO A HIDEOUS AND PAINFUL DEATH.

To discover whether you or others before you have already condemned everything you know and love to a hideous and painful death, please complete the following steps:

1) Look at the Astrogation Station. That is the panel with three large screens on it.

2) On the upper small screen, there is a gold circle projected. If there is a star glowing within the circle, please leave the Control Room immediately, barricade it with severe warnings and guard it with your lives until the Voice Of Arrival Protocol instructs you or your descendants what to do. Guard it with your lives.

3) If there is no star in the circle, continue to disassemble this chair. Ignore the pamphlet buried in the column. Flip open the transparent cover and press the large, red button.

4) Use the countdown to pray to whatever God(s) your people revere.

This story will update Monday, Wednesday and Friday on my Patreon until I run out of signs, and is yours for the low price of $1.00 per month. Additionally, you will receive my novelette, The Chrysalyx, a tale of steampunk intrigue in the alternate 1920s, downloadable as a .mobi file.

Chrysalyx Cover Done

So, what’s in the process of happening? Well, what’s coming up is…

  • “All The Colors Of The Darkness,” the story of a girl blinded to keep her from developing her natural talents as a witch, will be appearing sometime this year from Lethe Press in their Survivor anthology.
  • “Crying By Remote Control,” the story of a woman who must use prosthetic emotions, has just been accepted to the anthology Mind Candy 2.
  • On The Wings Of The Morning, an anthology of my no-longer-easily-available work will be coming from Digital Fiction later this year.

Also, the novel I’m working for at Digital Fiction is nearly halfway done.

So that’s it. Please support me on Patreon; I’ll make it worth your while.

 

 

Am I In An Epic Fantasy? A Guide

This is the kind of thing that my Patreon supporters get periodically!

This Guide Will Help You Determine Whether You are In An Epic Fantasy.

What kind of person am I?

You are young and single.
Where do I live?
In a small, unregarded village, hundreds of miles from anywhere important.
What’s my job?
Apprentice something-or-other. Or nothing, really.
Who are my parents?
Dead.
What? No, they’re not. I live in their house!
That’s what you think. Be prepared for a big revelation, soon.
How soon?
As soon as the Village Elders talk to you.
What? Why would they talk to me?
It has to do with the mysterious sheep-killings and dark strangers we’ve been seeing about these parts lately.
Yeah, what’s up with those?
And about that mysterious amulet you always wear.
I always wondered about that. Where did that come from?
We never talk about that.
Dammit! That’s what my “dad” always said when I asked.
And you were never suspicious that your parents always referred to themselves in quotation marks?
Dammit. What do I look like?
Like an absolutely typical person in your village, possibly with an atypical (pick one):
Hair color
Eye color
Birthmark
Minor physical defect that in NO WAY detracts from your attractiveness
Do I have a religion?

Yes, but God or the gods, or the Whatever doesn’t really ask a lot of you, or have any commands, or do much at all, except for facilitate Ancient Prophecies that totally have absolutely nothing to do with you or anyone you know (wink, wink!) and that no one actually reads apart from Mysterious Strangers that appear out of nowhere.

Excuse me, but there’s a knock at the door.

Don’t hurry back.

A Character Sketch: Dr. James DeGrande, Or, Why You Should Read Non-fiction

Dr. James DeGrande, my swashbuckling, somewhat evil veterinarian who stars in Superversive Press’s A Doctor To Dragons, has two “ancestors” in a sense. One is Steven Brust’s amoral badass assassin, Vlad Taltos, hero of the Jhereg cycle. Part of the fun I have with DeGrande is writing a similar, no-fucks-given hero, who sometimes ends up doing the right thing.

But the other source is a nearly 100 year-old memoir of the British country vet James Herriot, whose first book about the ins and outs of his practice All Creatures Great and Small, was a world bestseller, spawned a BBC television series along with numerous sequels, and was one of my parents’ favorite choices for nightly reading. I highly recommend it if you haven’t read them.

Part of Herriot’s appeal was that he had an easy gift of describing some pretty arcane veterinary practices so that the layman could follow the drama and the humor that he found in his life, much of which consisted in him being up to the elbow in various farm animals’ intimate orifices at 3 am. And frankly, I liked it for the same reason I liked science-fiction. Because here was a man who really — to me at least — lived in a completely alien world, traveling in a culture I wasn’t familiar with and treating a variety of exotic creatures. Herriot could make cows and pigs sound just as fascinating as any Denebian slime devil.

And so, slowly, over years, the idea of what a veterinarian forced to treat mythical animals would have to deal with percolated around my mind. I will admit that it helped that I married a veterinarian, who could help me with some of the specifics when I write. But that by itself would not have been enough without the love of the stories I grew up with. Thank you, Mr. Herriot.

How To Change Stories So They Sell: An Experience

One of the things that continually irritates new writers (which I still count as including myself) is not being able to tell what an editor or publisher wants. Often, it is impossible to tell what a given editor wants, but if you’re talking to someone with a presence, it really does help to read what they have published, and consider taking a chance. Often, more than one chance. So I’ll share my story of selling “In The Employee Manual Of Madness” to Alex Shvartsman and Baen Books for the anthology The Cackle Of Cthulhu.

Before trying to submit to this anthology, I’d already sold a reprint to Alex for his Funny Fantasy Anthology. He bought “Giantkiller” but passed on “Phoenix For The Amateur Chef” and a James and Harriet story. He didn’t say why, either, just that they “weren’t for him.” You get a lot of that, for reasons you will never really know. For an excellent and more in-depth take on this than I can provide, read Monalisa Morgan Foster’s series, Rejection Is An Opinion, Not A Death Sentence.

Now, the anthology was a call for submissions for funny Cthulhu stories. I’d already sold at least two dead serious Cthulhu stories by this time, and was interested in trying a send-up, and the antho was offering pro rates. But I also knew that Alex was more likely to reject traditionally-structured stories, from me at least. I’d seen him publish stories structured like Twitter-streams and bio-excerpts. So to catch his notice, I decided I would have to take a chance.  I wrote: “On the Menu Stains Of Madness,” A Lovecraftian Choose Your Own Adventure Story. It was rejected. He didn’t like the format.

In the past, I’d have given up at that point, but I’d learned a valuable lesson: No Rule Says You Can Only Tell A Story One Way. From this, there is a corollary: No Rule Says You Can’t Sell The Same Story Told Two Ways If People Will Buy It. Honestly, I feel dumb for not realizing this earlier: How many stories did Larry Niven write about murderers who tried to use teleporter booths to get away with it? And how many did he write about paranoid-schizophrenic murderers who forgot to take their pills? Did people buy them anyway? Yes they did.

So I wrote “In the Employee Manual Of Madness,” which was in many ways the same story: worker is trapped in a restaurant under the sway of a Cthulhu-worshiping cult. Only this one was not really a “story” but rather a manual of expected behavior. And that one sold.

So remember, know your audience and don’t give up.

And buy my story: it’s hilarious.

Cackle Of Cthulhu