Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Brief Update

Since I last checked in here, I mentioned some projects I hoped to finish by the end of the month.  I'm happy to report that progress is looking good.

"City of Tomorrow" over at Sigild V is shaping up well.  Seven chapters done and five to go, just the amount of days I need, since I'm writing one a day, what amounts to a page in the formatting I normally use.  All the major characters have been introduced now.  The first chapter I posted to Twitter spiked interest to half a dozen reads instead of one or two (or none!), so that's pretty good.  I tweeted today's, just to see if history repeats itself.  As per my previous description, the story explores uncharted territory in the history of Metropolis, influential figures in the folklore that exists outside of Superman (all created by me), who is never referenced by name, nor is Lex Luthor, the Daily Planet, or anything but the location name and its popular nickname.  Keeps most of it under my control.

I wrote my entry for Martin Ingham's upcoming anthology, around 2,400 words, which is still not too many, but still respectable.  I had a roadmap for the story, but actually writing it was still pretty surprising, the way it turned out.  I'm pleased with it.  The good thing is, if it's not selected I always have Sigild as a forum.

So just the five chapters and the Top Cow contest script and maybe Dr. Seuss bio to go!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Projects That Will Occupy My Time Thru September

In the run-up to writing Seven Thunders (that little project I've been going on about), I feel like getting the juices flowing via diving back into the writing game in a somewhat ambitious way.

There's my submission for Top Cow's 2012 Talent Hunt (something I hope 2004 winner Drew Melbourne does not enter because he's too busy eating steaks or something), which will center around Ji Xi, wielder of the 13th Artifact.  Only eight pages of comic book script here.

There's also "Homeland," a short story I'm composing for Martin Ingham's upcoming time travel anthology.  Ingham was the host of the Shootout, and the final round winner got an automatic entry into the anthology.  Y'all know how my Shootout experience went.  But "Homeland," once it came to me, became irresistible.  For anyone who may have participated and remember my efforts, this will not have anything in common with those stories.

There's also "City of Tomorrow," which I will be serializing at Sigild V, my writing blog (as opposed to this, which is my writer's blog; perhaps more sensible people will combine them).  It's a Superman story by way of Dean Motter via Action Comics #0, which features Lois Lane quipping about "yesterday's city of tomorrow."  Given that I'm a fan of Motter's retrofuturism (and you can read about what I've been reading recently to affirm that here), I thought it would make something of a nice fit for my occasional lapses into fiction based on the creations of others (some call it "fan fiction").  Most of the body of the story comes from random notes I've made recently based on holistic bits of inspiration, which is exactly why I do that sort of thing.  You never know when it'll prove handy.

Technically I also have a Dr. Seuss bio for Bluewater to write, but I'm not sure if I'm protesting their lack of progress on the two scripts I sent them earlier this year or if I'm just being lazy.  I fully intend to do the bio in full Dr. Seuss style, and the challenge of that may also be preventing me from doing it...

Anyway, all of this is to say that I will be getting back into writing fiction on a regular basis.  After I started Sigild last year, I started writing like crazy, and worked on a number of twelve-part stories that got me writing even more regularly, but have recently and very significantly slowed down, perhaps after the release of Monorama (you remember that, don't you?), so all this ambition is really to get me back on my proverbial toes (because in real life I HAVE NONE...just kidding!).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Seven Thunders and the War of 1812

One of the key components of Seven Thunders is its connection to the War of 1812.

As American wars go, there are more obscure wars than this one, but I'm still surprised that it's viewed as insignificant, even though it was basically the second war for independence.  True, independence was won the first time, but the revolutions of the 18th century drastically affected world affairs of the 19th, including the ongoing conflicts between England and France.  Contrary to how American/English relations seem to have been friendly since forever today (probably best traced to WWII and the epic courtship of Roosevelt by Churchill), they weren't exactly on the best of terms early on.  Madison asked for war because the British were constantly disrespecting American maritime rights.

That's the biggest connection between Seven Thunders and the War of 1812, the thing that runs between the brothers at the heart of the story.  One brother is impressed into service with the Danab, and the other spends the story trying to get him back.

Now, there are other elements and connections that I could discuss, more details that I only figured out after long years of development (remember that I've said it's a story fifteen years in the making), but I'd prefer to keep those to first readings (though you never know).

The War of 1812, celebrating its bicentennial this year (naturally, but to little public recognition), was just as controversial in its day as the Iraq War and even the Vietnam War are today.  That may be why so few people bother to think about it.  I happen to have a high opinion of James Madison, so that's one of the reasons I think about it.

Among the famous trivia of the war include Francis Scott Key's composition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the burning of the White House, not to mention Andrew Jackson's post-war Florida military victory that propelled him to the presidency (over John Quincy Adams, another of my underdog favorites) and America's last effort to add Canada to the country (which is what caused the burning of the White House).

Without the War of 1812, it's doubtful that we'd be an international presence today.  It was a crucial time.  It was the second generation of the country, when it was time to prove whether the Founding Fathers had created something enduring or that would fall apart.  It's an irony that Madison was part of both generations, and was probably considered a part of the mistakes that would eventually lead to the Civil War, and that without the war that was cause for such debate, the necessary galvanization of the second generation would never take place.  There was a string of mediocrity that would eventually lead to Lincoln, but Madison wasn't part of it.

Part of what distinguishes Seven Thunders for me is that it attempts to tell exactly that story, but in a way that perhaps explains things better.  It is not the War of 1812 transposed into a space opera, but that would not be a bad way of looking at it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Writing Seven Thunders

Writing Seven Thunders is a process that has so far taken fifteen years.

I have not written a single page.  I've written a few opening lines, but for the record, I have not started writing it yet.  Some people would no doubt find that to be a tad preposterous, especially in an era where anyone can be published, anyone will write.

Seven Thunders is something I've considered to be my potential masterpiece.  Now that I've written a few books (books I did not spend fifteen years planning), I can no longer say that with so much certainty, but it's still incredibly important to me, perhaps my best shot at a truly popular novel (though Yoshimi could be that, once those pesky Hall Brothers get around to it).

Considering that the world around Seven Thunders has since become what will be a series of books beside it in the form of Space Corps, perhaps some of what delayed my writing it has dulled some of the impact.  I never planned to write more books around it.  I don't know what I expected to do with the rest of the material (at some point I thought they might be TV shows, and more recently, comic books), but recently I started thinking of them as books, around the time I stopped thinking of Seven Thunders as a trilogy and more like the format of Finnegan, the first book I wrote deliberately, after The Cloak of Shrouded Men, which like Finnegan also takes three acts to conclude its story.  Only Ecce Homo so far (because Yoshimi does, too) doesn't follow this pattern so far, but I'm not sure I'm done editing its final shape.

Seven Thunders is named thus because of the DC Comics graphic novel Kingdom Come, which referenced the Book of Revelation and the thunder in some of its original advertising.  The thunders in the context of my book are the seven main characters, who have remained more or the less the same since I first sketched them out.  Another of the refinements I've figured out very recently is that two of them are brothers, like in Prison Break, grown up and still trying to reconcile the complications of their past that still affect them in the present.

I figure I will finally start writing Seven Thunders in October, and shoot to complete each of its three acts one per month until the end of the year.  I still haven't exactly decided how long it'll be, but I'm sure I'll know.  I've now had ample practice doing this, having now done it four other times, which is still a little incredible to think.  Since I haven't been too successful in finding publishers or making the decision to self-publish (Monorama being an exception and another learning experience), I still think of myself as a budding writer.  Possibly because as far as success goes, I wouldn't know too much about it.

Well, the rest of the year should be interesting anyway...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Introduction to Space Corps

A long time ago, on a carpet far, far away...

Space Corps is something I've been working on since at least 1995.  It's a direct product of my love for Star Trek, which at that time was being supercharged by Deep Space Nine's third season, which remains a high watermark for me in my experience with the classic sci-fi franchise, when a good show started figuring out how to be great.

Of course, Space Corps (it had a different name then) didn't start out anything like Deep Space Nine.  It was designed to match the kinds of stories the original Star Trek and Next Generation series had done, episodic adventures that hopped to something new every week.  In 1998, perhaps coincidentally when DS9 was again revolutionizing the franchise during its extended Dominion War arc, I expanded Space Corps to include the Seven Thunders saga (it had a different name at that time), the first time I had a self-contained story that could stand up against my other great sci-fi love, Star Wars.

So yes, I'm one of those people who can love Star Trek and Star Wars at the same time.  To me, they've always been distinctive yet complementary.  They're both visions of starships zipping through space.  What happens between the starships featured each franchise certainly distinguishes them.  In Star Trek, it's always been about a voyage of discovery, with a set of individuals deliberately (and sometimes accidentally) challenging the unknown.  In Star Wars (and here's why I've always had a problem with all the spinoff material that has swamped the landscape over the past twenty years), it's always been about one great story, the rise and fall of evil, and the individuals who challenged the known.

Where Star Trek often allows familiar characters to explore the unfamiliar, Star Wars follows unfamiliar characters exploring the familiar.  You know who Kirk and Spock are, right from the start (that was the genius of J.J. Abrams' 2009 film).  But you don't really know Luke and Han.  You don't know where Kirk and Spock are headed, but you do know that Luke and Han are confronting a giant menace.

That's something I thought could be combined.  There've been plenty of incarnations of Star Trek that've attempted to do that, but they're always succeeded best when they understood exactly what always made Star Trek work best, even if some fans have had a hard time processing that.  Star Trek can do what Star Wars does, but Star Wars can't really do what Star Trek does and remain Star Wars, just as Star Trek is no longer Star Trek if it starts to be too much like Star Wars.  Do you follow?

What Space Corps has increasingly attempted to represent is a melding of these experiences.  If it started out like a match for Star Trek, I eventually realized that it wasn't very much like Star Trek at all.  When you analyze the Star Trek tradition, you come up with a lot of very specific things that the franchise has always done, throughout each of its incarnations.  It loves time travel.  It loves moral dilemmas, but in very deliberate frameworks.  It loves allegories.  It loves having a very specific cast layout.  There must always be a captain. There must always be a starship.  (Even when DS9 rebelled against these last two, it eventually assumed them both, in that third season of course.)

Many of the original stories I plotted for Space Corps in the early years embraced most of these elements.  When I created my version of DS9, I started to move away.  I combined, in fact, DS9 with Voyager for one story.  Then I tried DS9 again.  Then I started to break away and figure out what gave Space Corps its own framework.  I kept circling back to Seven Thunders, one epic saga that had already resonated through some of the earlier stories, recurring elements that started feeling more like Star Wars than Star Trek, even when something like the Dominion War happened.  In college, I found myself starting to shape the reality of Space Corps further, figuring out its origins.

I never even considered getting any Space Corps material published.  A part of me must have realized that the whole process would need refinement.  Although it was already a sizable entity in my own head, I always wanted to start with Seven Thunders.  Was it ready?  Seven Thunders underwent its own refinements.  Character names are important to me.  One major character got a new name.  Now I can't imagine what it would have been like if the old one had been codified.  The new one helped shape the character in ways I hadn't even considered before.  Even now, I'm learning more about them because of that one crucial difference.

I've changed a lot of names in Space Corps over the years.  As I've said, names are important to me.  I've always considered it a mark of a good writer to come up with distinctive, memorable names, and good ones.  Plenty of writers try to come up with distinctive names, but they just don't work.  Plenty of writers overthink this.  Sometimes a good name can be as simple as Spock, and a great many people will be able to juggle the existence of the Vulcan science officer Spock with the baby expert Benjamin Spock.  It's still rare, even though it's familiar in two different contexts.  Plenty of writers come up with weird "foreign" spellings that will never look natural, and will only be a stumbling block to the more discerning readers.  If you can't come up with a good name, what else can't you do?

So I've juggled a lot of names, and I have a lot of characters in Space Corps.  There are many different stories in this saga.  There isn't a single story in this saga, so it's not completely like Star Wars, but I've tried to embrace the vision of having iconic things happen to characters against dramatic backdrops.  That's what Star Wars is to me, an intimate story that happens to encompass a giant event, what happens to Anakin Skywalker as the the Republic is for a time taken over by the Empire.  Yes, there are Jedi knights and smugglers and bounty hunters running around in the background, but even in the original trilogy, when it was Luke Skywalker trying to figure out what was going on and how he fit into things, it was always dominated by that distinctive black-clad individual, Darth Vader.  Even in the very first movie, Vader was an outsider in his own group, and the greatest moment of intrigue was when the audience realizes that this guy cares as much about the old desert hermit as Luke does.

How do you combine Star Wars with Star Trek?  Star Trek, even when things like Khan and the Dominion War and the Borg happen, is always about a crew of explorers who are trying to survive events that are bigger than them.  Even when someone like Benjamin Sisko ends up being the religious savior of an entire population, it's Sisko's need to understand that role that defines him, rather than anything he actually does.  Star Trek is introspective.  It doesn't breed characters who deliberately try to shape events, but rather characters who are shaped by events.  They're always at the fringe, even when Jean-Luc Picard becomes the Borg figurehead.  There was nothing of Picard in Locutus.

With Space Corps, I try to imagine ways that characters can be introspective and still drive big events, try to merge the intimate with the grand.  It was always my playground, after all.  Once you expand the story a little, there's a lot to play with.  I started out thinking Space Corps would be episodic, and gradually realized that it wasn't.  There was at least one great saga at the heart of it, and that's what stood at the heart of Seven Thunders.  In Seven Thunders, two friends end up on opposite sides of a conflict.  As an American, I suppose there will always be a residual of the Civil War running through my thoughts.  I'm no great Civil War scholar, but it's an intrinsically American narrative.  When I started expanding that conflict between friends, I realized that the Civil War wasn't the only time friends could have ended up in that position.  It's happened countless times throughout American history.  One could say we've always been a polarized nation.

I don't want to say that Space Corps ended up being about that.  Star Wars had the Empire.  Star Trek had the Klingons.  I have the Danab.  The nature of the conflict defines the nature of the franchise.  Once I figured out exactly who the Danab were, I started figuring out the rest of Space Corps, starting with Seven Thunders.  And once I figured out Seven Thunders, I started to understand the shape of Space Corps, the most important elements.  I started to understand the intimate and the grand, started to see where Star Trek and Star Wars met, once you removed all the barriers.

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but Space Corps became my Middle Earth.  George Lucas began and ended with a single story.  Gene Roddenberry began and ended with a single vision.  Space Corps isn't fantasy, but it borrows more from what Tolkien helped establish in that genre than from what most creators have done with science fiction.  It builds a world and a comprehensive history, one that follows a logical path.  If Gollum is a tragic character who accidentally puts a series of events in motion, then I figured I had to have a character who sows seeds throughout Space Corps. This character has no major role in Seven Thunders, but he helped form the backbone for the rest of the saga.

Hopefully in time I will be able to write it all down in books that will help better explain all of this.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Rounding Out the Shootout...and WRiTE CLUB

I just reviewed the final three stories of the Shootout.  It was not as painful as I thought it would be.  In fact, the story I picked to win I really, really loved.  So that was pretty pleasant.  Assuming my guess was correct, this was the first time I read this author, since they were on my team during the three-round preliminaries.

I've also made the decision to step away from WRiTE CLUB.  It may have something to do with the fact that my entry came up today, and it was inexplicably another of the random stories that the good folks participating actually decided they didn't like.  So my Shootout experience was not much of a fluke.  My style is not for everyone.

I've known this for a long time.  It's no surprise.  It's disappointing and a great relief to finally get it out as concerns WRiTE CLUB, however.  It means I don't have to continue reading other people's stuff.  You know that I've struggled with this exercise, too.

It is selfish, in one sense.  I'm making others "pay" by withholding future comments and votes.  But aside from David List, I don't think anyone else even noticed that I was approaching WRiTE CLUB differently from everyone else.  David and a few others seemed to get more chatty about their opinions once he contacted me (at Scouring Monk) a few weeks ago.  That's as well.  For a few rounds, I stopped voicing a strong opinion, but started up again, and part of that was because of the Shootout blowup that involved one of the finalists.

I already know I was a contrary voice in WRiTE CLUB, and to some extent, it'd be nice to continue being one, but that's not a place that likes contrary voices.  (Actually, no place likes contrary voices.)  All communities crave a certain amount of uniformity.  When they don't get it from someone, that someone eventually figures it out.  They become isolated.  Most communities are too cowardly to outright ban their outsiders.  They have an inkling that there's something of worth being said, even if they choose to ignore it.

The loneliest place really is in the center of a crowd.

There's still several months of WRiTE CLUB left.  You can still join in.  I'm not giving you another link.  Technically, I can put in another effort myself, but I don't see the point.  I know that when I write what I want to write, there's a lot of readers who just won't care.

One of my illusions has always been that writers are by nature lovers of traditional literature (even if that literature is experimental).  I'm beginning to suspect that most writers are more lovers of popular fiction.  That's all they read, that's all they write.  Literary fiction is by definition limiting.  Few people like to think.  They like visceral experiences.  There's nothing wrong with visceral experiences.  But there's a problem when you limit yourself only to that kind of experience.

Older generations are always saying how modern society is fast becoming a vast video game, turning everything into a digital playground.  While that may sound cool to people who are still obsessed with The Matrix, I think what it really means is that in the effort to embrace instant gratification, we're forgetting that some rewards take time and effort.  No, not the time and effort it takes to make something, but the time it takes to figure it out.

Picture your horror when you realized that Christopher Columbus was a horribly racist ravager of the New World.  Now, just imagine what it would have been like if he was exactly the man history tried its hardest to make him.  Memory is a funny thing.  It makes everything better, and it makes everything worse.  Memories create the Christopher Columbus who taught us that the world wasn't flat.

If you were to write a story about Columbus today, would you include that thought?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Mark Waid's Flash and Lost

Most of writer Mark Waid's issues on The Flash included the phrase, "My name is Wally West, and I'm the fastest man alive."

While the phrase can be read as a mantra or as a simple matter of fact (if you didn't know, The Flash is a DC Comics superhero who runs really fast), it was also a statement of how Waid approached the character. In a word, brilliantly.

He was the first writer who wrote Wally West as someone other than the former sidekick who wasn't trying desperately to screw up replacing a legend like Barry Allen.  He create the whole concept of the Speed Force, and revolutionized the concept of legacies, uniting all of the speedsters into a coherent mythology, including the Zen master of speed, Max Mercury (still one of my favorites to this day).

What Waid figured out was that Wally wasn't just the guy trying to fill out red tights, but one of the first superheroes to grow up and truly embrace his destiny.  He wrote The Flash in a way that embraced the concept as well as the character.  It wasn't just about what had happened to him or who he was, but what he did with it.  In short, "My name is Wally West, and I'm the fastest man alive."

The TV series Lost was nearly capsized by its own cult following.  It worked so hard building up the mythology that the fans forgot what the series was actually about.

Was it about the mythology?  Sure, to a certain extent.  But Lost was always about its characters.  And like Wally West, the sprawling cast was a motley bunch of damaged goods who may have been defined in any other series by the tragedies their lives had become.  In any crime show, for instance, they would have been the bad guys, plain and simple.

Yet Lost figured out, like Mark Waid did, that it's not just what happened to someone or who they were, but what they do with their lives.

The island was a shot at redemption.  Plain and simple.  That's the whole kit and caboodle.  That's what it was all about.  All those crazy theories that were especially popular during the second season were great, but all the disappointment that heaped up in the second season, when Charlie and Locke are once again pathetic and nobody can understand why, is where reaction started to truly misinterpret what the show was trying to accomplish.

By the fourth season, when they got a chance to go home, and the fifth season, when they were hopping through time, and the sixth season, which ended in Heaven, the flashbacks that had propelled the first half of the series gave way to different kinds of material.  That was well and good for some people.  They got tired of the flashbacks.

Well, hey howdy.  The flashbacks were what Lost was all about.  Their lives on the island were a way of processing and letting go of the mistakes they'd made.  That's why the final season brought them back, helped us look at what their lives would be like if a few key differences help makes things easier off the island.  Because it was never about the island.

You can have the coolest gimmicks ever, running really fast or some fantastic island where odd things happen as a matter of course, but none of it truly resonates, none of it lasts, if the characters who are behind these gimmicks don't matter.

Sure, some readers, some viewers don't care.  As a creator, your primary focus should always be to give the audience what they want, but go well beyond what they want, give them as much as you can.  If you care about the characters, you owe it to the characters as much as the audience.  The audience is fickle, and you're not creating only for the first audience, but the second and third generation fans.  Well, presumably.  Some creators are perfectly content to work on disposable things.

I say, it's not enough to know what happened to a character (their backstory) or what happens to them (their story).  I say characters demand to have perspective, too.  The creator needs that perspective as much as the characters do.  If the characters don't have it, the creator doesn't, and if the creator doesn't, the audience will eventually notice.

To me, that's incredibly scary.  I want my stories to mean something, to speak to something.  I don't just write because I like to write, but because I think I have something to say.

If it's something as simple and profound as "My name is Wally West, and I'm the fastest man alive," then I'll feel like I've accomplished something.
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