Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Temporal Element anthology now available!

The Temporal Element, the first anthology from Martinus Publishing, is now available!

As you can imagine, I'm excited about it mainly for blatantly selfish reasons.  If you haven't guessed already (or skipped over previous discussions about it), I've got a story included, "A Home More Welcoming," which like everything else in the collection and as the title implies is a time travel story, a sort of Looper without blunderbusses (or, alas, Emily Blunt).  It's a rare story I completely rewrote, at editor Martin T. Ingham's request (although I'm told he still did a tense edit).

Temporal Element is also the result of Ingham's Shootout from last summer, one of several writing exercises that I complained a lot about in this particular blog's formative days.  Frankly, I'm still surprised I didn't manage to completely alienate everyone from those exercises, much less the ever-patient Ingham, also author of numerous books like Curse of Selwood, which includes an undead Jesse James.

As a writer and reader I can be pretty particular, and have consistently demonstrated an inability to appropriately react to material that doesn't conform to my standards for professional-level writing, and those who think this is only something that manifests online will take terrible solace in the fact that I did this in writing classes as well.  I come from the Simon Cowell school of criticism.  I don't see the point in sugarcoating my reactions.  I think too many writers are surrounded by people who only feel the need to encourage the activity rather than improve it, because improvement is not only possible for any writer but necessary.  If we just assume that our hobby (a term that may still need explaining so that it doesn't sound insulting) is good enough to sustain our ambitions, we end up with material that will not live up to any objective or enduring standards, and therefore only satisfy our own ego.  Writing of that quality infests more than just books, although most people assume it only exists in stuff like the TV or film or pop songs they don't like.  I understand that we all have different goals and expectations, but the writing itself rather than simply the story always needs to be addressed.  Sometimes I think we allow ourselves to assume the story alone will justify the work.  Sometimes that's the case.  But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't ensure the writing is as good as possible.  I think some writers let go the need to refine their craft in their rush to tell stories they believe only they can tell.  Maybe they are the only writer capable of telling that story, but they should still tell it in a manner that's worth reading.

Although there's always the argument that once written, however well, that story enters the collective consciousness, and there will always be the possibility and indeed inevitability that someone else will tell that story again, perhaps better.  This is the real strength of any story, and any storytelling, and far too often we as readers lose sight of that.  And perhaps that's something that I can sometimes forget, too.

The Temporal Element is an entire exercise in this mindset.  Everyone's read or seen dozens of time travel stories.  There are certain tropes and versions of the basic narrative that you might need to understand.  One is that time travel affects the timeline.  One is that time travel can't affect the timeline.  Another is that time travel leads to parallel realities.  There's an ever-present debate as to whether time travel is even or will ever be possible.  Although in an expansive sense, it either already exists or won't ever, because time itself isn't relegated to the limited human perspective.

Do you have to care about anything that I've just written to enjoy the stories in The Temporal Element?  Absolutely not.  But this is my writing blog, and so I get to dictate exactly what you read about it as long as you're here.  Depending on your personal philosophy, time travel could help you resolve any lingering misgivings on reading all or any of it...

In the meantime, you can purchase the anthology in its Kindle edition here!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jennifer Garner Changed Everything!

One of the experiences that led to Yoshimi and the Shadow Clan was a TV series called Alias.

This was a show that debuted in the fall of 2001.  There's a lot that can be said about that TV season, but a girl with red hair stole a lot of my attention.  At first it was just a show that everyone seemed to love.  The critics couldn't stop talking about it.  Eventually I gave it a shot, and watched as Gina Torres made Sydney Bristow's life a living hell.  This wasn't so hard for Gina (known on Alias as Anna Espinosa, still one of the best names ever, but then Alias was filled with those), because everyone made life a living hell for Sydney.  By the end of that season, Sydney's own mother joined the club!

Anyway, it wasn't just that Alias was and is still pretty unique in showing a woman doing action better than most men, and it wasn't just that Sydney was capable of expressing a wider range of emotion than anyone else on the planet (that's where my eternal love for Jennifer Garner comes into play; and p.s. if being married to an Oscar winner ever gets boring, let me know!), and it wasn't even that she did most of it wearing the most outlandish (and sometimes skimpy) disguises (hence the title) possible...It was everything.  Alias was constantly inspiring.  Sydney Bristow was a revelation.

My favorite season is actually everyone else's least favorite, the third, where Sydney has lost her memory and has to figure out what happened (and finally does thanks to Terry O'Quinn, in the role that basically gave us Lost's John Locke), because the world she finds when she gets it back is completely upside down!  It's the season that has the least to do with the Rambaldi arc, but the most to do with Sydney herself, and for me that's about all I can ask from the series.

Alias redefined what it meant for a story to immerse itself into a character, and the fact that it was an action series meant that it was breaking every rule possible.  That's the kind of TV series I tend to enjoy, and Alias was one of the first to show how far this could go, and it remains one of my favorites.

For me as a writer, I take inspiration from everything.  Some writers can make it pretty obvious, and end up writing exactly like their source material, even if that means they write a story like the movies they enjoyed growing up (this is far more common than you'd think).  If the writing is exceptional, if the presentation is phenomenal, I will invariably look for a way to incorporate its effect in my own work.  I never consciously decided that Sydney had joined this background chorus of muses, but she was there all along.  Yoshimi is not based on Sydney, but Sydney is nonetheless an ancestor to Yoshimi, whose own past is just as convoluted.  If you ever watched Alias, you know exactly what I mean, and have that much better an idea what to expect as Yoshimi's story continues.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Yoshimi and the Shadow Clan

For the past year I've been following Pat Dilloway's devotion to his Scarlet Knight series on his eponymous blog.  The more I became aware that it was a series the more Pat's devotion intrigued me.  At first it was just about the one book, A Hero's Journey, but then he unveiled the rest of the books, which he is currently in the midst of releasing.

Now, there are certain parallels to what I've been doing.  Yes, Seven Thunders as I've been talking about it is very similar.  And the book this post is about is the first of a trilogy.  Yet I should note for the record that the complete Yoshimi trilogy was written well before last April, when I read Pat's blog for the first time.

Yet Pat is still something of an inspiration, and when I read A Hero's Journey for the first time, I didn't realize how closely it resembled Yoshimi and the Shadow Clan.  When I read Journey earlier this year, I called it, along with Martin Ingham's Curse of Selwood, I came to see it as a kind of young adult adventure, and when I reviewed it I'm not sure I expressed that well enough.  Young adult fiction is not something to feel bad about reading.  Even I've struggled with this perception in the past.  Most of it is inspired directly by popular fiction meant for anyone, though with themes that younger readers will appreciate.  Journey in fact features a young adult of a different kind, one who's moved on from high school but in her own mind maybe doesn't feel like she has.

When I wrote about Yoshimi, I wrote very specifically for the traditional young adult market, and yet while I was editing it I was surprised to find language that was in places very similar to Pat's and even Ingham's, characterizations that resonated in exactly the way I'd planned.  I tend to write very esoterically, and the whole point of Yoshimi was that she'd be my way to suppress that instinct.  This works really well in Yoshimi and the Shadow Clan, though in the concluding volumes I shift a little more into more familiar territory.  Which to my mind is a good thing.  If you like what you see in the first book, hopefully you'll be that much more interested and invested in what follows.

Pat spends the Scarlet Knight series deepening his mythology, which is exactly what you want to see in a series.  We're both budding writers looking for a way into the hearts of readers.  His dedication to Scarlet Knight was one of the main reasons I was finally able to overcome the dejection of what Yoshimi's original publishing fate was supposed to be.  Ingham plays a part here, too, because he released Selwood himself, the second in a series.

Yoshimi's story is all about finding a sense of forward momentum when everything seems to work against her.  Her publishing history has turned out to reflect that.

You can find Yoshimi and the Shadow Clan available at Amazon as a paperback and ebook.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Girl with the Scimitar Blade

Later this week I'll be unveiling the launch of Yoshimi and the Shadow Clan, the first of a trilogy of books I originally wrote in the fall of 2011.

Now, I know that I've been going on about Seven Thunders and the significance of the whole Space Corps saga, but in many ways I would never have finally written Seven Thunders if I hadn't written about Yoshimi.

She's the point where I finally realized that every book I've written has been a quest story.  From Cloak of Shrouded Men to the two other manuscripts I have floating around, there's always been a goal the characters want to attain by the end of the story, something they hope to have achieved.  Yoshimi was my way of distilling everything I'd learned into the simplest, most accessible narrative possible.  As I've enjoyed saying, her story is Harry Potter crossed with Kill Bill, or maybe just what I would've done with Peter Parker if he hadn't been defined by being bitten by a radioactive spider.

Simply put, Yoshimi is an orphan, who learns that despite what she's grown up believing about herself that there is far more to her story than what the circumstances of her life have so far suggested.  She learns that her parents didn't die in a car accident but were murdered.

Now, what Yoshimi actually is can sometimes be a little tricky to explain.  She's a ninja warrior, I guess you could say, but she's not Bruce Lee with pigtails.  She's just a fifteen year old girl who has to figure out how to navigate her new life, which is riddled with problems starting with a teenage boy named Bill (and yeah, you know exactly where the name came from), who just so happens to run the Shadow Clan, which was inspired by the man who murdered Yoshimi's parents.

Yoshimi and Bill fall in love, by the way.

And of course the story continues from there, into three additional volumes.  All told the story is long enough for one average-length book, but I've split it up into three just so the beats can be better appreciated.  The further she progresses the more mature she and the story becomes, and I move away from the young adult vibe to the more literary style I'm more accustomed to writing.

Yet Yoshimi's story ends up being more expansive than I originally thought.  It develops its own mythology, which in writing the thing out helped me learn what it would mean to realize Seven Thunders.  I'd done this before.  Cloak of Shrouded Men was written over the course of three years, and there's plenty of mythology there, too, but in three sometimes very different volumes.  The other manuscripts I wrote, especially Modern Ark, I juggled a lot of mythology in order to tell a story that ended up being very complicated, which was why I tried to be more simple in Minor Contracts.  Yet it's with Yoshimi that I learned that complicated and simple don't have to be mutually exclusive.  So that's what made Seven Thunders possible, and why I need to have Yoshimi out in the world before I can release Seven Thunders.

And by the way, there's a character named Yoshimi in Seven Thunders, who's connected to a whole legacy of her own in the Space Corps saga.  It may be one indication that wherever Yoshimi's story ends in this trilogy, it could go many other places still, if readers are interested.  If they aren't, then I have this one story, and I know exactly what it means.

It's a quest, and it led me to where I needed to go.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Fifteen Year Journey to Completing Seven Thunders

As readers, we don't seldom believe we'll ever get to know the authors of the books we love.  In the social media age there's a slightly better chance of that happening, but then there's also a good chance you'll know more about what they do than who they are.

Allow me to change some of that for you now: I walk everywhere and the most imaginative thing I do in my life has nothing to do with my writing, but rather how I interact with my sister's cat, which is an extension of how my whole family interacted with our dog.

Before I go much further, let me just direct you to my second-ever interview, for the upcoming Temporal Element anthology, where you may find out even more things about me you never thought you'd care about.  Here can read it here.

Anyway, I just finished writing Seven Thunders.  I started writing it in October last year, but really the process began in 1998, and really it started in 1995, and I can only go that far back because the past gets a little hazy.  All I can say with any certainty was that I was fourteen when there's evidence I could show you to support the origins of this book.

I was a teenage Star Trek fan.  I was a fan of Star Trek when I was younger, too, and my memories of Star Wars seem to go back as far as I can remember, because my family obsessively watched those films for years and years, but I begin by saying that I was a teenage Star Trek fan because Star Trek was always on TV.  I watched syndicated reruns of the original series, made my way through The Next Generation, and continued right through Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise, the last of which was on TV as I was preparing to figure out what it meant for me to be an adult.

When I was fourteen I began formalizing my interest in Star Trek by lovingly creating a pastiche.  In these stories I created my own version by following three captains rather than a single one, though they collapsed into one and that's the only one I still remember much less use.  I created a new generation, too, and then other platforms other than starship adventures.  In 1998, for some reason, I decided to tell a more singular story, one that didn't fit the format of episodic adventures, serialized or otherwise.  It was originally called Paradise Lost, even though I knew someone else had used that title.

The first mark of inspiration I can come up with is an advertising campaign for the DC mini-series Kingdom Come, which used language from the Book of Revelation in the Bible, specifically referring to the notable superheroes involved as the metaphorical seven thunders of John's vision.  And that's why the title eventually became Seven Thunders.

The name of the lead character seemed to spring pretty organically, borrowed from someone I knew from school and a baseball player (Nolan Ryan).  The rest of them took a little more developing.  The female lead eventually found her name in the book The Unredeemed Captive, which I read in college for a history class.  Another lead (there are, naturally, seven of them) took his surname from a favorite teacher in high school, and the curious thing was that this character already existed in another series of stories from what would eventually become known as the Space Corps, and I knew from the start that this wouldn't make him the main character of Seven Thunders but rather his best friend.

I started to think I knew these characters pretty well.  I remember watching The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and thinking that a lot of what I thought I knew about Seven Thunders simply wasn't enough.  It was around this time that I started writing actual stories based on the Space Corps universe.  Most of what I'd done and would continue to do was simply making notes, learning everything, plotting the stories rather than writing them.  I learned that the first story I ever wrote was not ultimately a story that I needed to write.  I already had that story.  It was Seven Thunders.  Even as I plotted many more stories, the one I had to write was Seven Thunders.  And so the years progressed and I plotted more stories, but never wrote any of them.  I never finished that first story.  Part of the reason why was because I was intimidated.  I planned something long, and I'd never written a long story before, and it was already taking longer than I'd thought before I realized how long it was taking, and then a chapter was eaten by a computer crash, and I stopped trying to write it entirely.

And I kept plotting stories.  The more I plotted the more I learned, and the more I learned the more I knew what was truly important, and what the shape of the whole thing was, and what needed to change and what already existed that could take new significance.  Basically learning that all the plotting was a good thing, and that all the time not writing Seven Thunders was a good thing.  For some reason I realized that Seven Thunders had to take the basic shape of the War of 1812, because it came to fascinate me, because it didn't seem to fascinate anyone else, and things like that can be used for inspiration perhaps more than things people know, because they can be surprised.  You can find all kinds of insight possible.  Of course, you can do the same with the things people know, or think they know.

Anyway, I kept learning new things about Seven Thunders, and I started writing books.  I don't mean to say that like it's any kind of accomplishment, because if anything I've learned that it really isn't, because all those people who say that it is really don't know what they're talking about.  Lots of people write books.  Lots of people don't publish lots of books because they get lots of books that lots of people write.  I learned a great deal about what it means for me to write a book, what kind of book I write, while writing these earlier books.  I learned my voice, and that was important.

Still, when I finally sat down to write Seven Thunders, I was still surprised.  Part of the reason I was surprised was because I'd never taken the time to write an extensive outline for it like I had with all the other Space Corps stories.  So that meant that most of what I was going to write would develop as I was writing, and this took even more development than I expected.  I started writing last October, thinking as it normally turns out that I would write the book in the three remaining months of the year. Except it didn't work out that way.

By January I wasn't done, and by February I hadn't written a word since December, and by March I had to force myself into just writing again, and this was good, because by then I had experienced and done what was necessary to finish the book.  I wrote a few more stories, and those became incorporated into Seven Thunders, and so all of this is to say that if I had written Seven Thunders at any other point in my life, in any other way, it wouldn't be what it is today, and I'm a writer who unfortunately believes that what happens is what was supposed to happen, even when it's frustrating experiencing what happens.  I'm happy with the shape the book ultimately took.

Sometimes I think it would take another book entirely to say everything there is to say about how Seven Thunders was written, the false starts and everything I assumed along the way.  To have finally written it and be done with it is something I always assumed would happen at some point, but I never knew what that point was, just somewhere on the horizon when things were anything but what they were and what they were becoming and what they became.  Well, now I know what they are, and I can relax a little, because I've completed a journey, closed a loop, and for me, a lot of life is about doing that.  Sometimes you know exactly where you're headed, and that still doesn't make it anymore clear.  So imagine when you don't know the destination...
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