Thursday, December 31, 2009

Callarion at Night update

I'm about two hours away from heading to a New Year's Eve party, so I'll make this quick as it's kind of important.

I am pleased to announce that the first (very rough) draft of CALLARION AT NIGHT is ...

Drumroll please.

DONE at 63,329 words, 231 pages, and 23 chapters!!!!

There's at least four chapters of material I have to add and some scenes I have to fix/expand/add, but the core of the story is down after 8 months of false starts, hiatuses, and outlines that didn't exactly get followed. However, I'm still quite excited, and am willing to pass it along to anyone who wants to read the rough copy. The pointing out of logic holes is much appreciated!

The Value of Summary

There are times when you can have too much detail in a story. A perfect example that I saw awhile back (I forget where) is describing your character's morning routine.

Just off the top of my head:

Stan woke at 6 a.m. He rolled out of bed, scratching an itch in his side, and walked to the bathroom. He put the toothpaste on the toothbrush and scrubbed his teeth like they'd been caked in dirt. He undressed and turned the shower on. Stan waited for the water to heat before stepping in. He squirted some body wash into one hand and scrubbed at his torso. Then he moved to his legs; then to his arms. 

See how monotonous that is? And there are some writers who can go on for a page or more like that; describing every little detail of every scene, every action, and every setting. It wastes a lot of words composing something like that when the only desire is to show the character is A Normal Person.

Much better to use summarizing sentence(s) to show the same details. Let's look at my rewritten "Stan" paragraph again.

Stan woke at 6 a.m. He went to the bathroom first, where he brushed his teeth like they'd been caked in dirt. Stan turned the shower on and undressed while he waited for the water to heat. He washed under the soothing warmth of the strong spray.

Neither paragraph is tremendously great writing, but the premise still holds. The same information is communicated in a much shorter space than it was before, though the paragraph would probably be cut if I were writing a story about "Stan" for real. It doesn't really drive the story forward, and I'd rather not (as a reader or as a writer) see monotonous stuff included simply to pad the word count.

Summary is particularly effective in scenes where there's a lot going on. If you can touch on everything the character sees in one or two sentences each, then you can still communicate the details without getting into unnecessary description about how the battle fared or some such.

On the other hand though, there are times where too much summarization can kill suspension of disbelief. This is especially true when trying to succinctly describe an emotional response. Not everything can be summed up in one or two sentences, and the details need to flow where they create an engaging experience for the reader and not exist because the writer loves their own flowery prose (which I've also seen).

And before I forget, the Ten-Word Novel Contest ends at 11:59 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time tonight (December 31). This is also the last blog post for this week, so Happy New Year to all my returning and new blog readers!

See you in 2010!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hearing Your Characters' Voices

There comes a time in every story (hopefully) when the words fly from your fingertips onto the page in a voice that you come to realize is not your own. And it shouldn't be -- unless you're writing an autobiography of course and then the voice not being yours is just weird.

The voice that you find in the story isn't yours because it's the voice of your character. This is especially true in first-person stories where you're sitting directly inside the head of the protagonist (or antagonist as the case may be) and seeing everything they see, but it's also valid in third-person limited and third-person omniscient tales.

When a writer says a story "wrote itself," then, what they mean is the character's voice came through loud and clear and fully formed without an ounce of hesitation. Moriah's sarcasm and deep-seated anger were the first traits I discovered without hesitation when I started writing CALLARION AT NIGHT; her feelings of inadequacy and burning desire to find the truth came later. And there are times when her voice comes through more clearly than others too -- like when her father dies or during The Argument with Nicolai that shifts them from dancing around the shared pain that keeps them apart.

What about you? When do you hear your character's voice the clearest?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Inspirational Speeches, Oh How I Hate Thee

Let me clarify the post title. I don't hate inspirational speeches as a general rule. Inspirational speeches are fun to listen to and the effective ones are, you know, inspiring and all that good stuff.

No, what I hate is having to write the suckers for my characters. One of the more common things you see in fantasy stories is the inspirational speech the king/general/hero gives to the army before the massive battle against the villain's forces in order to rile them up and get them to win. Basically said speech-giver is being a big ol' cheerleader for their army.

I hate writing these things because they have to be damn short and get across enough detail to be logical inspiring/pissing off the good army enough that it goes off and shows the bad army what for. Mine always sound weak for some reason. Ugh. Stupid speeches.

And that's it for the whining. Now for the good news: Chapter 21 of CALLARION AT NIGHT is in progress, and I've surpassed 56,000 words on the draft. Maybe this sucker'll be done before the end of January after all. Woohoo!

EDIT as of 2:20 p.m. EST: 58,000 words passed on CALLARION AT NIGHT and Chapter 21 is nearly done.

Multi-Kreative Blogger Award Winner

So the erudite Shannon O'Donnell of Book Dreaming deigned to award me with the Kreative Blogger Award for the second time. I'd like to thank the Academy, and my mother, and ... oh wait, wrong acceptance speech. *snaps fingers* Why do I always do that?


Anyway, I'm (mostly) ignoring the rules of the award seeing as I've already done this once back when Renee Pinner honored me with it the first time.

There is one blog that I think I should bring to your attention:

KatieGrr is a new entry onto the blogging scene (she's been posting only since November), but she's already touched on topics like whether creativity can be learned or not, the coolness of the Wii, and getting your story unstuck when it's required. She's also of the opinion that I'm brilliant, which can only make her even cooler. (Note: Flattery, while appreciated, is not required for coolness)

Also, I'm not sure if my pal L.T. Host at Quest:Published has received the award already, but not posted it; or simply not received the award, but she should consider herself so honored. I also don't need to extol QP's awesomeness here seeing as y'all probably follow both our blogs, but she is teh coolness.

Oh, and just because those two blogs are the only ones I mentioned doesn't really mean I like them better than the rest of the blogs I follow. I'm borrowing a page from Natalie Bahm's book when I say that if you've yet to receive this award and you read these here ramblings regularly (yes, Bane and Adam, I'm talking about you guys as well) then consider yourselves honored.

I suppose I should mention seven things no one knows about me ... ugh I have to come up with new ones now.

  1. My two favorite movies are Spaceballs and Ghostbusters.  
  2. Before I met my wife, I was considering moving to London for a few years.
  3. I love the shows Mythbusters and How It's Made
  4. My best ideas come while driving or in the shower (does anyone know why ideas arrive when you can't write them down?)
  5. I toyed with trying to invent a car that can drive on land and on water. Tires that inflated to several times their original size were involved. I called it the "SeaCar."
  6. For a short time, I considered becoming a Presbyterian minister.
  7. I'm addicted to Werther's Originals candies. Mmmm ... tasty.
Just be happy I didn't repost the original seven from back in September. Coming up with new ones was hard, you guys (not really).

Happy writing!

P.S. Two more days for the Ten-Word Novel Contest. Enter if you haven't already, or offer up another entry if you already have one.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Holidays and Religion in Fiction

Christmas being last week and all got me thinking about the inclusion of holidays in fiction. Now, as with any scenario in your story, the holiday scene should move the tale forward or communicate something about the character via a seemingly peaceful interlude.

A perfect example is the Christmas scene in Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (Philosopher's Stone in the British edition). This scene, with Harry waking to more presents than he's ever seen in his life, is reflective of the character of the Dursleys and the past that Harry is dealing with. It communicates something about the character without feeling thrown in there at a whim.

Many other fantasy stories don't include holiday/feast day scenes at all. In considering that, I lean toward the thought that the main reason is the possibility of that holiday/feast day scene not moving the story forward at all. But perhaps another reason is that authors tend to not include holidays in fantasy because religion is one of those topics than can be almost totally ignored in any story that doesn't deal directly with it. I think that's why the religious fiction genre exists really. To give writers and readers the opportunity to create and enjoy stories focused on religion as a primary topic.

Consider this as an example of religion being pretty much ignored in fantasy fiction: The gods of the Lord of the Rings trilogy are modeled on Norse tradition -- chief god Il├║vatar is called the "All-Father" as Odin was -- but the only reason we know this is because of materials published later. I'm specifically talking about The Silmarillion and other works. Nowhere in the main text of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings do we hear even a mention of the gods of Middle-Earth. No invoking of the gods even to swear that I can recall, which is something fantasy authors are wont to do (myself included).

Religion has been a part of human existence since the first thinking people evolved. It explains the world around us, and gives the believers something to look forward to after death or strive for in this life. Why then do authors tend to ignore that facet of society in fiction? Is it because religion only sells in religious fiction? Or is it because the focus of the story doesn't require religion as a touchpoint? 

What do you think dear readers? 

P.S. The Ten-Word Novel Contest will close on Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 11:59 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time. Get your entries in!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Break

Christmas is easily my favorite time of the year. Snow, presents, spending time with the people you care about, presents, eggnog, hot chocolate, and did I mention presents? *grin*

I'm also looking forward to having several days off where I don't have to be at either job. Now that's the true spirit of the season -- getting all the sleep you possibly can in a short time span. In the spirit then of much of the rest of the blogosphere (or at least my little corner), I'm going to be on a brief two-day hiatus for the holiday.

So Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukkah, Happy Kwanza, and Merry Yule! I'll see you all on Dec. 28, when we've got three days to the end of the year, and three days until the end of the Ten-Word Novel Contest!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

There Are No Rules (Save One)

Before I get into my reasoning for the post title, I have to give a little personal background.

I've never been the best student in the world. You were more likely to find me goofing off in junior high and high school rather than hitting the books -- I managed to skate through most of my classes with fairly good grades because of how fast I'm able to learn things. I'm not kidding when I say that. Information that some people take weeks to learn I can take in and accurately use within a quarter to half that time. I once wrote a philosophy of religion paper comparing the theories of three philosophers while only having read one paragraph of each document. And it took me 20 minutes to write the paper, whereas my best friend (who was also in the class) took hours to do so.

I tend to be either the student teachers love or the one they hate because I get the material without even really trying. I'd think someone like me was annoying as all get out were I a teacher. Which I don't plan on ever being, much to my mother's dismay (mom teaches ESL to adults).

So here's my theory when it comes to writing: There are no rules.

Let me elaborate. There are dozens of style guides in existence for all forms of writing -- medical, academic, fiction, journalistic, technical, etc. -- the list goes on and on. Then there's disagreement within the same style guides depending on which edition of the guide you follow. For example, The Associated Press re-issues their style guide every year, and every year at least one thing changes. That means if you have a style guide from four years ago it's basically worthless.

The vaunted "rules" that we hear about in school aren't, in point of fact, rules at all. They're conventions that have been agreed upon by teachers and grammarians nationwide and spoon-fed down the line to the students. A perfect example is the axiom to "never start a sentence with the word 'and.'" This is a fallacy because you can start a sentence with the word "and." The problem you run into is that it's hard to make the sentence complete when you start it with words like "and" or "but." But you can do it. See? One so-called rule shattered.

You really start getting into mass confusion once it's understood that all our "rules" exist because 60 percent of the English language is derived from Latin, a language that is so rules-based it's ridiculous. Because X, where X is a particular grammar rule, is an impossibility in Latin, it's considered bad form in English. Then you find out that Latin didn't actually have any punctuation. No periods. Or commas. Or semicolons.

What, you may ask, was the result of all this linguistic theorizing? A healthy dislike of grammar textbooks for one, and the realization that I can edit a whole lot better by simply reading the text out loud rather than asking myself if I've followed all the "rules" in the sentence. Parts of speech? Not my forte. Do I know what a compound modifier is?* Or a gerund? Can I explain the past participle form and when to use it? Nope. Not a single one.

Does lacking that knowledge make me less of a skilled writer? I don't think so. It certainly doesn't make me any less of a well-versed editor. In fact it probably helps, because I edit from an emotional and not technical standpoint (I had to retake the SAT for a tutoring position at one point and I disagreed with several answers they said were right). And emotional editing is what you need when it comes to fiction because really, who cares if it's technically correct but doesn't impact the reader?

So all the rules that we've been taught in school of what makes writing good can be thrown out the window right? Maybe. The text still has to be understandable, after all. There's also one rule, and only one, that you can't break when it comes to fiction.

What is it, you ask? Well that's an easy answer.

Tell an interesting story.

P.S. Don't forget about the Ten-Word Novel Contest! Only nine more days to enter, and the competition's getting fierce!

P.P.S. To Adam Heine -- I finished Air Pirates and will email my critique to you by Christmas Eve at the latest.

* I do know what a compound modifier is, but only because I learned that while working as a copy editor at a newspaper.

Monday, December 21, 2009

British English versus U.S. English

I work for a press-release distribution company -- a wire service essentially -- that has clients all over the world. I've yet to see any client companies based in Africa though, but I'm certain its only a matter of time. But I digress, as you all know I like doing, so let's wrench this post back on track.

Some of my company's clients are based in England or in other countries where the standard English grammar learned in school is the British version and not the U.S. version. Now, I find it interesting to read these releases simply because it's a useful way to look at how other people write. The differences extend beyond spelling ones (i.e. "organisation" in Britain is "organization" in the U.S.), though, and it's something I wanted to talk about a bit.

In British English, punctuation always goes outside the quote mark, which means that a complete sentence inside a quote looks like this ". instead of like this ." It's logical both ways, and appears to be more a matter of convention than anything else.

Another difference is in the way dialogue is attribute: "said Harry" in Britain as opposed to "Harry said" in the U.S. at the end of a piece of dialogue. Of course, some brief research shows this was a very recent change in styles -- Charlotte Temple and Ruth Hall, two U.S. novels written in the early and mid 1800s respectively, both use dialogue tags in the British style.

A recent discussion at Gary Corby's about the word "alright" brings up another one. The two-word version is "all right," and is the only "correct" usage according to both Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary. However, according to some sources that I haven't found again, the word "alright" has gained a tacit approval in fiction, business, and journalistic publications.

What's this mean for you the writer? Well, you might find more than a few grammatical items changed in your text when you submit between British-standard countries and U.S.-standard countries. Bill Kirton, a Scotland-based mystery author, mentioned in the comment thread of Gary's post that his American editor changed every instance of "alright" to "all right," for one example.

Do I think changes across standards are necessary? Not really. Then again, I also read The Times of London for a British perspective on news reporting (I like British advocacy journalism more than U.S. "objectivity"). What do you think, loyal readers? Should editors change spellings, grammar, etc when releasing books in British-standard countries and U.S.-standard countries?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cyborgs and Steampunk

Cyborg /siborg/ noun -- a fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body.

— ORIGIN blend of CYBER- and ORGANISM.

Cyborgs are one of the more common variations on the human condition that you see in science fiction. They are typically found in situations where the integration of man and machine has been taken to what some see as a logical "next step" along the technological advancement timeline. This can mean a robotic hand (Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi) or any other sort of technological integration up to, and including, an almost wholesale replacement of organic pieces with mechanical pieces (the Borg of Star Trek fame).

If you read any significant amount of science fiction, you've seen cyborgs at least once. Whether they're good, bad, or indifferent, there are enough stories that you're bound to run into them.

Steampunk has its own version of cyborgs. Any search for steampunk artwork will in fact bring up this picture:

This picture of Lincoln is the kind of thing you can expect to see with steampunk cyborgs. Gun arms with multi-barreled machine guns, a few metal plates here and there, and maybe some steam-powered accouterments such as mechanical legs or even mechanical innards. One of the best examples I can think of is Whitechapel Gods by S.M. Peters. It's more clockpunk than steampunk, but the theories Peters presents in creating the gold cloaks and black cloaks are sound examples of cyborgs in steampunk.

Now, the science-knowledgeable among us might dispute the possibility of people integrating so fully with machines. And they're right to do so. The current level of technology we're at doesn't allow for the wholesale integration that the creation of a cyborg would require. Look at the movie Robocop. There's no way the technology of the 1980s could've possibly created someone like the titular character. Robotics at that time could, and still can, barely manage to make robots do what is required of them without constant commands. That said, recent news reports and advancements in the science of cybernetics are bringing cyborgs closer and closer to reality.

But what, you may ask, does this mean for the writer of steampunk?

Well the burden of proof is both higher and lower for a steampunk writer. Higher because you're potentially working with less-advanced science (although the Ancient Greeks had robots), but lower because people accept that certain advances need to be made before cyborgs (bionics in CALLARION AT NIGHT) could be created. You need merely say that person X made these discoveries in order to ensure that the reader isn't drawn from the story.

This is, of course, the opinion of only one humble writer. But I am curious about one thing. With the ubiquitous nature of cyborgs in science fiction, is there anything you can think of that would make you not believe in the possibility?

P.S. Don't forget about the Ten-Word Novel Contest! The deadline is December 31, and the winner gets the lovely New Year's gift of a book of their choice. Ten people have already entered, so the competition is growing.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Loyal Friend and Visitor Award-Winner

I had a different post idea for today -- it was going to discuss cyborgs in a steampunk setting and how science fiction/fantasy can bend science fact -- but yesterday Natalie Bahm gifted me with the Loyal Friend and Visitor Award. Of course that threw everything completely off, and required me to make today's post about that instead of my original plan. Ah well, such is the life of a blogger.

If you haven't checked out Natalie's blog yet, by the way, you should really make your way over there. Go ahead ... I'll wait. Are you back? OK then.

Unlike the other blog awards I've gotten, this one didn't have any rules, strictly speaking, so Natalie passed it along to 15 blogs she enjoyed reading.

Well, here's my list:

L.T. Host at Quest:Published is always worth a read, especially for her MadLib Fridays feature, where she chooses the top NY Times article of the day and inserts our suggested words. With hilarious results. She's also good for stories about her evilly adorable cats, horses, and as an abiding love for wallabies. Yes, wallabies.

Bane of Anubis maintains Bane's Blogging Blues which is, according to him, "A self-proclaimed realist's musings about whatever strikes his nerve." Be forewarned though, milk might shoot out your nose from the unabashedly smartass commentary he makes on everything from what hoop earrings mean to the meaning of having your own picture as your Blogger avatar.

I hesitate to call Rick Daley, of My Daley Rant and Public Query Slushpile fame, one of the busiest commenters on the internet, but he certainly manages to share his insightful (and sarcastic) thoughts with a whole lot of people. And some hysterical anecdotes about his sons too.

The next honoree is a blog team -- The Literary Lab's Davin Malasarn, Lady Glamis, and Scott G.F. Bailey. Davin and Glam are occasional posters here (we haven't managed to get Scott visiting yet, but I think it's only a matter of time). If you haven't read their always erudite posts on characterization, plot, and a mess of other topics, then it's well worth your time to do so. I know I've become a more thoughtful writer because of them. And you will too.

K. Marie Criddle's "drawgs" at C'MERE are easily one of the most innovative ways to blog I've ever seen. She was a friend-of-the-blog before there was a blog, and has a sense of humor bordering on sheer ridiculousness that makes our critique group meetings entertaining in the extreme. Oh, and she's a good writer too.

Next on the list is one Adam Heine and Author's Echo, particularly for his Positive Waves Week, but because he's an all-around cool person. Especially when you consider he and his wife are Americans living in Thailand and taking care of four children. And, oh yeah, he's a fellow steampunk aficionado. Which is always a plus, of course.

Stephanie Thornton at Hatshepsut: The Writing of a Novel is an Alaskan history teacher who writes historical fiction set in Ancient Egypt, and loves sharing the off-the-wall analogies and metaphors students include in their essays. She's also an evil Alaskan idea-generating dictator-for-life.

You can always count on Renee Pinner for a pick-me-up when you need it. Many of her posts deal with motivating yourself in the face of the odds, and staying on track in this writing game of ours.

Steph Damore is a new discovery, but she's already proven herself a talented wordsmith and a semi-regular commenter. Oh, and she loves Star Trek. So she gets points for that too. ;)

Anita Saxena at Anita's Edge relates her love of ice skating and the perils therein to the perils we all face as writers. Even though she's a Steelers fan, I love reading her thoughts on the process and her Gossip Time posts about all the books she's read.

Guess I only found 10 blogs to pass the award along to. Ah well. That's the problem with getting these awards though ... a lot of times the people you want to give them to already have it. Which is of course my problem because Susan R. Mills and Natalie herself are also thoughtful blog-friends, and I can't very well pass the award back to them now can I?

EDIT: Though I suppose I could double-award Susan, since Natalie gave her the same award yesterday. But that's just silly. :)

SECOND EDIT: Remember to enter the Ten-Word Novel Contest!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Day 2 of Contest Pimpery

I admit to being eager about the results of the Ten Word Novel Contest. We've already got a total of twelve people who have entered or said they were going to enter*, with an unlimited number of entries per person (it's ten words, why would I limit it to one entry each?). Oh, and remember to post your entry in the comments of yesterday's post.

I also have a panel of judges willing to help me select the lucky winner(s) from the available ten-word novels. These are folks whose writing talent I admire, people that I respect, and also the ones that I know how to persuade (read:bribe).

As I said before, the contest will close on Thursday, December 31. You have two weeks plus a day to get those entries in.

Overwhelm us.

* EDIT: Because I realized I said that wrong.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Perhaps a Contest is in Order

Everyone seems to be doing contests lately, so like the joiner I am, I figured I might as well do one of my own.

I have the contest idea all set, but I didn't know what the prize would be (except that warm fuzzy feeling you get from winning, of course). I can't offer manuscript critiques, seeing as I'm not an agent/publishing professional, and I don't have any published books with my name on it to offer. Hmm ... a conundrum.

How about this? I will purchase a novel (or nonfiction work), for the winner*, of the winner's choice. Simply leave your choice in the same comment with the contest entry, and we'll go from there. The contest will close on Thursday, December 31, 2009, with the winner(s) announced a week later on Thursday, January 7, 2010.

Oh, you wanted to know what the contest was? Hmm ... that does sound like a good idea.

So without further ado I present:

The Ten-Word Novel Contest

Many years ago, Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a novel in six words. The famous line? "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Since six words seems kind of short to me, I figured I'd add a few on gratis. The challenge to you then, dear readers, is to compose a novel that consists of ten words.

It can be quirky, dramatic, funny, introspective, or any other adjective that I can't think of right now. The only rule, and I do mean the only rule, is that it has to be ten words or less. Oh, and you have until the end of the year to enter (two weeks plus two days).

Paste your entry and choice of prize into the comments section of this post. Happy writing!

* Edit because Adam felt the need to point out the original sentence was unclear. :-P

Monday, December 14, 2009

Keyword searches and the weirdness thereof

I've been using Google Analytics to study blog traffic since about October, after I'd been hearing about it for awhile and decided "ah, what the hell?"

Anyway, I tell you this so I can relate the two most unusual searches that brought people here. They're not unusual as in weird, but unusual in that Free the Princess has absolutely nothing to do with the search terms.

They are: www.bountyhunteracademy.com and intel(r) celeron(r) cpu 2.66ghz can play wow?

... Yeah, I can kind of see bountyhunteracademy.com bringing people here seeing as Moriah (CaN MC) is a bounty hunter, but that's it.

I don't know if an intel celeron 2.66ghz computer can play World of Warcraft though. I don't even remember mentioning Intel or their Celeron processor at all in any of my posts or comments on here.

One of the other things I noticed is people like to spell Delman with two LLs. That's not unusual, and in fact happened so much that my mom was briefly known as Double-LL Delman (something only we find funny).

Still loses to Gary Corby's epic weird keyword -- "who will pick up my dead dog aberdeen scotland." I don't think anything can top that one.

Anyway, thought you'd like to know.

Cultural References in Fiction

One of the more entertaining facets of Terry Pratchett's writing is his ability to work cultural references into Discworld's fantasy setting. By this I mean he mentions things that either a) are actually happening or b) have actually happened. For example, in the Moist von Lipwig-centered novel "Making Money," he uses a line actually told to him: "hemlines rise during times of national crisis." Which, he says in the acknowledgments, might explain why miniskirts have been consistently popular for so many decades.

I love trying to work cultural references into my fantasy worlds. Moreso with SON OF MAGIC than CALLARION AT NIGHT, because SoM takes place on Earth's "sister world," but CaN does not. My reasoning for including these cultural references is twofold:

1) "Easter eggs" for people who figure it out
2) I think it's funny

Let me give you an example. I plan on renaming the main character of SoM, which isn't all that unusual for me to do, but this time I realized that I had the possibility of something amusing if I did it right. The new name I chose was Fionn Cinnabar (sounds cool doesn't it?), and the amusing bit came because "cinnabar," as some of you might know, is the ancient name for mercury sulfide. The character name thus partially translates to Fionn Mercury.

Get the possible joke yet? No?

Perhaps if I named the character Friedrich Cinnabar instead? Freddie Cinnabar?

Why yes, I am a huge fan of Queen. However did you guess?

The problem, of course, with doing something like this is you run the risk of having it be an author nod to the reader. When done correctly though, including cultural references in a fantasy world divorced from our own is a good way to reward the observant and faithful reader, while proverbially "sticking it to the man" in such a way that you can't get in trouble with it. It's almost allegorical in a sense. Except not nearly as dramatic.

So tell me, my fine blog readers, what works have you read that do cultural references well?

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Fun and Stressful Nature of Worldbuilding

I'm a fantasy writer through and through. This was true before I got into the steampunk game, and will be true if I ever decide to not write that subgenre anymore (doubtful, but it's a possibility). Now, one of my favorite (and simultaneously least-favorite) things about writing fantasy is that I get to create an entire world wholesale. But wait, you ask, how can you both love and hate something at the same time? Well, the answer to that is simple:

Worldbuilding is effing hard.

There's a laundry list of factors you have to consider when creating your fantasy world. These include, but aren't limited to, language, history, mythology, religion (which is not always the same thing as mythology), countries, peoples, weapons, level of technology, politics, and social mores.

And then comes what is perhaps the most annoying part of the whole worldbuilding process: Much of the work you do will never be seen by the general public. Ever. To be quite frank, much of the time you spend worldbuilding is only of interest to you the author. And that's the only person it'll ever be useful to. Well, unless you're the next J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, or George R.R. Martin (hey a guy can dream, can't he?).

Let me use an example from my own work. SON OF MAGIC (which is woefully underrepresented in these posts) takes place on a world called Haldor, which is peopled by twelve sentient and semi-sentient races (sentient means thinking, for those who aren't huge sci-fi geeks like Adam, Bane, and me). The eleven races that aren't humans are based off either animals or creatures from myth (yes, there is the obligatory race of elves -- no dwarves though).

There's a total of (I think) 20 countries, each with a culture based off one that currently exists on Earth, with a current level of technology placed at about the 15th Century (the tech level will change when it becomes steampunk). I spent nearly a year concurrently researching and writing in order to get the details I needed for the world, and even wrote a semi-mythical history that stretches back 25,000 years for purposes of the hero. And yes, I do have the ancient race that vanished without a trace. There are some tropes you just can't ignore. *grin*

To give you an idea of the mass of worldbuilding -- I have 20+ files on my computer devoted to this world's backstory, including timelines, legends, organization charts, political relationships, tribal splits, lineages, and capsule descriptions for each of the 15 gods and goddesses. And don't even get me started on how many printouts I have of baby names.

Am I crazy for going through all this just to write a story? Probably.

Am I having a blast and a half crafting new worlds out of whole cloth? You bet your sweet bleep I am.

My theory is thus: any writer who says they don't have an teeny little god complex is a liar. How can you not enjoy putting fictional people through their paces? Or crafting new worlds and new civilizations, boldly going where no one has gone before?

Yes, worldbuilding may stress me out. Yes, it's annoying with the amount of detail it requires. But it's a heckuva lot of fun regardless. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

On Writing Heritage

The post title's only slightly misleading. "Slightly" because this post is about my writing heritage, but more about my family than anything. This one's going to be a downer, folks, so stop reading here if you want to keep your mood peppy.

My grandfather died on January 12, precisely a week after I started the job I mention in my profile. He was 83 years old, and had suffered from lymphoma for months; it got so bad that all anyone could do was make him comfortable for the end. I've seen pictures from Christmas 2008 and all I remember thinking was "That's not Pop. Pop's not that skinny." I'll spare you any more details (mostly because I don't want to gross you out, but also because it's stuff I'm not comfortable sharing on the Internet).

Of all the people confident in my writing talent, and there are a good number, Pop's voice was the loudest. And no wonder.

Pop was a consummate storyteller; he told tales about his childhood in the Depression, about my mother and her brother and sister when they were kids, and even about worlds he made up wholesale in the furnace of his imagination. He told me my great grandmother -- his mother -- wrote plays that were performed on stage in Philadelphia, and he talked about the short stories he published before going off to World War II.

Pop told me once that he'd had the chance to write full-time. A magazine offered him a contract to write more of his short stories, and he would've taken it, except he had other responsibilities then, so he started working at Bethlehem Steel instead. As far as I know, he never tried to publish another story. By the time he retired in 1978, and had time, he was already deep into a list of family responsibilities that stretched as long as my arm. Pop never thought twice about taking care of his family, and for that I respect him.

He's the only one who ever read ROSEFIRE (the original version of SON OF MAGIC) front to back. My aunt (mom's sister) said that he was reading it every time she turned around. The "book" was just a printed draft that I'd signed and put in a 3-inch binder for him. He loved the story, and was absolutely floored when I said my first published novel would be dedicated to him. That's how humble he was.

I've said before that I write because I can't not. Well it's also because of Pop. I want to see my name in print so I can see his name there too. That's the best gift I can give the old man, even though he's passed on.

How about you, my loyal readers? Have you already planned your first dedication? Or have you not even thought about it yet?

P.S. http://www.matthewdelman.com is mostly up and running. I'm still trying to work out some design kinks, but everything's set otherwise.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Oh No. I've Been ... Tagged!

So the evil Alaskan idea-generating dictator for life Stephanie Thornton tagged me yesterday with this mass of questions that I'm apparently supposed to answer. I figured "What the heck? It'll save me having to come up with any ideas for a day."

Also, apparently the rules state I have to tag more people, so here goes: Bane of Anubis, Rick Daley, and Anita Saxena? Go nuts.

1. What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?

I'm currently dragging my feet on CALLARION AT NIGHT (stupid Chapter 18 is giving me headaches). The earliest piece of writing I still have easy access to is an abortive fantasy novel called JOURNEY THROUGH THE WIZARD'S KINGDOM. I think that got up to page 60.
2. Write poetry?
Very, very little. I'm a prose writer through and through.
3. Angsty poetry?
What's the fun in that? I'd much rather put fictional people through hell rather than write about my own angst. Not nearly as interesting.
4. Favorite genre of writing?
Have you looked at the content of this blog? Steampunk of course.
5. Most annoying character you've ever created?
Major Nicolai Drovgor, the ex-fiance of Moriah Rowani (protag of CALLARION AT NIGHT). He's not annoying to me -- I love writing him -- but he's annoying to her. Which is the point.
6. Best Plot you've ever created?
The main plot for The Haldor Saga is pretty cool if I do say so myself. Powerful magic, memories of past lives, and a kick-ass battle that nearly rips the world in half. Action movie here I come.
7. Coolest Plot twist you've ever created?
Remember how Moriah's mother disappeared? Yeah, she comes back. Coolest. Character. Ever.
8. How often do you get writer's block?
Every few months. Most of the time it can be unstuck by plugging away at the thing (or writing one of my cleanser pieces).
9. Write fan fiction?
I have an unfinished Harry Potter fanfic. It's archived over at SIYE if anyone's interested.
10. Do you type or write by hand?
Type. Definitely type. Sometimes I don't even print it out to revise anymore.
11. Do you save everything you write?
Occasionally. If something's so horrid that it just doesn't work in the context of the scene, then I tend to eliminate it entirely.
12. Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?
Yep! CALLARION AT NIGHT was originally a short story called MORIAH, CHILD OF THE ROWAN.
13. What's your favorite thing you've ever written?
Definitely CALLARION AT NIGHT.
14. What's everyone else's favorite story that you've written?
That remains to be seen.
15. Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?
God no. I've included romantic subplots in my stories, but that's about it. And angsty teen drama bores me to tears.
16. What's your favorite setting for your characters?
I have to pick one?
17. How many writing projects are you working on right now?
Technically three. I'm in research for FUMO IRACUNDIA AEGYPTUM, slacking off on CALLARION AT NIGHT, and letting SON OF MAGIC sit for a bit before I look at it again.
18. Have you ever won an award for your writing?
Nope.
19. What are your five favorite words?
Antidisestablishmentarianism, Rosh Hashannah, exuberant, thermodynamics, and splat.
What character have you created that is most like yourself?
Thomas Caine, master artificer and engineer, from CALLARION AT NIGHT. He's much older than me, but shares my excitement about machinery and technology. We're weird, I know.
21. Where do you get ideas for your characters?
Everywhere
22. Do you ever write based on your dreams?
On occasion. There have been several unfinished stories based on my dreams.
23. Do you favor happy endings?
It depends on whether the story calls for it or not. If it's an unhappy story in general, then I feel a Happily Ever After ending isn't warranted.
24. Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Definitely. I get annoyed with myself when I find missing words or clunky sentences too.
25. Does music help you write?
It varies. I write a lot at work where I can't play music, so I find the clacking of the keyboard helps me keep a rhythm.
26. Quote something you've written. Whatever pops into your head.
"My name is Moriah Esther Rowani, daughter of Archduke Alexei Brandon Rowani. I have recently spent a month and a half in the Itzcalian jungles, which are hot, sticky, and very, very messy. Add in my fellow passengers deciding to question me, and I am in an extremely bad mood, sergeant. So you will retract your improper statement or I will put a bullet clear through your brain and that of every one of your thugs." Moriah spoke very slowly into the soldier's pale face. "You will then release this man, return to the Lord Premier, and tell him that he is thieving scum not worth the muck on my boots. Do you understand?"*

* Said with her gun pressed to the soldier's forehead and five more repeating rifles trained on her. Yeah, she badass.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My First (Written) Story

I've always been subject to my imagination. Growing up as the youngest of three in a (slightly) off-the-beaten path portion of Upstate NY, where there weren't a heckuva lot of kids my age meant I had to entertain myself for long portions of the day. Now, my mother will dispute how off-the-beaten path we really were (our house was a 5-minute drive outside a mid-sized city), but she's not the one telling this story.

Because I spent a lot of time alone as a kid, I started making up stories. Matchbox cars became space explorers or adventurers, Lego structures were dark caverns and the castles of evil overlords, and, oh yeah, G.I. Joe battled the He-Man figures.

One day when I was but a wee nipper (9 years old), I came up with a story based heavily off the Goosebumps books I was devouring at the time. THE MYSTERY OF THE HAUNTED HOUSE, a first-person short story, detailed the discovery of a ghost who was killed by poisoned bread. The unnamed narrator of that story would soon evolve into a character named Jennifer Terry, who was the protagonist I wrote stories about through much of junior high and high school. Jen Terry also has a starring role in EMERALD MIDNIGHT, the lengthy short story that's so far sitting in a drawer and may eventually become an urban fantasy (there's druids and meteors in it, so I figure what the heck).

Then came the first unfinished version of what would eventually become SON OF MAGIC -- a book called JOURNEY THROUGH THE WIZARD'S KINGDOM (which was loosely based on a board game).

So what was your first written story? Are you embarrassed by it or proud? What was it about?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Steampunk in Time

Imagine my surprise when I flipped through my recent copy of Time Magazine and found an article about Steampunk.

That got me all excited because it meant the culture is making more headlines. But then I got a tad depressed because it appears Mr. Lev Grossman -- who wrote the article -- spent much of it glossing over a heckuva bunch of stuff in favor of instead talking to Scott Westerfield (apparently one novel in the genre makes you an expert).

Now, I'm not bad-mouthing either gentleman. I've worked as a reporter (like Grossman is) and it is all kinds of not fun. The daily deadlines you have to hit or be reamed out by your boss are like the Sword of Damacles hanging over your head with an evil imp waiting to slice the thread. I'm also not trying to say Westerfield's not an articulate gentleman who spoke very well about the genre. I'm quite happy with his comments in regards to why he wrote Leviathan as a steampunk novel.

I should be happy that Steampunk got a shout-out in a major publication like Time. As it is, I'm merely bothered by it being back matter (tucked away at the end of the magazine) and not somewhere center stage where it belongs. Not like I'm, you know, biased or anything.*

* And if you believe that I have a nice little bridge in New York to sell you.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ask and Ye Shall Receive Part the Second

Yesterday I said I'd answer the questions remaining from Wednesday because I didn't want Part the First of these posts to be humongous. And today I come through on my promise.

From L.T.:

What inspired you to write steampunk? What do you like most about it?

The reason I decided to write steampunk is kind of simple. I say "kind of" because, well let's be honest, I'm a bit long winded.

When I first wrote SON OF MAGIC (the only finished MS I have worth looking at), I began adding certain elements like trains, steam carriages, and steam cannons that I'd seen in other fantasy stories and thought were interesting pieces of technology. The desire to write steampunk with all the accouterments came up when I was composing the first draft of CALLARION AT NIGHT (which was originally called MORIAH, CHILD OF THE ROWAN). I essentially decided "hey, I want to write something with more technology but not so advanced that it can be mistaken for urban fantasy. How about steampunk?"

What I like most about steampunk is that it allows me to play with the Victorian culture, something I like doing quite a bit. As scott g.f. bailey said in a comment at The Literary Lab, "AI is boring, but AI powered by a coal-burning engine and programmed by Edwardian gentlemen who drink brandy with Jules Verne? That's cool."

And yeah, I heartily agree.

Do you like hazelnuts?

Yes, yes I do. But not as much as cashews. Mmm ... cashews.

From Adam:

* How far along is Callarion at Night? How long have you been working on it?

CALLARION AT NIGHT is currently midway through Chapter 18. I'm having some issues working on that particular chapter though, which is tremendously bothersome. I've been working on it for (looking at a calendar now) eight months now. That's counting writing 21 chapters of an original draft, scrapping them, restarting it with 5 new chapters, scrapping those, and restarting it in the current incarnation. Also including a few weeks where I only wrote freelance articles, the period where I got married/went on honeymoon, and several busy earnings times.

* Is CaN your first novel-sized writing? What other fiction have you written, if any?

The original version of SON OF MAGIC (a book called ROSEFIRE) was my first novel-length fiction. ROSEFIRE's absolutely painful to read now. As for other fiction, I have a lengthy paranormal short story called EMERALD MIDNIGHT and an abortive flash fiction attempt called DEAL WITH A DEVIL.

* What are you thinking about writing next (if at all)?

A steampunk alternate history of the Final War of the Roman Republic, which is tentatively titled FUMO IRACUNDIA AEGYPTUM (translates to THE STEAM FURY OF EGYPT).

* Favorite book? Favorite video game?

I have several favorite books, so that's a difficult question to answer because it depends on genre. For example: my favorite Dean Koontz story is WATCHERS, I love everything that comes from Terry Pratchett's brilliance, and my favorite Stephen King novels are the Dark Tower series. See my problem?

My all-time favorite video game has to be Super Mario Bros. There's no competition for that game's place in my heart. Heck, it's the reason this blog is named what it is.

* Ninjas or pirates? (Yes, that question).

Ooo ... well ninjas are silent but deadly, so they have that going for them. But pirates have the whole ocean-going thing going for them. And they have cannons.

I propose a middle way -- the Ninja Pirate!

This was a lot of fun, folks. So much so that I'm probably going to repeat it when I get to 100 posts. Well, so long as I get more entertaining questions from my loyal readers.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ask and Ye Shall Receive Part the First

Thanks for the questions yesterday, even the ones from two smartasses who shall remain nameless. First off, some random trivia that no one asked about*: this post's title is adapted from chapter 7, verse 7 of the Gospel of Matthew ("Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.")

My faith is a fairly big part of who I am as a person, which I won't get into here because ... well let's be honest .. that's not why you read my blog. I also tend to not discuss religion with people -- not because I'm afraid of offending them (I really don't care if people get offended by my religious beliefs or not. They're my beliefs. Not yours) -- but because I've done so much independent study that my answers tend to be much longer and more detailed than necessary.

And now onto the questions:

From Susan:

I want to know if you write anything other than steampunk. If so, do you research as much for the other genre?

I do have an epic fantasy trilogy on the back burner (SON OF MAGIC is actually book one). I've attempted to write paranormal fiction though, so I guess you can count that. To answer the second part of your question, yes I've done a lot of research for those stories. There's reams of notes about Renaissance Europe, Imperial China, and the Vikings (yes, the Vikings) that I've made as the basis for several cultures on Haldor (the world of SON OF MAGIC).

It doesn't help that I'm fascinated by history and discovering new things. I very much suffer from over-researching something, but I still maintain it's not my fault that history is so interesting.

From Stephanie:

If you sold your first book and got an advance of $7,000 (which you'll earn through in no time since your book has landed on the NYT Bestseller List), how would you spend that $7,000?

As it stands right now, I probably wouldn't do anything with it. Well that's not true ... I'd use the after-tax income to pay down my student loans (I hate having debt with the fiery vengeance of a thousand supernovas). Then again, my wife would of course have her say in how we spent that money as well. So my opinion doesn't carry that much weight.

All things being equal though, I'm thinking a weeklong vacation to Ireland. The Irish are easily my favorite people in the world (after all, I did marry a woman who's an Irish/French-Canadian blend).

From Renee:

You work a lot, and you write. So, do you have time for any other activities/hobbies? How is married life? All that you expected? What is your favorite childhood memory?

About the only other hobby I have time for (and this is an uncommon occurrence) is playing video games with my wife. Neither of us have much time for them as of late, even though she's excited for several games that are already out and some others that will be released in February.

Married life is ... interesting is perhaps the best word. My wife and I spent our first two years living very different schedules (and we still do), but the difference now is I get to see her every night when I come home. Which is a very pleasant change. I'm also lucky enough to have entered holy matrimony without any pre-conceived notions of what it was going to be, so I didn't have any expectations to either be fulfilled or disappointed.

I don't have one specific favorite childhood memory that I can point to and say "that's the one." Rather, I'll go with all the Christmases before my older brother and sister moved away. Those were always a fun time around the Delman household.

Since I don't want this post to ramble on, I'm going to cut the answer goodness here. No worries for the other submitters though -- your questions will get answers tomorrow.

Thanks for making post 75 a good one folks! You keep reading and I'll keep writing.

Oh and L.T.? The square root of muffin is doughnut. Thought you'd want to know that right off. ;)

* People who know me in real life know my love of random trivia well.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

We Are Now Open to Questions

As an early Christmas present, and in honor of tomorrow being my 75th post, I decided I would open up this here blog to questions from my loyal readers (all 30 of you).

I'm willing to answer practically anything, which will have the honor of tomorrow becoming post number 75. If there are a lot of questions, I might even make this a running series (I can hear the groans now).

So tell me, loyal readers, what do you want to know?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On Primary Sources and Researching

Every history class I've ever taken has extolled the virtues of the primary source -- accounts from people who were actually present at historical events as they were taking place, or had access to people who were present at said event.

For example, the journal of a soldier who was present at the Battle of Antietam is worth more than a newspaper account of the battle, which is worth more than a history book written five years later, which is worth more than a history textbook written 100 years later. You understand my point, of course.

I was lucky enough to find Modern Steam Engines by Joshua Rose, which was originally written in 1887, and counts as a decent primary source for extant steam engineering knowledge of the period. For the period circa the 3rd Century BCE Siege of Syracuse, we have Polybius (c. 203-122 BCE), who had access to the survivors of the event and (thankfully) was the father of painstaking scholarly research and objective recording of history. Similarly, for the Final War of the Roman Republic (32 BCE - 30 BCE), the only historian who lived at the time was a Greek named Strabo.

Of course, knowing the names of the ancient sources can only take me so far. This is because probably 60 percent of what was written before the fall of the Roman Empire has been lost for a variety of reasons. Fire, war, age of manuscript itself; you name it, it's a reason for some source to have entirely disappeared.

Case in point: Ctesibius, the father of pneumatic science, wrote a treatise called On Pneumatics wherein his work on that topic was detailed. The text is completely lost, and remains only as a work referenced by later writers (i.e. Hero of Alexandria and Vitruvius). Because we don't have Ctesibius's own writings, there's no way to substantiate the reported theory that Ctesibius created a cannon fueled by compressed air, which would help tremendously with my steampunk aspirations in the aforementioned Roman war.

My historical-fiction writer pals know what I'm talking about (including those writing in Classical Athens, Ancient Egypt, and the Middle Ages), and I'm rapidly discovering that the best resources I have are contemporary scholars who summarize what fragments there are into useful information. Thankfully, we're living in a time when the engineering, science, medicine, and society of the period before the fourth century AD has been exhaustively researched by people who are leagues smarter than me.

Mr. Corby recently suggested The Archaeology of Weapons as a resource. The book catalogs weaponry used from the earliest archaeological evidence in existence all the way up through the knights. Tre useful.

So what about you, my fine blog readers? What do you find is your best resource?