Monday, March 28, 2011

When characters tell their story

I learned more about one of the villains from the new Hemlock story today. It's a strange but good experience when a character from a story sort of steps forward out of the shadows and tells their story. That's the best way I can describe what happened this afternoon.

I was driving and listening to some music when my thoughts turned to this character. Suddenly I had a flash of inspiration. Like the focus being adjusted on a lens, the character suddenly gained a new clarity in my mind. The gender was different than I had thought. The history was deeper and different. The motivations and ambitions were also different.

If you've read any of my previous posts, you've probably read my attempts at describing my creative process, and my explanations of why I don't like to do too much outlining. THIS is why. This is the type of sudden insight that I feel I cannot force or synthesize. It's organic, it just happens, and it's a great feeling when it does.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Working on a map

I've decided that I need a map for the world in which the Hemlock stories are set. I've heard it said that any proper high fantasy book should have a map. OK, well, better late than never.

I have the interesting challenge of having a map that is a hybrid of a city map and a regional map. I'm working through how to approach that. It should be interesting.

Once the map is complete, I will post it here, and it will probably also be included in future releases in the Hemlock series.

So, if you've simply been unable to live without knowing the relative positions of San Cyra and Tor Varnos, your prayers will soon be answered. Yes, I'm talking to you, imaginary super-fan.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Writing and some real progress

Today I started writing. I've found that Hemlock is finding her voice again. It feels funny coming back to a story that I haven't been writing for over a year. There is some dust and rust there in terms of getting into character. I have been thinking about the characters and the plot quite a bit over that intervening time. But it's a different feeling to start writing directly from their POV again. It's good fun.

Now that I've started, I'm getting excited to get to some of the exciting experiences that these characters will have. Plot elements are already starting to creep in that I hadn't planned on. My much described no-outline (but still sort of outline) process seems to be working.

I think I'll amend my description of my process as follows. I am using an organically grown plot outline this time around. I just couldn't write off-the-cuff with a sequel, since there are so many character arcs and plot points to consider. So I outlined off-the-cuff over a period of 6 months or so. And now I am writing around that outline, but also exploring some little unplanned subplots along the way.

I've also designed the overarching plotline for this next series of Hemlock books. I think there will be at least three volumes of novella to short novel length. We'll see what happens.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Small progress

I went back over an opening chapter of the Hemlock sequel that I had started on some time ago. I need to overhaul it, but it will be a good starting point. I was so close to really kicking into a writing mode, but then I decided that I had to do my taxes instead. So, it's really the IRS' fault that I haven't done any substantial writing yet! OK, lame excuse, but I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Schizophrenic encounter

We ran into a schizophrenic last night while entering an elevator. He started telling me something about swimming to an island, and then produced a credit card which he held before him like an ID card. Two other people approached, and he waved them off. At this point, I knew that we had to get away from this individual.

My family was left a bit shaken by the incident. It happened in a suburban setting, where our guard is usually down. I am left wondering what happened to this person? Is it someone who went off of their medication? Is he homeless?

It's a shame that our first reaction is to abandon these people, but their behavior is very erratic, and you are left wondering what they are capable of. When you throw the presence of your family into the mix, it is time to, as the saying goes, "get out of Dodge".

My most vivid memory of the incident is seeing letters tattooed on his knuckles. Seeing this evoked a mental image of Charles Manson. Probably an overreaction, but you never know. He seemed very anxious to be alone with us in that elevator.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Started writing / Kindleboards ad results

As I lay in bed last night, I started becoming anxious that all of the plot ideas in my head hadn't been put down on "paper" yet. So, without much fanfare beyond the warblings of a disturbed cat that was roused by my exit from the bed, I actually started to write. It feels good to finally take my own advice.

I'm pleased with the modestly positive results of my kindleboards ad. It wasn't the sales bonanza that I'd been fantasizing about, but there was a significant jump in sales. I also have to realize that I'm an unknown author. This ad was as much about creating some awareness of my "brand" as anything else. It should pay "long-tail" dividends down the road.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kindleboards ad / General update

I am running an ad on today for Hemlock and the Wizard Tower. I've already seen a bump in sales, and I hope that it will continue into the evening.

Things are coming together in the Hemlock storyline--but moreso on the overall story arc. I still have some ideas to think about for the next book. But I am feeling good about the progress. The undeniable fact, however, is that I need to start writing soon! I've been focused on marketing lately, but I am feeling that it's time to shift to my focus (at least partially). Releasing a new book would certainly be a great marketing opportunity!

I've had some synchronicity in my life lately, so I feel confident that I am on the right track. If you believe in real "magic", synchronicity is a sure sign that some is in the air!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Magic and Mysticism

I enjoy magic that is presented like mysticism (mostly separated from religion, although not always). This style presents the idea that forces exist that are largely beyond human experience, but which can be harnessed by those skillful few that are extraordinary in some way. As others have mentioned, I think that a story needs to convey that there are rules and parameters to magic use, so that the use of magic in the story has some level of internal consistency. But actually spelling out these rules too explicitly moves toward the scientific magic camp, which I'm not a fan of. My Hemlock book describes "mystical" magic like this. In fact, I'd go so far as to assert that this mystical presentation is the "default" for fantasy books (ie: if no alternative explanation is given, then this is the assumed style of magic).

Most religious traditions include some level of magic use. I was reading about Kaballah recently, and their tradition recognizes magic use, potentially apart from religious practitioners. Buddhism and Christianity have their saints and prophets with mystical powers. I think that magic in fantasy is a fun exploration of non religious people attaining these special powers, and a further exploration of what happens when they do. It usually involves characters unlocking mysteries about their lives and existence (as surrogates for the reader?).

I think mysticism and magic argue that there is more to life than the empirically measurable. This is an appealing concept in our modern age, which seems to have studied and compartmentalised reality so completely that I think many people are yearning for myths that affirm that they are more than organic machines. I think that fantasy tales and the magic in them meet this need for some.

Just get out of the way

I really have to learn to just get out of the way of my writing. I have been in over-think mode for the last week or so. At least I have finally figured it out. I think that what I have been experiencing might be the seeds of writer's block. Like many things in life, too much misdirected thinking can can really cause trouble in whatever one is trying to accomplish.
Why is it that I constantly give myself good advice and insight, and then somehow allow myself to get so far afield of it? Maybe that's what life is--a boat ride where constant adjustments to the rudder are necessary.
We're going to be learning a bit more about Falignus' past in the next Hemlock story. But is he dead, alive, or somewhere in between? I'm not going to reveal that yet...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hemlock miscellany

I "met" a new character in the Hemlock "universe" yesterday. Up to that point she had only been a vague concept, but she popped into my head with more clarity, and even had some things to say.

I am now kicking around the idea of doing a series of novellas as sequels rather than a single full length novel. Hemlock has already been on a few adventures that are, as yet, unwritten. Maybe it's better to get those on (virtual) paper first and let the full plot arc of the backstory fall into place over time (translation: the full backstory is taking me longer to develop than I was hoping it would).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fantasy and Reality

I was thinking about games like World of Warcraft this morning, and how they are a layer of reality that depends on the real world in order to remain viable. I know people who seem to live their primary life in WoW and their real life has become secondary.

I think that the point of fantasy is to be a temporary escape (think a vacation) from reality. I think fantasy can become a problem when a person loses sight of what is ultimately real--they start to lose sight of the fact that the fantasy is based on and enabled by reality. It's like a child wanting candy for dinner. You can do it, but over time it will hurt you.

The best fantasy exists in a harmony with actual reality, and affirms the core values that are valuable in the real world. When I read Tolkien and Frank Herbert, I feel that I am indirectly learning things about the real world--the intelligence and wisdom of the author are present just behind the narrative, and seemingly guiding it. I try to write this way as well, although I am making a resolution to try and start a new story sometime soon that isn't so earnest. But that could be sometime off (or limited to short stories).

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Gene Priest -- Sample Sunday

Below is a new short story that I am posting here as part of Twitter "Sample Sunday". It is also available as part of an ebook called Economicon Anthology. Thanks to everyone on Twitter who retweeted my announcement about the short story.

The Gene Priest

"The Universe, in all of its vastness, is God--immaculate and inviolate. People were created by the Universe and in accordance with its laws. The process of natural selection bred a version of humanity that was able to become one with the Universe. We learned its secrets and its realities. We dreamed of anthropomorphic Gods, but ultimately our rationality steered us back to the path of reason. We realized, almost too late, that in order to keep pace with and control over the power of our knowledge that we had to extend our life spans.

Genetics became our most important science. We soon understood how to enhance ourselves in order to increase our power. But we did not ignore the lessons of our history. We recognized the potential for brutal race wars between different branches of our newly evolved evolutionary tree.

The Gene Priests became the agents of God, and they control the very nature of our existence. They are the only persons with the authority to conduct genetic research. They govern the DNA of the generations, ensuring that each one shares a comparable genetic makeup. Each successive generation is further enhanced, yet each family also remains comprised of prior, inferior genetic generations. Therefore, there is no 'us' and 'them'--there is only 'we'.

Through the sacred work of the Gene Priests, humanity has progressed from enduring a fragile and short-lived existence, to enjoying many centuries of life in bodies with bones as hard as steel and skin as impermeable as Kevlar.
Our great work to build our bright future must continue, yet we must always remember our creed: The Universe is supreme, the Gene Priests are its eyes and its hands, genetics is its law, and genetic parity is every human's right."

Excerpt from the introduction to the educational text "Universal Law and History" by Supreme Gene Priest Father Matthias IV.

The couple looked on with teary eyes. Their son had been conceived one day too soon. As a result of this he would be born into the E97 genetic series instead of the newer E98 generation--which embryos conceived just one day later, would be a part of.

They had come to Father Herman’s dimly lit office to plead for their son to be included in E98. The mother looked at Father Herman intently, her eyes pleading with him in a wordless and tearful supplication.

Father Herman wondered what she saw, as she looked at him intently, waiting for his response like he imagined she would were she expecting an utterance from the Supreme Gene Priest himself. Herman knew that he appeared non-descript and middle-aged. He imagined that the dark robes worn by his order had an ennobling effect on him, but he still secretly yearned for more trappings of office, especially when he was forced to render these important decisions. He felt like his decisions were too wrapped up in his own persona; he wanted people to understand that it was not Father Herman that rendered the decision, but the laws of the Gene Priests as a whole.

He took some comfort in the knowledge that the bust of the great Father Matthias loomed over him on the wall to his rear. He had studied that commanding face for hours upon hours. Father Matthias had been such an inspiring presence that he had been able to single handedly convince the fractious leaders of humanity to hand over control of their most critical science to him. Father Herman could only hope that some of the majesty of that man’s presence was being felt by the expectant couple sitting before him.

But, as he informed the despondent couple that, no, their son would not be an E98, he felt that it was him, Father Herman, that was the source of their despair.
He sank lower into his chair, and imagined himself sinking deeper into his robes. But it didn’t seem to shelter him from their stares—now tearful, bloodshot and defeated.

The husband gathered his wife out of her chair, seeming like he was picking up the pieces of a broken object, and hastily fastening them together into something fragile but functional.

They were gone soon after, but the incident still weighed on Father Herman. He opened a desk drawer and revealed a small flask. He reached for it, hesitated, and then gently closed the drawer again. He was trying to cut back.

Despite the preceding, trying event, on this day Father Herman was feeling inspired. On some days like today he felt close to God, on others he felt more like he was merely going through the motions of ritual. His notion of God was as an abstract force—a perfect force of compassion and creation.

Despite the power of his position, Father Herman was a humble man. Some of his ilk tended to let their power go to their head. Father Herman believed that, ironically, true spirituality was inherently self-effacing. By his reckoning, becoming aware of the vast scale of the Universe through meditation made one almost painfully conscious of one's insignificance.

He uttered a brief prayer to God for the boy who would be born as an E97. Those born at the end of genetic generations often had trouble reconciling the fact that they were the youngest of an inferior breed. They had to suffer through seeing those of a similar age enjoying the benefits of improved genetic traits. They typically had an increased risk of depression and even suicide.

Father Herman decided to divert his attention from the boy, and he activated a data interface that was built into his desk. As he did so, a formerly inert section of his brain exploded to life. It was referred to as the data sense.

The data sense was a mutated part of the brain which had been derived from the huge array of sensory inputs in the visual organs of the common fly. The Gene Priests had inserted this genetic blueprint into the human genome several generations ago, considering it an ideal neural interface for managing data.

He opened a file that was waiting for his routine inspection, and began to review the data held within it. His task was to review of the latest embryonic engineering data from the local Gene Priest genetic treatment facility. The sensation that he felt as he reviewed the data was unique. It could only be compared to the tactile sensation of passing a hand over a dense array of raised, stippled dots on a flat surface. Each raised dot was a data point. Though each data point was slightly different, any significant irregularity in the data matrix would be evident.
The uniformity of the data passing under his data sense lulled his other senses into a pleasant distraction.

But then he felt it.

The sensation was very slight and fleeting, but intense, reminding him of the brushing touch of a beautiful woman passing close by. A data point had been very different. It had exhibited an elevated level of genome damage relative to the rest of the generational samples.

It was an irregularity that had to be investigated.

He considered the consequences of this anomaly. Could someone have illegally tampered with the genetic code? That was a capital offense.

There was always the risk that a person of wealth and power might attempt to introduce superior genes into their offspring. That was why the genetic parity laws existed. These laws were the very cornerstone of the Gene Priest order.
Could someone have willfully violated the law despite the risk of corporal punishment for doing so?

Father Herman experienced a thrill of excitement mixed with trepidation at the prospect.

He turned inward again, and returned to the location of the anomaly.
It was gone.

He focused his data sense and circled the area, fanning out gradually. There were no anomalies. He returned to the exact data point again, which he felt fortunate to have remembered to bookmark.

He selected the data for the embryo that had been aberrant, which caused his formerly inert desk surface to spring to life with a computer image that showed data on it.

The name of the embryo was Giles Culliver.


Father Herman knew that that was a powerful name. It was a well nigh dynastic family that owned several dominant information services firms. In fact, Culliver Systems powered the most critical data assets of the Gene Priests.
Father Herman used his desk computer to pull up the information on the parents of the embryo. He was then able to verify their connection to Culliver systems via a simple interweb search.

Father Herman was himself an E95, and therefore had difficulty understanding the latest advances in interweb technologies. In his early years, however, he had been at the forefront of interweb research for the Gene Priests.

He knew that information had long been managed by software constructs that were themselves engineered with evolutionary techniques, rather than being built directly by humans. The advances in technology were principally in the design of the evolutionary systems that produced these software constructs.

He was keenly aware of the power of the new generations of software constructs, yet he had followed the research journals, and believed that the latest research had ignored a line of advancement that he had championed during his days in interweb research. This line of advancement was a sort of intuitive reasoning—conclusions drawn from relatively few data points as compared to the massive reasoning and processing power of the latest generations of software constructs.

Father Herman activated his favorite old interweb construct, which he called Pleiades since it had seven core sub-constructs.

Feeling furtive, he activated an analytical search of the data for the Culliver embryo using Pleiades.

Pleiades began to scan, displaying status updates on Father Herman’s desktop as it ran.

Suddenly a computer window activated on his desktop and startled him. He cursed himself for his foolish anxiety.

It was a video communication request from his colleague, Father Masterson. Masterson seemed to consider Father Herman’s old software constructs to be a sign of his impending senility. Father Herman did not like the man, but felt compelled to answer. He activated the communication channel, and soon the porcine features of the younger priest were visible in a corner of the info-desk.

“Father Masterson, to what do I owe this honor?”

“Herman, you playing with your archaic toys again?”

“You are aware of my opinions on the matter of my constructs.”

“Why are you still looking at the E97 data? I show that you should have completed your review thirty minutes ago.”

Father Herman was surprised at this statement by Father Masterson. Why would Masterson be monitoring his reviews? Could Masterson be involved in the data anomaly that he had detected?

“I find it odd that you would know when I began that review, Masterson.”

“Did you find something in that review?”

“I’m not sure. That’s why I’m looking over the data with my constructs. The new software isn’t picking up anything now. But I’m certain that I saw something.”

“Look Herman, just forget about it. Put your old constructs back in drydock where they belong. You’re getting old—seeing things. I wouldn’t put this in your report either. People will think you’re losing your edge. You are an E95, after all.”

Father Herman noted that Pleiades had stopped scanning, and was now processing. Its report would be done imminently.

Father Masterson, seeming disconcerted by Father Herman’s lack of response, continued, “Herman, don’t do anything rash. Did your silly, old construct find something?”

As Father Herman was blushing in anger at the insult to his construct, the results from Pleiades were displayed on his desktop.

There had been unusual genetic damage to the Culliver embryo. It had been quickly and cleverly counterbalanced by other genome manipulations in an instant; but Father Herman had detected it, and Pleiades was able to construct a hypothesis, with only a 5% margin of error, explaining what it thought had happened.

Father Masterson had altered the Culliver genome and then an E97 construct under his control had obfuscated the alteration.

Father Herman said only one word over the open comms: “Why?”

“What are you seeing Herman? What did that antique program report? Certainly you can’t rely on that for anything, right? What did it say?” replied Masterson with detectable anxiety.

“It says that you changed the Culliver genome.” Father Herman’s tone became accusatory then: “What are you, on the take? Culliver got you in their pocket to deliver superior genes?”

Father Masterson responded forcefully: “Hogwash! I didn’t change anything. That old construct of yours is useless!”
“Far from it, Masterson! I’ve got you now. The board will hear about this!”

“Herman! Wait! You don’t understand.”

“It’s clear as day to me. They pay you, then you pump up their genome. It’s clear as day. Probably gave them E98 capability somehow. Well it’s not going to happen any longer!”

“Herman, hear me out! I didn’t improve their genome—I degraded it!”

Father Herman was surprised into silence for a moment.

Father Masterson continued, “I degraded the Culliver genome. My scans indicated that the Culliver genome had been superior to the rest of the generation in several areas. So I leveled the playing field. Genetic parity, right?”

Father Herman sensed truth in Masterson’s statement.

But why?

“Masterson, why did you do that? You know that our mandate to control genetics only extends to regulating the improvement of the genome through genetic engineering!”

“Our mandate is genetic parity. Goes way back to the time of Father Matthias. Why should these Culliver people be allowed to have superior genes?”

“Maybe their superior genes are why they are so successful.”
“Precisely my point, Herman. That’s inequity!”

“But Masterson, our mandate is to enable natural selection, not to thwart it. We allow nature to do what we cannot—to determine what the best and most successful genetic makeup will be. If we alter people’s genes to make them all the same, then we’re going to stop evolving. You know this.”

“Herman, that is outdated thinking. We can replace natural selection with the justice of parity. We can determine how to advance the genome through our research programs. We don’t need the clumsy mechanism of natural selection as a crutch.”

“This is madness! Do you realize that you could be preventing the next titan of industry from being born? What if that embryo that you damaged was going to be someone of the caliber of Father Matthias himself? You would have prevented that! You fool!”

“We don’t want a society with titans and underlings. That’s precisely what we don’t want. That’s not parity!”

“I’m done discussing this, Masterson! You are finished! I’ll see to that!”

Herman cut the connection as Masterson was shouting a response.

Turning in his chair, he gazed upward at the bust of Father Matthias.

There must be titans in the world.

An incoming communication request from Father Masterson flashed up on his desk. Father Herman ignored it.

He calmly typed up a memorandum to the pastor in charge of the local chapter of the Priests. He implicated Father Masterson and presented all of the evidence, including a copy of his Pleiades software construct, and its report.

He paused only a moment before he sent the memorandum.

He sat back in his chair, the silence of his office contrasting with the inner turmoil that he was experiencing in reaction to what had just transpired.

Father Herman opened his drawer again and picked up the flask. This time he did not second guess himself, and took a long draw from it.

He sat for several more minutes, as the whiskey settled him.

Then he got up, donned his coat, gathered up his books and papers into a leather attaché, and exited his office.

As he walked, his footsteps echoed through the high corridors of the facility. For some reason he became conscious of being alone—a small figure moving conspicuously through a large space.

He reached a people mover that conveyed him across the long corridor more quickly. Soon the corridor left the interior of his office building, and extended over a busy street in a plasteel tube that was transparent, and allowed Father Herman to experience the full impact of the surrounding darkness of the night.

Soon he reached the rectory building, where his apartment was. The people mover ended, and deposited him into a multi-story atrium which was dominated by a large statue of Father Matthias, which faced outward toward the revolving front door of the rectory.

A priest was on duty at the reception desk. Father Herman felt comforted by his presence.

He walked to the front of the status of Father Matthias. The conflict with Father Masterson was still haunting his thoughts. He looked up at the statue and its inspiring visage high above him.

Suddenly there were two hands on each of his shoulders.

A firm and commanding voice spoke from behind him, “Father Herman, you are being detained for a gene crime.”

Turning, he saw the cool glare of Pastor Sparcs confronting him behind two rough looking security men. This was Masterson’s superior—the one that he had contacted with information about Masterson’s crime.

“A gene crime? What crime?” Herman asked incredulously.

Pastor Sparcs responded, “That couple that visited you this morning. You used one of your old software constructs to promote their boy to E98.”

Herman cried out then, and he grasped the bronze foot of Father Matthias for a few moments before the security men pulled him away roughly.

Friday, March 4, 2011

OK, I'm ready to write...

I'm wishing that I had more time to write today. My creative energy is definitely building up, and feeling ready to be used. I will probably work on Gene Priests first, then a decision point will come. I am feeling like it is time to start writing the Hemlock sequel. Not everything is planned out, but that is kind of my (self proclaimed) modus operandi. Time to practice what I preach. I think I would like to get a chapter or two of the Hemlock sequel done, and then shift over to adapting my old fantasy novella, as discussed in a prior post. I am most excited by the latter, for some reason. But I think Hemlock needs to come first.

On the Hemlock "front", she was doing some very destructive things in my imagination recently. We'll have to see whether these actions come to pass once I start writing. If they do, it could mean big changes for her city and its surrounding realms...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

More on The Gene Priests

I've been thinking about what to include with my upcoming short called The Gene Priests. Sometimes I feel like my prior short, Economicon, might be disappointing for some since it is just a single short. I wonder if people want more length when they take the trouble to download something to their reader?
In that spirit, I have been looking for ways to add more content to TGP. An obvious thing to do is to include a snippet of my novel, Hemlock and the Wizard Tower. But I'd like to include some other content as well. I had considered also including Economicon; but for those that have already read Economicon, that might actually be an annoyance.
What I think I'm settling on is pulling out an old, untitled fantasy manuscript that I wrote some years back, and including that. It's a coming of age tale about a young man of royal lineage sent on his first solo diplomatic mission. The only trouble is that the story doesn't have an ending. But I think I can address that, and turn it into a little novella.
I think that this would make for a nice free ebook.