Another day, another story en route

Before we post part two to the Darkside Codex story, I have some general writing news.

Sunday was the first blog post I’ve published at Black Gate. It’s supplemental information for my book, Terra Incognito, about designing a fantasy or historical village for writers or gamers. After talking to my publisher, StarWarp Concepts, they’d like me to collect up these new world-building posts for a Terra Incognito II. I’m certainly not going to argue with that.

Be sure to check out the blog post and post a comment there or here, especially if there are any subjects you’d like to see me cover.

Also, I have finished the first draft of Paladin, at 7,000 words into The Sleeping Hero, the novel to continue the adventures from For a Few Gold Pieces More.  I also submitted “Extractor”  for an anthology with a new publisher for me. Keep your fingers crossed. I’d really, really like to get this one. *grin*

Also, I’ve seen the first draft of my Kickstarter video and Joshua Orozco at Atomic Canary Studios did a kick-ass job with it. Just waiting for him to add the music and smooth out a few rough spots and we’re hopefully going to be ready to rock and roll with this.

I’ll probably be reaching out to a number of people in the very near future re: my Kickstarter. While I’m not asking anyone specifically to contribute to it, (although I won’t turn you down if you decide to support me), but I am going to be asking many of you to help up the volume on this. Some of you are much, MUCH, more tied in via social media and just reader-bases already, so if you could just direct a few more eyes to the Kickstarter than I’ll be able to generate on my own, you’ll have my undying gratitude.

(Yeah, I know undying gratitude and $4.00 might by a Starbucks coffee, but hey, it’s something!)

Terra Incognito – The Darkside Codex (part one)

In my writing guide Terra Incognito: A Guide to Building the Worlds of Your Imagination (now on sale from StarWarp Concepts), I take readers through the process of constructing a fantasy world from a blank piece of paper. We build and populate the lands, determine the various ethnicities, divide them into countries and tribes, and determine their forms of government, religions, and monetary systems. We also create the cosmology of the world and its surrounding neighbors, and demonstrate how it influences the creation of the calendar in use on the island continent of Aviones.

Many of you may wonder how practical this advice is. Well, to give you a real-world example, let me tell you about the process I went through for Musa Publishing.


In June 2012, Celina Summers, the editor of Penumbra—the magazine in which the articles that comprise the majority of Terra Incognito first appeared—approached me with the concept of creating a shared steampunk-genre world that could be the basis for a new line of novels and novellas. At first, it seemed a little overwhelming—after all, it’s one thing to develop a world for my own personal vision, but it’s another to create a world that anyone could use to develop a story. After taking a few deep breaths, I sat down and began brainstorming some directions in which I could go.

While I’m no expert on steampunk, I know several people who are, and based on their feedback, I realized there are no absolute rules for the genre. It’s incredibly flexible, which is where I see the “punk” part coming from, thumbing its nose at the idea there’s any one way to do it. So, when I accepted the challenge, I decided to develop a wide-open concept. Yes, there would be some staples from steampunk—steam-powered machines, airships, strange science, and intrigue—but I didn’t want to tie this new series into just science fiction or just fantasy. I wanted to create something that could be Urban Steampunk, Steampunk Noir, Steampunk Horror, or even Steampunk Romance. Basically, if there’s a genre out there, I wanted an author to feel comfortable creating a story set in my new world. Heck, if someone wanted to do Steampunk Literary, I couldn’t wait to see it. But first I had to create the framework for all these potential stories.

robot_geisha-by_Alan_Gutierrez

The inspiration for Southwatch and the Angels of Steel – Artwork by Alan Gutierrez

I remembered a cover I had seen when I attended the convention Archon 30, back in 2006. Alan Gutierrez’s wraparound cover had a woman with steel wings and mechanical arms standing there in a modified kimono on the front and a scene of airships mounting cannons flying over a landscape launching small airplanes from underneath. So, using the cover as inspiration, I knew I wanted to use winged people. Then looking at the airships, I had another inspiration. Being a longtime Trekkie, I was reminded of an original series episode called “The Cloud Minders,” in which the wealthy lived in floating cities while the commoners worked in horrible conditions on the planet’s surface.

Suddenly, I had my idea for the storyline.

What if there was a city where the more powerful, more influential or wealthier you were, the higher up in the city you lived? Thus the city of Southwatch was born. I took two sheets of paper and began doodling. On one page, I built a city with a huge steam plant in the center of the town, dividing it up into various sections. On the other page, I began working on an elevation map, deciding which region was the tallest and which were the lowest. As I played with this idea, I came up with a second one—the Dark Cloud.

Playing the “what if” game of brainstorming, I decided Southwatch was a major industrial city with a pollution problem. However, in Southwatch, the pollution had been affected by strange winds. The cloud of pollution grew out to the city limits and stopped, swirling slowly over the town in a huge fifty-foot mass. So, literally, there was a separation between the middle and lower classes and the (literal) upper class.

The city has a huge fleet of airships stationed above it, moored to the tallest portions of the town. While discussing this idea with Celina, we decided there were two different types of airships hovering above the town. The outermost ring of ships consisted of the standard military style airships, which I decided were manned by the Sky Rangers, the city’s main defenders. The interior ships are made out of a Southwatch unique material called “bessum.” This is a special mixture of glass with the tensile strength of steel. It allows for the building of beautiful airships large enough for “noble” housing. Also, it creates a spectacular visual with a flock of stained-glass airships hovering high above a dark cloud below.

Another thought that came to me while I was envisioning a towering city of skyscrapers. I remember going to the old Chicago Con back at the Rosemont Center. The convention was connected to the four major hotels by these walkways above the highways. They were commonly referred to as the habitrails, since they were completely enclosed to protected conventioneers from the weather. So, since we’re talking about huge skyscrapers hundreds of floors high, no one is going to want to have to go down to the ground floor walk to the next building and then take a steam-powered elevator back up. So now imagine standing on the ground and looking up to see a spider work of enclosed and open walkways between buildings extending up toward a dark, slowly swirling cloud over your head, allowing workers, deliverymen, messengers, and families to travel between buildings, while on the street around you, steam and electric powered cars jockey with bicyclists and a strange contraption that appears to be half-wagon and half horse clops down the street. Under your feet, you can feel the throbbing of the factories and the heavy people-movers taking those who live down in the underground slums from their homes to the steel mills and the factories that build the items that keep Southwatch running.

Oh, did I mention the mechanicals? Yes, along with the mechanical horses that were seen on the street, there are mechanical workers in Southwatch. Designed by the finest scientists (mad or otherwise), there are four different types. There are the winders—simple mechanical devices custom built for their specific jobs and, true to their names, require winding every so often by their human minders. Slightly more advanced than the winders were the myrmidons, generally humanoid in shape, primarily designed to provide military and police support for the humans in Southwatch. Even more advanced are the cybernauts, who serve as personal servants in jobs where the winders or myrmidons would make regular humans nervous. A fourth type of mechanical does not exist officially, but some people claim there are self-aware mechanicals called androids. Most people say androids are a figment of a vivid imagination, but there are those who speak of them in hushed tones and swear they exist. What will the writers who visit Southwatch decide? To be quite honest, there could be one story that swears they do exist and one that says they’re nothing but an urban legend and they both could be right. After all, not ever character in Southwatch is going to have the same understanding of the city or the same point of reference. That’s going to be the great part about doing a shared universe.

And speaking of urban legends, I created seven of them. However, all I did was come up with the name. Who is the Lady in White? Does the White Cliffs Strangler really exist? Are there more than seven urban legends in Southwatch? I certainly hope so for a city that’s been around for over a thousand years. However, that’s left to the writer’s imagination. The writers who want to visit Southwatch can certainly create their own or flesh out the ones I introduce. This was a decision I made to give our authors as much latitude as possible to create their own stories. It was a fine line to walk. I wanted to provide enough details for writers to get a good feel for Southwatch but not put so much detail into it so that the writers can put their own personal spin on this world.

 (Of course I have my own opinions on what is what in Southwatch—it is my baby, after all—but that’s the joy of a shared world. I fully expect the writers to come up with ideas I never even considered and plots that will make me smack myself in the forehead, saying, “Why didn’t I think of that!” I’m really looking forward to that happening one day.)

All of this was a good start, but there’s more to tell in Part Two . . .

Post-convention thoughts and a writing day

Home from Rocket City Lit Fest. Actually got home Monday evening, but all I did was grab dinner, visit with some friends, and collapsed into bed.

I’ll have a more complete wrap-up soon, but, the BLUF* is “had a great time, met a lot of cool authors, the volunteers were fantastic, the con committee was outstanding, and the crowd was small but enthusiastic (typical for a first year show).

Lesson learned: Do not schedule a book launch against Alabama football. My launch and opening kickoff were both at 6pm. Guess which one won? (Hint, the one that features multiple National Championships.)

Wednesday was another good day on the writing front. Got a blog post that’s related to Terra Incognito off to review site, finished the first draft of a short story that’s due at the end of the month and wrote another 2800 words on “Paladin”, my story for Origins Game Fair.

Of course, if you’re playing along at home, that means I’m at 5200 words for a 5000 word story and I still have one scene left to write. However, as we say in the biz, that’s what editing’s for. Push on until you hit “the end” and THEN go back and trim that puppy down to size. I already see where I need to move a few scenes around to make the story flow better, but until I finish the first draft, I’m not going to go back and “edit”.

Still, I’m very pleased with the way Paladin is going.

 

*For the non-military reading this — BLUF = Bottom Line Up Front

Rocket City Lit Fest Day 0

Holy frijoles, what a drive. It’s a whole lot further to Huntsville, AL than I thought it was, even after looking at the map before I left the house.

Still, even with construction zones, demolition derby wanna-bes, semis driving side by side up a hill at 45mph, and the occasional bear in the bushes looking for speeders, i arrived this afternoon. I’ll give the convention credit, the convention hotel is way worth the price. I am not kidding when I say my hotel room has more floor space than my first apartment in Monterey. Hell, it may have more floor space than the second one we had three years later. I do not foresee having to worry about space for the book launch party tomorrow evening.

Made it over to the Von Braun Convention Center and got my booth set up. Even after checking my checklist, I find I’m either down a few things OR didn’t bring enough of some things. I swore I had X in my box and I did, but not anywhere near as much as I thought I had (and left the rest on my desk back in Maryland *sigh*). Still, we’ll figure something out and I now know what to specifically look for next time I have a booth.

Hit a local supermarket on steroids called Publix and picked up a few things I needed for the con and the party. Just pulled into my parking place when some people I’d been visiting with during set-up spotted me and invited me to dinner with them. We found a neat hole-in-the-wall Mexican place with fantastic food and had a great time talking about cons we’d been at before (specifically DragonCon), and the comic/book business in general. While this is the first time I’d ever met them, we have enough friends and acquaintances in common that it was easy to find common ground.

Now, I’m enjoying the leftover chips and salsa, enjoying a nice Dragonhead Stout and thinking it’s time to call it a night.

So, Rocket City Day 0 was quite successful. Here’s to tomorrow being the start of a great con.

Packing, and writing, and promoting . . . oh my!

Oh, and along with all the frantic last minute packing . . . note to self, try not to schedule a book launch and a convention at the same time again . . . I did actually do something useful.

I wrote 2800+ words on a new story for the Origins Game Fare anthology for next year. The theme is Robots and my story is tentatively titled “Paladin”.

I have to say, this is the most unlike me story I’ve ever written, but it draws heavily on an experience I had back in college. I usually don’t write something that draws from my own history this closely – but it just fit the theme of what I wanted to do with the story.

—————————————————————————————–

Just got the floor plan for Rocket City Lit Fest in Huntsville, AL. I’m going to be in Booth 410 (2nd top cluster from the left, on the center horizontal aisle).

We’ll be holding the official book debut party for Terra Incognito at 6pm Saturday at the convention (and a little room party later that evening) to celebrate the book release.

So, if you’re coming to Rocket City, be sure to stop by and say “Hi”.

Copy of 2015 RCLF table layout V2

Interview with Tracy Hickman (excerpt)

I was incredibly fortunate to get to interview Tracy Hickman for Terra Incognito. He was gracious with his time and his advice for new authors. Our Skype interview went over two hours and we probably could have kept going, but what was initially going to be one column wound up sprawling over into two issues.  When we put Terra together as a book, unfortunately, we simply couldn’t fit all of his interview into it, so we decided to take a snippet of the interview and save it for the readers of this blog.

So, without further ado:  Tracy Hickman

Tracy Hickman with newest book

 

RW: You have a new book coming out called Wayne of Gotham. Is this your first time doing work with DC Comics? (Note: Wayne of Gotham was released on June 26, 2012, a few weeks after this interview was conducted.)

TH: Yes, this is my first foray into doing work with DC Comics.

RW: Two questions come to mind. One, can you give us a quick synopsis of the book? And two, since we’re talking about world building, Batman is a pretty iconic character. How much research did you have to do into Gotham City and the whole Batman mythos to be true to the character? Admittedly Batman has been through several reboots since the 1930s, but how do you stay true to the feel of Batman?

TH: Wayne of Gotham is a hugely exciting thing for me. Wayne of Gotham is a book about Batman, and Bruce Wayne coming to grips with the reality of his own father. We’re reopening and reinvestigating the deaths of his parents. Mostly, when we think of Thomas Wayne, we think of him being dead. We think of how he died. But we really haven’t examined who he was and what he did in his life. I think this is a journey all men have to take to come to grips with the reality of their father. Especially in the case of Bruce Wayne, where his father was such an enormous catalyst for his life. I felt it was important for us to take a look at who Thomas Wayne was and more importantly, that Bruce Wayne take a look at who his father was, aside from the marbled figure who’s up on the pedestal.

The story actually opens with his grandfather Patrick Wayne, who’s drunk, dragging Thomas into the caverns underneath Wayne Manor with a shotgun and forcing him to kill bats. We see that Patrick was an abusive and violent father to Thomas and bullied his son—trying to make a man out of him. That is the start of this journey for us.

The story takes place in two periods. In the modern day, Batman is confronted with a series of crimes in the city that mirror events from the late 1950s involving his father. Then we jump back in time and visit Gotham in the late 1950s and we see Thomas and what made him tick, how he met Martha Kane and how Thomas may have been the foundation of many of Bruce problems and many of the problems that confront Gotham City in the time of the Batman. It’s a thrilling journey and one I’m just so excited to tell.

Plus, I got to write characters I’ve always wanted to write. I got to write some obscure characters, but I also got a chance to write iconic characters. I loved writing Harley Quinn. Harley was a delight to write and yes, the Joker was a thrill. But all these characters are caught up in the investigation into Thomas Wayne and why he really died. That’s basically the story we’re telling in Wayne of Gotham.

RW: I think this one is definitely going to have to go on my “to buy” list.

TH: I cannot recommend this book enough. This is a joy to read. I have a copy of it here with me—one copy of it. I wish I could share it.

RW: It’s obvious to do the old Gotham versus the new Gotham; a lot of research had to go on. Did you get a chance to go through some of the Golden- and Silver-Age Batman material to help with your research?

TH: DC sent me a copy of The Essential Batman Encyclopedia, which is now so used, the spine is broken. I’m going to have to go take it in to have it rebound. When approaching an iconic character like Batman, you walk a really fine line. My first reaction after we proposed this story and they accepted it was, “Oh man, I get to write Batman.” And then the second reaction was, “What have I done? I have to write Batman!” Because everyone has an idea of who Batman is.

RW: And everyone loves to tell you about it if it’s not quite right in their eyes.

TH: It’s going to be an interesting [San Diego] Comic Con, this year to see how the fans react to what I’ve done.(Laughter) [DC] actually said to me, early on, “you can do anything you want to with Batman. If you want to redesign the suit, redesign the suit. If you want to redesign the Batmobile, redesign the Batmobile. You want to put Batman in a leather jacket, let’s do that.”

Now, my first thoughts were, “Cool, I can redesign the suit and the Batmobile.” The second thought I had immediately after that was, “Don’t! Don’t do it.”

RW: I think you made a wise choice.

TH: You gotta have the cape. You gotta have the cowl. He’s Batman. The Batsuit has to be the Batsuit. Batman has to be Batman. It has to be iconic. So, what I had to do then was provide something original, something that’s new, but I have to do it in such a way it feels like Batman or what we already know he is. Plus, it has to pay homage to every previous iteration. He has to be a part of what everyone believes Batman to be. So, it was a very difficult line to walk because you need to do something new and interesting, but at the same time, it has to be familiar. It has to ring true organically as Batman.

So, I had to do a tremendous amount of research on the history of Batman. I had to go through the multiverses and the multiple iterations of the Batman down through the years. Everything from who was Batman in the 1930s to who Batman is today. For example, Vicky Vale is so many different people, depending on which series you’re dealing with. Which Robin are we talking about? So, it was really important, to me. I need to be able to touch on the iconic moments that are Batman and to weave all these pieces into a single cloth to pay homage and honor the vision of everyone who’d come before me. That was the biggest challenge I had in this book—to produce something that rang true to what everyone wanted Batman to be.

 RW: The very first time I ever did media tie-in work, the basic advice I got was you can do whatever you want as long as you put all the toys back on the shelf where you got them from. In other words, I could have the character do X, they could do Y, but in the end, I couldn’t change the fundamentals.

TH: I’m really excited then, because in this book we do make some fundamental changes here. But I think they’re very satisfying in terms of defining who the character is. My hope is when people read the book is they’ll say, “Yeah, that makes sense.” I’m really anxious to get some people out there reading it so I can get some feedback and see what people think of my take on the Batman.

 

To read the rest of my interview with Tracy, which includes his insights on world building, you’ll have to purchase a copy of Terra Incognito: A Guide to Building the Worlds of Your Imagination, available from StarWarp Concepts.

Terra Incognito

Exploring the worlds of your imagination

And we’re off and running.

Terra Incognito

http://www.starwarpconcepts.com/terra-incognito-a-guide-to…/

Terra Incognito should be live on the major sites in the next day or so – all depends on how fast the retailers get around to posting it to their sites. We’re certainly hoping it’ll be fully loaded everywhere by the end of the week at the latest.

The .epub is being obnoxious, but it’s been obnoxious the whole time we’ve been trying to get this thing put together. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was haunted. Then again, we are coming up on Halloween and my publisher is best known for doing dark fantasy and horror. Perhaps a haunted e-book is quite appropriate.

And then today I came home to find this:

Drive Thru Books

Yep, that’s Terra Incognito at #1 on the Hottest Titles at DriveThruFiction.com.

I think this is a pretty good sign that there’s a market for works on world building.

And, as I begin to post this, the song comes on the radio

OK, most of the Kickstarter site is built, a 2500 word blog post is ready to be reviewed one more time before mailing it out and I had a great meeting with a videographer about the Kickstarter video.

It’s slowly but surely coming together. I’m a tad nervous about this, but I’m committed to this, one way or the other.

Oh, yeah, I received my official invite to Origins ’16. Time to start working on that short story too. And editing the story that’s due at the end of the month . . . and writing another one I promised someone.

*cue the music* Oh, there ain’t no rest for the wicked. Money don’t grow on trees.

There’s writing and then there’s writing . . .

OK, remember how I said tonight would be a writing night?

Well, it was and it wasn’t. I did get started on a blog post I hope will be going up at a much more popular web site than mine and with any luck, I’ll have it finished and en route tomorrow.

However, the majority of my writing tonight was on the For a Few Gold Pieces More Kickstarter page. Yes, slowly but surely it’s coming together. I was originally going to launch the Kickstarter on 10 October, but it’s beginning to look more and more like the 17th. More to follow.

However, before it ever goes live, I’ll certainly have my alpha reader give it a thorough going-over so I don’t leave parenthesis unbounded or participles dangling. Then I’ll probably bribe/coerce/whine for a few friends to review it one last time before it goes live.

And then? Who knows?