MystiCon 2016 trip report

Officially recovering from MystiCon 2016. It was a whirlwind of a convention and came and went in a blur. It was fantastic catching up with so many friends and acquaintances and getting to meet several new people who I’d enjoy hanging out with in the future. It seemed like I was constantly running from panel to conversation with someone to another panel to yet another conversation and so on. I know I saw a whole lot of people that I really, really wish I could have spent more time visiting with and I apologize if it feels like I slighted any of you.

The World Building panel was a blast. All my fellow panelists brought some good thoughts that I’m going to have to steal … I mean consider when I’m working on my next columns for Black Gate.

The Comic Books to the Screen panel went very well also. Even though we didn’t cover all the topics the moderator hoped to get to, there was no question the panel (and the audience) had a passion for the topic about what’s been done right and what could be improved.

Got invited to a couple of new conventions and promoted my Kickstarter (politely), and have several people interested in buying books at my signing tonight. So, along with having fun, the business-side of the convention is going well also.

Saturday started with the Beginning Roleplaying panel which went incredibly well. All of the panelists were well versed in either tabletop or live-action roleplaying and we did briefly touch on on-line roleplaying. The best part was a young man who we let know about the game demos going on upstairs – his mother let me know later that evening that he’d basically planted himself at the demos and was loving every minute of it. Now, that’s a great con memory both for that kid and me.

After that, I caught up with a few friends and then did the Mr. Adventure Podcast, where I got to play Doctor Richards, who was a scientist helping out the superheroes. However, the gentleman playing Atomik Fist flat out stole the show! What a phenomenal performance. I apologize for not remembering your name, but my hat is off to you, sir. And Rich Sigfrit, thank you again for inviting me to contribute to this podcast. I can’t wait for it to be released (and I don’t envy your producer trying to splice all the asides and laughter out).

I went from that to “Them’s Fighting Words”. We talked about different styles of fighting, where to do research on weapons, fighting techniques, etc., how to make fight scenes believable, how much is too much detail and so on. It was really an interesting panel and we had a great audience who asked really good questions, so that always is a pleasure.

I went back to the room to collapse a bit and then did the How Much Worldbuilding Does an RPG Need? panel. For a panel going on against the Masquerade, we had quite a decent crowd – in fact, one of the biggest crowds I’ve ever had when I wasn’t on a panel with the GoH. I was the fill-in moderator, but we quickly opened the floor up to questions, which considering we’d already done a world-building panel the day before was probably wisest. There was well over 100 years of gaming experience among the panelists, so we could not only give good suggestions, but we all admitted a few times when things had gone wrong, so they could avoid our mistakes.

After that panel, I had my reading and read from Shades of Blue, part of my For a Few Gold Pieces More Kickstarter. Got a good reaction from the crowd and we talked about the Kickstarter more afterward. From there I went down and did my signing. It was in the hallway near the concert, but with the doors shut, the music was much more manageable for my poor ears. Since no one was following me, I just lounged out at the signing area and actually made more sales after my signing was over than during it. Go figure, right? I’ll attribute it to the music. *grin*

Finally had time to dump my gear and spend sometime visiting with friends and crawled into bed way too late. The Sunday morning alarm and i did not agree it was time for me to get up, but it eventually won.

My first Sunday panel was Writing a Successful Query Letter and the panelists talked about what had and hadn’t worked for us and then took more questions from the audience. I made sure to plug Query Letter Hell on Absolute Write, Writer Beware, Query Shark, Evil Editor and the Miss Snark archives. There were a lot of follow-up questions afterward with audience members who had more personalized questions, but I think (hope) we answered them as best we could.

I took a short break to sit in on the Valentine Wolfe concert. I met the members of Valentine Wolf Friday evening and had a blast visting with them. I heard them at the Saturday night concert, but their ambient performance on Sunday sealed the deal for me. Wow! What an experience.

I had to run from the concert to get to my last panel, Beyond Western Europe. I had hoped it would be more of a “here are some myths and legends that get overlooked and you should really check them out”, but there was a certain amount of “how to avoid cultural appropriation” that sidetracked the panel. Not that it is/wasn’t an important topic, but that’s not what I thought the panel was supposed to be about – I generally try to avoid panels that look like they’re going to get political one way or the other – but in the end, I was able to promote Folktexts at the University of Pittsburgh’s web site and “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” by Amos Tutuola as things the audience should definitely look into.

I’d love to list everyone I had a ball talking too and meeting for the first time (or maybe for the fortieth time), but I’m sure I’m going to miss someone. Still here goes – thanks to Mark Macdicken, April MacDicken, Meredith Lydia Thoroughman, Davey Beauchamp, Michael Ventrella, Gail Martin, Mike Allen, Podcasting’s Rich Sigfrit, The gang from Skeleton Key, Valentine Wolfe, Christopher Axlthem, Caroline Axlthem, Peter Prellwitz, Allen Wold, John L. French, Tiffany Trent, Ashley Chappell-Peeples, Steven Peeples, RS Belcher, John Watts, and a host of others that I blame a definite lack of coffee and a mind like a steel sieve on.

Believe me, after a great convention like this, it was tough to go back to the real world this morning.

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 . . .

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

Shore Leave 2015 is in the books

Back and (semi-)recovered from Shore Leave this past weekend. It was a fantastic time and it was good to catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in a while as well as making new ones.

Wound up getting there late Friday but still plenty of time to set up before the Meet the Pros. Had fun talking to the people coming by about my stuff (both old and new), but they were showing Guardians of the Galaxy in the ballroom, so the crowd for the Pros was a lot lighter than usual. Unfortunate, but I guess tight schedules are tight. *sigh*

Enjoyed visiting with everyone after the gathering (even if they do close the bar at the Hunt Valley Wyndham way too darn early. *sigh*). Hung around the lobby until almost 2:30 and then drove home just in time for the alarm to go off to start the next day.

(Well, it felt like I had just laid down before the alarm yelled at me.)

The Saturday panels were well worth dragging myself out of bed for. I was on the Alternate History panel where we discussed steampunk, gaslight, secret history, alternative history, dieselpunk and why the heck we write in any of those genres, where we get info, and how do we choose what we want to warp.

That was followed by Writing Tips for Aspiring Writers. We had a varied group on the panel. If the audience got anything out of that panel (and there was a LOT of good advice given out) is that there is no magical button. What works for one person does not necessarily work for another. You have to experiment to see what you’re most comfortable with. Also, you must “write” to be a writer. Thinking about writing doesn’t count. Research doesn’t count (although it’s fun), Plotting doesn’t count. Only writing counts, so get your computer/tablet/pen and paper/papyrus/stone and chisel and get to work!

The Crowdfunding panel was VERY useful for me (and hopefully for the audience too *grin*). Everyone on the panel, but me, had run one or multiple successful Kickstarters or Indygogo’s. I felt like I was in the Shark Tank because all of them started asking me about my planning, how I was going to advertise, etc., etc., etc.. Yikes! However, I now think I’m ready to start moving on this once I get finished getting Terra Incognito out there and can concentrate on For a Few Gold Pieces More.

Last panel of the day was the Writer Beware panel. Good audience with good questions. I have to thank Kathleen David for helping me out on that panel. Her experience as a former editor really helped the new(ish) authors in the audience see how the “other side” of the business sees things.

I didn’t go to the masquerade because I was doing my radio broadcast for the Gaming World Entertainment Network. It was amazing. People would come by and talk to me, but as soon as I asked if they wanted to talk about SF or the con to my audience … poof. It was like watching the Roadrunner vanishing with just that little puff of smoke left behind. Still, the show went well and I had fun visiting with all the off-air people.

Sunday didn’t quite go as planned, but the Writing Short Stories panel was well attended for a Sunday and I hope we answered most of the questions people had. I had hoped to get to do the Historical Fiction Writing Workshop, but it was scheduled against the Short Story panel. *sigh again*

Still, all in all, it was a a fun convention. Of course, the best part about Shore Leave is it’s a fantastic chance to catch up with everyone. Had a fantastic visit with Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore, David Mack, Scott Pearson, Allyn Gibson, William Leisner, Jim Johnson before the panels got going on Sunday. Also enjoyed speaking with Rigel Ailur, Glenn Hauman, Christopher Bennett, Peter and Kathleen David at breakfast that morning. Got to hang out with Kelly Meding, Phil Giunta, Steven H. Wilson, Steve Lesnik and Renfield at Meet the Pros, and Dave Galanter, Keith DeCandido, Mark MacDicken, Howard Weinstein, Marco Palmieri Aaron Rosenberg, Danielle Ackley-Mcphail and Mike McPhail, John Jackson Miller, Russ Colchamiro, Michael Jan Friedman, Joshua B. Palmatier, Amy Griswold, and a host of others to whom I apologize for not remembering your names.

Can’t wait to do this again next year.

And the week’s off to a good start

Spent some time working on my new Dark Leopard story today. Calling this one Freeze Frame and it’s set a few months from the end of Mouse Trap. Really enjoy developing this character and her supporting cast. While it did start out as an homage to another character, it’s definitely taking on a life of its own. Can’t wait to see the revamped costume for her by Rock Baker either.

Also, spent some time today working on refining the outline for the next Theron Chase story. Yes, I know Pearls of Darkness hasn’t been released yet, but that doesn’t mean I should just sit around and wait for it before starting the next one. I’ve gotten some really good feedback, both from readers and authors I look up to, on this one and I can’t wait to open up the shades and see what the streets of Calisia have in store for my intrepid private investigator.

Finally, I worked on “Operation Komodo” this evening. Finally got the final scene ready to write – had to go back and do some work to get the beats right to get all the players where I needed them to be for Strikeforce Falcon’s latest mission. Now, hopefully, I can finish this over the next few days and get it en route to the editor.

Plus, over the weekend, I was talking with April MacDee. We’ve been working on a YA Urban Fantasy for some time, but grad school got in the way (first for her, than me). Now, it’s time we dusted it off, updated a few things and got this darn thing written.

And I’m sure there’s more lurking in the shadows. There always is . . .

My steampunk muse

I think I found my muse for when I get back to work on “On Wings of Steel”. This particular figure stands almost 24″ tall, so I’ll have to find a very special spot near the desk for her to sit.

It’s hard to find a good steampunk figure with metallic feathers instead of faerie wings. And while there are fae running around in Southwatch, the Angels of Steel are definitely human . . . or so it’s believed anyway.

So, meet Erica, the newest member of the writing team.

(There’s another one that is a companion piece with a steampunk dragon curled around her feet, but since the gargoyle does play an important part in “Wings”, I thought it made more sense to go with this one.)

Angel of Steel_1 (474x800) Angel of Steel_1_gargoyle Angel of Steel_1_wings