Tales From the Rim Comes Back From the Dead

As Pitch Wars comes down to the final days and I have become Zen about my submission I made 6 weeks ago, there’s always the post-partum period for the hundreds and hundreds of writers that will not become mentees. Plus, as I have learned from other writers and participants, becoming a mentee—getting you an intensive 4 month cycle of edits with a published pro or agent—is not the gold ticket to representation that many think it is.

Of course, just the process of spiffing up your submission for entry makes a better manuscript and no matter what happens when the mentees are announced October 10, I’ll keep pitching it on its own merit. The Fifth Circle is a great book.

But last night and this morning I was also thinking about attacking the “first in a series” problem with Volume 1 that plagues many series. The first book is almost invariably “set-up” no matter how it’s structured or executed. And, by their nature, set-up books have their own canon you cannot ignore. For example, you can’t drop readers into the deep end and expect them to swim without giving them some prescriptive instruction along the way, commonly known, as who the fuck are these people, where did they come from, and what the hell is going on?

Another, more insidious way of attacking this problem is to jump past the series altogether, write a kick ass standalone book with a subset or offshoot set of characters from the series. If it gets sold and does well, then you have a whole series (5 books in all planned for The Fifth Circle) to sell as the main course.

So I started revisiting Tales From the Rim, which was intended to be a series of stories that takes place 25 years after the main action in The Fifth Circle. Nowhere near as fraught or dark, these lighter stories enable me to get even wackier with Titus—now on the run from his responsibilities as dragonmaster—and Jaka, a young orphan who is street smart, and has a willingness to kill with her liquid nitrogen cartridged crossbow quarrels. Travelling around the seedier edge of the Domains, they take commissions in bringing bad guys to justice or—oops!—to accidental death, while constantly fighting for and against each other.

I’ve decided to start posting concept vignettes in the search for the one killer story that may become that 6th book on the other side of the series. Comments are totally welcome, and I’ll be adding more and more ideas over the coming months. Enjoy!

Titus and Jaka.jpg

The 280 Character Pitch

#PitMad is coming on September 6. You can pick up an agent or even sell your manuscript based on 280 little characters (of course they have to be the right characters).

#PitMad is one of the oldest Twitterverse pitching contests that happens for 12 hours four times a year. . You get 280 characters to pitch (and hashtag genre/age) and if a literary agent finds the pitch compelling enough, they might ask you to submit (and a referral submit is always better than a blind submit). Many #PitMad participants have signed agents and/or received book deals baste on 280 little characters.

Caveat: it's hard to distill 116,000 word story into 280 characters. Eve if you don't submit to #PitMad, it's good practice in brevity, boiling your book down to its root premise, character, conflict, and stakes. Perfect for refining your query and/or synopsis.

Read all about #PitMad here: #PitMad September 6, 2018 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EDT.

 

 

 

G558z4GL_400x400.jpg

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

Just finished Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland's The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. and it is a terrific read. For those of you who know Neal Stephenson (The Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon, Anathem, and Seveneves), you'll probably be a little disappointed because gone are the multiple 25-page infodumps endemic to his later works (most notably the turgid Seveneves). D.O.D.O. has been tempered with Galland's breezier style where the infodumps have been replaced by a relentless skewering of government agencies, bureaucracies, and their attachment to Powerpoint (among other technological quirks).

For those who haven't read Stephenson, it's a little far afield from the Stephenson "infodump" style which is good, but bad if you read this then try some of his recent books. For newcomers, I would start with Zodiac and The Diamond age--more traditional book lengths--and maybe then try the long and denser Cryptonomicon, which is still highly enjoyable but foreshadows the infodump phase of his career. 

D.O.D.O. at its heart is a time travel story and a wild one at that. It's reminiscent of Connie Willis's time-travel novels Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, with a dash of Charles Stross's Merchant Princes series thrown in.

I have always been a fan of Stephenson's snarky prose and here, with Galland's able assistance, snark bursts from every page and it is uproariously funny. The main narrator, Dr. Melisande Stokes, a Harvard lecturer in dead languages and cultures, could be a cousin of Titus Dragonmaster in the way she tells most of the story from her viewpoint. Needless to say, I enjoyed it immensely and enjoyed her narration immensely as well. 

It's a long book--740 pages--but it flies by; I read it in three days. Highly recommended.

51D1iJ6ofuL.jpg

 

 

A Great Resource For Writers

Writing s novel is hella hard work. Especially when there are no guardrails, safety straps, or any other device that would help the writer have a faint clue as to what she is doing. 

Larry Brooks, a story "fixer," has written three books on how to structure a novel (or screenplay) for maximum dramatic impact. Story Engineering, Story Physics, and Story Fix. All indispensable guides in structuring a story. We don't always see eye to eye, but I greatly respect his approach. Any aspiring writer would do well to pick up these invaluable guides. Find 'em on Amazon. 

51NYGVkdteL._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

 

 

 

Korrideene -- Shaman of the Dex

Another brilliant illustration by Dejan Delic. We're finally away from Here on the lonely planet Dren, where forces from across the Multiverse contest for a rent in space time for their own obscure purposes. Of course, Titus is right in the middle of it when he's rather be in a local bar somewhere. Some people get all the luck. 

 Korrideene confronts the prisoner Titus

Korrideene confronts the prisoner Titus

For a section of text describing this encounter, go here: http://bit.ly/2sGRaw7

First Peek at Volume 3 Characters

As The Fifth Circle, Volume 3 wraps up, I have been working with the estimable artistic force majeure, Dejan Delic  to start illustrating a raft of new characters that populate the book. For now, enjoy Brix, Titus's love interest. To see a larger size and accompanying text from the book, go to The Brix image page on my Deviant Art account. It is rated adult for language, so you may have to click a dialog box or two. 

More to come soon. 

 Brix watching Titus make breakfast.

Brix watching Titus make breakfast.

The Music of Our Lives

There's a reason music from the heartland of America resonates and it's because it's a family passion. In times past, there weren't U2 or Taylor Swift stadium shoes, only clans that got together and entertained their neighbors and their selves.

Was at the John Prine show in San Francisco last week and was lucky enough to find someone post a clip on YouTube of the final song, "Paradise." Yep It's all good.

Support Your Creator!

Must check out Ethan Nicolle's hilarious zombie-apocalypse tale, Bearmageddon. 

This is truly sick and twisted in a way we can all grok, appreciate, and stand back from at a far distance. I've been a supporter of Ethan on Patreon for more than two years and love it. Support your local creator!

C9-9-75XgAANR3J.jpg

Emotion in Motion -- Malazan Book of the Fallen

Unsaid -- but revealed -- emotion to me, is the key to good fiction. In the hands of a fine craftsman like Steven Erikson, it becomes gold:

 

‘You took my anger.’

The voice came out of the shadows. Blinking, Lostara Yil slowly sat up, the furs sliding down, the chill air sweeping around her bared breasts, back and belly. A figure was sitting on the tent’s lone camp stool to her left, cloaked, hooded in grey wool. The two hands, hanging down past the bend of his knees, were pale as bone.

Lostara’s heart thudded hard in her chest. ‘I felt it,’ she said. ‘Rising like a flood.’ She shivered, whispered, ‘And I drowned.’

‘Your love summoned me, Lostara Yil.’

She scowled. ‘I have no love for you, Cotillion.’

The hooded head dipped slightly. ‘The man you chose to defend.’

His tone startled her. Weary, yes, but more than that. Lonely. This god is lonely.

‘You danced for him and none other,’ Cotillion went on. ‘Not even the Adjunct.’

‘I expected to die.’

‘I know.’

She waited. Faint voices from the camp beyond the flimsy walls, the occasional glow of a hooded lantern swinging past, the thud of boots.

The silence stretched.

‘You saved us,’ she finally said. ‘For that, I suppose I have to thank you.’

‘No, Lostara Yil, you do not. I possessed you, after all. You didn’t ask for that, but then, even all those years ago, the grace of your dance was…breathtaking.’

Her breath caught. Something was happening here. She didn’t understand it. ‘If you did not wish my gratitude, Cotillion, why are you here?’ Even as she spoke, she flinched at her own tone’s harshness. That came out all wrong

His face remained hidden. ‘Those were early days, weren’t they. Our flesh was real, our breaths…real. It was all there, in reach, and we took it without a moment’s thought as to how precious it all was. Our youth, the brightness of the sun, the heat that seemed to stretch ahead for ever.’

She realized then that he was weeping. Felt helpless before it. What is this about? ‘I took your anger, you said.’ And yes, she could remember it, the way the power filled her. The skill with the swords was entirely her own, but the swiftness – the profound awareness – that had belonged to him. ‘I took your anger. Cotillion, what did you take from me?’

He seemed to shake his head. ‘I think I’m done with possessing women.’

‘What did you take? You took that love, didn’t you? It drowned you, just as your anger drowned me.’

He sighed. ‘Always an even exchange.’

‘Can a god not love?’

‘A god…forgets.’

She was appalled. ‘But then, what keeps you going? Cotillion, why do you fight on?’

Abruptly he stood. ‘You are chilled. I have disturbed your rest—’

‘Possess me again.’

‘What?’

‘The love that I feel. You need it, Cotillion. That need is what brought you here, wasn’t it? You want to…to drown again.’

His reply was a frail whisper. ‘I cannot.’

‘Why not? I offer this to you. As a true measure of my gratitude. When a mortal communes with her god, is not the language love itself?’

‘My worshippers love me not, Lostara Yil. Besides, I have nothing worthy to give in exchange. I appreciate your offer—’

‘Listen, you shit, I’m trying to give you some of your humanity back. You’re a damned god – if you lose your passion where does that leave us?’

The question clearly rocked him. ‘I do not doubt the path awaiting me, Lostara Yil. I am strong enough for it, right to the bitter end—’

‘I don’t doubt any of that. I felt you, remember? Listen, whatever that end you see coming…what I’m offering is to take away some of its bitterness. Don’t you see that?’ He was shaking his head. ‘You don’t understand. The blood on my hands—’

‘Is now on my hands, too, or have you forgotten that?’

‘No. I possessed you—’

‘You think that makes a difference?’

‘I should not have come here.’

‘Probably not, but here you are, and that hood doesn’t hide everything. Very well, refuse my offer, but do you really think it’s just women who feel love? If you decide never again to feel…anything, then best you swear off possession entirely, Cotillion. Steal into us mortals and we’ll take what we need from you, and we’ll give in return whatever we own. If you’re lucky, it’ll be love. If you’re not lucky, well, Hood knows what you’ll get.’

‘I am aware of this.’

‘Yes, you must be. I’m sorry. But, Cotillion, you gave me more than your anger. Don’t you see that? The man I love does not now grieve for me. His love is not for a ghost, a brief moment in his life that he can never recapture. You gave us both a chance to live, and to love – it doesn’t matter for how much longer.’

‘I also spared the Adjunct, and by extension this entire army.’

She cocked her head, momentarily disoriented. ‘Do you regret that?’

He hesitated, and that silence rippled like ice-water through Lostara Yil. ‘While she lives,’ he said, ‘the path awaiting you, and this beleaguered, half-damned army, is as bitter as my own. To the suffering to come…ah, there are no gifts in any of this.’

‘There must be, Cotillion. They exist. They always do.’

‘Will you all die in the name of love?’ The question seemed torn from something inside him.

‘If die we must, what better reason?’

He studied her for a dozen heartbeats, and then said, ‘I have been considering…amends.’

‘Amends? I don’t understand.’

‘Our youth,’ he murmured, as if he had not heard her, ‘the brightness of the sun. She chose to leave him. Because, I fear, of me, of what I did to her. It was wrong. All of it, so terribly wrong. Love… I’d forgotten.’

The shadows deepened, and a moment later she was alone in her tent. She? Cotillion, listen to my prayer. For all your fears, love is not something you can forget. But you can turn your back on it. Do not do that. A god had sought her out. A god suffering desperate need. But she couldn’t give him what he desired – perhaps, she saw now, he’d been wise in rejecting what she’d offered. The first time, it was anger for love. But I saw no anger left in him. Always an even exchange. If I opened my love to him…whatever he had left inside himself, he didn’t want to give it to me. And that, she now comprehended, had been an act of mercy.

The things said and the things not said. In the space in between, a thousand worlds. A thousand worlds.

 

 

High School Alumnus -- Finally Again

Was never big on the high school reunion stuff. Had a great time at Paly (Palo Alto High School for those not of the body), but life is nothing if not days between stations and I moved on, didn't let the past consume me. Gods below, it's hard enough to get by day to day.

But recently found out a classmate had passed -- not that I particularly liked him and the feeling was mutual -- so you go back and see the obits. Again, no one I gave a hoot in hell for, but other classmates gave a shit about them. So I finally signed up on the alumni website. 

One of the hardest things to do as a writer is create, animate, and feel a character that has no redeeming qualities. They just are. No love, hate, affinity or disdain; they exist to fill a congruent role that the MC must deal with...or not. But we know these people. This is part of the fabric of our lives that enrich our experience (granted not much and who knows from what direction). But it's real life.

I won't ever go to a reunion (I couldn't care less about most of them when I was 17 and that has not changed). What would I say after all this time? Whatever those words might be, they'd be honest enough now to get a black eye and a fat lip and if I want that, all I needs do is make a disparaging comment about Jiminy's wardrobe. Pow!  Right to the moon!

Titus has a similar epiphany in volume 3 (oh...I didn't tell you there's a third book?) but the trigger is much different than this one. I may not be going to any reunions, but I am not quite crotchety enough, it seems, to pretend the past never happened. 

 

Now THIS is a Cure for Writer's Block

Just got back from New Orleans after visiting some of Jiminy's family. 5 hour delay leaving MSY -> SFO due to rain in Bay Area (for those who don't know, fog and rain cut SFO's traffic ability in half). Got to sleep at 3:30 this AM.

Life is s-l-o-w in the south, but it provides a reflective mood and I can see where "Southern Writers" get their languorous style. So to slow down this west coast techie, I made a few runs down to Willie's Chicken Shack, a chain of fried chicken and po' boy eateries in NOLA. Go for the chicken but stay for the daiquiris! 

They sell these monster alcoholic slushies out of oversized slurpee machines in a variety of flavors and alcohol types. My fav? The Hurricane, of course, with 151 rum. A 32 oz. bad boy that will get you languorous and then some. 

29313868_10211343803810430_3172610741471543296_n.jpg

Nice to slow down before the final push to complete the first draft for The Fifth Circle volume 3. Oh. before I forget. If you make it to New Orleans, do not miss dinner at Atchafalaya, a nouvelle southern cuisine restaurant in the Irish Canal district. The crawfish and boudin stuffed beignets are spectacular.   

 River

River

 Skye

Skye

Well Hell, That's A STORY

Watched the Oscars last night for the first time in whatever and didn't realize Kobe Bryant really created something, told a story, and was recognized for it. It's worth the 5 minutes to watch. And learn.

 

The former Los Angeles Lakers star won an Oscar in the animated short category for "Dear Basketball," a poem he wrote after ending his 20-year career on the court in 2016.

Your Creative Lens Matters

Two nights ago Jiminy said her BFF had made it MANDITORY we watch the new(ish) flick, Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldham as Winston Churchill. As a WW II history buff—inherited from my dad who served stateside but never got overseas because of his lousy eyesight, another inheritance—I was all in. And boy, are you all in. There are many stories about how a skinny Oldham became the puffy bulldog Churchill, but the performance is amazing.

In any event, as references were made to Dunkirk, Ms. Cricket said, “OH OH OH we have to watch Mrs. Miniver,  a 1942 film with Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson" and we did so last night. I had heard of the flick, but had never seen it (of course Jiminy is an old movie buff extraordinaire and you would lose every time you bet against her).  There is a tangential connection to the Dunkirk operation that is brilliantly and understatedly told—from the rescuers’ perspective, rather than the big-budget movie last year.

What struck me in both films was great storytelling. Darkest Hour takes place over just a couple of weeks, while Mrs. Miniver takes place over couple of years. And each story is unique: Churchill’s rise to Prime Minister at a time of England’s greatest need, and a suburban English family living with the impending and, ultimately, devastating cost of war.

I know there are people out there who go, “YAWN . . . we’ve seen that movie before . . .” But not really. Good storytelling is good storytelling. Character, Obstacle, Conflict, and Stakes. Have we heard these stories before? Yes. In this particular way? Maybe . . . maybe not. I was reminded of a quote from French writer Andre Gide, “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”

As we strive, struggle, and like hormonally-crazed salmon try and return upstream in our creative frenzy, remember that as a painter, a photographer, writer, or designer, we’re re-stating what needs to be re-started. Just re-state it through YOUR lens.

 

Can Truly Alien Aliens Exist in SF?

Was part of group discussion on another board where the subject was "truly alien." I then remembered an interview in Unbound Worlds with author China Mieville, a way over-educated young Brit who writes brilliant, weird SFF. Rather than explain it, I'll let the question and answer speak for itself.

Portraying authentically alien intelligences- in the sense that they’re not just humans with pointy ears or green skin – must be an incredibly difficult task for an author. How do you approach this?

I don’t just think it’s difficult, I think it’s literally impossible. If you are a writer who happens to be a human, I think it’s definitionally beyond your ken to describe something truly inhuman, psychologically, something alien. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no point trying, or that you can’t do some pretty interesting things with flaws and failures, and the very asymptotic aspiration is pretty exciting. You can play games – you can imply consciousness beyond ours, you can hint at things obliquely, you can not say too much, you can have a character describing in passing. I don’t think you can succeed, but I think you might just fail pretty wonderfully.

Though there are some honourable Forehead-of-the-Week aliens, too, in our tradition. SF seems to oscillate between cheerfully unalien aliens, and inadequately but, crossed-fingers, interestingly more alien-ish aliens.

 

Shameless plug: Mieville's unbelievably great urban fantasy police procedural, The City and the City, is in production as a 4-part BBC series. Highly recommended book and if BBC 2 doesn't totally muck it up, the show will be extremely compelling. 

Sad Lisa, Lisa

Lisa -- Jeff and Jenny's youngest daughter -- is lured and then brutalized by Het and Tannann. She wanted control over her world -- as many young girls want in 2018. But she has no idea what she's have to relinquish to get that control..... 

 
Lisa Miller.jpg