An Update

Quick update for you all. As of May 11, 2016 (which is when I received the signed paperwork), all rights to The Exile’s Violin and the unpublished sequel, Terraviathan, are mine. The series is no longer with PDMI Publications, and I have no further affiliation with them or any of their imprints.

So what does that mean for the series? It means The Exile’s Violin is now out of print, and I’m stopping work on Terraviathan for the foreseeable future. I may have a handful of fans out there who will be disappointed by this news. To you, I’m sorry. There’s a lot of stuff I can’t go into about all this, but finishing Terraviathan and then self-publishing the series is just something I cannot do anytime soon.

Thank you to everyone who bought, read, and loved the book. Thank you to everyone who bought, read, and hated the book. And everyone in between. I’m so, so grateful for all of you.

Moving on, I have lots of other projects in the works. I have a sword and sorcery series that got a tiny bit of agent and publisher attention. That’ll be revisited sometime soon. And I have another urban fantasy novel in the works. My sights are set on getting better as a writer, at not being fucking scared to find my voice.

I’ll come back to Jacquie Renairre and her steampunk world someday. I just don’t know when that will be.

‘Til then, I’ll be over here scribblin’ words and makin’ up worlds.

fantasy world

Keeping Track of Your Worldbuilding Part 1: Word Documents

It’s a beast that hounds all writers, but especially genre writers: how do you keep track of your worldbuilding? How do you keep it all straight?

Inconsistent worldbuilding (I’m looking at you Supernatural!) is one of my biggest pet peeves. And keeping everything in order, especially when you’re working in a huge multi-volume universe, can be tricky.

One method that I’ve used before (not anymore) is a collection of Word documents. A file separate from your manuscript can be used to catalog your worldbuilding efforts.

Pros

This method is easy to get started with. You just need to use the same word processing program that you write your drafts in. So you’re already instantly familiar with the interface and capabilities of what you’re working with.

You can write in sentences and paragraphs, or just keep track of everything in bulleted lists.

Cons

To be honest, even though I wrote two novels using this method, it’s not my favorite. No matter how careful I tried to be, I always ended up with a dozen different worldbuilding documents. Outlines, character sketches, worldbuilding bibles, timelines. It was too much. Too many contradictions.

But for some writers this may be all they need! A single file that lists important aspects of their story world. Maybe your book is set on Earth in an era or place you’re intimately familiar with. Maybe you’re the kind of writer who makes things up as they go along and keep it all straight. More power to you!

Alternatives?

For those of us who can’t make this method work, don’t fear! In the next couple of posts I’ll talk about some alternative methods I’ve tried including mind maps and personal wikis.

art harder

2016: Refocusing on Art

Bear with me here. This is 100% going to be one of those New Year, New Me but Not Saying the Word “Resolutions” Totally Navel Gazing-y posts. I’ll do my best to make it not be insufferable.

2015 was a rough year, for reasons that you don’t want to hear. And quite frankly some of them feel whiny–or at least according they feel that way to that nagging voice in the back of my head.

So instead this whole post, this whole year is dedicated to looking forward. And what do I see in front of me?

ART

Capital A to the RT.

art harder

Image from terribleminds.com

In 2015 I let my writing slip away from me. I got too focused on individual projects–even just bits of individual projects–that weighed me down. Writing and more importantly creating stopped being a fulfilling outlet. It was something I dreaded.

No more, goddamn it!

Creating, Not Projects

The process of creating is what I love most. I love coming up with new worlds, new people, new histories, and stories to tell about them all. That’s the fun part. Individual novels and short stories will come and go. Some will be harder than others. Some will be better than others. But the crucial thing is to stay focused on the biiiig picture: I love doing it. I love sharing that with people.

And fuck it. I write science fiction and fantasy novels. Some of them have airships that defy physics, or faster-than-light devices. Explosions. Lasers. Horrors from dimensions beyond the stars and our scope of understanding. Will some people turn up their noses at me calling this stuff art? Probably. Fuck ’em. A book’s still art even if it’s got spaceships or fantasy creatures running all willynilly through it.

I got plans for my books. And those aren’t going to come to fruition if I just sit on my hands and stop creating.

Kameron Hurley put it in black and white this morning: we’re all gonna die someday. That’s why you have to make the most of your time now. And for me that’s writing stories that hopefully give people some enjoyment and will be remembered after I’m gone.

To borrow a phrase from Chuck Wendig, beard-man extraordinaire, 2016 is 100% dedicated, laser focused on this one idea: Art harder, motherfucker.

 

A Tale of Awkward Handshakes

I’m not a cool person. I like “dad jokes”, puns, portmanteaus, chiptunes, and pretty much everything else that’s the antithesis of youngcool, or hip. Do the kids even say those words anymore? I have no idea.

And yet, I think I have one of those faces that says “Yes, I am down to attempt to a weird handshake high-five gesture-thing in this serious business context.”

This has happened twice now in quick succession, and each time I’ve walked away from the experience cringing and wanting to die from embarrassment.

Continue reading

Star-Wars-countdown--Aftermath-Wendig

Let’s Talk About: Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

I have some thoughts about Aftermath by Chuck Wendig and the state of the Star Wars Expanded Universe in general. On the one hand, it’s kind of exciting to start with a fresh slate; the byzantine EU of decades of comics, books, RPG tie-ins, video games, and more is gone. So the post-Return of the Jedi universe is brand new for everybody. But on the other hand, I have some questions and thoughts about what Disney’s doing. And finally, I have some specific thoughts about Wendig’s book–the first official canon, post-RotJ story that’s going to help set the stage for The Force Awakens.

The New Expanded Universe

I wish I could be a fly on the wall inside Disney. I want to listen in on their Star Wars-related conversations and meetings. And I wish I could get a behind-the-scenes look at the communication between Wendig and Disney. Because the entire old Expanded Universe is now marked as “Legends” then it stands to reason that pretty much everything was thrown out.

But at the same time, in order to keep a sense of continuity between this new canon and the old canon, some stuff’s been retained. For example, Aftermath makes a reference to a Carrack-class cruiser. If I remember correctly, that ship was first introduced as part of an RPG sourcebook. Wouldn’t that be part of the old, discarded EU canon?

What gets to be included in the new canon and what is truly gone? Or are things like ship classes not really gone, just on a back shelf until an author, comic book creator, video game company gets permission from Disney to resurrect them? The nerd in me wants to know!

databank_superstardestroyer_01_169_d5757b90

This is especially poignant when you consider the epilogue to Aftermath. I won’t give it away because spoilers, but if it turns out the way I’m hoping… then it would be really cool and another instance of something from the huge Ex-Expanded Universe finding its way to the new canon.

Sidebar: It was hilarious and a bit of a trip to open Aftermath and go to the page where it said “The DelRey Star Wars Timeline” and there were only like 10 things. It listed the 7 movies, Rebels, and a couple of other official books. For somebody’s who’s used to the two-page spread that goes from 10,000 BBY to over 100 years AE seeing such a short timeline was weird.

Aftermath: The Book

So that was Aftermath as a cultural artifact, but what about Aftermath the book? It was okay. I appreciate what Wendig is trying to do with the use of present tense, but it’s not really my bag. It’s definitely a “Wendig book” through and through, but with the inventive curses from the Miriam Black series replaced with Star Wars sanitized versions.

Sidebar: He really likes the phrase “pistons a fist” to refer to somebody punching somebody else. “Character Y pistons a fist into Character X’s side…” It was really prevalent in the last few chapters. 

My biggest complaint about the book is that it felt long. And for being a Star Wars novel, the first new one post RotJ, the action felt confined–makes sense as the book was set mostly on one Outer Rim planet, Akiva.

Rae_Sloane_Orientation

Wendig attempts to give a more galactic perspective with numerous interludes, but to me they just slowed things down. Hopping from world to world–many of them not featured in previous books/comics/etc. (at least as far as I know) and spending a brief few pages with random characters… It was hard to care.

The more successful interludes were ones that focused on Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar.

Another thing that bothered me–and will probably be addressed in future books–was how vague everything was. With only interludes giving glimpses of the galaxy at large, I was left wondering:

  • How long ago was Endor?
  • Have the Rebels taken Coruscant?
  • How long does it take to get from planet to planet?

The last one is more important than you might think. It’s an important plot point where Imperial Admiral Rae Sloane is figuring out whether to withdraw. She says that the New Republic could have a fleet to Akiva in a few hours, a fleet large enough to take on her three Star Destroyers. And it just made me think? Where would they be staging from? I was under the impression that it sometimes took days in hyperspace to get from place to place. It was just a potentially incongruous bit to the novel.

As for the other two points: the interludes try to give you a bigger picture, but most of the time the only other hints you get are exposition from characters. Over and over characters mention Imperial governors have been defecting to the New Republic. It’s also mentioned that somebody within the Empire has been feeding intelligence to the New Republic to facilitate their string of victories, but what string? How many? Where? When?

Here’s a thing I had 0 problems with and want to point out with a big ol’ fuck yeah: Three of the main characters are women. Admiral Sloane is a woman of color. Multiple characters are gay. Yes. The Star Wars galaxy is a big fuckin’ place; it’s characters should reflect how wide and diverse it should be.

A lot of my issues with Aftermath’s pacing come from the fact that it’s the first book in a new trilogy, and the first new canonical book in the timeframe leading up to Episode VII. So it’s gotta spend some time setting things up; I just feel like it took a bit too long to get there. I mean the Inglourious Basterds vibe I got at the end where a second book might go was super cool. Admiral Sloane is super cool too. Give me some space battles! Give me the Empire turning into an insurgency. Cool stuff. Personally, I’d love to see his new characters interact with the OT heroes a bit more. The glimpses we got of them in the interludes weren’t enough!  (But please never refer to Coruscant’s city as Coco-Town ever again. Please.)

All things considered, I can’t wait to see where Wendig goes next. It’s a big ‘ol galaxy of narrative potential out there waiting to be explored.

 

Leveling Up as a Writer

Level_Up

Being a writer can be a mentally and emotionally exhausting profession (especially for those of us who work full-time jobs, have families, have kids, have other obligations, try not to be crusty shut-ins who do nothing but write, etc. etc.). Writing, editing, and polishing manuscripts and then sending them out to publishers and agents. You play the waiting game, and then you deal with the hundreds of rejection letters–more emails these days than actual letters.

So how do you keep it from getting you down? I try to celebrate every little success. I think of it as some sort of experience points bar–really it’s the one from Pokemon because they have such fun sound effects as they fill up.

Each word I write, each book or story I finish, each one I edit and polish, and each manuscript I send out on submission–all those things fill in the bar.

And then whenever I hit a new milestone in my career, it feels like I’m leveling up as a writer. I hear a little ding in my mind, celebrate for a minute or two, then get my ass back to work.

So what were some of the milestones that I’ve celebrated?

  1. Finishing my first short story
  2. Getting my first story acceptance
  3. Finishing my first novel
  4. Making that first novel not suck*
  5. Getting that first novel published
  6. Finishing a sequel
  7. Making that sequel not suck*
  8. Writing a novel in a completely new genre, new style, and new series
  9. Making that novel not suck*
  10. Getting form rejection emails from agents
  11. Getting partial requests from agents**
  12. Being asked to submit directly to a publisher**
  13. Getting a personal rejection email from a publisher and being told to reach out directly with other projects**

These last three are huge to me. Getting agents to request something based just on a query letter feels like a big deal. But also my experience submitting Gifts of the Earth has been a huge step forward.

Even though the publisher passed on it they said the “quality of the book wasn’t in question” and that I should reach out directly the next time I have something to submit. Anyone who’s trying to submit manuscripts knows that being able to bypass the slush pile is an enormous advantage.

Rejections are never fun, but the important thing is that there’s a trajectory here. I can’t help but celebrate that. And now if you excuse me, I have more books to write.

What about you, fellow writers? What milestones count as “leveling up” to you?

Gender-Swapping Writing Experiment

Author’s Note: this is a very, very simple thought experiment I’m throwing out there. Obviously these sorts of issues have to consider intersectionality as well. So this sort of thing can, and I’d say should, be done across multiple axes of oppression. I purposely chose a high level example for this post.

Another Author’s Note: Gender is not binary. But discussing the fluidity of the concept is beyond the scope of this post and what I was trying to accomplish with this little experiment.

You’ve all heard of the Bechdel Test, right? It’s not without flaws nor is it necessarily a quality benchmark. At the very least it just tells you that a particular work has two women who have a conversation with each other about something other than a man.

Tying into that is: how often as writer do you make secondary or tertiary characters men by default? Until it was brought up to me a while ago, I had no idea I even did that. I always thought I was pretty good about making sure I had women in my books and stories. But then I went back to my WIP at the time and saw that almost every time I needed a:

  • restaurant owner
  • business person
  • guard
  • solider
  • police officer
  • friend
  • colleague
  • doctor
  • random passerby
  • etc. etc.

These characters would be written as “he” in my outline. Even if they didn’t have names or more than a line or two of dialogue, almost all of them were men by default. It blew my mind to realize that. It wasn’t that I was trying to actively exclude women characters, it was just I was conditioned to think of and create men characters first. As if it had been ingrained and reinforced across multiple spectra–especially pop culture–that men were the important pieces in a story.

As I’ve gotten older and have attempted to be more aware of these issues regarding representation  and intersection, I’ve wanted to fix my shortcomings. Not only does it help a tiny bit to improve the field, but it also helps me grow as a writerThis kind of thing–unconsciously emphasizing men and just writing the same things over and over–requires no effort. It’s lazy. And lazy writing is boring writing. Lazy writing doesn’t challenge the creator nor the reader. This kind of lazy writing accidentally “punches people in the face.” And I don’t want that.

So going forward I decided to do a little experiment. In my current WIP, the main character, Itjani, is a woman detective, and the women in her family are all major characters (mother, aunts, and grandmothers). But there were other characters in the first draft of the outline that were men, including a character that teams up with Itjani outside official police channels to move the plot forward. Let’s call that character K for right now.

I stopped halfway through my outline and went you know what? This book already emphasizes interpersonal relationships between women in a post-colonial context (i.e. how do they form communities and identities going forward and dealing with centuries of colonization in this secondary world fantasy), so why not make K a woman too? How would that change the dynamics of the relationship I’d written into the story? I changed absolutely nothing else about K’s personality or actions other than their gender.

All of a sudden tons of new nuances entered into the story, themes that resonated with other more personal, familial sections. Itjani already had a male partner on the police force and they had a whole slew of interactions (based on gender, tenure at work, political power, ethnicity, social status, etc.) so it made the story better to give a counterpoint to that. Itjani and K interact across those axes in completely different ways (plus a few more that I can’t talk about right now without giving away too much plot).

I continued the experiment throughout the outline. A god became a goddess, a police coroner with a few lines became a woman as well. And so it went. Not every character was changed, but the majority of them were. And you know what? Even just re-reading my outline, it feels like a stronger story with more nuance, more subtext, more everything. I think part of why things felt better goes hand in hand with what Liz Bourke discusses in “How Do We Talk About Strong Female Characters?

This isn’t revolutionary stuff, and I’m not claiming that consciously changing a bunch of characters to women will somehow give this book a free pass. Or that these characters won’t be problematic in other ways. Nope. Chances are I’ll manage to screw something up, but that’s part of being an artist–especially one in a privileged position. It’s how you react to learning of those screw ups, listening to marginalized voices that’re telling you how you screwed up, learning from those mistakes, and not repeating them in the future.

Still, I’d rather make these choices than play it safe and churn out the same face-punchy science fiction and fantasy you’ve seen for decades (see Puppies, Sad & Rabid). This experiment is a small step, but it’s one I’d urge other writers to take too.

How Not to Respond to Reviews

Reviews are part of being an author. Some people are going to love your book; some people are going to hate your book. And if you’ve written multiple books, multiple series, some people are going to enjoy some installments and dislike others. It all comes with the territory.

And it’s not just for writers but for any artists, musicians, creators that put their work out there for the public to see.

I’m of the mind that reviews are primarily for readers and potential readers rather than authors. That’s not to say that an author can’t look at reviews and find common threads running through them. Maybe a bunch of reviews noticed that your secondary characters were cliche or that the book’s middle section lagged. Those are things to learn from. But for my money–you, the author, do not step in and debate these things. It never ends well.

Which brings me to this perfect example.

Reviews aren’t for you. And everyone on the internet should familiarize themselves with the Streisand effect. Trying to suppress a review, getting the reviewer to change it, disagreeing with their opinion, is a terrible idea and only makes things worse.

I’ve never heard of this particular book or author before (which pretty much everyone can say of me too), but based on his behavior, I can damn well say I’m far less inclined to ever read any of his works in the future. That’s what happens when authors try to attack people over reviews that are less-than-glowing. The internet amplifies their terrible behavior and soon people like me–people just scrolling through their Twitter feeds or whatever–see the thread linked and come take a seat to watch the meltdown. I mean as soon as I saw this author’s first comment on the review, my mind immediately went to that gif of Michael Jackson eating popcorn.

Yeah that’s the one. Good stuff.

Do not engage with negative reviews. They aren’t bullying. They aren’t comparable to physical abuse (as that author said). They aren’t cyberbullying either. Maybe if a reviewer wrote a negative review that attacked the author personally, then continued to contact the author across multiple social channels to send personal attacks their way, that would be cyberbullying. But I’ve never seen a reviewer do that before.

It bears repeating: Do not engage with negative reviews. Just stay away from ’em. Learn from criticism. Grow as an author. Don’t tell somebody their opinion is wrong and that they’re hurting the consciousness of humanity because they gave your book a one-star review on Goodreads.

Who is Jacquie Renairre?

No, the title of this post isn’t some weird Atlas Shrugged reference. Instead it’s a jumping off point to looking at the main character of my Tethys Chronicles steampunk series. You’ve seen the covers of The Exile’s Violin and the upcoming Terraviathan, right? I’ll post ’em here. Take a gander; don’t worry, I’ll wait.

The Exile's Violin (Tethys Chronicles #1) by R.S. Hunter

And now for Terraviathan!Terraviathan (Rara Avis cover)

(A big thank you to Enggar Adirasa for the art and the fine folks at Rara Avis for the cover design. If these two books don’t scream steampunk to you, then just take my word for it. There’s steam and punk in them, even if they don’t take place in Victorian England or even our world)

So Jacquie Renairre is the woman on the front of both books (shocking, right? Having the main character on the cover?) But who is she?

Simply put: Jacquie Renairre is a survivor. Jacquie Renairre is somebody who doesn’t give up. Jacquie Renairre is a woman.

I’m not going to lie when I first started writing The Exile’s Violin, I didn’t have any particular reason as to why I wanted the main character to be a young woman in her 20s. I just thought it would be cool. And to be quite honest, that’s what drove a lot of the initial planning for the book.

But then things went deeper than that.

As I wrote and outlined, I knew I needed more to my main character than “it’d be cool to have a steampunk book with a woman private eye main character.” So what did I do next? I made character sheets. (Maybe someday I’ll share them with the world, but not on this day!)

I examined situations and beliefs that a character in this fantasy world might encounter and thought, how would Jacquie react to this? What would she do? What would she believe in? What would she fight for? I looked to other people I know, most importantly my wife. I asked, how would her sarcasm and–not going to lie–her vengeful streak come out, sometimes even at inopportune times? And the answers to those questions became the basis for Jacquie.

By the end of the book, after numerous drafts (and that’s a blog post for another time–how many drafts it took to get the book into the shape it’s in now) Jacquie Renairre emerged as a character who it’s really easy for me as a writer to get into.

Jacquie Renairre is more than just a “cool action hero.” She’s a character who’s been wronged in the past and carries those scars with her wherever she goes, who won’t let those scars hold her back, and she’s someone who will stop at nothing to fight for what she believes is right. She’s a character who has a multitude of stories within her.

But don’t just take my word for it. Read Jacquie’s story and draw your own conclusions. The Exile’s Violin out now from Rara Avis, and then come back when the sequel is released. I want to know what you all think!

Why hire mercenaries to kill an innocent family just to obtain one little key?

That question haunts Jacquie Renairre for six years as she hunts down the people responsible for murdering her parents.

Not even accepting an assignment to investigate a conspiracy that aims to start a war can keep her from searching for the key. Armed with her father’s guns and socialite Clay Baneport at her side, she continues her quest for answers abroad.

With the world edging closer to disaster, Jacquie is running out of time to figure out how the war, the key, and ancient legend are intertwined. The fate of the world hinges on her ability to unravel both mysteries before it’s too late.

Available Now:

Direct from the Publisher

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

“Male Performance”

I listen to sports radio on my way to work, and if you listen enough you start memorizing all the commercials. One in particular stuck with me, and I want to take a few minutes to tease out my thoughts.

The commercial starts with a man’s voice, comfortingly, saying, “Men as we get older we all have problems with our ‘male performance’.” Now there’s a cocked and loaded euphemism. (Pun intended)

Obviously, this commercial for the Universal Men’s Clinic is for treating sexual dysfunction in men. But of course they can’t/won’t say “sexual performance” on the radio. And in doing so the commercial’s creators add a whole unintended layer of meaning to their ad.

“Male performance” as a euphemism for erections, ejaculation, typical “standard” sexual performance for me. But it can also be taken to mean as the performance of masculinity via “performing” in the bedroom. Masculinity in this sense is constructed by our patriarchal culture and it is a “performance.”

Because, really? What is masculinity? Fuck if I know. (Pun intended) This ad ties it to sex, bodies, and physicality. If you can’t perform in the bedroom then obviously somehow you’re maleness is coming into question. But don’t worry! The Universal Men’s Clinic welcomes “men of all ages” and is discrete and has drugs that work “faster and better than Viagra!”

Where does that leave non-gender binary people? Trans* people? Certain individuals may have a penis, testes, and “male” anatomy but aren’t men. Would they be welcome at this clinic? I don’t have any personal experience in the matter, but I imagine if one has a penis, erectile dysfunction is a possibility.

I’d like to think that this clinic turns nobody away who needs help. But considering the ads that also run on these sports radio stations, I have my doubts. Men’s clinic commercials. Truck commercials because trucks are manly. Golf. Always golf. New clubs, new balls (pun intended), hit longer and harder. Go fix your embarrassing deficiencies at performing maleness by buying these things. Have sex with your wife (and in these kinds of things being a man is always a straight thing). Put on a performance. Be a man.