mind map made with XMind

The Writing Process Blog Tour

mind map made with XMind

My good friend Gwen Whiting (formerly Perkins) asked me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour, and I was more than happy to say yes. Gwen’s written two novels in her Artifacts of Empire series: The Universal Mirror and The Jealousy Glass. Luckily for you readers, a second edition of The Universal Mirror is being published by Rara Avis sometime in 2014-2015. If you like fantasy, magic, and gruesome plagues, check out her series. I’ve also been lucky enough to read some of The Unwilling, and I can’t wait to see the end of it. Plus the premise is just killer.

So it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts and shared what I’m working on, so now’s as good a time as any! Here’s my answers to the questions posed to the authors on the tour.

1. What am I working on?

As of a few days ago I was working on two things: going over the edits for the 2nd edition of The Exile’s Violin and finishing the outline for a brand new fantasy novel tentatively called Red Magic.

The Exile’s Violin is set to be rereleased through PDMI’s Rara Avis imprint sometime later this year, so my editor and I went through it and cleaned up a few typos and other minor things from the Hydra Publications version. As far as I know the cover art isn’t going to change (which I’m happy about!) and work on Terraviathan should hopefully begin soon.

Red Magic came about because I wanted to attempt a twist on a common fantasy trope: mages and wizards. For the most part you hear wizard and you think Gandalf or Dumbledore. Mages are usually portrayed as aloof, purposely staying away from the population at large, using their magics for esoteric goals. Red Magic looks at the consequences of magic being withheld from the populace at large and plays with this question: what if something like a working class revolution was aided by magic?

Plus this book means I get to do a ton of research on the French Revolution, 17th and 18th century Europe, the Holy Roman Empire, and a bunch of other good stuff.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

That’s a tough question. I have a feeling my readers would be able to do a better job with that. Personally, I think that my worldbuilding abilities are one of my strong points. Everything I write is all secondary world fantasy or science fiction, so all of it has to be created from scratch (or mostly from scratch. The real world is an inspiration for certain things).

I believe that helps all my books feel different from each other. The world in the Tethys Chronicles is very, very different from The Song of Siya, and hopefully Red Magic will continue that trend.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I write to tell stories–human stories. Yeah my books may have airships or spaceships, but they’re always about people. Plus, I enjoy taking certain tropes and twisting them around a little bit. (Whether or not I succeed is up to the reader!) For example, Gifts of the Earth took sword and sorcery tropes and changed them by featuring a brown-skinned queer woman as the main character in a non Medieval Europe setting. For the Tethys Chronicles, they’re steampunk novels, but I wanted to avoid glorifying the imperialism of the Victorian era and hopefully show off a sooty, seedy underbelly to the whole notion of steampunk.

4. How does my writing process work?

Right now I’m between jobs so my schedule is really fluid. Ever since my wife and I moved to Portland, I like to get up in the morning, make some coffee, and write for an hour or so until she gets up. After that, I try to squeeze in some more writing time whenever I can in the afternoons or evenings. I used to be a night owl, but now I find myself becoming more of a morning person (as I write this post after midnight).

As far as how I approach a novel: I’m a major, major plotter/outliner/architect whatever you choose to call it. I start by creating a detailed, detailed plot outline. Sometimes they end up being over 40,000 words long. (Red Magic is 21,000) I don’t think they stifle my creativity because I’m really willing to move chapters around, change major plot beats, and rewrite characters during this outlining phase. I do all that early on rather than when I’m righting a rough draft. Having a complete story done in outline form makes writing the first draft go much quicker.

I also use a free program called XMind to create mind maps to keep track of my worldbuilding. I find it to be a useful tool for keeping track of characters, backstory, countries, cultures, food, weapons, basically anything. If you’re writing secondary world stories, you might want to give it a try. The header image of this post is a screencap of my Red Magic one.

Well that’s all from me! Sorry if this post ran a bit long. Like I said, it’s been a while since I’ve talked about what I’m working on. Thanks again to Gwen for tagging me for this blog tour!

space wallpaper blue planets

Some Minor Reorganizing

Hey everyone. This is a quick blog to highlight some of the changes I’ve made to my website. Nothing major really, just some minor reorganizing.

Fiction & Non-Fiction

I’ve split up my writing into Fiction and Non-Fiction categories. The Fiction section has links and info to all my novels, collections, and published short stories. If you’re interested in steampunk, fantasy, science fiction, or even a little bit of horror, go on and check them out.

The Non-Fiction section has a list of all my videogame reviews, feature articles, and editorials. Many of them are on Gamer Limit or the community section of Destructoid. I also have a couple of features that were published at places like Gameranx and other places.

Projects

A simple list of my current WIPs. Check back here frequently for word count updates. More substantial progress reports will be posted to the blog.

The World of Tethys

I think I’ve written about this before, but this section of my site has concept art, maps, and sketches associated with the Tethys Chronicles and the first novel in the series, The Exile’s Violin. Some of the sketches even predate the book’s first rough draft!


That’s all the updates for now! Hopefully in the coming weeks I’ll have more info to share with you all about Terraviathan, the second book in the Tethys Chronicles.

White People Almost Kissing Nicholas Sparks

Why Don’t You Just Write Genre X?

White People Almost Kissing Nicholas Sparks

This post is inspired by a short conversation I had with Robert Jackson Bennett on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. It went a little something like this:

This led to his response: “jesus christ.” And then a link to a hilarious image like the one you see above. “White People Almost Kissing” the brand-new novel by Nicholas Sparks. And now for the whole story about my conversation with my mom and some commentary.

I went out to dinner with my mom the other day. In between our main course and the spring roll appetizers–I also decided during this dinner that I don’t care for spring rolls–and with the best intentions she asked me: “Why don’t you try to write a romance? Something like Nicholas Sparks. He’s such a good writer.”

She meant well. She sees me struggling to pay bills and make a living as a writer and thinks that if I just wrote something in a mega-popular genre like romance that the money, movie deals, and all the other trappings of fame would just roll in. I’d probably have to turn away studio after studio that wanted to turn one of my books into a trans-media property. Because romance is popular. Because science fiction and fantasy aren’t as popular. Because she “doesn’t really like sci-fi but she liked my book.”

Here’s the problem with that line of thinking–chasing what you think the mass market wants–you’ll always be chasing after something that’s constantly changing. Maybe you’re one of those authors who’s able to flit from genre to genre with ease. I’m not. My bread and butter is genre fiction: speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and maybe even a tiny bit of horror.

I try to move around within genre fiction–a sci-fi short story here, a horror story there, two steampunk novels, a sword & sorcery novel in the works, and several abandoned space opera novels. But it’s all within what I like to write.

Science fiction wallpaper

That’s the important part–liking what you write. Because I feel strongly about my stories, my characters, my genres, it comes through in my writing. Would The Exile’s Violin and its sequel have worked as, say, a paranormal romance? I have no idea, but I can guarantee the book because I don’t write paranormal romances.

So you can imagine how awful the results would be if I tried to right a contemporary romance novel for purely commercial reasons. Or maybe it wouldn’t have been awful per se. I like to think I have a tiny bit of skill that when combined with proper revisions, working with beta readers, etc. could produce something half readable. A better term for the resulting paranormal romance manuscript: soulless.

That’s what happens you write something to chase commercial acceptance. Or at least, that’s what would happen if I tried it. Maybe some authors are able to make that work. I’m not one of them.

I have to write what I want to write. Otherwise, why bother writing it at all? So the next time somebody says, “Genre X is much more popular than genre Y. Why don’t you just write genre X?” I’ll reply, “Because I like writing genre Y.” ‘Nuff said.

As I Lay Dying's Tim Lambesis

Some of My Favorite Writing Music

I love listening to music while I write. That’s just how I work best. If it’s too quiet my mind tends to wander. Some writers I know say they don’t like music with words when they’re putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys, I suppose is more likely). I vary back and forth. Some scenes come easier when I’m listening to music with lyrics, while other times I just want some nice instrumental stuff.

As I Lay Dying's Tim Lambesis

So what do I listen to? I’ll give you a small sampling of some of my favorite writing music. I’ll also share what projects each song goes with–for the ones I can remember that is!

Fight Scenes in The Exile’s Violin and Terraviathan

Heavy metal is my favorite type of music to listen to while writing action-heavy scenes. At the moment some of my favorite bands include As I Lay Dying, Parkway Drive, Mastodon, In Flames, and All That Remains. In case you’re not familiar with them…they’re of the–how do you say–screaming variety. Metalcore, death metal, all those subgenre labels. I love it most of it, especially the bands that use some melody in their choruses.

According to iTunes, some of the songs I’ve listened to the most while working on fight scenes and the like in my steampunk novels include:

Pretty much anything by Strung Out. They’re my favorite band and the inspiration behind my only (so far) tattoo. These guys write some amazing music that flirts back and forth between metal-tinged punk and straight up SoCal skate punk. They’ve been around since 1989, and if you’ve got that kind of longevity, you know you gotta be doing something right.

Dark Days music video

“Sleepwalker”, “Dark Days”, and “Boneyards” by Parkway Drive. I like the environmental message in “Dark Days” especially. That’s part of the music video up there in gif form. I also “sing” along to those three songs a lot during my commute. I’d like to think that I can keep up with Winston McCall pretty well.

“A Greater Foundation”, “Forsaken”, and “Parallels” by As I Lay Dying. Even though their a Christian band–a religion I don’t subscribe to–most of their songs aren’t overtly religious. Plus they rock. Really damn hard. Those three songs are from three different albums spanning from 2007 to last year. As I Lay Dying has always been in my musical writing rotation since about 2003.

A few other songs and bands: “Oblivion” by Mastodon, anything by Coheed & Cambria, any of Thrice’s hard rock/post-hardcore songs.

Mood Music & Non-Screaming Bands

But what about the times when I don’t want lyrics? When I’m either editing and revising or world-building it’s really hard for me to focus while listening to the kind of relentless aural assault my favorite metal bands bring to the table. What then? Break out your Flock of Seagulls haircut, your Gameboy, and your dial-up modem from 1994! We’re going to listen 80s pop, chiptunes, and dubstep!

The Cars, A-ha, Simple Minds, New Order, OMD, Eddie Money, Genesis, Eurythmics, Tears for Fears, and more. The synth-ier, the poppier, the cheesier the better. Wham, Kenny Loggins, pretty much every one hit wonder you can think of. I listen to it all. I love it. There’s something about catchy 80s pop that really keeps me going when I don’t feel like writing.

Illusive Man Mass Effect 2

And then I have a set of songs that I listen to whenever I want to set a mood. If I’m writing science fiction–especially anything cyberpunk or space opera related–I’ll flip on the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack, the soundtracks from the Mass Effect series, or something from the From Alpha to Omega album by Destructoid community member Alphadeus. All that music really gets me into a sci-fi state of mind.

Occasionally, I’ll log into Pandora and turn on my “Dubstep Station”. I think the music is kinda hilarious-bad, but at the same time I like it. I can’t name any of the artists to save my life, and half the time it sounds like a Transformer and a dial-up modem are getting it on in a blender, but for some reason, I find it really easy to write to dubstep.

The same goes for chiptunes and videogame soundtracks. I have a playlist set up in iTunes that has almost 2000 tracks of just electronica, chiptunes (music made with the sounds and musical effects from 8-bit and 16-bit videogames), and videogame soundtracks. Some of my favorite songs include: anything from any of the Zeldas, a metal cover of the Skyrim theme song, an album of big band renditions of F-Zero, and the Double Dragon Neon soundtrack.

Seriously. That song right there is ridiculously catchy. It’s videogame music and faux-80s pop all in one! How can I resist?

There you have it dear readers! Probably more than you ever wanted to know about what music I listen to while writing. What about you? How many of you authors listen to music while you’re writing or editing? Or do you need to have it silent while you’re working. Let me know! I find hearing about peoples’ creative processes fascinating!

Kentucky Route Zero

Kentucky Route Zero and Creating a Sense of Place

Kentucky Route Zero

Kentucky Route Zero

I feel it’s part of my job as a science fiction and fantasy writer to create a sense of place. What does that even mean? Here’s how I’d describe it: it’s more than just creating another world (if you write secondary world fantasy). It’s about making sure you capture an essence, a feeling about the place. If you can’t do that, then I think you let your readers down.

Personally, I think I did that with The Exile’s Violin and the Tethys Chronicles in general. Vorleaux, to me, has a corrupt heart of haze-coated brass and bronze. I think that sense of place permeates all the scenes that take place in the city and even influence how main character Jacquie reacts to the world around her.

Still, I want to do better, to truly feel deep in my bones that I’ve written a place with a sense of place. I don’t care if that sentence is reductive and doesn’t make a lot of sense. Part of the reason that this is such a big deal to me is I feel like I come from somewhere without a sense of place. I live in the suburbs of San Diego, and I’ve lived in suburbs of one city or another. Maybe I’m just not looking hard enough, but I read things or play games like the brilliant Kentucky Route Zero and see how brilliantly the creators are able to evoke a sense of place.

I’ve never been to Kentucky, but after playing that game, I feel like the locations in the game could really exist out there in the backwoods of coal country. The visuals, the aesthetic, and the music–oh God, the music–all work together to make me feel like I’ve been taken to somewhere real even though I’ve never left my desk chair.

I want to make something like that. This isn’t envy I feel in my bones right now. It’s a desire to be able to so effortlessly* make my reader understand the soul of my place and my work/novel/game/whatever. So my hat’s off to  the two men at Cardboard Computer for what they’ve accomplished with just Act I of their game. My hat’s off to all the writers out there who’ve done what I’m still striving to do.

*I know effortlessly isn’t the right term. It takes a ton of skill and craft to pull something like that off and make it appear effortless to the reader or player.

My “Next Big Thing” inspired by Carrie Cuinn’s post

I just heard about this “Next Big Thing”–thing on Carrie Cuinn’s blog. If you haven’t read hers yet, go do it. Two words: magic apocalypse. Then go read all the others she links to. You won’t be disappointed.

So how does this Next Big Thing work? You’re supposed to answer ten questions about your current WIP novel, short story, anthology, screenplay, etc. You get the idea. So what am I working on? Glad you asked.

Continue reading

Interview with “The Returners” author Mikey Neumann

Mikey Neumann

Today, I have the privilege of interviewing Mikey Neumann, author of the serial novel The Returners, and Gearbox Software Chief Creative Champion. He’s a super cool dude, so I was excited when he agreed to answer my questions. I just finished Part One of Season One of The Returners two nights ago, and I can’t wait to dive into Part Two. Onto the interview!

You’ve had numerous health problems—ones that shouldn’t have affected a 29 year old, which if people are interested they can read about on your blog (http://diagnosismia.blogspot.com/). I actually recommend that people check it out. It was a funny, open, touching take on everything that’s happened since last year.

Would you say that these issues with your health have changed the way you approach writing? Has there been any change to your worldview that might manifest itself in some way in your writing?

I think it’s safe to say that my worldview has changed and this has affected my writing to some degree – though, it’s probably in unexpected ways. I think the most obvious way is how freeing it was to just dive into things, I mean, that’s where the blog came from in a sense. I wanted to inform people purely on my own feelings, thoughts, and emotions going through some difficult times. I know that some relatives and friends were a little taken aback by the honesty on display, but in the end, I think it made it more valuable.

In concrete detail, that journey is what created The Returners in the first place. I wanted to lose the safety net.

Let’s get away from that topic and focus on cool stuff: video games and writing. You’re the Creative Director at Gearbox, and you’ve worked on some great titles like Borderlands, Brothers in Arms, and Aliens: Colonial Marines. How did you get your start at Gearbox, and when did you start writing for video games?

I have been the Creative Director on products here, but my official title is Chief Creative Champion. I started at Gearbox in 2001 at 19 while working on Counterstrike: Condition Zero as a texture artist. I also did a bit of work on Half Life for PS2.

The first game I wrote from start to finish was Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 – I think this job solidified on the

follow up to that game, Earned in Blood, when I was nominated for an Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences award for writing. I was around 24-25 at the time and it cemented in me a desire to write stories for the rest of my life.

How hard is it to switch gears (heh, get it?) between writing for a visual, interactive medium than it is writing say a short story or novel? What techniques do you find work well across both media? And has your time in the gaming industry influenced how you create scenes for your novel experiment?

I’ve never seen anyone ask so many questions in a single paragraph before. (Editor’s note: There were more questions in that paragraph originally)

In short, the example I usually give is describing how I’ve hired other writers (like Anthony Burch) to work at Gearbox. It’s easier to train a person that’s a good writer to be a game writer. If they understand story, pacing, character arcs, etc., then you can teach them the tools and structure of a type of game. If someone comes along and says they only write games, that raises an eyebrow. Storytellers are storytellers and the medium is of middling importance.

As for the rest of that mammoth inquiry, I’m not sure the novel experiment is too influenced by the games I’ve written in the same way that Anthony Saves the World wasn’t influenced too much by Brothers in Arms. They’re just different types of stories.

You’ve been working on your serialized, internet novel experiment, The Returners for a while now. For those that don’t know about it, can you give a quick description/synopsis?

The Returners: Season One Part One

It was the thing that got me out of writing the illness blog. I was done feeling sympathy for myself and wanted to channel all of that creative energy I was spending explaining and telling stories about my illness to become something greater. So I was thinking to myself, what if I blogged a book, chapter-by-chapter?

The Returners is what came out of that. I wanted to serialize a book like Charles Dickens did with Oliver Twist. He wrote that under the pseudonym “BOZ.” as it was being published in the magazines at the time. That’s where “BOZ.” Publishing comes from. The idea was to serialize a novel of grand scope on the internet – that’s why the website is fixed height and width – it’s just worked on a Kindle of an iPad.

The book is about a group of known historical figures that all find themselves born into another life on this Earth in the modern day. Why are they here? Why is someone trying to kill them? When you write Joan of Arc having a conversation with a thirteen-year-old Albert Einstein, you know you’re onto something. It comes from a place of wanting to spiral a personal story of friendship and survival into something of much larger and grander scale.

It’s my LOST, I guess.

Since The Returners is serialized, would you say that it might be similar to writing for a TV show than a more traditional novel? How much of the story do you have outlined in advance? Do you have a secret list of all the historical figures you want to make an appearance? Or because these are daily chapters, do you just kind of make it up as you go along and see where the story takes you?

I think writing The Returners is a lot like writing a TV show. I’m clearly borrowing their nomenclature with doing the book in “seasons” and such. I want people to know it’s an ongoing story and there are many kinds of stories to tell in that universe.

As far as what I have outlined in advance, I have all of the chapters in Season One (all three parts) outlined and ready to be written. From there, I have where it ends and the major ideas of five seasons of stories, increasing in scope and grandeur with each one. In my head, the story would make an excellent TV show (which I’ve also heard a lot from the fans of the books,) but I’m not sure if it would make a good movie. That’s probably just me, I always like TV shows more than movies – I like spending time with the characters.

Of course there’s a list of who else comes back in the book! There’s some new faces that arrive in part three of Season One *winky face*

Sticking with the TV analogy for just a bit longer, have you ever envisioned taking a “summer break” where you don’t put up new chapters but instead plan out where you want the next season to go?

Yeah, when Season One has concluded I’m going to outline in detail that entire second season as well as put up another novel I wrote last year called The Ending. The website will continue to grow with not just my own content, but the content of other authors as well.

I gotta thank Mikey for answering all my questions! Great stuff! If you’re interested in The Returners, you can read it for free at “BOZ.” Publishing or buy the collected chapters of Season One Part One from Amazon. You can also follow him on Twitter and see more of his work at Gearbox Software.

Creating the Right Voice in Fantasy Novels

I think we’re all a little sick of feudal, semi-medieval fantasy settings based loosely on Western Europe, right? I am. But I’m also on a big sword and sorcery kick right now, so I’ll read almost anything in the genre, even if it has a semi-medieval standard fantasy setting.

Alex Bledsoe’s Eddie LaCThe Sword-Edged Blonde cover artrosse novels came highly recommended, so I gave the first one, The Sword-Edged Blonde, a try. I’m about a third of the way through the book, and already the book is both entertaining me and rubbing me the wrong way.

I can’t get around the very modern, very anachronistic voice in this book. The book is billed as a mash up of a hard-boiled detective story and a fantasy universe. Sounds cool so far. But then I see characters called Mike and King Phil and little warning signs start to go up in my mind. Then I read a sentence where the main character mentions that he “didn’t have time to comparison shop.” I almost stopped reading there. (But I didn’t!)

In a blog post about keeping a series fresh, Bledsoe specifically mentions the LaCrosse novels’ anachronistic tone as being a staple of the series. So obviously the things that are bothering me about the tone and voice in The Sword-Edged Blonde are intentional.

So that means this comes down to a matter of taste–something that is completely subjective. I find the modern slang and terms incongruous with a sword and sorcery fantasy setting, but others might really enjoy them. I can’t fault Bledsoe for his language choices though. This is a made up fantasy world. There’s no reason for the characters to speak like they’re in Medieval Britain or something because they’re not there. I recognize that, but at the same time, if this is a feudal society then based on the socio-economic model of the land, would terms like “comparison shop” even exist? I have to think that might be stretch, no matter how fictional the setting might be.

Steampunk watch

Something similar happened when I was subbing my steampunk novel, The Exile’s Violin. It’s set in the made up world of Tethys that doesn’t correspond to Victorian England. In my mind, if I had characters that didn’t necessarily speak like they belonged in the late 19th Century then it didn’t matter. They weren’t part of that century. It’s all a matter of taste. One publisher told me that they liked my submission but it wasn’t “steampunk” enough because the language and tone were too modern for them. They had similar quibbles with my book that I’m having with The Sword-Edged Blonde. It’s all very subjective stuff.

I guess the lesson is: if you have a made up setting, write it how you want. There’s no reason to cling to “historical accuracy” if the setting isn’t based real history. Some people might like your word choice and the slang your characters use, others might not. Don’t let that stop you from creating though.

PS: Aside from the modern tone, I’m enjoying Bledsoe’s book! It definitely feels like a noir fantasy mash up.