Monday, March 3, 2014
Behold, the new front covers for Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn from artist Jeremy Cavin. The covers have been designed with the new print versions in mind, so that when they are sitting next to each other on a table they combine to form one image. The covers are already uploaded to the ebook editions, but it may be next week before the physical books are available for shipping. When they're good to go, I'll show off the back covers of the books, which I think are just as awesome as the fronts!
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Join me and authors Clay Griffith and Nathan Kotecki on Monday, March 3, as we help the Orange County Library launch a new series dedicated to the discussion of classic authors and books. The plan currently is to meet at 6:30 on the first Monday of each month for March, April, and May to discuss a different author, with a focus on one of their better known books.
For March, we'll be discussing HG Wells and the Island of Dr, Moreau. Until last year, I'd never actually read HG Wells. His four core novels of The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, War of the Worlds, and The Island of Dr. Moreau have been so heavily adapted and borrowed from I felt like I knew the books without having read them. I first read The Time Machine and was impressed by the ideas of the book, but found it to be a rather thin read when it came to plot and characters. Still, it was well written, in a style I thought was quite easy for a modern reader to get through, so I decided to try a second novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Wow. The Island of Dr. Moreau is one of the most amazing books I've ever read. The characters are complex, the plot unfolds at a methodical but engaging pace, and they style is the model of clarity. What lifts this book beyond the merely good into the realm of great art are the themes Wells tackles. Man's relationship to nature, man's relationship with God, the exploration of the line between man and beast and the many ways in which it can be blurred... you can't read this book without thinking through the moral questions placed before you. It's the kind of book I longed to talk about the second I closed the covers, which led me to propose this series discussing classic books to the library.
While the monthly discussions will be led by local authors, my goal is to have the audience share their thoughts and experiences with the authors in question. I want it to feel like a bunch of friends getting together to talk about favorite books.
Coming in April: Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
The ebook edition of Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters is now available for purchase.
Peter Clines, Larry Correia, James Lovegrove, Gini Koch (as J.C. Koch), James Maxey, Jonathan Wood, C.L. Werner, Joshua Reynolds, David Annandale, Jaym Gates, Peter Rawlik, Shane Berryhill, Natania Barron, Paul Genesse & Patrick Tracy, Nathan Black, Mike MacLean, Timothy W. Long, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Kane Gilmour, Peter Stenson, Erin Hoffman, Sean Sherman, Howard Andrew Jones (The Chronicles of Sword and Sand tie-in), Edward M. Erdelac (Dead West tie-in), James Swallow (Colossal Kaiju Combat tie-in)
My story in the book is Fall of Babylon. Instead of drawing on monster movies for inspiration, I retell the Book of Revelation as a Kaiju battle, with the Lamb of God, the Whore of Babylon, and the Old Great Dragon duking it out on the streets of Manhattan. A good time is had by all, except those who are slaughtered by the Four Horsemen and the 200 million angels charged with killing a third of mankind. It's the end times as you've never seen them before. Buy today!
Sunday, January 19, 2014
I was on a panel about epic fantasy at Illogicon last weekend that left me thinking a bit about parallels the genres of space opera and epic fantasy. If you're unfamiliar with the terms, space opera is the genre that probably springs to mind in most movie goers when they hear the term "science fiction." Star Trek and Star Wars would fit in this mold, big adventure stories with space ships zooming around the galaxy, but where the science part of the science fiction equation isn't terribly faithful to reality. Lots of things exist not because they make technological sense, but because the creators want every day items to be "futuristic." So, instead of characters fighting with a sword, they fight with a light saber. Instead of travelling city streets in a car, you ride on hover bikes. Space ships don't worry about g-forces and orbits, you just press a few buttons and zoom to wherever you need to be.
Epic fantasy is the genre most of my novels have been published in. In general, epic fantasy is set in a pseudo-medieval setting with traditions drawn from European history. Magic plays a role, and usually fantastical creatures like dragons and ogres are present.
The parallel that struck me last weekend is that both genres seemed to be built around a disappointment with reality. Actual space travel is slow and difficult and unlikely to take us anywhere we'll find exotic alien kingdoms where humans can display their innate superiority. Space opera is the romance of the future stripped clean of facts. One of the founding works of science fiction spelled out in rather gruesome detail why we'll never have Trek-like adventures on other worlds. In War of the Worlds, HG Wells realized that, if aliens ever came here, they'd have no built in resistance to our microbes, and would pretty quickly find themselves digested and putrefied by bacteria. But the flip side of this is also true: If we ever went to a biologically active alien world, we'd have to be completely encased in suits that protected us from the environment. It's not just that we couldn't have Kirkian trysts with buxom alien ladies because we'd risk space cooties. We couldn't breathe the air or drink the water of any world with a biosphere. The thing that would make it interesting to visit would also guarantee it would be fatal to visit. (With a few caveats; it's possible we'd find a world where the biology isn't built around water and carbon, and microbes that went after silicon and ammonia beings might be uninterested in us. But such landscapes would almost certainly be fatal to us in other ways.)
Space opera is a genre that yearns for a future that can never be.
But, epic fantasy is a genre that seems to yearn for a past that never was. Our own history is full of dramatic tales of intrigue between kings and priests and explorers. But, all the magical creatures of our fairy tales just turned out to be, well, fairy tales. There were no dragons to slay, no witches turning princes into toads, no wizards building golems to defend their cities. Since our own history has failed us, we now construct these fantasy histories. We know they aren't our real past, but writers earn bonus points from making their worlds "realistic," and integrating as much historical detail as the story will bear.
None of this is a slam against space opera or epic fantasy. Escapism is a perfectly legitimate use of art. I, for one, have been quite content writing about dragon-centric ecosystems, and hope that readers have found these excursions enjoyable. Still, it will be interesting to see if I can make use of these insights in designing future novels.
Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Last Sunday, I finished the second draft of Accidental Gods. To say that the rewrite was something of a struggle is an understatement. This was really more like draft 2.5, since I started a second draft, got pretty far into it, then abandoned it to go back to the start and try again.
Except for my earliest novels, I don't think I've ever changed a book so much between first and second drafts. I wrote my 60k first draft in a mere 4 days back in July, banging out the words in a white hot fire of creative inspiration. Of those 60k words, I doubt that more that 15k have survived into the second draft.
It's really left me wondering, was my fast first draft a mistake? Would I have created a more useable collection of words if I'd slowed down and wrote a draft at my more usual 10k words a week pace?
The main thing I need to remind myself is that throwing out a bunch of words doesn't mean I've wasted the time or energy it took to write them. Throwing out words is, I would argue, one of the most important skills of a writer. I think I'd be far more nervous about a second draft where I kept 90% of what I wrote in my first draft than one where I kept 25%. I think that would be evidence I wasn't approaching the material as objectively as possible. Also, a too perfect first draft would be a hint that the story might be coming too much from my brain and not enough from my heart. I've written enough that I'm perfectly capable of producing an acceptable book by following formulas. I think any experienced writer has templates for what constitutes a successful book in the back of his head, and there's a risk to just filling in these templates, turning the art of writing into going down a list and checking off boxes. Protagonist 1 needs traits A, B, and C to be likable, Love Interest needs traits D and E for tension, Antagonist brings F and G to the book, they meet, they have misunderstandings, there's a couple of fights, the tension builds, there's a moment of victory, a moment where the misunderstandings fall away and all is right with the world, and, boom, you have a book that looks and reads just like a real book, despite lacking any genuine soul.
What I got from that fast, messy, and mostly unusable first draft was a soul for my book. The characters weren't flowing into templates. They were surprising me and shocking me, going in directions that took them far outside the boundaries of the plot I'd mapped in advance. Writing fast kept me from weighing out whether their actions were logical or even plausible. And, that's useful, because, as near as I can tell, very few people live their lives in a fashion that shows much respect for logic or plausibility. People make terrible, self defeating choices. They respond to unexpected events in unexpected ways. If I don't get such things into my books, then I'm just writing about puppets.
So, my fast first draft was where I learned who my characters actually were. My second draft involved trying to build a framework around these characters that would allow the reader to follow their evolution without getting bored. Unlike previous books I've tackled, this book shows a character growing year after year from around the age of 12 to around the age of 23. That provided me with some big challenges, the biggest one being a sense of immediacy. In most of my previous books, events unfold quickly. It's easy to keep a sense of tension and urgency, as one thing just piles atop another thing. With this new book, years pass between some chapters. I can't use as many cliffhangers to keep readers turning pages. And, in a lot of my books, I only have to establish the central character and his or her goals once. This time, her goals change and evolve. She's a slightly different person at every phase of her life, and sometimes that person isn't really likeable. (For instance, she spends several of her teen years in an institution and is pretty sullen and moody. Deservedly so, but this is a phase of her life where she's utterly devoid of optimism and hope, and optimism and hope are some of the character traits that earn the most reader loyalty.) I'm having to reintroduce the character again and again throughout the book. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; I'm pretty happy with the solutions I came up with in the latest draft, and already have an even better overarching concept for revealing the character's inner life in the next draft.
In the end, absent a time machine, I guess I'll never really know if I would have a better book at this stage if I'd slowed down on my first draft. As I've said before, every book is haunted by the ghosts of the books it might have been. Fortunately, with a third draft in my near future, it's not too late to listen to those ghosts, to heed their omens and glean wisdom from their secrets, and move forward with the faith that, when this book is finally done. it will STAND ASTRIDE THE LITERARY WORLD LIKE A COLOSSUS! Or, at a minimum, that it at least won't embarrass me.
Saturday, December 7, 2013
For 2013, I decided to focus my reading on classic books that I'd somehow missed out on reading before. A lot of them I hadn't read because I thought I knew their stories since I'd seen so many adaptations, things like Dracula, Tarzan of the Apes, and Frankenstein. Others I hadn't read because nothing I'd ever heard about them interested me; a lot of romance novels like Pride and Prejudice fell in this category.
I started out the year mostly intending to stick to public domain novels. I could download them free on Kindle or listen to them free on Librivox, and free has always held a certain charm for me. But, in March, when Bitterwood came out on Audible, I signed up for an Audible account which gives me one download credit a month, so I started adding in classics not in the public domain yet, like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I also added a few books I'd read before in high school or college but had only the dimmest memory of, like Old Man and the Sea. I'd intended to count only novels, but wound up with a couple of plays and books of the KJV Bible also making the list. In the end, I read 36 classics:
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift
Journey to the Center of the Earth, Jules Verne
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne
The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells
The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells
The Time Machine, H.G. Wells
The Island of Dr. Moreau, H.G. Wells
Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare, William
The Tempest, William Shakespeare
Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare
King Solomon's Mines, H. Rider Haggard
A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Riders of the Purple Sage, Zane Grey
On the Road, Jack Kerouac
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
Walden, Henry David Thoreau
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Dracula, Bram Stoker
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
These aren't all the books I read this year. I read a couple of novels of recent vintage, and five or six non fiction books (Walden's the only one I felt merited inclusion on my list of classics).
Next year, I'll probably stay focused on classics, since there's still plenty I haven't read, but will probably start adding in more contemporary fiction as well. If you're interested in finding out what I thought were the best and worst of the classics I read, check out my other blog, Jawbone of an Ass, where I'll be publishing my list of the five most deserving and five most overrated classics.