This is one of a series of posts in self-promotion. You can read the first one here.

Let me first say that I have very mixed reactions regarding Fan Fiction.

If you are a writer and you are getting fanfic, that means something pretty good is going on. Not only do you have a reader community that loves the same things we love (which is what we all want as writers, to share the things we love.*), but you have them loving your world to the point that they invest their time and creative efforts into adding to it.

On the other hand, these creative types can potentially dilute the vision you have for your characters that you created. Some of the worst offenders were the Mary Sues who were so perfect and wonderful that everyone loved them no matter what. There seemed to also exist a rabid “slash fiction” version written by ill-brained fans who weren’t content with the characters as they were, but had to turn them into something they were not.** There’s even an open-world group (I won’t link them here and give them more traffic than they need) that thinks they should be able to run rough-shod legally over anyone else’s intellectual property because they’re too lazy to worldbuild on their own.

In some ways, I consider a lot of movies made from books to be fanfic. Essentially the scriptwriter and director botches the story elements, and I ask myself, “If they liked it enough to make a movie out of it, how can they change it so drastically? Why not just write a story of your own by plucking out the elements you like and rearranging them?” Of course that argument would only fall on deaf ears, because of course they “know better.” But I digress…

After all of this griping, how can fanfic possible help a writer?

Well, as I mentioned, it means something good is going on with your stories. Many of us admit to being or starting writing fanfic to hone our skills, just like as budding artists we may draw from other people’s drawings to practice until we develop our own style. N0w, you could go after the fanfic writers and demand they take anything down. You can legally chase them down if they are making money from anything they write based on your stories. You could allow them to keep it up as long as they add a disclaimer that their story is not written by the author and is by no means sanctioned or related to the canon of the stories from which they draw the characters and world.

Or… you could require that they add the disclaimer and add a link to your website, so that you get traffic drawn to your sites and make sales from interested readers who want to know what the real characters and world is like. They may prefer yours, they may not, but you can’t shape readers to like you, you can only try to connect with readers who like what you do.

Now, if you’re reading this EA Games / Clive Barker / Developers of Undying–I have an idea for you that I would love to flesh out as a story for a sequel to that amazing game…You know, so it wouldn’t actually be fan fiction, but work from a “published” author…

 

*If you aren’t writing about things you love then you are writing dreck just to feed your wallet and probably hate what you do so much that you contemplate slitting your wrists at least once a day because in order to keep making money, you have to sell them what they want instead of what you want. And the work suffers for it too–readers can tell when your heart isn’t in it.

**WARNING: Read no further if you want to keep your brain clean. K/S is where the “slash” came from, as in Kirk slash Spock, as in “Kirk and Spock in a homosexual love affair”. The popular Highlander series had the same thing happen to it, where fanfic had the main character – usually the female author vaguely disguised – trying to convince the show’s main characters that they were in fact gay and should be lovers. And that is barely scratching the surface.

 

This post continues my adventures in Self-Promotion. If you would like to read the first post on the subject, start here.

In case you were wondering, yes. I carry business cards. Some people may ask why, since I don’t provide a service or traditional product where I should need to be contacted directly. “Why not just do book signings?” I’ve been asked. Well, for one, I don’t have physical books on hand to do such. I’ve been researching print-on-demand through companies like Createspace or Lightningsource, but even then, carrying a ton of books around just to sign and hand out or sell isn’t feasible. What is? A business card.

Business cards are tiny. They’re just a sliver of card, they fit easily into a wallet or pocket. I can carry dozens of them at one time, and they don’t weigh me down.

Business cards make any encounter a potential for networking and sales. Never underestimate the power of networking–the person with whom you speak may not read your brand of fiction (or any fiction at all) but know someone who does. They could pass them along.

Business cards can make a sale even when you’re not around. I leave mine on community bulletin boards at work, at the grocery stores, with checks when I dine out.

Business cards can contain all the necessary information in a tiny package. While the front of the card has all the pretty colors and my brand (you know: “I’m In Your Universe, Exposing Your Brain.”), including a personal e-mail address and the address of my “publisher” Overlord M Press, the back is the real workhorse. It has the QR codes for Overlord M Press, and my author pages on Amazon and Smashwords.

Business cards are endlessly customizable. Use a little Google-fu and you can find hundreds of millions of places to get them. I used my own images (although I wasn’t terribly happy with the result, as the dark blue dropped out of the final printing) but overall they came out as I wanted them.

Business cards are cheap. They’re getting less and less expensive as more companies strive to print up a batch of quality-cardstock in order to secure your commerce for their other products.

What other products, you say? Well, T-shirts for one. I had one printed up that has my book cover on front and the aforementioned QR codes on the back. (This may not be an option if you’re paranoid about people following you with your camera, trying to scan the code. You are warned.) For me, my goal is to have a t-shirt for each of my books and novels and to choose the shirt to fit the venue. For example, if my stories about the American Revolution, In the Light of Liberty, were complete and published, I would make a shirt and wear it to the Gunmaker’s Fair I will be attending this weekend. Talk about networking without saying a word!

Don’t overlook the little powerhouse of the business card. You really can make it work for you if you are marketing on a budget.

 

This is the second post of my Adventures in Self-Promotion. You can read the first post here.

Self-publishing used to be looked on as laughable for two main reasons. One, the author “obviously” couldn’t get their books published via the normal brick & mortar route, so it really wasn’t good enough to read, was it? Two, self-publishing meant enlisting the services of a vanity press and that meant that the author paid huge fees to have their work turned into hardcopy, with very high minimum print runs, and the author was then tasked with selling the books themselves and turning a profit in the process. With the second point, it usually meant they barely cut a profit, selling to friends and family and the occasional stranger if they took it to a book fair or somesuch.

I’d seen a lot of the latter when I worked for a brief stint dealing with the Local Authors at Borders, and much of the work was not pretty, and barely sold. They got ripped off at the vanity press, too, by the look of the reproduction methods.

Now, however, the face of self-publishing is changing. With biggies like Kindle Publishing and Smashwords, authors can get their work out there for minimal costs (nothing for the actual publishing, so maybe just the computer and internet connection, which most of us have anyway). The only problem with that is now there is so much work out there of full-spectrum levels of quality that even the really good stuff is likely to drown in the vast ocean of available reading material.

So how does one stand out?

Fast forward with self-publishing: I used to turn my nose up at the idea of having anyone but myself publish my work. After all, the work was mine and I should realize the most profit from its success, not the pittance that I would get unless I turned out to be another Patterson or Rowling for the publishing company.

So, brick & mortars were out of the question. However… there’s something to be said for magazines, hardcopy and online.

The big point being they generally have a readership. That means that if someone bothers to read my story, and they like it, they may very well search other places for my work. Now, a lot of teachers of self-promotion–for all products, not just books and stories–talk about promoting before the product/service/book is made available by sending out teasers on mailing lists. How does one get these elusive “lists”? Cold-sending is exactly like those annoying cold calls you get from telemarketers. But if someone in a magazine reads my work and then comes to my website, they could not only buy my backlist but also sign up for my newsletter (which I really don’t have in motion just yet, but that’s one of the problems about working for myself, making the time…).

Taking the above in mind, I’ve done searches for online magazines that have rights I can live with. I’d prefer to write “throw-away” stories that have limited interest for me in their expansion (meaning I don’t plan to write any more in that world, in case there are some exclusives and rights-issues that could get in the way) and consider it the cost of doing business. Some of them have fees to submit (Submittable isn’t a free service for them like it is for those creating an account, even if the magazine charges for the submission) and some are free. Many of these are very low, so it is something to consider if you are utterly broke.

The other consideration and the main one for me is the inclusion of the bio. After all, I want them to read more of my work, and if the magazine makes that easier for them to reach my sites where I am promoting my stories and books by including a bio and a link, all the better. I would choose a magazine that had a small fee and published a bio over one that ignored the bio material but was free otherwise.

And for the pay? That’s just icing on the cake. For those who seek inclusion in the SFWA, some of them qualify. I’m not a fan of the organization because of some of their questionable expenditures with the dues, but that’s me.

NOTE: For the sake of not causing a furor over stories I may have submitted and earning even the hint of a bias toward them while they are judging my submissions, I won’t mention where I’ve entered.

If you’ve never heard of the Navy SEALs, you’re either not from America or very likely call that slab of limestone over your head “Home Sweet Home”. I’m not going to explain who they are here, but what I will say is that the perception of them as door-kickers extraordinaire is pervasive. Their entire lives overseas consist of these missions where they make terrorists and pirates snack on lead, and back in the States they party like a bunch of demons, right?

While that last bit about them partying is at least semi-factual, the truth is that they train hard and they spend a lot of time doing all the not-so-“glamorous” aspects of SEAL/Navy life. Physical Training. Duty. Watches. Briefing. Debriefing. Travel. Paperwork. LOTS of paperwork. The “hardcore” parts of the life, sold in the movies and novels, can be boiled down to a nugget in a big barrel of plain ol’ rock. (But they’re still the sexiest men ever, bar none.)(I’m going to get slammed with complaints that I ratted them out as not having a 24-7 highspeed lifestyle, I bet. I know just enough about Navy life to be dangerous, having served as a sailor myself. I just hope they stopped reading at the compliment above, which is not hollow. They’re very hot.)

What does this have to do with self-promotion, you wonder?

Not that I would ever equivocate the life and challenges of someone who trained and attained such an honor as becoming a Navy SEAL to someone who runs their own business, but think for a moment when you hear someone say “I want to be my own boss.” The thoughts, if not spoken, run along the lines of “I don’t have to work for anyone else and I can take time off and go places I want to visit and do things I want to do.” They see the glamorous side without taking into account any of the droll day-to-day activities necessary to reach that goal of working for oneself. What they really want is to be independently wealthy without all the hard work. (Not that I would ever have a problem with being independently wealthy, of course! Isn’t that the plan?)

I have a friend who runs his own business and has been doing so successfully for a very long time. But–huge “but”–it took him 20+ years to get there, and he works insanely long hours. He takes days off–sort of. Often, when I worked with him, we’d be up in the wee-est hours of the morning and would be out on the road or doing the labor of the job (yes, he got his hands very dirty along with his “wrecking crew”) and wouldn’t see a bed until close to midnight. And I thought boot camp hours were tough!

All that is just to explain that working for oneself, like I would love to do as a writer, is a goal that I am trying to achieve and I spend a lot of my time not just writing but by doing all of the rest of the work a publisher would do if I had gone the brick & mortar route. I get to do my own self-promotion, and for the next couple of blogs I am going to discuss the different methods I’ve been trying to get My Brand out there. Here are a few methods I will discuss:

Magazine Submissions

Business Cards

FanFiction (but probably not in the way you’re thinking)

P.S. I’ve been working on a project that I had been calling Dross, but has now come to be known as Ink & Sigil. Barring any emergencies, the novel, a steampunk fantasy, will be out before the end of the year.

On occasion, I experience epiphanies while I am writing fiction that I realize applies equally to “real life”, and sometimes moreso.

In this case, I sat and stared inward while trying to “get into the head” of the character from whose point of view I am wanting to experience the scene unfolding. If we had an omniscient point of view, the highest level, an essential “god over the prose”, we could just tell everything that happens, describe all points of view, convey all experiences all at once. I prefer to see things through one set of eyes. Therefore, I can only describe what that particular character is seeing, observing, feeling, sensing. What he’s guessing, too. I can only describe the scene from what he actually can KNOW.

Now, in fiction, creating assumptions and then reacting on those assumptions (especially when they are incorrect, is FABULOUS for creating misunderstandings and conflicts that complicate the characters and the story). In that sense, it’s fun.

In real life? Not so much.

Take, for example, the politically-correct “Hyphenated-American”-ism we seem to be burdened with in the day and age of this country. Instead of being able to state our observations—“she was black,” or “he was white”[1], which is closer to the truth of being what we see—we have to assume, to jump to a conclusion. Often, those conclusions are quite incorrect.

If I asked you to pick out the “African-American” from the two photographs below, if you are into using the politically-correct vernacular, you’d probably pick the gentleman on the left. You would be utterly wrong. In this case, the actual African-American is the woman on the right. Yes, she’s white, but was born in Africa and holds dual-citizenship between the US and South Africa.[2]

Anderson_Silva-12578.jpgCharlizeTheronMadMaxPressConfCannes.jpg

So what about the man on the left? He happens to be Brazilian. One could also argue that he’s American because Brazil is in South America, but that’s getting ridiculously technical. He happens to be Anderson “the Spider” Silva.[3]

Another example is from personal experience. When I was in college forever ago, I met a young lady who was an exchange student from South Africa. She’d never be recognized as South African with her pale skin, freckles and red hair. Another student despised being mis-identified as “African-American” because he just happened to have a lot more melanin than some other human beings—he was African. Period. I have even met a young man who was very pale, with red hair and freckles who could easily have passed for white, except he was actually”African-American” by the presumptive standards.

The point of the exercise is that we apply assumptions in place of actual skills of observation. If we describe him as black or her as white, we’d paint an accurate picture of what we see. Police are trained to not make assumptions about ANYTHING (“a material that appeared to be blood”), as it could later taint the prosecution of the case.

It’s also ridiculous for having people jump through mental hoops having to describe someone else by guessing the “hyphen-du-jour”. Paraphrasing the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, whose wisdom practically slaps us in our faces, said it best: “Judge a man by his character and not by the color of his skin.” Skin and race, let’s face it, are just basic descriptors, because the story really IS about the individual, not their hair color, eye color, the shape of their nose or eyes.

Hyphenation doesn’t automatically attribute a culture either. Heck, Africa is a humongous continent that encapsulates thousands of specific ethnic groups and probably just as many, if not more, cultures. The Masai warriors are very different from the Bedouins but they  When we speak of Asian influences, it includes the Middle East (Southeast Asia), who are not Japanese who are not Philippines, yet they could all be called Asian… That first factor before the hyphen only identifies a (mostly guessed) genetic history, and some of us have bloodlines so intermingled that to point out one of those aspects is just stereotyping. We CAN be more than one, happily and proudly, coexisting, you know. Hyphenation dilutes that. The individual—the strong individual, anyway—creates his own story out of his own experiences, heritage and genetics, not simply by latching onto someone else’s laurels and calling it a day. Think of it like building a house. It’s wonderful to have a good foundation to build on, but why just decorate someone else’s house when the good Lord gave you the tools to construct something wonderfully unique.

When I meet someone, and want to get to know them, I want to know THEM. I don’t about their skin color to begin with, and couldn’t care less after I’ve learned who they are. That cannot be distilled into their melanin count, or even their family’s history. It is what they have done, are doing and will do that makes that individual worth knowing. Awesome people (and, let’s face it, assholes) come in all shapes, sizes and colors, so why worry about those merely physical traits?

Let’s just dispense with the hyphenation altogether—it’s divisive rather than inclusive, a lazy cop-out of slapping on a label instead of defining an individual. It would be like me describing my faith as a “German-Christian.” It’s just “Christian,”[4] please and thank you. So how about we all just call ourselves “Americans” already, and leave the hyphens out of it.

 

[1] Yes, we can quite clearly argue that “white” and “black” are inaccurate too. Technically, I am a VERY pale mottled, freckled pink. My oldest and dearest friend from my Navy days just happens to be a lovely shade of chocolate brown (you know who I’m talking about). But at least it’s not making an ridiculous assumption.

[2] That, of course, is the gorgeous Charlize Theron, who played Furiosa in Mad Max:Fury Road and makes me jealous that, not only does she look better bald than I do with hair, she also got to be in a Post-Apoc movie with Tom Hardy. Not just any PA movie, either. A Mad Max movie.

[3] And he’s an absolutely amazing mixed-martial artist who holds the record for the longest undefeated streak until he was beaten by Chris Weidman during UFC 162 (and unfortunately again in UFC 168, if memory serves). He’s a figurative-artist’s dream and sports some crazy flexibility.

[4] Which is a whole different argument, splintering down into specific aspects of beliefs. I believe in Jesus as the Son of God and my Lord and Savior. Period. Everything else is just details.

Hey, Bethesda! How about “Customizable Survival Mode?”

I admit it—I’ve been slipping away from my writing to get a little Fallout 4 time in, especially now since Survival Mode has arrived. I couldn’t wait to get some of that New Vegas-style goodness back into the game, add an extra dimension of a challenge.

Now, see, I’m not a hardcore gamer that spends countless hours of my life parked in a dark room on the couch next to a bowl of Doritos and a case of Mountain Dew escaping from the reality of things like a job and taking out the trash. I love video games, but I don’t plan my life around them. That’s why I’ve broken from my normal blog to rant. Yes, it is a bit of a rant, but there’s also, unlike a true rant, a suggestion to solve the problems I am pointing out.

And that’s where Fallout 4’s survival mode falls short. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Let me start with each of the new aspects that have been blanket-foisted upon us.

No Blips on the Compass: Awesome. I really like this challenge, as who knows where the bad guys are… It makes traveling with Dogmeat more meaningful as well. My only suggested change is make it a perk that you have hyper-awareness, as the blips become a substitute for more refined senses. (A friend argued that the blips take the place of other senses we lose in the meta-gaming fashion, for example, we have a much greater field of vision in real life than can otherwise be afforded on even the largest screens. Nor can we smell in-game, thank God!) AND… it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have your mechanical friends show up, you know, since they might have technology that could pinpoint their location imbedded in their chassis and/or power armor.

Tougher Mechanics: Yes and no. Frankly, I was tired of striking a sack-headed raider in the skull eight or nine times with a .45 before they dropped. There was no REALISM in that. However, the ghouls are still somehow able to penetrate my power armor and do serious damage to my body. Don’t tell me they miraculously, with every hit, manage to strike a rubberized joint area. That wouldn’t just wound me, it would cripple me. And see my footnote below about Alphas/Skulls showing up all over the place. I mean, they’ve already become overpowered… That’s just overkill (pun intended). So, just follow my Ultimate Suggestion offered later in the programming.

Crippled Limbs, Sickness and Disease: Yes. Another good thing for the game dynamic. I pretty much ignored the doctors in-game, and took care of everything with a stimpak. Now that part of the world makes sense, and makes you think twice and weigh options on drinking that possibly-contaminated water. I’ve also been finding myself at the Chemistry station with a purpose, too.

Food, Water, Sleep: Just what the doctor ordered. Sort of. Another challenge I enjoy, as it makes the settlements more important to get up and running. I would tweak the frequency. I don’t get that hungry or thirsty or tired, and when I’m peckish in real life, I DO get cranky (-1 CHR). And finding a safe place to sleep because I get grew exhausted from all of the ghoul-dicing, sure. Love it. Even more reason to keep my main squeeze as a companion, too. However…

Sleep on Save: This is where it gets irritating. Earlier in my rant, I mentioned that I am not a hardcore gamer. This means that I have only so much time to play. Playing should be moving the narrative along, experiencing the game, not “Crap, I have to hunt for a bed because I need to save so I can sleep in real life to get up for work” or even constantly seeking them just to save before I head into the seriously dangerous territories. Traveling from bed to bed isn’t experiencing the story. It’s purely annoying. Plus… You mean to say I can MAKE a bed out of five cigarettes and the business end of a shovel (there’s REALISM for you…), but somehow I am unable to craft a bedroll or even improvise one where I could catch some shuteye? How about making some of those cars that still have their upholstery in it a place where I can sleep? I’m sure many people have done that before, curled up in the back seat to get a few winks. There’s REALISM for you… if you are tired enough, you can sleep just about anywhere. The sleep-on-save isn’t a challenge; it is a narrative-killing annoyance. So, suggestion: portable bedrolls and more logical-if-not-comfortable places to “sleep” in order to save. Or just follow my Ultimate Suggestion offered later in the programming.

No Fast Travel: This I like and hate at the same time. The reason I like it? REALISM. Experiencing the world of FO4 is entirely different when you are forced to experience it. However… I dislike that I cannot FT when I want for two reasons. The first being that, yet again I iterate, I don’t have the time to spend just traveling somewhere, especially when, instead of engaging in the narrative when I reach my destination, I am more concerned about looking for a flippin’ bed to get sleep AND save the game because *poof* there went all of my game time just moving from Point A to Point B. Worse, I get all the way there and end up dead in one shot from either a ridiculously overpowered Feral Ghoul, or one of the Alphas that seem to be everywhere in my game[1] so I end up having to start from the one mattress I DID find, waaaaaaaaaay back home. Second, there’s a weird meta-gaming thing I love to do; because I don’t have all of my life to devote to playing the game twenty times through for all of the variations, when I hit a cool dialogue spot I like to revert to the closest previous save, then drag each of my companions back to that spot to get to hear what they say when the spot is triggered[2]. Without Fast Travel, that is all gone. To quote my favorite dialogue in the game, “Pfft!”[3]. It shouldn’t be a travel game, it should be a story, like reading a book. Chapters and scene break with jumps in time. We don’t hear about every minute of every day or we’d put the book down. Same with the unfolding story in Fallout.

Another drawback? Settlement rescues. How about when those settlements are being attacked? Will we actually reach them in time? And who has time to divert from travel to head all the way back? The settlement rescues will be ignored because who has time (other than Steam-blooded gamers) to run and rescue them? It just takes too long.

Companions Returning: Another very, very bad addition. How far is “abandoned?” Heck, some of my companions run off on their own after the enemy, and if I happen to go a step too far, not only is my backup support gone, but possibly a lot of my essential gear. With Fast Travel turned off, this makes it another annoyance factor instead of an actual challenge. For REALISM… you think your companion, in bad shape, would maybe cry out? Or if they were in that bad of a condition, like with a crippled limb, they would STAY WHERE THEY ARE. Suggestion: One of the few I suggest seriously altering this dynamic so that they remain in place, cry out, show up as a blip, or just getting rid of it altogether and having them behave the way they used to.

Weighted Ammo and Carry Weight: It’s another winner, not being able to carry so much. In fact, I think what you are allowed to carry in-game is MORE than generous. On a good day, even our most fit troops can only ruck about 110 pounds. 60 pounds is about the average, for a soldier. That means while Nate could probably get away with rucking 60-110, but Nora would be hard-pressed to get to that level even with enough time spent honing her strength in the wasteland.

Short Digression: Let’s not kid ourselves. Any argument of REALISM you throw at us to justify why this or that is in the game the way it is is countered with other REALISM that wasn’t considered or inserted. Example: it is a fact that people can go without food for a long time, several weeks. They can go without water for several days. Now, we have Nate and Nora, who lived in an idyllic past, may take a while to get used to not eating as often, but as they experience the wasteland, they will grow more accustomed to doing without so much food—their bodies will grow harder, leaner[4] and far more efficient. This is a corollary with the foot/water/rest, as in the REALISM you would have us believe is that we get famished quickly and need two or three cans of beans. Two or three cans?! We didn’t really need that before all the destruction. Is it some psychological need to consume all we can because all we see around is need and want? If it is REALISM you want to convey, have us need less and less the higher level attained. Basically, if all things are considered, there would be too much REALISM to program, so the argument boils down to a null value. Make it fum with some “realism”. I ask that you please just follow my Ultimate Suggestion offered later in the programming.

Console Disabling: I know this only effects PC users, but, let’s face it: the game is buggy. With the Saves and Fast Travel turned off, and the console disabled, there’s no way to “un-stick” myself by traveling elsewhere or reloading the game. Disabling the console was the trifecta of a evil horse race. Not all of us used it to cheat or to circumvent the game REALISM (god mode). Some of us just wanted to NOT be frustrated with the bugginess of the game, knowing we have a quick fix that won’t cause us to completely waste our time re-doing a portion of it because we fell into a crevice in somewhere in the Glowing Sea…

Now we come to the Ultimate Suggestion Offered Later in the Programming: Those of us who only play an hour or so a day are gamers too, even if we don’t devote 5/6 of our lives hooked up to the Steam-dialysis machine. We already suffer through the Cable TV crap of wanting a channel or two but having to deal with a whole package just to get the few things we want. Here it is: Customizable Survival Mode. Isn’t that what makes Fallout 4 the AMAZING game that it is? Making decisions and performing actions that make the world the way WE want it to be? We get to choose which faction ends up the victor, and which ones get wiped from the face of the wasteland. Some love to explore, others like to build and renovate, while others love the thrill of capping ghouls at 200 yards. Instead of lumping the current Survival Mode all together and ramming it down our throats as a package, let us select which challenges we want and forget the rest, make the whole game and the world in it our own? Why should we have to sacrifice the experience of the cooler challenges in Survival Mode because we would have to accept the tedious or annoying aspects that make it “not a game” for the sake of REALISM?

So, just like with the Fancy Lads Snack Cakes, there’s more than one in the package, so I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to have our cake and eat it too. How about it, Bethesda? Make FO4 awesome for everyone.

 

[1] I’m not sure if this is a glitch or not. I mean, if my enemies are already tougher, why is damn-near every random encounter I’m having with an Alpha/Skull-level enemy?

[2] That’s how I found the gem of dialogue, when Piper goes on about “The Treasure is You!”

[3] That’s from the same bit of dialogue from Piper. Seriously, take her to find the Treasure.

[4] Nora already looks to be in pretty good shape, considering that, when the story commenced, she had an infant still young enough to put up with swaddling. Nate, it could be argued, already spent time doing without a decent meal while he was serving in the Army. Unless he was a pencil pusher instead of someone actually involved in combat, in which case he had no business giving a speech that begins “War… war never changes.”

squirrel

Squirrels are nifty creatures, but lately, they’ve been very distracting. My computer sits on a desk not too far from the window. This winter, I found myself staring out of the window when I should have been writing. I started seeing birds, and watching the birds (nature’s equivalent of “shiny things”) and the next thing I know, I’m concentrating on how to attract more birds instead of how to get back to my writing.

So when I put the seeds out, instead of just getting the birds*, I get…

You guessed it. Squirrels.

Now, I’ve lived in this area on/off for two decades, and have been back here in this same location for about three years. I have seen the “yard rats” do all sorts of amazing things, like team up to feed one another out of one of those so-called “squirrel-proof” feeders. So, intelligent, but they all looked alike to me. Until this winter.

This winter, I saw one of them, a scrappy fellow whose left shoulder had been ripped open, presumably by another squirrel. The wound looked pretty ugly and I didn’t think he was going to make it, seeing that he only had three legs to use, but that little sucker pulled through. He’s sporting some weird fur over the wound area, but he’s scrappy as ever.

Soon after I noticed him (I call him Paul, after my American Revolutionary Hero, Paul Revere), I noticed another smaller, sleeker male come along. I named him Sam (after Samuel Adams) and watched him and Paul take turns fighting one another.

Then another came along, only this one looked different from the other two. (Yes, you read that right–I started noticing the physical differences of these squirrels.) And this one presented itself butt-first at my window. I had a ‘she’ so I named her Rachel (after Rachel Revere). This one, well, she started coming to my window too, and her belly made it clear enough that she was a momma. I’ve even seen her dancing at the bird-feeder pole…

Not satisfied with just watching them, I decided to start feeding them, too. So I put out peanuts for them. They liked them enough, but when I accidentally picked up some “raw” peanuts at the grocery store, the little punks turned them down. They dropped them! I tried roasting the peanuts for them, and what do you know, they ate them then. Spoiled rotten little things.

Now I’ve got visitors all of the time, waking me up by scratching at the window, wanting to remind me that there aren’t any peanuts for them outside.

Like I said, nifty creatures, but distracting, indeed.

 

*I end up seeing blue jays, cardinals, chickadees, titmice (they are not mice and have no… ahem), juncos, a red-tailed hawk, a pheasant, a turkey (I call him “Future Sandwich”) and indigo buntings. At least those are the ones I can identify.

From as early an age as I can recall, languages fascinated me. I grew up in a culturally-diverse corner of town—Italian, Korean, Spanish speakers all lived on the same block, within a few houses of one another, and my own family comes from a background that would make a mutt feel like a purebred. In high school, I took up Spanish and then later took German. In college, I took Russian courses. I had also spent considerable time in places, while serving in the Navy, where Spanish and Italian were the native tongues. Later, in college, Russian. For fun, I studied French, Gaelic, Tolkien’s Elvish and I even own a Klingon Dictionary.

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Then I began creating languages of my own to use in my stories—Omen-Eyes, Ennid the Havoc, the languages for the upcoming Dross* and alien races of the SHARC series of stories. In each of these, the language provides a “flavor” to differentiate the races/species and in just about every case, creates some type of conflict because of the limits of translation.

Here are a few things I learned about language while studying them:

Languages more often than not don’t feature a one-for-one translation. If it works out that way, you’re lucky. Some drop prepositions while others adopt gendered ones. Some (including English) drop implied verbs.

Example: There is a book on the table.

In Russian, their grammar prefers: On the table, there is a book. (Which, translated with the available words, would read: “On table, book.”)

In German, their sentence structure can be even more rigid. Subject-Verb-Everything Else for a statement, Verb-Subject-Everything Else for a question. Some throw their words all over the place, using inflection more than just structure to differentiate between a statement and a question (yes, that would be English. We English-speakers are language contortionists).

You went there.

Simple statement, although why someone would have to tell someone else where they went is beyond the scope of this blog.

You went there?

Connotes the idea of surprise that the subject “you” overstepped some boundary to get to that location, like the timid librarian stepping into a biker bar, where they clearly wouldn’t be wanted.

You went there?

This one is a little more snotty, and less of a question than pure derision. They don’t want an answer, they want to mock. The subject “you” ventured into some place that the one asking the question wouldn’t have set foot simply because it is beneath them.

(There’s a great episode of Jerry Seinfeld that uses this to great effect. Why would Jerry bring anything?)

Some have few words that can say a lot, and others use a lot of words for very little, and some languages encompass both. Russian is my favorite for this. On one hand, they can say “Tim tahm.” and mean “Tim is over there”, while to say “I like pets” they have to wrap their tongues around “Menay neravidtsa domoshnie zhivotniey.” (Bugs Bunny pokes fun at this concept too, in “Wackiki Wabbit”.)

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This may arise from the need to define the concept within the sentence that you are introducing it. We could say “The clear sky” but if the one listening is not familiar with the concept of “clear”, it may have to be expressed as: “It was a sky through which light may pass so objects on the other side or within the volume of the object may be seen without hindrance.” Now imagine that some of the words in the definition had to be defined, as those concepts were unfamiliar. See where the conflict in trying to explain things can arise? (Oppressive regimes might condone destruction or redefinition of terms and concepts to prevent someone from speaking about things that the government doesn’t want discussed. Sadly, a fairly recent phenomenon in our own history is to cripple free speech, open debate and discussion by hurling the invective “racist!” or “bigot!”–the equivalent of the playground “your mom!”– when no intelligent argument can be formed or respectfully conveyed.)

Then there are the concepts. We speakers of English are all familiar with hyperbole, exaggeration, metaphors. Imagine telling someone that your heart leapt for joy when you saw them coming. If they have no experience outside of the literal realm, they may start looking around their feet for a bloody organ bouncing around in the grass.

English uses very little of the mouth. We blow air out through our lips, puff out our cheeks, touch our tongue to the roof of our mouths but we tend to use so little of it. Other languages, like Russian, use all of those and add different “depths” of the mouth and throat to create their sounds. Some, like the fascinating Khoison family of tongues from Africa even feature pops and clicks. We have a couple of equivalents in English—you’ve probably heard it as “tsk-tsk” or when someone “clucks” their tongue.

And finally, some of the translations can be… funny… when brought over into English and vice versa. A “Nova” was a car model that didn’t do well in Spanish-speaking countries because, while it’s an astrological term in English, in Spanish it translates to “no-go.” And some names are pronounced the same way as some Russian terms. I’m not sure “The Queen of Country” would want to be known as “Fish” McEntire, and that jedi-in-training would be far less heroic if he’d been known as “Onion Skywalker.”

*Title subject to change

Two weeks ago I brought up several stories which I call my favorites, and that naturally brought me to the idea of influence. You hear the phrases bandied about often by any creative types–“I consider such-and-such my greatest influence”, as in “As a composer, I find Mozart and John Williams to be my greatest influences” for an example, or directors cite earlier movies that formed their interest in the silver screen.

Certainly, as a writer, I count many, many authors and stories among my influences. All writers generally do–after all, that initial exposure to tales that transport us to other worlds or realities far from our own personal experiences engender the desire in some readers to craft our own. Fredrik Pohl, Harlan Ellison, Harry Harrison, John Haldeman, Doyle, Tolkien, Lewis, Shakespeare etc. all count high on my list of literary inspirations.

But… what about other influences, such as music? Take my first example, with music above. I frequently listen to music while writing, matching the mood/tone with whatever I am trying to write. Umbra (and all of its previous iterations) came flying from my fingertips with an ample dose of Alice in Chains, early Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden pounding in my ears. For my darker fantasy stories like “The Falconer and the Wolf“, one of my favorite bands to get me in the right atmosphere is Dead Can Dance. When sketching notes for The Light of Liberty, I turned to Barry Phillips and his version of “The World Turned Upside Down” along with other American Colonial period tunes.

Are there any more? Of course there are. Many people have incorporated their likes and hobbies into their writing. Some cozy mysteries, for example, are based around knitting. My character Ennid the Havoc and his escapades are influenced by my love of MMA (that’s Mixed Martial Arts for those not yet initiated into its primal awesomeness). My interest in genetics features heavily in Clones are People Two. Even if the things we like aren’t at the forfront, we sometimes insert it in small ways. I love goats (Casey, from Umbra), I think rhinos are awesome and I smith silver (both of which will appear in The Opal Necklace, release date TBD) and I’ve an interest in raptors and falconry.

It’s all very simple–EVERYTHING can be an influence on our creativity, and EVERYTHING should be. It’s from these somewhat disparate ideas and influences that some of our richest “juices” flow.

 

 

Haiku, Part II

Posted: April 27, 2016 in Uncategorized

Okay, here are the answers you’ve been waiting for:

 

Won the lottery?

Get your Gateway tickets here!

Beware the black holes

This one is GATEWAY, by Fredrik Pohl, one of the first hard science fiction novels I recall reading, and he got me hooked. The problem with most hard science fiction writing was that the authors focused so much on the science that they took a top-down view and failed to engage us on a “well, how does that effect me and why should I care?” level. Pohl was one of those who created three-dimensional, sympathetic characters who brought the ideas down to practical earth. In the case of Gateway, that character is Robinette Broadhead, a man (yes, a man, and his issues with his own feminine name come out in his therapy, which comprises the whole of the novel with the story told mostly in flashback with ‘Bob’ on the couch) with many, many troubles and definitely a hero that proves winning the lottery isn’t the answer to all of your problems, but only the beginning, and piercing the Schwarzschild Barrier to get close to a black hole ruins everyone’s day. Pohl, despite having been a communist*, wrote some of my favorite stories, and brought humanity to an otherwise sterile world of hard science fiction.

 

They must have children

Now my body is not mine own

But saints need their sins

I trusted my older siblings (at least the ones who read) to give me good recommendations. By far, my brother David influenced my reading preferences the most, but my sister Chris came through for me with this one, THE HANDMAID’S TALE by Margaret Atwood. This is feminist dystopian literature, and may not appeal to many men (or the idea of the heavy patriarchal society portrayed may be too appealing to some). Atwood takes us to a future where hard right Christians have taken over the country, or at least part of it, renamed it “Gilead” and made all women subservient to men–no more jobs, no more money, no more owning property. If you were the first and only wife of one of the top dogs, you got to stay in your house, but if you were married before, or the second wife of a divorced man, and young enough to reproduce, well, you got ripped from your home, trained  to be subservient and passed around to the barren households as a potentially fertile handmaid. (The barrenness and defects she never explained in full, but alluded was the result of radiation/pollution/etc.) You even got renamed, as the narrator of the story is Offred, as in “Of Fred”, so you couldn’t even own an identity. But as Offred discovers when she enters the world of the Commander, even those held to the highest ideals have the same primal desires as those they conquered. Being a Christian woman, and a female who grew up in the 80’s, I didn’t find it as controversial as proclaimed, especially because it reaffirmed what I always knew–all of us are sinners no matter how much we try to behave or pretend otherwise.

 

Snakebitten, alone

Surviving, rebuild the world

Soon even that fades

The first post-apocalypse novel to make me cry was EARTH ABIDES by George Stewart.  Yes, cry. I walked with Ish all the way through, from his trip where he got bitten by a snake that ultimately saved him from the deadly measles that only made him sick where it killed most everyone else until… well, I won’t spoil the story. Written in 1949, the book still feels fresh–in that despite all of our technological advances, all of that will mean nothing when society winds down after such a biological disaster.

 

Hot food and good fights

Okay, maybe my mare too

Watch out for demons!

 I would be remiss if I didn’t include one of my own stories as a favorite–I wrote it, after all, and what kind of author would I be if I didn’t like what I wrote? This is for “The Belly of the Beast“, by T. R. Neff. Moi. Ennid is a character that I enjoy sharing gray cells with, despite his being male and geared toward food and fighting. I got a very good piece of advice in writing once that you don’t write a character who is you, you write a character you would want to spend time with, and I could hang out with Ennid for a while. For one, he’s only described himself a little but the man I am picturing when I write him is the kind of guy I think is sexy. I wouldn’t mind watching him fight (being that I love MMA, part of my inspiration) but I wouldn’t want to be around him when the powers sweep into his life and involve him in their cosmic drama. And a very special horse like K’zirra? I’m more than a little jealous.

 

*Oddly enough, when Pohl’s communism came through in his stories, he ended up approaching it in such a way that either it 1) would convince you that capitalism wasn’t so bad after all or 2)pointed out some of the aspects of capitalism that we can ALL hate, like rampant, constant, ubiquitous and obnoxious product shilling. Also, someone with a little situational awareness, when reading my novel Umbra, may see the nod in this author’s direction.