Archive for March, 2019

Hello, my name is T. R. Neff, and I am a world building junkie. Yes, I admit it, and I am happy to say that I am far from being the only one.

I started early in life, too. I loved those maps in the front of the fantasy novels in my brothers’ book collections. I drew my own maps and landscapes from those places (some of which were good, some of them pretty terrible and thankfully no longer extant). As I got a little older I was drawn to the tables in the Dungeons & Dragons books—the ones that helped to create worlds and environments on the fly. Thus comes my first reference:

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons World Builder’s Guidebook.

  1. This was one of those seminal works that helped dungeon masters create entire worlds for their campaigns. While I did play the game (you know, before computer role-playing games, where you had to use pencil, paper, dice and a whole lotta imagination!), my main interest was on the dozens of tables that helped to create randomization of continents, of geography, of cities/towns/hamlets, etc. There was even a table that helped figure the likelihood of certain fantasy-game staple professions inhabiting a city. Included with it was a pad of different kind of blank maps on which you could draw the entire world or focus in on regions. Many of these were hex maps, which any old-school role-playing enthusiast recognizes as the very best way of calculating distances for your traveling heroes. (The AD&D Boxed set had some really nice maps with clear acetate hex-map overlays for figuring travel, and was a marvelous tool for those who wanted a “clean” map but still needed a way to calculate if the hero could really reach Jemia from Roscor in less than a day…)

Why random? After all, we authors create worlds, right? Well, sometimes when we create them we conform them to all the things we know and like, and don’t let anything get too brutal for the characters we create. If we introduce tables like this, we can create a world of adversity that our characters have to deal with. We can pit them against unknowns, and see how they react. After all, that IS “character”.

 

 

Not content to settle for just the entire world that was possible from using the WBG, I remember coming across this gem:

ARES Magazine – Article on New Worlds of the Solar System

It was a series of tables for the Star Frontiers science fiction role-playing games that helped create solar systems on the fly. I used them constantly to create not only the world (using the above book) but put it in a whole system that could have things like eclipses and conjunctions and even some weird things like binary stars or twin planets. The systems could tell you how many planets and of what approximate size would be the most realistic for the types of star or stars. Water, weather, even life/technology levels could be randomized from the tables, although for most of my worlds I didn’t bother with the last several, especially if it was a fantasy world. The article was thoroughly indespensible for my worlds in space, and dictated the rather “difficult” planet in one of my stories yet to be published (set in the same universe as Clones Are People Two).

I think I even have the magazine somewhere around here, but if you could get yourself a copy, or if the article is available legally online for free, it’s worth taking a peek the next time you want to create a solar system for the world your characters are inhabiting.

 

And now, one of my new favorites, Holly Lisle’s Create a World Clinic (No Picture)

(Disclaimer: I am not an affiliate of Holly Lisle’s work, and particularly love this book. If you click on the link above and end up purchasing a copy for yourself, I will be compensated).

I don’t always agree with Holly[1], but here in World Building I discovered by reading her work that we are very much alike. As any other world-building junkie knows, and she points out, there’s an inherent danger in overbuilding (if you’re doing it for writing. If you do it as a hobby, build to your heart’s content!)

Why?

A) We –yes, I absolutely include myself here– never start writing because there’s always more world to create before we start.

B) It’s stealing time from writing other things we should be writing (like any other geek-thick hobby) and

C) We want to use EVERYTHING we create, somehow.

I won’t go into detail with my favorite part of the clinic, but if you purchase a copy for yourself I am sure you will guess what it is. THAT exercise alone was worth the price for me, and helped me have a whole lot of fun world-building but keeping it THIN enough to not let it impede the writing process.

WHEW! That’s a lot for me on world-building, and it turns out I have even more to say. But it will have to wait until next week… Hope to see you again!

 

[1] If you find yourself agreeing with any mortal being all of the time, you risk becoming a sycophant of the major ass-kissing variety, and you cease to be you because you start conforming to whatever you think THEY want you to be. I am NOT saying that Holly does this, as she absolutely does NOT and is the furthest thing from being a sycophant/conformist/ass-kisser, and one of the major reasons I respect her even if our opinions on a few things aren’t even close to being similar.

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As anyone who is Irish, or who wants to be, knows, this Sunday, 17 MAR 2019, is Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s a time to turn our thoughts to Ireland, a land rich with tradition, creativity and inspiration. There are stories like The Quiet Man, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, and The Crying Game. They Irish have given us the Wee Folk (see Darby O’Gill), bands like the Cranberries, (RIP Dolores O’Riordan), the Dropkick Murphys (okay, okay, they’re just a heavily-Irish-influenced band-born-in-America, but  man, they give one hell of a show!) and Flogging Molly (ditto, on both counts!). The island’s birthed horrors like banshees and U2 (okay, okay, I liked U2 up until Zooropa. But now I just run screaming). Speaking of horror, there was a particularly awesome game inspired by and taking place on the Emerald Isle, Clive Barker’s Undying (EA, if you are reading this, pull your head out of your collective rear. Single-player games are NOT dead. You’re suffering from Ford-itis: if you made something people wanted to play, they would buy it. Or let someone else finish Patrick Galloway’s story. I am sure I am not the only one with a few ideas…)

All that is just to say that it’s not just another holiday, especially not just one to tilt back plenty of emerald-tinted pints, but named for a Catholic saint (although, that’s not a bad idea…Or try a little whiskey…)

Now for the disclaimer: I am not Catholic. Not even close, and I find the word “abhorrent” to be terribly insufficient to describe the abuses and cover-ups that have occurred over the decades (probably centuries!). However, I find the whole deal with saints and their stories pretty fascinating. If you’re a regular visitor, you may have read my little spiel on Valentinus, AKA Saint Valentine, several weeks ago. First the red, and now with the Green, as I tackle Saint Patrick!

Like the rest of them, he got the rename treatment from his Latin name, Patricius. He wasn’t really even “Irish” but sent there as a missionary in the fifth century, originally coming from a place in Britain that is now known as Ravenglass (how cool is that name!?) . Among several works attributed to them, he wrote an autobiography, one in which claimed to have been kidnapped by pirates(!) and subsequently escaped, returned to his family in Britain but then ended up back in Ireland to come spread the Word and convert the Celts.

Just like Saint Valentine’s Day, there are a few symbols that evoke the holiday, but none moreso than the shamrock. Where did that come from? According to legend, Patricius himself plucked one from the ground and used it to illustrate the Trinity: God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit.

And what about the whole snake thing? That one happens to be my favorite, how Patricius kicked them all (along with the other reptiles) off of the island. I imagine a reptile roundup, herding the snakes and the geckos and the komodo dragons and forcing them off of the cliff like a bunch of lemmings! Alright, so it’s far more likely that Ireland never HAD any snakes, but it’s great fodder for some good stories… I have to be fair here, too. I actually LIKE snakes, and don’t mind at all when I find a shed skin in the house, or see one slithering away just as I flip on the switch. Not really fond of finding them in the toilet bowl, still alive…

I could go on and on, but what kind of writer am if I don’t encourage you to go read about these things for yourself? Here’s a link to get you started.

And, if you’ve ever felt an “Erin go Brach” shout-it-out moment coming on, let me know below!

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

 

Genre Focus: Science Fiction

Posted: March 6, 2019 in Uncategorized

Let me state this first: genres are a generic construct created by booksellers to classify products and make it easier for shoppers to find the books.

I would argue that there are few books that would fall solidly under any single genre umbrella. Think of some of your favorite novels, and examine them honestly for any other elements that are present — romantic show up quite often in so many others, and romance has its share of sub categories (historical romance, fantasy romance, contemporary romance, science fiction romance, etc.). So addressing any one genre in particular may seem to be a losing battle, but genre still serves its purpose in finding readers.

With that caveat acknowledged, I’ve decided to take a look at the different common genres in which I write, and bring up influences that may or may not come from the same type of source material.

This premier week I am taking a look at Science Fiction.

Although I love so many different categories of stories, science fiction has remained nearest and dearest to my heart. The first movie I remember seeing was Star Wars, in the drive-in theater (do they have these anymore!?!), and just being entranced by every single moment of it. Now, Star Wars (which has long since been renamed Star Wars IV: A New Hope), isn’t pure science fiction, especially when a lot of the “science” has had many liberties taken with it, and its been recognized as Space Opera, a sub-genre. But that “opera” is key. There are elements of the budding romance between Han Solo and Princess Leia, and plenty of humorous moments (love the dry droid humor!).

So what makes a story “science fiction”? Is it space and space travel? Surely, there are an overwhelming number of stories where this is present, if not the primary element. Such as Fredrik Pohl’s Heechee novels are some of my absolute favorites. Among all the other sub-genres it touches on, it includes the idea of space travel as a complete unknown and one of the central conflicts. While humans have limited means of travel away from the earth and to the Gateway asteroid, the Heechee aliens who came before them, so long before that they left all kinds of things behind including mushroom-like space ships. It’s these ships that form the basis of the conflict–the inhabitants of the asteroid have extremely high rents for everything, including air, and the only way they can make any kind of money is by “prospecting” — signing up to go out on these ships and hoping they will find something to make the trip worthwhile. And, of course, making it back at all, since no one knows what will happen on many of the vessels until someone gets in and uses it. Those on the asteroid only vaguely know what the controls do and the screens mean, so every trip in a different mushroom is a huge gamble. (And this is only scratching the surface of everything these novels are about. Robinette Broadhead is one of my absolute favorite protagonists, deeply flawed but sympathetic characters. Pohl was a master at creating rich characters affected by the science).

But there are many examples that don’t even acknowledge space or space travel which are definitely science fiction. Think The Time Machine, Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Lots of travel here, but they never leave the earth to encounter their strange new worlds.

What about those strange new worlds, and aliens? Their presence in the story is dependent on space travel (even if how they got here may just be taken for granted), but it could be the aliens visiting us here on earth. Or it could be visiting alien worlds without the typical space travel, like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars. (And there we go with the drama and romance again…)

I could go on for a very long time, bringing up many other possibility that makes it “science fiction”, but the bottom line is that any particular element is subservient to that masterful question, “What if…?” There MUST be some element of posing a question, a situation set up to examine at least one answer and its particular consequences.

Asimov approached this in various ways, one of the core being (with liberties taken to the exact nature of the question he was asking) “what if robots are created with sentience and live among us?” As they are man-made, are they subject to the same laws, or is someone else entirely responsible for their behavior, since they were the original programmers?

In my short story “Clones are People Two”, my question is “what if the clones created from a formerly-deserving individual are executed along with the one who provided the DNA when he commits a felony?”

Let me know what you think belongs in science fiction to make it such? What are your favorite science fiction novels, and the elements that make them stand out?

You can purchase Clones from Amazon or Smashwords if you are so inclined. And if you do, be sure to leave an honest review!

Read an EBook Week is Here!

Posted: March 2, 2019 in Uncategorized

Starting March 3rd and ending March 9th, 2019

Time to defenestrate those excuses for reading! (That’s just a fancy way of of saying “chuck it out the window”–thanks MST3K!)

Books over at Smashwords are on sale for this great event, and it’s your chance to pick up some great reads on the cheap. I’m offering some of my books for FREE!

T. R. Neff at Smashwords

Just click on the link above and shop the deals, then let me know what you think! (And be honest, at either end of the spectrum. How’s a writer to improve if she doesn’t know where to shore up her weaknesses?)

In case the link above doesn’t apply the code, use KE84Z when you check out.

Happy reading to ya!