Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Public Service Announcement

Posted: July 12, 2019 in Uncategorized

You’ve heard “Save early, safe often” a thousand times, and probably AFTER you’ve lost that masterpiece manuscript you just KNEW was going to skyrocket your writing career to the stars and forever engrave your name in the granite monument of literary genius.

But what about “Save somewhere else.”?

Yeah, I should have done that. Now I’m panicking because some of the projects I’ve been working on could possibly be lost for good, unless my old friend (you know who you are) comes through. See, my motherboard on my laptop decided it was no longer going to function. Just like that. I encountered a black screen of death–sort of. The laptop still powered up, but all I got was a black screen. Couldn’t get it to go into Safe Mode, couldn’t get it to stay powered on for more than two minutes.

Bloody but unbowed, I got another laptop and some peripheral equipment to be able to read the drives I’d had in the old one. Except now the drives were reading as “Unformatted” and “Unallocated”. Panic mode! Like I said, I’m waiting to hear from my friend on whether or not the data can be pulled so I can get my files and keys for downloaded software licenses that were there. Including my Scrivener, which will make me very, very sad if I have to purchase yet another license (long story).

Anyway, the moral is save your important stuff somewhere else, and preferably in multiple places.

That is all.

Next week, back to the horror. Until then…

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If you’re just joining the club now, you might want to start at the beginning of the World-Builder’s Anonymous series here.

 

So you see by the articles I’ve drafted so far that there are many, many aspects to building worlds. If you’re building for fun, then there’s something to occupy you for years to come as you could spend all that time and more and still not have a “complete” world.

If you’re doing this for storytelling, I iterate again that you can slip into some serious “too-much” territory, and urge you to follow Holly Lisle’s advice if your intent is to use the building for story, as the build can be an excuse not to even start writing. And while you’re at it, check out some of her other resources on Language, Culture, Plot, Character, etc, all of which have been of immense value to me. I’m not even posting an affiliate link at the moment.

So by now you might be asking, “Where do I start?”

Anywhere. One beautiful thing about worldbuilding is that you can start from any of the points and let them guide you to creating the rest. They feed into each other, and you can bounce back and forth between the different categories with ease.

Say you had a super cool animal in mind, a diamond-crested slinker. You decide it’s an alpha predator, lurking through the forest.

  • Is it a carnivore or an omnivore?
  • What exactly does it eat? What does the thing it eats eat?
  • How abundant are they?
  • What kind of climate does it exist in?
  • Are there humans there? How many?
  • Are they permanent or nomadic?
  • Have they integrated the slinker into their language (crazier than a slinker chewing siliweed)?
  • What kind of relationship do the humans have with the creature – food, fear, sacred/symbolic?
  • How long has this relationship been going on? Is there an historical significance?
  • Does it have prize fur (with natural “diamonds”) that can drive an economy for the humans that hunt it?
  • If they fear it, do they pray/sacrifice to a slinker god or do they pray to a god that protects them from slinkers?
  • If they sell the fur, who are they selling it to? Are the sellers rich from the sales, or are they being exploited?
  • Is the slinker being poached, and are the humans who use it forced to protect it and become warriors/defenders?
  • Do they need someone they trade the furs for that they can’t get anywhere else, and now the demanders have disappeared?

See how much worldbuilding you can get from an idea for single creature? You can also stop from the top down. and make a huge globe and then break it up and populate it. (The D&D-published WorldBuilder’s guide embraces both approaches too, from the town/world creation aspect, but they don’t have the animal/plants as part of their publication.)

Well, that’s it for now, for the worldbuilding. It’s been a lot of fun over the last few months to glaze over it.

Did I miss something? Or is there something you would like to see expanded? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for joining me on this journey, and have a lot of fun building your worlds!

In this installment of my Worldbuilding series (if you are joining me late, you can start viewing the others here), I am going to address something that I love to do with WB-ing that is both random and designed: History.

Okay, I can hear the groaning out there, since history tends to be one of the least favorite subjects in school. I’m a nerd there, once again, as I just LOVE history and appreciate it more and more the older I get. But this is easy history, because you, as the writer, get to make it up.

One of the problems I first encountered with some awful stories—including ones I had written—is that the world is designed around the characters that I loved creating. While it makes sense, as you wouldn’t want to go placing a Feudal-Era Japanese Samurai in the middle of Depression-Era New York City, it sometimes gets out of hand in that the world is NOT providing enough conflict that really sharpens the characters.

Flat world* settings are tailored to the character, mostly to showcase the character’s abilities rather than revealing their weaknesses so that the character has something to surmount. Some of this is a very deliberate way of overpowering their character and turning them into uninteresting Mary Sues, because the author can’t bear to do any harm to their character. All writers are at least a little guilty of this as some point in their career, if not in every first draft.

So how do we get over this?

By introducing a little randomness, of course.

In the real world, we have almost no influence over our world (aside from decorating our homes, or helping out in our communities, etc.). We can’t wave our hands and have the entire political system go from being one of two-party power-mongerers preaching that they will be the ones to save you and instead victimizing everyone for the sake of votes into one that is truly run by the people, for the people. BUT… the latter is not nearly as interesting as the former for a source of conflict.

Which brings me to a rule I try to follow: When in doubt, make the world more brutal.

Most importantly, you want your world to feel “lived-in”.

Unless you are deliberately writing a story where the world only exists when your character is there, and doesn’t persist when he is not, then the world needs to be a “lived-in” place.

I’m going to use another video game as an illustration here. Many video games up until the 1990’s had a static, persistent world. When you showed up at the merchant’s, they happened to be open and they happened to be exactly where you needed them to be, ready to buy and sell to you no matter what time of day or night. The world revolved around you, the main character. Enter Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. For the first time in my memory, if you showed up at a certain time, the shops would be closed. The occupants wouldn’t just lock up, either, but follow their own routine of taking a walk, or going to the tavern, or slipping off discreetly with someone they shouldn’t have been sneaking off with. They had their own lives that went on whether you were hunting down that Belt of Speechcraft or not, and wouldn’t sell to you unless you came back the next day, during business hours. Bethesda’s title Morrowind (ES III) does this with its world-building, if not the characters (who were persistently in their same spot) but by the incredibly rich history unraveled by the presence of literally hundreds of books, stories from the characters themselves. Your character as a possible “Nerevarine”, would be a re-incarnation of the Ashlander’s hero, Indoril Nerevar, foretold to return and set things straight according to prophecy. In order to give that prophecy weight, it had to exist in a well-developed world, and boy did they ever get that right in Morrowind.

Anyway, back to that “randomness” – to keep the world I am creating from becoming too “me”, I use tables to randomize events. While there have been others of my own creation, one of my all-time favorite go-tos is AD&D’s Oriental Adventures book from back in the 80’s.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons – Ninjas and Samurai, Oh My!

Inside, you’ll find a table of “Yearly Events”. The writers intended for this to be more of a way to drive a current campaign. However, I have adapted it in order to randomly get 10 or so historical events that helped to shape the culture or cultures I am creating. Selecting events that happened in the past is a way of introducing more conflict, but more importantly, giving the world you are creating a “lived-in” feel. The events as presented are vague enough to be tailored to virtually any world, not just the setting in the book, and also just enough world-building to give you a taste of what might have happened in your world’s past without filling in too many blanks while you’re writing to make the development of the story stale or too pre-structured. And they can be significant enough to stand in for pivotal historical events.

Generally, what I do is roll the dice about 10 times, and then pick at least one of the events to be that ‘pivotal’ moment in history, just as we in the Western world have Christ’s birth delineating us as AD and BC**. If I start with one event, I will roll a d20 for how far away from that pivotal year my characters are, and a d20 to reach backward from that moment. Then I scatter the events with some more random die rolls (it changes all the time, so it wouldn’t do any good to post my method here, unless you are REALLY interested).

In this way, I’ve come up with some rather good ones for stories I have written and am in the process of writing.

Hawkblood: Saint Lorico’s Decree. This one came from the entry “Legendary Hero”. At this point, Saint Lorico is a figure a little like Martin Luther and a little like Robinette Broadhead. Yeah, seriously. But not too deeply built, at least not yet. There’s also the possibility of a second one, much older.

Belly of the Beast: The Crossroads. So far, this moment has only been defined in my personal handbook on the stories of Ennid the Havok. (Note: while *I* know the pivotal date and the stretch of time between that and the time in which the story takes place, the characters do not. They don’t have to know. And neither does the reader…yet.)

Umbra: The Visitation of the Fallen Suns (Again, I know, but the characters don’t, not yet.)

 

Have you created any worlds where you threw in a history? Have you resisted the urge to use it as an info dump prologue? Do you know of any published works that DO throw in a history-of-their-world info dump? Please share in the comments below!

 

*as opposed to Flat Earth, which is a very weird movement to discredit science and convince people that the world really is flat and our solar system is heliocentric. I won’t glorify it by linking it here, and a little google-fu will find you more than enough material to make your day.

 **And, yes, I use Anno Domini and Before Christ and object to the rather stupid adoption of Common-Era and Before-Common-Era as a way to just erase Jesus Christ’s name from the calendar without changing anything else surrounding the computation. It’s petty, at best, especially since there’s nothing “Common” about the so-called CE. And the ones who wanted to change it to be based less on a spiritual figure and more on some shoddy cover-up/denial, they might as well change the names of the days of the week and months to erase that too, since the former are based on Norse gods and the latter on Roman gods and a mortal who was worshipped as a god.

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!

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.

I’m going to start right off by saying I haven’t even purchased the game yet. Do you know why? Because it’s so deliciously yummy looking that there’s NO way I couldn’t head right for the “dessert” of playing for days on end instead if getting my Ennid out on schedule. Brian Fargo, you and your team have outdone yourselves with eye candy alone.

I used to be a huge gamer – addicted. I’ve since weaned myself and haven’t been too excited about anything in the last several years, until I heard about this one. I even dig out my original Wasteland copy just to have the orange cover nearby. And I reread the entire paragraph book again. (I’m going to admit that when I played the game as a kid, over and over, it didn’t take me long to memorize all the correct passwords revealed within it.)

What I’ve decided to do is reward myself only when it’s done. I’ve been waiting for this game for 26 years. (Yeah, I’m old enough to have played the original on its original platform. It’s what sucked me into the genre in the first place, next to The Road Warrior.) So what’s a few more days?

Besides, I have a feeling after playing it for awhile, I’m going to throw a tactical nuke at my schedule to rearrange it for the second Umbra novel, I’ll be too immersed and inspired to let Vera and Shaw and Harris go for long.

Bottom line is, I’m already sold. I’ll add my thoughts later, when I’m playing. If I remember to pull myself away long enough.

Sometimes that first step away from the “normal” is terrifying, but nothing can be so rewarding as chasing – and achieving! – your dreams.

Don Charisma


«Don’t be afraid of the space between your dreams and reality. If you can dream it, you can make it so.»

— Belva Davis


DonCharisma.com-logo-4 Charisma quotes are sponsored by DonCharisma.com – you dream it we built it … because – “anything is possible with Charisma”

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Many people think if this day as just another holiday, one if those “paid time off” days where we get together for a barbecue with the family and take a day to relax. So few of us seem to recall what Memorial Day actually means. For the sake of your freedoms and the ability we have to communicate, I urge you to do a little research on the history and meaning of such a day. As a descendant of military veterans (both long passed) and one of several veterans in my immediate family, please take a moment to honor the memory of those who gave their everything for every last one of us living in this incredible country of the United States of America.