Black Library Weekender

Friday night, I arrived at the Belfry hotel. Having checked and taken a seat at the bar, I noticed Sarah Cawkwell talking with friends and family. Another gentleman looked familiar, and after a drink and a though, I realized it was William King.

Brother Jhonas here was actually quite chill.

I let them be for the time being, waiting for fans to show up as I read Fear to Tread and sipped on beers. Soon, other fans started showing up. It didn’t take long to identify each other. I wasn’t the only American there, about three others showed up that I know of, probably a few more.

Then the gold tickets showed up with the other Black Library authors. I recognized faces immediately. Dan Abnett, James Swallow, Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Graham McNeill, Andy Smilie, Chris Wraight. Sarah came over and we chatted for a bit. Then Clint Werner showed up and I had a chance to meet the man face to face.

The BLW hadn’t even started and it was already awesome.

Saturday morning, everything was set up. An Ultramarine statue was in the lobby. Rachel (known on the Bolthole as “Raye Raye”) worked with several other staff members to sell various merchandise, ranging from the most recent novels, art posters, hardback chapbooks and novellas. Before going crazy, I decided to get some breakfast.

Although not all meals at the Belfry were equal, the breakfast was fairly good. A buffet offered many basics, ranging from cereal to fruits, baked goods (the croissants with the filling were most excellent). Various meats and items were available which I tried including the black pudding (not to my liking) and a special salami (very much to my liking.)

Now, I would love to burden your eyes with photos of the various seminars and events they had. Truth be told, the lights that were over the speakers and authors gave them an overbearing shadowy look that did not come across well on the camera.

I’ll have to ask Cawkwell what she calls this pose later.

But the seminars were impressive and information. There was the “Writing for the Black Library” bit, where we covered a range of basic do’s and don’ts. Although I had done some strong research into writing for them, I learned several new things about submitting my work. There was the “Space Marine Battles” feature, where we had a chance to dive into the critical differences between regular Space Marine tales and these particular events. I scored an autograph from Gav Thorpe, though I wish I brought my copy of The Last Chancers.

There was Q&A with Dan Abnett. Signatures with Swallow, Werner and Sarah Cawkwell. That night we had an amusing quiz session with teams of the authors which, of course, the audience won.

I skipped the pitch proposal, where fans had sixty seconds to shoot a story idea.  I wanted to play, but a combination of jet lag and homesickness struck, so I sat at the bar and just drew for a while.

On Sunday, we were invited to one final presentation before the BLW came to a close. By now, the cat is out of the bag, but the announcement was the new Horus Heresy Musical, directed by the Coen brothers.

I kid.

A mix of the Bolthole crew.

The Horus Heresy graphic novel. During the conference, we heard one of the editors talk about how expensive it was to produce the art. That prose is so much more cheap than art. Apparently, they had to say a lot of things in order to side step and not give away the big surprise.

But the surprise is fairly big. A 100 page graphic novel of the Horus Heresy, at least the first we’ll receive. It may not be a movie or a Horus Heresy game, but it’s definitely something far more visual than the books and audio we’ve been receiving.

It was great to put faces to names, hang with fellow nerds and chat a bit with the creative minds who write such awesome fiction. Given the cost of traveling to England, I probably won’t be able to do it again for sometime.

So I’m going to end this blog post with a straight gallery of various pictures I took below. I’ll do a ‘cut off’ for the slower machines, so it’ll be up to you to see the rest if you want. But I hope every Warhammer fan gets a chance to attend the BLW someday.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Writing Action Scenes

What’s the difference between my action writing and that of a professional?

This video from Sherlock Holmes is a great example. Simply put, my writing is like the scene from 0:00 to 1:00, while a professional’s writing is more like 1:09 to 1:40. And before you ask, yes. I am excited about Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Robert Downey Jr. may yet save the 2011 movie year.

Cue music. The reason I bring this up is because my action-writing is slow, explanatory and overly detailed. Where as the professional tends to hit us with the WHAM! CRUSH! KA-POW! of the original 1966 Batman series starring Adam West. The pro uses fast paced, quick words that hit the reader like a blow to the stomach. They use active words while I use passive ones. Which is not good.

In the rejection letter I received from Every Day Fiction, one of the editors made it quite clear that he did not like the long action descriptions. Another stated that they read the entire scene in bullet time. Reading such long details slows it down. It’s fine from time to time, like Sherlock Holmes’ thought out fight sequences. But to have all the action like this is akin to filming an entire movie in slow motion.

This needs to change. I took my latest short story to my friend, Lord Lucan, for some editing on the back-to-back horror and action scenes. My story isn’t finished, but I decided that asking for corrective thinking now would allow me to practice writing fast paced sequences in the draft. If I understand what I need to improve on, I can try to write that way rather than wait for editors to rip me apart.

I took almost all his small suggestions. But I rewrote his rewritten sentence suggestions. On one hand, I know I need assistance and I’m not too proud to ask. But on the other hand, I don’t want an editor doing all my rewrites.

When comparing active to passive words, publishers financial love active. Explained, it’s more concise. Publishers often pay per word, so less is more.

Taking this one step further, I brought three books with me today. The first is Blood for the Blood God by C.L. Werner, the second is Helsreach by Aaron Dembski-Bowden while the third is The Guns of Tanith by Dan Abnett. Here’s what I noticed.

The Guns of Tanith: Forget the use of a thesaurus, the words are clean and clear. Red is red. Scenes involving sneaking and maneuvers start out descriptively but concisely. The closer the characters get to the action, the shorter the paragraphs get. Eventually it boils down to one, sometimes two sentence paragraphs. Sometimes the action becomes little more than two words in a sentence, reliant on the reader’s imagination to describe the how.

The point is clear. Not everything needs a description and it respects the reader’s imagination to let them fill in some of the blanks. However, this style of writing likely works better with the sci-fi military action, where people can die instantly from a stray shot.

Blood for the Blood God: Paragraphs are longer and far more detailed. Every move gets more focus, such as wide swings and reactions. Sentences are separated by one or two commas; action, supportive description or result. As I read the sentences, part of me wants to mentally rewrite them to make them more concise, but then I second guess myself as I realize that some of the idea maybe lost doing so.

Some sentences seem to mix active and passive words. The effect forgoes spur-of-the-moment action for more epic story telling. This story is fantasy however, which is probably more open to passive words.

Helsreach: A combination of the two, though on the leaner side. Occasionally, some sentences are separated by multiple commas. The one I’m looking at actually has five commas in it. This story, I realize, is a pretty good combination of the previous books’ genres. It’s sci-fi military action with plenty of fantasy style melee combat. For many reasons, it actually strikes me as middle of the road.

While the words he uses are simple, he tends to accent the sentence with a single or couple of more extravagant words. Such as personification of a bolter, describing it as ‘starved’ when it’s ammo-less.

Keeping things shorter and sweeter can be a challenge when my mind demands the entire scene be told. But no one said this would be easy.

Helsreach

Awesome book cover.

Awesome book cover for an equally awesome story.

Let us start with a touch of honesty. I am bitterly jealous of Aaron Dembski-Bowden.

I confess that the only of his previous works I had read was The First Heretic. And though a fine read, I found a point or two to which I raised question. But after reading this piece, I am reminded of why I wish to be more than an aspiring writer. As I finished the last page, I knew that my novel submission (which involved Helsreach) to the Black Library in July had tanked. I wish I had read this book first before writing the submission.

As if that wasn’t enough, I read the ‘About the Author’ section and learned that the proper way to spell fiancée in the feminine form involves an extra -e at the end. This is significant because in the Xaphan story I sent in yesterday, I used the wrong form. It was like being kicked when you were down, learning that not only is your past writing not good enough, what you just submitted also has mistakes.

Helsreach is the tale of the defence of Hive Helsreach during the Third War for Armageddon. Grimaldus, recently appointed Reclusiarch of the Black Templars, is left to defend Helsreach while High-Marshal Helbrecht takes to the battle in space. Grimaldus has resigned himself to die defending the Hive. And given the size of the Ork invasion, every page seems increasingly likely to confirm this grim prophecy.

Despite my envy for Dembski-Bowden, the fact is that this tale is flawless. I was hesitant to read Helsreach because my last experience with a Space Marines Battle Novel was long and unending. But this one was difficult to put down. From the aspects of the siege, to the character interactions. From the action to the themes of hopelessness and duty.

And best of all was that Dembski-Bowden took a gamble and told portions of the story not only from Reclusiarch Grimaldus’ perspective but also from inside his head. This is rare. Many a would be author have tried and failed to get inside a Space Marine’s mind. What are their thoughts? How are they different from humans?

Helsreach is a cleanly written and well told tale, but at the same time has these lasting, haunting elements within the story that make it hard to put down. Hard to ignore. They are not unlike The Last Chancers or The Founding, the two books I return to read again and again. To say I would do the same with Helsreach would not be a genuine claim until it happens. But something about this story will remain with me, bugging me. Telling me that there is something more here and that I should reread it.

Time will tell.

Additional Music for Writing

I do this for Aiur! ... Wait, wait, wrong game.

I do this for Aiur! ... Wait, wait, wrong game.

So a day ago, Narravitium and I were chatting about the works of Aaron Dembski-Bowden. I mentioned that his book titles Soul Hunter and Blood Reaver made me wonder if they were influenced by the Legacy of Kain game series. Oh no, of course the Night Lords legion aren’t vampires, but they damn well feel like them sometimes.

Still, it’s a stretch of the imagination. But the plus side is that I remembered some damn fine music for writing. So I raided my old game collections to find some ideas. Time for a nostalgic trek.

  1. Ozar Midrashim, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver OST.
    I certainly liked the Legacy of Kain series. They were not the best made games technically, but the story was solid and involving and the puzzles were a turn on. I hear rumors, unconfirmed, that a reboot maybe in the works but we shall see. This link is actually both Ozar Midrashim and the ending credit music, but both are quite good. It’s an incredible piece that screams “war against the light” in my mind.
  2. Artificial Sky, Armored Core 3 OST.
    Armored Core is another of my favorite game series and has a faithful cult following. Both my brother and I loved playing it. I like the customizations and the nice multiplayer aspect to it. I await the day that the developers really create an end-all game that is fully networked for co-op and competitions. I may talk about the background of Armored Core in a later blog entry. You may also want to check out Precious Park but it has lyrics.
  3. Contra Rock-Metal Remix, by Vomitron.
    Contra is one of the most beloved of games by testosterone junkies. Imagine a movie with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in their prime, killing alien possessed humans and no limit to the amount of ammunition. And then forget the movie and just turn it into a game, and that is Contra. Sadly, a lot of these old school NES game series have not transitions as well to newer consoles. But someday, someone will do it right. Maybe a game that mixes first and third shooting with side scrolling levels and…
  4. The Legend of Zelda Orchestrated, by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
    I loved the old school Zelda games. The newer ones took the series in a slightly different direction. That, and they kept pumping them out non-stop. The over-franchising kind of ruined it for me, but I don’t hold it against people who love it anyway.
  5. Staff Credit, Final Fantasy Tactics OST.
    Sigh. I love this song. It reminds me of the challenges I faced, the characters, the story and plot that were deeper than an ocean. It makes me nostalgic for the first game I ever owned on the Playstation and, to this day, one of the greatest games I will ever play. I know, I know, new titles for Final Fantasy Tactics came along, but they just weren’t as incredible from what I played. The direction Square Enix has taken the Final Fantasy series in general has been too goofy for me. But I still have my classics.
  6. Love Song, Dragon Warrior 2 OST remixed.
    Old school as they come, Enix software was the only real competition Squaresoft had in NES RPGs for quite a while. The first game was simple, but they got better, adding parties and abilities and developing better stories and characters. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to listen to this song.
    But thou must!
    But thou must!
    But thou mu- okay, I’ll stop now.

    I really hope this line is used in The Dark Knight Rises.

    I really hope this line is used in 'The Dark Knight Rises'.

  7. Batman Level 1 Remix, by Farmhouse Media.
    Sunsoft made a decent platform game when it brought the Batman series to the NES. But the one thing that has stuck with the gamers throughout the years has been the very impressive soundtrack that came with it. Take a hard look at the sheer number of remixes for that game. That, and the fact that he’s the goddamn Batman.
  8. Megaman X – Storm Eagle Theme Remix, by Chikusho Sound Team.
    There are many harder and faster remixes than the one issued by Chikusho Sound Team. But I pulled myself back and reminded myself that the music I’m finding is primarily for writing. If you want something more intense however, check out the Powerglove Remix version.
  9. Double Dragon theme, by NESkimos.
    If there was anyone I’d want to see do a Double Dragon remake, it actually would be Rockstar Games. And I’d want them to reboot the series, adding some moral grey areas that let the player decide between being the good or bad, taking over gangs and the streets or helping people out. And as a result, which of the two brothers you are at the end of the game. The Warriors on PS2 was both my favorite game and one of my favorite movies. That sir, is a remake and franchised game done right.
  10. Main Theme Orchestrated, Secret of Mana OST.
    So too many of my themes have really focused on pumping up their audience. This one is much slower, much more mystical. The game itself was mystical as well, being a 3-player RPG that my buddy Ben and I played throughout our youth. It was a colorful game, a very basic fantasy story. It’s a shame that future titles just did not deliver like the first one, but I’ll never forget the first title.