Big in Japan

Last week has been huge. The biggest in my career as a writer. I’ve signed contracts for two publications, including one for the start of our new novella series, Outliers. So obviously the only solution is to celebrate with terrible-awesome 80’s music.

With regards to the other agreement, I don’t want to give away any details until the publisher’s formal announcement. However, after some soul searching, I’ve realized that I can’t allow myself to write reviews about a particular type of product anymore. This aches because of a recent release I really wanted to cover and discuss. But to do so would slightly risk being a conflict of interest, for reasons similar to why I don’t do book reviews these days.

It’s not that an author necessarily shouldn’t review books, as it can be done ethically and fairly. A decent metaphor for the matter is the dilemma of dating at one’s workplace; perfectly acceptable as long as Human Resources is informed and one is prepared for the consequence of a relationship failing. But personally with regard to reviews, I’d rather just avoid those financially interconnected concerns down the road. Recuses over excuses.

I’ve one final short story window to commit to this year… and I just noticed it’s due in two weeks, so that’s all the time I have for today.

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Submitted

Happy SealI am at the pinnacle of exhaustion.

I stayed up after 3 am last night, putting the final checks and proofs on the novel draft. After that I penned a letter explaining some of the changes as well as presenting some ideas for the sequel, and fired them both off to the stakeholders.

And yes, I still have work today.

But even as I laid down in bed last night, I couldn’t help but feel ambivalence, a sense of both incredible elation and odd restless. On one hand, I was ecstatic my efforts had finished. But at the same time, it was only partial closure. There are unfinished stories. Sure, they’re at a great stopping point, but the tale isn’t complete.

And I know that trying to conclude them is going to open more threads. More characters to meet, more adventures to explore. If the sequel is given the green light, I already have enough material for a book no less the size of the first… and a tense plot that could overtake the quality of the earlier installment.

Is this what drives professional authors? The Zeigarnik Effect of “what happens next?” It wasn’t even just another novel. As I walked into the office, an idea for a short story popped into my head. Returning to shorts would be a fantastic break from crafting another book.

But first I have promises to myself I have to keep. My health has not been my priority as of late, and I have a few extra pounds I need to shuck. I need to start hitting the gym again and getting more sleep. I also have a horror anthology to finish putting together, though with three or four months and the manuscripts already written, that won’t be as demanding.

One way or the other, time for a mental vacation.

Spicing Prose, Final Fantasy VII and Shenmue III, Oh My…

Just a quick plug: Superhero Monster Hunter: The Good Fight from Emby Press has been released for Kindle (and is expected to be print a little later), which contains the origin tales for the forthcoming Outliers universe. Expect a more formal announcement with the upcoming catalog for the summer season.

Sutton_Hoo_helmet_reconstructedOn Monday the 15th of June, I wrapped up the last major edits for the novel. For this round, anyway…

The work still isn’t complete but I can count the number of hours it requires with one hand. A beta reader has been providing invaluable input and is only seven chapters from completing the entire book.

However I discovered a slight problem. I’ve been tracking ratios and numbers of superfluously applied words and realized that “glance,” “look,” “up”, “gaze” and “upon” were serious offenders, often being cited almost a hundred times. “Eyes” too. I’m a huge proponent of body language during dialogue, although I recognize that not everyone is attentive to subtle hints. The next time I juggle multiple characters, I’ll probably adjust the passages involving facial expressions and gestures to reflect how observant the POV character is of people.

I spent two hours last night undergoing a process I’ll call a “Thesaurus Spicing.” But it’s not enough to locate and replace every other use of those words; I also had to check if I repeated the same phrase on a page and decide how often I can tolerate their re-occurrence. Once every three to five pages was occasionally acceptable. Once every ten to fourteen pages is perfect. But spotting the word two or three times on the same page? Pass the paprika please.

With regard to ratios, I considered the difference between a short story and a novel. A short is, at maximum, 10,000 words but often stands at a range of 6,000 to 8,000. The novel’s size is something just over 80,000 words (and shy of 300 pages, just the right length.) So word recycling is a bigger deal in a book— one can’t allow the reader get bored! Even if the same word is used a full 100 times (which I’ve reduced to 40 to 50 now), that’s just .1% of the overall manuscript which really isn’t that bad. The problem then is really about the literary lumpiness.

The real problem of Thesaurus Spicing is when you accidentally place an alternate word or phrase that already appears nearby. So when you modify the manuscript, you have to double check any previous queried and updated passages. The only downside is that I’m going to need to quickly skim through the entire manuscript a final time before submitting the finished product to my waiting publishers.

The end of editing came at a strange time. I heard of not one but two highly wished for titles being announced; Shenmue III and the long coveted Final Fantasy VII remake. As if Fallout 4 and Doom 4 weren’t awesome enough.

final-fantasy-vii-remakeI’ve been cynical about the possibility of a remade Final Fantasy VII before, and according to some sources so were Square-Enix’s board. Yet as I mulled on the possibility, I realized that the game only needs two things to be acceptable.

The first is a good battle system since the ATB (Active Time Battle) mechanisms of yesteryear are a touch dated for the new generation. Still if they add a “classic” battle option with ATB instead of whatever nouveau system Square-Enix conjures, they can probably satisfy old school fans as well as the fresh ranks of players. If I recall correctly, Star Ocean II did something similar.

The other requirement is faith to the original story, including the weird quirks like the brothel in Midgar and some of the side quests. Unfortunately I think that’s the one request we won’t get. Final Fantasy VII has had a number of peripheral spin-offs and additions, like Advent Children and especially Crisis Core, which shoehorn new details into the original story. I doubt the canon will remain unscathed.

But with regard to Shenmue III, it’s just so awesome that KickStarter can bring to life that which otherwise would not be. What a time to be alive.

The Home Stretch

viking-swordsYeah, I really hoped that the novel would be finished by now. But it isn’t.

I wrapped up the first draft, then proofed it. A good friend edited and returned it to me, and I improved it based on his invaluable input. After which, the draft was submitted to the beta readers and the major sponsors whose blessing I need.

And yes, they’ve provided their feedback.

A few canonical corrections are needed, and some improvements to the logic. But there are no more bottlenecks, so any delays are entirely my own. This would be the third round of editing. I guess I dread the possibility of a fourth round, as there will be at least one final party (beyond those already mentioned) who needs to provide approval before my work goes to print.

Is an author’s first novel always the hardest? The entire process has been a learning experience, and although I was able to apply a great deal of the hard earned experience from my previous anthologies, there was plenty of new lessons, new discoveries, and new stumbling blocks.

I have a rule that I don’t read the blogs of other, more established authors unless they’re a carefully cultivated platform for advising authors, like Anne R. Allen. There are two reasons for this. First, I don’t want their views to spoil my enjoyment of their work. And second, some of them cruelly and intentionally make the process sound more difficult if not impossible, to ward away competition.

But now I wonder if perhaps they could have warned me how hard being a writer can be, or perhaps provided valuable tips to help. I want the emotional explanations, wisdom and the insights they gained without ranting or venting frustrations or being put down for “threatening” their position. It has made me more thankful towards the few authors I’ve grown to view as mentors, and the handful of my writing friends I’ve picked up along the way.

So I intend to have the third and hopefully final draft complete by June 6th, and refuse to post another blog entry until then. Even this post was written on Friday and programmed for release today, just to provide some news and explain my upcoming silence. That is how badly I need to put off further distractions.

June 6th also happens to be the day I can start drinking again. You can guess how I’m going to celebrate once I’m finished.

Injuries Journal Part II

Spinal Cord Study

Artwork by Will o’ the Wisp.

There was good news yesterday.

At 6:30 pm, I started feeling pain in my neck, the first serious spike of the entire day. That was a long stretch without feeling discomfort. I had taken two aspirin that morning and four ibuprofen in two sets of two throughout the day. No Tiger Balm and limited use of the heating pad and ice packs. No carpal tunnel in my hands and only a bit of dis-coordination in my foot. That’s a great sign because normally I feel that discomfort around 2 pm.

I regretted skipping lunch though. Come noon I just wasn’t hungry, so I snacked on a few pretzel sticks that went down fine enough. For dinner there was a casserole of chicken, broccoli, cheese and brown rice. Great news there too in that I only needed to swallow tea every three or four bites to ward off the brain freeze. Another improvement.

This morning was rough however. And I don’t know whether it was adverse sleeping conditions or just the extreme cold outside, as it was briefly less than 10 degrees Fahrenheit. I felt pretty fatigued in my limbs, particularly my legs. There was an ache in my neck and shoulders but that went away with walking. I had a tough time swallowing the dry bread sample at Pete’s Coffee, and I felt a twinge of pain in my heart, probably from muscles being pulled there. But just a dash of the heating pad and I feel fine now.

A little later, I noticed some asymmetry in my right soleus (part of the calf), above the ankle but below the gastrocnemius. I realized the muscle was quite sore, and when I checked the less swollen opposite muscle, it too ached of soft muscle pain. I believe that my fatigue is actually being caused by stress from my neck throughout my entire body, which might explain why my physique has increasingly looked buff despite my lack of even looking at the gym. Some muscle relaxant on it has allowed my legs to recover from the exhaustion.

A friend of mine who usually prefers to remain nameless recommended something called epsom salts, a compound of magnesium and sulfur that has considerable muscle relaxing properties in the bath. It’s also very cheap, and available at our local Target and Walmart stores (for my foreign readers, Target and Walmart are the big budget department stores in this country.) I will try to obtain some soon for both current and later problems.

However, I truly suspect that the cold is masking the symptoms of my condition behind the effects of the chill. I think I’ll hold off on the doctor until next week (unless of course the problem goes away by then.)

In other news… I finished the first draft of my novel.

It was a stretch, I admit. That last chapter always taking just a bit a longer than I anticipate. I ended up not accomplishing everything I intended to that day, but finishing a novel is certainly nothing to complain about. I’m going to be taking a few days break from it while I work on a few other submissions, including a Black Library submission piece my friend wants me to take a look at and an edited manuscript from Emby Press that I need to review and approve. I also have a novel pitch I need to wrap up and submit very shortly.

Steaming up the Summer

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The Steam Summer Sale is on. Go. Buy things. I highly, highly recommend the cheaper Don’t Starve as it’s getting a multiplayer version this September. I intend to buy like 3 copies to give to friends.

It’s been a productive month. Not crazy, “I just finished five books and learned the guitar” productive, but a steady progression of words down, pitches readied, business, working out and so on. A really balanced approach to problems and progress towards what I want to finish.

The super hero novella quarterly pitch, which we’re calling the Outlier Universe for now, has been fired to our potential publisher. It’s amazing what happens when you get five guys to sit down and come up with a shared story. But we’ve got it all: Realistic government agencies built in reaction to these strange events, a philosophically charged organizations whose splinter cells engage in anything from small time crime to straight terrorism.

We’ve got fleshed out characters with plenty of personal inclinations and reasons to be involved, big time “Billionaire’s Clubs” who find ways to turn the changing circumstances to their advantage. And a designer drug that causes new characters and dangers to come out of the woodwork.

And all of this takes place in the same universe. The events influence each other. Envisioned stories flow back and forth from smaller, personal pieces to address changing view points and philosophies to larger, meaningful epics. And whenever possible, connecting how the former relates to the latter. It’s kind of the ultimate power trip to see a person’s opinion on matters have such a potentially powerful impact.

What I love the most is that we don’t do run-of-the-mill origin stories either. The moral compass isn’t clearly defined, and many of our so called heroes have some shady backgrounds. But we haven’t reached that point in our timelines of introducing the ultimate evils yet. And I don’t know what will happen to our gray characters when that shadow falls upon them.

Another thing the guys and I haven’t addressed yet is what happens when a character dies. Marvel and DC Comics have tendencies to resurrect the dead all the time, which seems to make all violent struggles nigh pointless in the long run. I’m more inclined to bury my characters when they die unless there is an extremely, compelling reason and a steep price tag to bring them back (and for us, that “price tag” will probably include nothing less than a complete story, which is expensive to the writer’s time.) What’s the point of death if it isn’t permanent?

But one way or the other, we’re ready for some damn fine story telling.

The novel writing however, is slow going. I got on a roll and finished two and a half chapters, but there are still 24.5 more to go. I’m fairly happy with the direction, but as I write I wonder, “What if I shifted this chapter here and this one there? Or cut up and reshuffled these chapters so they more evenly tell the story?”

Once the novel is through the beginning I’m happy with the way it flows. But the opening tends to be lump, preferring one group of characters over the others. But that’s an issue for editing and it’s more important to just get the words down for now.

By the way, have you seen “Expiration Date” from the Team Fortress 2 development team?

Little Victories in Spring

At 12:58 am last night, I leaned back in my chair and basked in the satisfaction of finishing the second draft of the synopsis for my novel. The first draft was completed a couple of days ago, but it was unbelievably bare boned and entirely unproofed. The last couple of chapters were nothing but a sentence long placeholder. The second draft fleshed them out entirely, explaining what was going to happen, and satisfying about 90% of what I want to accomplish. The total tally was 51 pages.

I know, I know. Finishing a synopsis isn’t anywhere near as interesting as finishing the novel itself. But in some ways, the synopsis is where the real meat of the work lies anyway. With its completion, I have my story and my characters fairly fleshed out. And the plot moves at the right pace, either jogging or sprinting, but never walking. I have assembled the skeleton, and the result is a piece of work with good bones. I’ve sent the piece to a few beta readers to eye over for any lingering plot holes or problems.

Once the beta readers get the synopsis back to me, I’ll glance over it one more time before I send it off. While waiting for approval or any final changes, I can turn my attention to writing a few short stories in the mean time and really, really get back into the writing game. The earliest story deadline coming up is on April 15th, barely a week away. I doubt I’ll be able to make that deadline, so instead I’ll focus on the next one, doing all my research and jotting down a one page synopsis for each of my tales.

Here’s hoping that 2014 is an incredible year.