Heat is On

Heat is On

Some news has come down the pipe… and as such I am preparing for the next few weeks with a new and aggressive writing schedule. The past few weeks, I’ve been lazy with writing, putting a few days aside to play Titanfall or hang with friends, then writing a little.

But I have a number of very large writing projects going on now. I’ve mentioned before about a few super hero novellas that my friends and I are working on. I got the thumbs up on what I consider a “starter” novel. And there are a few short story deadlines between now and the end of the summer that I have to attend to.

As such, I want to make an effort to write a little every day. Just an hour, even if it’s as little as plotting out the synopsis or doing some research or editing an existing piece. There are things that have external deadlines and others that don’t. My plan is to focus on grinding forward at all times. If I hit writer’s block against one subject (unlikely since just about everything has a complete or near complete synopsis) then I’ll fall back and try something else.

This means I currently have four writing projects on around the same time. Risky, I know. But there are red-and-green light moments between them. But here’s my usual break down:

Short Stories: Usually take 4 to 5 hours to write, plus up to 2 hours of research time, plus 1 hour to rewrite due to beta reader reactions and suggestions. Additional hour for the synopsis. So 8 to 9 hours, maybe 10 if the research is extensive (historical fiction.)

Novellas: Sketchy, but approximately 3 hours for the synopsis, 3 to 4 hours research time if needed, 8 to 12 hours writing time plus unknown re-write time. So no less than 17 real hours of work.

I don’t even know how long a novel really takes me. I’ve started two novels before. The first got fifty pages in with no synopsis before dying. The second got a filled synopsis and three chapters finished, but no green light to continue. My latest has a complete synopsis and the vast majority of my research finished, with about two and a half chapters in first draft stage.

Super Powers

Super powers have been a major focus as of late in my work. And I’ve realized… When I introduce an element, it’s less about the intrigue of the subject itself and more about the rest of the world’s reaction to it. As I pointed out to my friends earlier today, it’s less Marvel comics and more like Metal Gear Solid for me.

What’s the difference you ask? Well Marvel comics has always had that sense of amazement surrounding the character. The Incredible, Hulk. The Amazing, Spider-Man. The Uncanny, X-Men. For some reason, comic book super heroes have tended to evolve towards these tiring black and white morals. They rarely make any attempt to accept a more down to earth grey, just trying to get by and perhaps discovering that the world, for whatever reason, won’t let them.

MGS2However, the genius of Hideo Kojima’s signature series (Metal Gear Solid) has been more around how such abilities would be applied to the real world. In Kojima’s view, the only place for such morbid and unusual talents tends to be the military. MGS is filled with characters bearing unexplained powers… a man who can summon hornets from his body or another who can heal from sunlight, a telepathic or one who is seemingly a vampire (only partially explained through nano-machines.)

These unbelievable foes are always part of special operations units, rare and unseen to the rest of the world. When the player encounters them, there isn’t much awe factor… just an X-Files like acceptance that there will always be strange things, and there won’t always be a scientific theory to explain them away.

This comparison and branch of thought came from an earlier source. Rather it was our buddy Alec who was the genesis of the idea, when he sent us a compelling thematic concept last week. His contribution to the project added something potent and memorable, setting us up differently than almost all other super hero stories I’ve read.

We’ve been borrowing each others’ ideas. Andrew, for example, came up with a number of characters that we each borrowed from. I’ve concocted an agency and have had no trouble letting other authors play with, creating a myriad of perspectives regarding it. From Jonathan, I’ve borrowed a faction and have carefully been modeling an intriguing philosophy with the involved villain. Alec has presented us with a universal theme that we’ll all find ways to use. Finally, Robbie has provided us with a brand of weapons and tools that will impact stories to come.

As it stands, we have enough material for the first wave of novellas. There’s plenty of world building elements in place to get started. I think the final product is going to catch some eyes for certain. But tonight, it’s all about the work.

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A Superhero Start

I’ve pretty much screwed up my New Year’s Resolution. I just finished cleaning up my submissions list and realized that although I got one in, I missed three windows in the process, one of which I had an idea for.

But I have to say that, given the projects I’ve been working on, it’s proven worth it.

With Far Worlds finished, I turned my eye back to story writing. My buddy Jonathan Ward shared a tale he was working on for a super hero publication. Andrew liked it a lot. I sat on it for as I wrapped up my novel synopsis for a certain indie game. But once I finished it, I gave Ward’s story an eye over. For whatever reason, the story excited us enough that Andrew and I decided to pitch stories as well.

What happened next was somewhat unexpected, but very awesome. After watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I had a conversation with Andrew, who had seen The Amazing Spider-Man 2. We talked about what Marvel was doing right versus Sony’s difficulties in story telling. The discussion got me thinking about our own short stories. So I went back to the publisher and Ward and asked permission to gently tie our stories together in the same universe, using distant details.

Ward gave it his blessing. The publisher was not only cool with it, but shot us a more interesting offer on top of it: Apparently, interest in the anthology was so high, he decided to try a quarterly. If we put together at least four authors doing at least four novellas, he’ll take a look with an eye to publish.

What happened next was very rapid. Two more buddies joined us, Robbie and Alec. Robbie had a test to take so couldn’t submit to this anthology. (Today as a matter of fact. If you’re reading this, good luck Rob.) Alec found time and after rolling over his initial idea, penned a strong short story that he submitted (bringing us up to four stories). Once done, we started swapping ideas and fleshing details out for these novellas and tying our heroes together.

Let me tell you. There is nothing quite so refreshing as having fellow authors you can bounce ideas off of.

Writers have a constant problem of half baked ideas. We’re plagued by them. Most of the time, the answer is to just jot the idea down and put it on the shelf to revisit later. Sometimes two halves combine to make a solid good one. Other times, we accumulate details to make that half-idea full.

But when you have a team and an open mind, a thought from one of your buddies can turn that unfiltered concept into something perfect. All of a sudden, those “near complete story” ideas are suddenly packed to the brim with rich details, subplots and fleshed our characters.

The other half of the good news is that it’s a group of novellas. Andrew and I tend to have a problem where our worlds grow. We don’t mean for them to, but short stories tend to become novelettes. Our work for Far Worlds, for example, became a little longer than it should have. Hanna teased us about that and she was right.

A novella is great practice in bridging the gap between short stories and novels. You have more elbow room to develop more characters. You can take your plot up a notch and have the word count to better explore the world. The other benefit is that it’s easier to find beta readers for. Finding friends to review a short story is not a big deal, as a short story should only take 15 to 30 minutes to read. Novels often take more than a reading and usually a few hours. But a novella might be just an hour or two.

So I’m really looking forward to the project, hanging with the guys and carefully tying our novellas together.

The Gator Got Tazered, but the Mole’s on a Roll

Bounce back on the novella. It was my bad for misinterpreting the publisher’s submission guidelines. It’s pretty much writer 101 that when they say guidelines, what they really mean is “rules.” Don’t let The Pirates of the Caribbean fool you otherwise.

I went ahead and inquired if there were any hints about an open call for novellas anytime soon. If an opening might be coming in a few months, why not just wait? I’d rather work with these guys. If not, if they don’t see themselves being open again within a year, I’ll consider whether I should go elsewhere.

But on the brighter side, I went ahead and submitted a sci-fi short story to another publisher. This is a “bigger” catch in some ways.

You see, I usually rate the value of the publisher against what and how they’re willing to pay for your stories at all. Obviously, non-paying publications are the lowest of the totem pole.

Then there are those willing to engage in either a token commission that occurs once, or a sliver of the future profits. The latter of these two is slightly less risk for a publisher, and gives the writer considerably more incentive to promote both his work and the publisher over the course of the contract.

But there are those who pay a better amount for the work on the spot. These particular publishers are a step up from the previous ones. It’s saying, “We like your work enough that we’re willing to take a risk and give you $XXX for it.” Obviously, the publisher expects to make more than the $XXX he gave you, hence your work is (theoretically) profitable and a good investment.

This short story falls into that latter variety. I don’t know whether or not it’s going to make it with this publisher, but I think the story is good enough for someone to publish.

But back when I was busy trying to get The Black Wind’s Whispers together, a few of the guys came forward saying that although they enjoy or don’t mind writing it, horror was not something they wanted to do for their lives.

Now I have higher stamina than they do for writing horror. I enjoyed, and still enjoy, writing it. I will continue to, but I really do want to branch out and try other things. The novella was dark fantasy and this new short story is sci-fi.

But sometimes, it doesn’t feel like writing moves laterally. Sometimes, it feels like you’re back in the small pond again when you switch genres. I’m sure that there are some writers who were told, “Listen, you’re fantastic at (genre they’re done), but you’re not a very good (genre they want to do) writer. Stick to what works.”

And I wonder about that. How many writers thought they broke through the first publication barrier, only to find out that what they really wanted to do still treated them like a beginner?

Would it bug me to spend the rest of my life as a horror writer? … To be honest, yeah. It would. I don’t look down on writing terrifying tales. Especially because it’s a genre that is so poorly portrayed in the cinema (Who knows? Maybe someday my stories will be on the big screen.)

But who wants to create the same thing again and again and again? What I really want to do is be able to talk to someone, almost anyone. And hear what they like to read about, then pick a story of a similar vein from my bag  and hope they like it.

People don’t have to like everything I do. I accept that, cause they’re not going to. But I’d like for everyone to enjoy at least one thing I’ve done before.