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 StarveĀ 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?

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.