2016 Recap

It’s been a crazy year. I’m coming up on the 4 year anniversary of my first book release. 2016 was unique because I’ve had novels come out steadily until this year, when I had only two anthologies and a novella come out.

I’m not disappointed, though. I’m very excited by each of these new releases, and I feel like they really stretched me artistically. I have one book in editing scheduled for next year, which will finish out the Actuator series. It’s been very gratifying to see those books on the Amazon charts for months straight. So I can’t wait for the fiery finale.

My work in progress is going slow, but I feel really good about it. I’ll fill you in more as the year unfolds, but I’m sure it won’t be in print until after next year.

Thanks to all of you for making this dream real. It’s been a fantastic journey and I hope you all have a happy holiday season! 🙂

How Long is a Story?

Today I guest blogged on Forever Writers. It’s all about the arbitrary classifications publishers enforce on stories (genre, audience, word count, etc.) and how the Actuator series shatters them all! Check it out!

longstory2

The Big Fandom Debates

Daniel Swenson hits a panel of high powered fans (Robert J. Defendi, R. A. Baxter, Nathan Croft, and yours truly) with some of the hardest questions to plague sci-fi fans for decades. It felt like a convention panel gone off the rails!

http://www.dungeoncrawlersradio.com/episodes/episode-sticks-and-stones-or-is-that-blasters

Also, Immortal Works just opened an imprint with a new logo! What do you think?

inconceivable-works-logo

Is Sci-fi More Optimistic than Fantasy?

In a recent discussion with my friend, R. A. Baxter, I casually mentioned that magic and future tech were fundamentally the same thing in different settings. In some ways science fiction and fantasy are the same, which is why they are often shelved together in stores and libraries. Fans of both often prefer the term “speculative fiction,” since the lines between them have been blurred so much.

He pointed out that one big difference between them is that readers often assume future technology will be possible some day, whereas most of the time nobody believes magic is real. What I realized when I heard this, was that sci-fi seems fundamentally more optimistic than fantasy for that reason.

Traditional sci-fi is full of ideas for inventions that would make life better. It is set in the future, and as real time catches up with the imagined worlds of past authors we are amazed that so many were correct. In many cases, the inventions presented as fiction inspire later engineers to invent them, thus fulfilling a kind of techno-prophecy.

Medieval fantasy is set in the past, and tends to include a longing for bygone ways. The magic changes the balance of power and often alters the course of lives or worlds. However, the overall statement seems to be that life would be better with magic.

Based on these stereotypical genre descriptions, fantasy is more pessimistic. In reality, there are many dystopian futures and fantasies that include a positive ideal of humanity (which is about the characters more than the magic). Indeed my own fantasy novel, Salvation, is much more socially positive than my science fiction book, Theocracide.

What do you think? Does one of these genres represent a more positive view of humanity in general?

 

How many words make a story?

 

I remember the first time I checked out a really big book from the library. Not just a novel, this thing was gargantuan. Noble House by James Clavell. I think half of my motivation was just to prove that I could read such a huge tomb. In retrospect, I wish somebody had caught me and recommended War and Peace instead. Still, I finished it, and that was important to me at the time.

Since then, I’ve read and written stories of all different sizes. Some of the most powerful, ideas that have endured in my memory to this day, were crafted with very few words. For a while, most of the industry seemed ready to declare short stories extinct. Only a few magazines held out against the falling market, and writers largely considered those venues resume builders. Then Amazon revolutionized publishing and opened a way for people to get anthologies (or even stand alone novellas) out with very low overhead. Luckily, the dying art was given new life.

It was especially fortunate for me, since I managed to get into some of those anthologies and build enough cred to sway a publisher to take a chance on my longer works. I believe if nobody made any more short stories, we’d lose something very important and valuable. While I like books for the journey they offer, I feel in many cases the books are inflated beyond the needs of the story. This might be to raise the price of the book, or to extend the escapism time it provides. However, I think we’ve all read a long book or series and thought, “That could have been done in half as many words (or books).” Fans may argue that they want 20 books set in their favorite world, but I feel those massive collections are only one facet of the many possibilities for transmitting stories via fiction. In fact, the most powerful ideas can only be shared in much smaller works.

I guess that’s why I knew the Actuator series had to be done with stories of many sizes. It isn’t only a study in the meaning of various genres, it’s a study on the impact of differing story lengths. Thus, it is over 20 authors, working in different story sizes with characters intertwined through the larger arc. I didn’t realize it when we organized the series and pitched it to Curiosity Quills Press, but the whole thing is not just a multi-genre thriller. It’s also an exploration of every facet of written story telling. It will be nearly half a million words by the end.

Book 3, Chaos Chronicles, is just a few months from release. It contains some of the most imaginative, unique stories in the series yet. It started out as another anthology in the same setting, but once I read the amazing work in it, I knew we had to bring those characters back in for the finale (book 4). I can’t wait for you to read it!

Want to have written…

i know kung fu

In the Matrix movie, there is an ionic moment when Neo wakes up after a neural uplink and says, “I know kung fu.” If they ever figure out how to upload knowledge and skill sets like that, I am pretty sure I will never get out of that machine. I want to know how to do everything.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the many people I’ve encountered who tell me, “I want to write a book some day,” or, “I wrote half a book a long time ago, but I’ve been too busy to get back to it.” What makes the difference between them and the people who actually write a book, or many books?

I remember as a kid, I took karate lessons for one month. I tried a lot of things for a little while until I lost interest and moved on to something else, but karate I remember specifically. I wanted to be tough and fast and a mean fighting machine if anybody messed with me. However, I didn’t really enjoy the lessons or do the practices and exercises. So I stopped and did other things. At the time, I didn’t think of it. Now, I understand it better.

I didn’t want to LEARN karate. I wanted to HAVE LEARNED karate. I wanted the results, but not the actual day to day actions leading to them. The same thing happened with piano lessons. I wanted to know how to play the piano, but I did not want to practice.

So I think it is with many people who want to HAVE WRITTEN a book. They want to be an author, but they don’t really want to write. That’s the difference. Unlike karate and piano, I love writing. I love to be in the middle of a scene hammering on the keyboard as fast as the words will arrange themselves in my mind. I enjoy going through the experience with the characters and imagining new worlds and exploring big ideas. I wrote over a dozen books before I had my first one published. And even if I never had any books published, I’d still write them.

At a book signing I attended, Terry Brooks said writers write because they have to. He went on to explain that writing takes a lot of time for no money and a very small return. If you have a choice, do something else. We only write if we have to.

I have to.

I’m hoping this insight will help people interested in writing to understand. If you want to be writing, then write. You will inevitably write many books. If you only want to have written a book, but don’t really prefer the act of writing to other activities in your life, then maybe the other things you do are what you really care about.

There are many authors who write just one book and stop. That’s great, but they clearly aren’t someone who wants to write. Rather, they are among those who succeeded, but only wanted to have written a book. Once they reached their goal, they had no motivation to write more.

This has significance for me, and anybody who really enjoys writing, too. I think of book ideas by the dozen. Some I write, others I don’t, for many reasons. Now I have a new way of deciding which ideas to invest in and which to leave alone. I write the books I want to be writing. I don’t write the books I only want, “to have written.”

The Cure for a Star Wars Hangover

SW7

(This blog was originally posted on the Curiosity Quills Press website and reposted here.)

I love Star Wars! After years of building anticipation, months staring at my tickets, and hours of trying to distract myself before the show began, I finally saw The Force Awakens. It’s hard to describe how I feel after a Star Wars movie.

The Return of the Jedi came out when I was young and impressionable. My awesome parents sacrificed to take me on the second day. I remember coming out of the theater after a matinee at dusk. The sunset, the street lights, the first stars– what had been common before was fantastic now. I saw the world through new eyes.

When the Phantom Menace came out, I made sure to go the first day. When I left the theater, I couldn’t really talk. We went to lunch and the dam broke and we analyzed it for hours. Again, an experience I’ll never forget, because it changed me.

Everybody experiences things differently, but this franchise has been the biggest impact of any fiction in my life. I already loved the new Star Treks directed by J. J. Abrams. I already bought into the Avengers series and Pirates of the Caribbean by Disney. So I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. Will it change me as much as the others? Time will tell. What isn’t different is the intense hangover Star Wars always puts me in.

I have this malaise where my mind just spins and spins around the images and ideas. It’s great! Yet, sooner or later, I know I have to come down off this high. The hours of “real” life wear down the affection and the mundane tasks chip away at the emotions. Eventually, it will leave me slightly depressed and wanting to go back to see the movie again.

The best way to cope with such a hangover is a good book.

Watching another movie after Star Wars is just wrong. Books are a different media. They get deeper into the characters’ minds, and are a slow burn compared to the explosion of a movie. They take longer in a quiet place so it’s a good way to sooth hyper emotions without dropping to the low.

What book could serve as a good net for something like Star Wars, though? Star Wars books aren’t right. That’s like entering the uncanny valley. It needs to be something epic. Star Wars is not just sci-fi. It has fantasy, action-adventure, drama, and a touch of romance. Characters fight impossible enemies against incredible odds; destiny, mystery, and a touch of mysticism.

It’s a rare book that has both the right atmosphere and pace to catch a falling Star Wars fan. I can recommend one, though. You should try The Actuator: Fractured Earth. It has a compelling world, not too like Star Wars, yet deep and complex. There is plenty of action and plenty mind-bending. Here’s a quick overview:

A machine is built to physically transform the world into a utopia, but a saboteur instead uses it to break the world into patches of every kind of genre fiction. People on one side of the road see aliens invading. So they run across the street to escape only to find a full fantasy dragon rampaging. People all over the world are confused and dying in real-life horrors featuring pirates, vampires, orcs, and just about every other creature imaginable. Only a handful of people even know about the Actuator. This group, called Machine Monks, have to put the world back before it falls into complete chaos.

Written by one forever altered by Star Wars, it may have the salve to cool the burn. So give it a shot. What do you have to lose besides that nagging ennui that follows everybody around after an amazing movie like a personal storm cloud?

The Actuator 1- Fractured Earth