State of the Mind: June, 2014.

… *sharp whistle*. It’s been a stupidly long time since we did a State of the Mind address, hasn’t it? Well, let’s crack some knuckles and get on with the show.

~

So, what has been happening? Well, I got out of my self-induced lull and have been busting keyboard keys trying to get new works out there. Enough so that it’s actually beginning to drive me insane with the workload.

Back on May 18th, I began work on the new version of Under a Falling Sky. I set a deadline of having (at the very least) the first 60,000 words of a first draft done by July 1st. To help track it, I wound up making spreadsheets and everything to help it along.

I’ve been, for the most part, keeping steady with the estimated requirement (1,364 words-per-day). There have been scenes that have slowed me down to a crawl, or nights where other things wound up interfering with the time I set aside for writing. At the same time, there have been weekends and days where I can make up the difference. Thus, I am still on-track to have that first 60,000 done on time.

Why 60,000 words though? A novel is classified as starting at 50,000 words, with average sci-fi novels running an average of 80,000-100,000 words. I figured that if I could get above the minimum done by July 1st, I would be on solid ground.

At the same time, while writing it, I’ve been making notes about scenes and characters to add, dialogue and interactions to better show off, or even marking where existing scenes will need severe re-writes.

Words I am living by.

Words I am living by.

Now, why July 1st? Well, that actually leads into some news that I am excited to talk about. In the next couple of months, a flash-fiction story of mine that was accepted by Fireside Fiction Company will be published in an upcoming issue. I’m still working on the exact date (I had originally heard the July issue), but I will let you all know when it comes time for release or as it becomes available.

I wanted to make sure I had something well on the way to being roughly completed by the time that story releases. Try to capitalize on any hype and all of that, show that there was something on the way and that I wasn’t entirely sitting around on my ass.

What this schedule has done is obliterate any and all free time I had. Days are spent at the day job, I squeeze in about an hour of R&R, and then I move straight on to writing through the night. It’s tiring, and it’s made me appreciate weekends all that much more (cut out the day job part for a couple days, more time for R&R), but I can’t deny the progress that has been made.

I’m slightly behind where I should be at the moment, sitting at 25,000 words when I should be at 26,000. Over the span of (roughly) 2.5 weeks, I’ve managed to pen half of the bare-minimum for a novel draft, which is good progress in my mind.

However, the progress doesn’t stop there. I am also currently working on a piece of flash fiction for another magazine submission. I have the story mapped out in my head, though I will likely have to cut parts off like it’s going out of style to condense it to fit (1,000 word-cap). I am looking forward to seeing how that goes, but if nothing else, I want it out of my head and onto paper.

What this all has done, outside of create a mountain of work, is limit my time for entertainment. Lone Survivor, which I saw in theaters and loved, came out and I haven’t had a chance to see either it or RoboCop yet. I’d normally watch it this weekend, but I am reserving that time for gaming and watching Edge of Tomorrow.

As far as gaming goes, I have a back-log of games consisting of A) more WildStar, B) more Watch_Dogs, C) Murdered: Soul Suspect, D) more Transistor, and E) wanting to go back and play the Freespace games. Yeah, not like I’m keeping track or anything.

Now, you might have noticed WildStar on that list. I have been playing since the head-start (though only level 17 due to time limitations), and have been enjoying the hell out of it. It has its own comical, action-y charm to it that soaks me in. Well, that and the (awesome!) player housing.

If anyone reading this is playing the game, you can go ahead and add me. I am currently playing on “Orias [NA]” as Exiles. My main character is “Ashayl”, though you can add my account nickname of “Darrow”.

What can I say, I tried to keep it simple.

So yes, that’s where we’re at for the moment. I’ll keep on working on Under a Falling Sky, along with work on the other project. I’ll also try and keep my sanity with some R&R, though I really can’t promise that. Until I see you guys online (or on Nexus in WildStar), see you around.

~ James.

Building Reality.

Here’s a little known fact: I am better at world-building science fiction worlds than I am fantasy worlds. It’s a curious thing that always bugged me. Why was writing one easier than the other? Well, the other night, I sat down and started thinking about it and even made some comments about it online.

Now, I have come to my conclusion.

When you’re a writer like me, world-building is a slower and more fleshed out process than it is for some. I don’t just envision a story and tell it, I need to create the world around the story and its characters. I build charts that show each and every facet of a world that surrounds a story and its characters. I need to see its past, present, and possible futures.

In short: rather than just tell a story as it is, I need to see all the doors and what’s behind all of them. Having that knowledge helps me build a story that makes more sense than most ideas I get, and hopefully helps build characters that are more memorable than stereotypes.

How does this play into fantasy and science fiction? It’s actually remarkably simple.

When world-building science fiction, you are (normally, not always) drawing from this world. Our past, present, and possible futures all get poured into developing a world of the future. The rules of reality that you know of are still there, even if flexed a bit. You already know that Earth orbits the sun, that we breathe oxygen, that a bullet is fired by a pin striking a miniaturized explosive cap in a shell-casing which causes the gunpowder inside to detonate.

This world, along with all of its history and rules of reality, are known. When you delve into inventing an entirely new world, particularly in fantasy, that all changes.

When an entirely new, foreign world is required, the slate is wiped clean. All of the wars, famous and infamous people, cultural issues, and defining moments of history that we have no longer exist. You have to build your own history of the world, filled with it’s own conflicts and issues, and populate it with people who are shaped by that world.

Altering the rules of reality, on top of it, adds its own layers of challenges and difficulties. When you introduce something world-defining, take magical powers for example, you change the entire way that the world works and you alter the way people are shaped by it.

That isn’t to say that you can’t draw at all from our own history. If you are thinking of how people might perceive something, you can try and think of certain events in our own history, throw in some theoretical questions, and draw parallels. For example, if magic-wielders are meant to be feared and hunted, think about what something like the Salem Witch Trials might be like if the people who were burned actually had magical powers. Questions like that can help bring some insight to an otherwise unknown possibility.

When you’re like me and you decide to stir the pot, rather than just go with what’s been proven to work, you can create some interesting results. In the process, however, you wind up creating a slew of new problems and challenges.

I am currently world-building and mapping Under a Falling Sky, something that I take no shame in admitting has been one of (if not is) the hardest world I’ve had to craft. The reason why is because I have the very specific set of conditions that need to be met in regards to the world, while also blending together both fantasy and science fiction.

Yes, it’s a bloody Sci-Fi / Fantasy hybrid. Let that sink in for a moment.

Doing a hybrid like this is another challenge unto itself. Not only do you have to have boundaries for the power of magic and rationalize why it exists, you have to validate it in comparison to guns and armored vehicles. Where do you draw the line between magic and machinery? Divine powers and advanced gadgetry? Where does the fantasy end and the science fiction begin, or do they really have any clear boundaries?

Not only are you creating a new reality, where you’re trying to justify the news rules of existence, but now you’re trying to create a past that leads all the way into the age of steel and beyond. Do you decide to keep civilization somewhat primitive in mentality and theology, or do they evolve at the rate of their technological advances? What values did they hold dear when the ages were young, yet might have been cast off when futuristic items and tools came into their lives?

As you can see, it’s not about thinking that you have this one great story and you can just tell it. You need to build the world, build the rules, around it and provide a home for it to be told in. This is why, when I world-build, I try to create it so thoroughly that not just the one story, but possibly many others, might be told in it.

So, in what form does the payoff for all this world-building come in? At the end of it, when you look at your maps, codices, along with .doc files with character and faction text, you realize what you’ve built. You have built a world from it’s deepest roots to its tallest spires. You see all of the doors and what’s behind all of them, because it’s your world, built from the ground up by your own mind and populated by people that only you will truly know.

You know its beginning, its end, and everything in between. You may not be a god of that world, but you know if there is one and what they’re like.

That’s what world-building is really about for someone like me. You’re not just building the setting for a story, but you’re creating an entire world or universe for that story, and many more, to be told in. It is empowering, chaotic, terrifying, and inspiring all at the same time, and there’s nothing else like it.

So, time for me to get back to creating a new reality and polishing it off. The tales of those that shall never be born demand to be told, after all.

~ James.

State of the Mind: February, 2014.

Well, this has certainly been an interesting month. Be that as it may, it’s time for the monthly State of the Mind address. So, let’s kick it off.

1) Work! I’ve been pounding out progress on a rewrite of Salvaging Life (WIP title, not final). You might now be saying, “Wait, I thought you said you were going to be working on Echoes!” In which case, you’re rather observant and correct all at once. I did say that I was going to be working on Echoes at first, but that plan has since changed.

I sat down and started to reread Echoes so I could get a feel for what I had again. Keep in mind, this story is about a year and a half old by now, so it feels ancient. Upon reading it, however, I saw how bad it seemed to be. Upon looking at it, the story felt like it needed a complete and total rewrite to bring it up to snuff. Needing that extensive amount of work ultimately placed it in the same spot as a number of other stories.

At the same time, I’d wanted to revisit Salvaging Life. Originally a short-story that was around four thousand words that I had submitted to Clarkesworld Magazine, I decided that with the recent commercial release of Blood in the Machine, maybe I could go back and check it out.

When I looked over Salvaging Life and read what I had, I could easily see why it had been rejected. It wasn’t the majority of the story, it wasn’t the characters, and it wasn’t the quality of writing. What set it back was the story I tried to tell was too confined at the length I had, and the ending felt at odds with the tone of the story.

The thing was, I already knew both of those things a month ago when I started thinking about it then. Reading it now felt like confirmation bias, but I also had some ideas of how to fix it. So, this last weekend, I began enacting those fixes by rewriting the story from the ground up.

I’m now three thousand words in and the story is feeling stronger than ever before. The characters felt good in the first version, but feel much stronger now. The pacing feels about right, though some of the tricky parts will rear their ugly heads in the later sections. At the same time, I have to do some research and treat a certain topic with some delicate attention, but it’s integral to one of the characters.

At the same time, I’ve also been working on the codex and mapping of a rewrite for Under a Falling Sky, which I am also eager to tackle soon. Who knows, maybe if Salvaging Life goes well, that might be the next project I tackle.

2) Resting! I’ve actually been rather bored recently. I’m stuck in a spot earlier on in Final Fantasy XIII-2 at a boss fight, so I have to go back and grind fights to get ahead. Not exactly my idea of fun. Instead, I played the Titanfall PC beta last night, and I have to admit that I am massively impressed with what I see.

Oh, and I have Kelly Sweet’s version of In the Air Tonight stuck in my head since hearing it in an ad for a TV show. Somebody, please help me, I’ve been listening to it on repeat in effort to try and get it dislodged, but to no avail!

At the same time, Game of Thrones Season 3 comes out tomorrow, so I know what I’ll be watching. It’ll also help tide me over while I wait for Gravity to come out on the 25th, alongside Thor: The Dark World.

Meanwhile, I’ve finished reading How to Archer, based on the TV cartoon (Cobra!). Times like these make me wonder who exactly dreams up the notion that it would be a good idea to write a book in the perspective of Sterling Archer. However, it lets me get on to reading Ender’s Game for the first time. No, I’ve never read it before, but I wanted to read it before I saw the movie which is sitting on my shelf.

3) Mental Health! … Improving, slightly optimistic. Might be in need of a good sit-down and ass-kicking soon if it doesn’t clear up.

So yeah, there we have it. Things seem to be looking up and I am slipping back into my groove with some ease, which helps make things a bit easier to work with.

~ James.

The spark.

It’s been awhile since I actually sat down and talked about my process as a writer, hasn’t it? Well, how about we take a step back and look at the one process that a lot of non-writers always ask.

“How do you get your ideas?”

It’s such a simple question, isn’t it? Yet, despite its simplicity, it’s a very loaded question that we have to even ask ourselves. So, when I begin working on a new project, what do I start with when I begin to brainstorm an idea?

A single image.

That’s right, I’ve had entire projects and everything spring to mind due to just one single image in my head. Everything grows from the roots that the image plants, ranging from the beginning to the end. Characters, worlds, etc, they all come from that.

Take for example, my current NaNo project. It features an Air Force pilot testing an FTL drive for NASA, but he gets sent to the other side of the galaxy when it goes awry. To get back to Earth, he integrates with an alien fleet that is essentially the last survivors of their species, and becomes a pilot for one of their gunships on the journey home.

Where did the idea for this story come from? What image could I conjure up in my own head that bred this story concept? I had the mental picture of a squad of infantrymen in a scifi setting, while a VTOL gunship flies in, hovers above them, and begins opening fire on the hostiles attacking the infantry squad.

That single image then begins to raise questions in my mind. Who’s fighting on the ground, and why? Who are they fighting against? What kind of man is the person piloting the gunship? Is he alone in there, or does he have a gunner? Is that ship limited to just the air, or is it capable of fighting in space?

Questions like those arise, and as I imagine answers that sound interesting, I start putting them down as possible story elements. The squad on the ground? Aliens, because they’re trying to protect the last pockets of their species that remain. Who are they fighting? Machines that were built for war by a race that is now extinct and can no longer hit the ‘Off’ button.

Questions and answers continue, with the answers constantly breeding more questions. Eventually, I then wind up at a point where there is a web of details, all explaining different aspects of the story and its elements. With that web, I then begin to piece together a story, figure out who the characters are and what they’re like, find the type of feeling I am aiming for, etc.

It is a long process, but there eventually comes a point where I sit back and look at the overall picture. Seeing who the characters are and what their motivations and weaknesses are, finding the subtle messages one might be able to interpret, and so on. At that moment, I either realize that it still needs more work and refinement, or that I am on to something and need to start penning it.

The thing is, the forming and creation of ideas doesn’t end there. I could be in the middle of penning the story and an idea will strike of a plot point or a new character will strike. Hell, I just had an epiphany about one of my character’s fate in my NaNo project today, and I’m already well into writing it.

Even all the way into editing, one can have a brand new idea that spices up the story, or even cleans it up. For Blood in the Machine, I wound up actually cutting an antagonist because he wasn’t fleshed out nearly as well as he should have been, and there wasn’t a way to make it happen.

So you see, the idea of creating a story doesn’t come all at once. There are few moments where something of depth and meaning will strike in one swoop. Instead, the process of creating a story exists all the way into editing your first draft and even later.

Anyways, just thought I’d let out some “behind the scenes” info, and maybe add a spotlight as to how I work on a story. I hope you find this insightful or intriguing, and might have learned something here. If you’ve got your own process that differs from my own, feel free to share and let us know. Until then, have a good one.

~ James.

State of the Mind: November, 2013.

I was contemplating using an alternate title for today’s “State of the Mind,” something along the lines of “‘OH DEAR GOD, IT’S NANO’-edition.” Didn’t quite stick, but oh well, there’s always next year.

So, how are things going? Well, quite chaotic and interesting to say the least, but we aren’t here for short summaries. You’re reading a “State of the Mind” article, you want the gritty details.

Without further ado, let’s get down to it.

1 – NaNoWriMo. The obvious elephant in the room, let’s get this one out of the way first. Yes, I am running in NaNoWriMo this year, and it’s actually been a much different and more interesting run than last year.

To start with, the Google+ Hangouts I used to help set my pacing and everything haven’t happened, so I’m doing it solo. It’s not that they aren’t running, but I just haven’t been in attendance. Thus, I am having to set my own pacing, follow on my own goals, and deal with the lack of competitive speed-writing. As of yesterday, I was ahead of the curve – 10.3K words, just barely ahead enough to finish a day early at my current rate.

The other thing is that I am actually bouncing between two projects at once. I am using all words written for The Veil‘s chapters this month towards my word-count (none from October, I assure you), while also penning an entirely new story. It’s made things rather chaotic, and actually forced me to keep a running log of how many words have been penned in what.

So what is my main writing project for NaNo? It’s a Scifi story about a fighter pilot, the full description listed below.

Captain Jason Halvard, a fighter pilot with the US Air Force, was on-loan to NASA to test their first Faster-Than-Light travel drive. Originally slated to arrive in orbit around Jupiter and make a return flight, his jump goes awry and he winds up on the other side of the galaxy. After being rescued by an alien race fighting a war they can’t win, he discovers that his very presence there puts all of Humanity at risk. Unable to return home the way he came, he’s forced to involve himself more and more in a war that isn’t his own, trying to help defend two species from certain annihilation.

It’s a return to Scifi for me, something I gladly welcome. The more and more I write, the more I feel at home in Scifi. I used to welcome Fantasy, both Dark and Urban, but the more I go one, the more I love the allure of working with space, future-tech, and aliens.

So, next point!

2 – Blood in the Machine. Yeah, we’re still going on this, I just haven’t allocated much time or resources to sending out queries for artwork yet. I have, however, decided that the story will be available exclusively on Kindle when it releases. It saves me not only on cover-art (front page, rather than full-wrap), but also on ISBN’s. Let’s also face it, the story is a novelette that is acting as a debut piece, the market-draw for that will be relatively small.

3 – R&R. When I’m not busting my ass to keep up with daily number-quotas, I am trying to get some downtime. How do I do that? On the TV front, I’ve actually got quite a full line-up of shows to watch. Arrow, Elementary, Sleepy Hollow, Blacklist, Walking Dead, S.H.I.E.L.D., etc. Yeah, lots to watch.

On the gaming end, I’ve been plowing through Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts recently. Obvious question out of the way, BF4 is a MUCH better game, both through gameplay and optimization. Ghosts runs like crap on my rig (compared to BF4 utterly maxed out, even with AA), has tech issues, control bugs, etc. Gameplay-wise, it lacks a number of features than helped make Black Ops 2 a superior title, and the campaign was … eh. Next week, however, I get XCOM’s expansion and X: Rebirth, so yay!

So yeah, as you might imagine, my days are extremely chaotic and cramped for time. Between work, the writing quotas, trying to get some R&R in and so forth, time is a luxury. Either way, I’ll try to keep you guys up-to-date on current affairs and let you know when stuff is going down.