Writing is crazy.

Before we begin, let me drop a simple disclaimer that I shouldn’t need to drop, but will do so anyway because this is the internet. This article is my own opinion and a general statement. It doesn’t apply to everyone, it’s not meant to, so on and so forth.

With that said, on with the show!

“Writers are crazy.”

We’ve heard this statement or something echoing it for a long time. Hell, must of us writers will admit that we are more than a little strange in our ways of thinking and that we might not entirely be of sound mind.

It’s also not true.

Most writers you will ever meet are perfectly well rounded and normal individuals. We’re maybe a bit more insular or private in our lifestyles, but nothing you could generally label as, “Serial killer waiting to happen.”

That part I said about being insular and private? It ties partly in with our creativity. We are people who silently refused to ignore the creative imagination we had as children.

Instead, we nurtured our imaginations as we grew up. Using films, books, games, and music, we helped feed it.

This can be applied to all artists. Whether you’re a musician, author, illustrator, filmmaker, etc. At some point or another, people in these lines of work ignored the call for us to stop fantasizing.

The reason people like (and including) myself say writers are crazy is because we are the ones who think of fictitious details. It is not seen as an entirely normal habit for grown adults outside of artistic fields to constantly be thinking of things such as those. Thus, we get labeled as being crazy or abnormal either by other people or even ourselves.

Take for example, my current work on Project: Ember (Under a Falling Sky/Flames & Ashes). I’ve had to think up the people, places, history, cultural habits, technology, countries, and so on that populate the world of the story. All of that, I’ll add, is in lead-up to the actual story of the book.

The first draft is almost done, by the way.

As you can imagine, when broken down like that, it takes a considerable amount of time and thought to create a fictitious world. As the saying goes, “If you want to make a pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”

This also ties in to how a number of people usually see us as quiet or privately kept. We can easily get lost in thought, so it’s not uncommon for us to seem slightly distant or shut in. We’ve got to keep track of the details in multiple worlds after all.

The truth is that most writers you ever meet are normal, well adjusted people. They might often be the creative thinkers in their households or workplaces, but they’re no more crazy than the neighbor you know who collects stamps.

Depending on how obsessively they collect those stamps, maybe even less so.

So, yeah. I’ve got the fate of worlds, the live of numerous people, and the rules of reality in my hands. I think of creative ways to tell, cause, or allude to people’s tragedies or redemption.

I’m also not crazy, nor are a lot of other writers. We’ll just tell you that we are just so you don’t look at us quite as funny when we start talking about it all.

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.

Salvaging “Salvaging Life”

Here we are, at the mid-point of another month in another year. So, what has been happening this month?

Well, I can tell you for a fact that it hasn’t been much.

Work on Salvaging Life had gone quite swimmingly, though by the time that the first big monkey-wrench needed to be thrown in the works, I hit a snag. No matter how much I thought about how to twist it and make it work, that plot-twist just wouldn’t jive. The characters are good, the setting seemed right, but the story just wouldn’t budge naturally.

Thus, I revisited the old debate I had about whether to include it in the Dark Stars universe (still thinking of a better name for it). The more I think about it in the way of a story told in that setting, the more it works. The reasons for that are…

1: With a minor twist, the story that takes place in Salvaging Life could easily be a story set about thirty years before the main series’ in that universe. The reason I know this is because I have written down all the history between now and the time that the main stories take place, so I know exactly where this would fit.

2: The characters and such from the story as they are now could easily transition over with basically no alterations. Their pasts, their personalities, even their allegiances could all remain exactly as they are now. That’s actually kinda a big deal and rather nice to imagine.

3: It would help build an idea about some of the relationships and tensions that would come out in the later works, providing a source of historical context.

Now, when I break it all down like this, it seems like it would almost be a no-brainer about placing this story in the Dark Stars setting. In truth, I want to think that these reasons alone make it justifiable. There are a couple reasons I keep telling myself for why it might not be a wise move.

A: Dark Stars is more than just a sandbox, it’s a web of stories and tie-ins with itself. Series A leads into and ties in with Series B, while both have a supporting character who has their own stand-alone story with Story C, tying back into Story D, etc. As you might imagine, this takes a decent chunk of planning to connect and make work. Building these kinds of mapped out character relationships, event timelines, and other things, has been trying. At the same time, it’s already been done, so now I’ve waited on pulling the trigger because I wanted to make sure my skills were enough to pull it off well.

B: This story has historical precedence in the Dark Stars universe, but it’s not a “current” story. It takes place roughly thirty years before the first actual book, so while it is an important event, it isn’t something that a character in the main series will see as breaking news. For the readers, I question if such a jump might make it feel like this story is an overly long prologue or just horribly out of place.

C: Admittedly, this is the weakest of excuses. I keep thinking the since this story is a bit darker and serious than the Dark Stars‘s rather genre-filled tone, that it would seem out of place in the setting. The truth is, really, that the Dark Stars setting covers a number of different tones. One series covers a military campaign with a select team, another follows a couple of slightly odd mercenaries trying to make it big, while one spin-off deals with an intelligence agency, etc. So, as you might imagine, there isn’t a concrete tone for the setting, but more of different series’ of stories that explore the various facets of the universe they take place in.

So, what do I intend to do about it? Well, rather than hold some vote or sit around on my ass (like I’ve been doing (bad writer, I know)), I’m going to write a version of this story that takes place in the Dark Stars setting. After that, I’m going to compare each version to the other and see which one feels like stronger and more inspired material than the other.

Let the work decide which is better, rather than daydreaming about the what-ifs.

If the version that is independent of the Dark Stars universe stands out as a better work, it will be the next big project. If the one that is integrated into the history of that setting is the stronger piece, it will make the cut and I’ll go ahead with it despite my earlier plans.

After either version is released, I’ll move back into working on Under a Falling Sky, since that is something I really want to work on. At the same time, Salvaging Life is the largest priority for me right now, so it takes precedence.

If you guys have some thoughts on the subject, feel free to chime in. I’d like to hear your ideas on the subject. For now, however, it’s back to work.

May the best story version win!

~ 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.