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>The long haul. How many words…

>The long haul. How many words…

Well now, it’s monday evening, and i’m still frantically chasing the end of this book. It’s an elusive beast. I’m getting tired of chasing it, and might have to wait until it comes to me, at this rate (I’m somewhere between 10 and 15 K off. Given that i can write 5K a day on a good day, and have been doing between 3-4 most days for the last 2 weeks, that really is getting close. I am, unfortunately, a very slow writer. 5K is a long day, around 14 hours of work, typically – as I get stuck, rewrite bits. I am also quite a ‘dense'(well, it’s a kinder worder than ‘thick’ don’t you think) writer and typically a ‘scene’ runs to around 1.5K -2K, which makes me something like twice as terse as Eric, and about fifteen times as terse as your bodice-ripper paranormal vampire tale. I’ve tried not to be, but failed, so I’ve given up. That aspect of my style is consistant. So they’re long complicated days, not leaving much room for life around them. It’s why, if I had to finally give up chasing the writing dream, my output will drop a lot. I’d be lucky to do a book a year.

So about how much do you write a day, and just how do you keep going for the long haul?

Oh By the way – must apologise about CRAWLSPACE AND OTHER STORIES. I have no idea what is going on and no time to follow it up right now.

>Some Random Thoughts and Links

>Well, it’s Sunday morning and I’m find myself in a quandary. I didn’t write the blog early yesterday because, well, I was hoping to find something that wasn’t related to Borders or publishers-doing-stupid-things. So, here I am on Sunday morning trying to get enough coffee into me to function and figure out what to blog about at the same time.

Let’s start with the obligatory Borders report. Mark Evans has an interesting list of six reasons why Borders went bankrupt. While I don’t necessarily agree with what he has to say, he makes some interesting points. Author Melanie Benjamin talks about where she was and how it affected her when she first learned about the Borders filing. The bankruptcy trustee has named the unsecured creditors committee. Included on the committee are publishers and landlords. This article points out that one of the issues Borders will have to deal with is making sure it is closing the right number of stores AND the right stores under the circumstances. Also, this committee will have something to say about it. Add that to this article that seems to confirm my suspicions that there will be more closures in the very near future.

In other news around the publishing world, Random House announced it is offering early retirement to employees over 50 who have been with the company at least 5 years. This offer expires April 15th. Of course, they are also quick to say that this is NOT an indication that RH is going to downsize. I really wished I believed them. But, in my experience, when companies start offering this sort of a deal, particularly with employees who have not been there for long, it is a sure sign of downsizing in the future.

Barnes & Noble released its third quarter figures for 2010. It doesn’t surprise me to see that their sales were pushed by digital downloads and tech. Barnes & Noble has done a lot of things wrong, in my opinion — most importantly having played a large role in driving out the independent booksellers. But they did two things very right, things Borders should have done. They embraced the internet and have had a strong online presence for years and they have a branded e-reader that is associated with their name.

On the ongoing front of will we ever get an industry standard in e-book formats, Japan has made a step in that direction. It was announced last week that their publishers and electronics companies had adopted EPUB 3.0 as their standard. Unless I am completely wrong — very possible, of course — it isn’t going to be long before we see two main formats: EPUB and MOBI. The other formats will drop by the wayside. Whether we will see EPUB become the industry standard or if it remains split between the two will be something to be seen over the next 5 years or so.

In other EPUB news, and this does fall under the heading of publishers-doing-stupid-things, comes this. Harper Collins once again proves, at least to me, that it doesn’t support e-books nor does it support public libraries. To start, there aren’t that many e-titles available for download from libraries. Now there will be even fewer. Why, because of this idiotic decision by HC. A decision that flies in the face of mainstream publishers’ very frequent cry that e-books aren’t real books. It is this argument that publishers use to justify DRM, saying that when we pay for an e-book we are only buying a license for it. But, with the decision to limit the number of times an e-book can be checked out, they are saying it should be treated as if it has the same lifespan as a “real” book. Can you say, have your cake and eat it too?

Finally there’s this article about the increase in piracy of e-books, specific to this article Kindle e-books. I think what frustrates me the most about articles like this is the fact that it completely ignores the fact that piracy happens to ALL books, not just those released in digital format. How quickly they forget about how the last Harry Potter book hit the internet in PDF before it was released in stores. When’s the last time they brought up the brouhaha that surrounded Stephenie Myer when one of her manuscripts was leaked on the internet AND SHE THREW IT AWAY. But what really bothers me is how so many of the publishers who rant about e-piracy use the argument about how it is stealing from their authors and yet these same publishers do not give accurate accountings of e-book sales, nor do they give authors a reasonable royalty on e-book sales.

Finally, on a personal note, I want to thank everyone who has supported Naked Reader Press and our authors. It dawned on me today that we put our first books up for sale just about 6 months ago. It’s been 6 months of hard work but it has been worth it. So thanks to everyone who made it possible.

(Cross-posted to The Naked Truth)

>Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

>As you’ve probably noticed over the last month and a half, Saturdays have become promotion days for MGC. Sometimes it will be self-promotion. Others will be guest blogs by authors who have new books coming out. Sometimes, we’ll even throw in an open floor. Today, I’m going to step in and do a bit of promotion for the MGCers who have titles coming out from Naked Reader Press this month and nexzt.


In a land with a weak king, in a time when murder was often disregarded, four men made sure justice was served.

First up — and I’m really excited about this — is Death of a Musketeer by Sarah D’Almeida.

This is the first in the series and it has never before been released in digital format. Now, I see some of you scratching your heads and wondering who this D’Almeida chick is. Well, if you take a look at her Amazon author page, you’ll see that she looks pretty familiar. Actually, it’s no secret that Sarah D’Almeida is one of several pseudonyms our own Sarah A. Hoyt writes under.

Computer hackers are nothing compared to Legion. Its source is unknown and it continues to baffle programmers and defeat firewalls and antivirus programs. Nothing seems able to stop it. Could Legion possibly be intelligent? Or is it something else, something totally unexpected?

Up next is a wonderful short story written by Dave Freer and Kate Paulk. Legion: The Enemy Within came out earlier this month and, as with all NRP titles, it is DRM-free and available not only at the NRP site but also from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

A boy’s search for the truth sends him on a journey to find his grandfather’s downed plane. Suddenly trapped in an alternate South Africa, faced with pirates and worse, he refuses to give up. His quest to clear his grandfather’s name turns into a desperate race against time. It’s a race he can’t afford to lose.

Our next title is Dave Freer’s middle school/early YA novella, Without a Trace. It is currently available for early purchase as an uncorrected e-arc (advanced readers copy). The edited version will be available for purchase the second half of March. If you like a rip-roaring adventure, or know someone who does, Without a Trace is for you.

The day she died Mackenzie Santos’s life and her perception of the world changed forever. Everyone else thought her return to the living was a miracle. She knew better. How else could she explain away the dreams she knew were symptoms she was losing her mind? And if that weren’t enough, she’s now in charge of the investigation into the most brutal murder she can remember in her time with the Dallas Police Department.

Nocturnal Origins is by, well, me. Yes, me. The blogger currently hiding under the bed because self-promotion isn’t something I’m comfortable with. It will be available from NRP the first half of March.

And don’t forget that Kate Paulk’s unique take on the Dracula legend, Impaler, comes out in March as well. For more information on Impaler, as well as a snippet or two, check out Kate’s website. You can also find more information on Impaler at The Naked Truth and here on MGC. One word of warning, do not expect any sparkling vampires or emo werewolves in this novel. As far as Kate’s concerned, the only time vampires should sparkle are when they’ve stepped into the sunlight and are bursting into flame.

With the exception of Legion: The Enemy Within, each of these titles will also be breaking new ground for NRP. Each of these titles will also be released in print as well as in digital formats.

(Full disclosure here — for those who don’t know, I’m the senior executive editor for Naked Reader Press.)

>Who Needs a Tragedy?

> I have been re-reading some David Gemmell recently, in particular the two books he set in ancient Greece – Lion of Macedon and Dark Prince. Brilliant stuff – but by now you would have figured out I am a die-hard Gemmell fan. Even so these two books represent some of his best work (and a great place to start if you have never read any. You have to like fantasy action though!).

One very strong element that weaves through the books (not surprisingly since they are set in Greece) is tragedy, especially on a personal level. The way Gemmell sets up the story has created a tremendous emotional driving force in his characters. He has conflict on many levels – from the classic Dark Vs Light and the threatened birth of a Dark God, to the never-ending chessboard of conflicts between Greek nations – to the struggle within the characters themselves.

The conflict within characters is classic Gemmell territory.

In the background is the seer Tamis fighting to prevent the Dark Birth, yet also fighting her own pride, which blinds her into using the weapons of the enemy and almost dooming them all. Her protege Derae, after being torn from the arms of her lover the Spartan general Parmenion (the main character), is first manipulated, then witness to Tamis’ deathbed despair. Even so, she is forced to follow in her footsteps, treading a perilous path between defending the Light and using her formidable powers for destruction.

Parmenion himself is a noble character, yet like all Gemmell’s heroes, struggles against the dark side of his own nature. In his case his burning desire for revenge against the Sparta that saw him beaten and humiliated as young man. This later moderates, yet by then the love of his life (Derae) has been sacrificed to Cassandra and is gone from his life (although she survives).

There is a strong element of unrequited love – the two lovers Derae and Parmenion are major players, each yearning for the other yet separated by fate. So beautifully woven into the storyline along with other side plots of a similar nature, each exploring an element of human nature and relationships.

Yet it’s so hard on the characters! Seeing them in pain is like being in pain yourself. This dynamic both draws you on and yet makes you suffer with them.

Is it too much?Is that emotional driving force worth the punishment on you and the characters?

Do we need tragedy?

>Heinleining the Just in Time Research

>
While I was writing Impaler, I did a lot of research (no surprises here – Australian, never been to Europe, only seen snow a few times (courtesy Pennsylvania winters), and I’m writing a book set over six hundred years ago, in Eastern Europe, in winter, involving cultures I had never experienced except through reading books). The funny thing was, most of the research happened rather like modern inventory management – “just in time”.

I’d been absorbing general books about the area and the time period for years, but that’s not enough for the kind of specifics I was looking for. Things like “Okay, it’s mid-winter. Snow – quite a lot of it for the most part – on the ground. Danube River frozen over to the extent that you can march an army across it. How far is that army going to get in a day?” (Not very, especially if they’re dealing with unbroken snow). I learned a lot about logistics just dealing with that question.

Then there’s the more interesting bits: Vlad is trying to get his army south without Sultan Mehmed II realizing what he’s up to – preferably before Mehmed realizes the Wallachian crown has changed hands (again). He needs stealth. Moving several thousand men and horses doesn’t correlate terribly well with “stealth” when you’re marching them through the countryside – so Vlad comes up with the idea of taking out the enemy garrisons, and sharing the loot with the locals to buy their favor so they don’t say anything.

To us, that’s not a big issue – but in his time, it was unheard of. Similarly Vlad’s decision to buy food rather than loot – despite the high cost (he makes the observation at one point that at this time of year food is worth more than gold) – was a total departure from the norms of the time. Knowing the norms of the time is general research, but the specifics, down to nuts and bolts sometimes, were things that typically I didn’t realize I needed until I got to that part of the book.

So, just before the battle for Varna, I spent quite some time trying to find out what Varna’s defenses looked like in 1477, as well as the likely impact of the 1444 battle (minimal, since the town itself wasn’t directly involved), the architecture of the town, the layout of the governor’s palace and where it was in relation to everything else, likely local culture, and so forth. This is not something that is readily available even to the best Google-fu. Google maps helps, interestingly enough. You get a good sense of terrain from that.

Ultimately, I ended up with guesses seeded with the very few pieces of hard data I managed to unearth – things like the old Roman baths still working and converted to Turkish-style, Roman ruins by the palace (which undoubtedly provided their own defensive layer, just by existing), and tried to give the impression of knowing a lot about the place when there was actually buggerall that I could find. Smoke and mirrors, the greatest art of the writer. Mostly I used a blend of known trends in better documented regions as close by as I could get them.

There were quite a few smaller research binges – working out what trees would be growing where, for instance, given that except in the more inaccessible parts of mountain ranges it’s pretty unlikely the vegetation now is going to be much like the vegetation then. Phases of the moon in early 1477 was another critical aspect of the story – and that included the extra fun of figuring out whether the lunar calendars I was working from had made the conversion back to the Julian calendar, which was the only one being used in that region at the time (the Gregorian calendar wasn’t devised until quite some time later). When various religious festivals occurred, Orthodox and Roman (at that stage, they were in synch – the combination of the Gregorian calendar and a revised method of calculating Easter shifted the Roman religious calendar relative to the Orthodox). I also needed to check and keep track of what, if any, major Jewish and Islamic festivals would be happening, and figure out the local forms of said festivals for the time frame I was working with.

It’s much easier if you’re writing fantasy – you can just make this stuff up. On the flip side, when you do make it up from the whole cloth, it tends not to be as richly detailed as something that’s already got hundreds of years of history behind it. I suspect that’s why PTerry uses Earth history and legend and twists it for the Discworld: he gets that richness without having to get all the fiddly little details right.

The big research binge – which took me a few weeks, to get everything I needed and build the right images in my head – was for Constantinople, of course. There, I was reading contemporary accounts of the fall of Constantinople in 1453 (eye openers all by themselves), whatever references I could find about repairs and new building in the nearly 25 years since the siege – including tidbits like the northern section of the walls hadn’t been rebuilt, but the Golden Gate had been bricked up possibly due to a legend that stated a Christian savior would enter the city in triumph through the Golden Gate (Vlad’s entrance isn’t exactly “triumphal”, but one suspects that little detail won’t matter terribly much).

I even found not-quite-period maps, which were close enough to give me an idea of what the city looked like, detailed information about the walls (I was bringing them down, so I needed to know what that was going to take), as well as all the things a pyromaniac could do with a large supply of black powder.

The results of that deserve their own post, about medieval-style battle tactics – which I also learned way too much about. Of course, none of this (I hope) is lectured in the book. Hopefully it’s all part of the background, so everything fits without being obtrusive.

Which leads of course to the question: aside from PTerry, who else does a really good job of Heinleining background information like this into their books?

>The Club, The Wheel, The Mind

>

When I’m sick – yeah, let’s just say that my respiratory system is a walking liability – I can’t read fiction. This is part of the reason I’ve fallen so far behind on my fiction reading. It doesn’t seem to be a rare affliction. When you’re sick you can’t handle emotion and, of course, all good fiction is emotion.

However, I can’t stop reading. Reading is what gets me through the stupid stuff that must happen in life, like washing dishes, cooking, cleaning. I have yet to figure out how to read in the shower. Someone must make a better, water-proof ereader.

So, instead of fiction I read non-fiction. The more tired/sick I am, the dryer my reading material. Years ago, when pneumonia put me in the hospital (ICU for eleven days) I read a collection of nineteenth century biology manuals. No, you probably don’t want to ask.

And I know I’m at least becoming somewhat more human because I either start having story ideas, or I start figuring out how what I’m reading applies to some aspect of writing.

This last month and a half, as I’ve been spiraling deeper and deeper into illness (And no, I don’t even know if it’s the same illness or a succession of respiratory bugs) I’ve been reading about the pursuit of the Indo-European language and culture.

Yes, this morning I finally decided enough was enough and this afternoon I dragged self to doctor and I’m now medicated. While I’m still not substantially better – except the fever must be down because my head is clearer – in the “up” points of this er… bug sequence I’ve been able to realize what I’m reading is both a wonderful seed for stories, possibly a setting for a series of novels which has deviled me (my last run at it was … fifteen years ago, when I was definitely not ready) and, more importantly, a world building tool.

What I’ve been reading, particularly, which attempts the reconstruction of an ancient culture that might have been homogenetic, but was almost certainly heterogenetic (same or different genetic heritage), might have been located over a region or another, and might have worked out one way or another, has made me realize how things are connected, things we don’t tend to think about.

No, I don’t know how much their guesses are true, but I do know that there are certain “rules” that tend to apply and that these archeologists use them to reconstruct a culture just like a paleontologist reconstructs a dead animal from a loose tooth. Will they sometimes be wrong? Oh, yeah, heck, yeah. Remember the dinosaurs that have changed name or shape as more has been found out about them? But still, there are certain things that apply. If you find a certain shape of tooth, you know you’re dealing with an herbivore, for instance. And if you find human craniums with largely cavity-free teeth, you know you’re dealing with a culture whose diet was low on carbohydrates. Oh, there might be some genetic freak that keeps them from getting cavities, but, more than likely, you’re dealing with a diet based on protein.

The same goes for population replacement, for instance. One population disappears, another comes in. Was it war? Maybe. Sometimes you do find a population where the graves show women of the previous population and men of the new one. You could be dealing with a Rape of The Sabines situation. Alternately, you could be dealing with some elaborate treaty and bride price, and perhaps the men of the tribe moved elsewhere to marry women from the other tribe. Yeah, that wouldn’t be total, but these graves never represent everyone, just the powerful families.

And then there’s that too – what was powerful at the time? What was “wealthy”. A man is buried in a grave that would require immense labor with only a few shards of pottery and a dagger. Was it because the culture was terribly poor, or were the gifts symbolic. You only know by comparing to smaller graves of the same culture.

I’m not going to go into details, but it is important, not just for historical fiction but for science fiction and even for fantasy to think through these details. “What does my culture use for transport?” for instance, limits how far your character can travel. That much is obvious. But it will also limit the ideas of the world; how far her parents’ married; how many languages there are in the immediate vicinity; what they eat and possibly how they pray. “What do they eat?” again limits or shapes what the culture is like. If they are mostly agriculturalists, their culture will be different from if they are pastoralists. And if they are pastoralists with frequent cattle raiding (which also correlates to weapons) the culture is yet different. (And if they eat mostly stew, you’re caught in The Tough Guide To Fantasyland.)

I confess that even with as much as I know about history and how cultures evolve, and how economics influences daily life, I’ve caught at least a couple of mistakes I’ve made in one of my cultures – where they could not possibly be settled agriculturalists with those habits.

We live in a time where the world is our backyard, where food of all seasons and all continents is available to us and transport is cheaper and easier than it’s ever been. This divorces source from event in our minds, so that we have trouble creating even complex, future cultures.

Of course, the classic work with everything integrated is Le Guin’s The Left Hand Of Darkness. I’m not saying I don’t have problems with some of her extrapolations. I do. She and I come from widely different philosophical traditions and that always shows. Also, though I liked it originally, the presentation itself now seems incredibly dated to me. BUT at least she tried to show a culture integrated in all facets of myth and daily living and its natural environment. And managed to hint at a full fledged society, which of course never fits in a book.

What is your favorite such example? Do you have one? What would you like to see? How do you think archeology can help us learn world building?

>Crawlspace and other stories.

>Oh dearie me. Time is pressing on me with wingéd feeties. I am rushing to finish this book, and while it is going well, there is quite a lot of it left… so I leave you with the news that Eric Flint and I have put all our joint shorts, a novella and a Novelette set in the RATS BATS AND VATS universe up on kindle. Well, would have, except it isn’t showing up yet.

The cover for Crawlspace and other stories is just stunning – a high gloss platinum blonde with vast… tracts of land. Really. Go and look, would I lie to you (ans: yes. I write fiction. I am a professional liar, sometimes even almost believable).

And here is an excercise in character building from the WIP… it’s raw, first draft stuff.

_______

“What are you planning to help us with? ” asked Meb.
“Food and shelter were what you sought, I thought,” said the Spriggan. “Shelter is easy enough. Food is a bit more difficult. Not food for the likes of you, anyway. Simple fare is also easy enough. But the noble ladies of Lyonesse wouldn’t want to eat that.”
“Given a choice, I would,” said Meb. “I’ve had enough of fancy food that tasted of stale bread for my lifetime. Give me stale bread that tastes like stale bread and I’ll be happy.”
“Ah. Stale bread is a challenge. We’ve got fresh, but it’d take a few days to make it stale. But if that’s what you want…”
“No, fresh is even better.”
“Well, it’ll make you sick, I shouldn’t wonder,” said the Spriggan.
“They’re dangerous, M’lady, said Neve timidly. “Spirits of old giants, so they do say.”
“Spirits of the rocks and tors actually,” said the spriggan. “And we’re dangerous all right, but not to you. Sadly.”
“The knockers and piskies did us no harm, Neve,” said Meb, reasonably. You even had Knocker babies on you lap.”
“Probably piddled on you,” said the Spriggan with a kind of glum satifaction. “They do.”
“They were good little things,” said Neve defensively. “Nice to me and M’lady.”
“Ah, should have been suspicious then,” said the spriggan. “I daresay they gave you food which turned your insides to wax or something.”
“You’re a grumpy so-and-so,” said Meb.
“We have that reputation, yes. Now if you’ll follow me I think we’ve got a few rabbits and some wild onions in the pot. Won’t agree with you of course.”
Meb shouldered the axe, stepped forward and took the rather surprised-looking spriggan by the arm. Gray-skinned and touched with lichens he was still warm, she noticed. “Lead on. Come on Neve. He won’t eat us, or he could have, because there is another one at the start of the lane. We’re between them.
The Spriggan blinked. “My brother will give you a hand with the bags, if you like,” he said, escorting her in as courtly a manner as any of the Haerthmen of the Prince’s retinue.
They walked up the hill, to where the abandoned walled fields gave way to grazing lands and to the rocky tor at the top. Meb recognise it from her day’s hunting, and realised just how close to Dun Tagoll they still were. “It was you that I saw, watching me, wasn’t it?”
The Spriggan nodded. “We weren’t too sure how to talk to you in all that press around you. Too much cold iron. It won’t kill us straight off, but we don’t like it.”
He tapped a rock and it slid aside to reveal a passage down. “An old tomb, he said. “Gloomy but clean and dry.”
Meb suppressed a shudder. “Just don’t mention the tomb part to Neve. She’s… she’s live a bit of sheltered life, compared to me. Can we leave it open?”
“It’ll let spiders in I daresay.”
“For now.” A glance showed Neve was pretty well white with terror. She winked at her, to tell her it would be all right. And Neve managed a smile, and appeared to relax slightly.
They walked down stone steps and into what should have been the cold tomb. The Spriggans plainly didn’t have much regard for these ideas, as it was pleasantly warm, and scented with… not dust and decay, but the smell of onions, garlic, and wild thyme, and cooking meat. It might once have been a tomb, but the current occupants had scant resepect for funerary furniture or the dead that might have lain there, having used the central scarophagus to make a table, on which they had laid a cloth, and around which they’d placed several three legged stools. A fire burned in a grate in the corner, with a pot hanging from a hob, from which the smells were plainly coming.
“Welcome to our lair,” said the spriggan, rather formally.
Meb wasn’t sure how one answered that, but she had a feeling that formally would be best. “Our thanks to you. May it remain dry and warm and safe,” she said.
“What… what are you cooking?” aske Neve, warily.
“Rabbits, I told you. We have to make do. We can’t get enough unwary travellers these days,” said the Spriggan tending the pot.