Archive for November, 2009

Behold the Taiwan cover!

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

I woke up this morning to find a couple of delightful goodies in my inbox. This is one of them:

I am not a serial killer tw

I’ve said for months now that the German cover is my favorite, but this one…this one might beat it. I love the typeface on the top, especially the way the “not” is kind of fading into the sky. Most places that call out the “not” do so by making it more prominent, but having it less prominent, like we’re watching it disappear, is devilishly clever. I also love the cool, evocative image. There’s a lot of great texture, a lot of good color, and a fascinating mixture of vibrancy and deadness that fits the book really well. Kudos to you, Taiwan! This cover is awesome!

Curse this pitiful flesh

Friday, November 20th, 2009

So I blogged on Monday about how I was all fired up to write this new book, and how I was going to spend the next few days plotting it so I could start writing on Thursday or Friday, and how all was well with the world, and then I hit “Save” and went home and died. I think I may have died three times; it got a little hazy in there. The point being, I returned to work this morning in a still-slightly-medicated fog, and nothing’s happened all week. Except that I watched a lot of World War II retrospectives on TV, but that’s completely beside the point.

The point is, I’m back into the plotting phase of Makeover, and it’s interesting. I’m doing multiple viewpoints, which I’ve never been very successful with before, and my story structure is odd–not “constructed like a fugue” odd, just different from what I normally do. It’s also going to be in third person, which is not especially hard, per se, just outside of my comfort zone. I love first person, and I think my strengths as a writer mesh very well with first person’s strengths as a literary device. Going outside of that comfort zone is going to change the way I reveal both plot and character, and that’s an interesting thought to have while planning a book.

The good news is, after four days of dying on the couch while children run rampant through my fatherless house, I was able to come back to work, read my notes, and get instantly sucked back into the feel and excitement of this story. Hooray! Now all I need to do is figure out how to give readers the same reaction, and I’m golden.

A Whole Nother Book: Literally

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Okay, so, a funny thing happened. I was watching a movie last weekend–a pretty dumb movie, truth be told–and all of a sudden I thought, “wouldn’t it be fun to write a book about X?” And I got really excited. And I tried to figure out how to make it work, and then suddenly I thought, “what if I combined it with Y?” And I got REALLY excited. Remember last week when I talked about how the best stories come from combining disparate ideas in cool new ways? Well, this idea started aggregating awesome idea after awesome idea like some kind of super-magnetized katamari, and it was all I could do to keep up. I came into work Monday morning and tried to work on Nightbringer, but I just couldn’t focus: this other idea was too cool, and too urgent, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. If I’d been in the middle of Nightbringer I would have found a way to deal with it, but thankfully I was only barely starting, still early in the planning stage, so it was easy to shove Nightbringer back into the closet and switch gears into something else. So now I’m working on something else, which for lack of a better title I shall call Extreme Makeover: Apocalypse Edition. Let me assure you that it is awesome.

From an artistic standpoint, Makeover is a great project to be on right now because I am incredibly fired up and passionate about it. I don’t know if anyone else wants it, but I don’t care because I want it, and I want it a lot. From a business standpoint, though, it’s still a pretty good move: it’s a great follow-up to Strawberry Fields because it’s set in the modern world and screws with reality is some pretty cool ways. It’s also a great follow-up to the other book I’m trying to sell right now, A Night of Blacker Darkness, because it’s a darkly comic farce about horrible people doing horrible things. Interestingly, Makeover is science fiction, which I don’t typically write (though Strawberry Fields is close, which is another reason this will be a good follow-up). So it’s something I want to write, which means it’s likjely to be good and go quickly, and something that fits with my recent work, which makes it a little more sell-able. I can’t really ask for much more than that.

So: I’m not writing a fantasy anymore (and my SF is set in the modern world), so I don’t have a ton of worldbuilding to do. The next step is, as I’ve talked about before, the “Cool Stuff” phase of planning: I open a file and start writing down every cool scene or character or complication I can think of, based on the core idea. What does this idea suggest? What have I never seen before? What will the readers want, and what will they not be expecting? I write down every idea I can think of, with another file open to jot down character ideas and major story arcs as they come to me. It’s important to note that I don’t do this in a vacuum; my brother is also a writer, and an excellent sounding board for ideas, and I don’t think I will ever write a book without brainstorming with my friend Ben. I even brought my writing group into the mix, pitching them the basic idea and seeing what popped out, and I’m pleased to say they thought of several cool new things I hadn’t even considered.

With a burgeoning file of cool ideas I opened another file–an Excel spreadsheet, as geeky as that sounds–and listed out the seven points of the Star Trek RPG story structure system I’ve blogged about before: Hook, Plot Turn, Pinch, Midpoint, Pinch, Plot Turn, Resolution. By this time I had a main character in mind, so I jotted down his story arc in very basic terms. With that is place, I opened the two windows side by side–my plot spreadsheet and my Cool Stuff file–and started grabbing cool ideas and scenes and shoving them into the plot wherever they worked best. I use a spreadsheet for this because it’s a very easy way to keep different plots organized in different columns, so I know which events are happening at what times in the story. It’s also very handy to be able to insert a new line wherever I need it. Eventually I’ll probably convert this back into a normal document style, but in the planning phase a spreadsheet is great.

So that’s where I am now: I have a 62-line spreadsheet full of all the major events and twists and scenes, more or less in the order they need to be in. My next step will be to go back through again and identify the major viewpoints and subplots–most of these are already pretty obvious from the spreadsheet, but I need to formalize them a little more to make sure all the moving pieces mesh without breaking. I tend to write very fluidly once I get to the actual prose work, but only because I outline very meticulously; if I do all this administrative work beforehand, it’s very easy to change things on the fly while writing because I already know where a character can and can’t go, and what information can or can’t be revealed by a certain point. This lets me spend the writing time focused on my artistic concerns like character, tension, and humor.

I feel very good about this book. The planning is coming together really smoothly, and I should be able to start actual writing by the end of the week. I’ll keep you updated as things move along. And yes, I can say “whole nother” if I want to. I’m a descriptive grammarian–we can do WHATEVER WE WANT.

Serial Killer Fan Art

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Wow, that heading sounds really creepy.

Anyway, I’m not talking about fan art for actual serial killers (though it certainly suggests some really creepy/sick/awesome story ideas), I’m talking about fan art for I Am Not a Serial Killer, produced by my Internet friend Shannon. She posted this first on TWG, the giant message board I share with a bunch of other great authors, and I loved it so much I wanted to post it here.

John__s_wall_by_Shanne

I love the way the wallpaper is cracked and peeling away, and I especially love how it looks like the creepy scratchy drawings were already under there, just waiting to get out. There’s some awesome Mr. Monster imagery in there as well, some of which Shannon didn’t even realize she was doing; we were obviously thinking along the same lines with our separate depictions of the character.

If you like it, please drop by TWG and let her know! You can also visit her deviantart page and see some of her other great stuff, including a couple of neat pieces of Mistborn fan art.

Starting from Scratch: Mashing Ideas Together

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do with Nightbringer, and I think I could sit down and hammer out a reasonable outline for the book today, if necessary; I’ve already outlined some of the major arcs. What I don’t yet have a good feel for, however, is the larger scope of the series, which I would like to be pretty epic. The world I’m creating certainly supports it, and the first book (as currently envisioned) doesn’t come anywhere near solving some of the bigger problems, but the feel is still too small. An epic story spanning multiple books needs to feel larger than life–it’s not enough just to fill up the pages with story, that story has to really blow you away and feel like it deserves all those pages. I don’t want to overuse the word “epic,” but it’s really the best word here.

Consider for a moment the original Star Wars movies. The plot of the first movie was “we need to rescue the princess and blow up the Death Star.” In the process, they established the Empire as the bad guys, and Darth Vader as their leader. It would have been possible to follow that up with two movies about destroying the Empire, moving on to new space stations and other military targets, and in some ways the series did indeed hit those notes, but it also expanded its scope and hit more notes we weren’t expecting. They added more philosophy and character, raising the specter of Luke’s potential fall to the Dark Side. They made the Force not just a tool, but a battlefield unto itself, and with it introduced the Emperor as a larger and more ominous villain pulling Vader’s strings. In short, the second and third movies not only expanded the existing elements (battles were bigger, chases were faster, duels were longer, etc.), but they added new elements. They didn’t just expand the story, they expanded the scope of the story.

Another great example is the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. The first book is about a group of magical thieves trying to bring down an evil overlord, and the story is very cool and evocative, and the later books could have easily followed the same model, but instead Brandon chose to expand the scope. Brandon introduces new challenges and characters, but more importantly he introduces new KINDS of challenges and characters, taking the series into unknown territory and really stretching the limits of his story far beyond what most readers expected. The result is, in my opinion, one of the most satisfying (if not THE most satisfying) series finales I’ve ever read.

Now, this kind of thing has its downside, too, and Mistborn is going to be my example for that as well. In pulling out all the stops and going a massive, apocalyptic storyline, he ended up destroying the setting in a way that many of his fans aren’t sure what to do with. For eample, he’s licensed a company to create a Mistborn roleplaying game, and the fans I’ve talked to about it have all said, without exception, that they want to roleplay in the world as it existed in the first book (sneaky thieves and fancy balls and fantasy-noir skullduggery) rather than the chaotic upheaval of the later books. The scope Brandon chose to use was so epic that it severely limits his choices for sequels and spin-offs and other properties–and that’s fine, because that’s what he chose to do and the books are fantastic, but it’s a very big choice and it’s not one I’m necessarily happy with. The alternative, alas, is something like the Matrix trilogy, which preserved its basic setting but in doing so felt very anti-climactic–we got to the end and said, “Wait, what? They don’t actually bring down the villains or free the humans or anything?” It’s hard to figure out what to do, and how to do it right.

So anyway: I want the story to be epic, is the point I’m trying to make here. And this is where my title comes in: Mashing Ideas Together. Something we say on Writing Excuses pretty often is that most really good stories come not from one but from several different ideas, combined in new and interesting ways. The bigger your story, the more ideas you need. Nightbringer creates its book-one story by combining several different ideas and genres that I find fascinating, in a way that (I hope) is pretty cool. In seeking to expand that into an epic series, I’m doing the same thing on a larger scale–I’m taking my core ideas of Nightbringer and smashing them into various other ideas I have in my head, and in my “use this idea someday” file on my computer, trying them out to see what fits and what works and which ones suggest awesome stories I haven’t seen before. Eventually I’ll come up with something I love, and it will spark a dozen more ideas, and the story will start to unfold in my mind, bigger and cooler than I’d ever be able to make it with just one or two ideas.

Starting From Scratch: Again

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

After cataloging the process of writing Strawberry Fields, I had intended to continue the series by talking about the revision, but then I realized that this would take far too long to get started. I like to leave my books for a few weeks before I start revising, giving me time and distance so I can come back to them with a new, fresh perspective. Rather than make you wait for that, I’ll start in the early, early stages of my next book, tentatively titled Not the Real Title.

My goals for Not the Real Title are:
1. I want to write a dark fantasy. I love to read Dark Fantasies, and I bet I could do a good one, and I’ve had this idea nagging at me for literally years, so I think it’s finally time. This is, however, a big step away from what I’ve published in the past, and I don’t want to try to pull as many readers as I can from one series to the other, which leads us to:

2: I want to make it stylistically similar to the John Cleaver books. This does not mean that I want to write another “sympathetic serial killer in small town America,” but that I want to repeat some of the deeper elements: it should have a horror feel, it should have a strong, flawed character, and it should show horrible things through a lens of dark humor (I really missed the dark humor in Strawberry Fields, and I really want to get back to it). On the other hand:

3: I want the new book to be stylistically different from the Cleaver books as well. Instead of short, single-viewpoint stories with a strong single focus, I want to tell a much larger, more epic story that draws on multiple viewpoints. Why? Because I like reading that kind of thing, and despite a couple of attempts I’ve never really written it before. I want to stretch myself and try new things. And speaking of new things:

4: I want to write an “Industrial Fantasy,” which is my own code for “steampunk with a very dark feel.” Like I said, I’ve had this idea cooking in my head for years (approximately six, including one semi-draft written for NaNoWriMo a few years ago), but I’ve never really had the chance to do it right. I want huge cities and extreme poverty and plenty of hope and despair and intrigue and giant robots; imagine an epic fantasy horror as written by Victor Hugo. Steampunk is sort of kind of gaining ground in the marketplace, so it’s popular but still very much in its infancy as a solid, cohesive genre, so I think it’s a good time, if not a perfect time, to try it out.

5: The real working title is Nightbringer, by the way. It’s just that Not the Real Title was funnier (and, in a sense, equally accurate). I doubt I’ll keep that title, but you never know.

So, with these goals in mind, where do I start? With pure, unfiltered brainstorming. I’ll let you in one some of it next time. Unless I do a WFC recap first, which is likely. Be prepared.

World Fantasy Convention

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

I will be attending World Fantasy this year in San Jose, California. World Fantasy is the first con I started going to years ago when I was just starting to get serious about writing. It will be good to be back. My brief schedule is listed below, but please feel free to stop me in the hall for chat. I will have books and T-shirts to sell.

Friday, 8:00 pm: There is a mass signing at the convention center for all authors and editors in attendance. While you’re standing in line for Garth Nix, I’ll be happy to sign your book.

Saturday, 4:00 pm:What Makes a Good Monster
From Dracula through Tolkien’s Ring Wraiths to Pennywise the Clown, the monsters of horror and fantasy are often the most iconic element of a story. What makes for a monster that will resonate with the reader and why are they so memorable?
Chaz Brenchley, Simon Clark, Paula Guran, Sarah Jane Pinborough, Dan Wells