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The Daemon is in the Details

I’m working hard on Infernal Machines. One of the difficulties in regards to writing a fantasy that takes its worldbuilding foundation from Rome – minus the Greco-Roman gods – is suddenly, with the loss of the Greek panoply, you’ve taken away most of the underpinnings of their society, down to the days of the week.  Without the Greek and Roman gods, the months have no names. The patrician families have no lineage. But, Romans (or Rumans – did you know Rome was once called Rume ?- in Arabic, the name Rumi literally means “Roman”) are an imminently pragmatic bunch, and most of their months are numeral based, if you didn’t already know. Originally, the Roman calendar was totally out of whack, having 304 days a year (I think) until Julius Caesar came along and stabilized it by inventing the calendar we know and love today. So, December, originally the tenth month – from deca or decem meaning 10 – became the twelfth. November, originally the ninth month, became the eleventh, and October… well, you get the idea.

I solved that little problem by looking at the origins of all the Roman months themselves, chucking out the known religious based stuff, and sticking in my own (and some borrowed) mythologies.

ruman calendar sm

Why am I even worrying about specifying days and months? Infernal Machines has two (er… three now that I think about it) concurrent timelines that intersect. There’s a lot of territory crossed, in Occidentalia and the Hardscrabble Territories, across the Occidens Sea to Ruma Immortalis and then beyond, to the far lands of Kithai and Tchinee. Yet, the two storylines still intersect in the form of epistolary correspondence via an infernal device called the Quotidian.

So, here, I will pull back the hood, as it were, and let you see all the little daemons powering the machine that will become Infernal Machines.

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Click photos to EMBIGGEN

quitilius

And most of this novel occurs here. In Occidentalia. As Mark Lawrence remarked, the map resembles a cheese America that has been left on the grill too long. Which is pretty much what his Broken Lands look like, as well. But where the Broken Lands are (as far as I can tell) set in our reality, on Earth, just countless years in the future after a collapse of civilization, my world is what I like to think of as our world, two steps back, three to the left, and then dressed in a Halloween costume. That’s pretty much my worldbuilding philosophy right there.

incorruptibles-map

 

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Perks Explanatory Web Video

Because being a web-based “motivation, engagement, and incentive” provider is a hard concept to grasp right off the bat, when I was the marketing manager at Perks.com, I created a series of web videos to help explain and illuminate the Perks value proposition. This is the hero video, the masthead.

I wrote the scripts (with feedback from the “talent”, i.e. our sales head at the time), I mocked up pre-pro animatics, I shot, keyed, and edited the footage and then composited it all in After Effects, where I animated the most important text bits. I also animated the logo, which is my favorite part.

You can view a mocked up animatic where I spoke the script into a microphone prior to shooting here. It’s pretty funny.

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Downtown Partnership TV Spot

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I wrote the song and worked on this commercial when I was at Stone & Ward Advertising. The campaign went on to win best of show at the 2001 Arkansas Addys.

Winner, Best of Show 2001 Arkansas Addy Awards

To view, click here or the photo. You have to view it on my ancient Tumblr site. I’ve lost the original file in a Kernel Panic incident.

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WorldCon 2013 Recap

Learned a lot of stuff about the publishing industry and had much of what I knew of human nature – both the noble and the base – confirmed. Mostly through my own silly behavior. Took some notes during the convention and this pretty much sums up how I feel about the whole event.

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Here is a video for you.

Robert Jackson Bennett, Zachary Jernigan, Emma Newman, Betsy Dornbusch, Katy Stauber, Chester Hoster, Jenn Udden, Myke Cole, Justin Landon, Michael R. Underwood, Chuck Wendig, Adam Christopher, Steve Drew, John Picacio, Doug Hulick, C. Robert Cargill, Brian McClellan, Sam Sykes, Nick Mamatas, Wes Chu, Nancy Hightower, Irene Gallo, Patti Garcia, Maurice Broaddus, Andrea Phillips, Jeff Macfee, Janet Harriett, and so many more

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The Lennon-McCartney Theory of Self-Editing

Once, a few years ago, I happened to pick up a couple of Stephen King novels I hadn’t read before. I can’t explain why I had not read them except maybe it was because they were massive and I didn’t want to commit countless hours, then. They truly were great big honking books. Insomnia and Tommyknockers.

But one summer I bought them on a whim because I hadn’t read King in a while and, wanted to see what I’d been missing. I opened Insomnia and started reading and about half-way through it, I set it down, puzzled, and picked up Tommyknockers. About halfway through that book, I set it down. I won’t say I was disgusted with them – the prose was fine – but much of the books were fatty. Just so much stuff that seemed old and tired to me and didn’t really impact on the story and, on the whole, was needless. I was amazed that the books got to print because they were so… mediocre. And maybe that was why. Because they weren’t terrible. (I’ve been told by amused King-afficianados, that those two books were the absolute worst combination of King novels I could’ve picked and that King was quitting smoking so he should be forgiven.)

But, they could have been good, I think, had they had an aggressive editor armed with a hedge-trimmer.

Of course, they didn’t (again, guessing) because Stephen King is Stephen King and at the time, he was the hottest selling author in America. King didn’t need an editor. He was too big for an editor. Everything he wrote was gold.

It was then I came up with my Lennon-McCartney Theory of Self-Editing. Granted it doesn’t make much sense – I’m more of an inductive, rather than deductive thinker – which helps me as an author but kills me as an essayist. Anyway, it goes a little something like this:

Why does every Paul McCartney song after 1980 suck?

Because John Lennon died on December 8, 1980.

After The Beatles broke up, McCartney went on to record a solo album, McCartney, with the hit “Maybe I’m Amazed” and then went on to form Wings which produced a whole slew of number one tunes. Were these tunes as good as songs co-written with Lennon? No, but they were still pretty good.

And then Lennon got shot and died.

Why did that affect McCartney’s songwriting?

Because before Lennon’s death, if Paul McCartney wrote a song and recorded it, he knew that somewhere, at some point, John Lennon would hear and judge it.

Lennon had become internalized in McCartney’s conscious, acting as an editor and benchmark. Without Lennon, we get all the crap that has come since. You could argue that for a while McCartney was looking for someone to take Lennon’s place as editor – Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson – but ultimately that failed and ever since Lennon died, the only tunes that McCartney has produced are, like Insomnia and Tommyknockers, extremely mediocre.

“But John,” you say, “What about My Brave Face?”

“You,” I say, “Have got to be kidding me. Even Elvis Costello couldn’t rescue him. I dare you – nay, I double dog dare you – to hum a chorus from that album.”

I’m glad to note that Stephen King got back to writing great books after those two. Sadly, Paul McCartney has not returned to writing great songs.

How to adapt this into your life as a writer? A musician? Hell if I know, but I’d guess you (I) should try to find your (my) own John Lennon? Someone you trust to be honest, and brutal when the need arises, but also recognizes the good in what you create.

That is all.

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The Best Part of Writing is Making Shit Up

The best part of writing – other than the fame and fortune, right? – is when you’re in the groove and you just start pulling shit out of your ass and it works. All the mechanics of writing are subsumed and you’re free for imaginative play. (You might call it imaginative ass-play.)

I’m writing the second book in The Incorruptibles series now – it’s an “epic gritty” fantasy called Infernal Machines, set in a world that runs on infernal combustion, meaning bound warded daemons power machinery, drive the engines of industry and war.

Anyway, I’ve spent countless hours researching, mapping, thinking about the geopolitical situations, thinking about the racial identities along with cultural differences, fleshing out the “magic” system, working on the organization of the governments and armies (granted I cribbed most from Rome but I had to know the Rome stuff to crib from) and spent shitloads of manhours world building for the first and second novels. Now a good portion of that work is done I’ve moved onto some of the fun stuff:  I’ve begun yanking ideas out of my anus.

It’s kinda like soloing on guitar. Once you know your scales and have down the fundamentals, you can extemporaneously vamp, i.e. pull shit out of your ass.

Some of the stuff I’ve pulled out of my ass lately in Infernal Machines:

The name of the daemon-fired locomotive Valdrossos: 

By late afternoon, we’d come within sight of the steaming iron behemoth that was the Valdrossos. It stood black as midnight and thirty feet tall and was easily the width of eight horses riding abreast, pluming black smoke in a massive column skyward. Looking at that panting black bitch, fueled by malice, I was forcibly reminded that war was coming unless we could prevent it.

I don’t know why, but that name pleases the shit out of me. It just sounds right. Later, I can come up with rationalizations as to its etymology but right now, it’s just sounds right.

THE QUOTIDIAN

A sympathetic daemonic messaging device given to governors, commanders, and other people of importance. The name, Quotidian, is a joke because the device runs on human blood and would quickly exsanguinate any who used it daily.

I extended my hand. Quick as a mink, Cornelius slashed my palm – slashed deep – and snatched up the bowl to collect the blood pooling in my palm. When the senator was satisfied there was enough, he unstoppered the inkwell, added a measure of the ink into the still warm blood and swirled it about. When it had mixed to his satisfaction, he repositioned the Quotidian device on the parchment, unsnapped a small latch on top of it revealing a mouth to what I could only think was some sort of reservoir, and poured the unclotted mixture of blood and ink into the device.

The glow from the Quotidian became more intense, pulsing, and small wisps of vapor emerged and rose to join the blue tabac smoke hanging above us in the lantern light. Then, with a lurch, the device began to move. It slid across the parchment at a furious pace: in its passage it left a trail of ink and blood. The air of the tent filled with a scratching, hissing noise. The thing was writing.

“This Quotidian is paired with Tamberlaine’s own,” Cornelius said, looking away from the device’s movements. He waved his hand Lupina came forward holding the decanter of whiskey and poured him another glass. “In this way are the Emperor’s orders disseminated throughout the Empire, almost instantaneously.”

FAKE PLAYWRIGHTS AND POETS

Bill Bless is my famous poet in this world, a nod to Tim Powers’ William Ashbless. My Bless wrote such masterpieces as Our Heavenly War, His Infernal DemiseValerus the FiendHope and DestructionThe Lives of Odious Men, and many others. But his rival Vinus Mauthew is a swaggering arrogant little jumped-up poet-rake whose first folio The Teats of Fortuna are making waves in upper Ruman society, not to mention the provinces of Occidentalia (the Imperial Reserve Protectorate and the Hardscrabble Territories).

Pulled all that out of my butt. Still, it feels right.

She nodded, thoughtful. Picking up the acetum and some cotton bandages, she cleansed my palm and wrapped it with gauze. “Aemillius says that one’s hands are the truest glimpse into the character of a man.”

“‘He is loud and portentous, yet his hands are soft,’” I said, grinning, giving her one of the most often quoted lines from Bless’ His Infernal Demise. New Damnation’s Cornicen had begun printing that play in serial, I’d taken an earnest liking to it despite my obvious lack of any sort of education. Much to Fisk’s irritation, I’d taken even memorizing some of the more penetrating bits.

That’s all, really. I’m just having a lot of fun fleshing out my world, exploring my characters, and seeing how everything shakes out. I hope, in the end, you all will enjoy it too.

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The Twelve-Fingered Boy Book Trailer

When it came time to make a book trailer for my novel, The Twelve-Fingered Boy, both my publisher and I decided that I could do a better job than probably anyone they could hire. So I created this one myself.

The thing about book trailers is that most of them are terrible and far too long. I can’t tell you how many trailers are just words slowly scaling or panning  (if you’re lucky) over images pilfered from Wikipedia and set to either terribly moody goth music or techno.

My philosophy on book trailers is if you don’t have a budget to do something special, then keep it short and simple. This one clocks in at 60 seconds – the length of a standard television spot. My favorite parts are the birds – I used Particular in After Effects to create the flock – and flying the virtual camera over the “landscape” I’d set up in 3D space. I also like how I animated onto the screen my publisher’s logos, Lerner Books and Carolrhoda Lab at the end.

If you’d like, you could buy that bad twelve-fingered boy, if you wanted to.

 

 

BUY THE BOOK!

Hiram Quincrux voiced by Dan O’Shea – http://danielboshea.wordpress.com/
Jack Graves voiced by Matthew Gephardt
Jack Graves voice engineered by Drew Pickens
Animation by the author

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Why I Write

This originally appeared on my old blog, The Bastardized Version. Recently, especially after yesterday’s post where we narrowly averted a self-publishing kerfuffle, I’ve been thinking about why artists keep striving despite the odds and I went back to read it. And, I must say, I was actually moved by something I had written. It’s like somebody else wrote this piece.

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I am a writer.

Strange to type that, but there it is. At varying points of my life – and even currently – I could make many similar statements:

I am a father.
I am a husband.
I am a musician.
I am a designer.
I am an artist.

All of these vocations (and responsibilities) are hard. Harder than most people who don’t do them – or don’t do them well – can believe. And success at any of those things is subjective, fleeting, and always up for review.

In the course of these human events, we fathers, mothers, wives and husbands, musicians, designers, artists, and novelists have to ask ourselves why we keep doing it. Because it is fucking hard, a hard and thankless road for long stretches, miles upon miles, and many times during the journey it would be easier just to abandon the path and walk away.

But we don’t.

Why?

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Asking why someone writes seems infinitely more interesting than the mundane, nuts-and-bolts, cobbler’s question of how to write. The question of why I write isn’t one I could’ve addressed a year ago. Or, hearing the question, I would’ve said, “To get published.” But, now, since that goal has been achieved – and do not let me downplay the magnitude of that feat, for any writer; getting your first novel published is like broaching some infinitely high plateau, pulling yourself up and over the rim, scraped knuckles and barked shins and all, into the thin and vaporous air. A fantastic view, but there’s still a ways to go. We have monstrous appetites, mankind does, and we’ll storm heaven itself and overthrow God and still never be satisfied.

Writing just to get published seems like saying I listen to music just to keep myself from boredom. I sing to keep myself from suicide. The inner workings of writers – and most artists, though I’m just speaking for myself – are labyrinthine and convoluted, motivated by obscure forces, and writing just to get published doesn’t ring true, not for me.

So, why do I write, now that it’s not just to get published?

Is it for the money? Again, a year ago, I would’ve answered differently than I do today, because then money seemed like a bonus. THEM: “Hey, man, we want to publish your book, it’s fantastic, we love it. Oh, and I almost forgot, we’re gonna give you some money for it, too. How’s that sound?” ME: “Uh, freaking awesome! I’d just be happy to get published. But money too!?! Pinch me.”

But that was then.

Now, while I don’t write for the money, I’d be lying if I said I don’t have plans for every cent I earn writing. The money isn’t peanuts anymore, either. So, yes, I do write for the money. But not solely for the money.

Do I write for the glory? The renown? Ahahaha. Money and glory? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, right? I write horror novels, fantasy novels. I write books for teens.

Example: I went to a movie premiere in Little Rock the other night and schmoozed with the editors from Oxford American, a magazine published here in Arkansas. When I told them I was a novelist, they were very interested in me. When I revealed I was a horror/fantasy author, noses suddenly became elevated. The managing editor said, “Oh.” Sniff. “We don’t cover that sort of… literature.” I had been drinking so I laughed it off, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt. (Turns out, the editor, Marc Smirnoff, was soon to be removed from his position due to some inappropriate harassment of the sexual stripe. Here’s the NYT article.)

So, no, I don’t write for the glory.

However, it is wonderful having novels on the way to publication from great houses and knowing that when they do come out, people will read them and know my name. The fame a writer has is infinitesimal compared even to some C or D list actor, but still, knowing that people are aware of you and your work is a great – and sometimes terrifying – feeling.

But I am no Ozymandias.

When I hear people saying, “I write because I can’t NOT write,” I want to smack them about the head and shoulders and edit their double negatives. Placing the desire and vocation of writing on the level of, say, breathing, is the same sort of reasoning twelve year old girls use to justify getting the newest skirt – they just HAD to.

I’ve heard writers speak of TRUTH – that it’s at the tip of their pen and all of literature is an attempt to achieve it. I’ve read that some authors feel that we’re all born flawed, and wounded, and the act of all creation is a way to heal that wound. Certain misogynists feel that all artistic pursuit is an attempt by men to become a gestative, creative force – all art is due to womb envy – which leaves me wondering, then, why do women write?

No, none of this applies to me. Or maybe all of it. Shit I don’t know. But I keep going back to one thing.

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It’s 1979 and we’re somewhere outside Kankakee, Illinois, barreling through the night in my father’s light blue ’73 Impala. My mom slumps against the passenger window, head against a pillow, bare feet on the dash. My sister has passed into slumber on her side of the car, sprawled out on the big bench seat, no seatbelt in sight.

I can’t sleep. I’ve always been a good sleeper, going down easy if I had half a chance, but I’m too excited and we’ll be in Ludington, Michigan, in the morning and that’s my most favorite place in the world, on the beach, the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, sliding down the dunes, roasting hot-dogs over driftwood fires, having ice cream at the nearby A&W Root Beer stand.

But it’s after midnight now and I can’t sleep.

Dad fiddles with the dial, moving the red frequency indicator back and forth across the face of the radio, changing the shape of the soft static coming from the speakers and making my mom grunt and twist her body a little. He turns it off and drums his fingers on the steering wheel.

In the backseat, I scoot up and hang my arms over into the front seat, resting my chin on the upholstery.

Dad, in a kind of whispery voice, says, “Hey, tiger, you wanna hear a story?”

“Yes!”

Mom shushes us but then says, “Just keep your voices down, okay? It’s late.”

Dad says, “You ever heard of the Greeks?”

“No.”

“Not Hercules?”

“Yeah, we saw that movie.”

“That’s right.” He rubs his chin and says, “This story was close to the same time in history, but it’s about a war. The Trojan war. All fought because of a girl.”

He stares out the windshield for a bit, headlights passing us like ghosts while bugs make bright streamers in the air before ending as soft splats on the window.

“It starts like this, if I can remember it right…’I sing, O Muse, of the wrath of Achilles, Peleus’ son…’”

“What’s a Muse?”

He smiles and even though I can’t see it in the darkness of the car, I know it’s there.

“Well…let me tell you…”

I sit, chin on upholstery, hands empty and swinging loose, hanging on his every word as he retells The Illiad, after midnight, going eighty miles an hour, somewhere in Illinois, 1979.

This I will never forget. This I will never forget.

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There are moments that shape the course of our lives. Some bad, some good. Sometimes they’re such small, passing moments, you never realize how important they are to you without the space of forty years in which to view them.

But I know why I write.

I write in hopes of giving to others what my father gave to me. The intense joy of story, well-told. An adventure. An escape. And to add my voice to the chorus of innumerable storytellers since mankind sat huddled around campfires.

We are what we do. Sometimes, we can change the world – or at least another person – by what we say.

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The Benefits of Being Unpublished

File this post under: FANTASY. And, per comments, TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING

So, going by the title of this post, I can say right away that if you’re still unpublished you probably have a dayjob and there’s a good possibility that you have health benefits. So you got that going for you right there. Go kiss your HR person and then schedule a $25 copay visit to your doctor just because YOU CAN, you healthy motherscratchers.

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The other day Chuck Wendig posted 25 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT OUTLINING and as usual it really hit home. I’m a more recent convert to outlining. Traditionally there’ve always been “plotters” and “pantsers” though I prefer George R.R. Martin’s more elegant dialectic of gardeners vs. architects. When I first started writing, I clearly fell on the side of the gardeners.

Southern Gods, This Dark Earth, The Twelve-Fingered Boy were all written without outlines. Or, I should say, were written with only the barest of outlines usually half-way through the story. The Twelve-Fingered Boy was short enough where I held the whole of the plot in my head throughout the process of writing it without ever putting any sort of roadmap down.

The Incorruptibles, The Shibboleth, The End of All Things, Infernal Machines… all of these books of mine have, if not in depth, then comprehensive outlines spanning the whole of the narrative.

Why this change?

Necessity. All of these books that I’ve outlined extensively, it’s been done to keep me on track toward deadlines, to prevent me from meandering. I’m due to finish a book every nine months (or so). Publishers expect the books. That allows me no time to woolgather or explore subplots that go nowhere.

So, as I was reading Chuck’s wonderful post and nodding my head in agreement, I started thinking of what it was like before I was published and certain things occurred to me. I was always in such a mad rush to get SG or TDE into print, I took for granted the strength of my position as being unpublished. I know that might sound weird but there are great benefits to that time before you’re published. And now, while I love Southern Gods, my first novel, there are things I would change in it. Flaws I would fix. But, they say perfectionists never get published – they’re always working on the latest draft of their unpublished masterpiece. At some point you have to let go.

However, when you’re unpublished, you have the luxury of exploring every rabbit hole. An unpublished writer can take a decade and write a perfectly wonderful and sprawling masterpiece. An unpublished writer can become expansive, can throw pacing to the wind, can introduce thousands of characters, and (in fantasy) develop convincing flora and fauna and magical species to fill this world. Massive unexplored terrains. In essence, the unpublished author knows no constraints.

And that is a position of strength.

Why?

Because if you have the juice, if you have the ability, the skill, the artistry, you’re going to get published. It’s going to happen. You’re not going to let anything stop you. And nothing CAN stop you. Despite the flux of crap self-published books and cheap pulp novels, people are always starving for thoughtful, exciting, well-wrought entertainment.

But right now, before you have your big deal (and all contractually-based schedules appended to said deal), it will (most likely) be the only time in your career that you have the luxury of exploring your own literary world in a leisurely fashion. It’ll be the only time you’ll be able to write a book as big as you’d like. To create massive landscapes and fill them with interesting people. To construct intricate plots. To explore every rabbit hole.

Some of you might be saying “Bullshit. Books like that never get sold.” I say to you Jonathan Strange & Mr. NorrellThe Name of the Wind, and The Blade Itself. I say to you A Shadow in Summer and The Lies of Lock Lamora.

I say to you The Hobbit.

So, if there’s a piece of advice I could give to myself five years ago when I first started writing, it would be, “Slow down. I know you’re thirty seven and feel like you don’t have a lot of time, but… ease up. Make the book bigger. Include the subplot regarding Rabbit and Alice. Develop the world more. In the end it’ll pay off.”

Keep your chins up and keep writing.

That’s all, folks.

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ADDENDUM:

Interesting discussion on the Twitters regarding this post with Chuck Wendig, Thomas Pluck, and yours truly. https://twitter.com/tommysalami/status/335109247685763075

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The War of Art

There’s all stripes of writing advice out there and, surprisingly, almost all of it is good. As a writer, much of the journey is discovering what works for you and what doesn’t. The only way to come to understand what works for you is through completion. If you’re not finishing things, then you’re not learning what works for you. And that is not good.

Finishing your work is like making the sale in Glengarry Glen Ross. I admonish you to watch this video snippet:

So, that being said – substituting THE END for THE SALE (and subtracting all the non-politically correct language because, you know, we’re all politically correct up in this biznatch at all times), if there’s any hard and fast rule to writing it has to be finish what you start. Without a completed piece, you’ll never be able to discern what works for you and what doesn’t. You’ll have nothing to sell. You’ll have wasted your time.

Steven Pressfield has written a wonderful motivational book called THE WAR OF ART. In it, he states that all of art is war and you have to face down Resistance that keeps you from the finish line. I recommend this highly. It’s full of insightful things like:

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So, much advice on writing is available on the web. And you can lose yourself down that rabbit-hole. I think most writers should do so, at least once. Become familiar with all the advice, read books on writing – Anne Lamott and Lawrence Block and Stephen King, they all have books on the art and craft of writing. Hit Chuck Wendig’s TERRIBLEMINDS and peruse his points about writing and publishing – you are a student and forwarned is forearmed. Follow writerly people on the Twitters and Facebook. Attend workshops. Join a writing group.

And then, after you’ve absorbed all that you can, try to forget it all. Your job is to write and finish the job. You are an assasin that must kill the project. Don’t let advice stop you. Feel free to allow yourself to just write without rules.

Don’t let expectation inhibit you.

You’re not a novelist until you’ve finished the manuscript. You have nothing until you’ve reached the end. That should be the holy grail for you.

Nothing else matters.

I’m blogging this to remind myself.