Friday, May 25, 2018

Derivative Fun in the WIP

My favorite thing about the current WIP is that I get to be a kid again.

Edie is a thinly veiled homage to my favorite MMORPG character ever. I can't say which game because frankly the game company believes they own my character and everything about her even if *I* did all the work creating and voicing her. So no screenshots of her, either. What is it about this situation that lets me be a kid?

I can pack Edie's speech, actions, and characterization full of Easter Eggs that harken back to the character and game of origin. I get that maybe three people on earth will recognize them when they read them. It amuses me while I write, so that's my excuse. There's a distinct chance that not a single one will survive editorial, anyway. Oh well. True, my game character had magic as the basis for her power and I frankly can't swing that in an SFR, but you know. Arthur C. Clarke, right? "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."  So Edie has the tech to do what the things her progenitor did with magic.

All of this came about because the game company made repeated disparaging remarks about the race of character I had chosen to play. It's as if they learned nothing from Robin William's devastating suicide. The gist of their statement about this particular race of characters was something like 'this fictional race is too ridiculous to be taken seriously.' Sure. It looks like the game designers built the race in question to provide comedic relief in the game. But I think they're wrong. Dead wrong. I think most of us have come to understand that the funniest exteriors mask the most tragic and conflicted interiors.

So yeah. No pressure or anything, but I'm doing my best to pack all that stuff into a character who only has 90k words and a romance to get off the ground. My other favorite thing about it is that I don't have a hard deadline. So when something isn't working, I can afford the time to backtrack and figure out where I deviated from The One True Path.

Now. My very favorite thing on earth will be FINALLY finishing this thing. So I'm off to do that.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

My current WIP: The Shield of the People

Talking about my current WIP is a bit odd, because it's the sequel to a book that you all haven't read yet.  I mean, I could talk about my favorite bits in THE SHIELD OF THE PEOPLEbut it's lacking context for you. 

One thing I am enjoying in this one-- and to a lesser degree this applies to THE WAY OF THE SHIELD as well-- is a different kind of antagonist.  At least one of them. Namely, I have an antagonist whose goal is something that is a complete anathema to Dayne, but methods that are completely in sync with him.  So Dayne doesn't respect what the antagonist wants to do, but deeply respects the way he's trying to go about it, and therefore the person doing it.

One of the things I like about this series is a lot of the characters are fundamentally good people who are trying to do good things-- but they each have a very different idea of what that means.  That leads to, for me, fascinating situations of the lines between rebellion, revolution and lawlessness, and where those lines fall when, fundamentally, you believe in the system.

A lot of that is what The Maradaine Elite series is about.
That, and cool fight scenes.  Always cool fight scenes.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Why my new obsession is and must be a secret. (Hint at the end.)

The thing I like most about my work-in-progress is that you know nothing about it.

It's not that I don't like you or trust you [I love  you to bits, and you should know that]. It's not that I'm scared of rejection [except I so am] or even that I don't do well with criticism [oh God, what if it sucks? what if my baby grows up to be a super villain?!].

See, the thing is, this new series is nascent, gestating, passing through gleaming android milk over and over again like the monsters on Westworld, slowly becoming something better than it was in my brain.

But it's not there yet.

Right now, it's a lattice with little sprout vines reaching up, latching on. I think they will make flowers someday, and I think they will be beautiful. But I don't know for certain, and my hands are still dirty, and the no-you-can't voice is still really, really loud in my garden.

Last night, this unformed android alien plant baby transmorgified into complete synopses of all four books.

Tomorrow I will send those synopses in all their slimy, gross, hope-laden still-growningness to my agent. And I will be terrified.

This is the first time I've ever written a synopsis before I finished the book, and, in case you couldn't tell by the disturbing metaphors, doing the process this way is extremely weird. In the past, when I've synopsized, either the book was done and ready to roll or ... the magic bled out in the summary as I wrote it and the exsanguinated story gasped and died. Crisp vine, no flowers. Limp, fetid puddle of android alien goo. And then I hopped along to the next shiny.

Except, this time, I'm trying really hard not to do that, to kill my plant. I sort of have to send this early idea-let to my agent because that's how the next phase of my writing adventure progresses. I should be able to do this. I'm a professional, damn it.

So tomorrow I'll drop the chubby li'l info packet off at preschool [write email to agent; attach prehensile thing; tap Send], maybe have a little cry, and then go drink a lot of vodka and hope it learns how to play nice with others.

[Though, like all nurturers of super-villains, I do dream of it taking over the world someday.]

Wish us luck.

Hint: There are dragons.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Orchids on Young Queens and Vengeance from Slave Kings

I’m writing this post on an airplane on my way back from SFWA’s annual conference and Nebula Awards.

The gathering this year shone for so many reasons—excellent programming, exciting new initiatives on the Board (I’m a Director at Large, for SFWA), and wonderful camaraderie. We really connected with each other this year and I’m revved for next year’s conference in Los Angeles.
Because of all this I’m posting on Tuesday instead of my usual Sunday SFF Seven blog. Kristine Krantz switched days with me, which I truly appreciate. She wrote about her new urban fantasy series, so check that out!

We’re talking this week about our favorite things about our current WIPs. That stands for Work in Progress, for those not in the know. It’s a standard writer catch-all term for whatever we’re working on, regardless of length or medium.

(Medium is an important factor, I’m becoming more aware, as I spent a substantial amount of time meeting with folks this last week how to set the rules for the Game-Writing Nebula Award. Parsing how narrative arcs in games of all types as compared to in novels and shorter works has me thinking about how we tell stories.)

At any rate, I’m working on THE ORCHID THRONE, which is the first book in my new trilogy for St. Martin’s Press, The Forgotten Empires. The above images are ones I used for inspiration and to encapsulate the feel of the story.

And they summarize the contrasting worlds of the heroine and hero. She is the Queen of Flowers and he is the King of Slaves.

Really, these two characters are my favorite parts of this WIP. They are the ones driving it, especially as—the way my process works—I’m discovering the world, secondary characters and myriad other conflicts as I live with them.

They’re both very interesting, complex people, each fighting to hold themselves and their “kingdoms” together in different ways. She is young, very intelligent, fascinated by science—and holding onto her virgin status to preserve the sovereignty of her throne, in possibly the last somewhat free kingdom left. He is an escaped slave, king of nothing and with a voice roughened and strained from laboring in volcanic mines. He’s entirely focused on revenge—and willing to do whatever that takes.

They’re alike in their determination and iron wills. And also in what lies beneath all that.
So it’s fun to write these people and see what happens when I bring them together, both immovable objects. Or both irresistible forces. I’m not sure yet.

Explosions to ensue.

Monday, May 21, 2018

My favorite thing about the latest work in progress

Is that it is almost done.

I've been working on BOOMTOWN for a very long time. How long? Well, it was the project I was actively writing when my wife passed away.

I have to say, for me at least, the death of a spouse tends to slow down the writing on a project.

I came to a complete halt. Of course the fact that the publisher I was going to sell it to went belly up didn't help.  Maybe it did'tt really hurt, but it certainly took away from the incentive to get my butt in gear any faster.

I managed to keep myself busy with other projects. Also, I managed to write several sequels to the novel in question. How many? Well, there's "Black Train Blues," "The Devoted (a serialized novella), Songs in the Key of White, "What Rough Beast (With Charles R. Rutledge), and another on the way. Roughly 70,000 words worth of sequels to a novel that has not been finished.

But it's very close. Very close, indeed.

So close, in fact, that I'm willing to put the first scene here for people to read. It's a Jonathan Crowley story. It is also a weird western.  That last part will probably make it a challenging sale, but I am a patient soul. I'll make it work, one way or another.

Almost done. I'm between projects, which means I'm only working on three different things at once. Well, four, but who's counting?

Here, because I can, is that sample I promised you: the first scene from BOOMTOWN, A Jonathan Crowley Chronicle.

BOOMTOWN

By James A. Moore

copyright 2018, by James A. Moore

Colorado Territories, 1869

Chapter One: “Frozen Moments”

“There’s something wrong with the world when it’s cold enough to freeze a waterfall.” 
The trapper spoke to himself, or just possibly his horse, but neither of them responded. The proof of his comment lay above him and to his left, a frozen wall of white ice that only two days before had still been running water.
The cold was all-encompassing, a living thing that seemed to thrive on sucking the heat from the world around man and stallion alike. He called his horse Stomper and it was a massive thing, meant for hauling wagons. The black beast barely seemed to notice his weight or the burden of the sled behind it, but the cold sent plumes of steam from its muzzle with each breath. Covered in the thick coat he’d sewn for it, his stallion looked almost more like a locomotive than it did an animal. He wouldn’t see his beast of burden and closest living acquaintance killed by the elements if he could help it.
It wasn’t the elements, however, that had done most of the killing in the area. If he had to guess it was Indians. Someone must have driven them half mad if they were responsible for the bodies he kept finding.
The idea had been, as it always was, to shoot enough bison and foxes and wolves to load his sled with furs. Instead he’d been gathering the dead for the last two days. He didn’t have it in him to leave them frozen to the ground for animals to feast on. His mother would surely rise from her grave and beat his fool head into a new shape if he ever got that callous.
Didn’t much help him get his work done, but there was enough money set aside and as a trapper and hunter it wasn’t overly likely that he’d starve any time soon.
The latest body showed itself on the left side of the trail, and he nodded his head and tugged the reins. Stomper came to a halt and snorted agreeably.
The trapper slid from his saddle with practiced ease and walked over to the latest grisly find. Nine bodies so far, each one cut, shot and in different stages of undress, depending on the sex. There were two women who had likely been of marrying age among the dead. There was also a little girl child and an old woman who should have never headed from the east to the wilds. Only the crone had any clothes on her by the time the murdering dogs were done. The others had been treated as poorly as the whores in San Francisco, and that was poorly indeed.
The man in the snow stared with dead eyes behind thin spectacles. The frost on the lenses hid the color of his eyes and made him look blind as well as dead.
That he was dead was obvious. Even if he’d not been frozen to the ground there were lacerations on his skin and shreds of meat and flesh peeking from under his tattered clothing. Like the waterfall a short ways back the trickles of blood had frozen into twists of crimson that hung suspended from his wounds. If he had to guess, the trapper would have told anyone curious that he suspected the man had been dragged behind a horse for a while. His shoes were torn apart—a pity that, as they could have fetched a few cents—and his clothing, thin and fine and no doubt very expensive, had peeled half way from his body during the long trip. Ropes still bound his hands and cut into the flesh of his wrists and forearms. He’d very likely fought hard to get away before his attackers had finished with their job.
“Well, sir, I’m sorry to meet you this way.” He looked the body over again and frowned. Someone, his killers or otherwise, had turned out the man’s pockets and taken everything that might have value. The cloth of his vest was split where his watch fop had been torn away. The derby he’d likely worn at one time was nearby and judging by how clean it was, he guessed it had been dropped by the killer after the fact.
“I reckon we should get to work, old boy.” The wind let out a moan from the nearby trees and sent an additional shiver through him. No one else bothered to reply and he reckoned that was for the best.
He took the axe and pick from the bundle he kept on Stomper’s flank and got to digging. The night before had seen a hard, freezing rain and the body was stuck in a thick caul of ice and mud.
Ten minutes later he had a rope wrapped around both wrists—new rope that had not frozen into the ground—and he tied that to Stomper’s sled before urging his horse forward. The ground gave up the its prize reluctantly, and for a moment the trapper thought the corpse would break like a sapling before it finally came free with a crunching sound.
Once uprooted the dead man slithered stiffly across the ice and bounced off two aspen trees before coming to a rest. He slid the body across the ice until he could wrestle the weight onto the back of the sled.
He had leather aplenty and he used it to lash the body on top of the other corpses. 
“Well, sir. You’re the tenth and I pray the last. Let’s see about getting you to Carson’s Point. Might be we can arrange a funeral for you.”
The rain started again, dropping from the sky in a half frozen state and solidifying as soon as it touched the ground. The sound it made as it rattled to the earth was not unlike a dozen sets of teeth chattering away.
“I’d never wish a good man to hell, sir, but I reckon it just might be warmer in either end of the journey than it is here.”
They rode together in silence, he and his ten companions, and Stomper carried them all without complaint.




Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sneak A Peek: Favorite Thing in Current WiP

Hello, Sunday Readers!

Jeffe's off partying hard with the SFWA at their Nebulas Weekend. If that sounds like a mash of mystery words, well, come back on Tuesday for Jeffe's lowdown on hobnobbing with the likes of Peter Beagle and the Muppets.

That leaves me to kick off the week's topic of "What's Our Favorite Thing in Our Current Work in Progress (WiP)."

I'm working on Book 4 in my Immortal Spy series, THE HANGED SPY. So far, my favorite thing is deepening the relationship between my protagonist and her primary romantic interest. They have a long history she can't remember and he's cursed to not speak of. Like many long-term relationships, there have been good times and times they tried to kill each other. Third parties who knew one or both of them "back in the day" pop up throughout the series to nudge them back together or to prevent their HEA. My favorite parts are the private moments between them when there's nobody meddling in their lives. They have a lot of fun needling each other as they navigate their new normal.

Excerpt (that may or may not make into the final edit). For context, my protag is a kind of magical transporter who has a habit of relocating herself when she sleeps:

Bix jerked her attention back to him as her temper woke. “If I wanted you in my bed, Tobek, I wouldn’t stoop to tricking you with aphrodisiacs. Enthusiastic consent or nothing at all.”

His brows shot to his hairline. He took two steps to close the distance between them. “When it comes to you, I am an endlessly patient man. However, do not confuse my patience for being obtuse. You may not understand the complex emotions you feel when it comes to me or the interplay of what exists between us. I cannot help but be keenly aware of my feelings for you as well as your feelings for me…as quixotic as they are.”

Her surprise lasted a heartbeat until she remembered his Eternal Knot, etched beneath his layers of ink, was anchored to piece of her that existed within him. Samesies for the Enteral Knot hidden on her chest that anchored a piece of him within her. It was an emotional conduit meant to help the woman she'd once been understand empathy and cope with emotion. She hadn’t really spared a lot of thought for what Tobek got out of the deal.

“I too will accept nothing less than your very vocal and enthusiastic consent. Dithering isn’t going to be good enough. Neither will be mustering courage nor naïve curiosity. I too have standards.” He grinned. “Besides, sweetheart, you have no idea how many times you fetch me to your bed. You’re too sound asleep.”


Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Title's Not the Thing For Me


I can talk about titles in three areas.

First, my ancient Egyptian paranormals are all “of the Nile”. It’s my little inside nod to Mara, Daughter of the Nile, a YA by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, which I read in elementary school, and which inspired me to write my own Egyptian stories much later in life. It’s also a nod to “Princess of the Nile,” one of my all-time favorite 1950’s B movies with Debra Paget and Jeffrey Hunter.

And it’s a pretty good bet anyone searching for a novel set in ancient Egypt will correct identify my books as something they might be interested in.

When it comes to my scifi romance titles, I’m a bit all over the place frankly. My first published SFR was Wreck of the Nebula Dream, because really, what else can you title a novel about an interstellar cruise liner coming to grief?

Besides that book, my original plan was to title each book in some sort of alliterative fashion and include the name of the planet. This worked for Escape from Zulaire, Mission to Mahjundar and Trapped on Tlanque. Well, which is to say it worked for me. I was at a big conference early in my career as an author, doing a book signing, and met a number of my readers, which was fun and they were very excited about the books but after watching every single person have a problem with my tongue twister planetary names, I flew home and said, “Time for rethinking titles going forward.”

Then I hit upon labelling the series STAR CRUISE and having a short title after those introductory words – Outbreak, Marooned, Stowaway, etc. I think that strategy worked out all right.

When I was writing my story about kidnapped alien empaths forced to work for the interstellar mob (and how they escape and who they fall in love with), I went for sort of retro scifi titles – Danger in the Stars, Two Against the Stars, etc. This was my secret nod to Andre Norton, who inspired me to love science fiction and want to write it as my main genre.

Now, with my Sectors New Allies Series about genetically engineered warriors, the Badari, I’m following a current trend in the SFR genre of just giving each book the hero’s name as the title – Aydarr, Mateer and Jadrian (the latter to be released shortly, followed by Darik, Gabe and more titles yet to come, I hope!).

Yes, I am ALL over the place with titles. I don’t try to imbue them with any deep meaning or magic. I don’t agonize over them much (obviously). In my head I refer to them via a kind of shorthand or nickname anyway, which sometimes confuses people when I’m talking with them about my books.

Which brings me to the third bucket of titles – what do I label my Work in Progress files?

It varies. Are you surprised?

Sometimes I give a new book file the hero or heroine’s name as a working title. Sometimes that name changes but the file name never does. So for instance, JADRIAN began as Hadir, so that’s the file I open on my computer when I need to work on the manuscript.

Sometimes I give the file the planet’s name. I have one planet name that went through three iterations along the way but the file still has that original, first stab at a designation moniker.

Occasionally I give the file the name of the main concept of the plot.

There are times when I’m looking at my files and I have to laugh because anyone but me would have a hard time finding the right set of documents. Since no one but me needs to carry out that task, it works. I’ve always been a bit idiosyncratic in my filing methods, which used to drive my office assistants a bit up the wall when I worked at JPL. I’m not the most organized person in the world but I do have my own quirky structure underlying my efforts.

Works for me!

I can promise the book will always have a title when published. Fortunately Fiona Jayde provides me with gorgeous cover art (with a few of the earlier Egyptian covers from the incredible Frauke) so no one’s too focused on how the title parses anyway, right?

Friday, May 18, 2018

Titling Purgatory

Titling novels is a magic I do not possess. My stories are all filed under the character names. Even after they're published.

I swear to you, there is this paranormal historical thing I did last year - finished it. Subbed it. Got the rejection letter. There's a series name. But the book title? The manuscript went out without a title because I got nothing. I think it said Book 1 of Artifacts of the Aegean. The file folder still says 'Sinclair', which is the hero's name. Now granted. The book has a few fatal flaws that have to be corrected before it sees the light of day again. Maybe it'll find its title somewhere in that process. But this is me. Not holding my breath.

Yes. I did come up with the title for Enemy Within. Don't ask me how or why that title volunteered. It did and attached itself to that story. Berkley's marketing folks didn't like it, though. So we went through the titling motions, which look like this:

  1. Email from your agent saying 'marketing would like a list of title options.'
  2. You cry.
  3. You call your friends, beta readers and anyone who is tangentially aware of the story being a thing that exists to ask for suggestions.
  4. You try to come up with a list of 20 title options.
  5. You fail at number 8.
  6. Your TRUE friends get on line with you and in a chat window, they throw out title suggestions based on your characters, the theme(s) in the story, and/or whatever black magic happens on their sides of the chat windows.
  7. You email your list of 20 to your agent, who forwards it on to the editor.
The marketing team then picks one of your title suggestions or comes up with one of their own. Or. In the case of Enemy Within, the editor comes back saying 'we're sticking with the original title because no one could come up with anything better.' 

Nice.

Makes it easy for the rest of the series, though. All of the titles will be Enemy something. That doesn't help my poor, forlorn historical paranormal weird series, though. And I somehow don't think my chances of getting better at titles are very good. My stories start with characters, not concepts, and I tell myself that the people who are good with titles are the concept people. Please don't shatter my illusions.