Tuesday, January 22, 2019

My Precious: Which Original Character is My Favorite?

Which character of mine is my favorite? You might think it's one of my protags since they're the stars of their respective series. I like 'em a lot, I do. Is either of them my favorite? Does either of them make me smile whenever they're on page? Does either of them warm a little spot in my black heart regardless of what I'm putting them through? Nah. That honor goes to one character. He's not always on page. He's rarely the star of a scene; yet whenever he's involved, he somehow manages to steal the spotlight.

Gurp the Goblin from the Immortal Spy series.

Loyal sidekick to the commander of the Berserker battalion. Majordomo of the compound. Architect, engineer, logistics coordinator, home designer, living forensics lab, and bottomless trashcan. His favorite snacks are explosives, preferably dragon-made grenades. English isn't his first language nor is it the one with which he is most comfortable, but he does his best to speak it in order to be inclusive. He's a caretaker who knows one's needs better than the person in need, and he doesn't exploit that knowledge. No. He simply delivers, sometimes with subtlety and sometimes with great aplomb. He's a friend to outcasts and orphans. He's pure heart and endless compassion despite a society that reviles him due to his race. He's not a looker by common standards with his mottled greenish-brown skin, potbelly, and large wart upon his bulbous nose. His flatulence can outstink a terrified skunk. Oh, but there is no one more beautiful in intention and deed. He's not ashamed to be afraid, which makes his acts of bravery even more commendable. He both fears and adores the protagonist of the series...

I could go on and on about my favorite character, but I have a chapter to write, one in which Gurp makes an appearance. Now you know how much I enjoy writing those scenes.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Edit Button Is Missing

This week's topic is who our favorite character to have written is, and why.

Well, damn, that's not actually all that easy to answer. You'd think it would be, but, no, not really. That's like saying what's your favorite chocolate? Or which single topping on an everything pizza sings most clearly to you?

The character I've certainly come to know the best is Jonathan Crowley.  We've spent a lot of time together. Hundreds of years, really, as I've written about him in Victorian London and in the wild west and across all of the decades from the 1920s to the present time. Even if I haven't written the adventures down yet, I know what he's been doing and I know that he is having a rather pissy time of the whole thing.

Crowley is the character most likely to get sand kicked in his face by the author. he is also, if it were possible, the one most likely to hunt down said author and torture him to death.

I like him because he constantly surprises me. Oh, I know what he SHOULD be doing, but he gets a few past me just the same. He is a teacher, a lover, a fighter a sadistic bastard, a man with a very dark past and a long history of walking away from his duties. He is immortal, keeps coming back even if he doesn't want to, in fact. I've killed him in a few books, but it never sticks, you see.

I actually started one of his forthcoming novels, BOOMTOWN, with him dead. He got better. Thing is, he's never overly happy about that fact.

One of the other reasons I truly enjoy him is that he often says the things I won't. Oh, I would, but there's this whole "polite society" thing to consider. Crowley is capable of polite. he's often very polite, but he has no edit button when it comes to stupid. Once somebody proves that they deserve no respect, he gives them exactly that.

Also, he carries through on his threats. Always. It might take him a while, but he is a man of his word, especially when it comes to impending violence. I just sort of respect that in my antiheroes.

Here are a few of the covers with Jonathan Crowley. There are more. Way more.

I'm going to give honorable mention to two more characters from the Seven Forges series. First there's Drask Silver Hand. Drask is a bad dude to mess with, but he's seeking balance in his life, as a result he is more like'y to have a rational conversation than most of the members of his people, the Sa'ba Taalor.

That's Drask.

The other honorable mention is for Swech. Swech is easily the deadliest character I have ever written. She's killed more people in one scene, in one fight, and in one book than anyone else I've ever written about. Actually that's not true. But she's done a higher body count than anyone else I've written about without supernatural abilities. She's a lovely young lady, who will gladly tell tales and share stories. She'll cook for you, she'll even help sharpen your weapons if you're feeling a bit under the weather, but she'll also kill you in an instant if that is the will of her gods.
I actually had no idea how dangerous she was until I started writing the first book. In one scene she kills over a hundred people by herself. There are ten of her kind against well over a thousand and she leads the raid that ends their lives.
Still, aside from being a very efficient killer, she's a sweetheart. I kind if love her. I'm not alone, by  the way. I actually had a poll on facebook to find out who people wanted to see on the cover of CITY OF WONDERS and she won handily.

Here's Swech.

That's the problem with this kind of question, by the way. I can always find something about the characters I write that I enjoy, It's seldom the same thing twice.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Jeffe Confesses Her Favorite Character

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Your favorite character to have written and why."

I hate these kinds of questions, I really do.


Truly, I totally get why readers are interested in my favorites - I'm often interested in hearing from my favorite authors which books or characters of theirs are their favorites. Even better, I *love* hearing from my readers which characters they love best, and why. Maybe because I write a variety of personalities, backgrounds, and life paths, who readers pick as their favorite tells me a lot about how they see the world.

For me, though, the big secret is that ALL of my POV characters represent some aspect of me. I don't think I could write them otherwise. So, while they carry flaws of my own, they also get to live the lives I don't - like wielding actual magic or shapeshifting, or being a man! Some of my characters  definitely have more of me than others - but that doesn't necessarily make them my favorite.

All of my characters are my favorites for their particular story and journey. I notice I also tend to favor whoever I've written about recently.

So, in mulling this, a few characters do pop up as the ones I have strong feelings for. Thus, if you're forcing me to pick...

I'm going to say Ursula. I don't know if I can say exactly why, except that I truly love her. I think part of why Harlan is a vivid hero for so many is because he loves Ursula so completely, and that reflects my feelings. I love her sense of responsibility and honor, that she's so determined to protect everyone, that she's intelligent, clever, and a skilled warrior. She has depths of emotion, of vulnerability and deep love that she hides behind a thick wall. And she's always trying to do better, to be a better person, queen, partner, and sister.

There we are. I believe I've convinced myself!

Now, reward me for my thrashing and tell me YOUR favorite :D

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Worldbuilding As the Spaceship Flies

Another week, another topic about which I have not much opinion to offer. The issue at hand is how much time to spend doing worldbuilding versus doing actual writing. When does worldbuilding for the sheer joy of it become procrastination?  Writers are notorious for finding things to do to allow them to procrastinate versus actually putting words on the page, so I think it’s a valid question.  IF the author in question actually does world building in some “chunks of time invested”, methodical way. When is enough, enough and when has the sheer joy of thinking through all the issues become its own thing, divorced from writing books?

I don’t spend any time worldbuilding as a separate activity. The stories, the hero and heroine and the world are all in my head when I sit down to write the story. Ancient Egypt or a lived-in, beat up far future  out in the galaxy, or a fantasy world where magic of various types swirls…those are my settings.

Now granted, I don’t write big, complicated, thousand page epics with subthemes and subplots and all the bells and whistles including my own languages. I read those on occasion and I might want to go visit Middle Earth, even if only in the superb Peter Jackson movies, but I myself write fast paced scifi action adventure (or ancient Egyptian adventure) with a strong love story and a Happy Ever After or Happy For Now ending. I’m focusing more on the characters and the specific adventure than I am on the lushness and depth of the intricate details of the world where the action occurs.

I invent the more detailed pieces of whichever time and place I’m writing as I go and as the plot calls for more information. So while I’m writing a novel, if I need to write about ancient sentient trees for example, as I did in The Fated Stars, I go off and research a lot of things including redwoods on Earth, synthesize the information and then put my own spin on it. Now my worldbuilding in the Sectors universe includes a planet with these amazing entities. No, they aren’t relatives of Tolkien’s Ents. These trees don’t walk around or talk but they can absorb another sentient into themselves and have a telepathic conversation and colorful lemur-like creatures live in the branches and…well, it was a very fun sequence to write! It never would have occurred to me to say up front that my galaxy needs such trees. (That’s part of why I love writing science fiction so much because literally anything is possible.)

I think a lot of my scifi world is based on the premise that people are people and always have been and always will be, just the tools and the surroundings change.

Now ancient Egypt existed obviously and that world has already been built in intricate detail by the actual people who lived in it for thousands of years. I layer on my own interpretation of how the gods would have been involved in daily life and try to tell a good story. I indulge in a few conscious anachronisms, like giving my ladies pockets when the pocket wasn’t invented until centuries later (as far as we know).

I admire authors who can invent an entire world and all the politics and the geography and actually have a map! Yeah, not happening for me. The one time I did have to stop and take some time to design the environment and draw a perfectly wretched schematic (not an artist here) was for Wreck of the Nebula Dream, where I couldn’t just be a pantster. I had to know from the first page what was on every deck of this doomed luxury interstellar cruise ship. I still have the drawing somewhere because it was so not-me to actually have to do that! But all my ensuing Star Cruise series books build on that foundation so it was worth doing.

I did have to think through the basics of what the Sectors would be like and who their enemies would be before writing the first novel but I did it in a very fluid, top level way and have slowly over time built upon that framework to provide more details and depth as each story calls for it. I have the world in my head, I know where it's all going, but the pieces only reveal themselves to me (and my readers) as I'm in the flow of creating new adventures.

As with anything in the business of writing books, there is no One Way to Rule Them All. Each author should take the approach that works for them and makes their readers happy!

Friday, January 18, 2019

PSA: Falling Furninture

I hadn't been going to post today, but the best of the pain meds have worn off and I might could be trusted to know my way around a sentence now. With that lead in, we interrupt your regularly scheduled world building discussion for the following PSA.

Furniture Falling

Most of us are vaguely aware that most furniture now comes with a warning about tipping dangers - usually the warnings picture young children reaching up to grab or climb the piece of furniture in question. Unless we have little kids in the house or live in a seismic zone, I imagine few of us give the issue much thought. Learn from my mistake. Give it some thought.

Yesterday while the husband and I were moving a bed, the wrought iron headboard fell. On me. It went down my left side, breaking two ribs as it went.

Minor scrape, two broken ribs
Had I been standing three inches to the left, it would have broken my shoulder. Six inches to the left, it would have broken my skull. 

Secure your furniture people. Little kids aren't the only ones with breakable bones and fragile lives.

Home improvement centers and hardware stores all carry the inexpensive and easy to install hardware that will keep your furniture upright and you and your family safe.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Worldbuilding vs. Timewasting

Here's my eternal struggle: finding that balance between the worldbuilding that is necessary for me to understand the world as a whole, and thus tell the story well, and the worldbuilding that is just me wasting time or procrastinating.

Part of that ties to the fact that I ended up doing a lot of worldbuilding well before I really got started with proper writing. My worldbuilding process for Maradaine was tied to the process of Learning How To Novel. And I definitely enjoy an in-depth worldbuild process. I'm fascinated by the idea of doing a deep, wide and thorough worldbuild without, necessarily, knowing what the novel is or is supposed to be. I like using that as a process of discovery.

Now, is that necessarily useful? Is it good for me to spend too much time worldbuilding. What does "too much" mean? I'm the wrong guy to answer that question, as I do adore going deep into the "too much".

Part of that is because, when I get stuck with the writing, I like to fiddle with maps. Thats a process that I find relaxing and engaging and creative, and let's me restore my juices and get back to the real writing work.

So, for some non-Maradaine projects, I'm trying to restrain myself to the worldbuilding I need for the story. We'll see if that works. It's a different kind of process, and I'm a little nervous about it, to be honest. So, we'll see.

But that does remind me, I've got some new maps to draw...

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Um, it's *all* world-building?

This week, we're talking about time management in general and specifically how much time world-building gets in the schedule versus actual word-making time. And to that I say... uh, I have no idea.

My process is very organic. I write a ton of scenes, read a ton of researchy things, make notes, write dialogue in Sharpie on my arms, listen to a ton of mood music, and eventually the story inhabits my brain and I can't not tell it. I fall in love with the characters. They start talking to me. I do mean things to them. It's a party!

World-building happens somewhere in there. Or maybe everywhere in there. There is no boundary, for me, between world-building and writing. The story is the world is the story is the characters. If I start separating those out as discrete items, I lose the big picture brain denizen Sharpie-written fugue of awesomeness. This is the same reason I can't do those character interview doodads before I write the story.

Because for the story, it doesn't matter that my protagonist has brown eyes or that her society uses a barter system instead of currency or that the planet she lives on is old and has lost its atmosphere... until the story happens. When the story happens, all of those details matter, and cooking them in with the rest takes all of the time.

Sure I stew ideas in my brain before I start typing. I mean, of course I do that. But write it all down, draw a map, and make index cards in advance? Nope. I can't.

And I know this utter truth -- that world-building and story-telling are the same thing at the same time -- because I've tried it the other way. You have no idea how many character interviews and world-map sketches I have lying around. But they never cooked themselves into something tastier. They're all just bland. And nobody wants to read dry, bland author notes when there's no story to go along with them. I mean, ugh, right?

So, my answer: I make the story and the world and the characters at the same time, all the time. Writing? For me?* Is all world-building.

* You know, just because the writing process works this way for me does not in any way mean it has to work the same way for you. We are all different. Doing all that pre-planning might really stoke your creative engine, and good for you! But I don't want you to feel bad if you don't have a detailed outline and map of your fantasy realm drawn out and labelled before you write Chapter One. You're okay. And you aren't alone.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

New Release: THE HANGED SPY, #UrbanFantasy

Continuing with the theme of SFF Seven Authors' book releases heating up this winter, I not so humbly toot my own horn for the release of the 4th book in my Urban/Contemporary Fantasy series The Immortal Spy.  It burst on the scene between Christmas nog and New Year's champagne, getting a bit lost in the revelry. Now that most folks have swapped their noise-makers for plush blankets, and holiday parties for snuggling by the fire, I bring you the next installment of Bix and the Berserkers.

The Immortal Spy, Book 4

The Hanged Spy upright encourages a new perspective.

For Bix and her team, stealing the build specs for a prototype Mid Worlds defense system is a high-risk mission they can’t refuse. The pantheons have dispatched their elite wet works unit to smite every researcher and facility associated with the project. Unfortunately, the gods have a head start, and Bix’s only clue to salvaging the op is a personalized Tarot card of the Hanged Man.

Illustrated by arcane magic, the card depicts an old Sage who’d trained Bix in the spy game. A Sage who’d repeatedly tried to kill her. A Sage who’d died right in front of her…or so she’d thought.

As deceptions multiply, the superpowers sworn to protect the Mids hamstring each other in the name of politics while a merciless foreign army invades yet another World. The pressure mounts for Bix to deliver the specs with all haste, but higher powers and hidden truths sideline her team and send her spiraling out of control. When one bad decision shatters the life she most treasures, no god, angel, dragon, or Fate is safe from Bix’s wrath.

The Hanged Spy reversed demands a sacrifice.

Buy the Paperback or eBook Now: 
Amazon  |  iBooks  |  B&N   |  Kobo

Monday, January 14, 2019

World Building

Our Topic of the weekspending time on world building vs. actual draftingwhats your balance?"

It's a good topic I rather like the notion. My simple answer is: I have no freaking idea. I'll explain. I dont outline. Not on paper, just in my head. I have notions of what I want and what I need and I incorporate those as the urge comes to me.

Now, that said, I still have an actual answer for you. I spend as much time as needed, as I go along. When Im writing I consider the setting as much a character as the characters. The world shapes the people as surely as the people shape the world.

That means I give about as much detail. So I might say that Roathes is at he southern most tip of the continent, but until I get to Roathes, that is all I know. Ill design the landscape that I need just as soon as I get there in the story.

I spent most of my years as a writer working in the real world. That is to say a world just like this one we all inhabit, give or take a few sideways trips into the Weird Zone. A ghost, a werewolf, strange things from beyond, the Fae making a trip into our realm. That sort of thing.
It can be a challenge, but its also a slightly easier route to take. How do I mean? Well, first, it can be a challenge because theres research to do, isnt there? Lets say I want to set a story in London. I need to have a decent map or at least a few good reference guides. Thats a good starting point but it cant actually give me the details of London that will cement the reality of that city in the minds of readers who have been to London. There are details that remain hidden away, like the scents that are common in certain areas, or the fashions that might be happening at a certain time. Say I want to set a book in the seventies. Thats going to be a very different section of London than it is today. More research.
Now if I want to take that same London and make it as real as possible, I need to talk to a few people who are either in London or visit frequently. Ive been there exactly once, you see, and I loved it, but the entire trip is a blur of fond memories and could provide very little that stands out without some feedback from a few of my compatriots who know the city far better than I do.
What does it matter?
Someone, somewhere, reading my book has been to London. If I do my job the wrong way, if I get enough facts incorrectly assembled in my tale, they can no longer enjoy whatever story I am telling them. The suspension of disbelief has been broken and that sucks. I want to entertain ANYONE who reads my book. I know I will not always succeed, but I have to start by trying to get it right.
Another example for you: I know that the outbreak of Spanish Influenza was devastating. I can find statistics with ease, thanks to the Internet. What I cant do is tell you what it was like. Not as big a problem as there arent that many people left who were alive when the outbreak happened, but I want to get a proper feel for the era, then I need to do my research and use my imagination in equal parts.
Now, lets say I decide to do near future pace exploration. Time to pony up some serious research hours and figure out the details of space travel in the modern era. From here I can decide what leaps in technology have happened and I need to be able to make it all make sense to a complete layman because, frankly, no one wants to read a book for entertainment that requires a few doctorates in math, computer sciences, jet propulsion and astrophysics. And if they DO want to read that, I can pretty much guarantee theyve come to the wrong place.
Its a lot of work, especially if you want to get into more details about the world as it was or will be or the world away from your comfort zone. I cannot honestly describe the Vatican. I have never been there and I can guarantee that the culture is as alien to me as medieval China.
So, research, research, research.
I dont need to do any of that for a fantasy world. The laws of physics are mine to shape. Do I want dragons in my world? Okay, sure, why not? How do they work? How big are they? Is the fire they breathe from the bowels of hell? Is it a naturally produced gas that they can only expel occasionally?  Is it a sorcerous fire that generates only as they need it? I may never state which version of a dragons breath is accurate, but I need to KNOW which one works in my world. I need to work out the details if Im going to use it, because if I fail to at least have a notion about that fact, then I can confuse myself on the way it works and contradict myself later.
Let me give you an example: Ill not mention the author or the book, but while reading a very hefty apocalyptic novel by a British writer I know, he took me clean out of the story on two separate occasions by changing the skin tone, hair color and eye color of one of the leading ladies. Not a major crime, but it was something neither the author nor the editor ever noticed. She was dark-haired, fair skinned and freckled with green eyes. That detail was given to the reader. Later she was blonde, blue eyed and deeply tanned. I could have accepted the tanning, because were dealing with an end of the world scenario here. But later still she went back to dark-haired, fair skinned and freckled with green eyes. Again, its a quibble, but it was enough to remove me from the story and make be go back and double check that it was the author making the changes and not me.
If I decide that a world like Fellein is set with certain technologies and flavors, it has to be consistently set that way unless the transformation is part of the plot.  Most of the soldiers in Fellein wield crossbows. Their enemies use bows of differing shapes and sizes because they make their own weapons as part of their culture. The soldiers from Fellein all use standardized shields and armor. Their enemies among the Saba Taalor also make their own armor or sometimes wear none at all depending on their plans. The Fellein all go through the same training. The Saba Taalor have a religion that stresses martial skills above all else.  Their differences are designed to show the ways in which they have been raised.
I made a new world and that means knowing the rules it works by just as surely as I know the rules of modern warfare if Im writing about how the US Army fights against its current enemies.
The difference is that I have to make the rules as I go along and I have to remember them consistently. The Saba Taalor have seven gods. I know their names and the philosophies that their followers employ. I know what each god demands and what each follower is expected to do. I HAVE to know that, regardless of whether or not it is stated in the actual manuscript, because, again, internal logics must apply or the story cannot hold without causing confusion
I need to know the socio-economic status of my characters. I need to know something about how sorcery works in the world Ive created and just as importantly how it doesnt work. I have to make the rules and then not break them.

James A. Moore.