Monday, August 6, 2018

Playing catch up.

It's been a busy few weeks and they are getting busier. This week's subject matter is whatever is on our minds, so here we go.

First, I got married! Long story short I reconnected a while back with my high school sweetheart.  I was strictly in the "friend-zone" back then but I was insanely in love with her. The wedding was basically a surprise for everyone at NECon (The New England writers CONference.). I have been attending that particular convention for decades, and my beloved suggested having the convention there, where most of my friends wee guaranteed to be there. We did so, and caught most of them by surprise. The idea was simple: Friends are there, no muss, no fuss. and as a bonus, everyone was already in them mood for a party.

She was worth the long wait.

Second. I just got back early this morning from SCARES THAT CARE, an absolutely amazing genre convention with a heart of gold. Every year for the last five years they've raised at least 30,000 dollars for charity, in this case specific cases where people need the financial relief. They are an amazing group, and the convention is beautifully run.  I figure you must be doing something right when the hotel employees a) get into the whole costume and Halloween vibe, and b) the hotel and employees manage to generate an additional $7,000.00 for the charity themselves.

If you want to give to a worthy charity, one that actually directly changes lives, I can't recommend it enough. I already told the fine folks running the show that they can count n me to be back whenever they want me

I had a chance to meet up with several old friends I haven't seen in a very long time, and to connect with new friends and fans as well.  had a few meals off site and on with friends and peers and secret plans were hatched. Oh, yes, they were! More news on that when I can.

Of course, while I'm away is exactly when I get the manuscript back from one of my editors, so the next few days will be a nightmare of coffee, red lines, editor suggestions, the occasional tantrum and, of course, rewrites.  I kid. There won't be that much coffee.

This weekend I'm off to FAN EXPO BOSTON (Previously Boston ComiCon), where I will be on a few panels, eat more con food and have an absolute blast. If you're in the area, come say hi!

Lastly, I'm planning for the Fourth Annual Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival, taking place October 13th.  I personally love Halloween, and so does Christopher Golden, who came up with the idea of a free one day convention. It's a great time.

That's it for now Off to do more of that work stuff!

Keep smiling,


Sunday, August 5, 2018

Living in the Future - and Waiting for the Money to Catch Up

It's morning glory season here in Santa Fe. I love these gorgeous blooms - maybe even more so because they're so temporary.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is an open one - whatever's on your mind.

I'ts been interesting doing my podcast, First Cup of Coffee, as I tend to talk about whatever is on my mind. Though I find I have to edit myself more as I'm in the habit of "conversation" being a free zone where I can discuss things more frankly than what I write online, Where Everything Lives Forever. I also keep a list of blog topics, and I'm looking at that and not feeling the spark with any of those.

Right now what's on my mind is finishing THE ARROWS OF THE HEART. This is the next book in my Uncharted Realms series and has been a long time coming. I've bemoaned in other places that I finally got to get back to it this week - after a four-month hiatus. I'd intended to put this book out in May. Now it will be out in September, at best.

All of this is because I had to move up traditional publishing deadlines. Sometimes that's how it goes. I did a lot of work in those four months - but most of the fruit of it won't appear until well into the future.

This is one of the difficulties of being a hybrid author - someone who both self-publishes and publishes with traditional houses - that the external, contractual deadlines take precedence over the self-publishing deadlines. And being hybrid is great for diversifying income - I've been about half and half the last two years - but one truth about traditional publishing is it can take a LONG time for the money to manifest. Yes, there can be advance money, but the royalties often don't come in for a year or more after publication, which can be a year or more after the book is written. With self-publishing, the money starts coming in within a month or two of publication, which is pretty immediately after finishing final edits.

Thus the rub about me not having self-published anything since SHOOTING STAR in March, is that the money from my self-published backlist, while decent, has dwindled a bit. And though I had a book out in June, PRISONER OF THE CROWN, it's traditionally published, so I likely won't see any income from that for a few months.

But all of this is necessary, to keep books in the pipeline. And I can only write so fast. Being a full-time writer is an exercise in planning for a fluctuating income. Very much feast and famine.
The nature of the business!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

I Invented a Sport for MY #SciFi Novel

Our topic this week is whether we’ve ever created a game or sport for one of our books.

It’s not unusual in science fiction to develop a pastime for your characters, some larger and more dire than others – the Hunger Games, Rollerball, Ender’s Game, OASIS in Ready Player One, John Scalzi's 'Head On' or 'Brockian Ultra Cricket' from the brain of Douglas Adams. for example. I was always fascinated by the game of stars and comets in Andre Norton’s novels but alas she never gave us the rules.

In my novel  TRAPPED ON TALONQUE, I needed a reason for the local rulers to keep crash landed Special Forces soldier Nate Reilly and his men alive in the beginning of the adventure, and a challenge for them to overcome, so I developed the game of sapiche. It’s based in part on ritualistic ball games played centuries ago in Central and South America, in part on gladiatorial type contests in ancient Rome and owes a nod to the ritual combat the Aztecs would sometimes put captured warriors through, where they had no real chance of winning and saving their own lives but were forced to fight anyway. Sapiche is like all ball games – there’s passing, blocking, strategy, scoring….and very high stakes.  There’s also some double crossing along the way!  Not only the lives of Nate and his men were on the line, but also the fate of the beautiful alien sleeping beauty the locals regarded as a goddess.

In my ancient Egyptian paranormal romances, the characters play senet, and jackals and hounds, which were real games in the Egypt of thousands of years ago but no one knows the rules for sure now. There have been efforts to come up with some fairly reliable rules for the games, based on tomb paintings, ancient writings and how similar modern games are played, and I adhere to a mix of these ‘recreated’ guidelines. Mostly.

Of course the gods play their own version of senet with real people’s lives, which makes for some interesting events (and scenes for the books).

My own favorite team sport in our real world is NFL football, although with the increasing knowledge of the damage the concussions do, it’s harder and harder for me to watch with much enjoyment. I like a beautifully executed play where there’s a long pass caught and run for a touchdown, or a handoff situation where a brilliant runner makes his way through the field to the end zone. Or best of all if there’s an interception and a huge defensive player rumbles his way to a touchdown. Those are always fun and the guy is always so delighted.

I watch much MUCH less football than I used to years ago. Maybe I catch one game a week now, and don’t pay attention to all four quarters even then.

I used to love Scrabble, Risk and Parcheesi when the family all lived at home.

Here’s an excerpt from Trapped on Talonque, related to the game of sapiche:

“…the first ball shot from the middle circle. Kalgitr’s team got possession, the two blockers sending Atletl flying. The other team’s shooter drove straight down the field and made the point in one easy motion.
Nate was livid. “All right, dammit, they got one. We can’t give up any more. Faric, you were assigned to blocking him, remember? This is for real, people, not the damn scrimmage!”
Thom caught the next ball by reflex and passed off to Faric, who failed to redeem himself, losing the ball as he worked his way toward the goal. Atletl managed to steal it back as the opposing man was taking the shot, passed it across to Thom, who scored the point off the low five hole, right between the legs of a defender.
As the third ball emerged, Atletl tripped the man who’d tackled him earlier. The ball rolled free on the sand, and a mad pileup ensued, all eight men grabbing and kicking for possession. Nate came up with it and jerked free of the tangle of bodies. He took one step, hampered by an opposing player’s arms locked around his lower legs, as a Kalgitr player made a desperate grab. Falling, Nate passed to Faric, praying the man had gotten over his earlier jitters. Instead, their new recruit fumbled the ball away, and only a lightning dive by Atletl saved the point. He flicked the ball off to bounce against the far wall and into Thom’s sure hands. Thom again made the point.
“Two to one, not bad, but don’t ease up!” Nate shouted above the roar of the crowd. “Thom, Atletl, try to stall them.”
“What the seven hells? What are you going to do?” Thom yelled as Nate raced past him. “You’re going the wrong direction!”
“Changing the damn game plan. Just hold them!” Nate charged Faric. “I think you’re playing for the wrong team, you bastard. What did they offer you?”
The man shrank back until he stumbled against the painted wall of the court. “I play for you, warrior, for the goddess!”
“I don’t think so.”
Trying to sidle away, Faric mumbled, “They offered me life, win or lose.”
As Faric broke away and ran toward the entrance to the holding area, Nate launched himself into the air and landed a knockout blow with his left foot, coming down neatly on the other side of the traitor as Faric slumped to the sand in an unconscious heap.
“Get over here and block, dammit!” Thom’s desperate shout in Basic cut through the noise of the crowd.
Nate spun but was a few yards short of the action when the other team made their second point, going right through the overmatched Thom and Atletl.
“Are you out of your fucking mind?” Thom said in between breaths as he sprinted to the other end of the court, where the final, fatal ball flew out of a red-painted circle. “You cold-cocked our teammate?”
“He was a ringer. We’re safer without the chance of him interfering. Now play!”

For  more on the topic, here's a link to my post for AMAZING STORIES a while ago where I asked scifi romance authors about games and sports they'd created for their books.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Now Look What You Made Me Do

Funny. I'll tell you I am not at all a sports fan. But I've come to appreciate the vast and deep ocean of sports metaphors sloshing around in the English language - no matter which side of the pond you're on. I think I even put one in the first book - something about feeling like a puck in a hockey game, only my hockey game was played in three dimensions in low or no gravity. You're probably never going to see a game inside the series. Mostly because war, but I'm not above borrowing a few drops from the metaphor ocean.

Actually putting team sports into a story is right out of the question for me, though. The last team sport I actually enjoyed was kick ball with all of the neighbor kids. Organized sports in school? Complete 180. Aversion therapy to the extreme. So yeah. Not likely. Unless I'm also trying to torture a character. But individual sports? You may be able to guess from Enemy Within that I fenced for a few years and enjoyed the heck out of it. Had all the gear and several blades - at least until we went to move aboard the boat. Sigh. It's not something I can do now with a bum hip, alas. So I have to get my jollies writing it into fiction. I made Ari and her hero into fencers - though with energy blades and the whole thing is supposed to be more like staged combat in that you don't fence a line. So long as you stay in the grid, you can fight in the round. Not that it matters - it was only useful in the story as a means of breaking through Ari's conditioning. 

Funny, too, I would have told you I hadn't invented any kind of martial art system, but I guess I did. Jayleia, the heroine from Enemy Games, has a particular set of martial training that marries gymnastics and kicking the crap out of someone who never sees you coming. While I don't codify the moves in the story much, the point of the system is to keep Jay out of range of whoever she engages - dance in, strike, GTFO, dance back in for another strike, rinse, repeat. It was something she had as a secret from her past - something that she had to reclaim. Again, it was useful as a plot device to force a character to change. 

Games? Funny. You'd think I'd have all kinds of games in my books. We spend so much time as a family unit in games - whether MMORPGs, board games, or having friends over for Munchkin or Exploding Kittens. Or going to the local Sunday night D&D league at the game store. But so far, while you know there are games - mostly gambling type games - on Silver City, say, you don't see them much. How interesting that my characters spend most of their time fighting their separate bad guys rather than having actual lives or down time. Now I'm thinking that maybe I'm going to see about building a game of some kind into book 4 of this series. Cause that book might just be a tiny bit intense and it might need something to pave the way between the hero and heroine. Hmmm. Help me out here. I'm going to want something deceptively simple but that's layers and layers of deep. Maybe a puzzle of some kind that doesn't get solved until the very end of the book and means the arcs have been achieved. 

Thanks a lot, you guys, I wasn't ready to start plotting that book yet. 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Fantasy Sports

Part of the plot of The Imposters of Aventil involves an ongoing tetchball tournament.  Tetchball had been mentioned in Thorn and elsewhere as a popular sport in Maradaine, but what exactly is it?
The easiest way to describe tetchball is that it’s sort of the bastard child of cricket and rugby.
The field consists of a long rectangle, with the “green” of the field marked with a trapezoid.  The two out-of-bounds areas on either side are referred to as “the yellow”– and on some fields they will go so far as to paint the grass to mark it.  The field is then crossed with four lines to mark the different sections of the playing zone: The Hold Line, The Jack Line, The Double Jack and the Triple Jack.
There are two teams of eleven players each.  Each match is played in three intervals, and each interval is split into the Top and Bottom.  In the Top, one team takes the field (Fielding Team) while the other one (Batting Team) lines behind the Hold Line, and in the Bottom they switch places.
The eleven players take the field in their designated places: The Arm in the Arm’s Circle, and in the zone between the Hold Line and the Jack Line (First Zone) : The Rail, The Wall, The Close Bumper, The Far Bumper and the Jack Warder.   In between the Jack Line and the Double Jack (Second Zone) are the Tight Double, Deep Double, Left Foot and Right Foot.  Finally, in the Third Zone, between the Double Jack and the Triple Jack, is the Triple Warder.
In each interval, the Batting Team sends one player at a time to the Tetch Rail, a beam of wood about four feet long, resting on two posts.  The Batter stands behind the rail with a Tetchbat, ready to bat.  The Arm takes the Tetchball (a big larger and softer than a softball) and pitches it over the tetchrail for the batter to try to hit it.  The batter gets two pitches to try to hit the ball.
If the batter misses both pitches, they return behind the hold line and the next batter comes forth.
If the batter hits the ball, then the batter will start to run– first through the rail, knocking it to the ground, and then towards the Jack Line.  Their goal is to run past the Jack Line, past the Double Jack and to the Triple Jack, and then turning around and running back to the Hold Line, all before the tetchrail is restored.  Restoring the rail means that the beam is back in place on its posts, and the ball is being touched to the rail.  Each line cross gains the runner one point for their team, for a maximum of six points for each batting.

What the Fielding Team can do to stop him depends on where the ball lands.  Players in any zone are frozen if the ball lands past their zone, until the batter runs past that line.  In other words, if the ball lands in the Second Zone (a “Jack Hit”), then the players in the First Zone can do nothing until the batter runs past the Jack Line.  If the Batter hits a Triple Jack– the ball lands past the Triple Jack Line, beyond any of the playing zones, then all the fielders are frozen until the batter reaches the Triple Jack Line.  If the ball lands in the Yellow, then the Batter must return behind the Hold Line and the next batter comes up.
All Fielders must stay in their respective zones at all times, save the Triple Warder, who can cross the Triple Jack line if they are not frozen.
While the batter is running, four players have a primary goal of impeding his run: The Close and Far Bumpers, and the Right and Left Feet.  If they are free to move, they can grapple and hold the batter to keep him from running.  For the Jack Warder, the Tight and Deep Doubles and the Triple Warder, their primary goal is to get the ball back to tetchrail so the rail can be restored.  Restoring the rail is the responsibility of the fielder playing Rail, though it is acceptable for the Arm and the Wall to assist in this.  It should be noted, though, that any player that is free to move can both handle the ball and grapple the running batter, as long as they do not cross out of their zones.
If the ball ever crosses the Hold Line, then the Hold is broken, and all of the Batting Team can rush the field while the Batter runs.  Only the Batter can score points, but every other player can impede the fielding team from stopping the Batter or restoring the Rail, as long as they do not touch either the rail or the ball.
The Wall’s primary job is to make sure the ball does not cross the Hold Line.
Each interval is concluded when every player on both teams have had a turn at bat.  Once three intervals have been played, the match is concluded.  The team with the most points is the winner.
Any questions?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Devising a gamer girl's latest thrill

Gotta confess, I skimmed through most of the quidditch scenes in Harry Potter. Sabbac continues to bore me in every Star Wars book, comic, or game that seeks to implement it as a look!fun!thing. And Casino Royale almost put me to sleep, despite the fact that I love me some Daniel-Craig-as-Bond.

Which, you have to admit, is all so crazy for a gal who has a gaming addiction plays games as much as I do.

So if I had to make up a sport or a game for a book I was was writing, I...

Oh crud. I sort of do. Right now. With a thing I'm writing.

The heroine in this story is hard-core gamer trying to wean herself from the lifestyle. (No, this is not a memoir.) My first thought was that she'd be a guildmaster from an MMORPG--something that would not require me to research much--but alas, base-building kill-your-friends games seem to be the affliction du jour, and mama's gotta keep up with the times.

Okay. I downloaded the mini version of Fortnite. It's on my phone and Switch. Just sitting there. Because I don't have any friends who are playing and also have a great desire to be killed.

Turns out, no one in my household can stand PvP. We're a cooperative family. Also, most of my actual friends dig, you know, living. Therefore, if I'm gonna come up with a Fortnite clone for this story, research will most likely be like pulling hair. (Which, incidentally, is lots less painful than pulling teeth but way more annoying.)

Switching tracks, then, what about a role-playing group? Dungeons & Dragons is making a comeback, maybe thanks to Stranger Things, and hey! I didn't even get bored during that opening sequence of season 1. I could totally sit my characters around a table, feed them bad food, and encase them in a made-up world and awesome magical armor!

Okay, so I think this is the way it'll roll up: tabletop role-playing, old-school with paper-and-pencil and hand-painted miniatures, and the setting will be ... epic fantasy? Cyberpunk? Berserk computers and happiness officers a la Paranoia? Space pirates with questionable ethics? Robotic farm animals defying the farmer patriarchy?

All right. *rubbing hands together* Now it's getting fun.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Release Day: THE PREDATOR: Hunters And Hunted (Official Movie Prequel)

It's a very special release day here in which Jim adds to the canon of The Predator franchise with the release of this thrilling prequel to the movie!

The official prequel leading directly into THE PREDATOR. Introduces key concepts that will explode onto the screen in the movie. 

For centuries Earth has been visited by warlike creatures that stalk mankind's finest warriors. Their goals unknown, these deadly hunters kill their prey and depart as invisibly as they arrived, leaving no trace other than a trail of bodies.

When Roger Elliott faced such a creature during the Vietnam War, he didn't expect to survive. Nor did he expect that, decades later, he would train the Reavers, a clandestine strike force attached to Project Stargazer. Their mission: to capture one of the creatures, thus proving its existence, disassembling its tech, and balancing the odds between the HUNTERS AND HUNTED.

The Predator, Alien, and Aliens TM & © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Amazon   |  Barnes & Noble  |   BAM!  |  Indiebound

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Strategy Games and Martial Arts in SFF Worldbuilding

When I was in Denver for the RWA National Conference, my friend and writing buddy, Darynda Jones, and I took a lunch break at Ship Tavern in the Brown Palace Hotel. While there, I spotted this guy and snapped a pic. It seemed like a good omen, because I finished THE ORCHID THRONE during our mini-writing retreat there, and now (finally!) am going back to THE ARROWS OF THE HEART. This image is highly relevant to the story, for those of you who've studied the cover. 

Once I finish this blog post, I'm diving back into THE ARROWS OF THE HEART. It gave my own heart a little stab to see I haven't opened the document since March 20, 2018. That's over four months ago. A third of a year! Where has it gone??? I have no idea. 

Anyway, our topic this week at the SFF Seven is: If you had to invent a sport or game for your novels (or ever have), what would it be?

It's probably telling about me personally that I've invented several games, and a couple of martial arts systems, for my books - but never any sports. I'm so not a sports girl. If I were to invent a sport, it would probably be something forced on children where they're forced to deal with objects flying at them at speeds as fast as the scorn of their peers is scathing.

Not that I'm scarred or anything.

Despite my early clumsiness in all things Phys Ed, I later discovered Chinese martial arts - and studied with a school for over fifteen years. I drew on that practice in Tai Chi Ch'uan, Pakua Chang, Hsing-I, Shaolin Temple Boxing, and others, to build the martial system that's part of the worship of Danu in The Twelve Kingdoms, The Uncharted Realms, and even in The Chronicles of Dasnaria. (Fun fact: Jenna's dance, the ducerse, is a modification of a Pakua form that can be performed as a slow dance with saucers of water or lit candles.)

Invented martial systems are a terrific way to flesh out a world in SFF. Many draw on religious or philosophical tenets (as mine do), along with the physical training and more aggressive applications. A character devoted to a martial practice like these will have their entire worldview and choices informed by that. 

I've also invented a few strategy games, such as kiauo in THE PAGES OF THE MIND. That game serves several purposes in the story. The shape of the game board and the pieces give important clues to the culture and what they hold sacred. The game itself allows communication between two people who don't speak the same language - and they build an understanding of each other through it. Also, a strategy game gives character insight in the same way martial systems do. Strategic thinking occurs in more places than on a battlefield. 

Sports can do this, too - JK Rowling's famous sport of Quidditch being a prime example. Come to think of it, it IS a way to torture children and subject them to the scorn of their peers, isn't it? TOLD YOU.