Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Farewell, Anne McCaffrey

Most writers start writing because because he or she was inspired by something she’d read. There was another storyteller who’d left an impression and became who they wanted to be.

I didn’t think about such things when I was a kid. I generally consider my starting point as a writer to be when I was twelve, and because I wanted to write an adventure story set in my favorite video game. But at about that same age I really got into reading. My dad encouraged my brother and I to read, and agreed to pay half of any book we purchased, which made books affordable entertainment in comparison to video games.

Not that it stopped my love of video games, but I read, a lot.

My first Anne McCaffrey book was actually Dinosaur Planet, chosen because it was quite obviously a science fiction story involving a planet full of dinosaurs, and how could you go wrong with that? I still remember the day I bought the book. A brand new bookstore had opened in town and my dad took me there for a look around. It wasn’t a very large paperback, and there were tons of books on the shelves, but I picked that one. I still have it at home.

Then, when I was a little older in high school, I discovered the school library had an amazing selection of science fiction and fantasy. It had volumes upon volumes of these dragon books by Anne McCaffrey. I liked dragons, so it wasn’t a hard sell. The problem was which one to start with.

I figured the one called Dragonsdawn was a good place to start, given the title, and fell in love with the genetically engineered dragons and their riders. I was disappointed to discover that the rest of the books in print at that time (the Chronicles of Pern collection would later revisit the First Pass) took place centuries if not millenia later, and I had to adjust to a new cast of characters, but I read nearly every Pern book in the school library (skipping only Nerilka’s Story).

After I graduated I continued to read all the way up to 2001’s The Skies of Pern. I read her other books too; The Rowan and Damia, The Ship Who Sang, Decision at Doona.

One of the reasons I thought Writers of the Future was the awesomest contest ever was because Anne McCaffrey was a judge, and the thought that she might one day read my writing was amazing.

Though I won the contest in the biggest way possible, she was not one of my judges, and by then her health no longer permitted her to travel the distance it would take for her to get from Ireland to California for the award ceremony. I wish I had met her.

But she remained an inspiration to me. There is no other author I’ve read more, and I have no doubt that a part of what makes me a writer today came from her.

Farewell, Dragonlady of Pern. And thank you.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Solaris Rising Now Out in Stores

The anthology Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction is now in stores (Amazon, B&N, Mysterious Galaxy)! Thanks go to my fellow WotF winner Adam Colston for giving me a photo of the copy he found in the wild. I haven't been in a bookstore since my local Borders closed so it was a pleasant surprise to know the book's out.

I've been a bit hermit-like the past couple weeks, working on writing in between weekend events (took some time off from the day job), but I have good news. I've been contracted to do another story for Story Portals, this time for their upcoming Qi Lin property. Just got the signed paperwork back a few days ago.

And my previous Story Portals story, "The Nightmare Beast," has been collected into the ebook anthology of Katya, Lady Assassin stories: The Taste of Waterfruit and Other Stories.

I had a fantastic time at Blizzcon last weekend, and it turned out more useful from a writing standpoint than I thought. Richard Knaak and Christie Golden, who I read while I was in high school, were both there doing book signings as well as on a panel discussing their tie-in work with Blizzard.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Upcoming Travels

October's a busy month for me. Fortunately the day job is winding down so I should be able to take a vacation soon. First up is a wedding, second is BlizzCon, and third is the World Fantasy Convention.

BlizzCon is purely for fun since I'm a World of warcraft player and I'll be attending with a few of my guildies. If you happen to going and would like to meet up, I'd be happy to do so, though I'm not there in any writerly capacity (though if Blizzard is looking for another writer for their books I'd be happy to talk about it!).

I mostly plan on being a fan that weekend and soak up all the WoW and Diablo III news I can. Oh, and attend the Foo Fighters concert that closes out the con. I just hope my ears will be able to take the screaming.

WFC will be my first major spec fic convention and I hope to meet a lot of fellow writers I've only met on forums up until this point, as well as a few familiar faces from Writers of the Future. Again, I'll be happy to meet up sometime. From my understanding, WFC is on the small side since the number of attendees is restricted, so it shouldn't be difficult for find people.

After that, in November I plan to be at LosCon, the local LA convention, again. I'm really more of a stay-at-home type, so this is mind-bogglingly busy for me.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Writing "The Nightmare Beast"

My first work-for-hire story, "The Nightmare Beast," is available now to the general public at Story Portals. This is not the first time I've written in someone else's universe (my story "By Whatever Means Necessary" was an Honorable Mention in the first of Blizzard's annual writing contests for their Starcraft/Warcraft/Diablo properties), but happily enough, it's the first time I've been paid to do so.

"The Nightmare Beast" stars an assassin named Katya, the lead franchise character over at Story Portals. One of the best, Katya finds herself on a variety of dangerous jobs over the course of the series. In "The Nightmare Beast" she finds herself meeting an old acquaintance who hires her unaware of who she really is. She's asked to assassinate a man and steal package he neglected to deliver to her client, but the job can't be that simple, can it?

Doing work-for-hire can be fun since a lot of the world-building is already done, I can just cut loose and write, and I was able to write the first draft much more quickly than I could my original work.

"The Nightmare Beast" was also my trial run using Scrivner. I don't normally do first drafts on computer anymore, since I find the lure of the internet to be too distracting, but I didn't want to write "The Nightmare Beast" in longhand in my notebook because it would end up getting mixed in with the novel project I was working on at the time.

Scrivner has a feature though that allows the entire screen to be covered with nothing but a big white sheet, reminiscent of a typewriter, that hides everything else in the background. At first I thought it was a silly feature, but when I used it, I found it really did do a good job of blocking out distractions. The only problem was that the "typewriter" didn't advance with every new line (I was using the Beta) so I was usually writing at the bottom of the screen instead of the middle.

I’m not a complete convert, but the program might be used another time in the future if I need to avoid getting my notebook cluttered with multiple projects again.

I listened to several songs to get into the mood for writing Katya. Songs used for "The Nightmare Beast" were "Teenage Dream" by Katy Perry, "According to You" by Orianthi, and "Who Knew" and "Please Don't Leave Me" by Pink.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

RPG Talk: Lunar: Silver Star Harmony

Platform: PSP
Year of Release: 2010

The original Lunar: The Silver Star holds a special place in my heart. I was sixteen, loving console RPGs, and at an age when games were finally powerful enough to start including complex stories and cinematic moments. Lunar was one of the first RPGs to feature a well developed cast of characters in a setting that was unique enough to not be just any old fantasy land and featured a plot with something more personal at stake than just saving the world.

It also featured the first RPG villain that I really felt sympathy towards. Until then all the villains I'd seen in games had been fairly cartoony or quite thoroughly evil. Ghaleon was amazing. He was a former hero who had a legitimate reason for hating the Goddess Althena. While I disagreed with his means, I could not disagree with his reason, and that cemented him as one of my favorite villains of all time.

Perhaps as a testament to the story's enduring appeal, Lunar: The Silver Star has been remade a number of times; Lunar: Silver Star Story, Lunar Legend, and now Lunar: Silver Star Harmony. With four versions now in existence, there are variations in how the tale has been told in each one, though the later remakes tend to follow SSS more than the original TSS.

I recently finished playing through Silver Star Harmony and there are some things to be appreciated considering that the game was brought over from Japan by the third company to localize it. Perhaps knowing that many of the people buying it would be players who remember it from childhood (seventeen years passed between the original TSS and the release of SSH) the names of the characters use the changes and spellings used by the original localization team, even when they did not match the Japanese.

Name changes are much rarer in RPGs now, with fans demanding fidelty to the Japanese as much as possible, but Lunar continues to skate by, and so Fiddy continues to be Quark, Killy is still Kyle, etc.

I was initially reluctant to buy yet another copy of the same story, but was convinced to open my wallet when I found out about new material added in. If there's anything the Lunar remakes have done, it's that they add their own tweaks and turns, as if to tell the repeat player this story really is a legend and there are many variations to it.

Comparing this to a more recent property, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony is much like Harry Potter in that the actions of the previous generation echo down into the present and nothing that happens now would have happened if not for what happened before.

Lunar has always had the Four Heroes in every iteration; Dragonmaster Dyne; the sage, Ghaleon; the pirate, Mel; and the heir to the magic guild, Lemia. Every version tells how Dyne went off on one final adventure with his best friend Ghaleon and never returned, and only Ghaleon knew what had really happened. (And no, he didn't kill him.)

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony Various

Silver Star Harmony's addition to the legacy allows the player to go through a new prologue sequence as the Four Heroes (image above). I wonder if this was perhaps an apology to fans who've requested a Four Heroes game in the past and never got one, instead getting three other games set in different time periods with different characters. The prologue is decently involving, its two boss fights surprisingly punchy, and features a fair deal of new "lore" in gaming parlance. We learn of a Black Star for the first time and finally know the name of the villain who made the Four Heroes household names.

Though there is an aside later in the game that refers back to the prologue, sadly I don't think the writers took as much advantage of the new material as they could have. The prologue villain Eiphel prophecizes that Ghaleon will fall the same way as he did, but there's only one other line of dialogue in the first third of the game that refers back to it. I would have liked Ghaleon to recall that warning at the end of the game to bookend with the beginning and it seems too good a writer trick to miss.

The rest of the game hews fairly closely to the first remake, Silver Star Story, though the dialogue may differ a bit.

The mysterious event that led to Dragonmaster Dyne's disappearance and presumed death, is what sets the story of Lunar in motion, and the main character, Alex, is a village boy who aspires to one day be a Dragonmaster like his hero. On his journey he meets the daughters of the Four Heroes Mel and Lemia, and the main cast is rounded out with a pompous young magican who is apprenticed to Ghaleon and a sleazy bandit.

Now that I'm older and no longer a teenager, what follows is decent enough adolescent quest to rescue a childhood friend who happens to be the key to Ghaleon taking over the world. The story is bright-eyed and optimistic, hearkening back to a simpler time when belief in the human heart is enough. Even when bad things happen, they are obstacles to be overcome and the heroes never completely lose heart, though they may at times falter.

The heroes are perhaps a bit unrealistic in their faith. Ghaleon certainly believes so, and not just because he's the villain. Lack of belief in the human heart is the cornerstone of why he fell (in the remakes). And that brings me to what really stood out for me now that I'm older.

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony Various

This guy here is Nash. He looks pretty sure of himself, doesn't he?

Nash is probably the least popular of the five main characters. It might be because he starts the game as an arrogant snotbag, overly proud of being apprentice to Ghaleon, the most powerful magician in the world. But it's mainly because of something else Nash does in all versions of the game.

He betrays the party. (Methods vary depending on version, but rest assured he will do it.)

I remember other players saying that after Nash betrayed them they never could forgive him. They didn't want him back in the party.

But the thing is, Nash is probably the most realistic of the main characters. The problem is that he doesn't fit in the mold of having faith and hope that somehow they will emerge successful. He betrays the party because he calls it as he sees it. Sure, Ghaleon isn't a nice guy, but fighting against the most powerful magician in the world, who is capable of single-handedly capturing or killing dragons and enslaving the goddess? It's suicidal.

Nash wants to live, and he wants to protect the girl he loves (fellow party member Mia). In Silver Star Harmony he sabotages the party's airship not just to prevent the group from attacking Ghaleon, but to prevent Mia from getting close enough to be killed.

That might make him out to be a misguided hero, but Nash isn't entirely selfless in this. There is a part of him that appreciates the idea of being special, of having a place in Ghaleon's new order. We find out midway through the game that Nash prizes status because he's from a peasant family and he wanted his parents to be proud that he became an elite magician.

Still, it's Mia that matters the most to him, and it's because he realizes that he's hurting her by fighting on the wrong side that he choses to come back to the group.

(As an aside: I much prefer the original TSS version of Nash's snapping out of it to the slapping Mia gives him in all the remakes since he comes to his senses on his own. It's visually less dramatic since there is no special sprite animation for it, but the guts it must have taken for Nash to return to the party, almost at the cost of his life and knowing they might not take him back, made a much stronger emotional impact.)

All the characters except probably Alex (who is as noble in the end as he was in the beginning) grow, but it's Nash who grows the most, saying that "We can't value people only for their power, magic, or wealth" in defiance of what he'd once believed.

He's a refreshing voice of reason, and once Nash was ready to believe in the power of the human spirit, I found I was too. He might not have been liked by a lot of players (in this forum poll he's in a three way tie across two Lunar games for least favorite--ouch!), and he's certainly not a character to aspire to be, but I wonder if players will find him more understandable, if not necessarily likable, with age.

If we were real people in the story of Lunar, I think a lot more people would be a Nash than an Alex.

Images courtesy of IGN, which amazingly enough provides links so external sites can embed their images.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"The Nightmare Beast" Now Available at Story Portals

My story "The Nightmare Beast" is now available for registered members at Story Portals (and registration is free!). It will become available to the general public in a week.

In "The Nightmare Beast," accomplished assassin Katya finds herself hired by an old acquaintance, who is unaware of her hidden identity as a killer-for-hire. But Katya is not the only one with secrets and the assassin soon discovers she's not the only one who's changed since they last met.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Story Portals Going Live!

Story Portals is a new hub for fantasy adventure stories, set to go live on September 1st, which for most of the world, is already today!

The launch character is Katya, a lady assassin and the sole remaining follower of the goddess of love and death, Shi'in. For those who read a lot of D&D novels, at least a couple of the names on the roster for writing Katya will look familiar, such as Marsheila Rockwell and Richard Lee Byers.

Ten stories are going to be available at launch with an eleventh available to registered members, with new stories to come. I'm happy to say that one of them will be mine.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Classic Read: The Road Back

When I was in school, I had a love/hate relation with my English classes. I loved creative writing. I hated having to analyze the classics and there are certain books much beloved in literary circles that bored me to tears.

But there was a bright spot in all the assigned reading. Sometimes I actually did find a book I enjoyed, no assigned reading book reached me and possibly influenced me as much as All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. It's the story of a young German soldier assigned to fight in the trenches in World War I and how it whittles down everything and everyone he cares about. Perhaps because the main character was only a few years older than me, I found him relatable.

Some years later I heard that there was a sequel called The Road Back that followed characters from the same combat company, but since Paul dies at the end of All Quiet I wasn't sure I wanted to read it. And then I was busy with college, then work, and for a good long while I forgot about the whole thing.

Until I had a hankering to read All Quiet again, and finding myself without a copy at home, I drove over to the public library to check out a copy. They also had The Road Back and I figured, Why not?

I wish I hadn't waited so long.

Though many of the characters who appeared in All Quiet on the Western Front are dead, Tjaden makes a return, still very much the light-hearted prankster of the group, and we're given names to newer characters who presumably were always there in the first book, but weren't as close to Paul (the first person narrator of All Quiet) to have been worth mentioning by name.

For instance, there's a reference to the time they caught two suckling pigs and made pancakes during an air raid. In the first book Paul mentions there were eleven people in the group, but we didn't know the names of all of them at the time. Now we know a few more.

Ernst, the main character of The Road Back, is a similarly eloquent first person narrator to Paul, but does not suffer from the same despair that Paul eventually falls into. He and his friends come back from the war only to find it difficult to fit back into society, which is going into upheaval due to a revolution that has driven the Kaiser from the country and turned Germany into a republic.

Aside from political issues, food is still scarce among civilians and there is little effort to integrate the veterans, several suffering from what we now call PTSD, back into society. Ernst and some of his friends attempt to resume going to school, where they had been studying for their teaching credentials, but their schoolmasters have no idea what it's been like for them in the war and the former soldiers have little patience for what they see as useless work.

All the former soldiers deal with their return differently. Some recover quickly, becoming successful business men. Others fall prey to the demons still haunting them. Ernst himself runs in the middle, for though he cannot escape his memories of the front, there is a certain spark to him that refuses to back down.

Though The Road Back gives the feeling that civilians didn't learn anything from the war, the epilogue even shows a bunch of children just a few years shy of drafting playing war games under the direction of adults, it ends on a brighter note than All Quiet on the Western Front. Ernst realizes that his road is going to be long, painful, and most likely traveled alone. He might never get back to the way he was before the war, but he's going to try.

And I really like that hope that All Quiet never gave. Ernst is a broken man who has trouble fitting into society, but he still fights for what he believes in. He still hopes. He's not beyond repair.

Remarque writes at the start of the All Quiet on the Western Front that:

"This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war."

The Road Back shows us that what has been destroyed can still be salvaged, and perhaps with time, restored to what it was.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Promise Made with a Series

I finished rereading a much loved book from my middle school/high school years. It's book 3 in a seven book series (and no, it's not Harry Potter, I'm not that young), and the series had been designed from the start to be exactly seven books. None of this extending the series because it's popular or because each novel is a stand alone deal. It was intended to be seven books. No more, no less.

I really liked the third book because it took the series to another level. It was the dark turning point where the stakes were raised and ancestral enemies realize they might not be enemies at all. And I fell in love with one of the periphery characters introduced in the book. He had to grow up fast and became a tragic character by the end. I think I may have cried the first time I read the ending.

After that, I was very bright-eyed and optimistic about the series, and while books 4 and 5 never quite peaked as high as book 3 with me, they were solid. Then something happened with books 6 and 7.

Without going into specifics, the spelling of my favorite character's name in book 3 was changed by one letter. Not much, but it certainly threw me off. The prophecy from book 3 never came back again (despite being a huge deal in that book) and my favorite character didn't do much of anything except act like a talking piece of furniture (and he'd been the one the prophecy was about).

There were other issues too. Some minor. Some big enough that one could drive a truck through. The implied gender of a character's child was swapped between books. And even within the same book an implausibility happens that makes sense on an initial read (while the main characters and the reader don't know better), but fails once a certain character is revealed. Astute readers will catch it on the first read and check back a few chapters to see if the events leading up to the reveal make still sense. I remember I did (and they don't).

I still appreciate the series for its characters and fine world building, but finishing it bothered me as a high school reader because I thought someone would have planned the whole thing out from start to finish, since it was known from the beginning that it would be a seven book series. I felt like the tail end of the series had been phoned in, nobody cared anymore. Or, the series really had not been planned as well as I thought it was, and so the series had been wrapped up as neatly as possible given the circumstances.

There's probably a reason behind the ending sagging that I'm not aware of. But as that high school kid, I was really disappointed. I was promised awesome sauce all the way up through the fifth book, and I got middling sauce by the end. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good, and felt worse because it wasn't awesome.

When I think of the most popular seven book series of today, when I think of Harry Potter, I realize that whatever I may think of Rowling's prose, I respect her ability to write a plot. She might have added and subtracted things behind the scenes that the reader never knew, but what was laid down made sense and I didn't feel any promises betrayed.

I've never written a long book series, but this is something I want to keep in mind for when or if I do.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Listening to Feedback

I recently finished playing through the Dragon Age 2: Legacy DLC. For those a little less video game savvy, that's extra paid download content beyond what comes with the game itself, and what it exactly contains varies from game to game. It could be bonus items, levels, costumes, etc.

Legacy is like an extra adventure which story-wise takes place during the main game. It's also a bit remarkable in that the developer said they took pains to listen to player feedback in what they didn't like in the main game when they crafted the DLC and even now maintain a feedback thread on their forums to get a handle on what people liked or didn't like about this particular DLC.

The reason I find this interesting as a blog topic is because writers, particularly new writers, are often in pursuit of feedback. It's not uncommon to balance reader feedback (often in the form of a critique) with what to do in the next draft of the story. The difference here is that writers often focus on the current project they're working on and that game developers look foward just as often to the next iteration (be it patch, DLC, or sequel).

The result of feedback is quite good when it comes to Legacy. It immediately fixed common criticisms of the main game such as recycled area maps and nonsensical waves of enemies. It is also more story-based than previous Dragon Age DLCs, culminating in a very nice "lore" moment where astute followers of the series can be shocked by the complete identity of the last boss. I quite enjoyed it all.

Legacy is an example of where audience feedback was taken to heart can judging from forum comments, the result was received well. It's not possible to please everyone, but it's a good thing when people who didn't like the main game as much found the DLC to be quite enjoyable.

As writers I've heard there's a point where you want to avoid "writing by commitee." In games "designing by committee" isn't considered much better, especially since the fanbase may want conflicting things, but I think if the target audience is saying something, it's a good idea to listen. They're the ones paying the money.

And here where it gets murkier for a writer. Until we have a fanbase, and a particularly ardent one, it's not likely we'll hear from those who are paying the money.

I can't think of a solution to that, aside from making sure your critiquers are also in the target audience you want your readers to be, so what they're suggesting or asking for as a reader is more likely to match up with what potential readers who've yet to discover you want.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Solaris Rising Table of Contents Released

The table of contents for Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science-Fiction is out! This anthology, edited by Ian Whates, will be featuring my story "Mooncakes" in collaboration with Mike Resnick. I recognize several names that I'm quite happy to appear in the company of.

Introduction - Ian Whates
A Smart-Mannered Uprising of the Dead - Ian McDonald
The Incredible Exploding Man - Dave Hutchinson
Sweet Spots - Paul di Filippo
Best SF of the Year Three - Ken MacLeod
The One that Got Away - Tricia Sullivan
Rock Day - Stephen Baxter
Eluna - Stephen Palmer
Shall I Tell You the Problem with Time Travel? - Adam Roberts
The Lives and Deaths of Che Guevara - Lavie Tidhar
Steel Lake - Jack Skillingstead
Mooncakes - Mike Resnick and Laurie Tom
At Play in The Fields - Steve Rasnic Tem
How We Came Back From Mars - Ian Watson
You Never Know - Pat Cadigan
Yestermorrow - Richard Salter
Dreaming Towers, Silent Mansions - Jaine Fenn
Eternity's Children - Eric Brown and Keith Brooke
For the Ages - Alastair Reynolds
Return of the Mutant Worms - Peter F. Hamilton

The book will be available in paper and ebook in November. With any luck, that means copies will be available in time for Loscon.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Shopping at Borders

I stop by the physical bookstore maybe once a month. I admit, I have a certain fondness for paper (despite my affinity for computers and video games) and there's nothing quite like adding to the stacks of books on my shelves. I wish they were better organized, but that's a different issue.

This was my first time at the bookstore since reading Kristine Kathryn Rusch's observations about bookstores. My local bookstore of choice is part of the Borders chain, which unfortunately is working through a bankruptcy at the moment. It's not in danger of being immediately shut down, but I'm concerned that a couple years from now it won't be there. There isn't a single indie bookstore that sells new books in the entire city, so when this Borders goes, I'm likely to have to do all my shopping online.

I first started shopping at this Borders as a senior in high school, which was about the same time that the B. Dalton's and Waldenbooks started to disappear from malls. At the age I was though, I didn't think much of it. As long as I could get the books I wanted, which was usually fairly often, I didn't have a problem with where I shopped.

After reading Kris's article though, and planning my most recent trip to Borders, I realized that I had a rather bizarre habit.

I dislike driving to the bookstore and not finding what I want, so I've developed a habit of checking online whether or not a potential half dozen books I'd be interested in were inventory. That way I know whether or not the trip would be a waste. I do like browsing the shelves to see if I find anything interesting just by happenstance, but I don't like leaving empty-handed.

I've actually starting picking up manga as stop-gaps if the novels I want aren't available, because a popular manga series will generally have various volumes in stock, and if one volume of a series I'm reading is missing I can probably find the next volume I need of a different one. (Sadly, I'm now facing a different problem where I'm getting far enough in various series that it's less likely the volume I want is in the store.)

I didn't used to do this. I remember in high school I could go to a bookstore and find nearly all the books from Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series in stock. These days she occupies half the shelf she used to and there isn't nearly as much of the older Pern material (mostly the newer stuff with her son Todd). I imagine other authors' shelf spaces have shrunk as well. If it's not relatively new, it's not on the shelf.

I've been wanting to start reading Naomi Novik's Teremaire series, but had some trouble finding the first book in stock. How a bookseller expects to market book six without book one available I don't know, but His Majesty's Dragon had been on my "I hope to find it in stock one of these days" lists for a while.

Finally, I found it... as part of a boxed set containing the first three books. It was a score as far as I was concerned (I'd read a sample of the book already so I had a reasonable sense that I could gamble on three books and enjoy them all), but still a little annoying that the book just hadn't been there, on its own, months ago. I would have bought it months ago as well if it'd been there.

I can't really pinpoint why a bookstore's selection seems so much worse than in previous years. Borders does have a section of the store devoted to Kobo, but the science fiction and fantasy rows don't feel that much smaller. Though, I admit the tie-in portion is a lot bigger than before.

That makes me wonder, just as a wild idea, if perhaps the future of printed books will be in franchises.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Living Rooms: Now on Kindle

There's been a lot of chatter around the blogosphere and writing communities about ebooks, their relevance, and the path to success. Perhaps most telling is that at this year's Writers of the Future workshop, the judges could not agree on what the industry was going to look like in the next five years.

Some people have jumped whole-heartedly into independent publishing. Others are quite stubborn about sticking to tradition. The best way may well indeed be a mix between the New York model and the indie one. I'm not in a position with my novel manuscript to be worrying about that right now, but I figured I would begin to experiment with my previously published work, since ebooks seem to lend themselves to novelette and novella length stories, which is a hard sell in the traditional world.

"Living Rooms," my Gold Award winning story of the Writing of the Future contest, is now available for purchase on Kindle (other formats forthcoming) for just $0.99. The artwork is by my friend Denis Takara, who happens to also be the Dungeon Master for the D&D group I play with on Sundays.

That does mean we sometimes get nifty illustrations of his custom made monsters when we play. Isn't that cool?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Japanese Light Novels

Last year I started reading the Spice & Wolf series by Isuna Hasekura. It's what is called in Japan a "light novel" series. It's a short novel comes with a few illustrations up front and more or less makes for "light" reading, though I'm a little skeptical about whether that's where the name comes from.

Light novels appear to work much like comics in that they are serials marked by volume number rather than with a separate title for each installment. If Spice and Wolf is anything to judge by, each volume is a self-contained story, an episode if you will, of the larger series, with an overarching storyline running between multiple books.

It's not quite the same as a fantasy trilogy, which is why the serial analogy works.

For instance, in volume 1 of Spice and Wolf, the characters of Lawrence and Holo begin traveling together, with the goal of returning Holo to her long forgotten home in the distant north. That's the overarching story. But the climax of volume 1 has nothing to do with her homeland, so much as to what lengths do Lawrence and Holo want to remain traveling companions when they have the opportunity to part ways.

Volume 2 covers a deal gone wrong where Holo has to bail Lawrence out of a mess of his own creation, which of course is at a city that's a stopover on their travel north.

Volume 3 looks to further the relationship between Lawrence and Holo as their journey continues (since there's definitely some unresolved sexual tension between the both of them), with of course another wrench thrown in the plan.

Persumably the series, which has gone up to sixteen volumes as of this writing, continues in this way until Lawrence and Holo inevitably find Yoitsu. Or, perhaps, there will be a different reason for them to keep traveling.

Spice and Wolf is a fresh and breezy read. It's a very minimalist sort of narration with short paragraphs, lots of dialogue, and the pages turn fast.

I don't think we really have an analog to the light novel in the US, save the ones that are translated from the Japanese, and that's too bad. I feel like we're missing some sort of marketing niche.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

WotF Workshop Week and Catch-up

The day job was demanding a lot of me, right up to the point where I departed for this year's Writers of the Future workshop, which took place last week. This is the first weekend I've had to myself in nine weeks. Not that I stopped writing, even during the business. I kept writing even during the WotF workshop, and that was a blast to attend.

One of the things that isn't widely talked about (and I had no idea happened prior to my own win) is that recent winners of previous years will often come back and sit in the back of the workshop. A few of them, the more successful ones, may give a talk about how they made it.

When I won for WotF 26, Ken Scholes, Steve Savile, Eric James Stone, and Jordan Lapp were our recent winners and mentors.

Until you're in the position of a brand new winner, you have no idea why it's so helpful to have previous winners at the workshop. For many winners, the judges are childhood idols, the people who they've wanted to be. Talking to them is difficult, especially those first few conversations. I was so nervous the first night I met most of the judges that I was afraid Kevin J. Anderson would only remember me as the "giggling girl" because I couldn't stop. I was still in disbelief that people like them could actually enjoy my writing.

Me, who'd received a grand total of 372 rejections before landing my Gold Award winning story!

But the previous winners were able to take me by the arm and introduce me to the judges, get conversations going, and make me feel welcome.

This year, I was privileged enough to return as a previous winner and continue the favor for this year's crop of winners, maybe of whom were in the same state of disbelief I was last year. It's funny how much of a difference a year makes.

I came in middle of their week, right after they'd done their meeting a stranger exercise, so they were about to embark on their 24-hour story exercise. I never worried about whether or not I'd finish mine, since I'd done a story start-to-finish in a single evening before, but I knew the exercise was an eye-opener for some.

The workshop week was an adventure in an entirely different manner now that I no longer had the pressure of the workshop or the grand prize hanging above my head. (I don't know how the illustrators stand it, since all of them are up their Gold Award.) While the winners worked on their 24-hour stories I got to tour inside a co-op garden closed to the public due to an intrepid conversation started by Tim Powers and his wife Serena with a gardener who was able to tell us tales about the Hollywood area and its history with the garden. It was the meet a stranger exercise magnified to something ten times better than what I'd experienced.

This year I was able to speak with the judges without stumbling over my words, no longer the giggling girl too nervous to talk, and I could talk with the new winners with the confidence that all would be fine. Most of them had made their first professional sale with their win, and are simply drowning in information. The workshop keeps tough hours too, with events often starting at 8am and unofficial hanging out in the lobby not ending until midnight or 1am.

The award ceremony was particularly enjoyable for me this year, since I honestly don't remember a whole lot of last year's. I was so nervous that I spent the entire time between my first place award and the Gold Award announcement mentally rehearsing my second acceptance speech just in case I won. I was terrified I would forget and end up not being able to say a word.

I take that back.

I remember just before they made the announcement for the Gold Award I was so nervous I turned to my dad, who was in the audience with me, and said, "I think I need to go to the bathroom."

And he, leaning towards me for an entirely different reason, said, "Good luck!"

After the award ceremony I had the pleasure of collecting autographs from the new winners, who were overwhelmed by all the fuss. We had an after party as well, during which I found out that my collaboration with Mike Resnick, had sold to the New Book of Solaris Science Fiction anthology. (The editor's in the UK, so the news had come in at about 1am.)

All in all, it was a very good week. I can see why Tim Powers and Eric Flint have said they like going to conventions so much.

Going back to WotF was like a reunion, seeing people who I would never get to see otherwise. These people: the judges, the previous winners, and now the current group, are all part of a greater writing community that I'm now a part of.

Writing is so often a solitary pursuit, and I'm not sure when I'll see all of these people again. A few of them I know I'll see again at this year's World Fantasy in San Diego. Others I might catch at LosCon, our local L.A. convention. The rest, I really don't know.

But we'll keep in touch, and by next year I hope to have more stories published and coming down the pipeline.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Doing Taxes

This is the first year that I did taxes on the earnings for my writing. It was hard not to, with the 1099-MISC staring me in the face from Writers of the Future. But aside from legal obligations, 2010 was the first year where I earned enough more to cover more than a couple of dinners or maybe a convention membership.

I don't expect 2011 will be better (it's hard to top the WotF grand prize), but I'm hoping for some decent pocket change.

What I did learn though, from doing my taxes, is being organized!

At the WotF workshop Tim Powers told us to start counting everything related to our work as expenses. Meals while traveling. Books for research. SFWA membership. I kept all my receipts. But keeping all my receipts didn't mean that I had them all in the same place.

Sadly enough, I had receipts inside of books (if I bought a book from a physical bookstore, I tended to use the receipt as a bookmark), receipts tucked off to the side on my computer desk, receipts still inside my wallet...

I found them all. I can't think of a one that's missing. But not only did I have to find them all, I had to organize them into different categories because they can't all be lumped together. (For instance, food expenses count differently.)

This year I plan to do better. I have my receipt drawer already prepared. Receipts aren't wandering away without a fight!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Good Writing, Dragon Age II

I recently finished playing Dragon Age II. What does this have to do with writing one could ask? It's a video game.

Well, I started writing because of video games.

I suppose if one goes back to the very first time I tired to write fiction it was really cartoons and toys, but when I was twelve, I played a particular video game and decided I wanted to write a story about it. It took me six months of on and off writing, but I finished that story, and decided then that I wanted to be a writer.

Video games have been a part of my storytelling consumption ever since. While I read books and watch the occasional movie, video games have always been one of my favorite methods of storytelling and probably always will be. Sometimes the quality isn't that good, not every game focuses on the plot, but a story adds something. It gives running through levels and fighting bad guys meaning.

I've watched storytelling in games rise from simple plot setups in the game manual, maybe in the game itself, to full fledged epics. I remember the first time I played a game and I felt my eyes water. I couldn't believe it. A game was moving me to tears.

Dragon Age II didn't make me cry, but it has been one of the best written games I've played in a long time and I attribute that to the excellent writing team at Bioware. There are moments I want to revisit again and again because they left such an impact on me.

In all role-playing games there is always a balance that has to be struck between player freedom and the need to serve the story. Some RPGs such as the Elder Scrolls series allow a great amount of player freedom, so much so that the story can be all but forgotten as the player roams a giant sandbox playing with whatever catches their interest. If there are other party members, they might simply be window dressing so the player has more people to control in battle.

On the other side are games such as the Final Fantasy series which are carefully scripted to the point where the player can only go to certain places and do things as dictated by the story. Choice is an illusion and the main character is quite likely a defined character on his or her own. There is only one way to save the world, one way to go through a cave, one destiny for a character to have, and the player will perform it in that fashion.

DA2 let me decide who I wanted my character to be within the confines dictated by the plot. While I could not make game-breaking decisions like pack up and move to another country, what choices were available did matter and I could not take the team of people I wanted to work together the most into my character's final battle because I had to make a choice.


My version of Hawke, the main character, was played as a kind and helpful person; sympathetic to the oppression of mages. As an apostate (illegal) mage herself it made sense she would feel for those mages trapped within the Circle and managed by the templars, out of fear they could hurt themselves or others.

She met Anders, a fellow apostate with a kind heart working in a clinic for the poor; a healer. Anders had a problem, being possessed by a formerly well-meaning spirit that had been warped into a spirit of vengeance, but it was clear he was a good man. She liked him quite a bit.

At the same time, she met Sebastian, a former prince and brother in the chantry (church). He had lapsed in his vows to the chantry, but wanted to convince the grand cleric that he was ready to be committed again.

The way DA2 works, is that as the player and their party members roam around, the companion characters can talk to each other, so it's possible to hear what their views are, how they live, what they think of each other. Anders and Sebastian are only two of them, but they turned out to be favorites of mine so I had them in my party almost all the time. As the game progresses, there are special quests that are specifically assigned to each companion, allowing the player to find out more of that character's backstory and move their personal plot along.

The mechanics of the quest are the same for each player, but the dialogue changes depending on choices the player has made, giving the player something of a personal investment in how the story plays out.

For instance, Sebastian knew that my Hawke and Anders had entered a relationship with each other, so after I helped him with something he warned her that "He's a dangerous man. And selfish. Whatever he promised, don't believe that he will ever put your needs above his own."

And that bothered me as the player. At this point in the story I already knew that Anders was losing the battle keeping his own mind separate from that of the spirit inside of him, but Anders had been so kind earlier on that I couldn't put what Sebastian was saying together with the Anders I knew.

But then I did one of Anders's quests and found out that he lied about the reason he needed certain ingredients gathered, and he wanted Hawke to do something very shady for a reason he wouldn't tell her. He asked if she could simply trust him, and that what he was doing was for the good of all mages.

It was a very ominous thing, and suddenly I knew what Sebastian was warning Hawke about. But the order of the scenes, the way the dialogue came out, it wouldn't have been the same for every player. Not every player would even get the warning from Sebastian because not every player would have started a romance with Anders, not every player would become good enough friends with Sebastian, not every player would even meet Sebastian in the first place. While certainly there are a good deal of people who saw exactly what I did, it made what Anders was doing very personal.

The final straw came near the end of the game, when the mages of the city are arguing with the templars, and it looks like they will come to blows. There is a power vacuum in the city and the mages are sick of their templar overlords. In desperation, the mage leader says he will go to the grand cleric of the chantry to ask her to rein in the templars, and the templar knight-commander tries to stop him.

But the one who really stops them both is Anders. The chantry lights up in a magical explosion, an explosion Hawke unwittingly helped set up, because she agreed to trust him.

Anders had been slipping throughout the story. Particularly in the last third it had become apparent. He wasn't getting along with most of Hawke's companions, he was frequently irritable, and he was becoming more extreme in his belief that mages needed to be free of the templars. Was it really him, or the spirit inside of him? Hawke had been warned that getting involved with the possessed mage had been a bad idea, but he had been such a kind person, especially to Hawke when her mother had died.

Now an entire city block was destroyed and the grand cleric killed to remove any illusion of compromise. It was now war between the templars and the mages.

And I had to choose more than whether I would side with Knight-Commander Meredith or First Enchanter Orsino. I had to choose between Anders and Sebastian, both of whom were my dearest companions.

Anders expected to die for what he'd done, and Sebastian wanted him dead as punishment for killing the grand cleric and who knew how many innocent lives, but the choice is left to the player. It is possible to spare Anders.

I thought about it, and asked the other companion characters what they thought, and though the majority of them said he should die, one of them pointed out that if he lived he could work to put things right. After some deliberation, I decided this companion was right. Anders was clearly a tormented man who had done a horrible thing for what was probably in the grand scheme of things, the right reason. The mages would fight for their freedom now, because they had no choice. And there can be no redemption for Anders if he does not live.

Unfortunately Sebastian would have none of it, and he walked out on my party.

I can't say the choices I made throughout the game were in my favor, but they mattered. Would I have cared nearly as much about what happened to Anders if my character had not chosen to love him? Would Anders's betrayal have hurt as much if Hawke had merely been his friend? And then I lost Sebastian. It was an either/or with him and Anders. There was no way they could ever have come to common ground and gone into the final battle together.

A story, whether in a book or in a game, matters when the audience cares about what happens. It doesn't matter whether they are a player or a reader. I had become invested in these characters to the point where I wanted them to succeed. I wanted Anders to become whole again. I wanted Sebastian to find out for himself whether he should remain a chantry brother or reclaim his title as prince.

I looked on the Bioware forums and there is a thread over 300 posts long talking about Anders. Some players hate him. Some players love him. The fact that there is so much discussion about a character in a video game shows how much he moved us, one way or another.

A tip of the hat to Ms. Jennifer Hepler and rest of the Bioware writing team, for writing such a fascinating character. Traveling with Anders has been a painful journey, but a memorable one. Every now and then I meet a character who I consider an inspiration for what I hope to do in my own work. Anders is one of them.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Arcadia

While I was browsing through my unsold science fiction stories, I happened across a story I'd forgotten about. I'd only written the first draft, and for one reason or another had never gotten around to revising it.

It was inspired by a favorite movie of mine, and rereading the story reminded me so strongly of its inspiration that I was motivated to dig it out. That movie was the 1982 anime Arcadia of My Youth.

I think most fiction writers were moved by something when they were young, a story that resonated with them and provided an inspiration to tell stories of their own. While Arcadia of My Youth did not provide the inspiration for me to write (I had already been writing for three, maybe even four, years by the time I saw it), it left a lasting impression on my teenage mind, and to this day I think of Captain Harlock as my favorite pirate of all time.

When I first saw the movie it was a partially censored version called Vengeance of the Space Pirate dubbed into English with 40 minutes removed and marketed as "Just for Kids." Never mind that the main character, Harlock, doesn't end up with much vengeance, that many of the characters die, and the reward for the main character for standing up for his convictions is a painful exile from Earth.

I was sixteen, and terribly moved by the story of a man who fought for what he believed in and was no longer welcome on his own homeworld. There is only way for a human to live on Earth, as part of a conquered and broken people subjugated by the aliens who'd won the war against them. Freedom means leaving Earth behind, never to return. Freedom means existing in a world where no one will help you. Freedom means hardship.

Harlock and his crew choose freedom.

I rewatched Arcadia of My Youth this weekend, my uncut, subtitled version, and was surprised by how much I was moved by the story. There are parts that have not aged well, largely because of things I now know are not scientifically possible or find unrealistic, but the core story, about a man and his beliefs is unchanged from my memory. Harlock is still an immensely strong, larger than life character who if he was a real person I would believe in without hesitation.

This time around though I was particularly moved by Maya, who is heavily implied to be Harlock's wife. It wasn't as though she had been removed from the cut version I'd seen as a teenager, but her messages to Harlock had been trimmed down and the moment of her death had been removed, as well as the grief Harlock shows when he realizes she's died.

Harlock and Maya's relationship is a little odd, which is why I only say it's implied they're married. We never see a ring and with the bleak world they exist in we never see the two side by side in a relaxed setting. They're hardly ever even in the same scene together, but it's obvious they know each other well and care about each other's safety.

I'd always watched Arcadia of My Youth with an eye on Harlock, but this time I found Maya to be a very strong character as well. Though Harlock is the captain and gets all the action oriented sequences, Maya is no less courageous a character for persisting in her underground broadcasts and encouraging the beaten people of Earth to aspire for more.

I'm at a loss what sort of category I'd file this movie under, which makes it difficult to recommend. It's a drama, but there are action sequences and certain moments of coolness that are more appropriate for a popcorn flick. There's just nothing else like it that I can think about off-hand.

I still like it for its message though; that even if it's hard and painful, it's worth fighting for what you believe in.

Arcadia's too close for me to go back and revise my short story now, but it was worth going back and reliving a couple hours with Harlock. It reminded me of just how important and influential a character can be for a young girl.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chopping Up An Old Story

I needed a science fiction story for a particular project, so I looked back at the work I'd done before that I had yet to sell, and selected what I thought my most suitable piece. I liked the concept quite a bit, and the story had done well enough to be a quarterfinalist in Writers of the Future (quarterfinalists are now known as Honorable Mentions).

Having reread the story I found I still liked it, but there were obvious weaknesses; portions of the story told in summary instead of as an actual scene, an unsatisfying ending, and given advances in technology part of what happened in the last third didn't seem probable anymore.

So I took a hacksaw to it. In the process the opening scene was truncated, the conflict between the protagonist and her friend was enhanced with an additional scene and the summary expanded into an actual scene, the ending was revised, and in total an additional thousand words were added to what had been a 3400 word story.

I was pleased.

I also could not have done this kind of edit back when I originally wrote the story.

Back when I was a younger writer I would write a draft, and I might do a bit of editing while I write (bad behavior!), but on the whole of it what I wrote was what went out. In extreme circumstances I might cut a paragraph or two, but on the whole editing tended to be limited to clarifications and rewording things. Line edits.

I took a story to my first face-to-face workshop that was not a college creative writing class, and I remember my instructor, Mark London Williams, suggesting that I rewrite a scene I brought into class a different way. It may come as a shock to some, but my initial unvoiced reaction was: "But I already wrote it this way!"

What Mark had suggested was a drastic change that could not have been accomplished through a line edit. Paragraphs would have to change. Maybe even the plot. The scene would be different.

It took me about a year to realize he was right. When I took that same story back to the workshop a year later, it was much better, stronger for the revisions. It was the story was that really taught me that it's okay to throw away chunks of text. About two-fifths of it was removed and replaced. The scenes that did nothing were gone. New scenes were added to replace them and better move the story along. The story also grew.

It was after the revision of that story and "Living Rooms" (which also went through the same workshop) that I realized my revision process involved cutting out dead weight and expanding what I wrote earlier. My writing grows with revision.

This also taught me that if I have to write for a particular word length, that I need to undershoot it on the first draft because my second will be longer.

It's can be difficult to understand what needs to change and what doesn't, and I think that was part of my problem as a younger writer. That and inertia.

For the particular story I came back to this week, I realized that I needed to trim the opening where the protagonist gets out of bed, eats her breakfast, and heads out to work. Since she's not an ordinary human, her getting out of bed and eating breakfast is a little different from ours, but I decided the details were unnecessary and made it take longer to get to the interesting stuff.

The protagonist's time spent doing research was originally done purely through narration. Since weeks if not months were going by and this was a short story, it did not seem prudent to go into detail. I interspered bits of dialogue that happened over the course of the research just to break up the narration, but they were without context since they were more for flavor.

When I came back to do my revision I decided to break the research up into smaller scenes (now there are actually quite a few very short scenes) to showcase more of how the protagonist's society works and her relationship with her friend, who is also involved in the research. The disagreement that had originally been done in summary I fleshed out with actual dialogue. Finally, I added a completely new scene to emphasize what these people thought their heritage was as well as the growing disagreement between the protagonist and her friend.

And finally, I changed the ending. I remembered that I'd had a heck of a time finding a good note to end the story originally, and when I reread the story I didn't like it. I found it dry and unsatisfying, more like the story had ended because it was a good stopping point rather than a change had been made.

In the new draft the protagonist's discovery is more animated and there's more at stake for her personally than there was before (since her friendship may now be on the line, whereas the friendship had not been as defined before). While we still don't learn what the full outcome of her discovery will be, she has enough information that she can feel vindicated choosing the path she has.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Random Thought: Why don't books have remakes?

I have a certain fondness for RPGs, the kind that come on video game consoles with character statistics that usually contain something called HP and MP. At first I liked them because I was terrible at action games and RPGs allowed me to enjoy a game with minimal reflexes.

As time and technology progressed, I started to enjoy RPGs for a different reason. They had good stories.

While video games aren't generally thought of as literature, story-based RPGs (as opposed to the dungeon crawling variety) often strive to accomplish much the same goal as a novel of the same genre; transport the audience to a different time and place as a form of entertainment.

When I was in high school, one of my favorite video games was Lunar: The Silver Star, an RPG for the Sega CD. By today's standards the graphics are crude. The animated sequences which were then so stunning are now laughable. But the story is still good. The story wasn't affected by the technology at the time, only the manner of its delivery.

Last year a remake called Lunar: Silver Star Harmony was released, with the localization company XSEED billed it as the definitive version of the story.

Lunar, you see, is something of the Blade Runner of video games. Silver Star Harmony is the third remake, and thus fourth incarnation, of the same game.

But, I'm admittedly a fan of this story that has held my imagination since I was sixteen. I started playing Lunar: Silver Star Harmony recently and one thing I have liked about all the Lunar remakes is that they don't attempt to tell the story in exactly the same fashion. Though the second and third remakes tend to follow the first remake's general structure more so than the original game, every installment had added something of its own.

Lunar: Silver Star Story introduced new characters and had Luna join Alex on his trip to Meribia. Lunar Legend added to Alex and Luna's backstory and a neat little twist that introduced Nash even earlier in the game as a would-be Dragonmaster. Now Lunar: Silver Star Harmony comes in with more backstory to the Four Heroes, why they were fighting, and why the goddess Althena chose to become human. I daresay Ghaleon comes off better as a villain for the changes.

And this got me thinking... why don't we see this in books?

After all, I'm enjoying traveling with Alex and friends for a fourth time, seeing what's new and different on a journey that I know will end the same way. The voice actors are different, the graphics are better, the gameplay has changed but it's still turn-based.

I know this does happen in books sometimes. I can think of Raymond Feist's Magician novel as an example, where it was expanded for the 10th anniversary, but it's not common.

For one thing, the words on the page don't immediately jump out at a reader as being different from what was read before. There's no graphical upgrade. But then, there is no upgrade between the three Lunar remakes since they are all still very much a product of 2D art and by the Playstation era there was precious little to improve. Silver Star Harmony's anime cut scenes are the same ones from the first remake.

But it's not a port. There is new art. Lots of new art. New character portraits have been added, towns and enemies have been entirely redrawn. It's like rewriting the story from the same basic outline, but using different words and adding or subtracting scenes. Would a writer ever do that?

Probably not. Even though an author could probably tell the same story much better if they rewrote it with another ten years under their belt, I don't think most of them would be inclined to do that. (They'd rather write something new.) Commercially I'm not even sure there would be a market for that. Unlike games, a beloved book from my teenage years can stay on the shelves for years, or if it lapses out of print, it may come back later from another publisher or as an ebook. The book itself doesn't really change.

Games on the other hand have a window, and old product doesn't go back on the shelf unless it's part of a collection, a port to a different system, or a remake. Classic games might become downloadable through Playstation Network or Xbox Live, but the bulk of attention is still on what's newly available on current systems, not what the back catalogue has brought to bear. People don't talk about the back catalogue at work, whereas a remake on a console system might at least get a nod.

When I think about whether I would read a "remake" of a book I enjoyed, I'd say it would have to be of a book that I thoroughly enjoyed and would be inclined to read again. It would also have to be a book where the remake can flesh out or make better what had done before.

With the Lunar games, having Luna join Alex on the trip to Meribia was a fantastic decision, since it allowed all the party members except for Kyle to formally meet and get to know her; important since she needs to be rescued in the end and it helps if everyone knows who they are fighting for. But changes were also made in Silver Star Story that made Ghaleon a less sympathetic villain (since corrected in Silver Star Harmony). It's a question of what value is added if a remake is made.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Superstars Writing Seminar

I had the good fortune to attend the Superstars Writing Seminar earlier this month. I know the name may come off a little silly (apologies to the wonderful instructors involved!), but the content of the seminar is really unique.

I've spent a good many years writing and whether taking a class in college or participating in a critique group, the talk is nearly always about the craft of writing. How do you write a good piece of prose?

SWS doesn't pay attention to any of that. SWS assumes that you can write and that you're ready to get into the nitty-gritty of the business end of publishing. Sure, there is time spent discussing the ever problematic "getting butt in chair" disease many writers suffer from, and there's time spent discussing how to properly manage writing time vs. family time, but the real meat of the seminar is the business.

The most memorable topics of the seminar, for me, were:

  • Listening to Eric Flint break down where all the money goes when a writer only gets X% of the cover price in royalties
  • Getting to view an actual book contract as Eric went through it clause by clause
  • Being able to ask Brandon Sanderson directly about things I didn't understand in his film contract
  • Hearing David Farland totally break down how to work film rights when dealing with Hollywood
  • Listening to Tracy Hickman's moving story about why we write (and his story can be listened to for free at the SWS site)

These are the things they don't teach you in college and that you'll likely only learn from someone who has been there before. In the case of SWS, there are five instructors, plus bonus guest instructors, who have been there before and can share their experiences.

I found all the instructors to be approachable. They are there to teach and often join the SWS attendees at mealtimes and sometimes even evenings out. It's hard to bend an author's ear when they don't know you, but they will listen here, and arguably the best part of the seminar isn't sitting at a table taking notes but talking directly to them. Once you make that connection, you stop being a face in the crowd.

I feel a lot wiser having attended, and at least for me, it was a chance to see Kevin, Rebecca, Eric, and David again. All are Writers of the Future judges and I originally met them back in August when I was still awestruck that I was even participating in an esteemed workshop. (Kevin J. Anderson's first impression of me was nervously giggling throughout a barbecue.)

Multiple writers have told me that conventions are their social functions. It's where they see each other, because most of the time they live scattered across the country each working on their own novels. After having meet the WotF judges again, I can see that. It's times like this that we meet, relationships are made or renewed, and I now look forward to a time when I'll see them again.