Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Teaser Tuesday - My Minstrels

The monster work in progress I have been slaving away at, joyfully, I will add, is a story about a band of minstrels. The idea came from this question: "Did minstrels have groupies?"
I slept on it, and the next day wrote out the first 2,000 words.

For today I thought I would share this bit, from the first quarter of the story. Where our heroes are invited to stay at a magic school, because the headmistress and the piper have a history. It's a nice bit of rest after being attacked the night befor

This is from my first draft, very rough around the edges. Just to warn you.

Carey woke up Rand. He sat up and ran his fingers through his hair. He looked around while waking up.

“Where are we now?” he asked.

“At a school,” Morvana said. “But now you are being invited to lunch.”

“Food, good.” Rand said. “Who are you?”

“This is Morvana,” Grail said.

“Okay.” Rand jumped off the cart.

Grail walked up to the keep with Morvana on his arm. Drake walked behind them with his mouth opened. It had been too many years since Grail had seen Morvana. He had often been assigned to her regiment when they had skirmishes.

Morvana nodded to some of the other mages as they walked into the keep. Some of the younger students giggled as they passed.

“The school looks like it's doing well,” Grail said.

“Yeah, it's the only thing that is keeping this area from being attacked. I think both sides are scared of me,” Morvana said.

“I never could figure out why you settled in Angiva.”

“The land was cheap, and this place was perfect.” She led them up the spiral staircase. “Besides, it's a very beautiful valley.”

Grail glanced out the window. Morvana was right. The valley did look very peaceful and quiet. The type of place you dreamed about retiring to after the army. Morvana leaned in and rested her head on his shoulder.

“You think I settled down, don't you?” she asked.

“You?” Grail chuckled. “You were the quiet one, the one we had to watch out for.”

“So what are you doing here?” Morvana asked as they entered a small dining hall. She waved to a young student. “Joyce, could you tell the kitchen to bring up a cold meat tray, please.”

“For how many?” Joyce asked.

“How many do you see?”

“Sorry.” Joyce hurried down another set of stairs.

Morvana motioned to a large table. Grail took the seat by the fire. Morvana sat next to him. Drake sat on the other side, staring at Morvana. She chuckled. “What is it?”

“Sorry, I just can't believe I am in the same room with Morvana,” Drake said, his face turning red.

Jena shook Drake's arm. He ignored her. She sat back in her chair and crossed her arms.

“It's alright,” Morvana said. “I know what you are thinking, here is the great Morvana, the mage that help turn the Battle of Tracelin Grove. But I was only doing my job, nothing else.”

“But you cause the rout!”

“I was told to give any assistance to the seith corps as they tried to turn back the animated dead,” she said. “So I did.”

“You knocked out an entire line of corpses!”

“I put a hole in the ground big enough for them to fall into, the seiths blessed the ground and I covered it. They were trapped.”

“But-”

“I was an army mage, nothing more. Besides if it wasn't for Grail playing the call, everyone would have bolted. He is the true hero.”

Grail chuckled. He pulled out his pipe. Morvana reached over to the fire and handed him a small piece of lit kindling. Grail used it to light his pipe. Rand had laid his head on the table and was snoring softly.

“All of you are minstrels?” Morvana asked.

Drake nodded.

“No,” Jena said.

“I just started,” Carey said.

Joyce came back into the room, carrying a large plate of sliced meat and bread. Morvana went over to a smaller table and brought over the bowl of apples and peaches.

“You all look hungry, so dig in,” she said. Morvana went over to the patio that overlooked the valley. Grail joined her.

“You were surprised to see me,” he said.

“No, I have a scrying orb,” she said.

“So why didn't you send us some help last night?” Grail asked, leaning on the railing.

“I wasn't looking last night, but I would have, you know that.”

“I know,” Grail said.

“You never answered my question. What are you doing here?”

“Heading to Dragonspring.”

“For what reason?”

“A competition.”

Morvana smiled. “I think I know which one. I'm surprised you haven't gone before.”

“I only found out about it a few nights ago.” Grail reached over and pulled a piece of fluff that had fallen onto Morvana's hair.

She brushed her hand against his. “Well, I am glad you stopped by. Go join your friends, I have some business to take care of.”

“I would like to catch up,” Grail said.

Morvana smiled, “Tonight, after dinner, if you can stay?”

“We can.”

“Good.”

A bell rang in the courtyard below them. “I have to go. I will send a porter up to get you all rooms.”

Morvana hurried down the steps, her white robe flowing out behind her. Grail puffed on his pipe for a few more moments. She had lied earlier, he thought. The last time they saw each other she had to hurry out of his tent before the march.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The method of a pantser....

What is a pantser? A term used among writers to define someone that does not plot their novel. We write by the "seat of our pants". I am one of those. I don't plot. At least, I do not outline my stories. So, I don't plan. I sit down at the computer and just write.

But that is a lie. I do have a plan. It may seem vague, but it works for me

I don't sit down to write until I know how the story should begin. I have an idea what the ending should be. So I create the characters to help me get to the end. But how do I keep the story from becoming random and rambling?


I work best using word goals. When I work on a novel, I set the word count for a minimum of 50,000 words. Now I break down the 50,000 words into five sections.

1 - 10,000 words: Introduction. I introduce all the characters, hint at the goal, and end with the first major set back.

10,000 - 20,000 words: The first set back, clarifies the goal. Reaction to the first set back. Set my characters down the path again. The second set back.

20,000 - 30,000 words: Throw as much as I can toward the characters. Introduce a red herring, if I want to. This is the part of the book, you should either make the reader question the goal, or make it stronger.

30,000 - 40,000 words. Set up and end with the beginning of the final conflict.

40,000 - 50,000 words: Final conflict, resolution, and dessert if you are so inclined.

A graph that shows were I got the inspiration for my plotting method.


These are guidelines only. My current WIP started with these same goals, but as I got close where I had planned to lay in the final conflict, I realized I need to add some more foreshadowing and smaller conflicts. It is now close to 80,000 and I am working on the last conflict.

While I am writing, I concentrate on the section I am working on. But I always have the final goal in mind. So my mind works like this.

I know A and E.
I write A to get to B, keeping E in mind.
I write B to get to C, still have E in mind.
I write C to get to D, E is closer for me as a writer, but I push it away from the characters.
I write D to get to E, E and the end

Can you understand my madness?

Because sometimes I don't.

Next time, I will talk about how to create characters on the fly. Thank you years of playing role playing games.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: A view into Killer (rated R)

I have been teasing people on Twitter all day with short lines from my three works. Fledgling (You can buy that), Killer (out hopefully in October), and my Work In Progress (slated for 2011 release).

Here are the first 1,000 words (about), for Killer: And like always, things may change, it's in rough draft, so enjoy warts and all.

The blood flowed like molasses away from the body. It laid across the back hallway, limp, lifeless, and headless. Swen shook his head. Vincent nudged the unattached head closer to the body.

“Sorry, man,” Vincent said, handing Swen a rag.

Swen took the rag with a sharp flick of his wrist. “If you were to spray this place down with luminol it would glow like a goddamn disco.”

“It was a slaughterhouse,” Vincent said. He shook the spray bottle.

“You're the slaughterhouse.” Swen blotted the blood on the wall. “Who was this?”

“Huh?”

Swen motioned with his head toward the dead body. A dripping noise started at a slow rhythm, then sped up to a steady stream. The blood trickled down the grate.

“Small-time drug dealer.” Vincent fingered the bullet hole in his vest. “Asshole shot me.”

Swen grabbed the spray bottle. “I took care of the last one.”

“I know, I know.” Vincent stood up. “Don't worry, I'll get this place clean before the band shows. Where is the pressure washer?”

Swen pointed to the body. “Take care of that, first.”

Vincent walked over to a large grate set in the floor. The grate had been one of the original parts of the slaughterhouse. The cast iron was twisted into ornate shapes that were too fancy for its purpose. He pulled it out as easy as pulling out a drawer. He kicked the body down the hole, threw the head down, then replaced the grate.

“Done.”

Swen flung back his long braided ponytail and stood up. “Lorelei is gonna kill you.”

“He tried to kill me.”

“Like he could have.”

Lorelei came down the hallway, she stopped. She placed one hand on her hip and the other she pointed at Vincent. “What the hell?” Her finger hitting the air with each word.

“It was a drug dealer.”

Swen took out his pocket knife. “Oh, look, there is the bullet.” He used his knife to dig the bullet out the drywall.

“He shot you?” Lorelei came closer. She put her hands on Vincent's shoulder and turned him around. “You should change.”

“Why?”

“It ripped up your back.”

“Dammit.”

Swen slapped the bullet in Vincent's hand. “You better hold on to that.”

“Thanks.”

“Where should I tell Grady to look for this one?” Swen asked, motioning with his head to the grating.

“I don't know yet.” Vincent said.

“At least we can block this off,” Lorelei said. “We finally get a full house this season and you have to play guillotine.”

“It's not-”

She held up her hand. “Just change. I would throw that silk shirt out. It's ruined.”

Vincent ran upstairs and changed his clothes. When he got back down, he could hear Swen running the power washer. He walked into the main floor of the Burgundy Rathskeller and smiled.

All the tables that usually sat in the middle of the floor had been moved into the back store room. The only seating left for the night was the permanent booths along the walls. The candelabras had been moved up into the ceiling and secured. The place looked ready for the band.

Lorelei had her cell phone hooked between her shoulder and ear. Her red and blue hair matched the custom case on the phone. She laid a tray of clean glasses on the counter and started to line them up under the bar as she spoke.

“Are you sure?” she asked.

She stopped and reached for a pad of paper and a pencil. After taking down some notes, she motioned to Vincent with her thumbs up. She put her phone down. “We're sold out.”

“That's probably why that guy was hanging around,” Vincent said. He walked to the bar. “I went outside to make sure the parking spaces were saved for the bus, and he hits me up to buy some coke.”

“His first mistake was thinking you were a coke head,” Lorelei said.

She looked around the bar, moving a few items, then she disappeared behind the bar. Vincent glanced at the clock; the rest of the staff should be here soon. Lorelei popped back up. She leaned on the bar, flipping open a notebook.

“Could you take this list and make sure it's all in the lounge?” she asked. She ripped a piece of paper out of the notebook.

Vincent took the paper. It listed almost every type of alcohol they carried at the bar. He grabbed a cart from the back hallway and unlocked the liquor store room. The band had ordered the typical assortment of wines, whiskey, and vodka. Someone had requested hot pepper schnapps. He would have to give the cleaning crew a bonus after tonight.

As he loaded up the cart, the bar became quieter. He could hear Swen cursing and the sounds of a hose hitting the wall. Vincent had most of the bottles loaded when Swen walked by, pulling the power washer. He shook his finger at Vincent.

“No more bodies tonight, all right?”

“I can't promise,” Vincent said, but he flashed Swen a grin.

Swen snorted. He flung the hose over his shoulder and continued down the hall. Vincent double-checked the list, then left the store room.

In the lounge, Vincent pushed the cart of alcohol in as John sat down a platter of food. His dredlocks were back in a thick, short ponytail. He pushed up his glasses when Vincent entered. “Hey, you gonna help?”

Vincent held up the piece of paper. “Lorelei wants me to double-check.”

John chuckled. “Good, you got the booze.”

He pulled another platter of food out from the tall metal rack. He unwrapped it as Vincent loaded up the mini bar in the lounge.

“At least this band eats healthy,” John said.

Vincent glanced at the table. There were sandwiches, fruit, two platters of vegetables. He then looked at the list in his hand. “Except they drink shit.”

John took the list and then shook his head. “No taste.” He handed the list back.

“I'm missing the mixed drinks.”

“I'll get them,” Vincent said.

He went back out to the bar. Andi had just come in. She was wearing a t-shirt that had a single rose bud coming out of a pool of blood.

“Hey!” she said, smiling. Her ponytails glowed blue in the lights behind the bar.

“That is a nice shirt,” Vincent said.

“Janice let me borrow it.” Andi stuck out her chest. “She says it accents my tits.”

Vincent laughed. Andi pulled the shirt down. She shrugged. “I don't know about that, these get noticed no matter what I wear.”

“Those are why you get the tips.”

“And I thought it was due to my great personality.”

Monday, July 12, 2010

Why "Traditional" Vampire Means Squat.

Booze, Broads, and Blood will return. I am hammering out a major plot issue.

Anyway,

A lot of talk lately about "Traditional Vampires". Even I have gotten on the band wagon. I consider Beka, Steopa, Vincent, and Ogden all aspects of traditional lore. But no one has defined what "Traditional" means. Because we all have our own definition.

This is how most of us picture a traditional vampire:


As you can see this vampire is basically Dracula, as made immortal (pun intended) by Bela Lugosi's performance.

And that is where most of us have gotten the idea of what a vampire looks like, how they act, and what they sound like. We did not get it from the books. We got it from the movies. And from those movies, we got our "rules" about vampires.

But as time went on, our rules about vampires have changed. Where they were once blood thirsty, shrewd killers. We now have "emo" vampires that are so far away from Vlad Dracul, that it would be doubtful Professor Hellsing would recognize them.

The killer that we all were afraid of, is turning out to be a nice guy. And zombies have taken over some of the traits of the killer vampire.

So that's it? Vampires have been reduced to nothing. We have some vague idea of what they are base on movies?

No, along with the taming and humanizing of the vampires. We have the other extreme as well.



Anime fans know this vampire: Arucard.
What you see in this picture is part of his transformation. Arucard possesses some powers that recent writers of vampires have forgotten about. Vampires were shape shifters, they could control the weather, they could control animals, they could control people. They were a force of nature that humans had no control over.

But some people will watch Arucard pull out his gun and say "He's not traditional!" Actually he is a great example of finding the old folklore and making it new again. He is a mixture of Dracula with a bit of Lovecraftian Mythos thrown in. He is closer to the folkloric vampire than many other modern interputations.

But it all means nothing. Why? Because every region, every country, every place in the world has a creature they can call a vampire. And every one of them is different.

Terry Prachett tackled this in Carpe Jugulum



He attacked every known folklore about vampires. From the thousands of ways to kill them, to the watermelon vampires.

In Ghat they believe in vampire watermelons, although folklore is silent about what they believe about vampire watermelons. Possibly they suck back.
And even predicted parts of Twilight (Vlad falls for Agnes because he can't read her thoughts!). Everyone in the story claims to know all there is to know about vampires, but it turns out there are so many myths and legends, you have to find out were the vampire was from, before killing him.

What Pratchett determined is the vampires role, is what I agree with. They are the monster that will always come back. The one we have to rebuild and destroy. So we can face the real fears.

So with the uber romantic humanized vampires, how does that teach us about fear. Those stories, the fear of new relationships, the fear of sex (unplanned pregnancy, stds, etc), the fear of becoming too old to be attractive, I would argue is that the bottom of all the stories. Some of you might call foul. But really think about it. Do you ever see the romantic vampires going after a woman closer to their age?

And they are not that far apart from "traditional" vampires. The romantic vampire is pre-Dracula. The first apperance is in a short story written in 1819 by John Polidori, The Vampyre

What traditional vampires are, are in the mind of the beholder. There is so much out there that we can pick and choose what we like, and make our own monster to fit our needs. But with the internet the way it is, you better have a reason why your vampires do X and not Y.

As a vampire writer myself, my only hope is that I can add to the lore, and not distract from it. So enjoy your vampires how every way you want them. I like mine blood thirsty and strong.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fan Fiction: Good, Bad, and Ugly

I have mixed feelings about fan fiction. I've written some myself. 99% of those will never be seen. So how do I feel about it?

As a Fan:
It's fun: You can think about your favorite characters and put your ideas to paper. It's a homage in a way. But even when I was writing mine, it didn't feel right. It must have been the writer in me. I liked doing it. But the characters I came up with, became more interesting to me.

It's practice: What a great writing exercise. You can try out a lot of different "what if" plots. Some of the better fan fiction communities give you great feedback. I didn't use them. I didn't post much.

It's not yours: Legal issues aside. The setting you love so much, is not yours. You are only borrowing it. As a budding writer it did bother me in the back of my head. I had to stick to someone else's rules for the world I was using.

Sometimes you get inspired: I have at least four characters and one story that came out of the fan fiction I wrote, that are original. That's the reason I stopped writing it. I wanted to write more about Eloise (she came out of an X-man fan fiction) or my disappearing island (Don't want to say which one, but it became horror. When the original setting was not horror). I really think it helped me come up with my own universes.

A nice way to breath life into a dead franchise: Two of the stories I put up on the internet were for the Legacy of Kain series of video games. A wonderful, gory, horror game series. One that ended with a few major questions never addressed. There are still avid fans of the game and writing the stories (some silly, some serious) is a way to keep it going for the fans.

As an Author:

It's proof you "made it": When I discover a piece of fan fiction online based on a story I wrote. To me it is proof my work is loved enough to inspire someone else. No matter how bad it is, I would still feel honored.

It is mine! I will not be like some authors and hunt down anyone that uses their characters and settings. There is one situation in which I feel that I would have to ask a fan fiction writer to stop. Trying to make money off my characters.
I can only think of one instance where that happened. I was in a fan fiction group. And one woman had just bought a book from Amazon, in which the story was very familiar. The characters were as well. A little research showed that the author of the book did not hide the fact it was a fan fiction. In this case the author of the original work did not have to step in and do anything. Other fan fiction writers contacted the author of the fan fiction book and asked her to stop. Most do not want to make money off their fan fiction and really do not like anyone who tries.

A way to pass the flame: Robert Bloch got his start in what would be considered fan fiction now. He loved HP Lovecraft stories. So much that he contacted Lovecraft for permission to publish some of his stories that were set in the Cthulhu mythos wikipedia. Bloch did ask permission and even added to the mythos.

I understand the authors that want to hunt down anyone that uses their characters. I understand the ones that cringe when they hear about a fan fiction story. But for me personally, I won't be upset. Heck I might even encourage it. Think about how many other budding writers there are out there, that just need the encouragement to break off and make their own worlds. If something I wrote can be the seed, I would would be very proud.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Writer fuel

Writer Fuel:

I define writer fuel as the food or drink you must have to get the brain going. You can do other things, such as take a shower, to get the synapses moving, but the fuel is needed to maintain the energy.

Here is my favorite, inspired by the coffee shops.

Poor Man's Mocha (or the damn shop is closed)

1 cup of skim milk.
1 tbsp baking cocoa powder
2 packets of splenda (or sugar what ever you like)
1 shot of espresso.

Heat the milk in the microwave in a tall coffee cup. Mix in the cocoa and the sweetener. If you mix fast enough with the spoon you get some nice foam. Top with the shot of espresso.

YUMMY

In case you are wondering. I don't have an expensive espresso machine. I have a espresso pot. They are also called a moka. You can pick one up for under $20. I got mine in Italy ages ago. Northwestern Wisconsin at that time did not have much in the way of "fancy" coffee shops. So when I had the change to go to Italy I picked one up, just to have. Now you can get them at Target, Walmart, pretty much anywhere.

So what is your fuel? What can keep you at the keyboard for hours?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Auto play videos? You just lost me.

Warning a rant ahead

I am not a web site designer expert. I know a little HTML, I know why css is used. But as you can see (I use blogger) I don't design websites. But I use them.

Why? Why do supposed professional sites, that are set up to "help you with your website traffic" make a fundamental mistake.

You click on their page a few second later suddenly a video plays, loudly. The worst ones will have very little written content. Look this is something I know not to do. If you run one of these sites: here are the reasons I click you close as soon as it starts to play.

1. It's annoying.
Auto playing videos are the new equivalent of embedded midi files. Don't remember those? For those of you too young to remember, it was a fad to embed midi files into your web page. So you would click on a page and get hit with an 8 bit rendition of Pachelbel's Canon.
Setting up your video to do auto play is the same thing. I am not going to waste my time to look for the stop button. And some of you don't have one. You know what I do, Close tab, never look or listen to what you say.

2. Its like a screaming commercial.
I hate loud and annoying commercials. I tune them out. Same with the video clips.

3. Might not be the best time to watch something.
There are times I am using my computer in a public setting, and I can't find my headphones. I don't want "WELCOME TO OUR SIXTEEN PART SERIES!" blaring out of my little speakers. Close tab. I might not have time to watch your twenty minute video. I am looking for information, not an infomercial.

4. Some of us don't have the processing power.
I use my netbook a lot, it is one of the first ones, Not much in the way of memory (I do have 2 gb of ram, but only 4 gb on my HD) I can watch videos on it. But I like to clear the screen before I do. Suddenly having a video pop up eats up my resources and I hate you.

5. YOU look unprofessional.
For all the reasons above.

6. YOU insulted my intelligence.
Obviously you don't think I know what a play button is or that I can't read.

7. You got the click, but nothing else.
Traffic is measured in the number of clicks on your site. Your site was good enough to catch my eye when I was looking through the search results, but I did not stay. But you will claim a victory. But I DID NOT STAY! A good site will make people want to stay. It will make them want to find out more. A blaring video just shows your potential repeat visitors that you are not worth the effort.

If you want a video on your page, fine, but make it optional. I like vlogging, I watch some on youtube and other sites. I don't mind videos. There are some sites I follow that only do vlogs, but I come back because they do two things.

1. Don't autoplay.
2. Either have a full transcript of the vlog up or a nice summary.

I realize the people that design those annoying sites, won't read this. Too bad, they should listen to their potential users. Oh wait they can't, the video is too loud! I don't know what internet guru told you that this was okay, but it isn't.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The birth of an idea.

Done with my writing yesterday. I wrote almost 900 words on my WIP. I changed the ending to chapter 8 in Killer. So I come home and sit down to do some business and promotion stuff with my books. Something starts to nag me.

Mummies.

Mummies have been cropping up in my conversations and my thoughts in the last few weeks. Mummies? Why?

So I hit wikipedia. I start to read up on mummies. Then I read about bog people. I knew about bog people. I had read the articles of remains found in peat bogs, that turn out to be centuries old. The remains are so well persevered that they can tell you what they ate, what color their hair was and even it's style.

Most of these people were killed in human sacrifice. Some showed signs of plain murder (how they can tell that, I am not sure). But the entry that caught my eye:

The Dätgan Man was found in 1959 near Dätgan, Germany. He had been decapitated, stabbed and beaten. His severed head was found 10 feet from his body. He is not believed to have been sacrificed, but to have been killed and then mutilated to prevent him from be coming a "wiedergänger", or zombie. Wikipedia

What is a wiedergänger? Turns out zombie is a simplification.

By the name Wiedergänger, also Widergänger, different ghost phenomena from different cultural areas are designated. The core of the wiedergänger myth is the conception of the deceased, who - often in the form of a physical phenomenon - return (as „undead“) to the world of the living. They usually cause problems and frighten living people. They exist either to avenge some injustice they experienced while alive, or because their soul is not ready to be released as a consequence of their former way of life. Wikipedia

Zombie, vampire, revengant all could be a wiedergänger. As I read, I found this great tidbit.

. Another form of the physical wiedergänger is the headless rider that, frequently mentioned in West German legends, entered into world literature and even into the history of film through the American poet Washington Irving and his novella The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. wikipedia

My mind is now swarming with all of this info. The idea is there. I can't wait to coax it out. I will keep you all informed, but this weekend. I have to hit the library for more information.