Titular Inspiration

This post will be one of those dreaded “status report” posts I mentioned last week; sigh.  At least there’s some actual news in this one.

I’m approaching the end of the next Law of Swords manuscript, and earlier this week I was distracted a bit by thinking about “What’s next?”

Well, what I WANT to work on is the sequel to the Kitsune Stratagem, or maybe the Rink of War novel-length expansion, but the success of The Merrimack Event has bumped the next installment of that series to “highest priority,” so that’s next in the queue.

There is still quite a bit of work I need to do before I can get started on that, however. First off, I need to finish the next Law of Swords book, and fast — my editor has an unexpected opening in his schedule, but if I don’t finish it soon I’ll have to hire someone else.  But once that’s done, I’ll have to immediately go into planning out the Shieldclads series.

I do have an outline for the next several books, but it’s been untouched for the past 13 years.  I’ve grown as a writer since then, and see lots of weaknesses in those outlines, so I think I’m just going to start over.  I’ll cannibalize those planned elements from the outlines that I THINK (13 years; I have a good long-term memory, but not THAT good) I was setting up, mind you, and I intend to keep the gist of the story each outline tells together, but I’ll need to re-do them as if from scratch.

And I’ll need a title.  Even if it’s just “Untitled Number (#N)”, I need at least a working title before I can begin.  It’ll just bug me if I don’t (and even having a working title can be a distraction).

Well, I DID need a title.  Even knowing I was going to re-do the outline, I have some idea of how the rest of the series should go.  I spent a large part of a day, this past week, working out titles for the next several books in the series… and would up coming up with a few other ideas along the way.  Each title has a historic reference which you can probably guess relates, in some way, to the book.

With that in mind, the next few Shieldclads books will (at least for now; I may re-arrange the order or change other things about them along the way) be entitled:

Book II:  The Farragut Affair

Book III:  The Casemate Incident

Book IV:  The Lissa Experience

But, as I said, I came up with some other ideas along the way.  Researching the titles themselves inspired some other ideas, which may (MAY) result in a set of short stories set in the same universe, as well.  These would be:

I.  The Gwiseon Enigma (A prequel story about earlier experiments in creating Shieldclads, named after the first-generation Korean Turtle Ships).

II.  The Keokuk Occasion (Named for the USS Keokuk, and set between The Farragut Affair and The Casemate Incident.  I’d explain this one but, uh, spoilers.

III.  The Manassas Mishap (Named for the CSS Manassas, and set during The Casemate Incident)

IV.  The Novara Farewell (named for the SMS Novara and set during The Lissa Experience).

So, that’s the big news:  I am thinking of writing a set of short stories to go with each new Shieldclads book… and I’m thinking about giving them away for FREE!  (Okay, if you’re any kind of reader of indie books at all, you probably have seen a ton of “FREE” books, and have downloaded so many that you couldn’t possibly read them all)  At least they’ll be free at first, and exclusively off of my website (FennecFoxPress.com, though with the limitations of the site my internet provider imposes, the actual downloads may need to come from somewhere on Maelgyn.com (note this blog’s URL).  That’s why my website is spread across two URLs — some features are only available on one or the other.  But that’s a technical issue I’ll resolve when I get to it, not something you need to know right now).  Then, at some point not TOO long afterwards (say, a week or two?), I’ll be uploading them to Amazon.  KDP requires a minimum of $0.99 per “book” (short story, or whatever), so I’ll then be pulling the free copies down.  So, it’ll really only be free for people who follow my blog (hi!), my newsletter, and\or my Facebook\Twitter\Etc. pages.  So… stay tuned.

I have other news, however.  My local library is hosting an “Eat Local, Read Local” event (note that the website is referring to last year’s event; they don’t have a website for this year’s, yet) and as a local author I’ve been invited to participate.  It will be held at the Cascades Library on September 29th, from 10am to 1pm, and I will be selling my print books (signing them, if you want) at the event.  I’ll present more details as we get closer to the event (and I get them, myself).

And… that’s it, for today.

Inspiration for the OTHER Parts of Writing….

I wasn’t entirely sure what to write for a blog this week. Most of the things I could think of were too involved to complete in a week, and doing yet another status report (I’m still working on the next book. I hope to have the next installment of the Law of Swords series sent off to the editor by August (I better; he has an unexpected opening in his schedule, and if I get it to him by then I may not have to find another editor for this series, after all), which should allow for it to be published by year’s end, and for me to move on to the second Shieldclads book) when I had no real news felt a little boring.

Fortunately, I was saved from having to either skip this week or do just that when a certain crowdfunding project popped up in my newsfeed and inspired this post. It is an effort, by one of the original creators, to produce the sequel to one of my favorite computer game series… from the 1980s: Starflight (well, technically, Starflight 2 was the only one I played back then). The campaign is not fully launched, yet (they’re trying to get a handle on how much funding they need), but it’s looking like a direct sequel to the originals. I haven’t had time to play an involved computer game in quite some time, however — it’s been months, I think, since I even opened a game significantly more complex than the “Reversi Free” game on my cell phone.  Despite that, I did make a small pledge to support the game, already.  The earliest it will be out is 2020 (and if they actually make that deadline, I’ll be shocked; I’ve never known a crowd-funded computer game that was delivered on time), so maybe I’ll be able to fit it into my schedule by then.

I loved those games. Some of my other favorite games from that era were the Ancient Art of War (and its sequel, the Ancient Art of War at Sea), Sid Meier’s Pirates!, Red Storm Rising (also by Sid Meier, curiously enough, but based on the Tom Clancy novel), and (squeaking in at the end of that era) the Wing Commander series.*

One thing all these games had in common: Absolutely fantastic, well-designed, well-illustrated, and heavily lore-filled… manuals (sometimes not just manuals; some games came with other material that just added to the fun of getting a boxed game edition.  Nowadays, it seems every game manual you get, even with a boxed game, is little more than what the quick start guide was back then). In the days before every lore-rich game has its own fan-compiled Wiki and computer games had their own novel series written for them (and sometimes even after they started getting their own books), the game manual would often be the definitive source of canon for the lore.

The Ancient Art of War included a complex discussion of strategy and tactics (and the differences between the two, and it included an abridged version of Sun Tzu’s original text). It’s sequel had textbook-level discussions of many of the greatest naval battles in the history of the age of sail. Sid Meier’s Pirates! had bits of humor, a discussion of the different types of ships and arms and bits of history from the era of the early colonization of the Caribbean. It explained why they programmed the ships in the game to react to wind the way they do, and they made it FUN. I learned more about the history of fighting sail from those game manuals than I EVER did in school (and later would read quite a bit more, and learned that while there were some inaccuracies, these manuals were closer to the scholarly accepted truth of these events than any account I could find in my high-school era or earlier texts, including some produced by the US Navy for JROTC). They weren’t novels, nor were they textbooks, nor were they scholarly texts. I’d hesitate to say they were even manuals (at least, compared to what most people think of when they hear the words “software manual”). But they were brilliant examples of writing. I’ve saved a couple of them until today… (I would have saved all of them, but I think the Pirates! manual fell apart from over-use).

I’d say the same was true of the Starflight manuals, and the Wing Commander manuals. These were fun, small texts, again filled with lore, and were excellent examples of worldbuilding.  The Starflight manuals opened with briefing notes on the state of the universe, before discussing the game functions in a less “in-character” way.  (Just curious — does anybody know a term for the inverse of ‘breaking the fourth wall,’ where you’re writing a non-fiction account of a fictional matter, then switch “in character” to the fiction for a moment?  Because these manuals did just that, once or twice).  They would describe the mechanics of the game, give touches of gameplay advice, and intersperse all of that with snippets of fictional “transmissions” and “captains logs” and the like, which were meant to give you clues on how to solve various puzzles throughout the game.  Then it would have an appendix with charts, illustrations, etc. regarding the materials that could be collected in game.

The Wing Commander series manuals (and, curiously, the Red Storm Rising manual) started out in similar fashion (If I recall correctly; I was able to find a copy of the original Starflight manuals online to verify my recollections, but I couldn’t with these).  Their appendices instead were more like “Janes Fighting Ships” entries, detailing the various fighters, capital ships, and equipment you could encounter throughout the game.

I won’t say these sorts of game manuals have gone away completely (I don’t buy NEARLY enough games, nowadays, to say anything of the sort; I do know the 2004 Pirates! remake had a similar style manual, but I’m coming to believe that was a rare exception), but I think a lot of what used to be in the manuals aren’t there any more.  The material’s still around, but its been moved inside the game itself, like the “books” your create-a-character can read in the Elder Scrolls games.  In some ways, this allows for even more of these worldbuilding bits to be included in the lore.  You can’t curl up in bed with them like you can a book (or a Kindle), though (don’t be pedantic and mention laptops; yes, technically, that can work, but laptops generally aren’t that good for gaming, and are harder to “curl up” with than a book).

Again, I’ve tried to keep these books around, but I think I was a bit less successful here — the Starflight 2 manual was once dropped in a bathtub (don’t ask), and I haven’t found the game manuals from the Wing Commander series since my last move.  While I had them, though, they were fun reading — sometimes, even after I stopped playing the games, I would pull them out, curl up in bed, and read these manuals just for nostalgic fun.

So what is the point of all this?  Well, as much as I was waxing nostalgic, it isn’t just to lament the long-forgotten art of computer game manuals.  It’s to talk about applying writing lessons from unexpected sources.  In this case, those old computer game manuals proved to be an excellent model of worldbuilding, for me.

Were I to do a touch of editing (and some additional reconstruction; a portion of them were lost in one of the incidents that delayed The Merrimack Event’s release, and while I reconstructed the important bits I did that a little haphazardly), the notes I wrote up for my own use in the Rink of War universe would greatly resemble the Wing Commander\Red Storm Rising\etc.-style appendices.  My outlines will sometimes include little diary entries\captains logs like you find in the Starflight manuals — things which likely won’t ever make it into the books, themselves, but which help me figure out what the characters are thinking.

You often hear people say “Inspiration comes in many forms” when it comes to story ideas, and writers often take experiences from real life to plot their books around. I’ve come up with childrens book ideas (which I’m not sure I’ll ever have time to write) just by watching the birds at our birdfeeder, myself.  I don’t think most writers think to apply the same thought process to other aspects of their writing careers, however.  When veteran book designers are giving advice to amateurs, they often say to “look at books you like” as examples to base their books around, but there are a lot of self-publishers who still have no idea how to go about formatting their books.  So how many writers would think to apply the lessons learned from game manuals from the 1980s when it comes to writing up notes for their books?

Just a thought.

*- I’d also like to mention the Sierra Classic games, which are also favorites of mine from that era and also contain lots of good examples of good worldbuilding and complex lore. Most of the best examples of the writing of those games were IN the games, not the manuals, however. Oh, and while I’m at it, I might as well mention “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego,” which I think was the last game I bought for my old Commodore 64; I didn’t play that game for very long (I switched over to a PC not long after), but it came with a copy of a (real, unadulterated for the game) desk encyclopedia I still have and may occasionally still use now and then.

On Easter Eggs…

(I had this post in mind to write months ago, last Easter, but it wasn’t possible to write and post it back then for a variety of reasons.  Even though it’s no longer Easter, there’s no real connection beyond the name, so I figured I’d go ahead and write it now)

In 1979, a programmer for Atari, working on the game “Adventure,” was fed up with not being credited for his work. In secret, he added a feature that could be used to display his name, and never told his bosses even after he left the company. When Atari management learned of it, they considered removing the unauthorized feature, but instead decided to leave it in. Atari started adding more ‘hidden’ features for customers, calling them “Easter Eggs.”  (I pulled this bit of history entirely from the link; I’ll just assume it’s the truth and not apocryphal)  These of often fun little inside jokes, though sometimes (in software, at least) can add quite a bit of enjoyment to the game.

I like to have fun with my writing, even when writing about serious things.  Among other ways of doing so, I include ‘Easter Eggs,’ ‘Inside Jokes,’ whatever you want to call them.  Often, for me, this is in the form of ‘fantasy’ languages (for example, mid-way through In Treachery Forged, the characters partake in a Dwarven ‘Fu’Ro Bath‘), making subtle references to my other books and stories (such as when, in one draft (not the first) of The Merrimack Event‘s prologue, the archaeology expedition was digging up a building which greatly resembled the Royal Castle of Svieda; those details did not survive to the final draft, however), or giving characters certain meaningful names (like when I use one of the monuments in the city of Norre to add a expy-like tribute to the 1974 Washington Capitals season (and, in an earlier draft, to a certain Monty Python movie, but again that didn’t survive to the final version).  In my fantasy novels, many of the names I use are derived from names pulled off of international hockey rosters, and the Washington Capitals have long been my favorite team (WE GOT THE CUP! Uh… sorry; it’s been weeks and I’m still quite happy about that one).  Their inaugural season, in 1974, was an exercise in futility, however).

The difference between an inside joke and an ‘easter egg’ (at least, in this context) is that an easter egg is hidden away, but could be recognized if you know to look for it.  Most of the jokes mentioned above?  I try not to give any indication that they’re jokes, when seen in context, but it might be obvious to people in the know.  If you know Japanese, the ‘Fu’Ro bath’ was probably pretty obvious.  The archaeological dig’s discoveries might have been a bit obvious to my regular readers, if that scene had survived intact.  I’m not so sure casual fans of the Washington Capitals would recognize that particular tribute, but someone who was particularly knowledgeable on the team’s history might see it an go “wait, what?”

The trouble comes with what happens if you want your Easter Egg to refer to one thing, but readers might think it refers to something else.  I really, really wanted to name a character of a recently-written scene Ubleck the Unbreakable, who would have had an odd fondness for certain types of custard-like puddings, but would readers (those who recognized the reference, anyway) think of the non-newtonian fluid, or the Dr. Seuss book it was named after?  Or would people recognize the reference at all?  Does it even matter?

Well, sadly, Ubleck the Unbreakable will NOT be appearing in the next Law of Swords book — I’ve already cut the character and merged his role in with someone else’s, so the pudding fiend will be saved for another time… perhaps.  But at least he reminded me of something I wanted to blog about, so there is that.

Well, that was fast…

When I wrote last weekend’s post, I was thinking the decision of which convention I would attend would be a long way off. Libertycon had just ended, and there’s no way to apply to be an “attending professional” (or even to buy tickets to attend as a fan) for Dragoncon 2019 until Dragoncon 2018 happens in September.

But Libertycon was quick to start selling badges for their 2019 convention.  And Libertycon has a limited attendance (of 750 people, which includes staff and guests).

Now, the EARLIEST Libertycon has ever sold out, in previous years, was March (for a show that has usually been in late June or early July).

At about noon, ET, on the day that badges for Libertycon 2019 were first offered (July 4th), I heard that there were under a hundred badges left available, and they were going fast.  So, instead of waiting until September at the earliest (as I’d planned), I had to decide which conference I’d be going to right then.  And, well, I just barely managed to pick Libertycon before all the tickets sold out.  Libertycon’s Facebook page says that it took 5 hrs, 52 minutes and 50 seconds to go from just going on sale to selling the last badge.

I suspect there are a number of factors going into why Libertycon sold out so much faster than usual (Such as:  There is a new hotel hosting it, announced during the closing ceremonies; the hotel they were at this year was a placeholder while that one was undergoing renovations and the hotel before it was widely hated.  There was apparently a new method of ticket-purchasing that made the early “run” on tickets more visible, so where in the past the initial wave of sales would peter out at about 1/4-1/3 of the available tickets on the first day, and then all the rest of the tickets would be sold at a much slower pace over the course of the rest of the year, this time people SAW the initial rush and panic-bought (sort of like I did).  There was a date change, for this year only, moving it back a month and into a time that might be more convenient for some people.  And so on).  Regardless, I managed to get a ticket before it sold out.

At this point, I haven’t gotten a hotel room (I usually never buy a badge for a convention until after I’ve secured a room, but the hotel the convention is hosted at is under renovation, and rooms cannot be reserved until September, at the earliest).  I don’t know whether I’ll drive or fly (confession time:  I’ve never flown in a plane, before; a balloon, yes, as a kid, but never a plane.  I’m thinking of changing that for this trip; however, I can’t even book a flight, yet, because the dates are a touch too far out), though I know I won’t be taking the train (despite there being a famous train museum in Chattanooga, I could not find any train rides that go there from where I live).  Meanwhile, according to Google Maps, it’s an eight to ten+ hour drive.  The most I’m comfortable driving on my own in a stretch is five hours, and at present it looks like I’ll be going by myself, so that would probably make it a two day trip (though if another person were going along, we could take “shifts” in the driver’s seat and probably make it in a day).  Or I could (as one person suggested) take the auto-train to Atlanta, and then drive the rest of the way… though that might take longer than either of the other two options.

As far as other considerations go, it’s far too early to worry about anything else.  I suppose I could try and apply to convert my badge over to a guest badge at some point, but I think it’s a good idea to attend a convention as a fan at least once before applying to be a guest there.  Maybe I could get a table in Author Alley?  Although that would require bringing books with me (which, if I fly, might be problematic), and I still haven’t attempted an Author Alley-type of sale at one of my more local and familiar cons.  We’ll see, I guess.

But, at least for right now, it looks as if I’ll be going to Libertycon next year.

I’d better finish my next book so I can afford to pay for it all, then.  (And if you want to help, you can always buy one of my books).

Deciding on Conventions…

(Once again, I’m a day late posting my blog.  It seems I’m always doing this, nowadays — I’d make the switch from (ir)regular Sunday postings to (ir)regular Monday postings official, but then I’d probably not get them out until Tuesdays!)

Libertycon (the science fiction convention, not the political one of the same name) was this past weekend. Much of my Facebook feed these past few days has been all about it (coincidentally, I’m sure. It has nothing to do with the fact that many of my Facebook friends are authors, and almost all of the Facebook groups I’m a part of are writing or sci-fi\fantasy related).

It’s been fun watching everything that’s been going on. There’ve been pictures of interesting panels galore, stuffed manatees and mastadons, and even a dancing cow. (No joke — an author was selling her books by agreeing to dance around in a cow onesie for thirty seconds to a minute (depending on product) each time someone bought one of her books).

I have never been to Libertycon.  I’ve wanted to go (precisely BECAUSE so many of my Facebook friends are regulars, there), but every year I’ve tried to budget for it, I’ve had something major stop me — for example, an air conditioner failing at just the wrong time, forcing me to instead spend that budget on a replacement air conditioner rather than a convention (it’s 100 degrees outside, as I’m typing this, so I REALLY hope that doesn’t happen again, any time soon.  As it is, the AC is barely keeping up).

I’m still hoping to be invited back to Ravencon as a guest in 2019, but after seeing all the Libertycon-related posts I thought I might try, one more time, to go there as well next year, even if I can’t go as a guest.

I felt much the same, last September, when Dragoncon was happening and so many of the same people (and then some!) were attending.  Unlike Libertycon, I’ve been to Dragoncon before (once).  It’s utterly massive, and while quite fun it’s also a lot of work, even if you’re just attending (as I was).  I generally prefer smaller conventions, and it can be a bit overwhelming, but at the very least there was no lacking of things to do the one time I went.

While it’s too late for 2018, I was thinking of applying to be an “Attending Professional” (what many smaller conventions call a guest) of Dragoncon in 2019.  If accepted, it would be a big step in my career — the largest con I’ll have been a guest (or “attending professional”) at, and the first “non-local” convention I’ll have guested at.  Assuming they accept my application, that is.

The thing is, Libertycon is a small con, like I prefer (they have an attendance cap to ensure that).  I’d probably have a lot more fun there than I’d have at Dragoncon (though it’s not as if going to Dragoncon would be a huge burden — I’m sure I’d enjoy attending there, as well).  It’s a more social event — I’d probably be able to do more socializing than I have since a couple years before I published “In Treachery Forged.”  Just attending such an event (even not being a guest) would probably be pretty good for business.

I can only manage two to three conventions a year, and I’m already planning on Ravencon next year.  Due to the efforts and costs of traveling, I’ve only got the budget and time for just one of those two events, not both.  Assuming I go to either, that is — I could stick to just one convention next year, or try for somewhere more local where I have a better shot at getting a guest slot.

Decisions, decisions….