Posts Tagged ‘fantasy fiction’

Brief thoughts on THE GOOD PLACE (some spoilers)

I gave up on modern sitcoms a long time ago. For a while, it seemed like they’d just become formulaic, always about the office or school or a family or a bunch of friends talking about sex all the time. I missed the creativity of sitcoms in the 1960s, when they ventured into sci-fi, fantasy, superheroes, spy adventure, desert island survival narratives, or just the general surrealism of something like The Monkees or Green Acres. And when I did occasionally catch a glimpse of later sitcoms, they seemed unrecognizable, these cynical slice-of-life shakycam shows whose humor I just didn’t get.

So when I heard a bunch of good stuff about The Good Place while it was on, I was skeptical and didn’t give it a chance. Once it came to Netflix, I put it in my queue thinking maybe I’d give it a chance eventually, but it just sat there for a while. Now, prompted largely by seeing Jameela Jamil on She-Hulk: Attorney at Law and remembering she was in this show, I’ve finally gotten around to watching it…

…and I’m totally blown away. The Good Place might be the best sitcom I’ve ever seen — heck, one of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen. It’s extraordinarily innovative — it opens with the main character waking up in the afterlife and learning she’s dead, and it goes through so many twists and turns over the course of its four seasons, with escalating stakes until the show’s six lead characters are literally responsible for deciding the fate of all humanity. It’s an all-out sci-fi/fantasy premise like a throwback to the ’60s, but with modern production values and some marvelously inventive visual effects, from the comical to the spectacular. (There’s even an all-out fight sequence in one episode with excellent stunt choreography.) It’s an incredibly smart show, using its premise to explore questions of philosophy and ethics and pairing them with heartfelt and nuanced character development, though it has its share of dumb, crude humor that was less to my taste. (It’s also weird that its cosmology equates “the universe” with just Earth and humans, as though no other life exists anywhere.) The leads are all terrific, with Kristen Bell and Ted Danson as particular standouts.

What struck me the most about it, perhaps, was a paradox: On the one hand, its depiction of the afterlife is a Brazil-like bureaucratic dystopia, a badly broken system in which every human suffers and the entities in charge just go with it because it’s the way it’s always worked. That’s really dark. And yet it’s such an upbeat, optimistic show when it comes to the human potential for bettering ourselves and one another.

So anyway, I spent a lot of the finale bawling my eyes out, because it was sad and beautiful. But it did leave me with some questions about the final system the characters worked out for the operation of the Good Place. Like, why didn’t they consider reincarnation as a viable alternative? Given how much their system of testing and improvement depended on reboots, you’d think it would’ve been a natural fit.

I guess I’ll leave it there. There’s a ton more worth saying, but it’s too much to get into right now. Maybe someday I’ll do a rewatch review series on my Patreon, because it is a show I’ll want to see again. For now, I just wanted to spread the word that the show’s worth watching, though I’m aware I’m probably one of the last people to discover that.

Now on Patreon: “The Science of Sacrifice”

This month’s Fiction entry on my Patreon page is “The Science of Sacrifice,” a newly revised version of an unsold story set in Thayara, the same fantasy universe as last month’s reprint, “The Melody Lingers.” It’s actually the first of the two Thayara stories I wrote in 2009-10, and takes place about a generation before “Melody,” laying some foundations for its concepts.

Yet while “Melody” focused entirely on the human cultures of Thayara for simplicity, “Science” is set in a more cosmopolitan city where multiple sapient species interact (since it was written as a “pilot” for the universe), so it has a rather different flavor. As a supplement for subscribers to the Behind the Scenes tier, I’ve published edited excerpts from my Thayara worldbuilding notes, including discussion about the various species and a map of the planet (which is an alternate-history Earth whose evolution was shaped differently by the magic-like phenomenon called Wyrd).

The story is here on my $10/month Fiction tier:

Fiction: “The Science of Sacrifice”

The notes are on the $12 Behind the Scenes tier:

Thayara worldbuilding notes and “Science of Sacrifice” discussion

Meanwhile, my Patreon reviews of the Logan’s Run TV series conclude next week, after which I’ll start reviewing season 3 of the 1988 syndicated Superboy TV series, retooled and retitled The Adventures of Superboy, and vastly improved from the first two seasons.

“The Melody Lingers” on Patreon

I technically missed posting a Patreon story in February, but my previous entry was on January 31, so it’s barely been a month. Anyway, this month(ish)’s entry is a reprint of my first published fantasy story, “The Melody Lingers,” which appeared in Galaxy’s Edge Magazine in July 2019, and was the only story I ever sold to my fellow Cincinnatian, writer-editor Mike Resnick, before he passed away last year. (Interesting how two of the editors I’ve sold to, Stanley Schmidt and Resnick, were from my hometown. Indeed, Stan once lived on my current street!) The story is available to subscribers of the Fiction tier at $10/month:

Fiction: “The Melody Lingers”

I’m afraid I don’t have a Behind the Scenes entry to go along with it this month, since the annotations were already published here on Written Worlds, and the one suitable thing I have is something I’ve decided is better saved for later.

Meanwhile, my current review series on the $5/month Patreon tier is of the 1977 TV series adaptation of the film Logan’s Run.

“Safe Hex” on Patreon

Since I’ve been extra-busy this month writing my new novel, my Patreon Fiction entry this month is a very short story — no annotations, sorry. If my memory is reliable, then “Safe Hex” is technically the first story I ever had published, in a newsletter of the University of Cincinnati Honors Society, of which I was sort of an honorary member back in the late ’80s and early ’90s (i.e. I had friends there and they let me hang out in their lounge). Although that was an earlier draft of the story, less imaginatively entitled “Be Careful What You Wish For.” This version was written in 1996-7 and never sold; apparently I gave up after the first rejection, not having a lot of faith in the story. But I’ve always somewhat liked the idea, and it sort of works as a companion piece to last month’s “Vein Glory,” for reasons that will become clear. I did a bit of revision and updating for this edition.

As always, the story is available to subscribers of the Fiction tier at $10/month:

Fiction: “Safe Hex”

“Vein Glory” on Patreon!

This month’s original story on Patreon has gone live, coincidentally at the same time Arachne’s Crime got its cover reveal (and I’m informed the novel has just gone to press, and Kickstarter backers have received their e-book copies.) It’s the second bonus story I offered with that Kickstarter campaign earlier this year, a short SF/fantasy hybrid called “Vein Glory,” which is one of only two vampire-themed stories I’ve ever written or probably ever will. As always, it’s available to patrons at the $10/month Fiction tier or above, and the story’s annotations are also online at the $12/month Behind the Scenes tier. Here are the links:

Fiction: “Vein Glory”

“Vein Glory” Annotations

Author copies and annotations

My author copies of Galaxy’s Edge #39 have arrived!

Galaxys Edge 39

Here they are next to my “brag shelf” of Analog issues for size comparison. Normally I keep one copy on the brag shelf and one with my overall collection of SF magazines, but Galaxy’s Edge is too tall to fit on that shelf, so I have to keep them both here.

The Melody Lingers

And here’s the opening page, on paper and everything! It’s great to have a short story in a print magazine again, my first one other than Analog (and Esli for the Russian reprints of the first two Hub stories from Analog).

Right now (July 2019), you can read the entire issue on the Galaxy’s Edge site. But that’ll only be until the next issue comes out in September. If you want something you can keep, or if you read this after September, you can buy the issue in print from:

And digitally from:

In other news, the annotations to “The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of” are now up, and can be accessed (for now) from either the Original Short Fiction page or the (newly renamed) Only Superhuman/Troubleshooters page, though the latter will be the long-term “home” for Troubleshooter story discussion.

I also decided to move the book-cover slide show on my front page down below my author bio so it wouldn’t obscure the drop-down menus so much. It still covers up the last couple of items on the Star Trek drop-down menu, but they can still be seen clearly from any other page on the site. I also rearranged the Trek menu to put the Short Fiction page at the top, since the second-level drop-down links for short-story annotations were getting hard to reach that low on the page. I also put the other Trek links into a somewhat more logical order on the menu, instead of the sort of reverse-chronological thing I was somewhat using before (which I guess evolved because I was putting the newest stuff on top for easy access).

“The Melody Lingers” is out!

At long last, my first fantasy story, “The Melody Lingers,” is finally available to read. Issue #39 of Galaxy’s Edge Magazine is now on sale:

Now, Galaxy’s Edge publishes a number of the stories from each issue on their website, and as it happens, “The Melody Lingers” is one of the stories they’ve put online this month, so you can read it right now for free at:

Although that’s only until the next issue comes out in September, so I certainly hope you’ll also buy the magazine and read all the other stories. Ordering links are on the website below the stories, or right here:



As you can see from the cover, I’m sharing the issue with some really big names, which is humbling. Remarkably, it’s the second time in the past year that I’ve shared a magazine with the legendary Gregory Benford, the first being the Sept/Oct 2018 Analog in which “…And He Built a Crooked Hub” appeared. And it’s my second time appearing in the same publication with Robert Jeschonek (after Star Trek: Voyager — Distant Shores). And Kevin J. Anderson provided a nice cover blurb quote for Only Superhuman, if that counts for anything.

And I just realized — this isn’t just my first fantasy story to get published, but my first story to be published in a print magazine other than Analog (unless you count the late, lamented Alternative Coordinates, which had a printable PDF version available). So that’s doubly cool.

“The Melody Lingers” in July!

It was last July that I announced selling my first fantasy story, “The Melody Lingers,” to Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge Magazine. It’s been so long that I was wondering what had happened to it, but Mike just informed me that it’s slated for the next issue, Galaxy’s Edge #39, dated July 2019. I think that means it may be out sometime in June, but I’m not sure.

“The Melody Lingers” is a short story about magic harnessed through music, using the distinct system of magic I developed for the world the story is set in, which I call Thayara. I came up with it back in the ’90s, but readers may note some broad similarities to the magic system from Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence.

Galaxy’s Edge is available in multiple electronic formats and in print from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and select stories from the current issue are available for free on its homepage at, with ordering and subscription links for the full magazine further down on the page. I don’t yet know whether “The Melody Lingers” will be one of the free stories for the July issue — we’ll see.

I’ve sold my first fantasy story!

In my last post, I mentioned waking up Saturday morning at Shore Leave to find good news in my e-mail. The good news is that I’ve finally sold my first-ever short story in the fantasy genre rather than science fiction. It’s a fairly short piece called “The Melody Lingers,” a tale of magic harnessed through music, and I’ve been trying to sell it for years, honing it through various rejections. I’d pretty much run out of markets for it until I learned that Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, edited by fellow Cincinnatian Mike Resnick, was opening to general submissions. It was too long for Mike as written, but he said he’d take another look if I trimmed it down considerably — which is ironic, because the version I submitted was expanded from the first draft. I ended up going pretty much back to the story’s original structure, although incorporating enough of the improvements I’d made along the way to make it work. It was on Saturday morning that I got the acceptance and the contract, and fortunately they accepted an electronically signed contract, so I could send it right back without needing to wait until I could get it printed out and find a post office (or, well, I guess hotels can mail things for their guests). I just got the check today, which is very fast service.

“The Melody Lingers” is set in a fantasy world called Thayara that I’ve been developing since the ’90s (probably inspired by my college friends who were heavily into fantasy) and have made occasional attempts on and off to write stories in. This particular story focuses only on one limited part of that larger world, and it isn’t the tale I’d imagined as being the introduction to Thayara, but hey, it’s a start. I can finally say I’ve written fantasy professionally. And now that I’ve sold this one, it might inspire me to put renewed effort into writing more stories in this setting — sooner or later, once more pressing responsibilities are past.

I don’t yet know the publication date, but I’ll post it once I do.

My streak is broken

Well, it had to happen.  I just got a story rejected, the first of the two fantasy stories I’ve written in recent months.  Oh, well.  It’s only my first try; I’ve still got other markets I can send it to.  Still, this is the first original story I’ve written in the past year and a half or so that I haven’t sold on the first try.  Well, it’ll keep me humble.

Making maps

Well, knowing that I’ll soon have to begin concentrating on a new paying gig has given me the incentive to finish up my current creative project.  The fantasy world that’s the setting for the past couple of stories I’ve written is basically an alternate Earth whose evolution and history went differently due to the presence of a magical force (though that isn’t explicitly stated in either story).  So I was thinking it would be helpful to make a rough map of the planet and the territories of the various sapient species that inhabit it.  So I tried to find some suitable maps online — public-domain maps without labels or national borders.  I downloaded several candidates, some of the whole world, some of particular regions, and did some dabbling with one of them, a map of the Mediterranean region (the capital of the leading human nation in the stories is located where our Istanbul is), but then decided it didn’t show enough of Africa or Asia Minor to suit my needs.  (I’m trying to avoid a Eurocentric fantasy world, while still basing the species’ territories on a plausible alternate evolutionary history.  Human territory encompasses over 2/3 of Africa, Asia Minor, and Europe south of the Danube.)

So this morning — was it just this morning? — I decided to start over with one of the full-world maps, the smaller one, in fact.  I was a bit concerned about the scale, but it was big enough to let me show the nations and territories and the few major cities I’ve named so far.  It was tricky transferring the country outlines I’d drawn on the smaller map to the larger one, since the projections weren’t quite the same.  I had the same problem trying to figure out where to put the rivers I wanted to use as borders.  I did some copying and pasting of rivers from other downloaded maps onto this one (which doesn’t have them) so I’d know where to draw the borders, but I had to reposition and fudge things to get them to fit.  No matter; it’s an alternate Earth, so maybe the rivers follow slightly different courses anyway.  Later on, I just stopped worrying about precise river positions and eyeballed it from various maps in my atlas and history texts.

I set it aside in the afternoon, thinking I’d get back to it tomorrow, but I ended up basically finishing it this evening.  It’s still pretty rough; only the human territory is broken down into nations, and the rest of the world is just by species.  But planning the map has helped me figure out a few things, such as adding a couple of sapient species I hadn’t planned on using before.  And I made up a few new place names for the map so I wouldn’t have blank countries (though most are a bit large for countries, more like empires).  So it’ll be a helpful reference for future stories.

Tiring work, though.

What I’ve been writing: followup

I fixed that awkward scene in my fantasy story — found a way not only to make it less awkward but to add a whole new level of creepiness (which in context is a good thing).  I’m not quite ready to submit it yet, since the scene before that bit is maybe a little too talky and I’m going to see if I can improve its flow.

I got to wondering something about the universe of “The Hub of the Matter,” my recent Analog story.  Namely, why do they risk sending live Hub scouts to test new vectors, a job that’s tedious and potentially lethal, rather than using robot probes?  I’ve thought of a couple of amusing answers, and I’ll try to work at least one of them into the next Hub story I write.

I reread “No Dominion” and concluded that it wouldn’t be too hard to rework the Default-verse history to incorporate it — but I just decided this morning that I don’t want to.  As I said, it has ramifications that would have rather sweeping impact on the Default-verse and limit my storytelling in some ways.  Also, on reflection, I think it maybe exaggerates the degree to which certain new technologies would spread through society, which works in the context of a single story exploring the possible ramifications of those technologies, but isn’t necessarily likely or inevitable in a larger future-historical context.  Part of my reason for wondering if I should incorporate “No Dominion” into the Default-verse was that I asked myself, “Why wouldn’t these technologies be adopted there too?”  And I realize now that, while they probably would be to some degree, I doubt they’d be as ubiquitous.  I may incorporate the ideas into the Default-verse to a degree that’s appropriate, but the story itself would still stand apart.  I’m a little concerned that if the same ideas show up in the Default-verse, readers might get confused about whether or not “No Dominion” is part of it.  But then, that’s what my website annotations are for.

What got me started thinking about this was reading the TV Tropes page about “The Moorcock Effect,” defined as “the tendency of long-lived genre authors to, at what is usually a later point in their career, combine two or more distinct series they’ve created into a single continuity.”  Like what Asimov did later in life by combining his Foundation, Empire, and Robot universes into one (and even hinting at connections to The End of Eternity and possibly Nemesis).  Or what Larry Niven did much earlier in his career to create the Known Space universe.  Or the way Poul Anderson combined his Flandry and van Rijn tales into a single future history.  What I always wanted was to have a big, unified continuity from the get-go, to plan it out in advance and keep it all cohesive, rather than start out with separate pieces and later mash them up, possibly creating continuity problems in doing so.

But what I’ve lately ended up doing instead is creating a bunch of different universes that can’t possibly fit together because their histories and physical laws are too contradictory.  It was easy enough for Niven, Asimov, Anderson, etc. to combine their various series that took place at different points in the future and reused similar physics and technologies.  I don’t have that option with most of my universes.  And that’s cool.  I enjoy the prospect of exploring several wholly different approaches to FTL travel, to the prospects of posthuman evolution, and so on.  It’s more creatively liberating than sticking with a single set of assumptions.

Still, the temptation to construct a grand unified theory tying it all together is there, even though it’s pretty much impossible.  That’s why I was tempted to fold “No Dominion” into the Default-verse — because it’s the one other “written world” I currently have that’s similar enough in its physics and broad history that it could potentially be folded in if certain storytelling adjustments were made.  But there’s no point restricting the storytelling of the whole universe for the sake of consistency with a single story.

What I’ve been writing

What I’ve been writing… is checks.  Lots of checks for lots of bills.  And now my bank account is looking especially scrawny.  Please, somebody, buy my books!

But before that, yesterday, I managed to get some work done on three different projects.

  1. A tentative outline for a new short story, probably a novelette.  It features the same main character and setting as Spec Novel #1 and the prequel story I wrote a month or two ago.  It’s also a new stab at a concept I tried out long ago.  Once I wrote a story called “Footprints on the Sands of Time,” in which an astronaut discovered an ancient alien footprint on the Moon — but no other evidence of the aliens was ever found, since all but that footprint had been obliterated.  The story was about the characters’ frustration at the lack of answers.  At the end, I jumped back to the aliens and explained the origins of the footprint and such, then finished with the line, “Well, maybe that’s what happened.”  Cute idea, but too insubtantial.  I eventually cribbed and tweaked a few of its alien names for The Buried Age (Manrathoth -> Manraloth, Giriaen -> Giriaenn, Ngarol -> Ngalior), but that was it.  Anyway, now I’m trying a different tack.  It’s an artifact instead of a footprint, and I’m using it more as a vehicle for character exploration rather than having the whole story just be “Well, we don’t know the answers and that’s annoying.”
  2. A rewrite pass of my second fantasy story, the one I wrote a couple of weeks ago.  I find I’m pretty satisfied with it, and was rather moved by the ending.  There’s still one key event whose execution I find rather awkward, though, so I’m going to try to think of a better way of handling that.
  3. Rereading what I’ve done so far of Spec Novel #2, refreshing my memory before I pick up writing again, and doing some tweaks.  This is the book that’s an expansion of “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide.”  The main tweak I made yesterday: In the original story, I went with the standard gimmick of translator gizmos that render the aliens’ speech into English in a synthesized voice.  It recently occurred to me that with augmented reality starting to catch on, the characters would probably have optical implants that could project info into their field of view, so I’m reworking it so they get the translation as subtitles.  I think that’s a better approach since you don’t have the difficulty of hearing the translation over the original speech, and since you can pay attention to the alien speech and maybe pick up the vocabulary faster than if there were a synthesized voice drowning it out.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about my upcoming story “No Dominion.”  I remarked before that I didn’t think it could work as part of my default universe (the universe of both spec novels and the related stories), but now I’m starting to wonder if maybe I can tweak the Default-verse’s history to allow it.  It probably won’t be feasible, but it’s worth a rethink.  At some point I’ll have to reread “No Dominion” (which I’ll have to do anyway in the editing phase before publication) and think about whether it’s doable.  Or desirable.  There are ideas in the story that might be worth including in the Default-verse, but on the other hand it has ramifications I might not want to have to deal with.

Finished another story…

February 15, 2010 1 comment

In a recent thread, I mentioned I was starting on a second story in my new fantasy universe.  Though it’s a pretty short piece, and I had a pretty clear idea of the story structure from the outline, it was slow going for a while, since I had trouble focusing on it.  No good excuse; I just let myself get too distracted.  Anyway, the past few days I finally buckled down and did a couple of things to cut off distractions — like unplugging the laptop from the DSL cable and taking it into my bedroom to work, or doing my writing first thing (or nearly so) in the morning, while the ideas that percolated between waking and getting to the computer were still fresh.

As of last night, I’d gotten to the start of the climactic scene, and I realized there was an element of the characterization that bothered me, a problem I didn’t have a solution for.  But this morning I suddenly had a new realization about the physics of the climactic situation (for even though there’s magic in this universe, it’s bound by physical law), and that pointed me to a new way of resolving the story, something that I realized was a necessary payoff given what I’d set up.  It’s a resolution I’m a little uneasy with for reasons of my own; if I’d played it the wrong way, it would’ve reflected a notion of justice that I completely disagree with.  But I was able to make it work in a way I’m comfortable with.  And it does make the resolution stronger, the story more effective.  I wish I could explain more clearly, but it would spoil too much.

It just goes to show that while it’s good to have an outline, one should also be open to serendipity.  You never know what you’ll discover along the way.

The story is for an anthology whose deadline is still over two months away, so I’ll have plenty of time to refine it.  I’ll probably do a revision pass, then set it aside for a while, then come back and take a fresh look at it before I submit it.

In the meantime, I plan to get back to work on my spec novel — and resume looking for a paying job.  I’d intended to do some job-hunting last week, but the blizzard made it impractical.

Spent a lot of time at the post office this week…

February 6, 2010 2 comments

I’ve been going to the post office a lot this week, for two reasons.  One was to mail out books to the very nice people who’ve participated in my ongoing book sale.  The other was to submit my new short stories.  I’ve had three stories in the works for a while — a sequel to “The Hub of the Matter,” a prequel to one of my spec novels (which I discussed here, here, and here), and a steampunk/urban fantasy piece that I discussed here, here, and here.  This week, I dedicated myself to finishing up all three of them and getting them on the market.  For the past few months, I’ve had some older stories back in circulation, figuring I might’ve given up on them too soon, but so far I’ve had no luck.  I still have one of them on the market, but the rest haven’t sold (at least, not so far).  However, of the new works of original short fiction I’ve written and marketed more recently, “The Hub of the Matter” and “No Dominion,” I sold two for two on the first try.  Which is evidence that my newer work is better and more marketable than my older stuff.  So I figured it was high time I got some more new stuff out there.

The spec-novel prequel proved easiest to finish up.  When I completed it last month, I wasn’t sure how well it held up, but when I reread it last week, I found I was quite satisfied with it.  I did a little tweaking here and there, but after that I felt it was ready, and I sent it off Monday.

The fantasy story needed a few refinements; there was one bit where a character gave too long an expository speech at a moment when time was pressing, so I rejiggered it to put more of the background exposition in my narration and assume both characters were already familiar with what was being described.  Also, I decided to add a bit more foreshadowing to punch up the opening paragraphs.  The main character has a secret that I initially began hinting at a few pages in, but I figured it would be a stronger hook if I made a cryptic reference to it on the first page.

The Hub story needed the most work.  I’d taken the crisis of the story in a more dramatic and less comic direction than I’d intended, so I needed to punch up the humor.  More fundamentally, I realized I’d kind of lost track of my original intentions for the story, depicting a situation that was darker and less humorous (and less interesting) than what I envisioned.  I was able to solve all those problems, though it took me a number of passes through the story.  One key exposition scene got almost completely rewritten twice so it was less talky, more quirky, and more in line with the story emphasis I’d lost track of.  With that and some other tweaks, I finally got the balance and approach I’d been going for.

There is one other story I reworked lately that hasn’t gone on the market.  It’s a novelette I mentioned in some of the posts linked above (“Getting a novel back on course,” “Back on course, addendum” and “Reworking old stories”), one that I’d exhausted all but one of the viable markets for (in terms of word count) but figured I’d take a stab at anyway once I had the idea of how to rework it.  But when I took a closer look at that one remaining market, I realized it was more of a “literary” magazine than I’d thought, and really not the right place for this story.  And I’m really not wholly satisfied with how the story turned out anyway.  So it’s on the shelf for now, at least until another potential market manifests itself.  I figure it’s better to focus on new stories than to keep trying to salvage an old one.  It’s too bad, because I really like the aliens and the worldbuilding I did here; but if this story goes nowhere, maybe I can reuse them in a different story.  (In fact, this story is already my second attempt to write about this particular species.)

And hey, I’ve still got four stories on the market, and I’m starting work on a new story for an open-submissions anthology.  The new story is my second one in the steampunk-fantasy universe, featuring totally different characters and situations, although one aspect of it is an outgrowth of events in the first story.  But that connection is very tenuous and implicit.  Since it’s going to a different market, and since I don’t yet know if I’ll even sell the first one, it needs to be able to stand independently.

Of course, all these stories don’t add up to a lot of money even if I sell them all.  But the more of my original work that gets out there, and the more name recognition I get, the better it is for my career in the long run.

Fantasy finally finished — phew!

December 30, 2009 1 comment

I finally finished that steampunk urban fantasy story I mentioned last week.  Okay, it’s only been eight days, so “finally” may sound like an odd choice of words, but I could’ve done it in two days, even one, if I’d been focused enough.  The first draft came out to 4200 words, and I did nearly 2/3 of that just today.  I had a really tough time getting any momentum on this one.  I guess I was distracted by the holiday and job-seeking and stuff, but some of it has simply been lack of concentration or energy.

I think I made a mistake yesterday.  I tried going over to campus to work in one of the libraries there, but it was really cold out, and the closest library was closed for the holidays.  It took me a while to find somewhere on campus that seemed like a good quiet place to work, a study area off a walkway that was fairly inactive given the season.  But my progress on the story was slow, and after just a few paragraphs I heard some noises from the false ceiling overhead, like maybe there was a rat or something scrabbling around there.  I decided to find somewhere else to work, but then I realized it was close to lunchtime and I just found myself going home to eat.  And after that I was just worn out from doing so much walking in such frigid weather, so I couldn’t get much more work done.  Today, though, I just started working on the story fairly early in the day and finally got enough momentum going to get through to the end.

At this point, I think I’m fairly satisfied with it.  For one thing, I’ve finally succeeded in writing a really tight, compact story, one that gets the job done in only a few thousand words.  I didn’t weigh it down with extraneous worldbuilding, but the story I told does a good job of establishing the basic rules, cultures, species, and other parameters of the world.  There are some major ideas I wasn’t able to establish, but I can use those in other stories.  For the most part, I think I managed to keep the infodumps to a minimum and incorporate the exposition more creatively, though it took some rewriting.  (I suppose that’s part of why it took so long;  it wasn’t easy to find the right way to convey all this information about a brand-new world without giving a lecture or using more words than necessary.  Who was it who wrote “I would have sent a shorter missive had I but had the time?”)  The two main characters turned out to have a pretty nice interplay, though I think the sidekick maybe came out cooler than the viewpoint character.

It certainly still needs revision, of course.  There’s at least one point of characterization (and also worldbuilding/exposition) that I think deserves a sentence or two more about it.  I’m not sure the final paragraph is as well-phrased as it could be.  And I’m not too happy with the title.

But I’m pleased with what I’ve accomplished.  Within ten days or so, I’ve managed to develop a new universe (well, a new interpretation of an old one of mine), come up with a short story to introduce it, and succeed at telling that story concisely.  That’s a good ten days’ work, even if I could’ve done it in five if I’d been more focused.

So what comes next?  Well, my thoughts have been straying back toward my spec novel in progress.  Maybe I’ll try to move forward on that for a bit.  Though I wouldn’t be surprised if I find myself tugging at the loose threads I wasn’t able to cover in the steampunk-fantasy story and trying to come up with a second story around them.   Heck, there are several whole species I haven’t introduced yet…

…And coming up with new ones

December 22, 2009 2 comments

Well, the “hard part” wasn’t as hard as I thought.  This morning, over the course of the past couple of hours, I’ve formulated a short story idea within that steampunk-fantasy setting I mentioned yesterday.

The key, once you have the world set up, is to find one specific aspect of it that suggests an interesting situation or event.  In a novel, you can explore a broader sweep of things, but a short story needs to be one focused event.  For this, the introductory story to the world, I concentrated on what I considered one of the most significant and distinctive elements of the concept, something that just occurred to me a day or two ago.  This is a fundamental aspect of how magic works in this world, and it drives one of the major cultural conflicts as well as a leading process of societal change.  And yet it’s also something that operates on a very individual, personal level, so it lets me tell a tight, focused story that still illuminates the core ideas of the larger world.

The other essential thing, though, is to give the story a character focus.  A story has to be about someone, not just something.  The characters can’t just be participants or spectators in a plot-driven narrative; the story has to have a personal imperative, an emotional anchor, for the audience to invest in it.  I knew who I wanted the main character to be, what I wanted his role and his adversaries to be, but I needed a way to make the story’s conflict personal and emotionally intense for him rather than just a job he had to do.  Recalling one of my early ideas about this universe (and to my surprise, I discovered yesterday that it’s been nine whole years since I last revised my notes on this premise), I quickly thought of a way that it could give the character a dark past that drove him and a dark side he had to struggle with.

And the cool thing is, I didn’t even have to think it through as methodically as I’ve expressed it here.  Once I had all the basic pieces I needed, it was just a matter of letting the connections form in my mind, seeing how idea A could synergize with idea B and produce result Q.  That’s probably something that comes with experience, once you’ve read and written enough stories to get a feel for their dynamics.  And it helps to keep in mind that your priority is character.  Look at the world from the perspective of one or more specific characters — what drives them, what they need, what they fear — and that helps the pieces of the world you’ve built fall together in the pattern of a story.  And it helps you write about the world in a way that engages the emotions of the reader rather than just being a travelogue.  Because then it’s not just about what happens, it’s about what those happenings mean to someone.

Of course, starting with the plot and then finding the emotional resonance within it isn’t always the best way to go.  Often it’s better to start with the character and then come up with a plot that illuminates something about them.  But in speculative fiction, where the world is usually a character in its own right, it’s often necessary to start from the outside and work in, or to try to work from both directions and find a world and a character that complement each other.

Now, as I write the story, I’m going to have to be careful not to try to cram in all my worldbuilding in one go.  I should focus on what matters to this story.  I’m leaving out a number of my biggest ideas for this world, but I can explore those in later stories.

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